Julian Assange is a pioneering whistleblower in the digital-age, speaking truth to power like no one before him managed on such a significant scale. As he sits in a London jail cell, here’s why we should be grateful for his work.
By setting up the international non-profit organization WikiLeaks in Iceland in 2006, Assange irrevocably shifted the balance of power in the online era.
From humble beginnings as a master coder and hacker, caught by Australian authorities in 1995 but escaping a prison term, to the foremost publisher of sensitive, embarrassing and potentially dangerous material for the world to see, Assange’s storied career as a publisher and whistleblower has captured headlines, and the global public’s attention for years.
RT takes a look back at the key moments in Assange’s career that remind us why the world owes him such a debt of gratitude.
The early years
In 2007, WikiLeaks published emails exposing the manuals for Camp Delta, a controversial US detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba which was the focal point for the US war on terror and the final destination for those captured as part of its extraordinary rendition campaign.
The following year the whistleblowing site posted emails from vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s private Yahoo email account, again exposing the newfound weakness of the political class in the digital age.
In a move that would reverberate online and across the world for years, in April 2010 WikiLeaks published footage of US forces summarily executing 18 civilians from an Apache attack helicopter in Iraq. It was an almost unheard of revelation of the brutality of war and the low price of human life in modern conflict.
2010 was a very busy year for Assange as in July WikiLeaks published more than 90,000 classified documents and diplomatic cables relating to the Afghanistan war.
Later, in October 2010, the organization published a raft of classified documents from the Iraq War. The logs were referred to as “the largest leak of classified documents in its history” by the US Department of Defense, according to the BBC. WikiLeaks followed that up in November by publishing diplomatic cables from US embassies around the world.
The Guantánamo Files and Spy Files
In April 2011, WikiLeaks published classified US military documents detailing the behavior and treatment of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. This leak would be followed, once again, by a vast trove (250 million) of US diplomatic cables.
Throughout this sequence of widely-praised leaks, Assange invited a global audience behind the curtain of international diplomacy and warfare to expose the hidden truths of global power dynamics in a way which would forever change the power structure and landscape, affording a platform to analysts like Chelsea Manning to expose potential war crimes and misdeeds by the US military at large.
Assange and WikiLeaks would also help fellow whistleblowers like Edward Snowden to seek refuge from predatory US authorities, providing aid and comfort to those who risked everything in the pursuit of truth, exposing some of the most egregious mass surveillance programs the world has ever known.
As the 2016 US presidential election loomed, WikiLeaks published nearly 20,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee, which exposed the preferential treatment shown to then-candidate for president Hillary Clinton over her competitor Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. Assange boldly informed CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the release was indeed timed to coincide with the Democratic National Convention.
In October that same year, WikiLeaks began publishing emails from Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta, which shed light on the inner workings of the Democratic nominee’s political machine.
These included excerpts from Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street, politically-motivated payments made to the Clinton Foundation, her consideration of choosing Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates or his wife as a potential running mate, her desire to covertly intervene in Syria, her intention to ring-fence China with missile defense batteries if it did not curtail North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Following his arrest on the morning of April 11, 2019, Assange’s future remains unclear. He likely faces extradition to the US where it was inadvertently revealed that he has been charged under seal in a US federal court. Former Assange collaborator Chelsea Manning has been imprisoned for refusing to cooperate with the court in relation to the case.
Assange’s legal battle is only just beginning, it seems, but the international following he has forged will undoubtedly grant him a place in the pantheon of history’s champions of truth.
He remains a true digital pioneer, paving the way for so many to follow in his footsteps and expose the untold misdeeds of the powerful, be they political figures or entire militaries. Assange has defiantly shown what a powerful tool digital technology can be and how easily the dynamics of power can be shifted in the 21st century by those brave enough. Unfortunately, he also showed the consequences of wielding such power in the face of such overwhelming international and political opposition.
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