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“The hostility or fear against WikiLeaks that resides in these arguments [about whether to publish or not] comes from a philosophy that these things should be kept between the people in question and not revealed, so as not to disturb smooth diplomacy.” The WikiLeaks shock has retaught us a basic principle of journalism, he adds. “That revealing injustice today is the way to take responsibility for the future.”
– Jimbo Taro (Quoted by David McNeill)
Who is Julian Assange?
To sum up Caitlin Johnstone’s views from In Defense of Julian Assange (2019), he is an Australian publisher and journalist who has not been charged with the crime of committing sexual violence, who hid in the Ecuadoran embassy in order to escape U.S. extradition. Swedish prosecutors have dropped the investigation into the ten-year old rape allegation. Furthermore, a U.S. federal judge has dismissed a Democratic National Committee lawsuit accusing Russia, the Trump campaign, Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange, and others of conspiring to disrupt the 2016 presidential election. The lawsuit’s arguments were said to be “moot or without merit.” As a Wall Street Journal editorial asks, “How does the Justice Department draw a line between Mr. Assange and the Associated Press?”
Assange does the same kind of work as the Associated Press (AP), but he does it from a very different perspective and he lacks their type of money and power—a type that delimits their capacity to expose lies and help the wretched millions. While he has caused much embarrassment to governments involved in Northeast Asian international politics, including the U.S., Japan, China, and North Korea, he has “helped teach the people about our tarnished freedom”—in the words of Slavoj Žižek in The Independent. Now Assange is the one in a wretched state, and “we are all he has left to defend him,” Žižek writes.
As Miriam Schneir pointed out in “The Law Being Used to Prosecute Julian Assange” (The Nation) and as Edward Snowden similarly explained on a DemocracyNow! interview (5 December 2019), Washington has used the 1917 Espionage Act to criminalize the publishing of true information in the case of whistleblowers such as Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning, Snowden, and now in the case of Julian Assange. Schneir writes that Assange “is now accused of publishing the Manning documents on his WikiLeaks website. This is a far more serious matter—the first time in the history of the United States that the publication of truthful information has been defined as a crime.” In other words, we are talking about a journalist who may be prosecuted for journalism.
Caitlin Johnstone warns that “once the Assange precedent has been set by the US government, the US government isn’t going to be relying on your personal definition of what journalism is; they’re going to be using their own, based on their own interests.” When Mike Pompeo was Trump’s CIA director, he pulled out of his pocket a nonsense definition of Assange with no basis in law: a “hostile non-state intelligence service.” Yes, informing people about U.S. war crimes is hostile from the perspective of the U.S. government, but how can Assange be an intelligence service if he is serving everyone in the world who has Internet access?
WikiLeaks Showed Us How Washington Deceives Japan
Let us look at how WikiLeaks has improved our understanding of the ways in which Washington (mis)treats its most important ally, Japan. Assange’s non-hostile service, including a “public library of US diplomacy,” has greatly expanded our understanding of how Washington exploits Japanese people.
Edward Snowden, a truth-teller who helped Washington for many years, alerted us to the fact that Washington was backstabbing Japan. For example, we heard in Oliver Stone’s film “Snowden” that if Japan went “rogue” and stopped obeying Washington, they could shut down Japan’s power grid. Snowden also informed us that Washington was spying on everyone around the world, including the people of allied states such as Japan.
By sharing the cables that exposed wrongdoing, WikiLeaks has again confirmed for those of us in Northeast Asia that Washington is not to be trusted, even by precious allies like Japan, despite the fact that Tokyo and Washington are in constant, close consultation. The Japan-based journalist David McNeill quotes a Japanese newspaper: “The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and the State Department exchanged 5,697 diplomatic cables between 2006 and 2010 (226 of them secret), the third largest number from any diplomatic mission after Ankara and Baghdad: The cables include classified documents on Okinawa, diplomatic relations with North Korea and China, and joint ballistic missile defense.” That is an average of four messages per day.
An expert on US bases in Okinawa, Japan, Maedomari Hironori emphasizes how strange the Washington-Tokyo relationship is: “Right in the middle of the metropolis of Tokyo there exists a giant base for another country’s military, and although Japan is put in a subservient position with respect to Washington, none of the citizens of Japan are concerned about this. They approve of this US privilege. Nobody knows how often occupying troops are forgiven for the violation of our laws. US military aircraft are guaranteed free passage through the air space of our territory. And they get a free pass when they fly at low altitudes in residential areas.” (September 2018 issue of the progressive political magazine Sekai)
Through WikiLeaks, however, we received solid confirmation that what Washington really cares about is the “relocation of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station on Okinawa and providing funds for USMC-related facilities on Guam.” (Quoted by Shorrock in The WikiLeaks Files). Those are the words of the US embassy in Tokyo in a secret cable to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when it was reported that the purpose of her trip was supposed to be offering “reassurance” to the Japanese government that We were on their side.
“Cough up the cash,” America says to its sidekick Japan. Shorrock notes that Japanese taxpayers were supposed to provide $900 million for the “USMC-related facilities on Guam.” From that same cable we learn that “our,” i.e., Tokyo and Washington’s, “missile defense cooperation is moving forward quickly and we are increasing bilateral planning coordination and intelligence sharing.” Many astute observers had already gathered as much, but it is one thing for a newspaper journalist to say it, and quite another to see the Bully Government saying it.
