These days, the powers-that-be don't go straight to the shiv in the back or the poison in the drink or the faked suicide or the tragic car accident on a dark road; no, today we are a bit more circumspect in taking down high-profile irritants of empire. The modern way is to begin the takedown with a smear campaign -- preferably some sort of ""moral turpitude" to sully their public image and discredit their entire cause.
And so on late Friday we had the announcement that Swedish authorities had issued an arrest warrant for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on charges of rape and molestation. This was followed a few hours later -- after Wikileaks mounted a ferocious defense against the charges, and promised to carry on with its work regardless -- by a sudden decision to withdraw the warrant, with officials now saying the rape charge was unfounded -- although they said nothing about the lesser charge of molestation, leaving that vague but turpitudishly resonant charge hanging in the air for the moment.
This rigmarole is about as blatant a smear as can be imagined, coming as it does just after the Obama Administration has been caught out in an outright lie about Wikileaks attempts to redact its next release of classified war documents to ensure that no Afghans named in the papers will be put at risk. Not only has the Peace Laureate's minions been lying about Wikileaks' earnest efforts in the regard, but this deceit has been actively abetted by the New York Times, whose own reporter passed along Wikileaks' offer to the Pentagon -- then publicly dismissed the claim that Wikileaks had made the good-faith offer. (Glenn Greenwald has the story on this egregious -- if depressingly standard -- malefaction by the imperial servitors in the media.)
Wikileaks made the offer to ward off the criticism it received after the last release; i.e., that it had "blood on its hands" because Afghan insurgents would strike at any Afghans named in the documents as cooperating with the occupation forces. This "blood libel" was trumpeted all over the media by Obama officials -- while their own hands were absolutely pouring with the blood of innocent Afghans murdered at their command. The fact is, of course, that not a single case of such retribution has been reported; and the charge itself is based on the ludicrous assumption that the Taliban does not already know who is cooperating with the occupation forces. (In any case, many if not most Afghans cooperating with Americans do it quite openly, as part of the Afghan government, for example, or in liaising with military commanders in their region, or working for the occupation's vast base-building projects, distribution networks and reconstruction programs, etc.)
But this initial blood libel -- belched forth by such longtime butchers as Obama's favorite Bush Family factotum, Bob Gates -- did not really take hold. The revelations continued to pour forth from the 92,000 documents unveiled by Wikileaks last month -- such as this remarkable story by Pratap Chatterjee at TomDispatch, detailing the operations of the American death squad, Task Force 373, whose existence was revealed in the Wikileaks trove. These professional assassins are a key element of the Peace Laureate's strategy in Afghanistan -- and an example of a large-scale trend in the War Machine's ever-evolving "philosophy" of Terror War.
Indeed, many of the proponents of Obama's "surge" in assassination liken it -- favorably! -- to the murderous Phoenix Program in Vietnam directed by the CIA, which killed at least 20,000 people, by the Agency's own admission. (Other, more independent examinations put the the true death count of those slaughtered in these non-combat, "extrajudicial killings" at in the range of 40,000 to 70,000. For more on the Phoenix Program, and on Obama's grand "continuity" with imperial atrocities past, see here.) As Chatterjee notes:
President Obama has, by all accounts, expanded military intelligence gathering and “capture/kill” programs globally in tandem with an escalation of drone-strike operations by the CIA.
There are quite a few outspoken supporters of the “capture/kill” doctrine. Columbia University Professor Austin Long is one academic who has jumped on the F3EA bandwagon. Noting its similarity to the Phoenix assassination program, responsible for tens of thousands of deaths during the U.S. war in Vietnam (which he defends), he has called for a shrinking of the U.S. military “footprint” in Afghanistan to 13,000 Special Forces troops who would focus exclusively on counter-terrorism, particularly assassination operations. “Phoenix suggests that intelligence coordination and the integration of intelligence with an action arm can have a powerful effect on even extremely large and capable armed groups,” he and his co-author William Rosenau wrote in a July 2009 Rand Institute monograph entitled” “The Phoenix Program and Contemporary Counterinsurgency.”
Others are even more aggressively inclined. Lieutenant George Crawford, who retired from the position of “lead strategist” for the Special Forces Command to go work for Archimedes Global, Inc., a Washington consulting firm, has suggested that F3EA be replaced by one term: “Manhunting.” In a monograph published by the Joint Special Operations University in September 2009, “Manhunting: Counter-Network Organization for Irregular Warfare,” Crawford spells out “how to best address the responsibility to develop manhunting as a capability for American national security.”
