After news of the WikiLeaks Party (WLP)'s solidarity delegation to Syria broke, Daniel Mathews (a founding member of WikiLeaks and a former WLP National Council (NC) member) wrote: “After tragedy comes farce, but what comes after that? That's where the WikiLeaks Party is now.”
The WLP faced some impressive difficulties during the 2013 Australian federal elections. One of the legacies of WikiLeaks' publishing that had been transferred onto the WLP by opponents was the embattlement of its editor Julian Assange (the Stockholm case, U.S. extradition danger and subsequent Ecuadorean asylum). Another legacy that the WLP faced was the media campaigns aimed at draining support for WikiLeaks. However, a well informed public counterbalanced these problems, maintaining approval of WikiLeaks' journalism, despite media and political hostility. Something new would be needed if the party's fortunes were to be unbalanced.
For the WLP it was unknown whether either conducting a masterclass in politics or perhaps just avoiding the typical campaign pitfalls would be enough to deliver the needed votes. And yet, above all else, the WLP's primary goal in the election was not seats won or lost; it was simply to survive intact and put down foundations for the future.
In the event, the WLP's masterclass was on miscalculation, the future of the party was put in jeopardy and the media was well served. It was the worst possible outcome. If the party is ever to contest another election, it will not only have opponents' efforts to overcome, but its own actions.
That was the tragedy. The farce was in not stopping there. When the party surveyed the election's wreckage instead of examining it, they buried it and opted for denial. If the WLP's election mistakes did not exist, then the surviving council members did not need to accept responsibility for them. In this comfortable reality, pausing to review and learn from an empty space was a logical impossibility. The inevitable repetition of the past occurred half a world away and the accompanying variation was scale; in that the WLP's political performance in Syria dwarfed their election disaster.
In the aftermath of the WLP's encounter with Bashar al-Assad, WikiLeaks distanced themselves, stating “[we] did not know or approve. Not fans of the censorship brigade. Opponents, especially, should talk, but preventing spin needs care.” John Shipton (the WLP's chief executive) told ABC's Nicole Chvastek that the WLP had begun negotiations with the Syrian government two years before the meeting “[In 2011] an acquaintance began negotiations to send a delegation there.” For two years WikiLeaks was kept in the dark. Why?
NC. “Did you speak to Julian [Assange] in relation to to your delegation, John Shipton?”
JS. “Um.. After.”
NC. “Did you consult with him before hand and let him know you would be meeting Bashar al-Assad?”
JS. “Well, it is almost impossible to speak with Julian, without other parties being interested in the conversation.”
NC. “So.. The answer is no, you did not speak to him before hand. What was his response when you told him you had met the Syria dictator?”
JS. “As you know WikiLeaks released his private emails which were very revealing about al-Assad's personality and his associates.”
NC. “The question was, did Julian Assange approve of your mission to Syria?”
JS. “WLP is associated, but we must act as a political party, separately to WikiLeaks.”
WikiLeaks, like all major publishers, is a political entity, and the policies of the WLP have an impact on it. Shipton states that, because the WLP is an 'associated-separate entity' to WikiLeaks, there was no need to consult Julian Assange (the president and chairman of the WLP) on policy decisions. A rationale that is quite impenetrable. For example, during the election campaign, the president often spoke at WLP meetings and conducted interviews to promote the party, and as one would expect, the party's president seemed to be well informed about policy. However, council members Shipton, Jamal Daoud and Gail Malone had not been fully informing the president about policy developments. Strangely, both of the WikiLeaks' founders, Julian Assange and Daniel Mathews have shared a very similar WLP experience. On the two critically important policy decisions (the other being the decision to ignore the council's preferences vote) of 2013, both were cut out.
John Shipton was not honest when he stated that he could not communicate with Assange due to surveillance by 'interested parties'. It is not unexpected for political parties to find themselves bugged and infiltrated by state agencies and rival parties. Unless the subject matter was something extraordinarily sensitive (obviously Western security agencies knew about the WLP's Syrian visit from day one), why consider surveillance to be so inhibiting? Furthermore, Assange is not restricted to solely communicating from inside the Ecuadorean embassy. He can send visitors out to do that when they are picking up lunch. Shipton's excuse is poorly thought out. A senior council member, Kellie Tranter, was also excluded from the delegation decision. Was she under surveillance or simply not trusted by Shipton?
The WLP's media strategy for the Syrian delegation was a blog post and a couple of tweets. It went completely unnoticed for over a week. That was until BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray spotted or was 'hat-tipped' to the 'Syrian Presidency' Twitter account's photo of the delegation / al-Assad meeting. With no surprise announcement and no follow-up publicity campaign, keeping the visit secret from the UK security agencies monitoring Assange (to stop them informing the press) had nothing to do with strategy, there wasn't one. And if there was not a practical reason for keeping the delegation secret from WikiLeaks, the only alternative was political. The motive was power.
After such a betrayal, should the WLP continue to carry the WikiLeaks name? Not only are their politics diametrically opposed to WikiLeaks', but the WLP does not even understand that one entity's political stance can damage the other's. While WikiLeaks transfers immense political capital to the WLP, they have only provided WikiLeaks with a bewildering array of political and reputational disasters. This “association” is not a good one. ABC's Nicole Chvastek:
“Do you not understand that when people see WikiLeaks, they don't try and unpick whether or not one part of the organisation should have dealt with another part of the organisation, they simply see the brand, WikiLeaks? And that that brand has been damaged by the delegation.”
