This Wikileaks footage shows Reuters journalist Namir Noor-Elden and her driver Saeed Chmagh being shot at by the Apache. The attack occurred in a public square in Baghdad and they were assumed to be militants. After the initial shooting, a minivan full of adults and children drove into the square and were fired upon as well. The US military listed the adults as militants and claimed they did not know how the deaths occurred.
For just one man, Julian Assange has certainly managed to discombobulate and disrupt a large swathe of the geopolitical system. Not only is Sweden gunning for Assange, but there is little doubt that Britain and the U.S. will now stop at nothing to get their hands on the controversial founder of whistle-blowing outfit WikiLeaks. Having apparently concluded that he could no longer count on the support of his native Australia, which is beholden to Washington, Assange has now thrown in his lot with the tiny South American nation of Ecuador. Could this John Le Carré story of diplomatic intrigue get any stranger?t now seems fair to say that the high-stakes drama unfolding in London and the Ecuadoran Embassy has taken on wider political implications. Indeed, the Julian Assange imbroglio highlights the escalating tug of war which has been playing out between the United States and South America for some time. Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s combative leftist/populist president, has felt encircled and pressured by Washington and may have felt that he had nothing to lose by offering diplomatic asylum to Assange.
By over-reacting and daring to suggest that it might even raid the Ecuadoran Embassy, which would constitute truly rogue-like behavior, the Cameron government has only managed to harden the resolve of Correa and his allies in South America, who may surmise that Washington was probably egging on the UK all along. For now, Correa seems to be winning the battle of public relations, yet it’s far from clear that the Ecuadoran leader’s high stakes gamble will pay off in the long run. Indeed, if anything the Assange matter will further strain Ecuador’s relations with Washington and Correa could wind up paying a steep political price for challenging “the Empire.”
Sex, lies and Wikileaks: Has the media lost the plot? Plus, an interview with one of Egypt’s most influential voices, Yosri Fouda.
This July marked two years since the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks released the Afghan War Logs. Since then, the path for its founder Julian Assange has not been a smooth one, and it has led to an extradition battle between the UK and Ecuador.
When the war logs first came out, major newspapers like the New York Times, Der Spiegel and The Guardiancollaborated with Wikileaks, but two years on those relationships have changed. Once friendly media outlets are now reporting Assange’s story – the allegations of sex crimes, his extradition and now his asylum – far more critically. But is this all fair comment or is Assange part of a media witchhunt? This is what is called courage. This is the power of conviction. Even as the big bullies of global politics – US & UK – were trying to arm-twist Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, into submission, the South American leader showed how bold he was by giving asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who has changed the nature of journalism and the way the governments do their business – their dirty business.
Correa is a man of conviction. He has battled Ecuador’s robber barons – always backed by the US — and the right-wing media on his way to the country’s presidency. He represents that generation of South America’s left-wing leaders who decline to give in to American pressure and refuse to be treated as America’s backyard.
In his interview with Julian Assange on his show on Russia Today (RT) television channel a few months ago, Correa was clear about what he thought of Washington. When Julian Assange asked him what do “the Ecuadorean people think about the US and its involvement in Latin America and in Ecuador?” Correa said: “Evo Morales (the Bolivian president) says, the ‘only country that can be sure never to have a coup d’etat is the United States because it hasn’t got a U.S. Embassy’.” Spot on!
Then he spoke about how the Americans funded and controlled the police in Ecuador – and hence its economy and politics. After coming to power, Correa cut that money trail, and that led to some anger in police units. “I’d like to say that one of the reasons that led to police discontent was the fact that we cut all the funding the U.S. Embassy provided to the police. Before and even after we took office, we took a while to correct this. Before, there were whole all police units, key units, fully funded by the U.S. Embassy whose offices in command were chosen by the U.S. ambassador and paid by the U.S. And so we have increased considerably the police pay…”
The Julian Assange Show – one of the best shows on television ever – was an eye opener. Even after Assange walked into the Ecuadorean embassy and stopped doing the show, RT continued following the story, though the WikiLeaks founder almost vanished from the screens of BBC and CNN. I have been following the Assange’s asylum drama on RT for months and now it’s clear to me what the western governments are really afraid of. Speaking on the channel in an interview on Wednesday, Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple Computers with Steve Jobs in 1976, said, “As far as WikiLeaks, I wish I knew more about the whole case. On the surface it sounds to me like something that’s good. The whistleblower blew the truth. The people found out what they the people had paid for. And the government says, ‘No, no, no. The people should not know what the people had paid for.”
