The Bank of America has joined MasterCard, PayPal, Visa and Swiss bank PostFinance in refusing to process transactions "of any type" that it believes is intended for Wikileaks. No word on what will form the basis for that belief. "This decision is based upon our reasonable belief that WikiLeaks may be engaged in activities that are, among other things, inconsistent with our internal policies for processing payments."
In a recent interview with Forbes magazine, Julian Assange stated that he planned to release information on a major bank early next year. It has been widely speculated in the US media that the bank in question is the Bank of America.
Both Visa and Mastercard are now facing legal action from Datacell, the IT company based in Switzerland and Iceland, that enables Wikileaks to accept credit and debit card donations. They could also have their operating licenses taken away in Iceland, according to members of the Icelandic Parliamentary General Committee.
Yesterday, the US House Judiciary Committee hosted a panel of Constitutional Law and national security scholars to look at the question of whether Wikileaks or Julian Assange could or should be prosecuted for publishing leaked data from the US. The three and a quarter hour hearing is available here, and an article has been posted about it today by Matt Schafer on Lippmann Would Roll.
LWR's overall verdict was as follows:
When all was said and done, the witnesses seemed to agree, in part, that the government is overclassifying information, the Espionage Act of 1917 is likely unconstitutional, the SHIELD Act, proposed recently by Sen. Joe Lieberman [I-CT], rests on a shaky constitutional footing also, and it is important that the legislature not overreact to the WikiLeaks cables. ...
Almost all witness cited flaws within the Espionage Act, while the consensus on whether WikiLeaks is protected by the First Amendment did not enjoy a similar consensus. With all witnesses having testified, four argued that Wikileaks is protected by the Constitution, two argued that it should be prosecuted, and witness Stephen Vladeck abstained from making a determination on WikiLeaks.
As the Australian Federal Police inquiry announced its finding that neither Julian Assange nor Wikileaks have broken any Australian laws, the Australian Labor Party finds its public support slipping. According to an article in The Age, the opposition has overtaken the government for the first time since the federal election in August. Support for the coalition is up four per cent since the start of December, and support for the government is down four per cent. According to The Age:
The poll was conducted at the height of the WikiLeaks controversy, fuelled by Prime Minister Julia Gillard's assertion that the actions of Australian Julian Assange, the web site's founder, were illegal.
In another article today The Age answers Prime Minister Julia Gillard attacks on Wikileaks by stating:
Ms Gillard cannot credibly claim that the Australian people did not need to know the contents of these cables. And she should be assured that The Age will keep publishing them.
Reporters Without Borders: Open letter to President Obama and General Attorney Holder regarding possible criminal prosecution against Julian Assange
Dear President Obama and Attorney General Holder,
Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom organization, would like to share with you its concern about reports that the Department of Justice is preparing a possible criminal prosecution against Julian Assange and other people who work at WikiLeaks.
We regard the publication of classified information by WikiLeaks and five associated newspapers as a journalistic activity protected by the First Amendment. Prosecuting WikiLeaks’ founders and other people linked to the website would seriously damage media freedom in the United States and impede the work of journalists who cover sensitive subjects.
It would also weaken the US and the international community efforts at protecting human rights, providing governments with poor press freedom records a ready-made excuse to justify censorship and retributive judicial campaigns against civil society and the media.
We believe the United States credibility as a leading proponent of freedom of expression is at stake, and that any arbitrary prosecution of WikiLeaks for receiving and publishing sensitive documents would inevitably create a dangerous precedent.
Members of the faculty at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism wrote to you recently warning that “government overreaction to publication of leaked material in the press has always been more damaging to American democracy than the leaks themselves.” We fully agree with this analysis.
The ability to publish confidential documents is a necessary safeguard against government over-classification. We urge you to use this debate to review the government’s policy of classifying documents in order to increase transparency in accordance with the promises made by the administration when it first assumed office.
We thank you both in advance for the attention you give to our observations.
Jean-François Julliard Secretary-General
uruknet.info: Why we stand with WikiLeaks
"In reality, the prosecution of Assange is part of a government war on dissent that comes in the context of raids and subpoenas of left-wing and antiwar activists in Chicago and the Twin Cities seeking to criminalize support for, among other things, the growing movement for justice for the Palestinian people.
They want to chill our right to dissent. If we are to prevent that, we must stand in defense of the right of Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks to expose the crimes committed by the U.S."
Huffington Post:Why I Am Donating $50,000 to WikiLeaks' Defense Fund
"I'm sick and tired of the politicians and political pundits treating this man as if he were a criminal. If WikiLeaks had existed in 2003 when George W. Bush was ginning up the war in Iraq, America might not be in the horrendous situation it is today, with our troops fighting in three countries (counting Pakistan) and the consequent cost in blood and dollars."
The Guardian: WikiLeaks cables: WikiLeaks cables: Sudanese president 'stashed $9bn in UK banks'
"Speculation that Omar al-Bashir siphoned $9bn in oil money and deposited it in foreign accounts could fuel calls for his arrest.
Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, has siphoned as much as $9bn out of his impoverished country, and much of it may be stashed in London banks, according to secret US diplomatic cables that recount conversations with the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court. Some of the funds may be held by the part-nationalised Lloyds Banking Group, according to prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who told US officials it was time to go public with the scale of Bashir's theft in order to turn Sudanese public opinion against him."
Der Spiegel: CIA Rendition Case: US Pressured Italy to Influence Judiciary
"The CIA rendition of cleric Abu Omar in 2003 turned into a headache for Washington when a Milan court indicted the agents involved. Secret dispatches now show how the US threatened the Italian government in an attempt to influence the case. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was apparently happy to help."
El País: EE UU sospecha de grupos de la oposición cubana en España (The United States suspects about groups of Cuban opposition in Spain)
"La embajada en Madrid cree que el fundador de Cuba Democracia Ya! es agente cubano y recela de Encuentro Cubano, una plataforma que recibe fondos norteamericanos. (The Embassy in Madrid believes the founder of "Cuba Democracia Ya!", a platform founded by the United States, is actually a Cuban agent.)"
Read more (Spanish)
The Guardian: WikiLeaks cables reveal US concerns over timing of Charles Taylor trial
"Leaked dispatches retell speculation that former Liberian leader's war crimes trial is being slowed down by Ugandan judge.
Judges in one of the world's most controversial war crimes trials have been deliberately slowing down proceedings, senior US officials believe, causing significant delays to proceedings.
Secret cables reveal US doubts about the trial in The Hague of Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, amid allegations that one of the judges has manipulated proceedings so that she can personally give the verdict in the case."
Der Spiegel: The Unwanted Iran Brokers: US Irked by Over-Eager Swiss Diplomats
"In 2006 and 2007 Swiss diplomats tried to usher the Americans and Iranians to the negotiating table. Recently published US diplomatic cables show how deeply the Swiss initiative irked Washington -- and how Bern refused to give up despite repeated requests from the US."
El País: El visado libre de Ecuador dispara las alarmas en Washington (The visa free access to Ecuador turns the alarms on in Washington)
"La decisión del presidente Rafael Correa de permitir el ingreso de todo el mundo en 2008 convirtió al país andino en una puerta hacia EE UU y el resto de América para inmigrantes ilegales, sospechosos de terrorismo y narcotraficantes. (2008 President Rafael Correa's decision on allowing access to everybody without a visa made of the andean country an open gate to the United States and to the rest of the continent for illegal immigrants, terrorism suspects and drug dealers.)"
Le Monde: WikiLeaks : sur la piste de la mystérieuse LRA de Joseph Kony (Wikileaks: behind the mysterious track of Joseph Kony's LRA)
"C'est l'un des groupes armés les plus mystérieux et les plus violents de la planète. Qui viendra à bout de l'Armée de résistance du Seigneur (Lord's Resistance Army, LRA), venue d'Ouganda, et qui évolue à présent entre le nord-est de la République démocratique du Congo (RDC), la Centrafrique (RCA) et, sans doute, le Sud-Soudan ? Le mouvement, ancré à l'origine au sein de la population acholie, dans le nord de l'Ouganda, et opposé au pouvoir du président Museveni lors de sa création à la fin des années 1980, s'est mué en groupe armé aux objectifs flous, luttant pour sa survie en massacrant les villageois des régions qu'ils traversent, ou en les transformant en esclaves."
Read more (French)
Le Monde: WikiLeaks : Cuba, une dissidence exsangue (Cuba, a weak dissidence)
"La fin du régime castriste, tant de fois annoncée, semble proche aux diplomates américains en poste à La Havane, à en juger par les télégrammes diplomatiques obtenus par WikiLeaks et révélés par Le Monde."
Read more (French)
El País: La corrupción atenaza la inversión extranjera en República Dominicana (Corruption stops foreign investments in Dominican Republic)
"Empresarios estadounidenses relatan a su Embajada en Santo Domingo cómo algunos funcionarios exigen sobornos e incluso llegan a las amenazas. (American businessmen tell their embassy in Santo Domingo how some politicians demand bribes and even try to threaten them.)
Estados Unidos considera que el clima de corrupción en República Dominicana deja a la inversión extranjera a merced de funcionarios gubernamentales que exigen sobornos de manera "audaz" en un país donde las encuestas revelan que la población acepta este tipo de hechos. Algunos inversores estadounidenses han recibido incluso amenazas, funcionarios corruptos han sido promovidos a puestos de mayor responsabilidad. (The United States believes the corrupt environment in Dominican Republic abandons foreign investments to the domain of the government and "clever" politicians of a country in which the polls indicate that the population approves corrupt behavior. Some American investors have even received threats and corrupt politicians have been promoted to positions of high responsibility.)"
