Counting consequences: Why Wikileaks cannot be a 'terrorist organisation'

Counting consequences: Why Wikileaks cannot be a 'terrorist organisation'

Summary: A break away from traditional tech, today, to explain why Wikileaks and Assange could not be considered terrorists, and the resulting consequences if they are.

SHARE:

Criminologically speaking, in both respects, Wikileaks as a whistleblowing media foundation is not a terrorist organisation, nor is Julian Assange as the effective lead of the organisation, a terrorist.

The vast majority of us are under the impression that women who detonate vests of explosives in busy market streets, or men who shoot students on a university campus are terrorists. A man in a coffee shop who shouts and scares an infant for no particular given reason, versus the killing of a family pet in retaliation for some neighbourhood dispute, might be argued otherwise.

If terrorism is widely accepted as premeditated, political violence targeting the innocent, one has to question who is defined as innocent, and how innocence is recorded, measured and perceived.

In this case, a Afghani suicide bombing of NATO forces compares equally and directly to a US drone attack where it kills militants but also a handful of non-combatant civilians. On the ground, the consequences are the same. Terrorism is action based, regardless of who commits it.

The label has become too easy, too indiscriminate and ultimately too vague. Not to mention, the term 'terrorist' already carries predetermined negative connotations. To call such collectives 'aggrieved groups' would open them up to at least a fair hearing out.

While the world is aware that he is facing extradition from England to Sweden to face allegations of sexual misconduct and assault, we are not for one minute preempting the court in any way by labelling him 'a rapist'. Can we therefore label him 'a terrorist'?

The consequences of labelling Wikileaks as 'terrorists' »

The reason I ask is simple. To label someone a paedophile in itself would discredit someone to such lengths automatically without need for proof or evidence. In such cases, it would be 'act first, ask questions later'.

But to label someone a 'terrorist' rings terror in itself, amongst many other emotions. The term is charged and emotive; the mere notion of terrorism strikes fear and concern.

Law and politics can determine what terrorism or a terrorist organisation is, but predominantly based on acts of terror itself. Then again, politicians barely listen to academics anyway, as only a small proportion of the representative electorate.

So who is to believe what? Should the law and politicians define and subject those who are considered terrorists to be as such, or should academic theory prevail and historical subjectivity be consulted, considered and fully understood?

Violence is not a means to an end, and terrorism as an abstract notion accepts this. On the most part, terrorism is subjective and varies between societies and cultures. Terrorism in the Western world may seem inconsequential and irrelevant and in some cases impossible in the rural mid-Sahara.

Terrorism and the fear of terrorism are not mutually exclusive. From a criminological point of view, and arguably the most direct and honed so far, terrorism is action based and not actor based.

There is no 'war on terrorism' because there you cannot wage a war against actions that have been and have yet to be committed. It is just as fitting as fighting a war with clouds; we see them, but for anyone who has flown commercially, when we fly through them they become seemingly conceptual.

Misconceived notions of what terrorism is has hindered the definition writing process. There are over 150 different definitions of 'terrorism' already existing in modern and post-modern academic literature. It is not to say they are right, because there are sub-types and different classifications and methods used to perpetrate damage.

If the actions of Wikileaks are deemed to be politically motivated along with traditional terrorist attacks, such as bombings and rocket attacks in Palestine and Israel for example, then the benchmark shifts entirely. If other politically motivated actions are considered, then non-conventional groups of people could be reapplied under the umbrella term.

Student unions and trade unions, often highly politically charged organisations which negotiate and battle on behalf of their members, could be reclassified or deemed as 'terrorists' for their actions, such as leading their electorate into disruptive general strike action and street protests.

The events in London during an National Union of Students' protest, which led to a group of breakaway protesters to vandalise and cause disruption at the party headquarters of the sitting UK government, could be considered under this hypothetical reapplication of the term as an act of terrorism.

With so many strands of terrorism now developed along with the development and intersection of technology and society - cyber-terrorism and eco-terrorism just to name two, the term is open to abuse and misrepresentation. One could apply any term to any situation and it could be coined and defined. Neighbour-terrorism, child-terrorism, cooking-terrorism.

Greenpeace, a charity which has sparked controversy before by launching protests against oil tankers and climbing buildings, under this framework could also be considered as terrorists also. While the very vast majority of their protests have been peaceful, one organisation cannot be wholly responsible for every one of their members. This has resulted in negative press and media coverage against the organisation just as was the case against the organisers of the student protests in London.

This demonstrates the case that terrorism in its simplest form is action based and not actor based, and that violence is not always the case nor the cause. The term 'terrorist' is entirely subjective and varies from person to person, government to government, and academic to academic. It is why there are so many definitions, legally and academically.

