Many think that Julian Assange is a hero, many think he’s a villain. Personally, I think hero-worship is silly. Many acknowledged heroes have ably demonstrated that they have feet of clay. I won’t, therefore, be lauding Assange & Wikileaks uncritically. Time will tell whether their activities, on balance, have been a good thing.
For the moment though we can make a provisional judgement based on the criticisms made by their enemies. From the dubious rape allegations to the accusations of treason, these criticisms have been the model of hysterical hyperbole. Assange has not even been charged with a crime in Sweden, and police say they only want to question him, yet one commentator on American television has claimed that Michael Moore, who has spoken in Assange’s defence, and put up some of the bail money, is supporting a serial rapist!
Another claim that is persistently made is that, by releasing information in its unedited form, Wikileaks is putting lives at risk. Except it’s not true. I can’t say with certainty that it hasn’t happened, but I can say that information has been edited, and names redacted, while those screaming “treason” have yet to show an example of lives at risk. They merely shout the claim as loudly and often as they can, then use the supposition as “evidence” that Assange needs to be assassinated!
So why this extreme reaction? Here are two examples of the sort of information Wikileaks has made available, and that the Powers That Be would rather not have people know:
In Ireland a commission was set up, in 2006, to look into allegations of child abuse committed by Roman Catholic priests. The present Pope, one Mr Ratzinger, refused to allow Vatican officials to testify; he was even “furious” at attempts to question them in Rome. If only he’d thought to vent that fury at the actual child abusers, and those who helped cover up for them, rather than the embarrassment that talking about it has caused him.
The USA’s fondness for the rule of law has been brought into question in another leak. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton directed America’s envoys around the world to gather information about other diplomats and dignitaries. Nothing sinister about that, until you realise that the information demanded included credit card details, even the P.I.N., which nobody has a right to know. Even trying to find out someone’s Personal Identification Number is a criminal act, unless you already have a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing and obtain a warrant. I’d like to see the warrant that allowed access to the bank details of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, one of the people specifically targeted by Clinton.
There was a time when politicians and leaders put some effort into claiming that they acted in the public interest, but these days such claims, though still made, are half-hearted. They probably know people won’t just take their word anymore, because they or their predecessors have been caught out so often before. As information technology improves the situation will, from their perspective, deteriorate. The Iranian post-election furore involving Twitter, much lauded in the West, is not substantially different from the activities of Wikileaks.
Nor are the cries for the assassination of Julian Assange notably different from the calls for a fatwa by an authoritarian Muslim cleric.
Whether Assange is a hero or a villain, his opponents haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory.