I’ve been collecting articles for this post for the past two days (I would have written this last night but our home internet was shaped), so it will be link and quote heavy, but I think this is an important issue to post about and is going to take me the whole evening, so I hope you enjoy it while I settle down to write what’s on my mind. And it’s going to be LONG.
What is Wikileaks?
Just in case you’ve not had access to the news and don’t know what Wikileaks is, and why I’d be blogging about it, Wikileaks is an organisation (to put it simply) that releases leaked information (typically about governments) to the media and wider world (currently hosted here). This year (2010), they’ve published documents mostly on the US Government, causing it quite a lot of embarrassment – releasing leaked documents on the Iraq and Afghan wars and most recently (and what has caused the current shitstorm) it has started releasing over 250,000 diplomatic cables sent between US embassies and the US State Department, drip feeding their release in conjunction with several major media organisations.
Wikileaks is a nebulous organisation, and as described in Wikipedia:
The WikiLeaks website first appeared on the Internet in December 2006. The site claims to have been “founded by Chinese dissidents, journalists, mathematicians and start-up company technologists, from the US, Taiwan, Europe, Australia and South Africa”.
The creators of WikiLeaks have not been formally identified. It has been represented in public since January 2007 by Julian Assange and others. Assange describes himself as a member of WikiLeaks’ advisory board. News reports in The Australian have called Assange the “founder of WikiLeaks”. According to Wired magazine, a volunteer said that Assange described himself in a private conversation as “the heart and soul of this organisation, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organiser, financier, and all the rest”.
The two Wikipedia links above give a really good running history of what is going on (and will be updated daily while stuff is actually happening). So there is the brief overview of Wikileaks (not at all affiliated with Wikipedia (no really)).
Wikileaks and the US First Amendment
So, Wikileaks has embarrassed the US Government quite badly this year, and they’ve taken it personally – which is rather hard for a Government to do, but various US senators, personalities, political aspirants, and intelligence agencies have reacted quite badly to the information released by Wikileaks to the world.
Now, not being a USian, I’m not quite up with their whole Bill of Rights (though I wish I had one – I have Bill of Rights envy). The First Amendment reads [emphasis mine]:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
So, Wikileaks is a media organisation. Their about page states (in part), “WikiLeaks is a not-for-profit media organisation. Our goal is to bring important news and information to the public.” This would make them part of “the press” and therefore protected by the US First Amendment (you’d think).
Surprising then that prominent USians have called for Julian Assange to be assassinated, renditioned, declared a terrorist, to face charges of treasons, and to face charges of espionage. Sarah Palin, who is not the most geographically literate political aspirant in the US, stated:
This is what happens when you exercise the First Amendment and speak against his sick, un-American espionage efforts.
This was after she’d called for him to be hunted down like Osama Bin Laden (who is still at large). The Daily Telegraph captures it nicely stating:
We now have American politicians calling for Assange to be executed, Canadians saying he should be assassinated, Sarah Palin saying he should be hunted down “like Osama bin Laden”, and bloggers calling for his Australian son, 20-year-old Daniel Assange, to be kidnapped.
And the Australian Prime Minister’s response has been to call him a criminal and threaten to cancel his passport.
The Prague Post states:
Oh yeah, and did I mention that WikiLeaks is not actually breaking the law in the United States or anywhere else:
“Justice Department prosecutors have been struggling to find a way to indict Mr. Assange since July, when WikiLeaks made public documents on the war in Afghanistan. But while it is clearly illegal for a government official with a security clearance to give a classified document to WikiLeaks, it is far from clear that is illegal for the organization to make it public.”
If the Justice Department attempts to charge Assange with a crime for receiving and making classified documents public, one would think the same charge would apply to all five of the publications, no? Isn’t that exactly what they did and are doing too? Shouldn’t the law (assuming there is one, which there doesn’t appear there is) be applicable to everyone equally?.
Meanwhile, U.S. politicians have ramped up the rhetoric against the nonprofit, calling for the arrest and prosecution and even assassination of its most visible spokesman, Julian Assange. Questions about whether current laws are adequate to prosecute him have prompted lawmakers to propose amending the espionage statute to bring Assange to heel or even to declare WikiLeaks a terrorist organization.
Instead of encouraging online service providers to blacklist sites and writing new espionage laws that would further criminalize the publication of government secrets, we should regard WikiLeaks as subject to the same first amendment rights that protect The New York Times. And as a society, we should embrace the site as an expression of the fundamental freedom that is at the core of our Bill of Rights, not react like Chinese corporations that are happy to censor information on behalf of their government to curry favor.
In addition to attacks on Julian Assange and Wikileaks, the US Government is pressuring Government employees to not read Wikileaks:
U.S. agencies have warned some employees that reading the classified State Department documents released by WikiLeaks puts them at risk of losing their jobs.