Another big revelation came from Kevin Zeese, who has been running a campaign for Bradley Manning, the US army private who presumably leaked all the cables to Assange and is now rotting in a US prison. Speaking on RT, Zeese said the US calls Assange a “high-tech terrorist” because the “US is scared by the information disseminated by Assange, as it reveals corruption at all levels of the US government.”
“There is an embarrassment to the US Empire, but no one has been killed by this. There has been no undermining of US national security,” said Kevin Zeese, emphasizing that what really worries the government is that the public sees what the US does on a “day-to-day basis.”
Zeese is not the only one exposing the truth behind Britain’s “veiled threats” to storm the Ecuadorean embassy in London and hand over Assange to Sweden. The British call it their “binding obligation.” But their intention is highly suspicious. According to David Swanson, an author and activist, it is likely that if Assange was extradited to Sweden he would handed over to the US where he will be tried for espionage, given “the unusualness of the extradition with no charges in place.”
The threat to Assange’s freedom is real. According to an email from US-based intelligence company, Stratfor, leaked in February, US prosecutors had already issued a secret indictment against Assange. “Not for Pub. — We have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect,” Stratfor official Fred Burton wrote in a January 26, 2011, email obtained by hacktivist group Anonymous.
Now, the question is if Assange can get out of the Ecuadorean embassy in London, get to the Heathrow and take a flight to Ecuador. It’s not easy. The British – in complete violation of international law – might arrest him the moment he steps out of the building. The Americans – in complete violation of international law – can scramble their fighter jets and force his plane to land in Guantanamo. They have already declared him a terrorist (That also makes terrorists of all journalists and newspapers who wrote and carried reports based on the leaked cables).
Taking out innocent people in the name of “war on terror” is America’s new business. Believe it or not, US President Barack Obama, the Nobel peace prize winner, personally has been signing death warrants for “terrorists”, who quite often turn out to be ordinary villagers, farmers, school children and women in the dusty valleys of Afghanistan. This is Dronophilia – killing people with a remote control, with a pilotless machine hovering over, with a missile that blows people to bits, and they don’t need to confirm if they got their ‘target’.
Ecuador has done the right thing by giving asylum to Assange. A small country has stood up to the big bullies of global politics even when the so-called giants of the new global order – India and China – have remained mute spectators to the whole drama. They have failed to speak for free speech, human rights and transparency in government affairs.
Julian Assange exposed the crimes and dirty games the big powers play. So, they went after him. Now, Ecuador has given him shelter. They will for sure go after this small country now. It’s a a good excuse to meddle in the internal affairs of South American once again.
Ecuador has done a brave thing but now it needs to be careful. It needs to be very careful. The whole South American continent should to be careful…
In this week’s News Divide we ask if the media have lost the plot on the Wikileaks story.
Quick hits from News Bytes: The press in Myanmar are handed a small victory in their battle against censorship; in Syria, a Japanese journalist is killed whilst covering the ongoing conflict there; and the Indian government clamps down on social networking sites after a campaign of misinformation forces thousands of people to flee the cities.
Ever since the arrival of the Arab Spring in Egypt last February, we have been tracking the work of journalists revolutionising the Egyptian media. One man at the forefront of those changes has been Yosri Fouda. Fouda is a former reporter at Al Jazeera’s Arabic news channel and now hosts an influential, late night political talk show in Cairo. We sat down with the host during his recent trip to London.
As London bid farewell to the London 2012 Olympics, the city also welcomed the second part of the Games, the Paralympics. Beginning on August 29, this multi-sport event will feature competitors with disabilities. Britain’s official broadcaster for the event is Channel 4 and to mark their involvement, they have produced a series of adverts featuring the athletes. The TV channel says it wants to show a different side to the Paralympian and judging by the response online, it has achieved what it set out to do. We have made it ourJulian Assange has lost. The outcome of the current standoff – with him holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and the UK government vowing to get hold of him and extradite him to Sweden – might affect his personal story, but the ending of the larger WikiLeaks tale was written some time ago.Think back to when WikiLeaks first exploded into the public consciousness two years ago. Media outlets all over the world couldn’t get enough of the treasure trove of US government communication dumped in the public domain by Assange and his cohorts, and neither could the public. There was, of course, the voyeuristic glee of getting a look behind the diplomatic curtain – and the righteous, contented wrath of finding out the games played there were as duplicitous in reality as they were in the public imagination.
But what provided the true frisson of excitement was the overarching narrative (one that Assange himself wasn’t shy to play up) – one man taking on the might of the world’s most powerful nation, and that of many others besides. And the subtext there was that he was establishing a new paradigm; that others would follow where he had blazed a trail, using the Internet to compel governments to actually answer to the people who had elected them.
