The story of Julian Assange and Wikileaks continues, as does the war of opinions as to whether harm has been done, or a lot of good. There have been a lot of snide remarks about Assange, and the myth that he’s some kind of anarchic superhero seems to be growing exponentially. I recently saw him interviewed by a journalist. He’s not a madman, that much I can say. He spoke lucidly; to the point and very articulately. In short, he’s perfectly sane, despite the circus that surrounds him. He answered a lot of the questions that people are debating.
On the topic of the supposed necessity for diplomatic secrecy he said “Truth must come first. Without it, no public policy is coherent.” I agree. Why do we need a world of secrecy? It looks suspiciously like a euphemism for a wall behind which anything goes. Our policy-makers are humans, they’re liable to bias and errors of judgment under the best of circumstances. Under the worst, corruption and outright abuse of power. They need us to see what they’re doing, just as much as we need it.
One of the other questions people bring up a lot is that the leaks have put lives in danger. In response to a question about that, Assange said that 20,000 people have died since 2004 in this war. The danger lies in the war continuing. Hard to argue that.
He also said he understood the need to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and that aggressive force had to be used in that fight, but that could never justify all the acts that occur in war. In other words, those acts that are not legitimate need to be exposed. We’re either in the business of being humane and trying to improve the quality of life for everybody or we’re thugs – that’s my comment, not his.
What about the accusation that the leaks are contributing to demoralizing the troops? Assange replied that they are already demoralized, because they’re acting outside of the judicial process and are killing innocent civilians. If they want their morale to improve, they have to behave differently. He is good at cutting through empty rationalizations. As an aside, I have to say that Bradley Manning tried to behave differently, didn’t he. So I guess that’s why the troops don’t rebel. Well, those that are alive, anyway, or haven’t had some part of their bodies blown away.
People in the business of war don’t honestly care about genuine morale. They care about conning the troops into believing they’re doing the right thing. So Assange is right again. Let’s face the truth. Let’s let the troops have real morale – and the only way to do that is bring them home, before they lose body parts and have their souls destroyed by what we force them to do because we don’t want to face the truth.
On the subject of whether he would ever visit the US, Assange said that he’d been advised by his lawyers before this (on another matter) not to set foot on American soil, but that the US needed to understand it was being watched by the rest of the world to see whether it would investigate the “crimes that are probably to be revealed by the leaks” – or if it would investigate the messengers. The subtext is pretty clear. Is the US really interested in the truth and dealing with it?
As far protection of sources is concerned, Assange said Wikileaks has never lost a source and that it has the best history in journalism in this regard. Their technology means that they don’t identify sources, they simply verify the material. When asked whether his agreeing to support Bradley Manning wasn’t an acknowledgement that he was a source, Assange said no, that he felt morally obligated to help Manning by offering support to pay for his counsel, because Manning had been accused of being an alleged Wikileaks source.
He spoke about many other things, amongst them that yes, sometimes his life is threatened, and sometimes it is like scenes from the Bourne Identity. He wasn’t joking either. But he was matter of fact about it, and I didn’t see a man playing a superhero role. In fact he said the idea that he is such a creature is ridiculous. Wikileaks is a huge organization, with a lot of people contributing. He happens to be the public face, which is why he’s taking all the heat. But if he were to die tomorrow, Wikileaks would continue.
I believe Assange is genuine in his belief that truth is of primary importance. We’ve become very soft about truth in the world today. We accept all sorts of compromise and “ends justifies means” arguments. But when people like Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, and an organization like Wikileaks draw a solid line in the sand, I feel grateful. So I want to say thank you. You have made the world a safer and a better place for me. And I think it’s pretty heroic.