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WikiLeaks: Still Standing, Still Speaking Truth to Power

7:27 am in Uncategorized by Center for Constitutional Rights

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

Breaking Private Manning

8:05 am in Uncategorized by Center for Constitutional Rights

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

Bradley Manning is being punished – and tortured – for a crime that amounts to believing one’s highest duty is to the American people and not the American government

bradley manning

Bradley Manning

By the time the 23-year-old soldier’s court martial starts on February 4, 2013, Bradley Manning will have spent 983 days in prison, including nine months in solitary confinement, without having been convicted of a single crime. This week, in pre-trail hearings, a military court is reviewing evidence that the conditions under which he has been held constitute torture. These conditions include the nine-month period spent 23 hours a day in a six-by-eight-foot cell where he was forbidden to lie down or even lean against a wall when he was not sleeping – and when he was allowed to sleep at night, officers woke him every five minutes – and where he was subjected to daily strip searches and forced nudity. The UN Special Rapporteur for Torture has already found this amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and possibly torture.

For almost three years Manning has endured intense physical and mental pressure, all designed to force him to implicate WikiLeaks and its publisher Julian Assange in an alleged conspiracy to commit espionage. It is also a message to would-be whistleblowers: the U.S. government will not be gentle.

“[If] you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington, D.C.… what would you do? … It’s important that it gets out…it might actually change something… hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms…”

These are purportedly Manning’s words*, and that is change many of us would like to believe in: that if you give people the truth about their government’s unlawful activities, and the freedom to discuss it, they will hold their elected officials accountable.

But it is one thing to talk about transparency, the lifeblood of democracy, and even to campaign on it – in 2008, candidate Obama said, “Government whistleblowers are part of a healthy democracy and must be protected from reprisal” – and another thing to act on it. On a fundamental level, Manning is being punished, without being convicted, for a crime that amounts to having the courage to act on the belief that without an informed public our republic is seriously compromised. Or, as he is quoted saying, for wanting  people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

The U.S. government is intent on creating a portrait of Manning as a traitor who aided and abetted Al Qaeda by releasing classified information into the public domain. But what actually occurred was that documents were sent anonymously to WikiLeaks, which published them in collaboration with The New York Times, The Guardian and other news media for the benefit of the general public, much like the Pentagon Papers were published a generation ago.

The emails the prosecution is using to try to prove Manning was the source of the leaks also depict the side of the story they want to hide, that of a young soldier grappling with the dilemma of a would-be whistleblower who knows he is taking great risks by exposing the state-sponsored crimes and abuses he witnessed, the “almost criminal political back-dealings… the non-PR-versions of world events and crises,” as he is quoted describing them to the confidant who ultimately betrayed him.

“I will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens.”  One can’t help wondering what Manning must think now, after so long under such brutal conditions of confinement. Did he expect the government to punish him in such a disproportionate and unlawful manner?

Manning’s abusive pre-trial treatment is a clear violation of the Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the United Nations Convention Against Torture, and even U.S. military law. In fact, Manning’s defense attorney David Coombs is arguing in the pre-trail hearings this week that in view of this blatant disregard for his client’s most fundamental rights, all charges should be dismissed.

The government claims this was all done to prevent Manning from committing suicide, though any rational observer might point out that these conditions are more likely to drive someone to suicide than keep him from it. The more likely explanation is the obvious one: the government wants to break Manning enough to force him to implicate WikiLeaks and Assange, and make enough of a show of it to deter other whistleblowers. At stake is the foundation of our democracy, a robust free press, and the fate of a true American hero.

*Disclaimer: Bradley Manning has not been convicted of any charges, nor has he admitted to any of the allegations against him. Likewise, he has not acknowledged the chat logs that purport to be his words.

Michael Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents WikiLeaks and Julian Assange as well as other journalists and major news organizations seeking to make the documents from the Manning trial public.