Okay, I’m going to wade into this Wikileaks thing. I may come to regret it, but here goes.
There are a number of things that are perplexing about the whole Wikileaks drama-fest. First, why is it that people only started calling for Assange’s head, suggesting he be charged with treason (which, you can’t ‘cause he’s not a citizen of the U.S., yo), etc. when the site released the diplomatic cables? Wouldn’t it make more sense that the information about Guantanamo, Iraq, or Afghanistan would have been more sensitive than the fact that the Vatican doesn’t have smartphones? Is it really true that torture and civilian “collateral damage” death is less embarrassing to the United States than candid assessments of allies? And, if so, what the hell is wrong with us?
Then there’s that sexual assault thing. There’s no doubt that Assange is full of himself (if his OKCupid profile were still up, you could see for yourself, but here’s a Forbes post about it). So it’s actually pretty believable that he did that thing that dudes do sometimes and didn’t pay particularly close attention to what his partners wanted him to do or not do when they had sex, taking what was actually a specific kind of consent to be a free-for-all. And because he (allegedly) did that in Sweden, it’s considered sexual assault. There’s an interesting analysis over at Feministe.
Now, does the U.S. benefit from the way the accusation works to discredit Assange? Absolutely. You can see how free-speech-and-democracy advocates have rallied behind him and even posted his bail. Does he deserve to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, as his supporters have argued? Also absolutely.
But the people who are arguing that these women have “cried rape” at the prompting of the U.S. government just to put Assange out of commission are reprehensible. Way to reproduce the idea that rape is just something women make up to hurt men, y’all. What decade is this? Shouldn’t assault victims be presumed truthful until proven mendacious? People are really not going to talk about being violated lightly.
Assange can be an asshole who thinks he’s god’s gift to women, the universe, and everyone in his personal life and still a great crusader for openness in government; in fact, the evidence I’ve seen so far suggests that that’s exactly the case. We don’t have to deny one to make the other one true, and the chatter in comments happening at places like TechCrunch suggests that people aren’t recognizing that he can be both.
That TechCrunch post points to the last thing that I’m finding weird about this whole incident. The title asks, “Hey, Assange’s Celeb Supporters, What Time’s Your Protest Outside Quantico? Oh.” It’s a good point. Popular, celebrity, and activist support has been strangely lacking for PFC Bradley Manning. Under military law, it seems, he doesn’t get to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but it doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t still be held so in the court of public opinion.
If Manning did do what he’s accused of, that doesn’t actually make the situation any more clear-cut. As people have pointed out, though passing on the information is a violation of military and civilian laws and chargeable as treason, there’s an argument to be made that in making the information public the leaker (Manning or otherwise) was actually staying true to the spirit of democracy.
Knowing that things were being done that were in violation of everything the military and the nation are supposed to stand for, the leaker can be seen as loyal even to the point of sacrifice (the penalty for treason being execution) rather than traitorous. But that’s not the story that’s being told.
Presumed-guilty-Manning’s story isn’t being told much at all, in fact, because Assange’s is so much flashier and more star-studded. As a culture, we seem to generally be concerned about the injustice being apparently done to one relatively powerful man and not the women who may have been violated or the soldier who may be executed.
In a sense, with the Assange circus, the whole point of Wikileaks—holding the powerful accountable—is getting lost.