Monday, December 27, 2010

Sveriges Television's Wikileaks Documentary and What It Implies About Alaska's Press

I. SVT, Sweden's major public television concern, whose motto is "free television," released a documentary on the history of Wikileaks back in the middle of December. It is now getting posted in its full Youtube version at a lot of sites. I had avoided watching it until this morning. I was told that it is troubling. It is.

I was disturbed by the images, statements and actions of so many people over the past five years. The SVT documentary presents these and other materials in context that is sorely needed, as it seems the U.S. press is fixated on the crazy reactions by U.S. politicians and media personalities to the most recent publications of documents related to American foreign policy, and to the sexual abuse charges currently standing against the organization's founder, Julian Assange.

I came away from viewing the entire hour-long documentary with a keen sense of how important Wikileaks has been worldwide, in exposing lies, corruption, cronyism and crime. One is left with no doubt that Wikileaks serves a vital and rapidly changing purpose, and that Assange and his colleagues are investigative journalists, in the finest sense of what that term means.

Wikileaks revelations about the nature of Iceland's financial meltdown, led to changes in that country's financial regulations. How the failing, criminal banksters dealt with that in the small island country, is covered in the documentary. From the first document published by Wikileaks, evidence of a Somali warlord's assassination team, to the most recent evidence of collusion between Fatah political figures and the Israeli government, the organization may have performed itself or led to more investigative journalism than every other outlet in the world put together, during those five years. But the influence goes further than journalism itself. As Noam Scheiber wrote in The New Republic this morning:
When people riff about the impact of Wikileaks, you typically hear how it’s forever changed diplomacy or intelligence-gathering. The more ambitious accounts will mention the implications for journalism, too. All of that’s true and vaguely relevant. But it also misses the deeper point. The Wikileaks revolution isn’t only about airing secrets and transacting information. It’s about dismantling large organizations—from corporations to government bureaucracies. It may well lead to their extinction.
Even though Wikileaks has had a profound effect on journalism, government regulations (in positive and negative ways) and, if Scheiber proved correct, in how large organizations are able to justify their own existence, the un-comfort level its activities gives to so-called liberals who are backing the U.S. government's authoritarian reaction to the recent leaks, is evident. In articles I've written here and elsewhere about Wikileaks, Julian Assange or Bradley Manning, I've been assailed by Obama supporters for criticizing statements of the President, his Attorney General or his Secretary of State. I can't help but think that had Bush, Gonzales or Rice made these same statements, many of my critics would have praised my observations.

Justin Raimondo wrote about this yesterday:
The international debate engendered by WikiLeaks’ ongoing publication of classified US diplomatic cables has sent most American liberals into hiding. Gone AWOL when it comes to the Obama administration’s escalation of the federal government’s war on civil liberties, mainstream liberal defenders of WikiLeaks are few and far between.

On the cable news circuit, Rachel Maddow, the supposed “foreign policy wonk,” devoted a brief segment to the issue, echoing the MSM’s party line that There’s Nothing New Here. (Earth to Rachel: Since only a small percentage of the cables have so far been published, isn’t it a little premature for such a pronouncement? Just asking .) Her fellow MSNBCer, Chris Matthews, confined himself to a few snarling comments about Julian Assange – “a rapist” – with only Keith Olbermann (who can hardly be called “mainstream,” in any event) openly defending the last remaining symbol of what had once been a free society.

Raimondo goes on to praise Glenn Greenwald, who has been the most visible defender of Wikileaks, Assange and Private Bradley Manning:

By far the most consistent and effective champion of WikiLeaks on what passes for the “left” these days has been the heroic Glenn Greenwald: not only in his widely-read columns for, but in numerous media appearances in which he has taken on the worst of the very worst – and, yes, I do indeed mean John F. Burns, of the New York Times. Glenn has been everywhere, a libertarian gladiator up against the Empire’s pundit warrior-slaves, and winning every time.

News programs which would normally interview only regimist “experts” and commentators have been forced, by the very nature of a contentious subject, to bring in someone who doesn’t toe Washington’s line, and Glenn – with his legal training and calm, reasoned demeanor – is almost singlehandedly taking on the Powers That Be in this important fight.

Another writer, not mentioned by Raimondo, who is bringing important information to light on Wikileaks and Manning, is Marcy Wheeler, whose 2007 book on the Scooter Libby trial, Anatomy of Deceit, remains the best available on that case. Wheeler has posted many articles on Wikileaks issues at her blog, emtywheel.

