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Leaky Accusations

WikiLeaks is important. This has been said before, but it bears repeating.

The Economist’s Democracy in America puts it the best: “The careerists scattered about the world in America’s intelligence agencies, military, and consular offices largely operate behind a veil of secrecy executing policy which is itself largely secret. American citizens mostly have no idea what they are doing, or whether what they are doing is working out well. The actually-existing structure and strategy of the American empire remains a near-total mystery to those who foot the bill and whose children fight its wars. And that is the way the elite of America’s unelected permanent state, perhaps the most powerful class of people on Earth, like it.”

And, DIA continues, “Of course, those jealously protective of the privileges of unaccountable state power will tell us that people will die if we can read their email, but so what? Different people, maybe more people, will die if we can’t.”

I’d say almost certainly more. And that’s what’s at stake in the current fights over WikiLeaks and its future, now that Amazon has kicked it off its servers and WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange is being held in jail on a warrant for extradition to Sweden for possibly having insisted on not using a condom during sex with a consensual fling.

But while we’re on the subject of collateral damage, I think there’s also some likely from the accusations against Assange, given their nature.

I’m glad that an accusation of rape carries weight. Mind you, it still generally only carries weight when coming from certain people. We have a long way to go in making sexual coercion and sexual violence an equally urgent matter when it occurs to thousands of women in the Congo, to transwomen and sex workers, to incarcerated people, poor teens of color, gay youth, and all the other folks who aren’t well-established, sufficiently “innocent,” and of European descent. Still, you could say that the fact that allegations of sexual abuse are the ones that are resorted to to bring down politically controversial folks like Assange or Scott Ritter, indicates that we are starting to take those particular crimes seriously.

But it’s a minefield, and it’s tempting as a feminist and someone who believes freedom from sexual violence is a high priority to want to sit this one out. I’m always uncomfortable with a knee-jerk “the women must be making it up” conclusion, because of the number of times that has been used to silence victims of prominent people. Not wearing a condom when your partner thinks you are, or refusing to accept that consent can be revoked if you reveal that you are unwilling to wear one, are both acts of sexual violence. There are times when it does take some time for a legit victim of sexual violence to get to a point of being able to come forward.

On the other hand, I’m equally, perhaps more, uncomfortable letting some pretty flimsy, absurdly suspiciously timed, and politically convenient accusations, full of surprising coincidences and contradictory statements, both take down Assange and tar the name of anti-rape activism.

Because for an issue that has had to fight so hard for legitimacy, every high-profile misuse has a huge cultural ripple. Aside from the chilling effect they may have on WikiLeaks and its mission (which is huge), if these allegations turn out to be false or exaggerated, they will have set the stage for countless other sexual violence victims to be disregarded through guilt by association. Already the media stories investigating the accusers’ claims are making questionable implications about their “feminist” background and eager pursuits of an affair with Assange as being part of what makes them suspicious characters. (Of course, equally irrelevantly, they also include his willingness to have two one-night stands in a week as evidence of a likelihood of behaving abusively.) Skepticism should remain the name of the game for all of us.

Of course the best solution for WikiLeaks will be to make sure things like this can’t make or break it—for those who care about transparency and all the lives it could save to fight Joe Lieberman’s effort to retroactively make WikiLeaks criminal and for an army of others to take it over (maybe from among the hackers who took down MasterCard’s site for refusing to accept WikiLeaks donations or among those trying to keep it live on other servers. I’m not qualified to help, but I’d like to bake them all some cookies).

Remember what Justice Brandeis said: Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

www.mjoy.org

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