4 January 2011
It’s always nice to have prestigious visitors in the neighbourhood, so a belated welcome to Mr Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who has been resident in East Anglia for some days as a guest of Mr Vaughan Smith at Ellingham Hall near Bungay.
Mr Assange, of course, is the founder of WikiLeaks - which has provided five of the world’s most prestigious newspapers with extracts from US intelligence reports communicated via supposedly secret embassy cables.
The Swedish courts would like to interview Mr Assange about allegations regarding his sexual conduct. The US government wishes to entertain him for sharing with the world information which is so secret that reportedly only 3 million US citizens have clearance to read it. The US, according to Mr Assange, is hoping and probably plotting to use the first of the above to achieve the second.
The Guardian newspaper’s exclusive report of sexual accusations against Assange seem to dispel the notion that they are worthy of a credible rape charge - a matter which would rightly attract serious legal action. Certainly, some of the world’s most respected human rights lawyers and campaigners – including women unlikely to compromise on such an issue - have not found anything in the allegations to dampen their support for Assange. And the BBC ‘Today’ programme’s smutty questions to Assange about his number of sexual partners only elicited an impression of dignity which had escaped his interviewer.
Supporters of Assange share his fear that if he is extradited to Sweden it will be because that country’s government has done a dirty deal with the US to arrange his transfer to the US to face the music for the WikiLeaks role in the publication of the embassy cables. Assange fears extrajudicial execution.
It is true that one US presidential candidate has called for whoever leaked the files to be executed. And the farcical would-be candidate Sarah Palin – surely a bigger embarrassment to the US than the leaked cables – wants Assange tried for “the blood on his hands”. Presumably this is not the blood of the thousands of dead Iraqi and Afghan civilians revealed in the embassy cables to have resulted from US military action – or the blood of countless torture victims to which the US clearly turns a convenient blind eye. Or the victims of the secret US military operations in Yemen and Pakistan.
Should UK citizens be condemning Assange for revelations about confidential UK matters? I think not. Firstly there was little of surprise: who anyway thought Prince Andrew was fit for serious diplomatic responsibility? And it is no shock that Foreign Secretary William Hague promised the US that major UK arms contracts would go to US producers (though so much for the value-securing, competitive tendering procedures of these austere times). More shocking to some may be the way in which UK civil servants – whose identity the grateful US spooks were keen to protect - rejected any suggestion that then PM Gordon Brown meant what he said about possibly not replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system. Perhaps this tells us something about the ‘special relationship’ between the two governments.
I don’t feel my liberties or the interests of my fellow UK citizens were damaged by the WikiLeaks revelations. In fact I feel we owe a debt of gratitude to such leakers. Let us hope they can be just as successful in revealing the misdoings of the corporate world: the banks, oil companies and speculators who show so little regard for the human consequences of their otherwise unaccountable actions. WikiLeaks has already given us a taster of some UK oil companies’ anti-democratic operations in Africa and promises more on the world of finance.
If there is really a ‘Cyber-War’ going on, as some say, between organisations such as WikiLeaks and the global forces which use secret diplomatic and commercial ‘intelligence’ to deceive and exploit humanity, wage war and rape our planet, then I hope the leakers continue to leak like a herd of incontinent elephants.
And next time you are in our backyard Mr Assange, or - as international boundaries or localities seem increasingly irrelevant - at least free of gagging restrictions, I hope you will be a Guest Contributor to the One World Column.
‘The world as seen from Bungay and Beccles’ suddenly sounds like a great headline!