The World Tomorrow (Episode 5: Moazzam Begg, Asim Qureshi): series is becoming repetitive and a little disappointing

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 5: Moazzam Begg, Asim Qureshi)” (Russia Today, 15 May 2012)

At last Julian Assange gets a real cosy conversation with both interviewees bunkered down with him in his house prison. Moazzam Begg  is a British citizen of Pakistani origin who was detained in both the Bagram Theater Internment Facility and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp for three years by the US government until his release in January 2005.  He and Asim Qureshi, a former corporate lawyer, run Cage Prisoners Ltd, a human rights organisation working to raise public awareness of prisoners still trapped in Guantanamo Bay prison. The talk is part-interview / part-discussion as Assange sets the agenda in a general way and Begg and Qureshi answer his questions and probing to the best of their ability.

Begg and Qureshi are polite and articulate interviewees who are open about what it means to be Muslim and to witness for their fellow Muslims and struggle on their behalf. They discuss the concept of “jihad” and what “submission” to God means to them personally as Muslims. Assange questions the men at length about how they reconcile their beliefs in Islam and their concept of an Islamic caliphate with social justice and living in the modern world. The three range across many issues facing Muslims in the world after the World Trade Center attacks on 11 September 2001, in particular the Arab Spring events, and how Muslims across the Middle East and northern Africa are continuing to push for democracy and social justice and move away from repressive dictatorships supported by foreign powers. Finally Begg and Qureshi talk about why they formed Cage Prisoners Ltd and why they want to continue agitating for the rights of people still trapped in Guantanamo Bay prison and similar prisons around the world.

The episode is a very condensed version of what the men actually talked about; a full transcript is available. Reading the transcript, I discover that Begg is quite knowledgeable about the history of British repression of the IRA and early support for mujahideen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and Colonel Gadhafi in Libya in 2011, and how current laws in the UK being passed to restrict Muslims’ rights and to spy on them can very easily be used against the rest of the British population. There is mention of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born imam who was killed by a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011 and what his death represents in the context of the US becoming a criminal police state that kills people before they’ve even been charged with committing crimes. There is also talk about Western hypocrisy in the conduct of the War on Terror and the demonisation of al Qa’ida.

Assange still can’t quite get his head around the concept of “submission” to God, taking “submission” very literally whereas I suspect that for most Muslims, “submission” refers to accepting God and religion with all its disciplines and strictures in their lives, and the spiritual peace and assurance that come with that acceptance. I am disappointed that Assange didn’t ask his interviewees more details about what Cage Prisoners Ltd is doing to publicise their cause and how the general public in Britain can support the organisation’s activities.

Interestingly near the beginning of the talk, Begg mentions that while in prison he heard the sounds of a woman screaming next door and was told the woman was his wife: he does not say which prison he was in at the time but if he had been in Bagram when he heard these sounds, it’s very likely that he had been hearing Dr Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani “Grey Lady of Bagram” neuroscientist, arrested with three of her children while in Pakistan in 2003, and imprisoned and subjected to horrific abuse for five years while the children disappeared. In 2008, Siddiqui was arrested in Afghanistan and while in custody, supposedly shot US soldiers guarding her; for this, she was forced to stand trial in the US in 2010 despite being severely ill and was convicted of all charges against her. At this time of writing, Siddiqui remains in jail, having been sentenced to 86 years’ imprisonment; two of her children were returned to her family and the third child is now known to have died during her initial 2003 arrest.

Overall this episode was a good introduction to Moazzam Begg, Cage Prisoners and the work they are doing but beyond that, I’m afraid there’s not much really substantial that hasn’t already been dealt with in previous “The World Tomorrow” episodes. The series is starting to sound repetitive with constant references to the Arab Spring, Tunisia and Egypt, and while the fight for democracy and social justice in the Arab world is important, the concept of the series was intended to be more inclusive of ideas and concepts going beyond current events.