Perhaps the “missile defense cooperation” and “intelligence sharing” here encompassed Japan’s interest in purchasing the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile defense system or Aegis Ashore. (In the end, Japan went with Aegis Ashore). Assange has suggested that the US provoked North Korea, such as through its war games, so that North Korea would continue to develop nukes and missiles and the US would have an excuse to install THAAD in South Korea. And he criticized the deployment of THAAD in South Korea in the context of US relations with China. (There is a concern that “since China sees THAAD as actually directed at it, Beijing may well respond by expanding its arsenal of nuclear-tipped missiles”. In short, the leaked cables show Washington manipulating both South Korea and Japan in order to sell them THAAD and Aegis, complements of Lockheed Martin.
In the case of Japan, Okinawa is Japan’s “sacrifice zone,” gifted to the US military, and now used as a U.S. training center for Middle East wars. But many Japanese and a few good Americans would like to know more specifics, about in what manner Tokyo is pressured to manipulate Okinawa, to violate the constitution of Japan, block democracy, and continue their assault on the living things of the ocean in Henoko, Okinawa. As Maedomari sees it, we do not know about who is responsible for what, and there is no accountability in Okinawa, because discussions between Washington and Tokyo are hidden in a kind of “black box.”
The face that Washington presents to the world is very different from the face that we get a glimpse of through WikiLeaks cables. WikiLeaks confirmed that the NSA has spied on Japanese companies, too. As early as 1999, it was rumored in Japan that Washington’s Ladylove satellite communications interception facilities at Misawa Air Base were part of the ECHELON civilian telecommunications monitoring program. We heard that surveillance at the Base allowed the US to gather intelligence from conversations held at the prime minister’s residence in Tokyo. At the time it sounded crazy, but WikiLeaks has confirmed that it is true: Our Government spies on elite Japanese politicians as well as major Japanese firms. But Tokyo’s special “client state” relationship with Washington is so precious to Japan’s elites that the Japanese government could only muster up the courage to call this violation of trust “deeply regrettable.”
“Clothed in the rhetoric of civility, they continue to enact Manifest Destiny,” Nozomi Hayase writes in “Imprisoned Light of Our Civilization that Kindled the Heart of Democracy,” in In Defense of Julian Assange. Yes. Our Government with its War Machine continues to implement the Open Door Policy. But this must be hidden from the eyes of Washington’s closest allies, both the governments and their citizens, if it is to succeed. Hayase exposes the lack of free exchange of information and ideas in Japan when she writes that WikiLeaks “allows marginalized perspectives to come forward and challenge the claims of professional journalists.” Hardly any such journalists in Japan have written about Assange or quoted WikiLeaks cables. (See also Hayase’s CounterPunch essay.) The anonymous Japanese journalist quoted by David McNeill may be right that journalists in Japan “do not approve of what Assange did.”
It is through the work of WikiLeaks that Japanese can see how Our Government is complicit in supporting Their Government’s illegal whale killing; They can see how Their Government communicated to Our Government their preference for a “divided Korean peninsula to one reunified under Seoul” (McNeill); They can see that Their Government is bending to pressure from Our Government to start selling weapons overseas, that Washington wants Japan to sell the “sophisticated system known as the SM-3 (a ship-based missile system) to other nations, possibly including South Korea,” even if Japan is forced to “rewrite its tight restrictions on weapons exports, which have been a pillar of the nation’s post-World War II pacifism” (McNeill); and They can see that Tokyo is backstabbing the hibakusha (A-bomb survivors) with the help of Washington elites who feel no remorse for Truman’s war crime. In 2001 we in Japan learned from WikiLeaks that the US Ambassador to Japan cabled then Secretary of State Clinton about the idea of Obama apologizing to Japanese: “Both governments must temper the public’s expectations on such issues, as the idea of President Obama visiting Hiroshima to apologize for the atomic bombing during World War II is a ‘non-starter.’” This showed everyone in Japan that Tokyo’s efforts on behalf of the hibakusha were a “sham,” as one representative of the Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition called them.
The Bully never misses an opportunity to raise the stakes and run toward the precipice of the disaster of war in Northeast Asia. Japan and South Korea already pay for most of Our expenses incurred at the bases that they host, but when asked, “How much should we give?” Washington only replies, “More more more.” It is poetic justice that the greedy billionaire Trump is the spokesperson for Our Greedy Government and Greedy Corporations, demanding of Japan and of South Korea that they pay five times more. At least the South Koreans are outraged.
A number of people, including John Pilger, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer, and Editor-In-Chief of WikiLeaks Kristinn Hrafnsson have informed us that Julian Assange’s health is being ruined, i.e., knocked down by years of being stuck in unhealthy physical environments and undergoing psychological abuse. Melzer said, “My most urgent concern is that, in the United States, Mr. Assange would be exposed to a real risk of serious violations of his human rights, including his freedom of expression, his right to a fair trial and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” In his view, these governments (including the US, the UK, and Sweden) are “ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse” Assange.
The problem for Washington is that if Assange successfully pulls off this bee sting without getting his head cut off, other journalists will follow in his footsteps. Even Japanese, who mostly trust Washington, might start to ask, “What’s in it for us?” when Washington twists their arm demanding they pay more for Washington’s empire. They might start to wonder if the US-Japan Security Treaty (anpo) is all that it is cracked up to be. Worst of all, more Japanese may start dropping their prejudices against Okinawans, line up alongside them, and collectively say no to Japan’s participation in Washington’s endless wars.
In Japan, there is less free flow of information than in the US, and therefore, the information that Assange and WikiLeaks provide us is an especially precious resource. Japanese and Americans, rise to the occasion, for the sake of the freedom of the press, if not for the sake of a great journalist who is being unjustly abused.
Many thanks to Stephen Brivati for comments, suggestions, and editing.