As the Obama administration hunts down whistleblowers, it is crucial WikiLeaks be protected

The case of the Afghanistan war logs and the hounding of Julian Assange prove that there’s never been a more important time to defend whistleblowers.

On 26 July, WikiLeaks released thousands of secret US military files on the war in Afghanistan. Cover-ups, a secret assassination unit and the killing of civilians are documented. In file after file, the brutalities echo the colonial past. From Malaya and Vietnam to Bloody Sunday and Basra, little has changed. The difference is that today there is an extraordinary way of knowing how faraway societies are routinely ravaged in our name. WikiLeaks has acquired records of six years of civilian killing in both Afghanistan and Iraq, of which those published in the Guardian are a fraction.

There is understandably hysteria on high, with demands that the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, be "hunted down" and "rendered". In Washington, I interviewed a senior official in the defence department and asked: "Can you give a guarantee that the editors of WikiLeaks and the editor-in-chief, who is not American, will not be subjected to the kind of manhunt that we read about in the media?" He replied: "It's not my position to give guarantees on anything."

He referred me to the "ongoing criminal investigation" of a US soldier, Bradley Manning, an alleged whistleblower. In a nation that claims its constitution protects truth-tellers, the Obama administration is pursuing and prosecuting more whistleblowers than any of its modern predecessors. A Pentagon document states bluntly that US intelligence intends to "fatally marginalise" WikiLeaks. The preferred tactic is smear, with corporate journalists ever ready to play their part.

The Pentagon line

On 31 July, the American celebrity reporter Christiane Amanpour interviewed the US secretary of defence, Robert Gates, on the ABC network. She invited him to describe to her viewers his "anger" at WikiLeaks. She echoed the Pentagon line that "this leak has blood on its hands", cueing Gates to find WikiLeaks "guilty" of "moral culpability". Such hypocrisy coming from a regime drenched in the blood of the people of Afghanistan and Iraq - as its own files make clear - is apparently not for journalistic inquiry. This is hardly surprising now that a new and fearless form of public accountability, which WikiLeaks represents, threatens not only the warmakers but also their apologists.

Their current propaganda is that WikiLeaks is "irresponsible". Earlier this year, before it released the cockpit video of a US Apache gunship killing 19 civilians in Iraq, including journalists and children, WikiLeaks sent people to Baghdad to find the victims' families in order to prepare them. Before the release of last month's Afghanistan war logs, WikiLeaks wrote to the White House asking that it identify Afghan names that might draw reprisals. There was no reply. More than 15,000 files were withheld and these, Assange says, will not be released until they have been scrutinised "line by line" so that the names of those at risk can be deleted.

The pressure on Assange himself seems unrelenting. In his homeland, Australia, the shadow foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has said that if her right-wing coalition wins the general election on 21 August, "appropriate action" will be taken "if an Australian citizen has deliberately undertaken an activity that could put at risk the lives of Australian forces in Afghanistan or undermine our operations in any way". The Australian role in Afghanistan, which is in effect mercenary to Washington, has produced two striking results: the massacre of five children at a village in Uruzgan Province and the overwhelming disapproval of the majority of Australians.

Last May, following the release of the Apache footage, Assange had his passport temporarily confiscated when he returned home. The Labor government in Canberra denies it has received requests from Washington to detain him and spy on the WikiLeaks network. The Cameron government also denies this. They would, wouldn't they? Assange, who came to London last month to work on exposing the war logs, has now had to leave the country hastily for, as he puts it, "safer climes".

A duty to publish

On 16 August, the Guardian, citing Daniel Ellsberg, described the great Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu as "the pre-eminent hero
of the nuclear age". Vanunu, who alerted the world to Israel's secret nuclear weapons, was kidnapped by the Israelis and incarcerated for 18 years after he was left unprotected by the Sunday Times, which had published the documents he supplied. In 1983, another heroic whistleblower, Sarah Tisdall, a Foreign Office clerical officer, sent documents to the Guardian disclosing how the Thatcher government planned to spin the arrival of US cruise missiles in Britain. The Guardian complied with a court order to hand over the documents, and Tisdall went to prison.