The Columbia University initially forwarded a message to their students saying that discussing Wikileaks online or posting links to the website could jeopardise their career prospects with the US Government. The content of the email was provided by a US State Department employee. Columbia University later distanced themselves from the email stating “that students “have a right to discuss and debate any information in the public arena…without fear of adverse consequences.”” (Source)
From the same article:
Now, however, it appears the federal government has moved beyond staunching the flow of leaked information, to suppressing even the very mention of WikiLeaks online by prospective employees.
While republishing the leaked documents could indeed raise legal issues for students, it was the admonition against social media chatter that riled some at Columbia.
“They seem to be unable to make the distinction between having an opinion and having a contractual obligation to keep a secret,” said Hugh Sansom, a masters student from New York.
UPDATE: On Monday, John H. Coatsworth, the SIPA Dean, reversed the university’s earlier position, affirming that students “have a right to discuss and debate any information in the public arena…without fear of adverse consequences.” Wired obtained the email:
Freedom of information and expression is a core value of our institution. Thus, SIPA’s position is that students have a right to discuss and debate any information in the public arena that they deem relevant to their studies or to their roles as global citizens, and to do so without fear of adverse consequences
The Age published commentary from the US Attorney-General Eric Holder and provided some more information about the US direction:
Attorney-General Eric Holder acknowledged this week that there were problems with the Espionage Act, which states that the unauthorised possession and dissemination of information related to national defence is illegal. He also hinted that prosecutors were looking at other laws.
”I don’t want to get into specifics here, but people would have a misimpression if the only statute you think that we are looking at is the Espionage Act,” Mr Holder said.
US prosecutors have used the Espionage Act to convict officials who leaked classified information.
They have never successfully convicted any leak recipient who then passed the information along, however, and the Justice Department has never tried to prosecute a journalist under either a Republican or a Democratic administration.
A government official familiar with the investigation said that treating WikiLeaks differently from newspapers might be facilitated if investigators found any evidence that Mr Assange aided the leaker – who is believed to be a low-level Army intelligence analyst, Bradley Manning – for example, by directing him to look for certain things.
Other officials have also examined whether Mr Assange and WikiLeaks could be charged with trafficking in stolen government property.
But scholars say there might be legal difficulties with that approach, too, because the leaked documents are reproductions of files.
”This is less about stealing than it is about copying,” said John Palfrey, a Harvard Law School professor who specialises in Internet issues and intellectual property.
Given our (Australian) lack of political leadership in this whole sordid mess, with the Prime Minister not condemning calls for execution or assassination of Julian Assange, and in fact calling what Wikileaks has done as illegal, before correcting herself and saying that the documents they’ve published have come from an illegal act therefore Wikileaks may have participated in illegality, GetUp, an Australian political lobby group, has called for signatures and donations to run ads in the New York Times condemning calls for Julian Assange’s death stating:
Dear President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder:
We, as Australians, condemn calls for violence, including assassination, against Australian citizen and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, or for him to be labeled a terrorist, enemy combatant or be treated outside the ordinary course of justice in any way.
As Thomas Jefferson said, “information is the currency of democracy.” Publishing leaked information in collaboration with major news outlets, as Wikileaks and Mr. Assange have done, is not a terrorist act.
Australia and the United States are the strongest of allies. Our soldiers serve side by side and we’ve experienced, and condemned, the consequences of terrorism together. To label Wikileaks a terrorist organisation is an insult to those Australians and Americans who have lost their lives to acts of terrorism and to terrorist forces.
If Wikileaks or their staff have broken international or national laws, let that case be heard in a just and fair court of law. At the moment, no such charges have been brought.
We are writing as Australians to say what our Government should have: all Australian citizens deserve to be free from persecution, threats of violence and detention without charge, especially from our friend and ally, the United States.
We call upon you to stand up for our shared democratic principles of the presumption of innocence and freedom of information.
Go and sign their petition if you haven’t already at the link above.
So, that’s the end of this section (which is mostly information – something that I suspect will be a theme in this post). The US are running scared/embarrassed/angry about the whole Wikileaks thing and are ignoring their own Bill of Rights in the hope to cover their own arse… Really though, the whole covering of the arse should have happened before the leak, and really the US should not have done/said some of the stuff that they’ve done/said (thinking of the cover up of the killing of the journalists in Iraq for example). So the overwhelming defensiveness makes me wonder what else is being hidden and they’re worried about being exposed.
There various entities that were once upon a time associated with Wikileaks, but who have distanced themselves because they’ve been pressured, been scared of being pressured, are getting on the band wagon, or think they should do what all the cool kids are doing. I’m talking about Amazon, Paypal, Visa, Mastercard and one of the Swiss banks, at a bare minimum.
