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maryann johanson | #BlackLivesMatter

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documents — was accused by Swedish authorities of having committed rape… and then the arrest warrant for Assange was withdrawn only hours later.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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