Assange, Obama: opponents over transparency because Obama blinked

The Wikileaks founder-in-exile surfaced for the first time in two months (on Aug. 19) with a brief message aimed squarely at the leader of the Free World.  “As Wikileaks stands under threat, so does freedom of expression and the health of all our societies. I ask Pres. Obama to do the right thing. The U.S. must renounce its witchhunt against Wikileaks. The U.S. must dissolve its FBI investigation; the U.S. must vow that it will not prosecute ourselves or our supporters. The U.S. must pledge before the world that it will not not pursue journalists for shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful,”  Mr. Assange read from the balcony of Ecuador’s embassy in London.

At least 20 and possibly 50 metropolitan police officers formed a barrier out front of the ten-room apartment, which serves as the embassy. “There must be no more foolish talk about prosecuting any media organization,” he read on.  The independent.co.uk posted the entire video on its site.

This tense situation need not have occurred. Jules and Barry, two icons of the information and communication age, could have been partners in transparency had Mr. Obama stuck to his UN speech from Sept. 23, 2010. The passage below at the General Assembly is sadly laughable now. And devastatingly disappointing.

“In all parts of the world, we see the promise of innovation to make government more open and accountable.  And now, we must build on that progress.  And when we gather back here next year (2011), we should bring specific commitments to promote transparency; to fight corruption; to energize civic engagement; to leverage new technologies so that we strengthen the foundations of freedom in our own countries, while living up to the ideals that can light the world,” Mr. Obama said.

Prisoner Assange fears, maybe rightly, that this Obama promise is nothing more than the air used to speak the words. Wikileaks did more than promote transparency. It lived transparency to the point of endangering Mr. Assange’s life. Though Mr. Obama opposes the death penalty, it is the big stick that he and America  wield over journalist Assange.  If they could just get him on American soil …. 

Mr. Obama longs to put an end to the Wikileaks revelations. Mr. Assange fears a lenghty imprisonment, execution or assassination if he were  extradicted to the U.S. where some believe that  Wikileaks hampers national security efforts. At least one country, a rival to America, granted Mr. Assange asylum on Aug. 17 to shield him. 

Thus the messenger Assange has aligned with Ecuador and, not surprisingly,  Russia, also. Mr. Assange famously accepted a tv interviewer position with RT (Russia Today) TV, a recognized wing of Vladimir Putin’s information machine. Well, it’s a job that pays. One needs to receive a salary when U.S. entities (under government pressure) shake down the contribution mechanisms that keep your moneymaker alive.

And Ecuador?  Watch this quite entertaining May 2012 episode of The Julian Assange Show in which he interviews Pres. Rafael Correa. It is Mr. Correa’s Ecuador embassy that has been Mr. Assange’s refuge from the long arms of the U.S., British, and Swedish governments since June 19. Said Mr. Correa on the news that Foreign Minister William Hague threatened to ‘storm’ the place to get Mr. Assange:

“Never, as long as I am president, will Ecuador accept threats like these, which are absolutely vulgar, inconsiderate and intolerable …We will not give up our sovereignty. We respect everyone, and we are always seeking dialogue, but the final decision (about hosting Mr. Assange or not) is ours.”

Mr. Assange angered Western powers and became a hero in some Latin American countries with the Collateral Murder video released by  Wikileaks in April 2010. The American soldiers in the 2007 (Pres. Bush-era) clip shot and killed civilians in Baghdad. They can be heard laughing and causing deadly havoc at the same time. It reminds one of a video game ‘kill’ and the exaltation from obliterating the target.

It was five months between the release of the video and Mr. Obama’s championing of transparency at the UN headquarters.  Why didn’t he either drop that passage of the speech or live up to the pledge? The egregious murders did not take place during his watch as Commander-in-Chief. The video was known to exist shortly after the summer of 2007 incident, but Mr. Bush’s Department of Defense and then regrettably Mr. Obama’s turned away multiple Freedom of Information requests. The result: the April 2010 release. 

So that is the crucible in which Mr. Obama rests. This international/multinational embassy incident stymies the conversation Mr. Obama prefers to have less than 3 months before the 2012 presidential election. His British cronies, Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Minister Hague, look pretty shady in this row, too.

