Julian Assange: Hero or villain?

In 2006, the Australian-born Julian Assange, now age 47, founded Wikileaks. It slowly built up a first-rate reputation as an organization that got the inside scoop on war crimes and political corruption in countries around the world. Right-wing regimes were running for cover from it, especially if they also had a track record for gross abuse of human rights.

Cutting to the chase: Wikileaks teamed up with Chelsea (aka Bradley Manning) in 2010, to publish a series of sensational leaks dealing with America’s reputed war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the time, Manning was then a US soldier and intelligence officer. He was later charged with 22 offenses. President Barack Obama, however, commuted Manning’s sentence in 2017, to time served.

Getting back to Assange, in 2010, as a result of a rape charge, which he has vigorously denied, he made his way from Sweden to London. In December of that year, he surrendered to the UK Police and was released on bail. In June 2012, fearing extradition to the US, he sought and was granted asylum in the embassy of the Republic of Ecuador in London. He even became a citizen of Ecuador.

After seven years of being housed in one room at the embassy, however, and engaging in a bitter, long-running dispute with its officials, Assange was given the boot by Ecuador. The President of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, also labeled him “a spoiled brat.”

On April 11th, Assange was forcefully dragged out of the embassy, in handcuffs, by the British police. He was wearing a long white beard, the kind that the former TV host and comedian David Letterman is usually seen in today. Assange, struggling to keep his dignity, looked like a pitiful mess. He was immediately charged with a breach of his bail by UK authorities and jailed.

Then, the other shoe fell! Donald Trump’s Justice Department announced also on April 11th, a criminal indictment accusing Assange of conspiring with the whistleblower Manning to break into a US government database containing classified information. Extradition to the US to face that charge, plus possibly even more serious ones, loom on the horizon for the beleaguered Assange.

The political Left responded immediately to Assange’s predicament. John Pilger, a popular British author, and liberal pundit, writing for “Counterpunch” (04.12.19), commented: “The shocking arrest of Assange carries a warning for all…The warning is explicit towards journalists. What happened to the founder and editor of Wikileaks can happen to you, you on a newspaper, you in a TV station, you on radio, you running a podcast.”

“Dissent is Patriotic” In this antiwar protest action outside the White House, Daniel Ellsberg can be found third from the left.

Probably America’s most famous whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg, of “Pentagon Papers” notoriety, jumped into the fray. In an excellent interview conducted by reporter Sharmini Peries of “The Real News Network,” he expressed his deepest fears about this case as a “very serious assault on the First Amendment,” and possibly the “beginning of the end for press freedom.”

Ellsberg stated: “One of the charges Assange faces is that he encouraged Manning to give him documents…Well, if that’s a crime, then journalism is a crime…if that is all it takes, then no journalist is safe. The Freedom of Press is not safe. It’s over…Unauthorized disclosures of this kind are the lifeblood of a republic.”

The patriotic Ellsberg concluded the interview by urging all Americans, with respect to this very ominous situation, “to join ranks here and now to expose and resist the wrongful…abuse of our laws to silence journalists.”

The brouhaha over Assange has even caused the conservative host of Fox TV, Tucker Carlson, to come to his defense (04.12.19). He believes that Assange has been unfairly maligned. He said whatever his sins, “Assange did not steal documents from the U.S. government. He did not hack the Democratic National Committee (DNC) servers. He did not break into John Podesta’s Gmail account. And there is no proof he is working for the Russians…”

Carlson speculated that just about everyone in Washington “hates Assange.” The pundit also believes that “Assange’s real sin was preventing Hillary Clinton from becoming president!” He did that, Carlson implied, by publishing papers from various sources, including the records of the Democratic National Committee, (DNC), that made her look bad.

In her book, “What Happened,” Clinton referred to Assange, as an Australian “nihilist,” who had helped to “brainwash” the public against her candidacy. Reportedly, when Clinton was Secretary of State, she joked about Assange, “Can’t we just drone this guy?” She has denied making any such damaging statement.

In concluding his remarks, Carlson said: “It’s remarkable to watch this. It’s bewildering, actually. There was a time, not so long ago, really, when reporters didn’t applaud the arrest of other journalists for publishing information.”