The Assange case – what it means for socialists
|Written by Alan Woods|
|Tuesday, 21 December 2010|
The case of Julian Assange has been the subject of intense speculation and dispute in the media and also among sections of the Left. In order to take a correct position it is necessary to cut through the fog of propaganda and lies, to separate the essential from the secondary and to distinguish what is progressive from what is reactionary.
“Imperialistic activity by the President received another name. Republicans now simply called it ‘dollar diplomacy’.” (Beard, Basic History of the United States)
“How do you know I’m a diplomat?
“By the skilful way you hide your claws.” (Edmond Rostand)
Marxists do not base themselves on abstract morality or principles that are outside time and space. That is moral which serves to advance the cause of socialism and raise the consciousness of the working class. That is immoral and reactionary which acts to retard it.
Someone once said that power politics is the diplomatic name for the law of the jungle. If there was ever any doubt about it, the WikiLeaks revelations have proved once and for all the cynical nature of Western diplomacy. Here the language of Saint Francis of Assisi is used to conceal the methods of Al Capone.
The methods of the imperialists have a lot in common with gangsterism, not only in form but in content. In order to understand the workings of imperialist diplomacy it is not necessary to spend three years in a university. Rather one should spend the same amount of hours watching The Godfather.
The aims determine the methods. The aim of US imperialism is to impose the will of the most powerful gangsters on all the others. The methods are straight out of Machiavelli: the threat of violence, backed up with actual violence, with blackmail, bribery and corruption as useful subsidiaries. Lying, cheating, backstabbing and deceiving are the stock-in-trade of imperialist diplomacy. This applies both to one’s friends and to one’s enemies, because, as we know, nations do not have friends, only interests.
The exposure by WikiLeaks of the crimes of the imperialists has rendered a great service to the world working class. It has torn aside the veil of “respectability” that conceals the criminal activities of the official diplomacy to reveal before the public opinion of the world the rotten, corrupt and vicious reality that lies behind it. This is a very important development and one that deserves the most careful study by every class conscious worker.
Crimes of imperialism
When some tearful pacifist said to Lenin that “war is terrible”, he replied: “yes, terribly profitable.” The wars waged by U.S imperialism are terrible for millions of poor people, but terribly profitable for the big arms manufacturers who fatten on the contract provided by the vast U.S. military budget just as vampire bats feed on the blood of cattle and men.
Under its “peace-loving” and “pacifist” President, the U.S.A. spends $708 billion a year on arms. Contrary to his election promises, Obama has not pulled U.S. forces out of Iraq. He has stepped up the aggression against the people of Afghanistan and is engaged in other acts of aggression in Somalia and Yemen. And fat profits are being made by big companies like Halliburton, whose tentacles reach to the highest levels of the US state and government.
One million people have been killed in Iraq since the invasion, and 90 percent of them were civilians. The occupying forces (British as well as American) are guilty of the most abominable crimes: the murder of unarmed men, women and children, the systematic torture of detainees, the murder of prisoners, and all the other horrors that are necessary to occupy an entire people against their will. Even before the invasion, half a million Iraqi children died as a result of the criminal sanctions imposed by the UN at the behest of the USA and Britain. This blockade, which denied the Iraqi people clean water and medicines, was targeted at women and children in violation of the UN Charter itself.
These monstrous facts have been carefully hidden from the public in Britain and the United States. The same public was informed that the purpose of the Iraq war was to destroy non-existent weapons of mass destruction. When these did not appear it became transformed into a “war for Democracy”. The “crime” of WikiLeaks was to lift a corner of the thick curtain of lies and deceit that conceals the truth from the American people and the peoples of the world. For this they are hounded, slandered, persecuted, have their funds cut off and their leading figure arrested.
This kind of thing must not be made public. The people whose taxes go to pay the arms billionaires must never know the true purpose of the wars fought in their name. In Britain the Official Secrets Act is one of the most draconian in the world. The Iraq war showed how the so-called free press can be dragooned or inveigled into supporting a criminal act of aggression on the flimsiest of pretences. The full force of the state was mobilized to ensure that British troops participated in the invasion, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the British people opposed it.
