Thursday, December 9, 2010

Don’t Shoot the Messenger.

This morning I’m mainly going to share Julian Assange’s own rebuttal to the attacks made on Wikileaks, published in yesterday’s Australian newspaper. I’m not going to pass judgement on his present extradition trial; Sweden wants him for sexual assault charges, not anything to do with his work, which a lot of people seem to be forgetting. (I’ve heard a number of different reports as to what these charges are; one source claims that his crime was in fact not using a condom.)

I don’t think he gets everything completely right. I understand his desire to paint Wikileaks as the underdog; it certainly appeals to the Australian mindset. Rather, I think the reason the authorities are scapegoating the organisation is that if they went after the other, more established news organisations that are coöperating with Wikileaks in releasing its information, there would be a much bigger backlash about freedom of speech and of the press than there has been. And that is, ultimately, what this is all about. It’s not treason: for that matter, Assange isn’t even American. It’s not spying: Wikileaks takes anonymous submissions, investigates them to ensure their authenticity, and then releases them with the assistance of the press. It’s just journalism: impressively hard-hitting journalism, especially embarrassing to a lot of powerful people, but hey — surely that’s what we keep the media around for, morally speaking? It’s their job to see that our leaders can’t get away with anything.

For my own part, I’m on the side of the leakers and journalists up to the point where they release information that’s dangerous to life; so far, the only life that seems to have been threatened by their actions is Assange’s himself. As I’ve said before, the truth never hurt anyone unless a lie got there first. I don’t think this will usher in a new era of more open government. I expect that if anything it will lead to less openness, as official organisations will be less willing to be completely open with each other if they know that what they have to say might be leaked and published. But we’ve always lived with that possibility. Yes Minister paints leaks as just another government tool (“The Ship of State is the only ship that leaks from the top”); perhaps the real objection to this one is that it wasn’t politically motivated, at least by any ideology other than a desire to share the truth.

What has been released so far is embarrassing, but doesn’t seem to involve national secrets or anything like that. Of course, they may be saving the best for last. But what we’ve seen in the last week or so has been a rare glimpse into the relatively private lives of our leaders and politicians and diplomats, and what have we actually found?

That they’re people, no better or worse than most of us. They’re not good or evil; they’re not especially intelligent or dimwitted. I think this is a reminder that the world, especially the USA, needed. It’s a particularly Australian thing, I feel. You cut down the tall poppy by showing him to be just a poppy. In this light, I think Kevin Rudd’s response to the whole mess was by far the best of anyone’s: “I don’t care. I’ve read worse.”

ETA: By far the worst thing to come out of this, I feel, is that Paypal and the major credit card companies have cut off Wikileaks from receiving payments. The organisation survives on donations, many of them small, anonymous, and made online. They have the legal right to do so as private corporations, but I think this is despicable and cowardly. Wikileaks is not a criminal organisation; to compare its releases to terrorism is an insult to the memory of every terrorist victim. Most jarring is the fact that they still allow payments to hate groups and organisations committed to spreading lies and bullshit, while cutting off a group whose ideology is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

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