Assange Should Be Thanked – Not Smeared

October 22, 2018

Twelve years ago this month, WikiLeaks began publishing government secrets that the world public might otherwise never have known. What it has revealed about state duplicity, human rights abuses and corruption goes beyond anything published in the world’s “mainstream” media.

After over six months of being cut off from outside world, on 14 October Ecuador has partly restored WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s communications with the outside world from its London embassy where the founder has been living for over six years.

The treatment – real and threatened – meted out to Assange by the US and UK governments contrasts sharply with the service WikiLeaks has done their publics in revealing the nature of elite power, as shown in the following snapshot of WikiLeaks’ revelations about British foreign policy in the Middle East.

Conniving With the Saudis

Whitehall’s special relationship with Riyadh is exposed in an extraordinary cable from 2013 highlighting how Britain conducted secret vote-trading deals with Saudi Arabia to ensure both states were elected to the UN human rights council. Britain initiated the secret negotiations by asking Saudi Arabia for its support.

The WikiLeaks releases also shed details on Whitehall’s fawning relationship with Washington. A 2008 cable, for example, shows then shadow foreign secretary William Hague telling the US embassy that the British “want a pro-American regime. We need it. The world needs it.”

A cable the following year shows the lengths to which Whitehall goes to defend the special relationship from public scrutiny. Just as the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War was beginning in 2009, Whitehall promised Washington that it had “put measures in place to protect your interests”.

American Influence

It is not known what this protection amounted to, but no US officials were called to give evidence to Chilcot in public. The inquiry was also refused permission to publish letters between former US President George W Bush and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair written in the run-up to the war.

Also in 2009, then prime minister Gordon Brown raised the prospect of reducing the number of British nuclear-armed Trident submarines from four to three, a policy opposed in Washington. However, Julian Miller, an official in the UK’s Cabinet Office, privately assured US officials that his government “would consult with the US regarding future developments concerning the Trident deterrent to assure there would be ‘no daylight’ between the US and UK”. The idea that British decision-making on Trident is truly independent of the US is undermined by this cable.

The WikiLeaks cables are rife with examples of British government duplicity of the kind I’ve extensively come across in my own research on UK declassified files. In advance of the British-NATO bombing campaign in Libya in March 2011, for example, the British government pretended that its aim was to prevent Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s attacks on civilians and not to overthrow him.

However, WikiLeaks files released in 2016 as part of its Hillary Clinton archive show William Burns, then the US deputy secretary of state, having talked with foreign secretary William Hague about a “post-Qaddafi” Libya. This was more than three weeks before military operations began. The intention was clearly to overthrow Gaddafi, and the UN resolution about protecting civilians was simply window dressing.

Deception Over Diego Garcia

Another case of British duplicity concerns Diego Garcia, the largest island in the Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean, which is now a major US base for intervention in the Middle East. The UK has long fought to prevent Chagos islanders from returning to their homeland after forcibly removing them in the 1960s.

A secret 2009 cable shows that a particular ruse concocted by Whitehall to promote this was the establishment of a “marine reserve” around the islands. A senior Foreign Office official told the US that the “former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve”.

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