Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Lynch-Mob Moment

The Lynch-Mob Moment

By Tom Hayden

December 10, 2010


We know that conservatives are extremists for order,

but why have so many liberals lost their minds and

joined the frenzy over Julian Assange and WikiLeaks? As

the secrets of power are unmasked, there is a growing

bipartisan demand that Julian Assange must die.


Today once-liberal Democrat Bob Beckel said on FOX that

someone should  "illegally shoot the son-of-a-bitch." A

few days ago center-liberal legal analyst Jeffrey

Toobin said on CNN that Assange is "absurd, ridiculous,

delusional, and well beyond our sympathy." The

Washington Times called for treating him as an "enemy

combatant"; Rep. Peter King of the Homeland Security

Committee who wants him prosecuted as a terrorist; and

of course, Sarah Palin wants him hunted down like Osama

Bin Ladin or a wolf in Alaska.


This is a lynch-mob moment, when the bloodlust runs

over. We have this mad over-reaction many times since

the witch-burnings and Jim Crow, including the Palmer

Raids of the 1920s, the McCarthy purges of the 1950s,

the Nixon-era conspiracy trials, the Watergate break-

ins, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11.


Most Americans know now that those periods of frenzy

and scapegoating did nothing for our security but

damaged our democracy and left in their wake a

secretive National Security State.


There's wisdom in expecting calmer heads to prevail in

the WikiLeaks matter, but what can be done when the

calmer heads are going nuts or hiding in silence?


Do the frothing pundits remember that we have a legal

system in which the accused is entitled to due process,

legal representation and the right to a defense? The

first obligation of our threatened elected officials,

bureaucrats and pundits is to calm down.


No one has died as a result of the WikiLeaks

disclosures. But the escalation by the prosecutors in

this case could lead to an escalation, with more

sensitive documents being released in a retaliatory

spiral of this first cyber-war. Imprisoning the

messenger will amplify his message and further threats

of execution.


I can understand the reasonable questions that

reasonable people have about this case. It is clearly

illegal to release and distribute the 15,652 documents

stamped as "secret." Why should underground

whistleblowers have the unlimited right to release

those documents? There is a risk that some individuals

might be harmed by the release? There is a concern that

ordinary diplomatic business might be interrupted.


All fair questions. These concerns have to be weighed

against two considerations, it seems to me. First, how

important is the content of the documents? And how

serious is the secrecy system in preventing our right

to know more about the policies - especially wars -

being carried out in our name? And finally, is there a

reasonable alternative to letting the secrets mount,

such as pursuing the "transparency" agenda, which the

White House purports to support?


Let me weigh these questions with regard to the wars in

Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and the "Long War"

scenario that has occupied my full attention these past

nine years.


It will be remembered that the Iraq War was based on

fabricated evidence by U.S. and British intelligence

services, the Bush-Cheney White House, and even the New

York Times through the deceptive reporting of Judith

Miller. The leading television media invited top

military officials to provide the nightly narrative of

the war lest their be any doubts in the mesmerized

audience. Secrecy and false narratives were crucial to

the invasions, special operations, renditions,

tortures, and mass detentions that plunged us into the

quagmires where we now are stranded. The secret-keepers

were incompetent to protect our national security, even

when cables warned of an immanent attack by hijacked airliners.


The secrecy grew like a cancer on democracy. Earlier

this year, the Washington Postreported in "Top-Secret

America" that there were 854,000 people with top-

security clearances. [William Arkin, Dana Priest, "Top

Secret America", Washington Post, July 19,  2010] That

was the tip of the iceberg. The number of new secrets

rose 75% between 1996 and 2009, to 183, 224; the number

of documents using those secrets has exploded from 5.6

million in 1996 to 54.6 million last year. [Time,

December 13, 2010] The secrecy cult appears

uncontrollable: the Clinton executive order 12958

[1995] gave only twenty officials the power to stamp

documents top-secret, but those twenty could delegate

the power to 1,336 others, while a "derivative"

procedure extended the power to three million more

officials and contractors. [Time, December 13, 2010]


