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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Assange, Snowden, Manning: Speaking Truth To Power, Suffering the Consequences

It is a year since Julian Assange, head of the Wikileaks website, was offered refuge in the London embassy of Ecuador, and just a few days since Edward Snowden sought the relative safety of Hong Kong in the wake of his revelations of the National Security Agency's (NSA) snooping operations in collaboration with internet giants like Google. Meanwhile Bradley Manning is on trial for passing confidential US State Department cables to Wikileaks. The UN has accused the US of treatment amounting to torture during Manning's long incarceration, mostly in solitary confinement. Several other whistleblowers on the doings of the self-proclaimed leader of the free world faces charges in US courts.

Their crime? In the words of Manuel Castells, they crossed a line most of us fear and constitute “a fundamental threat to the ability to silence, on which domination has always been based.” They have disrupted the agenda of the powers that be that they are really protecting 'us' against 'them' or fighting terror or crime when so frequently they are deploying scarce resources on spying on their own people or on their own allies - as shown by recent reports of Britain's setting up fake internet cafes for G20 delegates, intercepting communications in the hope of gaining some advantage. Obama's State Department was exposed, it should be recalled, of doing much worse in regard to UN delegations, in violation of international law.

There is a lot written about the democratising impact of the internet, the empowerment of the 'little guy' who can set the agenda and get the world talking and thinking outside the dominant discourse so ably maintained by the 'news' industry. The internet revolution has created an Achille's heel for the rulers of the world - just as the revolution in military affairs created experts in assymetric warfare. But the big batallions still hold great power and will, through a combination of vilification of individuals and silence, try to restore 'order'.

I think we can truly say that the 'unipolar' moment is over when Ecudaor stands on the world's stage for the principle of free speech, and protects one of its champions, and China (for its own reasons) appears to protect from the wrath of the US the latest whistle-blower to challenge the operations of US power. It used to be that the United States stood as the safe haven of the persecuted, open to those yearning to breathe free, and London the place of refuge of all kinds of people who needed a place to be - from disgraced dictators like Metternich to revolutionary exiles like Karl Marx. 

Today, those who stand for liberty seem to flee the US, and Britain warns airlines in Hong Kong to refuse passage to London to Snowden.

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