Saturday, 4 December 2010


The highly publicized case of Wikileaks and the manner that the US government has been handling it raises basic questions about the Constitution, the slippery slope of adopting undemocratic measures in the name of democracy, and values US government is promoting in the 'epoch of terrorism'.

INTERPOL web site lists Julian Assange, founded of Wikileaks, as wanted for sex crimes in Gothenburg, Sweden. That he was permitted to leave Sweden, that the prosecutor refused to accept Assange's voluntary cooperation in the case, and that the lower court threw out the rape charge raises questions that his lawyers brought to light. None of this stopped presidential hopeful Sarah Palin from calling on Assange to be be hunted down, and others going further and calling for his assassination. 

Under the 'sex crimes' category, INTERPOL web site lists more than 160 other individuals, but Assange who was cleared of the rape charged and Swedish prosecutor continues to refuse cooperation is on INTERPOL's most wanted list. The US, which is INTERPOL member, is behind the campaign to hunt down Assange, as it has accused him of violating the Espionage Act promulgated in 1917 to hunt down anti-war activists, especially anarcho-syndicalists.

Let us assume that the Wikileaks founder is indeed guilty of nebulous 'sex crimes'. And let us also assume that he voluntarily returns to Sweden, he is tried, found guilty as charged and is sentenced to a prison term. At that juncture there are several things the US government must have already considered, given that the departments of State, Defense and Justice already have analysts looking at every possible angle of this issue with which they are playing politics and not seeking justice.

First, if the US is the principal force behind INTERPOL hunting down Assange in such a high-profile manner designed mostly for publicity, shouldn't people wonder why it is not equally pressing for individuals responsible for far more serious crimes?  And if he is guilty of violating the Espionage Act, is he alone in this enterprise, or is everyone connected with the documents, including the New York Times and other major media outlets with which Wikileaks cooperated?

Second, by politicizing the Wikileaks case, the US has already managed to make Assange a hero for many millions of people around the world. Regardless of how Hugo Chavez and Rafel Correa among others have tried to use Wikileaks to embarrass the US, it is Washington not Caracas or Quito that have made this Australian 'web-leaker' a martyr.  Would it best serve US interests to make a martyr of a man already a web hero for many millions and who obviously does not work alone and is merely the symbol of what many people view as an alternative method of securing accurate information?

Third, would arresting and imprisoning Assange mean the end of Wikileaks? Even if every Wikileaks employee goes to prison, would that mean the end of copycat Wikileaks? Can US government put the toothpaste back in the tube by persecuting Assange, or is it asking for more trouble by glorifying him? I am assuming that copycats are already seeking to emulate Assange and that their number will increase in the future. Can the state police web technology whose very nature lends itself to disclosure?

Fourth, some people view Assange as the web's Ernesto CHE Guevara. Some believe he is a flamboyant individual who does not really have much to reveal, given that there was general knowledge of what he makes available to the public. Still others think he out to make a name for himself and probably lots of money down the road. This third category has been my position all along. That Wikileaks has been collaborating with some of the world's most respected media outlets may indicate that Assange plans to become 'legitimate' and down the road reap the tangible rewards legitimacy brings. In fact, he is half-way there already.

Regardless of his reasons for exposing government documents, the result is that he is exposing the raw inner workings of government agencies for the public to see and therein may rest a new danger that WIkileaks may eventually go after large multinationals with the intent of exposing their dirty laundry to the public. Can the age of the information revolution that government and corporate media cannot control be regimented by resorting to police-state methods? Does the US wish to risk strengthening the culture of secrecy and be perceived by people at home and around the world as a police-state, especially at this juncture when it is trying so hard to present the image of an open society spreading freedom and democracy to the world?

Fifth, it is ironic that the Obama administration elected to create a more democratic government than Bush has banned Wikileaks from all govt. computers, including the Library of Congress and has made viewing such classified material as 'protected by the law' - I am not sure what this means in legal terms if individuals view the documents and the Justice Department has to go after them. Nor am I sure the Espionage Act charge can stand up in court, given recent previous cases. US government is sending a strong signal to the private sector mostly to appease conservatives who question Obama's resolve to 'be tough on security'.  US civil rights groups appear concerned about freedom of public information and they are raising questions that the US approach to Wikileaks is not very different than China's that the US and many Western critics regard "authoritarian".

Wikileaks offers the opportunity to determine for themselves the degree to which their governments are honest with them and with other governments. Official versions of current and historical events generally tend to eulogize the regime and institutions. Those who have studied historiography are well aware that this has been the case throughout history, with few exceptions. Thucydides was the master at allowing the reader to draw conclusions by examining both the official version of Athenian foreign policy (Pericles in the Funeral Oration) as well as the other side of those on the receiving end (The Melian Dialogue). Not much has changed in the past 2,500 years in terms of the state trying to convince the public of its clean image by not disclosing essential facts, while some independent researcher or analyst comes along to present the other side. Does the public have the right to see the other side? England, for example where Assange is hiding out, committed untold atrocities in India, but how much of that is a central theme in Britain''s official history or documentaries today?

Going after Assange is not a matter of the US govt. violating the First Amendment because in very subtle and in some not so subtle ways bending of the First Amendment has been taking place throughout US history, especially in times of hot and cold wars. Nor is this an issue of the US respecting the UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS because it has not observed it at home - hence the need for a civil rights movement - or abroad in egregious cases like South Africa under apartheid regime. This is much deeper, it is about the values that have been lost in the pursuit of hegemony that is slipping away.

The case of WIKILEAKS presents the Obama administration with an opportunity to reexamine not just its policies and values which are the source of the problem, rather than the leaking of docs. America values rooted in 18th century Enlightenment philosophical principles of freedom and democracy are yielding to authoritarianism in the 'epoch of terrorism'. In a pluralistic society, all voices need to be heard as there must also be a balance between maintaining national security and protecting  civil rights that the law must continue to protect and not override with the Espionage Act designed for time of war and used for political persecution. The US needs to consider if it wishes to follow the road to authoritarianism owing to antiquated early Cold War policies applied in the 'epoch of terrorism', or assume a new course that would revitalize the country based on the values of the Founding Fathers.

Before Obama was elected, I wrote on WAIS that the as first African-American president he was a symbol of hope who needed to prove if he was indeed a substantive and visionary leader like FDR able to undertake systemic changes to alter course for America, a country suffering from lost wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and sunk into the deepest recession since the 1930s. Two years into the administration, Obama has proved a very conventional president with a less than mediocre record on economic and labor policy, a somewhat better policy on social-cultural issues, and a dismal foreign policy record, given the lingering mess in Afghanistan and lack of resolution in the Palestinian question.

A product of the age of hollow image and politically-good sounding rhetoric, Obama lacks substance, and the vision and ability to undertake bold initiatives. At the same time, it is frightening to think that even worse is waiting in the wings in the person of Sarah Palin and Tea Party fanatics whose following among the masses is growing! God help America find its way to values that made it one of the greatest countries in the age of Lincoln and FDR!

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