Wed, Sep 21, 2011 - Page 9 News List

The treachery of Julian Assange

The WikiLeaks founder, far from being a champion of freedom, is just a small-town boy desperate to make the world notice

By Nick Cohen  /  The Observer, LONDON

Illustration: Mountain People

You did not have to listen for too long to WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange’s half-educated condemnations of the US “military-industrial complex” to know that he was aching to betray better and braver people than he could ever be.

As soon as WikiLeaks received the US State Department cables, Assange announced that the opponents of dictatorial regimes and movements were fair game. That the targets of the Taliban, for instance, were fighting a clerical-fascist force, which threatened every good liberal value, did not concern him. They had spoken to US diplomats. They had collaborated with the great Satan. Their safety was not his concern.

David Leigh and Luke Harding’s history of WikiLeaks describes how journalists took Assange to Moro’s, a classy Spanish restaurant in central London. A reporter worried that Assange would risk killing Afghans who had co-operated with US forces if he put US secrets online without taking the basic precaution of removing their names.

“Well, they’re informants,” Assange replied. “So, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.”

A silence fell on the table as the reporters realized that the man the gullible hailed as the pioneer of a new age of transparency was a sociopath who was willing to hand death lists to psychopaths.

They persuaded Assange to remove names before publishing the US State Department Afghanistan cables. However, Assange’s disillusioned associates suggest that the failure to expose “informants” niggled in his mind.

It is hard to believe now, but honest people once worked for WikiLeaks for all the right reasons. Like me, they saw the site as a haven; a protected space where writers could publish stories that authoritarian censors and libel lawyers would otherwise have suppressed.

James Ball joined and thought that in his own small way he was making the world a better place. He realized that -WikiLeaks was not what it seemed when an associate of Assange — a stocky man with a graying moustache who called himself “Adam” — asked if he could pull out everything the US State Department documents “had on the Jews.”

ALLY OF TYRANTS

Ball discovered that “Adam” was Israel Shamir, a dangerous crank who uses six different names as he agitates among the anti-semitic groups of the far right and far left. As well as signing up to the conspiracy theories of fascism, Shamir was happy to collaborate with Belarus’ decayed Brezhnevian dictatorship. Left-wing tyranny, right-wing tyranny, as long as it was anti-Western and anti-Israel, Shamir did not care.

Nor did Assange. He made Shamir WikiLeaks’ representative in Russia and eastern Europe. Shamir praised the Belarussian dictatorship. He compared the pro-democracy protesters beaten and imprisoned by the KGB to soccer hooligans.

On Dec. 19 last year, the Belarus-Telegraf, a state newspaper, said that WikiLeaks had allowed the dictatorship to identify the “organizers, instigators and rioters, including foreign ones” who had protested against rigged elections.

The proof of Assange and Shamir’s treachery was strong, but not conclusive. Given Shamir’s history, there were reasonable grounds for fearing the worst. However, even now, you cannot show beyond reasonable doubt that the state has charged this pro-democracy politician or that liberal artist with treason or collaborating with a foreign power because WikiLeaks named names.

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