Distinctions are Good for You, Make Them

The media and "serious news" outlets are aflutter this morning with reports of the leaked police report in Julian Assange's case. The anchors are breathlessly recounting Assange's aggravation with the incident. His lawyers are claiming it's a direct attempt to influence the criminal case against him. The media is currently covering the "what goes around, comes around" angle. All they seem to be interested in is that Assange, who established an organization with the specific intent of publishing government and corporate leaks is now up in arms over documents related to him being leaked. I'm human enough to realize there is at the least some naivete on Assange's part, if not hypocrisy altogether. The problem with this narrative is that it doesn't draw any distinctions between Assange, the organization Wikileaks, and government agencies. It draws almost no distinctions which can be even tangentially considered relavent.

If Julian Assange has committed a crime, he deserves punishment commensurate with anyone else who has been convicted of the same crimes. No more, no less. I would not, and will not make any argument which would at all suggest otherwise. If what the women who are accusing Assange have presented is true, they deserve their day in court, they deserve justice. Sex crimes should be taken seriously, always. This isn't to say I'm completely beyond questioning whether or not there is a connection between the United State's government's displeasure with Assange and these allegations resurfacing after having already been dismissed once. Even if there is U.S. intervention at work, that neither makes Assange guilty, innocent or not guilty as charged.

Assange has yet to be convicted of anything, and there's no evidence of the U.S. actually putting political pressure on Sweden to bring the charges back. For Assange's supporters, the public statements of politicians in the U.S. are enough to be sure of some kind of intervention. Assange's detractors are sure he's a criminal, if not in the case against him, then in the espionage case the Justice Department is rumored to be building. They want him behind bars, either way, less because any evidence has been produced that the Wikileaks cables have produced harm to Americans than because it's their instinctual emotional reaction on matters which they deem related to national security.

Joe Biden is proclaiming Assange a terrorist. Wikileaks detractors, and unfortunately their supporters are all conflating Assange and Wikileaks as one singular entity. He's either the savior of freedom of the press and freedom of speech and a free internet or he's a criminal, terrorist, anti-American (how a citizen of a nation other than the U.S. could be called a traitor to the U.S. is still beyond me), and should be killed, literally assassinated.

What's missing in all of this is any actual distinctions. Assange may have started Wikileaks, but he is not unto himself Wikileaks. It can be guaranteed that if Assange is found guilty and jailed, Wikileaks will be treated as if it in itself is a rapist... for a while anyway. If they were to publish a documented account of governmental or corporate wrongdoing of a sufficiently outraging caliber, they'll be right back in the news, and back at the top of the media heap. If they were to produce evidence of a campaign of widespread voter fraud in traditionally conservative districts, targeted against conservative candidates, you'd be sure to see the exact same talking heads who have called for Assange's assassination very quickly making the distinction between Wikileaks as an entity and Assange as an individual, and probably calling them the saviors of American democracy to boot. The exact same could be said for the liberal establishment figures who've come out against Wikileaks and attacked Assange. Our political parties and politicians would and will change their tune as soon as some information Wikileaks unearths fits the narrative they favor.

Julian Assange isn't a terrorist either. He may be many things, including possibly a sexual predator, but a terrorist is not one of those things. He may have stricken terror in the hearts of politicians and professional bureaucrats everywhere, but that doesn't make him a terrorist either. A terrorist is someone who committs an act or campaign against a nation or a people with the specific intent of instilling fear in that populace through violent attacks, without regard for the distinctions between military, government, civilain, corporation or individual. Terrorists try to kill people, and I've yet to be able to find one who chooses to do so by burying them in documents, most of which are boring, uneventful reports of the innane nature of diplomacy. Assange isn't a terrorist, not matter how frightened politicians and bureaucrats may now be of Wikileaks making their classified communications public. Everyone who does something with some political dimension that a U.S. politician does not like is not a terrorist. He may be egotistical, naive, attention hungry (and what politician can really take anyone else to task for that?) or any number of other things we attribute as negative personality traits. None of this makes him a terrorist. Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist. Andrew Stack was a terrorist. James von Brunn was a terrorist. Faizal Shahzad is a terrorist. Osama Bin Laden IS STILL A TERRORIST, whom we seem to have forgotten we were at one point looking for. With the actual number of terrorists there are in the world, it's important that we keep a good, firm grip on what a terrorist actually is, because if we don't, we're more likely to miss a real one because we're distracted by trying to take action against someone who might be an idiot and even a criminal, but not a terrorist. It's kind of like saying Saddam Hussein is a terrorist and focusing on toppling his government, and forgetting to catch or kill the man who was actually at the heart of three thousand American deaths. In this case, luckily, it doesn't also result in the deaths of thousands more Americans. Saddam Hussein was definitely a totalitarian dictator, and an evil bastard. What he was not, was a terrorist. He certainly struck terror into the hearts of his own people, and probably a number of the multinational oil conglomerates who couldn't get their contracts on the countries oil reserves because of sanctions etc., but he was not a terrorist. These actually are important distinctions, because they actually do effect our security and our ability to navigate an increasingly complicated world.