In 2007 WikiLeaks published film footage of an appalling act of slaughter perpetrated deliberately by a US helicopter gunship against civilians in Iraq. This cold blooded murder was denounced by a US soldier on the ground who tried to rescue the children. When he protested, the reaction of the gunship crew was: “It is their own fault for bringing their kids to battle”. His commanding officer cursed him in obscene language for going to the assistance of the children, saying that this was an “everyday occurrence”.
The persecution of Julian Assange
A big problem for the imperialists is that there are signs of unrest inside the belly of the Beast. A growing number of officials and military personnel are disgusted with what they see and hear and are inclined to leak it. The leaks are growing more numerous and this is a cause of real and growing concern to the military and intelligence establishment who are determined to stamp it out. But this is easier said than done.
The first step is to make an exemplary punishment on those who are responsible. Bradley E Manning, the young soldier who leaked the most recent information, can expect no mercy. He has been kept in solitary confinement in a military prison for four months now in conditions that border on torture. But, from the point of view of the U.S. government, he is at least a U.S. citizen who can (rightly or wrongly) be accused of disloyalty to his own country. Julian Assange is not a U.S. citizen, and is not bound by U.S. laws. Nor can he reasonably be expected to be loyal to a country to which he, as a foreigner, owes no allegiance. But from the standpoint of the Empire, these are trifling legalistic details that cannot stand in the way of a higher moral right – the Sacred Right to Revenge.
Today, Bush and Blair are enjoying comfortable retirement, instead of facing trial as war criminals, as they so richly deserve. Yet the courageous individuals who have dared to expose the ugly reality of Great Power politics are persecuted, hounded, arrested and even denied the elementary rights that are routinely granted to common criminals. Julian Assange has had his life threatened and faces extradition to the USA where he would face life imprisonment. That is what the imperialists understand by “justice”.
In the USA politicians are calling for Julian Assange to be “taken out” (i.e. murdered) – a feat which the CIA is quite capable of arranging. On November 30, Professor Tom Flanagan, who is close to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, called for the assassination of Julian Assange on national television. He advised Obama to “take out a contract or use a drone or something”. Flanagan was expressing in public what is being said in private in the corridors of power in Washington and many other western capitals.
A secret memorandum of the British Ministry of Defence describes investigative journalists as “terrorists”. And terrorists, as we know, can be “taken out”. Before physical assassination, however, it is necessary to prepare the ground by character assassination. . These tactics and objectives of the imperialists are made clear in a secret Pentagon document that has been made public by WikiLeaks. Now Pentagon intends to discredit WikiLeaks and blacken their name.
The American government will stop at nothing to silence WikiLeaks. The CIA and its collaborators have orchestrated a noisy campaign of smears and baseless accusations concerning the personal life of their enemy. This is one of the oldest tricks in the arsenal of the CIA, which keeps detailed files on a large number of politicians, journalist and other public figures who it may need to intimidate and blackmail at some point in time.
The long arm of Washington
WikiLeaks has lifted the curtain on the shady world of imperialist diplomacy, the sole purpose of which is to cast a thick veil over the brutal reality of Great Power politics. All the fine talk about “democracy”, “freedom”, “peace” and “western civilization and values” is just a fog that obscures the crude reality of bullying, threats, bribery and corruption, violence, torture and murder.
Criminals like to operate under the cover of darkness. No assassin likes to have a spotlight shone in his face. The reaction to these revelations is what could be expected: the Beast lashes out in blind fury, snapping and growling. And its faithful servants jump to do their Masters bidding. Not a single government in the western world dares to stand up to the bully-boys in Washington. When it comes to dealing with the transatlantic Big Brother, all the governments of the western world display the most despicable cowardice.
John Pilger has rightly criticized the craven conduct of the Australian government and Prime Minister Julia Gillard: “Gillard's statement, saying that what WikiLeaks was doing in disclosing these documents was illegal - it's not illegal at all, under any laws in Australia. That's the sort of thing that most Australians should be concerned about,” he says.
Yes, indeed. Every person who loves democracy should be concerned about this case – and not only in Australia: concerned about the way in which US imperialism wields power over elected governments and bends them to its will; concerned about the systematic manipulation of the courts, the judges, the press and the television; concerned about the brutal punishment meted out to anyone who dares to expose these abominations and denounce them.
