Johann Hari: This case must not obscure what WikiLeaks has told us

Wednesday 08 December 2010 01:00 GMT

Every one of us owes a debt to Julian Assange. Thanks to him, we now know that our governments are pursuing policies that place you and your family in considerably greater danger. Wikileaks has informed us they have secretly launched war on yet another Muslim country, sanctioned torture, kidnapped innocent people from the streets of free countries and intimidated the police into hushing it up, and covered up the killing of 15,000 civilians – five times the number killed on 9/11. Each one of these acts has increased the number of jihadis. We can only change these policies if we know about them – and Assange has given us the black-and-white proof.

Each of the wikileaks revelations has been carefully weighed to ensure there is a public interest in disclosing it. Of the more than 250,000 documents they hold, they have released fewer than 1000 – and each of those has had the names of informants, or any information that could place anyone at risk, removed. The information they have released covers areas where our governments are defying the will of their own citizens, and hiding the proof from them.

Here’s some examples. The Obama administration has been denying that it has expanded the current “war” to yet another country, Yemen. Now we know that is a lie. Ali Abdulah Saleh, the Yemeni dictator, brags in these cables to a US diplomat: “We’ll continue to say the bombs are ours, not yours.” The counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen, who until recently was a senior advisor to General Petreaus in Iraq, estimates that for every one jihadi killed in these bombings, they kill fifty innocent people. How would we react if this was happening in Britain? How many of us would become deranged by grief and resolve to fight back, even against the other side’s women and children? Bombing to end jihadism is like smoking to end lung cancer – a cure that worsens the disease.

The US and British governments told us they invaded Iraq, in part, because they were appalled that the Iraqi government tortured its own citizens. Tony Blair often mentioned “Saddam’s torture chambers” in making his case for the war. Yet these leaked documents show that as soon as our governments were in charge, the policy of burning, electrocuting and raping people started again – and they consciously chose a policy of not objecting and not investigating. Modern jihadism was born in the torture chambers of Egypt in the 1950s. A lot more will have been made in the torture chambers of Baghdad since 2003. Some of it has already exploded onto our streets – the attempted Glasgow airport bombing was by Iraqis who said they were “resisting” the use of torture in their country. There will be more.

The cables reveal how this grief and murderous rage is being spread across the Muslim world, while we lie about it. Here’s just one example. US troops blew up an Afghan village called Azizabad, and killed 95 people, 50 of them children. None were al Qaeda, or even Taliban. They knew what they’d done – yet in public they kept insisting they’d killed “militants”, and even accused the local Afghan villagers of “fabricat[ing] such evidence as grave sites.”

Wikileaks has exposed a terrifying casualness in our governments about ramping up the risk against us. Indeed, they show that the US government knows Saudi Arabia is “the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups world-wide”, but our leaders continue to (literally) hold hands with them, because their oil pipelines run our way. They show a startling contempt for democracy too: when the Honduran President, Manuel Zelaya, was kidnapped by a far right clique because he had increased the minimum wage and redistributed wealth to the poor, the US embassy confirmed privately that it was “clearly illegal”. Yet the US administration refused to say this publicly, instead urging “reconciliation” with the junta their own diplomats were calling “totally illegitimate.”

For Britain’s politicians, the documents offer a long-needed slap in the face. Successive governments, of all parties, support these destructive US policies because they believe we have influence with the Americans. But these cables show the Americans literally laugh at them and their sycophancy, describing their servility in mocking tones in cables back home, saying “it would be humorous if it were not so corrosive.”

Most people in the US and Britain oppose these policies. We are better than our politicians. But we can only stop them – and the risk they pose to innocent people across the world, including us – if we know about them. Assange has made that possible, at great risk to his liberty and his life. So this is a move that enhances our national security. Of course, there are people who claim he has “blood on his hands” – but where is there evidence? It is months now since the first cables were leaked, and they have found not a single person who has been even threatened as a result of the leaks – except Assange, whose death is being incited by many of America’s leading politicians.

There is a squalid little irony when you see people who are literally bombing innocent civilians every day feverishly accuse a man who has never touched a weapon in his life of being “covered in blood.” Wikileaks have hurt nobody. They redacted sensitive names. They held back any cables that could expose anyone to risk. They asked the Pentagon to help them by privately explaining where they believed there could be a danger – only to be rebuffed.

Of course, it is possible Julian Assange did this good, noble thing, and is also a rapist. I do not believe in reflexively dismissing rape claims by any woman, in any circumstances. Bill Clinton was the victim of a right-wing smear campaign and many of us dismissed the allegations of sexual assault against him – but now, years later, one of the women who came forward, Kathleen Willey, has earned nothing from her allegations, remains a left-wing Democrat, and seems to have a very plausible case.

Here’s what we know. There is a long history of the CIA viciously smearing people who dare to cross the US state machinery. There is a strong chance the claims against Assange is another case of it. But there is also a long history of otherwise admirable men turning out to be rapists, and there’s a chance this is another case of it. This should be tested in a court of law – and the trial should be watched very careful to make sure it’s not being rigged by bribes or threats.

Whatever that judgment turns out to be, we will never unlearn or unknow the great truths Julian Assange has brought us. The hysterical state-power hacks saying he is “a terrorist” should go tell it to all the tortured Iraqis, all the terrorized Honduran democrats, and all the bombed Yemenis whose story he has – at last – brought out from the sealed-away world of Top Secret cables.

* For updates on Assange and other issues, Follow Johann on Twitter at

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