But Mr. Correa’s stature has grown with people who prefer no intimidation of journalists who report the truth with attribution and documentation. See CNN and FOX News for “senior adminstration officials say” types of reports. From the ecuador.org site, Mr. Correa outlined the reasons for agreeing to become the harbour in a storm for one of the West’s ‘Most Wanted.’

In part the government site says that Mr. Assange is a professional communicator who fights for “the freedom of expression, the freedom of press and for human rights in general; that he published privileged information that … affected civil servants, countries and organizations; that there exists serious indications of retaliation on the part of the country or the countries that produced the information …”

Further, Mr. Correa takes the position that Mr. Assange could face a “military or special court … which might condemn him to life imprisonment or to the death penalty – a violation of human rights,” concluded Pres. Correa. Those in Mr. Assange’s camp believe the U.S. will instruct the U.K. and/or  Sweden to give up Mr. Assange instead of delivering him to Sweden to answer questions about alleged sexual assault.

So the asylum goes on in West London, frustrating Mr. Hague, who would like to root out Mr. Assange. From fco.gov.uk: “We will not allow Mr.  Assange safe passage out of the UK, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so.   Moreover, it is well established that, even for those countries which do recognise diplomatic asylum, it should not be used for the purposes of escaping the regular processes of the courts. And in this case that is clearly what is happening.”

Replies can be sent to FM Hague’s tweet, if interested.

@WilliamJHague: We will not allow Mr #Assange safe passage put of the UK. There’s no legal basis for us to do so.

A representative of Ecuador said her government was warned by the UK that a legal basis to storm the embassy exists because of  ”the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act of 1987, which would allow us to take action to arrest Mr. Assange in the existing facilities of the embassy.” This communique from the government enraged officials in  Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia, among others. 

“There is unity in the oppression,” said Mr. Assange, as he continued to read from the three-minute long, prepared statement on Aug. 19. He was referencing Bradley Manning, who provided the secret documents to Wikileaks and who, as a consequence, has been held for nearly two years by the U.S. military.   ”There must be absolute unity and determination in the response,” he said. 

That message connected with the majority of the members of the Organization of American States, some of which are listed above. 

What’s next?

Twenty-three of the 34 OAS members voted to top its Aug. 24 agenda with discussion of the the inviolabilty of their individual embassies. “Inviolability” means invulnerability, protection, safety, sanctitas, according to legal-dictionary.com.  According to oas.org, Mr. Assange, therefore, has a guarantee of protection, if the British government follows the law. 

Mr. Assange did not reveal his next chess move and how could he know at this point? But maybe someone does.  Fellow Australian Dr. Keith Suter, the holder of doctorates in international law and in the economic and social consequences of the arms race, might be wise enough to make a credible prediction. He is also a member of the International Commission of Jurista – an NGO that focuses on the impartial, objective and authoritative legal approaches to conflicts, according to global-directions.com.

Said Dr. Suter on Sydney, Australia’s SkyNews broadcast immediately after Mr. Assange’s Aug. 19 appearance: “The basic lesson of the Wikileaks scandal is that governments lie. So when you hear governments say, ‘No, we’re not going after him or whatever… But the basic lesson of Wikileaks is that you can’t trust governments.”

Dr. Suter’s most recent book is called “All about Terrorism: Everything you were afraid to ask.”  It likely contains everything that he was not afraid to print.  One imagines he used no Wikileaks documents in the 2008 book. 

Finally, it does not take Dr. Suter’s expertise in conflict resolution to pitch out the possible, face-saving negotiated result. But, now that someone of his brilliance has restated it at this late date, maybe the right parties will accept it. If the issue really is answering the sexual allegations in Sweden, why not have the investigators call on Mr. Assange?  That was mentioned very early on, but that was long before the opposing sides became so entrenched. 

Mr. Obama can’t win this one in the public arena unless he moves over to Mr. Assange’s position. The problem with talking about ideals as lofty as  transparency is that the politician who bespeaks them must meet them– or be revealed as dishonest.  

Mr. Assange wins only if he is released from the cage of political asylum.  Getting the journalism world and the Western establishment to pause for his balcony briefing shows he has a chance.  

Nita worked as a television journalist for 21 years in the U.S. She writes from Paris, France.  Follow her @EducatingMsNita.