What is particularly nauseating is the obsequious servility of supposedly sovereign governments who are prepared to stoop to the lowest depths in their complicity with Washington. The latter has only to shout: “jump!” and they answer: “how high?” The leaked documents show the real relationship between the USA and the leaders of Europe. Let us quote just one example.
The Spanish judiciary investigates the case of a Spanish journalist killed by the US forces in Baghdad. The US embassy uses every means at its disposal to prevent this, and also to stop any investigation into illegal flights of US planes over Spain to hand over prisoners for torture. This constitutes blatant interference into the Spanish judicial system. But so what?
The US ambassador informs the Spanish government that “my patience is running out”. This is not the language of an ally talking to a friendly government. It is that of an imperial Proconsul addressing a satrap. The long arm of Washington stretches all over the globe, penetrating cabinets and editorial offices. Whole governments are under its tutelage. Judges and senior civil servants are in its pay or under its control. One may be tempted to think that similar methods of “persuasion” have been applied more recently to the Swedish and British judicial system.
The first to jump to do Washington’s bidding was Sweden - that celebrated bastion of “democracy” and “human rights”, whom the U.S. Ambassador to Stockholm describes as a “pragmatic”, “strong”, and “reliable” partner in the leaked cables. As a result of allegations of “sex crimes” in Sweden the founder of WikiLeak was dragged before a British court. The Swedish director of public prosecutions, Marianne Ny, has naturally dismissed suggestions of a political motive for the rape allegations. The Swedish Tartuffes try to mask their treachery with a “progressive” colouring. Their persecution of Assange, you see, has nothing to do with his anti-American activities. Oh no! It is to do with the defence of “women’s rights”.
Of course! I mean, what other interest could these good, honest, upright, liberal, neutral, pacifistic, feministic, moralistic Swedish politicians have? For years the Swedish bourgeoisie has cultivated an image of “Mr. Nice Guy”. But the stinking hypocrisy of the Scandinavian middle class was long ago exposed in the plays of Ibsen. The case of Assange brings to mind forcefully his masterpiece: An Enemy of the People.
The “nice” ladies and gentlemen in Stockholm are just as implicated in the criminal activities of the CIA as are their counterparts in Germany and Britain. The right wing government in Stockholm is anxious to be in America’s good books. Although Sweden is not formally part of NATO it collaborates actively with it and has sent troops to Kosovo and Afghanistan, as well as participating in NATO exercises under the guise of the so called “partnership for peace”. Among the papers disclosed by WikiLeaks, we read the following glowing U.S. assessment of Sweden’s role:
In other words, the government of Sweden is in the pockets of the Americans. A single phone call would suffice to obtain the most enthusiastic participation of Stockholm in this disgusting witch hunt. The only difference is that Angela Merkel could expect a direct phone call from the White House, while London, these days, is only entitled to a call from someone in the Pentagon. In the case of Stockholm, a word from a minor clerk in the embassy would suffice. We cannot know the exact content of this phone call, but it probably ended with: “My patience is running out.”
Assange was originally accused of four offences including of rape. The accusation of rape, having been splashed all over the front pages of the tabloid press, was suddenly dropped. It had served its purpose, which was to blacken his name. Now the Swedes argued that he was guilty of “unlawful coercion” and acting “in a way designed to violate sexual integrity”.
The charges are not new. They go back to August when Assange was charged with sexual assault. He responded by claiming he was being smeared: “the charges are without basis and their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing”. The very next morning, August 21st, chief prosecutor Eva Finné overruled the prosecutor on duty the previous night and withdrew the charges saying: “I don't think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape”. John Pilger noted that “the chief prosecutor in Sweden abandoned this case, threw it away, saw no worth in it”.
However, on September 1st, orders came from the higher reaches of the Swedish government. The Director of Public Prosecution Marianne Ny decided to reopen the case, claiming “new information” had been received. What was the source of this “new information”. Was it perhaps a phone call from Washington? Or maybe the U.S. ambassador informed Ms. Ny that his “patience was running out”? That is the kind of “new information” that makes Directors of Public Prosecution jump – and not only in Stockholm.
With indecent haste, and having ignored all attempts by Assange to voluntarily answer any questions at the Swedish embassy in London, Sweden issued an international arrest warrant, claiming they were unable to contact Assange for interrogation. It has since emerged that the two women who brought forward the charges originally did not want to pursue them, but only to ask Assange to take a test, because a condom had broken during consensual sex.
We are in no position to judge the truth of these allegations, but what is abundantly clear is that they are being used politically, and a fair trial is ruled out under these circumstances. The question must be asked: if Julian Assange had not been the founder of WikiLeaks but an unknown figure, would there have been an international arrest warrant sought against him, would there have been any attempt to extradite him, even if he was guilty of rape? Would the Swedish director of public prosecution have taken such a keen interest in the case? We believe that these questions might well give rise to a reasonable doubt….
In a letter to the Guardian newspaper, the organisation Women Against Rape, which specializes in supporting rape victims, expressed surprise at the UK court's decision not to grant bail, saying that the granting of bail in rape cases is routine in the UK. They also point out: “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”.
That is the whole point. Washington is not interested in Mr. Assange’s sex life. They are interested in revenge. In preparation for the trial and imprisonment of the man they see as public enemy number one, they first soften up public opinion by destroying his moral reputation. One has to be more than a little bit stupid not to understand what this is all about. Sadly, there are more than a few people on the “Left” who cannot see further than the end of their nose (and some not even that far).
What can one say about those pathetic clowns on the “Left” who are prepared to defend the actions of the Swedish government on the alleged grounds of “defending women’s rights”. They confine their activity to defending Assange’s “right to a fair trial”. Isn’t this disgusting? How can Julian Assange hope to get a fair trial under these circumstances? He has already been tried and found guilty by the media, branded as a dangerous subversive, a spy, a rapist. The full force of the state has been mobilized to destroy him.
This kind of thing shows just how far some sections of the Left have become enslaved to the prejudices of the petty bourgeois “progressives” who do not possess an atom of revolutionary class consciousness and whose only role is to confuse and disorient those workers and youth who pay them any attention.
The judicial farce of the “rape” case was only a crude cover for the real business in hand. This was a clear case of organized character assassination. It was set in motion by the CIA, utilizing the services of their stooges in the Swedish government and judiciary. The CIA’s well-oiled propaganda machine rolled into action. The world’s media immediately started to shout about “rape accusations”. Extradition proceedings were immediately started to send him to Sweden to face “rape” charges.
Of course, all this was just a pretext to prepare for the real business in hand: diplomatic sources have leaked that discussions have begun to extradite him to the USA from Sweden. The Swedish prosecution service, of course, deny this, saying it would be impossible without the consent of the UK government. That is, it is impossible without the consent of the most loyal ally of the U.S. in Europe. It is an open secret that US officials are looking for ways to charge Assange under American espionage laws. If he is tried and found guilty in an American court, they will lock him up and throw the key away as a warning to others.
Assange was arrested by appointment at a London police station after a European arrest warrant was received by the Metropolitan police extradition unit. He appeared in court, where he spoke to confirm his name and date of birth and to tell the court: “I do not consent to my extradition.” Like Pontius Pilate, the British government made a show of washing its hands in public, while throwing its helpless victim to the wolves. Downing Street said Assange's arrest was “a matter for the police” and there had been “no ministerial involvement”.
The words are carefully chosen. “No ministerial involvement” does not mean no involvement by the British authorities or MI5. If anyone believes that the London government is not acting in cahoots with Washington and Stockholm, they are in urgent need of the attentions of a competent psychiatrist. Not only the government, but the British legal establishment will have been thoroughly briefed and informed of what lines they are expected to say in this unpleasant little farce.
This is shown by the proceedings so far. Assange, who has consistently denied the allegations that he sexually assaulted two women, asked to be released on bail. Despite the fact that it is standard practice to grant bail in such cases, he was denied bail. Gemma Lindfield, on behalf of the Swedish authorities, told the judge there was “a real risk” that Assange would abscond if granted bail. Lindfield said there were “strong reasons” to believe he would fail to attend court for the full duration of the extradition hearing and to surrender to police if extradition was ordered. Let us examine the content of these “strong reasons” for opposing bail:
Incredibly, no details were given about the strength of evidence against Assange. Ms. Lindfield stated that it “is not a factor in relation to bail”. Even more incredibly, she also opposed bail for reasons of Assange’s personal safety, saying if granted “any number of unstable persons could take it upon themselves to cause him serious harm”. The Swedish Tartuffes demand that Assange be kept in jail (without producing any evidenced of his guilt) out of tender concern for his safety! Here the art of cynical hypocrisy is pushed to its very limits and beyond.
