WikiLeaks: freedom of information hero or anarchist wrecker?

AuthorChodos, Bob

The release in December 2010 by the WikiLeaks website of hundreds of thousands of leaked diplomatic cables raised a number of questions. Is freedom of information always good? Is government secrecy ever justified? If so, when? The Inroads listserv was sharply divided on these questions. It was a suggestion by Tom Flanagan--no stranger to Inroads or the listserv--that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deserved to be assassinated that set the debate in motion. For a more extended selection from the debate, see

From: Philip Resnick | December 5

Tom Flanagan, Julian Assange and the Return of the Mailed [Maled] Fist

It is impossible to ignore the significance of the material that WikiLeaks, with the cooperation of five of the world's leading newspapers (none of them Canadian, I would note) has made public--250,000 documents from the American State Department, unveiling the operations of the arcana imperii (the secrets of the empire) for all to see. It is an extraordinary development of the Internet, a new form of journalism and an equally extraordinary insight into the hypocrisies of diplomacy, the corruption of power (the Putin-Berlusconi interface alone is worth the price of admission) and the fault lines that characterize our planet in the second decade of a new millennium.

A tiny item caught my eye when the list of contributors to the Winter/Spring issue of Inroads was posted the other day. One of the contributors was Tom Flanagan, no stranger to the world of Canadian political commentary and strategy and a one-time contributor to this list. No great shakes, except for another little item. The same Tom Flanagan, in an interview on the CBC's Power & Politics on December 1, had the following to say about Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks: "Assange should be assassinated [laughs]. I think Obama should put out a contract on him." When the program's host, Evan Solomon, said to him, "that is pretty tough," and asked for clarification, Flanagan simply said, "I'm feeling pretty manly."

Flanagan subsequently issued an apology for his statement, but the cat was out of the bag. For the manly right, Assange was a dangerous enemy, and the prescribed punishment for enemies of the empire is the traditional one of all empires--off with their head. The chorus of opponents to Assange and WikiLeaks is a swelling one--Sen. Mitch McConnell, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Sarah Palin--and they all come from the right of the political spectrum. No surprise here, given the solace some of these documents will give to opponents of American foreign policy in various parts of the world. (Not that Turkey, China, Russia or the Governor of the Bank of England, for that matter, emerge from the WikiLeaks documents as shining lights.)


The most striking feature of the Flanagan intervention is how quickly hard ideologues reach for the metaphorical gun or the mailed fist when the political game takes a turn which they despise. No bullshitting about civility, freedom of the press, the need for transparency in public life--this is for the sotty set, or wets as Margaret Thatcher might have called them. The manly types, the Tom Flanagans of this world, deal in a harder political currency--that of friends and enemies.

He is not unique. That great German democrat, Hermann Goring, once famously stated, "When I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver." Comrades Stalin and Mao, and their smaller clones, also knew how to deal with pesky opponents who might stand in their way. Interesting, how quickly the veneer of civilized discourse peals away and the reptilian brain takes over for the practitioners of realpolitik.

As for Julian Assange, he is no modern-day saint, to be sure. But he is a whistle-blower who deserves the respect of any and all who value openness and veracity in public life.

Philip Resnick is Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and a member of...

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