Everyone who values freedom should be concerned about the arrest of WikiLeaks personality Julian Assange. This is one of those cases that are not just about the accused, but are contests of values. Anyone who wants freedom and truth to triumph over tyranny and censorship should make two specific demands: A fair trial for sexual offenses and no prosecution for free speech.
The sexual offenses Assange has been accused of involve serious issues of consent. But a lot of suspicious circumstances surround the proceedings, which seem tailor-made for deflecting attention from the crimes revealed by WikiLeaks. Charges against Assange have changed multiple times and the allegations seem to keep getting worse. Assange’s lawyers claim that despite their overtures to the prosecution, the state has not been cooperative with them. The state would apparently prefer to make a big show by issuing a flashy Interpol directive to hunt down a fugitive. It’s a strange kind of fugitive they’re after — Assange cooperated with the police and turned himself in immediately after a proper arrest warrant was issued. It’s also noteworthy that the original Interpol notice was made within two days of the Cablegate releases.
Whether guilty of the sexual offenses or not, Julian Assange deserves a fair trial. This will be difficult to get in a government court where the judge is a politician and the prosecutor is out to win. Assange will need not only good legal representation, but also political pressure and money. Both of which the US government and its corporate sycophants are trying to keep out of the contest.
But the mask of power really slips when extradition to the United States is brought up. If Assange is extradited to the US, that means either the sexual charges are bogus or the international community regards telling the truth a more serious offense than rape. Who has Assange hurt in the US? There is no crime in damaging the interests of a gang of criminals.
Democracy is the legitimizing story for modern government. But government actually suppresses democracy by ruling over people and using its control of information to mislead the public. The success of WikiLeaks in dispersing the power of knowledge among the broader population damages the ruling class’s ability to prevent people from making informed decisions.
Recent WikiLeaks cables reveal that the US government manipulated courts in Spain, pressured German authorities away from holding CIA agents accountable, lied about bombings in Yemen, pressured the Turkish government to hold closer to the US position on Iran, and offered governments favors in exchange for their help in disappearing Guantanamo prisoners — to name just a few things.
They’ve also revealed US military contractors engaging in child prostitution, the Afghan vice president transporting $52 million in cash from unknown sources, and western corporations manipulating governments. Is Eric Holder promising to do “everything that we can” to get to the bottom of any of these crimes and hold people accountable? Nope. This is how they do things, and they’re only outraged that the peasants have found out.
The crimes revealed in published cables are of prime importance no matter how big the issue of Assange becomes. But the revelations also underscore the importance of defending Assange. If the government succeeds in making an example of him, then people might be dissuaded from spreading information. The same holds true for alleged leaker Bradley Manning. The more that politicians get away with, the more censorship they will attempt.
Political pressure can mean showing that people are watching, raising voices against the state, disrupting censorship prosecutions, and holding corporations accountable for siding with the state. This should be done concurrently with the continuous and innovative spread of information and the creation of more resilient funding networks. It must be made clear that the state stands to lose if it raises the stakes in the battle over free speech.