Except that none of that happened. Two years on, it’s a very different picture. There has been precisely zero change in the way the US government or other ones operate; in levels of transparency and accountability. For a few weeks, perhaps a few months, they had egg on their faces; there was awkward clearing of throats and shuffling of feet as leaked email after email revealed less than diplomatic exchanges. And then they got right back to business, and so did the rest of us. Meanwhile, Assange descended into a grimy reality; the once-global champion of people’s power now flitting from bolthole to bolthole, trying to stay one step ahead of the authorities that would send him back to Sweden to be questioned about charges of sexual assault – and from there, he argues as do his supporters, to the US where will be made an example of.
The state as a player in the whole drama has, essentially, broken WikiLeaks and rendered Assange irrelevant. It has exposed the limitations of the Internet and social media networks as tools to take on traditional power complexes. Certainly, those tools are not entirely useless, but here – as in Iran, China, the Arab world and elsewhere – we have seen that they are still at a nascent stage. There is time to go before they become a consistently viable means of interrogating state power.
And that is a pity. Yes, Assange had his faults; the manner of how he did what he did was not always scrupulous, exposing local informants in hotspots such as Afghanistan to mortal danger, and any expectation that all government dealings take place in the public glare are hopelessly naive. But for a little while there, he raised the possibility of governments being compelled to check their excesses by the fear of public exposure and decisions that might have remained secret earlier now being tried in the court of public opinion – an oblique, halting approach to the Athenian model of democracy, strangely enough.
What happens now will no doubt hold a modicum of interest for the public. The stand-off between Ecuador and the UK has a certain drama; even more so if the British government is daft enough to actually revoke the Ecuadorian embassy’s diplomatic status and charge in. As for Assange himself, If the sexual assault allegations are genuine, he should certainly face justice. And if not – if this is simply governments cooperating to take down an irritant, as is not entirely impossible – that will, perhaps, rouse a last flicker of public passion.
But it will all, finally, be pointless. Assange had his moment in the spotlight, and it’s long over.
On Friday, I visited Ecuador’s embassy here in the capital of the former British empire and saw a building surrounded by a phalanx of cops, with several of them at the front door. The embassy is in an upscale neighborhood near Harrod’s department store. The intimidating police presence was ordered by a Conservative government that waxes eloquent about the need to respect (British) embassies overseas.
The intensified police deployment is only part of Britain’s response to Ecuador’s decision — after a long review — to grant political asylum on human rights grounds to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who took refuge in the embassy two months ago. The British government has made it clear that it will not allow Ecuador to provide safe passage and asylum to an individual who — for the “crime” of publishing — has heard powerful U.S. voices in politics and media call for his murder.
At the door of the rather small embassy, I was met by cops who interrogated me about who I was and why I sought entry. I had to wonder if the embassy was under siege by Britain on behalf of Washington, which reportedly stands ready to prosecute the WikiLeaks founder. Again, that’s for the “crime” of publishing — not sexual assault.
Besides all the mainstream journalists, cameras and satellite trucks across the street from Ecuador’s embassy, I was heartened to see British citizens protesting their government’s actions — and also standing up for Bradley Manning, the young U.S. Army private who faces life in prison as the accused WikiLeaks leaker of documents showing military and diplomatic crimes by the U.S. government. Among the placards I saw: “Exposing War Crimes Is Not a Crime — Free Assange, Free Manning” and “Protect Freedom to Publish.” and “If Wars Can Be Started by Lies, They Can Be Stopped By Truth.”
It’s important to know that Britain’s Foreign Office recently threatened Ecuador in a letter — claiming a legal basis to go ahead and arrest Assange from the embassy after revoking the building’s diplomatic status. On Thursday, a prominent Conservative member of Parliament tweeted that Britain should break off diplomatic relations with Ecuador and then invade the “former embassy” to seize the WikiLeaks founder.
A U.S. group I co-founded, RootsAction.org, is circulating a short online petition thanking Ecuador and protesting Britain’s threats against the embassy and refusal to uphold the right of asylum.
As the father of two daughters (who are with me in London), I take sexual assault allegations seriously (Assange has never been charged). But standing outside this embassy surrounded by British police, it looked to me like a classic case of powerful Western states uniting to intimidate a less powerful country on behalf of their prerogatives toward domination and war. It had nothing to do with “the rule of law.” And it had nothing to do with women’s rights.
Author and media critic
Author and media critic