WikiLeaks Versus the Empire

wikileaksA version of this article appeared in The Nation on November 30, 2010.

Informed sources say that the current deluge of WikiLeaks documents will continue for another week and grow in significance.

Leading US human rights lawyers, Leonard Weinglass and Michael Ratner, have joined the defense team for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

US officials are employing cyber-warfare and prosecutorial steps to deny any safe haven for the WikiLeaks operation with a fervor comparable to their drone attacks on Al Qaeda havens in Pakistan and Yemen.

Two cyber-attacks have been reported against WikiLeaks servers this week. The Justice Department is seeking indictments on espionage charges from a grand jury quietly impaneled this week in arch-conservative Alexandria, Virginia. Assange is in London, facing rape and sexual harassment charges in Sweden, on which he claims to be innocent. Extradition could be sought by the United States at any time from either venue.

Why is this drama important? Not because of “life-threatening” leaks as claimed by the establishment, but because the closed doors of power need to be open to public review. We live increasingly in an Age of Secrecy, as described by Garry Wills in Bomb Power, among recent books. It has become the American Way of War, and increasingly draws the curtains over American democracy itself. The wars in Pakistan and Yemen are secret wars. The war in Afghanistan is dominated by secret US Special Operations raids and killings. The CIA has its own secret army in Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s entire record in Iraq was classified. The CIA has its own secret army in Afghanistan. And so on, ad nauseam.

And what is the purpose of all the secrecy? As Howard Zinn always emphasized, the official fear was that the American people might revolt if we knew the secrets being kept from us. In Rolling Stone’s expose of McChrystal’s war this year, one top military adviser said, “if Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular.” McChrystal himself joked about sending out Special Forces units to kill at night then having to “scold” them in the morning.

And revolt we should, against those who would keep the affairs of empire shrouded. We should not be distracted by the juicy tidbits that may or may not be better left unreported. The focus of Congressional hearings and journalistic investigation should be on matters of public policy in which the American people are being lied to, most notably these:

  • “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours” – Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh to Gen. David Petraeus.
  • “Note: while we must deal with AWK [Ahmed Wali Karzai] as the head of the Provincial Council [of Kandahar], he is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker.”– Cable 09KABUL3068.
  • The military coup in Honduras was completely illegal, but we supported the coup-makers anyway:

The Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch… There is equally no doubt from our perspective that Roberto Micheletti’s assumption of power was illegitimate.

Without public outcry, don’t expect anyone to be following up on these shocking revelations. Instead, there will be a continuing escalation of the cyber-warfare and legal persecution of WikiLeaks and Assange.

The Washington Times is calling for “waging war” on the WikiLeaks Web presence. The new chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. Peter King, wants to designate WikiLeaks as a foreign terrorist organization, which would block credit card donations to the organization and criminalize any civic support or even free legal advice under the Patriot Act, according to King. The military already holds Pfc. Bradley Manning in isolation on charges of having downloaded the files.

The Pentagon’s Cyber Command is allowed to conduct “full-spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to enable actions in all domains” – which author Declan McCullagh of CNET says “includes destroying electronic infrastructure as thoroughly as a B-52 bombing would level a power plant.”

This may sound alarmist, but does anyone seriously expect the US government, and its global allies, to permit more revelations to leak out week after week, month after month, in what Der Spiegel already calls “nothing short of a political meltdown for US foreign policy.”

What can be done?

  • Activists and the independent media can intensify a de facto teach-in, or national town meeting, to discuss the content of the documents far and wide;
  • Civic society must be persuaded through widespread discussion that this controversy is about the security of the elites, not national security;
  • tom haydenCivil liberties lawyers need to join Weinglass and Ratner in the legal defense of Assange, Manning and the organization as a whole. An Ecuadoran official has offered his country as safe haven; others should follow;
  • Activists should demand immediate investigations of such issues as the cover-up of American bombing in Yemen, and oppose the current official mood of killing the messenger.

And remember: there are 250,000 more cables to go. This may be a long and strange campaign.

Tom Hayden

Republished with permission.


  1. Alan MacDonald, Sanford Maine says

    It is certainly the case that Assange is far more dangerous than just an anti-war activist —- he’s become the first highly visible “Anti-EMPIRE” activist.

    That’s what makes him so dangerous to this guilefully disguised global corporate/financial/militarist EMPIRE, which is only hiding behind the facade of its ‘owned’ TWO-Party ‘Vichy’ sham of democratic government.

    Anti-War activists the EMPIRE can defuse and handle very easily, but a global Anti-EMPIRE movement “Against Empire” and starting “The Coming Insurrection” is a deadly threat to this GD Empire.

    Alan MacDonald
    Sanford, Maine

  2. Joe Weinstein says

    Jay L. has been a voice of reason in prior comments and his points here (among some others) merit response.