Le Monde: WikiLeaks : la torture et le totalitarisme, quotidien de l'Erythrée, pays à la dérive (Torture and Totalitarism are the routine in the state of Eritrea, an abandoned country)
"Dans l'un des pays les plus fermés au monde, l'Erythrée, les témoignages sur les conditions de détention dans les prisons sont rares. En voici un, recueilli par des diplomates américains en 2008, selon un télégramme diplomatique obtenu par WikiLeaks et révélé par Le Monde. Il s'agit du récit d'un Erythréen, "encore secoué émotionnellement" après cinq mois de détention arbitraire, qui raconte le quotidien des détenus du petit pays de la Corne de l'Afrique. (In one of the most hermetic countries in the world, the state of Eritrea, accountability on the detentions of prisonniers is rare. Even though, there's a 2008 actual recount [on this] by American diplomats, according to a telegram obtained by WikiLeaks and published by Le Monde.)"
Read more (French)
There have been some attempts in the last week to create a controversy regarding Wikileaks' support for Bradley Manning and his legal defense fund. As anyone watching the news will recognize, Wikileaks has had difficulties in the last months obtaining and accessing their funding, but they are as committed to supporting Bradley Manning as always and have issued the following statement:
We will honour what we have pledged. We are quite strained right now and do not have full access to our limited resources, however, we have forwarded £10,000 (sterling) for the moment and informed Mr Coombs (Bradley's lawyer) about the transactions and it will take a few days to go through.
As acknowledged in the article linked above, Wikileaks' support for Manning has already resulted in substantial support for his defenders:
Loraine Reitman, a member of the group’s steering committee, shied away from placing blame on WikiLeaks.
“WikiLeaks is the reason we’ve been able to get so much money and donations,” she told Threat Level. “They’ve been linking to us and tweeting about us, and every time they do it, donations come in.”
In their latest attempt to find legitimate grounds for charging Julian Assange with a crime, US federal prosecutors have landed on the idea of charging him as a conspirator through a plea bargain that has been offered to Pfc. Bradley Manning. The plea bargain would have Manning name Julian Assange as a fellow conspirator to the leaks, which include the now infamous Collateral Murder video of April 2007. The video shows a US helicopter attack on civilians in Baghdad in which the victims included children and members of the press.
Julian Assange denies having had any contact with Private Manning, insisting that he has "never met or even spoken" with him. The New York Times reports that "among materials prosecutors are studying is an online chat log in which Private Manning is said to claim that he had been directly communicating with Mr. Assange using an encrypted Internet conferencing service." Assange is said to have provided Private Manning with access to a dedicated server, which would in turn be used for uploading the leaked files to Wikileaks.
The Nieman Foundation is hosting today a conference entitled "From Watergate to WikiLeaks: Journalism and Secrecy in the New Media Age". The full schedule is available here. A live video feed is also available here.
The conference will include two keynotes, from Associated Press executive editor Kathleen Carroll and New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, as well as three panels:
1. Global Struggle: Prosecuted, Banned, Blamed: Reporters Push Boundaries as a Voice of Public Accountability
2. National Challenges: Whither the Gatekeeper? Navigating New Rules and Roles in the Age of Radical Transparency
3. Future of Transparency: Secrets 2.0: Exploring Entrepreneurial Answers to Journalistic Obligations
Following the Crown Prosecution Service's decision to appeal the bail granted on Tuesday by the Westminster Magistrates' Court, another hearing will take place today at 11:30 GMT at the High Court.
Peter Alexander of NBC News noted on Twitter that "Assange lawyer says defense has collected $315K bail. He's free if appeal's denied." The court had requested on Tuesday that the full bail amount be presented in cash.
Journalists present at the court, including a team from The Guardian, report that Julian Assange and his legal team have already arrived at the court for the hearing, which is expected to take two hours. It is unclear at this point whether live updates via Twitter will be allowed from the courtroom, as was the case at Tuesday's hearing.
Update 1: Justice Ouseley has ruled that no Twitter updates will be allowed from the courtroom today, reports The Guardian's Luke Harding.
Update 2: The Guardian's Luke Harding quoted Justice Ouseley as saying, "The history of the way it [the case] has been dealt with by the Swedish prosecutors would give Mr Assange some basis that he might be acquitted following a trial." According to Mr Harding, "the case is looking good" for Julian Assange.
Update 3: The prosecution's appeal has been denied, reports Channel 4. Julian Assange has been granted bail, on slightly modified conditions compared to those specified at Tuesday's hearing, namely additional sureties, reports Guy Rundle for Crikey.
The next extradition hearing will take place on January 11.
According to testimony at Tuesday's hearing, Julian Assange will stay at the estate of Captain Vaughan Smith, founder of the Frontline Club. You can read Mr Smith's exclusive piece in yesterday's Independent, explaining his support for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, concluding: "If to fight for this country we will have to fight for its fundamental principles of justice then I declare my position in the ranks."
Update 4: Guy Rundle reports that hearing costs have been awarded against the Crown Prosecution Service.
