It is now the 14th anniversary of WikiLeaks and though we celebrate that today we do so in the shadow of the Old Bailey and the terrible injustices we have seen here in the past 4 weeks of the trial of Julian Assange. But the survival of Wikileaks, its continuing publication of leaks, in the face of deadly and unremitting hostility from the US, British and other states, is a victory which we salute today.
We celebrate WikiLeaks breaking through official lies and secrecy and giving the peoples of the world, the right to see the truth about how state power works. We celebrate the extraordinary wealth of material that has been and can still be seen by anyone with a computer: the Collateral Murder video, Afghan War Logs, the Iraq War Logs, Cablegate, the Guantanamo files, the Spy Files, the Saudi Cables and Vault 7.This caused more than just acute embarrassment to various states – it caused fear, alarm, dread and a determination to crush WikiLeaks. Which of the war-crime states can afford to have its murder and torture, covert wars, criminal dealings, mass surveillance and cynical manipulations thus exposed? It must at be stopped at all costs, they say.
Wikileaks’ new model of transparent publishing of detailed secret material from governments and corporations hit the world like a bolt of lightning. In 2010 commentators said it marked a wholly new method of producing news, a breakthrough for democracy and Julian Assange’s popularity soared as ever more leaks were published. He was voted by Time Magazine readers as Person of the Year. Awards including from Amnesty UK, the Economist and many others were heaped on his head. His name was on everyone’s lips. Celebrities beat a path to his door. Media organizations were keen to partner the leaks.
Well that was then and this is now. 10 years later we witness both Julian Assange and truthful journalism fighting for their lives. Many of the fairweather friends of 2010 have deserted him; he has suffered a decade of detention, torture, isolation, vilification and silencing. And the war criminals walk free.
But this trial and its eloquent witnesses have shown us once again the tremendous value of Wikileaks. We have heard witness after witness testify to the power of Wikileaks in exposing specific war-crimes, torture and rendition. We saw what the leaks meant for those fighting for justice.
Dean Yates, former Reuters Bureau chief in Baghdad. He stated that in July 2007 staff burst into his office and told him that two Reuters Staff, Saeed and Namir – had been killed by US forces. Frantically, he sought details from the US military who put out a statement that nine insurgents had been killed in a firefight and two civilians killed. They said: ‘There is no doubt that Coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force’.
Well, as we all know now, this was a pack of lies because this is the incident shown in the Collateral Murder video. But in 2007 Dean Yates did not know what had happened and was hearing civilian eyewitness reports that denied any firefight taking place. Yates and Reuters tried to get the film of the incident but were repeatedly denied. It was not until the Collateral Murder video was released in 2010 that Yates realised just how much he had been lied to. He was traumatised as he watched the video of his colleagues and other deaths:
“The carnage wrought by 30mm canon fire from the Apache helicopter is devastating. The video shows the gunner tracking Namir as he stumbles and tries to hide behind garbage before his body explodes. “Oh yeah look at those dead bastards” a pilot is heard to say.
Dean Yates whose life was forever changed by this incident, said:
‘I know that Namir and Saeed would have remained forgotten statistics in a war that killed countless human beings, possibly hundreds of thousands of civilians. Had it not been for Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, the truth of what happened to Namir and Saeed, the truth of what happened on that street in Baghdad would not have been brought to the world.’
Khaled El-Masri was due to appear but the Prosecution objected and the usual ‘technical difficulties’ prevented him appearing but we have his statement. He was kidnapped at the Macedonian border in 2003 and held for 23 days then handed over to a CIA rendition team who he said ‘physically overwhelmed me, cutting off all my clothes except my blindfold. I saw seven to eight men dressed in black who put me in a diaper and tracksuit, a bag over my head and earmuffs’.
He was taken to a plane and flown to a prison in Afghanistan where he was humiliated, stripped naked, insulted and threatened. Earlier he had been severely beaten, sodomised, shackled and hooded and subjected to total sensory deprivation.
When he went on a protest hunger strike in Afghanistan, he was painfully force fed. The CIA knew for several weeks that his was a case of mistaken identity and finally after 5 months he was put on a plane and dumped on a dirt road in Albania to make his own way back to his home in Germany. He fought for years to prove that this had happened to him against stonewalling, denials and silence from the authorities. He lived through a nightmare.
The CIA had told him that he would be monitored after release and that should he speak to the media about his experiences, there would be consequences.
‘My quest for accountability has been characterised by passivity and avoidance on the part of the officials. It has been manifested in attacks on me, intimidation and slurs on my character in the course of which my very sense of reality has been chipped away, questioned and undermined by powerful states seeking only to protect themselves from being held to account.’.
His lawyer was threatened and had his office bugged.
