The Hypocrisy of Julian Assange

by Roger Alford

It is with great concern that I hear about this because it puts Julian and his defence in a bad position. I do not like the idea that Julian may be forced into a trial in the media. And I feel especially concerned that he will be presented with the evidence in his own language for the first time when reading the newspaper. I do not know who has given these documents to the media, but the purpose can only be one thing – trying to make Julian look bad.

Lawyers for Julian Assange–December 19, 2010

We simply have a very easily understood promise. Unlike most media organizations, we don’t arbitrarily choose what to publish or not to publish based upon the political or personal whims.

Julian Assange–December 17, 2010

We make a guarantee to people that provide us with material that provided their material meets a simple criteria, that is, it has been restricted from the public record, or has been censored and is under an active suppression and it is of diplomatic, political or authorical significance, provided they get it to us we will eventually publish it.

Julian Assange–April 7, 2010

We will fight will all the tools at our disposal, technical, political, legal to make sure the material remains up and published. Any material of political importance or ethical or diplomatic or historical relevance, that is our criteria, that is suppressed we will accept. That is our line in the sand that we have consistently enforced. And previously no one have been able to enforce that. So, this is, yes part of this revolutionary ideal.

Julian Assange–April 26, 2010

http://opiniojuris.org/2010/12/20/the-hypocrisy-of-julian-assange/

21 Responses

  1. Is it hypocrisy? Or is it a fairly trivial consistency? One rationale for transparency of government operations is precisely to protect the privacy of individuals. Another is to permit individuals to participate in their government (of, by, for), one of whose abiding principles is a respect for personal autonomy.

  2. Dean,

    I don’t think so.  His defenders argue that the Swedish case is a government set up or that it is part of some government conspiracy.  Using Assange’s criteria of total transparency, the leaked police report helps establish the opposite–that the sexual allegations are real and genuine and are not part of some grand conspiracy. 

    If Julian Assange were not a hypocrite, he would welcome this transparency, even though his own reputation is severely damaged.  Of course, Assange has publicly endorsed government leaks at the cost of harm to others’ reputation–that’s just, in his words, “collateral damage.”  As Assange told the New Yorker:  

    “[S]ome leaks risked harming innocent people—’collateral damage, if you will’—but that he could not weigh the importance of every detail in every document…. by releasing the information he would allow judgment to occur in the open.”

    Apparently the loss of reputation is fine in the pursuit of total transparency, unless it is his own.

    Roger Alford

  3. Roger Alford wrote: “the leaked police report helps establish (…) that the sexual allegations are real”

    Did Assange, or his lawyers, claim the allegations weren’t real? What is being contested — correct me if I’m wrong — is whether there is any veracity behind those allegations.

    The police report indeed describes these allegations, what it doesn’t do is prove that Assange is actually guilty of the alleged crimes.

  4. Is it really hypocrisy or mere coherence? It’s maybe an early judgment. Assange criticizes the fact that the leaked Swedish police reports were not published in their entirety, not the mere fact that they were published.
     
    “On Saturday The Guardian printed a story reconstructing the days that Assange spent in Stockholm last August, when the complaints against him were made. Having had access to police material held in Stockholm, the British newspaper printed intimate details about the sexual relations between Assange and two women identified as Miss A and Miss W. Of the article, Assange says that “as always, almost nothing is what it seems,” before describing it as the latest act in a “smear campaign” against him. The former hacker criticizes the newspaper for printing only part of the story, ignoring some of the information he says is included in the case files. Assange claims that one of the two women was “bamboozled” into giving a statement by the police.
    He says that he has “never had non-consensual sexual relations with anyone,” and criticizes the way the details of the accusations have slowly emerged into the public domain without him or anyone else being given proper access to the files. “I have yet to receive any documents in English, which is a violation of the European Human Rights Convention.”" (http://www.elpais.com/articulo/english/I/get/death/threats/constantly/do/my/lawyer/and/my/children/elpepueng/20101220elpeng_4/Ten
    )

  5. I don’t think one needs to be a “defender” of Assange before one can view skeptically the odd circumstances surrounding Sweden’s pursuit of the rape charges. As fd points out, nobody disputes that there are allegations of rape charges.

