By Vijay Simha
IF WE are human, none of us are likely to have milk up our bottoms. Julian Assange, Australian-born Editor- in-Chief of the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, is one of us. He has made no claims to saintliness, he is fighting allegations of rape and he has let the names of informers be known in an earlier leak on the Afghan war. At his core, he heads a group of activists who are releasing more secret information than the rest of the worldwide media put together. His newest leak, and the biggest so far, is a collection of 3,91,832 documents on the conduct of America during its war and occupation of Iraq. The OMG moment is not what the Iraq War Logs say. It is the leak itself.
Assange blew the lid off information that the United States spent vast sums of money on to conceal. In an overwhelming global sweep, he hid his trail and moved the information from server to server across nations to deliver a whammy. The war leaks basically show how the US didn’t bother with rights, especially those of prisoners, and was quite fine with deaths of civilians. War is dirty. Iraq was never going to be a conference of the Salvation Army. But to have incontrovertible evidence of what the US did is seminal.
There is no way the US can hide from this. They are already considering if Assange can be tried for espionage. They have asked him to return all government documents he has. They have said he must not publish any more stuff. And they have said he must also not seek more information. It is the way all governments respond at first. This is for the birds, an attempt to put on record the response of the State. Inside, they must be smarting. This is what journalism is all about: developing a network of contacts, identifying information that can correct, and releasing that information with a bang. It’s what we live for.
The US has less high ground to play with after the Iraq War Logs. It will not transform the country, but it will make them less snooty when dealing with fellow nations. Uncle Sam might just be a little circumspect and that is a huge gain for journalism. If it was possible for Assange to sit in a cushy office and deliberate over the information he had, he wouldn’t need to be on the run, changing his look and telephone number every few days. Trouble is, governments don’t like questions. They don’t respect people who dig for information and risk lives in doing so. There is no other way to put a mirror to the State. Only when they are on their knees do they look up.
TEHELKA knows what it can get like. How a State can get at you for ferreting out the truth. How you can be made to feel like vermin as fear gets to a government. It’s not about Assange and the accusations of rape. Even if Assange is convicted, it in no way lessens American deeds in Iraq. The US is on trial here. Denial and anger are a normal first response. Acceptance must follow. Else, there will be more Assanges.
For, the nature of whistleblowing has changed with WikiLeaks. You could be anyone, anywhere. All you need is access to information and a platform to launch it from. It doesn’t matter even if the mainstream media isn’t game. There is, however, a worry for Assange. He was careless about an informer who is now in trouble over the Afghan leaks. Now this is serious. Soldiers of truth must watch for each other. These are journalism commandments too: never hang a source out to dry and never fear a government. For the rest, we’re all the same. We’ve all done things we need to atone for. Phony war is big. The amends need to be big too.
Illustration: Sudeep Chaudhuri