The 1917 U.S. espionage statute requires that Assange

received secret documents and willfully, with bad

faith, intended to harm the United States by releasing

"national defense information." That's a tough

standard. Perhaps in order to close what U.S. Attorney

General Eric Holder describes as "gaps in our laws",

the State Department on Saturday sent a letter

demanding that Assange cease the releases, return all

classified documents and destroy any records on

WikiLeaks databases. [Washington Post, November 30, 2010]


These are difficult legal hurdles for the Justice

Department under the First Amendment, but, according to

a source close to the defense with experience in such

cases, it seems clear that the US government will

prosecute Assange with every tool at their disposal,

perhaps even rendition.


"What President Obama needs is a photo of Assange in

chains brought into a federal court," the source said.


This week the Assange defense team will appeal the

London court's decision to deny bail. If that fails, he

will appear in court December 14 to face extradition to Sweden.


Assange has the right to appeal an extradition order to

the European Court of Human Rights.


He has a very strong base of support in London where

public anger over the fabrications that led to war

still runs high. An extradition fight in London could

carry on for weeks, providing an important platform for

the defense. Or the UK government could take the risk

of an accelerated emergency deportation process to send

him to Stockholm, or even the US in the most extreme scenario.


If Assange winds up in Stockholm, it could take several

weeks to fight his way through a bizarre and

complicated sexual harassment trial. Anything is

possible there, from all charges being dropped, to the

finding of a technical infraction, to jail time. Or

Sweden could make an emergency finding to extradite him

straight to the US, risking an adverse public reaction

for serving as to a handmaiden of the Pentagon.


In the atmosphere of hysteria ahead, it is important

for peace and justice advocates to remember and share

what Americans owe to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.


   1. WikiLeaks disclosed 390,136 classified documents

   about the Iraq War and 76,607 about Afghanistan so

   far. No one died as a result of these disclosures,

   one of which revealed another 15,000 civilian

   casualties in Iraq which had not been acknowledged

   or reported before;


   2. Fragmentary orders [FRAGO] 242 and 039 instructed

   American troops not to investigate torture in Iraq

   conducted by America's allies;


   3. The CIA operates a secret army of 3,000 in



   4. A secret US Task Force 373 is assigned to

   nighttime hunter-killer raids in Afghanistan;


   5. The US ambassador in Kabul says it is impossible

   to fix corruption when our ally is the corrupt



   6. One Afghan minister alone carried $52 million out

   of the country;


   7. US Special Forces operate in Pakistan without

   public acknowledgement, apparently in violation of

   that country's sovereignty;


   8. America's ally, Pakistan, is the chief protector

   of the Taliban in Afghanistan.


   9. Following secret U.S air strikes against

   suspected al-Qaeda militants, Yeme's President Ali

   Abdullah Saleh told General David Petraeus, "We'll

   continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours."


The secretive wars exposed by WikiLeaks will cost

$159.3 billion in the coming fiscal year, and several

trillion dollars since 2001.  The American death toll

in Afghanistan will reach 500 this year, or fifty per

month, for a total of 1,423, and 9,583 wounded overall

- over half of the wounded during this year alone. The

Iraq War has left 4,430 U.S. soldiers dead and 32,000

wounded as of today. The civilian casualties are

ignored, but range in the hundreds of thousands of

Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis.


Is it possible that Julian Assange is the scapegoat for

arrogant American officials who would rather point the

fingers of blame than see the blood on their own hands?

What else can explain their frenzy to see Assange dead?


t may be too late to prevent an escalation.

The lynch-mob is rabid, terrorized by what they cannot

control, completely out of balance, at their most

dangerous. If they realize their darkest desires, they

will make Assange a martyr - a "warrior for openness" -

in the new age now beginning. A legion of hackers are

fingering their Send buttons in response, and who can

say what flood they may release?


The trial of Julian Assange is becoming a trial of

secrecy itself. Wherever the line is drawn, secrecy has

become the mask of power, and without new rules, the

revolt of the hackers will continue.




Tom Hayden is the author of 17 books, a former

California state senator and a longtime peace activist.


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