I LOOK forward to columns by Gwynne Dyer, as they're usually swell-written and nuanced and help me to understand some of the complexities of global politics. It's out of respect for his work and the fact that everyone can have an off day that I'm offering a corrective to his column "Don't hush whistleblowers."
In the column, Dyer makes the reporter's nearly unpardonable sin: committing stenography. That's when an otherwise discriminating reporter writes accepting the establishment version of events.
In 2010, then Corporal Bradley Manning, a US Army intelligence analyst, was in a personal turmoil over his sexual identity. Already disillusioned about the Iraq war, Manning reacted to his exposure to the intelligence he was reading by sending several troves of classified documents, sanitised as to sources, to Julian Assange and Wikileaks, after the Washington Post and New York Times expressed no interest. The 750,000 documents also contained videos such as the notorious "Collateral Murder"which featured an American gunship's documenting its killing of unarmed Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters reporters.
Arrested, Manning who by now identified as female, was convicted under the 1917 Espionage Act and sentenced to 35 years. During her trial no evidence that Assange had actively encouraged her actions could be adduced and Chelsea (her chosen name) denied it.
After a 100,000-signature petition for her pardon, then President Obama refused, but on January 17, 2017, three days before leaving office, he commuted her sentence to seven years. A commutation still leaves her a convicted felon with diminished civil rights.
In March 2019, after Chelsea Manning refused to co-operate with the government's efforts to get her to implicate Assange in the actual theft of the documents, she was jailed for 18 months or until the grand jury considering Assange is dismissed.
The Obama administration had been vigorous in its prosecution of whistleblowers.
Obama's Team convicted eight people, under the 1917 Espionage Act, which is more than all previous administrations combined.
Typical is John Kiriakou, a 14-year veteran CIA intelligence analyst who, in 2007, revealed for the first time the CIA's use of torture on its prisoners. After prosecution under the Espionage Act he received a 30-month sentence. Reflecting on his experience, Kiriakou recently advised that Assange could not get a fair trial.
Dyer seeks to distinguish Assange from others whom he calls honorable whistleblowers, Ellsberg and Snowden. Ellsberg, too, was reviled at first. His charges, leading to a life sentence, were thrown out after revelation of the burglary of Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office, ordered by President Nixon "to get any dirt on the bastard you can." And Snowden was labelled a "narcissist"by Jeffrey Toobin, legal analyst for CNN.
In his turn, Gwynne Dyer labels Assange a narcissist. That's either just psychobabble or simply the current misuse of diagnostic labels to diminish someone.
It does help to make that person less sympathetic.
Assange may be all or many of the nasty things people have said about him — and yet, as comedian John Oliver put it, it's absolutely necessary to defend him as providing a platform for information, i.e, a publisher, just like the Guardian or the New York Times, which also published the Manning documents.
That's especially true in these days of Trump's encouragement of violence on the press with his cry of "enemy of the people".
Dyer, in calling Assange a whistleblower, and implicitly dishonourable, lends weight to the US government's claim to extradite and try him for stealing government secrets. Assange, instead, contends he is as much of a publisher as the New York Times which published Ellsberg's papers as well as those provided by Chelsea Manning. To charge him, therefore, would fly in the face of constitutional guarantees of a free press.
If, as a publisher, Assange can face charges in the US, we ought to be able to request extradition of Mark Zuckerberg to face charges here of streaming the Christchurch shootings.
Come to think of it, not such a bad idea, all by itself.
Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.