On the morning of April 11, 2019 British police entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London, detained Julian Assange, the founder and director of WikiLeaks, and forcibly ejected him from the embassy. Assange’s hands were cuffed during the dramatic episode, but he managed to clutch Gore Vidal’s 2014 book, History of the National Security State, and shout “the UK must resist … this attempt by the Trump administration,” before being carried into a police van.
The widely reported event concluded Assange’s nearly seven-year stay at the Ecuadorian embassy. The Australian citizen lived in two small rooms in the embassy for 2,487 consecutive days without consistent internet access, medical attention or the ability to go outside. In 2012, he was granted asylum by the Government of Ecuador to avoid extradition to Sweden in connection to sexual assault allegations that were dropped in 2017. He has always denied the allegations, saying the relations were consensual.
Assange and his lawyers feared that if he went to Sweden he would be extradited to the United States, because of the role of WikiLeaks in publishing thousands of war logs and diplomatic cables which have revealed war crimes and acts of corruption by the U.S., U.K., and other governments around the world. His lawyers have repeatedly stated that Assange was not given a guarantee by the Swedish government that their client won’t be extradited to the U.S. if he were to go to Sweden.
Since the British government refused to grant Assange safe passage to the London airport, he was practically trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy, as his health deteriorated and he was put under constant surveillance.
What caused Ecuador’s change of heart? The official story is that the country’s current president, Lenin Moreno, who came into office in 2017, revoked the asylum due to “repeated violations to international conventions and daily life.” Yet, signs of Assange’s impending arrest have been out in the open for some time—as early as July of 2018, Moreno had said he had talks with British authorities to withdraw the asylum.
On January 2, 2019 the former president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, who had originally granted Assange asylum in 2012, shared via Twitter a document that showed Ecuador’s current government was “auditing” Assange’s asylum as well as his Ecuadorian citizenship, which had been granted to him in 2017.
At the time, WikiLeaks noted that Correa’s revelation might have been directly related to efforts by the Moreno administration to secure a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). On March 11, 2019 the IMF approved a loan package of $4.2 billion to the government of Lenin Moreno.
In an April 12, 2019 interview with The Real News Network, Ecuador’s former foreign minister, Guillaume Long, said that Ecuador’s desire to realign with the Trump administration played a role in the surrendering of Assange. The former foreign minister mentioned that recent documents known as the “INA Papers,” which implicate Moreno and his family in serious financial crimes, might have also played a role in the Ecuadorian president’s decision to oust Assange from the embassy, although the INA Papers were not leaked by WikiLeaks (the organization only tweeted about them).
“Despite the fact that WikiLeaks did not publish the INA Papers, numerous Ecuadorian officials have inaccurately attributed the leak to WikiLeaks and threatened to expel Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in retribution,” WikiLeaks wrote at the time.
While most influential news outlets focused on the sensationalist aspects of the feud between Assange and his former Ecuadorian hosts, few questioned the legal basis used to revoke Assange’s asylum, which was granted to him precisely because he feared political prosecution and a potential extradition request from the U.S. Right after Assange’s arrest, it became known that American authorities have made a preliminary request for his extradition — a turn of events that justified the fears many have about Assenge’s future, if he were ever to appear in an American courtroom.
Now that the founder of WikiLeaks is under British arrest, more than 70 Members of Parliament are calling for him to face authorities in Sweden. “We do not presume guilt, of course, but we believe due process should be followed and the [Swedish] complainant should see justice be done,” their letter states. The Guardian reported that Elisabeth Massi Fritz, lawyer for the Swedish woman whose case remains outstanding, said “the news of his arrest came as a ‘shock’ and that there had been no prior notice,” and she called for the Swedish police investigation to be reopened.
Allegations of rape should never be ignored and if Swedish authorities can provide a trial without the threat of U.S. extradition, Assange should comply. What many fear, however, is that this whole fiasco is a plot by the U.S. to get Assange on American soil for exposing evidence of U.S. military crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. WikiLeaks, an international publishing organization which focuses on war crimes, human rights abuses, and corruption rose to fame in 2010 when it published hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents leaked by Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst.