Update 5: After the formalities were completed, Julian Assange was released today at 6pm London time. He gave a short speech on the steps of the High Court, thanking supporters, his lawyers, members of the press "who were not all taken in," and the British justice system. He called on people to support those facing conditions harder than he did in prison, and promised to continue his work and reveal the evidence behind the allegations.
A video of the statement is available via the New York Times.
A group of German newspapers, including Die Tageszeitung, Der Freitag, Die Frankfurter Rundschau, Der Tagesspiegel, the European Center For Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and online news site Perlentaucher.de published a joint statement against the attacks and legal threats to WikiLeaks.
The full text of the statement, in German, can be read here. Our translation follows:
United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
Die Tageszeitung, Der Freitag, Die Frankfurter Rundschau, Der Tagesspiegel, the European Center For Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Perlentaucher.de simultaneously publish this appeal against the attacks on Wikileaks.
1. The attacks on Wikileaks are inappropriate
The Internet publication platform Wikileaks has, since the publication of the secret U.S. embassy cables, come under great pressure. In the U.S., Wikileaks leaders were named "terrorists," with even calls for their assassination. Big international companies like MasterCard, PayPal and Amazon ended their cooperation with Wikileaks - without charges having been issued against the organization, let alone a conviction. At the same time the technical infrastructure of Wikileaks has been subject to anonymous attacks over the Internet.
These are attacks on a journalistic medium in response to its publications. One can criticize these publications with good reason. But we are against any form of censorship by government or private agencies. If Internet companies can use their market power to prevent a news organization from publishing, this would mean democracy is defeated through economic means. These attacks show a disturbing idea of democracy, where freedom of information exists only for as long as it hurts no one.
2. Freedom of publication applies to Wikileaks
In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of publication is evidenced as a foundation of democratic societies. It applies not only to traditional media like newspapers or television. The Internet is a new form of information dissemination. It must enjoy the same protection as traditional media. It would cause a global outcry if the U.S. were to bring an espionage case against the New York Times, a financial crusade against Der Spiegel, or an attack on the servers of the Guardian.
3. The right to control the state
The criminalization and prosecution of Wikileaks goes beyond this individual case. There are calls for the publication of confidential information in such quantities to be prevented. Indeed, the volume of documents revealed to the public a much deeper insight into state action than former publications in top media. Journalism has not only the right but the duty to control the state and to elucidate the mechanisms of governance. It creates transparency. Without transparency, there is no democracy. The state is not an end in itself, and must withstand a confrontation with his own secrets.
We, the initiators and signatories demand a stop to the persecution of Wikileaks, contrary to international law. We call on all States and all companies, to oppose the campaign against civil rights. We urge all citizens, public figures or not, in political positions or as individuals, to take action to stop the campaign against freedom of expression and freedom of information. We invite everyone to participate in the call for media freedom.
The first signatories of this appeal:
Die Tageszeitung, Der Freitag, Die Frankfurter Rundschau, Der Tagesspiegel, the European Center For Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Perlentaucher.de
Update 1: The German Journalists' Association, DJV, has added its support to the statement above. "It is not compatible with the principles of freedom of expression, when politics and business are trying to exercise censorship," DJV national chairman Michael Konken said in a statement. "Those who suppress the source, harm journalism," he added.
The Guardian: WikiLeaks cables: BP suffered blowout on Azerbaijan gas platform
"Striking resemblances between BP's Gulf of Mexico disaster and a little-reported giant gas leak in Azerbaijan experienced by the UK firm 18 months beforehand have emerged from leaked US embassy cables.
The cables reveal that some of BP's partners in the gas field were upset that the company was so secretive about the incident that it even allegedly withheld information from them. They also say that BP was lucky that it was able to evacuate its 212 workers safely after the incident, which resulted in two fields being shut and output being cut by at least 500,000 barrels a day with production disrupted for months."
Der Spiegel: The Unwanted Iran Brokers: US Irked by Over-Eager Swiss Diplomats
"In 2006 and 2007 Swiss diplomats tried to usher the Americans and Iranians to the negotiating table. Recently published US diplomatic cables show how deeply the Swiss initiative irked Washington -- and how Bern refused to give up despite repeated requests from the US.
That US diplomats posted in Bern were upset by the efforts of Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey to intervene in the conflict surrounding Iran's nuclear program in 2006 and 2007 and force themselves on the United States as an intermediary is well known. But just how upset has now become clear from the confidential diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks."
