Sunday, December 19, 2010
Oh! spies are of no use nowadays. Their profession is over. The newspapers do their work instead.
- Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband, Act III
"He will not be going back to that cell once occupied by Oscar Wilde."
Eventually he didn't. But little did Mark Stephens, one of Julian Assange's lawyers, know that it would still take over three twisting-and-turning hours for his client to finally exit the Royal Courts of Justice in central London a free man.
It's as if WikiLeaks founder Assange, emerging from the silence of the shadows to the proverbially frantic media scrum, already knew that the real war starts now - and has nothing to do with jealous groupies, broken condoms and "sex by surprise".
This was the key passage of Assange's brief statement, read immediately after he was able to breathe the air of London again. He said, "During my time in solitary confinement in the bottom of a Victorian prison, I had time to reflect on the conditions of those people around the world also in solitary confinement, also on remand, in conditions that are more difficult than those faced by me. Those people also need your attention and support."
As in: pay excruciatingly close attention to what the US government is doing to Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old army private accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of cables to WikiLeaks. Manning has been held in solitary confinement at the US Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia, for five months now. He has not been convicted of any crime. In a devastating Salon article, Glenn Greenwald has stressed that Manning is "under conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture".
So that was Assange's terse way of saying to the world: Big Brother is watching you. And what they're doing to Manning they want to do to me, to you, and metaphorically to anyone who believes in freedom of information.
Make my day, leaker
Much to the horror of the emperor, WikiLeaks is still in business, from now on comfortably ensconced in a vast, remote Georgian country house, Ellingham Hall, to where Assange is bailed, on the borders of Norfolk and Suffolk.
Assange will be the guest of honor of former British army captain Vaughan Smith, also the founder of the Frontline media club in London, where Assange previously lived for a while. As WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson made it clear, broadband is good. And that's all the members of WikiLeaks, who "have never all been in the same place", need.
What a far cry from Assange almost turning into the most notorious political prisoner in the world.
Now everyone knows, thanks to legal blogger Carl Gardner, that it was actually UK crown prosecutors - and not Sweden - that were against the Westminster court's granting of bail to Assange this past Tuesday (technically in line with Article 12 of European Arrest Warrant legislation - the Swedish prosecution has at any rate also pointed out that the door remains open to an Assange extradition to other European Union countries).
This only served to fuel worldwide suspicion that the United Kingdom was using the broken condom/"sex by surprise" Swedish drama as an excuse to hold Assange in solitary confinement, without his computer, 23 hours and 30 minutes a day, under non-stop infrared surveillance, until the "special relationship" US master could come up with some brand-new charge and go for an extradition order.
This Thursday though, before granting Assange conditional bail, British judge Duncan Ouseley acknowledged a crucial point. He stressed that Assange had cooperated with the Swedes, and even if he was ultimately convicted in Sweden there was a strong probability he would not even go to jail.
Earlier in the day, Assange's lawyer Stephens had said: "We haven't addressed the question of American legal action or the potential for it." Well, they better do it, and fast. Even if a possible US government charge of "conspiracy" has no legal equivalence in the UK. Not to mention that the US does not have jurisdiction over where any of these US-only so-called "crimes" may have occurred.
Only the terminally naive could believe that the US Justice Department did not order the Swedish government to mobilize Interpol into producing a lightning-fast arrest warrant linked to the syrupy broken condom/"sex by surprise" saga.
All across the land of the free, the emperor has been pulling a Beijing (one may say emperors are all alike), deploying a variety of methods to actually censor the net - and TV - and dispatch the cables to digital oblivion. Some methods are worthy of the Three Stooges: the US Air Force blacking out from its computers anything linked to "cablegate"; the Pentagon banning anyone from even looking at newspapers.
Other methods are slightly more refined. Assange won the readers' poll as Time magazine's Person of the Year. But the editors could not possibly have the guts to respect public opinion and infuriate the emperor even more. So they gave the prize to an autistic geek who invented
Barbara Walters, who in the US is worshipped as a sort of Hera of TV interviewers, regards Assange as "borderline criminal"; if she didn't, she wouldn't even get a "hi!" from Hillary Clinton. Bill Keller, the chief editor of The New York Times, had the gall to write: "We agree wholeheartedly that transparency is not an absolute good. Freedom of the press includes freedom not to publish, and that is a freedom we exercise with some regularity". Keller, a so-called journalist, in practice wishes he didn't have to publish "cablegate". He has made it plain that the New York Times sees the role of mass media as upholding government secrecy. In ancient Soviet times there was Pravda; now Pravda lives in New York and is written in English.
And to top it off we have Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama's administration pulling out all stops in its extra-judicial blitzkrieg on WikiLeaks. The fact that WikiLeaks broke no US law is of course irrelevant.
The emperor badly needs to set an example: see what happens when you defy my will. Yet the US Department of Justice's strategy doesn't exactly embody Kant's categorical imperative. They will try by all means necessary to force Manning to testify against Assange - and then charge Assange as a conspirator in "cablegate" and the Iraq and Afghan file leaks.
In a nutshell: the Obama administration is about to criminalize investigative journalism. And criminalize good journalism, period. Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin has stressed that "the conspiracy theory also threatens traditional journalists as well". And all this by applying tortuous logic worthy of the Bush era: "OK, let's make a deal with this American geek who leaked the bloody thing so we can nail that bloody foreigner who put it on the net."
The US government is out to waterboard Wiki. We're all about to get drowned.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).
He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.