Earlier this week, I wrote about the case of two Zimbabwean generals who may face treason charges for comments about their superiors made in a confidential conversation with the U.S. ambassador, and whose names were subsequently revealed in last month's unredacted WikiLeaks dump.
That case still seems to be pending, but there's been another troubling development in Ethiopia, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists:
U.S. diplomatic cables disclosed last month by WikiLeaks cited an Ethiopian journalist by name and referred to his unnamed government source, forcing the journalist to flee the country after police interrogated him over the source's identity, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. It is the first instance CPJ has confirmed in which a citation in one of the cables has caused direct repercussions for a journalist.
On September 5 and 6, officials from Ethiopia's Government Communication Affairs Office (GCAO) summoned journalist Argaw Ashine to their offices in the capital, Addis Ababa, with his press accreditation, Ashine told CPJ on Tuesday. He was summoned because he had been cited in an October 26, 2009, cable from the U.S. embassy in Ethiopia regarding purported GCAO plans in 2009 to silence the now-defunct Addis Neger, then the country's leading independent newspaper, local journalists said.
On September 8, Ashine was summoned again, this time by police, who interrogated him and gave him 24 hours to either reveal the identity of his source at the GCAO office or face unspecified consequences, the journalist told CPJ. Ashine fled Ethiopia over the weekend. He has requested that his current location not be disclosed for safety reasons.
Given that a central tenet of WikiLeaks' model is protecting the identity of its sources, it seems pretty tough to defend the exposing of a journalist in an authoritarian country, even if it embarasses the U.S. government in the process.
The Christian Science Monitor also reports (via the essential twitter source for all things WikiLeaks Trevor Timm) that, so far at least, Chinese sources named in the cable don't seem to be suffering consequences:
Two weeks after WikiLeaks posted unredacted versions of a quarter of a million U.S. diplomatic cables, revealing the names of American embassies’ local contacts around the world, there are no signs of repercussions for Chinese sources, according to people who have themselves been “outed.”
“Nothing has happened to me, yet, and I have not heard of anyone else getting into trouble,” says Wang Zhenyu, a Beijing lawyer who says he has often met U.S. diplomats to discuss the progress of legal reform in China and whose name was meant to have been “strictly protected” according to a cable that quotes him.
“I don’t think I’ll have any problem from the government, though some ordinary people do not understand," adds Wang Xiaodong, an outspoken nationalist ideologue with a large following on the Web, who also shared his insights with American diplomats, according to the leaked cables.
Update: Another piece from the Globe and Mail's Mark MacKinnon notes that while there have been no legal consequences, the response from China's nationalist internet has been furious:
Some of China’s top academics and human rights activists are being attacked as “rats” and “spies” after their names were revealed as U.S. Embassy sources in the unredacted WikiLeaks cables that have now been posted online.
The release of the previously protected names has sparked an online witch-hunt by Chinese nationalist groups, with some advocating violence against those now known to have met with U.S. Embassy staff. “When the time comes, they should be arrested and killed,” reads one typical posting on a prominent neo-Maoist website.
The repercussions could indeed be dire in some circumstances, particularly for Tibetan and Uighur activists exposed as having passed information to Washington. In other cases – including some Communist Party officials named as “protected” or “strictly protected” sources – the fallout is more likely to be embarrassment or perhaps lost promotions.
We'll continue to track the fallout for the sources in the days ahead.
Two Zimbabwean generals may face treason charges for comments made to U.S. ambassador Charles Ray in a 2010 meeting that has now been made public by WikiLeaks:
There are now reports that the two will face retribution for their disclosures to the Americans, including possible treason charges. According to South Africa's Sunday Times newspaper, which quoted military sources, the top brass of the defence forces are contemplating the court martial of the generals.
"It is a very difficult situation. Some top army commanders see this as a tale of traitors, betrayal and treachery and hence they want a swift response," a senior commander in the military is quoted as saying. "In the army, once you do such things, they charge you with treason and you will be court-martialed."
The cable in question, based on conversations with the officers, describes Gen. Constantine Chiwenga, the commander of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) as a "political general" with "little practical military experience or expertise.. The generals also say that the senior generals of the ZDF are "so entwined with [President Robert Mugabe's] ZANU-PF party as to be practically indistinguishable," frustrating those who want to build it into a professional military force.
