Democracy Now! uses WikiLeaks ammunition on the front lines in Cancún

Principal author:
John L. Clark


The ferocity with which powerful interests are attacking WikiLeaks and Julian Assange provides a hint about the potency of the information that WikiLeaks has been publishing. Democracy Now! has been both doing an excellent job of covering the ongoing WikiLeaks affair while at the same time using that information to agitate for justice at the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 16) in Cancún. All of this provides a valuable window into how power operates and responds to threats.

Over the past week, Amy Goodman has been reporting for Democracy Now! on the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 16) in Cancún, Mexico, which came to a close last Friday, December 10. She has pressed some of the powerful leaders present at the conference with some bold questions, supplied in part with information provided by cables that WikiLeaks continues to publish. While in Cancún, the majority of their featured coverage has been about the COP 16 conference, although they have still aggressively covered news surrounding the activities of WikiLeaks. The WikiLeaks affair, including information that that organization has revealed such as what Goodman has used at COP 16, has connected a surprising number of dots across the world.

Action taken to mitigate Global Warming will likely be enormously expensive, requiring great sacrifice. As one of the only nonparticipants in the Kyoto Protocol, the United States has been a huge impediment to international progress on Global Warming. As a result, they have been under pressure from environmental activists to show significant movement on this and other issues. A year ago, at the COP 15 conference in Copenhagen, participants managed to strike a deal called the Copenhagen Accord on the last day of the conference. This agreement is not legally binding, but it did give Barack Obama something to point to and claim “[w]e've come a long way but we have much further to go.”

Many of the poorer countries which participated in the COP 15 conference were very displeased with the Copenhagen Accord. The head of the G-77 Group said that it “asks Africa to sign a suicide pact, an incineration pact in order to maintain the economic dominance of a few countries.” The president of the Maldives, a set of islands south of India, initially expressed grave concern about the lack of a specific temperature target in the Accord. This makes sense, as the Maldives is the country with the lowest average ground level, and Global Warming is causing sea levels to rise. On January 31, 2010, however, the Maldives did sign on to the Accord.

Some of the diplomatic cables published recently by WikiLeaks shed some light on what might have caused the Maldives to sign on to the Copenhagen Accord. In the weeks following COP 15, the United States worked hard to entice other countries to sign on to the Accord. One cable showed that the Maldives' ambassador-designate to the US, Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed, suggested investments of up to $50 million, and that the US deputy climate change envoy, Jonathan Pershing, “encouraged Ghafoor to provide concrete examples and specific costs in order to increase the likelihood of bilateral assistance and congressional appropriations.” In April, the United States cut off Climate Change assistance to Bolivia and Ecuador. US State Department Envoy Todd Stern said that “the US is going to use its funds to go to countries that have indicated an interest to be part of the accord.”

Todd Stern was representing the United States at COP 16 last week, and Amy Goodman had some pointed questions to ask him about the information revealed by the latest diplomatic documents published by WikiLeaks. She pressed:

There’s a great deal of discussion here, inside and outside the summit, about the kind of coercion that goes on either to get nations to sign on to the accord or to punish those who won’t, like Bolivia and Ecuador. The question has been going back and forth: is it bribery or democracy?

Stern categorically refused to comment about the fact that WikiLeaks was publishing these documents, but with respect to the charge of bribery, he said that “we can eliminate any cause for accusation of bribery by eliminating any money.” Amy tried to follow up, “[w]hat about the countries that were punished then, Bolivia, Ecuador, for not signing?”, but Stern asked to move to another question from a different journalist.

WikiLeaks is receiving a lot of coverage in the press, and Democracy Now! is no exception, although the quality of their coverage has been exceptional. In the same show where Goodman confronts Stern, she also conducts a rich interview with Glenn Greenwald about the significance of the WikiLeaks affair. On the obvious level, the work WikiLeaks has been doing is extremely important because of what it has revealed about the secret operations of governments and other powerful organizations. The above revelations about the pressure brought to bear to get countries to fall in line with respect to the Copenhagen Accord is simply one example, though by no means an unimportant one. Much of what WikiLeaks has published also sheds light on the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and other secret military operations elsewhere in the world, such as Yemen. On another level, WikiLeaks stands out as a direct demonstration of how power works because of the abhorrent and terrifinglying high-profile attacks that they, and Julian Assange in particular, have endured recently.

Simply restricting ourselves to considering the ongoing persecution of WikiLeaks covers a lot of ground. In the United States, we have a whole array of powerful politicians and others seeking to silence WikiLeaks, including Attorney General Eric Holder; Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein; and Republican Senator (and Minority Leader) Mitch McConnell, who said about Assange, “I think the man is a high-tech terrorist. He’s done an enormous damage to our country, and I think he needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And if that becomes a problem, we need to change the law.” Here we see a direct connection to how the powerful happily use both language and law to assault those who threaten that power. Republican Congressman Pete King apparently agrees with his colleague over in the Senate. Joe Lieberman has been leading the charge, bringing this story from the domestic political arena to the commercial one.

A lot of money can be at stake when powerful politicians start to bring companies into their crosshairs, and this generally provides a very strong lever. Like everything else, WikiLeaks needs resources in order to be able to survive; Lieberman has been applying pressure, and the infrastructure that supports WikiLeaks has been starting to crumble as the companies that provide that infrastructure are unwilling to stand up to that pressure. Amazon has withdrawn web hosting services “after being contacted by the staff of Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate's committee on homeland security”; Tableau has taken down charts relating to WikiLeaks data; Everydns has stopped providing WikiLeaks with DNS service; and PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, and a Swiss bank have all terminated financial services that they had been providing to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Tom Flanagan, a former advisor to the Prime Minister of Canada, explicitly called for the most obvious and brutal solution: murder Julian Assange. While not using the word "assassinate" that Flanagan used, Sarah Palin did demand that Assange be “pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders”; The Washington Times columnist Jeffrey T. Kuhner agreed, but explicitly said that this may require assassination. Fox News analyst Bob Beckel also agreed, and his words are incredible:

A dead man can't leak stuff. This guy's a traitor, he's treasonous, and he has broken every law of the United States. And I'm not for the death penalty, so... there's only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son of a bitch.

While shutting down important commercial services and denouncing Julian Assange in the harshest possible way already gives the war on WikiLeaks an international flavor, the global political dimension of the war concretely involves an impressive array of countries. Sweden has coordinated with Britain to have Assange arrested in order to interrogate him, and the United States is eagerly seeking ways to extradite him and generally persecute him as acutely as possible. Many have called him and WikiLeaks treasonous, although he is not a United States citizen; as we heard from Lieberman earlier, another obvious tactic is to change the law so that WikiLeaks and Assange can be legally prosecuted. The Australian government may make it difficult for Assange to return to Australia, where he is a citizen.

As Glenn Greenwald so stridently warns, this sort of oppression naturally spreads to other news outlets: Joe Lieberman suggested that not only Assange, but also The New York Times, may have committed crimes by publishing these cables”. The interests of the powerful are all connected, and powerful suppression will target anything that provides a meaningful challenge to any of those interests.

This page was last modified on 2010-12-12 23:13:00-05:00.

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