It has been over three weeks since Ecuador illegally terminated political asylum of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the UK police violently arrested him. Assange is now held in solitary confinement in what many have called the UK’s Guantanamo Bay.
On Thursday, Assange’s fight against US extradition began at a UK court. The US charged him with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion with former US military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning related to the 2010 release of classified material. His extradition was framed as a case about “hacking”.
But, let’s make this clear. Assange was charged for doing journalism, publishing information critical for democracy in the public interest, at a scale and speed that was unprecedented. Although the Department of Justice press release on the indictment accuses him of hacking a government computer, the actual indictment accuses him for protecting the anonymity of his source.
This indictment against Assange signals the criminalization of journalism, specifically punishing critical aspects of journalistic practice, related to a story gathering for a newsworthy story published in the public interest. The criminal investigation into WikiLeaks began in 2010. It was part of Obama’s aggressive war on whistleblowers. Now, the Trump administration carries on this legacy, by expanding a combat zone to include journalists as their target. But this is more than an attack on press freedom.
WikiLeaks exposed the US government’s illegal wars, dirty trade deals, spying, and its secret offshore prison and torture. These documents that they published with a pristine record of accuracy, were not just information. It was her conscience that called Chelsea Manning to engage in a search for moral clarity, as she watched the scenery of a US military airstrike killing Iraqi civilians including journalists in New Baghdad. It was a tiny voice in a heart that remembered our inherent obligation to one another and awakened this young whistleblower to the truth described in her words, “we are human … and we’re killing ourselves …”.
This conscience that was brought forward by Manning and then amplified by WikiLeaks through their method of transparency shone the light into our history. The release of the collateral murder video didn’t just expose Bush’s war crimes. It revealed darkness inside this nation that goes all the way back to its very inception.
In the original 38-minute video footage that captured the everyday life of the brutal military occupation in the oil-rich Middle East, the colonization of the past was carried over. In the shadow of Iraqi civilians who are paralyzed under the US military gun sight, those who remain frozen in lost pages of history began to reveal themselves.
The cynical naming of the Apache helicopter evokes a memory of the killing of natives that took place long ago in the US. Through access to this forbidden view, made possible by WikiLeaks, we were given an opportunity to witness the historic crimes committed against the indigenous people of America.
In the uncensored images of modern war, what did we see? We saw our government violating the highest laws of the land. These were ideals that inspired America’s independence from the British monarchy, expressed in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “all men are created equal”.
America represented a new land for freedom-loving people around the world to come together in, to form a new union governed not by the King, but by a rule of law. Yet, despite these ideals, America was never a democracy. From the onset, it contained internal contradiction manifested in the genocide of natives, the slavery of blacks and the suppression of women. But the words in the Declaration of Independence were a promise and the Constitution was meant to be its fulfillment.
The conscience of ordinary people was a vital link that could fill the gap and create a democracy. Out of conscience springs the power of We the People that could truly perform checks and balances of our government. When the laws themselves become unjust, conscience reminds us of our duty to break these laws in order to uphold our ideals.
In our history, we have seen individuals who fought to keep those words of promise through their acts of civil disobedience. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who demonstrated extraordinary courage for the struggle of Black people to fight against racist laws once said:
“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But, conscience asks the question, ‘It it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”
Decades after the civil rights movement, a young US soldier in her act of delivering information to WikiLeaks, risked her life to carry on this American tradition of civil disobedience. As a consequence, she was sentenced to 35 years in prison and served seven years until her sentence was commuted in 2017. Now, by refusing to testify against a publisher at a secret grand jury targeting WikiLeaks, she is once again sent back to jail.
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After having witnessed Manning confessing her role as the WikiLeaks whistleblower at her court-martial, the late attorney Michael Ratner acknowledged how locking her up “for even a day is to lock up the conscience of our nation”.
Julian Assange is a journalist, but foremost, he is a defender of this America’s conscience. Now, the Department of Justice tries to punish him for his courageous act of providing protection to his source, by framing it as though he had conspired with his source to assist in espionage in order to hack into a Pentagon computer.
So, we are now clear what this US extradition case against Assange is all about. This prosecution of Assange and the detainment of Manning are assaults on our conscience. Vicious attacks came from both Republicans and Democrats. Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, designated WikiLeaks as a terrorist organization. Former Vice President Joe Biden compared Assange to a “high-tech terrorist”, while California senator Dianne Feinstein urged that Assange be prosecuted for espionage.
Corporate media engages non-stop in smearing, depicting this Nobel Peace Prize nominee as a rapist and Putin’s intelligence asset. The former CIA chief and Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo called WikiLeaks a hostile intelligence service. Now, using the rhetorical descriptions of “traitor” and “threat to national security”, the DOJ tries to extradite Assange and sentence him to life in prison or worse, to execute him.
But, who are the traitors? Who are those who engaged in conspiracy, working in secret to betray ideals promised in America’s proclamation of independence to the world?
WikiLeaks’ publication of documents concerning wars in Afghanistan and Iraq revealed the US government’s conspiracy to perpetuate racism in a War on Terror, with Muslim as the new Black. WikiLeaks’ release of the DNC and John Podesta emails pierced the veil of the illusion of an American democracy. It let us see that the Democratic establishment conspired against people, by secretly colluding to undermine Bernie Sanders during the primary and that the Hillary Clinton campaign strategy was to get friendly media to elevate “Pied Piper” GOP candidates like Donald Trump.
Their publication of Vault 7, the largest leak of confidential documents in CIA history revealed that the agency has developed cyber weapons that enable them to spy on us through smartphones and smart TVs. It exposed the intelligence community as a true ruling elite of our society, growing its power with surveillance, military occupation, and financial terrorism.
The US government, with the UK, Sweden and Spain as its allies, bullied a small South American nation to hand over Assange, who exposed the national security state and their conspiracy against people.
There is the other America we have forgotten, the America that has been here from the very beginning, before Columbus discovered this land. It is the heart of the earth that stretches its veins across four corners, sustaining the life of all living beings. This is the true America before it was assaulted by guns and canons and before it was occupied by the few.
By forgetting our own collateral murder, massacre, theft, treaty violations, and cultural genocide that happened on this soil, we have forgotten who we are. As our memory fragmented, We the People became a narrow tribe of Democrats and Republicans. By plunging into national and ideological battle, we wave flags to justify the killing of our brothers and sisters in the name of national security and together we engage in our self righteous destruction of this planet that we all inherit.
Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange reminded us of the highest law of the land inscribed in our hearts. They are real patriots who fought to secure Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. With their love for humanity, they sacrificed their personal liberty so that these unalienable rights can be enjoyed by everyone around the world.
Now the beast of secret law tries to devour them. The conscience has no chance for a fair trial in the empire’s justice system. It is defenseless before the Espionage Act. For this vulnerable love of humanity, the public is the only line of defense.
Assange’s fight against extradition has just begun. He is fighting for his life, but also he is fighting for all of us. We now must join this battle to defend and free the conscience of America that has become imprisoned in this war on truth. We must become a shield for whistleblowers and publishers. Only through us forming a court of public opinion, can we end this empire and its conspiracy and redeem the torch of liberty that this nation once held as a beacon of light for the world.