In all of this, the real questions tend to get lost. Wikileaks and Assange's detractors are specifically counting on the debate being centered on Assange. If that is the case, discrediting Assange ends the debate. No one is going to defend a sex criminal, not even me. But that's not the real dilemma at the center of all of the controversy. It's just the new distraction, created and enabled by a lack of distinction. Wikileaks is not Assange, and the arguments about government secrecy versus a free society, the right of people to know what their governments do in their name, civil rights versus security, all of those dilemmas and discussions obviously need to be had. We've been having them since we became a sovereign nation, and we will continue to have them, but they are especially important right now because of the availability of new communications technology, new media, and a new global economic environment. We have yet to come to decisions where many of these things are concerned, and as a citizenry, if we don't have those debates and come to some form of consensus or at least delineate as clearly as we can what the arguments are on all sides, those decisions will be made for us, by governments who control trade and can impose limitations on rights of individual speech and the corporations who are quickly gaining vast amounts of control over those technologies and mediums of communication and can in turn impose their own controls over individual rights, including free speech.

The mass media are currently making the kind of disastrous mistake they also made with the War in Iraq. There were no weapons of mass destruction. No evidence of a program to even create them was unearthed in the saber rattling before or as a result of our invasion since. Our media and news outlets did a poor job of thoroughly investigating those claims or even in presenting much in the way of coverage of the relatively considerable dissent. They didn't even provide coverage of the protests prior to the war in many major cities, which numberd in the millions, literally. Right now, the claims being made are that the Wikileaks documents are putting American service people's lives in danger, both military and diplomatic. Those claims have not been substantiated at all. No one has been able to produce any evidence of harm coming to anyone in a position related diplomacy, intelligence or American military as a result of the information Wikileaks has published. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has even gone so far as to say that Wikileaks publishing of diplomatic cables will have no effect on American diplomacy, because the governments in the world know the U.S. government "leaks like a sieve," and that other governments deal with ours because it's in their interests to do so. He is obviously not a fan of Wikileaks either.

In the rush to cover the "controversy" over Wikileaks and Assange, there are things slipping through the cracks. Right now, as the START treaty is stalled in Congress, press in the Middle East who aren't quite as concerned with the horse race aspect of our politics are reporting that one of the diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks contains a claim by an Egyptian official that Egypt was offered nuclear materials and weapons following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Said official claims to have been in Moscow at the time and to have had first hand knowledge of the offer. It also says that Egypt is firmly in step with the U.S. in keeping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. This is something the citizens of the United States should know, especially when we're in the middle of a political pissing match over a nuclear arms treaty specifically designed to prevent loose nukes from ending up in the hands of countries of other entities who might want to use them against us, like say, real terrorists. These are the kinds of details that go unpublished here because there isn't room for it when what's passing for a debate related to Assange and Wikileaks is being covered wall to wall. Covering the controversy is not the same as covering the facts. Is this the diplomatic equivalent of a grade school note from Egypt that says, "I REALLY LIKE YOU," or is it something more substantive, from which we should be asking who didn't say no to the offer of nuclear weapons and materials? We'll probably never know because the kinds of news outlets who have the ability to ask these questions aren't actually asking them. They're arguing about faux terrorists and Julian Assange genital conduct, instead of actually looking at the information, investigating it's veracity and reporting that.

The fact is that the United States government and military are not at all pleased with Wikileaks, politicians and political organizations of different stripes are attacking Assange in response. But Assange is not Wikileaks (whether he's the head of the organization or not), and the information they've been releasing does not put our security at risk just because anyone says so. Whether or not Wikileaks is a new variety of press organization or some new kind of contra-national entity has yet to really be seen or even decided. And the questions presented to us by the emergence of Wikileaks and it's allies are not going to just go away because we feel like they are too hard to have a real, adult debate about. They are going to go away because we won't have an adult debate about them and the kind of big government the right of American politics is so afraid is going to make them for us, as will the kind of multinational conglomerates the left so terribly fears will impose their own decisions upon us.


Popular Posts