The cable also notes that the two "took a grave personal risk meeting with us, and their identities should be strictly protected." With thousands of cables including the unredacted names of sources now floating around online, there will likely be more officials facing the consequences for what they told U.S. diplomats in confidence.
(HT: Michael Clemens)
Mayawati, the chief minister of India's Uttar Pradesh state, is known as the de facto political leader of the traditionally marginalized Dalit caste. Unfortunately, she's also known for doing things like spending hundreds of milions of dollars in state funds to build giant statues of herself and apearing in public wearing giant garlands made of cash (shown above). This week she's in the news for some comments directed at M. Assange in response to a negative cable about her:
"The owner of Wikileaks has gone mad or he has joined hands with our opposition parties to malign my government," Ms Mayawati told a press conference broadcast live on Indian television.
"I request the government of his country to send him to a mental asylum and in case they are all full, I will make space for him in the mental asylum in [the city of] Agra," she said.
She also said he had "an anti-Dalit mindset".
Looking at the cable in question, dated Oct. 23, 2008, it's not hard to see why Mayawati is upset:
She has become a virtual paranoid dictator replete with food tasters and a security entourage to rival a head of state. Civil servants will not speak to the press for fear of losing their positions. Journalists admitted they feared retribution should they print anything negative about Mayawati. One journalist claimed that all civil servants' and most journalists' phones are tapped.
There's also this anecdote of Imelda Marcos-like behavior:
Mayawati's full majority victory in May 2007 UP State Assembly elections left her beholden to no one and has allowed her to act on her eccentricities, whims and insecurities. When she needed new sandals, her private jet flew empty to Mumbai to retrieve her preferred brand.
What's interesting is that Mayawati is directing her anger at WikiLeaks rather than the U.S. officials who actually made the comments about her. Is she alleging that Assange is just making up the cables, or does she just think he's a softer target?
A CBC report based on U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks suggests that Canada played a greater role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq than the public statements of its leaders previously suggested:
On March 17, 2003, two days before U.S. warplanes launched their attack on Baghdad, prime minister Jean Chrétien told the House of Commons that Canadian forces would not be joining what the administration of then U.S. president George W. Bush dubbed the "coalition of the willing."
Chrétien's apparent refusal to back the Bush administration's invasion, purportedly launched to seize weapons of mass destruction possessed by Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein (which were never found), was hugely popular in Canada, widely hailed as nothing less than a defining moment of national sovereignty.
But even as Chrétien told the Commons that Canada wouldn't participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Canadian diplomats were secretly telling their U.S. counterparts something entirely different.
The classified U.S. document obtained from WikiLeaks shows senior Canadian officials met that same day with high-ranking American and British diplomats at Foreign Affairs headquarters in Ottawa. The confidential note, written by a U.S. diplomat at the gathering, states that Foreign Affairs official James Wright waited until after the official meeting to impart the most important news of all.
According to the U.S. account, Wright "emphasized" that contrary to public statements by the prime minister, Canadian naval and air forces could be "discreetly" put to use during the pending U.S.-led assault on Iraq and its aftermath. At that time, Canada had warships, aircraft and over 1,200 naval personnel already in the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, intercepting potential militant vessels and providing safe escort to other ships as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the post-Sept. 11, 2001, multinational war on terrorism.
The U.S. briefing note states: "Following the meeting, political director Jim Wright emphasized that, despite public statements that the Canadian assets in the Straits of Hormuz will remain in the region exclusively to support Enduring Freedom, they will also be available to provide escort services in the Straits and will otherwise be discreetly useful to the military effort.
It's not really clear whether the Canadian ships and surveillance aircrat conducting counterterrorism activities in the Straits of Hormuz at the time did, in fact, carry out any activities that contributed to the effort in Iraq. As one high-ranking former defence ministry official quoted by the CBC puts in, "[W]ho knows whether in fact we were doing things indirectly for Iraqi Freedom? It is quite possible."
It's certainly not unreasonable to suspect that Canada may in fact have played a larger military role in Iraq than a number of declared members of the Coalition of the Willing.
The other interesting aspect of the story is that U.S. officials were apparently fairly indifferent to Canadian military support, hoping instead for political cover:
A former senior Canadian bureaucrat said: "The Americans knew we were stretched to the limit on the military side, and they really just wanted a political endorsement of their plan to go into Iraq."
