The Persecution of Julian Assange
Wikileaks and the Future of Malign Institutional Secrecy
The Green Party supports worldwide efforts to promote institutional transparency, because many social evils arise from the concealment of malign actions and policies. Wars, domestic repression, and economic mismanagement are all enabled by secrecy and deception of the public. Accordingly, the Green Party US Peace Action Committee calls for the immediate release of Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, by the UK authorities and dropping of all charges against him by the US government.
The recent extradition hearing of Julian Assange in the UK had all the characteristics of a Stalin-era show trial, including flimsy evidence, a biased judge, and maltreatment of the prisoner. The case brought against Assange by the Trump Justice Department was rejected by the Obama administration on the grounds that it would curtail the press freedoms protected by the Constitution. The judge presiding over the hearings has repeatedly demonstrated a hostile attitude toward Assange and consistently deferred to the prosecution while sharply questioning the defense counsel. The courtroom is a small annex to the remote, maximum security Belmarsh prison. Assange is caged in an enclosure inhibiting him from communicating with his attorneys, and he is repeatedly handcuffed and strip-searched. All indications are that Assange will be railroaded toward extradition after the next phase of the hearings concludes. He will have further recourse to judicial appeals, but the political influence of the US over the UK government is so powerful that he will likely end up in a US prison.
Although the prospects for Assange are grim, his leadership of Wikileaks has brought about an important change in the relationship between institutional power and the public’s interest in access to information. Despite an unabated propaganda assault against Assange, and his abandonment by the conventional new media that eagerly reported on Wikileaks-provided information, Wikileaks continues to function, and Assange is widely considered a groundbreaking contributor to the movements for government accountability and press freedom. According to a recent poll, the US is the only country in which a majority of public opinion (61%) considers Assange a criminal. In all other major countries polled, this is a minority view, even in the UK (38%). Although the US government may have won a battle against one man, it has lost the war of world opinion regarding the publishing of evidence of government malfeasance.
Wikileaks exposed new generations to how governments routinely conceal their misdeeds — both immense and small. The difficulty of capturing and distributing large volumes of information was a major obstacle for whistle-blowers, even those wishing to risk the retribution of the institutions they embarrassed. The advent of the internet, the widespread digital storage of records, and the development of widely available encrypted communications made possible the operation of an organization that would function as a clearinghouse for information exposed by whistle blowers. The prime mover in this development was Assange’s Wikileaks.
Since its founding in 2006 Wikileaks has released millions of documents revealing institutional misconduct, ranging from financial corruption to war crimes, all over the world. Wikileaks has built an extraordinary reputation for accuracy and honesty, in sharp contrast to the nation state security agencies that have sought to destroy it. The most the US security agencies can hope for in punishing Assange is to intimidate others who would disclose US secrets, but they cannot turn back the clock on the technologies that have shifted the balance of power away from them in favor of the forces of institutional transparency. With each passing day, it will become more difficult for malign actors to conceal their activities because evidence of their actions can be gathered and spread worldwide with blinding speed. Although Assange may die in prison, his Wikileaks legacy will be a great gift of knowledge for the people of the world.
Secretary, Green Party US Peace Action Committee (GPAX)
March 17, 2020
Haig Hovaness is a retired IT consultant living in Westchester County, New York.