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Gerry Georgatos: WikiLeaks founder Assange a truth-telling hero

WikiLeaks continues as one of the world’s most remarkable organisations, despite numerous attempts to shut it down. Its founder is a political prisoner.

Julian Assange, jailed in London’s Belmarsh Prison, faces extradition to the US on charges of espionage and hacking. Assange has not murdered anyone – but he is hounded as if he has.

WikiLeaks exposed the killers and their keepers from the 12 July 2007 Baghdad airstrikes in which air-to-ground attacks deploying US AH-64 Apache helicopters killed innocent civilians and journalists. Three years on from this horrific incident the world was availed to its inherent right to know when WikiLeaks released 39 minutes of classified footage of the slaughter of 18 innocents.

It is said that no lie lives forever, but it is not my general experience that truth prevails. The tenet of a sane society should be no lie is so grand it can be got away with.

In the first airstrike by the Apache crew, they fired on 10 Iraqi civilians. Two were Reuters journalists: Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Seven were killed, including Noor-Eldeen in that first airstrike. Chmagh lay injured.

Saleh Matasher Tomal, who was driving his children to school, put his own life in peril by stopping to help the injured Chmagh. In a second airstrike Chmagh, Tomal and three others were murdered. Tomal’s children, nine-year-old Sajad and six-year-old Doaha, were critically injured. They would later insist their father only wanted to help the injured man to hospital.

The Apache flew over injured Chmagh who was crawling, fighting to live.

Despite Chmagh being unarmed an Apache crew member kept repeating, “Let me engage…”“Come on…”“Let me engage…”“Light ’em all up, come on, fire…”

Without permission, they fired, killing Chmagh and Tomal. The children injured and the van burned.

The Apache strikes did not stop. It did not matter there were no signs of any threat. The Apache crew were huddled safely within the most advanced technology. They could see every detail on the ground. They fired, they killed.

Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere with more than 80 per cent of the Haitian population living in abject poverty. The life expectancy of Haitians is 57 years. Less than half the population is literate and one child in five attends secondary school and less than 25 per cent of Haitians have access to safe water.

In November 2010, WikiLeaks released 1,918 documents from 2003 to 2010 – ending six weeks after the 12 January 2010 earthquake which killed an estimated 160,000 people. The documents were among the most disturbing I read of the files published by WikiLeaks in how the USA controlled policymaking in Haiti.

The cables begin nearly a year before a coup ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004. Rene Preval took over. Preval negotiated an oil buying deal with Venezuelan oil company PetroCaribe. The US called in two major oil companies to do the dirty on the Haitian people. American oil companies operating in Haiti were to refuse to transport PetroCaribe oil.

In one cable, the US Ambassador to Haiti, Janet Sanderson recommended “[the US] convey our discontent with Preval’s actions at the highest possible level when he next visits Washington.” This followed Preval’s visit to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to craft an energy agreement that would have brought electricity to millions of Haitian homes.

When Preval took office in 2004, Chavez was prepared to provide oil to Haiti below cost. Washington sabotaged this deal. Haitians suffer.

It gets worse. Haiti’s minimum wage during Preval’s time was 24 cents an hour. Preval went for an increase to 61 cents. Washington saw this as a 150 per cent “wages rise”. The US instead backed exploitative major brand American manufacturers. These companies wanted profit margins on the back of Haitian slave wages. Two major manufacturers lobbied Washington to harass the Haitians to cap the wage rise to an additional seven cents an hour. Ambassador Sanderson pressured Preval to drop the 31 cents hourly increase for the textile industry workers. Sanderson argued to Preval to keep daily pay to less than $3. Preval had been pushing for at least $5 per day.

American Embassy to Haiti Deputy Chief David Lindwall wrote of Preval’s $5 a day plea as appeasing “the unemployed and underpaid masses.” One of the American companies was paying nearly 3,200 Haitians $2 a day to sew T-shirts. The company’s annual turnover from Haitian-manufactured T-shirts was $4 billion in sales with a profit of $220 million. The increase to $5 a day in wages would have only cost the company $1.5 million from their $220 million profit.

The Syrian cables tell how the US assisted in igniting the Syrian bloodbath. In 2010, WikiLeaks released 251,287 classified US State Department cables. A 13 December 2006 cable written by William Roebuck at the US Embassy in Damascus focused on how to create conflict. “We believe (Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s) weaknesses are in how he chooses to react to looming issues, both perceived and real, such as the conflict between economic reform steps (however limited) and entrenched, corrupt forces, the Kurdish question, the potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists.”

“There may be actions, statements and signals that the US Government can send that will improve the likelihood of such opportunities arising.”

Publicly, the US favoured economic reforms in Syria but privately sought to undermine these reforms. Publicly, the US was opposed to the threat posed by Islamist extremists but in private considered them an opportunity to destabilise Syria.

In other cables, Roebuck advised the US Government how to divide the Shia and Sunnis.

“There are fears in Syria that the Iranians are active in both Shia proselytising and conversion of, mostly poor, Sunnis. Though often exaggerated, such fears reflect an element of the Sunni community in Syria that is increasingly upset by and focused on the spread of Iranian influence in their country through activities ranging from mosque construction to business.”

These cables were sent to the White House – to the Secretary of State. At the time, the George Bush administration publicly denounced the Sunni and Shia sectarian violence in Iraq, but Roebuck advised a similar predicament should be ignited in Syria. Roebuck would be trusted with subsequent posts in Iraq and Libya.

In another cable, Roebuck advised, “Encourage rumours and signals of external plotting. The regime is intensely sensitive to rumours about coup-plotting and restlessness in the security services and military.”

“Publicise Syrian efforts against extremist groups in a way that suggests weakness, signs of instability, and uncontrolled blowback. The Syrian government’s argument (usually used after terror attacks in Syria) that it too is a victim of terrorism should be used against it to give greater prominence to increasing signs of instability within Syria.”

Roebuck was the US’s top diplomat in Syria. WikiLeaks offence to the powerful is to expose their crimes, brutality, inhumanity, slaughter of human life, narratives contrived to bring on civil strife, human suffering, and misery, a climate of death.

WikiLeaks published the Iraqi War Logs – revealing thousands of reports of the most abominable, degrading, injurious abuse and torture by Iraqi Security Forces and American personnel. The Geneva Convention – its pursuit of humaneness – sidelined by barbaric behaviours. America sold anger as the excuse. So now anger, hate, inhumanity become permissible. Prisoners were hung from ceiling hooks – holes in their legs with electric drills. They were sexually abused, urinated upon, relentlessly bashed.

WikiLeaks revealed the Frago 242 order. In 2004 the Frago directive instructed no allegations of abuse were to be investigated. Ten years earlier the United States signed the UN Convention Against Torture.

The George Bush administration publicly insisted there were no official counts of Afghan and Iraqi casualties. WikiLeaks published the War Logs which exposed between 2004 and 2009 that 70 per cent of deaths were of civilians.

The Barack Obama administration imprisoned more whistleblowers than all previous Washington administrations combined.

There is an endlessness of laws made by governments to imprison, punish people into silence. In this context, stands by Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and by Chelsea Manning and by Edward Snowden must be realised as truly heroic.

Gerry Georgatos is founder and volunteer at The Georgatos Foundation.

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