Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Power, Dangers, and Responsibility of Investigative Journalism and Whistleblowing: Wikileaks, Julian Assange, and Pvt. Bradley Manning

Pvt. Bradley Manning

Julian Assange

THE LAST JOURNALIST: Wikileaks' Julian Assange Being Martyred by Our Indifference, But Who Weeps for Bradley Manning?
By Rayfield A. Waller

I don't have the time to be writing this. I have writing deadlines to meet for publication of short stories that I will be paid for, making it easier to pay my rent. My students are panicking because finals are approaching, so my cell phone has rung all day with the pleadings of twenty year old undergraduates. On top of that, my union is embroiled, like all embattled unions are these days, in conflict over an insulting proposal for contract renewal from the college administration that offers no raise, no bonus, and cuts in benefits. I and fellow professors must decide whether to accept this 'austerity-driven' piece of malarky or throw it back in their faces and threaten a strike if they won't re-bargain.

Yet, I put all personal and local issues aside to write this. We must all put things aside (or at least do some slick multi-tasking) to respond publicly, in writing, at rallies, at speeches, in articles, editorials, or broadsides, each in his or her own way, to the Wikileaks fiasco. I, like you I'm sure, had been at first bemused by the groveling gutlessness of American journalists who've gleefully, self destructively, joined in the American military state's chorus of denunciation of the heart and soul of journalism (that heart and soul being investigative advocacy for the powerless, and the will to challenge the powerful with the truth). That denunciation has centered on one journalist (Julian Assange, creator of the investigative site, 'Wikileaks': who has dared do what so-called fourth estate poseurs like “Nightline”, the ABC, CBS, and NBC news divisions, CNN, The Washington Post, MSNBC, TIME, NEWSWEEK, and UPI, AP et al, have failed to do for a very long time now, uncover the truth about US and other western governments' political and military actions in murdering hundreds of thousands of civilians in three wars; the US war machine's misappropriation of our tax dollars; the truth about the jackal-like behavior and Neanderthal words and actions of our patrician diplomatic corp; and to publish these things so that we all will know what our governments are doing in our names.

My bemusement has turned, as has yours I'm sure, from humor to horror as the botox and brill cream cyborgs at network news services fulminate about Assange 'threatening the safety of our troops', and as even venerable leftist geezers like my beloved Ariana Huffington feel the need in this reactionary environment to provide journalistic 'balance' by carrying hypocritical 'morality' pieces (like Huff columnist Alex Becker's in which he questions Julian Assange's moral clarity: Such suck-up journalism displays as Becker's show a truly frightening level of stupid about what journalism by definition, actually is, what it used to be, and what it should be. (for example, Woodward and Bernstein exposing Watergate, Seymour Hersch exposing the truth about the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, The New York Times deciding to fearlessly publish 'The Pentagon Papers' provided as a 'leak' by Daniel Ellsberg, veteran Vietnam correspondent Peter Arnett exposing the effect on Iraqi civilians of the use of depleted uranium weapons and the possible causes of 'gulf war syndrome' suffered by hapless American soldiers, or Greg Palast speaking truth to the-powers-that-be-Bush by exposing Governor Jeb Bush's illegal purging of thousands of Black Florida citizens from voting roles prior to the 2000 election, helping his brother to win the presidency).

The fourth estate's complete surrender to the market strategy of profit driven news, the mendacity and overt irrationality of plutocratic news-o-tainment that American media have imposed upon us to the point that they now dare to treat Julian Assange (the last journalist?) as insane or terroristic simply because he does his job as a journalist, threatens now, in the sixty second memory environment that is American public culture today, to totally obscure Assange's feat of carrying on the simple decency of the hero, Daniel Ellsberg into the present day. It obscures Assange's having managed to show us all our own power in the internet age by giving investigative journalism a forum in cyberspace.

Assange has provided a slight, and oh so brief revitalization of the profession of journalism. For a moment there, we almost had a feeling that the old times were back (you know: the old days when we spoke truth to power, cared more about the innocent third world civilians being murdered with impunity by America's imperialist war machine that we pretended to care about 'our troops' who are themselves victims, many of them, of an economic draft into this nefarious business of War Inc.

Luckily, intellectuals and cultural critics across the world are rallying to Assange.

He has been pledged help with bail, in order to be freed from a London jail where he had been held pending extradition to Sweden where suspicious criminal sexual charges have been filed against him. Among other defenders, Michael Moore has donated $20,000 to Assange's bail and defense fund, as well as pledging to donate his own computer servers, websites, and any other electronic resources to the service of Wikileaks so that it can continue publishing after having been scurrilously attacked and shut down by elements of the United States government and the CIA (the very first complete and arrogantly public act of internet censorship by the US government, akin to China's overt censoring of its own citizens' internet access).

But what of Bradley Manning?

'Wikileaks' is essentially a skeleton key. Assange's operation uncovers and accepts 'leaks' in hidden data and un-reported government and corporate activities that impact freedom, democracy, the principle of government transparency, and human rights, allowing '' to unlock secrets and expose them to the light of day. Part of its success depends on informants or 'whistle-blowers', men and women within government and corporate structures who, as an act of conscience, decide to 'leak' secret, repressed, classified, or hidden information, events, activities, and images to the press and to the outside world. An example of this is the 2004 'leaking' of the photos, of torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib by soldiers of the 320th Military Police Battalion. The public exposure by NY Times, The New Yorker, CBS News and CNN of those photos, taken by and also leaked by American military personnel, led to charges against some of the perpetrators, of 'prisoner abuse' under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. U.S, Army Prvt. Bradley Manning is another of the growing number of military personnel who are leaking evidence of war crimes such as torture and murder of unarmed civilians to the media, crimes they witness first hand and want to expose. Manning, allegedly a military intelligence operative in Iraq, leaked more than 250,000 classified United States embassy cables to Wikileaks. One of the items Manning is alleged to have released to Assange is an infamous military operations video of a 2007 US Apache helicopter strike in Baghdad in which non combatant, unarmed Iraqi civilians were murdered by U.S. Helicopter pilots.

Unlike other leakers, however, some of whom have been hailed, even by the government, as 'heros' for alerting the world to heinous war crimes, Manning has been held in inhumanely military custody for seven months, in Kuwait and in Quantico, Virginia, in solitary confinement. Though he has not been tried for any crimes, he is being held now in Quantico under what Journalist Glenn Greenwald in a recent Annenberg Digital News article calls, “Conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture." (see Greenwald, who writes for and for NY Times and LA Times, also charges that:

"From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day -- for seven straight months and counting -- he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he's barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he's being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch). For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs. "(Glenn Greenwald,

The reason we need to be eternally vigilant against the abuse, murder, and torture of prisoners of war, of even our enemies, is because what is done with impugnity and without oversight to those we wage war against will eventually be done against us, by our own government grown bold and unafraid thanks to our indifference. What is happening to Bradley Manning today, will happen to Julian Assange tommorow, and thus, it will be done, history makes clear, to even the journalists of NY Times and PacificaNetwork and DemocracyNow, and to you and me. to keep up to date on the course of Manning's captivity, and to offer help and support. We need to take the time.

Rayfield A. Waller is on the adjunct faculty of the department of Africana Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. He’s a freelance journalist, and contributing writer to Progreso Weekly and to The Michigan Citizen. He is also a proud member of the Union of Part Time Faculty, AFT, AFL-CIO