I’ve been trying to avoid taking sides on this but the comments I’ve been seeing over the last couple of weeks — especially the outrageous ones calling for murder without trial — are pushing me to take a stand.  I’m sorry if I offend any of my US friends; it is you I am most worried about, and care for the most here.

Fear Of The Truth
A truly just government should never fear truth.  A government that fears truth is not motivated by the good of the people that they claim to represent.

This is the fundamental nature of transparency in government, and a lack of transparency to the truth is the very problem that encourages corruption, greed, and abuse of power.

I don’t really feel any government is completely righteous; there are bound to be mistakes and injustices from time to time, some of which will ruin political careers, some of which may require jail time for someone.  But it is important for these to be exposed and justice served in any free and just government.  The nation, and its people, are more important than the politicians who are supposed to be representing them.

I was not particularly comfortable with the degree of apparent recklessness with which some of the initial Afghanistan WikiLeaks releases were made, however that was a disagreement with the specific approach and logistics used to get the information from the source to the people.

There is no question in my mind that not only is it important for the truth to be readily available, but also that it is imperative that the truth must be made available, in a free society where the government exists to represent the best interests of the people.

It is the collective attitude of those posting to the many blogs with articles and comments that gives me optimism in the future, when all around I see armies of powerful people attempting to corrupt that future.

The Internet has shifted some of that power back into the hands of the people; if it has enabled enough power, we will see those who try to hide the truth slowly but surely replaced by those who believe that truth keeps everyone clean.

On the other hand, if that shift of power does not adequately move to the people, and there is no confidence in The Official Truth, we will see a new revolution, of some kind. I don’t know who will prevail, but either things will change, or it will get very messy.

Us Versus Them – Evil Versus Good
I fear somewhat for the residents of the USA, where the propaganda machine is in full swing. It’s not so bad outside the borders, although there is still a huge campaign.  It’s clear that US residents are being told that revealing government secrets is beyond criminal, it is evil. People like Sarah Palin feel Assange is a war target like “al Qaeda and Taliban leaders”, or in other words, the rule of law need not apply to how he is dealt with.

Comments such as those seek to justify to the public why a government can violate their own laws to stifle publication of a truth they find embarrassing.

And there is so much information and propaganda out there. Some claim that Julian Assange (WikiLeaks) “stole” classified information. However, it is US Army Private Bradley Manning that has been identified by the US government as the source of the material, and has been charged. The misinformation is coming from both sides, but created by the storm that is polarizing anyone watching. For example, as far as I can tell, Sarah Palen did not say that Julian Assange “should be hunted down like Osama bin Laden”. In fact, it was Julian Assange said that she said that:

I have been accused of treason, even though I am an Australian, not a US, citizen. There have been dozens of serious calls in the US for me to be “taken out” by US special forces. Sarah Palin says I should be “hunted down like Osama bin Laden”, a Republican bill sits before the US Senate seeking to have me declared a “transnational threat” and disposed of accordingly. An adviser to the Canadian Prime Minister’s office has called on national television for me to be assassinated. An American blogger has called for my 20-year-old son, here in Australia, to be kidnapped and harmed for no other reason than to get at me.

As far as I can tell, what Palin actually said was:

“He is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands. His past posting of classified documents revealed the identity of more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban. Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?”

Okay, I believe there is some truth to some of this, in the case of the Afghanistan documents possibly putting some individuals at risk, it was done more recklessly than most of the other publications, but I believe there is far more political positioning on this than fact. It smells like a rehearsed “talking point”, especially coming from Palin, and as far as I can tell, at no time do those who are talking actually name anyone harmed, or anything more verifiable than the general talking point. Also, after reading what follows, you may find this claim is without merit.  Consider this:

On 26 November, Assange sent a letter to the U.S. Department of State, via his lawyer Jennifer Robinson, inviting them to “privately nominate any specific instances (record numbers or names) where it considers the publication of information would put individual persons at significant risk of harm that has not already been addressed”.

Harold Koh, the Legal Adviser of the Department of State, rejected the proposal, stating: “We will not engage in a negotiation regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained U.S. Government classified materials”.

Assange responded in turn by writing back to the U.S. State Department that “you have chosen to respond in a manner which leads me to conclude that the supposed risks are entirely fanciful and you are instead concerned to suppress evidence of human rights abuse and other criminal behaviour”.

