Julian Assange is in the midst of a court hearing in London this morning to fight possible extradition to Sweden on sex-crimes charges and to try to secure bail for his release. Michael Moore has pledged $20,000 toward the cause, naming various historical disasters (the Vietnam War, the ongoing war in Iraq) that could have been prevented if WikiLeaks only had a time machine. While the outside world has witnessed the first strikes in the Information War and braces for the deluge of WikiLeaks copycats, the man who started the whole thing (or rather the man who provided an outlet for Bradley Manning to start the whole thing) has been locked up in solitary confinement for a week. Assange’s British lawyer, Mark Stephens, says he’s confident the judge will offer bail, since Assange, who turned himself in to Scotland Yard, is offering to submit to electronic tagging (has anyone ever hacked an ankle bracelet before?) and stay at an address known to the police. Geoffrey Robertson, a former U.N. appeals judge who’s represented Salman Rushdie, will be representing Assange. Outside the court, protesters are amassing in support. Freedom of information advocate Heather Brooke tweeted, “Anyone doubting #wikileaks isn’t a cult of #assange personality needs to see the phalanx of cameras here. Like Cannes wtg for the starlet.”
Michael Moore, who was joined by filmmakers Ken Loach and John Pilger and writer Jemima Khan in posting the funds, offered an explanation at the Daily Kos and made public a copy of his statement to the court. While Moore held back from weighing in on Assange’s guilt over the sex-crimes allegations, which include pinning one of his accusers down and having sex with another while she was asleep, he did express doubts about the “official story” and asserted Assange had a right to bail in either case. Director Ken Loach seemed less worried about being lumped into the leftist “smear campaign” against Assange’s accusers, saying outside the court, “The evidence against Assange seems very flimsy. The more worrying thing is the political intrigue behind the scenes.”
Moore’s impassioned plea on Assange’s behalf expressed unwavering optimism that exposing secrets, as WikiLeaks’s trove of diplomatic cables and documents on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan had done, would have changed the course of history. By and large, however, the documents confirmed what the public and opponents of those wars already had an inkling of, rather than offering a smoking gun against diplomats and hawks. Indeed, as Assange has said in his “manifesto,” WikiLeaks’s mission is not pro-transparency per se, but rather, as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald explained it, to expose secrets in order to constrict authoritarian regimes into more secrecy and ultimately topple them.
I ask you to imagine how much different our world would be if WikiLeaks had existed 10 years ago. Take a look at this photo. That’s Mr. Bush being handed a “secret” document on August 6th, 2001. Its heading read: “Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US.” And on those pages it said the FBI had discovered “patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings.” Mr. Bush decided to ignore it and went fishing for the next four weeks.
But if that document had been leaked, how would you or I have reacted? What would Congress or the FAA have done? Was there not a greater chance that someone, somewhere would have done something if all of us knew about bin Laden’s impending attack using hijacked planes?
But back then only a few people had access to that document. Because the secret was kept, a flight school instructor in San Diego who noticed that two Saudi students took no interest in takeoffs or landings, did nothing. Had he read about the bin Laden threat in the paper, might he have called the FBI? (Please read this essay by former FBI Agent Coleen Rowley, Time’s 2002 co-Person of the Year, about her belief that had WikiLeaks been around in 2001, 9/11 might have been prevented.)
Or what if the public in 2003 had been able to read “secret” memos from Dick Cheney as he pressured the CIA to give him the “facts” he wanted in order to build his false case for war? If a WikiLeaks had revealed at that time that there were, in fact, no weapons of mass destruction, do you think that the war would have been launched – or rather, wouldn’t there have been calls for Cheney’s arrest?
Openness, transparency – these are among the few weapons the citizenry has to protect itself from the powerful and the corrupt. What if within days of August 4th, 1964 – after the Pentagon had made up the lie that our ship was attacked by the North Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin – there had been a WikiLeaks to tell the American people that the whole thing was made up? I guess 58,000 of our soldiers (and 2 million Vietnamese) might be alive today.
Statements from Assange via his mother, who was permitted a ten-minute phone conversation with her son and showed up to court in his same “outdoorsy style,” show that imprisonment has done little to quash her boy’s sense of righteousness — or his willingness to court controversy. “If anything, this process has increased my determination that they are true and correct,” he said, adding that corporations like MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal that denied WikiLeaks services are “instruments of U.S. foreign policy,” obvs. “I am calling on the world to protect my work and my people from these illegal and immoral attacks.” Hacktivists, start your engines.
Greenwald, who has been an outspoken proponent of WikiLeaks’s right to leak, tweeted that Assange’s source, Bradley Manning, is being subjected to “cruel, inhumane treatment — torture.” According to Assange’s lawyers, their client was apparently in the same cell “occupied by Oscar Wilde” before he was transferred to Reading Goal prison. As to what solitary confinement in a British prison might look like, Saturday Night Live had an idea: