17 Aug 2012

Why Julian Assange may need to think again

Few journalists would deny that WikiLeaks has proved a force for freedom of information. Many US legislators have argued that freedom has come at a terrible cost to US national security. Some even argued that agents would die as a result of the publishing of secret and confidential State and Defence Department material.

So far as we know, no-one has died as a result of WikiLeaks. Many have been embarrassed, but death has neither been announced, nor proved, as a result of a single line of material published by WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks is not Julian Assange. He and others can claim credit for its founding and to its continuation.

The focus of attention upon Assange has served to smother what has happened to the source of WikiLeaks’ most valuable and explosive material.

Corporal Bradley Manning’s provision of secret material from the files of the US Department of Defence has revealed some of the most questionable “military” activity executed by a Nato member in the past two decades.

Manning remains incarcerated after suffering a significantly damaging 11-month period in solitary.

The costs of ensuring that Assange does not escape from the Ecuadorian embassy – I counted 20 officers that we could actually see at the front of the building last night, we don’t know how many there are at the back – are unknown, but already they must extend into the many hundreds of thousands of pounds and potentially into the millions.

The Ecuadorians have recently installed a shower. Assange has an internet connection, an airbed, and not a lot else.

But then, as he told me when I interviewed him nearly two years ago, that is roughly what he’s always lived with.

The constantly under-reported element are the women who have given graphic accounts of what they allege he did to them.

It is hard to imagine any instance in which such serious allegations of abuse have been overwhelmed by the need to protect the accused’s human rights.

The alleged institutional US abuse of Bradley Manning is probably evidence enough for Assange to deploy in a Swedish court should the Americans come asking for his extradition.

When it comes to human rights, I can find no NGO, no individual, who would argue that Assange is better protected in Ecuador than in Sweden. In the all but impossible event that he ever gets there, regime change in volatile Latin American politics could yet find him extradited from there to the US.

The case has penetrated the theatre of the absurd. Assange’s physical support outside the embassy is diminutive. I judge that amongst the journalistic community the strong support he once enjoyed is withering.

Two of the people who stood bail for him have told me they resent his breaking of their trust. Several of the lawyers who have tried to help, now despair of him. Assange might be wise to think again about what to do before support evaporates altogether.

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