This week marks the start of Julian Assange’s fifth year in residence at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, after charges of rape were brought against him in Sweden. Fearing that the Swedish authorities would bundle him onto the first plane bound for the USA, the Australian founder of wikileaks, who maintains his innocence, decided to take his chances and seek asylum from Rafael Correa.
For much of these four years, his home in the embassy has been under 24 hour surveillance by the British police at a cost of several million pounds to the UK tax payer. Earlier this year however, the United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that he was being “arbitrarily detained” and that this detention should be brought to an end: a decision that the UK chose to disregard.
To mark his four years in captivity, the International Centre for Communication Studies for Latin America [CIESPAL in the Spanish acronym], has organised a week-long series of seminars and panels on various subjects surrounding his detention:
- Assange’s case and issues surrounding international law and human rights
- Geopolitics and responses from the South
- Technopolitics and Cyberwar
- From the Pentagon Papers to the Panama Papers.
A range of regionally and globally-known figures in these various fields have come to Quito to participate, and on Thursday morning, Assange himself will connect via video-conference from London to talk about the Panama Papers.
The event was opened on Monday morning with the linguist and political activist, Noam Chomsky sending a message via pre-recorded video message to the assembled delegates. In his intervention, in which he praised the enormous service that Assange has given to the people of the world, he went on to explain how governments work by keeping secrets from their subjects and that Assange’s crime has been to, “violate the fundamental principles of government, to lift the veil of secrecy that protects power from scrutiny.”
The full text of Chomsky’s message can be found beneath the video.
Noam Chomsky video message to CIESPAL
Julian Assange has performed an enormous service to all the people in the world who treasure the values of freedom and democracy and who therefore demand the right to know what their elected representatives are doing. And for that very reason he is one of the most dangerous criminals on the face of the earth pursued with savagery by the rulers of the free and democratic societies.
And there’s a reason, there is a basic principle of government that’s well understood by serious analysts. Actually it was explained quite clearly by the professor of the Science of Government at Harvard University, the distinguished liberal political scientist and government advisor Samuel Huntingdon. He observed, I’ll quote him, that, “the architects of power in the United States must create a force that can be felt but not seen, power remains strong when it remains in the dark. Exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.”
And he gave some telling examples concerning the real nature of the Cold War. He was discussing US military intervention abroad and he observed, I’ll quote him again, that, “you may have to sell intervention or other military action in such a way as to create the misimpression that it is the Soviet Union that you are fighting.”
That’s what the United States has been doing ever since the Truman Doctrine and there are many illustrations of that leading principle. Well Julian Assange has committed the grave crime of exposing power to sunlight which may cause power to evaporate if the population grasps the opportunity to become independent citizens of a free society, rather than subjects of a Master who operates in secret.
That’s a choice. And it’s long been understood. In fact, it’s long been understood that the public can cause power to evaporate. The one leading thinker who understood and explained this critical fact was David Hume, writing on the first principles of Government in one of the first modern works of political theory almost 250 years ago. His formulation was so clear and pertinent that I’ll simply quote it.
Hume found “nothing more surprising than to see the easiness with which the many are governed by the few and to observe the implicit submission with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is brought about we shall find that as force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is therefore on opinion only that government is founded and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments as well as to the most free and the most popular.”
Actually, Hume underestimates the efficacy of violence but his words are particularly appropriate to societies where popular struggle over many years has won a considerable degree of freedom. In such societies such as ours, force really is on the side of the governed and the governors have nothing to support them but opinion.
That is one reason why the huge public relations industry, the most immense propaganda agency in human history, reached its developed and most sophisticated forms in the most free societies: the United States and Britain. That institution arose about a century ago when elites came to understand that too much freedom had been won for the public to be controlled by force so it would be necessary to control attitudes and opinions. Liberal intellectual elites understood that as well which is why they urge, to give a few quotes, that “we must discard democratic dogmatisms about people being the best judges of their own interests. They are not. They are ignorant and meddlesome outsiders and therefore must be put in their place for their own interests of course, “ quoting highly respected liberal intellectuals.
One device to control the population is to operate in secret. So that the ignorant and meddlesome outsiders will stay in their place, remote from the levers of power, which are none of their business. That’s the main purpose for classification of internal documents.
Anyone who has pored through the archives of released documents has surely come to realise pretty quickly that what is kept secret very rarely has anything at all to do with security except for the security of the leadership from their domestic enemy, their own population. The practice is so routine that illustration is really quite superfluous. I’ll mention only one current case. Consider the global trade agreements: Pacific and Atlantic, in actuality investor rights agreements masquerading under the rubric of free trade.
They’re negotiated in secret, with it there’s an intention of a Stalinist style of ratification by parliaments. Yes or no. Which of course means yes with no discussion or debate. What’s called in the United States “fast track”. To be accurate they’re not negotiated entirely in secret. The facts are known to the corporate lawyers and lobbyists who are writing the details in such a way as to protect the interests of the constituency that they represent which is of course not the public. The public on the contrary is an enemy that must be kept in ignorance.
Julian Assange’s crime is to violate the fundamental principles of government, to lift the veil of secrecy that protects power from scrutiny, keeps it from evaporating, and again it is well understood by the powerful that lifting the veil may cause power to evaporate. It may even lead to authentic freedom and democracy if an aroused public comes to understand that force is on the side of the governed and it can be their force if they choose to control their own fate.
We should all thank Julian for his courage and integrity in providing us with this precious gift at great cost to himself, much to our shame.