Rex Murphy: Removing Julian Assange
We have not heard too much about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of late. This is quite a change from the volleys of support and praise that he received from various quarters when his website was regularly publishing classified diplomatic cables.
At the height of his fame, Assange was a hero to the left. But matters got more complicated — and his hero-halo dimmed — when it was alleged he committed sexual improprieties against two women in Sweden. At about the same time, some of the arrangements he had made to distribute WikiLeaks documents began to fall apart. Friends dropped off, donations declined, and even the Guardian newspaper, his earliest mainstream backer, took to writing critical appraisals.
But now that the alleged source of many of the most explosive WikiLeaks documents, U.S. Army soldier Bradley Manning, is being prosecuted, the Wikileaks-Assange saga has returned to the world stage, although at lower intensity.
From the very beginning of this cyberleak story, the question that interested me was: Who was Julian Assange and what gave him the moral authority to do what he did?
That others may suffer or be killed because of his revelations doesn’t seem to bother Assange very greatly. In one batch of documents, journalists were able to find the names and home villages of dozens of Afghans credited with providing detailed intelligence to U.S. forces — thereby making them targets for Taliban reprisal. Assange early and chillingly dismissed those consequences as something beyond his control — or, famously, on American television, as “his” collateral damage.
My view of the WikiLeaks disclosures — leaving aside for the time being the Americans own vast carelessness over the files — is that they were absolutely wrong. The action was licensed only by Assange’s own massively arrogant assumption that he, Julian Assange, was somehow “entitled” to do so; that he was the Solon who could determine whether lives could be put at risk, relations between countries ruptured, names named, and life-and-death operations opened to all.
We have come to regard almost any and all actions against “the state” automatically as works of virtue and worthy of praise. But our esteem is, in many instances, deeply misplaced and fraught with mischief and peril. Assange is more fame-seeker and groupie-collector than he is a moral agent. We should not confuse Assange, or the immature, morally witless Bradley Manning, with Solhenitsyn or Sakharov. The great Russians were heros who faced imprisonment, torture and ostracism to tell the truth. Assange was taxed to summon the courage for an appearance on the Today Show, with the grand inquisitor Meredith Vierra.
It may come as a surprise to the excitable protestors of the West that not everything a democracy does is wrong; that the United States is not monolithically wicked; that rules and laws have some purpose other than to be broken on some callow individual’s own authority; or that every one who has a secret to spill is not necessarily motivated by conscience.
Assange was a very poor choice of hero from the beginning. He should have been shunned for his recklessness, rebuked for his arrogance, and held to account for the many lives he has either wrecked or put in jeopardy.