Daniel Lemire's blog

, 4 min read

A taxonomy for the suppression of dissent

Unless you live under a rock, you have heard about Wikileaks. Along with several newspapers, Wikileaks has been releasing confidential diplomatic documents for several days. Noam Chomsky has said that these documents reveal a profound hatred for democracy.

It is unclear to me whether Wikileaks makes the world better. However, we shouldn’t allow large corporations and governments to silence any legitimate organization, whether we agree with its goals or not. As they say, they may come for you next.

Brian Martin has been studying dissent for years. He outlines the recipe being followed by governments to suppress dissent:

  1. The first tactic of outrage minimisation is cover-up. The Wikileaks web site has been taken down due to repeated denial of service attacks. To this day, the major search engines continue to return the hyperlink http://wikileaks.org which Americans have blocked. (Hint: you have to go to http://wikileaks.ch/ to work around the block.) Essentially, corporations such as Amazon, Paypal, Mastercard and VISA have agreed with the American government to silence Wikileaks. Indeed, the chairman of the US Senate’s committee on homeland security called on “any other company or organization that is hosting Wikileaks to immediately terminate its relationship with them. Wikileaks’ illegal, outrageous, and reckless acts have compromised our national security and put lives at risk around the world.” Yet, we have not been told how Wikileaks’ actions are illegal. And the claim that lives have been put to risk appears unfounded. It is worth pointing out that the Klu Klux Klan and numerous other extremist groups are free to host their content on American servers. You can also donate to the Klu Klux Klan with VISA or Mastercard. Nobody is worried about an American web site stating that its authors “support the voluntary repatriation of everyone not satisfied with living under White Christian rules of conduct back to the native lands of their people”.
  2. The second tactic is denigration of critics. It has been (falsely) reported that Assange is accused of sex crimes or even rape. Yet, neither Wikileaks nor its founder Assange have been charged with any crime. In fact, Wikileaks has not been formally accused of any wrong-doing. There is strong evidence that governments are attempting to make Assange appear as a criminal, irrespective of the facts. Indeed, he was recently denied bail. Yet, the Guardian reports:

Katrin Axelsson from Women Against Rape said it was routine for people charged with rape in the UK to be granted bail. Assange is yet to be formally charged by the Swedes. Axelsson also said Sweden had a poor record bringing rapists to justice: “Many women in both Sweden and Britain will wonder at the unusual zeal with which Julian Assange is being pursued for rape allegations … There is a long tradition of the use of rape and sexual assault for political agendas that have nothing to do with women’s safety.”

There are claims that Wikileaks has been publishing indiscriminately a large set of documents: the opposite is true as Wikileaks has been publishing documents one at a time, together with several major newspapers. By all accounts, Wikileaks is behaving as a news organization, publishing documents only after carefully consideration.

  1. The third tactic is reinterpretation (…). If you search for wikileaks cables “nothing new”, you find hundreds of thousands of documents. Ironically, it is both claimed that the wikileaks cables reveal nothing, while also being life threatening. Hilary Clinton has claimed that the Wikileaks cables show that Iran is vastly recognized as the major threat in its region. Yet, that is not what the cables reveal. Rather, we have learned that the local populations feel threatened mostly by the Americans and the Israelis—and this is reported by American diplomats.
  2. The fourth tactic to minimise outrage is to use official channels to give the appearance of legitimacy. Assange has been arrested. He faces deportation to Sweden and then to the United States. Interpol has placed him on its most-wanted list.
  3. The fifth tactic to minimise reactions to corruption is intimidation (…) The founder has been repeatedly threatened with assassination. And not just by right-wing extremists: a well-known scholar, professor Flanagan went on television to call for the assassination of Assange. (Interestingly, I don’t recall hearing any scholar calling for the assassination of Ossama Bin laden.) Assange’s bank account in Switzerland has been closed.

Further reading: Clay Shirky and Tim Bray.

Disclosure: I am funding Wikileaks by my donations.

Update: Donating to Wikileaks has become more difficult now that VISA and Mastercard have blocked Wikileaks. However, companies such as xipwire are offering convenient alternatives.