WikiLeaks Activist in New York to Protest US Whistleblowers Clampdown
WHISTLEBLOWING - SURVEILLANCE, 8 Apr 2013
Iceland MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir arrives in US for first time since WikiLeaks ‘Collateral Murder’ controversy three years ago.
Birgitta Jónsdóttir, the Icelandic MP who was part of a small team of activists that produced the WikiLeaks dump of US state secrets, has arrived in the United States for the first time since the controversy three years ago, to protest against what she sees as a disproportionate clampdown by the US government on internet whistleblowers.
Jónsdóttir is marking the third anniversary of the “Collateral Murder” video –which put WikiLeaks on the map on 5 April 2010 by revealing footage of a US apache helicopter attack on unarmed civilians in Baghdad – by staging an exhibition of still photographs drawn from the video in New York. She hopes the display will draw attention to the plight of Bradley Manning, the US soldier currently facing court martial for being the source of the WikiLeaks material, as well as increase public debate about the treatment of online whistleblowers.
“The crackdown on whistleblowers has gone way beyond what is reasonable,” she says in an interview with the Guardian. “There is no other US president who has prosecuted as many whistleblowers as Obama – that’s not in the spirit of transparency that he promised when he was elected.”
Jónsdóttir believes that the American public has failed to keep up with the pace of change, that has seen a rapid transference of whistleblowing activity onto the internet. “The general public doesn’t understand that activism to keep our government honest has moved online.”
She points to the recent suicide of the internet activist Aaron Swartz, who was facing trial in connection with a leak of academic journal articles that had been hacked into. “How is it justifiable that they were going to put Swartz in prison for 45 years? How is it justifiable that Bradley Manning could be sentenced to life in custody?”
Jónsdóttir formed part of a very small group of volunteers who joined Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, in Iceland to prepare the Collateral Murder video for publication. It had been leaked as part of a massive trove of US state secrets that Manning has admitted to passing to WikiLeaks between 2009 and 2010 including hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables from around the world.
The video was one of the most dramatic and impactful of the releases, as it showed US military personnel apparently taking pleasure in attacking Iraqis who they assumed were militants but turned out to be civilians including children and two Reuters journalists who were killed. The New York exhibition includes stills showing the helicopter’s attack sites trained on individuals with captions drawn from the audio recorded inside the Apache.
“Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards”; “Keep shoot’n, keep shoot’n”; “Light ’em up, come on fire!” the captions say.
Jónsdóttir is struck by the fact that the only person who has been prosecuted as a result of the video was its alleged leaker, Manning. “None of the individuals responsible for the war crimes shown in Collateral Murder have been put on trial. Only him.”
In Jónsdóttir’s view, the heavy-handed approach of the US government towards those she considers internet whistleblowers has started to taint the reputation of America around the world. “It’s like China, the surveillance state. When the US government ordered its employees not to look at WikiLeaks, that was like the Chinese regime telling its people not to look at internet material on Tibet – I don’t see any difference.”
Jónsdóttir has been the target of state investigations. Twitter, and four other companies whose identities have not been disclosed, were ordered by the department of justice to hand over all data they held belonging to the MP.
She tried to prevent the disclosure through legal action, but was unsuccessful. “This is a very serious matter,” she says. “I am a representative of the people who voted for me, and when they send me private information by email or through Twitter they do not expect it to be siezed by the DoJ.”
Before coming to the US on Thursday night – her first visit here since WikiLeaks erupted – she was advised by lawyers for the Iceland government not to come as she risked apprehension by US authorities. In the end, her passage through immigration at John F Kennedy airport in New York was swift and smooth.
She sees that as a sign of hope. “I’m very pleased by the welcome I’ve received here – it’s a wise decision. Maybe its the start of a new understanding.”
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