Julian Assange and his tryst with freedom
The United States of America is one of the few countries in the world actively intending to invade third world countries for the purposes of spreading “democracy”. This is strikingly similar with the ideals of the British and French colonizers, whose arrogant, supremacist and racist views led them to believe that they were “civilizing the natives” by colonizing other albeit less developed countries.
This became most apparent when the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the horrendous attacks on the Twin Towers. Lest we forget, Saddam Hussain was a cruel, ruthless and genocidal authoritarian whose regime needed to be uprooted. However, President Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon’s administration was rather sympathetic to the Saddam Hussein regime(1).
Perhaps the US did really have good intentions. The question here is not about intentions. I would have applauded the US if it would have succeeded in establishing a secular democracy in Iraq. Far from it, the invasion proved catastrophic and resulted in the loss of innocent civilians lives. None of this, however, created as huge an uproar as the Vietnam War had done. Even though the reasons for the inclusion of US in Iraq was ominously similar to the Vietnam War. The involvement was condemned by prominent intellectuals on all sides of the political spectrum(2). The most damning and irrefragable evidence of the crimes of the US was stolen and revealed through WikiLeaks.
The Genesis of WikiLeaks
WikiLeaks started with the goal of creating an “uncensorable Wikipedia” in 2006. The early version of the website looked similar to Wikipedia. Its founder Julian Assange previously hosted a free speech website called suburbia.net in the 90’s where he laid down the ideas which would later culminate in WikiLeaks.
Its declared aim is to “expose oppressive regimes” around the world and their corruption. The organization believes that “transparency leads to reduced corruption, better government and stronger democracies”(3).
In its early years, Wikileaks published a number of confidential documents and videos exposing government corruption. Some of these included videos on civil unrest in Tibet, confidential documents of the cult of Scientology, and details about the members of a fascist British party.
These leaks did help in establishing WikiLeaks as a credible organization. However, it was the leaks of 2010–11 pertaining to the Iraq War and the Afghanistan debacle that made it a household name.
The crimes of Julian Assange
Chelsea Manning(formerly Bradley manning) was an unhappy person when she enlisted in army. She was bullied because of her identity. Perhaps it was partly due to her struggle with gender that she decided to publish those leaks.
In 2010, she contacted WikiLeaks on a secure instant messaging service. Over 91,731 classified documents were published by WikiLeaks on Iraq and Afganistan war. The most relevant documents were published by The New York Times and The Guardian.
Along with these documents and diplomatic cables, a video of an airstrike in Baghdad was released. The video was almost 38 minutes long. Assange decided to call it “Collateral Murder”. It exposed how US helicopters engaged in indiscriminate killing of civilians. Over a dozen people were killed- including two journalists. The helicopters were shown targeting a van which had stopped to help the wounded. Two children were reported to be injured.
Of all the documents released, this video was the most shocking to the masses.
Assange’s arrest and death of journalism
On April 11, Julian Assange was dragged out of the Ecuadorian after almost 8 years of staying inside one house. After facing extradition from US, Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador in 2012. Earlier this year, WikiLeaks had promoted a website hosting leaked documents on the President of Ecuador.
It is quite probable that Assange knew about the documents and still made it a point to release them. It seems preposterous to suggest that Assange didn’t know what was coming. His pursuit of his own goals put him in danger.
Whether Assange’s activities were illegal or not isn’t the appropriate question to ask. What Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela did was illegal too. The question is whether it was morally right. The question is whether the public deserves to know the crimes of its state. The question is whether the public should be allowed to hold the government accountable for its actions. The question is whether journalists should be allowed to access information in the greater good of the citizens.
Christopher Hitchens, a staunch Marxist and a supporter of the Iraq War, claimed that Julian Assange was “ plainly a micro-megalomaniac with few if any scruples and an undisguised agenda.”(4)
Yes, Julian Assange’s agenda is undisguised. His agenda is to expose the corruption of the states through transparent free flowing of information. He is not a man who “resents the civilization that nurtured him”. He is a man who seeks out to better his own civilization by pointing out its mistakes.
Julian Assange is not an individual anymore. He is a symbol. A symbol for the true ideals of democracy. A symbol for all responsible citizens and journalists who care about free speech. We should all stand up for Julian Assange, regardless of whether we like the man or not. Punishing him would set an example for every future conscientious citizen who wishes to reveal what’s clearly and inexcusably morally wrong.