WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange addressed members of the United Nations at an event with Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino and Center for Constitutional Rights legal director Baher Azmy. He spoke to members on the current status of his asylum case and how the United States currently is engaged in a wide investigation into members of WikiLeaks and others, who the US believes to be connected.
“Despite having been detained for 659 days without charge, I am free in the most basic and important sense,” Assange began. “I am free to speak my mind. This freedom exists because the nation of Ecuador has granted me political asylum and other nations have rallied to support its decision.”
Thanking Ecuador for providing him a platform to speak again at the UN, he noted the “circumstances” were “very different” in comparison to his participation in the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva in 2010, when he spoke about WikiLeaks’ work “uncovering the torture and killing of over 100,000 Iraqi citizens.”
Assange then told members, “Today I want to tell you an American story. I want to tell you the story of a young American soldier in Iraq.” He proceeded to share his thoughts on how the alleged source of WikiLeaks’ most high profile leaks to date had come to decide to provide documents to WikiLeaks.
The soldier showed early promise as a boy, winning top prizes at science fairs three years in a row. He believed in the truth and like all of us he hated hypocrisy. He believed in liberty and the right of all of us to pursue it and happiness. He believed in the values that founded an independent United States.
He believed in Madison. He believed in Jefferson. And he believed in Paine. Like many teenagers, he was unsure what to do with his life, but he knew he wanted to defend his country and he knew he wanted to learn about the world.
Manning entered the military, trained as an intelligence analyst, deployed to Iraq in late 2009 and in Iraq he saw a US military that “did not often follow the rule of law.” It “engaged in murder and supported political corruption.” Assange added, it was there in Baghdad that he allegedly gave to WikiLeaks and the world “details that exposed the torture of Iraqis, the murder of journalists and the detailed killings of over 120,000 killings of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Assange recounted how he had been imprisoned for nine months and abused in Quantico and suffered treatment that UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez had called torture.
Hillary Clinton’s spokesman resigned. Bradley Manning – science fair all-star, soldier and patriot – was degraded, abused and psychologically tortured by his own government. He was charged with a death penalty offense. These things happened to him as the US government tried to break him, to force him to testify against WikiLeaks and me.
Manning, he noted, had been imprisoned for over 850 days without trial.
“The US administration is trying to erect a national regime of secrecy, a national regime of obfuscation,” Assange declared, “a regime where any government employee revealing sensitive information to a media organization can be sentenced to death, life imprisonment, or espionage, and journalists from the media organisation with them.”
The founder of WikiLeaks then went on to detail the scope of the investigation against WikiLeaks. He read off a list of government agencies allegedly involved in the investigation, including the Pentagon, “Centcom, Southcom, the Defence Intelligence Agency, the US Army Criminal Investigation Division, the United States forces in Iraq, the 1st Armored Division, the US Army Computer Crimes Investigative Unit (the CCIU), the Second Army Cyber Command, and within that three separate intelligence investigations, the Department of Justice most significantly, and its US Grand Jury in Alexandria, Virgina.” He highlighted the fact that the FBI has a more than 42,000 page investigative file into WikiLeaks and only 8,000 of those pages have to do specifically with Manning, which means the other portion must focus on his activities and the activities of members of his organization.
Then, Assange lambasted the address that Obama gave to the United Nations General Assembly on September 25:
I am reminded of the phrase the audacity of hope. Who can say that the President of the United States is not audacious? Was it not audacious for him to say on Tuesday that the United States supported the forces of change in the Arab Spring?
Tunisian history did not begin in December 2010. And Mohamed Bouazizi did not set himself on fire so Barack Obama could be re-elected. His death was an emblem of the despair he had to endure under the Ben Ali regime. The world knew after reading WikiLeaks publications that Ben Ali and his government had long enjoyed the indifference, if not the support, of the United States in full knowledge of its excesses and its crimes.
The editor-in-chief then stated Tunisians must’ve been surprised to hear the US supported “forces of change in their country.” Teenagers in Egypt, “who washed American tear gas out of their eyes,” must have been surprised to hear “that the US administration supported change in Egypt.” Those who heard Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “insist that Mubarak’s regime was stable,” must have been surprised. Those, who remembered the US had backed Egypt’s “hated intelligence chief Omar Suleiman,” who WikiLeaks proved was a torturer, must have been surprised to hear the speech. And those who heard Vice President Joseph Biden say Mubarak was a democrat after saying Assange was a “high-tech terrorist” must have been surprised too.
“It is disrespectful to the dead and to the incarcerated of Bahrain’s uprising to claim the United States supported forces of change,” he argued. “That is indeed audacity. Who can say that it is not audacious for the [US] president concerned to appear to look leaderly, looks back on this change – the people’s change – and tries to call it his own.” Yet, he added this may be good because it is a sign that the White House recognizes this progress is inevitable.
“The president has seen which way the wind is blowing and he must now pretend that it his administration that made it blow. Very well,” Assange conceded. “It is better than the alternative, to drift into irrelevance as the world moves on.”
But Assange would not tolerate the attempt to revise US history and present America as a country that had supported democracy in Middle Eastern and north African countries:
We must be clear here. The United States is not the enemy. Its government is not uniform. In some cases, good people in the United States supported the forces of change and perhaps Barack Obama personally was one of them. But in others and en masse, early on, it actively opposed them.
This is a matter of historical record, and it is not fair. It is not appropriate for the president to distort that record for political gain or for the sake of uttering fine words.
He acknowledged the “fine words” of Obama’s speech and admitted he agreed with them. People should be able to “resolve their differences peacefully.” Diplomacy should replace war. The world is interdependent and all people have a stake in it somehow. Freedom and self-determination are not “merely American or Western values but universal values.” But these are “fine words” that “languish without commensurate action.”
So, knowing the members had heard Obama’s address, he made a demand:
President Obama spoke out strongly in favour of the freedom of expression. Those in power, he said, have to resist the temptation to crack down on dissent.
There are times for words and there are times for action. The time for words has run out. It is time for the US to cease its persecution of WikiLeaks, to cease its persecution of our people and it cease its persecution of our alleged sources.
It is time for President Obama to do the right thing and join the forces of change: not in fine words but in fine deeds.
If pundits, media commentators, members of the press or international community tuned in to hear Assange make a case for why he should be allowed safe passage to Ecuador right now, he did not make one. He chose to use the opportunity to speak differently. Or, perhaps, he recognized that the Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino and CCR Legal Director Baher Azmy would make that case before he spoke so there was no point in repeating these words.
Once again, as he urged in his speech on the balcony of the Ecuador embassy in London weeks ago, he demanded the US respect dissent and respect his organization’s right to publish information. His fine words may not have convinced the US to drop its case, but what it did do is further demonstrate that his quest for freedom from persecution, which could end in Ecuador, will continue and so long as it is still unfolding it will be an international issue—one that the international leaders of the world will be forced to confront until it is resolved.