Saturday, August 21, 2010

Wikileaks & Julian Assange: What to Make of Yesterday's Bizzarely Heavy–Handed Smear?

Time to get current.

Wow. Okay, now I get it. We should be paying attention to this stuff.

Yesterday, I put together a page in this blog called What is 'Crib From This'?, in which I explained that Crib From This is intended to explore the complicated and changing relationship between information and knowledge.

Well, there is no question that Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, is giving us no choice but to confront this issue, and, particularly, its relation to nationalism, governmental claims of 'national security', propaganda, freedom of information, and the liberty of ordinary, everyday people to pursue and share knowledge. Without a doubt, these are questions that a lot of us—maybe all of us—would feel more comfortable not confronting, or would prefer to put off confronting until another day. But it seems as though it's too late for that, now. Particularly for we American observers.

So, this post is really just to say: it's time to, as it were, bone-up. Get current with this thing, if we're not already.

Yesterday's (absurdly heavy–handed & obviously fictitious) smear. And today's quick retraction.

Well, it's not news, of course, that Julian Assange has been pissing-off lots of people in high places. But up until yesterday, the most forceful attempts to criticize Wikileaks by way of character-assassination of Assange have come from the radical/loony Right-wing. And even these figures, like Liz Cheney, back on August 2, confined their accusations against Assange to aspects of the content of leaked data.

So, to get started, here are some links to articles about this bizarre episode:

First, an AP release from less than an hour ago (by way of Yahoo News):
STOCKHOLM – Swedish prosecutors withdrew an arrest warrant for the founder of WikiLeaks on Saturday, saying less than a day after the document was issued that it was based on an unfounded accusation of rape.

The accusation had been labeled a dirty trick by Julian Assange and his group, who are preparing to release a fresh batch of classified U.S. documents from the Afghan war.

Swedish prosecutors had urged Assange — a nomadic 39-year-old Australian whose whereabouts were unclear — to turn himself in to police to face questioning in one case involving suspicions of rape and another based on an accusation of molestation.

"I don't think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape," chief prosecutor Eva Finne said, in announcing the withdrawal of the warrant.

Second, today, from Al Jazeera English:

'Dirty tricks'
After Swedish tabloid Expressen,first published reports that the arrest warrant had been issued for Assange, Wikileaks responded on Twittersaying: "We were warned to expect 'dirty tricks.' Now we have the first one."

"No one here has been contacted by Swedish police. Needless to say this will prove hugely distracting."

Assange's organisation has caused much controversy recently with the release of 75,000 classified US military documents containing information surrounding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US government rejected the release of the documents, saying the website had "blood on its hands" for naming people who had helped its military in opposition to groups such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and ordered Wikileaks to return the files.

Wikileaks, meanwhile, has said that it is plans to reveal more of the remaining 15,000 classified documents it holds, possibly this month or next month.

A blogger for CNN asks Is Assange the target of a U.S. smear campaign? Uh...sure looks like it, doesn't it.

Finally, this article from BBC News says
The Swedish Prosecution Authority website said chief prosecutor Eva Finne had come to the decision that Julian Assange was not subject to arrest.

In a brief statement Eva Finne said: "I don't think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape."

The website said there would be no further immediate comment.

Earlier, Karin Rosander, communications head at Sweden's prosecutors' office, said there were two separate allegations against Mr Assange, one of rape and the other of molestation. She gave no details of the accusations. She said that as far as she knew they related to alleged incidents that took place in Sweden.

Media reports say Mr Assange was in Sweden last week to talk about his work and defend the decision by Wikileaks to publish the Afghan war logs.

Last month, Wikileaks published more than 75,000 secret US military documents on the war in Afghanistan.

US authorities criticised the leak, saying it could put the lives of coalition soldiers and Afghans, especially informers, at risk.

Mr Assange has said that Wikileaks is intending to release a further 15,000 documents in the coming weeks.

Some idle speculation.

As my title suggests, here's the thing I don't get: why so obviously spurious a charge as rape? I mean, rape? Really? And why would Swedish prosecutors withdraw the charge after less than 24-hours? Was it because the case was really just so obviously without any merit that withdrawing it was the only way to regain some semblance of credibility? If that's the case, then how did it come to pass that the warrant was issued in the first place? Pressure from the USA?

If the latter scenario is the case, then perhaps the whole episode was little more than a (in all likelihood, successful) attempt to scare the hell out of Assange—a show of muscle, if you will.

Also, there's likely to be significance to the fact that the 'news' about Sweden's warrant for Assange broke on a Friday. People who follow things like how the 'news cycle' works always point out that, if you want to release a story but simultaneously bury it, release it on a Friday, because very few people will pay attention, and this low level of immediate interest insures that media will have forgotten all about it by the time the following Monday comes around.

The Friday release would appear to suggest that the false accusation and resulting Swedish warrant really were meant either as an attempt to scare Assange or to 'send him a message', like what evil governments do in cheesy conspiracy movies—i.e., look at how easy it would be for us to crush you like a bug if you piss us off—or as what is sometimes called a 'test balloon', as a de facto public opinion poll, whose research sample consists of the segment of the population that's paying attention to the news on Friday and Saturday?

A brief moment of moralizing.

Not to state the obvious, but shouldn't the US Government and its vast intelligence apparatus have more important things to do than picking on whistle-blowers and advocates for the freedom of information?

Remember, as I point out in What is 'Crib From This'?, the United States Constitution is among the most forceful, elegant and powerful forces for the freedoms of speech, thought, action and information. It's truly a sad day when its leaders decide—not clandestinely, but out in the open, with an obvious smear like this—to attack the world's most dedicated advocates of the very same freedoms that it is constitutionally mandated to protect.

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