I was talking to a coworker earlier today about the arrest of Julian Assange and the response to WikiLeaks in general, and she pointed me towards some more good reading on the matter, including Glenn Greenwald and a piece tying WikiLeaks backs towards Valerie Plame and Wen Ho Lee. Although these pieces are not directly about the issue of Assange’s arrest, they strengthened my sentiments on the matter, because ultimately, although WikiLeaks and Assange’s alleged behavior are two separate things, the response to both is underpinned by a similar belief system.
Without sounding too much like a law school application essay, I will say that the ultimate, highest purpose of law within a democracy is objectivity; that the laws should be fairly written and impartially applied, so that all citizens are held equal within the system. The reality rarely lives up to this ideal (I work at a plaintiff-side civil rights firm — I see the reality every day), but the ideal is, nonetheless, the basis of the entire system. Once the ideal is dismissed, the system becomes nothing more than a scaffolding supporting entrenched power structures, never striving for anything more than that.
Now, to WikiLeaks and Assange.
On the one hand, justice demands that the allegations against Assange should be investigated. The fact that politics are involved in his arrest does not erase the gravity of the allegations; a just judicial system can only function when all citizens are held equally to account.
On the other hand, the same thing is true of WikiLeaks as an organization; that they are deserving of genuine consideration under the law, and not simply fear-mongering for political ends.
In each case, what is missing from so much discussion are actual facts. Strikingly, as both the Firedoglake and Greenwald essays describe, journalists — who previously held factual reportage as their greatest professional purpose — have been complicit in this abdication of objectivity, preferring instead to act as political shills. That the facts in the case of the rape allegations are muddy does not offer an excuse for ideology to overtake the discussion; rather, it is a call for journalists to do their damn job and discern what the facts are.
The allegations against Assange are undeniably convenient for those who wish for his head on a platter. But so much heated editorializing around the situation mistakes opinion for fact, and therefore precludes any possibility of justice. It’s true for Assange, for the women he allegedly assaulted, for WikiLeaks as an organization, and for society at large.