Note: Below is an open letter of sorts from a group of 152 journalists, all declaring their support for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Since its inception in 2006, Wikileaks has led a controversial existence, to say the least. While leaking thousands upon thousands of confidential files has given some transparency to the U.S. military’s dealings abroad, Assange also potentially endangered lives when the names of informers were released with the Afghanistan documents earlier this year. The journalists’ letter acknowledges this, but then dismisses it in the same breath: “Fortunately there is no evidence that anyone has been injured or killed as a result.” So, does Assange’s civil disobedience make him a hero? I leave it to readers to decide for themselves.
—Rebecca Bates for Guernica
Julian Assange, founder of the whistle-blowing organization Wikileaks, is being angrily criticized and threatened for his part in huge leaks of military documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (the “War Diaries ”). He is being accused of irresponsibly releasing confidential military information, of endangering lives of people named in the leaked military reports and even of espionage. Some media organizations have joined in this criticism.
We, journalists and journalist organizations from many countries, express our support for Mr. Assange and Wikileaks. We believe that Mr. Assange has made an outstanding contribution to transparency and accountability on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, subjects where transparency and accountability has been severely restricted by government secrecy and media control. He is being attacked for releasing information that should never have been withheld from the public.
We believe Wikileaks had the right to post confidential military documents because it was in the interest of the public to know what was happening. The documents show evidence that the U.S. Government has misled the public about activities in Iraq and Afghanistan and that war crimes may have been committed.
Has Wikileaks endangered lives? There was legitimate criticism of Wikileaks for not vetting the Afghanistan documents fully enough, with some names of informers being released. Fortunately there is no evidence that anyone has been injured or killed as a result. We note that Wikileaks learned from that mistake and has been much more careful with the Iraq documents. Overall, Wikileaks’ factual reporting of numerous undisputed abuses and crimes is of far greater significance than the widely criticized mistakes over inadequate redacting.
Mr. Assange is being personally pressured because of his involvement in the military leaks, including threats of espionage charges. Mr. Assange is no more guilty of espionage than any journalist or any whistleblower. This is a terrible precedent and one that is contrary to open government.
If it is espionage to publish documents provided by whistle blowers, then every journalist will eventually be guilty of that crime. Mr. Assange deserves our support and encouragement in the face of the attacks.
Since it was launched in 2006, Wikileaks has been an extraordinary resource for journalists around the world, furthering transparency at a time when governments are reducing it. Although it is not part of the media, and does not purport to be, its mission of informing the public and reducing unjustified secrecy complements and assists our work. As grateful beneficiaries of Wikileaks and Mr. Assange’s work, we stand in support of them at this time.
Click here to see the signatures.
This post originally appeared at Global Investigative Journalism Network.