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Bradley Manning awaits sentence. Would the real Julian Assange please stand up?

31 July 2013

Bradley Manning’s relationship with Wikileaks has, inevitably, brought Julian Assange back into the papers. Viewed on the frontpage, Assange is egimatic. We know what he’s done; but we know little of him. Alex Gibney’s compelling new documentary film We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks presents an extensive and revealing biography of Assange — and much more besides.

Gibney’s camera is impartial. We hear from Assange cultists, former collaborators and alleged rape victims. No two people will react in the same way to what they see. A white-haired Icarus formed before my eyes; a charismatic brought down by his own narcissism and hubris. Gibney captures one deeply ironic moment when Assange is reading fawning British newspaper coverage of his exploits and declares that he is untouchable in this country. Famous last words, Julian.

We Steal Secrets is really two films: one about Assange’s celebrity, the other about morality in a digital and political context. The latter is the more thrilling part. Most of the action follows Bradley Manning. Anyone who thinks that the Manning case is a simple matter of right and wrong ought to watch this film, for there are not enough shades of grey to depict its moral complexity.

Manning is a somewhat unsympathetic personality, at least from a distance. We hear from those who knew or served with him. And we see him authoring his own destruction: