January 7, 2011

why Wikileaks must matter to all activists

Filed under: opinion article — newritings @ 7:12 pm

The other day, I looked out for what Transparency International was saying officially about Wikileaks, and was not surprised. I found nothing.
I did look wider on the net and found Transparency Russia begging for Wikileaks to reveal something about their country…but truly speaking I l have lamented the paucity of debate and any real interest in some parts of the world. Where there has been some discussion, it has been about what can be called nitpicking or the fall-outs about the exposures, the lies and half truths of so called US intelligence. I think what Wikileaks signifies is a far greater problem, we have less control over our own lives, and states and governments have amassed too much information about peoples, individuals and their organizations. Little wonder corporations like Mastercard and Amazon, can at wink and a nod, jump sky high to undermine a civil society organization like Wikileaks when the US government says so. How different is this from Google buckling to China to control the internet? Where are those groups now that protested Google’s actions? Why are we not launching any campaigns against Mastercard and Amazon?

bradley and julian

I also checked out South African newspapers and found them lacking in coverage on what WIkileaks has to offer. Why? Is it the tabloidization of our papers? Or is it the fear of US or other governmental retaliation?
For now I think we must talk about solidarity with WIkleaks, Julian Assange and many other activists. In this regards I want us to support on particular US soldier who really needs our support. He has mine. This young man must be protected by the Geneva conventions as he was a combatant in a war, real and with wider moral implications: a war of truth and justice against greed, and injustice. He is truly a prisoner of conscience. I really hope that civil society groups mobiise around people like young Bradley Manning, because we if do not fight to keep our space open, the ruling classes will close in on us, as they are doing already. justice in on our side, but we must organise to ensure that the people win back our freedoms that have been increasingly privatised…This is what one journal wrote about him:The 22 year-old U.S. Army Private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks has never been convicted of that crime, and yet he has spent seven months in solitary confinement under horrific conditions.
Manning has spent the last five months detained at the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia—before that he spent two months in a military jail in Kuwait, all the while facing conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and even torture. Manning was charged with the unauthorized use and disclosure of U.S. classified information.¨
Now, I want to end by listing some discussions that have taken place over the last few weeks on an alternative media list.

a) The first article was by Mark Weinberg of the Right to Know Campaign and moderator of the group.
Sent: 13 December 2010 07:21 AM
Subject: [Alternative Media] On Wikileaks and wars

Right2Know Statement: what Wikileaks teaches us about SA’s Secrecy Bill
Thursday, 09 December 2010 14:34
Make fewer secrets, less often…
The leaking of secret diplomatic correspondence by Wikileaks serves as a warning to all who wish to hide information from the public. As the South African Parliament considers passing the draconian Protection of Information Bill (POIB), they should stop and consider the lesson of Wikileaks: Technological developments with a democratic impulse have forever undermined the ability of states to keep secrets as they have in the past
The keeping of secrets is a precarious business requiring increasing human and financial resources. The POIB will have significant financial implications for all spheres of government that the current Bill does not cater for.
As the Right2Know Campaign fights the battle against the Secrecy Bill that would shroud our society in darkness, we take note of another Wikileaks lesson: Governments which mire themselves in secrecy can quickly become enemies to their own people. There can be no doubt that publishing much of the information on Wikileaks is in the public interest even if it is not in the interests of governments. It is for this reason that we continue to demand that the scope and definitions of South Africa ‘s Secrecy Bill must be narrow in their remit.
The US government and their allies have attempted to frame these leaks as a criminal act. The Right2Know Campaign firmly believes that an institution like Wikileaks is an inevitable response to a system that is overcome by dark and embarrassing secrets. If governments wish to condemn Wikileaks to oblivion, they can best do so by making fewer secrets, less often. In short, they can adopt the sort of open and transparent governance demanded by the South African constitution.
The Right2Know Campaign draws inspiration from the courage and dedication of the team that built and maintains the Wikileaks service. As long as there are people like them committed to exposing the wrongdoing of governments and businesses, no securocratic laws can stop the free flow of information.

Mark Weinberg

Mobile: +27 74 1036704
Tel: +27 21 447 5770
Fax: +27 21 447 5884

B) This was then followed by an email from me, calling for some action in support of wikileaks
Sent: Monday, December 13, 2010 6:52 PM
To: mark weinberg; Mashilo M. Boloka
Subject: Re: [Alternative Media] On Wikileaks and wars and the need for some protest

Hi all

I really think we must have a small demonstration to show our support for the struggles waged on our behalf globally as exemplified by the attacks on wikileaks.
i heard there were protests in many capitals but joburg was not mentioned. if not a demo, then a simple statement of solidarity

I hope I have not missed any emails where this was suggested.

