Wednesday, December 15, 2010

WikiLeaks: The Velvet Glove Comes Off the Iron Fist

The Lynch-Mob Moment

By Tom Hayden
Progressive America Rising via

Dec 10, 2010  -  We know that conservatives are extremists for order, but why have so many liberals lost their minds and joined the frenzy over Julian Assange and WikiLeaks? As the secrets of power are unmasked, there is a growing bipartisan demand that Julian Assange must die.

Today once-liberal Democrat Bob Beckel said on FOX that someone should "illegally shoot the son-of-a-bitch." A few days ago center-liberal legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said on CNN that Assange is "absurd, ridiculous, delusional, and well beyond our sympathy." The Washington Times called for treating him as an "enemy combatant"; Rep.  Peter King of the Homeland Security Committee who wants him prosecuted as a terrorist; and of course, Sarah Palin wants him hunted down like Osama Bin Ladin or a wolf in Alaska.

This is a lynch-mob moment, when the bloodlust runs over.  We have this mad over-reaction many times since the witch-burnings and Jim Crow, including the Palmer Raids of the 1920s, the McCarthy purges of the 1950s, the Nixon-era conspiracy trials, the Watergate break- ins, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11.

Most Americans know now that those periods of frenzy and scapegoating did nothing for our security but damaged our democracy and left in their wake a secretive National Security State.

There's wisdom in expecting calmer heads to prevail in the WikiLeaks matter, but what can be done when the calmer heads are going nuts or hiding in silence?

Do the frothing pundits remember that we have a legal system in which the accused is entitled to due process, legal representation and the right to a defense? The first obligation of our threatened elected officials, bureaucrats and pundits is to calm down.

No one has died as a result of the WikiLeaks disclosures.  But the escalation by the prosecutors in this case could lead to an escalation, with more sensitive documents being released in a retaliatory spiral of this first cyber-war.  Imprisoning the messenger will amplify his message and further threats of execution.

I can understand the reasonable questions that reasonable people have about this case.  It is clearly illegal to release and distribute the 15,652 documents stamped as "secret." Why should underground whistleblowers have the unlimited right to release those documents? There is a risk that some individuals might be harmed by the release? There is a concern that ordinary diplomatic business might be interrupted.

All fair questions.  These concerns have to be weighed against two considerations, it seems to me.  First, how important is the content of the documents? And how serious is the secrecy system in preventing our right to know more about the policies - especially wars - being carried out in our name? And finally, is there a reasonable alternative to letting the secrets mount, such as pursuing the "transparency" agenda, which the White House purports to support?

Let me weigh these questions with regard to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and the "Long War" scenario that has occupied my full attention these past nine years.

It will be remembered that the Iraq War was based on fabricated evidence by U.S. and British intelligence services, the Bush-Cheney White House, and even the New York Times through the deceptive reporting of Judith Miller.  The leading television media invited top military officials to provide the nightly narrative of the war lest their be any doubts in the mesmerized audience.  Secrecy and false narratives were crucial to the invasions, special operations, renditions, tortures, and mass detentions that plunged us into the quagmires where we now are stranded.  The secret-keepers were incompetent to protect our national security, even when cables warned of an immanent attack by hijacked airliners.

The secrecy grew like a cancer on democracy.  Earlier this year, the Washington Postreported in "Top-Secret America" that there were 854,000 people with top- security clearances.  [William Arkin, Dana Priest, "Top Secret America", Washington Post, July 19, 2010] That was the tip of the iceberg.  The number of new secrets rose 75% between 1996 and 2009, to 183, 224; the number of documents using those secrets has exploded from 5.6 million in 1996 to 54.6 million last year.  [Time, December 13, 2010] The secrecy cult appears uncontrollable: the Clinton executive order 12958 [1995] gave only twenty officials the power to stamp documents top-secret, but those twenty could delegate the power to 1,336 others, while a "derivative" procedure extended the power to three million more officials and contractors.  [Time, December 13, 2010]

The 1917 U.S. espionage statute requires that Assange received secret documents and willfully, with bad faith, intended to harm the United States by releasing "national defense information." That's a tough standard.  Perhaps in order to close what U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder describes as "gaps in our laws", the State Department on Saturday sent a letter demanding that Assange cease the releases, return all classified documents and destroy any records on WikiLeaks databases.  [Washington Post, November 30, 2010]

These are difficult legal hurdles for the Justice Department under the First Amendment, but, according to a source close to the defense with experience in such cases, it seems clear that the US government will prosecute Assange with every tool at their disposal, perhaps even rendition.

