The Sham of Democracy

December 21, 2010

December 21, 2010

by Shashwat Sinha

Truth is potent, truth is dangerous. Truth is what most governments fear and over times they have shrouded it from the masses in the cloak of secrecy. Under the garb of secrecy, they have committed most heinous crimes against humanity with an utter disrespect for human life, values and dignity. WikiLeaks, a four year old online non-profit media organization undertook to subvert the secrecy regime that spawn all kinds of evils and expose all such ‘secret’ documents of the governments all over the world. More specifically, it undertook to disclose a trove of secret US diplomatic cables about 400,000 in number, highest ever released in the US history, and that has won it international praise and condemnation. WikiLeaks call themselves ‘transparency activists,’ and in the words of its founder Julian Assange, its Editor-in-Chief, only transparent governments can be just governments. Julian Assange, to shield its employees became the face of WikiLeaks and today faces one of the most vicious and malicious campaign against himself for publishing leaked secret diplomatic cables and documents which have put the most powerful governments to shameful embarrassment. WikiLeaks calls it “scientific journalism” where all their articles have proof alongside. While WikiLeaks has riled some powerful governments who want nothing less than Julian Assange’s head, many other governments have come out to openly defend Assange and have made a case for freedom of speech. Vladimir Putin ridiculed the US administration for its false pretense of upholding democracy and freedom of speech on one hand and filing a criminal case against Assange on the other. Ecuador offered an unconditional asylum to Assange. WikiLeaks exposed how the US staged an unsuccessful coup in Ecuador. It is interesting to note that though whistle-blowing is encouraged around the world, only three countries in the world have laws to protect whistle-blowers, rest all prosecute whistle-blowers.

The gaping hole between what the political leaders and governments say in private and in public has sent a wave of disbelief, anger, frustration, disgust and a deep feeling of deception among general public especially in Europe and Middle East. The US, which comes out as the biggest culprit and a pathological liar in the leaks has not seen as much of mass or media reaction as Europe and Middle East has seen. Instead, the mainstream media in the US (except NYT, that published the leaks) quietly deferred to and stood by the official line and made its contribution in demonizing Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. All major news channels have shown several American leaders (including Canadian) who have in not so subtle terms proposed and demanded assassination of Julian Assange. The US and other West European governments scrambled to implicate Julian Assange by bringing some false charge against him and what they could come up with in Sweden (under intense US pressure) was the issue of use of protection in consensual sex! It was not even a sex crime and Interpol was alerted for it with an international arrest warrant issued! Swedish law should become a laughing stock for the entire world. This is nothing but an extremely vicious smear campaign against Julian Assange. According to Daniel Ellsberg (of Pentagon Papers fame), it’s déjà vu; in one of his recent interviews he said that he was the target of a very similar smear campaign when he released Pentagon Papers which also included false sex charges and vilification. The moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the ruling elites and administration is obscenely displayed by their extremely perverse strategy to frame Julian Assange. They could not come up with anything decent or engage him in any meaningful debate. Assange was finally arrested in Britain but then got bail. Sweden challenged the bail.

The online community vowed to take it to the next level and declared cyber war on organizations that aimed to harm WikiLeaks. “Operation Payback,” as the hactivists (hacker-activist) called these cyber wars have already managed to stall the PayPal and MasterCard websites when these financial firms dropped WikiLeaks from their services. However, an executive of PayPal said in an interview that a US state Department circular intimated PayPal that activities of WikiLeaks were deemed illegal and consequently PayPal was forced to drop WikiLeaks. Amazon was forced to drop WikiLeaks in a similar fashion. The hactivists are setting up and alternative portal to transfer money to WikiLeaks from personal accounts; WikiLeaks runs only on donation. Christine Assange, Julian Assange’s mother, was quoted as saying she was worried for her son because ”massive forces” were ranged against him. Supporters of Julian Assange have been demonstrating for his release. As Reuters reported, WikiLeaks supporters wore masks of the “Anonymous” internet activists and an Assange mask, at a rally in Malaga, Spain. The hactivists have taken to strongly defend the freedom of speech and have changed the rules of engagement in this cyber war.

The leaks are so sweeping that the focus and the propaganda has been to kill the messenger than pay any attention on the message. It reminds of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The leaked cables show how disconnected is the opinion of ruling elite from what masses think. In the Middle East leaders of Saudi region have repeatedly asked the US for waging a war against Iran as they hawkishly see Iran as a threat. This is quite removed from the public opinion in the Middle East where Iran and also Ahmadinejad enjoys support of more than 80% of the population in the region. It is also revealing how some governments like Yemen’s, openly invited the US to bomb their own populations while calling the airstrikes as their own in public. Pakistan falls in the same category where Pakistani authorities supported drone attacks in private saying they did not care much about ‘collateral’ damage but they need to oppose the attacks in their National Assembly. The British government assured the US administration that no case for war crimes would be brought against George Bush or any of his cohorts. The war crimes were constantly shielded whereas the public stance was exactly opposite to assuage huge anti-war sentiment in Britain. If it was not for WikiLeaks we would have never known the death of additional 15,000 Iraqis in the Iraq War. The Iraq and Afghanistan ‘War Logs’ released by WikiLeaks have put in black and white how hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians were killed in these wars; how many times, civilians were targeted under the false pretext of catching extremists. The ‘night raids’ in Afghanistan have been the deadliest attacks on the civilian population of Afghanistan where innocent civilians have been killed in the name of combating Taliban leaders. The torture memos of the US administration are out which are illegal under international law. The revelations have riled the powerful governments to no end especially the US. Its nasty, covert activities in Latin America are well known where it has tried to overthrow every democratically elected government but the leaks also point to its operations in African continent where the US discussed ways to oust Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. The leaked diplomatic cables also show how the US supports extremely corrupt Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan (a former Soviet state which now has medieval conditions of living with rampant corruption, indentured servitude and organized crime) because he allows a crucial military line to Afghanistan. It extends to climate talks; the recent WikiLeaks expose’ shows how the US pressured poor countries to accept weak and flawed climate deals in return for miniscule aid.

