Sitting inside of the British high-security equivalent of America’s Guantanamo—and suffering from a similar commitment to an endless legal limbo in a system that both fears to try him and at the same time seeks to destroy him—Julian Assange is an example of the fizzled-out fireworks of American democracy.
While many Americans mistakenly regard Assange as a criminal and menace, the smearing of his name has likely been part of a concerted effort to destroy him. Like the rest of you, I can only guess on the matter of the criminal charges, although it has been asserted that the trumped-up Swedish “rape” case was merely a ploy to have him extradited to the U.S.
But I also know this: Without a few brave, journalistic purveyors of uncomfortable truths, our entire world would be doomed. The fact is, if democratic governments are to survive, the Assanges of the world will be invaluable.
Julian Assange is the man behind WikiLeaks, and he’s made it his business to dredge up the truth. Very much akin to the great journalists who have ended wars, brought down policies and dethroned presidents, Assange is a flag-bearer of free speech and free press. To some, he’s the equivalent of a Russian Navalny, who continues to speak out for truth and, in so-doing, subjects himself to the wrath of the powerful.
Unfortunately, Assange—an Australian and, more recently, Ecuadorian citizen—made himself a target of those who could fall in disgrace because of his exposés. His dives into the depths of national and international corruption have shown us that the U.S. and its close allies fall short of their choir-boy claims.
Free speech and an unmuzzled press are sacrosanct tenets of our country. And yet, for all the clamor over free speech issues and the long-heralded proclamations on how essential the press is in protecting our democracy, Americans seem to be forgetting the sacred essentials of just what it is that keeps our nation free. Historically, those who have used their journalistic fervor to nail our country’s misdeeds and duplicity have become symbols of America’s greatness.
Take Daniel Ellsberg, for instance, whose exposure of the Pentagon Papers helped to end the horror of our involvement in Vietnam. His expository efforts made it clear that almost everything the government had told us about Vietnam was a lie—that the Gulf of Tonkin attack was a provocation based on falsity, and that the U.S. was denying truth to its citizens, reporting the opposite of what was fact and hiding the grisly horrors of a fruitless and costly war.
Without investigative journalism, our country would be no better than China or Russia, wherein the population’s access to information is blocked by highly sophisticated campaigns to make sure that uncomfortable facts about their governments never see the light of day.
As Americans, we like to think that we have freedom of information and speech, but the targeting of journalism’s foot soldiers keeps showing us we’re wrong.
Among Assange’s most stunning revelations was the exposure of an American Apache helicopter’s crew, first that it mischaracterized the nature of a small gathering of harmless people, and then its taking delight in having killed the group, which included two Reuters newsmen. Comments like, “sweet,” “look at that bitch go” and “nice missile” revealed a glaring absence of natural humanity. Along with 12 to 15 unarmed adults—all apparently involved in a peaceful setting—two young children were horribly injured.
The availability of the audiotape memorializing the horror was a wake-up call to the military—that there were ways to get evidence of the truth and put it in front of the public. What was spoken during those final moments of human life was an indictment of how war has a way of eviscerating the humanity of its fighters. WikiLeaks was the hero that day.
After years of avoiding extradition to the U.S.—something that was sure to happen if the U.K. had extradited him to Sweden to face sexual assault and rape charges—it appears that Assange’s options are now looking grim. His three-plus years at London’s notorious Belmarsh Prison have taken a terrible toll on his mental and physical health.
It’s a fascinating dichotomy: They’ll give Trump a free pass on the 30,573 lies he told during his presidency, but while Trump continues as a treasonous monster who relies on lies to promote his agendas, Julian Assange continues to suffer for speaking the truth.
Lies have become a front-and-center problem for our country. The flip side is that there are those who are hunted down and persecuted because they had the courage to tell the truth. Over the past few years, Americans have seen an alarming reversal of the old doctrine of making whistleblowers heroes. More and more, the courageous have been maligned, subjected to the worst slanders and ruined by a U.S. government that has far too many secrets and will do anything to keep them from the public eye.
Just as with the exposed reality that the U.S. conducts unauthorized surveillance of virtually all its citizens, our country is neither supportive of its free speech rights nor the preservation of in-depth investigative journalism. That’s a shame.
Sadly, the U.K. has become complicit in the business of suppressing truth. Its home secretary, Priti Patel, recently canceled the extradition hold on Assange. While his appeals are not thoroughly exhausted, it is appearing more certain that Assange will be delivered to the U.S. to face prosecution under the 1917 Espionage Act—all because he shined a light on the truth.
Consistent with the same mentality that pushed Tony Blair—Bush’s English lapdog—to support the Iraq war, the British government is once again taking the wrong side, assisting in the enforcement of a punitive U.S. law that could see Assange imprisoned for life.
Along with our country’s apparent commitment to make hell for those who talk about its secrets, it has enlisted its allies in the war to ensure that Americans will never know the truth. The U.K. is now an active participant, virtually ensuring that “you keep my secrets, and I’ll keep yours.”
The author is a retired businessman, novelist, columnist, and former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He lives in Riverton, Utah with his wife, Carol, and the beloved ashes of their mongrel dog