The WikiLeaks Case: Democracy Dies in Empire

In the avalanche of news reports that have washed over the globe since the abduction of Julian Assange, this conversation struck me as containing numerous points of importance. It seemed worthwhile to have some of these points transcribed and listed here. If you have seen it, then the select transcriptions beneath the video might serve as useful reminders; however, if you missed it, watch the video instead (or listen to the podcast below). This comes from CrossTalk with Peter Lavelle, and it was titled “Assange in custody” (April 11, 2016). Guests on the show were Joe Lauria (editor of Consortium News), Ray McGovern (ex-CIA officer, co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, see here for more), and Sara Flounders (anti-war activist).

If you have any other video or audio recommendations, please feel free to post them under Comments below (though this may automatically direct your comment to a spam folder, I will search for it).

My little conclusion follows below.

Peter Lavelle:

A dark day for journalism
“From my perspective…this is one of the darkest days of journalism in my lifetime, and I’m going to remember this day for the rest of my life….This is a crushing move against a profession that has already been crushed so much over the last few years”.

Not the Fake News Media
“WikiLeaks…is a publisher—but unlike other publishers, it was never proven to be peddling fake news”.

The weak national security state
“We saw this ‘show of force,’ of dragging Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorian Embassy—but it told me something that they don’t want me to think: it shows me that the national security state is actually quite weak and timid in its ability to communicate its position of why it (illegitimately) has power….The powers that be show themselves to be weaker and weaker because they’re unable to engage in discussion and in debate, and maybe argument. They deny the other side. They are only right, and people must follow because ‘look at what they did to Julian Assange, we can do it to you’. That’s the message they’re sending, but that’s power at its weakest point, because it relies on coercion”.

Violating International Law
“This is the ultimate chilling effect and it was done in broad daylight—they didn’t hide it, they’re actually quite proud of marching in to a sovereign territory of another country…I suppose Ecuador relinquished that—shame on them—and breaking international law and of an asylum agreement. There’s no asylum agreement in the world…that limits one’s speech, not in the European Union and not in the United States, that’s for sure”.

Joe Lauria:

A dark day for everyone
“I think it’s a dark day, not just for journalism but for everyone else, for the entire world really, for all of the populations of all countries that depend on a vibrant media, a critical media, that can bring them information about what their governments are really up to that will challenge them. And that’s of course what WikiLeaks did: they provided the information that the governments did not want the public to know, particularly about crimes and corruption, and this is why they got him arrested today. All the other stuff about bail skipping, and previously about the sexual allegations in Sweden, all of that was to lead up to get him to go to this courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, so he could stand trial for exposing the secrets of governments”.

The arrest—a staged perp walk
“It was indeed a very stark and nightmarish image, of seeing Julian taken out of the front door of the embassy, with the Ruptly camera there. This is what we call here in the US a ‘perp walk’: they wanted us to see him being pulled out”.

Authoritarianism on display—media serve the governors
“That’s authoritarianism right there…when we saw Julian Assange dragged out of that embassy, and the public being shut out. The corporate media…does not inform and takes the wrong side: they take the side of the state and not the side of the people. It’s the governed they’re supposed to serve, not the governors”.

The corporate media ruined themselves
“It’s the press that has destroyed itself in many ways, in this story, because they have turned on this man that they once profited from when it served their partisan interests when he exposed crimes of the Bush administration—when he exposed corruption with Hillary Clinton, they turned on him on a dime. They’re still pushing this rubbish story that he ‘helped Trump’ get into the White House, that he’s somehow a ‘Russian stooge,’ a ‘Kremlin agent,’ all this nonsense even though the collusion story has collapsed. So it’s the press that has failed the public here…the corporate media, they have already destroyed themselves, in many ways. To vilify this man and to be cheering today, because of his arrest, is quite disturbing”.

