Imperialism’s attempt to close down WikiLeaks has met with determined resistance, writes Eddie Ford
As the Weekly Worker goes to press, Julian Assange is still under lock and key in Wandsworth prison. Though the founder of WikiLeaks won his application for bail before a magistrates court on November 14, the Swedish prosecution team launched an immediate appeal – claiming, quite risibly, that Assange is a “flight risk”. Hardly anonymous, is he? This ensures that Assange remains languishing in a vulnerable prisoners unit for at least the next 48 hours whist the ‘legal process’ runs its course. So two steps forwards, then one step, or possibly more, back. Assange’s next full court appearance is scheduled for January 11, regardless of whether he remains in custody or not.
Assange is of course facing the prospect of extradition to Sweden on transparently trumped-up allegations of “sexual assault” and then, in turn, getting carted off to the United States to face trumped-up charges of “espionage” or even “terrorism” in an imperialist daisy-chain. Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, Fox News talk show host and Republican presidential hopeful – another rightwing nut-job like Sarah Palin – has already gone on record stating that those who passed on state secrets to Assange/WikiLeaks should be executed. Disturbing reports are circulating that Washington is seeking to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act of 1917, which prohibits any attempt to “interfere” with military operations or military recruitment, to support America’s “enemies during wartime” or to promote “insubordination” in the military (reaffirmed in 1919 when the US supreme court unanimously ruled in Schenck v United States that the act did not violate the freedom of speech of those convicted under its provisions). Of course, this blatantly anti-democratic law was deployed against Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo in June 1971 when they published the famous Pentagon Papers in the New York Times – the argument being that they did not have the “legal authority” to release classified or secret documents. Sound familiar? And contrary to popular misconception, Ellsberg and Russo were not in fact acquitted of violating the 1917 Espionage Act, but rather a “mistrial” was declared when eagle-eyed lawyers discovered numerous “irregularities” in the government’s case.
Therefore the stakes are high. Almost life and death. Governments like the US, not to mention the rightwing media, are trying to keep under wraps the dirty business of diplomacy and a reassert a tight, deathly, grip on the flow of information – to prevent the leaking and dissemination of “inconvenient information”. This insidious attempt to clamp down on democratic rights must be comprehensively defeated, otherwise we could all end up having our right to free speech – and access to information – wither away before our very eyes: we are all Julian Assanges now. Assange must be immediately released and all charges against him dropped. To demand anything less would be to capitulate to imperialism and to vacate the democratic struggle for freedom of information.
The bail conditions imposed upon Assange, if the Swedish appeal is unsuccessful, stipulate that he must provide a surety of £240,000 – justice in the UK never comes cheap; surrender his passport; obey a daily curfew from 10am to 2pm at a Suffolk address; report to the local police station every day at 6pm on the dot; and wear an electronic tag. In other words, Assange is being treated like a criminal, albeit a most uncommon one – someone who has incurred the wrath of world imperialism and must be punished by any means necessary. Hence the legal and extra-legal machinations.
For instance, as pointed out in court by Assange’s barrister, Geoffrey Robertson QC, there was no suggestion – or evidence – that he had used any sort of violence or force against the two women making the allegations against him, this being the usual definition or understanding of rape or “sexual assault”. In fact, there does not seem to be any dispute that the sex was consensual. Rather, the accusation is that Assange transgressed Sweden’s unique ‘feminist’ laws that forbid “sex by surprise” – which is to say, a condom broke during sexual intercourse, hardly an unknown occurrence (nor is having sex with someone who might be half-asleep). A non-custodial crime which normally incurs a fine of 5,000 kronor (£454), it does not usually make one the subject of an Interpol ‘red notice’ and an international manhunt.
Perhaps revealingly, the current Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny – responsible for re-opening the case against Assange – has been highly active in the campaign to reform Sweden’s rape laws in order to “introduce a test of whether the unequal power relations between the parties might void the sincerely expressed consent of one party”. The state knows best. Thus one of Assange’s alleged victims complained in her statement to the police that on the trip to her apartment, Assange “paid more attention to his computer rather than me” – another far from unusual phenomenon – and that by the time they arrived at her flat, the “passion and excitement seemed to have disappeared”. Needless to say, legislation which outlawed “unequal power relations” would criminalise virtually every transaction or activity on the planet – including under socialism even. As for sex, will everyone in Sweden planning or hoping to have sex be legally required to carry out a psychometric or intelligence test in order to establish the proper suitability of any potential sexual partner? More pertinently still, such a putative law would assume that a woman – or rape victim – could not decide for herself whether she has been raped or not, precisely the sort of infantilisation of women that feminism and progressive opinion claims to so arduously oppose.
