Tag Archives: WikiLeaks

The Assange Case: won’t somebody think of the women

11 Feb



Julian Assange first expressed his willingness to be interviewed by Swedish prosecutors, who were investigating allegations of rape and sexual molestation made by two women against the Wikileaks founder, in London in November 2010, as this BBC time line demonstrates.

It is common practice for Swedish prosecutors to interview persons of interest in countries other than Sweden via video link, or by travelling to meet with them.

Assange has continued to express his willingness to be interviewed by Swedish prosecutors for five years. However, the Swedish government has not seen fit to carry out this basic next step in the investigation of the women’s accusations.

In fact, the Swedish government has succeeded in validating Assange’s claims that they harbour a hidden agenda: to get him back to Sweden not to investigate rape allegations, which they can do perfectly well in the Ecuadorean embassy in Knightsbridge,  but to expedite his extradition to the US.

I have no idea what occurred between the women and Assange. Neither does anyone else, but that didn’t stop feminist Naomi Wolfe from globally slut-shaming them at the time of their complaint, claiming that they insulted all rape victims with their “personal hurt feelings.”  Interpol were, Wolfe mocked, the world’s new “dating police” and the women weren’t raped, they were just mad because Assange didn’t call them back.

The women at the centre of the allegations were let down first by their government, who have to this day taken no concrete steps to proceed with their case, and next by a world-famous feminist author who was unable to distinguish between the politically motivated pursuit of Assange, and the fact that he had been accused of sexual crimes.

Things only got worse for the women, who became targets of derision, contempt and hatred from Assange supporters all over the globe. Few of these supporters, it seemed and seems, have the wit to tease out a complicated situation and understand that yes, Assange is indeed being extraordinarily hounded for his activism, and yes, there are sexual allegations against him that need to be investigated, for his sake as well as the sake of the women involved.

Rape victims are indeed being demeaned and insulted by this situation, but not, I would argue, by Assange or the alleged victims. Rather the governments of the UK, Sweden and the US are making a mockery of rape victims by creating a situation in which, yet again, alleged crimes against women are rendered a very poor second to alleged crimes against the state.

Public argument for the last five years has repeatedly returned to the question of whether or not the allegations are true. This is the wrong question. Why do three western governments continue to allow allegations of rape to go unexamined, is the question and the answer is, because women. Women are collateral damage in affairs of the state. It has always been thus, and the Assange case demonstrates it is still thus.

There is now only one allegation against Assange, a statute of limitations having been reached on the others. The Swedish prosecutors have knowingly allowed time to run out. They have deprived the alleged victims and the accused of the human right to natural justice. They continue to deny the alleged victims and Assange the human right to natural justice on the still valid allegation of rape. This act of denial continues to be perpetrated by three western governments claiming a high moral ground in the matter of state security, and Assange’s alleged attacks on that security.

Women? Molestation? Rape? Pfffffft. Tell it to someone who cares.


Don’t let facts get in the way of hate…

21 Jun

In December 2010 when the WikiLeaks cable dump hit the headlines, Prime Minister Julia Gillard declared: “I absolutely condemn the placement of this information on the WikiLeaks website – it’s a grossly irresponsible thing to do and an illegal thing to do.”

A couple of days later, Ms Gillard was at a loss to explain her inflammatory comments.

“The foundation stone of it is an illegal act,” Ms Gillard told reporters in Canberra.

But the “foundation stone” was the leaking of the documents to the website, not the publishing of the cables.

“It would not happen, information would not be on WikiLeaks, if there had not been an illegal act undertaken,” Ms Gillard said.

Mr Assange’s lawyers have said they are considering defamation action against Ms Gillard after she accused the whistleblower of “illegal” conduct over the leak of US documents.

Thus our Prime Minister launched a campaign of misinformation about both Wikileaks and Assange, based solely on her personal opinion and clearly with little if any regard to her legal training.

The government then attempted to find legal cause to withdraw Assange’s Australian passport, in spite of the fact that he had broken no Australian laws.

Hardly surprising then, that Assange and his team of lawyers have come to believe he’s been abandoned by his government. While it may be true that Assange has received whatever consular support is due to him, Prime Minister Gillard had Assange hung, drawn and quartered from the get go, and she has never retracted her accusations and her condemnation.

If we follow Ms Gillard’s logic, then the newspapers who published the leaked cables they obtained from Assange, newspapers such as the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Guardian, The New York Times et al, are also acting irresponsibly and illegally because ““It would not happen, information would not be on WikiLeaks [or in the SMH, the Oz, the NYT, the Guardian et al] if there had not been an illegal act undertaken.” 

At this point I quote Anna Funder, winner of this year’s Miles Franklin Literary award:  I have spent my professional life studying totalitarian regimes and the brave people who speak out against them. And the first thing that someone with dictatorial inclinations does is to silence the writers and the journalists.



This is a link to an account by The Guardian of the events in Sweden that have led to Assange being accused of sexual misconduct. As you can see, the circumstances as described are unsavoury, though they would not all necessarily be considered sexual offences in Australia. They are also entirely a matter of she said/he said.

I have no idea of their veracity and I believe Assange, for his own sake, ought to have the opportunity to respond to the allegations made against him.  As well, the complainants are entitled to have their allegations addressed. It is puzzling that Swedish prosecutors are delaying the resolution of the women’s complaints by demanding, against, apparently, their own Supreme Court decision on interviews (see below) that Assange return to the country, rather than conduct a video link interview with him.

Bjorn Hurtig, Assange’s early Swedish counsel, makes these observations in his witness statement:

I also think it unreasonable that in a case of this kind, where extensive mutual assistance between the UK and Sweden would readily permit a video-link interview, for the prosecution to be so absolutely insistent that Mr Assange return (and at his own expense) to face questions that could easily be put over the video-link.

