Assange, Obama and the Alleged US Conspiracy. Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

Well, Julian Assange is out on bail.  I watched him emerge from Wandsworth Prison last night, to face a barrage of flashing cameras and cheers.  He thanked those who had supported him and his team; his lawyers; journalists who hadn’t been “taken in”; and the British Justice System where, he said, “if justice isn’t always an outcome at least it’s not dead yet”.

Assange has some very creditable people supporting him, which lends authenticity to his mission and to him as a man.  Today I read an article on dscriber.com about a letter written, by faculty members of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York, to Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric  Holder.

The authors (writing in their private capacity) believe that leaks don’t damage American democracy, but government overreaction does, and that prosecuting Wikileaks staff will set a very dangerous precedent “for reporters in any publication or medium, potentially chilling investigative journalism and other First Amendment-protected activity.”  They urge Obama to “pursue a course of prudent restraint in the Wikileaks matter”.   For the full article and the letter, click this link.

http://dscriber.com/front/item/american-journalism-professors-urge-obama-not-to-prosecute-julian-assange-wikileaks-554#comment-592

The world has gone beserk over this issue, and understandably.  There’s a lot at stake.   But truth is getting very blurred on both sides.  On one hand the [often US-driven] media image of Assange as a neurotic, out of control anarchist with a chip on his shoulder doesn’t appear anywhere close to the truth.  As this saga unfolds, and Assange reveals more of who he really is it becomes increasingly clear that the neuroses and the distortions lie elsewhere.

With the US and Obama?  I’m not so sure.  I’m beginning to think they lie more with the media reports and rumors, and not just on the part of those who are against Assange.   When he was first granted bail, there was an appeal against it.  The media and Assange’s lawyer represented that appeal as allegedly coming from the Swedish prosecutor.  Which very quickly became absolute truth.  It was the Swedish authorities.

That turned into the entire Swedish government being in cahoots with the entire US Justice Department which wants Assange extradited into Sweden on a trumped up charge.  Then Sweden can hand him over to the US where he can be tried for espionage and dispensed with.

Hold your horses!  Last night on BBC a commentator said categorically that the Swedish authorities had not in fact launched the appeal against Assange’s bail.  He said the British authorities did it, because that’s what they always do in extradition cases where there appears to be a flight risk.   According to him there was no skullduggery, it was just the British Justice system doing its thing.

Assange was given a fair hearing, the outcome of which was that it was understood he’s not a flight risk.  So the tiny little bit of truth – that Assange’s bail had been appealed – has been elaborated on and cloaked in a lie, and turned into an international conspiracy.

As for the US intention to extradite Assange and try him for espionage, and the role that Barack Obama is apparently actively playing – I can’t find evidence of that either.  I find people saying “there are rumors” and “so and so is allegedly…” and “it’s been said”.   I haven’t seen proof.      I’m very aware that the fault could lie with me in that I’m just not looking in the right places.  I’ll continue to look.

Emotions are running so high and when stakes are so high, it’s easy to lose track of what’s real, no matter which side you’re on.  But if we support journalistic freedom and truth, and we expect the US to respect it, then we have to respect it also.  Innocent until proven guilty.  We want it to apply to Assange.  But not to the US Justice Department, and not to Barack Obama.  Why? Do we care about truth or don’t we?

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Julian Assange, Wikileaks, Bradley Manning and the Quest for Truth

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.

Wikileaks, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, The Fall Guy

23 year old Bradley Manning was a quite low-ranking intelligence analyst in the US army.  An intelligent and astute young man who longed for justice and fairness in the world, and who became disillusioned when he saw how little there really was.

Much of this is revealed in a series of online chats published at Wired.com between him and a former illegal hacker Adrian Lamo in May when Manning was in serving in Iraq.  Manning read a story on Lamo published at Wired.com and made contact with him.  It’s obvious that Manning thought he had found a friend and a like-minded soul.  (All quotes are from Wired.com)

Lamo got him to talk about his personal life and his challenges – and how he had downloaded 260,000 classified State Department diplomatic cables and submitted them to Wikileaks, along with the video of the 2007 helicopter incident, and another in 2009 which Wikileaks hasn’t published yet.

Manning said at one point “I can’t believe what I’m confessing to you 😥  I’ve been so isolated so long…  I just wanted to be nice, and live a normal life… but events kept forcing me to figure out ways to survive…smart enough to know what’s going on, but helpless to do anything…”

He went on to say [after sending the cables to Wikileaks] “god knows what happens now…hopefully worldwide discussions, debates and reforms…if not…then we’re doomed as a species…I will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens.  I want people to see the truth, regardless of who they are…because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public…”

The incident that made him want to do something about the injustices in Iraq was when he saw 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police for printing “anti-Iraqi literature”.  The police wouldn’t cooperate with US forces, so Manning was told to investigate.  He found out that the literature was a benign political critique.  He ran to the US officer to explain, and was told to shut up and rather explain how the US could assist the Iraqi Police in finding more detainees.

