Why you should care about its founder Julian Assange’s threatened extradition to the US.
WikiLeaks (WL) is a media organisation founded by Assange that specialises in document authentication and the publication of information involving corruption.
WL has published information pertaining to environmental issues, child trafficking, criminal and state capture. It also leaked video evidence of war crimes: soldiers laughing while shooting civilians (including children) from a helicopter in Iraq.
A US soldier (Chelsea Manning) released this video to WL, for her own moral reasons. Manning is currently jailed in the US with a $1,000-per-day fine, to coerce her to testify against Assange. She refuses to do so.
Japanese academic Dr Nozome Hayase, author of WikiLeaks, the Global Fourth Estate: History Is Happening, writes: “WikiLeaks publications empowered people in many countries. Information has been used to bring justice in courts and address numerous human rights abuses.”
Australian journalist Gary Lord, currently writing a book on Assange, writes: “WikiLeaks has defied many high-profile bullies (banks, military, governments) and helped save lives with its quality journalism.”
It does what mainstream US, UK and South African journalists do to solicit and publish information. Professor Jack Goldsmith of Harvard Law School thinks the US government wants to use Assange to send a chilling message in order to stifle inconvenient journalism: “It’s hard to distinguish WikiLeaks from the New York Times”.
South Africa has benefited from the type of transparency modelled by WikiLeaks: free flow of information fed by South African whistle-blowers, journalists and publishers has been helpful to decent citizens, in exposing corruption and state capture, for example.
Does WikiLeaks harm people?
Evidence that WL sticks to facts and aims not to harm arises from three sources:
• NewsGuard TM reluctantly certified them for 100% factual accuracy: an achievement in an era of fake news;
• Veteran journalist Mark Davis (of Australian Broadcasting Company) accompanied Assange in London, during his collaboration with The Guardian. Davis testified in August 2019 as to Assange’s determination to redact and verify: for example (a) after Guardian journalists went home on a Friday afternoon, Assange sat up through the night to personally check hundreds of files (b) New York Times published leaks before WikiLeaks did, even though Assange asked them not to (c) Guardian journalist David Leigh published a password in his book, even though Assange asked him not to. Mark Davis exposed the extent of the betrayal of Julian Assange by The Guardian and the New York Times, refuting the lies both publications have used to smear the WikiLeaks founder.
• US Department of Defence Ret Brigadier Robert Carr said he found “zero” evidence at Chelsea Manning’s trial of any harm wrought by WikiLeaks. He said the US Defence Department task force that scoured WikiLeaks’ Iraq and Afghanistan war logs did not find any deaths of people identified in the leaked reports. Carr also reported no deaths in Iraq, linked to WikiLeaks publications.
More recently some of his followers have been less careful, and have been accused of publishing unredacted data that included details of individuals’ bank accounts and other private information, but Assange can hardly be held accountable for those – he has himself, as previously indicated, been very careful to remove information that might put individuals or genuine state security personnel at risk.
Why pay attention to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange?
Julian Assange has been instrumental in proposing a new journalism for the 21st century: “scientific journalism”. He says every piece of evidence should be linked to a source, for accuracy. This WikiLeaks model is the opposite of – and antidote to – fake news.
Assange is a penetrating thinker who analyses contradictions in democracy and its Fourth Estate. Author Sreko Horvat describes him as “a philosopher of technology”, who has contributed to global debate around media freedom.
Assange first conceived of an encrypted drop-box, allowing whistle-blowers to safely upload documentation of crimes. His model is so successful that it is has been copied by various media houses: for example, The Guardian, Forbes and The Intercept now host their own drop-boxes.
Since about 2011, Assange has been legally hounded. Why? People are beginning to conclude he is hounded by the very people who do not want the spotlight of transparency shone on to their doings.
The US government is keen to tell people: “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear”. What does it fear so much that it set up a special secret Grand Jury in Virginia so that the award-winning journalist-publisher Assange can be put on trial on charges that could see him jailed for “175 years”?
But isn’t Assange a rapist, or something? Surely not worthy of our support?
Assange was never “charged” with anything by Sweden.
