WikiLeaks: Putting Attacks on Assange in Perspective

The New York Times chose the day that, along with the Guardian, it published its reports about WikiLeaks’ latest document dump to run an unflattering article about the organization’s founder Julian Assange by John F. Burns and Ravi Somaiya. In fact, one part of the angle of the story did prove troubling.

From the point of view of the United States, back in August, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates wrote Committee of Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin that a review of the first Wikileaks dump had “not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by this disclosure.” However, Burns and Somaiya now report:

A Taliban spokesman in Afghanistan . . . said in a telephone interview that the Taliban. . . . had a “wanted” list of 1,800 Afghans and was comparing that with names WikiLeaks provided. “After the process is completed, our Taliban court will decide about such people,” he said.

The authors devote the bulk of the article, however, to an attack on Assange’s character, noting that “some of his own comrades are abandoning him for what they see as erratic and imperious behavior, and a nearly delusional grandeur.” An example . . .

When Herbert Snorrason, a 25-year-old political activist in Iceland, questioned Mr. Assange’s judgment over a number of issues in an online exchange last month, Mr. Assange was uncompromising. “I don’t like your tone,” he said, according to a transcript. “If it continues, you’re out.”

In another instance, Assange describes his colleagues “as ‘a confederacy of fools,’ and asked his interlocutor, ‘Am I dealing with a complete retard?’”

Exactly how does Assange’s behavior differ from what one might expect of the leader of an organization engaged in an enterprise as explosive as Wikileaks is while he himself attempts to come to grips with the knowledge that he’s unwelcome in any country on which he alights?

Mr. Assange’s detractors also accuse him of pursuing a vendetta against the United States. In London, Mr. Assange said America was an increasingly militarized society and a threat to democracy. Moreover, he said, “we have been attacked by the United States, so we are forced into a position where we must defend ourselves.”

Poor United States — who will defend it against big, bad Julian Assange? Of course, it’s actually Assange who needs someone to stand beside him. None other than Daniel Ellsberg, Burns and Somaiya report, “flew overnight from California to attend [the announcement] and compared the Obama administration’s threat to prosecute Mr. Assange to his own treatment under President Richard M. Nixon.”

Compared to the momentous work that Assange has spearheaded, his foibles are trifling. If its intention in publishing this article was to preclude the appearance of a loss of objectivity in its presentation of the WikiLeaks documents, the Times miscalculated and instead appear pretty.