Is Wikileaks ‘whistleblower’ seeking truth or just fame
Hail Julian Assange, international man of mystery, brave antiwar crusader, ultimate cyber-hero and now, according to his cultish followers, victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by the CIA, the Pentagon and other dark, oppressive forces.
Last week, Assange, who recently posted 90,000 unexpurgated U.S. military reports from Afghanistan on his WikiLeaks. org website, was revealed by the Stockholm newspaper Expressen to be the subject of a Swedish arrest warrant on suspicion of rape.
Less than 24 hours after the rape allegation emerged, Swedish prosecutors withdrew the warrant, citing a lack of evidence, while maintaining that Assange, an Australian, remained accused of sexual molestation after separate complaints from two women.
According to Assange’s myriad supporters, he is clearly the target of a conspiracy orchestrated by an American government through agents within the Swedish legal system.
Assange has flatly denied the allegations, stating he had never had non-consensual sex with anyone anywhere.
Judging how the Swedish authorities have handled matters thus far, a dollop of skepticism is justified.
Interestingly, Assange and his loyal band are using this strange episode to fuel the myth that envelopes him. WikiLeaks has broadcast seven messages about the story on Twitter, beginning with: “We were warned to expect ‘dirty tricks.’ Now we have the first one.”
Among the WikiLeaks groupies — an online crowd that seems to swell by the day — Assange didn’t even need to attempt to distract from the charges. For people who question every aspect of the American government and military, they are surprisingly eager to suspend all critical judgment in this instance.
“It’s been clear for some time that the Pentagon would love to put a bullet in Julian Assange’s brain,” opines libertarian blogger Lew Rockwell. But because “sending off a team of professional hit men would be bad public relations, “the disinfo artists of the (American) military junta” have used “phoney sex charges” instead.
For Canadian blogger Matthew Good, the whole thing “fits the CIA’s modus operandi like a glove.”
From New Jersey, Alexander Higgins states that the U.S. government has “truly grown into an Orwellian Big Brother regime” and its corruption is “beyond control.”
He asks whether Washington has fabricated the accusations against Assange because he had “revealed the slaughter of an untold number of innocent civilians” by the military.
You get the picture.
Assange, 39, has carefully cultivated his persona of being a fearless renegade and elusive target of shadowy forces. Profiles of him mention how his parents met at a Vietnam-era antiwar rally, how he attended dozens of schools as a child, used to sleep on the street in Melbourne and now flits from country to country with little more than a laptop.
Even the august New Yorker portrayed him as an almost supernatural figure “with his spectral white hair, pallid skin, cool eyes, and expansive forehead — like a rail-thin being who has rocketed to Earth to deliver humanity some hidden truth.”
What Assange is up to is more prosaic. He hit the big time with his video entitled Collateral Murder that used footage, shot from a U.S. helicopter, of the killing of alleged insurgents and two Iraqi employees of Reuters, to accuse the U.S. military of a war crime.
Oddly enough, it was Stephen Colbert, a comedian, who skewered him:
“There are armed men in the group. They did find a rocket-propelled grenade among the group. The Reuters photographers who were regrettably killed were not identified as photographers.
“And you have edited this tape, and you have given it a title called Collateral Murder. That’s not leaking. That’s a pure editorial.”
Assange admitted that he was seeking to manipulate and create “maximum political impact”.
This week, WikiLeaks was at it again. It published a CIA report on U.S. terror recruits, warning the U.S. could be viewed as an “exporter of terrorism” for attacks by U.S. based or financed Jewish, Muslim and Irish-nationalism terrorists. The “Red Cell” report, dated Feb. 2, 2010, warns this could complicate the country’s anti-terrorism efforts abroad.
But what has most critics up in arms is Assange’s recent release of more than 90,000 Afghan war documents (another 15,000 are supposedly still to come). This time, he released what had been leaked to him, allegedly by a disgruntled U.S. soldier, without any editing at all.
Although the cache of documents was trumpeted as the new Pentagon Papers (the 1971 leak that helped discredit the Vietnam War), in reality the documents were remarkable chiefly for their mundaneness. Amid a blizzard of military acronyms, they revealed essentially that war is messy and civilians sometimes die.
Most seriously, however, the documents contained the names of numerous Afghans who had helped British and American forces. Just in case the Taliban have a problem locating them, they also included grid locations and villages along with the names.
When Assange unveiled the documents amid a blaze of publicity, he did so sitting in front of Don McCullin’s iconic photograph of a U.S. Marine at the Battle of Hue in 1968.
Curiously enough, the previous time I had seen the photograph was in Helmand last year. The marine, unshaven, gripping his rifle with both hands and staring into the middle distance from beneath his grime-stained helmet, was on the cover of The Scars of War by Hugh McManners. The book was being read by a British army chaplain who had been under fire, had witnessed men dying, prayed over flag-draped coffins and even conducted the battlefield baptism of a soldier who had narrowly escaped death.
Placed alongside the chaplain’s quiet heroism and the horrors he had experienced, Assange’s exploitation of the image was jarring.
The contrast between the chaplain and Assange speaks of something profound. Assange is invariably afforded the glamorous title “whistleblower.”
In fact, he is a highly political campaigner and his message that he wants only to protect the vulnerable is undermined by the possibility that ordinary Afghans may already have died because of WikiLeaks.
The other contrast is between Assange and the marine from Hue.
We don’t know the marine’s name or whether he survived the battle and went home. We don’t know whether he was against the war or for it.
We do, however, know that he fought with honour for his country, a noble and edifying act.
The U.S. Marine in 1968 and the British chaplain in 2009 offer examples of behaviour that Assange and those who worship him might do well to contemplate.© Copyright (c) The Daily Telegraph