Defending Assange: The value of Wikileaks

For seven years, Julian Assange’s enemies have strenuously denied that he would face extradition to the US if he left the Ecuadorian Embassy. They told us that was merely a “conspiracy theory”. But last week, the moment the British police dragged him out of the embassy, the US unsealed its secret charges and the mainstream media are reporting that as if it is a surprise! To me, it is vindication of what Assange has been saying all along.

I don’t understand why so many people are supporting the persecution of Assange. You don’t necessarily have to endorse every single thing Wikileaks has said and done, but that is beside the point. This is an attack on free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of information. Governments are making an example of Assange. If they can do this to Assange, they can do it to anyone who publishes government secrets.

In 2010 Chelsea Manning (then named Bradley Manning) leaked a large number of US government documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as communications between US diplomats around the world. Some of the leaks were initially published by mainstream media, but only Wikileaks published the full set of documents.

The Manning leaks, which helped spark the Arab Spring, included the following information:

  • The US government covered up its official count of civilian deaths in its wars, totalling 66,081 during 2004-2009.
  • The Obama administration was carrying out secret drone bombings in Yemen, killing mostly civilians and many children.
  • US diplomats secretly and illegally collected DNA samples, passwords, and credit card details of top UN officials.
  • Most detainees at Guantanamo Bay were arrested based on evidence that would not be permissible in American courts, such as wearing similar clothes to al-Qaeda members. Also released were more details on the torture at Guantanamo Bay.
  • In violation of the UN Convention Against Torture, the American military had an official policy to not investigate torture by the Iraqi government.
  • The US Embassy intervened to undermine activists advocating a proposed minimum wage law in Haiti, a country with widespread starvation.
  • The military contractor Dyncorp provided Afghan recruits with “dancing boys”.
  • The FBI worked with Egyptian security agencies who allegedly torture prisoners into a “zombie state”.

Also in the Manning leaks was helicopter video of a 2007 American airstrike killing ten men in Baghdad. Two of the men were Reuters journalists, named Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen, but the US government had claimed they were combatants engaging in battle. The video showed a much murkier reality. The Americans were looking for armed insurgents who had been in the area earlier that day, and as they hovered over a group of men walking around, they observed unidentifiable objects in the men’s hands and jumped to the conclusion that they were weapons. Although some of the men may have been carrying weapons, the journalists were actually carrying cameras, and none were aiming a weapon. Otherwise unprovoked, the Americans blasted the group with cannon fire until all but one were dead, then hovered over the dying cameraman hoping he would pick up his “weapon” so they’d be allowed to shoot him, then received permission to fire at him and a van full of people trying to pick him up.

The US military still insists that one of the Iraqis was carrying a rocket-propelled grenade, and that their soldiers’ actions were justified by its rules of engagement. Of course, that just raises the questions about whether the rules of engagement are reasonable, and whether the United States should be occupying Iraq in the first place, questions that are highly inconvenient for those who want to persuade the public to support America’s wars.

It’s much more convenient for war propagandists if citizens see only enemy atrocities and never see the atrocities of the armies supposedly bringing “freedom”. But the casualty statistics suggest civilian deaths have been the norm rather than the exception in the Iraq War. American-led coalition forces died in the thousands, Iraqi security forces then insurgents died in the tens of thousands, and Iraqi civilians died in the hundreds of thousands.

Nobody has been punished for the corrupt behaviour revealed by Manning, making it extremely hard to swallow the anti-Assange slogan, currently being spouted by the British government and media, that “nobody is above the law”.

And it’s not just about the Manning leaks. Throughout many of the biggest issues of the last decade Wikileaks has been there, providing much more information than our pathetic mainstream media, who frequently parrot dubious government narratives as if they were unquestionable fact. Much of the current anti-establishment mood has been brought about by Wikileaks. Without Wikileaks, the population might still believe our governments were acting in our interests. If it wasn’t for Wikileaks, we might never have known about so many ways that governments are acting against the interests of ordinary people. Here are some of the biggest revelations that have greatly contributed to our understanding of how our society functions:

The list goes on. These are all important facts that the public has a right to know. Who knows how many more government secrets we will never learn if Assange is successfully crushed.

Assange and Wikileaks have received a long list of journalistic awards, including the National Union of Journalists Journalist of the Year, the Walkley Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism, the Brazillian Press Association Human Rights Award, and the Kazakstan Union of Journalists Top Prize. And to my knowledge, there has never been any serious challenge to the accuracy of material published by Wikileaks, which is more than can be said for the establishment media who constantly condemn Assange.

Assange has also provided commentary that has helped place these leaks in context so that citizens can understand it – in short, what used to be called journalism. Until recently, despite being trapped indoors and increasingly marginalized by mainstream media, online he continued to provide insightful commentary on geopolitics which I found to be more independent than anyone else at his level of fame, and certainly more trustworthy than anyone mainstream. Now that he’s silenced, it’s become harder to figure out who or what to believe, and the world is significantly darker as a result.

As New Matilda’s propaganda expert Lissa Johnson puts it:

So that we can manage our enormous information load, the brain is prone to simplistically and unconsciously tagging familiar people and things “good” or “bad”. It does this using positive and negative emotions, known as affective tags…

In pro-war propaganda the tagging mechanism is deployed to pin an emotional bullseye to a target’s head. The target against whom propagandists wish to mobilise for attack need simply be paired repeatedly with an emotion that supports a violent response…

To sustain the pro-war propaganda narratives that feed the propaganda tags, contradictory material must be kept at bay. Across all levels of propaganda – whether motivational or technical – omission is a critical component.

Which means that Wikileaks and other independent media must be shut down if war propagandists are to do their jobs unencumbered.

Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 released the Pentagon Papers revealing lies about the Vietnam War, condemns the prosecution of Assange:

It’s a very serious assault on the First Amendment, a clear attempt to rescind the freedom of the press essentially…

This is the first indictment of a journalist and editor or publisher, Julian Assange. And if it’s successful it will not be the last. This is clearly is a part of President Trump’s war on the press, what he calls the enemy of the state. And if he succeeds in putting Julian Assange in prison, where I think he’ll be for life, if he goes there at all…

And without freedom of the press you have no–you have very little freedom in the country. I’m afraid that’s the direction we’re going.

I list all the above facts to remind readers of what is really at stake, to counter the propaganda of governments and mainstream media emphasizing the various attacks on Assange – because he has been demonized using the same propaganda techniques used in war. The mainstream media has been helping governments smear Assange for years, when they should be screaming blue murder about this attack on press freedom.

Julian Assange deserves his awards and he should be free to continue his important work.

In a coming series of posts, I will examine Assange’s legal case and trial-by-media, to prove the blatantly unfair treatment he has received at every stage.

6 pings

  1. […] Defending Assange: The value of Wikileaks […]

  2. […] is Part 3 in a series on Julian Assange’s legal case and trial-by-media. In Part 1 I discussed the value of Wikileaks, and in Part 2 I discussed the Obama administration’s secret […]

  3. […] is Part 4 in a series on Julian Assange’s legal case and trial-by-media. In Part 1 I discussed the value of Wikileaks, in Part 2 I discussed the Obama administration’s secret legal […]

  4. […] is Part 5 in a series on Julian Assange’s legal case and trial-by-media. Part 1 discussed the value of Wikileaks, Part 2 discussed the Obama administration’s secret legal action […]

  5. […] Part 1 discussed the value of Wikileaks […]

  6. […] Part 1 discussed the value of Wikileaks […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.