Last week, I argued that Wikileaks "editor-in-chief" Julian Assange is many things—hacker, Jackie Rodgers Jr. lookalike, paranoiac—but he's most certainly isn't a journalist. The real journalists at The New York Times, who mined the leaked data for stories while protecting the names of American intelligence sources on the ground in Afghanistan, denied that they worked collaboratively with Assange. "He's making it sound like this was some sort of journalistic enterprise between WikiLeaks, The New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel," said Times reporter Eric Schmidt, citing the other news organizations that were provided with a first glimpse of the material, "and that's not what it was."
And now human rights groups are having a go at Assange, reports the Wall Street Journal.
The letter from five human-rights groups sparked a tense exchange in which WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange issued a tart challenge for the organizations to help with the massive task of removing names from thousands of documents, according to several of the organizations that signed the letter. The exchange shows how WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange risk being isolated from some of their most natural allies in the wake of the documents' publication
Amnesty International, Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, George Soros's Open Society Institute, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and the International Crisis Group signed the letter (delivered via email), citing concerns that Afghan informants named in the document dump will face the brutal retribution of the Taliban. Assange responded by asking Amnesty International to "provide staff to help redact the names of Afghan civilians," a pointless exercise now that the documents already exist online, unredacted.
Amnesty expressed interest in assisting, though warned that they are constrained by limited resources, and suggested a conference call to discuss the issue further. Assange responded, via email, with a threat: "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." On his Twitter feed, Assange told his followers to not "be fooled on the 'human rights groups'"—scare quotes are in the original—because they are "US led." That any of the signatories of the letter are "US led" is demonstrably false, something any journalist worth his salt would know.
And Assange's claim that the brave people behind the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission are "primary (sic) funded by the occupying forces of Afghanistan" is designed to mislead, to suggest that the group is a propaganda arm of the United States military (the biggest single donor is the government of Canada, incidentally. Finland, Denmark, and USAID also underwrite a large portion of the group's budget). Read the group's latest report on the dire conditions in Afghanistan's prisons and detention centers to get a flavor of their work.
Assange is, stupidly, digging in his heels, first blaming the United States military for not better protecting the sources he exposed and now attacking Amnesty International for not providing free labor to help in redacting already released documents. As I said last week, I am generally pro-leak but this isn't the guy I want as the representative of government transparency.
One more wrinkle in the story: According to an article in Sydsvenska Dagbladet (in terrible translation here), Assange's claims, made ad nauseum in speeches and articles, that he and his sources are fully protected by Swedish law, where Wikileaks' servers are located, is slightly more complicated than he lets on. Håkan Rustand, deputy to Sweden's minister of justice, tells the paper that "it is too simple to claim that all Wikileaks sources are totally protected in Sweden." The reasons for this are rather complicated, but Assange apparently fancies himself an expert in Swedish law, tweeting that "The article [in Sydsvenskan] currently being spun (sic) about WikiLeaks source protection legalities is false." He apparently knows something the justice ministry doesn't, so stay tuned.