[Assange has many times offered to do this, and offered to engage in interviews with Swedish officials in person in the UK. The Swedish authorities have consistently refused these offers, demanding extradition instead. Assange continues to offer to answer the allegations via video link from the Embassy of Ecuador.]

I note that at least one of the complainants have been interviewed by telephone and the insistence that Mr Assange come back to Sweden merely for an interview is, therefore, unreasonable and contrary to the decision of our Supreme Court (NJA 2007, p. 337).

The problem for Assange with returning to Sweden is explained here. Briefly:

Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the WikiLeaks founder in the US, said Assange and his legal team considered it highly likely that he would face an onward extradition to the US if he were sent to Sweden.

The concrete reality [is] that he was facing a political prosecution in the US, he was facing the death penalty or certainly life in jail. Faced with that, he had extremely limited choices.

The US empanelled a secret grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks and Assange in May 2011, but has not issued any requests for his extradition to the UK or Sweden. However, Ratner said both he and Assange believed it was “more likely than not” that a sealed indictment had been drawn up.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, Sweden has form. In 2001 Sweden was involved in the illegal US rendition of  two asylum seekers suspected of terrorism from Stockholm to Cairo. This involvement violated the global ban on torture. Both asylum seekers were tortured when they arrived in Egypt, despite assurances given to Swedish diplomats.

The UN Committee Against Torture concluded that Sweden violated the Convention against Torture by illegally expelling him [Al Zari] to Egypt, and stated that “procurement of diplomatic assurances [from Egypt], which, moreover, provided no mechanism for their enforcement, did not suffice to protect against this manifest risk.”

The US has imprisoned Private Bradley Manning, the WikiLeaks cables source, in a manner that has been described by Glenn Greenwald as “conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture.”

One need not be a conspiracy theorist to see where this is headed. The bizarre refusal by Swedish authorities to question Assange by video link in an interview which is designed to establish whether or not there are grounds for bringing charges against him. The oft -forgotten fact that Assange has already been questioned on these matters while in Sweden, the allegations were dismissed, and he was allowed to leave the country.

And on the matter of these allegations it’s worth reading this brief interview with Oscar Swartz, author of A Brief History of Swedish Sex: How the Nation that Gave Us Free Love Redefined Rape and Declared War on Julian Assange.  Swatrz claims that  in Sweden: “Sex is being increasingly used to control communications – and as a political weapon,” and says his book shows “how Sweden descended from one of the western world’s most sexually liberated nations to its most repressive.”

The hatred expressed against Assange in Australia is frightening, and much of it seems to be based on personal antipathy. A great deal of it seems to originate with journalists and has from the start, as I wrote in these two articles in December 2010

It is even more frightening in the US where there have been calls for his assassination and demands that he be hunted down like bin Laden. Hatred such as this, and the unworthy example of presumption of guilt set by Prime Minister Gillard at the start of the story obscures the complexity of the narrative, and reduces it to a George W Bush story of good versus evil.

Personal opinions about Assange and his character ought not to blind anyone to the bigger picture unfolding here. There is something rotten in the manner in which these events have been and continue to be handled by the Australian, Swedish, and US governments. This should sound alarm bells for all of us, especially, one would think and hope, for journalists and writers whose responsibility it is to hold governments to account and protect us from dictators. WikiLeaks efforts to do this may have been clumsy, and at times carelessly cavalier. However, to my mind, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange & WikiLeaks have struck a blow for transparency in high places that in spite of claims to the contrary has struck nerves. For this they have my admiration and my ongoing concern for their welfare.





Assange in Sweden: the facts

31 May

The origins of Julian Assange’s current legal predicament are all too easily forgotten in the drama of his ongoing appeal against Sweden’s request that the UK extradite him to answer allegations of sexual misconduct in that country. However, in the opinion of this opinionista, they are crucial to the story, and what we might make of it. With the invaluable assistance of the BBC News Europe I’ve gone back to the beginning.

11 August 2010

Julian Assange arrives in Sweden on a speaking trip partly arranged by “Miss A”, a member of the Christian Association of Social Democrats. He has not met “Miss A” before but reports suggest they have arranged in advance that he can stay in her apartment while she is out of town for a few days.

14 August 2010

“Miss A” and Mr Assange attend a seminar by the Social Democrats’ Brotherhood Movement on “War and the role of media”, at which the Wikileaks founder is the key speaker. The two reportedly have sex that night.

17 August 2010

Mr Assange reportedly has sex with a woman he met at the seminar on 14 August, identified as “Miss W”.

Some time between 17 and 20 August, “Miss W” and “Miss A” – the woman who arranged his speaking trip – are in contact and apparently share with a journalist the concerns they have about aspects of their respective sexual encounters with Mr Assange.

18 August 2010

Mr Assange applies for a residence permit to live and work in Sweden. He hopes to create a base for Wikileaks there, because of the country’s laws protecting whistle-blowers.

20 August 2010

The Swedish Prosecutor’s Office issues an arrest warrant for Julian Assange. Karin Rosander, head of communications, says there are two separate allegations – one of rape and one of molestation.

Both women reportedly say that what started as consensual sex became non-consensual.

Wikileaks quotes Mr Assange as saying the accusations are “without basis” and that their appearance “at this moment is deeply disturbing”. A later message on the Wikileaks Twitter feed says the group has been warned to expect “dirty tricks”.

21 August 2010

The arrest warrant is withdrawn. “I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape,” says one of Stockholm’s chief prosecutors, Eva Finne.

Ms Rosander says the investigation into the molestation charge will continue but it is not a serious enough crime for an arrest warrant.

The lawyer for the two women, Claes Borgstrom, lodges an appeal to a special department in the public prosecutions office.

31 August 2010

Mr Assange is questioned by police for about an hour in Stockholm and formally told of the allegations against him, according to his lawyer at the time, Leif Silbersky. The activist denies the charges.