“The Wikileaks’ Afghanistan war logs are a fantastic victory for investigative data based journalism, not only here at the Guardian but at the New York Times and Der Spiegel too,” The Guardian stated in 2010. The “Iraq War Logs” allowed the mapping of 109,032 deaths in “significant” attacks by insurgents in Iraq, including “an estimated 15,000 previously unknown civilian deaths.”
Among the released materials was a video titled Collateral Murder which was recorded on one of two Apache helicopters hunting for insurgents in Baghdad on July 12, 2007. The video shows U.S. soldiers killing two Reuters journalists and non-armed civilians, while laughing about the casualties. This provoked a global discussion on the legality and morality of the attacks.
Manning was savagely punished for her bravery in exposing the war crimes — starting in 2010, she served seven years in jail and endured long periods in solitary confinement and torture. While in prison, she attempted twice to commit suicide. In July, 2017 President Obama commuted the remaining of her prison sentence. However, on March 8, 2019 she was sent back to jail for refusing to testify before a secret grand jury, possibly in relation to Assange. As Common Dreams reported, “the decision to throw Manning in prison by U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton came after Manning refused to cooperate with prosecutors in a secretive grand jury process widely believed to be aimed at the media outlet Wikileaks, Wikileaks founder and publisher Julian Assange, or both.”
“I will not comply with this, or any grand jury,” wrote Manning in a statement. “Imprisoning me for my refusal to answer questions only subjects me to additional punishment for my repeatedly-stated ethical objections to the grand jury system.” Her defenders called her imprisonment “an outrageous government overreach and absolutely inhumane.”
In pursuing Assange, Tump is obeying his vengeful neocon masters who run Donald’s Operations department, while he claims he doesn’t know about WikiLeaks— once again playing the dumb card, perhaps to the dismay of even his most fervent supporters.
Assange and WikiLeaks don’t have many friends in Washington. The reputation of the Democratic establishment was badly damaged after WikiLeaks published hacked emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and senior Democratic officials in the run-up to the US presidential election in 2016. Some of those emails were taken from the account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta.
Among the revelations was evidence of the DNC leadership’s bias against Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, acknowledgement that the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have donated to the Clinton Foundation, are funders of the Islamic State, as well as details from Clinton’s lucrative speeches to Goldman Sachs.
The most important of those revelations might not even be about Hillary Clinton — an October 6, 2008 email from Michael Froman, at the time an executive at Citigroup, to Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta, almost perfectly guessed who would fill Obama’s 31 cabinet-level positions. “This was October 6,” wrote David Dayden in The New Republic after the leaks were published. “The election was November 4. And yet Froman, an executive at Citigroup, which would ultimately become the recipient of the largest bailout from the federal government during the financial crisis, had mapped out virtually the entire Obama cabinet, a month before votes were counted.”
The DNC leaks prompted the resignation of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, as well as DNC CEO Amy Dacey, CFO Brad Marshall, and Communications Director Luis Miranda.
The content of the emails, however, took a backseat to the narrative that the hacking was done by the Russian government. “Russian government hackers penetrated DNC, stole opposition research on Trump,” stated a Washington Post headline from a June 14, 2016 article that alleged “two separate hacker groups, both working for the Russian government … had infiltrated the network” in late April of 2016. The article cited the findings of CrowdStrike, a cyber firm which was “called in to handle the DNC breach.”
While articles in the mainstream press made it clear in the first paragraph that “Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency,” eight or nine paragraphs below, their authors usually qualified their grandiose claims with various caveats. Here’s what The Washington Post added in the middle of their article “Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House”:
For example, intelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin “directing” the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks, a second senior U.S. official said. Those actors, according to the official, were “one step” removed from the Russian government, rather than government employees. Moscow has in the past used middlemen to participate in sensitive intelligence operations so it has plausible deniability.
For those who read below the headlines, it’s obvious “Russia” is not the same as “actors one step removed from the Russian government.” However, that hasn’t stopped those who are paid to spread anti-Russian sentiments in the U.S. from smearing anyone who points out the hyperbolic and misleading nature of most Russiagate stories.
