After a day of following RT’s live coverage of the outrageous arrest of Julian Assange, abducted from the Embassy of Ecuador in London by British police agents, and then hearing US media fall over each other in a competition for who could make the most psychotic accusations against Assange (Fox News, interestingly, distinguishing itself as the sane exception on this matter), I have come to a different set of opinions on what this event means. It has been many years since I last wrote like I do below, but I have an axe to grind, and boy do I mean to grind it.
A Dark Day for What?
My first surprise was not in the arrest itself and the abrupt cancellation of Ecuador’s asylum, but the conclusion that first came to many commentators’ minds: this is a dark day for journalism. If that were true, we might even breathe a sigh of relief, given how disreputable and discredited most of the news media have become as publishers of falsehoods, propaganda, and smears. The sadder reality is that today was a dark day for citizenship, for democracy, and for international law. The event should serve as a reminder that we are all being violently confronted with a dead post-liberalism that is reactionary, abusive, and arrogant. In the West at least, all of us live in authoritarian prisons: mass surveillance, mass indoctrination, and increasingly all-inclusive censorship. Journalism would have needed to still be alive, for this to have been a dark day for it.
Julian Assange has been accused of many crimes over the years, and now his state-level detractors will finally have the unenviable task of actually trying to prove their accusations in court. Assange’s most notorious “crime” is to have better informed us of the reality of global corruption and imperial warfare. Whether the broad public was deserving of his sacrifice is another matter, as is the question about the degree to which the public made use of the knowledge produced by WikiLeaks.
For my part, I benefited: thanks to WikiLeaks, I was able to mine the Afghan War Logs for information about the Human Terrain System, finding new information that had not been known to that point, and which revised some of the key arguments I had been making. WikiLeaks’ publication of the US Embassy Cables, which I have still been using even in some of my most recent articles, has been a unique treasure trove that could be the source of countless books. In more recent years, I explored WikiLeaks’ publications of the emails of John Podesta, and then tried to summarize the key findings (of which there were many). We are told that this publication significantly harmed Hillary Clinton’s chances of being elected in 2016—to which I can only say: I hope that is true.
Academics have, for the most part, really missed the mark to the extent that they have failed to show sufficient curiosity and diligence in making use of WikiLeaks’ freely available material—it truly stands as an indictment of the failure of their imagination, and the poverty of their methods. I have had my own criticisms of WikiLeaks over the years, but never about its core mission and its methods, and never about the need for WikiLeaks. Yet even on this point, some academics were quick to embrace OpenLeaks as a “better alternative” to WikiLeaks—now try to find OpenLeaks. One would think that, at a minimum, a site has to at least exist for it to be an alternative.
As for specific crimes for which Assange has been charged, they do not include “working for Russia,” which he has never done—if he had, he might have enjoyed Russian protection. Russia does not leave its operatives hanging out there to be easily plucked by adversaries. Nonetheless, the hyperventilating Russiagate conspiracy theory crowd in the US, still reeling from the devastating defeat handed to them by the Mueller non-event, is looking for anything to restore just a shred of credibility. Assange also is not guilty of “stealing secrets” from the US military—only one person did that, has already been convicted, and has already served time: Chelsea Manning. Assange’s hands, real or virtual, were never on any US government documents prior to their transfer—“theft” is thus totally false. WikiLeaks’ publications have not resulted in the deaths of any US forces in the field—nor is WikiLeaks responsible for their being “in danger”. Those responsible for putting the lives of US troops in danger are the politicians who deploy them in countless futile, reckless, and unnecessary wars.
As is to be expected, Julian Assange has also been the target of lurid, phony rape accusations, yet another ignominious episode in a long line of high-profile fabricated sex slurs. Assange was never charged with rape, nor did he evade questioning by Swedish authorities.
What Assange has said repeatedly, on countless occasions for several years, is that any effort to arrest him would be used by the US to seek his extradition. Unfortunately, Assange’s claim has now received 100% validation, while his critics who dismissed his claim as unwarranted hyperbole, have just had any remainder of their credibility completely destroyed. This takes us to the nature of Assange’s opposition.
The Gift of a Bad Opposition?
