Just over ten years ago, Pfc. Bradley Manning, stationed in Iraq as an intelligence analyst, undertook the largest leak in US history of classified government documents. These documents included 482,832 Army reports from the Afghan and Iraq wars, 251,287 US diplomatic cables from around the world, and classified military files relating to the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, as well as the “Collateral Murder” video, which showed US military personnel killing civilians from helicopters and laughing about it.
Manning leaked the files to WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange, which published the documents in 2010 and 2011. The last releases were of the Guantánamo Files, on which I worked as media partner, along with the Washington Post, McClatchy, the Daily Telegraph, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, El Pais, Aftonbladet, La Repubblica and L’Espresso.
WikiLeaks began publishing these files nine years ago today, on April 25, 2011, introduced by an article I had written about their significance, “WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Files on All Guantánamo Prisoners,” posted on my own website that same day as WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Guantánamo Files, Exposes Detention Policy as a Construct of Lies.
As I explained when I published an article a year ago commemorating this anniversary, “The files primarily revealed the extent to which the supposed evidence at Guantánamo largely consisted of statements made by unreliable witnesses, who told lies about their fellow prisoners, either because they were tortured or otherwise abused, or bribed with the promise of better living conditions.”
As I also explained in my article a year ago, I had been working with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the release of the files for several weeks. I had been contacted by them as I was recovering from a grave illness, but we had to leap into action suddenly after the Guardian and the New York Times, which — oh, the irony — had been leaked the files, suddenly began publishing them. I still stand by my introductory article, which I wrote in what I described as “a few hours of turbo-charged activity” after midnight on April 25, 2011, when I suddenly received notification of the imminent pre-emptive publication of the files by the Guardian and New York Times.
Just one week after the files’ publication, the US government assassinated Osama bin Laden, a move that seems to have taken place in order to discredit the revelations in the Guantánamo Files, as a false narrative was propagated, originating from the CIA, claiming that it was torture — and the existence of Guantánamo — that had led to bin Laden being located.
Despite my best efforts to expose the significance of the revelations in the Guantánamo Files, via a million-word analysis of 422 prisoners’ files over 34 articles, no one in the US government has ever been held accountable for the crimes of torture and prisoner abuse after 9/11, including — as the files so shockingly revealed — at Guantánamo.
Instead, Bradley Manning — now Chelsea Manning — was charged, tried and convicted in a court martial, and given a 35-year prison sentence (commuted by President Obama as he left office), while Julian Assange, after being given asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for nearly seven years, was arrested by the British authorities just over a year ago, on April 11, 2019, and imprisoned in the maximum-security Belmarsh prison, where he remains to this day, as he tries to prevent the British government’s plans to extradite him to the US to face espionage charges relating to the publication of the files leaked by Manning.
As I have repeatedly explained over the last year, beginning with a Facebook post, and my article, Defend Julian Assange and WikiLeaks: Press Freedom Depends On It (and also see here, here and here), the proposal to try Julian Assange for being a publisher ought to strike fear into the heart of anyone who cares about press freedom and freedom of speech.
As I put it in my Facebook post, his arrest “ought to be of great concern to anyone who values the ability of the media, in Western countries that claim to respect the freedom of the press, to publish information about the wrongdoing of Western governments that they would rather keep hidden.”
I also explained, “Those who leak information, like Chelsea Manning” — who was subsequently imprisoned because of her refusal to testify in a Grand Jury case against WikiLeaks, and only released last month, owing $256,000 in outrageously imposed fines — “need protection, and so do those in the media who make it publicly available; Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as much as those who worked with them on the release of documents — the New York Times and the Guardian, for example.”
I concluded my Facebook post by stating, “If the US succeeds in taking down Julian Assange, no journalists, no newspapers, no broadcasters will be safe, and we could, genuinely, see the end of press freedom, with all the ramifications that would have for our ability, in the West, to challenge what, otherwise, might well be an alarming and overbearing authoritarianism on the part of our governments.”
Unfortunately, the British government has shown no willingness to listen to the many powerful critics calling for Assange’s extradition to be stopped. Instead, he remains imprisoned in Belmarsh, where his companions are convicted criminals regarded as dangerous, and where, like prisoners everywhere, sadly, — including, of course, at Guantánamo — he is at risk from the coronavirus that is tearing through all manner of detention facilities around the world.
In addition, the judge in his extradition case is determined to proceed with his extradition hearing next month, even though it is obvious that the entire system of court cases and witnesses is simply not feasible under the coronavirus lockdown. As WikiLeaks spokesperson Joseph Farrell explained, “Julian’s lawyers cannot prepare adequately, witnesses will not be able to travel, and journalists and the public will not have free, adequate and safe access to the proceedings. Justice will neither be done, nor seen to be done.” Lawyers for Assange will be challenging this outrageous decision on Monday, but for now please think of Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, and the prisoners at Guantánamo on this anniversary.
For more on Assange’s case, please check out this new video published by the Intercept, featuring Glenn Greenwald speaking to “the international human rights lawyer Jen Robinson, who has long represented Assange in this and other legal proceedings, and the Washington Post’s media reporter Margaret Sullivan, who is one of the few major media figures to have denounced the Assange indictment.”