1 September 2010

Swedish Director of Prosecution Marianne Ny says she is reopening the rape investigation against Mr Assange, eleven days after a chief prosecutor announced the arrest warrant had been dropped. Ms Ny is also head of the department that oversees prosecution of sex crimes in particular.

“There is reason to believe that a crime has been committed,” she says in a statement. “Considering information available at present, my judgement is that the classification of the crime is rape.”

Ms Ny says the investigation into the molestation claim will also be extended. She tells AFP that overturning another prosecutor’s decision was “not an ordinary (procedure), but not so out of the ordinary either”.

18 October 2010

The Wikileaks founder is denied residency in Sweden. No reason is given, although an official on Sweden’s Migration Board tells the AFP news agency “he did not fulfil the requirements”.

18 November 2010

Stockholm District Court approves a request to detain Mr Assange for questioning on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. Sweden’s Director of Prosecution Marianne Ny says he has not been available for questioning.

Mr Assange’s British lawyer Mark Stephens says his client offered to be interviewed at the Swedish embassy in London or Scotland Yard or via video link. He accuses Ms Ny of “abusing her powers” in insisting that Mr Assange return to Sweden.

20 November 2010

Swedish police issue an international arrest warrant for Mr Assange via Interpol.

30 November 2010

Interpol issues a “red notice” for Mr Assange, asking people to contact police if they have any information about his whereabouts.

8 December 2010

The Wikileaks founder gives himself up to London police and is taken to an extradition hearing at a Westminster court. He is remanded in custody pending another hearing on 14 December.

Below are extracts from a witness statement written by Assange’s Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, to his English counterpart, Mark Stephens on December 14, 2010. The pdf  can be accessed here: “downgraded to ’minor rape’

The case is one of the weakest cases I have ever seen in my professional career.

I have been refused access to the [full case file] orally, by Ms Ny, the Swedish Prosecutor. I know that the file contains extremely important exculpatory material, for example showing the fundamental inconsistencies in the complainants’ accounts of the key events.

In my opinion it is highly uncertain whether Mr Assange will be prosecuted at all, if extradited. If prosecuted, I consider it highly unlikely that he will be convicted.

I can confirm that I have been trying for many weeks to arrange for [Mr Assange] to be questioned by Ms Ny. All these attempts have been rebuffed by her. 

[Here follows a time line in which Mr Hurtig lists these attempts, and the excuses proffered by Ms Ny in refusal, including that she wanted a specific policeman to interview Assange, and he was not available.

On September 15 2010, Ms Nye confirmed to Mr Hurtig that Mr Assange was free to leave Sweden.]

Mr Hurtig continues: I also think it unreasonable that in a case of this kind, where extensive mutual assistance between the UK and Sweden would readily permit a video-link interview, for the prosecution to be so absolutely insistent that Mr Assange return (and at his own expense) to face questions that could easily be put over the video-link. [Assange has many times offered to do this, and offered to engage in interviews with Swedish officials in the UK. The Swedish authorities have consistently refused these offers, demanding extradition instead.]

I note that at least one of the complainants have been interviewed by telephone and the insistence that Mr Assange come back to Sweden merely for an interview is, therefore, unreasonable and contrary to the decision of our Supreme Court (NJA 2007, p. 337).

In his interview with human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson on the 7.30 Report yesterday, ABC TV’s Chris Uhlmann repeatedly referred to “the charges” against Assange. Mr Robertson corrected him, explaining that no charges have been laid against Assange. Allegations have been made. The Swedish authorities wish to extradite him for questioning about those allegations, having refused point-blank all other methods of interview.

After questioning Mr Assange, a decision will be made as to whether or not there are grounds for proceeding to charge him.

This process has already been completed once in Sweden by Chief Prosecutor Eva Finne, who decided the complaints were not sufficiently serious to issue an arrest warrant.

On Julian Assange & the media

20 Apr

It was a little unnerving to find myself in agreement with former Liberal MP Ross Cameron the other day when as a panelist on ABC’s The Drum, he spoke in support of Julian Assange. In a democracy, Cameron opined, it’s necessary to have someone like Assange attempting to force accountability and transparency from governments. I almost fell off my chair.

On the same panel Annabel Crabb declared her disapproval of Assange for choosing to use a Russian television outlet, “Russia Today,” as a platform from which to launch his new career as a talk show host. It was, she claimed, unethical. This is a view shared by many mainstream journalists, and has led to Assange being described as a “traitor” and a “Kremlin patsy.”

According to the New York Times, Russia Today “is an English-language news network created by the Russian leader Vladimir V. Putin in 2005 to promote the Kremlin line abroad…Basically, it’s an improbable platform for a man who poses as a radical left-wing whistleblower and free-speech frondeur battling the superpowers that be.

I can’t resist pointing out here that many of us would consider it unethical for Assange or anyone else to avail themselves of facilities offered by News Corp, but that’s another story and one ought not to attempt such comparisons. Clearly, Assange’s choices were extremely limited, and given the contrary nature of the man, going with Putin doesn’t seem entirely surprising.

Salon.com writer Glen Greenwald, in an interview with Russia Today, declared that “Attacks on Assange…reveal much more about the critics than their targets.” He went on to point out that Assange goes where the main stream media will not or cannot go. This is the privilege of the independent operator: mainstream journos want to stay exactly that, and are necessarily restricted  (to varying degrees depending on which mogul employs them) by their understandable desire to keep their careers.

If we can accept this about them, why must they be so carping about Assange?

Says Greenwald: “The rule is clear: it’s OK for a journalist to work for a weapons manufacturer, the US or British govts, & Rupert Murdoch, but not RT? Assange should be judged by what he does and the journalism he produces – not where it’s broadcast.

It seems timely, then to republish this piece I wrote for On Line Opinion in December 2010.

I’m indebted to Antony Loewenstein for his article of December 2 in The Drum titled “Where’s the media’s backbone over Wikileaks?”