But whatever the exact peculiarities of Swedish law, we are witnessing a transparent – almost surprisingly crude – attempt to set up Assange. And gag him. Responding to the latest efforts to deny Assange his freedom, his lawyer, Mark Stephens, declared that the case was turning into a “show trial” – an obviously correct observation – and that the Swedes “won’t abide by the umpire’s decision”, as they “clearly will not spare any expense” in order to keep Assange incarcerated. Indeed, the naked desperation of the Swedish and US authorities, and others, to ‘take out’ Assange would be near comical if it were not so monstrous – and deadly serious in its implications. It is not being over-dramatic to say that Assange is in danger of being murdered, assassinated or executed. At the very least, US imperialism and its allies hope to blacken or smear Assange’s name.
Something Assange alluded to in a statement passed on to the Australian television news outlet, Seven News, by his mother – his first public communication since being banged up in Wandsworth. In his statement, Assange declares: “My convictions are unfaltering. I remain true to the ideals I have always expressed. These circumstances shall not shake them. If anything, this process has increased my determination that they are true and correct. We now know that Visa, Mastercard and Paypal are instruments of US foreign policy. It’s not something we knew before. I am calling on the world to protect my work and my people from these illegal and immoral acts.”
Doubtlessly to the annoyance of imperialism, millions throughout the world have responded to Assange’s call. Hence the demonstrations in the capitals of Spain, the Netherlands, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Peru, etc demanding Assange’s release, the re-establishment of the WikiLeaks domain name, the restoration of Visa, Mastercard and PayPal credit services, and so on. In the words of the Spanish-language website, Free WikiLeaks: “We seek the liberation of Julian Assange in United Kingdom territory”. And of course there were noisy demonstrations outside Wandsworth magistrates’ court on December 14, with protestors holding placards bearing messages like “free Julian now”, “don’t shoot the messenger” and “extradition=rendition”. Yes, Assange does indeed have many friends and supporters throughout the world.
Not only that, of course, but many of Assange’s supporters are more than willing to put their money where their mouth is. So outside the court house, Stephens announced that about half of the £240,000 bail money (which has to be in actual cash) had been raised and that he was confident that all the money would be raised before the appeal hearing. Excellent news. For this we can particularly thank high profile individuals like Ken Loach, Bianca Jagger, Jemima Khan, Peter Tatchell, Yvonne Ridley, John Pilger, etc. The leftwing US filmmaker, Michael Moore, has been especially forthright – and generous – in his defence of Assange. He belligerently told the left-leaning Daily Kos that he is “publicly offering the assistance of my website, my servers, my domain names and anything else” so as to keep WikiLeaks “alive and thriving” as it “continues its work to expose the crimes that were concocted in secret and carried out in our name” in Iraq. He even speculates, whether naively or not, that “if the men who planned this war-crime back in 2002 had had a WikiLeaks to deal with”, then they “might not have been able to pull it off”.
US imperialism may well be wondering by now if it has perhaps bitten off more than it can chew, as the opposition to its underhand operations against Assange continues to spread and gather pace – taking increasingly innovative and inspiring forms. Resistance is certainly not futile. Most notably of course we had the ‘cyberwarfare’ campaign conducted by the hacker group, or coalition, calling itself Anonymous – though of course, like Fight Club, the first rule is that you are not a member of it. Rushing to the defence of Assange and WikiLeaks, as part of Operation PayBack, these hacktivists mounted massive and impressively proficient distributed denial-of-service attacks (targeting a website with repeated requests to load its pages until the site can now longer operate) against those institutions deemed to be enemies of Assange/WikiLeaks, principally Amazon, PostFinance, Visa, MasterCard and PayPal. And in turn this was a counter-offensive against the December 3 DDos attacks mounted against Wikileaks itself. Hackers of the world, unite! After all, attack is often the best form of defence – especially when it comes to class war. Not for nothing did Hilary Clinton, US secretary of state, describe the November 28 tranche of classified diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks in terms redolent of the Pearl Harbour attack – which also caused great confusion and panic amongst the enemy.
