Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Homeschooled democracy: Lifting the veils

Raised by a hippie on an island off another island...that is the story of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Homeschooled by a mother who was determined to raise a freethinker, Assange is now the bane and torment of the war system East and West, revealing documents that Chinese, Somali, US, and other warlords wish had remained private. He even cracked and displayed emails from Sarah Palin's yahoo account. Not much there worth knowing, but his forays into the veiled worlds of those who profit from other people's misery or commit bloody acts and then try to euphemize or otherwise justify or obscure those acts--those illuminating actions by Assange have rocked our world.

He is a creature of a peripatetic paranoid mother--justifiable fear of a criminally abusive former husband made them secretive and mobile--Assange has carried that to a new place, or rather, various places. He does not even own a home, couch surfing, hoteling, safehousing with his volunteers in Reykjavik or who-knows-where. His computer world is so protected that he claims that in order for the Pentagon or anyone else to take down his website they would have to basically 'dismantle the Internet.' And if they did, it's all backed up in various countries with various volunteer geeks so 'noided-out that they only go by letters, not even names. Behind them are others holding materials that Assange himself could not find, in order to protect it from him if something happens to him.

Is all this secrecy really nonviolent? What about all the calls in all the literature on nonviolence for transparency? And how can secrecy protect democracy when we in the peace movement critique that secrecy so much, since it leads to unwanted weapons programs and loss of civil rights?

These are tough questions for Assange and for us. As a veteran of the Plowshares movement--I've gone out twice to personally, by hand tool, dismantle a portion of the US thermonuclear command structure--I can say that some secrecy is necessary in order to deal with the military, but that the least is the best. And ultimately, that is what Assange is doing--using secrecy to crack secrets in order to open them to all of us so that we can think critically about the organization we fund to kill others, our military. Assange is helping us open the world of the military operations to the light of day, so that we can judge for ourselves.

He judges too, but gives us the unvarnished documents, the film from the attack helicopter, the memos and confidential reports that show that the US is funding the Taliban and is getting the very rocket-propelled grenades and even surface-to-air shoulder-launched missiles into the hands of Taliban fighters who then use them against US helicopters and other military targets. We finally see that which has been shrouded in a need-to-know world that has clearly misappropriated your paycheck to kill civilians and US troops, two populations we are supposed to care about.

While it may seem like a paradox that Assange must act with profound secrecy in order to open the secrets we need to know as an informed electorate, the difference is that Assange doesn't shoot people and doesn't violate human rights. Might his leaks someday hurt someone indirectly, by giving information to those who wish harm on US troops or intelligence agents who have somehow been outed by Assange? That is possible, but that is nowhere near the same as performing acts of violence himself. That charge is much like blaming someone for the theft of her car because she forgot the keys in it for a few minutes. The blame lies with the thief. The caution lies with the forgetful driver, not the blame. Assange needs to be cautious and he is. He meticulously scrubs his documents and videos of all tags so that his sources are protected (of course, they cannot be protected from their own leaking if, like Bradley Manning, they start claiming credit).

So thank you, Julian. You have opened the curtain on some ugly scenes, and what you've done has eroded support for war, which is purely to the good. Your track record over the years shows you have never done any hacking for personal gain and, speaking for peace loving people, I say thank you.

1 comment:

Jean said...

Thanks for another excellent post, Tom.

I watched the interview with Mr. Assange on ted.com at the beginning of the uproar. What a life! When asked about his core values, he said the men in his life had taught him, "Capable generous men do not create victims. They nurture victims." He went on to say, "I'm a combative person, so I'm not actually so big on the nurture. There is another way to nurture victims, which is to police perpetrators of crime, so that is something that's been in my character for a long time." As a person of principle, he is being attacked on those grounds. Logic is on his side: people in the middle east already know about these atrocities; it's the people who are paying for it that need to know.