Julian Assange: Lord Byron of the internets?
Few people, apparently, support the jailing of Julian Assange - Australia’s very own electronic Lord Byron, the “romantic” hero of the Internet generation - for his organisation’s use and misuse (and, presumably, sale) of stolen US diplomatic documents.
Fortunately, those rights he may have as an Australian citizen in a foreign country have been actively supported by the Australian Embassies in Britain and Sweden, as they should be.
Perhaps even more fortunately for Mr. Assange, the United States Ambassador to Australia, Jeff Bleich, has decried the exaggerated claims of ideologues in US media and politics.
Bleich explained the Obama Administration distanced itself from any claims that Mr. Assange is to be charged with treason, or even executed, and such demands must be considered ridiculous.
Even for advocates of greater transparency in the government/public discourse, WikiLeaks is hardly a pure positive.
Experienced editors such as Bill Keller, front row editor of the The Grey Lady of Old Media herself, the New York Times demurs. The NYT, now well used to the WikiLeaking revelations which they have extensively published, have come to that view.
Others, even those media initially sympathetic, now view both the intentional and unintentional effects of WikiLeaks as ethically and practically mixed - see the Vanity Fair and New York Times critical appraisals.
For example, a WikiLeaks release concerning Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, based on some “gossip” by an anonymous US diplomat, based on a conversation which in turn “this person” had with “someone” at a Singapore think-tank, very suspiciously supports the Malaysian Government’s long-pursued allegations of sodomy against Mr. Ibrahim.
Unsourced, with no evidence, this un-redacted gossip was spewed out by the Assange e-machine.
It is certainly of no help to the democratic movement in Malaysia, nor to the brave Leader of the Opposition himself, in the middle of a trial for his political and personal life. (Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia and just the charges, let alone a conviction, would prevent Mr. Ibrahim from contesting the next national elections).
Similarly, with apparent pride and callousness, Assange’s WikiLeaking exposure of Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi’s corruption at the time of the Kenyan national elections in 2007 led directly to many Kenyan deaths.
As a result of this WikiLeak exposure Assange claims, with apparent pride, that while: “1,300 people were eventually killed, and 350,000 were displaced. That was a result of our leak…..On the other hand, the Kenyan people had a right to that information ….. and 40,000 children a year die of malaria in Kenya.”
For those concerned with civil liberties and the support of human rights, it is germane to note that Julian Assange has fallen out strongly with such liberal bastions as the Guardian and the New York Times.
His anarchist dumping of confidential US diplomatic information is not all helpful in supporting human rights or civil liberties.
However, his approach to his own financial advantage cannot be labelled thoughtless or anarchic for he is now seeking to copyright his own name via his gloriously named UK law firm, Finer Stephens Innocent. Assange © promotes himself as a lonely anarchist warrior, a fighter for transparency and human rights. His own ( soon to be copyrighted) heroic self image notwithstanding, he appears as the most notorious Australian swordsman since Errol Flynn, more “Bazza McKenzie” in a college scarf, than Bakunin.
When asked on British television why the women in Sweden had taken up these charges against him, he revealed that: “What they say is that they found out they were mutual lovers of mine, and they had unprotected sex and they got into a tizzy about whether there was possibility of a sexual transmitted disease… they wanted me to have a test.”
Strange for our idealised hero - what kind of a person would publicly state something as casually sexist as that? See “Angry Assange insists: I am not a sexual predator, I just really like women”, published in the British Daily Mail.
Of course, Julian Assange’s © battalion of barristers and solicitors rage on television and all over all media with confected hysteria about the dangers of Julian Assange © being extradited to the United States - if he is extradited to Sweden and possibly required to stand trial there on sex charges.
Strange, of course, for independent Swedish law to be thought so compliant to possible US wishes, given the history of Scandanavian protection of escapees from the US Draft Laws during the Vietnam War.
In a broadly sympathetic interview about Assange’s © court case the New York Times London chief John Burns said: “So I think the argument that if he goes to Sweden, it’s sort of a brief stop on his way to Guantanamo Bay is in the realm of the fantastic, which is not to say that Mr Assange himself may not believe that” .
Subsequently, the Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court has ruled (now under appeal to higher British courts) that Assange © should be extradited to Sweden where he will face investigation into his sexual behaviour.
The simplest explanation is usually the best: That Julian © Assange © is beholden to the same set of laws to which all the citizens, residents and tourists in Europe are subject. On examination, WikiLeaks is - as the Guardian and New York Times have judged - a decidedly mixed bag.
On the one hand, it is probably good that we are aware of some of the issues that have been revealed, such as the real attitude of various Arab leaders to Iran.
But, on the other, the cavalier dumping of unsourced and unverified information about vulnerable individuals, jeopardising their security and privacy is something we have to hold in a very delicate balance.
In his speech “Wikileaks and the Future of Democracy” at the Australian Institute of International Affairs (February 10, 2011) US Ambassador Jeffrey L. Bleich raised the serious question: How does the release of millions of confidential diplomatic transmissions over the Internet under the guise of freedom of expression serve the public interest?
As the US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes stated almost a century ago: no one has the right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. A less dramatic illustration: No one has the right to reveal, without your permission, your medical or personal history over the Internet world.
That can certainly be a serious, hurt and possibly devastating invasion of your personal privacy.
None of these general examples, nor the more specific, WikiLeaks’ release of a flood of diplomatic conversations and negotiations, serves our personal, institutional, national or international security. And it should be very clearly noted that the WikiLeaked documents are from democratic and open government sources, and not from the world’s closed and oppressed societies.
Some have said that no one has been hurt by the release of the Wikileak documents, but even Mr. Assange © does not believe that and has so stated (see above re Kenya) Without doubt the forces of oppression are at this very moment triangulating WikiLeak documents to hunt down those sources they regard as harmful to their power.
Further, WikiLeakings – rather than opening discussion – will shut it down.
Between friendly – and even hostile governments - no diplomat, no politician, no friend, no source will feel free to discuss with matters of high importance or sensitive issues requiring novel or contentious thinking.
Michael Danby was named in US diplomatic cables, and this fact was subsequently Wikileaked on the front pages of the Fairfax Press. However, Danby’s “secret” wikilleaked criticism of then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on the issue of asylum seekers had appeared on the front pages of Fairfax newspapers months earlier when they reported an ABC radio interview with Danby on the subject. Some “secret”, some “leak”.
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