The World Tomorrow (Episode 4: Nabeel Rajab, Alaa Abdal-Fattah): a lesson in how to be a human rights activist / revolutionary

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 4: Nabeel Rajab, Alaa Abdal-Fattah)” (Russia Today, 8 May 2012)

In this episode, Assange interviews two human rights activist revolutionaries, Nabeel Rajab of Bahrain and Alaa Abdal-Fattah of Egypt. At the time of the interview, Rajab had been menaced by police and government authorities who had tried to arrest at home while he was in the UK visiting Assange; after the interview, Rajab returned to Bahrain and was almost immediately detained by the authorities. Abdal-Fattah was under house arrest and forbidden to travel so he participated in the interview through a Skype connection. The interview took up three hours but only 28 minutes made it to video and this video constitutes the basis for this review.

Both interviewees are very articulate about their respective countries’ politics and the general politics of the Middle East. Rajab provides a quick short history of Bahrain: the country has long been ruled by one family with Western support (mostly British as Adam Curtis’s post “If You Take My Advice – I’d Repress Them” on his blog reveals) while the desires and needs of the Bahraini people for democracy go ignored. The media organisation Al Jazeera supports the Bahraini government and does not report on the meddling of Saudi Arabia in Bahraini affairs; ergo, Western media also ignores the situation in Bahrain and how Saudi Arabia undermines Bahraini sovereignty. Rajab admits that fighting for freedom and democracy involves a heavy cost but he is willing to fight to the utmost to achieve abstract ideals.

Abdal-Fattah describes the various crimes he has been accused of, to the extent that he finds humour in the list of crimes that make him appear super-human, being in two or more places at once and single-handedly taking on two platoons and stealing their stash of weapons. He discusses the current state of the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt and how it seems to have stalled with no clear direction. The interviewees move onto different aspects of the revolutions in Bahrain and Egypt including the role of social media and technology in spreading and exchanging information among different groups fighting for freedom, and the impact of the revolutions and the interviewees’ own experiences with the police and government authorities on their own families. Interestingly, far from being cowed by threats and harassment, the families resolved to resist the authorities. Even the role of football clubs in the Egyptian revolution got a mention – and you thought football clubs were good only for soccer hooliganism!

Apart from Nabeel’s opinion that Iraq is a democracy and that Russia and United States should speak with one voice on the situation in Syria and should help that country, I didn’t find much to fault what the two interviewees said. I do think that Nabeel is looking at Syria and Libya in a naive way, equating the struggles in those countries with the struggle in Bahrain, and not appreciating that these countries have had very different post-1945 histories from his own in spite of a shared language and to some extent cultural heritage. At least he said that the Syrians must be allowed to decide for themselves what government they want without interference from outside. The trio also discussed politics and democracy in the United States and the United Kingdom, finding much in those countries that paralleled the repressive rule in Egypt and Bahrain, but this part of the interview failed to make it to the 28-minute video presentation.

As it is, the video is a mere shadow of what the men ranged over and abruptly cuts off Abdal-Fattah while in the middle of talking about his son. I hope that Assange will be able to edit the three-hour interview he did and upload this to the Russia Today website. The 28-minute interview can be viewed here and the full three-hour transcript can be read here.

 

The World Tomorrow (Episode 3: Moncef Marzouki): human rights and open government getting short shrift

“The World Tomorrow (Episode 3: Moncef Marzouki)” (Russia Today, 1 May 2012)

In this episode, Julian Assange interviews Moncef Marzouki, the President of Tunisia and a former human rights activist who was imprisoned by previous President Ben Ali in 1993. The underlying theme of the interview is how Marzouki will stay true to his ideals and continue to champion freedom, democracy, openness and accountability, and govern Tunisia effectively in a world of hypocritical Realpolitik. In contrast to Episode 2, this third installment is very low on pyrotechnics: Marzouki is a cool, calm and articulate speaker and his manner is gentle and courteous.

