In Defense of Julian Assange
They came for Julian….then for the press….then for you. Defend and support free press.
The following are some of the most significant challenges we face in our global mission to support and defend Julian Assange.
A Decade-Long Character Assassination.
The U.S. espionage indictment against Assange shows that he has been the victim of psychological operation warfare–rumor, disinformation and false news–designed to destroy his reputation and defame his character. While Assange and his lawyers have consistently maintained that the primary reason he sought protection in the Ecuadoran Embassy was to avoid extradition on espionage, the media has insisted otherwise, downplaying the threat from the US. For seven years, while Assange remained in the embassy under worsening conditions, this big lie provided the corporate media with a blind from which to issue myriad attacks on Assange. Segments of a contribution by Caitlin Johnstone appearing throughout this anthology explore and debunk the accusations designed to isolate Assange and mute the opposition to U.S. efforts to close down national security journalism. This character assassination greatly hinders the public’s understanding that his persecution under Espionage charges will open the door for anyone, anywhere around the world, to suffer the same fate.
Swedish Rape Charges.
Another reason for the lack of support for Assange, especially in the U.S. and the U.K., is the rape investigation in Sweden. The manipulation of the Swedish sexual assault investigation began in 2010 in the immediate wake of WikiLeaks’ release of Chelsea Manning’s cache of damning U.S. war secrets. Two of the lesser allegations have been dismissed because the statute of limitations has run. The most serious accusation, that Assange did not receive consent for sex from his partner, is again under investigation. One of the reasons for the heated criticism of Assange was the belief that his primary motive for fleeing to the Ecuadorian embassy was to avoid the rape investigation rather than to escape extradition to the U.S., which, it was widely contended, was never a serious threat.
The recently unsealed U.S. indictment dispels that assertion. In addition, documents secured by Stefania Maurizi, a well-respected Italian journalist and contributor to this anthology, under a series of hard fought FOIA requests concerning the Swedish charges, reveal that: 1. The U.K. advised the Swedes against interviewing Assange at the embassy to carry out the first stage of the investigation even though the Swedes had carried extra-territorial interviews in the past; 2. The U.K,. attempted to dissuade Sweden from dropping the investigation in 2013, and wrote to the Swedish prosecutor, “Please do not think that the case is being dealt with as just another extradition request”; 3. A coverup was implied because both UK and Swedish prosecutors destroyed some of their email exchanges during the course of the investigation.
Included in this collection is an article and an unpublished letter from Women Against Rape which more fully discusses this issue. At this writing, the Swedish prosecutor has decided to reopen the investigation, though Assange has never been charged and may never be. It should be noted that not only were the allegations dismissed once, but the prosecutor who took over the case and reinstated the investigation successfully filed for the original European Arrest Warrant without the imprimatur of a judicial authority, despite the seeming requirement in the treaty then in force, because the UK authorities decided that the word of the Swedish prosecutor was sufficient. This time carefully following the law, the prosecutor applied to the Swedish court for an arrest warrant and was surprised when her request was denied. For now, Sweden will not seek Assange’s extradition. As Craig Murray astutely noted, “This is a desperate disappointment to the false left in the UK, the Blairites and their ilk, who desperately want Assange to be a rapist in order to avoid the moral decision about prosecuting him for publishing truths about the neo-con illegal wars which they support.” Assange’s lawyers always believed that it would be easier for the US to extradite him from Sweden, which has rarely, if ever, refused a US extradition request. There would be a benefit in Assange finally facing those accusing him of sexual assault in a court of law, if that is what they want and it is warranted by the investigators, but it now seems unlikely that this will ever happen. Even if the case did go to court, Swedish law often dictates that such hearings are held in private, so the public might be denied the possibility of hearing the evidence presented.
