Mickey Z. -- World News Trust
Aug. 25, 2012
"There is unity in the oppression. There must be absolute unity and determination in the response." --Julian Assange
When word broke of Ecuador offering asylum to WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, I checked in with my longtime friend and radical comrade, Mark Hand. As usual, our conversation covered a lot of ground.
In fact, it went a little something like this...
Mark Hand: Before recently taking refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Julian Assange had been detained by British authorities longer than Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator who ordered the killing of thousands of dissidents in Chile. Ultimately, British authorities decided to let Pinochet go free instead of sending him to Spain to face charges of crimes against humanity. On the other hand, British authorities were preparing to ship Assange to Sweden to face questioning over sexual assault allegations. British authorities also threatened to storm the Ecuadorian embassy to nab Assange after the nation approved his request for asylum. What's your reaction to the contrast in treatment of a brutal dictator and someone fighting to bring transparency to global governments and transnational corporations?
Mickey Z.: Your question calls to mind something David Hume said, back in 1758: “As force is always on side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is, therefore, on opinion only that government is founded and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments as well as to the most free and most popular.”
By that standard, Assange's "crime" is far more threatening to Western powers than any alleged terrorists, rogue states, or evildoers. By sharing information that is typically hidden until it's safe to divulge, Assange and Wikileaks have demonstrated the power to sway the public opinion Hume discusses.
And speaking of obscuring facts for decades, let's clarify that Pinochet was put in power thanks to a CIA-sponsored coup in 1973, in which a democratically elected president named Salvador Allende was ousted and said to have committed suicide ... with a machine gun. None of this is controversial to discuss today but had Wikileaks existed in the early 70s, it might not have been so easy for the West to install and support a brutal dictator.
MH: You make a great point about the ruling elite getting so bent out of shape over Assange throwing a huge monkey wrench into the manufacturing of consent here in the United States. I would argue that if Wikileaks had existed back in 1973 and had released government cables and other documents definitively proving the Nixon administration's involvement in destabilizing the Allende government and installing Pinochet, then the "Julian Assange" of the early 1970s would have been hailed as a hero by more than just government transparency activists and anti-imperialists. The Watergate investigation was expanding at the time, even some factions of the ruling elite in Washington would have applauded the disclosures, mainly for political purposes, i.e., forcing Nixon from office.
Today, despite the easier access to information -- or perhaps because of the information empowerment movement -- governments and corporations, along with their sycophants in the press, are mobilizing their resources to ensure the public knows its place in the hierarchy. As you point out, Western powers are extremely worried about real, grass roots democracy, exemplified by the knowledge-is-power work of Wikileaks. Just look at how all levels of governments in the United States have reacted so violently and in a coordinated fashion to the Occupy Wall Street movement over the past 11 months.
MZ: I guess the closest thing we had to Wikileaks back then was Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers. To your point, the corporate media fought to publish this information and actually was handed a 6-3 Supreme Court decision in their favor.
Today, it's virtually impossible to imagine such a scenario -- which links to your point about OWS. The coordinated State repression rained down upon occupiers from coast to coast has been carried out beneath a virtual media blackout.
I don't think it's far-fetched to posit that the Wikileaks revelations played a role in the launching of the Occupy movement. Would you agree?
MH: Many people believe Wikileaks played a role -- perhaps minor but a role nonetheless -- in the revolutions across the Arab world when the organization released documents that confirmed what most residents of countries such as Tunisia already knew: that their "leaders" were corrupt thugs. And I don't think it's a coincidence that the Arab Spring was followed by the American Fall, when the Occupy movement succeeded in highlighting the irrelevance of established governmental institutions in creating a fair, decent and sustainable world.
A large number of participants in the Occupy movement describe themselves as anarchists -- yes, those dastardly, up-to-no-good anarchists -- and the movement has adopted many anarchist principles. Even Julian Assange has been described as an anarchist, although those associations are sometimes made by statists who would love to see him imprisoned at Guantanamo. But for those of us who admire Assange's work and the bravery of other front-line activists, is it counter-productive to ascribe our personal political views and dreams to them, when we know deep down that they don't conform to everything we wish we were?
MZ: Your question sounds almost like a song cue to me as I've been singing this tune since last September: OWS far from perfect but goal isn't perfection, justice. Activism is imperfection. Occupation is imperfection. To struggle for change is to risk imperfection. Choose process over purity.
Wikileaks is about more than Assange. Occupy is about more than Wall Street. The task ahead of us is about more than single issues and litmus tests.
MH: So I presume you don't hold it against Bradley Manning for volunteering to join the U.S. Army in 2007, given his alleged role in providing Wikileaks with a wealth of information about U.S. military and diplomatic crimes and misdeeds?
MZ: Obviously, Manning is the rare exception so, since you brought up our volunteer mercenaries, please allow me to repeat: The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) -- the interventionist institution formerly known as the War Department -- is the biggest polluter on Planet Earth, for example, releasing more hazardous waste than the five largest U.S. chemical companies combined.
To add insult to injury, the world's worst polluter -- the entity wrecking havoc upon the landbase that makes all life possible -- also gobbles up 54 percent of U.S. taxpayer dollars. But it takes more than obscene amounts of money to keep this criminal enterprise afloat. It also takes more than the volunteers willing to be paid to wage illegal, immoral, and eco-system destroying wars. The DoD will be able to maintain its crime spree as long as so many of us continue to unconditionally support those troops. As long as the yellow ribbons fly, our future is under siege.
Some of the veterans I've met since OWS started have instilled a little more hope in me that -- no matter why they opted to volunteer -- a fair amount of soldiers are starting to get it. Speaking of soldiers that "get it," what's the latest on Bradley Manning and how do you see his situation playing out?
MH: The last I heard, Manning is still being held at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. His military show trial is scheduled to start in late September. But since the criminal-in-chief in the White House has already publicly declared the whistleblower guilty, then, of course, the military jurists will follow suit. Manning’s sentence? Probably life in prison.
In a sane world, Bradley Manning would be given ticker-tape parades for letting the world know about the atrocities and crimes committed by the U.S. government. Instead, he faces a lifetime in a dungeon because the ruling elite, particularly the liberal class, have no patience for people who seek to create a better world by operating outside "the system."
Going back to your Daniel Ellsberg comparison, Glenn Greenwald noted recently that liberals rallied to Ellsberg's defense because there was a Republican president to take down. But since Manning's torture and inhumane treatment has happened under a Democratic administration, Greenwald says it's “brand loyalty” that explains the liberal condemnations of Manning or their silence surrounding his imprisonment.
And it's the same liberal class that’s decided civil liberties in general are no longer worth defending, which means, as anthropologist David Graeber tells us, that it's now up to "anarchists" such as Julian Assange and others to actually do something to fight for the principles that everyone claims to believe in.
MZ: As Assange said at his recent press conference: "There is unity in the oppression. There must be absolute unity and determination in the response."
There’s never been a better, more urgent time to be an activist...
Mark Hand is the editor of Press Action.
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