In solidarity

Hassen Lorgat

C. Two emails later follow asking for the relevance of the wikileaks struggle to the freedom of expression struggles in South Africa. They are dated 15 December, and read thus:
From: [] On Behalf Of A Arko-Cobbah
Sent: miércoles, 15 de diciembre de 2010 07:05 a.m.
Subject: Fwd: RE: [Alternative Media] On Wikileaks and wars and the need for some protest

I tend to agree with you. Are we saying that if one violates the law by leaking and distributing, world-wide, classified documents, possibly, obtained through espionage to court, perhaps, cheap popularity, do we have to clap for him? I hope you see this to be entirely different from our fight against media restrictions being contemplated by our government.

>>> “Phelisa Nkomo” 12/14/2010 3:17 AM >>>
Dear Colleagues,
At the risk of sounding ignorant, why should we support this? I would rather appear ignorant than pretend to understand. How does this undermines media freedom? Please help

Ms Phelisa Nkomo
National Advocacy Programme Manager
Black Sash
Tel 021 686 6952
Mobile 072 613 3577
No 3 Caledonian Str,
Mowbray, Cape Town
Making Human Rights Real

D, Ann Eveleth is a wide ranging reply to Arko-Cobbah and Phelisa, touches on US hegemony and role of the media and civil society organizations:
. From: Ann Eveleth
To: A Arko-Cobbah ;
Sent: Wed, December 15, 2010 5:38:20 PM
Subject: RE: RE: [Alternative Media] On Wikileaks and wars and the need for some protest
Dear Phelisa, Albert and others in SA’s “alternative” media community,
Firstly, I thought you might find this link interesting, and maybe it will answer some of your questions about “why”, Phelisa.
Secondly, in answer to your question Albert: “Are we saying that if one violates the law by leaking and distributing, world-wide, classified documents, possibly, obtained through espionage to court, perhaps, cheap popularity, do we have to clap for him?”
1) Which laws have Wikileaks violated? Even the entire U$ InJustice Department is still scratching its head after 2 weeks trying to find a law they can use to charge Assange with violating (and I want to separate the question of Wikileaks from the other charges of sexual misconduct which have not even yet been brought against Assange in Sweden, of which I am personally very suspicious there is a strong link to U$ efforts to get hold of him, but which none of us can know until that matter plays out). There is a basic principle in law that if a reasonable person could not have known that such a law existed banning their actions, they could not be held accountable for breaking it. While ignorance of the law is not by itself a defence, there has to be a limitation on this to the extent that if even an entire department of government cannot find such a law, no ordinary person can be expected to know about said law.

2) It is the first and most important job of “journalists” to uncover and expose injustices that the powerful seek to hide from the rest of us. Real journalism has a long-forgotten history of seeking out such information as the powerful governments and corporations would like to remain hidden. Perhaps it is because we have been forced to lower our expectations of journalism so far, for so long, that most of us have forgotten that this real journalism once existed. To suggest that journalists are bound to obey the dictates of the powerful when they claim a particular piece of information is “classified”, and to respect such “classification” is to define the role of journalists in a highly constrained role as mere public relations puppets of the elite. That IS, in fact, what most journalist today DO, but this does not mean that it has anything to do with journalism.

3) What is “Espionage”, except the failure of a person so convicted to obey the dictates of narrow nationalist “patriotism”, or the mandate to see the protection of the interests of one nationally defined set of elites against other peoples in the world as the highest principle, overriding questions of justice and humanity. From everything I have seen, there is little chance the U$ government will succeed in convicting Assange, an Australian citizen, with failure to obey Amerikkkan patriotism. (Despite the calls for assassination, execution, etc such intellectual scions as Sarah Palin, who have castigated him as being “Un-American”, lol!) They may, however, succeed in convicting U$ Army Private Bradley Manning, who is alleged to have copied the material from military servers, with espionage. But there are 2 questions involved in even this possibility – the first, yes, as a member of the U$ security forces, he was legally responsible to the notion that he should be so patriotic as to not share the information. The second, however, is the question of justice – there are many, many, many members of the US armed forced who have been drawn into the illegal U$ occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan who have developed outrage over being used by their government for such actions – there are entire organisations of them now, like Veterans Against the Wars, etc. In rejecting these unjust actions, they have chosen to align themselves to a greater humanity beyond mere patriotism to the U$. If Manning’s actions prove to have been so inspired, should the response of those who seek justice in the world be to condemn him, or to celebrate his courage? Put another way, should those few white SAfricans who resisted conscription into the apartheid army be considered traitors, or heroes?