In his article, Loewenstein takes the Australian media to task for its collective inadequacy in the reporting of the 250,000 US cables dumped by Wikileaks.

One aspect he singles out for attention is the series of calls for the assassination of Assange, the demands that he be tried as a terrorist and condemned to death, and the demands for him to be killed without benefit of a trial at all.

These reactions, or more accurately, these incitements to murder, came from senior political and media figures in the USA and Canada, individuals with a wide-ranging public voice, and plenty of influence. Their calls for Assange’s death were reported globally.

Demands have also been made for Assange’s arrest by the US, on as yet unspecified, even nebulous charges. Australian Attorney General Robert McClelland has offered to assist the US in its pursuit of Assange, and together with Prime Minister Gillard is exploring the possibility of bringing criminal charges against him in this country.

Julia Gillard has, with no substantial grounds at all, repeatedly referred to Wikileaks and Assange’s activities as “illegal.” Whether or not the Wikileaks dump is “illegal” is far from certain. Even in the US, who is the primary victim if indeed any crime has been committed by Assange, the legality or otherwise of his actions remains unclear.

Australia has not been sinned against in the dump, but irrespective of that, in their desperation to assuage the USA Gillard and McClelland are casting about to find an offence, any offence, with which to charge Assange.

Julian Assange is an Australian citizen. Our Attorney General and our Prime Minister have publicly committed to doing everything they can to assist the US in its pursuit of one of our citizens, a citizen who has now been threatened with death several times by several different figures, in that country.

This is really quite remarkable. Our government is supposed to protect its citizens, as it protects US citizens, from threats of death. After all, didn’t we just go to great lengths to ensure that the convicted wife murderer Gabe Watson would not be returned to his homeland unless they first agreed not to kill him? Yet we’ll hunt down one of our citizens who has not been charged with, let alone convicted of anything, and offer him up for assassination apparently without a qualm.

What a very special relationship indeed we have with the USA.

But what is breathtakingly alarming is that nobody in the mainstream media, and in government, seems to find it at all necessary to remark upon the fact that Assange’s activities are considered by influential and senior figures in the USA and Canada to be deserving of death.

If you ring up your ex and leave “if you don’t stop telling everybody I’m a tosser I’ll kill you,” on the message bank, you’re in big trouble. But if you’re a powerful figure in the media and politics in the USA you can volunteer anybody for slaughter for any reason, and nobody will hold you to account for it.

And if you’re the Australian government and it’s one of your citizens being subjected to that threat, you can offer to help find him and nobody in the mainstream media will question your sanity and your ethics.

It seems that in Australia we’ve now sunk to such a level of moral turpitude that we are not at all ruffled by the notion of a whistleblower in a democracy being murdered for his activities.

Silence implies complicity. Silence implies approval. Silence implies that it is fine by us to incite the assassination of someone who has caused bother and embarrassment to important people.

Embarrass important people? Of course you’ll be killed!

Loewenstein appeared on The Drum on ABC TV December 2, to discuss his perspective on the media’s coverage of the Wikileaks dump. The panel consisted of Annabel Crabbe, Leigh Sales (both senior ABC journalists) and Joe Hildebrand of   the Daily Telegraph. It very quickly proved impossible to persuade any of these three panelists to seriously address the media’s coverage of the Wikileaks affair, or indeed the affair itself. They would not address the contents of the cables, or the death threats. Not even the implications for free speech and dissent if the US does declare Wikileaks a terrorist organisation (as has been suggested by the US Administration and others) could tempt them into a more thoughtful state of mind.

In fact, the panel illustrated exactly what Loewenstein is complaining about. Amid much giggling, Crabbe remarked that Assange had thrown a “tantie” about a New York Times article, and asked what did that tell you about the man. Well, not a lot, really. He can spit the dummy. And this matters because?

Sales insisted that Assange is a journalist and not, as Loewenstein suggests, a whistle-blower, on the grounds that he releases his material through the mainstream newspapers. Therefore he ought to be playing by journalists’ rules, which apparently don’t cover dumping 250,000 cables in the manner in which he has dumped them.

Mercifully, I cannot recall Hildebrande’s contribution, other than that it involved a lot of noisy laughter.

These comments from Al Jazeera reporter, Mike Hanna, give an indication of the information that is now available to us, thanks to Wikileaks. Hanna is referring to allegations that US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton ordered US diplomatic staff to steal the personal data (credit card, frequent flyer information) of highly placed United Nations officials:

Even the most cursory read (of the leaked cables) makes clear diplomatic staff are being asked to conduct a massive intelligence gathering exercise – involving, to put it bluntly, the theft of personal data. This, on the face of it, is a document asking diplomats to carry out activities that are not only against all accepted protocols, but are illegal in terms of US or international law. To repeat, it is couched as an order, an instruction, not a request.

In other words, there was plenty for The Drum panel to have an opinion about, and intelligently discuss.

The panel’s attitude to the Wikileaks story was, and remains, inexplicable.

Assange has scooped every mainstream journo on the planet. He’s rewritten the rules of investigative journalism with his massive dump, and he’s not even a journalist. Reporters have to go to the secondary source because Assange controls the primary. He’s not one of them. He’s an outsider. He plays by his own rules. And he pays the price.

Loewenstein suggested that envy and jealous rivalry might be a contributing factor in the Australian mainstream media’s apparent determination to give the Wikileaks story as little in-depth attention as possible. This the only explanation I can find, unless they’re in cahoots with the Gillard government to give the matter the minimum amount of credence, as authorised by the PM, and instead to distract us by focusing on Assange’s hair colour, temperament, and how he should list his occupation on his CV.

Lowenstein also suggests that some Australian media are far too cosy with centres of power, and far too impressed by them. They are thus rendered incapable of comprehensively analysing an attack such as Wikileaks has made on that centre. He gives the example of the ABC’s World Today Eleanor Hall, of whom he comments: “It was painful on Monday listening to ABC radio’s The World Today grilling a New York Times journalist about his paper’s decision to publish some of the revelations. Virtually every question asked by host Eleanor Hall could have come from the State Department. The contents and implications of the cables were mostly ignored.”