    The New Yorker piece is slightly irresponsible. At the outset, it coyly dubs Assange “an international trafficker, of sorts.” Perhaps I don’t have Khatchadourian’s imagination, but I know that without reading the piece I’d not likely have viewed Assange as someone who “can seem … like a rail-thin being who has rocketed to Earth to deliver humanity some hidden truth.” (David Bowie maybe, but not Julian Assange.) His enterprise is substantially less metaphysical than that, I think. And here’s earth-shattering news: “Assange typically tells would-be litigants to go to hell.” Sure sign of a scofflaw, eh?

    But the New Yorker piece can also be revealing in ways that ought to temper the purely ad hominen attacks. The context for the quote about collateral damage, for instance, doesn’t reveal a single-minded, careless hypocrite. He seems well aware of and responsive to the risks of his work. The “collateral damage, if you will” remark was evidently sarcastic and self-accusatory, in light of the sentiment he expresses earlier in the piece about the cynical euphemism. And if Aftergood’s assessment is that he would exercise greater caution than Assange, he nevertheless certainly seems to share Assange’s concern that classification can become an abuse.

  6. What an odd post. I’m sorry, but there’s a trivially obvious difference between the public interest case for  transparency regarding official government correspondence and intelligence (subject to redaction), and matters concerning private individuals in a pending criminal case. I don’t see any contradiction in the stated philosophical rationale for radical transparency other than the trite transparency-all-or-nothing strawman.

    Given the allegations from Assange’s lawyers concerning their access to the charges and evidence, I don’t think it’s unreasonable that they object to such a media gambit on behalf of the prosecutors.

    “His defenders argue that the Swedish case is a government set up or that it is part of some government conspiracy.”

    One reliable way to judge participants in a debate like this is to determine who foregoes the crazier outlier positions of their opponents, and tackles the mainline substance (charitably construed) head-on. On that basis, you’ve failed.

    Now, whilst it’s true that many people have claimed a conspiracy theory, you’re posting on an esteemed international law blog and “Assange defenders” here are obviously going to have a more nuanced legally sophisticated objection to the carriage of the matter, rather than a crude conspiracy theory.

  7. I don’t think there is much doubt that Assange is a hypocrite.  None of comments thus far have addressed this hypocrisy.  Assange cavalierly reveals intimate details about the lives of others, details that quite literally put their lives, reputations, and professions at risk.  Yet when someone leaks documents that damage Assange’s reputation and help the government in its case against him, Assange’s lawyers cry foul.  Indeed, when reporters simply try to talk to Assange about the Swedish government’s case against him, he walks out of the room in protest.  He is thin-skinned and two-faced.  His conduct shows that he is not serious about his theory of total transparency.  It is surprising that his defenders seem to think he is serious.

    Roger Alford

  8. As E.H. points out, there is nothing remotely hypocritical about the statements made by Assange’s lawyer — at least when they are not taken out of context.  Imagine that, a transparency advocate being outraged by the selective leaking of documents, instead of their complete release! Why, that’s totally different than criticizing the government for releasing information that supports its public positions and concealing information that doesn’t.

    Oh, wait…

  9. “I don’t think there is much doubt that Assange is a hypocrite.”

    Assange may well be an egregious hypocrite, but you haven’t shown it here. At best, you’ve simply yelled “gotcha” at the superficial all-or-nothing tension within the notion of radical transparency. But nothing in the stated rationale of Wikileaks depends on collapsing the distinction between public officials and personal matters. Nor has Assange made public statements that avow all regard for the norms of criminal law and evidence as part of a fair trial.

    The only quote you’ve adduced that is suggestive of universal transparency has Assange contrasting Wikileak’s more fearless approach to publication with the timidity and politicisation of the mainstream media. But that doesn’t actually bear on the scope of what Assange considers legitimate public interest topics. He is trying to contrast the media’s timidity in the face of received public interest information, not disputing a differing definition of what is public interest information.

    Anyway, such alleged distain for the gatekeeper role played by the media is rather discordant with his latest approach of vetting individual cables through NYT, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and other major broadsheets of record. He has not, as many claim, indiscriminately dumped all the cables online. So, rather ironically, you are actually raising the opposite kind of hypocrisy on the facts here – his disdain for caution and media gatekeepers is actually not matched by his actions.

    “Assange cavalierly reveals intimate details about the lives of others, details that quite literally put their lives, reputations, and professions at risk.”

    I do have some serious serious reservations about the potential of wikileaks to damage diplomatic trust and the execise of soft power in avoidance of conflict. However, it’s not clear that significant damage to any individual has occurred, and Assange has not been consistently cavalier as demonstrated by his more recent engagement with the media and public statements acknowledging past errors in redaction.
     
