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December 2010, Week 2

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The Lynch-Mob Moment
By Tom Hayden
December 10, 2010

http://tomhayden.com/home/the-lynch-mob-moment.html

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
   Afghanistan;

   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
   entity;

   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?

tom haydenIt 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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