El País: Vuelos CIA: Sócrates aprobó en secreto los vuelos desde Guantánamo (CIA flights: [Portuguese prime minister José] Sócrates secretly approved flights from Guantanamo)
"El primer ministro portugués, José Sócrates, y el ministro de Asuntos Exteriores, Luis Amado, autorizaron el sobrevuelo de aviones estadounidenses con prisioneros repatriados de la cárcel de Guantánamo, y el uso de la base aérea estadounidense de Lajes, en las islas Azores, aunque el Gobierno luso nunca lo ha reconocido públicamente. Varios cables de la Embajada de EE UU en Lisboa entre los años 2006 y 2009 dan cuenta de las presiones de Washington y la cautela con la que actuó el Ejecutivo portugués para autorizar dichos vuelos. Las denuncias de la existencia de prisiones clandestinas en Europa (Rumania y Polonia) y de vuelos secretos de la CIA, en los que detenidos de origen árabe, sospechosos de terrorismo, eran trasladados clandestinamente en aviones estadounidenses a Guantánamo, habían levantado una gran polvareda en Portugal."
The Guardian: WikiLeaks cables: Thai leaders doubt suitability of prince to become king
"Thai leaders harbour grave misgivings about the crown prince's fitness to become king owing to his reputation as a womaniser and links to a fugitive former prime minister, according to a leaked US diplomatic cable.
Three senior members of Thailand's powerful privy council, a group of advisers appointed by the king, make clear their preference for an alternative to Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who is considered a political liability because of his extramarital affairs in several European countries."
Der Spiegel: 'Coded Language' and Yes Men: Cables of Confusion from the Heart of the Vatican
"US diplomats seem bemused with the hierarchical structures and the lack of sophistication within the Vatican. Not only do most Catholic Church leaders lack an e-mail account, only a few "are aware of imminent decisions."
A month after the German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope in the Sistine Chapel, on April 19, 2005, the US Embassy to the Vatican sent a cable to the State Department in Washington providing its first readings on what the United States and the world at large should expect from the new head of the Roman Catholic Church."
El País: Temor a una intervención militar de Chávez a favor del régimen cubano (Worries about a military intervention by Chávez in support of the Cuban regime)
"La Embajada de EE UU en Caracas recomendó al Departamento de Estado que advirtiera a Hugo Chávez contra la tentación de intervenir en Cuba si la enfermedad y eventual fallecimiento de Fidel Castro condujera a algún tipo de convulsión social en la isla caribeña, según consta en un cable enviado a Washington poco después de que en La Habana se anunciara la grave enfermedad de Castro."
The Guardian: WikiLeaks cables: Chevron discussed oil project with Tehran, claims Iraqi PM
"The US energy firm Chevron negotiated with Tehran about developing an Iraq-Iran cross-border oilfield in spite of tight US sanctions, according to the Iraqi prime minister in leaked diplomatic cables.
Nouri al-Maliki's claim, reported in the cables, that Chevron was in discussions with the Iranian government will raise eyebrows in Europe and other parts of the world where international companies have come under significant pressure from Washington to end investments and other financial dealings with Tehran.
Chevron declined to either confirm or deny that it had been in contact with Iran, and confined its reaction to a statement saying it had not done, and would not do, anything in violation of US law."
Le Monde: WikiLeaks : Ukraine, la déception Timochenko (Ukraine, Tymoshenko's deception)
"Paralysie politique, gabegie, économie étouffée par la corruption : le bilan ukrainien, six ans après la Révolution orange qui a renversé le président Léonid Koutchma, parait décevant. C'est ce qu'indiquent les télégrammes de l'ambassade américaine à Kiev, obtenus par WikiLeaks et étudiés par Le Monde. Les derniers datent de fin février, alors que Viktor Ianoukovitch, le candidat du Parti des régions, vient de remporter le second tour de l'élection présidentielle le 7 février, contre la premier ministre, Ioulia Timochenko."
The Guardian: WikiLeaks cables: BP accused by Azerbaijan of stealing oil worth $10bn
"The president of Azerbaijan accused BP of stealing billions of dollars of oil from his country and using "mild blackmail" to secure the rights to develop vast gas reserves in the Caspian Sea region, according to leaked US cables.
Ilham Aliyev said the oil firm tried to exploit his country's "temporary troubles" during a gas shortage in December 2006. In return for making more gas supplies available for domestic consumption that winter, BP wanted an extension of its lucrative profit-sharing contract with the government and the go-ahead to develop Caspian gas reserves, one cable from the US embassy in Baku reports. Aliyev also threatened to make BP's alleged "cheating" public, cables show."
Le Monde: WikiLeaks : la torture et le totalitarisme, quotidien de l'Erythrée, pays à la dérive (Torture and totalitarianism, everyday reality in Eritrea, a country adrift)
"Dans l'un des pays les plus fermés au monde, l'Erythrée, les témoignages sur les conditions de détention dans les prisons sont rares. En voici un, recueilli par des diplomates américains en 2008, selon un télégramme diplomatique obtenu par WikiLeaks et révélé par Le Monde. Il s'agit du récit d'un Erythréen, "encore secoué émotionnellement" après cinq mois de détention arbitraire, qui raconte le quotidien des détenus du petit pays de la Corne de l'Afrique.
Le témoin avait été arrêté chez lui, à l'aube, par des soldats venus vérifier sa carte de démobilisation, pratique commune "avant la fête de l'indépendance". Le service militaire est obligatoire en Erythrée, pour les hommes comme pour les femmes, pour une période d'un an et demi généralement reconduite plusieurs fois."