"What President Obama needs is a photo of Assange in chains brought into a federal court," the source said.

This week the Assange defense team will appeal the London court's decision to deny bail.  If that fails, he will appear in court December 14 to face extradition to Sweden.

Assange has the right to appeal an extradition order to the European Court of Human Rights.

He has a very strong base of support in London where public anger over the fabrications that led to war still runs high.  An extradition fight in London could carry on for weeks, providing an important platform for the defense.  Or the UK government could take the risk of an accelerated emergency deportation process to send him to Stockholm, or even the US in the most extreme scenario.

If Assange winds up in Stockholm, it could take several weeks to fight his way through a bizarre and complicated sexual harassment trial.  Anything is possible there, from all charges being dropped, to the finding of a technical infraction, to jail time.  Or Sweden could make an emergency finding to extradite him straight to the US, risking an adverse public reaction for serving as to a handmaiden of the Pentagon.

In the atmosphere of hysteria ahead, it is important for peace and justice advocates to remember and share what Americans owe to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

1. WikiLeaks disclosed 390,136 classified documents about the Iraq War and 76,607 about Afghanistan so far.  No one died as a result of these disclosures, one of which revealed another 15,000 civilian casualties in Iraq which had not been acknowledged or reported before;

2. Fragmentary orders [FRAGO] 242 and 039 instructed American troops not to investigate torture in Iraq conducted by America's allies;

3. The CIA operates a secret army of 3,000 in Afghanistan;

4. A secret US Task Force 373 is assigned to nighttime hunter-killer raids in Afghanistan;

5. The US ambassador in Kabul says it is impossible to fix corruption when our ally is the corrupt entity;

6. One Afghan minister alone carried $52 million out of the country;

7. US Special Forces operate in Pakistan without public acknowledgement, apparently in violation of that country's sovereignty;

8. America's ally, Pakistan, is the chief protector of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

9. Following secret U.S air strikes against suspected al-Qaeda militants, Yeme's President Ali Abdullah Saleh told General David Petraeus, "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours."

The secretive wars exposed by WikiLeaks will cost $159.3 billion in the coming fiscal year, and several trillion dollars since 2001.  The American death toll in Afghanistan will reach 500 this year, or fifty per month, for a total of 1,423, and 9,583 wounded overall

- over half of the wounded during this year alone.  The Iraq War has left 4,430 U.S. soldiers dead and 32,000 wounded as of today.  The civilian casualties are ignored, but range in the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis.

Is it possible that Julian Assange is the scapegoat for arrogant American officials who would rather point the fingers of blame than see the blood on their own hands? What else can explain their frenzy to see Assange dead?

It may be too late to prevent an escalation.  The lynch-mob is rabid, terrorized by what they cannot control, completely out of balance, at their most dangerous.  If they realize their darkest desires, they will make Assange a martyr - a "warrior for openness" - in the new age now beginning.  A legion of hackers are fingering their Send buttons in response, and who can say what flood they may release?

The trial of Julian Assange is becoming a trial of secrecy itself.  Wherever the line is drawn, secrecy has become the mask of power, and without new rules, the revolt of the hackers will continue.


Published on The Nation (

WikiLeaks vs. The Empire

By Tom Hayden
Progressive America Rising via The Nation

Nov 30, 2010

Informed sources say that the current deluge of Wikileaks documents will continue for another week and grow in significance.

