Revolution #220, December 19, 2010
U.S. Lashes Out At Wikileaks
On December 7, Julian Assange, director of the Internet media outlet Wikileaks, turned himself in at a London police station. For weeks before his arrest, Wikileaks began releasing hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables from U.S. embassies throughout the world, and threats against him from governments and police agencies in the U.S. and Europe mounted.
A Full-Court Press of Repression
In particular, the U.S. state unleashed a full-court press of repression, threats, deceit, and manipulation in a furious effort to silence Julian Assange and shut down Wikileaks. Journalist Glenn Greenwald said in an interview, "whatever you think of Wikileaks, they have not been charged with a crime, let alone indicted or convicted. Yet look what has happened to them. They have been removed from the Internet ... their funds have been frozen...media figures and politicians have called for their assassination and to be labeled a terrorist organization." (Democracy Now!, December 7, 2010)
Leading U.S. political figures clamored for Assange's capture, even his execution. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell said Assange is a "high tech terrorist," and Newt Gingrich said he is an "information terrorist" who should be arrested as an "enemy combatant." Influential right-wing columnist William Kristol asked, "Why can't we use our various assets to harass, snatch or neutralize Julian Assange and his collaborators, wherever they are? Why can't we disrupt and destroy Wikileaks in both cyberspace and physical space, to the extent possible?" Sarah Palin, writing on her Facebook page, asked, "Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?"
The Mafia-like code words used by these people were clearly intended to mean the U.S. should use its resources to track down and kill Assange.
Other imperialist states joined the hunt. Sweden re-issued a warrant for Assange's arrest on charges of rape, based on an allegation made earlier this year; then dropped days later and then reinstated. Then Interpol put out a "red notice" for Assange on December 1, meaning he was on their most wanted list—an extraordinary move.
Assange, who is an Australian citizen, became "stateless." He was forced to live surreptitiously, on the move constantly. Eric Bresson, Industry Ministry of the French government, said there would be "consequences" for any French company that helped keep Wikileaks online in France. Tom Flanagan, former campaign manager for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said Assange "should be assassinated, actually. I think Obama should put out a contract and maybe use a drone or something." (cited in Montreal Gazette, December 5, 2010)
On November 27, the U.S. State Department sent a letter to various financial and Internet companies telling them it considers Wikileaks activities illegal in the U.S. Then, on December 1, Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, called on "any other company or organization that is hosting Wikileaks to immediately terminate its relationship with them. Wikileaks' illegal, outrageous, and reckless acts have compromised our national security and put lives at risk around the world. No responsible company—whether American or foreign—should assist Wikileaks in its efforts to disseminate these stolen materials." (cited in Guardian UK, December 1, 2010)
Lieberman's call signaled an international financial squeeze aimed at removing Wikileaks from the Internet and cutting off its funding. Post Finance, the Swiss Bank which holds Assange's personal account, froze his funds, depriving Assange and Wikileaks of about $130,000. Soon PayPal, Amazon, Visa, and Mastercard cut off Wikileaks. A sustained "distributed denial of services" cyber assault on Wikileaks succeeded in shutting down its website. In an extraordinary assault, the domain name service (DNS) provider for Wikileaks cut off its service, meaning that the Wikileaks site lost its wikileaks.org web address and was no longer accessible to viewers. In the fight to keep Wikileaks' site up and open, within hours new providers in other countries picked it up, and as of this writing the Wikileaks site can be found at wikileaks.ch (based in Switzerland).
Again, it must be emphasized—neither Wikileaks nor Assange has even been charged with a crime pertaining to these documents. And since there haven't even been charges, there has not been a trial, or any safeguards that should be given to someone as basic elementary rights. Yet Assange has been hounded and threatened and basically had a free-standing contract put out on him by very "respected" people. Representatives of the government, along with major corporations, have denied the group he is part of the ability to function on the Internet and have frozen his assets, at the very time he is coming under sustained attack, both legal and extra-legal. He is literally battling for survival, political and personal. The idea of "innocent until proven guilty"—and now, even innocent until charged!—has been shredded.
Even looking at Wikileaks and its trove of documents, and posting them to Facebook pages or in emails has been threatened. At Columbia University, Boston University, and Michigan State University letters were sent to students saying that their career opportunities would be jeopardized if they were found going to Wikileaks. The letter from Boston University's career services office said, "Two big factors in hiring for many federal government positions are determining if the applicants have good judgment and if they know how to deal with confidential/classified information. The documents released by Wikileaks remain classified; thus, reading them, passing them on, commenting on them may be seen as a violation of Executive Order 13526, Classified National Security Information. See Section 5.5 (Sanctions)."
In opposition to these efforts, Assange remains defiant and unrepentant, and people throughout the world have worked to keep Wikileaks online and funded, and to ensure that the release of the material Wikileaks has in its files will continue. Hundreds of mirror sites have appeared around the world.
