JULIAN ASSANGE -
RIGHT OR WRONG?
This discussion is wider than Julian Assange. It brings in
Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden and John Kiriakou – the CIA whistleblower who
revealed that the US used waterboarding torture techniques, and received a 30
month prison sentence as a reward.
But the talk shall
be confined to Assange, for it embraces the issues raised by all others
talk also brings in those philosophers that have raised the question of a
social contract – the contract that we, the governed, have with those who
govern us - Thomas Hobbes., John Locke and
Jean-Jacques Rousseau are the best known. Machiavelli and Montesquieu have also added their contribution; Machiavelli
on the power of the prince and Montesquieu
in "The Spirit of Laws"
1748, on the separation of powers. Montesquieu advocated
of thought, speech and assembly. He also left us with
..constant experience shows us that every
man invested with power is apt to abuse it, and to carry his authority as far
as it will go
Hobbes, and Machiavelli, treat the social contract as a contract between equals.
Hobbes argues that we ought to be willing
to submit ourselves to political authority. In The Leviathan 1651.That authority, for Hobbes was a powerful
king. "The war of all against
all" he argued, could only be averted by strong central government.
Locke 1632-1704 views the
basis of all morality, that we not harm others with regards to their “life,
health, liberty, or possessions in Two Treatises on Government.. 1689. But
does not set out who , the people or the
government , is the ultimate decision taker.
Rousseau 1762 in The Social Contract has perhaps
the most useful concepts for today’s world: In the Discourse on Political Economy, he sets out
that the law is the expression of the general will. All citizens have
the right to contribute personally, or through their representatives, to its
My own construct is simple. I
have a contract with those who are in government. When I come to vote, I have
the right to know what that party and that representative believes, and how
they act - in dealing with other politicians, and with other powers. I
vote for the representative and the party that best represent my values. Although
neither may be elected, I still have that right.. If that information is kept
secret from me, that contract has been broken
In general I wish to know if
the extent to which they reflect my own values, so that I make my choice as
fully informed partner . Among many values I seek to identify, I would
wish to know if they had behaved immorally, for I would like to believe that I
would reject unacceptable behaviour.
On this basis, I believe that
I have the right to the information released
by Assange, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden and
I place, however, two
reservations or conditions on this assertion:
!. Whoever releases the information
believes it to be true
2. That no harm is done by the
Assange, through Bradley Manning, released four sets of documents:
The Apache helicopter gunship video, killing Reuters correspondents and
2010 The Afghan war
October 2010 The
Iraq war logs. It was about this time that the Swedish sex allegations arose
2010 The Embassy cables
Under the concept that a social
contract exists between us and those who govern us, I would argue that we all have
a democratic and moral right to the information that was provided by Wikileaks.
Some will claim that political discussions between members of say, cabinet, or between
the diplomatic representatives of two powers, should not be public information.
They argue that the process of reaching a decision is tentative, that political
representatives would be unable to reach decisions if all their tentative negotiations
were to become public. I disagree.
I answer that tentative discussions
would be recognisable as such And in any
case , the end position of that political leader will come out over time, and that is the
position I would like to know,
Before reaching the
conclusion that I am entitled to the information released by Assange and
Bradley Manning I need, however, first to
check that my two conditions –the validity of the information and the avoidance
of harm.- have been met.
There is little doubt that
the information was true, for it was presented as actual documents - Official
US documents. There was editing of the
releases, but they were obviously from the
sources that they were claimed to have come from.
There has been much
controversy, however, over whether the
editing was sufficient to eliminate harm to any Afghani or Iraqi who had worked
with the US and allied forces, and particularly Assange’ s statement that those who collaborated with the allied troops
deserved to be named ( Charlie Beckett
with James Ball “Wikileaks;,2012, Polity ,p.86, quoting a Guardian Newspaper
source). Assange has denied this
allegation but has argued that the risk “was the greater good”.
If the allegations against
Assange are true, they raise serious questions about my willingness to support
Assange’s actions. .There certainly was editing of the releases, although
sketchy with the first set on Afghan. Also there has been no evidence since
that any names were released to the detriment of the persons concerned. “.It should also be noted
that after Manning’s trial, , Brig Gen Robert Carr, an intelligence
expert who led a Pentagon task force investigating the damage done by the leaks,
stated on the first day of the sentencing hearing in a military court in Fort
Meade, that no-one named in the Afghan war logs was killed (BBC blog, “ Manning
Sentencing”,1 August 2013,
A related issue is whether
the information gave aid to the enemy. We need to acknowledge that in times of
war, to provide such information is not acceptable. But it has not yet been
shown how the information has been of value to the enemy..Bradley Manning was absolved
of this charge
The issues of harm to
collaborators must also be raised in the case of Bradley Manning , who had no
ability to check the documents . I turn to that issue in a moment for they
affect how we regard Assange,
One final concluding sentence:.
Assange has been described in many unfavourable terms He has also fallen out
with many of his colleagues, The editors of The Guardian, Daniel Domscheit Berg
,who has published a very critical memoir, in particular. He is described and
comes through in the movie “ We steal
secrets” as egotistical, uncompromising, self –opinionated.
My final statement is that it
matters little, even if all these statements are true, One’s like or dislike of
Julian Assange is immaterial,
To return to Bradley
Manning:. He has stated that he could not keep quiet about the issues he saw in
the documents - the Apache helicopter; the US condoning the torture of captives by the
Iraqi military, innocent people at Guantanamo Bay. Manning could not check all
documents He therefore released information, some of which had the potential to harm, both Afghani
collaborators as well as US diplomats who were withdrawn after the embassy
cables were released
The alternative for Manning
was not to release the information . I trust that you join with me in saying
that the world has advanced one step further through Manning’s release of that
material. It has also moved forward, by Assange in publishing it. Moving forward in the sense that we are all
now better unformed on what our governments may do. And to take such action as
we see fit. We now have the information
to say, publicly, “I disagree”.