Anyone who follows me on Twitter will be forgiven for thinking I’m obsessed with WikiLeaks: I’m pretty sure I tweeted or retweeted a dozen WL/Assange/#cableleaks related posts yesterday alone. Given that it was the day the organisation’s founder Julian Assange was arrested while the likes of socialite Jemima Khan put in an appearance ‘on the courthouse steps’ like something out of an episode of Law and Order (another of my obsessions), there was lots to tweet about.

What all that activity obscured, at least in my case, was that yesterday’s WL-related tweets were decidedly different from those I’d posted when the current cable dump began. As Twitter will tell you, I was dismayed by the mundane contents of many of the leaked cables which seemed to me to be more mischievous than politically significant. Is it in the compelling public interest to know that other politicians find Nicolas Sarkozy ‘authoritarian’ or that Americans think Canadians have a chip on their shoulder?

I don’t think so. Indeed, the trouble with this kind of water-cooler gossip is that it dilutes the very significant leaks of information that is deliberately suppressed by governments, such as the cover-up of civilian killings in Afghanistan, American bullying at the Copenhagen climate talks, and lots more. It also makes politicians’ and diplomats’ jobs rather difficult. After all, political leaders don’t need to like each other to co-operate on trade or defense policy.

Several years ago, I spent a few days at the British Library Archives at Kew, foraging through Foreign and Commonwealth Office documents on a hunt for information about land that had been taken from my family in what is now northern Israel. I wanted to know the location of the lake my father had always talked about, which had apparently flanked the property. What was this ‘Jewish Agency’ that had offered my grandfather money for our land, and when that money was refused, took the land anyways?

I didn’t find what I was looking for, but I was nonetheless struck by the fact that I was holding in my hands original typewritten historical documents relating to building a nation by erasing a people, complete with handwritten notes in the margins from one FCO bureaucrat to the other. Of course, these personal observations were fascinating and historically relevant for their ‘behind the scenes’ quality. But had they been ‘suppressed’ as part of some disinformation campaign? Would things have been different if we’d known that you couldn’t put so-and-so and so-and-so in a room together? I don’t think so.

So why yesterday’s renewed WL enthusiasm? I was so caught up in my own outrage and dismay, I wasn’t entirely sure myself until quite late in the day when I read a great piece by Michael Brenner in The Huffington Post. It’s worth a look for lots of reasons, but here’s one comment that resonated for me: “Another cardinal feature of the prevailing American attitude, about which we exhibit no self awareness, is the reflex to divide foreigners into the two categories of “pro-American” or “anti-American.”

Yes, I know: this observation is neither original nor earth-shattering. At that moment, though, it captured my own frustration about the available options in a debate whose terms are jammed into this bifurcated world view, which tells us that being ‘pro-American’ means braying for Assange’s blood and re-writing laws to transform his transgressions into crimes. For instance, given that a charge of ‘treason’ derives its logic from the unwritten contract between a citizen and the state in which they live, it’s simply not possible by definition for a foreigner living outside that state to commit an act of ‘treason’. So let’s re-define ‘treason’, goes the ‘pro-American’ response.

Similarly, I was horrified to learn that a professor at the University of Calgary (and unsurprisingly a former adviser to the hard-right Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper) suggested that the Americans ought to assassinate Assange. Needless to say, this advice was met with howls of outrage and demands for the professor’s resignation. And the response of the university to this call for the commission of a violent crime by one of its own lecturers? A shrug of the shoulders.

Now as I’ve already observed on Twitter, Assange is either nuts or he’s a genius, but either way he’s certainly smoked out governments that don’t want you to know what they’re up to, especially the illegal stuff that involves torturing and killing people. And it was the Draconian response to this chilling fact – which relied on the collusion of outfits like PayPal, MasterCard, Amazon and Visa, who are helping deny Assange even the means to defend himself – that pushed me over the edge yesterday, turning me from a supporter of principle into an active defender of WikiLeaks. If those who are out to get Assange for exposing their murky and illegal activities ignore the irony of their position and dispense with legality, proportionality and credibility, it’s difficult to avoid an equal but opposite reaction.

Arguably, this means that feminists like me will find ourselves on ground that feels a little shaky, defending a guy who’s been accused of rape. But given both the hysterical response to the leaks, and the insidious and sometimes criminal behaviour those leaks expose, it’s tough to avoid the suspicion that these allegations are the kind of stitch-up you expect from tin pot dictators in banana republics, out to smear their opponents with the help of a judiciary that’s at their beck and call. After all, we know that Swedish prosecutors had to shop around for a judge who was willing to issue an arrest warrant for Assange after their first effort was chucked out due to insufficient evidence. Still, I really don’t know if Assange is a rapist. But I do know that for the ‘pro-Americans’ among us, it would be a very useful coincidence if he were.

So here we are playing ‘cowboys and injuns’ in the land of the simple-minded where history’s lessons are painstakingly unlearned, and nothing is as it seems – but we’ll shoot the guy who says that out loud. This is the thicket where we now live and it allows for only one question: whose side are you on, anyways?

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