The fact of the matter is that Assange and Wikileaks, while disruptive as their methods and consequences of their actions may well be, cannot be considered terrorists. As David Gewirtz asserts, labelling may not make the slightest bit of difference to the treatment of someone.

Regardless of what we think, criminological theory dictates to a greater or lesser extent that if Assange and Wikileaks are in fact terrorists, under law or social and moral guidelines, then so are many more people, groups and organisations. To allow Wikileaks to be deemed a terrorist organisation would open up the floodgates to abuse, and would dilute the very concept that we have of terrorism today.

Perhaps it would be a good thing. The last defiant breath of a man who could be tried for treason in the United States: redefining what is and isn't terrorism by blowing the entire abstract notion out of the water.

Topics: Government US, Government

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

70 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Definition

    The only true definition of a terrorist:

    A person or organized group of people working or thinking against political or economic interests of the glorious United States of America, may the God bless it!
    ms414
    • RE: Counting consequences: Why Wikileaks cannot be a 'terrorist organisation'

      @ms414 You've just described any opposition party or pressure group you care to name.<br>Terrorism is about terror. The threat of violence such as would induce a state of fear and terror not opposition politics!
      pjher
    • RE: Counting consequences: Why Wikileaks cannot be a 'terrorist organisation'

      @ms414 Some of you tech people really don?t get it. You whine about government and businesses and don?t realize how great you have it. If you would stop complaining and use your skills and time in a productive manner you might not have to worry so much about those ?evil? people in Government and ?Big business?. Start condemning the terrorists that are targeting these institutions. You seem to think that these businesses are faceless islands of evil. These businesses employ great numbers of good and innocent people and also provide needed/wanted services to the vast majority of people. Attacking them is the same thing as attacking innocent people. If you won?t? help find out and deal with the real evil people in technology, who are performing terrorist acts, then don?t complain when someone else does.
      bmckee007
  • Don't act naive.

    A "terrorist" is whoever the US Government labels as a terrorist. Proof, facts, or even general accusations are irrelevant. That's the state of the world today.

    For governments, the nice thing about labels such as "terrorist" is that they remove the person being labeled from all protections normally accorded human beings, even non-citizens or criminals. The US people granted the government this power after 9/11. The British people have more or less done the same, only over a longer period of time. These powers will never be rescinded, it will take something like Egypt's upheaval to remove these powers from the hands of the authoritarians.

    Assange made a critical mistake in letting himself be identified with Wikileaks. He somehow thought that being publicly known would prevent the authorities from taking action against him, but he was wrong. Simply by labeling him a terrorist, he was promoted to a level not reached by even the most heinous child molester or mass murderer, one who could be shot on sight or "disappeared" without reproach from the populace.
    terry flores
    • RE: Counting consequences: Why Wikileaks cannot be a 'terrorist organisation'

      @terry flores Totally agree. The real terrorists have already won, because they turned our own governments into images of their own. These days, we live more in fear of our own governments than from any outside attack. Soon voicing any anti-government opinion will label us as terrorists and the government will just start rounding up anyone who disagrees with them, no warrants or evidence needed.
      BillDem
      • You and terry flores should be on the lookout for some men in black

        who might be visiting both of you soon. ;)
        adornoe
      • RE: Counting consequences: Why Wikileaks cannot be a 'terrorist organisation'

        @adornoe@

        Men in Black, no. Women in tights, I'd be willing to go ...

        Actually I'm in a pretty good spot. My company is in the "security" industry, so it's good business for us. The government knows all about me from Day 1 of my life; I was born at Bethesda Naval Hospital. My dad retired from Federal Service in 2006, after 6 years in the Navy and 19 years in the FBI, now he works for one of the Beltway Bandits.

        Even so, none of this is top secret. For the most part, it works okay. Agents are bounced around between assignments to prevent getting complacent. And the number of investigative mistakes is *relatively* minor. Of course if *you* are the subject of one of the mistakes it's not so minor to you, but you are just one of 300 million people, and the other 299,999,999 are willing to let you suffer in the name of safety.
        terry flores
      • terry flores, how is that any different then anything else?

        Did I see you go up against the mortgage banks trying to help those underwater? No, cause it doesn't effect you, your finacially stable.

        Did I see you go lobbyp against the credit card banks trying to help those in debt? No, cause it doesn't effect you, your credit cards are smartly managed.

        You see, people really don't go out of their way to help those in need unless it effects them, why should they care if you suffer in the name of security?
        John Zern
  • Great topic and article Zack.