This is scary stuff. Is it now becoming the media’s role to shoot the messenger and ignore the message? To ask questions on behalf of a government? To put obstacles in the way of the public dissemination of subversive material?

There’s no doubt Assange is a complex figure. He has been roundly criticised for exposing government secrecy while simultaneously running an organisation that is viewed as highly secretive by some observers. It’s ironic that in order to expose secrecy one has to be secretive, however, it’s also difficult to imagine how any organisation can offer protection to whistle blowers without engaging in some form of secrecy that will hopefully protect them.

Be that as it may, complexity in people who stand out on the world’s stage isn’t remarkable: only the other day I heard someone carping about how difficult Nelson Mandela could be. Such people do not inhabit the “imagined sensible middle” that mainstream journos are supposed to achieve. (This link to Mr Denmore’s blog “The Failed Estate” is worth a read, BTW.  It’s a response to the unrelenting carping of many journos about bloggers and social media commenters, which is not entirely different from their griping about Assange).

Even Ross Cameron has his sexual scandals, one of which caused him to lose his seat in 2004. Perhaps the journalists who carp and judge are morally beyond reproach: I do not know. What I do know is that I am grateful for mavericks such as Julian Assange. When Annabel Crabb, Leigh Sales, and Joe Hildebrand make a similar contribution to the world I will be grateful for them as well. It took guts to do what Assange did. It doesn’t take much guts to get up on the telly and laugh at him.

Feminist’s theatrical posturing in Wikileak’s founder’s sex case

8 Jan
Author Naomi Wolf speaking at an event hosted ...

Naomi Wolf. Image via Wikipedia

In the Guardian January 5 2011, American feminist Naomi Wolf calls for the two women at the centre of the allegations of sexual misconduct against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, to be publicly named. Thus far, the women have been referred to only as Ms A and Ms W in UK and Swedish legal proceedings. Wolf argues that this is demeaning to the alleged victims. She demands that the women be treated as “moral adults” and named as the complainants. She points out that it is usually only children whose names are withheld in criminal cases, and that to treat women in the same way is to infantalise them. Wolf writes: The shielding of sex-crimes accusers is a Victorian relic. Women are moral adults and should be treated as such.

Is Wolf’s call entirely gratuitous?

There is a certain disingenuous aspect to Wolf’s demands. The women’s names are easily found on the Internet, and have been published in at least one Australian newspaper. (As this writer doesn’t agree with the outing of complainants, you’ll have to go find the sources for yourself.) In the comments section of the Guardian article, a poster alleges that Wolf herself re-tweeted the names when she became aware of them. In her terms, that puts the alleged victims on an apparently level playing field with the accused Assange.

However, Wolf is sidestepping the reality that it is against the law in the UK to name accusers in sex crime allegations, even though she acknowledges this in her article. The current law makes her demands in this specific situation little more than theatrical posturing.

Does Wolf want all victims of sexual crimes to be named? Or just Ms A and Ms W?

It is very difficult to believe that a feminist such as Wolf is indeed launching a campaign for all victims of sexual assault to be outed when they make a complaint. For a person who wished to remain anonymous, and very many do, compulsory outing would be rather like another form of emotional and psychological rape.

Keeping the complainants’ identities secret seems like a sensible move. There is a great risk that women and men who’ve been sexually assaulted will be even less inclined to report their attackers if they themselves are publicly identified. The ordeal of reporting, examination, and facing your attacker in court is a great one, adding to this the risk of seeing your name blazoned across the media for weeks and months is not likely to encourage victims to complain.

Wolf and “the world’s dating police”

In the Assange case, the women have been vilified and harassed by his supporters across the blogosphere and in the mainstream press, which is a good argument for maintaining anonymity as much as is possible. Wolf has also done her best to discredit them prior to calling for them to be outed. In the article Julian Asssange captured by the world’s dating police Wolf accuses the women of using feminist rhetoric and the law to assuage their injured personal feelings over minimal offences. This may or may not be the case, and that is exactly the point. As yet, we don’t know. Equally, the women may have genuine grounds for complaint. Until the matter is heard, all is speculation and assumption.

When someone is wrongfully accused

There can be dire consequences for the man or woman who’s been publicly identified as standing accused of sexual assault, if he or she is subsequently found to be innocent of the charge. Mud sticks, sexual mud perhaps more than many other types. For the period leading up to the legal processes, the accused remains in an unenviable limbo, during which anything can be and is said about him or her in the media. We have seen this in Australia when, for example, footballers have experienced this process, and the media is seemingly willing to report just about anybody’s opinions on whether or not the man in question is guilty as accused, or innocent, well before the matter ever is heard in the courtroom. (Again, not wishing to perpetuate those issues about which I am complaining, you’ll have to look it up for yourself.) Trial by media is now an unfortunate commonplace.

There are murky circumstances surrounding the Assange allegations, not least of which is that they have already been dismissed by one prosecutor, only to be revived after the Wikileaks cable dump began in earnest. The allegations received new life when the case was taken up again by a right-wing Swedish politician, allegedly close to the US and facing an election, in spite of there being no new evidence against Assange.

Payback time?

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Wolf is conducting a personal vendetta against the two women. To many feminists, it makes no sense at all that the identities of alleged victims of sexual misconduct should be revealed to the world. Wolf’s demands sound at this stage very much like tit for tat  – the women’s complaints have caused Assange great difficulties, and so they should suffer difficulties as well. This ignores the reality that the women have already been subjected to considerable vilification world wide, and that no matter what one’s personal opinion of their actions, they have made a complaint that is now subject to due legal process.

