The Guardian • Issue #2059


Truth-teller must be freed

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2059

There are two important dates around now. Daniel Ellsberg died on 16th June this year, at the age of 92. Julian Assange turns 52 on 3rd July.

Both men were punished for doing what journalists are supposed to do: speak truth to power. Ellsberg (see this issue  Daniel Ellsberg “The most dangerous man in America”) released the Pentagon Papers which showed that the US President had “systematically lied” about the Vietnam war.

Julian Assange started Wikileaks, a website for whistleblowers. He became famous when Wikileaks published footage of US troops in Iraq shooting unarmed civilians, including Reuters journalists, from a helicopter.

The journalists the troops killed were Saeed Chmagh, and Namir Noor-Eldeen. You probably didn’t know their names. That’s because a trick has been played on us. Their story has been turned into a story about Julian Assange. Since Wikileaks revealed those murders, there has been a torrent of material about Assange. He’s a bad house-guest. He’s self-centred. He’s proud. He doesn’t offer to wash the dishes after a meal. Countless opinion pieces have opened by saying that persecuting whistle-blowers is bad but Assange is an annoying person.

Assange is fighting attempts to extradite him from the UK, where he is in a high-security prison, to the US, where the government has repeatedly said that they intend to give him a 175 year sentence for espionage.

In the first place, it was asserted that Assange had endangered lives by releasing too much information too carelessly. This has always been hard to prove (and Assange denies it), so the next step was to focus on Assange.

The latest twist is that Andrew O’Hagan, who was going to ghost-write Assange’s autobiography, and wrote an essay in the prestigious London Review of Books about how annoying Assange was as a person, has refused to cooperate with FBI investigators looking for more dirt on Assange. This makes the FBI seem pretty desperate, it’s a decade since O’Hagan met Assange. O’Hagan has told a Nine newspaper that he “would not give a witness statement against a fellow journalist being pursued for telling the truth.” In any event, O’Hagan has done his damage, despite these fine words.

This year will be the tenth time Assange has had a birthday while not free. He stayed in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for seven years because, reasonably enough, he feared that extradition to Sweden for sexual assault charges (since dropped) might lead to extradition to the United States. After leaving the embassy, he was arrested by British police and has been kept in the high-security Belmarsh prison. Other than breaching British bail laws, Assange has committed no crime.

However, there is a crime which is not recorded in the legal system of any country, but is heavily punished. That crime is the offence of getting in the way of our planet’s top imperialist power, the United States of America. The US has 800 military bases outside its borders, spends more on its military than the next four largest defence spenders combined, and throws its weight around like nobody’s business.

The United States behaves like a mafia enforcer, but also uses “soft-power” to get what it wants, and likes to get on its high horse about morality. In revealing the killings of Chmagh, Noor-Eldeen, and other civilians by troops who have never faced consequences, Assange went against the US sense of impunity and its self-image as a moral nation that can sit in judgement on the rest of the world.

Julian Assange has spent a decade without freedom, trying to stay out of the bullying superpower’s clutches.

Australian governments like to talk about our “sovereignty,” while at the same time making us even more a working part of the US empire. It is high time they showed they really meant it by bringing this Australian journalist home.

Happy Birthday Julian. We hope your next birthday is a free one.

Free Julian Assange! Bring him home!

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