Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On Wikileaks, Julian Assange, Pfc. Bradley Manning

It seems that one must either be whole-hog behind the entire Wikileaks project in all its guises or one is a craven lick-spittle to power. Because, as Digby writes, what else are we hearing?

There are alternative explanations, however. There are even all sorts of positions, all over the map. I, for one, believe that Julian Assange is a dangerous character. All the profiles I have read seem to paint a driven, charismatic figure who sees himself pitted against all the powers of the world - state, industrial, corporate, military, what-have-you - engaged in a struggle to bring them down. Such monomaniacal, delusional behavior will usually land one in hot water. Furthermore, the release of unedited, low-level field-reports from Afghanistan, as well as the edited ones from the Iraq battlefields was truly dangerous on any number of levels. The fact that in several interviews Assange has made it clear that his goal is undercutting American foreign policy with his latest document dump seems to make the Obama Administration's reaction perfectly understandable; you screw with us, prepare to pay the consequences.

There is little enough debate about our foreign policy in the United States. When it does happen, it tends to deal in unrealities; when reality smacks us all in the face, we ignore it. Assange's cache of State Department communiques are, by and large, unsurprising; all the same, they have done damage, particularly in far more closed societies with which we are forced to deal (Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States are a good example).

Pfc. Bradley Manning is the accused conduit for much of the recent American documents. While I have my doubts that a private would have access to such a huge cache of highly classified material, including non-military emails, we are confronted with conflicting information in regards to Private Manning. On the one hand, there is the legal matter of his guilt or innocence related to specific charges leveled against him. That is up to a military court martial. On the other hand, in the public record, he has indeed made clear that he made this classified information available to the public, to an individual who is not an American citizen, whom he knew would make this information public. Indeed, as Glenn Greenwald notes, Manning has admitted leaking certain documents under the guise of being a whistle-blower. Except, there is no such protected legal provision for military personnel. There are all sorts of legal protections for using the chain of command to address questions of illegal acts within the military, which Pvt. Manning chose not to use.

In sum, I do not believe Assange is a hero in any way, shape, or form. Whether or not he is being set up by a US government intent on harassing him, it should hardly be surprising if that is the case. I am not particularly thrilled with Wikileaks, considering its refusal to use common sense when releasing classified information. Finally, Pvt. Manning, regardless of the final legal conclusions regarding his guilt or innocence on specific charges, has clearly revealed himself as willing to violate his oath to the US military.

In short, I'm no fan of the US government going after Assange. All the same I'm no fan of Assange, or Pvt. Manning, either.

Virtual Tin Cup

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