“Full details of Guantanamo prisoners” screamed the headlines on The Guardian and The New York Times on Monday, with several pages of each publication occupied with stories drawn from confidential files that had “come into the newspapers’ hands”. They confirmed what has been known for years — that the operations that swept up the people who became the Gitmo inmates indiscriminately took in everyone, from hardened al-Qaeda operatives to those who had taken to arms once the US invaded Afghanistan, to random targets including an 89-year-old man, a 14-year-old boy, and a journalist for Al Jazeera.
The papers showed that inmates had indeed been tortured, and that many intelligence agencies, US and foreign, had been present during such torture. The papers also suggest that some of those released may have rejoined the armed Islamist struggle — some resuming their old command, others persuaded to it by their treatment in the camp.
All-in-all, quite a set of leaks. A whole new source of secret information? Well, not quite. The Gitmo file is the final of the four dossiers of information obtained by WikiLeaks — the Afghan, Iraq and Cablegate papers are the other three — an enormous cache allegedly leaked by Bradley Manning. But you wouldn’t know that from the Guardian/New York Times stories, which refer to WikiLeaks only to say that the release does not come from them.
Well, technically true — since WikiLeaks’ copy of the dossier was released by their new partners, The Washington Post, and the UK Daily Telegraph, almost simultaneously with The Guardian and New York Times. The WikiLeaks “group” had been moving towards a release of the material further, but brought it forward after word about The Guardian/New York Times publication, erm, leaked.
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However, to imply, as they do, that the release came from a source entirely separate to WikiLeaks is false. The Guardian had at least one full copy of the files — from Heather Brooke, the UK-based investigative journalist who was given them by former Icelandic WikiLeaks associate (and subsequent dissident) Smari McCarthy. What is and is not included in Brooke’s copy of the files is unclear — but there may also be a copy with the new outfit Openleaks, started by other WikiLeaks dissidents Daniel Domscheit-Berg and Herbert Snorrason. Though not yet operational, the group has started to negotiate arrangements with press outlets. It is, in any case, a little disingenuous to leave the impression that Grauniad and the Grey Lady have landed a mega-scoop out of the blue.
Gitmo wasn’t the only medieval, secretive institution under challenge in London this week. There was also the British legal system, which in past weeks has come under increasing criticism for the issue of superinjunctions, a legal device applied for by celebrities, which not only prevents the press from making allegations about person X — but also prevents anyone from even mentioning that X has gained an injunction. Superinjunctions have been used before, but they started coming thick and fast in 2009. There are now about 30 in operation, covering several TV stars, footballers, etc, etc, and several shady women with whom they have been associated.
Included among these are several hyperinjunctions, which not only prevent publication, but also prohibit people from talking about the matter to their friends or colleagues. Justice Eady, who manages the UK libel lists, has made a name for himself by issuing some recent injunctions “contra mundum” — i.e. against the world, making it impossible for anyone to discuss the matter ever.
Outrage against the super/hyperinjunctions has been muted, due to the fact that so much of it concerns the private life of celebs, and that the most recent non-celeb superinjuntion — the 2009 gagging order by oil company Trafigura to prevent news of toxic dumping in Africa (initially released by WikiLeaks) — was busted by being read into Hansard. The fact that so much celeb news appears to have come from phone tapping has made it hard for many to know what to be more outraged by. Nevertheless it was clear that the practice was becoming a major break on free speech.
Now someone has broken ranks — Andrew Marr, BBC broadcaster, author, runner-up in Bob Carr lookalike competition. Marr took out a superinjunction a couple of years ago, to prevent discussion of an affair he was having with another journalist, one that he thought might have resulted in a child (DNA testing later established that it wasn’t his, which, um, well, clearly indicates it’s not all tea and cardigans at the Beeb).
Marr has now broken the news of his own injunction, saying that he doesn’t want to be associated with the people that are now getting injunctions. Admirable, admirable, and of course nothing to do with the fact that the injunctions will be broken online from outside the UK sooner rather than later — at which point, a BBC political interviewer, who has spent years putting the thumbscrews to wayward pollies about the gap between intention and achievement. Meanwhile, we all stay tuned for further revelations that some people are shtupping some other people they shouldn’t be.
On Saturday, News Ltd wrapped up its pursuit of Aboriginal leader Larissa Behrendt and anyone who didn’t agree with its view on the way ahead for indigenous people, and there seems little point in exploring it further at any length. But two contributions were interesting: a defence of Behrendt from Noel Pearson in his weekly column, and a bizarre editorial that spent a lot of space attacking yours truly, inter alia. To the utterly trivial first, i.e. the attack on yours truly: the gist of the Oz’s rather screechy and defensive statement was that those who criticised it had “ignored the substance” of its attacks on arguments about emphases between peoples’ rights and government action, self-determination and mainstreaming.
But of course if you’re really interested in a battle of ideas, then pinging someone for an off-taste tweet is hardly the away to go about it — indeed, it’s something of an own goal. Had it deposed Behrendt from her recent appointment as head of a federal inquiry into indigenous higher education, it would have set the principle that the ideas of whoever headed the inquiry were irrelevant. All that would have mattered was whether it’d been the subject of a sleazy gotcha. We’ll see, in the coming days, whether that’s a standard that everyone involved in this destructive campaign would pass.
More importantly, it couldn’t disguise the fact that Noel Pearson had broken ranks with the campaign, which had descended, Donald Trump-style, to an attack on Behrendt’s academic credentials. Though he disagreed with what he claimed were her ideas, he began his column — clearly written quickly, in response to the beat-up — by affirming that Behrendt was a role model, and should be head of the education inquiry. No matter how the Surry Hills mob played it, this was a standing rebuke to its vicious campaign, in which News Ltd’s new-found enthusiasm for eugenic classifications had fused with the worst of ’90s identity politics. Nor will it be the last — for the true story behind this affair is the growing split in the right, between those such as Gary Johns — whose explicit aim is pretty much the dissolution of Aboriginal cultures — and those such as Pearson, who want to maintain them, through modernisation. However much Johns and Pearson have in common in their view of those campaigning for rights, they have a greater division between them as to their ultimate ends. That division will ultimately become the principal one, and the existing coalitions around indigenous politics will recombine. That began in the midst of this bizarre affair, and will ultimately be of far more consequence.