Now isn’t this interesting. Keane Bhatt of the Manufacturing Contempt blog on the website of the venerable North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) calls out the mainstream media, e.g. The Economist and the Los Angeles Times, for hypocrisy in pointing out that Rafael Correa’s Ecuador, where Julian Assange is seeking asylum, has a less than stellar record on press freedom. By contrast, Bhatt notes, no eyebrows were raised when Emilio Palacio, an editor at the Guayaquil daily El Universo who was convicted of libel against Correa in Ecuador, fled to Miami last year—despite the fact that the USA doesn’t have a stellar record on press freedom either. Bhatt points to the case of Sami al-Hajj, the Al Jazeera cameraman who was imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay for over six years before being released without charge. He also points to Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a Yemeni journalist imprisoned on dubious charges of al-Qaeda collaboration after reporting on US missile strikes. According to Jeremy Scahill in The Nation, Obama pressured the Yemeni regime to keep him locked up.
At issue in the libel case was an editorial Palacio wrote accusing Correa of “crimes against humanity” by ordering his troops to fire on a civilian hospital during the 2010 coup attempt. Bhatt notes the favorable coverage Palacio has received, e.g. on National Public Radio. But he also downplays the nature of the case against him in Ecuador, writing only that he was “sued by Correa.” In fact, as Huffington Post and BBC News noted, he was convicted of criminal charges, and faced prison time in his home country, as well as millions of dollars in damages.
Bhatt also says Palacio’s claim was made “without a shred of evidence.” In fact, the hospital in question was that in which Correa was being held during the abortive coup, and shots were exchanged when he was rescued by forces loyal to him—although no patients were hit. So, there were certainly no “crimes against humanity,” but neither was there “no evidence” for the claim that Correa’s forces had fired on a hospital. Bhatt also calls out Palacio’s editorial for referring to the democratically elected Correa as a “dictator.” He doesn’t note that Correa used the same rhetorical abuse, hailing the conviction of Palacio as a blow against Ecuador’s “media dictatorship” (NYT, Feb. 27).
Bhatt also links to a commentary in The Guardian which notes that Palacio and three co-defendants from El Universo were finally pardoned by Correa, and accuses human rights groups of “inventing a media crackdown in Ecuador.” Sorry, we can’t go along with that. Palacio’s case is actually the least egregious, but there is indeed a media crackdown underway in Ecuador. And as we (but few others writing in English, alas) have noted, its primary targets have not been bourgeois organs like El Universo, but Ecuador’s indigenous and campesino movement that opposes the Correa government over the free hand it has granted the resource extraction industries.
Glenn Greenwald had a similar but still more problematic piece in The Guardian last month, in which he actually rushes to the defense not only of Correa but of Vladimir Putin in accusing media critics in the West of “jingosim” in their “new-found devotion to defending civil liberties” in Latin America and Russia, even bashing Pussy Riot, one of whose singers apparently participated in “a public orgy at a Moscow museum in 2008.” Greenwald favorably quotes Russian writer Vadim Nikitin in a New York Times op-ed, who wrote that such behavior “would get you arrested just about anywhere, not just in authoritarian Russia.” Which is rather beside the point, because that’s not what Pussy Riot were charged with. And, much more to the point, progressives should be rallying around those who push the limits of free expression, not making excuses for those who repress them. Whether in the US, Russia, Latin America, or anywhere else. Those who (legitimately) point out media double standards should be wary of a slippery slope towards making excuses for repression when it is committed by the “other” side.
Which brings us back to Assange. Bhatt contrasts the sleazy Emilio Palacio with an heroic Julian Assange:
Assange has been responsible for providing the public with evidence that U.S. helicopter pilots gunned down over a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists; that Secretary of State Clinton ordered U.S. diplomats to collect private information and biometric data on key UN officials; that Yemen deceitfully took responsibility for missile attacks that the United States actually carried out; and that the Obama administration pressured Spain to terminate its torture probe of Bush officials. In response to these and many other WikiLeaks revelations of wrongdoing and dishonesty at the highest levels of government, the U.S. media either yawned or gushed.
Well, we wish we could go along with the portrayal of Assange in simple heroic terms. But again: Sorry, we can’t do that. We are still waiting for Assange and Wikileaks to give us a forthright accounting on charges of collaboration with the Belarus dictatorship. (No quotation marks necessary this time; the Minsk regime is well and truly a dictatorship.) We have aired claims that cables containing intelligence on dissidents were turned over to the security services of strongman Alexander Lukashenko during the harsh wave of repression in 2010. Index on Censorship has been virtually alone among rights watchdogs in pressing WikiLeaks and Assange on this matter, and he has still failed to come clean. When will he do so? World War 4 Report has no intention of letting this matter drop until there has been full disclosure. And until then, we will consider all the talk about “human rights” and “transparency” from Assange’s defenders to be so much empty prattle.
Finally, there is one other little matter that none of Assange’s boosters want to acknowledge: that his asylum bid is certifiably bogus, because there is no greater likelihood that he would be extradited to the US from Sweden than from Britain. We recently cited the excellent case made to this effect by legal affairs columnist David Allen Green in the New Statesman. Greenwald in The Guardian last month claims to have caught Green in a narrow error about whether Sweden could guarantee Assange no extradition to the US. Green in the New Statesman stands behind his conclusions. You judge. But we will point out that the supposed error is beside the main point anyway, and merely dodges the question of whether Sweden would be more likely to extradite than Britain
So one more time: Sorry, folks. We calls ’em as we sees ’em.