Assange begins by asking Marzouki about how he survived prison which included four months in solitary confinement, and gradually moves onto questions about openness in Tunisian society and what role Marzouki will play in encouraging that openness and accountability, then onto issues of regional North African / Middle Eastern importance such as the political turmoil in Syria and the possibility of Tunisia giving asylum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It is intriguing that Marzouki prefers to sidestep talking about Bahrain, an equally oppressive state as Syria but supported by Tunisia, and criticises Hezbollah’s Secretary General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah for supporting al-Assad and considering Israel’s government and its actions as the greater threat to political stability in the Middle East. One might wonder if Marzouki has his priorities right in downplaying Israel’s role in fomenting discord between itself and its neighbours. Surely if Marzouki is still committed to supporting human rights and condemning governments that violate them, he should be just as harsh on the Bahraini government as he is on the Syrian government?

Further into the interview, Marzouki admits as President that he has limited political powers which often clash with and compromise his beliefs as a human rights activist.

Other questions Marzouki dodges include one on recent Tunisian government censorship of the Internet in Tunisia and whether he is willing to open past intelligence files to the general public. It is curious that he would open secret intelligence archives to historians but not to the people on the basis that such knowledge could be dangerous and lead to personal vendettas over issues that can never be healed … why not throw open the files to the public and at the same time initiate a reconciliation process in which crimes can be forgiven and appropriate compensation be made?

The issue of double standards in relation to the United States’ stand on human rights, co-existing as it does with that country’s recent record on torture and illegal incarceration of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay prison, is raised briefly. Marzouki notes an occasion where he was invited to the United States to speak on human rights issues and meet a person in the White House whom he suspected to be implicated in Guantanamo Bay prison abuses. Naturally he refused to meet this person but I wonder if he had met him and agreed to make public speeches … wouldn’t it have made some impact on the American public if Marzouki had met the person and told him off for his hypocrisy and for having blood on his hands?

The questions Assange asks are not very searching or challenging to Marzouki and the journalist frequently gives Marzouki the benefit of the doubt. Curiously he doesn’t throw any curveball questions to Marzouki in the way he did to Nasrallah. Assange accepts Marzouki as a genuine democrat who consciously strives to live up to his ideals every day as President. Assange doesn’t realise that by dodging the issue of Bahrain’s treatment of dissidents, Marzouki has already shown himself as compromised and perhaps dependent on the US and other Western powers for political survival.

The interview can be viewed on Youtube here and a transcript of the interview is also available.

 

The World Tomorrow (Episode 2: David Horowitz and Slavoj Zizek): a brief glimpse into a moronic and ugly worldview

“The World Tomorrow (Episode 2: David Horowitz and Slavoj Zizek)” (Russia Today, 24 April 2012)

For this episode, interviewer Julian Assange brought together two opposed public intellectuals, US political commentator David Horowitz and Slovenian philosopher / psychoanalyst / cultural critic Slavoj Zizek. Horowitz was once a left-wing activist who supported the Black Panther movement in the US in the 1960s and whose parents were members of the American Communist Party who supported Joseph Stalin; he now supports hardline American political conservatism. Zizek opposed Communism in Yugoslavia in the 1980s but might now be called centrist in his political outlook. The topics Assange covers in the 30-minute discussion with Horowitz and Zizek include Israel’s uneasy relationship with Palestinians, Joseph Stalin, the US occupation of Iraq, the decline of Europe, the descent of the US into a security-obsessed police state that deprives its citizens of liberty and Horowitz’s relationship with the Black Panthers.

