The U.S. designated the whistleblower website, WikiLeaks “an enemy of the state,” placing the self-described free speech project in the same category as al-Qaida, the Taliban and other foreign terrorist organizations (FTO). The unprecedented labeling of the website known for leaking classified government documents signals a new escalation in U.S. efforts to shut down WikiLeaks and other groups speaking out against crimes, corruption and misconduct in the government and armed forces.
The dubious FTO labeling was evident last week when the Mujahideen al-Khalq (MEK), an armed group of Iranian dissidents, was removed from the foreign terrorist list after years of intense lobbying by groups within the Iranian diaspora. The “enemy of the state” and “foreign terrorist organization” labels are strategically employed to advance U.S. security interests, even if those interests require support for known terrorist organizations.
The decision to classify WikiLeaks as an enemy of the state is consistent with the aggressive pursuit of Julian Assange, the founder and main proponent of the website.
Assange, who has been hiding inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since July, has been trying to secure safe passage to Ecuador. The Australian national was granted asylum by the South American country earlier this year after requesting assistance from Ecuadorian president and personal friend, Rafael Correa.
The new “enemy of the state” classification is unlikely to affect the standoff between Assange and U.K. authorities, who have pledged to arrest Assange and extradite him should he attempt to flee the embassy compound. However, the classification remains concerning for Assange and WikiLeaks supporters threatened with imprisonment.
Julian Assange’s U.S. attorney, Michael Ratner, commented on the WikiLeaks classification, saying, “In the FOI documents there is no allegation of any actual communication for publication that would aid an enemy of the United States such as al-Qaida, nor are there allegations that WikiLeaks published such information.”
Ratner elaborates, saying, “Almost the entire set of documents is concerned with the analyst’s communications with people close to and supporters of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, with the worry that she would disclose classified documents to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
“It appears that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are the ‘enemy’. An enemy is dealt with under the laws of war, which could include killing, capturing, detaining without trial, etc,” added Ratner.
U.S. authorities have pursued Assange and other WikiLeaks contributors for publishing classified government documents, photos, videos and diplomatic cables. Assange contends that revealing secret government correspondence is necessary for maintaining transparency in a free, democratic society.
WikiLeaks has also released documents revealing crimes and misconduct by members of the U.S. armed forces conducted during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan including, most notably, a video called “Collateral Murder.” The video shows U.S. attacks on unarmed Iraqi civilians and journalists from a helicopter gunship.
Assange is also wanted by authorities in Sweden for questioning regarding a possible sexual assault.
Conversely, the U.S. has used the foreign terrorist list strategically to support an armed group called the Mujahideen al-Khalq, an armed group of Iranian dissidents opposed to the current regime. While delisting the MEK is unlikely to significantly change the standoff over Iran’s supposed nuclear program, the selective removal of the MEK shows the willingness of the U.S. to embrace violent opposition groups.
The MEK formed as a leftist opposition group on university campuses in Tehran before the 1979 revolution. The MEK opposed the rule of the Shah and supported popular national movements for his overthrow.
However, after the rise of a new Shiite state headed by the Ayatollah Khomeini, the MEK become enemies of the Iranian state, launching attacks against a new government they saw as suppressing the development of democracy.
The MEK has carried out political assassinations from their base in Ashraf, Iraq. During the Iran-Iraq war, the MEK was allied with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, launching attacks against Iran from their base near the border.
Although the group has tacitly embraced non-violence in recent years, many of the core supporters in Iraq remain armed in camp Ashraf, despite repeated requests that MEK members disarm and reintegrate into mainstream society.
Equally as concerning is the deplorable conditions inside MEK camps, where leaders run what has been described as a “cultish community.” An independent report by Human Rights Watch describes the excesses and abuses within the organization.
“Human rights abuses carried out by MEK leaders against dissident members ranged from prolonged incommunicado and solitary confinement to beatings, verbal and psychological abuse, coerced confessions, threats of execution, and torture that in two cases led to death.”
The reason for recent U.S. delisting likely stems from the shared interests in regime change and, more immediately, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The MEK had been on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list since 1997.
The selective branding of WikiLeaks, the MEK or other organizations aligns with the security interests of the U.S. While the MEK may share some of the same goals, namely, regime change in Iran, the labeling indicates an underlying desire to justify alliances in the name of security.
By Martin Michaels, MintPress