The WikiLeaks revelations shame the dominant section of journalism, devoted merely to taking down what cynical and malign power tells it. This is state stenography, not journalism. Look on the WikiLeaks site and read a Ministry of Defence document that describes the "threat" of real journalism. And so it should be a threat. Having skilfully published the WikiLeaks exposé of a fraudulent war, the Guardian should now give its most powerful and unreserved editorial support to the protection of Assange and his colleagues, whose truth-telling is as important as any in my lifetime.

I like Julian Assange's dust-dry wit. When I asked him if it was more difficult to publish information in Britain, with its draconian secrecy laws, he replied: "We haven't found a problem. When we look at Official Secrets Act labelled documents, we see that they state it is an offence to retain the information and an offence to destroy the information. So the only possible outcome is to publish the information."

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 23 August 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Pakistan

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It's time for the government to think again about Hinkley Point

The government's new nuclear power station is a white elephant that we simply don't need.

Today I will welcome Denis Baupin, Vice President of the French Assembly, to Hinkley.

His own choice to come and visit the site of the proposed new nuclear power station reflects his strong desire to prevent the UK disappearing up a dangerous dark alley in terms of energy policy. It also takes place as France takes a totally different path, with the French government recently adopting a law which will reduce nuclear energy in the country.

Greens have opposed Hinkley ever since the government announced its nuclear strategy. Hinkley, with its state aid and an agreed strike price of £92.50 per megawatt, has always been financially and legally suspect but it is now reaching the level of farce. So much so that George Osborne is required to be economical with the truth in front of a House of Lords committee because he cannot find anything honest to say about why this is a good deal for the British people.

Mr Baupin and I will join hundreds of protestors – and a white elephant – to stand in solidarity against this terrible project. The demonstration is taking place under a banner of the triple risks of Hinkley. 

First, there are the safety and technological risks. It is clear that the Pressurised Water nuclear reactor (EPR) – the design proposed for Hinkley C – simply does not work. France’s nuclear safety watchdog has found multiple malfunctioning valves that could cause meltdown, in a similar scenario to the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the US.  The steel reactor vessel, which houses the plant’s nuclear fuel and confines its radioactivity, was also found to have serious anomalies that increase the risk of it cracking. Apart from the obvious safety risks, the problems experienced by the EPR reactors being built at Flammanvile in France and Olkiluoto in Finland have pushed the projects years behind schedule.

Secondly, Hinkley poses risks to our energy security. Hinkley is supposed to produce 7% of the UK's energy. But we now know there will be no electricity from the new nuclear plant until at least 2023. This makes power blackouts over the next decade increasingly likely and the only way to avoid them is to rapidly invest in renewable energy, particularly onshore wind. Earlier this week Bloomberg produced a report showing that onshore wind is now the cheapest way to generate electricity in both the UK and Germany. But instead of supporting onshore wind this government is undermining it by attacking subsidies to renewables and destroying jobs in the sector. 

Thirdly, there is the risk of Chinese finance. In a globalised world we are expected to consider the option of allowing foreign companies and governments to control our essential infrastructure. But it is clear that in bequeathing our infrastructure we lose the political control that strengthens our security. The Chinese companies who will be part of the deal are part owned by the Chinese government and therefore controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. What a toppy-turvy world globalisation has created, where our Conservative British government is inviting the Chinese Communist party to control our energy infrastructure. It also seems that China National Nuclear Company is responsible for the manufacture of Chinese nuclear weapons.

Of course it is the Chinese people who suffer most, being at the hands of an oppressive government and uncontrolled companies which show little respect for employment rights or environmental standards. By offering money to such companies from British consumers through their energy bills our government is forcing us to collude in the low human rights and environmental standards seen in China.  

Research I commissioned earlier this year concluded we can transform the South West, not with nuclear, but with renewables. We can generate 100 per cent of our energy needs from renewables within the next 20-30 years and create 122,000 new quality jobs and boost the regional economy by over £4bn a year.

The white elephant of Hinkley looks increasingly shaky on its feet. Only the government’s deeply risky ideological crusade against renewables and in favour of nuclear keeps it standing. It’s time for it to fall and for communities in the South West to create in its place a renewable energy revolution, which will lead to our own Western Powerhouse. 

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the southwest of England, elected in May 2014. She has published widely, particularly on issues related to green economics. Molly was formerly Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton.