IT was a marvel that WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, was still standing on his feet this Monday, January 4, 2021 as the British courts stopped his extradition to the United States, US, where he is already guilty even before making a plea. WikiLeaks has been firing from all cylinders propelling a universal movement exposing secrets the powerful and the corrupt want concealed from humanity.
In the last decade, Assange had holed up for seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where his view of the world was from the balcony.
He has spent subsequent time in the Belmarsh Prison, London, where he is still being held because two days after his victory, the same court denied him bail pending the appeal of the Americans. All these have negatively rubbed off on his physical and perhaps mental health.
In these ten years, his life was constantly endangered not only by the high possibility of some of the deadliest secret services in the world abducting, poisoning or liquidating him, but also rogue elements trying to make their nightmare, history.
In a sane world, rather than being hunted and endangered, Assange would have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for significantly advancing Article 19 of the United Nations Human Rights Declaration. That Article states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
How many humans have sacrificed so much for the right to freedom of expression and information like Assange? How many have struck heavier blows against naked power, the powerful and the corrupt than Assange? He is more deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize than Barack Obama who got it one year into his Presidency in 2009.
This was even before settling down to any serious work or making any achievement greater than being elected American president. Even worse, the prize had been awarded in 1973 to Henry Kissinger, an unrepentant warmonger. This was like awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to President Donald Trump.
The attempts to remove Assange from circulation began when he circulated an irrefutable video showing US helicopters massacring unarmed Iraqis in the streets. The video had been leaked by US Army Intelligence Analyst, Bradley Edward Manning, now Chelsea Elizabeth Manning, who was picked up and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The US claims that the leaks by Assange of its criminal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, amount to espionage. For this, it has an 18-count charge against him which carry a handsome 175-year imprisonment. Seventeen of those 18 counts are under the US Espionage Act of 1917.
In the first place, those who should stand in the American courts for the wars and massacres in those two countries should not be Assange, but former American President George W. Bush and ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair who in employing falsehood and trickery, invaded them. In the particular case of Iraq, Bush and Blair manufactured tales that the country had weapons of mass destruction which it could unleash within minutes.
The attempt to extradite and jail Assange will endanger journalists across the world especially investigate journalists. On any good day, a worthy newspaper publishes information governments would consider classified, sensitive or secret.
Yet, this is necessary for every living society, good governance and democracy. It is this necessity that gave birth to the whistle-blower and the need to protect him. So, to hand Assange to American persecutors to be led like lamb to the slaughter, is to guillotine journalism.
Ironically, the same America that wants to shut Assange away for the rest of his life, is the same country that over the 2020 Christmas period, pardoned four mercenaries of the Blackwater group who on September 16, 2007, using machine guns and grenade launchers, massacred 14 unarmed civilians including two children at the Nisour Square, Baghdad. Even the American government had admitted in its memo on the massacre that: “None of the victims was an insurgent, or posed any threat to the Raven 23 (Blackwater) convoy.”
So the pardon, like the attempt to persecute Assange, is purely political, not to serve the cause of justice. The case brought before the British judiciary was to decide whether Assange’s actions were criminal as the American government claims and should, therefore, be extradited, or are political and anti-freedom as the defence claims.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser decided the case in a duplicitous manner. It was a political case and she knew that to rule in favour of extradition is to put her name and that of the British judiciary in the book of infamy. On the other hand, she did not want to rule in favour of freedom of expression as this could be a precedence not only in Britain, but also across the universe.
So she manoeuvred into a territory that would deny both the extradition and press freedom. Assange, she ruled, is likely to commit suicide if subjected to the American prison system, so extradition is denied. This is British gentry duplicity at its best.
As a journalist, let me address some of the concerns about Assange’s practice. First, all agree that his publications have been the truth and nothing but the truth. He does not engage in alternative facts; to him, like all good journalists, facts are sacred.
Secondly, the claims that he does not exercise editorial judgement, are incorrect. There is evidence that in working with the media around the world such as the New York Times, he has been known to edit and vet WkiLeaks files before publication. So a third claim that he is not practising journalism but merely engaging in information dumping is incorrect. In any case, edited ‘information dumping’ is not unprofessional.
There are also accusations that in having access to secret materials, he is engaging in burglary of sites and is a receiver of stolen information; so in this wise, that he is a burglar and a thief, not a journalist. This is a dangerous accusation because investigative journalists can similarly be falsely accused.
Perhaps a plausible criticism is that he and his organisation had not worked hard enough to protect their sources and whistle-blowers. This can be more of an advise than criticism. They do not diminish Assange’s fundamental contributions to significantly expanding the frontiers and space of investigate journalism and freedom of expression across the world.
If I were to have the power or the freedom to choose between Assange and a thousand Donald Trumps, I will not hesitate to vote for the former over crooked politicians, influence peddlers, bullies, profiteers, gangsters and the rich and powerful who populate the governments of the world.