With the passage of years, it’s a challenge to remember the names of Julian Assange’s critics who came from the ranks of the many forgettable drones housed in foreign policy meat-lockers that are misleadingly called “think” tanks. They tried, and failed (often gloriously) to make the case that Assange was a “spy,” that he had “endangered lives,” that he in fact published nothing of any significance (so why arrest him?), and when that did not work, yes, of course, he was a “fugitive rapist”. Whether they were deep state aficionados, freelance hacks, jealous mainstream media bobbleheads, paranoid activists, corrupt politicians, or warmongers, Assange’s attackers came from every direction. Even some ostensibly left-wing conspiracy theorists would accuse Assange of being anti-Iran, pro-invasion of Iraq, a Mossad agent, and a CIA agent. What WikiLeaks could not publish, because it did not receive the leaks, was taken to be a deliberate act of omission (but clearly the nuts bought into the state-authored propaganda about WikiLeaks acting as hackers). US anthropologists were no exception—if and when they could ever be distracted from talking about themselves, what they had to say about WikiLeaks was painfully little, and usually of the most insipid, vapid, and trivial order. This includes all of the so-called “cyber anthropologists” and “digital anthropologists,” who do not even really know what they are studying (they think they’re studying “the Internet”).
To spend time with Assange’s opponents—and I have—is to experience intellectual squalor on a whole other level. Let’s move on then.
Nobody is Above the Law?
Into what a trashy pit of decrepitude have the elite classes in the UK fallen. There was Theresa May today—still pretending to act as if she might be “Prime Minister” for five minutes longer—blowing the line “no one is above the law”. Yes, but these days it seems that it’s only ever those who are above the law that say that nobody is above the law. In stating that “nobody is above the law,” the defunct, discredited, and soon to be banished Theresa May resorted to precisely the line that is used by actual dictators when cracking down on opponents. Opponents are always “criminals”. But May also needs to distract the UK public, and Assange might offer a few moments of distraction. Assange’s arrest, she will gloat, was her Hillary-Gaddafi moment.
The UK, however, is engaged in prosecuting an asylum-seeker. The UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated in 2016 that it considered the various forms of deprivation of liberty to which Julian Assange had been subjected, constituted a form of arbitrary detention, and that he should be released and compensated.
Yet the first UK judge to confront Assange today (April 11, 2019), did not concern himself so much with the UN or international law, as with Assange’s personality. Julian Assange is apparently guilty of a personality crime. The judge—presumably a leading psychoanalyst too—went down into the bowels of Twitter trolling by unnecessarily slandering Assange as “narcissistic”. Is that the crime? Is it even relevant? This already shows “the justice system” failing, beginning with its very first actual test—it reveals a degree of personal acrimony that renders fair and impartial justice ridiculous.
If dignity has fled the state in the UK, one place to which it did not relocate was the state in Ecuador.
¡Long Live Bananas!
All thanks are due to His Majesty, The Ironically Named Lenin Moreno, for successfully ushering Ecuador into a new era as a resurrected Banana Republic. The political leadership of Ecuador manifests that unique combination of servility and greed which we usually find in America’s “force multipliers”. Lenin Moreno, this new friend of the US, who expelled Assange a mere month after meeting Mike Pence in all his constipated Christian glory, is also someone who has openly backed the coup in Venezuela, whose figurehead is the opposition activist brat known as Juán Guaidó. Moreno operates as we have come to expect of corrupt goons, taking revenge on Assange for WikiLeaks exposing his corruption. In the process, Moreno treated his Embassy, its staff, and international law, as if they were his personal tools, put there to advance his campaign of self-aggrandizement.
In a plain lie, published dutifully and without question by mainstream media, Moreno’s government totally denied that there was a decision to expel Assange, when Assange already knew that the decision had been taken. Clearly Moreno wanted to prevent a massive crowd from forming in advance of Assange’s arrest, and he seems to have succeeded. Too few believed the reports of Ecuador’s growing hostility toward Assange, a man to whom that government had granted asylum and even citizenship (apparently not worth much in Ecuador).
If this much squalor was not enough, then you have yet to meet the King of Squalor.
Me? I Never Knew Anybody!
The press has known since at least April of 2017 that the US had filed arrest charges for Julian Assange. Donald Trump has had ample time to prepare a response that did not sound quite so bumbling, another example of his trademark mendacity.
Donald Trump today acted as if he had never even heard of WikiLeaks. Not even his loyal fans at Fox News could support that illusion though, as they broadcast numerous clips of Trump loudly praising WikiLeaks, which he loved so very much during the 2016 election campaign. Julian Assange received respectful treatment on Fox News, with Sean Hannity traveling to interview Assange in person.
The Assange case will be like a toxic dump of radioactive feces on Trump, and perhaps this is what he intuitively fears. His own supersized “Secretary of State,” former director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, had set the stage for this himself, having lambasted WikiLeaks as a “hostile non-state intelligence service”. Right then, Trump should have jumped on Pompeo: “Hey Mike, try to STFU about WikiLeaks, OK? Before you cause trouble. You yourself praised them for their publications”. If Pompeo spoke out of both sides of his mouth on WikiLeaks, he was merely giving us a preview of Trump.
