Portrait of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Photo credit: Abode of chaos
Julian Assange has been arrested and refused bail but the Wikileaks organisation remains operational despite US cyberattacks.
Whistleblower website Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has been in virtual hiding in south-east London, has been arrested on a European arrest warrant by British police over alleged Swedish sexual assault claims. Assange, who appeared at a police station at 09.30 today by appointment, has been refused bail and will be remanded in custody until December 14 when a extradition hearing will take place. Wikileaks has vowed to continue with the publication of US diplomatic cables despite the arrest of its founder.
The arrest follows repeated cyber attacks on Wikileaks and the freezing of Assange’s bank account by Swiss post bank PostFinance. The arrest is being interpreted by his supporters as a US-led campaign to decapitate the Wikileaks project in the wake of Cablegate. Opponents of Assange are pleased to see the legal net tighten on a man they consider a dangerous, unaccountable renegade who endangers lives in the quest for transparency.
According to The Guardian, one of the news organisations carrying the Wikileaked cables, Assange has told friends he is increasingly convinced the US is behind Swedish prosecutors’ attempts to extradite him for questioning on the assault allegations and believes that Sweden is behaving as “a cipher” for the US.
The arrest of Assange means most media attention surrounding Cablegate has now shifted to the plight of the founder. Assange’s lawyer Mark Stephens said the issue could be summed up as a “dispute over consensual but unprotected sex” and informed BBC Newsnight viewers that Assange has been repeatedly trying to set up a meeting with the Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny to clear his “good name.”
“As the legal net continued to close around the whistleblowers’ website and the US attorney general, Eric Holder, said he had authorised ‘a number of things to be done’ to combat the organisation, Assange appeared to be reconciling himself to a lengthy personal court battle to avoid extradition to Sweden,” interpreted Owen Boycott at The Guardian.
“The decision to press on (with publication) will help allay fears among Assange’s supporters that his arrest would hobble the organisation’s work,” said Robert Booth at The Guardian, who reported that his paper “understands the organisation has no plans to release the insurance file of the remaining cables, which number more than 200,000.”
US at war with Wikileaks?
US political condemnation of Assange has become increasingly vicious. Sarah Palin described Assange as “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands” and senior Republican Mike Huckabee said that “anything less than execution is too kind a penalty.” Indeed, anti-Wikileaks hysteria has spread like wildfire through Washington. “The federal government seems to have lost its mind in a manic game of internet whack-a-mole aimed at getting the Wikileaks State Deaprtment cables thrown down the memory hole,” reported Gawker in relation to news that US military in Iraq are being warned they are breaking the law if they read the leaks online. “The feds have clearly lost it. Many of those soldiers receiving the warnings have security clearances that would have granted them access to the State Department cables before they were leaked,” pointed out Gawker.
US administration fury is shared by many US commentators. Writing at The Washington Post, Mark A. Thiessen urged the US to accept it is at war with Wikileaks. In response to Assange’s Twitter tweet – “The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops” – Thiessen urged action: “WikiLeaks represents a new and unprecedented cyber threat that cannot be ignored or wished away. Just as terrorism allows small groups of individuals to wreak destruction on a scale that was once the province of nation-states, information technology allows small actors such as Julian Assange to wreak previously unimagined destruction on U.S. national security through cyberspace. This is a threat that requires a U.S. response. Hillary Clinton is right – WikiLeaks has attacked America.”
Internet versus old world order?
John Naughton at The Guardian argued that the US reaction to Cablegate displays the “intolerance of the old order” when challenged by the “culture of the internet.” “The response has been vicious, co-ordinated and potentially comprehensive, and it contains hard lessons for everyone who cares about democracy and about the future of the net.” To Naughton, “What WikiLeaks is really exposing is the extent to which the western democratic system has been hollowed out. In the last decade its political elites have been shown to be incompetent (Ireland, the US and UK in not regulating banks); corrupt (all governments in relation to the arms trade); or recklessly militaristic (the US and UK in Iraq). And yet nowhere have they been called to account in any effective way. Instead they have obfuscated, lied or blustered their way through. And when, finally, the veil of secrecy is lifted, their reflex reaction is to kill the messenger.”
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