The public face of the reprisals is Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, who has pressured companies to sever ties with WikiLeaks, called for Mr Assange to be prosecuted in the US, and yesterday added The New York Times to the list of those who should be facing investigation, for its publication of diplomatic cables.
The campaign began quietly last Tuesday with a call by staff at the Senate Homeland Security Committee to Amazon, then hosting the WikiLeaks site. Twenty-four hours later Amazon booted WikiLeaks out. The bank accounts of WikiLeaks and Mr Assange have been frozen by a Swiss post office bank, PostFinance. PayPal, which is owned by eBay, has also frozen out WikiLeaks, denying it potential funds from donors. Visa is not processing payments to WikiLeaks. Mastercard too has severed links, claiming the organisation is ”inciting illegal activity” (The Age)
Online retailer Amazon has now said it cancelled its web hosting services with WikiLeaks after receiving a call of concern from Senator Lieberman’s office.
In Paris, a PayPal executive said its decision to freeze WikiLeaks’ account was based in part on the US State Department’s declaration that the group had acted illegally in publishing classified documents.
”The State Department told us these were illegal activities. It was straightforward,” PayPal’s Osama Bedier said.
That explanation proved not so straightforward – PayPal has varied it several times since.
”I can use my credit card to send money to the Ku Klux Klan … but I can’t use it to send money to WikiLeaks,” said Jeff Jarvis, from the University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism.”(The Age)
Visa says it has suspended all payments to WikiLeaks pending an investigation of the organisation’s business, following its rival MasterCard, which took a similar step on Monday. (The Sydney Morning Herald)
But there may be no greater sign that all the forces constituting the established world order are aligning themselves against against WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange than the freezing of a Swiss bank account used to collect donations for the site.
Somehow the billions stowed away by African dictators, Columbian drug kingpins, Bernie Madoff and Nazis who stole Jewish-owned property managed to avoid this fate (note the $1.25 billion settlement paid out tot he World Jewish Congress in 1999), but alas Assange & Co. haven’t, and all for doing only what is simultaneously being done by The New York Times, The Guardian, El Pais, Le Monde and Der Spiegel. (The Prague Post)
There are still businesses that are supporting Wikileaks and you can donate through them (or they’re providing hosting services). You can read about them here, but this quote (from the same article) is also cute and telling:
In a statement published on their site, CEO Andreas Fink slammed Visa for letting political considerations get in the way of customer service: “The suspension of payments towards Wikileaks is a violation of the agreements with their customers. Visa users have explicitly expressed their will to send their donations to Wikileaks and Visa is not fulfilling this wish.”
Founder Ólafur Sigurvinsson pointed out in an interview with an Icelandic news channel, “I’ve got confirmed today that I am capable of supporting Al-Qaeda, Ku Klux Klan, buy weapons, drugs and all sorts of pornopraphy with a VISA card. But that’s not being investigated. Instead I can not support a humanitarian organisation fighting for the freedom of speech.”
It is evident with all this put together that Amazon’s, PayPal’s, Visa’s, Mastercard’s, and other’s actions are clearly politically motivated. They’ve bowed to pressure from the US Government to attempt to silence Wikileaks and to starve it of funds (in the hope that it will collapse financially). Given that some of these organisations allow funds to be donated to listed terrorist groups, or groups that commit serious crimes, and that that has not been blocked, this is a serious issue indeed.
I know why Anonymous has come out in support of Wikileaks. They’re a virulently anti-censorship group, particularly because they know that they’d be a likely target, and because really no one likes to be censored. The interesting thing about 4chan and Anonymous, is that they’re like a handful of water. It’s really difficult to get it to hit someone and stick… but every now and again, you’re lucky or the temperature drops and you’re holding ice, and one good throw is all you need. They’re mostly known for coming out in support of kittens, condemning Scientology and fighting censorship… that’s when they’re not being misogynistic/funny/disgusting/disturbing about other things.
So Anonymous took down Visa, Mastercard, Sarah Palin’s website, and threatened to take down Twitter – before leaving it alone:
The online group Anonymous – usually, but somewhat erroneously christened “hacker activists” by the mainstream media – have launched a series of attacks on the websites of those associated with the campaign against Wikileaks and Julian Assange. Targets under “Operation Payback”, coordinated via an IRC channel and Twitter, have included Joe Lieberman’s website, Sarah Palin’s website and the website of the Swedish prosecution service responsible for handling the s-xual assault case against Assange. (Crikey)
On Wednesday, hackers briefly shut down access to the MasterCard website, which announced it had stopped processing donations to the group. Visa has done likewise – and its website was taken down yesterday.
