The Wikileaks/ Assange persecution saga should teach us important lessons. In the first place, chronologically, it should teach us the lengths to which allegedly democratic countries such as the United States will go to dominate weaker countries and attack movements of resistance, where the US feels its imperial interests are threatened, which is to say, where anyone may attempt to loosen its grip on markets, natural resources and strategic emplacements, or to prevent its grip from clawing further than it has already.
Wikileaks also exposed some of the extent to which the US will interfere in the internal or foreign policy matters of even its allies, including the European powers.
Possibly most instructive of all was the determination of the USA to hunt down the chief executive of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, flying in the face of US Constitutional principles and law, as well as international law, with statements confirming that determination even from Presidents and senior politicians and Government appointees, such as former US Secretary of State and the Democratic Party’s candidate for the US Presidency last year.1
In the course of hunting him down, the USA turned to Sweden, subverting the country’s laws and criminal investigative procedures, then to the UK government (which, as a junior partner in many of the US crimes exposed by Wikileaks, was probably only too keen to assist). Australia was brought to assist under threat and France turned away from Assange’s plight and his plea for asylum there. “No hiding place from the World Policeman,” seemed to be the message. Eventually, however, he did find refuge (if not a hiding place) from Uruguay, a tiny power on the world political, economic and political stage.
In the midst of this, how did the mass media perform, that which we are often assured is the guardian of democracy, even more than the vaunted parliament? Badly, in a word. Investigative journalism, intelligent evaluation, if they had been evident before, all went into the rubbish bin as print, radio and TV media joined in the lynch mob to a greater of lesser degree. The British newspaper The Guardian, which had been given exclusive first use on the Wikileaks stories, “the greatest scoop in 30 years”, according to its Editor, not only refused to assist him but allowed its pages to be occupied by witch hunters and made money out of publishing a book about the affair.2
“Anti-journalism”, is what Australian film-maker and renowned journalist (Britain’s Journalist of the Year Award-winner in 1967 and 1978), John Pilger called it.3
Assange learned some personal lessons too which should not be lost on us. Sometime lovers manipulated by police, Prosecutor and media; a close working colleague denouncing him and flinging unsubstantiated allegations against him (unsubstantiated but that did not prevent the media from publishing them).
LESSONS FOR US SPECIFICALLY
Suppose for a moment that one did not take to Assange’s character. Suppose one even objected to his work. Still, he was entitled to fair due process. That he did not receive it from so many is obvious. Did he receive it from us? That community of people who would lay claim to having an alternative view, to be opposed to the status quo and, most of all, to be for Justice?
Injustice meted out by those in power often needs collusion and the more independent of the power the colluders are, the more justified the witch-hunt is made to seem. The media whipped up a passionate hue and cry against Assange, who had not even been charged and had cooperated to all extents reasonable with the investigation of allegations against him.
That hysteria sought to drown Assange but also to catch in its flood any, no matter how puny or how mildly, called for justice and due process. The cry of the mob must be “Hang him!” and no dissenting voices must be heard.
The hysteria generated in some sectors, even among people who would normally insist on justice and who opposed the status quo, reached a very high pitch. For the crime of suggesting at the time on Facebook that the case against him seemed “dodgy” and that besides he was in any case entitled to due process, a person called me a “rape apologist” in public while people I had considered comrades (and had thought one even a friend) remained silent. Shortly after that, a clutch of FB friends (which I made FB ex-friends quickly) backed up the allegation.
That taught me a valuable lesson about comrades and solidarity but it pales beside the severity of the lesson Assange has been taught, the mark of which he may carry for the rest of his life. But the function of such a process goes far beyond the personal; it is intended to make dissent very uncomfortable and even painful. We may face the attacks of our declared enemies with courage or at least resolve and commitment but it is a different matter when we are attacked, politically and personally, by those we take to be broadly on our side against the oppressive powers.
Most people would say they are for justice. It is usually easy to say so. But unless we can stand up for it whether we like the victim or not, whether we approve of his work or not and, even in the midst of the hysteria calling for a hanging, we are prepared to cry instead for justice, our declarations are worth nothing.
There are many lessons in the saga for us to learn — but will we?
1 “Can’t we just drone this guy?” Hillary Clinton, quoted in the Pilger summary article.
2 Stated in the Pilger summary article.
3 Also in the same Pilger article.