Thoughts on Wikileaks

December 17, 2010

I’ve only peripherally followed the Wikileaks story, mostly through the nightly reports on the ABC or SBS news, or on News Radio in the mornings. I haven’t read The Age articles about the leaked diplomatic cables, although I’ve read the headlines, and a few blog articles here and there.

Comic via @dcagle.

I’ve seen, for example, Naomi Klein (@naomiaklein) comment on the issue on Twitter:

Rape is being used in the #Assange prosecution in the same way that women’s freedom was used to invade Afghanistan. Wake up! #wikilieaks

Similarly, in a letter to the Guardian, the British campaigning organisation Women Against Rape queried “the unusual zeal with which Julian Assange is being pursued”.

Now, I don’t know anything about the case against Julian Assange or the allegations of sexual abuse. I don’t think there is any way that anyone apart from the three people involved – Assange himself and the two women who made the allegations – can ever really know.

I broadly agree with Klein and others: there may well be a genuine case for Assange to answer – indeed, he should answer the allegations in court. It appears to me that the reasons the Swedes are pursuing Assange so vigourously is not for reasons of ensuring justice is served, but instead for political purposes. Are there any cases of a European Government going to these lengths to hunt down an alleged sex offender? I don’t know, but I doubt it.

This does not need to be a “conspiracy” – as some commentators, bloggers, tweeters and others have been putting around. It’s fairly clear that sections in the US Government want to punish Assange for his role in publishing the diplomatic cables. It is natural – from the cables themselves – that elements within foreign governments will cooperate with the US to achieve this end. Hardly a conspiracy – rather, it’s technocratic-diplomatic sectional interests operating as they always have. There are no dark forces orchestrating this, just “the system” that operates to protect the status quo.

Alastair Campbell (@campbellclaret) hits the nail on the head as far as I’m concerned:

But we are now in frenzy mode. Anything goes. Any accusation can be made against any instrument of any State thought to have been angered or embarrassed by WikiLeaks. And of course it suits WikiLeaks’ purpose, politically and financially, for it to be thought that everyone is terribly angry with them, even when they’re not. For anti-authority groups, the sense of victimhood is hard won and best preserving when you get it. Which is why if the ‘authorities’ and their dark forces really were orchestrating this, I suspect the last place they would want Mr Assange right now is in Wormwood Scrubs.

On the cables themselves, without having examined them in detail, I have two broad comments:

1. Editors in Australia seem to be using this opportunity to continue their PR war against Labor. Of course Labor is in government, so is the main topic of diplomatic commentary for the last 3 years, but the self-righteous, breathless headlines in Fairfax papers is tedious.

2. The other diplomatic cables seem to indicate that at a “classified” and “secret” level, diplomacy is mostly a combination of assinine pop-psychology and character assessments of world leaders by diplomatics without any real qualification, and reports on the political posturing of “protected sources”. While embarrassing, there’s nothing earth shattering that’s been reported in Australia.

My final comment is that in the eyes of the media and (I think due to the PR efforts of Assange’s legal team and the various anti-Assange interest groups) the public, the issue of Wikileaks and the allegations against Assange have been intimately and improperly intertwined.

Klein again says that you can defend Wikileaks without defending rape. I agree. I am also concerned at what has been described as “rape orthodoxies” the have surrounded commentary on Assange – that is:

that impugning a man’s sexual propriety is a political act, that sexual assault complainants are prone to a level of mendacity others are not (and, in this case, deserving of the same crowd-sourced scrutiny afforded leaked diplomatic cables), that not all forms of non-consensual sex count as “rape-rape“.

Assange – from what I’ve read and seen on TV – appears to be a deeply unpleasant individual. Does being a jerk make him a rapist? I don’t know. Does this means he should be tried by the media? No. Does this mean he should face a court over the allegations? Yes. Can legitimate allegates be manipulated for political purposes? Yes.

Wikileaks – as a separate issue to the Assange sexual allegations – has definitely played an important role in global whistle-blowing – although how significant these recent diplomatic cables are compared to earlier revelations about Iraq and Afghanistan, or corporate malfeasance remains to be seen.

Given that we’re learning more every day about this issue – mediated through the media frenzy – I’ll reserve my right to change my opinions about this.

Update

Via Adrian Dodd, there’s a very interesting document – a statement to the Committee on the Judiciary of the US House of Representatives – by Tom Blanton, the director (since 1992) of the National Security Archive at George Washington University (link is a pdf)

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