Barack Obama condemned WikiLeaks in a call to the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, where he expressed “his regrets for the deplorable action by WikiLeaks.” He was trying to mend diplomatic ties with Turkey which was mentioned in the diplomatic cables of US as not a reliable partner despite Turkey’s almost unconditional support to US for decades. It is instructive to remember that Turkey had declined the US request of providing its territories as a base to attack Iraq, under the pressure of its own population. Obama expressed similar sentiments in a call to his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderon, where he was most forceful yet again against the website. It was President Obama who during his election campaign had said, “For a long time now, there’s been too much secrecy in this city,” and had promised end of the secrecy regime. But the charade, a mere political theater to distract and placate the masses wore off under the light of leaks. This is what WikiLeaks has done, to uncover the charade and expose the truth. The diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks show unequivocally that the new administration began lying to the public almost immediately after Obama assumed office, and withheld important information that the US public (and many nations around the world) had the right to know and the need to know.

WikiLeaks has eroded the (so called) moral authority of the US in the world and that has caused the strongest reaction from the corridors of power in the US. Ironically the Attorney General of the US, Eric Holder, filed a criminal case of “spying” against Assange when the leaked cables show that the US itself has been involved in extensive spying of international leaders including UN’s General Secretary Ban-Ki Moon. The US embassies have not only spied to get crucial diplomatic information but also have indulged in collecting most personal information going to the extent of getting DNA samples. The cables reveal that the Secretary of State for the US, Hillary Clinton and her predecessor Condoleezza Rice, both ordered for extensive spying beyond any diplomatic norms. Fortunately, some of the extremely ludicrous demands like of “treason” were not pursued as Assange is not even a US citizen. The cables show in the words of Noam Chomsky “utter contempt of our leaders for anything democratic.” Chomsky along with others has signed an appeal to the Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard to give protection to Julian Assange who is an Australian citizen and not shamelessly follow US dictates. She now faces terrible opposition within her own party for towing the US line.

Some other countries and regions where massive corruption and injustices were exposed include Peru, Spain, Australia, Kenya, Germany, Western Africa and Iceland among others. Oil magnates of Peru were exposed, the false Australian law to control websites was exposed, Spanish government’s capitulation to US pressure for not prosecuting torture of its own citizen and death of its own journalist was exposed, capture and torture of a German grocer by CIA was exposed, and the list goes on. The leaks led to investigations and prosecutions of bankers in Iceland who caused biggest financial meltdown in Iceland. It is interesting to note that Assange’s arrest process sped up when WikiLeaks declared that their next big target was to expose financial institutions and big banks in the US. WikiLeaks has committed some minor mistakes and has taken some missteps in its short life span but overall the amount of injustice and corruption that it has exposed around the world in such short period of time is extremely commendable and shows its deep commitment and courage to stand up against powerful factions of the world alone.

The Indian administration in its medieval imperialistic style followed the US line and condemned WikiLeaks. Shashi Tharoor, former minister of state for external affairs, called the leaks “unethical and wrong. The confidentiality of government communications is the lifeblood of diplomatic comfort,” Tharoor told a local reporter. He also added, “You do not effectively run a government if your own diplomats cannot report to their own capitals in utter candor.” Other commentators however have called for an Indian version of the leak, arguing that the Indian bureaucracy was one of the most opaque in the world and could only benefit from public scrutiny. India was portrayed as a reliable country in the leaked cables.

The WikiLeaks expose’ has laid bare the sham of democracy we live in. Subconsciously, it is quite disheartening and deeply depressing to discover that what we knew all along now has written proof. It is maddening and revolting to know that we have been outraged all along, the oligarchs and plutocrats have replaced the erstwhile monarchies with a clever device of ‘democracy.’ The history and material realities have led the world to evolve in a way where few have ruled over many. Despite stupendous efforts in the last century by masses to achieve some semblance of democracy, the world still seems to be quite far from it. From monarchies to dictatorship to ‘democratic’ governments, the ruling elites have basically treated the teeming populations as ‘rabble’ that they have controlled with a whip. And that’s what WikiLeaks is exposing by publishing hundreds of thousands of “secret” government cables and documents all around the world. It is also important to note that WikiLeaks is just publishing the documents whereas the unsung heroes are those who are leaking these documents also at great personal risk. Bradley Manning, a soldier in the US army who first leaked all the secret cables is now facing trial in the US and credit must go to such conscientious objectors who are doing all in their power to stop their powerful governments and keep the flame of democracy from extinguishing.

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