My position on Wikileaks (detailed and subjective)

Originally posted on the Objectiviser blog 29th August 2012.  Republished here.

This post is by no means objective, because moral positions are (by definition) subjective and I also describe my own feelings.  However, since I comment a lot and try to be objective, I feel it only fair to give full disclosure about my own feelings and views on the matter.  When my bias creeps in to this blog (as I am sure it must do, me being human), I hope this may help it to be spotted by the reader.

I will also set out (at the bottom, under “My current position” if you’re in a hurry), what I will and will not get into discussion about (and why).

Wikileaks – my history

I am a big advocate of the following: Human Rights, the right of a people to self-govern through various forms of democracy, transparency,  freedom of information, and freedom in general (let consenting adults do whatever they want as long as they are not harming others).

That’s simplistic, but I hope you get the gist.

I was a fan of Wikileaks for years, as they did precisely what I felt was morally correct: expose the abuses of those in positions of power who lied, broke the law, misrepresented things, or were otherwise not playing by the rules.  The abuses included murder, torture, and other very serious crimes.

The first time I definitely recall hearing anything major about Wikileaks was when they started hosting the  Scientology documents made famous in the Scientology versus the Internet saga.  I had followed those events because I am interested in technical as well as moral issues (and my use of the words “USENET” and “cancelbot” are between these brackets only to please geeks).  The documents that Wikileaks began hosting had not been secret for a while, but they would be up and down on various websites.  Once on Wikileaks, they stayed up.

There followed various revelations from Wikileaks, and I came to regard them as a reputable source: especially as they carefully forged working relationships with existing (and trusted) major news providers, releasing the information through them in a thorough fashion.

When Wikileaks released sensitive information (some unredacted) which put lives of civilians at risk, I put it down to error.  Though I felt that the attempt by Wikileaks to blame the US Government for refusing to help redact the leak was naive:

[Assange] claims that the White House knew that informants’ names could be exposed before the publication of the leaked documents, but did nothing to help Wikileaks vet the data.

No government will aid the leaking of its own secrets (I doubt it would be legal, for one thing).

The sexual allegations

At first, I didn’t pay much attention to the allegations, since I believe in due process.  This, I thought, was purely a matter between the parties involved.  And as long a sensible plan was in place for unforeseen emergencies, it shouldn’t damage Wikileaks themselves too much to have Mr Assange take time out to deal with the allegations.  This is what I expected to happen.

Back then, I was following the original Jack of Kent blog, which was written by David Allen Green.  It was a great blog for legal and process issues and I had been reading it for a while.  I think that’s where I first heard the news of the allegations.  I fully agreed (I still do, though with clarifications around “charges”) with everything he wrote in his initial reaction – essentially that all parties be accorded respect and that due process be followed (including the presumption of innocence).

I don’t remember exactly what prompted me to first take a closer interest in the allegations.  I have a feeling it was the comment reportedly made by Mr Assange that the women bringing the allegations had “got in a bit of a tizzy” (December 2010).  My first reaction was that he was probably mis-quoted.  The press can be very lax in reporting accurately, and a good headline sells more papers, even if one has to bend the truth a little.  Certainly the reported quote was contrary to according due respect to all parties.

Some time later, I decided I would go and see what Wikileaks themselves were saying so that I would get their version without the media’s spin and interpretation being put on it.  So I checked the Wikileaks twitter feed.  Note: The tweets I link to below are ones that I have found while researching this post, and I may or may not have seen them at the time.  I took my recollections and scanned the wikileaks archive to find examples that matched my memories of the time.

The contents of some of the tweets surprised me to say the least: they were things such as this one from 4th March 2011:

Interpol issued “RED notice” for Assange, who was merely wanted for questioning, but issues lower “ORANGE notice” for Ghadafhi

Now this got me very interested: a clear abuse of due process!  This needed investigation and possibly petitions, letters to MPs and so forth.  However, a quick google revealed that an Orange notice was actually more serious.

Still: mistakes happen, and it’s not a well-known process.  But it’s easy enough to check.  I waited for the clarifications.  And I waited.  But instead they repeated the error:

ICC requests INTERPOL Red Notice for Gaddafi. Not yet issued. But Assange–no court, no charge, hit with Red Notice

8th September 2011

and more than once:

Gaddafi’s INTERPOL Red Notice took 42 years. Assange–not charged with anything–was issued in a few days:

11th September 2011

Some tweets were just plain bizarre:

Sweden’s Society for Cutting Up Men promo in the heat of the Assange case, Nov 19, 2010 …

28th November 2011 

Note the link to the Swedish site which clearly explains it’s not to be taken seriously (though I rely on google translate to tell me this – any Swedish translators may feel free to correct me).  I offer said translation here and the site as it is now (in Swedish and English) here.

I have subsequently noted that this was all a stark contrast to tweets from August 2010:

WikiLeaks builds a legal shield in Sweden | Reuters

26 August 2010

Anyway: in June 2011, Gareth Pierce (acting for Mr Assange) was quoted as saying:

“The history of this case is as unfortunate as it is possible to imagine, in which encounters, undoubtedly believed by all parties at the time to be private, became inappropriately the subject of publicity and thereafter in consequence no doubt the more difficult to resolve. Each of the human beings involved deserves respect and consideration. It is hoped that whatever steps as are required to be taken in the future will be taken thoughtfully, with sensitivity and with such respect.”

