Award-winning documentary maker Michael Moore and film maker Oliver Stone write in the New York Times on WikiLeaks and free speech.
Michael Moore is a well known left-leaning documentary producer and film maker. Many of his documentaries are critical of U.S. policies. "Sicko" berates the United States health care system. Oliver Stone is also a well known film maker with several films on the Vietnam war. In a recent article in the New York Times the two discuss Wikileaks and free speech.
The two praise Wikileaks for having publicly revealed many of the uglier aspects of U.S. government actions. They also praise Ecuador's decision to grant asylum to Julian Assange long associated with Wikileaks.
The article points out that the Wikileaks releases included footage such as the Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad in which a number of civilians seemed to be killed without good reason. Releases also showed some of the details of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that both the U.S. and other foreign governments would wish to remain hidden. An example that comes to my mind is the revelation that Pakistani authorities agreed to drone strikes.
Another revelation was the U.S. collusion with then President Saleh in Yemen to disguise the fact that the U.S. was responsible for bombing attacks. Leaks also reveal that Obama put pressure on other countries not to prosecute Bush-era officials for torture.
The U.S. response to these revelations, the article claims, has been ferocious. Leaders from both parties have called Assange a type of high-tech terrorist. The California Democrat Dianne Feinstein has demanded he be tried under the Espionage Act. Actually the article mentions only a few aspects of the reaction. Pressure was put on financial institutions to deny Wikileaks services a move that had the effect of drastically reducing donations.
Although Assange has yet to be charged with any crime an international warrant for his arrest was obtained. Assange voluntarily gave himself up but attempts to fight extradition failed.
Assange has asked several times that Swedish authorities come to Britain and question him there. This offer has never been accepted. I really do not understand why. The article mentions that Swedish authorities have traveled other countries on occasion to question suspects. The fact that Sweden insists that Assange travel to Sweden gives some credence to the view that Sweden is simply a way station on the way to facing charges in the U.S. The article points out another fact that points in the same direction.
Assange claims he would travel to Sweden if Sweden promised that it would not extradite Asssange to the U.S. Again, Sweden refuses to make any such commitment. The U.K. also has the power to pledge that Assange would not be extradited to the U.S. and also refuses to pledge this. Ecuador tried to obtain these pledges as a means of resolving the standoff and sending Assange to Sweden.
While officials deny any plan to ask for extradition of Assange a Grand Jury has been empowered in the U.S. and is investigating possible charges to be made against him. Surely this implies that the U.S. wants to gain custody of Assange. Here is a quote from The Age: However, the Australian embassy in Washington reported in February that "the US investigation into possible criminal conduct by Mr Assange has been ongoing for more than a year".
The embassy noted media reports that a US federal grand jury had been empanelled in Alexandria, Virginia, to pursue the WikiLeaks case and that US government officials "cannot lawfully confirm to us the existence of the grand jury".
Despite this, and apparently on the basis of still classified off-the-record discussions with US officials and private legal experts, the embassy reported the existence of the grand jury as a matter of fact. It identified a wide range of criminal charges the US could bring against Assange, including espionage, conspiracy, unlawful access to classified information and computer fraud.
As with many other actions that the U.S. does not want the public to have any information about such as drone strikes the government refuses to admit or deny the existence of this Grand Jury even though everyone knows that it exists! What is important is not so much the fate of Assange but the fate of organizations who attempt to inform the public about what governments are doing. Governments classify much that is not so much a matter of national security but a matter of misdeeds that the government wants to hide from the public.
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