It was only in 2010/2011 that it became clear what pressures had taken place to preserve secrecy in his case. One of the Cablegate cables showed that the USA had warned the Germans that the issuance of international arrest warrants for the personnel involved in his rendition would ‘have a negative impact on our US-German relations.’ And Germany ensured that the case went no further.
….it has been journalists and investigators, informed by Wikileaks documents that have been able through their painstaking and diligent work, to corroborate my story…’
He received some justice when in 2012 the European court found that he had been subjected to ‘forced disappearance, unlawful detention, rendition outside normal judicial process and inhuman and degrading treatment’. The cable from Cablegate was used in evidence there. His attempts to prosecute the culprits in the USA were dismissed by the Office of the Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia – the same court that has brought the indictment against Assange. Indeed, some parts of El-Masri’s experiences mirror what has been done to Julian Assange. Judicial and non-judicial rendition have many similarities.
Nicky Hager – New Zealand journalist
From the Afghan war logs, Hager said he learned of a previously unknown US program of kill-capture operations using drones, bombs, and night raids. They targeted individuals from a secret Joint Prioritised Effects List. A Kill List in an operation that has been described as “an almost industrial-scale counterterrorism killing machine.’
These revelations set the scene for journalistic inquiry into New Zealand Special Forces launching a kill-capture operation. Those inquiries have resulted in an official inquiry into the actions of New Zealand Forces overseas.
Hager noted the inquiry into NZ forces is likely to find “laws of war” were “breached” in a raid he exposed—a reminder of “vital importance of confidential sources of information in a democratic society.”
John Sloboda Iraq Body Count
His statement said: 10 years on the Iraq War Logs provide the only source of information regarding many thousands of deaths between 2004 and 2009. What Iraq Body Count’s analysis shows is that the Iraq War Logs contain a vast amount of information about civilian casualties of the Iraq War not previously known and not subsequently made public by any other means. The Iraq war logs contain an estimated 15,000 previously unknown civilian deaths.
The trial has itself revealed secrets. There were detailed statements from two UC Global employees about the spying operation in the Ecuadorian Embassy. UC Global was working with ‘American Friends’ to spy on Assange around the clock. All his visitors – most significantly his lawyers – were filmed and recorded. And it has shone a harsh light on the dark and fetid corners of the US prison system and the living death it imposes on those under Special Administrative Measures as the US appears to be planning for Julian Assange.
We can also tell how effective WikiLeaks has been by who are its enemies.
• These are the imperialists and their well-paid hangers on. They are the war-mongers, the law-breakers, the death merchants, the torturers, the callous profiteers who will do anything to defend their system up to and including the destruction of the world environmentally or in a nuclear war. They are the hoarders of secrets, enemies of the people, the surveillers and the plotters against the peoples of the world. They spend billions on their disinformation campaigns because they know that if reasonable people saw what they were actually doing, they would revolt
• The corporate media which is either silent, or trivializes or lies about the case. with the Guardian the very worst of the bunch. Its lies about redaction now seem to form the very basis of the Prosecution case. As Jonathan Cook has said ‘ it is up to us to make sure the Guardian is not allowed to continue colluding in this crime against Assange and the press freedoms he represents.’
• The comfortable British NGOs who have done virtually nothing to help Assange and who must have been deeply embarrassed to see their European counterparts turning up in large numbers to observe the trial. Amnesty UK has never raised a finger for Assange.
• The UK politicians and parliamentarians. It was European MEPs who turned up to observe the trial. Not one British MP has seen fit to observe the trial and hardly a word has been said in the House of Commons.
• The legal world – in the face of the devastating injustices and illegalities done to Assange, no legal big-hitters have spoken him or raised a voice about the profound injustices he is suffering and the judicial bias and conflicts of interest that he is fighting. They keep their mouths shut as they watch a journalist and publisher caged behind a glass screen, unable to prepare his own case with his lawyers, imprisoned in a high security prison in virtual solitary confinement. And with a supervising judge with deep links to intelligence and the arms industry.
But who are the friends of Wikileaks? They are millions. They are a Coalition of Hope. They are those who have experienced the oppression of imperialism from Latin America where the US (and UK) fights to ensure that no democratic government is allowed to survive for long, to the Middle East where not only have millions died but 37 million people have been displaced by the wars there. They are the people who have seen drones in action, seen rendition, torture and secret trials. They are the believers in truth and democratic rights: the right to information, the right of people to see the cynicism, the war crimes and the corruption of rulers. They are the van drivers who repeatedly hoot their horns in support of the protests. They are the bus drivers whose first action when they formed a rank and file committee was to pass a motion in support of Julian Assange. They are those who have stood here in protest day after day. They are the proper journalists in print and on video who have covered this trial in detail and done a magnificent job of it. The people around the world who are fighting to prevent Julian Assange’s judicial rendition to the USA. Because they know what is at stake.
Free Julian Assange!