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Slandering Assange

I wrote a piece for Australian online publisher Crikey just before Julian Assange’s extradition hearings resumed in September 2020 in which I regurgitated a slur that has done enormous harm to his reputation.

Australian journalists should stop using the WikiLeaks treasure trove in their stories if they wouldn’t speak up for Assange, I’d written. Journalists like to think they’d go to jail to protect a source. Well, their source was suffering in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison, I said.

Those who revealed un-redacted cables have never been prosecuted nor requested to remove them from the internet.

The problem was I also wrote that Assange dumped the Iraq and Afghan war logs on the internet without redacting names. I was wrong and lazy in repeating that slur which appeared whenever you Googled Assange’s name. That must make it true, right? Two of Assange’s well-known Australian supporters tried to correct me. To my shame, I brushed them off.

Their overtures nagging at the back of my mind, I recently did what I should have done at the time: read the submissions Assange’s legal team made at his extradition hearings and transcripts of witness testimony. I soon realized how mistaken I was.

Why should anyone listen to me? 

In Baghdad

I was bureau chief for the Reuters news service in Baghdad when an Apache gunship with the call-sign Crazy Horse 1-8 killed 12 people including two of my staff, photographer Namir Noor Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh, on July 12, 2007. Namir and Saeed would have been forgotten statistics of that illegal war if not for Assange’s publication of footage he famously called Collateral Murder on April 2010. Thanks to Assange and Chelsea Manning, Namir and Saeed’s names will never be forgotten.

Screenshot from ‘Collateral Murder’ video released by WikiLeaks.

Screenshot from ‘Collateral Murder’ video released by WikiLeaks.

Wikileaks had hundreds of thousands of documents it had gotten from Manning – the war logs and State Department cables — for a considerable period in 2010 and went to “extraordinary lengths to publish them in a responsible and redacted manner,” the submissions to a lower U.K. court said. WikiLeaks held back information while it formed media partnerships with news organizations such as The Guardian, The New York Times and DER SPIEGEL to manage the release of the material. Assange’s legal team cited named witnesses, various journalists who worked with Assange on the process. Those witnesses testified to the rigor of the redaction effort.

The media partners’ work on the Afghan war logs included approaching the White House before releasing them. In July 2010, Wikileaks also entered dialogue with the White House about redacting names. On July 25, 2010, WikiLeaks held back publication of 15,000 documents on Afghanistan to safeguard its “harm minimization process” even after its media partners published stories.

Redaction of the Iraq War diaries was likewise “painstakingly approached” and involved the development of special redaction software. Publication was delayed in August 2010 despite this annoying some media partners because Assange didn’t want to rush.

Un-redacted publication of the State Department cables in September 2011 was undertaken by parties unconnected to WikiLeaks, and despite WikiLeaks’ efforts to prevent it, the legal submissions state. Those who revealed un-redacted cables have never been prosecuted nor requested to remove them from the internet.

[Ed.: John Young, founder of Cryptome, testified at Assange’s hearing that he published the unredacted cables before WikiLeaks but was never questioned by police. The password to the unredacted cables was published by Guardian journalists Luke Harding and David Leigh before Cryptome did.]

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For an excellent account of the origins of the slur against Assange, watch this video of Australian investigative journalist Mark Davis, who was with Assange in 2010 during the collaboration with the media partners. (Mark wasn’t one of those who chided me over the Crikey piece): 

So, Assange made every effort to redact and WikiLeaks in 2011 won Australia’s Walkley Award (our equivalent to the Pulitzer Prize) for its outstanding contribution to journalism.

Not a Single One

Further evidence Assange sought to protect individuals came at Chelsea’s court-martial in 2013. Brigadier-General Robert Carr testified that his team of 120 counter-intelligence officers couldn’t find a single person killed in Afghanistan and Iraq because of the disclosures. [Ed.: Nevertheless, U.S. prosecutors at the extradition hearing made harming U.S. informants the centerpiece of their case.]

Let’s talk about what is indisputable, who really was endangered and by whom.

The United States of America jeopardized the lives of Iraq’s entire 25 million people with an illegal and reckless invasion based on the lies that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and had direct ties to al Qaeda.

It’s indisputable that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi combatants and civilians were killed in the eight-year war because of violence and war-related causes. (Research in 2013 put the total at 400,000). It’s indisputable that four million Iraqis fled their country. Millions more were displaced internally.

It’s reasonable to say millions of Iraqis were wounded by violence or suffered illness from war-related causes. It’s fair to say millions of Iraqis will struggle with trauma and mental illness for life, that a countless number have already killed themselves.

American families suffered too: 4,431 U.S. soldiers were killed in the war and 31,994 wounded. Hundreds of thousands of American veterans have PTSD or moral injury, affecting millions of loved ones and friends. Same goes for any other foreigner who spent time in Iraq – soldier, security contractor, truck driver, cook, journalist.

And in case people think the Iraq War is over, Islamic State rose from its ashes. Yet no American government or military leader has ever been held to account for the lies and misrepresentations over Iraq. Meanwhile, the United States brazenly misrepresents the facts in its case against Assange with the blessing of successive Australian governments.

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That’s why we need to make Assange’s freedom an election issue in Australia. It’s why we need to make noise on social media, in the mainstream media, to politicians, and on the streets. Because Assange is being tortured in a foreign country for telling the truth about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he will be extradited to America where he will likely die in prison.

Remember — the Australian government eagerly took part in the invasion of Iraq. His case is the biggest test of press freedom in decades. Make some noise Australians! Bring Assange home.

Dean Yates
Consortiuum News

Re-published from Facebook with permission from the author.