A Complicit, Compliant Media
Some of the material Wikileaks released has been published in major newspapers, such as the Guardian UK, the New York Times, and Der Spiegel. But the main thrust of, coverage of and especially the commentary on Wikileaks and Assange has been to join in the vilification of Assange, and not to substantively report on what the Wikileaks exposures reveal about the workings of the imperial state.
Marc Thiessen, a prominent columnist for the Washington Post, wrote on August 3, "Let's be clear: WikiLeaks is not a news organization; it is a criminal enterprise ... [WikiLeak's] actions are likely a violation of the Espionage Act, and they arguably constitute material support for terrorism."
The facts are actually pretty basic. The mass media in the U.S. has always fundamentally been an instrument of imperialism, but this has become even more blatant and direct since 9/11. This came out very sharply leading up to and during the U.S. invasion of and war against Iraq, when the media trumpeted and embellished the lie that Iraq was hiding "weapons of mass destruction." And especially since George Bush & Co. initiated the "war on terror," major media in the U.S. and other imperialist countries have repeated whatever lies and deception are fed to them by White House and Pentagon spokespeople. They have consistently—and without fail—created public opinion for unjust war, with all its horrors, including torture, as well as unprecedented repression—including widespread roundups of people who were not even accused of having any connection to 9/11.
"Embedded journalists" tell the story of imperialist invasion and occupation from the perspective of an invading army, with little or no pretense of "objectivity." They meekly accept Pentagon dictates about where they can go and what they can cover. Most of all, with few exceptions, they do not seek out and report on the crimes ordered and carried out by the U.S. government and military; and when such crimes have come to light, they do not challenge in any meaningful way the justifications and evasions provided for the wars, the torture, the spying, the deaths of countless children, the use of drone bombings upon civilians, and all the other monstrosities at the core of the "war on terror" the U.S. has waged under Bush and Obama.
In the case of Assange, violations of these "rules of the game" for acceptable mainstream journalism have brought on a whole range of vicious attacks. The nature of Wikileaks—a journalistic outlet that makes available materials made available to it—has been distorted and portrayed as all kinds of things it is not. People calling for the persecution and even murder of Assange are given major, mainstream, and sympathetic press, while hardly any defense of Assange is allowed to reach the broad public. And Assange has been the target of full-out character assassination, as typified by a page one piece in a Sunday New York Times that gathered all kinds of baseless and unsubstantiated slanders into what is commonly known as a "takedown piece"—a "profile" specifically intended to ruin someone's reputation. ("WikiLeaks Founder on the Run, Trailed by Notoriety," New York Times, October 23, 2010)
As blogger Chris Floyd wrote this week, "[Wikileaks] is a journalistic outlet just like CNN, ABC, CBS, Fox and other mainstream media venues, where we have seen an endless parade of officials—and journalists!—calling for Assange to be prosecuted or killed outright. Every argument being made for shutting down Wikileaks can—and doubtless will—be used against any journalistic enterprise that publishes material powerful people don't like."
And, some are beginning to make that argument. Joe Lieberman has called for a federal investigation into the New York Times to determine whether it has violated the Espionage Act of 1917 by printing some of the documents. Lieberman said "I certainly believe WikiLeaks has violated The Espionage Act. The New York Times has committed at least an act of bad citizenship. Whether they've committed a crime, I think that bears very intensive inquiry by the Justice Department. Why do you prosecute crimes? Because if you don't, others are going to do it soon and again. And I'm afraid that's what's going to happen here."
Tightening the Screws, Upping the Ante
Not that long ago, in 2008, the weekly news magazine The Economist gave Wikileaks its "new media award" for that year. Shortly after, the New York Daily News listed Wikileaks first in a ranking of "websites that could totally change the news."
But all that began to change drastically when Wikileaks released its April 2010 files, revealing, among many other atrocities, the Collateral Murder video. (Collateral Murder, online at collateralmurder.com) This video showed the cold blooded murder of journalists and Iraqi civilians by U.S. military forces. Now there is an all out effort to prevent Wikileaks or anything like it from existing in the days ahead.
Even in the best of times such democratic rights as do exist in the U.S. are tightly controlled and constrained. Such rights are, in the main, not even extended to whole sections of the people—immigrants, or basic masses in the ghettos and barrios, for instance. People and groups that disagree with government policy are routinely spied on and harassed. For those who advocate or represent a more fundamental challenge, including revolutionaries, the edge comes out all the more sharply, up to and including railroads to prison and assassination.
This is because the U.S. government is at bottom a dictatorship—a state whose rule is enforced by armies and police, courts and prisons—in short, the use of violence; and this violence is used on behalf of the capitalist-imperialist class and their "freedom" to exploit, plunder and oppress people all over the world. Because the documents released by Wikileaks give a glimpse of some of how that is done, the sharp edge of this dictatorship has now openly come out and been trained on Julian Assange and Wikileaks.
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