Another overlooked aspect of the DNC leaks affair is that the Democratic National Committee chose a private company to examine their servers. In January 2017, CBS, quoting FBI Director James Comey, stated that “the FBI requested access to the Democratic National Committee’s servers and servers for other Democratic entities that were hacked during the 2016 election, but its request was not met.” According to a “senior law enforcement official” quoted in The Hill at the time:
The FBI repeatedly stressed to DNC officials the necessity of obtaining direct access to servers and data, only to be rebuffed until well after the initial compromise had been mitigated … This left the FBI no choice but to rely upon a third party for information. These actions caused significant delays and inhibited the FBI from addressing the intrusion earlier.
Assange has consistently denied any connection with “state actors” in relation to the DNC leaks. In an interview with John Pilger, the WikiLeaks founder said that “The Clinton camp has been able to project that kind of neo-McCarthy hysteria: that Russia is responsible for everything … we can say that the Russian government is not the source.”
It’s important to point out that the single-count indictment which led to Assange’s arrest in March is not about publishing leaks, or for any activity during the 2016 U.S. elections, but for “conspiring to commit computer intrusion” with Chelsea Manning — a crime carrying a punishment of up to five years in prison. Activists suspect that the conspiracy charges are a pretext to bring Assange to the U.S. and pile additional charges against him, possibly locking him up for the rest of his life.
Assange’s legal team is now fighting U.S. extradition — a process that could take well over an year, while the Australian is confined in Belmarsh, described as Britain’s Guantanamo Bay.
In U.S. mainstream media, what should’ve been coverage of the grotesque partnership between the Trump administration and the Democratic establishment — and their attempt to criminalize dissent and free speech — turned out to be a united bipartisan chorus against “Russia’s efforts to undermine the U.S.” through WikiLeaks. Despite the fact that Mueller’s two-year investigation found no evidence of collusion with Russia, and that the U.S. indictment against Assange is about activities from 2010, corporate news pundits were quick to assimilate him into their deflated Russiagate theories.
“Julian Assange has long professed high ideals and moral superiority. Unfortunately, whatever his intentions when he started WikiLeaks, what he’s really become is a direct participant in Russian efforts to undermine the West and a dedicated accomplice in efforts to undermine American security,” said in a statement Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“Now that Julian Assange has been arrested, I hope he will soon be held to account for his meddling in our elections on behalf of Putin and the Russian government,” tweeted Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schuer.
“The Assange cultists are the worst. Assange was the agent of a proto fascist state, Russia, to undermine democracy. That is fascist behaviour. Anyone on the left should abhor what he did,” tweeted former Clinton aide Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress.
“Oh my god, look at him, look at the beard” exclaimed two CNN pundits as they were watching Assange being dragged out of the embassy. “Look at how many people it’s taking to take him down, he is not going willingly, he has aged more than seven years since he’s been there, and it’s just fascinating to watch this, let’s see it again,” one pundit concluded.
Regardless of what one might think about the 2016 DNC leaks, the fact that U.S. media chose to immediately frame Assange’s arrest in the context of “Russian interference” should alarm those who care about the future of journalism. Why is there so much effort by corporate media to discredit Manning and Assange, and so little analysis of the paradigm shifting revelations that strike at the core of U.S. empire and its cheerleaders?
The ganging up of liberal and right-wing operatives against Assange is a sign that if he were ever to be extradited to the U.S., he’d face the full arsenal of propaganda tools available to the ruling class and its media representatives. The irony of siding against one of their own is lost on “elite journalists” — many of whom re-published WikiLeaks’s materials and then turned on Assange in a cowardly attempt to satisfy their networks.
While Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said the United Kingdom should not extradite Julian Assange to the U.S., progressive U.S. politicians have been mostly silent, with only Democratic presidential hopeful Representative Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, condemning the arrest and calling it “a threat to journalists.” “The arrest of #JulianAssange is meant to send a message to all Americans and journalists: be quiet, behave, toe the line. Or you will pay the price,” Gabbard tweeted.