    “Indeed, when reporters simply try to talk to Assange about the Swedish government’s case against him, he walks out of the room in protest.  He is thin-skinned and two-faced.”
     
    Sorry, but that’s just a personal character assessment and has nothing to do with the alleged contradiction in his transparency philosophy. Whether Assange is a rapist and of generally low moral character is entirely irrelevant to this discussion. Evidence theory long ago abandoned the black box approach to character – but it seems some wikileaks critics just can’t help themselves.

  10. “Indeed, when reporters simply try to talk to Assange about the Swedish government’s case against him, he walks out of the room in protest.  He is thin-skinned and two-faced.”

    Yes, nothing says “thin-skinned and two-faced” quite like a defendant in a criminal case refusing to speak to reporters about it.

  11. Kevin and Will,

    You are both conveniently ignoring the damage that Assange willingly does to the lives, reputations, and professions of others.  You assume that all Assange is doing is exposing government corruption and abuse.  If you are going to condemn the latest leaks about Assange, then a consistent position would condemn Assange for the destruction he has wreaked in the personal lives of others. Revealing the names of Afghan insurgents, or the Social Security numbers of U.S. military personnel, or intimate conversations of our diplomats that destroys their careers, or the locations of strategic targets where Americans work, it’s all good.  Right?  You’re fine with Assange doing those things, and yet outraged when he is hoisted on his petard? 

    Roger Alford

  12. “His conduct shows that he is not serious about his theory of total transparency.” If that’s the case, then what’s all the worry about? Wikileaks has been criticized for indiscriminate dumping of documentation (the “cavalier” revelation of “intimate details”), but now also for a skewed selectivity, for being transparent about some things, mum about others? How, anyway, does this counter-leak damage Assange’s reputation? It might damage his defense strategy, and it risks compromising the integrity of a suit, but he isn’t complaining about personal embarrassment. He seems not to care, and one wishes some government officials would take a lesson in that regard.

    Whether or not Assange is a hypocrite (or a rapist or full of himself) is barely relevant to the change in the rules of the game effected by Wikileaks. (Will’s comment clearly addresses the hypocrisy charge. How can that not be obvious?) But why should Assange have an obligation to talk about a suit against him? Is it because he’s now a celebrity? He walked off CNN and ABC because interviewers at both stations plainly tried to exploit for ratings a titillating case against him, not to address the more generally significant business of Wikileaks. Neither station evidently cares much about the “intimate details” of a diplomat’s dreary cables, and nobody, not even a paragon of transparency, should have to play along with the inane behavior spurred by media competition for viewers.

  13. The simple point that Mr. Alford is making and that Assange’s defenders cannot seem to grasp is that, regardless of the true public interest of the documents sent to Wikileaks, Assange and Wikileaks have not adequately screened them to prevent the release of documents that cause harm to indivduals that, at least arguably, outweighs the service they provide to the public. It is, then, at least slightly hypocritical that his lawyers should cry foul when the limited public value of the leaked information respecting the criminal investigation/case against Assange is perhaps outweighed by the harm it may do to Assange’s reputation. Moreover, as has been pointed out, Assange has been publicly refuting the allegations via the media, so, regardless of the convenient timing and strange nature of the alleged crimes themselves, there is a fair question as to who really made this a public case.

  14. Here is another strong statement of opposition to my post from Scott Greenfield, a criminal defense attorney who clearly is focused solely on the rights of criminal defendants and not on the harm those individuals cause to victims.  Like Will and Kevin, Greenfield completely ignores the hypocrisy of Assange willingly disclosing government documents that harm the lives, reputations, and professions of innocents, while crying foul when someone else leaks a government document that harms the reputation of Assange.  Unlike virtually every Democrat and Republican in executive and congressional leadership, Assange’s defenders simply cannot get their heads around the problem of unfiltered disclosure of government documents. 

    Roger Alford

  15. Roger,

    Since you have resorted to attacking the strawman and named him, I take the liberty of responding in Mr. Assange’s defense: “L’État c’est ne pas moi”.

    Antonin I. Pribetic

  16. For what it’s worth, I tend to agree with Roger and aside from Assange’s exposure of possible criminality, I have very little time for him or wikileaks until both become much more transparent and accountable.

    And, Assange/Wikileak may not be so lily white as the claim. In terms of potential illegal conduct on the part of Assange/Wikileaks, I have consider one possible charge that may lie in Australia.  See Why Assange May Have a Case to Answer in Australia, Despite What the AFP Says (or, Why Julia Gillard Might be Right).

