Julian Assange and the Tilted Scales of Justice
Justice is one of the most important virtues of a healthy society. The basic idea is that when a wrong is committed, there is a system to help right that wrong in a way that is equitably applied. Marcus Tullius Cicero, orator and statesman of Ancient Rome once said, “Justice commands us to have mercy upon all men, to consult the interests of the whole human race, to give to every one his due.” Justice is a scale that does not give favor to one side or the other, but stays in balance equally for everyone.
When something is not just, one will always find an oppressive force at work. Acts of injustice are usually carried out in secret or covered up after the fact. Unless a society loses its legitimacy by devolving into a form of blatant tyranny, those in power will always try to appear to act justly. The oppression of a nation or section of a population is typically rationalized with what appears to be sound reasoning couched in political rhetoric. Examples of this are seen in the ever-expanding ‘war on terror’, activating fear with portrayed threats to ‘national security’ from the Middle East and justifying illegal invasion of a country that is no threat to the attacking country. The rationale often put forth is that they are fighting for ‘democracy’ and ‘humanitarian intervention’, as in Libya, Syria, Mali and other resource rich areas.
Oppression produces inequality. Once it is normalized within society, it becomes invisible and is not easily challenged. Large parts of the population remain unconscious of it and then quietly support it. History is rife with examples of inherently unjust states and their systematic normalization. In the development of the US, the system of slavery, colonial genocide for land and resource extraction and oppression of minorities and women have all historically been carried out despite this nation’s great founding ideals of equality and freedom.
This normalization of oppression is spreading around the world: secret dirty wars and drone attacks; police brutality and extreme surveillance. Government secrecy helps veil the violence and inequality. When oppression is covered up, the public is kept in dark about the consequences and effect on their own lives. In this ignorance, the scale of justice is going askew and society is descending into tyranny.
A shift occurred in 2010. With free flow of information and communication on the Internet, it became harder for those in power to control public perception. The rise of the whistleblower site WikiLeaks, built on the new medium of global internet connection, sparked an awakening. With courageous whistleblowers like Bradley Manning, leaked documents have revealed key aspects of worldwide systemic oppression that is carried out through interlocking systems of collusion between governments and transnational corporations. Along with these leaks that shed light to governments wrongdoing, intense attacks on the organization and its founder Julian Assange exposed the invisible hand pushing the scale in this unbalanced direction.
In a way, Assange has become a symbol of the tilted scale of justice, triggering vitriol and vilification by the controllers of the levers of power. The full force of corporate media outlets, governments and individuals worldwide have carried out unprecedented and prolonged attacks on Assange using all the classic tools of character assassination. As of mid February, he has been detained without charge for 802 days, 240 days at the Ecuadorian Embassy, due to England’s unwillingness to offer safe passage. Kevin McCabe in the conversation with his actor friend John Cusack and law school professor Jonathan Turley noted: “… what happens to [Assange] happens to the First Amendment.” Assange’s destiny is tied to the oppression of the world in the sense of him being a kind of canary in a coal mine.
Attacks on Assange and journalists and activists like him are best understood within the social and political reality from which they emerge. In his case, Assange happens to be a founder of an organization that has become extremely influential in the world. Wikileaks’s allegiance, not to a particular country or private institution, but to global justice as a primary principle, exposes systematic oppression around the world that has been covered up and normalized.
In a cable originating from Tel Aviv, racist Israeli policies towards black Jews were revealed that has led to decline in population and living standards. It alsoshowed Israeli official’s motives and techniques of their insidious oppression of Gaza; in order to keep Gaza’s economy near collapse, ‘functioning at the lowest level possible.’ The Collateral Murder video exposed the systematically broken rules of engagement within the military industrial complex and the US government’s war crimes. More than 100 classified or otherwise restricted files from the US Department of Defense revealed the standard operating procedure manual for prison facilities such as Guantanamo Bay that has become a symbol of modern human rights abuses. The list goes on: 1,918 secret diplomatic cables from the US Embassy in Haiti revealed US government’s attempts to block a minimum wage increase for Haitian corporate assembly zone workers. WikiLeaks also exposed the Australian and EU role in Iranian sanctions and leaked materials are being used in multiple court cases around the world.
As a result of massive exposure of government wrong-doing, Julian Assange was officially declared an enemy of the State by the US. From financial blockades to the secret grand jury, WikiLeaks has been the focus of intense attacks and legal machinations. As mentioned earlier, Assange has become a target of possibly the most severe character assassinations in history, much of it spearheaded by mainstream news outlets like The Guardian with tactics of cheap smear that writer Simon Wood carefully dissected and debunked in his recent article.
George Orwell once said, “political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”. The official rhetoric and the corporate media discourse now veils the crimes of the powerful and maintains the appearance of legitimacy. When the scale weighs one side over the other with obvious bias time and again, this skews the court of public opinion and the broken scale of justice is normalized. 20 years ago, no President could openly claim the right to assassinate anyone without widespread outrage. Now this is happening and there is hardly a whimper.