Redactions and Reckless Endangerment
Perhaps with the intention of undermining the revelations of WikiLeaks disclosures, politicians and media have regularly focused on one assertion concerning WikiLeaks’ practices, namely that its publication of uncensored materials has been irresponsible, reckless, and harmful to the national security of countries and innocent individuals named in the documents. This narrative began after WikiLeaks released the Afghan War Logs without redacting some source names, something even WikiLeaks’ staunchest supporters, including a number that appear in this book, criticize to this day. After much pushback, the organization dedicated itself to carefully protecting the names of innocents in its subsequent disclosures. But the controversy burgeoned again in 2011 following a breach of WikiLeaks’ full unredacted trove of Cablegate files, which the organization had originally been releasing with numerous media outlets over the course of months. A blame game ensued between WikiLeaks, which unintentionally put an accessible yet hidden folder on its server containing the Cablegate files, and Guardian writers David Leigh and Luke Harding, who published in their book, WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy, a password to the files Assange gave them that they allegedly believed was temporary. Both parties are clearly responsible to some degree for the unwanted release of the documents but, predictably, WikiLeaks suffered disproportionate condemnation and its name and work have since been smeared by the lie that they nefariously endangered innocent people – that Assange has blood on his hands. One clear fact remains, however, and will be repeated throughout this text: There exists no evidence that WikiLeaks’ releases have caused the death or persecution of a single individual – globally. Even the Pentagon has confirmed, after review, that no one has been killed as a result of being named in the documents leaked by Chelsea Manning.
Assange and his colleagues have argued before that complete transparency, the publication of raw, unredacted files, would generate a far greater good than leaving decisions about what is in the public interest, and subsequently published, to journalists, a circumstance prone to benefitting and protecting governments and corporations. This original element of WikiLeaks philosophy, one which it has not even adhered to itself, is a contentious issue, including among fervent supporters of Assange and WikiLeaks’ mission. What are indisputable, however, are the truths that the organization’s disclosures brought to light. As Glenn Greenwald remarked at the time:
As usual, many of those running around righteously condemning WikiLeaks for the potential, prospective, unintentional harm to innocents caused by this leak will have nothing to say about these actual, deliberate acts of wanton slaughter by the U.S. The accidental release of these unredacted cables will receive far more attention and more outrage than the extreme, deliberate wrongdoing these cables expose.
Russia, Assange, and the Clinton Loss
Another aspect of Assange’s limited support in the U.S. may be that the ideological divide between those in the U.S. and other Western countries and the developing world is not sufficiently acknowledged. Assange’s global perspective is shaped by a cosmopolitanism which is more commonly found among those who originate or reside outside the U.S. In her contribution to this anthology, Margaret Kimberley, editor and senior columnist at Black Agenda Report, touches on what she calls a “naivete” of Assange about the American view of the world. He is more concerned with the international aspects of U.S. policy and less concerned with American domestic issues. He is less acquainted with internal North American history than he might be. His interest in who is elected to be the U.S. presidency is colored by this.
Many American liberals cannot forgive Assange for, in their mind, helping Donald Trump become President of the United States in 2016. The accusation is that Assange was Russia’s surrogate. But this claim does not stand up to closer examination. Consider the charges concerning Hillary Clinton’s private server: Her emails were revealed through a FOIA request filed in 2012 by the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). They were made searchable by both WikiLeaks and by The Wall Street Journal. The Podesta emails were retrieved as the result of a simple spear-phishing operation – no elaborate collusion by a cartoon criminal mastermind, Trump, or the Russian government, was needed. As journalist Chris Hedges points out in these pages, James Comey himself said that WikiLeaks probably received the emails via an intermediary.
The finding that the DNC documents were hacked from seven separate accounts by agents of the Russian state rests on the assertions of private cybersecurity companies, CrowdStrike, Fidelis and Mandiant, rather than of the FBI, which was denied access to the DNC server. As will be discussed in this anthology, no factual basis has been supplied for the accusation that Assange knew the DNC emails derived from a Russian source, and especially not the Russian government. Assange himself has repeatedly stated that the leaks came from an individual, not from a state actor. WikiLeaks’ explicit goals include exposing the deceits of both governments – U.S. and Russian. Its mission has always been to publish what is true and important for the historical record.
A common refrain by Assange critics is the contention that he released the Podesta emails on the spur of the moment, immediately after the release of the Trump Access Hollywood tape in order to counter its public impact. However, according to Stefania Maurizi, who worked on the release, the disclosure was not a sudden decision but was planned some time in advance. Assange, like many others in the early part of 2016, did not believe Trump had a chance of winning. He has also said publicly that he disdained both of the 2016 presidential candidates. But because the releases were helpful to Trump, and because there exists an expressed hostility between Assange and Clinton, many have inferred that Assange intended to help Trump win. Clearly a number of factors were at play in Trump’s surprise victory. But to place significant responsibility at the door of Assange for the defeat of Clinton, widely regarded a lackluster candidate who was handicapped by being seen as “inside the beltway” and responsible for major campaign errors, including describing Trump supporters as “deplorable” and failing to campaign in key mid-western states where a working class vote was critical to the Democrats, seems wide of the mark.