'Your concept looks terrific. I wish you the best of luck' Daniel Ellsberg
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On December 6, I received a message from a friend celebrating the fact that Julian Assange, the controversial founder of WikiLeaks, was leading a Times magazine poll for the next "person of the year."
Up to then, I had been somewhat dismissive of the whole WikiLeaks debacle, perceiving this Assange character as someone who practiced "irresponsible" journalism, releasing thousands of private communications that seemed to have little to do with national security and a lot to do with mean-spirited back-channel insults between diplomats. Add to this an accusation of rape (which did seem suspiciously timed to me, but still) and this did not seem like someone I wanted to have coffee with, never mind nominate for person of the year!
However, due to the popularity implied by the Times poll, and to my great respect for my friend's political senses, my interest was piqued. Thus, I began to dig into the WikiLeaks story, reading sources I have personally come to trust over the years to put together a credible version of the facts for myself.
What I discovered troubled me greatly.
Surprisingly, what was disturbing were not Assange's actions, or even the unethical and untruthful actions revealed about our government by some of the leaked cables (although these are very sad to me), but by the actions and words of our political leaders (like Joe Lieberman) and major organizations (like Amazon and Visa/Mastercard) which have summarily decided on Assange's guilt without evidence or a due process. I am also disturbed by the mainstream story told about WikiLeaks, Assange, and the leaked cables, which weave the myths below into a tale of narcissism, drama, irresponsibility, and (yawn) petty diplomatic cat-fights, with "treason" and "terrorist" accusations thrown in for flair.
The counter-story that emerged out of my reading is far more complex and nuanced, and raises many questions about who has really crossed ethical boundaries here -- Assange or those that have tried to discredit and shut him down.
It is to be expected, of course, that no government wants to be embarrassed or have their state secrets (especially ones that showcase lies or human rights abuses) revealed publicly. However, if such a thing occurs, officials (and the media, and corporations) have a decision point a moment in which they can choose the level of dignity, morality, ethics, and legality with which they will approach the disclosures.
It is these actions and words, which have stemmed from the moments of choice presented to our leaders by WikiLeaks, that worry me in terms of what they reveal about their commitment to democracy, civil liberties, human rights and use of power.
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