Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Julian Assange has done us all a service. He needs support

Julian Assange outside court

Sympathy seems in short supply for Julian Assange, the Australian-born founder of WikiLeaks currently holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

Swedish authorities want to talk to Assange about allegations of sexual assault in Stockholm. He says he fears that, if he travels to Sweden, he might be extradited to the US on charges of espionage arising from WikiLeaks' publication of 250,000 classified diplomatic documents.

Assange's supporters insist the allegations are spurious. The robust feminist and anti-war campaigner Naomi Klein says: "Rape is being used in the Assange prosecution in the same way that women's freedom was used to invade Afghanistan. Wake up."

Whatever the truth of what happened in Stockholm, Assange's apprehensions about what might happen in the US are far from fanciful.

The head of the US Senate's intelligence oversight committee, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, told the Sydney Morning Herald last weekend that, "I believe that Julian Assange has knowingly obtained and disseminated classified information which could cause injury to the United States ... He has caused serious harm to US national security and should be prosecuted accordingly."

In light of that, and given seemingly permanently heightened US anxieties about 'homeland security', Assange's nightmare glimpse of himself shuffling in a jump-suit in Guantanamo Bay can hardly be dismissed as an invented ploy for evading the Swedish police. So it's puzzling that few in the mainstream media seem concerned about his plight.

Assange's team worked for almost a year, with others, sifting through and annotating the leaked archive prior to launching publication in November 2010.

His partners were the New York Times, the Guardian, Le Monde, El Pais and Der Spiegel - publications held in the highest esteem, not least by themselves. (Hundreds of the leaked State Department cables have since been published in the Belfast Telegraph.)

Assange might have anticipated support from his partners when he found himself in peril for his role in providing them with an unprecedented spate of scoops. In fact, journalists from the same outlets have been among the most churlish in responding to his travails. Guardian writers have highlighted minor eccentricities of behaviour and appearance to depict him as a somewhat ridiculous figure. But there has been nothing ridiculous about the WikiLeaks revelations.

WikiLeaks gave us sight of the video footage from July 2007, in which a US soldier in a helicopter over Baghdad yells "Ha. Ha. Look at those dead b*******" after he has machine-gunned to death the driver of a van which had stopped to pick up the bodies of a Reuters photographer and others killed from the same helicopter a few minutes earlier.

The Pentagon would still be denying the incident if Assange hadn't put us all in the picture.

There might be innocents among us still unaware of Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's belief that telling truth in politics is preposterous had WikiLeaks not published the cable from 2008 quoting his private assurance to US diplomats that he didn't mean a word of his public opposition to a re-run of the Lisbon treaty referendum and could be trusted to renege on his party's policy in good time for the next poll.

The cable was copied to all US offices across the EU. The Yanks in Riga knew more about the Irish Labour Party's position than its members pounding the streets of Dublin. These and thousands of other pieces of information would have remained hidden in darkness had WikiLeaks not vindicated our right to know.

Three years ago, even as Barak Obama was bigging up Prime Minister Hamid Karzai as the linchpin of a future democratic Afghanistan that American soldiers might appropriately kill or die for, the US embassy in Kabul was describing him as 'a paranoid and weak individual unfamiliar with the basics of nation-building' - effectively an admission that US strategy against the Taliban had no credible Afghan component. In Kabul, on May 1 last, Obama pledged continuing support for Karzai - even after planned US withdrawal in 2014.

While high-minded journalists are eager for the kudos that properly come from laying out concealed truths for open inspection, they tend not to be willing to challenge the system which needs truth concealed: that would be 'political'.

Thus the contradiction on which many squirm, impaled, when they come to decide on a stance towards Assange's predicament. The reason we need the truth is precisely to combat the liars, thieves and warmongers who rule the roost and would drag the rest of us to ruin to preserve their own privilege.

Julian Assange has done democracy some service and is entitled to the solid support of serious journalism.

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