There’s no use guessing the next phase in Julian Assange’s nightmare when everything looks like it will go public eventually. His case stands in the open: two women he allegedly engaged in consensual sex, with the dispute centered on a broken condom. The WikiLeaks founder’s offer to cooperate with Swedish authorities in any way other than returning to the country has been denied. Mark Stephens, Assange’s lawyer, claims his client isn’t running or hiding, but feels unsafe leaving his current location in the UK.
Now a wanted man to Sweden and possibly Interpol, depending on Assange’s response, refusing to return to Stockholm could land him in jail. Assagne’s British visa is thought to expire this year and Australia could potentially cooperate with US authorities if he returns to his home country. But the overriding question is whether the political nature of Assange’s circumstances void public relations law: any press is good press.
Will morally blackening Assange cast his political actions in a negative light, or will they continue to shine through?
Given his spearheading of WikiLeaks, CIA conspiracies have inevitably questioned the truth behind Assange’s case. The macho, shadowy organization also happens to be sensitive and takes things personal in the field. When an al-Qaeda agent blew up a CIA base in Afghanistan last December, US officials reacted in indignation and responded with a retaliatory barrage of drone strikes in North Waziristan. It’s always hard for the CIA and Pentagon to believe they’ve been one-upped, and Assange has certainly done that.
Now Assange himself is adopting a more cautious approach than when the rape allegations first became public, when he loudly suspected US involvement after a warning from Australian intelligence.
"That doesn't mean that intelligence agencies are behind this,” he said recently, “nor does it mean they are not behind it, nor does it mean once this has happened, for other reasons, that they are not capitalizing on it.”
Despite a murky situation that points in the CIA’s direction, it’s possible that Assange’s latest description most accurately hits the mark. The whole affair might be a creation of jealousy or spite. According to Stevens, “Both women have declared that they had consensual sexual relations with our client and that they continued to instigate friendly contact well after the alleged incidents. Only after the women became aware of each other's relationships with Mr. Assange did they make their allegations against him."
From there the Western mainstream media, possibly urged by Washington and London, took over to reduce Assange’s credibility.
Whatever the reality actually is, Assange is trapped in a giant ad hominem. On top of rape charges, multiple stories have emerged documenting his “dictatorial leadership style” and resulting internal evacuation. About a dozen members have supposedly quit WikiLeaks in recent months, several after 392,000 classified documents on the Iraq war failed to satisfy their level of redaction.
One lieutenant, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, told Assange: “You are not anyone’s king or god. And you’re not even fulfilling your role as a leader right now. A leader communicates and cultivates trust in himself. You are doing the exact opposite. You behave like some kind of emperor or slave trader.”
He was suspended and soon resigned. The Western media has questioned if Assange’s mind makes him “dangerous.”
Considering that Assange is a public figure, which become role models regardless of their preference, a cleaner image would surely work in his favor to discredit the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Being a rogue doesn’t seem to hurt the cause, but being considered dangerous, not just to governments but to individuals who know him, can’t help. And yet, as of yesterday, Assange sits third in Time’s Person of the Year polling.
Assange may be vilified by Western power-brokers and questioned on his lack of effect within the US and European anti-war movements. Except Assange did contribute to the overall disapproval of the Afghan war, which now runs around 60%, and has altered the debate less than a month before the White House and Pentagon’s latest review. That the majority of Americans remain tuned out, allowing Washington to blow by Assange, isn’t his fault - it would happen to anyone opposing the war.
Furthermore, the internal split within WikiLeaks demonstrates how hard silencing people like Assange actually is. As with al-Qaeda, Assange’s message must be fought with a counter-message and not force, as one whistle-blower replaces another. A collection of former WikiLeaks’ members, led by Domscheit-Berg, claims to be designing new technology to assist whistle-blowers. Even if they came to hate Assange they’ve preserved their hatred for warfare, its potential illegality, and lack of oversight.
Silencing Assange may temporarily quiet the whistle-blowing, but appears insufficient to stop it.
Assange’s enemies, whether they’re orchestrating his legal entrapment or simply reveling, are likely asking themselves at what point he will break. Not literally, given reports of the mental strain taking a toll on him. And any bodily harm or efforts to remove him from society will only draw more attention.
But at what point do people start connecting his personal actions, including those surrounding his political actions, with the kernel of truth that is his ultimate statement? If Assange is found guilty of rape, will people second-guess whether the Afghan and Iraq wars suffer from negligent oversight and gross human rights violations? Some might, but killing the messenger may not significantly affect the message.
If the White House and Pentagon want to permanently “discredit” Assange, they should try improving upon and clarifying their own strategy in Afghanistan, rather than keep everyone in the dark. That’s what gave Assange his platform in the first place.