A version of this article appeared in The Nation on November 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.
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 harassment charges in Sweden, on which he claims to be innocent. 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. The CIA has its own secret army in Afghanistan. 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, “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.
- “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." – Cable 09KABUL3068.
- The military coup in Honduras was completely illegal, but we supported the coup-makers anyway:
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 WikiLeaks 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?
- 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;
- Civic society must be persuaded through widespread discussion that this controversy is about the security of the elites, not national security;
- Civil liberties lawyers need to join Weinglass and Ratner in the legal defense of Assange, Manning and the organization as a whole. An Ecuadoran official has offered his country as safe haven; others should follow;
- 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.