Taking up arms for feminism

As well as the apparently personal aspect, Wolf has also taken up arms in the cause of feminism. She claims that in their pursuit of Assange, Interpol, the British and the Swedish governments have engaged in a form of political theatre, ostensibly pursuing a man on sex charges, in reality fuelled in their pursuit by entirely political agendas. These claims do make sense: as Wolf points out, when did anyone last hear of an alleged sex offender being pursued as relentlessly as Assange, put in solitary confinement, and denied bail while awaiting extradition? (With the relatively rare exception of child sexual abusers.) Governments and law enforcement agencies rarely if ever go to such trouble and expense.

This, Wolf claims, makes a mockery of all the women (and men, though she does not mention them) who’ve never seen justice in similar matters, and worse. In a December 13 2010 article in the Huffington Post, (titled J’accuse, in itself an interesting reference) Wolf claims that the extraordinarily disproportionate pursuit of Assange is not an example of the State embracing feminist concerns about the violation of women, rather it is an example of the State “pimping” feminism. One is tempted to observe that the States’ pursuit of Assange had nothing at all to do with feminism, either embracing or pimping, much as feminists would like to believe the philosophy had an influence in the proceedings. It is far more likely to be entirely politically motivated, perhaps in a futile attempt to silence Wikileaks by incarcerating Assange, or as a means of extraditing him to the USA, via Sweden.

To any fair-minded person, the argument ought be that no identities are revealed in such cases, neither the alleged perpetrator nor the victim. The most sensible solution all round might be to withhold the names of the complainants and the accused in alleged sexual crimes. On the downside, such a move would give the media less to prattle about, and would curb the tongues of many commentators, but it would offer protection to both parties. It should never be forgotten that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and that is sometimes the case with accusers as well.

Whistleblowing: a chilling account

6 Jan

Robina Cosser is a guest author, and an expert on whistle blowing.

By tiganatoo via flickr

Blowing the whistle into an empty room

By Robina Cosser

So …

You become aware that something is “going on” in The Department. And you decide that you must do something about the situation. You decide that you must “blow the whistle” – you must tell somebody who will do something about the situation.

So you struggle over the wording of your disclosure for several days, or even weeks, trying to explain your disclosure as clearly as possible. And you collect lots and lots of supporting documentation.

Then you mail your disclosure and the supporting documentation to a person that you think cannot possibly be corrupt. The Director-General of The Department, maybe.

But you don’t realise that you are doing battle with the public service. And that no public servant in The Department wants to be held responsible for hearing you blow the whistle. And that The Department’s public servants have generations of experience in “not hearing”, “not understanding”, “not knowing” and “not finding any evidence of”.

And so your disclosure is “lost”. Or the supporting documents are “lost”. Or your disclosure is reduced to gibberish – the cover letter and the first page of your disclosure are saved, the next eight pages are “lost” and the remaining pages of your disclosure are sent to another office, in another city, and jumbled up with lots of other documents.

Or every alternate page of your disclosure is “lost”. Or two pages of your disclosure are recorded, two are “lost”, two are recorded, two are “lost”, etc. Or your disclosure is reduced to half-size and turned around and printed sideways on the page, so that it is very difficult to read.

And The Department do nothing about your disclosure.

So, after waiting for some time, you decide that you have to make your disclosure to another government department, one that is not corrupt. The Crime and Misconduct Commission, maybe.

So you ring the CMC. And you make your disclosure very, very clearly to the CMC officer.

And the CMC officer writes down her own gibberish version of your disclosure. And she makes a note that, having spoken with you, she has doubts about your credibility. And she puts these notes on your file.

You have a suspicion that the CMC officer was reluctant to record your disclosure. Something in her tone of voice. And so you send her an email, making your disclosure very, very clear to her. So that she cannot pretend to misunderstand.

But the CMC officer does not open your email. She simply records that you have sent her yet another pesky email. And the CMC officer “devolves” your disclosure – she sends it back to The Department, The department that you are complaining about.

And so the CMC have no record of your disclosure, just a record of their own gibberish version of your disclosure. And The Department’s investigation into your disclosure is based on the gibberish version of your disclosure.

And The Department’s investigation is not really an investigation; it is a “review”. And the rules of the “review” are that you are not allowed to speak to the reviewer. And the reviewer is not allowed to ask any questions. So you have no way of finding out that your disclosure has been reduced to gibberish.

A few days before or after the “review” begins, Freedom of Information documents are released to you by The Department. And you realise that your official records have been extensively falsified. So you email the Director-General. And you tell him that your official records have been extensively falsified.

He emails back.

Lots of times.

With lots of promises and re-assurances.

And you email the Director of Ethical Conduct. You tell him that your official records have been extensively falsified. And he emails back. Lots of times. With lots of promises and re-assurances.

Then, a few days before a copy of the review is released to you under “Freedom of Information”, the CMC and The Department each “accept” the review – the review based on the gibberish version of your disclosure and the falsified records – and they each declare your case “closed”.

So that when you write and protest that the review has been based on a gibberish version of your disclosure and on a huge mass of falsified “official records”, no public servant reads your letters. No public servant “knows”. Because your case has been declared “closed”.

And when you ask, under freedom of Information, what the Director-General and the Director of Ethical Conduct actually did in response to your emails, you are advised that there was a computer problem in The Department. And all of your emails to and from the Director-General and the Director of Human Resources over several months were “lost”. And so there is no official record of your complaint to them that your “official records” have been extensively falsified. And there is no official record of any of their promises and the re-assurances.

So you decide to phone another government department, one that is not corrupt. And you explain your disclosure again, very clearly. You notice a slight whining noise as you are speaking. When you have finished making your disclosure the Public Servant asks you if, “besides that”, anything else is bothering you. And so you struggle to give him some other examples of corruption. And you notice that the whining noise has now stopped. And later you wonder if the Public Servant could have been pausing his tape recorder while you were explaining your disclosure.

So you visit the Head Office of The Department. And you take your own tape recorder. And you place it on the table.

