Such a historical twist, but one that deserves its iniquitous slot in the history books. No secret has been made about US policy towards Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, which continues its trajectory to seek his apprehension and shutter the organisation. Despite its cables being used for political effect by interested parties; despite the exposures of corruption within the ranks of US politics, Assange is to be thanked with punishment.
This is the sentiment expressed by Senator Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with nine other Democratic senators, in a letter to US Vice President Mike Pence. The senators had been losing sleep after getting wind of what was said, or rather not said, in a June 4 phone call between Pence and Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno. One glaring omission troubled them: the absence of any discussion about Assange’s asylum status and stay in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
Ahead of Pence’s meeting with Moreno this week, the senators wished to press the matter. “As the United States is still seeking clarity about the full extent of Russian intervention in our elections and Russian interference in elections across the world, it is imperative that you raise US concerns with President Moreno about Ecuador’s continued support for Mr. Assange at a time when WikiLeaks continues its efforts to undermine democratic processes globally.”
This is a fine take, if dizzyingly inaccurate: WikiLeaks as the great undermining force of democratic states, worrying politicians in the United States who have enthusiastically backed the imperial project of overthrowing democratically elected governments. But slotting Assange, Putin and electoral interference in the same line is bound to have its emotive effect on politicians obsessed with government secrecy.
The charges tend to muddle the broader political landscape, but the intention in the letter is to paint Assange as an architect of discord, comfortably wading in the politics of other states. That such muck racking is often no more than releasing documents casting a different light on traditional politics is beside the point; Assange interfered in revealing the hidden whispers and clandestine reflections. Other scenes of engagement are also noted: the French presidential election, and the Spanish referendum on Catalan independence.
What the letter omits to say is that the current US president has expressed his delight at various nuggets he has received from the WikiLeaks trove. “I simply state what he states, it is for the people… to make up their own minds as to the truth. The media lies to make it look like I am against ‘Intelligence’ when in fact I am a big fan!”
The specific reading advanced by the Democrats builds upon the stance that Assange as a radical transparency vigilante must be potted. It regurgitates, in uncritical form, the designation by former CIA director Mike Pompeo that WikiLeaks was a “non-hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” It makes the facile link between WikiLeaks and Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) in suggesting that the publishing outfit was used “to release hacked information in order to influence… the 2016 US Presidential election.” (Use here is conflated with manipulation, collusion, and conspiracy.)
The content, and veracity of such material, is deemed irrelevant. And rather than being content with his arbitrary detention in Ecuador’s embassy compound in London, as found by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, there is a desire to take the next step.
As for the meeting with Ecuador’s Moreno, the White House was short if vaguely ominous: “the Vice President raised the issue of Mr Assange. It was a constructive conversation. They agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward.”
The Senators’ letter also made the observation that US-Ecuador relations for the last decade had been “marked by unfortunate tensions. However, under President Lenín Moreno’s leadership, there is a unique opportunity to reverse this trend.” A change presented itself now to “forge a new chapter in longstanding relations with the United States and Ecuador built on shared values, and address remaining challenges between our countries.”
Too much bad blood exists within the Democratic camp about Assange, who has become a proxy hate figure for a party that bungled the US presidential elections in 2016. A steadfast refusal to accept the result, not to mention the inadequacies of their candidate where it most mattered permeates through the Mueller investigation and Russia Gate, all tied together by a bow of grievance.
A note from Harry Cheadle writing for Vice in the lead up to the 2016 election is instructive in painting the picture that emerged from the DNC-Podesta trove released by WikiLeaks. The emails portrayed an “organization that is contemptuous of opposition, often obsessed with how an issue is perceived, and yet sometimes prone to decisions that seem self-defeating and dance on the knife edge of political disaster.” The chickens, notably of the socialist variety, are vengefully coming back to roost.
Scratching for ideas and options in ambushing President Donald Trump, it is clear that the senators have latched on to the next best thing: revoking the political status of a man with no internet access who will be arrested the moment he steps out of the embassy door. How fittingly democratic of them.
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: [email protected]