John Jones, lawyer for Assange, said the case must be “shorn of all political and media hysteria” associated with WikiLeaks. Assange was of previous good character, and had no criminal record. Jones explained: “He resists extradition as it is disproportionate to extradite someone under these circumstances. There has been every indication that the point of this warrant is to get him back for questioning.” But despite the overwhelming arguments in favour of Assange, the Swedes remained obdurate, as we see from Ms. Lindfield’s words:
“This is someone for whom, simply put, no conditions, even the most stringent conditions that could be imposed, would ensure he would surrender to the jurisdiction of this court.” The motive of the Swedish government (that is to say, the United States government) is transparent: to ensure that Assange is sent to prison and kept there indefinitely.
Despite Jemima Khan, former wife of Pakistan cricket captain Imran Khan, John Pilger, Ken Loach and others offering to stand surety totalling £180,000, the judge said the Australian Assange's “weak community ties” in the UK, and his “means and ability” to abscond, represented “substantial grounds” for refusing bail.
Others offering surety were Professor Patricia David, and the lawyer Geoffrey Sheen, president of Union Solidarity International, who both said although they did not know Assange they were concerned about human rights. An unnamed relative of Assange offered £80,000.
But Judge Riddle said:
The prisoner was therefore sent back to enjoy the hospitality of Her Britannic Majesty in the comfortable surroundings of Wandsworth prison, where he was held in solitary confinement, with no access to books, visitors, newspapers, television or, of course, Internet. Such harsh treatment of a man who has been found guilty of nothing is, to say the least, unusual.
It seems evident that Judge Howard Riddle felt a certain amount of embarrassment at being compelled to reject the request for bail. He publicly commended Loach and Khan for helping the prisoner “out of concern for human rights” without knowing the defendant personally. Mr. Stevens said that the judge was “impressed” with the number of people prepared to “stand up” on his client's behalf. “[Those supporters] were but the tip of the iceberg.” “This is going to go viral. Many people believe Mr. Assange to be innocent, myself included. Many people believe that this prosecution is politically motivated,” he said.
After the ruling – with supporters waving A4 printouts reading “Character Assassination” and “Protect Free Speech” – his solicitor, Mark Stephens, emerged from court, explaining that the prosecution was politically motivated and pledged WikiLeaks would not be cowed. He announced that they would appeal. Pilger said outside court: “Sweden should be ashamed. This is not justice – this is outrageous.” Only after substantial pressure was brought to bear on the courts was Assange finally released on bail, and then only under the most stringent conditions, amounting to house arrest.
Democratic rights under attack
The editor of WikiLeaks has received widespread support all over the world, including high profile figures, such as veteran investigative journalist John Pilger and left-wing film director Ken Loach. John Pilger has called the treatment of his compatriot “outrageous”, which it certainly is. “This case is about, number one, a person's right to justice, when they're innocent until proven guilty,” Pilger told ABC Sydney.
It is about that but it is about much more than that. The defence of democratic rights is an important part of the struggle to resist the attempts of the ruling class to eliminate all the conquests made by the working class in the past and to put the clock back a hundred years. This includes a general onslaught against wages and conditions, the slashing of spending on health, education, housing and other public services. But it also includes a systematic attempt to whittle away the democratic rights of the working class, in order to restrict its ability to resist the attacks on living standards.
In “democratic” Britain, the right to strike has been so restricted by anti-trade union laws that in many cases it has virtually been cancelled out. These anti-democratic laws were introduced by the right wing Thatcher government in the 1980s, and Blair’s New Labour government did not repeal them. The legal rights of British citizens have been seriously eroded by the so-called “anti-terror” laws, which give the police wide powers to stop and search people, and to arrest and hold them for 28 days without their having been convicted by a court of law.