    Our college kids are now terrorists. According to the FBI.

    Those of you that get your news from other sources than mainstream will probably have seen the reports of "FBI raids over 40 college dorms and seizes computers and all electronic devices they could find. Nobody was charged or arrested" The next paragraph should show you why the Patriot act has got to go.


    The vote was to reauthorize three controversial parts of the bill: the "lone wolf" section, empowering the government to keep surveillance on suspects unconnected to any foreign government or group; roving wiretaps, the power to tap any phone authorities suspect a subject might use; and a section that lets government seize anything that it thinks might have a connection to an investigation, even if the holder of the property isn't suspected of anything.


    That is just plain wrong. The laptops, Cell phones, flash drives etc. Were takin from OUR children. It does not matter that many or all had nothing to do with the ANON" operation payback ddos attacks leveled at Paypal and so on. Those kids had their school homework, projects, notes, calenders, and etc. Just taken away by the "OUR" US GOVERNMENT.And now you can see Your Patriot Act in action. God help us.
    Ron Willison
    • RE: Counting consequences: Why Wikileaks cannot be a 'terrorist organisation'

      @Ron Willison So true!! When I saw members of our own Congress publicly calling kids who download music "terrorists" I was convinced they were going to use that label to get around our Constitutional freedoms in every way possible. Now, they have decided anyone who exposes the illegal acts of our government is a terrorist. Next, it will be anyone who voices an opinion against the governments policies. Our government is no longer a democracy. It has become a totalitarian regime with citizens needing to fear the government more in their daily lives than they fear outside attacks. It is only a matter of time before elections are eliminated entirely, probably in the name of protecting us from terrorists. For all we know, they've already been eliminated and the entire process is merely a show, orchestrated to soothe the ignorant masses.
      BillDem
      • You sound like you're ready to go over the edge!

        Geez man! Get a grip.
        adornoe
      • Here's a thin line, BillDem

        first, if you could provide a link to the article where a member of congress called kids downloading music "terrorists" that would be appriciated, and of interest.

        But what is the difference between an orginization trying to cause finacial instability by blowing up a building thus destroying everything inside, vs an orginization that steals everything it can out of the building towards the same result?
        John Zern
  • RE: Counting consequences: Why Wikileaks cannot be a 'terrorist organisation'

    Well said Zack.
    I look forward to reading your future articles.
    BillLesal
  • you do not get it

    unless you understand the American exceptionalism you can't comprehend the meaning of terrorism.
    Linux Geek
    • RE: Counting consequences: Why Wikileaks cannot be a 'terrorist organisation'

      @Linux Geek I think you're all missing the point. Defining what terrorism and/or terrorist organisation is, is far too difficult. It's subjective - which is why you have all come up with your own best representatives of it. You're all wrong; just as my own personal definition would be. There's no point in defining it because it's action based, rather actor based - and therefore different every single time and constantly evolving.
      zwhittaker
      • Zack: Look, you can't separate the actor from the action.

        If an actor belongs to a group that plans and carries out acts of terrorism, then that actor is just as much a terrorist as the whole organization. Being a conspirator from a distance doesn't change the fact that, the distance player is as much a part of the planning and carrying out the acts. The person who blows himself up is as much a terrorist as the one who assisted with money or information or with picking out the targets or giving him the training or in giving him the food to sustain him until the acts of terrorism is carried out. <br><br>This is an area where definitions don't really matter. In fact, just giving a terrorist moral support could be something that could define someone as a terrorist in the minds of many people, because, without that encouragement, perhaps some terrorist acts wouldn't even occur.
        adornoe
      • misses the point it does

        @zwhittaker Zack, your whole article misses the point as it tries to answer a question that few people have ever asked, and even fewer are interested in knowing the answer to. The real question is whether WL's behavior is criminal.
        Alex Gerulaitis
      • What defines a Murderer vs someone who is guilty of manslaughter?

        @zwhittaker
        It comes down to premeditaion: A terrorist orginization is one that plans on blowing up a schoolbus full of children, while a defective missle that accidently destroyed the bus is not premeditated, instead a horrible mistake, but one that should not be overlooked, either.

        What Wikileaks doeas is premeditated, done with a specific goal in mind, and one done without any regards to the consequences.

        He didn't accidentlly post the data, he asks for the data with a certain goal in mind, a goal that's in his intrest, not the interest of those that may suffer for it.

        Kind of why a murderer does what he does?
        John Zern
      • actor based vs action based?

        @zwhittaker

        Could you explain the difference between "actor based" and "action based". Thanks.
        MC Murphy
    • This post was accidentally added

      @Linux Geek
      See below
      John L. Ries