The media are part of the national security state
In response to Lavelle’s question, “Why does mainstream media worship the intelligence community so much?”—Lauria: “There’s a big reason and a little reason. The big reason is they are giving legitimacy to an establishment that is losing legitimacy—they are weak, and the corporate media props them up, they’re an essential ingredient…to keep people believing that these are legitimate rulers. The second, little reason, is careerism:…reporters want to be close to power; they live vicariously through these powerful people; they want to be part of the elite; they don’t understand their role is to be amongst the people, to challenge, to vet, to criticize the powerful. That is exactly what Julian Assange did, and they are trying to abolish that and have full control over information”.

Julian Assange is a publisher and journalist
“Corporate media reporters continually say he [Julian Assange] is not a journalist, he’s something else. Well, he’s publishing documents, but he’s written three or four books, he writes articles, he’s a great strategic analyst, this man isn’t just some kind of clerk accepting the documents and putting them out there. He understands what they mean and he tries to explain what they mean—and they cannot tolerate this: they need these lackey reporters to prop up their legitimacy that is weakened by the truth, in this case by Assange”.

Sara Flounders:

Refocusing on US war crimes
“They [the corporate media] reported on it [the leaks] and exposed some of those crimes, because it was already out to the whole world. Really what was exposed are the dark crimes that the US has committed in its wars; 200,000 cables, video footage, images—that should be the response of anyone who is challenging right now this brutal…arrest of Assange. Let’s go back and revive, bring forward again what it was that WikiLeaks exposed. What was in those cables? Let’s show again those videos. Let’s show again the torture. Let’s show again Guantánamo….Let’s show again all of their crimes….Remind people what Julian Assange’s contribution is”.

The media serve an empire in decline
“If we accept the secrecy—that’s what they want to bring back: complete secrecy, control of the media. They’re demanding that the corporate media, who is already totally house-broken, who is already defending in every way an empire that is declining, that’s in decay, that no longer has credibility, the corporate media is…in the US…absolutely part of that secrecy”.

“We should not look to media that already play a role of conspiracy in an empire that is based on crime and that is based on secrecy”.

The corporate media are losing
“The media today, the big corporate media, is absolutely losing its legitimacy in terms of its [sic] hold on people’s minds, on people’s consciousness. I think we should take confidence in our own ability, because human consciousness is more powerful in terms of historic, big change, than repression and even the technology, the ability of technology to try and enforce repression, it [consciousness] breaks through in unexpected ways”.

Ray McGovern:

We the people are the press
“The bottom line is: there’s only us. There never has been any other. We are the press, we are the media. The Fourth Estate is dead….No more regard for the Magna Carta, or the Bill of Rights in the Constitution, there is no press freedom. So it’s up to us, the alternative media, to make sure that this doesn’t go down lightly”.

“There’s no counter-argument to revealing war crimes”.

The Collateral Murder Video and David Finkel’s Cover-up
“The Collateral Murder video…is very damning. It shows the brutalization not only of journalists, two from Reuters and 10 other people, in plain sight. It shows the brutalization of the pilots: the US pilots that had been taught to be so brutal. What most people don’t know is that David Finkel, a big Washington Post type, was with that unit. He knew about that tape, he watched it, and he wrote a book called The Good Soldiers, about that specific unit that did this kind of brutality….That puts it in bas-relief: there’s the Washington Post there, fully cognizant…and no one would have known about it were it not for Chelsea Manning giving that tape to Julian Assange”.

Manning offered his information to the media, and was turned away
“The important point here…is that Assange didn’t ‘solicit’ this information from…Chelsea Manning. Manning offered it to The New York Times, offered it to The Washington Post, and they didn’t want it. So what was…Manning going to do?”


How do we tie all of this together into one coherent explanation? Let’s start with the largest frame of reference, and the biggest actor within that frame, and then move down. In the broadest terms we are dealing with empire, specifically imperialism. The prime actor in that field is the United States. The problem is how to enforce rule, both at home and abroad. It is now clearer than ever—indeed, it was put on display in broad daylight, as they said above—that the imperial state is unable to convince any longer. Persuasion is dead, because the imperial state has lost legitimacy. That means the state resorts to its dangerous last resort—coercion, and outright violence.

