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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange: public menace or Internet hero?

This past weekend started off with a story that was both shocking and so unsurprising that the only thing unexpected about it was that it took this long to happen. Julian Assange, founder, editor, and spokesperson for WikiLeaks — which recently enraged the Pentagon by releasing thousands of documents detailing how fucked up the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan has been, by the measure of the Pentagon itself, and has promised to release yet more similar documents — was accused by Swedish authorities of having committed rape… and then the arrest warrant for Assange was withdrawn only hours later.

“I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape,” Stockholm’s chief prosecutor, Eva Finne, was quoted in the Guardian as saying.

Assange responded (via the Guardian):

Assange has denied both accusations, first reported by the Swedish tabloid Expressen, which were described as dirty tricks on the Wikileaks’ Twitter account.

He implied that they were linked to the release by the whistleblowers’ website of a huge cache of US military records on the Afghan war, which were published in collaboration with the Guardian and two other newspapers.

Assange wrote: “The charges are without basis and their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing.”

Earlier postings on the Twitter account implied the accusations were part of a dirty tricks campaign against the Wikileaks founder, who has been strongly criticised by the Pentagon.

“Expressen is a tabloid; No one here has been contacted by Swedish police. Needless to say, this will prove hugely distracting.

“We were warned to expect ‘dirty tricks’. Now we have the first one.”

WikiLeaks has published numerous leaked secret documents embarrassing to governments, corporations, and other organizations — such as Scientology — in recent years, but its Afghan War Diary has brought it the most scrutiny, criticism, and pushback to date. WikiLeaks even posted an encrypted file called “insurance” in connection with the Afghan War Diary that has prompted wild speculation about what it might contain. (Anyone is free to download the file — in fact, WikiLeaks hopes to ensure that many copies exist all over cyberspace and on personal computers — but its strong encryption is said to be uncrackable without the key… which, presumably, WikiLeaks would disseminate if needed.)

I believe the work that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks is doing is absolutely vital to the open and free journalism democracy needs to survive, work that has become increasingly threatened in recent years as laws protecting whistleblowers have weakened. (WikiLeaks has servers in Sweden precisely because it still has strong such laws.) This rape allegation is highly suspicious for its timing, but of course, even if it were entirely true, it would not alter one iota the picture that WikiLeaks’ Afghan War Diary has revealed, nor would it make any less true the other truths WikiLeaks has shed light upon.

But not everyone agrees with me. What do you think?

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange: public menace or Internet hero?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • The rape allegation was coming via a tabloid newspaper – already a dubious source. Can’t entirely think this was a DoD or CIA smear campaign: for one thing, neither of those agencies are incompetent enough to create such a flimsy allegation (they’d have done a better job setting up Assange without any alibi; found credible ‘victims’ to press the charges; staged more ‘convincing evidence’ et al). More than likely some off-the-radar far right wingnut trying to score a scalp and discredit Assange in the nation he needs backing from to avoid arrest.

  • Internet Hero, no question. Even if he’s a rapist or a murderer, which he isn’t, WikiLeaks is (as you said) vital for the free press.

    As Sir Ben Kingsly said so correctly in that underrated gem, Sneakers:

    “No more secrets, Marty.”

  • He’s a hero without a doubt in that he is relentlessly pursuing transparency. I don’t believe that anything that he releases will truly compromise national security. Although it may threaten the assumptions that we’ve allowed our government to operate under:
    1) That they will always operate in the nation’s best interest
    2) That the foremost concern is for the freedom of the people we are “protecting” (the Iraqis and the Afghans)
    3) That the management of the resources at the command of the government is responsible and justified.

    Shaking that tree isn’t a threat to national security it is a threat to our nation’s stewards. And that’s a tree that I think deserves to be shaken. Often. Vigorously.

  • Boingo

    I almost want to exclude that word”hero,” from my description of people after it seems it went into word
    inflation (or whatever it’s called). I look at it as being about a man-intelligent-who probably wrestled with his conscience and decided to make these records available.Either way,had he decided against, many would have(or have) died without the public’s knowledge.
    Upholder of the “free press?”- no doubt. He’s a man who
    is doing his job, knowing possible consequences-
    mentally tough as nails.