On paper, Horowitz was an ideal choice as interviewee: what made a left-wing activist who supported the civil rights movement and the Black Panthers, and whose parents were strongly pro-Soviet, turn to the political polar opposite and support President Reagan in the 1980s and convert to an ardent Zionist, distrustful of Hamas and Palestinians generally? Assange isn’t able to ask the question due to the arguing between Horowitz and Zizek and his deference to those boxing heavyweights but later in the discussion when Horowitz recounts his experiences with the Black Panthers, one gets the impression that his conversion to the politically conservative viewpoint was less dramatically Damascene and more grubbily out of pique at being ostracised by former left-wing friends upset at someone’s death which Horowitz says was wrongly blamed on him. (This suggests that his left-wing views must not have been very deeply held and felt; surely one’s political beliefs shouldn’t be contingent on one’s friendships?) If ever we needed to know the difference between ACTING like an idiot and actually BEING an idiot, Horowitz and Zizek provide it in buckets: Zizek jumps up and down, waves his arms furiously, but his opinions demonstrate that he lives in the real world with the rest of us while Horowitz spouts one stupidity after another: he calls the European social welfare state experiment a disaster and sees it as a “cultural theme park” and Sweden as having no morals. For Horowitz, US President Obama is a “leftist” and “leftism” is responsible for most of the world’s problems including the abysmal state of post-Hussein Iraq and the erosion of freedoms, security and peace in the US.

There is no shortage of former left-wing political activists who now have conservative opinions and positions on most political / social / economic issues: in the US, they often follow the philosophy of Leo Strauss, support the notion of radical change and believe the US should invade other countries to bring “democracy” and “freedom” to their supposedly benighted inhabitants. The architects of the Project for the New American Century who include Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and various others fall into this neo-conservative camp and anyone of them could have been interviewed. It would have been instructive for viewers if Assange could have quizzed Horowitz on what he might know of Strauss and his position on what the US and NATO should do about Libya, Syria and Iran. (The bit where Horowitz suggests people are the problem and hence “checks and balances” are needed against them is creepy and one might think he would welcome the Straussian viewpoint that people must be deceived with ideology and religion.)

On the other hand, there seem to be very few public intellectuals of a formerly politically conservative background who now hold what might be considered centre-left views and are critical of US, Israel and NATO and their actions in the world today, available for interview: Zizek with his history of opposing Communists in the old Yugoslavia is a compromise. Probably a better candidate to oppose Horowitz would have been US economist Paul Craig Roberts, the former Reagan government official who would have countered Horowitz’s views on Palestine, the US invasion of Iraq, and the loss of freedom and rights in the US more lucidly than the excitable Zizek; another suitable candidate might have been US writer Justin Raimondo who edits the Antiwar.com website and who is highly critical of Israel and US foreign policy.

Anyway the terms “left” and “right” in their political sense hardly mean anything any more as so-called “leftists” are no different from the so-called political conservative side in wanting to invade and pillage other countries for their resources or for not playing ball in granting “democracy” and “freedom” to their populations so that US and other Western corporations can infiltrate their minds with consumerist values and ideologies and rob them of economic / cultural / political autonomy. Hard to believe that Julian Assange still peddles this tired old paradigm of distinguishing between two similar camps of economic rationality when the real distinctition should be between those who would centralise power and deny freedom to people on the one hand and on the other those who favour decentralisation and diffusion of power, freedom and responsibility. After all he’s been put through by the US (dominated by political / social “rightists” who believe in “individualism” if it applies to corporations) and Sweden (dominated by political / social “leftists” who believe in “egalitarianism” if it means enforcing social and economic conformity on individuals) but then his series is pitched at the general public whose political education is elementary to say the least.

As it is, the discussion between Horowitz and Zizek amounts to very little amid the quarrelling and Assange is almost forced to manhandle Zizek away from punching Horowitz’s face on the laptop screen. At the very least, we find out more about Horowitz’s view of the world than we ever want to know. Thanks Julian, for giving us a glimpse into the hardline US conservative worldview and showing that it’s even more moronic than our wildest nightmares could have conjured up.