Indeed, the DDos attack on WikiLeaks and then the Anonymous counter-attack has been widely described as the First World Infowar – and what did you do during it? According to prominent cyber-libertarian, John Perry Barlow – a founding member of the Electronic Freedom Foundation and former lyricist for the Grateful Dead – the “first serious Infowar is now engaged” and as the war started to heat up he issued the following instruction, “The field of battle is WikiLeaks – you are the troops”. And, in their own idiosyncratic way, the troops are gathering – their weapons being computers, lap-tops, iPads and Blackberrys.
Communists, as militant and consistent democrats, have nothing but praise for the inventive and determined efforts of hacktivist groups like Anonymous to resist the behemoth that is US imperialism and the parasitical corporate mass media – which exists to reinforce and deify the status quo. Having said that, we would strongly caution against the utopian notion that the internet somehow represents free space in perpetuity – inviolable and immune to bureaucratic state repression. As recent events have clearly revealed, this is not necessarily the case. Though the genie is well and truly out of the bottle, and shoving it back in poses immense problems for imperialism and the bourgeoisie as a whole, it would be foolish to discount the possibility that they could move to strangle and impose tight control over the internet. Irrational? Yes, of course – but so was going to war in 1914. Additionally, given the very nature of cyber-libertarian groups like Anonymous – a non-organisation devoid of any democratic accountability or leadership – it is vulnerable to those intent on using hacktivism as a cover for dark forces such as government agencies.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks continues to steadily release more documents. In recent days we have found out that the US had concerns after the July 7 bombings that the UK was not doing enough to tackle home-grown Islamic extremists – making “little progress” in reaching out to Muslim communities. Other cables claim that the British police helped “develop evidence” against Madeleine McCann’s parents after she went missing in Portugal; and the Bank of England governor, Mervyn King, was so worried about the health of the banks that he proposed a secret international fund to recapitalise them six months before the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Also, US officials expressed doubts in October 2008 over whether Ireland appreciated how much trouble its banks were in – a prescient insight proving that not all our enemies are fools.
Encouragingly, the headaches for imperialism keep piling up. As if WikiLeaks was not enough, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a former German spokesman for WikiLeaks, announced on December 9 the creation of OpenLeaks – a rival or splinter group to WikiLeaks. He believes that the new whistle-blowing group will address the “structural issues” that bedevil WikiLeaks – some of which concern the site’s technical quality, its focus on infrequent, high volume leaks, and over what he thinks is Assange’s “singular” control of the organization (Domscheit-Berg will be telling his own story in an upcoming book planned for January, entitled Inside WikiLeaks).
More importantly, only a tiny fraction of the embassy cables have been released so far and are scheduled to continue into next year until all quarter of a million cables are released. WikiLeaks is cooperating with the Guardian, New York Times, El Pais, etc in order to release a set of themed cables each day with names of any potentially vulnerable people redacted. Obviously, this heightens their impact. The international campaign conducted by imperialism against WikiLeaks/Assange is therefore designed to block the small number of releases from becoming an avalanche – or, failing that, stop them from coming to public attention. However, WikiLeaks has taken measures to protect itself by circulating an encrypted and unredacted file of all the cables to many thousands of supporters and in the event of any aggressive move against Wikileaks or Assange – like extradition or a jail sentence perhaps – a key will be immediately released that unencrypts the file. How does imperialism prevent that? Another thing to remember is that the cables apparently cover a period going back to the late 1960s, so – apart from representing a potential treasure trove for historians and political activists alike – the potential major imperialist embarrassment is increased considerably. Which is only good news for all genuine anti-imperialists, socialists and communists.
- www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/01/us-embassy-cables-executed-mike-huckabee Also see: www.thefirstpost.co.uk/72259,people,news,sarah-palin-julian-assange-wikileaks-should-be-hunted-like-a-terrorist
- See, for example, the article by Alexia Parks in The Hoffington Post – ‘WikiLeaks: the First World InfoWar’ (December 7, www.huffingtonpost.com/alexia-parks/wikileaks-the-first-world_b_792761.html).
- <a href=”http://techshrimp.com/2010/12/13/gawker-website-hacked-by-gnosis-gnosis-says-they-are-not-4chan-or-anonymous/ target=” _cke_saved_href=”http://techshrimp.com/2010/12/13/gawker-website-hacked-by-gnosis-gnosis-says-they-are-not-4chan-or-anonymous/ target=” _cke_saved_href=”http://techshrimp.com/2010/12/13/gawker-website-hacked-by-gnosis-gnosis-says-they-are-not-4chan-or-anonymous/ target=” _blank”=””>techshrimp.com/2010/12/13/gawker-website-hacked-by-gnosis-gnosis-says-they-are-not-4chan-or-anonymous/