4) Is Wikileaks as an organisation, seeking mere “cheap popularity”? Is Assange? Who knows? I am personally so fundamentally opposed to individuals seeking their own “Coca Cola Pop Star” status by feeding off (and consuming) the energy of those battling the system that I could say it has come to redefine my beliefs about what change is/is not possible through our struggles in response to that prominent challenge, and I certainly watch Assange as an individual with scepticism simply for the fact that he has gained this sort of celebrity status. BUT, I also know that sometimes people do gain this kind of status not because they have sought it, but simply because what they are actually DOING has propelled them onto the historical stage at a particular moment, in the course of battle. I reckon it will be some time before we have enough evidence to truly judge Assange’s character in light of this question. But, this is NOT about Assange, nor any other single individual. It is about Wikileaks, and about journalism, and about imperialism, and about “official secrets”, and about Internet Freedom. What we do know is that
a) Wikileaks has provided the world with an unprecedented glimpse into the world of U$ diplomacy/spying operations around the world, following on earlier provisions of vast amounts of information about current, highly controversial, U$ military occupations;
b) by doing so through the internet, Wikileaks has opened new possibilities for the encouragement of Whistleblowers (these are the good guys who see injustice and want it to be known) to know that their information can get out, even if the mainstream corporate media outlets (ie, those who are NOT “alternative” media) refuse to publish,
c) Wikileaks has reinvigorated the very idea that real journalism – ie, digging for the truth and getting it out even if it will not help one’s career among the elites – can still, or possibly once again, exist; d) Wikileaks has demonstrated that the internet offers more and more of us who are not part of the elite power structures, the chance to engage in the wide dissemination of information;
e) Wikileaks has inadvertently cast a huge spotlight on the way this new medium of information sharing is indeed still controlled by these very corporate interests that the idea of “alternative media” seeks to circumvent;
f) the current “cyberwar” related to this last exposure has now put the question to all of us who are concerned with questions of freedom of expression (and not the narrow protection of elite journalism) as to how will we respond to this new form of corporate domination now, and into the future? Because if we do not respond NOW, it will likely be too late very soon, and we will have played our part in meekly accepting that access to information into the coming CENTURIES will be controlled by corporate entities that will never be subject to democratic accountability.

5) Albert: “I hope you see this to be entirely different from our fight against media restrictions being contemplated by our government.” ???? If you think having the SA Govt control your access to information is a bad thing, at least you can potentially vote them out of office (or find other ways to get them out). If you let these political questions of what can and cannot be published be settled by the likes of Amazon, Paypal, Microsoft, Apple, Halliburton.well, then I am not sure what you actually mean by “alternative” media? And let’s not forget that behind these corporate controllers of the so-called “information superhighway” right now stands the U$ government. So are you saying “let’s protect our turf from control by the SA Govt, but let the U$ government and its corporate sponsors make all the decisions for us about what we can and cannot publish? Not to mention how this has even been extended into a question of controlling what people can and cannot READ, with all those who work for the U$ government in its various departments, and even university students, being warned that they may lose and/or not get jobs if they are found to have read or discussed the wikileaks material in the privacy of their own homes. If you are not worried about that, I am worried about what it would take for you to be worried…
In struggle,
Ann Eveleth

F) on the 17 December I reply thus: >>> hassen lorgat 12/17/2010 10:46 AM >>>
I think the comrade Evelyn hit the nail on the head and I thank her for contributing. There are many reasons for supporting WIkiLeaks namely
a) Governments have far too many secrets which they keep away from us, the people who elected them. I am not surprised that many governments led by the only global super power are truly pissed off because they indiscreet comments made in the shadows have been exposed. And it must be exposed if our votes, and democracies are to hold any sway.
b) some governments – imperial powers like the world?s only superpower the USA has way too much power and information on other countries and their own citizens. how do you think they got it? throught rule of law or asking nicely? think again, bribery, corruption, force, torture all. National media must have an agenda that takes people (at the centre of development, and in our case Africa and South Africa)As a brief aside I argued in response to cde Cronin?(No left cover needed) that when we have repressive media laws and practices within our nation state (whatever is left of it) it merely empowers external media agencies. I said that ?One unintended consequence of the bill, if it goes through, will be that media agencies with global links will run exposés of our body politic and thus the likes of the BBC, will once again be seen as authoritative, as the onerous obligations placed on national journalists will not apply to someone far away receiving confidential information.? this brings me to my third point
c) That media and media is globally owned and controlled. The Wiki projects and philosophies are aimed at empowering activists and world citizens to fight back and have real voice.
d) we must then see Wikileaks as a whistleblower, leaking, or making transparent what the powerful are saying about others (friends and foe alike) to maintain their hold of power. Ann Eveleth is correct to say, that these Leaks must encourage other whistleblowers (who by the way in SA have had a torrid time, which will be made worse by restrictive media laws and actions by the powerful on cartoonists , writers, and ordinary folk who want to keep those in power on their toes. THis power, that is being exposed is the same POWER that maintains and sustains poverty and inequality. It is our task to use information, political organising and other organisational skills to fight for a more just society, here and internationally.

