With a probable and imminent extradition to the United States – which wants to convict him of espionage – the days of Julian Assange they would seem numbered. However, although he is the face and body of Wikileaks, there are reasons to suppose that the organization will continue to spread war crimes, corruption and, in general, the hypocrisy that accompanies so many actions (and omissions) of nation-states, whether on internal or international issues.
In fact, the seed that Wikileaks planted 11 years ago when it entered the global scene of journalism (and politics) with the spread of the video Collateral Murder (“Collateral murder”, of which you can see an analysis here. Warning: sensitive images), germinated and expanded through research such as Panama Papers Y Pandora Papers. No matter how much Wikileaks has its head cut off, it would seem that the organization, like Hydra of Lerna, can regenerate and move on. Or at least his example spreads.
The Assange case, then, is more like the crusade of the world’s leading power against this white-haired Australian who had a blazing rise and then an ignominious fall. The case also sheds light on the moral complexities that the exercise of power always brings. But first things first.
Julian Assange seems to have been, from a very young age, two things: an outsider, and a rebel. He went to more than 30 schools during his childhood, because his mother moved often. “He was always the new one,” he said in a 2010 interview on the 60 Minutes program.
His first computer was a Commodore 64, an artifact that many nostalgic people will remember with fondness and excitement. That machine, raw and all, was the gateway for many, many to the digital world, and for Assange it was the tool that allowed him to make his first hacks, his first entries into domains guarded by the State or powerful private corporations.
In the beginning, as happened with many hackers, it was about demonstrating an attitude and actions that are rebellious, questioning, and defying authority, understood as arbitrary, authoritarian, and ultimately, undemocratic. With the passage of time, this activism took another step: it would no longer be just a matter of entering a place prohibited by the powers that be. To that would be added the revelation of the secrets of those powers.
And as it would look like in Collateral Murder, many of those secrets were drenched in blood. The video presented in 2010 shows how, from a US military helicopter, a group of people, all civilians, is fired on the streets of Baghdad. In the audio, the command Come on, fire (“Come on, shoot”) is heard and the shooting begins. About a dozen people die almost instantly. A little later, a driver who is taking his children to school passes by, gets out of the car to try to help one of the injured and is also shot. The children are saved although they are also hit by bullets. In total, 12 people die, two of them journalists from the Reuters agency. After the revelation, from the government of U.S, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will say: “The United States strongly condemns the release of classified documents.”
Collateral Murder was so revealing of America’s doublespeak – it could very well have been from almost any country, be it Russia, Israel, France or Kenya – that Assange was catapulted to fame and notoriety. That, it would be seen later, would become both an advantage and a great risk. Hackers thrive in the dark and anonymity. But Assange was no longer primarily a cyber-activist (although he had cracked the encryption of the original video, leaked to Wikileaks by ex-soldier Chelsea Manning). He had become a hybrid between a rock star, a newspaper editor, and also the leader of a growing organization.
The latter, exercising leadership, would bring him several headaches. It seemed to some of his early collaborators that the leader was beginning to like being admired and praised a bit too much as someone who reveals truths that the powerful want to hide.
In addition, questions also began to arise in that environment about whether Assange was indeed the most suitable for the task of leading a collective project that dealt with such sensitive and potentially dangerous issues.
One of the journalists who has had the most access to Assange, the American Raffi Khatchadourian (author of two long and excellent profiles of Assange in the New Yorker magazine), wrote this about the Australian in 2010, when this was on the crest of the wave: “Under the lights of the television studios it can seem – with his hair Ghastly white, pale skin, cold eyes and expansive forehead – a slimmer being who has come to Earth to reveal some hidden truth. That impression is reinforced by a stiff appearance and a baritone voice that he unfolds slowly and quietly. In private, however, Assange is often energetic and perplexed. You can concentrate intensely and over long periods of time, but you are also the kind of person who can forget to book a plane ticket, or make a reservation and forget to pay for it; or pay it but forget about going to the airport ”.
At the highest point of Assangemania, he arrived in Sweden invited by a section of the Social Democratic party. Everyone wanted a little piece of Assange: the media, companies, celebrities, politicians. He, meanwhile, seemed to fix his gaze on a woman, Anna ardin (but also in another, Sofía Widén). Ardin had been appointed as Assange’s hostess in Stockholm, and it had been agreed that he would stay at her apartment.
Ardin was also dazzled. He saw firsthand how Assange was adored by all who approached him. In his book, In Assange’s Shadow, My Testimony, Ardin recounted that one person after another came to praise him, to tell him that he should be the next Nobel Peace Prize winner, that he had the “immense support” of the Swedish people.
But just as Assange had a public facet that was somewhat icy and distant, according to Khatchadourian, in private he could be different. Ardin said that she, although she was attracted to Assange, also felt that as he moved over her body, she had less and less desire to have sex with him. But she was at a disadvantage: alone with him in his apartment. In the end, he “agreed.” Widén would tell something similar to Ardin.
The episode did not cause the commotion that Collateral Murder did, but it was not much less. The testimonies of Ardin and Widén destroyed the image of Assange, although neither of the two initiated a concrete lawsuit. What they asked Assange was to come forward to dispute the accusations, to acknowledge what he did, and for his part, Ardin, to apologize. Assange was not willing to expose himself to a trip to Stockholm, because he suspected that the CIA would kidnap him, and he took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy. He had refuge while Rafael Correa had something to say in Ecuadorian political affairs. As soon as Lenin Moreno took office, Assange was ruthlessly handed over to the British authorities.
And now he may be extradited to the United States, whose jurisdiction is the entire world, it seems.
The English journalist Medhi Hasan editorialized the Assange case in this way on his Twitter account: “Before 2016, Assange was detested by the Republican right. After 2016, he was also detested by the Democratic Party, as he dealt a fatal blow to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy by leaking his party’s emails, which contributed to Trump winning the presidency (…) But none of that it has to do with an indictment raised in 2010, for getting hold of government documents and publishing them. This is about free speech and freedom of the press. Ask yourself why (beyond his flaws), Assange is supported by Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, and other organizations. Even his old Wikileaks adversary, journalist James Ball, said ‘Assange may be a sucker, but we have to defend him anyway.’
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Julian Assange, the Icarus of journalism who can be extradited to the United States