John Shipton said that the delegation “went to find out what was going on and did” but he also said: “we will make up our minds after we speak to the rebel leaders on the other side". Clearly, the WLP cannot do one without the other and yet the WLP's blanket negative opinion of the rebels implies that they either have no intention of finding out “what was going on” or they feel that al-Assad's version of events is unimpeachable. When the WLP was asked why they failed to travel to Istanbul to “meet members or representatives of Syrian National Coalition (SNC)” the party’s former campaign manager Greg Barns replied: “What Coalition? Who to met? It is a rabble.” And yet, the governments of Russia, the U.S. and the EU have all sent representatives to the SNC.
The evidence of bias in favour of al-Assad has already been documented in previous posts. It is also worth noting that while the WLP often posts articles (including publishing regime material) about opposition war crimes, they are yet to post a single story detailing the crimes of al-Assad (the "industrial-scale killing" of 11,000 detainees is an exception, dismissed by WLP as a "scam"). This is despite the fact that the regime was committing crimes within days of the delegation's visit. In the same city the delegation visited. Parties often use and commission articles to make political points and the WLP's Syrian politics are made transparent by their media selections. This being the case, how would the SNC receive a WLP 'solidarity delegation'? And if that is the case, what are the chances of the WLP ever visiting, or ever having had an intention of visiting Istanbul?
Another concerning statement made by Shipton on ABC is as follows: “The [Australian] Greens want to see another secular country destroyed in the Middle East and are not satisfied with Afghanistan and Iraq.” The Australian Greens' official statement on the Syrian conflict was made by Senator Christine Milne:
We must first establish the facts which is why the Greens support the Government's call for full access for the United Nations, including weapons inspectors, into Syria. We need to be fully informed so as to avoid Australia and other nations making the same mistakes as in previous conflicts. We welcome news today that UN inspectors are being allowed to inspect the site of the chemical attacks. Full access by the United Nations and international aid organisations is critical to getting to the truth of the recent horrific chemical attacks. The UN presence will also act as a deterrent to any further such unspeakable atrocities. With Australia assuming the Presidency of the United Nations Security Council on 1 September it is our responsibility to work with the international community to pressure Syria and its backers, Russia and China, into engaging in renewed diplomatic efforts and the protection of civilian population in Syria.
Clearly, the Greens' position had been distorted by the WLP. A motion on Syria was put before the Australian senate in March, 2013 by the Greens' Lee Rhiannon and Labor's Claire Moore. It does not mention “want[ing to see] another secular country destroyed in the Middle East”, but instead calls on the Federal Government to:
(i) provide critically needed assistance at the upcoming donor conference to be held in Kuwait in January 2014, which addresses both the immediate and long term needs of people affected by the crisis,
(ii) contribute its fair share of funding to the United Nations (UN) new appeals for Syria, as well as calling on other international donors to follow this example,
(iii) continue to actively use all diplomatic channels, including Australia's membership on the UN Security Council, to drive work towards a political solution to the crisis, and to facilitate an effective humanitarian response from the international community, through pushing for increased access for humanitarian agencies, including NGOs like CARE and Oxfam, to enable them to reach people most in need of assistance across the region, and
(iv) actively support the Geneva Two peace talks scheduled for 22 January 2014, and by pushing for an urgent ceasefire and actively promoting the critical role of the Syrian people and civil society, especially women, in this dialogue and any ongoing peace negotiations.
The motion was approved.
The WLP's animosity towards the Greens first became apparent during the party's preference disintegration. The WLP and the Greens had an agreement to preference each other highly, and while the Greens honoured this arrangement, the WLP did not, placing the Greens at the bottom of the preference lists. The WLP also placed right-wing and far-fight parties ahead of the Greens. When the Greens' leader Christine Milne said that her party had been “betrayed” (the Greens having consistently supported WikiLeaks in the Australian senate), WLP stated that: "Milne's comments must be seen as part of a hostile attempt to divert voters from the WikiLeaks Party, [which is not a] front group for any other party, including the Greens". Apparently the WLP's looming election defeat had found a scapegoat. However, why not go a step further and blame the entire preference debacle on the Greens? Julian Assange:
"I'm pleased that resignation has occurred because it removed a source of conflict which was holding the party back. There were some views that the WikiLeaks Party should be a front for the Greens but it was never meant to be a front."
The WLP's hatred of the Greens is not caused by rivalry, but stems from a political schizophrenia.
While the Greens understand with some certainty the world they wish to see, and feel they know how to get there, the WLP have only managed to be politically consistent once, when they penned their policy platform. When one compares what is written there with what has been written, said and done since, the only conclusion available is that the platform is a fraud:
The WikiLeaks Party believes that truthful, accurate, factual information is the foundation of democracy and is essential to the protection of human rights and freedoms. Where the truth is suppressed or distorted, corruption and injustice flourish.
As we have seen, the WLP is the opposite of what it claims to be. It is not truthful or accurate and it systematically distorts information. An example of this corruption comes from a posting on the party's website.