Over 50 years ago, in his letter from the Birmingham Jail, addressing a struggle of the civil right era, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people." His message is now more prevalent than ever in the current political climate surrounding WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.
WikiLeaks stepped onto a global stage with release of a huge trove of classified documents, revealing crimes and corruption of governments. After the publication of war logs that exposed the atrocities committed by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the reaction of the Pentagon quickly escalated into a war against the First Amendment. WikiLeaks was subjected to unlawful financial blockades and there has been an ongoing secret grand jury against the organization and its associates since 2010.
These efforts to destroy WikiLeaks brought a long dreadful persecution of Assange. He has been detained for 8 years, first in prison, then under house arrest and now as a refugee living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. In 2012 he was granted political asylum against the threat of extradition to the US, relating to his publishing activities with WikiLeaks. The UK government, in violation of UN rulings that indicated the situation of Assange as arbitrary detention, kept him in confinement, depriving him of medical care and sunlight.
In late March, this already untenable situation got worse. Pressured by the US, Ecuador’s new President Lenin Moreno put Assange in isolation by cutting off his access to the Internet, denying him phone calls and visitors, including Human Rights Watch. The latest news about him indicates that the Ecuadorian government is close to finalizing an agreement with British officials to evict Assange from the embassy. All this development brings Assange’s extradition to the US closer, where he could be charged under the Espionage Act and potentially could face life in prison or even the death penalty.
War on the First Amendment
With this aggressive persecution of this Western journalist, Trump cabinet now continues on this war on the First Amendment that began under the Obama administration. In recent months, Trump’s Justice Department Jeff Sessions stated that Assange’s arrest is a priority. Mike Pompeo, former CIA Director and the current US Secretary of State, referred to the whistleblowing site as "a non-state hostile intelligence service" and indicated WikiLeaks as a force that subverts the US Constitution.
Glenn Greenwald, a journalist at the Intercept pointed out how previously the US Justice Department showed hesitation in setting a precedent in prosecuting journalists for publishing classified materials. Yet, he noted that the Trump administration has no reservation for doing so.
As the drumbeat of war on free speech intensifies, there is an absence of resistance in the American political landscape. The plight of Assange has been largely ignored by the mainstream media and there has been an appalling silence on this issue even among political activists.
Liberals who regarded Assange a hero in 2010 when WikiLeaks published the collateral murder video that provided uncensored scenery of America’s illegal war in the Middle East, have now turned against the organization. This shift of attitude toward WikiLeaks happened during the 2016 presidential election. WikiLeaks’ publication of damaging information from the Hillary Clinton campaign during the final weeks leading up to the election was met with Democrats’ hostile criticism. In their minds, WikiLeaks has changed. It no longer represented a champion of free speech that they once saw. To them, WikiLeaks appeared to have been taken over, being weaponized for the agenda of their political opponent.
As mainstream media’s hype of Russiagate came full on, demonization of WikiLeaks increased. The Democratic establishment, with MSNBC cable news stations and commentators, branded Assange as a Trump supporter and Russia’s intelligence asset. By even filing the lawsuit against the organization, they directed their vengeance about the loss of Clinton’s campaign toward the whistleblowing site.
So, did WikiLeaks change? Is WikiLeaks threatening American values, trying to subvert the Constitution, as the US Secretary of State described? What is WikiLeaks, who is Assange and what is his agenda?
Julian Paul Assange is a computer programmer and journalist with an independent mind and deep knowledge of the workings of hidden forces of control. Raffi Khatchadourian, a staff writer at The New Yorker, who profiled Assange in his article in 2010, described how this Australian native, who recently obtained citizenship in Ecuador came to "understand the defining human struggle not as left versus right, or faith versus reason, but as individual versus institution".
In his 2006 seminal writing "Conspiracy as Governance", Assange identified authoritarian regimes as patronage networks of political elites. He analyzed how this network maintains its power through the use of secrecy, restriction, and the control of national and global communication and information. Assange conceived WikiLeaks upon this understanding of the structure of power. With its innovative technical infrastructure and the method of transparency, the organization revolutionized the function of the press.
As a transnational journalistic entity that is entirely funded by public donations,
WikiLeaks places no allegiance to any nations, corporations or political ideology. Its sole loyalty lies in the principle of democracy, using a leak as a tool for information warfare to perform a function of watchdog, restricting the power of institutions and protecting the rights of individuals. This fidelity to checks and balances is demonstrated in Assange’s ability to speak truth, no matter who is in power.
In Obama’s second term of presidency, while many who voted for him were still mesmerized under the spell of "hope and change", Assange was able to penetrate the deception and see lies and hypocrisies of this president who received a Nobel Peace Prize, while simultaneously engaging in multiple wars. In the statement after one year in the embassy, where he called for global support for the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who was charged with espionage, Assange fiercely denounced Obama’s war on whistleblowers.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, WikiLeaks released documents concerning one of the major candidates that would inherit the throne of this global imperial power. With the publication of documents that revealed internal workings of the Clinton campaign, WikiLeaks brought vital information that could help American people carefully scrutinize their political system and crush bastards that try to attack and undermine democracy.