  • RogerBW

    It’s great to see who comes out of the woodwork to argue that openness is good, yeah, but maybe not in my particular area…

  • Lisa

    I read that he had been accused of rape and instantly thought smear campaign.

  • Knightgee

    I’m hesitant. The rape allegation seems too perfectly timed, but at the same time, too often rape in our society isn’t taken seriously, so I don’t want to be yet another one of those people, denying what could be true because it’s inconvenient to some personally constructed narrative. What I can say is that whether or not he is guilty, it doesn’t change what he has revealed.

  • Pollas

    Sorry, but this guy is scum. He needs to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Who knows what lives and missions he’s endangered. You just do not release classified documents related to an ongoing war. That is treason.

  • JoshB

    Who knows what lives and missions he’s endangered

    Who knows what lives he will have saved if he helps end the war?

  • I don’t want to be yet another one of those people, denying what could be true because it’s inconvenient to some personally constructed narrative. What I can say is that whether or not he is guilty, it doesn’t change what he has revealed.

    This.

    Public menace or Internet hero: If–*if*–the rape allegations are true, why can’t he be both? Thomas Jefferson was both a slave-owner and a hero of American Independence. People are complex. We can fully recognize them for the good things they do *and* hold them accountable for their misdeeds and crimes (*if* they are indeed guilty of them).

  • Chuck

    That is treason.

    No it’s not treason. He’s not a citizen of the United States and therefore he is not betraying his nation or sovereign. So technically he is not a traitor.

  • drewryce

    Treason/non treason issue

    The person that first reveals classified documents to an unclassified person is guilty of something. treason is the most draconian of a variety of the possible charges. These charge could not be placed against Assange for publishing the information as the information was already “out”.

    So, the army source that gives the info to Assange should and will be prosecuted. But Assange should not be.

    The bigger question; should Assange publish the classified material?
    Depends on what’s in the material doesn’t it?

    -If it’s raw field intel where some poor bastard of a villager is revealed by name and location to have told the US Marines where some Taliban bombers are hiding, then I say no he shouldn’t publish the info. The publics right to know is minimal and poor bastard is promptly murdered by the Taliban. bad juju all around.

    – Inside report that demonstrates that the military lied about bombing a village where civilians were killed. hell yes he should publish. Public right to know they are being lied to is great, poor bastards are already dead.

    -Then there is the great grey area. Things aren’t so clear. Who gets hurt? What is right? The answer is do the best you can everyday and face judgment day with a clear conscience.

    One thing is clear. Anyone that says they have the black and white answer is dead wrong. It isn’t always obvious that national security is above all or that an open democratic society requires that all be revealed.

  • Sean Riley

    I’m with Drewryce. He’s a complicated figure, and deserves to be treated that way. What he’s doing is extremely blunt, and it could endanger soldiers lives. Oh, and BTW? That he’s not a citizen of the US is irrelevent: He is a citizen of Australia, who also have soldiers there.

    But the sheer fucking irony of claiming he’s endangering lives by publishing material on an invasion is unbelievable. Just to put this in perspective, just today a US drone killed twenty people in Pakistan. Thirteen of them were militants. The other seven were women and children. You can debate the morality of war all you want, but the fact is that these armies being in Afghanistan threatens a lot more lives than the Wikileaks do.

    My tendency is to lean with him in general, but not on the Afghan diaries as he reported them. Reporters Without Borders made the best case against him. I’m critical of their reporting of Afghanistan, make no mistake about it, but Assange could have exercised more discretion here.

    Also? Assange comes across as a total prick. He’s on the side of the angels more times than not, but it doesn’t stop him from coming across as someone I would loathe in person.

  • Sean Riley

    Meant to include this link:

    http://en.rsf.org/spip.php?page=article&id_article=38130

    Reporters Without Borders case against Assange.

  • Lisa

    Probably not helpful to look at anyone in black and white terms. I think that we live in an age where corporations own newspapers, tv stations and control the news so it’s good to know there are outlets where the truth can come out.

    I read that the amount of civilian deaths caused by the military in Alfganistan are rising. Things are getting worse not better.

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