This clearly shows that the U.S. Department of State chose to play politics rather than protect those individuals they now claim may have been harmed. Sarah Palin, kindly direct your attacks at the U.S. Department of State, since they are the ones “with blood on their hands.”

Publication Of The Truth

But even if there is some truth below the surface there in terms of risk to individuals, it was the leak — the theft of that information, by a US soldier — that enabled that risk.  And that is why the theft of classified information is the crime, and why publications like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times can publish the information.  But it is a huge embarrassment to the security of the US that a Private in the US Army had access to all of this information, and could just walk away from a computer after burning it onto CDs, and give it to whomever he chose.  That soldier is the “deepthroat” of this incident, the Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers. I see all of those people as rebellious individuals who violated their oath to keep the information secure, however doing so for the greater good of the country when a government crossed that line.

To me, the test of whether this is a criminal or heroic act rests solely on the content of the leak. Does it expose abuse of power, criminal acts or intent, or other inappropriate wrong-doing by those trusted by the people?

Ellsberg himself is one of those signing a published article by the Institute for Public Accuracy called “Ex-Intelligence Officers, Others See Plusses in WikiLeaks Disclosures” referencing it and discussing it more on his web site. (If you read one article on the WikiLeaks fiasco, read either of those.)

Finding A Crime
Regardless of how you see the whistle-blowers, US law is pretty clear that publishing leaked information is in fact part of the journalistic freedoms protected by the First Ammendment. Not that wikipedia is the authority on anything, but it is worded well and I believe it to be accurate:

Several Supreme Court cases have previously established that the American constitution protects the re-publication of illegally gained information provided the publishers did not themselves break any laws in acquiring it. Federal prosecutors have also considered prosecuting Assange for trafficking in stolen government property, but since the diplomatic cables are intellectual rather than physical property, that approach also faces hurdles.

I have even seen (apparently false) claims that Assange was directly involved in the theft of the diplomatic cables, coercing the US Army private actually accused of the leaks (Bradley Manning) into providing classified information. More reputable reports indicate that Assange obtained the information from an anonymous third-party informant, who in turn was voluntarily given the information from a disgruntled Pvt. Manning, who was horrified at what he was seeing in Iraq. So there is no real basis to charge the publisher of leaked information, only the original thief. And Manning is in fact the only one charged in these incidents.

Double Standards
Further complicating this is the problem that other publishers of leaked information are not under the same level of attack. However it is more difficult for a government to attack the older, larger, and well-respected publishers like Wall Street Journal and New York Times. And recently WikiLeaks has only made information available to third-party publications, who decide if something is newsworthy and responsible journalism. But the government wants to silence this embarrassment, so there have been calls to use the Espionage Act of 1917. But according to Duke University law professor Scott Silliman in The Wall Street Journal:

“This might be difficult… unless you’re able to show some motive on his part and that he actively solicited the information.”

Desperate Times
From my perspective, the worst part of this is the propaganda war, the attempts to discredit and ruin Assange using any means necessary. Even if new laws have to be invented to do so. Others, effectively (or directly) call for Assange to be murdered without a trial. Sarah Palin’s comments that he be pursued “with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders” is an indirect call for his death. Wikipedia:

Fox News’ National Security Analyst and host “K.T.” McFarland has called Assange a terrorist, Wikileaks “a terrorist organization” and has called for Bradley Manning’s execution if he is found guilty of making the leaks.

U.S. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has called Assange “a high-tech terrorist“.

Former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich has been quoted as saying, “Information terrorism, which leads to people getting killed, is terrorism, and Julian Assange is engaged in terrorism. He should be treated as an enemy combatant.”

Tom Flanagan, former campaign manager for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, commented 30 November 2010 that he thought Julian Assange should be assassinated. A complaint has been filed against Flanagan, which states that Flanagan “counselled and/or incited the assassination of Julian Assange contrary to the Criminal Code of Canada,” in his remarks on the CBC program Power & Politics.

Former Nixon aide and talk radio host G. Gordon Liddy has reportedly suggested that Assange’s name be added to the “kill list” of terrorists who can be assassinated without a trial.

An editorial in the Washington Times by Jeffrey T. Kuhner said Assange should be treated “the same way as other high-value terrorist targets” and be assassinated.

An Inconvenient Constitution
Repeatedly, there are calls to change the laws to silence Assange, but increasingly that is proving to be problematic: there’s this darned Constitution thing, that sometimes manages to protect the people from government abuse.  In that case, these frustrated and embarrassed politicians abandon the laws and freedoms they claim to protect and directly call for his execution without trial.