If the organization had documents concerning Trump, WikiLeaks indicated that they would have published it. In responding to accusations of WikiLeaks favoring the Trump campaign with the DNC leaks, Assange made it clear that the role of the organization is to publish whatever is given to them, and they will not censor their publications for any political reasons.
The recent article written by an Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi, who worked with WikiLeaks for nine years, backs this claim. In sharing her insider view of the organization, she described how the decision of the timing of Podesta leaks was made and how Assange and his team were preparing to release material on Trump, which didn’t materialize, as it was already published before.
Defense of American ideals
Contrary to the claim of the Secretary of State, this revolutionary journalism that Assange created through WikiLeaks seems to resonate with the ideals that founded the United States. In fact, Assange pointed out how WikiLeaks derives its inspiration from the American revolutionary ideas and that it aligns its mission with these ideals.
Similar to the faith in the wisdom of ordinary people to govern themselves, expressed in the preamble of the Constitution with its first words "We the People", Assange believed in the significance of ordinary people and their ability to engage in history. Thomas Jefferson recognized how, "Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press…". Just as founders of this country did not trust their own government and created a safeguard for individual liberty, Assange believed in the importance of an informed public in the functioning of democracy.
From its inception in 2006, WikiLeaks has been working to defend these American values. When the laws that protect whistleblowers were gutted, it is through Assange and WikiLeaks staff’s adamant commitment to the principle of free press that made it possible for former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to exercise her uncompromising free speech. Also, it is because of WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison, with her courage in demonstrating extraordinary source protection that Snowden is now able to enjoy his rights that were denied by his own country.
WikiLeaks, as the world’s first global Fourth Estate, extended the freedom of speech, not only for Americans, but for people all around the world. As of late 2016, it published 10 million documents with a pristine record of authentication. The organization, by making full archives available in a searchable format, brought back information that belongs to the public, directly into their own hands. From the election in Kenya to the Icelandic revolution, WikiLeaks publications empowered people in many countries, creating greater social change and sparks for global uprisings. Information made available has been used to bring justice in courts and address numerous human rights abuses.
Until the moment he was cut out from the outside world, this editor in chief of the world’s most prosecuted publisher defended ordinary people’s right to self-determination. From a tiny sanctum in the Ecuadorian Embassy of London, Assange followed Catalans’ struggle for independence and continuously spoke out against Spanish Central government’s abuse of their democratic rights.
Claiming our sacred heart
From a traitor and a Kremlin puppet to a spoiler of American democracy, words are thrown around to create distortion. Bombarded by loud media sound bites, in this illusion of democracy, many seemed to have lost connection to a voice of conscience that knows what is right and now remain silent.
As Ecuador now prepares to hand over Assange to British authorities for a financial reward, by breaking its own Constitution of the Republic, our democracy’s last line of defense is about to be severed. Cruel treatment of Assange is no longer a character assassination and imprisonment of one innocent man. What is at stake is the death of the sacred heart of democracy that remembers our inherent obligation to one another. In his earlier blog, Assange once wrote about the moral courage required in our age:
"Every time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train our character to be passive in its presence and thereby eventually lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we love."
He reminded us that what drives our will to crush bastards is a gentle love that inspires us to nurture the vulnerable. In a world where there is WikiLeaks, the veil of secrecy can no longer be maintained. The released information revealed the wars of the American empire and its casualties, the most vulnerable amongst us – those that are voiceless, ailing and impoverished. Calamity happening in Knightsbridge under the heightened security at the heart of London represents the injustice of the world that this fearless journalist and his courageous sources brought to us all to bear witness. It is now laid out for those who are willing and ready to see the truth.
Prosecution of Julian Assange is a persecution of American ideals. Criminalizing the act of publishing through the Espionage Act destroys the First Amendment as the guardian of democracy. This not only sets a dangerous precedent for press freedom, but it could allow the beginning of a new totalitarianism. We must break our silence and refuse to participate in the destruction of values that founded this country. It is time for us all to put aside ideological differences and unite in solidarity with people around the world who are engaging in nonviolent resistance against this assault on WikiLeaks and our right to free speech.
Only through our sincere efforts to keep our eyes open to the truth before us, can we have a chance to end the tyranny of the past forever, that casts its shadow ever more into the present. If our silence has led to this greatest tragedy that we face now, the victory of democracy can be brought through each of us claiming the center of our heart to stand up for this fellow man who sacrificed his liberty, so that all can be free.
Nozomi Hayase, Ph.D., is an essayist and author of WikiLeaks, the Global Fourth Estate: History Is Happening (Libertarian Books, 2018). Find her on twitter @nozomimagine.