By Nozomi Hayase
July 22, 2019
The US government’s indictment against WikiLeaks founder
Julian Assange marked the worst attack on press freedom in history. Assange has
been charged on 18 counts, including 17 violations of the Espionage Act. James
Goodale, former general counsel of The New York Times, who urged the paper to
publish the Pentagon Papers during the Nixon administration noted, “If the
government succeeds with the trial against Assange, if any, that will mean that
it’s criminalized the news gathering process.”
On June 12, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid has signed the
extradition papers. Assange’s hearing is now set to begin next February. He is
now being held in London’s Belmarsh prison for what amounts to a politically
motivated, 50-week sentence given by the judge for him violating bail
conditions in 2012 in order to seek and obtain political asylum in Ecuador
against the threat of extradition to the US.
Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, who
visited Assange in a notorious UK prison previously referred to as “Britain’s
Guantanamo Bay”, assessed that Assange has been subjected to prolonged
psychological torture by the US government and its allies for nearly a decade.
While this multi-award winning journalist, who has revealed the governments’
war crimes, suffers in jail, the British government that has been a key player
of this political persecution recently held a Global Conference for Media
Despite its stated mission of protecting the safety and
rights of journalists, the conference failed to address the degrading and
inhumane treatment of Assange and the US government’s prosecution of the
publisher that could set a dangerous precedent for press freedom. This hypocrisy
of all was best shown by the fact that this gathering was hosted by UK Foreign
Secretary Jeremy Hunt who, last month, told the US TV that he would happily
extradite Assange to Trump’s America where former CIA officer John Kiriakou
indicated that he would receive no fair trial and face life imprisonment.
What is this Western governments’ coordinated attack on this
Australian native who published truthful information, in the public interest,
about the US government? Over 10 million documents that WikiLeaks released with
a pristine record of accuracy informed people around the world about corruption
and wrongdoing of governments and corporations. But most importantly, they
exposed the true face of Western liberal democracy.
What is Western liberal democracy? It is a particular style
of governance that was developed in the US and exported around the world.
Political theorist Sheldon S Wolin (2008) described it as “modern managed
democracy” and attributed its creation to the framers of the Constitution.
This managed democracy relies on secrecy and deception to
control the will of the populace. In this system, [the] press works as a
propaganda machine. Journalists become gatekeepers, whose job is to maintain an
illusion of democracy through restricting the flow of information and
controlling narratives. Now, WikiLeaks’ disclosures on government secrecy have
pierced a façade of democracy and began challenging the hidden power inside the
WikiLeaks revelationa, coupled with the 2008 financial
meltdown, triggered the global crisis of legitimacy. People came to recognize
the unfairness and injustice inherent in the system, where rules don’t apply to
everyone equally. Weakening of public trust in institutions spawned a cycle of
protests around the world.
In 2011, Amnesty International recognized the role of
WikiLeaks’ documents in instigating global revolutionary uprisings. The US
diplomatic cables leak helped generate a powerful force that finally toppled
the corrupt Tunisian dictator Ben Ali. The fire of self-immolation and global
awakening confirmed by the US embassy cables, spread like wildfire through
social media and lit the passions of Egyptians in Tahrir Square.
From Spain, Greece, and the London riots to the Occupy
movement, waves of action for self-determination were reaching the West. This
crisis of liberal democracy didn’t just emerge in 2011. The roots of the
problems that we are now facing are found at the birth of the American
The truth is that the country has been in crisis from the
very beginning. Although the constitution was founded on the revolutionary
ideas that rejected the power of the King’s monarchy, it contained
contradictions and was far from being perfect. A constitutional republic was
built in violation of the ideals infused in the Declaration of Independence,
manifested in genocide of natives, the enslavement of blacks, and the
suppression of women.
One of influential figures in America’s earlier development,
Thomas Jefferson, predicted and warned his fellow citizens about the seed of
corruption within, when he feared, there would come a time when the American
system of government would degenerate into a form of “elective despotism”.
Julian Assange, through his work with WikiLeaks responded to
this crisis that has existed all along inside this nation. How did he do it? To
examine this question, we have to look at who Julian Assange is.
When Assange was once asked to describe what exactly he does
in life, he answered; “I am an activist, journalist, software programmer expert
in cryptography, specialized in systems designed to protect human rights
defenders.” Assange is an excellent journalist. He published material at a
scale and speed that has never been seen before, winning numerous journalistic
awards. But he is much more than just a journalist. With a variety of skills
and talents, he made significant contributions to the larger society. He was
nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize and was a recipient of the Sydney
Peace Foundation Gold Medal, the Sam Adams Award and the Voltaire Award for
Free Speech, among others.
Perhaps the best way to describe him would be that he is an
innovator at heart. Innovators understand the problems that exist in our
society and come up with solutions. What were the problems that Assange
identified? He recognized anti-democratic forces inside the history of the
United States. He also understood that within the existing political system
there is no mechanism for ordinary people to check on this power. Upon this
analysis, he found a way to tackle this problem by inventing a new form of
journalism. WikiLeaks was the solution.
The framers of the constitution wanted to have power over
people. As a testimony to this, the original draft of the constitution did not
have a Bill of Rights. They were added to the constitution as amendments. This
didn’t come about without struggle. The proponents of the Bill of Rights
demanded them in order to safeguard individual liberty and challenged those who
seek to preserve levers of control. Even after the constitution was ratified
with a Bill of Rights, the problem of this unaccounted power was never truly
Excerpted from: 'In Crisis of Democracy, We All Must
Become Julian Assange'.