Free Bradley Manning: "Egypt, Wikileaks, and the Nascent Power of Free Speech" (Jorjet Harper, Windy City Times)

Amazing that the wave of Middle East uprisings can essentially be traced to the actions of one brave young man. Outrageous that this man continues to be held in solitary confinement and deteriorating health in a U.S. government prison. The author of the piece below explains the connection, and how WikiLeaks accomplished for democracy, without costing taxpayers a cent, what billions of dollars and thousands of war casualties could not. Or to look at it another way, the U.S. government's penchant for secrecy and control of information cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Just goes to show how important openness and transparency are as libertarian priorities.

Love & Liberty,
        ((( starchild )))

From Suppression to Expression:
Egypt, Wikileaks, and the Nascent Power of Free Speech

by Jorjet Harper

I spent close to a month in Egypt in 1995. I went there to see the ancient monuments, and to my surprise I fell in love with the modern people. I enjoyed the time I spent with almost everyone I met there (granted, I was only able to speak with people who also spoke English). But it was the first country I'd ever visited that was clearly a dictatorship.

Posters of Mubarak were hung prominently not only in every post office and government building but in every bank, every hotel, all over the place like Big Brother. Traffic cops wielded machine guns. People who were otherwise friendly and articulate grew nervous when the talk turned to their government, especially when soldiers and police were nearby.

We visitors could feel quite safe despite the ubiquitous uniformed presence because the police were there to ‘keep order’. But the Egyptian people themselves have now been prey to the whims of Mubarak’s enforcers for three decades. Stories of innocent citizens snatched up in the streets and tortured in Mubarak’s “sweeps” for terrorists were entirely credible. Dissent was increasingly labeled as treasonous. Mubarak’s elections were continually rigged. And it was clear his intention was to create a dynasty with his son following him into power.

Iron-fisted tactics against the Egyptian citizenry have also included the ongoing arrest and torture of gays. In the most widely publicized case, the Queen Boat incident, police raided a gay floating nightclub docked on the Nile in Cairo in 2001, and made sweeping, arbitrary arrests. Those detained were corralled into crowded cells in terrible conditions, beaten and tortured, imprisoned for months without trial, and more than 20 men were eventually sentenced to prison with hard labor for up to five years for “debauchery.”

The US has glossed over human rights abuses in Egypt for decades because our political "partner" Mubarak maintained stability in a strategically important country in a volatile area of the world. Mubarak regrettably has to clamp down on everyone in order to keep the lid on Muslim fundamentalism, right? Average citizens just have to accept curtailment of their freedoms in order for the government to benevolently protect them, right?

You may remember the underlying doctrine that was used to rationalize the US invasion of Iraq. I'm not talking about the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" charade, but the Bush think-tank political theory developed by Paul Wolfowitz that was eventually leaked to the press. It projected the fantasy scenario that when Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled, the people would be so grateful to the US for their liberation that a wave of democracy would then spread to other autocratic regimes in the Middle East.

Here we are all these years later, still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, pouring billions of dollars down that endless quagmire, having caused the deaths of many thousands of ordinary people and the displacement of many thousands more, and making ourselves even more hated all over the Arab world.

Yet in the last several weeks, Wikileaks appears to have accomplished exactly what the Bushies failed to inspire with their rupturous, bloody, costly war: spontaneous efforts toward democratic freedoms in other autocratic governments in the Middle East.

Scholars and journalists have credited Wikileaks’ release of US secret diplomatic cables detailing the abuses of the ruling family in Tunisia as the spark for the overthrow of Tunisia’s corrupt government. Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, explained that those leaked cables “showed Tunisians that the rottenness of the regime was obvious not just to them but to the whole world,” and “boosted the morale of his [Ben Ali’s] opponents at a pivotal moment.” Anger at government suppression and corruption quickly spread from tiny Tunisia to cosmopolitan Egypt, and, as of this writing, has forced government reform in the Kingdom of Jordan. And Wikileaks set these events in motion, I might add, without costing the US taxpayer a penny in military spending.

Of course there is the danger that the Egyptian populist revolution could end very badly, as it did in China, but regardless of what might happen down the road in the struggle for power in Tunisia and in Egypt, the people's justice--wanting relief from oppression, wanting a voice in their own government, wanting not to be screwed over economically and politically anymore--is their legitimate right to fight for and achieve.

“I’m siding with the people, not the regime,” Egyptian state-run news agency Nile TV anchor Shahira Amin told the BBC. Amin quit her job last week to join the protesters because her agency was forced to report only pro-Mubarak news. “We were not allowed to report on what was happening in Tahrir Square” she said, “From day one, we had to follow the rules and they were very strict with us. We were told to say certain things and to keep certain information from getting out.” Gagging the press and shutting down free communications are of course hallmarks of dictatorial regimes. The chain of events that started with Wikileaks' release of those diplomatic cables, as unlikely as it seems, demonstrates yet again that the pen (okay, now it’s the text) is still, amazingly, mightier than the sword (or submachine gun or guided missile).

The US might now consider basing its actual political dealings here and around the world on the "transparency" that Obama promised us when he took office, and replace our own autocratic posture of "we know what's good for them" with the bedrock belief that "the truth shall set you free." Gay people know a thing or two about the truth setting us free, too--we’ve been taking risks to tell the truth since before Stonewall--and our society has been transformed for the better as a result.

The young man who allegedly sent the diplomatic cables to Wikileaks--and therefore arguably is the single individual responsible for inadvertently tripping off this massive chain of events in Tunisia-Egypt-Jordan--is 23-year-old gay US Army soldier Bradley Manning, and tragically, he has not been set free by the truth. Instead, he’s locked in solitary confinement in a cell in Quantico, in deteriorating health, with lights on 24 hours a day. Mubarak’s thugs would surely approve of that. Daniel Ellsberg has called for Manning’s release and considers him an American hero. When will he get a thank you, much less a medal, from our country? Not any time soon.

We can only hope that the awe-inspiring struggle for democratic freedoms that we have been witnessing in Egypt will succeed. However that plays out, the much-maligned Wikileaks organization has been acting in the best journalistic tradition: report the truth and let the people decide what to make of it. Will our government policymakers--mired as they are in spin and smokescreens and a hideous war--ever actually trust in the free speech they claim to espouse, or will they keep persecuting truth-tellers and whistle-blowers, crying treason most foul?