In the aftermath of the arrest of Julian Assange on April 11, two contrasting narratives have emerged. One of these, echoed by many in the mainstream media, has bought the US line that Assange was a purveyor of private information, who aided the Russians in ‘destabilizing’ US institutions. However, across the world, journalists and intellectuals have pointed out that Assange and WikiLeaks are primarily journalists, and the attempts to criminalize his work are an attack on the heart of journalism itself.
The US and its political and ideological allies are keen on ensuring Julian Assange is tried as a criminal, rather than as a journalist. The indictment based on which his extradition hearing will take place on May 2, charges him under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) for a cracking attempt. For months, there has been speculation that the US intends to try Assange under the Espionage Act as well. The current secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, after all called WikiLeaks a “non-state, hostile intelligence service” in 2017.
The reason for this hostility is simple. WikiLeaks has published a large number of documents which provide substantial proof of acts which the powerful would have preferred to be hidden from the public. The information in these documents punctured the claims made by the imperialist powers of their role as keepers of peace. In many cases, the publication of these documents did not necessarily bring out any new information. Rather, it provided the necessary proof and visibility to claims and arguments presented by journalists and academics on the crimes of imperialist powers. The following are some examples of such exposes which aided those fighting against hegemonic powers.
Iraq and Afghanistan war logs: The publication of over nearly 500,000 documents on the Iraq and Afghan wars exposed the dark underside of these conflicts.The most infamous bit of information was the ‘Collateral Damage’ video, which revealed that US forces in Iraq had killed two journalists in two strikes. They had also attempted to aid the wounded after the first strike. The information in the documents also led to a drastic revision of the death toll in the conflict. The documents about the US war in Afghanistan revealed the chaos in the country following US intervention, which is especially significant considering current US attempts to negotiate with the Taliban.
The documents served to prove what independent journalists and academics had been saying about these wars. ‘Cablegate’ also exposed the willful denial of such imperialist motives by the mainstream media. The fact that massive push for war in Afghanistan and Iraq was a result of lobbying and diplomatic maneuvering and had very little to do with the so-called global war on terrorism put the global military-industrial complex on the defensive, at least for a brief while.
In 2016, the publication of Syria Files by the WikiLeaks destroyed the plans of the creating another Libya in the Middle East. It exposed the well-known links between the Islamists and the Saudis and the US and punctured the legitimacy of the socalled resistance against Assad regime.
Gitmo Files: Most of the US and NATO interventions over the years have been under the pretext of protecting human rights. The facade of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ was ripped apart by the publication in 2011 of files exposing shocking human rights violations in US detention camps in Guantanamo Bay. The images of routine cruelty meted out to the prisoners triggered a global campaign for the shutdown of the prison.
India Cables: In December 2010, WikiLeaks exposed that US officials had information regarding the widespread torture of Kashmiris by the Indian forces. The International Red Cross Society visited different interrogation centers between 2002 and 2004 and had met with the prisoners. The IRCS reportedly briefed the US officials in India about these violations, including the deployment of non-state actors such as Ikhwan-ul-Muslimin by the Indian state for extra-judicial killings, rape and extortion in Kashmir. These cables helped activists and political groups in India fighting for human rights to take their message to a larger audience. They also exposed the tacit understanding between the US and India over the issue of Kashmir.
The diplomatic cables published by The Hindu, in collaboration with WikiLeaks in 2011, revealed the extend of US activity and influence in India, as well as corruption by political parties during elections, which has only intensified over the years
Clinton Mails: The intervention by western powers led to the death of.thousands of Libyans and widespread chaos in what was once a politically and economically stable country. The revelation that the death of four American officials in Benghazi in 2014 could have been avoided, received far more attention in the west than the complete destruction of a country. But it also had a major impact on the kind of challenge posed by the Democrats to Donald Trump. WikiLeaks’ publication of the emails of Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state at the time of Libyan war, made it clear to all to that irrespective of its face, imperialism remains a threat to world peace.
Chagos Island: The International Court of Justice (ICJ) asked the UK in February 2019 to renounce its claim of sovereignty over Chagos Island. This raised hopes of a just settlement to the long legal battle of 1,500 people who were displaced from their homes in 1966 after the UK decided to hand over Diego Garcia to the US. The US used the Island to build a permanent military base. In 2009, officials from the US and UK prepared a plan to declare a Marine Natural Reserve around the Island to curtail the claim of those people. This was exposed by the WikiLeaks in 2016, strengthening the case of the victims. It remains to be seen what impact the ICJ’s verdict will have considering the UK and US are permanent members of the UN Security Council and the latter has refused to accept its jurisdiction. However, it is still a moral victory against the imperialist powers.
These are just a few examples of the kind of impact Julian Assange’s work had on the imperialist powers of the world. And this is why these powers have scrambled to try to silence his voice. Even this bid to arrest him though has only exposed the fragility of their claims that they stand for freedom of speech and expression.