August 21, 2012 · 1 Comments
Above: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange addresses the press and his supporters from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London Sunday. Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images
By Murray Polner:
Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ driving force, recently stepped out on a balcony on August 19 at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he currently resides as a refugee. On the next day the Times, generally critical about WikiLeaks and its founder, chose to publish an Op Ed by Anita Isaacs, author of The Politics of Military Rule and Transition in Ecuador. In it she directs the argument away from the justice or injustice of the relentless pursuit of Assange and turns instead to Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa. The pursuit of Assange, she wrote, has “little to do with protecting Mr. Assange’s right to a fair trial or freedom of the press” but rather Correa’s effort to “make a power play for a leadership role on the Latin American left” and “his potential for regional leadership beyond Ecuador’s borders.” So much for Assange.
Correa, we are informed, with some truth, is no friend of unbridled liberty at home – perhaps, I might inject, a bit more tolerant than what many of our historic Latin American friends have practiced. She adds, “In asserting Ecuadorean sovereignty and defying [my italics] the United States, President Correa is also vying for hemispheric leadership.” One imagines a potentially potent Ecuador might yet become another leftwing menace to American economic and military interests. (Overlooked almost everywhere in the Times and elsewhere these days is right-wing Honduras’s recent coup against a democratically elected president, a coup blinked at by the U.S. and especially what Honduras is doing these days to preserve freedom of dissent). By harboring Assange, Isaacs argues, Correa is using him as an “opportunity to settle a grudge with the United States,” mentioning his past expulsion of the U.S. ambassador for her cable, uncovered by WikiLeaks, accusing Correa of naming a crooked and malleable police chief.
Unmentioned is that his resentment goes back further to 2007, when he was asked if he would renew a U.S. base in Ecuador, and our latest prospective threat caustically replied, only if “they let us put a base in Miami—an Ecuadorian base.” Not a way to make friends up north. Most recently, the popular Correa finds defenders in Ecuador even among some of his opponents. Al Jazeera reports Fabian Corral, a frequent critic, writing in Quito’s El Comercio newspaper, “If there’s something that many people agree with [in Ecuador] it is the dislike, even the visceral hate of ‘the empire.’ The anti-American sentiment brings us together, the phobia of everything that is or may be ‘gringo,’ and by extension, European.”
Shall we now have to begin looking for future mass media reports comparing Correa and the threat of a powerful Ecuador to Hugo Chavez and the Castro brothers?
In the same issue of the Times, Ravi Somaiya’s article about Assange’s speech mentioned upfront the fact that he is wanted for questioning by Swedish authorities for allegedly raping two Swedish women, accusations he has denied and for which he has never been charged. In Sweden many of the more serious charges were originally dismissed, but were reinstated by a second prosecutor, facts unmentioned in the article. Nor that Swedish prosecutors have refused to interview Assange in London, leading to fears—real or imagined—that once returned to Stockholm he would be sent on the next SAS plane to the US to face trial. The Obama Administration, writes Somaiya quoting a White House spokesman, says it has nothing to do with the face-off in London, a remarkable statement demanding even a shred of skepticism. Which is hardly surprising given Chris Spannos’ NYTX disclosure that the newspaper’s website versions have extensively changed Somaiya’s past articles. On June 20 for example, Somaiya reported an American Grand Jury had been impaneled to investigate Assange but the final version was altered to avoid any mention of a Grand Jury, which has been widely rumored to have delivered a sealed indictment against Assange. There are many such examples.
Still, Somaiya or his web editors, ignored the Union of South American Nations’ condemnation of a British threat that it might revoke the diplomatic status of Ecuador’s embassy and legally enter the building and capture the arch-criminal. The BBC’s Will Grant described USANUR’s statement as significant because it rejected the UK’s approach as “colonialist and threatening.”
At a White House meeting earlier this year celebrating courageous foreign journalists ABC’s intrepid Jake Tapper asked Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary, why the U.S. did the reverse at home. “How, he asked, “does that square with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the U.S. by using the Espionage Act to take whistleblowers to court?” The Obama administration has brought more criminal cases for alleged leaking than all other presidential administrations combined. Tapper could just as well have asked too why this administration and its echo chamber seem obsessed with Assange, the digital rebel Assange. Tapper added: You want aggressive journalism abroad; you just don’t want it in the United States.”
Happily, the Times decided to run a pro-Assange Op Ed the very next day, a rather rare instance of trying to balance Op Ed writers’ views with a counter Op Ed. Written by leftists Michael Moore and Oliver Stone, it contends that if the U.S. chooses to prosecute a non-American journalist where none of his dealings occurred on U.S. territory, then “ the governments of Russia and China could, by the same logic, demand that foreign reporters anywhere on earth be extradited for violating their laws.”
Julian Assange has been and remains an American fixation as it works hard behind the scenes to have him shipped someday to Washington to stand trial for posting secret documents. If found guilty he could face a possible life and perhaps even a death sentence while top level actors in Washington’s recent administrations have been forgiven for their lies, torture, killings and eternal wars. That’s a question courageous Times reporters should also be digging into.
Murray Polner co-authored with Thomas Woods Jr., We Who Dared To Say No To War (Basic Books)