Effective democracy requires well-informed citizens. One of the greatest threats to effective democracy in modern capitalist societies is government secrecy. This prevents citizens from knowing about and attempting to control the actions of their own government. Mainstream media, owned by giant corporations and often in cahoots with the state, regularly fail to penetrate the secrecy shrouding crucial government actions.
No organization has done more to make critical political information available to the public than WikiLeaks. Founded in 2006 by Julian Assange, an Australian computer programmer, WikiLeaks has published more than 12 million documents that governments around the world tried to keep secret. WikiLeaks became famous in 2010 when it published several hundred thousand documents provided by Chelsea Manning. This information revealed (among other things) cruel and illegal activities by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as associated diplomatic cover-ups.
Assange, who functioned as editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks until September 2018, has won numerous awards for investigative journalism. In 2009, he won the Amnesty International UK Media Award, and in 2010, he was honored by retired CIA officers with the Sam Adams Award. In 2011, Assange received the Martha Gellhorn Journalism Prize, and in 2015, he was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize.
The eminent critical journalist John Pilger writes: “No investigative journalism in my lifetime can equal the importance of what WikiLeaks has done in calling rapacious power to account. It is as if a one-way moral screen has been pushed back to expose the imperialism of liberal democracies — the commitment to endless warfare and the division and degradation of “unworthy” lives — from Grenfell Tower to Gaza.”
After WikiLeaks published the Manning documents, the U.S. government mounted an intensive campaign to smear Assange and thereby discredit WikiLeaks. The U.S. campaign attacked Assange in three different ways: (1) he engages in political espionage, (2) he is an agent of the Russian government, and (3) he is a rapist. All three of these charges have been decisively refuted.
WikiLeaks does not steal documents or engage in illegal hacking. It merely publishes information provided by others. If this constitutes espionage, then the New York Times and Washington Post are also guilty. WikiLeaks has circulated numerous documents that make the Russian government look bad. Strange behavior for an agent of the Russian government. And here is what Katrin Axelsson and Lisa Longstaff, leaders of Women Against Rape, say about the rape charges against Assange:
“The allegations against (Assange) are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks for having audaciously revealed to the public their secret planning of wars and occupations with their attendant rape, murder and destruction. … The authorities care so little about violence against women that they manipulate rape allegations at will.”
The governments of Sweden and the U.K., strongly prodded by Washington, soon joined the assault upon Julian Assange. If convicted in either of these countries, Assange would be deported to the United States, where he would face a possible death sentence for espionage. Fortunately, the progressive government of Ecuador granted Assange political asylum in August 2012. Since that time, he has been confined to Ecuador’s embassy in London.
But Washington has exerted unrelenting pressure on Ecuador to abrogate Assange’s asylum and expel him from the London embassy. In March 2018, a more conservative government took power in Ecuador. The new government has steadily eroded the normal rights of political asylum. Harsh restrictions have been placed upon Assange. He cannot have visitors, receive phone calls or get electronic communications of any kind. His health is deteriorating, but he is prevented from getting necessary medical treatment.
Assange has rendered yeoman service to effective democracy. He should be liberated from his increasingly oppressive internment in the Ecuadorian embassy and allowed to continue his invaluable journalistic activity. Anyone who cares about freedom of the press and genuine democracy (as opposed to our current plutocratic oligarchy) should favor freedom for Julian Assange.
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s “Peace Train” runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.