If we are to believe it, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, the man behind showing the ugliness of power, is the one responsible for having abused it. It is a running theme in the US case against this Australian publisher, who has been given the coating of common criminality hiding the obvious point: that the mission is to make journalism on official secrets, notably those covering atrocity and abuse, a crime.
The first day of full extradition hearings against Assange at Woolwich Crown Court was chocked with a predictable prosecution case, and a robust counter by the defence. Central to the prosecution’s case for extradition to the US is the emphasis on the ordinariness of Assange’s alleged criminality, to diminish the big picture abuses of empire and focus on the small offences of exposure. In so doing, that seemingly insurmountable problem of journalism becomes less important. If you publish pilfered material from whistleblowers, you are liable, along with those unfortunates who dared have their conscience tickled.
As James Lewis QC advanced at London’s Woolwich Crown Court,
“What Mr Assange seems to defend by freedom of speech is not the publication of the classified materials but the publication of the names of the sources, the names of the people who had put themselves at risk to assist the United States and its allies.”
Here, the rhetorical shift is clear: there were those who assisted the US, and Assange was being very naughty in exposing them via the State Department cables and the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs. In doing so, he had also conspired with US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack a password and conceal his identity in accessing and downloading relevant files.
Relegating Manning to the status of wooed conspirator was a ploy convincingly swatted by defence barrister Edward Fitzgerald QC. He merely had to consult Manning’s own court martial, in which she clearly stated that “the decisions I made to send documents and information to the WikiLeaks website were my own decisions and I take full responsibility for my actions.”
According to Lewis, the disclosures by WikiLeaks had grave consequences. Fascinatingly enough, enough, these were not the sort identified by Pentagon studies which took a less punitive view on the subject.