Trump’s more deranged and dishonest opponents at home might alternatively claim that his government is arresting Assange in order to silence Assange. Yes. That’s it! It’s all a cover-up of the real extent of “Russia collusion”! That is why the DoJ is charging Assange for something unrelated to Russia. Get it?
All joking aside, what we see in North America is a crackdown on whistleblowers acting in the public interest, and a crackdown on journalism, and that is just the beginning. We have also seen (and some of us have experienced) censorship in “social media,” along with increased corporate surveillance and rigging of Internet search results, added to actual banning and censorship. The list of cases is now longer than when it was summarized here in December, and here (search for the word “censor” to see the references on those pages).
Freedom of speech is the actual “threat” here—in other words, a basic right of citizenship. It’s not impoverished Central Americans on the US–Mexico border that threaten the citizenship rights of Americans, as much as Americans’ very own government. How will the US preach “in the name of democracy” to, say, Venezuela, while conducting a crackdown on journalism at home, stifling free speech, and persecuting whistleblowers?
With a bona fide political prisoner soon occupying front-page headlines, I cannot wait for the US to resume lecturing other countries about their democracy.
A Strange Relief
What a strange relief it must be for Julian Assange, even if he is not conscious of it at this very moment—to no longer have to endure that impossible stasis of being locked in a closet in Ecuador’s embassy, without so much as the benefit of a short walk in the sun and fresh air. His time there rendered him ill, and he looked both sick and dramatically aged today. Clearly the time had come for a proper resolution, one way or another. For years, every day, Assange has been training his mind for this very confrontation with the US. Every argument, every idea, every detail has been rehearsed endlessly, reworked, elaborated, strengthened. Now Assange will be able to force the US authorities to finally justify themselves. This is the US on trial too, and it has more to lose from this confrontation than Assange. Great defense lawyers and ample defense funds will be provided to Assange, especially by his wealthier supporters (celebrities among them). This extradition and the upcoming trial of Assange might turn out to be a very significant mistake on the part of the US. And all for what? Maybe a maximum of five years in prison?
Assange will end his days as a free man, continuing his work, wealthy, and celebrated. The US has no such future prospects.
Media articles on WikiLeaks by M.C. Forte:
- “The Wikileaks Afghan War Diary,” CounterPunch, August 2, 2010— republished by Alternet as “7 Reasons Why We Should Celebrate Wikileaks, and 8 Reasons It’s Not the Panacea Some Are Calling It”.
- نواقص في تسريبات ويكيليكس (“Deficiencies in the Wikileaks”). Al Jazeera Arabic, August 8, 2010.
- “A War on Wikileaks?” CounterPunch, August 11, 2010.—translated into Spanish and republished on Rebelión as “Desquiciados en el Departamento de Estado y el Pentágono ¿Guerra contra Wikileaks?”
- “EEUU amenaza a los soldados que busquen consultar los documentos—El Pentágono pretende callar a Wikileaks,” Correo del Orinoco, August 17, 2010.
- الهجوم على ويكيليكس.. هل من مخرج؟ (“Attacks on Wikileaks: Is There a Way Out?”). Al Jazeera Arabic, September 17, 2010.
- “The Wikileaks Revolution,” CounterPunch, December 14, 2010.
- “Iraq after Wikileaks: Truth without Justice and Power without Law.” Previously unpublished. December 1, 2010
- “Al Jazeera and U.S. Foreign Policy: What WikiLeaks’ U.S. Embassy Cables Reveal about U.S. Pressure and Propaganda.” Monthly Review (MRzine), September 22, 2011.
- “The Clinton doctrine: US reaction to events unfolding in the Arab world reveals the emergence of more insidious approach.” Al Jazeera English, February 22, 2011.
- مصر والإمبراطورية الأميركية (“Egypt and the American Empire”). Al Jazeera Arabic, February 16, 2011.
- “What Do We Learn about the U.S. and Egypt from the Diplomatic Cables?” Previously unpublished. February 12, 2011.
Book by M.C. Forte that relied on WikiLeaks’ CableGate:
- Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa. Montreal: Baraka Books, 2012.
Book Chapters on WikiLeaks by M.C. Forte:
- “The Ongoing Reinvention of Wikileaks: Media, Power, and Shifting the Shape of Dissent,” in WikiLeaks, Media and Politics: Between the Virtual and the Real, Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Beirut, 2011.
- Chapter 7, “On Secrecy, Power, and the Imperial State: Perspectives from WikiLeaks and Anthropology,” in Force Multipliers: The Instrumentalities of Imperialism, edited by Maximilian C. Forte. Montreal, QC: Alert Press, 2015, pp. 187-221.
Articles on WikiLeaks on Zero Anthropology:
- “Collateral Murder: U.S. Soldiers Killing Civilians in Cold Blood,” April 5, 2010.