PostFinance, a Swiss post office bank which closed its account, has itself been under cyber attack. (The Age)
Anonymous/4chan are nicely described in this Guardian article:
But who, or what, is – or are – Anonymous?
A 22-year-old spokesman, who wished to be known only as “Coldblood”, told the Guardian that the group – which is about a thousand strong – is “quite a loose band of people who share the same kind of ideals” and wish to be a force for “chaotic good”.
There is no real command structure in the group, the London-based spokesman said, while most of its members are teenagers who are “trying to make an impact on what happens with the limited knowledge they have”. But others are parents, IT professionals and people who happen to have time – and resources – on their hands.
The group has gained notoriety for its attacks on copyright-enforcement agencies and organisations such as the Church of Scientology.
The membership of Anonymous is impossible to pin down; it has been described as being like a flock of birds – the only way you can identify members is by what they’re doing together. Essentially, once enough people on the 4chan message boards decide that an issue is worth pursuing in large enough numbers, it becomes an “Anonymous” cause.
“Anonymous is supporting WikiLeaks not because we agree or disagree with the data that is being sent out, but we disagree with any from of censorship on the internet. If we let WikiLeaks fall without a fight then governments will think they can just take down any sites they wish or disagree with.”
The Extradition request to Sweden
I’m not going to discuss the veracity of the allegations made against Julian Assange. An excellent piece on the ABC, by Kate Harding, nicely sums up that we don’t know much about the case itself, and therefore should wait until we get actual information. Character assassination of the victims is terrible, yet many media outlets, bloggers, and some feminists are engaging in such.
So, let’s not look at that, and yet instead look at the actual warrant through Interpol and how that is being handled. Now, Interpol (according to Wikipedia and their own site) deals mainly with the following types of crimes:
…terrorism, organized crime, crimes against humanity, environmental crime, genocide, war crimes, piracy, illicit drug production, drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, human trafficking, money laundering, child pornography, white-collar crime, computer crime, intellectual property crime and corruption.
Although rape may be declared a crime against humanity, but that is usually defined as:
Crimes against humanity, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum, “are particularly odious offences in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. Murder; extermination; torture; rape, political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice. Isolated inhumane acts of this nature may constitute grave infringements of human rights, or depending on the circumstances, war crimes, but may fall short of falling into the category of crimes under discussion.” (Wikipedia)
So far, I’m not seeing a reason for Interpol to get involved here, yet they issued a Red Notice, for Julian Assange on behalf of the Swedish authorities, which makes me, and many other people wonder what political deals are really going on here. I’m not the only one asking this question. Katrin Axelsson from Women Against Rape, wrote the following letter to the Guardian:
Many women in both Sweden and Britain will wonder at the unusual zeal with which Julian Assange is being pursued for rape allegations (Report, 8 December). Women in Sweden don’t fare better than we do in Britain when it comes to rape. Though Sweden has the highest per capita number of reported rapes in Europe and these have quadrupled in the last 20 years, conviction rates have decreased. On 23 April 2010 Carina Hägg and Nalin Pekgul (respectively MP and chairwoman of Social Democratic Women in Sweden) wrote in the Göteborgs-Posten that “up to 90% of all reported rapes never get to court. In 2006 six people were convicted of rape though almost 4,000 people were reported”. They endorsed Amnesty International’s call for an independent inquiry to examine the rape cases that had been closed and the quality of the original investigations.
Assange, who it seems has no criminal convictions, was refused bail in England despite sureties of more than £120,000. Yet bail following rape allegations is routine. For two years we have been supporting a woman who suffered rape and domestic violence from a man previously convicted after attempting to murder an ex-partner and her children – he was granted bail while police investigated.
There is a long tradition of the use of rape and sexual assault for political agendas that have nothing to do with women’s safety. In the south of the US, the lynching of black men was often justified on grounds that they had raped or even looked at a white woman. Women don’t take kindly to our demand for safety being misused, while rape continues to be neglected at best or protected at worst.
So what next
For me bed… It’s late and I’ve been writing this piece for hours. First though, some other places to go. If you want to provide support to Wikileaks, this site has some suggestions. The ABC has an excellent collation of all the opinion pieces they’ve published about Wikileaks here, so you can keep up to date with what is going on and what is being said. If you’re on Twitter you can follow @Wikileaks2 or all the material that is being sent around with the hashtags #wikileaks, #cablegate, and “Julian Assange” (minus the quotes).
This is a freedom of the press issue, and as such it is vitally important that action to squash Wikileaks be stopped. If the US gets its way, then no media outlet will feel safe publishing leaked material, no matter what the public interest, or the illegal actions of the corporation/government.
Keep fighting for Wikileaks, blog about it, donate, sign petitions, protest, talk to people about it, retweet… whatever you are able to do, please do it. This is the battle of this decade, and freedom of the press has to win.