Former U.S. ambassador Cellucci concurred: "We were looking for moral support. That's all we were looking for.… We were looking for 'we support the Americans.' "
Canada still has several thousand troops in Afghanitan and now Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government was an early and enthusiastic supporter of intervention in Libya, contributing fighter jets to enforce the no-fly zone.
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has been one of the few world leaders to staunchly defend Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi in recent weeks. The close bond between the Libyan and Nicaraguan governments was demonstrated in March when Qaddafi took the unusual step of appointing former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel d'Escoto Brockman to represent him at the United Nations.
Two U.S. diplomatic cables from 2007, released by WikiLeaks, express concern about Qaddafi's influence in Managua, suggesting that he may have funded Ortega's election campaign.The first cable, dated January 3, 2007, discusses the influence of Ortega's Libyan personal secretary Mohamad Lashtar:
The Ambassador raised concerns regarding Ortega's choice of former Libyan/naturalized Nicaraguan Muhamad Muhktar Lashtar as his personal secretary, noting that Lashtar was a commercial attache at the Libyan embassy in Managua in the 1980s and reportedly associated with Libyan intelligence. Lacayo, who shared the Ambassador's concern, remarked that Pepe Mathus, a former Contra (associated with the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance, ALN) who has been involved in some business dealings with Lashtar, told Lacayo recently that the Libyan Embassy had informed him that Lashtar no longer maintains any relation with the embassy. PolCouns shared that Lashtar is reportedly Moammar al-Ghadafi's nephew.
The Nicaraguan media has picked up on the "nephew" angle this week, though there doesn't seem to be much other information otu there about Lashtar to confirm it.
A second cable from three days later relates a discussion the ambassador had with a prominent Sandanista defector:
The Ambassador raised concerns regarding Ortega's choice of personal secretary --former Libyan/naturalized Nicaraguan Muhamad Muhktar Lashtar. Martinez Cuenca confided that Lashtar arrived in Managua in 1989 and reported directly to Moammar al-Ghadafi's security unit that operates independently from the Libyan government. Further, through Lashtar, Libyan monies have maintained Ortega for years and Ortega's national and popular council model is based on the Libyan "Green Book," claimed Martinez Cuenca.
Granted, this is coming from someone with a grudge against Ortega and however mismanaged Nicaragua may be under Ortega, it doesn't look too much like the Libyan political model. But the fallout from this should be interesting to watch.
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images
When the WikiLeaks CableGate story originally broke, many wondered if it would change the way ambassadors communicated with their home offices. If the case of Fergus Cochrane-Dye, Britain's high commissioner to Malawi, is indicative, the answer seems to be no.
Malawi is now threatening to expel Cochrane-Dye over comments in a March, 2011 cable were leaked to the country's Nation newspaper. The type of remarks in the offending cable should be familiar to WikiLeaked readers:
In the leaked memo to the foreign secretary, William Hague, Cochrane-Dyet said that in Malawi the "governance situation continues to deteriorate in terms of media freedom, freedom of speech and minority rights".
According to the Nation newspaper, which published the correspondence, he said rights activists had reported a campaign of intimidation through threatening anonymous phone calls.
"They seem genuinely afraid," Cochrane-Dyet wrote. "The office of one high-profile activist has allegedly been raided and his house broken into. There are unsubstantiated rumours that the ruling party is forming a youth wing modeled on the Young Pioneers used as a tool of repression during the country's three-decade dictatorship."
The Foreign Office seems to be sticking by their man:
"Sir Geoffrey added that if the government of Malawi pursued such action there were likely to be consequences affecting the full range of issues in the bilateral relationship. He urged the Malawian authorities, through the charge d'affaires, not to proceed down such a road."
It's certainly seems that in the post-WikiLeaks era, diplomats shouldn't take the confidentiality of cables for granted -- even when WikiLeaks itself has nothing to do with it. I can't imagine that this won't change the tone and bluntness of these communications going forward.
Judging by his appearance on CNN last night, parsing the president's speech, recently fired State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley is making a transition to media pundit in record time. In an op-ed for the Guardian today, he addresses the reason he was fired, his desription of the treatment of accused WikiLeaker Bradley Manning as "stupid" and "counterproductive" during a speech at MIT.
