Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Once more into the breach

I had really hoped to leave aside WikiLeaks for a bit after one more short comment that I was too tired to make last night. Events demand otherwise.

In science, it's held that an explanation that unites various pieces of evidence under a single heading is a sound hypothesis worthy of serious consideration. It is in that spirit, that sense of a sound hypothesis, that I say that what we are seeing is an international campaign, sparked, coordinated, and at least in some parts directly controlled by the Barack Obama White House, to destroy WikiLeaks. Not in the cause of justice or "protecting sources" or any of the rest of that crap, but out of a pure, self-interested, hunger for power and dominance.

Of particular relevance here, the Obama administration has taken an even harsher line against whistle-blowers than the Shrub gang did. The growing, expanding, campaign against WikiLeaks fits right in with that agenda. And that agenda makes everything that's going on make sense.

Mastercard now has cut off WikiLeaks, claiming it is engaged in "illegal activity." Visa now has cut off WikiLeaks, muttering about "the nature of its business." This, of course, despite the fact that WikiLeaks has done nothing illegal. As one Ben Yarrow put in in the tweet heard 'round the world,
Freedom of Speech - Priceless. For everything else, there's MasterCard.
The Swiss post office's bank, PostFinance, has shut the account Julian Assange set up there, arguing that he couldn't prove he lived in Geneva. It says it will return the 31,000 euros deposited there - but doesn't say when, meaning for now the funds are effectively frozen. According to WikiLeaks, PayPal has not only blocked the group's account, it has frozen - that is, it has and is not allowing to be transmitted - some 60,000 euros intended for the group. Which means the group is out some 90,000 euros at exactly the time when its costs are rising and its ability to obtain donations is being choked off.

Assange himself has been arrested by UK police and is being held in Wandsworth prison without bail despite the fact that he turned himself in as soon as police received a valid warrant, the police knew where he was before, his attorneys offered to accept a number of conditions including an ankle bracelet, and face it, he is hardly a flight risk.

That linked article, by the way, repeats the same falsehoods about Assange's legal troubles with Sweden that have penetrated almost all coverage:
[H]e faces one count of rape, one of unlawful coercion and two counts of sexual molestation.
First, no actual charges have been filed and what he is wanted for is questioning. Second, Sweden has a much broader definition of what constitutes "rape" than the US or most other Western counties do, under which even consensual sex can be rape if the man refused to wear a condom. As I have said before, this does not mean he is not guilty. It does mean the reporting is the polite term is inaccurate.

More importantly, it should be emphasized - it can't be emphasized enough - that this has nothing to do with WikiLeaks! Assange could be an outright sexual predator and it would still say absolutely nothing about the leaks or the value of the organization (or, if you prefer, the lack thereof). It's a sideshow, a distraction the powers-that-be are delighted to see be a center of focus, one which I still find, as I said the other day, fishy, but which ultimately is irrelevant to everyone except the people directly concerned.

Meanwhile, major news media, ever eager to suck up to power, have largely stopped applying the term "whistle-blower," one most people regard as favorable, to WikiLeaks. After White House blah-blaher Tommy Vietor said WikiLeaks "is not a whistle-blowing organization," AP, NBC News, and Reuters all snapped to and the New York Times has flopped back and forth, sometimes using the term "whistle-blower" but in at least one case changing a posted article to remove it.

The direct threats have also continued, of course:
Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters [on Monday] that he is personally involved in the ongoing criminal probe of WikiLeaks and that he authorized "a number of things to be done so that we can get to the bottom of this and hold people accountable."
Holder wouldn't say just what the basis for a prosecution would be beyond saying that the Espionage Act of 93 years ago was not the only thing they were looking at - which is to be expected since, again, WikiLeaks has broken no laws, especially not any US laws. But that is not a problem, according to Holder.
"To the extent there are gaps in our laws," Holder [said last week], "we will move to close those gaps, which is not to say . . . that anybody at this point, because of their citizenship or their residence, is not a target or a subject of an investigation that's ongoing."
Put another way, if we can find something to use, the fact that you were not subject to US jurisdiction is irrelevant. (That, parenthetically, is not new: We've argued that the reach of US law extends across the world for at least 21 years.)

As Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, even being innocent is no guarantee against punishment, especially when, as Senator Mitch "Fishface" McConnell suggested on Meat the Press, you can simply change the law - because, after all, if dumping "innocent until proven guilty" is not a problem, as it apparently isn't, then pitching the Constitution's ban on bills of attainder and ex post facto laws down the memory hole should be no problem, either. The message is, "We'll find something!" - a message it is reasonable to think is not aimed just at WikiLeaks but at anyone else who may think of crossing the government.

This is all being done despite the uncontested fact that
[d]ays before releasing any of the latest documents, Assange appealed to the U.S. ambassador in London, asking the U.S. government to confidentially help him determine what needed to be redacted from the cables before they were publicly released.
The State Department flatly refused, just as the US government had in the face of a similar request prior to the summer release of the documents about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That is, the US could have prevented many if not all of the threats to innocent people they now claim exist - and they outright refused to do so. With the experience of the summer behind then, they had to know that WikiLeaks would proceed. So was the Obama White House interested in protecting innocent people or in having something with which to slam WikiLeaks? It's hard to argue that it was not the latter.

By the way, it's also uncontested, despite what media accounts would have you believe if you don't dig a bit, that after being summarily dismissed by the US government, WikiLeaks went to four major European news outlets and they, along with the New York Times, published redacted versions of the released cables - and that WikiLeaks posted those cables only after those media has published stories about them and in many cases with the redactions they proposed.

But still, but still, it's not all bad news. Last week, the ACLU said prosecuting WikiLeaks would raise "serious constitutional concerns." On Monday, Evan Hansen, editor-in-chief of Wired.com, wrote on "Why WikiLeaks Is Good for America." The group Civil Liberties Australia has issued a statement declaring it
unreservedly supports Julian Assange's right to operate as a journalist/blogger, and to post leaked material online. By doing so, he commits no legitimate offence we're aware of in the USA or Australia.
The statement went on to put him in the tradition of Daniel Ellsberg and Woodward/Bernstein.

Even better, Twitter and Facebook have indicated no intention to ban WikiLeaks, with Facebook saying the WikiLeaks Facebook page "does not violate our content standards nor have we encountered any material posted on the page that violates our policies." That may well not be the end of it, especially in the case of Twitter which was evasive on the matter, but for now the access remains up.

So the battle, if you will, goes on. Which brings me to the last thing I want to say here, the thing I was too tired to say last night. It will be relatively short because Glenn Greenwald has covered it in more detail and at greater length than I could have in the first phrase and would have in the second. But still I want to say it.

There are powerful people in the House and in the Senate who have condemned WikiLeaks as "terrorist," who have successfully intimidated companies into breaking their ties with the group, who have proposed changing laws and ignoring the Constitution in order to get WikiLeaks in general and Julian Assange in particular. But despite all that, their power lies in their influence and their connections to the levers of power. They are not the people with their hands on those levers. Those people are found in the White House and the federal agencies it oversees. So it is those people I will consider.

These people, these people who have covered up torture; who outright refuse to pursue even the self-admitted torture and war crimes committed by the Bush administration in direct violation of international treaty obligations, indeed who have actively sought to block attempts by others to do so; these people who run their own secret prisons; whose military has repeatedly killed innocent civilians, tried to cover it up, and then dismissed those victims as "accidents"; a military which as recently as last July turned over prisoners to Iraqi security knowing they would be tortured; these people, who drag out and extend immoral wars on behalf of corrupt governments; who have claimed the power to spy on us, the power to poke, prod, and pry into every facet of our lives in secret and to track us in real time; who have claimed the power even, potentially, to kill us; all of it, all of it, without oversight and without being questioned -

These people do not have the moral standing to attack WikiLeaks.

They do not have the moral standing to accuse it of putting innocents at risk. They do not have the moral standing to lecture it about "impropriety." They do not have the moral standing to go on about "illegality." They do not have the moral standing to point their blood-stained fingers, not at WikiLeaks and not at those who would and do support it.

Is WikiLeaks perfect? Beyond criticism from any source? Without error? Of course not, no, and don't be stupid. Still, Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable at times that I wish it to be always alive." It is in exactly that spirit that I can unhesitatingly say:

Long live WikiLeaks.

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