in solidarity

The cables are believed to include withering US assessments of Mr Brown’s personality and prospects of staying in power.
They may also show the low regard of the White House for Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with America. Nor does David Cameron escape from criticism.
Mr Mandela, who stepped down as President in 1999, condemned George Bush over the Iraq War, suggesting the US President had ignored the United Nations’ calls for restraint because the then Secretary-General Kofi Annan was black.
He also called Tony Blair the ‘foreign minister of the United States’ for supporting Mr Bush over Iraq.

Read more:

G) on the same day this reply is received from Arko-Cobbah:
From: A Arko-Cobbah
Sent: Fri, December 17, 2010 1:55:36 PM
Subject: Fwd: Re: RE: [Alternative Media] On Wikileaks and wars and the need for some protest
Eveleth, Hassen etc.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not against Wikileads per se. My concern is that there are certain leaks, which if not handled with care, especially, with regard to the timing of their leaks, can do more harm than good. A typical example is the comment made by our International Affairs minister about ” the crazy old man”. Whereas one can concede that to be an apt description of Comrade (is it Foe?) Mugabe, the entire world, led by South Africa, is literally pleading with the crazy old man to relinquish power because of the so many years of adversity that Zimbabwe has faced. He is the problem, arguably, one may say. It is also known that there is nothing the world can do to free Zimbabwe from his grips apart from diplomacy. Any other option will worsen the situation. Imagine South Africa going back to the crazy old man to plead for sanity to prevail after styling him crazy. Diplomacy, by definition, means skills and tact in dealing with people which, by implication, may even include manipulation and… The world was able to get Charles Taylor to relinquish power had he not been made to believe that he would be protected. The Prime Minister of Zim is on record of assuring the crazy old man of exit package, including being free from persecution for human rights abuses, if he would relinquish power. I wonder how South Africa will approach the crazy old man to plead with him again. Meanwhile the people of Zim keep on suffering, perhaps, until the world sing Mugabe’s Requiem and no one knows when. Much as we enjoy reading those leaks (and I enjoy them so much) as they ridicule America’s hegemonic ambitions, we should also be wary as to the harm they may cause in terms of human suffering and diplomacy. Every student of Rights to Access of Information legislation knows that not “every” information should be put in the public domain, at least, not at the inopportune time. That is my stance! Who ever said democracy is not complicated?

H) O n 21 December, a quiet activist time in SA, I reply to the group pointing out interalia how El Pais in Spain is dedicating pages to the Leaks whilst SA papers are scant in comparison:

—– Forwarded Message —-
From: hassen lorgat
To: A Arko-Cobbah ;
Sent: Tue, December 21, 2010 4:05:09 PM
Subject: [Alternative Media] On Wikileaks…our media are they interested?
I think Prof S Zunes (WikiLeaks Cables on Western Sahara Show Role of Ideology in State Department, makes some good points regarding Wikileaks in the above story. for one, these are not surprising, for scholars of struggle, and those participating in them, and they not necessarily correct. Importantly, he argues that ¨Over the years, as part of my academic research, I have spent many hours at the National Archives poring over diplomatic cables of the kind recently released by WikiLeaks. The only difference is that rather than being released after a 30+ year waiting period — when the principals involved are presumably dead or in retirement and the countries in question have very different governments in power — the WikiLeaks are a lot more recent, more relevant and, in some cases, more embarrassing as a result.¨

The question for me, is to see how we use the current information for our struggles, learning and organising but equally importantly making sure that governments do not have too much information on people, individuals and groups.

Secondly, I want to know why are media are not covering these exposures, fully. El Pais, dedicates at least 5 of its front pages to the dominance of the USA and its attempts at keeping its global influence by hook or by crook. If we contrast this with our media, how much coverages do we get? about whom, our neighbours or what is says about Malema, Madiba etc. There is more to the leaks than that. THe other day 20 Dec, the said paper had a leak about a Mossad chief Amos Yadlin, saying that ¨we will be happy if Hamas takes Gaza¨, which coincided with government views to treat Gaza as a hostile territory. That was 2007. It begs the question are we interested? is our media interested? are they covering up or not covering?
Hassen Lorgat


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