Wednesday, December 8, 2010

So, Wikileaks, huh?

I've been wanting to write about the whole Wikileaks/Assange business for a while, but until now I have let my relative ignorance on the issue stop me. I'm not going to pretend to have a particularly well thought-through opinion on any of this, but I just thought it might be useful (for me, if no one else) to write down some of my thoughts about it.

First, the actual leaking. Personally I don't think Wikileaks has done something catastrophically awful by releasing the latest batch of documents, but a lot of people do seem to think that whatever it is that Wikileaks stands for should be illegal, even if it may not actually be. Certainly, there is always going to be a need for secrecy in conducting international affairs, and secrecy in itself does not necessarily equate to corruption, but in principle I will support openness over obstruction. In an age where there are far more means for being secretive, corrupt and extrajudicial than ever before, Wikileaks is above all other things necessary.

One of the accusations against Wikileaks is that what the organisation does is not really journalism. Too darn right it isn't, and that's what should be applauded. The beauty of Wikileaks is that its sources are out there, for everyone to see (when the page isn't down...). You do not have to trust a journalist's view on an event or issue: you can look up the original documents yourself. The information dumps are not in themselves world-healing, but they do "keep the bastards honest". And by "bastards" I mean the journalists, the bloggers, the casual readers of newspapers, anyone who might like to complain about the biases of others. There is nothing stopping you from looking up the source yourself and assessing it on its own merits.

Now, to Assange. I suspect I am not alone in not knowing what, if anything, Assange actually did to bring the leaks about. He wasn't the person who leaked the sources, and so can't be held responsible for that. Was he the person who uploaded them, then? Would that be a crime? I really don't know. From my feeble reading on the subject he's being targeted because he is the figurehead-founder-dictator of the organisation. He is also, apparantly, "an anarcho-Marxist" - and I'm sure you love freedom, puppies and Santa Claus enough to realise you don't actually have to understand what a Marxist actually is to know they are bad, bad people.

Aside from an exciting range of ad hominen attacks, Assange has elicited some dreadful and dangerous comments from powerful people, including death threats and calls for his assassination. Regardless of what your personal opinion on the morality of Wikileaks is, I can't think anyone could object to the ideas expressed in this open letter to Julia Gillard, calling for the Australian Prime Minister to 
confirm publicly Australia’s commitment to freedom of political communication; to refrain from cancelling Mr Assange's passport, in the absence of clear proof that such a step is warranted; to provide assistance and advocacy to Mr Assange; and do everything in your power to ensure that any legal proceedings taken against him comply fully with the principles of law and procedural fairness.

For the moment at least, the issue is not whether what Wikileaks, and Assange in his capacity in the organisation, does is immoral or just, but if it is legal. And here Bob Ellis says it best, if a bit nostalgically:

If Assange has done international wrong, let him stand trial in The Hague. If he has not, let him come home to Parkville, drink coffee with Barry Jones, and yarn about the past, as Australians do.

Finally, the accusations of rape and sexual misconduct in Sweden. Today's Crikey outlined the charges, and I thought I might quote the passages here, seeing as there is a lot of uncertainty over what the charges actually are:

"The European arrest warrant was served on the basis of a Swedish warrant, which is now for prosecution, rather than merely as part of an investigation. There are four charges, combining allegations of r-pe, s-xual assault and 'ofredande', the distinctive Swedish charge of misconduct/annoyance.

Three charges are based on the allegations of 'complainant a', in whose apartment Assange was staying in mid-August. The first is one of r-pe -- that Assange used his body weight to lie on her, pushed her legs open and forced s-x.

The second charge is that Assange 'assaulted her s-xual integrity' by 'having s-x without a condom despite complainant's earlier expressed unwillingness to do so'. Another s-xual integrity assault is that Assange 'pushed his erect p-nis into her back without permission, while sharing a bed'. The fourth charge is by the second complainant, 'complainant b' which alleges 'having s-x with the complainant while she was asleep, without a condom'."
So there you go.

Now, I don't see how it would be possible for the way the charges have been handled to not have been influenced by the controversies around the leaks. Of course, I am happy to redact that statement as soon as I am convinced it is standard practice to involve the Interpol in rape investigations.

However, it is alarming how quickly observations about the "convenience" of the charges has descended into victim-blaming. You have heard about the revenge plan, I assume, and the CIA ties? Kate Harding puts it quite succinctly:
when I see a swarm of people with exactly zero direct access to the facts of a rape case loudly insisting that the accusation has no merit, I usually start to wonder about their credibility. And their sources.
It beggars belief that a potential rape victim could be vilified by exactly the same people who object to Assange receiving the same treatment. It is possible for Assange to be both a rapist and an unjustly persecuted freedom of information activist. Hitler, after all, was a reasonable painter. It is possible he is neither, and the charges may have nothing whatsoever to do with Wikileaks. What is important is to try to keep apart the leaks, the dodgy-seeming procedural wrangling in Sweden and the accusations themselves.

It's something worth aiming for, at least..\

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