According to its website, “on April 5th, 2010 WikiLeaks released a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad- including two Reuters news staff. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.”
As a result, the U.S. is now charging Julian Assange with conspiring to hack into a Pentagon computer network. But even if he was part of the hack itself, who can rightly argue that the material he accessed should have been hidden from the public forever? In other words, did Julian Assange commit a crime or expose one? Is the United States seeking accountability for his actions or merely a way to eliminate the messenger?
Estimates of Iraq War casualties span from 151,000 violent deaths as of June 2006 (per the Iraq Family Health Survey) to 461,000 total fatalities as of June 2011 (per PLOS Medicine 2013), over 60% of them violent. Other estimates, which are debated in the international community, such as the 2006 Lancet study and the 2007 Opinion Research Business (ORB) survey place the figure as high as 655,000 total deaths as of June 2006.
By any calculation the Iraq War was an unmitigated catastrophe. Loss of international standing, fractured alliances, ecological devastation, the dark legacy of post-traumatic stress and suicide, the slashing of domestic spending, and unintended consequences such as the rise of ISIS and the civil war in Syria are all horrible reminders of our great blunder. Viewed in this critical light, what Assange did was hardly a criminal act.
Frankly, I wish that Wikileaks discovered and released the video entitled “Collateral Murder” three years earlier. Who knows, maybe it could have made a difference by shifting public opinion before our nation became irreversibly entrenched and politically unable to simply pull out. Thank God it came out when it did, for if the military and White House had their way, the crime would have remained hidden forever. (Just as no one at the Pentagon was eager to reveal what happened in the dungeons of Abu Ghraib. That scandal became public in April 2004 after CBS News released the photographs of U.S. soldiers engaged in acts of torture.)
Due mainly to his courageous journalistic truthtelling — regardless of his alleged collaboration with the Russian government during the 2016 election — Assange did the people of the United States a noble service by attaining that footage and sharing it with the world. It was a powerful and graphic visualization of just how depraved and inhumane the war in Iraq truly was. If he is guilty of that then we are all guilty of sanctioning our elected leaders to invade a sovereign country for no other reason than global domination.
If Assange is guilty of intrusion, then we are all guilty of intruding upon the foreign soil of a nation that never attacked America and did not deserve the pain and destruction our decision makers unleashed on them. Simply put: Assange may not be a conventional hero for unveiling secret documents from the clandestine alcoves of the Pentagon, but he is more of a hero than any of those policy advisers, congresspersons, presidents and their staff, who authorized and executed an illegal and immoral war — one that cost at least 100,000 lives (many of them innocent children) and trillions of dollars that could have been spent on infrastructure, education, healthcare, and immigration reform.
His forcible removal from the Ecuadoran embassy is a classic example of several guilty and revengeful governments colluding to kill the messenger rather than face their own transgressions.