— the prosecutor in delivering his opening statements openly stated that he was addressing the media;
— many of the journalists left the courtroom after the prosecution set out its case and did not stay to hear the defence;
— information that has been public knowledge for ten years (published, in the public domain) that Wikileaks and Assange personally went to great lengths to remove sensitive names and sources from their files before they were released to the public means nothing to those in power: they still have the audacity to accuse Assange of not redacting key information and names;
— that the U.S. is allowed to target an Australian for exposing war crimes and the Australian government will not object.
I subscribe to a wide range of biblioblogs and have been surprised to see no post (with one exception) on the Julian Assange business. Not even anything by James Crossley who has posted and written about political and ideological issues at length, but he has been quiet more generally lately. It’s not a biblical topic, you might say, and I don’t expect most biblioblogs to touch it, but a substantial number do comment on current affairs of note from time to time.
If you know of any biblioblog which has touched on the topic do please leave me a note below.
[Daniel] Ellsberg was called The Most Dangerous Man in America by President Nixon’s national security advisor, Henry Kissinger. Now Ellsberg, an articulate and energetic seventy-nine years old, was passing on the baton to Assange—and going one step further. He agreed that Assange was a ‘good candidate for being the most dangerous man in the world’ and he should be ‘quite proud of that’. He also had some advice for Assange. He was ‘not safe physically wherever he is’. —
Fowler, Andrew. 2011. The Most Dangerous Man in the World: The Explosive True Story of Julian Assange and the Lies, Cover-Ups and Conspiracies He Exposed. Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Press.
About two days ago I watched this press conference. The editor-in-chief sums up the fundamentals of journalism in a democratic society: If it’s newsworthy, if it’s in the public interest, and if it’s true — it should be published.
So many of knew Julian Assange’s days in the Ecuadorian embassy were imminently threatened but was not expecting the arrest so soon.
I know many readers of this blog have no time for Assange. I cannot deny I find his narcissism very unlikeable. But that’s not the point, of course. (And yes, I know the reasons others loathe him go well beyond his personality.)
A Real Test
The excerpt of the UNHR document in easier to read size:
Assange is challenging to even his staunchest supporters. In 2010, he was a hero to opponents of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while others called him an enemy of the state for working with whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Now most of Assange’s former supporters see him as a traitor and a Putin tool for releasing emails from the Democratic National Committee. Even with the sexual assault inquiry against him having been dismissed, Assange is a #MeToo villain. He a traitor who hides from justice inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, or a spy, or some web-made Frankenstein with elements of all the above. And while I’ve never met Assange, I’ve spoken to multiple people who know him well, and the words “generous,” “warm,” and “personable” are rarely included in their descriptions.
But none of that matters. What matters is that Assange has ended up standing at a crossroads in the history of our freedom . . . .
Then in conclusion
Wikileaks’ version of journalism says here are the cables, the memos, and the emails. Others can write about them (and nearly every mainstream media outlet has used Wikileaks to do that, some even while calling Assange a traitor), or you as a citizen can read the stuff yourself and make up your own damned mind. That is the root of an informed public, a set of tools never before available until Assange and the internet created them.
If Assange becomes the first successful prosecution of a third party under the Espionage Act, whether as a journalist or not, the government will turn that precedent into a weapon to attack the media’s role in any national security case. On the other hand, if Assange leaves London for asylum in Ecuador, that will empower new journalists to provide evidence when a government serves its people poorly and has no interest in being held accountable.
Freedom is never static. It either advances under our pressure, or recedes under theirs. I support Julian Assange.
It is easy to find fault with Julian Assange as a person and with some of the views of John Pilger, but it is also easy to find much good in both of them. I found John Pilger’s address on behalf of Julian Assange very moving
Strange how so often I read public indignation over WikiLeaks comparing what Wikileaks has done with having their own personal files being hacked and made public. The presumption is that the government has all the rights of a private person. It’s as if many people really want their government to have all the privileges of private individuals. Many seem to think that unless the government has such personal privacy rights then it cannot protect their — the public’s — interests!
What happened to the presumption that governments are accountable to the people? I used to think of governments as public bodies. There was something called the “public service”. We used to speak about the “public interest” and the public’s right to know. Democracy itself was predicated on a free and open information society.
So when someone in that public service leaked a document to the press and the press published it, the scandal that would ensue would be over what the government had been up to in secret for fear of those to whom it was accountable.
The turn around from all of these values and assumptions staggers me somewhat. What an amazing turnaround that so many people now seem convinced that a government really should be treated like a private brother, only a bigger one.
What a quaint idea that has only rarely been heard since the days of Thomas Jefferson: “Information is the currency of democracy” — Thank John Pilger for this reminder of something fundamental, yet that has been so lost in recent years that when people see it in action today they run scared and cry treason! Just like when our eyes are so used to the dark that the light hurts.
How do professionals go about assessing the veracity (let’s say historicity) of very detailed reports that claim to be classified official documents?