- “Collateral Murder, Part 2: Admission of U.S. War Crimes in Iraq,” June 17, 2010.
- “Human Terrain Teams in Wikileaks’ Afghan War Diary: Raw Data,” July 27, 2010.
- “Wikileaks’ Afghan War Diary: Problems to Note, More to Come on Human Terrain Teams,” July 28, 2010.
- “Human Terrain System in Wikileaks’ Afghan War Diary: Searching for Evidence of the Positive,” July 31, 2010.
- “Revealing the Human Terrain System in Wikileaks’ Afghan War Diary,” August 1, 2010.
- “Continued: Debating the Pros and Cons of Wikileaks’ Afghan War Diary,” August 2, 2010.
- “Visual Intelligence: IED Attacks from Wikileaks’ Afghan War Diary,” August 3, 2010.
- “Heroism in Doubt: Canadian War Mythology Takes a Hit from Wikileaks,” August 12, 2010.
- “Wikileaks: Bradley Manning, Sweden as Safe Haven, and Pentagon Propaganda,” August 18, 2010.
- “The Pentagon’s Letter to Wikileaks,” August 19, 2010.
- “In the Conflicts Around Wikileaks, Is Julian Assange Really the Problem?” September 4, 2010.
- “Wikileaks’ Iraq War Logs: U.S. Troops Ordered Not to Investigate Iraqi Torture,” October 24, 2010.
- “Wikileaks’ Iraq War Logs: Torture Widespread in Iraqi Detention Facilities,” October 24, 2010.
- “Wikileaks’ Iraq War Logs: 76 Cases of Abuse Challenges U.S. Report on Iraqi Prisons,” October 24, 2010.
- “Wikileaks’ Iraq War Logs: Obama Administration Handed Over Detainees Despite Reports of Torture,” October 26, 2010.
- “Wikileaks: The Iraq War Logs Documentaries,” October 26, 2010.
- “Wikileaks’ Iraq War Logs: The War in Numbers,” October 28, 2010.
- “Wikileaks’ Iraq War Logs: 15,000 New Civilian Deaths Uncovered in Leaked Files,” October 28, 2010.
- “Wikileaks’ Iraq War Logs: One Day in Iraq: 128 Dead, Including Three Women and One Child,” October 28, 2010.
- “Wikileaks’ Iraq War Logs: Hundreds of Civilians Gunned Down at Checkpoints,” October 28, 2010.
- “Wikileaks’ Iraq War Logs: U.S. Apache Guns Down Surrendering Insurgents,” October 28, 2010.
- “Wikileaks’ Iraq War Logs: U.S. Troops Hand Over Detainees to Interrogation Squad,” October 29, 2010.
- “Wikileaks’ Iraq War Logs: UN High Commissioner Calls for Investigation Into War Logs Allegations,” October 29, 2010.
- “Wikileaks’ Iraq War Logs: Pentagon Response to Publication of Logs,” October 29, 2010.
- “Wikileaks’ Iraq War Logs: Al Jazeera’s The Listening Post,” October 30, 2010.
- “Wikileaks’ Iraq War Logs: The U.S. Government’s Crisis of Legitimacy,” October 31, 2010.
- “Wikileaks’ Iraq War Logs: On War News Radio,” October 31, 2010.
- “Roundup of Posts on Wikileaks: The Iraq War Logs,” October 31, 2010.
- “Torturing the Whistle Blowers: The Case of Vance and Ertel in Iraq, Substantiated by Wikileaks’ Iraq War Logs,” November 5, 2010.
- “Wikileaks Roundup: Man of the Year, Assange the Swede, Blocked at Harvard, Telling the Truth,” November 12, 2010.
- “Wikileaks: Defend Julian Assange,” November 19, 2010.
- “Wikileaks: Intelligence Needs Counter-Intelligence,” November 26, 2010.
- “WikiLeaks Disrupts U.S. Propaganda Machinery,” December 8, 2010.
- “The Wikileaks Revolution,” December 10, 2010.
- “Zero Anthropology is Wikileaks,” December 13, 2010.
- “The Wikileaks Revolution, Part 2: Notes from the Insurrection,” December 14, 2010.
- “Wikileaks and the Moral Dualism of the U.S. State Department,” December 18, 2010.
- “Anthropology, Secrecy, and Wikileaks,” December 24, 2010.
- “The Excuse is Wikileaks. The Object is Freedom of Speech. The Subject is Authoritarianism,” January 8, 2011.
- “Journalist, Hacker, Spy, Racketeer,” January 23, 2011.
- “101 Things We Learned from WikiLeaks’ Podesta Emails,” November 8, 2016.