So WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested in London sometime this week. His crime: embarrassing the world’s most powerful nation by daring to publish information that exposed the naked hypocrisy of American foreign policy. Since WikiLeaks started publishing these documents detailing secret conversations between US diplomats about various people and subjects covering a plethora of global issues , the website has been the victim of web attacks, been cut off by internet service providers, been accused of being irresponsible and its founder, Julian Assange has been accused of things ranging from “terrorism” to rape. As global citizens, what ought we to make of all these interesting developments?
It strikes one as strange that a country that has positioned itself as the promoter of the gospel of: democracy, open society, capitalism, media freedom, government accountability to its citizens etc. is now doing everything to prevent the further publication of information which has at best exposed the US for what it truly is, hypocritical and at worst has caused it untold embarrassment and complicated its diplomatic engagements with the rest of the world. To say that WikiLeaks has jeopardized US National Security interests by releasing all of this “classified” information and to suggest that it is not of public interest is to engage in deception of the vilest kind. Firstly let’s take a look at some of the information that we have become privy to thanks to WikiLeaks.
We have discovered that the US army deliberately targeted refugee camps for bombing. It would be a brave man who would argue that this is “classified” information which the public has no right to know. We also found out that the US gave money to military men from certain countries so that they could buy arms, with the aim of furthering American interests in those parts of the world. You want to tell me that, that isn’t an issue of public interest? We were made aware of the fact that the US was spying on the UN Secretary General. We also discovered information about American relations in the Middle East, with states such as Yemen and interesting little snippets of information about US opinion of countries such as Russia, Iran, Turkey and their leadership. By virtue of having appointed itself the global custodian of democracy, openness, transparency, accountability, justice and human rights, the US gave up the right to claim that its diplomatic engagements with the rest of the world are of a secret nature and should be of no interest to Joe Public. The US prides itself on its great credentials and exemplary behaviour as a democratic state, but the publication of the documents by WikiLeaks has exposed all of that as a sham and revealed the vast difference between what the US claims to stand for and what it actually does in its relations with the rest of the world.
American foreign policy has a direct impact on the world and the quest for peaceful co-existence and co-operation between nations and hence what the US does in its engagement with other states and how it goes about doing that is of direct interest to the global public. To see what WikiLeaks and its founder have had to endure for daring to embarrass the world’s most powerful nation is to witness a betrayal of all those values which America claims to be promoting in its engagement with other states. Firstly subsequent to the release of the initial set of documents, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was suddenly accused of raping two women in Sweden, a charge which he vehemently denies. This reminds one of a certain rape case in South Africa which had massive political consequences and led to a change in the political landscape. It is of course now history that there was a strong case of political interference in that case with the one party clearly aiming to eliminate a political opponent by all means necessary, even if it meant abusing state resources and state power. As a South African with this background in mind, it strikes one as too convenient that just after WikiLeaks released the initial documents, Assange was accused of rape in a manner that seeks to discredit and silence him from releasing any further information which could be embarrassing. Independent companies like Amazon were bullied by the US government into breaking off their relationship with WikiLeaks, Swiss authorities closed Assange’s bank account without any justification, Mastercard pulled the plug on payments to the website, several countries are either making or actively considering aggressive legal moves against Julian Assange, Assange has been called a “terrorist” and there have been calls for him to be assassinated by prominent American political leaders, who constantly preach to the rest of the world the gospel of democracy, transparency, media freedom, human rights etc.
Now this is astounding and incredible. We have a media organisation and its owner being harangued and harassed for daring to publish information that has embarrassed a government and a country that claims to be the quintessential democracy and none of the famed “defenders of media freedom and human rights” are saying anything. The same people who were writing open letters and signing memorandums against the South African government for trying to introduce a media tribunal and to pass a stringent Information Bill through its parliament are now conspicuous by their very loud silence. There was global consensus that what the SA government was proposing would negatively impact the media and its ability to hold government accountable but when the US is guilty of something even more sinister suddenly all those voices have gone silent. Does no one see anything wrong with this picture?
If Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF government or any other African leader and his government had been using their official power and influence to harass a media organisation and its leader for daring to publish information that was embarrassing to that government, there would be a huge international uproar and those African leaders and governments would be accused of having no regard for media freedom and for abusing their power. Now why is no one saying anything when the US is blatantly doing something of a similar nature? Is media freedom, transparency, open society and accountability only a virtue when it serves US interests? All of this smacks of hypocrisy of the worst kind and leads one to conclude that the US is a country that preaches a gospel which it doesn’t at all practice in reality.