Back on Clapham Common, I’ve just realised that the ‘Der Spiegel’ report from the diary is flat and confusing, so with the help of Joseph Farrell from the DEA team, we are going to answer frequently asked questions about Julian’s case:
1.) Why didn’t WikiLeaks redact its material like responsible publications do?
This is one of the most common myths. In fact, WikiLeaks did redact. In relation to the Afghanistan War publication, WikiLeaks held back 1 in 5 documents on advice of US officials (communicating via Der Spiegel). The Iraq War Logs were heavily redacted by WikiLeaks, leading Gawker to write that “it’s redacted to the point of incoherence”.
Extra to the war-logs, the US Diplomatic Cables (“Cablegate”) were also redacted by WikiLeaks. The contents of the U.S. diplomatic cables leak describe in detail events and incidents surrounding international affairs from 274 embassies dating from 28 December 1966 to 28 February 2010.
WikiLeaks started a publishing partnership with initially five, later over one hundred media organisations to roll-out the 251,000 US diplomatic cables. WikiLeaks’ partners signed a contract in which media partners agreed to redact names who were at risk of arbitrary detention or physical harm in exchange for obtaining the data (no money was involved). Those redactions were communicated to WikiLeaks, which redacted its copy and published the redactions on the WikiLeaks website.
After a former Guardian journalist, David Leigh, published the password to the encrypted file containing the cables as a chapter title in The Guardian’s WikiLeaks Book (“Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy”), the unredacted cables spread on the internet. Once people knew there was a password, any competent hacker would be able to find it. The Guardian attempted to shift blame to WikiLeaks, but the sequence of events and the origin is well-documented. The unredacted cables had been disseminated online, on multiple websites, for several days before WikiLeaks republished them on its website.
Q.2) Was any person harmed as a result of WikiLeaks publications?
There is no evidence of any harm. Under oath, the prosecution has said that it does not have any evidence that any person has come to harm as a result of Wikileaks publications. This was admitted at the Manning court martial in 2013, and again at the US extradition proceedings against Assange in the form of affidavits from federal prosecutors in 2019 and 2020. RSF has highlighted the lack of evidence in the US extradition proceedings against Assange. Early claims by the Pentagon and the US State Department that WikiLeaks publications had caused harm were later quietly acknowledged by insiders to have been overblown, according to reports by Reuters and The New York Times.
The US case is not about redaction, it concerns soliciting, receiving and disseminating classified information.
- Soliciting: it’s not. Chelsea Manning testified at her trial that she did everything by her own volition, that she contacted Wikileaks and everything she did came from her. When she was rearrested later, she refused to go to the secret court because she had nothing else to say.
- Receiving: that’s what journalists do everyday.
- Disseminating: yes, he’s publisher.
The real reason America want Julian is because he’s a whistleblower, Patrick Cockburn explains in his recent article for the London Review, ‘by making such information public, as Assange and WikiLeaks had done, weaponised freedom of expression: if disclosures of this kind went unpunished and became the norm, it would radically shift the balance of power between government and society – and especially the media – in favour of the latter (at the moment the media are a prop, a pillar of the establishment). It is the US government’s determination to defend its ongoing monopoly, rather than the supposed damage done by the release of the secrets themselves, that has motivated it to pursue Assange and to seek to discredit both him and WikiLeaks.’
What the war-logs expose is that it was common practise to kill civilians and report it, as in the case of the collateral murder video as, “we just shot 12 terrorists”. This was happening thousands of times at checkpoints; American soldiers, just nervous and confused kids, no clue what to do: killing is called EOF, an escalation of force.
The video still has the power to shock: “haha I hit them”, one soldier says, “oh yeah, look at those dead bastards.” They have mistaken the camera held by one of the journalists for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, unlikely though it was that armed insurgents would stand in the open in Baghdad with a US helicopter hovering overhead. They shoot again at the wounded as one of them, probably the Reuters assistant Saeed Chmagh, crawls towards a van that has stopped to rescue them. When the pilots are told over the radio that they have killed a number of Iraqi civilians and wounded two children, one of them says: ‘Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into the battle.’
We need to establish the fact that the documents are low level intelligence this brings real understanding to what we’re dealing with here: to the importance of Wikileaks and freedom of information. Chelsea Manning was one of 1/3 of a million (and later extended to 3 million) military personnel who had access to classified documents in 2010 when she released them to Wikileaks.aks.