Two distinguished scholars and activists, Noam Chomsky and Peter Singer, signed an open letter to the Prime Minister of Australia on Tuesday, urging the government to condemn calls for Australian citizen and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be assassinated.
Peter Singer is an Australian philosopher and Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, who is most well known for his involvement in the creation of the animal rights movement. Noam Chomsky, who has authored more than 150 books on political theory, linguistics, and philosophy, is a Professor of Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The letter notes that numerous conservatives in the US have dubbed Assange a terrorist and have even called for his death.
“We should treat Mr. Assange the same way as other high-value terrorist targets: Kill him,” conservative columnist Jeffrey T. Kuhner wrote in the Washington Times.
When asked about Congressman Peter King’s (R-NY) recommendation that WikiLeaks be designated a foreign terrorist organization, Chomsky responded that King’s suggestion was “outlandish.”
“The materials—we should understand—and the Pentagon Papers is another case in point—that one of the major reasons for government secrecy is to protect the government from its own population,” Chomsky said in an interview with the Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman. “In the Pentagon Papers, for example, there was one volume, the negotiations volume, which might have had bearing on ongoing activities, and Dan Ellsberg withheld that. That came out a little bit later.”
The Pentagon Papers were a collection of top-secret Department of Defense documents on the history of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam that were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg.
“But if you look at the Papers themselves, there are things that Americans should have known that the government didn’t want them to know,” he continued. “And as far as I can tell, from what I’ve seen here, pretty much the same is true. In fact, the current leaks are—what I’ve seen, at least—primarily interesting because of what they tell us about how the diplomatic service works.”
Singer said there was a “clear parallel” between the Afghanistan war documents leak and the Pentagon Papers.
Although greater transparency has some bad consequences, Singer concludes that “a climate of openness makes it more likely that governments and corporations will act more ethically.”
“In a world in which terrorists have committed atrocities and threaten to commit more, to seek complete government transparency is utopian,” Singer wrote at Project Syndicate in August. “Sometimes it is possible to do good only in secret. Yet on the whole, a more transparent community is likely to be a better one – and the same applies to a more transparent world.”
A number of other high-profile Australians signed the letter, including Senator Bob Brown, Senator Scott Ludlam, army whistleblower Lance Collins, Australian authors including Raimond Gaita, Christos Tsiolkas and Helen Garner, and retired Lieutenant Colonel Lance Collins of the Australian Intelligence Corps.
Scores of other public intellectuals and activists outside of Australia have voiced their support for Assange as well.
Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, said he supports Assange and blasted Amazon for booting WikiLeaks from its hosting service.
“I’m disgusted by Amazon’s cowardice and servility in abruptly terminating its hosting of the WikiLeaks website, in the face of threats from Senator Joe Lieberman and other Congressional right-wingers,” he wrote on his website. “I want no further association with any company that encourages legislative and executive officials to aspire to China’s control of information and deterrence of whistle-blowing.”
Longtime feminist activist Naomi Wolf also mocked Interpol’s warrant for Assange, satirically ‘thanking’ the organization for “engaging in global manhunts to arrest and prosecute men who behave like narcissistic jerks to women they are dating.”
“Thank you again, Interpol,” she wrote at the Huffington Post. I know you will now prioritize the global manhunt for 1.3 million guys I have heard similar complaints about personally in the US alone — there is an entire fraternity at the University of Texas you need to arrest immediately.”
In an interview with CNN’s Larry King, liberal filmmaker Michael Moore praised Bradley Manning, a 22-year-old army intelligence analyst accused of leaking documents to WikiLeaks, saying “he essentially followed the Nuremberg principles, which is when you see something going on like this, when you see war crimes being committed, when you see lies being told in order to bring a country to war, you have to speak out against it.”
Dear Prime Minister,
We note with concern the increasingly violent rhetoric directed towards Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.
“We should treat Mr Assange the same way as other high-value terrorist targets: Kill him,” writes conservative columnist Jeffrey T Kuhner in the Washington Times.
William Kristol, former chief of staff to vice president Dan Quayle, asks, “Why can’t we use our various assets to harass, snatch or neutralize Julian Assange and his collaborators, wherever they are?”
“Why isn’t Julian Assange dead?” writes the prominent US pundit Jonah Goldberg.
“The CIA should have already killed Julian Assange,” says John Hawkins on the Right Wing News site.
Sarah Palin, a likely presidential candidate, compares Assange to an Al Qaeda leader; Rick Santorum, former Pennsylvania senator and potential presidential contender, accuses Assange of “terrorism”.
And so on and so forth.
Such calls cannot be dismissed as bluster. Over the last decade, we have seen the normalisation of extrajudicial measures once unthinkable, from ‘extraordinary rendition’ (kidnapping) to ‘enhanced interrogation’ (torture).
In that context, we now have grave concerns for Mr Assange’s wellbeing.
Irrespective of the political controversies surrounding WikiLeaks, Mr Assange remains entitled to conduct his affairs in safety, and to receive procedural fairness in any legal proceedings against him.
As is well known, Mr Assange is an Australian citizen.
We therefore call upon you to condemn, on behalf of the Australian Government, calls for physical harm to be inflicted upon Mr Assange, and to state publicly that you will ensure Mr Assange receives the rights and protections to which he is entitled, irrespective of whether the unlawful threats against him come from individuals or states.
We urge you to confirm publicly Australia’s commitment to freedom of political communication; to refrain from cancelling Mr Assange’s passport, in the absence of clear proof that such a step is warranted; to provide assistance and advocacy to Mr Assange; and do everything in your power to ensure that any legal proceedings taken against him comply fully with the principles of law and procedural fairness.
