Julian Assange And The Fourth Estate
The WikiLeaks case has roused the world’s media. With journalists saying: no more dancing on the grave of the fourth estate, writes Miranda Husain.
The US has shown its hand. Finally. None of which spells good news for Julian Assange. For he has been slapped with 17 new indictments; under the Espionage Act. Conviction would incur a 175-year custodial sentence.
As things currently stand, the WikiLeaks founder has been hauled up in abstentia — at least for now — on charges related to unlawfully receiving and publishing the names of classified sources; as well as conspiring with and assisting former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in obtaining access to confidential information. This is in addition to last month’s indictment for hacking into a Pentagon computer; resulting in the dumping of the Afghanistan-Iraq War blogs and the Guantanamo Bay files nearly a decade ago.
Yet the Justice Department may have shot itself in the foot. After all, those heady days in the run-up to the war of aggression in Iraq saw the George W Bush administration hell-bent on pushing the narrative that Saddam Hussein had bought enriched yellowcake uranium from Niger. And so it was that retired diplomat Joseph C Wilson found himself dispatched to that country to bring home the necessary evidence. But he broke rank; refuting all claims in an op-ed for The New York Times. In what was seen as a deeply political and retributive move, someone within the White House disclosed the name of Wilson’s wife to journalist Robert Novak. That woman was Valerie Palme: a serving CIA operative at the time. This was a perilous breach of restricted information. And yet no one was charged over the leak.
All of which begs the question as to why the book should be thrown at Assange?
Those at the helm seemingly believe that they have done sufficient to appease a media on the back-foot. For the Wikileaks case hinges on acquiring — not publishing — secret material. Thereby safeguarding, in the short-term, the major news outlets that re-printed the data dump against legal repercussions. The simple reason being that the practice of journalism is protected by the First Amendment. In reality, however, this is little more than semantics. For Assange has done what those working under the banner of the fourth estate do on a daily basis. Namely, filling the transparency deficit between citizenry and state; without the former’s consent. Though veteran journalist and filmmaker John Pilger is convinced that this particular genie is already out of the bottle; remarking that modern fascism is breaking cover.
It’s worth noting, however, that the world’s most famous whistleblower hasn’t been formally taken to task over claims of working hand-in-glove with the Russians to manipulate the 2016 American elections; to Hillary Clinton’s disadvantage. This is somewhat surprising. For, if proved, it would surely fall into the realm of collaboration with a foreign entity to quash the democratic process. Under more usual circumstances, this would be seen as treason. But the fact that the WikiLeaks founder isn’t an American national has likely put a spanner in those particular works.
All of which is good news for Donald Trump; who has long been plagued by rumours of entering the White House by stealth. In addition, US geo-strategic ambitions continue to be served. These include Moscow assuming a leading role in ‘resolving’ the internationalised uncivil Syrian war. As well as adopting a pro-active approach to securing the Afghan quagmire of Washington’s own making. And, of course, there is an additional benefit to be had: protecting the US from similar charges if and when it decides to work in cahoots with foreign intelligence agencies to engineer polls abroad.
It’s unlikely, therefore, that the Brits will want to upset the American applecart. Especially ahead of Trump’s state visit next month. Simply put, London still peddles the myth of a trans-Atlantic convergence of interests. Thus conventional wisdom dictates that Assange will be heading to the US rather than Sweden. Unless it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the charges against him are purely political in nature. Thereby violating the terms of the UK-US extradition treaty. But his lawyers will have to move fast. Not least because the ruling Conservatives are now juggling the never-ending Brexit negotiations with yet another leadership race; following Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement that she will be stepping down in a few weeks. Indeed, there are murmurings that a second snap general election in as many years is now in the offing.
Whatever the outcome, one thing is clear. The GWOT has added a largely faceless victim in its ever-expanding list of collateral damage. The early warning shots came when Al Jazeera was targeted in Iraq. And continued when reporters were censured for including civilian bodycounts in coverage of the illegal war in that country. But the WikiLeaks case has roused the world’s media. With journalists saying: no more dancing on the grave of the fourth estate.
Sajid Javid would do well to listen.
Miranda Husain is a senior journalist and has worked as Deputy Managing Editor at Daily Times, Features Editor at The Friday Times (TFT) and Deputy Editor at Newsweek Pakistan. She writes on local and international politics; race and identity; and cats! She can be reached at [email protected] and tweets @humeiwei