And the Head Office Public Servant places his own tape recorder on the table, beside yours. And, while you are speaking about a particular group of the falsified records, the Head Office Public Servant fiddles anxiously with his tape recorder. Twice. And, later, when you listen to your own recording, you notice that there is a loud straining noise on your own tape while you were explaining that a witness has told you that this particular group of “official records” are entirely falsified.

And you wonder if the Head Office Public Servant could have paused his tape recorder while you were talking about these particular “official records”.

The Department eventually appoint an “independent investigator”.

And the Head Office Public Servant whose behaviour you have complained about to the CMC is given control of the “independent investigation”. The Head Office Public Servant tells the “independent investigator” that he is only allowed to “consider” the falsified documents that you have discovered on your official records. He is not allowed to consider your evidence that these “records” are extensively falsified. Nor is he allowed to consider the many “official records” that are still being refused to you under Freedom of Information.

He is only allowed to “consider” the falsified documents.


And, one year before the CMC receive a copy of the “external investigation” report, they declare your case “closed”.

And two years before fragments of the “external investigation” report are released to you under Freedom of Information, The Department “accept” the investigation report and write to you, declaring your case “closed”.

And, when you receive fragments of the Investigation Report under Freedom of Information, you realise that your disclosure has still not been investigated. And, when you write more protest letters, no public servant reads your protest letters because your case has been declared “closed”.


So you decide that you have to send your disclosure to somebody that you think really cannot be corrupt. The State Premier, maybe.

And the Premier’s office do nothing. For months.

And so you write again. Did they receive your disclosure?

And again the Premier’s office do nothing. For months.

And so you write again.

You give more information. But you do not repeat your disclosure – because you have already “disclosed” to them twice. And this third letter triggers a response. A “Briefing Note for the Premier” is prepared by a senior public servant.

The Premier is advised that you keep on writing pesky letters. But no mention is made of the disclosure in your first two letters. And the Premier is advised not to reply to your pesky letters.

And the Premier agrees not to reply to your letters. He signs the “Briefing Note” with a big, swirly signature. And all of his senior public servants also agree not to respond to your pesky letters.

And so all of your letters to the Premier from that date onwards are simply filed by a machine, without being read.

And no public servant “knows”.

And eventually you realise that you are whistling into an empty room.

This article was first published in On Line Opinion, December 14 2010

Robina Cosser edits the  Teachers Are Blowing Their Whistles and Whistleblowing Women. She is Schools Contact Person and a Vice-President of Whistleblowers Australia.

And the ABC’s Drum beats: shoot the messenger

28 Dec

by Darryl Yeoh, flickr

On December 6, I wrote an article in On Line Opinion, also published on this blog titled The death threats, the media, and the government’s sycophantic pursuit of Julian Assange.

I was, among other things, critical of the way in which the Wikileaks story was handled by a panel on the ABC’s Drum on December 2.

On December 8 there was another panel hosted by Steve Cannane, with guests Alan Anderson, a former advisor to Peter Costello; Scott Stephens, ABC Online Editor of Religion and Ethics, and actor Rhys Muldoon. I’ll elaborate on this panel later. But first:

The art of silencing a whistleblower

There are three basic methods of discrediting a whistleblower used by those who wish to shut him or her up.

There is demonisation, as exemplified by certain figures in the USA likening Assange to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and calling for his assassination as a terrorist and a “treasonist.”

There is the technique of criminalizing the whistleblower, as exemplified by Julia Gillard’s ignorant description of Assange’s activities as “illegal,” and the comments to be found everywhere that claim he is guilty of alleged sexual offences before he has been charged and tried.

The third method is to pathologise the whistleblower, as did John Howard when he announced that whistleblower Andrew Wilkie was “emotionally unstable.”

There are sub-headings under these categories, such as minimising and discrediting the messenger in order to minimise and discredit the message. As exemplified by Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales on the previous week’s panel. This is best done by focusing on real or imagined negative characteristics of the messenger’s personality, instead of on the message that’s being delivered.

It is the pathologising method that held sway in the December 8 panel on The Drum. Assange was described (and I’m afraid I cannot recall which panellist made which accusation, other than that Mr Muldoon was not much involved) as a megalomaniac, a narcissist, and an anarchist. This last perhaps fits the category of criminalizing as well as pathologising.

Deconstructing the denigrations

  • Assange is an anarchist.

A quick look in the dictionary will reveal that Assange is anything but an anarchist. He does not envisage a world bereft of all government and cast into unregulated chaos. His interest is in maintaining governments, but making them transparent and honest.

  • Assange is a megalomaniac

Megalomania is psychiatric disorder in which the patient experiences delusions of great power and importance. Mr Assange may well consider himself to be powerful and important, as far as I know nobody has asked him about this. But there is no doubt that “powerful and important” accurately and realistically describes his position in the world at this time. He is not suffering from a psychiatric disorder if he holds this opinion of himself.

It is difficult to imagine anyone who has achieved anything on a global scale, for better or worse, who did not have immense confidence, faith and belief in their ability to bring their vision to fruition. This mind set only becomes a disorder when the assessment is unrealistic, and the visionary delusional about his or her capacities.

  • Assange is a narcissist

Narcissism is a personality disorder characterised by the patient’s overestimation of his or her appearance and abilities. The patient also has an excessive need for admiration, and is extremely self-centred. Never having met Assange (and I suspect the panellists haven’t either) or anyone who knows him, this is not a diagnosis I would care to make, and I am trained to make such diagnoses. No one on the panel has the expertise to do this, as far as I know. If they do, they didn’t reveal it.

All three terms are commonly used abusively, to denigrate, discredit, ridicule and otherwise do harm. People generally resort to the use of such abuse when they are unable, incapable, or too lazy to present an intelligent argument against another’s position. As with most abuse, they reveal far more about the abuser that they do about the abused.

