THE DARK SIDE OF WIKILEAKS?
by Bill Weinberg, World War 3 Illustrated
The case of Bradley Manning is a morally stark one. Even the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has censured the United States for its harsh measures against the young man who blew the cover on US atrocities in Iraq through WikiLeaks.
But the voluminous trove of classified diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks goes far beyond the "Collateral Murder" incident in Iraq. The release of most of this information can be justified in the name of the public's right to know.
However, rights advocates have raised fears that some of the revelations may have placed pro-democracy dissidents at risk in authoritarian regimes. Worse, a WikiLeaks "accredited journalist" is accused of actively collaborating with a dictator. WikiLeaks has failed to meaningfully respond to charges of complicity with grave human rights abuses in Belarus, the country dubbed "Europe's last dictatorship."
In unrest following the evidently stolen elections of December 2010, strongman Alexander Lukashenko (ruling since 1994) had some 600 protesters and dissidents rounded up. Several were tortured, and the campaign to win their release brought courageous "silent protesters" repeatedly to the streets. The affair won Belarus the opprobrium of the EU, US State Department and human rights organizations, but (happily for Lukashenko) few international headlines.
Last year, the free-press advocacy group Index on Censorship raised concerns that WikiLeaks' "accredited" representative in Belarus, Israel Shamir, provided the Lukashenko regime with intelligence from US diplomatic cables to help determine who to round up. Lukashenko boasted in the state-controlled media of receiving WikiLeaks intelligence that revealed who was "working behind the scenes" in the December protests. Shamir was meanwhile boasting claims on CounterPunch website that WikiLeaks cables provided "proof positive" the protests were "orchestrated" by the State Department. (The "proof positive" consisted of some indications of a US AID contractor's involvement in money smuggling.)
Did Shamir turn over WikiLeaks cables to Lukashenko that "named names" of activists identified or cultivated by the State Department? Index on Censorship queried WikiLeaks on the issue, submitting a list of questions about what material WikiLeaks or Shamir may have provided the Lukasheno regime, and Sharmir’s official status in the WikiLeaks organization. One WikiLeaks representative responded tersely: "We have no further reports on this 'rumour/issue'." Another told Index: "Obviously it is not approved."
Adding to the controversy, Israel Shamir (widely held to be a pseudonym for the Swedish far-right writer Jöran Jermas) is a notorious and obsessive Jew-hater. The charge of anti-Semitism is of course often used unfairly against critics of Israel—but even Palestine solidarity activists have denounced Shamir, warning that association with him could hurt the movement. Shamir's website (IsraelShamir.net) avidly promotes Holocaust revisionists, and runs such non-ironic headlines as "Down With Human Rights" and "In Defense of Prejudice"—this in response to protests of Shamir's references to war-mongering "Jewish media-lords." Lukashenko, perhaps not coincidentally, has also used ugly Jew-baiting rhetoric against the opposition movement.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has not weighed in publicly on the Belarus affair. But the New York Times last March reported that he had complained of a "Jewish smear campaign" against his organization in response to protests about his association with Shamir. It should be noted that the Times used statements attributed to Assange by others—particularly the British magazine Private Eye. Assange accused the magazine of distorting his words.
Amazingly, for all the media focus on the Assange sex scandal, there has been virtually no coverage of the accusations over collaboration with the Belarus dictatorship. One rare exception was an article in the UK's New Statesman this March, noting that Assange had been invited as a guest speaker at the London premiere of a new movie on Lukashenko, Europe's Last Dictator. Writer Kapil Komireddi noted the irony of this invitation in light of charges of WikiLeaks "damaging the cause of democracy" in Belarus.
Even before the Belarus revelations, Index on Censorship raised concerns that Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai could be put at risk by WikiLeaks’ release of a cable in which a US diplomat reported his views on sanctions. Assange hardly helped when he told al-Jazeera TV that figures who visit US embassies are often "spies for the US in their countries."
But with Lukashenko's boasts (and Shamir's clear enthusiasm for Lukashenko) the Belarus case may go beyond mere WikiLeaks "blowback" to active collaboration with repression. The lack of concern with this question by WikiLeaks’ advocates on the left raises questions about a single-standard commitment to human rights.
Activists in Belarus and Zimbabwe may have illusions about US intentions—or, in desperation, may be taking allies where they can find them. But progressives in the west are unlikely to challenge their illusions by uncritically rallying around those accused of betraying them into torture chambers.
Demanding justice for Bradley Manning is imperative. So too is demanding a full accounting from WikiLeaks on its dealings with Alexander Lukashenko.
This story first appeared in the Summer 2012 edition of World War 3 Illustrated.
From our Daily Report:
Assange to Ecuador: three questions nobody (on the left) is asking
World War 4 Report, June 21, 2012
WikiLeaks makes headlines yet again —but still not Belarus connection