Crowley starts by arguing that Manning is" rightly facing prosecution" and "if convicted, should spend a long, long time in prison." But, perhaps since he's already been fired for them, doesn't walk back his previous comments at all:
Private Manning's family, joined by a number of human rights organisations, has questioned the extremely restrictive conditions he has experienced at the brig at Marine Corps base Quantico, Virginia. I focused on the fact that he was forced to sleep naked, which led to a circumstance where he stood naked for morning call.
Based on 30 years of government experience, if you have to explain why a guy is standing naked in the middle of a jail cell, you have a policy in need of urgent review. The Pentagon was quick to point out that no women were present when he did so, which is completely beside the point.
The issue is a loss of dignity, not modesty.
Our strategic narrative connects our policies to our interests, values and aspirations. While what we do, day in and day out, is broadly consistent with the universal principles we espouse, individual actions can become disconnected. Every once in a while, even a top-notch symphony strikes a discordant note. So it is in this instance.
To put it another way, if your own previously reliable spokesman is calling a government policy "stupid" in public, you probably have a policy in need of urgent review.
As everyone knows, celebrity anti-Semitic rants come in threes. So it may come as no surprise that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is being accused of joining the ranks of Galliano and Sheen.
Ian Hislop, editor of the British magazine Private Eye, has published his recollection of a phone conversation with Assange, following his publication of a piece on WikiLeaks associate and Holocaust denier Israel Shamir:
On the afternoon of Wednesday 16 February I had a phone call from Julian Assange, He tole me that teh piece I had publishedin that week's issue ("Man in the Eye: Israel Shamir", 1282) was "crap". I asked him in what way it was crap but he could not tell me because, he said, "I haven't read it".
This was not a promising start. When I summarised the piece for his benefit -- it was about a Wikileaks associate in Russia with a record of anti-semitism -- he said that I and Private Eye should be ashamed of ourselves for joining in the international conspiracy to smear Wikileaks. The piece was an obvious attempt to deprive him and his organisation of Jewish support and donations, he said angrily, and he knew perfectly well who had written it. Hen then named a Fleet Street hack who had nothing to do with it. Wikileaks' omniscience is clearly not yet complete.
Unabashed by this error, he went on to say that we were part of a conspiracy led by the Guardian which included journalist David Leigh, editor Alan Rusbridger and John Kampfner from Index on Censorhip -- all of whom "are Jewish".
I pointed out that Rusbridger is not actually Jewish, but Assange insisted that he was "sort of Jewish" because he was related to David Leigh (they are brothers-in-law). When I doubted whether his Jewish conspiracy would stand up against the fact, Assange suddenly conceded the point. "Forget the Jewish thing."
According to the piece, Assange went on to comments bordering on sexism and homophobia, saying that Guardian journalists had "failed my masculinity test." (Check out Mother Jones' hilarious "Assange Masculinity Test".)
WikiLeaks has responded to the piece with a very extended tweet, noting that the organization has "some Jewish staff and enjoys wide spread Jewish support" and has itself been accused of working on behalf of the Mossad and George Soros. Here's Assange's reply to Hislop:
"Hislop has distorted, invented or misremembered almost every significant claim and phrase. In particular, 'Jewish conspiracy' is completely false, in spirit and in word. It is serious and upsetting. Rather than correct a smear, Mr. Hislop has attempted, perhaps not surprisingly, to justify one smear with another in the same direction. That he has a reputation for this, and is famed to have received more libel suits in the UK than any other journalist as a result, does not mean that it is right. WikiLeaks promotes the ideal of "scientific journalism" - where the underlaying evidence of all articles is available to the reader precisely inorder to avoid these type of distortions. We treasure our strong Jewish support and staff, just as we treasure the support from pan-Arab democracy activists and others who share our hope for a just world."
Of course, this is a case of one publicity-hungry media entity's word against another. Hislop doesn't help his credibility much by admitting that his article consists of "as much as I could remember of our conversation." If you're going to put someone's remarks between quotation marks to paint them as an anti-Semite, you'd better have a recording or at least have been taking copious notes. On the other hand, only one of these guys has tried to trademark his own name this week, so you can decide for yourself which one is more credible.
BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images