Assange is an individual actor, often a lone if not lonely one, whose work ruptured the ability of the imperial state to communicate within itself, and to communicate with the public. The accounts the imperial state—its military and diplomats—told themselves, differed radically from what they told the public. The ranks of the imperial state needed to feel that they could communicate among themselves, without fear of surveillance by the public, by citizens. Their deeds required non-accountability. In addition, the ranks of the imperial state needed to convince the public of their state’s authorized, preferred version of reality. Assange steps in and disrupts those two key lines of communication—the internal one and the public one. For once, the imperial state begins to fear the masses (I think the imperial state always feared them)—it can no longer count on “democracy” delivering consent. Things might get out of control, hence the reaction. The last available resort, before everything falls apart, is coercion. We are nearing the end.

The majority of the media—the so-called mainstream, corporate media—are part of the very system that they are supposed to report about, and to question. Instead of questioning the powerful, the media have sided with the powerful. The media are the last bastion of non-state support for the imperial state, and they are decaying in line with, and along with, a declining empire. This maximizes the relevance and importance of citizen journalists like Julian Assange.

Thus in an effort to shore up their own crumbling legitimacy, the media vilify and demonize Julian Assange constantly. Even in the last 24 hours the refrain has been repeated: Assange is a spy; Assange is a Russian stooge; Assange is an activist, not a journalist (particularly rich coming from CNN of all places), and so forth. Of the few left listening to them, most are laughing at them.

What we now see is that any laws that might protect the public, at home and around the world, are being trounced at every level. International law, as it governs asylum, and national laws in the UK and Ecuador governing fair trials and citizenship—are simply being either torn up or twisted beyond recognition. Then the powerful say “no one is above the law”. Which law do they mean? This is The Jungle.

What is particularly striking to me is the role of the corporate media, as in the figure of David Finkel of The Washington Post, playing an active and direct role in a covering up war crimes, and crimes against humanity, by the imperialist state of the US and its military occupation forces in Iraq. If there was ever a more damning vignette of the media serving power and enforcing secrecy, I don’t know of it. Manning as a whistleblower tested her faith by turning to these same media, only to be turned away—teaching her this very same lesson. Hence, WikiLeaks.

13 thoughts on “The WikiLeaks Case: Democracy Dies in Empire

      1. justinohagan

        I have to tell you how much I loved Slouching Towards Sirte. As I recall, you made good use of Embassy Cables released to Wikileaks in that book.

      2. Maximilian C. Forte

        Thank you very much Justin, and I was very grateful to have such a rich resource. The fact of the matter is that one could write a book like that about dozens and dozens of other states–I certainly do not have the time, energy, or ability, but I know others do, and time is passing.

  1. Pingback: The WikiLeaks Case: Democracy Dies in Empire — ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY | O LADO ESCURO DA LUA

  2. Justin

    Surprising that you don’t make any mention of the treacherous Ecuadorean extremist pro American president Lenin Moreno in your article and the contradictions within people in Europe and the US who claim to stand for freedom of the Wikileaks kind but are quick to support the undermining of Latin American leaders such as Rafael Correa who were the only ones who had the guts to give shelter to Assange.

    1. Maximilian C. Forte

      I did speak about Ecuador in a section devoted to it in the previous article–no need for repetition so soon. This article here is about a program on RT, and I covered what they covered. However, I agree with your points exactly.

  3. Jenelle Green

    I think it’s also relevant to include the Swedish extradition based on reopening the faulty condom (rape) case….this seems a strategy to further vilify and distract.

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  6. Karl Kolchak

    Not surprising that Reporters Without Borders just dropped the U.S. from 45th to 48th in the world in their annual Press Freedom rankings, which has moved us down into the “Problematic” category. If they could somehow measure the way so much of America’s mainstream media voluntarily censors itself, the ranking would no doubt be far worse. RWOB blame Trump’s continual bashing of the media, but also rightly mention that it was Obama who really started to pursue journalists under the espionage act.

    If it weren’t for the ability of independent journalists to get the truth out via the interwebs, we’d already be a near totalitarian state.

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