John Pilger, renowned Australian journalist and film maker, who is a critic of American, Australian, and British imperialist foreign policy, didn’t mince his words on the matter — “The warning is explicit towards journalists. What happened to the founder and editor of WikiLeaks can happen to you on a newspaper, you in a TV studio, you on radio, you running a podcast,” Pilger wrote. In his April 12, 2019 essay, “Assange Arrest a Warning from History,” Pilger asked:
If Assange is extradited to America for publishing what the Guardian calls truthful “things”, what is to stop the current editor, Katherine Viner, following him, or the previous editor, Alan Rusbridger, or the prolific propagandist Luke Harding?
What is to stop the editors of the New York Times and the Washington Post, who also published morsels of the truth that originated with WikiLeaks, and the editor of El Pais in Spain, and Der Spiegel in Germany and the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia. The list is long …
Even if journalists who published WikiLeaks’ leaks are not summoned by an American grand jury, the intimidation of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning will be enough. Real journalism is being criminalised by thugs in plain sight. Dissent has become an indulgence.
We shouldn’t forget that the Obama administration, which was extremely hawkish on whistleblowers, decided not to charge the WikiLeaks founder, fearing the implications this would have for the First Amendment. Obama’s administration charged eight prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act — more than double those under all previous presidents combined. Those in support of Assange’s arrest would have to ask themselves why they are being to the right of Obama, and in bed with Trump, when it comes to Assange this time around.
Another talking point circulated on the corporate circuit is that Assange is not really a journalist— a curious claim given that WikiLeaks has won numerous journalism awards, and uncovered more crimes and corruption than most journalists who are pointing their finger at the organization. In fact, the U.S. charges against Assange strike at the heart of what’s considered standard journalistic practices. As Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept put it, “the indictment seeks to criminalize what journalists are not only permitted but ethically required to do: take steps to help their sources maintain their anonymity.”
Whatever the facts, we can be sure that U.S. mainstream media will continue to frame Assange’s arrest favorably to the owner class, which means focusing on his cat, socks, and anything other than the actual work of WikiLeaks, which according to its founder has published ten million documents, several thousand individual publications, and several thousand different sources.
Unlike U.S. media’s Russiagate failures — defined by dozens of salacious headlines, lack of sources, walk-backs, and retractions — WikiLeaks has a flawless record for accuracy. Unfortunately, this embarrassing fact won’t stop those who are waist deep in Russiagate infotainment from implying that Assange and WikiLeaks are somehow part of the “Russian conspiracy” that brought Trump to the White Hose — a proclamation which tends to omit the history of U.S. and Russia meddling in each other’s politics, or substantive research on the 2016 U.S. elections that doesn’t blame Clinton’s loss on the Kremlin.
What political scientists with far less marketing funds and Twitter followers have argued is that Trump didn’t win because of Comey or “the Russians,” but because his campaign “targeted key states with late infusions of big money from private equity, casinos, and other far right contributors,” and facilitated a “remarkable wave of donations from small donors, and substantial infusions from the candidate himself.” Unfortunately, this kind of research doesn’t put much emphasis on Russian Facebook bots, which makes it less appetizing to liberal media.
Russiagate continues to serve its purpose as mainstream media’s magical ring, which allows Democrats to escape the embarrassment of losing to Trump, and presents Donald and his team a chance to be constantly on the big screen — a strategy that won him the presidency three years ago. The fact that the two beneficiaries of this narrative are working together to bring down journalists, whistle-blowers, dissidents and those who question U.S. war crimes should be a lesson for all of us. Likewise, the silence on this issue from many progressive politicians, including current Democratic presidential front-runner Bernie Sanders, signals how deep the moral mazes in Capitol Hill really go—what narratives can be publicly questioned, and what is best left curated by corporate media channels and the ex-surveillance talking heads they employ.
When it comes to prosecuting those who dare to expose the crimes and corruption of U.S. empire, Trump and establishment Democrats are “stronger together.” It’s up to progressive and independent journalists, media makers, and commentators to say what establishment figures won’t, per they donors, and what some progressives ignore, because they give credence to an “official” bipartisan narrative that blends newsy soundbites with the real possibility of criminalizing adversarial journalism in the United States.