Julian Assange is the Man of the Year.
Without a doubt, Julian Assange has been one of the most exciting, reviled and infamous characters to surface in 2010.
As the founder of WikiLeaks, he has signaled that our democracies are not democracies at all, but instead power structures disguised as such.
WikiLeaks and Assange exploded into the public consciousness in late July when the site leaked 90,000 pages of classified information about the war in Afghanistan. The NSA condemned the leak as an affront to U.S. national security, but could not cite any wrongdoing. Julian Assange became a pariah overnight.
In July, WikiLeaks made headlines again for commenting on the Pentagon’s bizarre initiative to burn all copies of the book “Operation Dark Heart,” which was alleged to leak classified information. WikiLeaks responded by calling the Pentagon “Nazi Punks.”
Throughout the rest of the summer and early fall, Assange force fed the public information it seemed unwilling to stomach. Unlike Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers, Assange’s testimonies were met with shrugged shoulders as opposed to a full-blown cultural revolution, despite Obama’s fumbling Afghan war coupled with his unbelievable Wall Street pardon. In fact, Assange’s spirited offense against the powers that be became more appealing to the public than the facts his organization revealed. The undercurrent of WikiLeaks dominated the conversation both online and off: How crazy is Julian Assange?
In the last weekend of November, WikiLeaks released earth-shattering memos from a trove of 250,000 confidential cables. They revealed how the U.S. and the rest of the international community function. The public discourse does not resemble the private. Politicians, as a rule, mislead their constituents. U.S. officials speak and act no better than the characters in the film “Mean Girls.”
Julian Assange has done nothing illegal. If he had, the international law enforcement community would not have to rely on spurious sexual assault charges to arrest him, which they did earlier today in London. The United States has successfully caused every vendor associated with WikiLeaks, from Amazon to PayPal, to withdraw their support of the site. Yet WikiLeaks remains operational, despite government oppression and Assange’s arrest.
21st Century Journalism
The celebrated New York Times columnist David Brooks cast Assange as a vandal that has damaged the United States as well as the global conversation. “As journalists,” he wrote, “[we] have a professional obligation to share information that might help people make informed decisions.” Assange has helped many people make informed decisions.
Brooks took a similar stance when inconspicuously lambasting Michael Hastings after his famous Rolling Stone profile revealed General Stanley McChrystal to be little more than a functioning psychopath. “Washington floats on a river of aspersions,” he wrote before lamenting that, “the culture of exposure has triumphed, with results for all to see.”
Transparency is not evil. Journalists should not be the handmaidens of political impropriety. Not beholden to the regulations of a for-profit corporation or the endless search for ad dollars, WikiLeaks has done something novel: distributed the unvarnished truth.
Hillary Clinton has stepped into the spotlight as the U.S. watchdog in the race against WikiLeaks. Obama has been silent. He has not issued a single comment on WikiLeaks, most likely because in January of 2009, he altered the Freedom of Information Act. Obama said, “The government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.”
From the above statement, even a gifted orator as shrewd as Obama would have a tough time reversing course. In fact, statements like these, from the leader of the free world no less, are precisely what allows men like Julian Assange to exist on the national stage in the first place.
Who Watches the Watchmen?
The WikiLeaks cables have revealed the world’s governing officials to be, on a whole, petty two-faced backstabbers. Why do we persist in publicly supporting Karzai in Afghanistan after our highest-ranking officials have deemed him useless and dangerous? Why on earth do elected and appointed government officials traffic in treachery and deceit on official U.S. wires (supplied for by taxpayer dollars)? Why is the U.S. spying on foreign dignitaries at the behest of the Secretary of the State? Who watches the watchmen?
The Artifice of Power
One of WikiLeaks’ greatest feats is that it has revealed the crumbling machinery of power behind the shimmering artifice. Nearly everyone from America to China is dazzled by the power of government—the projection of power—which they believe is the mirror of their own power.
At the core of democratic government, however, there is the dark feeling amongst average people that they have lost control (perhaps from the very beginning) of a game that is now but an obsession with the preservation of power and the terror of death. Maybe it always was in America, though one might argue that Teddy Roosevelt set America on its current course.
WikiLeaks reveals the artifice of power by amplifying these obsessions with control, such that it is all made visible through technology and in concert by way of international cooperation. All governments see Assange and WikiLeaks as a threat. Strangely, there is no talk of Islamic terrorism–that specter of existential threat to all human beings. That is because the true existential threat now has been made manifest: the threat to government.
It is as if world leaders in politics and finance smell the vapors of the putrefaction of their own power. Any threat to that power now–thanks to legislation and the power of words post-9/11–can be made into a terrorist threat. Assange becomes the world’s terrorist not because he is using the violent force of technology as a means of mass death, but because he’s using the subversive force of technology to reveal the truth.
He has managed to pull back the curtain, like some master magician, on the hallucinatory spell of power, and the world’s leaders hate him for it.
The word ‘globalism’ has achieved near ubiquity as this decade’s “it” word. But for all the images of a global village working in harmony the word evokes, the mechanics of globalism mostly manifest in an ever more-daily clash over countries’ conflicting interests, brought into closer proximity by world-shrinking technology.
However, Julian Assange unwittingly revealed the priorities that bring about true governmental globalism. WikiLeaks’ sensitive documents effectively corralled intransigent governments unwilling to compromise over major issues like climate change into cooperation over a common goal: silencing the free flow of information.
For once governments as disparate as The US and China, North Korea and Sweden, all had something to agree on. The swiftness with which Interpol’s arrest warrant was executed is testament to the power of international cooperation given the right motivation. This year Assange exposed where the real governmental capacity for globalism lies—for better or worse.
Fuck the Police
Up until today, Assange has systematically dodged international law enforcement. He has kept his website alive despite the policing of the U.S. government and the intense pressure it can place on corporations. (As an aside, the government’s influence on Amazon and PayPal proves that the U.S. puts pressure on major corporations only when it wants to. Keep this in mind the next time you’re contemplating why Wall Street bonuses are back to pre-crisis levels while you’re figuring out how to pay your rent and student loan debt in the face of your pay cut or salary freeze.)
To put it bluntly, United States citizens should be sickened by the the fact that Julian Assange has been arrested and denied bail while Osama bin Laden is still at large.
Editor’s Note: We understand the potential sensitivity of nominating a man currently under investigation for rape charges as Man of the Year. However, the timing of these charges is highly suspicious—as are the deleted tweets by his accuser, Anna Ardin. The media has favored the paradoxical explanation of “consensual sex turning into non-consensual sex,” which is highly speculative. Given the intense political motivation to stop Assange, we believe these charges may prove spurious. Time will tell, but governments’ improper use of bias to bring wrongful criminal charges against Assange would prove consistent with the irrefutable behaviors exhibited in the very leaks Assange has facilitated. Our stance is to view Assange as innocent until proven guilty on this matter. That’s an American moral value—or at least it was once.
Photo illustration by Dee Grossmann.