The Guardian: WikiLeaks cables: US fears over west African cocaine route
"When an unidentified plane crashed into the desert in northern Mali in November 2009, it was immediately suspected of smuggling cocaine from Latin America. The west African route to the lucrative European markets had been growing in popularity for some time following successful anti-smuggling operations in the Caribbean.
But what was truly shocking about the mysterious unmarked, burned-out aircraft nearly 10 miles from a makeshift airstrip, was its size. The Boeing 727-200 was big enough to carry 10 tonnes of the drug. It was obvious the Colombian cartels were now plying the west African route on an industrial scale."
FAIR (Freedom and Accuracy in Reporting) has published a petition in support of WikiLeaks, signed by Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, Glenn Greenwald, Barbara Ehrenreich, Arundhati Roy, Medea Benjamin, Tom Morello, John Nichols and more. The text reads:
As journalists, activists, artists, scholars and citizens, we condemn the array of threats and attacks on the journalist organization WikiLeaks. After the website's decision, in collaboration with several international media organizations, to publish hundreds of classified State Department diplomatic cables, many pundits, commentators and prominent U.S. politicians have called for harsh actions to be taken to shut down WikiLeaks' operations.
Major corporations like Amazon.com, PayPal, MasterCard and Visa have acted to disrupt the group's ability to publish. U.S. legal authorities and others have repeatedly suggested, without providing any evidence, that WikiLeaks' posting of government secrets is a form of criminal behavior--or that at the very least, such activity should be made illegal. "To the extent there are gaps in our laws," Attorney General Eric Holder proclaimed (11/29/10), "we will move to close those gaps."
Throughout this episode, journalists and prominent media outlets have largely refrained from defending WikiLeaks' rights to publish material of considerable news value and obvious public interest. It appears that these media organizations are hesitant to stand up for this particular media outlet's free speech rights because they find the supposed political motivations behind WikiLeaks' revelations objectionable.
But the test for one's commitment to freedom of the press is not whether one agrees with what a media outlet publishes or the manner in which it is published. WikiLeaks is certainly not beyond criticism. But the overarching consideration should be the freedom to publish in a democratic society--including the freedom to publish material that a particular government would prefer be kept secret. When government officials and media outlets declare that attacks on a particular media organization are justified, it sends an unmistakably chilling message about the rights of anyone to publish material that might rattle or offend established powers.
We hereby stand in support of the WikiLeaks media organization, and condemn the attacks on their freedom as an attack on journalistic freedoms for all.
Please join us in signing the petition here.
Human Rights Watch has published a letter to President Barack Obama, urging the US administration not to prosecute WikiLeaks and Julian Assange in conjunction with the publication of the Cablegate documents:
WikiLeaks Publishers Should Not Face Prosecution
Letter to President Barack Obama
December 15, 2010
Dear President Obama:
We write to express our concern at the prospect that the US government would employ espionage laws against WikiLeaks or its founder for the release of US State Department cables. Regardless of how one views the intentions, wisdom or strict legality of the WikiLeaks release, we believe that resorting to prosecution will degrade freedom of expression for all media, researchers and reporters, and set a terrible precedent that will be eagerly grasped by other governments, particularly those with a record of trying to muzzle legitimate political reporting.
Both international law and the US Constitution prohibit criminal punishment of those who report matters of public interest except in fairly narrow circumstances. One such situation would be the release of official secrets with the effect and intent of harming the security of a nation, in the sense of genuine threats to use force against the government or territorial integrity of a country. Diplomatic embarrassment, though potentially detrimental to the interests of the government, is not itself a threat to national security. Indeed, the secretary of defense, Robert Gates, rejected "overwrought" descriptions of the release's impact and described the effect on foreign policy as "fairly modest," a characterization that finds support in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks that "I have not had any concerns expressed about whether any nation will not continue to work with, and discuss matters of importance to us both, going forward."
Even if some cognizable security threat were to be presented by a cable (only half of which are classified, and of those, most classified at low levels of sensitivity), it would be both unwise and of questionable legality to use the 1917 Espionage Act against WikiLeaks or other media who receive or republish information leaked by government employees. A distinguishing characteristic of the United States has always been its high standard of protection for speech. This leadership would be lost if the administration were to reverse the usual practice of pursuing only those who leak information and not those who receive it.
For the same reason, we urge you to reject legislative proposals that would broaden the scope of criminal sanction beyond that permitted by the Constitution and international human rights law to which the US is party. Instead, we urge you to pursue the declassification of information that is of public interest and not essential to national security, rather than to expand the scope of information subject to classification.
