WIKILEAKS founder Julian Assange has called for US politicians and commentators who engage in violent rhetoric to be prosecuted, after the attempted assassination of a Congresswoman in Arizona.
Assange drew parallels between the rhetoric that some have blamed for the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in Tuscon and that directed at himself and staff working on the whistle-blowing website.
US Democrats have noted that Giffords was among a number of their party’s candidates who were painted with crosshairs on a campaign map drawn up last year by possible Republican White House hopeful Sarah Palin.
Local sheriff Clarence Dupnik also highlighted ‘vitriolic statements’ that had been made about Giffords’ policies, and said inflamed rhetoric ‘has an impact on people, especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with’.
In a statement, WikiLeaks offered sympathy and condolences to Giffords, who is clinging to life after being shot in the head, and the families of the six people killed in the shooting spree in Tuscon.
It said its staff and contributors had also been subject to ‘unprecedented violent rhetoric’ from politicians and commentators in the United States following WikiLeaks’ release of thousands of confidential US diplomatic cables.
This included Palin, who urged the US government to hunt down Assange like the Taliban.
‘No organisation anywhere in the world is a more devoted advocate of free speech than WikiLeaks, but when senior politicians and attention-seeking media commentators call for specific individuals or groups of people to be killed, they should be charged with incitement – to murder,’ Assange said.
‘Those who call for an act of murder deserve as significant share of the guilt as those raising a gun to pull the trigger.’
WikiLeaks had engaged in ‘extreme security measures’ to protect its staff, he said, adding: ‘We call on US authorities and others to protect the rule of law by aggressively investigating these and similar incitements to kill.
‘A civil nation of laws cannot have prominent members of society constantly calling for the murder and assassination of other individuals or groups.’
Assange was in court in London on Tuesday for the latest stage in his battle against his extradition to Sweden, where prosecutors want to quiz him about allegations of sexual assault against two women. He denies the allegations.
• Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s recently appointed vice-president, has long been seen by Israel as the favoured successor to Husni Mubarak, the current president, according to a leaked diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks.
The August 2008 cable said David Hacham, a senior adviser at the Israeli ministry of defence (MoD), told US officials the Israelis expected Suleiman, spelt Soliman in some cables, to take over.
‘Hacham noted that the Israelis believe Soliman is likely to serve as at least an interim president if Mubarak dies or is incapacitated,’ the cable sent from the US embassy in Tel Aviv said.
‘We defer to Embassy Cairo for analysis of Egyptian succession scenarios, but there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of Omar Soliman,’ the memo cited US diplomats as saying.
The cable said Hacham was full of praise for Suleiman, even noting that ‘a “hot line” set up between the MoD and Egyptian General Intelligence Service is now in daily use’.
According to the leaked cables, Hacham also said that the Israeli delegation led by Defence Minister Ehud Barak was ‘shocked by Mubarak’s aged appearance and slurred speech,’ when it met him in Egypt.
Suleiman was Egypt’s intelligence chief since 1993 and had been a frequent visitor to Israel and a mediator in its conflict with the Palestinians.
He was appointed Egypt’s vice-president late last month following pressure by mass demonstrators in the country calling for an immediate end to Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, backed Suleiman on Saturday as the best candidate to lead a ‘transition’ government as Mubarak continues to cling to power.
Mubarak has said he only intends to leave office in September at the end of his current term. But on Tuesday Suleiman announced that Mubarak would set up a committee that would carry out constitutional and legislative amendments to enable a shift of power.
Suleiman had previously harshly criticised Egypt’s opposition Muslim Brotherhood in his communications with US officials.
Significantly, Suleiman held a meeting with opposition leaders, including the Muslim Brotherhood, on Sunday in a bid to end a political crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in opposition to Mubarak’s rule.
The leaked cables raised questions over whether Suleiman could be seen as an honest broker in any negotiations regarding the next steps for Egypt.
In the cables Suleiman is reported to have told US officials that the Muslim Brotherhood was creating armed groups, most notably ‘the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Gama’a Islamiya (Islamic Group)’.
He is also said to take ‘an especially hard line on Tehran’, and in one cable dated January 2, 2008, Suleiman is quoted as saying that Iran remained ‘a significant threat to Egypt’.
The cable went on to say: ‘The principal danger, in Soliman’s view, was the Muslim Brotherhood group’s exploitation of religion to influence and mobilise the public.’
It continues: ‘Soliman termed the MB’s recent success in the parliamentary elections as “unfortunate”, adding his view that although the group was technically illegal, existing Egyptian laws were insufficient to keep the MB in check.’
The elections referred to were those in November and December in 2005, in which the Muslim Brotherhood made substantial gains.
The inclusion of the Brotherhood in the opposition’s talks with Suleiman are considered significant as the group is formally banned in Egypt, although its activities are tolerated.
The documents obtained also disclosed that Suleiman explored the idea of allowing Israeli troops into the Egyptian border area of Philadelphi in a bid to stop arms being smuggled to Palestinian fighters in Gaza.
Mubarak has long attempted to paint his rule of Egypt as a counterbalance to an ‘Islamist threat’.
‘In their moments of greatest frustration, (Egypt Defence Minister) Tantawi and Soliman each have claimed that the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) would be “welcome” to re-invade Philadelphi, if the IDF thought that would stop the smuggling,’ the cable said.
The memo later revealed that Suleiman wanted Gaza to ‘go hungry but not starve’ and for Hamas, the Palestinian group which governs the besieged enclave, to be ‘isolated’.