This then is where we are. We have the President of the United States -- who has already openly proclaimed his "right" to assassinate anyone on earth, including American citizens, without the slightest due process of law, simply at his arbitrary command -- now feverishly expanding the use of death squads, whose stealthy night raids on sleeping villages have already killed a vast number of innocent civilians in Afghanistan (as the Wikileaks documents show). This same administration is now running "black ops," secret armies, proxy wars and other covert activities in more than 75 countries around the world. That is to say, the Obama Administration is now murdering people in their beds, fomenting bloody ethnic conflict, supporting and/or carrying out acts of terrorism, spreading corruption, assisting dictators, arming warlords, spreading hate and suffering all over the world -- and doing it knowingly, proudly. ("Evil in broad daylight" indeed, as Arthur Silber details here.)
And these are the moral paragons who have now turned their machinery of lies and smears against Wikileaks. For make no mistake; although the rape charges were manufactured in Sweden -- which, incidentally, is where some of Wikileaks' servers are located -- they emanate from the proud deathlords in Washington. Indeed, didn't we hear just a few weeks ago that the Peace Laureate's people had launched a campaign of pressuring foreign governments to put fetters on Assange and his organization? Now Sweden's center-right government -- no, Rush, Sweden is no longer the super-socialist fairyland of your nightmares -- has obviously hearkened to the master's voice.
But although this first foray has been rebuffed, it is certain that what we are seeing is the beginning of a concerted effort to destroy Assange as a public figure and thereby discredit the work of Wikileaks -- and by extension, the truth of its revelations.
And smearing, of course, is just the first step. If that doesn't work ... well, the avowed and openly proclaimed proponents of assassination certainly have other, more "prejudicial" methods at their disposal, nicht war?
John Pilger, writing before this latest assault, speaks strongly about the need to defend and support Wikileaks' mission. Of course, no one has spoken more eloquently, insightfully and to the point on this issue than Arthur Silber, whose multi-part series on the manifold implications of Wikileaks' efforts is absolutely essential reading. (See also here and here.)
I'd like to take this chance to say that I now believe that my initial response to Wikileaks' Afghan Papers release (see here) was almost entirely wrong. I fell into the all-too-common trap of discussing the issue in the terms that power itself had set: i.e, how the revelations could be spun by the War Machine for its advantage, instead of standing back and seeing the larger picture of just what such an act of defiance -- unstoppable due to its invisible dissemination via the internet -- really meant. Yet Silber wisely pointed out a salient fact of our time: that our warlords will use anything and everything -- and nothing at all -- to advance their agenda. The substance of any given story doesn't matter to them: they will spin it into a reason to continue the Terror War and the agenda of domination. But this basic truth somehow escaped me.
I seized upon the very first stories in the mainstream press about the leaks, noting -- with righteous fury -- that they told us nothing we had not already heard before. I was writing literally within a couple of hours of the first look at a gargantuan storehouse of 92,000 documents -- yet I was certain that I knew just what the trove contained, and what it meant. I downplayed their significance, tossing off the "savvy" observation that these were "no Pentagon Papers." But scant hours after this confident proclamation, there was the man behind the Pentagon Papers himself, Daniel Ellsberg, making precisely that comparison.
With a hasty, thoughtless rush to judgment -- and with a focus far too fixed on the "media narrative," and on the need to get my uniformed opinion out there -- I did what I now feel was a great disservice to an event that was in fact a significant blow against the empire; a significance confirmed by the empire's panicked reaction to it.
It is easy to sit on the sidelines and pontificate. Over the years, I've spoken out as forthrightly as I know how, but I'm no activist, I haven't risked much; all it has cost me is a few journalism gigs. But the people at Wikileaks are putting their liberties -- and their lives -- on the line, to take practical action to try to bring some of the horrors of the Terror War to an end. It's not a question of romanticizing any one organization, or any one man, seeing them as paragons whose every action or statement is sacrosanct; nobody needs that, and it never accomplishes anything. It just gets in the way of the task at hand.
But when people are putting everything on the line to stand up against the ravages of power -- against war, against aggression, against assassination and atrocity -- then I want to stand with those people, and stand by those people. As the old gospel song says, "I want to be there in that number."