Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
- Benjamin Franklin
With the recent Afghan War Diary leaks by Wikileaks, the Australian Defence Association (ADA) has accused Wikileaks editor and Australian citizen Julian Assange of jeopardising the safety of Aussie soldiers and possibly committing treason by aiding enemies of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). ADA executive director Neil James displays his powers of sophistry by arguing that the “[International Security Assistance Force]’s battlefield mistakes are the result of typical wartime tragedy, accidents and at times incompetence or personal failure, not deliberate or institutional policy”.
Apparently James believes that mistakes committed by the ISAF due to ‘incompetence or personal failure’ are beyond censure, since they were not ‘deliberate or institutional policy’. In his view, it is Assange who is the villain for publicly airing the Afghan War’s dirty laundry. For upholding the people’s right to information. For thumbing his nose at the powerful, whose interests are served by secrecy and obfuscation.
With a sinister remark about the need to ‘amend treachery laws’ in response to Assange’s actions, James and the lobbyists he represents clearly consider civil liberties to be expendable should they become politically inexpedient. The ADA’s hyperbolic claim that the Afghan War Diary leaks will assist Australia’s enemies ignores the more salient issue of a government’s accountability to its citizens. Crass scaremongering is simply one of the ignoble methods employed by those seeking to distract the public from what really matters.
Throughout so-called Western liberal democracies, such scare tactics are part of an increasing effort by governments to erode hard-won rights and freedoms. Those in power realise that if you frighten the populace enough with talk of ever-present danger, they will surrender their liberties for the promise of paternalistic security. Julian Assange and other brave, principled whistleblowers are not the threat. They are our benefactors, for they choose essential liberty over temporary safety, and so ensure that we have both freedom and long-term security.