Why WikiLeaks Must Be Protected

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On
26 July, Wikileaks released thousands of secret US military files
on the war in Afghanistan. Cover-ups, a secret assassination unit
and the killing of civilians are documented. In file after file,
the brutalities echo the colonial past. From Malaya and Vietnam
to Bloody Sunday and Basra, little has changed. The difference is
that today there is an extraordinary way of knowing how faraway
societies are routinely ravaged in our name. Wikileaks has acquired
records of six years of civilian killing for both Afghanistan and
Iraq, of which those published in the Guardian, Der Spiegel
and the New York Times are a fraction.

There
is understandably hysteria on high, with demands that the Wikileaks
founder Julian Assange is "hunted down" and "rendered."
In Washington, I interviewed a senior Defense Department official
and asked, "Can you give a guarantee that the editors of Wikileaks
and the editor in chief, who is not American, will not be subjected
to the kind of manhunt that we read about in the media?" He
replied, "It’s not my position to give guarantees on anything."
He referred me to the "ongoing criminal investigation"
of a US soldier, Bradley Manning, an alleged whistleblower. In a
nation that claims its constitution protects truth-tellers, the
Obama administration is pursuing and prosecuting more whistleblowers
than any of its modern predecessors. A Pentagon document states
bluntly that US intelligence intends to "fatally marginalize"
Wikileaks. The preferred tactic is smear, with corporate journalists
ever ready to play their part.

On
31 July, the American celebrity reporter Christiane Amanapour interviewed
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on the ABC network. She invited
Gates to describe to her viewers his "anger" at Wikileaks.
She echoed the Pentagon line that "this leak has blood on its
hands," thereby cueing Gates to find Wikileaks "guilty"
of "moral culpability." Such hypocrisy coming from a regime
drenched in the blood of the people of Afghanistan and Iraq — as
its own files make clear — is apparently not for journalistic inquiry.
This is hardly surprising now that a new and fearless form of public
accountability, which Wikileaks represents, threatens not only the
war-makers but their apologists.

Their
current propaganda is that Wikileaks is "irresponsible."
Earlier this year, before it released the cockpit video of an American
Apache gunship killing 19 civilians in Iraq, including journalists
and children, Wikileaks sent people to Baghdad to find the families
of the victims in order to prepare them. Prior to the release of
last month’s Afghan War Logs, Wikileaks wrote to the White House
asking that it identify names that might draw reprisals. There was
no reply. More than 15,000 files were withheld and these, says Assange,
will not be released until they have been scrutinized "line
by line" so that names of those at risk can be deleted.

The
pressure on Assange himself seems unrelenting. In his homeland,
Australia, the shadow foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has said that
if her right-wing coalition wins the general election on 21 August,
"appropriate action" will be taken "if an Australian
citizen has deliberately undertake an activity that could put at
risk the lives of Australian forces in Afghanistan or undermine
our operations in any way." The Australian role in Afghanistan,
effectively mercenary in the service of Washington, has produced
two striking results: the massacre of five children in a village
in Oruzgan province and the overwhelming disapproval of the majority
of Australians.

Last
May, following the release of the Apache footage, Assange had his
Australian passport temporarily confiscated when he returned home.
The Labor government in Canberra denies it has received requests
from Washington to detain him and spy on the Wikileaks network.
The Cameron government also denies this. They would, wouldn’t they?
Assange, who came to London last month to work on exposing the war
logs, has had to leave Britain hastily for, as puts it, "safer
climes."

On
16 August, the Guardian, citing Daniel Ellsberg, described
the great Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu as "the preeminent
hero of the nuclear age." Vanunu, who alerted the world to
Israel’s secret nuclear weapons, was kidnapped by the Israelis and
incarcerated for 18 years after he was left unprotected by the London
Sunday Times, which had published the documents he supplied.
In 1983, another heroic whistleblower, Sarah Tisdall, a Foreign
Office clerical officer, sent documents to the Guardian that
disclosed how the Thatcher government planned to spin the arrival
of American cruise missiles in Britain. The Guardian complied
with a court order to hand over the documents, and Tisdall went
to prison.

In
one sense, the Wikileaks revelations shame the dominant section
of journalism devoted merely to taking down what cynical and malign
power tells it. This is state stenography, not journalism. Look
on the Wikileaks site and read a Ministry of Defense document that
describes the "threat" of real journalism. And so it should
be a threat. Having published skillfully the Wikileaks expos of
a fraudulent war, the Guardian should now give its most powerful
and unreserved editorial support to the protection of Julian Assange
and his colleagues, whose truth-telling is as important as any in
my lifetime.

I
like Julian Assange’s dust-dry wit. When I asked him if it was more
difficult to publish secret information in Britain, he replied,
"When we look at Official Secrets Act labeled documents we
see that they state it is offense to retain the information and
an offense to destroy the information. So the only possible outcome
we have is to publish the information."

August
19, 2010

John
Pilger
was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His latest book is Freedom
Next Time: Resisting the Empire
.

John
Pilger Archives

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