 

The World Tomorrow (Episode 1: Hassan Nasrallah): an informative insight into Hezbollah

“The World Tomorrow (Episode 1: Hassan Nasrallah)” (Russia Today, 18 April 2012)

First in a series of 12 interviews conducted by Wikileaks dissident Julian Assange and hosted by Russia Today, this interview of Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah the Secretary General of Hezbollah is straightforward and highly informative. Sitting in a room with two Arabic-language interpreters, Assange uses a basic question-and-answer approach with Nasrallah to elicit his views on the status of Israel, the Arab Spring across the Middle East and north Africa, Tunisia’s refusal to recognise Bashar al Assad as the legitimate leader of Syria and the US blockage of Hezbollah’s Al Manar television network. Assange listens to Nasrallah’s replies respectfully while Nasrallah explains his opinions clearly and the reasons he holds them.

This was the first time I had seen Nasrallah at all and he conducted himself graciously and pleasantly, and at times humorously. He favours dialogue and political reforms in Syria instead of violence which he suspects is being fomented by the United States and Israel. This perhaps was the reason Assange decided to interview Nasrallah: at the time the interview took place, Syria was convulsed in civil strife and there was talk in the Western media of NATO intervention under the pretence of the Responsibility To Protect doctrine; Assange wanted to know what Hezbollah’s role might be should the unrest continue. Throughout the interview, Assange allows Nasrallah to explain his position on various issues and the reasoning behind his position, never interrupting him and challenging or distorting what he says. In this way, Nasrallah comes across as reasonable even though you and I may not always agree with what he says about Israel’s legitimacy (or lack thereof) and what he believes is Hezbollah’s purpose in the Middle East.

Towards the end, the interview topics become lighter, more personal and more humorous as Assange and Nasrallah slyly converse about encryption – Assange says he knows a lot about encryption (though he doesn’t say not enough that he could have prevented two British journalists from giving away the password to his encryption software program linked to a file that contained hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables, in a book they wrote) – and about Nasrallah’s joke about simplicity defeating complexity in the context of how Hezbollah’s encryption codes befuddled Israeli intelligence code-breakers. Then Assange throws a curve-ball question at Nasrallah: would Nasrallah be willing to challenge monotheistic religion’s “totalitarian” hold over people? Nasrallah guesses the motive behind Assange’s question – it’s a challenge to his personal beliefs and identity, questioning whether he sees contradictions between his worldly jihad and his spiritual jihad – and skews his answer to say that monotheistic Abrahamic religions are inherently instinctive and human-based: therefore belief in these religions is consistent with wanting to resist the United States and all other countries and institutions working to deny freedom and the right of individuals and countries to self-determination as freedom, striving for justice and truth, and self-determination are human and instinctive motivations.

If one fights for social justice, one must be ruled by one God and cannot fight for several gods or the universe would be in ruin: Nasrallah may have been literal but there is a more complex philosophical truth in what he says – the ultimate goal, achieving freedom and bringing that to others so they may transform their lives, end poverty and injustice, and make the world a better place for future generations, is the most important issue and we must remind ourselves of this aim constantly. There may be other issues leading off from this objective along the way but we must remember they are aspects of it, just as in, let’s say, Hinduism the hundreds of gods and godlings are aspects of the Supreme Being Brahman, or in Islam there are 99 aspects of Allah (as described by the 99 beautiful names) but there is only one of him.

On the whole, I found this interview was well-conducted and I learned quite a lot about Nasrallah, his worldview and that of Hezbollah. The questions Assange asked were fairly open and were not aimed at tripping him up. It may be that had Assange pressed Nasrallah more and on controversial issues such as whether Jews deserve to have a homeland in Palestine, the Hezbollah leader might have revealed himself as prejudiced against Jews per se, though from the answers Nasrallah gave to two questions, he appears religiously tolerant. Some questions on Hezbollah’s organisation and its day-to-day concerns could have been asked – I was interested in learning about Hezbollah’s environmental department and the organisation’s efforts in educating Lebanese people about living in an environmentally sustainable way that’s consistent with Islamic Shi’ite beliefs – but Assange may have been pressed for time due to the satellite link-up which was necessary as he remains under house arrest. I am looking forward to the next installment in this series.

The interview can be viewed here.

