Despite Crippling Financial Blockade And Other Efforts To Set Them Back, Publishers Of Biggest Leaks In Journalistic History Press On

By Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights

Julian Assange

Julian Assange

December 19, 2012 – Six months ago today, Julian Assange was forced to seek asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy to avoid extradition to the United States via Sweden. Assange knew this could mean an indefinite stay at the embassy, but he also knew it was the only way to avoid sharing Private Bradley Manning’s tragic fate of being locked up and tortured by the U.S. government for allegedly revealing its crimes.

Many thought Assange’s high-wire situation signaled the end of WikiLeaks. They were wrong. Despite efforts to silence their publisher-in-chief and his confinement to the embassy in London, a crippling financial blockade, and the silence of the major media who once partnered with WikiLeaks and still use their material, the transparency group continues providing civilians all over the world with an honest record of what their governments do in their name.

Assange is wanted for questioning on unrelated allegations in Sweden, and those allegations must be taken seriously and answered. He has been willing to do so in London and has said he would go to Sweden if guaranteed he would not be sent to the United States.  Sweden, however, has refused both suggestions.

Despite it all, WikiLeaks has kept busy. In 2012 alone the group published over a million documents, including the rules for the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca in Iraq, as well as U.S. military interrogation manuals. This year they also began publishing the Syria files – more than two million emails from political figures and ministries that demonstrate the duplicity of Western countries and corporations in dealing with Syria. WikiLeaks’ work continues to play an active role in shaping the actions of governments throughout the world.  Just a few days ago the European Court of Human Rights, citing cables published by WikiLeaks, ruled that the CIA’s rendition and treatment of Khaled El-Masri constituted torture.

While at the embassy, Assange also co-authored a groundbreaking book, Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet. The thesis that “the power of the internet to provide free uncensored communications” has also given governments “the power to surveil all the communications that were occurring” is both provocative and important for us to remember. As if on cue, The Wall Street Journal recently revealed that the National Counterterrorism Center is now examining millions of records, including databases of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and flight records of U.S. citizens, even if they have no relationship to any crimes or investigations.

But defending our right to know and bearing the brunt of the United States’ war on whistleblowers and their publishers has a high cost. There is no end in sight for Assange’s stay at the embassy as Britain continues to neglect its diplomatic obligations under the UN’s Refugee Convention by preventing Ecuador from safely transferring him out of the country. And credit card companies, including American Express, Master Card, Visa and PayPal, have taken their cue from the American and British governments and done everything in their power to bankrupt WikiLeaks by refusing to accept donations on their behalf.

Those allegedly involved in furnishing document to WikiLeaks are likewise facing serious consequences for their actions. Bradley Manning was not only tortured, but faces life imprisonment. Jeremy Hammond, the alleged leaker of the Stratfor documents, was denied bail and faces imprisonment of 37 years to life.

Let the sacrifices of these heroic individuals serve as a reminder to citizens all over the world that it is our duty to defend those who defend our right to know what our governments do in our name, with our tax money and against our most fundamental principles.

The cost of exposing state crimes is now higher than ever. WikiLeaks is still standing but only because supporters worldwide have gone on the offensive. It is vital that this support stays strong. In light of all this year’s obstacles, doing so just got a bit easier. This week, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a nonprofit with a board that includes Pentagon Papers publisher Daniel Ellsberg, journalist Glenn Greenwald, writer Xeni Jardin, filmmaker Laura Poitras, Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow, and actor John Cusack, was launched to support media organizations like WikiLeaks dedicated to transparency and accountability. WikiLeaks’ fight to open governments continues to stay on course. Let us all stand with them in 2013.

Image by robertxcadena under Creative Commons license