The UK High Court will soon reach a verdict on whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden, to answer allegations of sexual misconduct. In the meantime, Assange remains under a form of house arrest at a supporter’s country home. He is obliged to report to local police regularly and to wear a monitoring device until the High Court delivers its judgment.
For Assange’s supporters, the whole legal matter is a fabrication of the forces of power who oppose the WikiLeaks project specifically and transparency in general. They view Assange as a heroic figure – a champion of truth, freedom and justice – and the Swedish allegations as designed to deliver Assange into the hands of the US government. John Pilger has defended Assange as the besieged leader of the Internet free speech revolution and condemned the High Court proceedings as the machinations of the state-media complex, determined to silence Assange and thereby subvert the transparency revolution.
Assange’s detractors argue that, at the very least, the Swedish charges should be considered as separate from the wider transparency issues at play in the WikiLeaks saga. If the High Court decides to allow Assange’s extradition to Sweden they argue, it is not a conspiracy but recognition that the women who have made the allegations against Assange have a right to seek justice. More broadly, those who do not support Assange argue that transparency is not always possible or even desirable in the context of international relations and that the release of 250,000 largely unredacted classified diplomatic cables is irresponsible at best and a ‘betrayal of his own civilisation’ at worst. The far right have called for Assange to be ‘taken out’ like Bin Laden, as an ‘information terrorist.’
What interests me in regard to the Assange story is that both sides of the argument operate within the same paradigm, in some ways mirroring the thing they most reject. Pilger vehemently defends Assange’s right to justice, but not the rights of the Swedish women who have made allegations of sexual misconduct against him. An avowed and respected anti-war campaigner, he is a powerful old battle horse himself. He regularly uses the language of war and the tools of the propagandist in his work. The State is ‘the enemy’, Assange is ‘besieged’, blows are struck and individuals are ‘crushed’ in Pilger’s campaign for peace.
Assange displays the same syndrome. Despite his doctrine of truth and transparency, Assange is notoriously secretive and distrustful. He decries the power of the information ‘gatekeepers,’ yet seems to relish emulating the tactics and structures of secrecy he so deplores. He justifies Bradley Manning’s leaking 250,000 unfiltered classified diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks as being in the wider public interest, but is outraged when The Guardian leaks the password which enables anyone to view the cables in their entirety on the Internet. WikiLeaks says it takes serious precautions to protect the identity and safety of vulnerable whistle-blowers, as well as protecting its own members and code writers. Likewise, embassies assure vulnerable local contacts that they take serious precautions to protect their identity and safety, as well as protecting their own diplomats and communications staff. Being able to ensure confidentiality and anonymity is essential for the work of both parties. Neither seems capable of keeping a lid on their stuff.
If the US government with all its resources couldn’t keep the information secure, what hubris was it for Julian Assange to assume he could be a better gatekeeper? Certainly, the morally murky and sometimes Machiavellian tactics of international diplomacy have been revealed in some of the cables. Yet, within the 250,000 cables there will also be names or details which will identify vulnerable people who are working to secure transparency and peace through the diplomatic process.
Assange censures the US government for hiding ‘the truth’; the US government censures Assange’s actions as terrorism and throws Manning in jail without charge; The Guardian reveals ‘the truth’ about Assange in an unauthorised biography; Assange censures The Guardian for publishing the secret password; John Pilger champions justice for Assange at the expense of justice for the two Swedish women. Meanwhile, vulnerable people languish in prison, board leaky boats seeking political asylum or die in a torture chamber somewhere. Betrayed. It’s a vicious cycle and all part of the same paradigm of betrayal and hubris. Each party believes, in Machiavelli’s words, that, “the ends justify the means.”
In Greek mythology, Prometheus painstakingly fashioned Aletheia, the spirit of Truth, out of clay. He was called away to attend to something else and the trickster Dolos was left behind to guard the statue. Dolos couldn’t resist trying to trick the great potter by making an identical statue, but his boss returned before the facsimile was finished. Prometheus was amazed at the two lovely statues on his return and put both into his kiln, bringing them to life. Aletheia (Truth) and Pseudologos (Falsehood) were born on the same day, made from the same stuff and very difficult to tell apart, in all but one respect. Pseudologos had no feet. When they came to life, Aesop tells us, Truth walked in measured steps and Falsehood was stuck to the spot.
Pilger is right about one thing: a wider process of revolution is occurring worldwide, in which the vulnerable people’s calls for transparency, justice and freedom are getting louder. Tyrants and structures that don’t serve the people are falling. Anyone who believes they have a monopoly on truth and their moral compass is infallible is kidding themselves. Ultimately, it isn’t classification or encryption that protects sensitive information and vulnerable people; it is trust and ethical behaviour.
Only the genuine Aletheia, made ethically and without subterfuge, will walk away from the fire.
* Joanne Lock is an independent writer based in Australia. A former member of the Australian diplomatic service, Joanne studied Political Science and International Relations at the University of Queensland. To contact Joanne or read more of her work, visit www.joannelock.com