Once classified information is released to the public, particularly through means of mass circulation such as the Internet, a very strong presumption should attach that further restriction is unwarranted. Indeed, efforts to remove WikiLeaks and other websites from global accessibility have largely backfired by promoting mirror sites and further circulation. We note with concern government agency directives, such as that issued by the Department of Defense and the Office of Management and Budget, warning employees from accessing the classified materials that have already been published to the world on numerous websites, and reports that the Library of Congress has consequently blocked access to the WikiLeaks site. By asking people to ignore what has become widely known, such directives look ridiculous, invite widespread disobedience, and place federal employees at risk of arbitrary discipline and prosecution. Over-interpreting the 1917 Espionage Act to authorize prosecution of non-government agents who simply receive and publish leaked classified information could have similar chilling results. By that token, not only could the news media who republish the disclosed information be prosecuted, but so could all who download and read the material.
The United States government and the Department of State in particular, has been an outspoken champion of Internet freedom globally, and condemned national "firewalls" and censorship of Internet sites. To maintain its credibility, we urge you to affirm that your administration will not seek to bar services to Internet publishers, or take down websites, merely because they have published material that the government believes should not be publicly available. We also believe it is important for the administration to affirm that it will not seek to pressure or influence any private enterprise to block or undermine any such website in the absence of a legal judgment. Human Rights Watch is very concerned by private companies' denial of services to WikiLeaks in the absence of any showing that any of its publications can legitimately be restricted consistent with the international right to freedom of expression.
This is a signature moment for freedom of expression, a value that the United States has defended vigorously throughout its history, at home and abroad. Human Rights Watch urges your administration to act positively to secure the rights of the media in a democratic society, and the record of the United States as a champion of speech.
Human Rights Watch
It's taken a while before some detailed information has come to light on the arguments presented by prosecutor and defence at the bail hearing yesterday.
The Telegraph reports:
Earlier, during the two hour long hearing, the court was told that the “strength” of the evidence was poor.
His legal team argued that particularly the rape allegation was wrong and if the case was tried in Britain the case would not be classified as such a crime.
This refers or alludes to, apparently, the rape allegation being in the nature of a relatively minor sexual molestation in which case it seems to me, it then doesn't fit within the 12 month European Arrest Warrant system requirement of an offence where the maximum sentence must be 12 months or more for extradition to be valid. If in the UK such an alleged rape evidence was prima facie (on the face of it) low category molestation, per UK law, attracting less than 12 months custodial sentence, then it would not appear to qualify as an extraditable offence.
New rallies in support of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have been announced as follows. For the full list of current rallies, please see our Events and protests page.
San Francisco: Thursday, December 16th, 4pm - 6pm (updated time)
Location: British Consulate (1 Sansome St at Market)
Event page: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/12/13/18666433.php
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=110765495662010
Hamburg: Sunday, December 19, time TBA
Location: To be announced
Organizer website: http://wirsindwl.wordpress.com
Event page: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=13524947986567
Hobart: Saturday, January 8, 12pm
Location: To be announced
Sydney: Saturday, January 15, 1pm
Location: Sydney Town Hall
Contact: Patrick on 0422 028 113
Event page: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=163029660407190
Calgary: Saturday, January 15, 2pm-5pm
Location: University of Calgary, outside the social sciences building
Organizer: Pirate Party of Canada
Organizer website: http://www.pirateparty.ca/
Event page: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=174214409267004
Crikey: Doug Cameron joins Labor Left rally to support Julian Assange
Cameron said WikiLeaks went to the heart of the issue of freedom of the press to publish without fear or favour: ”I support press freedom and believe it is an important element of a democratic society… WikiLeaks seems to be operating consistent with other media outlets only on a massive scale.”
Cameron’s factional colleague, Calwell MP Maria Vamvakinou, who holds her northern Melbourne seat by a commanding 19.7%, also broke ranks, telling Crikey the equation was simple: ”If you believe in freedom of speech and transparency you can’t pick and choose.
“Where government may some concerns about some things not being in the public domain, the reality is a lot of the information WikiLeaks is revealing is of public interest.”
Cameron echoed Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd’s statements that the leaks are a product of US security failures, saying extremists calling for Assange to be prosecuted under domestic anti-terrorism laws needed to be reined in.
... The uprising within the Left — including Laurie Ferguson, Sharon Grierson and Melissa Parke — will increase pressure on the PM to mollify her public statements on WikiLeaks and comes after a weekend of protests defending Assange across Australia.
New York Times: Rep. Ron Paul, G.O.P. Loner, Comes In From Cold
As virtually all of Washington was declaring WikiLeaks’s disclosures of secret diplomatic cables an act of treason, Representative Ron Paul was applauding the organization for exposing the United States’ “delusional foreign policy.”
For this, the conservative blog RedState dubbed him “Al Qaeda’s favorite member of Congress.”
Rep. McDermott: Could WikiLeaks Have Prevented 9/11?