Wheeler has been collaborating for years with firedoglake co-founder, Jane Hamsher, who now hosts Wheeler's blog. Hamsher has created a timeline on important issues having to do with the Wikileaks case, and both Wheeler and Hamsher have contributed to firedoglake's Merged Version of Manning-Lamo Chat Logs, published this morning.

Wheeler's analysis is here.

firedoglake has also published a list of the key Wikileaks-Manning articles.

To me, the most important aspect of further scrutiny of Private Bradley Manning has been a change in my view of him. His arrest and rather harsh treatment in custody, coupled with having become more familiar with how he came to decide it was important to download classified U.S. government documents at Wikileaks convinced me he may be a genuine hero. I've come over to the view of Daniel Ellsberg:

Ellsberg said he frequently hears people praise his 1971 leak of the Pentagon's secret history of the Vietnam War while condemning the WikiLeaks disclosures. The 79-year-old former military analyst rejected that argument, calling Manning a "brother" who, if he indeed provided the documents to WikiLeaks, committed "a very admirable act."
I recorded my reaction yesterday to a person who accused Manning of being a traitor:

Manning is the same sort of traitor as Sophie Scholl.

I suppose he should have his head cut off, eh? Maybe his last words will be like hers:
How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause.

In the Nuremburg Trials, the basic charges were these:

1. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace

2 Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace

3. War crimes

4. Crimes against humanity

If Manning is indeed source for most of the WikiLeaks material that backs up illegal aspects of our war making as related to the Nuremburg charges, he had a responsibility higher than that he owes his uniform. Under the doctrine of Command Responsibility, and the case law evolving in that sphere since WWII, he could be considered to have had a duty to deal with the information he had about these past and ongoing crimes in the way he felt would most likely get the word out to agencies more likely to stop it than the nation responsible for the crimes.


Our country cries “Assassinate Assange, Hang Manning, Free Pollard!”

II. The SVT documentary mentions Sarah Palin, and Wikileaks' release of information about how Palin handled e-mails while she was Alaska's governor. You can see that segment when you watch the program. What I want to discuss here, though is something else about Alaska media and Alaska bloggers that occurred to me while viewing it.

Getting information out of our government in Alaska, or about public figures involved in the governmental agencies here, is tough. It never was easy, but it keeps getting tougher.

The Alaska government is sitting on requests or court orders to disclose thousands of documents. In some of these cases, they are in total and clear violation of Alaska laws and administrative codes. Our journalists sometimes try. Our bloggers do that too, at least as addisuously. The most indefatigable of us in this regard is Linda Kellen Biegel, who is currently battling the Alaska Public Offices Commission to come to a sensible ruling on what clearly seem to be egregious campaign violations in the 2008 legislative election by GOP candidate William Thomas, Jr - and others, too.

In the same sense that Marcy Wheeler and Jane Hamsher have developed timelines and narratives that clearly illustrate what has happened in the Wikileaks case, so Alaska blogger Mel Green created charts, timelines and other graphic portrayals of Sarah Palin's and the state's legal fee obligations in 2008 and 2009 that were more true, more illuminating, than anything presented by Alaska's lamestream media.

As I write this essay, Shannyn Moore is on KOAN AM, talking about the importance of Wikileaks.

The Alaska media has seldom publicly teamed with our bloggers, but several reporters have an appreciation of what we've been able to accomplish from the beginning of Palin's 2008 vice-presidential campaign to the last faint rustlings of Joe Miller's meltdown. It was an Alaska on-line only publication (Wikileaks also has no paper edition), the Alaska Dispatch - eventually joined by the Fairbanks News-Miner and Anchorage Daily News - which brought out the resistance from the Miller campaign and then the information from the Fairbanks North Star Borough - that cost Joe Miller between 15,000 and 25,000 votes on November 2nd.

Coverage of Wikileaks' latest travails has been sparse in Alaska, both in the media and on our progressive blogs. Progressive Alaska was the first lefty blog to openly criticize President Obama, Sen. Mark Begich, and several other Democratic Party politicians currently serving. I'm also happy to be covering Wikileaks up here (along with Moore) so that the issues get some sort of local perspective.

Here's the SVT documentary. It is quite moving. I suggest pre-loading it in full screen, and finding an hour during which you won't be distracted:

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