    As he notes, there’s indeed a lot of old left-wing (and other) tripe. But that doesn’t mean that defense of wikileaks amounts to just such tripe.

    First, one CAN accuse the New York Times for being too much of a nigh-uncritical sycophant of the Obama administration, at least in the very areas of foreign policy that Jay notes. Wikileaks somehow got NYT to print what its reporters did or should have known before Wikileaks. As independent foreign policy analysts like Barry Rubin (who focuses on the mid-east) have noted in various specific cases, even when reminded of highly public info and links to it, NYT is quite capable of ignoring it and spinning a situation the other way.

    A big issue raised by wikileaks is whether we ordinary citizens are obliged automatically to treat as sacred, or anyhow as something we have no right to demand or expect to know, information that someone decided to label a ‘state’ secret.

    Does one’s love of kin and folk and country really require a cult of state supremacy – making the regime of the state the final judge of your moral obligations – to the regime itself and even to your fellow citizens? Including an alleged moral obligation to never publish what some functionary decided to call a ‘state secret’?

    Sure, insofar as our regime indeed is FOR us ordinary citizens, ‘the people’ [never mind BY the people, which it largely is not], we must take far more seriously our moral obligations to the regime than we would if the regime were a repressive dictatorship.

    But it runs the other way too – and thank goodness a generation ago Daniel Ellsberg (have we already forgotten the Pentagon Papers?) among others, recognized this. In the USA the regime is supposed to take us into its confidence as partners, not to engage in the sort of stuff that wikileaks (and some prior reporting too) revealed – pushing foreign policy (including wars) A while meanwhile covering with lies and rhetoric B and meanwhile getting contradicting ground-truth field reports C. As one commentator observed, the good news revealed by wikileaks is that – despite all the sycophancy at NYT and other media, and all the preconceived notions and don’t-bother-me-with-facts attitudes in the White House and Pentagon and some university ivory-tower departments – many of our diplomatic field staff nonetheless communicated inconvenient truths that simply didn’t fit and indeed gave the lie to the policies.

    What will most likely happen from here on is neither the best nor the worst. World stability and peace are NOT more threatened than earlier. On the other hand, likely there will be only short-term gains for the notion that we the people have the right to know, and that on balance we will be better off if we do know.

    Simply labeling documents ‘state secret’ – thereby trusting to people’s naive faith in the sacredness of national regimes – no longer will work: but diplomats and chieftains who really want their plans and ideas kept secret will undoubtedly find more reliable ways to do it.

  3. Jay Levenberg,Esq. says

    Only someone writing for LA Progressive could come up with the idea that this sort of activity is helpful to the world. Like everyone else, I am glad to find out that many things we always suspected were indeed true-like finding out the moderate Arab countries actually are on the same page as Israel regarding Iran. It was quite a relief. However, that sort of thing aside, the very idea that secret communications between countries would be made public threatens the stability of the world and perhaps world peace itself. I find the leaks to be more than distasteful. They are a reflection of how far things have gotten out of balance between the Press and it’s rightful place in world events. Simply put, the press has a responsibility to the world as well– and in this case, the balance has been broken. I don’t care what happens to Assange. He is certainly no hero and the world would be better off without him in a position of importance. Even the New York Times would not have printed most of the material had it been given the information in the first place. One can hardly accuse the Times of being some lackey for our government. Wake up everyone, and stop relying on old worn out left-wing tripe.

  4. Leonard Krivitsky, MD says

    When we start making journalists hide in bunkers and hound them all around the world for the truths they discovered, we are all in big trouble, the scope of which we may not initially realize.

  5. Cheriel Jensen says

    This is not about cheery greetings or diplomatic give and take.

    If they assist the theft of another country’s government, what else are they doing? The theft of our own government? If they are prolonging an illegitimate occupation to assist a drug running head-of-state, are they drug running here?

    Of course they are upset being found out. If they can cyber attack and shut down site after site, can they do this to election computers? We need the whole truth now.

    I for one am thankful there is someone with the know how to make these facts available.

  6. says

    Wikileaks is simply forcing ‘mainstream’ media who all along knew better to finally unload some of their well-known (to them) stuff.

    It’s of course embarrassing to powers that be, including the Obama foreign policy gurus , such as those for the mid-east who keep prescribing deathly war in Afghanistan – which does not threaten us – and coos and oh-dears to Iran – which does.

    Cover-ups have been on all sides – by officialdom, ‘mainstream’ media, and some ‘alternative’ media too. They all want to protect us from inconvenient truths.

    • petrov says

      J Scharf:

      Please clarify: the intent and meaning of your words is murky. Action required: Apply cold water to head and face, review and re-post.

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