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Sunday, 12 December 2010

Wikileaks, Assange and What ifs

My main problem with Wikileaks and it's founder, Julian Assange, is that I just can't work out what he is trying to achieve.

Giving him full benefit of the doubt, he is genuinely trying to create a more open political and security culture, allowing the general public to see all the information they are denied access to and to let them judge for themselves the actions of those who rule them - eventually asking those countries to take responsibility for actions that may or may not be illegal, and if not, possibly immoral.

There is certainly an importance in some of what he released recently through carefully selected media outlets. The release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Al-megrahi, back to Libya was so suspicious that if Assange's leaks can prove one way or another whether it was related to trade or government pressure that information will do a great deal to stop things like that happening again.

But I do have the following questions, which if answered would help me make up my mind more fully on the issue.

1) How does Assange select the information Wikileaks releases, and why does he select that information? Wikileaks has released a lot of information on the conduct of the many countries on one side of what is an assymetric war. Nation states governed by the Geneva Convention are fighting terrorist organisations who will not have to explain themselves to anyone. Are Wikileaks showing us the information that incriminates one side for torture but holding onto information that might also incriminate the other side? Does Assange hold political views? Is he anti-American? Is he anti-West? How does this affect the information he seeks and then leaks? Some of what he has released puts all Westerners and those who work with the West in actual danger. This is important to know, as politics students need to question the sources they use to develop their opinions and take account of any bias before the evaluate the importance of that source to their argument. Assange complains about censorship. Is he censoring what we get to see?

2) Given Assange has said that states need to take responsibility for their actions and be held to account, why isn't he going to Sweden to face the charges of sexual assault that have been levelled against him? I am finding this whole part of this story very strange. Yes, there could be a motive behind a western government finding a way to generate a false charge against him - but Sweden? It's not their style. We have had the quite astonishing reaction of the extreme left-wing, who wish us to take every allegation of rape seriously, apart from this one.

Speaking out for Assange this week has been John Pilger. On the one hand I like politics students reading Pilger as he writes so passionately and interestingly about the issues he is shining a light upon. But I find it frustrating when students stop there and don't attempt to look at the opposite side of the story. Auberon Waugh coined the term "to Pilger" and defined it as "to present information in a sensationalist manner to reach a foregone conclusion" and Pilger certainly has a way of using only statistics that support his views whlist ignoring any that may inconveniently weaken his argument. Stepping into the Assange saga this week, Pilger offered to pay a portion of his bail, saying that although he didn't know Assange (an inconvenient statistic if there ever was one) he knew he was innocent of all charges, with little answer to the inconvenient question of how he knew this. Assange can't choose his friends, but if he wants credibility for being simply a torch shining a light on truth and freedom of information, he doesn't need Pilger as his bedfellow. 

I have been uncomfortable with many parts of this case. What Julian Assange is saying and doing, but also how it is being covered by the media and how the US authorities in particular are reacting (Robert Gates, US Defence Secretary, openly laughing when he heard that Assange had been arrested on a sexual assault charge was almost chilling).

What if Julian Assange didn't sexually assault these two women? What if the information he has released changes the way states interact for the good? If this is the case then we all need to support what he is doing.

But what if he DID sexually assault them? And what if what he really wants is the West to be crushed? The prime role of a sovereign state is to protect the security of its' subjects.

So many what ifs. Watch this space......

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