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Alexander Cockburn | Julian Assange: Wanted by the Empire, Dead or Alive

The American airwaves quiver with the screams of parlor assassins howling for Julian Assange’s head. Jonah Goldberg, contributor to the National Review, asks in his syndicated column, “Why wasn’t Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago?” Sarah Palin wants him hunted down and brought to justice, saying: “He is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands.”

The American airwaves quiver with the screams of parlor assassins howling for Julian Assange’s head. Jonah Goldberg, contributor to the National Review, asks in his syndicated column, “Why wasn’t Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago?” Sarah Palin wants him hunted down and brought to justice, saying: “He is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands.”

Assange can survive these theatrical blusters. A tougher question is how he will fare at the hands of the U.S. government, which is hopping mad. The U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, announced on Monday that the Justice Department and Pentagon are conducting “an active, ongoing criminal investigation” into the latest Assange-facilitated leak under Washington’s Espionage Act.

Asked how the U.S. could prosecute Assange, a non-US citizen, Holder said, “Let me be clear. This is not saber-rattling,” and vowed “to swiftly close the gaps in current U.S. legislation.”

In other words, the espionage statute is being rewritten to target Assange, and in short order, if not already, President Obama — who as a candidate pledged “transparency” in government — will sign an order OK’ing the seizing of Assange and his transport into the U.S. jurisdiction. Render first, fight the habeas corpus lawsuits later.

Interpol, the investigative arm of the International Criminal Court at the Hague, has issued a fugitive notice for Assange. He’s wanted in Sweden for questioning in two alleged sexual assaults, one of which seems to boil down to a charge of unsafe sex and failure to phone his date the following day.

This prime accuser, Anna Ardin, has, according to the journalist Israel Shamir, writing on the CounterPunch site, “ties to the US-financed anti-Castro and anti-communist groups. She published her anti-Castro diatribes in the Swedish-language publication Revista de Asignaturas Cubanas put out by Miscelaneas de Cuba … Note that Ardin was deported from Cuba for subversive activities.”

It’s certainly not conspiracism to suspect that the CIA has been at work in fomenting these Swedish accusations. As Shamir reports, “The moment Julian sought the protection of Swedish media law, the CIA immediately threatened to discontinue intelligence sharing with SEPO, the Swedish Secret Service.”

The CIA has no doubt also pondered the possibility of pushing Assange off a bridge or through a high window (a mode of assassination favored by the agency from the earliest days) and has sadly concluded that it’s too late for this sort of executive solution.

The irony is that the thousands of diplomatic communications released by WikiLeaks contain no earth-shaking disclosures that patently undermine the security of the American empire. We are supposed to be stunned that the king of Saudi Arabia wishes Iran was wiped off the map, that the U.S. uses diplomats as spies or that Afghanistan is corrupt?

This is not to downplay the great importance of this latest batch of WikiLeaks. Millions in America and around the world have been given a quick introductory course in international relations and the true arts of diplomacy — not least the third-rate, gossipy prose with which the diplomats rehearse the arch romans a clef they will write when they head into retirement.

Years ago, Rebecca West wrote in her novel “The Thinking Reed” of a British diplomat who, “even when he was peering down a woman’s dress at her breasts managed to look as though he was thinking about India.” In the updated version, given Hillary Clinton’s orders to the State Department, the U.S. envoy, pretending to admire the figure of the charming French cultural attache, would actually be thinking how to steal her credit card information, obtain a retinal scan, her e-mail passwords and frequent flier number.

There are also genuine disclosures of great interest, some of them far from creditable to the establishment U.S. press. Gareth Porter has identified a diplomatic cable from last February released by WikiLeaks that provides a detailed account of how Russian specialists on the Iranian ballistic missile program refuted the U.S. suggestion that Iran has missiles that could target European capitals or that Iran intends to develop such a capability. Porter points out that:

“Readers of the two leading U.S. newspapers never learned those key facts about the document. The New York Times and Washington Post reported only that the United States believed Iran had acquired such missiles — supposedly called the BM-25 — from North Korea. Neither newspaper reported the detailed Russian refutation of the U.S. view on the issue or the lack of hard evidence for the BM-25 from the U.S. side.

“The Times, which had obtained the diplomatic cables not from WikiLeaks but from the Guardian, according to a Washington Post story Monday, did not publish the text of the cable. The Times story said the newspaper had made the decision not to publish ‘at the request of the Obama administration’. That meant that its readers could not compare the highly distorted account of the document in the Times story against the original document without searching the WikiLeaks website.”

Distaste among the “official” U.S. press for WikiLeaks has been abundantly apparent from the first of the two big releases of documents pertaining to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The New York Times managed the ungainly feat of publishing some of the leaks while simultaneously affecting to hold its nose, and while publishing a mean-spirited hatchet job on Assange by its reporter John F. Burns, a man with a well-burnished record in touting the various agendas of the U.S. government.

There have been cheers for Assange and WikiLeaks from such famed leakers as Daniel Ellsberg, but to turn on one’s television is to eavesdrop on the sort of fury that Lord Haw-Haw used to provoke in Britain in World War II. As Glenn Greenwald writes in his column on the Salon site:

“On CNN … Wolf Blitzer was beside himself with rage over the fact that the U.S. government had failed to keep all these things secret from him … Then — like the Good Journalist he is — Blitzer demanded assurances that the Government has taken the necessary steps to prevent him, the media generally and the citizenry from finding out any more secrets: ‘Do we know yet if they’ve (done) that fix? In other words, somebody right now who has top secret or secret security clearance can no longer download information onto a CD or a thumb drive? Has that been fixed already?’ The central concern of Blitzer — one of our nation’s most honored ‘journalists’ — is making sure that nobody learns what the U.S. Government is up to.”

These latest WikiLeaks files contains some 261,000,000 words — about 3,000 books. They display the entrails of the American Empire. As Shamir writes, “The files show U.S. political infiltration of nearly every country, even supposedly neutral states such as Sweden and Switzerland. U.S. embassies keep a close watch on their hosts. They have penetrated the media, the arms business, oil, intelligence, and they lobby to put U.S. companies at the head of the line.”

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book “Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils,” available through

Copyright 2010