I know that I am not the only one appalled by this.  In fact, I’d like to call for charges of inciting murder be placed against Tom Flanagan, G. Gordon Liddy, Jeffrey Kuhner and possibly Sarah Palin. Their behavior is outrageous, and in fact, even anti-American, if your America is the one that operates under the rule of law, and that those laws include the presumption of innocence pending a trial. In Assange’s case, he has not even been accused, and certainly not charged in these incidents.

Propaganda Backfire
But the more the government screams bloody murder, the larger the soapbox they give Assange, and the deeper the hole they dig for themselves. Can they not see that they are actually the largest proponent of the campaign to award Julian Assange the Nobel Prize? Even just a few months ago, that would have been ludicrous, but momentum is building on that, especially now that the Russian government has reportedly called for that, it is actually being taken seriously in many cases.

One of my favorite sayings is “when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” The US government, and several allies, have brought in the bulldozers to dig faster. It is needlessly divisive, and like the invasion of Iraq, they are forcing everyone to take black or white sides in a conflict that is nothing but grey.

And all of this, essentially, is because the truth has been published.

Hero or Villain?
I don’t really see Assange as any form of direct hero, however the anti-Assange movement in favor of suppressing his whistle-blowing exposé releases may make a living martyr out of him (assuming the calls from the US politicians to silence him with a bullet are not heeded).  And by imprisoning him, without charges, and denying him access to his lawyer, and on what the Swedish prosecutor describes as ridiculous, those responsible for his detention may turn him into next year’s version of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner.  (In fact, China’s Beijing Daily, a publication of the Beijing city government, also suggested in an editorial (here is the Chinese release) that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize not be given to the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, but instead to Julian Assange.)

Former British ambassador Craig Murray wrote that he has “never understood why it is felt that behaviours which would be considered reprehensible in private or even commercial life – like lying, or saying one thing to one person and the opposite to another person – should be considered acceptable, or even praiseworthy, in diplomacy… Those who argue that Wikileaks are wrong, believe that we should entrust the government with sole control of what the people can and cannot know of what is done in their name. That attitude led to the ‘dodgy dossier’ of lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction… The people discomfited by these leaks are people who deserve to be discomfited. Truth helps the people against rapacious elites – everywhere”.

Final Perspective
Here is a bit of direct perspective from Daniel Ellsberg:

… the American people should be outraged that their government has transformed a nation with a reputation for freedom, justice, tolerance and respect for human rights into a backwater that revels in its criminality, cover-ups, injustices and hypocrisies.

Odd, isn’t it, that it takes a Pravda commentator to drive home the point that the Obama administration is on the wrong side of history. Most of our own media are demanding that WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange be hunted down — with some of the more bloodthirsty politicians calling for his murder. The corporate-and-government dominated media are apprehensive over the challenge that WikiLeaks presents. Perhaps deep down they know, as Dickens put it, “There is nothing so strong … as the simple truth.”

So far, the question of whether Americans can “handle the truth” has been an academic rather than an experience-based one, because Americans have had very little access to the truth. Now, however, with the WikiLeaks disclosures, they do. Indeed, the classified messages from the Army and the State Department released by WikiLeaks are, quite literally, “ground truth.”

How to inform American citizens? As a step in that direction, on October 23 we “Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence” (see below) presented our annual award for integrity to Julian Assange. He accepted the honor “on behalf of our sources, without which WikiLeaks’ contributions are of no significance.” In presenting the award, we noted that many around the world are deeply indebted to truth-tellers like WikiLeaks and its sources.

Here is a brief footnote: Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII) is a group of former CIA colleagues and other admirers of former intelligence analyst Sam Adams, who hold up his example as a model for those who would aspire to the courage to speak truth to power. (For more, please see here.)

Sam did speak truth to power on Vietnam, and in honoring his memory, SAAII confers an award each year to a truth-teller exemplifying Sam Adams’ courage, persistence, and devotion to truth — no matter the consequences. Previous recipients include:

-Coleen Rowley of the FBI

-Katharine Gun of British Intelligence

-Sibel Edmonds of the FBI

-Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan

-Sam Provance, former Sgt., US Army

-Frank Grevil, Maj., Danish Army Intelligence

-Larry Wilkerson, Col., US Army (ret.)

-Julian Assange, WikiLeaks