RADICAL PERSPECTIVE: Julian Assange is an (honorary) American hero

What do you call someone who exposes the international war crimes of the most powerful government in the world, which endlessly lies about those violent crimes to the civilians funding them via their tax dollars?

If you are a normal person, odds are you would describe such a person as a hero—one who knowingly risked his own wellbeing to uphold moral principles in the name of a Greater Good.

However, if you are an official of the United States government, perhaps you would instead describe WikiLeaks director Julian Assange as a “traitor” or a “foreign agent.”

About a decade ago, WikiLeaks and Assange published classified documents leaked by former U.S. Army soldier Chelsea Manning revealing objective evidence of war crimes committed by the American military on foreign soil, including the infamous “Collateral Murder” video which shows two U.S. Apache helicopters indiscriminately slaying dozens of innocent civilians and several Reuters journalists in Iraq.

Although the First Amendment clearly and explicitly protects the freedom of the press to publish information which may be considered pertinent to the public, both the Obama and Trump Administrations have tried exhaustively to prosecute both Assange and Manning for exposing the blatant cruelties of American imperialism.

Doing so would—unquestionably—create a dangerous precedent for journalists in the U.S. and around the world who are dedicated and passionate about holding powerful public officials accountable in the interest of the general public.

In 2011, The Washington Post explained, “A conviction (of Assange) would also cause collateral damage to American media freedoms. It is difficult to distinguish Assange or WikiLeaks from The Washington Post.”

If Assange, WikiLeaks and Manning are to continue being punished for their crimes, it is logically consistent that The Washington Post and The New York Times—and countless other major media outlets around the world—also may be punished simply for publishing massively important information that the government would rather keep secret. Publishing such information is the responsibility of noble journalists, and punishing or prosecuting anyone for doing so is, quite literally, criminalizing the act of doing journalism.

Democratic politicians in the U.S. often argue that Assange is a criminal because he allegedly colluded with Russia to leak Hillary Clinton’s e-mails leading up to the 2016 presidential elections, while Republicans often claim Assange endangered American lives by leaking classified documents. Crucially, there is no evidence to support either of these claims.

Assange published information that was leaked to him by a brave and noble whistleblower of the American military, just as journalists for The New York Times and The Washington Post did during the Afghanistan War via the Pentagon Papers and on various other occasions. This is what journalists do. If Assange is a criminal, so are countless other journalists around the world.

While the U.S. government, for years, has fought—and continues to fight—to torture and to wrongfully prosecute Assange and Manning, and to send a message to others who may intend to hold powerful officials accountable for their corruption, not a single American official has even been tried for the systemic, blatant war crimes Assange and Manning exposed. This is an international outrage.

All truth-tellers around the world ought to stand up and fight for both Assange and Manning to be freed from detention and from the fear of further wrongful prosecution by the American government. Telling the truth is not a crime. Journalism is not a crime.

Douglas Harding can be contacted at [email protected].