The Swedish judiciary dropped this case three times, due to lack of evidence. The US is not interested in any sexual indiscretions he might have committed in Sweden nine years ago.
Women against Rape UK is the second women’s group to put out a strong statement lamenting the media smears around this case... and the weaponisation of the word “rape” to mask real issues.
Women Against Rape state: “The pursuit of Julian Assange is not driven by any concerns about rape but by US government pressure to punish him for his WikiLeaks exposés on war crimes. Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Cruel Treatment, is right to be alarmed.”
Swedish authorities wanted to drop an arrest warrant for Assange as early as 2013: a leaked email from
UK Crown Prosecuting Services to Sweden reveals it was the British government which improperly insisted that the Swedes continue to harass him, as Italian journalist Stephania Maurizi reports.
Why did Assange seek asylum in the Ecuador Embassy?
Some accused Assange of “hiding from justice” in the Ecuador Embassy. Confidential emails obtained from the US private intelligence firm Stratfor show that the United States Government has been after Assange and working on a secret indictment against him since 2011 onwards. Many US figures have issued public death threats against him.
Assange heard that a Secret Grand Jury was preparing an indictment and fear of extradition led him to seek asylum: the Ecuador Embassy granted it to him.
It turns out Assange was vindicated in seeking asylum because this US grand jury eventually showed its face – with a bombshell 18 charges and a threat of 175 years in jail.
US Secret Grand Juries are kangaroo courts: no cameras allowed, no lawyers. Once Assange is delivered there in manacles, he will have to defend himself alone in a sealed courtroom because his defence lawyers will not be allowed in. This nontransparent, intelligence-linked court is known to have a “100% success rate” in jailing those who appear before it.
US soldier Chelsea Manning – who also faces this kangaroo court – says grand juries now function in a way opposite to their original function: they have become a tool of intimidation used by the US state.
Rather than“hiding from justice” the Swedes, in fact, investigated and finally, in 2017, formally dropped their cas. But the UK would not guarantee safe passage, so Nils Melzer says that Assange’s refuge was “but a rubber boat in a shark-pool”.Ecuador got $4bn from the US and a bank loan from the International Monetary Fund days after they illegally threw Assange out of their embassy, going against their own constitution.
Character Assassination and Trial By Media
Media smears have degraded Assange’s humanity and robbed him of support. The Guardian newspaper led the way, with its journalists launching extraordinary personal attacks: one called Assange “a massive turd” who “eats flattened hamsters”. MediaLens media analysis has tracked these smears.
British authors Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis published an article in collaboration with Daily Maverick in September last year which explains The Guardian’s smears of Assange. It appeared under the headline: “How The UK Security Services Neutralised The Guardian”.
An Ecuadorian diplomat Fidel Narvaez has debunked 40 Assange smears.
Law professor Nils Melzer, once he applied his mind to this case, stated: “In the end it finally dawned on me that I had been blinded by propaganda, and that Assange had been systematically slandered to divert attention from the crimes he exposed.”
Whether one likes someone or not, they are still entitled to due process.
A summary of some points:
• In Belmarsh Prison, London, Assange is in a solitary cell and denied certain basic rights. He’s not allowed to fraternise with others; not allowed access to the library or internet. He’s denied overseas phone calls so cannot contact his American lawyer or Australian family. Medical treatment is delayed.
Human rights lawyer Gareth Pierce reports that a complaint to the Head of Belmarsh Prison has never been answered. He was delivered a pair of spectacles with the wrong prescription lens, making it difficult to read documents.
• Solitary detention longer than 15 days is against the Mandela Rules. United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (a.k.a. Mandela Rules) were adopted by the UN General Assembly on 17 December 2015.
• With reference to Mandela, it’s interesting to remember that – however evil the apartheid enforcers – Mandela was allowed out of prison to see private doctors, get X-rays and operations when necessary. That Assange has not been allowed this basic human right – though his latest visitors now report a 30kg weight loss, depression and inability to concentrate – does not sit well with compassionate South Africans.