Manning said he had always questions the way things worked, and looked for the truth, but now he’d been forced to be actively involved in something he was completely against.  “…I was a part of it…and completely helpless” he said, to which Lamo replied sympathetically “sometimes we’re all helpless”, then asked Manning what he would do if he was exposed.  Manning said he didn’t think it would happen, because nobody ever noticed him.  “I was regularly ignored…except when I had something essential…then it was back to “bring me the coffee, then sweep the floor…I never quite understood that…felt like I was an abused work horse”.

It’s easy to understand how such a young man would be drawn to shadowy, almost folk hero figure like Assange.   He said it took him 4 months to confirm that the person he was communicating with was in fact Assange.  And he admitted that although they have a relationship of sorts, Assange tells him very little.

Well, the ending to this story is tragic.  Lamo led Manning to believe he could be trusted – then turned him over the FBI and the Army.    On May 26 Manning was arrested by Army authorities and put into pre-trial detention in Kuwait (he was serving in Iraq at the time).   As I said yesterday, he faces 50 years in jail, and some US politicians are calling for the death sentence.  While Assange becomes more of a folk hero.

Well, Manning has learned a hard lesson, hasn’t he?  As for Adrian Lamo, according to Wiki, he’s “a government informant known principally for breaking into a series of high-profile computer networks, and his subsequent arrest.” (The New York Times, Yahoo! News, and Microsoft.)    Funny, Assange was also a hacker.  Honor and dishonor amongst thieves.

Wikileaks and Julian Assange – Hero or Villain?

A little while ago I watched Julian Assange of Wikileaks being interviewed by a CNN reporter.  She couldn’t get off the subject of his private life.  He got quietly irritated that, in the face of such important matters to discuss, she was poking about in something totally irrelevant to the world.  He told her a couple of times that if she wouldn’t stop he’d leave.  She didn’t stop.  He got up and left.  I admired that, but there was something about him that was a bit unsettling; I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

With his latest stunt, the publication of 291 US diplomatic cables, many leaders and politicians are having their dirty laundry hung out to dry, and from the leaks we’re  seeing evidence of the pettiness, double-dealing and hypocrisy which characterizes international relations.  I’m not sure if this is a bad thing.   We live in a world of rampant paranoia, exaggerated suspicion, double standards; and general hoodwinking of the common man, in the name of public interest.  That can’t be good.

Well some of that hoodwinking is out in the open now.  Now we know China doesn’t view North Korea in a very favorable light, and I think that’s good.  We also know that Arab Leaders want the US to attack Iran and force it to give up its nuclear weapons program.  That’s very interesting.  Then there’s the widespread use  of computer hacking by the Chinese Government – but we all know that China doesn’t care about human rights, so it’s not news.  Alleged Russian Government links to organized crime isn’t news either.

Is any of this going to turn the world upside down?  I don’t know.  I wonder if the enigmatic Assange does this because he believes truth is important, or because he enjoys the role he’s playing.  His fans see him as a hero campaigning valiantly for the truth, but his critics say he’s irresponsible.  He could be a man on a mission for the truth, or he could be an anarchist.

Clearly he loves the world of intrigue.   He was born in 1971 in Townsville, northern Australia, to a couple who had a travelling theatre.  Having been arrested for hacking in his early 20’s, he co-wrote a book on the emerging subversive element of the internet with Suelette Dreyfus, then studied math and physics at university.  He excelled at the former.

In 2006 he started Wikileaks with a group of like-minded people from around the web.   Right from the start it was a cloak and dagger affair.  To keep their sources safe, they had to encrypt everything, spread assets, and move people and telecommunications around the world to hide behind the protection of various laws in different countries.  I should imagine it was inspiring in those days, probably pretty exciting.

But things have got a whole lot darker now.  Whatever Assange’s motives, whether he’s a hero or a self-centered anarchist, he’s playing with fire and he’s not going to be the only one getting burned.  The repercussions have already started for him.   He was denied residency in Sweden in October, despite that Sweden is a refuge for whistle-blowers.  In fact, Sweden has a red alert out for him – they want him hauled in for questioning regarding rape and molestation charges (which could easily have been fabricated).  And Australia is investigating him to see if he’s broken the law there.

The thing is, he can probably always find a place to escape, but that isn’t always going to be so for the people who send him the leaked information.  For example the 23 year old American accused of stealing the cables is facing 50 years in jail and some are calling for the death sentence.  His story breaks my heart.  I’ll tell it tomorrow.