More recently, there has been an attempt to curtail the right to protest on the streets. In the recent student demonstrations, the police made use of the tactic of so-called “kettling”, whereby demonstrators are trapped by a police cordon for hours on end in freezing conditions, and denied access to food, water or toilet facilities. This is worse treatment than would be given to a criminal in a prison cell. It is also a clear case of what the lawyers call “false imprisonment”, which is supposed to be illegal under British law.
While the judicial persecution of Julian Assange continues, increasing pressure is being brought to bear in the US on companies and organisations with ties to WikiLeaks. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate's homeland security committee, urged businesses to sever their ties with the website, and Visa suspended the payment of donations to the website through its credit card.
Freedom in the USA (such as it is) is now threatened. When asked about the New York Times's role in publishing the leaked cables, Lieberman told Fox news the newspaper “has committed at least an act of bad citizenship. Whether they have committed a crime I think bears very intensive inquiry”.
Michael Mukasey, a former US attorney general, said that American lawyers should try to extradite Assange to the US for betraying government secrets. “If I was still in charge there would have been an investigation,” he told the BBC's Newsnight. “This is a crime of a very high order. Julian Assange has been leaking this information. He came into possession of it knowing that it was harmful.”
Mukasey, who retired from the post of attorney general last year, let the cat out of the bag when he implied that the Swedish sexual accusations may only be a holding charge. “When one is accused of a very serious crime,” he said, “it's common to hold him in respect of a lesser crime… while you assemble evidence of a second crime.”
Limitations of liberalism
What is the purpose of all this? Was it, as the hysterical right wing media claim, an attempt to subvert and overthrow western democracy and civilization as we know it? Is Assange a dangerous revolutionary, as he is routinely portrayed? No, he is not. Assange is not a revolutionary or a Marxist, but he certainly has guts. The mechanisms whereby Washington runs the affairs of supposedly foreign states has been exposed for all to see. This and this alone, is the crime for which Julian Assange is being prosecuted.
The whistle blowing website stated defiantly that it would not to be gagged by the imprisonment of its founder. Assange himself was equally defiant. Kristinn Hrafnsson, a spokesman for WikiLeaks, confirmed it would continue publishing US diplomatic cables. In a statement he said: “This will not stifle WikiLeaks. The release of the US embassy cables – the biggest leak in history – will still continue. We will not be gagged, either by judicial action or corporate censorship.”
WikiLeaks staff have moved into a London office, having spent weeks commuting between the capital and the country house from which Assange has been coordinating the release of the leaked cables. Staff had been required to take elaborate measures to ensure they were not followed to Assange's location and the use of mobile phones was banned to avoid detection.
These actions will be applauded by all progressive people, and in the first place by Marxists. The fight for democratic rights is an integral part of the fight against capitalism and imperialism. Ken Loach, director of Kes and Looking for Eric, said: “I think the work he [Assange] has done has been a public service. I think we are entitled to know the dealings of those that govern us.” That is the crux of the matter.
Julian Assange did not want to overthrow bourgeois democracy, because he believes in it. What he wants is to make it “more responsible”, more open, more – democratic. But thus is his mistake. He is a liberal, and believes in democracy. But democracy under capitalism always has a one-sided, incomplete and distorted character. In essence it is democracy only in form, and behind the purely formal mechanisms of democracy lies the crude reality of the dictatorship of the banks and big monopolies. Nowhere has that dictatorship reached such monstrous proportions, and nowhere does it wield such colossal power, as in the USA.
It is as useless to apply the norms of morality to the cesspool of imperialist diplomacy, to appeal for honesty, justice and “international law” to decide issues between nations, as it would be to ask pears from an elm tree. Any consistent struggle to defend democratic rights must necessarily end in a struggle to overthrow the dictatorship of the banks and big monopolies that exercise more power than any elected government in the world.
It is the interests of these giant companies that determine the foreign and domestic policies of the USA and every other government. It is the duty of every class conscious worker to study the leaked documents in order to gain an insight into the world of bourgeois diplomacy and the real interests that lie behind their own government’s foreign policy. And it is the elementary duty of every socialist to defend Julian Assange against the monstrous persecution to which he is being subjected for the “crime” of telling the truth.