In this system, those who challenge the broken scales are punished and eventually society as a whole loses its sense of reality. Secret reinterpretation and subversion of laws and media spin have become global trends. The NDAA destroys any semblance of Constitutional balance of power in the US and has set the western world back 800 years in the evolution of law. The media mostly ignores it or promotes its political justification. Journalism’s professional creed of ‘objectivity’ has been used to shut out and discredit voices of those who challenge those in power by labeling them pariahs, radicals or terrorists. Words are manipulated to conceal the broken scales and to justify the entrenched system. The oppressed are presented as the aggressors, war resisters as unpatriotic and subversive. Whistle-blowers become spies to be persecuted under a draconian Espionage Act, while real war criminals walk free. War Is Peace. It is total Orwellian doublespeak.
Attempts to be neutral in a situation where injustice is entrenched can lead to one becoming complicit in perpetuating the oppression. Along with worn out manipulation of words like ‘terrorist’, now a new label has emerged. Jemima Khan, Associate Editor of the New Statesman, who supported WikiLeaks in the past, has now called Assange supporters cultish. Khan argued in her recent article that WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange has alienated his allies:
“The problem is that WikiLeaks – whose mission statement was ‘to produce . . . a more just society . . . based upon truth’ – has been guilty of the same obfuscation and misinformation as those it sought to expose, while its supporters are expected to follow, unquestioningly, in blinkered, cultish devotion”.
Toward the end of the article, she associated Assange with L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.
Khan has every right to criticize Assange, as anyone does in any case, yet her portrayal of WikiLeaks supporters as “cultish” is concerning. It corrals together countless people from all over the world and all walks of life and portrays them as worshipers of a personality.
In the same article, Khan wrote about her concern involving two women in Sweden. The in-depth analysis entitled”Extraditing Assange: Why The New Statesman is wrong about Julian Assange” dispels the common misconceptions that she was parroting. Khan’s one-sided take reinforces the widely distributed disinformation about Assange’s extradition case. Without providing fuller context of his extradition case, her opinion on Assange itself passed for news. Headlines reading, “Assange becoming a ‘cult’” hit the public and added fuel to anti-WikiLeaks drumbeat. Some people even began praising her public stance as courageous.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald responded to those people hailing Khan’s action. He pointed out that Assange, like every other public figures is subject to criticism. Yet, he opined how this is nothing to do with courage and that there is nothing brave about criticizing “easily one of the most hated people by western governments and establishment media outlets”. When the larger scale of justice is so out of balance, perception is easily distorted. In light of three years of prolonged character assassination, there is little balance to begin with in mainstream discussions of this situation. This word ‘cult’ being used by a high profile person like Khan spread like a contagion to extend character assassination to all supporters of Assange. It has helped obscure or delegitimize the very real threats to WikiLeaks and Assange by the most powerful political and military force in the world and to marginalize supporters in the eyes of the public. Most of all, it aids the normalization of systemic injustice.
Established media has become a blatant mouthpiece for power with monopolized airwaves and manipulation of content. Now people are stepping up to crowd-source information through social media and have begun to counter the drastically tilted scale so weighted toward entrenched power. One might call it cultish devotion or see it as supporting a move toward a more just society.
“I suggested that he view it not in terms of being pro or anti-him, but rather as a film that would be fair and represents the truth. It would directly address the claims of his critics, which needed to be included so that the film could be seen as balanced and could reach people beyond the WikiLeaks congregation. He allegedly replied: ‘If it’s a fair film, it will be pro-Julian Assange.’”
Whether Assange actually said those words is not clear. Yet, put into actual context, this statement is true. When the scale of justice and ‘perception management’ has already tilted so severely anti-Assange, with years of unprecedented character attacks and often outright lies repeated thousands of times, any real attempt to bring balance to the discussion naturally would have to bring verifiable facts that tend to vindicate Assange’s legal and ethical positions. One does not reach this conclusion from blind worship, but can get there through an open-eyed commitment to restoring justice.
Simply using the title, “We Steal Secrets” directly misrepresents what WikiLeaks does. WikiLeaks doesn’t steal secrets, so a film said to portray WikiLeaks in a neutral way starts out with a misrepresentation right in the title itself. No matter how one tries to justify it, this appears to follow the other anti-WikiLeaks scripts.
Rebalancing the scale of justice depends on each person developing a sense for what is right and also what is true. History has shown how, once the scale of justice is broken by vested interests it leads society toward despotism. We have seen this in the decline of the Roman Empire, in Stalinism, Naziism and all varieties of dictatorships and colonialism. We must speak up for those who are oppressed, persecuted or whose personal character is wrongly maligned, as all our freedom is deeply intertwined and justice counts on us.
Nozomi Hayase is a contributing writer to Culture Unplugged, and a global citizen blogger, at Journaling Between Worlds. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org