I couldn’t agree more.  However, in December 2011, the official Wikileaks twitter account appeared to disagree, and linked to a very nasty attack article:

Lynch mob awaits Assange in Sweden according to the Swedish publication Rixstep News,00.shtml

31st December 2011

From that link (I have redacted the names of the women involved in the case):

There’s a lynch mob in Sweden. Working up to a fever pitch… Thanks to [REDACTED] and Claes Borgström… It’s not illegal in Sweden because they don’t have rule of law in Sweden…
…Claes Borgström’s been on television screens… goading the lynch mob… television stations retain clips for a short time and then they’re gone. Without a trace. No remaining evidence outside the duckpond of what he’s done…

…one can’t find that word used in any of Cuckoo Baby’s [refers to one of the women] testimony.

…Both [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] are basket cases.

Geeknote: it is interesting to note that the robots.txt file as it reads now on prevents the rixstep site from being archived by the Wayback Machine – it is explicitly denied access.  The owner of the site has chosen not to allow archiving by that website, so changes to the site cannot be tracked by it.

Anyway, with that tweet, it was clear that the official Wikileaks feed was now directing me to clear nonsense claiming (among other things) that TV broadcasts are not and cannot be stored.  It was nonsense that was vile, to boot.

From the start, Wikileaks have hinted heavily at dirty tricks (which are political and thus immediately implicate intelligence agencies):

We were warned to expect “dirty tricks”. Now we have the first one:

10th Aug 2010

CIA involvement was implied by further speculation about extradition to the USA.  This all seemed ridiculous to me from day one.  Any decent intelligence service would have done a much better job and created a good frame-up for something with more substance and a better chance of conviction.  They could have come up with a much better plan than a “your-word-against mine” rape allegation: which by their nature are difficult to prove.  And they wouldn’t have done it in Sweden – a country who have refused to extradite a CIA traitor for espionage in the past and instead let him get on a plane to Moscow.  If it was a setup plan, then it’s a disastrously incompetent poor choice, and any change in any detail would improve it.

My love affair with Wikileaks was over.  They were sewing disinformation, false information, wild speculation and nasty personal attacks: the very things that they had claimed to stand against and why I had supported them before.  With every instance of false or misleading information, they damaged their reputation further in my eyes.

This blog

In early 2012 I set up this blog to answer the more outrageous claims being made, and I let off steam by writing a long analysis of an article that (at the time) was frequently being quoted but which was heavily inaccurate. I made a couple of other posts.  Then I left for a while.  I honestly thought the mainstream media would spot the obvious errors so I didn’t do much to promote the blog or to add to it.  I returned to it when I saw that the same disinformation was still being spread widely

A month or two ago I started passing the blog links to @SandraEckersley (who I saw debating often in the twitter feeds), but later I set up a twitter account to post and to comment myself.  Twitter takes some getting used to, and I know I should post blog links more regularly, but I only have so much time to spare.  So I tend to let others do most of the work, and I am grateful to those who link people here.  It saves me a lot of effort.  Thank you all.

My Current position

I have not and I do not hold any firm opinion on the guilt or innocence of Mr Assange.  It is for the court to evaluate the evidence and to reach a verdict.  If the court follows the correct process, I will support the verdict no matter what it is – as well as the right for either side to appeal (if applicable).

Before any trial, I will not engage in any discussion of the evidence except where it forms part of the extradition process (i.e. the evidence exists and shows a case to answer in court) or is subject to disinformation (eg it is misrepresented such as “the rape charge is because of a broken condom”).  Only at trial will the evidence be fully known, and discussion beforehand is both an abuse of due process and almost certainly not with the full picture.  The defence should also have a chance to answer – and it is the job of a court to reach a verdict, not of random people on the Internet (including myself).

I still hold the same strong opinions that I held when I first heard of Wikileaks.  That accurate information about important things is vital.  That exposing attempts to mislead, misdirect, or give false information in important matters is vital to a healthy society: be they statements about genocide, illegal assassination attempts, how due process works, or the actions taken in the course of that process.

I am interested in having due process followed – and represented accurately – from initial accusation to Red Notices to extradition hearings, to a final resolution of the case.  If I find evidence that the Swedish authorities are being abusive, then I will certainly be loudly critical.  I have heard of mistakes and of information being leaked that shouldn’t have been, but no evidence that this was the fault of the current prosecutor, nor that it should affect the process.

I have also noted concerns about the EAW and possible abuses of it for other purposes, which I would like to explore further at some point.  I would very much like to blog about these things, but thus far I have been caught up in the sheer volume of bad information coming from Wikileaks and their supporters – and I will be taking a break from blogging soon, so I may not get the chance in the immediate future.

If the allegations made by Wikileaks and their supporters were true, the Interpol system and the Swedish judicial system would need a radical and immediate change.  However, I have found many of  these statements to be untrue and will continue to campaign for accurate information being made available to everyone (as my time allows).

I am not interested in wild speculation about CIA setups or hypothetical extraditions to the USA – other than to point out that this is precisely what they are.

Should the USA ever announce an indictment, I will be happy to evaluate it – with a great deal of skepticism.  The amount of posturing and threats made by various US politicians makes US claims regarding due process and fair trials sketchy to say the least.  As does their (ongoing) track record of illegal detention and torture.  I would vigourously oppose an extradition of Mr Assange to the USA under the currently known facts.

I remain a strong advocate of freedom of information.  The world needs whistleblowers, it needs leaks, and it needs to be able to hold governments and organisations to account for their wrongdoings.  In my view, Wikileaks have managed what the CIA could not do: they have discredited themselves as a reliable source through their own official channels.  Wikileaks is a tough act to follow: but follow it somebody must.

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