A statement by you to this effect should not be controversial – it is a simple commitment to democratic principles and the rule of law.
We believe this case represents something of a watershed, with implications that extend beyond Mr Assange and WikiLeaks. In many parts of the globe, death threats routinely silence those who would publish or disseminate controversial material. If these incitements to violence against Mr Assange, a recipient of Amnesty International’s Media Award, are allowed to stand, a disturbing new precedent will have been established in the English-speaking world.
In this crucial time, a strong statement by you and your Government can make an important difference.
We look forward to your response.
Dr Jeff Sparrow, author and editor
Lizzie O’Shea, Social Justice Lawyer, Maurice Blackburn
Professor Noam Chomsky, writer and academic
Antony Loewenstein, journalist and author
Mungo MacCallum, journalist and writer
Professor Peter Singer, author and academic
Adam Bandt, MP
Senator Bob Brown
Senator Scott Ludlam
Julian Burnside QC, barrister
Jeff Lawrence, Secretary, Australian Council of Trade Unions
Professor Raimond Gaita, author and academic
Rob Stary, lawyer
Lieutenant Colonel (ret) Lance Collins, Australian Intelligence Corps, writer
The Hon Alastair Nicholson AO RFD QC
Brian Walters SC, barrister
Professor Larissa Behrendt, academic
Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees, academic, Sydney Peace Foundation
Mary Kostakidis, Chair, Sydney Peace Foundation
Professor Wendy Bacon, journalist
Christos Tsiolkas, author
James Bradley, author and journalist
Julian Morrow, comedian and television producer
Louise Swinn, publisher
Helen Garner, novelist
Professor Dennis Altman, writer and academic
Dr Leslie Cannold, author, ethicist, commentator
John Birmingham, writer
Guy Rundle, writer
Alex Miller, writer
Sophie Cunningham, editor and author
Castan Centre for Human Rights Law
Professor Judith Brett, author and academic
Stephen Keim SC, President of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
Phil Lynch, Executive Director, Human Rights Law Resource Centre
Sylvia Hale, MLC
Sophie Black, editor
David Ritter, lawyer and historian
Dr Scott Burchill, writer and academic
Dr Mark Davis, author and academic
Henry Rosenbloom, publisher
Ben Naparstek, editor
Chris Feik, editor
Louise Swinn, publisher
Stephen Warne, barrister
Dr John Dwyer QC
Hilary McPhee, writer, publisher
Joan Dwyer OAM
Greg Barns, barrister
James Button, journalist
Owen Richardson, critic
Michelle Griffin, editor
John Timlin, literary Agent & producer
Ann Cunningham, lawyer and publisher
Alison Croggon, author, critic
Daniel Keene, playwright
Dr Nick Shimmin, editor/writer
Bill O’Shea, lawyer, former President, Law Institute of Victoria
Dianne Otto, Professor of Law, Melbourne Law School
Professor Frank Hutchinson,Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS), University of Sydney
Anthony Georgeff, editor
Max Gillies, actor
Shane Maloney, writer
Louis Armand, author and publisher
Jenna Price, academic and journalist
Tanja Kovac, National Cooordinator EMILY’s List Australia
Dr Russell Grigg, academic
Dr Justin Clemens, writer and academic
Susan Morairty, Lawyer
David Hirsch, Barrister
Cr Anne O’Shea
Kathryn Crosby, Candidates Online
Dr Robert Sparrow, academic
Jennifer Mills, author
Foong Ling Kong, editor
Tim Norton, Online Campaigns Co-ordinator, Oxfam Australia
Elisabeth Wynhausen, writer
Ben Slade, Lawyer
Nikki Anderson, publisher
Professor Diane Bell, author and academic
Dr Philipa Rothfield, academic
Gary Cazalet, academic
Dr David Coady, academic
Dr Matthew Sharpe, writer and academic
Dr Tamas Pataki, writer and academic
Associate Professor Jake Lynch, academic
Professor Simon During, academic
Michael Brull, writer
Dr Geoff Boucher, academic
Jacinda Woodhead, writer and editor
Dr Rjurik Davidson, writer and editor
Mic Looby, writer
Jane Gleeson-White, writer and editor
Alex Skutenko, editor
Associate Professor John Collins, academic
Professor Philip Pettit, academic
Dr Christopher Scanlon, writer and academic
Dr Lawrie Zion, journalist
Johannes Jakob, editor
Sunili Govinnage, lawyer
Michael Bates, lawyer
Bridget Maidment, editor
Bryce Ives, theatre director
Sarah Darmody, writer
Jill Sparrow, writer
Lyn Bender, psychologist
Meredith Rose, editor
Dr Ellie Rennie, President, Engage Media
Ryan Paine, editor
Simon Cooper, editor
Chris Haan, lawyer
Carmela Baranowska, journalist.
Clinton Ellicott, publisher
Dr Charles Richardson, writer and academic
Phillip Frazer, publisher
Geoff Lemon, journalist
Jaya Savige, poet and editor
Johannes Jakob, editor
Kate Bree Geyer; journalist
Chay-Ya Clancy, performer
Lisa Greenaway, editor, writer
Chris Kennett – screenwriter, journalist
Kasey Edwards, author
Dr. Janine Little, academic
Dr Andrew Milner, writer and academic
Patricia Cornelius, writer
Elisa Berg, publisher
Lily Keil, editor
Tom Doig, editor
Kym Connell, lawyer
Nicole Papaleo, lawyer
Dr Emma Cox
David Carlin, writer
Geoff Page, writer