 

WikiRebels: competent documentary on Wikileaks brushes the surface to maintain “balance”

Jesper Huor and Bosse Lindquist, “WikiRebels” (2010)

Made for Sveriges Television AB (SVT), this documentary traces the rise of Wikileaks, the global non-profit media organisation that publishes news and information of a private, secret or classified nature received from anonymous sources and whistleblowers, over a period of several months in 2010. The film is aimed at a general audience and, apart from showing a few scenes in the Wikileaks headquarters in Sweden and explaining the nature of the organisation, who hosts it and who its key people are or were, there is not much mentioned in the documentary that isn’t already public. Relying mainly on interviews, their own film footage and snippets of other TV networks’ newsreels, Huor and Lindquist have created a competent documentary that basically introduces Wikileaks and its editor-in-chief Julian Assange to the general public but does no more.

The really interesting part of the documentary is the broadcasting of the notorious air strikes on Baghdad, Iraq, on 12 July 2007, in which a team of two US Army Apache helicopters fired on several people and killed a number of men including two Reuters war correspondents in three air-to-ground strikes. The footage which was leaked to Wikileaks by US soldier Bradley Manning brought Wikileaks worldwide attention and led to the US government’s pursuit of Manning.

Some very brief information about Assange is presented before he formed Wikileaks and the film also traces his partnership with Daniel Domscheit-Berg before the two came to disagree on disseminating material without redacting some of it and Domscheit-Berg left Wikileaks to form Openleaks, essentially to be a distributor of information rather than a publisher (though so far it’s not lived up to its name and appears unlikely to). Other significant interviewees featured in the film include Icelandic politician / writer / artist / activist / Wikileaks volunteer … whew, let’s just say all-round talent Birgitta Jonsdottir and a former US State Department advisor Chris Whiton who has written articles for Fox News.

The film does try to maintain a “balance” so as not to appear too favourable towards Wikileaks and passes no judgement on Assange or Domscheit-Berg’s decisions and actions. Significantly Huor and Lindquist make no reference as to who funds or has funded Wikileaks operations in spite of suspicions, some of which have been voiced by Wikileaks volunteers, that Assange has taken money from semi-official Israeli sources. Although the film identifies considerable opposition, notably from the US government and its agencies, to Assange in releasing over 200,000 unredacted US diplomatic cables, it omits to mention that Wikileaks was forced to release these cables because journalists at UK newspaper The Guardian unethically revealed the password Assange used to protect a digital file of the cables in a book published by that paper. It would be ironic if Wikileaks and whistleblower Manning were to be destroyed by the actions of people associated with a major media institution supposed to have a reputation for responsible and ethical journalism; this suggests that Wikileaks’ greatest enemies are not necessarily governments and corporations paying lip service to democracy, clean operations and openness but for-profit media institutions with an interest in capturing and corralling their reading public’s desire for truth and accuracy in news reporting.

At this time of posting, Wikileaks’ survival was looking bleak after several defections by volunteers from the organisation, citing lack of transparency and Assange’s autocratic leadership style among other reasons for leaving, and it now seems to be a matter of when, not if, Wikileaks becomes history itself.

WikiSecrets: questionable motives and agenda in documentary that smears whistle-blower

Marcela Gaviria, “WikiSecrets” (2011)

Took in this documentary on SBS1 last night on the case of Bradley Manning, the US soldier arrested in May 2010 f0r allegedly passing confidential US national defence information to the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks. The documentary mixes interviews with various talking heads including Wikileaks main man Julian Assange, close associates of Manning himself and the odd interviewee or two who probably are more deserving of time in the slammer than Manning.  Manning himself is not interviewed. The documentary covers the soldier’s background in a general way before detailing his involvement in the US army as an intelligence analyst and how he was able to download masses of classified information and US diplomatic cables and pass them onto to others. Correspondent Martin Smith acts as narrator as well as interviewer and together with voice-over and interviews puts together a story in which a troubled young man, at odds with his society and in particular his employer, gets some kind of revenge on the bullies who have tormented him over the years by leaking secrets that will embarrass them and the government that condones what they have done to him even if it means risking his country’s security.

Lasting an hour, the documentary has an earnest style and is put together simply with some live-action recreations of what Manning might have done mixed in with interviews and some film clips. This simple style gives the documentary an air of sincerity and objectivity that disguise its aims. Issues such as the importance of national security over transparency, accountability and the public interest are presented simplistically in a way that suggests American people’s interests and the need for openness in a democracy are subordinate priorities to the needs of the US government, whatever they are (which the documentary won’t tell us, obviously). The overall view is that Manning has done wrong and should be prosecuted for jeopardising US national interests. But as Assange himself more or less says to Smith, the best way to protect secrets is not to have them in the first place. What he also could have thrown at Smith (who seems antagonistic towards Assange compared to his gentle treatment of other interviewees) is that if the US government needs to keep secrets, then what for? If the secrets are to protect the public, shouldn’t the public know what they’re being protected against?

The documentary suggests that Manning’s homosexuality played a large part in his alienation from the US military and its culture, in particular its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which prevents gay men and women from being open about their sexuality. This “blame the victim” stand conveniently lets the hierarchy within the US military and the US Department of Defense off the hook for not changing the culture of the armed forces to be more inclusive and accepting of people who are otherwise capable of carrying out military duties. Manning is portrayed as a loose cannon at war with inner demons which he may have had but this skewed opinion does not necessarily have any bearing on why he decided to download particular data in vast quantities and feed information to Wikileaks. Most likely in his work he saw evidence of illegal activity and other acts that compromise democracy and freedoms as set out in the US Bill of Rights and that his sense of right and wrong led him to act as he did. Usually when people are bullied or discriminated against in ways Manning might have been, and counselling has had limited success, they turn to drink, drugs or suicide; in some very rare cases, they may carry out acts of sabotage or violence against the people who have bullied them.

Manning’s present incarceration and abuse are treated cursorily in the film; Smith doesn’t mention the name of Manning’s lawyer let alone speak to him. The documentary fails to say that during his time in solitary confinement, Manning was humiliated by being forced to appear naked during inspections, was often deprived of sleep or had his prescription glasses taken away from him

There is no mention in the documentary of what Manning might have seen, heard or experienced in Iraq that led him to do what he did. Apparently to Gaviria and Smith it’s as if the sufferings of Iraqi civilians and the hardships of US and other soldiers and their families count for very little against the embarrassment Manning might have caused his government. There is no mention of people who might have died because of Manning’s actions. The film even fails to make much of a case against Assange for not redacting the names of informants and others on US diplomatic cases and other classified documents. People may have died as a result of Assange’s decision but no names are brought to his (and our) attention.

Ultimately viewers are no closer to knowing what Manning actually did that was wrong other than to follow his conscience. Manning may have committed a crime or crimes but the documentary doesn’t reveal what they are. Viewers learn very little about Wikileaks itself and what it actually does; most of what the documentary reveals about the organisation is petty differences between Assange and his deputy Daniel Domscheit-Berg who left Wikileaks to set up OpenLeaks. Assange’s responses to Smith’s questioning are brief compared to some other interviewees’ responses which suggest some creative editing has been used to make the Wikileaks founder look bad.

What also makes “WikiSecrets” look bad is its failure to compare Manning’s actions with that of the person who leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity to the Wall Street Journal as a way of punishing her husband Joseph Wilson for reporting that Niger was not exporting uranium to Iraq in the 1990s. Manning’s “crimes” start to look more like the whistle-blower actions they are. The person who leaked Plame’s identity is guilty of a crime for the same reason “WikiSecrets” attempts to paint Assange in a bad way over his initial refusal to redact the names of informants: Plame’s exposure potentially put the lives and careers of diplomats, businesspeople, workers and others plus their families, not just informants, at risk. One has to question the motives and agenda behind the making of “WikiSecrets” in this light.