Four and a half years ago, in December 2010, I was asked by the Mail on Sunday to write a column on Julian Assange. When it appeared I was traduced and slagged off by his many supporters. How could I not understand what a hero he is, I was asked? Very easily, as it happens. Anyway, four and a half years on I am rather proud that every word I wrote then has stood the test of time very well. Read for yourself. (The original can be found HERE)
Over the past five years I, along with thousands of other bloggers, have played a small part in holding the mainstream media and politicians to account.
I’ve tried to encourage public authorities to be more transparent and open about what they do, and often caused them a few headaches when they’ve refused.
So you might think I would be a cheerleader for WikiLeaks boss Julian Assange and his self-styled mission to expose what goes on at the heart of government.
You’d be wrong. Far from being a 21st Century hero, I have come to regard Assange as a dictatorial charlatan whose real agenda is not the furtherance of greater transparency, but the furtherance of Julian Assange and his anti-American agenda.
His ego seems to be without equal and he’s now reached the dangerous point of believing his own publicity. So much so that some of his staunchest supporters, such as the Guardian journalist Nick Davies, have cut off contact with him.
WikiLeaks started off as a noble cause. It sought to shine light into the nooks and crannies of public life which had up until now remained closed off to us mere mortals.
Whistleblowing is often uncomfortable, yet WikiLeaks provided a forum for the powerful to be brought to book.
In journalistic terms, there was a point to it, as their work on scientology and the Trafigura scandal concerning the dumping of toxic waste in Africa showed.
But its ethics and operations are now coming under serious scrutiny, and rightly so.
Whenever anyone – journalist, or otherwise – reveals confidential information there has to be a point to it. By releasing three million random documents, illegally obtained from U.S. government computers, WikiLeaks put paid to its reputation in one fell swoop.
Had Assange and his cohorts sorted through the documents and filtered out those with a genuine public interest, he could have been seen as a modern-day hero.
But he released everything in the name of so-called transparency. He did it because he could – the prerogative of every dictator in history.
Assange is currently fighting efforts to extradite him to Sweden, where he is accused of sexually assaulting two women. It is alleged he raped one of them.
Yet during the past couple of weeks, celebrities including Jemima Khan and Bianca Jagger have stood alongside Leftist journalists such as John Pilger and Tariq Ali, and film director Ken Loach to denounce what they view as a ‘politically motivated show trial’.
But the authorities are not trying to extradite Assange over freedom of expression – they’re trying to extradite him over alleged rape.
For the Left to base their defence of him on ‘fairness’, ‘censorship’ and ‘suspicious timing’ is not only misleading but also very unfair on the women who have come forward with the allegations.
Could you imagine any other scenario where liberals, socialists and other members of the Left would be so cavalier with an allegation as serious as rape? Remember all those headlines about rape anonymity just a few short months ago?
Their hypocrisy stinks. It’s as if they are saying that Assange’s WikiLeaks work trumps any legal charges levelled at him.
The charges of sexual assault against Assange should be fully investigated. For anyone to say otherwise implies that the women are lying and that alleged rape is a trifling charge. It’s not.
Nobody knows if he did it, and that’s why he needs to be extradited and face exactly the same legal process that you or I would face in similar circumstances. The God of WikiLeaks gives the appearance of believing he is above the law. He is not.
Perhaps some of Assange’s defenders have more sinister motivations. Perhaps they are pro-Assange as he and his organisation have become virulently anti-American.
Some people might have more sympathy with him if he ever released any documents from China, or North Korea, or the mafia-controlled state of Russia.
Assange may be a public hero to some. But it is stupid and illogical to absolve him of all alleged criminal activities just because of his work.
A man can do commendable work, but be of bad character. And it is high time we stop judging Assange for his public deeds when, at the moment, it is his private life on trial.
We must ensure the separation of powers prevails. This most controversial of men must be judged by the law, not politics.
Assange has been quick to point the finger at dark forces within the Pentagon or the CIA for his arrest, yet the head of WikiLeaks in Sweden appears to be more sensible.
He says: ‘Let the police find out what actually happened. Of course, the enemies of WikiLeaks may try to use this, but it begins with the two women and Julian. It is not the CIA sending a woman in a short skirt.’
You’d have thought that The Guardian would be the first newspaper to support the concept that he should be judged under the rule of law.
Its journalists are normally the first to assume that men who face court on rape charges are guilty. And yet here, they’ve done a volte-face. Why? Because it would be deeply embarrassing for them if the source of virtually every Guardian front page for the past month turned out to be guilty.
And I say that with no presumption that he is.
It is also deeply ironic also that the newspaper which has been campaigning to bring David Cameron’s media supremo Andy Coulson to book for his alleged role in the News of the World phone hacking affair is the very same one which has no compunction in revealing nuggets of gossip and information to the world obtained illegally by WikiLeaks.
What’s different in the two cases? In the News of the World case, 99 per cent of the illegally obtained, hacked information was prurient gossip with no public interest. In the case of WikiLeaks, 99 per cent of the illegally obtained, hacked information was prurient gossip with no public interest.
But there is one sinister difference. In the WikiLeaks case, lives and national security have been put at risk. But we shouldn’t be surprised. Assange proved he was out of control in August when he demanded $700,000 from Amnesty International which had politely asked him to ensure WikiLeaks did not publish names of Afghan civilians who might then be targeted by the Taliban. Some called it blackmail.
It is, I suppose, possible to argue that every piece of government information should be made publicly available, but anyone who really believes that hasn’t given a thought to the anarchic consequences which would follow. Surely national security, at the very least, has to be a consideration?
Julian Assange purports to believe in total openness – except when it comes to himself.
He delights in asking politicians what they have got to hide. We might ask Mr Assange the same.
There is little in this issue that is about high principle. It is about political motivation and one man’s desire to be treated as a demi-god.
Assange is not a terrorist, as the increasingly ridiculous Sarah Palin suggests. But he is a narcissist and would-be demagogue.
If he was half the man he purports to be, he’d voluntarily get on a flight to Stockholm tomorrow and submit himself to Swedish justice.
If he’s as innocent as he says he is, what has he got to fear?