WikiLeaks journalist and founder, Julian Assange, was arrested inside an Ecuadorian Embassy located in London on April 11, 2019. British police are extraditing Assange on a U.S. warrant, citing his failure to surrender in 2012 as the reason for his arrest. In 2012, Assange was being extradited to Sweden on sexual assault charges before gaining asylum in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy.
So, if Assange committed sexual assault in Sweden, why is he being extradited to the United States? Some fear it is because of WikiLeaks release of 391,000 classified war logs in 2010. The classified material released was dubbed The Iraq War Logs, exposing war crimes committed by the United States and allies during the Iraq War — war crimes that were purposefully kept from the American public. The logs were obtained by WikiLeaks from Chelsea Manning, a trans woman and former United States Army soldier.
The Iraq Body Count Project, a website chronicling civilian deaths in the Iraq War, claimed the logs exposed 15,000 previously unknown civilian deaths, while The Guardian reported U.S. authorities failing to investigate reported incidents of rape, torture and murder by Iraqi Police. The behavior seemed to be systematic and unpunished. This contradicts the narrative of U.S. soldiers being sent to train forces.
The New York Times reported the United States’ use of mercenary contractors in the Iraq War and the subsequent cover up of contractor’s crimes. The logs exposed mercenary contractors, like Custer Battles, shooting at civilians and paying police forces off to keep quiet. Custer Battles was found guilty of fraud in 2006 by inflating invoices to the United States government resulting in gross overpayment of tax payer dollars.
The U.S. government has long since punished whistleblowers and journalists under the Espionage Act. The act prohibits interference of military operation in wartimes. What was passed to punish foreign spies within the United States is now used to punish journalists and whistleblowers like Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning for exposing lies the United States government told to the American public.
By choosing to arrest Assange, Trump’s executive branch of the United States is sending a clear message to journalists: print what we release publically and fall in line. If not, we will come after you.
The most shocking part of this story is the lack of media solidarity around the arrest. Many news outlets have praised Assange’s arrest because of his sexual assault allegations and odd stories of smearing feces on Ecuadorian embassy walls. While those may be crimes, they are not the reason for his arrest. He is being extradited for the release of the Iraq War Logs. This sets groundbreaking precedence for freedom of speech in the United States. The United States government was exposed for knowingly suppressing war crimes regarding civilian deaths, torture and murder in the Iraq War. Media around the world who know the importance of free speech to the marketplace of ideas and the vital role it plays in democracy should be standing in solidarity with Julian Assange.
While the character and goals of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks can be ambiguous, the vital role freedom of speech plays in our democracy is crystal clear. His character can be debated if found guilty of sexual assault allegations and his goals can be doubted when hacking Clinton’s private emails and not hacking Trump’s. What cannot be disputed, however, is the legitimacy and truthfulness of the information in the Iraq Logs. What cannot be ignored is the United States government purposefully reporting false quantity of civilian deaths, covering up torture and covering up mercenary contractor war crimes. What cannot be challenged is the responsibility journalists have of informing citizens of government actions domestically and abroad.