Tuesday 10 August 2010

Assange loses the plot

What is up with Julian Assange, the computer geek behind the creation of the Wikileaks site? Assange has already broken the most basic rule of journalism by becoming the story instead of reporting it. Now he has turned on human rights groups who have asked him to redact the names of Afghans mentioned in the thousands of US military documents that have appeared on his website.
According to the Wall Street Journal, an email drawn up by Amnesty International and co-signed by the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, the Open Society Institute, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the International Crisis Group asked him to redact any files that are still due to be released. Wikileaks held back some 15,000 documents from its first release, saying that they were sensitive and needed redaction. However, even those documents that were released contained the names of many Afghans who are working with the Coalition forces and whose lives could be in danger as a result.
"We have seen the negative, sometimes deadly ramifications for those Afghans identified as working for or sympathising with international forces," the groups wrote. "We strongly urge your volunteers and staff to analyse all documents to ensure that those containing identifying information are taken down or redacted."
In response Assange reportedly asked the groups what they would do to help. When an Amnesty official suggested a conference call to discuss the matter, Assange is reported to have responded: "I'm very busy and have no time to deal with people who prefer to do nothing but cover their asses. If Amnesty does nothing I shall issue a press release highlighting its refusal".
Assange is clearly losing the plot. He has become so important that he can no longer deal with people who are raising serious issues. Last Friday the Pentagon denied reports that Wikileaks had sought government help in redacting the initial 76,000 documents released onto its site. Wikileaks called a press conference in London yesterday to respond to the Pentagon denial, but cancelled it with just a few hours notice. Anyone who has ever worked with leaked documents knows that just getting them is often the easiest part of the job. Knowing how and when to exploit them is much more difficult. It is a job for which Assange has no qualifications at all.
Wikileaks, incidentally, is claiming that the exchange of correspondence alluded to above is fake. Its latest tweet reads: "Don't be fooled on the "human rights groups". No formal statement. US led. Anon. given to Wall St. Journal. Why?" What can it all mean?
Can any of this be connected to the fact that Wikileaks is appealing for $700,000 to aid its "harm-minimisation review", presumably by paying people to go through the remaining documents to redact them? I'm sad to say that all of this is going to end in tears.

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