Julian Assange, by contrast, has not killed anybody, or so far even broken any law, and key U.S. military officials have denied claims that information released into the public realm via WikiLeaks has resulted in anybody's death. In early August 2010, a Pentagon spokesman told the Washington Post that "We have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the documents," and as late as November 28, a different Pentagon official who "didn't want to be named because of the issue's sensitivity" told the McClatchy newspapers that the "military still has no evidence that the leaks have led to any deaths." Even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admitted that though WikiLeaks has proven ''embarrassing" and "awkward," its "consequences for U.S. foreign policy [are] fairly modest.''
Assange is nominally under attack in Britain because of allegations against him in Sweden that led to a European arrest warrant being served on him in London for questioning in relation to "rape, sexual molestation and forceful coercion," and for which he now faces an extradition hearing on February 7. But these charges increasingly appear to be a cover for a political assault on WikiLeaks, helped along by the now-pliable right-wing Swedish political establishment, and they have been convincingly exposed as such. (See, e.g., Al Burke, "Sweden, Assange and the USA," Nordic News Network, December 28, 2010.) Assange's real crime is the "exposure and embarrassment of the political class," as John Pilger put it. That and the threat that WikiLeaks will keep doing this.
Of course, classified information is leaked regularly by U.S. officials to engineer consent to policy. But WikiLeaks has provided the public and foreign ministries and news media with information that the U.S. government wants to keep out of sight that might make policy management more difficult. This is what journalists and an independent media are supposed to do anyway, so WikiLeaks in its short four-year existence has been serving a major international public good and enhancing democracy. Also, as U.S. policy has involved aggressive warfare and illegal actions and has depended on institutionalized lies that almost nobody challenges, especially in the American media, WikiLeaks and Assange may well be contributing to the reduction of warfare and the saving of innocent lives.
One year ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gushed about Internet freedom, about there being "more ways to spread more ideas to more people than at any moment in history," and that "even in authoritarian countries, information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable."
Clinton at that time was advocating greater transparency in countries such as China and Iran. But after WikiLeaks began to release some of its holdings of more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic documents in late November 2010, Clinton did an about-face saying, in words that could have come out of a Chinese official's mouth, saying, "It is an attack on the international community, the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations, that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity."
So Assange quickly became, in the words of Vice President Joe Biden, a "high-tech terrorist" and the U.S. government was urged by political figures to terminate him. As one-time Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said, the government should pursue him "with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaida and Taliban leaders."
We must "strangle the viability of Assange's organization," Rep. Peter King, the new Republican chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, wrote to the Treasury Department on January 12, and "prohibit people and companies within U.S. jurisdiction from conducting business with WikiLeaks and Assange." King was behind the curve. By the time he spoke, pressed by the US government, Visa Inc. and PayPal Inc. had already agreed to freeze WikiLeaks' sources of funds, while Amazon.com had agreed to stop supplying its cloud-computing service for WikiLeaks' content. The result has been a concerted state and corporate attack on Assange and WikiLeaks--and, more broadly, on global Internet neutrality, freedom of speech, and democracy.
Among the notable features of the treatment of Assange have been the speed and urgency with which U.S., British and Swedish officials have moved against him, the difficulty he has had in securing his pre-trial freedom, and the rush to extradite him to Sweden, a country that is believed to be more likely than the UK to remand him to the United States.
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