The Twelve Leaks of Christmas

On December 10 there were several serious articles on Wikileaks in The Drum, and one very silly poem by Ms Crabb. This consists of  the Wikileaks events rendered into verse and titled TheTwelve Leaks of Christmas. This would not matter, one could cheerfully ignore it, except for the fact that Ms Crabb is The Drum’s Chief Online Political Reporter. She sets the tone, as it were. Stumbling across her doggerel is rather like watching the ABC television news and suddenly being confronted with Chris Uhlmann lying on the roof of Parliament House in his underpants swigging vodka and belting out a globally significant news event to the tune of Up the Old Red Rooster.

It would be fun at a party, but if you want to know what’s going on in the most intriguing, and quite possibly the most revolutionary story on the planet at the moment, doggerel just doesn’t cut it. Not from the CPR.

If there’d been any serious, insightful in-depth commentary and analysis from the Chief Online Political Reporter on Wikileaks, the silly poem wouldn’t matter so much. But there hasn’t. Why not? What is The Drum up to?

Loewenstein strikes again

In his article published in The Drum on December 10, titled Wikileaks challenges journalism – politics partnership, Antony Loewenstein again challenges the media’s cosiness with politicians and diplomats. This cosiness continues to be most annoyingly evidenced whenever a journalist tells us there’s nothing in the cables that everybody doesn’t already know.

Which “everybody” would that be? Because there’s a very, very large “everybody” who don’t earn their living as politicians, journalists and diplomats, and practically nobody in that cohort knows anything much at all about the cables. Last I looked, it was the media’s job to inform us especially the publicly funded media, and quite frankly, I’ve had it with hearing that because they know all about them that means the cables aren’t interesting.

As Loewenstein observes: The cosiness between these players (media, politicians and diplomats) is exactly what WikiLeaks is aiming to challenge.

He continues: Why do journalists allow themselves to be romanced without revealing the kinds of agendas they’re pushing? It’s obvious why; being close to top officials and politicians makes them feel connected and important. Being an insider is many reporters’ ideal position. Independence is secondary to receiving sanctioned links and elevated status in a globalised world.

The WikiLeaks documents challenge the entire corrupted relationship between media and political elites. Founder Julian Assange is an outsider and doesn’t attend exclusive and secret meetings where the furthering of US foreign policy goals are on the cards. He aims to disrupt that dynamic. Many in the media resent not being leaked the information themselves and are jealous. Others simply dislike a lone-wolf citizen with remarkable tech-savvy to challenge their viability.

Could any of this explain the denigration of Assange and Wikileaks by some panelists and some journos on The Drum? The abusive descriptions of him? The silly poem? The refusal to take either Assange or the Wikileaks dump seriously enough to consider the complex and manifold implications of his activities? Because the way it’s shaping up, The Drum’s chief online political reporter is going to be one of the last journos on the planet to get her head around what the dump means and might mean for the future, including the future of her own profession.

Mark Scott, please explain

My questions to our public broadcaster are, why are some of the ABC’s employees using these classic methods to shoot the messenger in their reporting on Wikileaks? Because I do not wish to financially support the ABC if its policy is to shoot messengers, even just a little bit, and they are currently doing it quite a lot.

Are some ABC journos doing the government’s bidding in this matter? Are some of the reporters far too close to politicians and diplomats, and therefore unwilling to treat the Wikileaks story with the seriousness that the public deserves, and finances?

Is The Drum’s television panel really about informed commentary and analysis, or are the hosts going to continue to permit these personal attacks on Assange? Because if they do, I hope he instructs that battery of lawyers he’s got on board to go for their jugulars.

It is extremely important that the ABC presents points of view that disagree with and argue against those who support Wikileaks and Assange. Everyone I know is very willing to read other perspectives on this story. But the ABC producers and editors, for the television panel and articles, need to remind their contributors that personal denigration is not intelligent opposition or robust debate.

Salacious speculation as to the nature and circumstances of the alleged sexual offences and the guilt or otherwise of any of the parties involved is extremely unfair, both to Assange and to the complainants. Speculation such as this is neither intelligent opposition nor robust debate.

For example, on December 10, The Drum published a piece by Marion Dalton in which the author implied that Assange might have infected his partners with two different sexually transmitted diseases. (This article was also published on OLO on December 9). Calling upon spin and innuendo to carry her unsavoury message, Dalton weaves what she describes as a “hypothetical” case of sexual assault in with the real accounts of the allegations of sexual assault against Assange.

Does The Drum or OLO really believe its readers are too stupid to notice this deliberate conflation of the “hypothetical” with the actual?

There were an overwhelming number of negative comments on this article on both sites. Will The Drum and OLO get this message?

The ABC spins

“DavidPerth” posted the following on the comments for Loewenstein’s article:  I just heard on ABC news that several hundred FANATICS had gathered to protest in Australian cities.

 Come on, what is going on here with the ABC?

I heard on the ABC news on December 10 that “disciples” of Assange had gathered in Sydney to protest against the treatment of Assange and Wikilekas.

“Disciples” are devoted followers of a spiritual leader. The word is frequently used to describe those entrapped by a charismatic cult. It is often used in a derogatory, belittling manner.

Those protesting are neither fanatics nor disciples. They are citizens in a democracy, exercising their democratic right to express their discontent with their government’s actions, and the treatment of Assange.

Exactly what narrative is the ABC working to produce about Wikileaks, and about those who support the organisation and Assange?

This bias really must stop. Until it does, it’s reasonable to assume that the ABC, at least in parts, is consciously or unconsciously in collusion with the global efforts to shoot this messenger, in an attempt to distract from and discredit his message. Shooting messengers is a tawdry and unintelligent occupation. Many people today are far too sophisticated and engaged to be taken in by a tactic that has long since reached its used by date, even if they aren’t employed as journalists, diplomats or politicians.

But the most interesting question is, what is ABC’s agenda and who is driving it?

This article first appeared in On Line Opinion, December 14  20102

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