Julian Assange first came to my attention at the same time as he did to the rest of world when he released, via his organisation WikiLeaks, over 250,000 US State Department diplomatic cables beginning way back in November 2010, which were given to him by then US soldier Chelsea Manning. The cables themselves did not contain any significant scandalous information relating to the US government and its allies. It did contain however a high amount of gossip of US State department officials’ opinions of foreign governments. Nevertheless the leak significantly embarrassed the US government. Then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that “This disclosure is not just an attack on America’s foreign policy interests … it is an attack on the international community”.
The US government then went after Assange and WikiLeaks following the cable leak. The then US Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed the Justice Department was undertaking ‘an active, ongoing criminal investigation” and a Grand Jury was being formed to indict Assange. Chelsea Manning was court-marshalled, tried and convicted of theft, espionage and knowingly abating the enemy. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison and was dishonourably discharged from the military.
It was due to these events that Assange and his supporters were suspicious when Swedish prosecutors decided to reopen an investigation into sexual assault allegations against Assange (which were simply having sex with two women without a condom) at the exact same time as the US diplomatic cables were released. Many considered Sweden’s request to extradite him from the United Kingdom, where he was currently living, all the way to Sweden just for questioning was a back door way to extradite him to the United States since Sweden had a long history of doing such a thing. As a result while out on bail during appeals against his extradition to Sweden in June 2012 he claimed political asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he has been living and operating WikiLeaks ever since.
At the time I considered Assange an attention seeker, the information he leaked was not particularly interesting and didn’t expose a huge amount of corruption in government. It was simply a massive dump of government data on the internet that he had happened to get his hands on. I also believed the way he was trying to avoid being questioned over the rape allegations in Sweden was extremely dramatic and a way to create a persona of being a courageous whistle-blower and paint himself as a victim of evil governments. Claiming asylum in a country such as Ecuador didn’t seem like a government a freedom fighter would want to associate with. In the 2013 Australian federal election he created his own party called the WikiLeaks Party and ran for the Senate, part of his campaign was an attention seeking cover-song YouTube video of him singing John Farnham’s You’re the Voice.
However my opinion of him changed this year as the result of the role he played in the US Presidential Election. He released leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee in July 2016 which exposed how the Democratic Party’s leadership had rigged the primaries to ensure Hillary Clinton’s victory against challenger Bernie Sanders. His supporters had long suspected that the party was favouring Hillary and not conducting a fair contest. This revelation outraged his supporters and all those who valued the integrity of any democratic process. It resulted in many of Bernie’s supporters refusing to vote for Hillary as well as leading to the DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigning.
Then in October 2016 WikiLeaks released thousands of emails from the chair of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign John Podesta, which exposed many of the lies and dirty tricks of her campaign. This included evidence of collusion with the mainstream media and the Clinton campaign to give her favourable coverage, excerpts of Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street firms where she contradicted many of her public policy positions, funding for the campaign and the Clinton Foundation from foreign governments and also revealed that they knew the Middle Eastern governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar were funding ISIS.
Assange’s justification for releasing both these batches of emails were that she lacked poor judgement in decision making and her neo-conservatism would lead to more endless wars and global instability. Also the fact that she was Secretary of State at the time of the US cable leaks and was one of the most prominent voices seeking action against him would have formed part of his motive as well. Assange it should be stated however was not pro-Trump and was not releasing material from the Trump campaign because he did not feel he had anything to publish that was worse than what came out of Trump’s mouth every day.
The Clinton campaign in response to the leaks blamed the Russian government for supplying WikiLeaks with the emails who were unduly trying to influence the outcome of an election of a foreign government. Hillary Clinton called the leaks cyber-attacks and believed they should be treated the same as military attacks and warranted a military response. Vice President Joe Biden said that the US government would consider a response to as they called it Russian espionage. The Podesta emails were buried by the mainstream media but the fact they were publicly available and were widely reported by online news media and social media meant that Hillary’s lies and corruption were ultimately exposed to the American voters and were a major contribution to her loss to Donald Trump last week
Assange took a big gamble with his actions this year, he could have just sat quietly in the Ecuadorian embassy as he had been doing for the past few years and waited until the Swedish statute of limitations expired on the allegations against him. But because he believed that Hillary Clinton was a dangerous person to be elected President of United States he took a stand and made it his mission to expose to the public the dishonest and corrupt nature of her politics.
It was a risk because he knew that if she won she would come after him with vengeance, US authorities would not spend their time continuing to wait outside the Ecuadorian embassy. He knew that Hillary’s foreign policy could have started a nuclear war with Russia and would allow Islamist governments to gain great power in the Middle East. He would have lost supporters over his actions, many of them would have been mindless cheerleaders for Hillary and would have felt betrayed that Assange was not sticking to the progressive cause.
I have not simply changed my mind about Assange because he in effect helped Trump become elected who was my preferred candidate. It was because I released that he had a dedicated principle to expose corruption and lies in government no matter which side of politics they came from. The fact that he went from being a hero from the left to incurring their wrath shows it was not about gaining admiration or a loyal following but doing what he thought was right.
There is now a petition asking President-Elect Trump to pardon Julian Assange for any crimes against the US government he may have committed. Even though there would be no guarantee that Assange would never leak documents damaging to the Trump administration the world is much better place with him out there exposing the truth about what our leaders are doing in our name. I was wrong about Assange, he is one of the great modern heroes of our time. His actions helped change the course of history and I believe for the better.
Photo By David G Silvers. [<a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0″>CC BY-SA 2.0</a>], <a href=”https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJulian_Assange_August_2014.jpg”>via Wikimedia Commons</a>