Leading US human rights lawyers Leonard Weinglass and Michael Ratner have joined the defense team for Julian Assange and Wikileaks. US officials are employing cyber-warfare and prosecutorial steps to deny any safe haven for the Wikileaks operation with a fervor comparable to their drone attacks on Al Qaeda havens in Pakistan and Yemen. WikiLeaks' Julian Assange was placed on Interpol's "most wanted" list as US authorities intensified efforts to suppress the whistleblower organization's deluge of classified US diplomatic cables. Assange's location was not immediately known. His choices are to turn himself in or be tracked down by local police. If outside of Sweden, he could face extradition on charges to stand trial there. Or the US could seek his extradiction on charges of espionage or theft of classified documents.

Two cyber-attacks have been reported against WikiLeaks servers this week. The Justice Department is seeking indictments on espionage charges from a grand jury quietly impaneled this week in arch-conservative Alexandria, Virginia. Assange is in London, facing rape and sexual harrassment charges in Sweden, which he denies. Extradition could be sought by the United States at any time from either venue.

Why is this drama important? Not because of "life-threatening" leaks, as claimed by the establishment, but because the closed doors of power need to be open to public review. We live increasingly in an Age of Secrecy, as described by Garry Wills in Bomb Power, among recent books. It has become the American Way of War, and increasingly draws the curtains over American democracy itself. The wars in Pakistan and Yemen are secret wars. The war in Afghanistan is dominated by secret US Special Operations raids and killings. The CIA has its own secret army in Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal's entire record in Iraq was classified. And so on, ad nauseam.

And what is the purpose of all the secrecy? As Howard Zinn always emphasized, the official fear was that the American people might revolt if we knew the secrets being kept from us. In Rolling Stone's expose of McChrystal's war this year, one top military adviser said that "if Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular." McChrystal himself joked about sending out Special Forces units to kill at night then having to "scold" them in the morning.

And revolt we should, against those who would keep the affairs of empire shrouded. We should not be distracted by the juicy tidbits that may or may not be better left unreported. The focus of Congressional hearings and journalistic investigation should be on matters of public policy in which the American people are being lied to, most notably these:

* "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours"—Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh to Gen. David Petraeus. * One document confirms that the top Afghan leader in Kandahar, the brother of President Karzai, is a corrupt drug dealer: "Note: while we must deal with AWK [Ahmed Wali Karzai] as the head of the Provincial Council [of Kandahar], he is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker." * Another document reveals that the US embassy regarded the military coup in Honduras was completely illegal, although the US came to support a coalition with the coup-makers. "The Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch.… There is equally no doubt from our perspective that Roberto Micheletti's assumption of power was illegitimate."

Without public outcry, don't expect anyone to be following up on these shocking revelations. Instead, there will be a continuing escalation of the cyber-warfare and legal persecution of WikLeaks and Assange.

The Washington Times is calling for "waging war" on the WikiLeaks web presence. The new chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. Peter King, wants to designate WikiLeaks as a foreign terrorist organization, which would block credit-card donations to the organization and criminalize any civic support or even free legal advice under the Patriot Act, according to King. The military already holds Pfc. Bradley Manning in isolation on charges of having downloaded the files.

The Pentagon's Cyber Command is allowed to conduct "full-spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to enable actions in all domains"—which author Declan McCullagh of CNET says "includes destroying electronic infrastructure as thoroughly as a B-52 bombing would level a power plant."

This may sound alarmist, but does anyone seriously expect the US government, and its global allies, to permit more revelations to leak out week after week, month after month, in what Der Spiegel already calls "nothing short of a political meltdown for US foreign policy"?

What can be done?

First, activists and the independent media can intensify a de facto teach-in, or national town meeting, to discuss the content of the documents far and wide.

Second, civil society must be persuaded through widespread discussion that this controversy is about the security of the elites, not national security.

Third, civil liberties lawyers need to join Weinglass and Ratner in the legal defense of Assange, Manning and the organization as a whole. An Ecuadorian official has offered his country as safe haven; others should follow.

Finally, activists should demand immediate investigations of such issues as the cover-up of American bombing in Yemen, and oppose the current official mood of killing the messenger.

And remember: there are 250,000 more cables to go. This may be a long and strange campaign. Source URL:

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