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