  17. Really, how many times does that claim that WikiLeaks engaged in “unfiltered disclosure of government documents” have to be debunked before Assange’s critics stop trying to mislead people by repeating it?  If critics want to argue that the less than 1% of the diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks has released is still too much, fine.  If critics want to argue that the redactions that WikiLeaks agreed to in conjunction with the newspapers were not enough, fine. But it is impossible to take seriously anyone who continues to distort the facts about the release of the cables in order to support their position.

  18. “You are both conveniently ignoring the damage that Assange willingly does to the lives, reputations, and professions of others.”

    I’m not ignoring anything. I’m simply rejecting your attempt to bait and switch from the OP topic of hypocrisy to a broader consequentialist analysis of the harm of wikileaks. We get it. You regard that harm as self-evident, and you’re clearly frustrated and impatient at those who are not working themselves into a state of frenzied attack commensurate with that harm. Now, certainly there’s a proper debate to be had about wikileak’s systemic and unit-level harm. I probably wouldn’t accept your narrative of that harm uncritically, but for the record, I’ve already acknowledged serious reservations about the systemic impact of wikileaks. However, this is a topic about the hypocrisy of Julian Assange, and nothing you’ve quoted or argued sustains a case of hypocrisy.

    Hypocrisy depends on the selectivity of an agent’s principles: the agent’s genuinely held principles; not principles you’ve just ascribed to that agent by fiat. Such principles may consist of a raw consequential test of harm, but that depends on the agent actually espousing that exact same calculus. You haven’t demonstrated that here.

    ”You assume that all Assange is doing is exposing government corruption and abuse.”

    Um, sorry, that’s called arguing from revealed preferences and it’s a fallacy. Given that I’ve already noted the danger of undermining diplomatic trust and soft power, it’s also silly and logically obtuse. If I regard the day-to-day business of diplomacy and soft power to be beneficial to peace and international security, self-evidently I couldn’t think that an entire trove of diplomatic cables over many years would only contain “corruption and abuse”.

    “If you are going to condemn the latest leaks about Assange, then a consistent position would condemn Assange for the destruction he has wreaked in the personal lives of others.”

    Again, without establishing this third-party agent’s justification for such a condemnation, we still don’t know enough to say that they must condemn the (alleged?) destructive harm of wikileaks. What if the agent has always attached overriding importance to the observance of criminal justice norms? We might be rightly suspicious of them if this principle had apparently only enlivened when one person (who they are politically invested in) has their personal liberty and reputation was at risk. But that needs to be proven.

    “Revealing the names of Afghan insurgents, or the Social Security numbers of U.S. military personnel, or intimate conversations of our diplomats that destroys their careers, or the locations of strategic targets where Americans work, it’s all good.  Right?  You’re fine with Assange doing those things, and yet outraged when he is hoisted on his petard?”

    I’m not merely ‘fine’ with Assange doing what he is doing, and I’m not ‘outraged’ by these leaks as such. I’m simply unconvinced that you’ve demonstrated hypocrisy that is dispositive of Assange’s lawyers’ objections on behalf of their client, and rather uninterested in debating a tangent about the harm he has caused.
     
    And seeing you went there, it’s also a little crass that a law professor would regard conduct prejudicial to any defendant as a case of just desserts. For all I care Assange could be paedophile, dictator. A person of upstanding moral character can trivially allow for claims and counter-claims as part of an adversarial protest that safeguards the integrity of the criminal justice system. It suggests absolutely nothing about a person that they want the trial conducted properly without media gambits and vexatious appeals by flailing Swedish prosecutors.

  19. Will,

    I don’t think we are going to convince one another so I’m going to stop going any further in the debate.  You’re last point is definitely off-base.  My entire point is that improper disclosure of government documents unfairly harms individuals.  I condemn Assange for the harm he has caused to individuals by disclosing government documents and I condemn the disclosure of the police report that has harmed Assange’s reputation and will make it more difficult for Assange to get a fair trial. 

    Roger Alford

  20. “My entire point is that improper disclosure of government documents unfairly harms individuals.”

    But not only have you not established that premise, but you jumped forward and leveled a charge of hypocrisy, based upon a confusion between government and private actors.

    Not surprising that you’d want to suddenly end the argument before digging any further.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. [...] Plus d’informations: Opinio Juris » Blog Archive » The Hypocrisy of Julian Assange [...]