Well did you?

I don’t mean Charlotte Metcalf’s piece in the Mail about how hard it is to afford Christmas when your income has dropped to £26,000 a year. That was not annoying at all: I found it hilarious. What annoyed me was Christina Patterson’s attack on Wikileaks and Julian Assange in the Independent, to which the rest of this post is my response, also posted on the Independent website as a hideously over-long comment. I’ve edited it a bit to remove the parts that don’t fit with it being a blog post rather than a comment. You might want to read Patterson’s piece first, if the below is to make sense.

The claim that Wikileaks has put the lives of Afghani (and other) informants in danger by releasing their names has been widely repeated. I have repeatedly looked for and failed to find evidence for this claim. All I can find is articles like Patterson’s, which repeat the claim but provide no evidence.

Meanwhile, the US and its allies continue to pursue their wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in which thousands of entirely innocent men, woman and children have been and continue to be maimed or killed. No further evidence need be released for this to be an unarguable statement of fact, whether you support the wars, and believe these deaths to be acceptable collateral damage, or whether you oppose the wars, and believe such deaths not to be acceptable.

These wars, moreover, which some claim to be illegal, have been entered into or continued by politicians who, according to Patterson, are ‘accountable to the people who elect them’. One would expect, in that case, given that the wars continue, that the wars have widespread support. Yet they manifestly do not: polls differ but all show that while there is a good deal of support, there is also a good deal of opposition; some show that there is more opposition than support.

Some might conclude from this that perhaps our politicians aren’t quite as accountable as Patterson suggests.

Given that Assange and Wikileaks have acted and continue to act in a way that the Pentagon and the CIA do not like, it is no surprise that there have been many clear statements of intent from members of the US government to have him stopped, and the site shut down. As such, Patterson’s response to Assange blaming “the Pentagon, and the CIA” for the rape charges seems highly disingenuous.

“I thought that that was the kind of thing that someone would say if they had something wrong with their head,” she writes, as if, rather than threatening his life and his project, both the Pentagon and the CIA had in fact released statements to the effect that if they ever met Julian Assange they would clap him heartily on the back, shake his hand and buy him a drink.

Some might think that Patterson’s response is the kind of thing that someone would say if they were being highly selective with their facts in order to construct an argument.

Finally, Wikileaks being a project involving at root a general infrastructure for supporting the release of information that various Powers That Be would prefer not be released, it seems both churlish and ignorant to call it ‘just a website’. I don’t know about Christina Patterson’s, but my website does not do that. Even the Independent’s website is only capable of doing such things up to a certain degree: one of the points made by many people examining Wikileaks is that it and other projects like it fill a necessary journalistic gap left by the often over-cosy relationship between press, politicians and business leaders.

That makes the conclusion of Patterson’s article on Wikileaks somewhat tenuous, given that several if not most of the points in the argument leading up to it turn out not to hold. “Freedom of information,” Patterson concludes, somewhat out of the blue, “is quite likely to make people less free.”

Power without accountability is indeed dangerous, which is why politicians abusing that power and avoiding that accountability are currently being attacked by men and women with websites who would like to make people more free and to remove power without accountability. Those men and women are naturally quite secretive, since they are taking direct aim at very powerful organisations that want to keep us less free.

It is true that ‘what some people called “freedom of information”’ is ‘quite likely to make people more paranoid’, but only some people, specifically, those people in government who are engaging in behaviour that needs to be kept secret in order to continue. That sounds a lot like ‘power without accountability’ to me, and if there is one thing that Christina Patterson and I can agree on, it is that power without accountability is dangerous.