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Assange’s Epitaph

Read Nick Cohen in the Observer, in full.

David Leigh and Luke Harding’s history of WikiLeaks describes how journalists took Assange to Moro’s, a classy Spanish restaurant in central London. A reporter worried that Assange would risk killing Afghans who had co-operated with American forces if he put US secrets online without taking the basic precaution of removing their names. “Well, they’re informants,” Assange replied. “So, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.” A silence fell on the table as the reporters realised that the man the gullible hailed as the pioneer of a new age of transparency was willing to hand death lists to psychopaths. They persuaded Assange to remove names before publishing the State Department Afghanistan cables. But Assange’s disillusioned associates suggest that the failure to expose “informants” niggled in his mind.

It is hard to believe now, but honest people once worked for WikiLeaks for all the right reasons. Like me, they saw the site as a haven; a protected space where writers could publish stories that authoritarian censors and libel lawyers would otherwise have suppressed.

James Ball joined and thought that in his own small way he was making the world a better place. He realised that WikiLeaks was not what it seemed when an associate of Assange – a stocky man with a greying moustache, who called himself “Adam” – asked if he could pull out everything the State Department documents “had on the Jews”. Ball discovered that “Adam” was Israel Shamir, a dangerous crank who uses six different names as he agitates among the antisemitic groups of the far right and far left. As well as signing up to the conspiracy theories of fascism, Shamir was happy to collaborate with Belarus‘s decayed Brezhnevian dictatorship. Leftwing tyranny, rightwing tyranny, as long as it was anti-western and anti-Israel, Shamir did not care.

Nor did Assange. He made Shamir WikiLeaks’s representative in Russia and eastern Europe. Shamir praised the Belarusian dictatorship. He compared the pro-democracy protesters beaten and imprisoned by the KGB to football hooligans. On 19 December 2010, the Belarus-Telegraf, a state newspaper, said that WikiLeaks had allowed the dictatorship to identify the “organisers, instigators and rioters, including foreign ones” who had protested against rigged elections.

There’s also this:

Once we have repeated Orwell’s line that “so much of leftwing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot”, there is work to do. First, there needs to be relentless pressure on the socialist socialites and haggard soixante-huitards who cheered Assange on. Bianca Jagger, Jemima Khan, John Pilger, Ken Loach and their like are fond of the egotistical slogan “not in my name.” They are well-heeled and well-padded men and women who know no fear in their lives. Yet they are happy to let their names be used by Assange as he brings fear into the lives of others.

We should add to that roll call, the red-faced parody of a media lawyer, Mark Stephens.

Assange, like any man accused of a crime, has a right to the best legal advice that his celebrity supporters’ money can buy. However, Stephens went well beyond what is proper for a solicitor to say and do. In particular, his repeated insistence that the complaints of the women with whom he’d had unprotected sex, despite their requests, were a “honey trap” conspiracy by the Swedish and American governments, were an utter disgrace.

Unbelievably, Mark Stephens is still a trustee of Index on Censorship. Index on Censorship’s staff have been working hard to protect the freedom of expression of the critics of the Belarus dictatorship: the very people who Wikileaks have delivered to their Lukashenko. No solidarity for them: just conspiracy theories.

Isn’t it now time Stephens stepped down?

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