Jesse Freeston of The Real News joined us on the Stakeout this weekend, asking Congressman McDermott (D-Wash.) his views on WikiLeaks. The Congressman couldn’t speak to the specific nature of the cables Freeston pointed out, but expressed a general sense of openness to the idea that the cables and WikiLeaks work would likely benefit the public. McDermott referenced an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by Coleen Rowley and Bogdan Dzakovic, endorsing the idea that had there been an entity like WikiLeaks in the past, public whistleblowing that might have prevented 9/11 would have been more readily facilitated.
Prosecute leakers, not Assange: Howard
"To publish some cables containing commentary about political figures, while it's very uncomfortable for the diplomat involved ... and uncomfortable to the subject, you can't expect a journalist to hold back on something like that," Mr Howard told ABC Radio in Darwin on Wednesday.
"I'm sure things had been said about me.
"It's embarrassing when it happens but ... you can't condemn the media for running this stuff."
Lawfare: Problems with the Espionage Act
The law also has two additional problems that receive relatively little attention but which are important in contemplating its use. The first is that it contains no limiting principle in its apparent criminalization of secondary transmissions of proscribed material. ...
By its terms, it criminalizes not merely the disclosure of national defense information by organizations such as Wikileaks, but also the reporting on that information by countless news organizations. It also criminalizes all casual discussions of such disclosures by persons not authorized to receive them to other persons not authorized to receive them–in other words, all tweets sending around those countless news stories, all blogging on them, and all dinner party conversations about their contents. Taken at its word, the Espionage Act makes felons of us all. As long as this deficiency remains, it will be a poor instrument against an outlet like Wikileaks, precisely because there will be no way in principle to distinguish between the prosecution of Assange and the prosecution of just about anyone else–from the New York Times to the guy on the street who reads the newspaper and talks about it. That will make Espionage Act prosecutions seem like far more of a menace to legitimate speech than would a prosecution under a better-drawn law. There are ways to fix this problem–an intent element and a clear limitation to material not already made public would be a start–but as long as it goes unfixed, I oppose any prosecutions under it for secondary transmissions.
The second problem is that the statute, by its clear terms, does not cover the overwhelming bulk of the material that Wikileaks disclosed. The Espionage Act is not a general bar against leaking or publishing classified information. It covers only material “relating to the national defense.”
Lawfare: Seven Thoughts on Wikileaks
But as all the hand-wringing over the 1917 Espionage Act shows, it is not obvious what law he has violated. It is also important to remember, to paraphrase Justice Stewart in the Pentagon Papers, that the responsibility for these disclosures lies firmly with the institution empowered to keep them secret: the Executive branch.
The Hill: Judiciary panel to take up Espionage Act, legal options against WikiLeaks
The Judiciary Committee will be looking at the World War I-era Espionage Act and the "legal and constitutional issues raised by WikiLeaks," as directed by Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.).
It will be the first congressional hearing on WikiLeaks since the Nov. 28 publication of thousands of classified diplomatic cables, some of which have proven embarrassing to the U.S. government because of their frank tone. The witness list was not yet available.
Incoming Judiciary Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) also vowed to conduct hearings when he takes the gavel in the new Congress.
But the Justice Department is proceeding with caution: Most experts agree the case crosses into new legal territory where there is little certainty.
ARTICLE 19 is extremely concerned by the political pressure governments and elected officials are exerting on internet companies, to force them to deny provision of services to WikiLeaks without prior authorisation from a court. Recent actions by a number of internet companies against WikiLeaks raise several issues about the rights of free expression on the internet, which is largely controlled by private companies but still subject to state threats.
Intermediaries, such as internet companies, facilitate connections between the providers of information and the users of that information. Increasingly, they are the subject of legal and other actions whose actual end targets are their service-users. Where these companies can do so lawfully, they should resist such interference.
Any removal of information on internet, or blocking of internet access to information should be authorized only by a court. Actions that seek to limit freedom to donate to their service-users should only be allowed after a finding by a court that a service-user has violated the law. Internet companies in turn should be transparent in actions affecting users of their services.
Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism,WikiLeaks prosecution ‘will set a dangerous precedent’
"But while we hold varying opinions of Wikileaks’ methods and decisions, we all believe that in publishing diplomatic cables Wikileaks is engaging in journalistic activity protected by the First Amendment. Any prosecution of Wikileaks’ staff for receiving, possessing or publishing classified materials will set a dangerous precedent for reporters in any publication or medium, potentially chilling investigative journalism and other First Amendment-protected activity.
The U.S. and the First Amendment continue to set a world standard for freedom of the press, encouraging journalists in many nations to take significant risks on behalf of transparency. Prosecution in the Wikileaks case would greatly damage American standing in free-press debates worldwide and would dishearten those journalists looking to this nation for inspiration.
We urge you to pursue a course of prudent restraint in the Wikileaks matter."
WikiLeaks and the public interest?
But the question that has been overlooked in all of this is: just how valuable is the information revealed for leading members of civil society - public interest lawyers, human rights investigators, foreign policy analysts and critics? And has WikiLeaks helped or hindered their cause?
Al Jazeera put these questions to members of civil society in the US and beyond.