• South Africans are curious as to how a UK judge can refuse to recuse herself. Assange’s judge, Lady Emma Arbuthnot, refused to step down, despite evidence of a major conflict of interest: her husband Lord James Arbuthnot is linked to UK defence and security and is mentioned 60 times in the WikiLeaks database: he could well be expected to bear a grudge against Assange. The fact that Arbuthnot accepted the appointment, let alone subsequently refused to recuse herself when confronted, does not do credit to the reputation of Britain’s judiciary.
• When Assange was arrested in London, US Senator Joe Manchin jubilantly declared: “He’s our property” – which simply confirms that the US is driving this case.
The Assange case anomalies are not a good look for Sweden, the US and the UK
What is happening to the founder of WikiLeaks is not enhancing the image of the UK, the US or Sweden as just democratic societies. Westerners might traditionally expect dictatorships or places like Iran or North Korea to treat its journalists and whistle-blowers in this fashion.
Russian journalist Ivan Golunov was arrested in Moscow in June 2019. Russian journalists rallied around for him and Golunov was released four weeks later. Russia came out of this looking good in terms of journalistic freedom. Imagine if North Korea requests the extradition of a British or American journalist exposing information about them? What extra-territorial, extra-legal precedent is being set by President Trump?
Does the UK – set to deliver Assange into Trump’s jail if they extradite – have an independent judiciary? The litmus test is the Assange case.
Who benefits from silencing Assange and jailing him for life on US soil?
Those who do not benefit: civil society, media and journalists, environmentalists, anti-corruption units, human rights groups, people who prefer truth to lies, democrats who value media freedom.
Those who will benefit: those who WL exposed – multi-billion arms and warfare industries; corporates and politicians implicated in state capture; financial players in malfeasance, politicians who aren’t keen on scrutiny.
Who will also benefit is the US national security state that wants to string up Assange as an example to give a chilling message to the four million Americans who hold security clearance. As La Republica journalist Stephania Maurizi wrote in August 2019 “The US is terrified of more whistle-blowers releasing secrets. They fear 100 new Mannings, 100 new Snowdens.”
They need Assange’s body strung up in the town square to send a chilling message to domestic Americans and to the wider world.
Boomerang Effect or The Law Of Unintended Consequences
Despite states thinking “fear” and “chilling messages” are useful weapons, “deterrence or madman theory” has been shown in scholarly studies to be ineffective and dangerous.
Ultimately, heavy-handed bullying behaviour boomerangs back: instead of fear and obedience, it can lead to good people checking out and becoming disillusioned, cynical and dismissive.
If US and its partners UK, Sweden and Australia act as if they don’t care about the moral high ground – even in the case of the West’s own political prisoner – increasing numbers of people will not buy in to the Western model.
The world is already in a parlous state: moral leadership is required. Assange’s case erodes Western soft power, over the long term. Trust, once broken, is difficult to win back. Assange needs to be freed, sooner rather than later, to mitigate damage.
Assange is a highly intelligent thinker and strategist who would be well-suited to a professorship at a university. He is a good man, allowed no due process, who needs to be freed soon.
His mother Christine Assange is an activist and his fiercest supporter (follow her on Twitter @AssangeMrs); his intellectual father John Shipton is a quietly-spoken gentleman; his brother Gabriel says he’s unable to explain to his five-year-old daughter why her uncle is in jail: a poignant point. Assange also has his own children, who wait silently out of sight, because he wants to protect them.
What happens when Australian society wakes up to full facts around this case? Have the US and UK given thought to how this human interest story will affect their public relations?
Have they considered what will happen in the event of Assange’s death, either in Belmarsh or in the US?
There has to be freedom of speech for there to be democracy. If we’re missing key information, intelligent decision making is impossible. Julian Assange has got to be free if we are to believe we have justice.
Have the US and UK studied how the Assange case appears to others around the world? South Africans, for example, who are part of the Commonwealth but who have strong memories of journalists and political prisoners thrown into detention (eg the once-detained South African head of Unesco, former journalism professor, Guy Berger)?
The South African authoritarian government battled to control narrative and message, via censorship and incarceration. It was an exercise that ultimately failed.
• This essay was prepared by a group who wish to remain anonymous.
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