Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/04/11/assange_debate/
Google hits 'prove we killed no Afghans' – Assange™
WikiLeaks is more accountable than democracy
Julian Assange™, globally famous Wikileaks supremo, has claimed that his organisation is "more accountable" than democratic governments and has also claimed credit for the rise of anti-corruption sentiment in India. He also suggested that the number of Google hits generated by typing an organisation's name followed by "blood on its hands" might be a valid measure of guilt.
Assange™ – who has lately applied to trademark himself – made these claims at a public debate on Saturday, in which he and others argued for the proposition "this house believes that whistleblowers make the world a safer place".
The debate was organised by leftwing magazine the New Statesman and the Frontline Club, a club and restaurant for journos owned by Assange™'s admirer Vaughan Smith, a wealthy former Guards officer and journalist. Assange™ is staying at Smith's East Anglian mansion on bail, pending the outcome of an attempt by Swedish prosecutors to extradite him for questioning as part of an investigation into alleged sexual offences.
Very few participants bothered to stick to the theme of the debate – namely that whistleblowers make the world safer. The debate was argued much more as though it had been framed in the terms "this house believes that Wikileaks makes the world a safer place".
Speaking to an audience containing large numbers of his fans, Assange™ said that Wikileaks is more accountable than the governments whose documents it has exposed (thus far, where the documents have been of any interest, really just the US government. However many of these US documents have been cables from US diplomats describing their analysis of events in various nations around the world.)
"We are directly supported on a week-to-week basis by you," said Assange™, referring to the contributions from supporters – apparently in the realm of millions of dollars per week – made to Wikileaks.
"You vote with your wallets every week if you believe that our work is worthwhile or not," he continued. "If you believe we have erred, you do not support us. If you believe we need to be protected in our work, you keep us strong.
"That dynamic feedback, I say, is more responsive than a government that is elected after sourcing money from big business every four years."
Assange™ also stated that Indian newspapers, trawling US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, have published many front-page stories regarding corruption in the Indian government. The resulting popular movement in India against corruption was thus to WikiLeaks' credit.
Political commentator Douglas Murray, opposing the motion, brought up Assange™'s allegedly cavalier attitude to making the world safer for some people, mentioning his remarks – reported by Guardian journalists with whom he was collaborating at the time – that if Afghans acting as informants for the NATO forces in Afghanistan suffered or died as a result of the WikiLeaked military "war logs", "they had it coming to them".
Assange™ stated that he and WikiLeaks "are in the process of suing the Guardian" over the allegation, and asked if Murray cared to "join the queue" of organisations he is suing.
This disturbed even New Stateman editor Jason Cowley, chairing the debate. The British libel laws are a sore point for all UK journalists (and thanks to the phenomenon of "libel tourism", some elsewhere too).
"How can the great champion of open society be using our libel laws to challenge the press?" asked Cowley.
Assange™ tends to have a troubled relationship with mainstream journalists after any prolonged contact with them. Besides having broken with the Guardian – WikiLeaks' UK partner is now the Telegraph – the colourful internet impresario has previously been described as unkempt and smelly by New York Times scribes.
On the matter of the Afghan informants, Assange™ went on to state that "Wikileaks never got it wrong". He invited people pondering the matter to Google "Wikileaks" and "blood on its hands" versus "Pentagon" and "blood on its hands" and compare the number of results*.
The debate ended when Assange™ had to depart for Smith's mansion in order to avoid violating his bail terms. Further judicial decisions need to be made before his extradition to Sweden can become final.
Meanwhile, Bradley Manning remains in US military prison under a tough confinement regime facing a battery of charges which if proven seem likely to mean a lengthy sentence. Reportedly, US investigators have failed to discover proof that WikiLeaks' material was supplied illegally by him or anyone else: no US charges against WikiLeaks or Assange™ have yet been made.
The vexed question of when someone is a whistleblower as opposed to a spy or a traitor (or an insider seeking to manipulate the media for one's own ends) remained unsettled. Few attending the debate appeared to have grasped that Assange™ is none of these things but merely a publisher.
The Grauniad reports that it has heard nothing from Assange™'s lawyers and that a WikiLeaks spokesman, asked if he could shed any light on the supposed legal action, answered "not really".
*As this is written, the WikiLeaks search gets 30,000-odd and the Pentagon one gets 125,000. In both cases the first page is made up of news reports and blog posts debating the issue of whether or not WikiLeaks has any blood on its hands.