With thanks to the person who emailed me notice of this, here is an excerpt from an interview with Guardian reporter Declan Walsh:
Walsh: “There are reports that an insurgent commander had created a poison powder that could be added to the food of coalition soldiers, and he called that ‘Osamacapa’”.
NPR: “That particular report, the detail of the person who was distributing this powder not only has his name and height, the appearance of his eyes, the address of his store, which he locks whenever the police are around, remarkable detail about the person who was allegedly distributing ‘Osamacapa’”.
Walsh: “That’s right, experts who have looked over these reports for us have told us, paradoxically, that sometimes the more detail you see in a report the less likely it is to be true because the people who are giving this information are painting very elaborate stories in order to affect an air of plausibility, whereas, in actual fact it may have not been true at all”.
The audio file of the interview can be accessed on NPR’s site here. It is less than 5 minutes long (mp3 file) and worth listening to in its entirety.
I first encountered this recognition of “abundance of detail” in the book “Propaganda” by Jacques Ellul some years ago now. Ellul studies cases where propagandists dull the critical senses of their audiences by overloading them with details. When more detail than any one person can thoroughly digest at a time is barraged at them, the target audience tends to find it easiest to assume that where there is smoke there must be fire. This does not necessarily, or even usually, mean enormously lengthy reports or stories, but more usually comes in the form of many shorter news clips, each with its own details, to impress targets with impressions of “something true there somewhere”. So on that principle the propagandist has succeeded in his task. (I am speaking here of psychological principles at work. No-one can compare the details of modern information gluts with the gospel narratives. The point is the psychological effect of hearing details. They are there for both plausibility and to hold interest.)
Hence the importance of independent verification and sourcing of all details at all times. Without this, there is no basis from which to decide if what we are reading is “smoke from fire” or nothing but staged “smoke and mirrors”.
And this is what we hear at work in the interview with Declan Walsh.
There are really two points here worth noting. One is the presence of “eyewitness detail”. The other is the analysis of sources and verification of these.
So primary evidence, even primary evidence claiming to be from eyewitnesses, that comes from classified official sources, must be independently assessed for its factualness or “historicity”.
If this sort of rigour is required for contemporary primary sources, how much more cautious must anyone claiming to be a researcher of Christian origins be with respect to his or her sources?
Reliable independent verification of narratives contained in our sources is the prerequisite for justifying confidence in the historical core of the narratives — according to historians from Schweitzer to Hobsbawm.
Using criteria as a substitute to manufacture evidence just doesn’t cut it! By contrast with “real life” and the sort of historical research applied by scholars of nonbiblical topics (including ancient ones), many “historical Jesus historians” seem to be playing in a world of make-believe, pulling out this or that detail from gospels or rabbinical sources at it fits their whims in order to publish some will-o’-the-wisp variation of an iconic, and therefore unquestionable, orthodox tale.
(Aside: NPR’s approach to Wikileaks and the Afghan papers is not what I am addressing here. I have other views on that as everyone does. The point here is to bring to the fore a detail of method and approach to “historicity” of events from a source someone kindly forwarded me recently.)
Following the arrest of the person suspected of leaking the “Collateral Murder” video, WikiLeaks feels that it is under attack and is seeking urgent support.
iTWire received the following message in the past few minutes, it’s meaning is very clear. We ask readers to assist where they can.
WikiLeaks may be under attack.
You were generous enough to write to us, but we have not had the labor resources to respond.
Your support is important to us. Please read all of this email to understand what is going on. We apologize for not getting back to you before. It is not through any lack of interest on our part, but an enforced lack of resources.
One of our alleged sources, a young US intelligence analyst, Bradley Manning, has been detained and shipped to a US military prison in Kuwait, where he is being held without trail. Mr. Manning is alleged to have acted according to his conscious and leaked to us the Collateral Murder video and the video of a massacre that took place in Afghanistan last year at Garani.
The Garani massacre, which we are still working on, killed over 100 people, mostly children.
Mr. Manning allegedly also sent us 260,000 classified US Department cables, reporting on the actions of US Embassy’s engaging in abusive actions all over the world. We have denied the allegation, but the US government is acting as if the allegation is true and we do have a lot of other material that exposes human rights abuses by the United States government.
Mr. Manning was allegedly exposed after talking to an unrelated “journalist” who then worked with the US government to detain him.
WikiLeaks a small organization going through enormous growth and operating in an adverserial, high-security environment which can make communication time consuming and the acquisition of new staff and volunteers, also difficult since they require high levels of trust.
To try and deal with our growth and the current difficult situation, we want to get you to work together with our other supporters to set up a “Friends of WikiLeaks” group in your area. We have multiple supporters in most countries and would like to see them be a strong and independent force.
Please write to email@example.com if you are interested in helping with Friends of WikiLeaks in your area. You will receive further instructions.
We also have significant unexpected legal costs (for example flying a legal team to Kuwait, video production. Collateral Murder production costs were $50,000 all up).
Any financial contributions will be of IMMEDIATE assistance.
Please donate and tell the world that you have done so. Encourage all your friends to follow the example you set, after all, courage is contagious.