Since Bob Morris has pointed out that even some who are typically rebellious in their rhetoric are condemning Julian Assange, I think it’s worth pointing out how historically important Assange (and Wikileaks, of course) could be. With the caveat that we have all yet to see the effects of what Wikileaks is doing, he has the potential to play two essential roles.
The first is the obvious role of rebel against authoritarianism. As former Senator Mike Gravel noted in August,
I do question a classification system so prone to abuse by those in authority whose actions in the past and whose present conduct continues to derail the proper functioning of a democracy in a free society…
…accepting and tolerating unbridled secrecy… in effect subvert[s] our democracy by accepting secrecy as “the way Washington works.”
Without a doubt, the United States government is an authoritarian entity in more ways than not – spying on peaceful activists, arresting peace activists, torturing prisoners, violating its citizens’ rights at airports, waging war on four fronts, partaking in propoganda campaigns, and so much more! The Wikileaks crew has done their duty in opposing what would have otherwise been a largely unchallenged exponential growth in despotic behavior by American, and in some cases international, government.
Assange’s unabashedely radical anti-authoritarianism is his second, complementary role. He IS more radical than even many self-proclaimed radicals. He has the courage to put his life at risk for the principle of democracy, as can be seen in the explanation of Wikileaks’ actions posted on the website (which is down as I write this):
The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in “client states”; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them.
This document release reveals the contradictions between the US’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors – and shows that if citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what’s going on behind the scenes.
Through his radicalism, Assange has not only possibly furthered the cause in an extremely effective way, he has made it safe for more moderate people to be radical small “d” democrats. For instance, the following was published in The Guardian as a response to the leaks:
The job of the media is not to protect power from embarrassment. If American spies are breaking United Nations rules by seeking the DNA biometrics of the UN director general, he is entitled to hear of it…
…Clearly, it is for governments, not journalists, to protect public secrets. Were there some overriding national jeopardy in revealing them, greater restraint might be in order. There is no such overriding jeopardy, except from the policies themselves as revealed.
Glenn Greenwald has an insightful piece today in which he points out, in other words, the benefits of Wikileaks’ far tilt toward transparency. A key passage:
Like all organizations, WikiLeaks has made mistakes in the past, including its failure to exercise enough care in redacting the names of Afghan informers. Moreover, some documents are legitimately classified, probably including some among the documents that were just disclosed.Nonetheless, our government and political culture is so far toward the extreme pole of excessive, improper secrecy that that is clearly the far more significant threat. And few organizations besides WikiLeaks are doing anything to subvert that regime of secrecy, and none is close to its efficacy.
While some who support the corporate state are calling for Assange’s assassination and some self-proclaimed rebels are wary of Assange, we could do well to learn from his courage to act, and act in a way that is uncompromisingly radical.