JULIAN ASSANGE could be Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” for 2010. If he is so named, he will be in the same company as Charles Lindbergh (1927), Mahatma Gandhi (1930), Queen Elizabeth II (1952), Pope John Paul II (1994) Barack Obama (2008) and Corazon Aquino (1986).
It’s not exactly an award for those on this side of Western respectability, however. Joseph Stalin was twice Time Man of the Year, in 1939 and 1942. (Time changed the tag to Person of the Year in 1999.) And by any civilized standard, Henry Kissinger, the chief villain in the 1973 coup in Chile among other crimes, who was Time’s Man of the Year in 1972 together with Richard Nixon, is not someone you’d like being in the same planet with. Ditto for Adolf Hitler, Man of the Year for 1938.
The Australian-born Assange is the founder and “human face” of WikiLeaks.org, a website which went online four years ago and which since then has been releasing hundreds of thousands of pages of secret material including the contents of 2008 US Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s Yahoo account, the US’ and other countries’ secret documents on global warming, and lately, cables to and from US embassies around the world and the US State Department.
WikiLeaks, said the New Yorker magazine last June, “is not quite an organization; it is better described as a media insurgency.” Its aim is to disseminate, so long as it’s of any public relevance, information that would otherwise remain secret. While it has leaked information on banks, religious groups, and the hidden fortunes of African dictators, the site and its founder are currently under intense attack for leaking hundreds of thousands of secret US Embassy-State Department cables.
Both Assange and the site have been under attack on several fronts since WikiLeaks began publishing the cables last November 28. The most recent is the arrest of Assange in England and his possible extradition to Sweden on charges of rape and sexual molestation (which he has denied and has vowed to fight).
The attacks on the site began with a hacker attempt to shut it down on November 28, and went on to the freezing of its PayPal account through which it receives donations, and other measures to suppress it.
US Senator Joseph Lieberman, among other US officials, has successfully pressured some Web companies into denying WikiLeaks their services. The French Industry Minister has also warned Web companies of “consequences” should they continue to help WikiLeaks stay online in France. Lieberman has gone to the extent of suggesting that The New York Times, which published the cables on freedom of information and public interest grounds, can be prosecuted. He has also urged the filing of espionage charges against Assange and his extradition to the US for trial.
The US is a powerful and ruthless opponent. But WikiLeaks can’t be easily shut down. Its staff has vowed to continue publishing the cables it has acquired through means and sources it won’t reveal (the US allegation is that the materials are “stolen [US] government property”). To prevent being taken down, the site also maintains its content in hundreds of servers around the world, and on mirror sites and hundreds of domain names.
But the attempts to stop WikiLeaks now being masterminded by the US — whose Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, only a few months ago hailed the Internet as a vehicle of free expression, rebuking China for its alleged cyber attack on Google — could be the most serious test so far of the capacity of the Internet sites to continue, as Clinton declared last January, “helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable.”
Clinton was then railing against the Chinese government, which the US calls authoritarian, and which has, indeed, imposed restraint upon restraint not only on the old media (print and broadcast) but also on the new (news and other information sites on the Internet). Judging from their reactions, however, it’s not only the rulers of authoritarian regimes that fear exposure of their actions and policies, it’s the governments of so-called democracies too.
These hypocrites, says the US linguistics professor and social critic Noam Chomsky, are in fact hardly democracies themselves because they pay no heed to the opinions and wishes of the citizens of other countries and even those of their own citizens. (In 1973, for example, then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger dismissed the election of Salvador Allende as President of Chile as the act of an irresponsible citizenry. The US was at the time using its flunkies in the Chilean military to overthrow the Allende government through a bloody coup.) They have never been held accountable for such offenses as the US’ violations of international law over the last 50 years, its bombings, invasions and other acts of aggression, and its economic policies in its own homeland that have decimated the US middle class and doomed millions of working people to poverty while further enriching the wealthiest.
What WikiLeaks is doing is exposing the reality behind the self-serving, sanctimonious, misleading, and often false public declarations of the US government. That is why the US is assembling all the means it can muster to stop WikiLeaks from revealing more secrets in addition to its exposure of the corruption and brutality of its client government in Afghanistan, the fact that its forces are bogged down in that country in a war it can’t win, its role in the December 2008 Israeli bombing of Gaza, and its contempt for many of its so-called allies. These are aspects of the global reality it can’t allow its own citizens, the taxpayers who’re footing the bill, to know.
Beyond that concern is alarm in US ruling circles. They loathe and fear WikiLeaks for exposing the US global strategy of war and subversion, and of intimidating and manipulating other countries, governments and peoples in furtherance of its drive for total dominance that began with its occupation of the Philippines more than a century ago. The leaks are brushstrokes in an ugly picture — that of a government, allegedly a democracy, deluded by its overweening hubris and hypocrisy.