The current Wikileaks/’cablegate‘ affair raises quite a range of issues, not all of which are clear cut. But I have to say that one thing which should be beyond dispute is that, whatever one’s views might be about what Wikileaks is doing or about Julian Assange as an individual, it is not good enough for our government to sit back and say nothing while senior US political figures (as well as at least one influential Canadian) openly call for his assassination, or for him to be declared a ‘terrorist’ or an ‘enemy combatant’.
It is little short of an incitement to murder, and our government (and we as a nation) should be very clearly stating that this is completely unacceptable for Australians citizens to be threatened in this way, especially by leaders of our major ally. I hope our government acts quickly in response to this open letter, signed by many Australians, and provides a clear statement to this effect.
Debate and coverage about the matters made public by Wikileaks – and, it should be remembered, by a number of major mainstream media outlets – looks likely to continue for a while yet, helped along by the dwindling of other political news now that Parliament has finished for the year and Christmas approaches.
Included in that debate are quite a range of issues raised about Wikileaks itself and what it is doing (and it should also be remembered that ‘Wikileaks’ clearly involves a far greater number of people than just Julian Assange. If anything, the strong focus on what is happening to him is distracting from a lot of wider and important issues.
Quite a few of those issues were explored in this discussion with Peter Black on my weekly 4ZzZ radio show.
I had no problem with the previous material that Wikileaks released which exposed some of the many lies and apparent crimes involved in war activity in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think this latest round of releases involves a few more shades of grey, not least in terms of what the longer-term impacts might be in how governments relate to each other and communicate internally – I’m not sure anyone can fully predict how these things might change as a consequence of this (beyond the US undoubtedly moving to tighten up who gets access to what information internally), but I am sure that some change will occur.
There is also the age old balance between what are matters of public interest, and what matters are just of interest to some of the public (i.e. gossip), as well as when matters do genuinely compromise security – although I think much of the clamour about the alleged endangering of lives or creation of security risks has been greatly overstated, I don’t think it can be completely discounted. Having said that, both Wikileaks and the mainstream media outlets that have been publishing this material clearly made efforts to provide the US government with the opportunity to make a case for redacting or withholding individual names or specific material.
What is also interesting is how civil society, (for want of a better term), is responding to the attacks on Wikileaks from governments, including some attempts to take down sites and freeze access to funds which would make communist China proud. Following cyber-attacks on the Wikileaks site and attempts to deny them access to internet servers, there has been a mushrooming of mirror sites – 729 at time of writing – and getting close to one million Facebook users following the Wikileaks page there and well over 400 000 followers on Twitter. Some people have responded much more directly, such as targeting the website of the Swiss bank that froze Julian Assange’s bank account. Boycott calls have also been made against other organisations such as Amazon and Paypal who have decided to end or deny service to Wikileaks – and presumably they and other organisations who have reacted in this way (often as a result of very direct pressure from the US government also face the potential of cyber-attacks.
Perhaps it will all calm down again soon, but I must say I do get the feeling that if the heat in this keeps being turned up governments, and we get an escalating series of actions and reactions, it might start to feed into some of the wider, very serious social and political unrest (and unease) that is also starting to come to the boil in many European countries – most notably in Ireland of late, but also in countries like Greece, Spain and France – as a result of the continuing major financial and economic catastrophes that is causing serious stresses on the Euro and the whole political/financial institution of the European Union. It is quite significant, and perhaps no coincidence, that the next likely subject of a Wikileaks document dump is a major US bank, which will undoubtedly lead to howls of outrage from the financial sector to match that coming from many governments at present.
Guy Rundle made a similar point about a week ago. At the time I thought he might have been over-dramatising things, but now I am starting to feel the same thing. Something is happening – I’m not quite sure what or where it will end up, but I’m not sure anyone else is either. Which makes it all the more important that we keep trying to talk about it and engage with it, ideally without the hysteria which is infecting the responses of many from the ruling political, financial and media elites.