AUSTIN, Texas — On Sunday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange marked the fourth anniversary of the day he entered the Ecuadorean Embassy in London on asylum.
Many, including fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and philosopher and political analyst Noam Chomsky, voiced their support for Assange and their hopes for his eventual freedom. But Assange is just one of many victims of the U.S. war on whistleblowers, an unprecedented crackdown on government transparency that’s unlikely to end any time soon.
Watch “Wikileaks Video Report – ‘First they came for Assange’” from acTVism Munich:
Assange entered the embassy on June 19, 2012 under threat of extradition to Sweden for questioning over allegations of improper sexual behavior toward two women. Swedish officials have refused to guarantee that Assange will not be extradited to a third country, and until recently, they’ve also refused invitations to question him at the embassy. Though the case against him has weakened over time, Assange still fears he could face decades in prison, or even the death penalty, if he were extradited from Sweden to the U.S., where a secretive, federal grand jury could indict him for hosting classified, leaked information on WikiLeaks.
Although a United Nations panel ruled in February that the conditions of Assange’s confinement constitute “arbitrary detainment,” and thus, a violation of his human rights, he remains under constant surveillance and threat of arrest. The Independent reported on Monday that Hugo Swire, a minister with the British foreign office responsible for relations with Latin America, recently met with Guillaime Long, Ecuador’s newly appointed foreign minister, to turn up the pressure for a resolution. The Independent quoted Swire as saying:
“We continue to be deeply frustrated by the lack of progress in this case. I personally expressed to Foreign Minister Long my sincere hope that Ecuador will soon facilitate the Swedish Prosecutor’s request to interview Mr Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. It is important that this case is finally brought to a close.”
5 victims of the US war on whistleblowing
Assange’s confinement comes amid an atmosphere of unprecedented hostility toward whistleblowers. CBS News’ “60 Minutes” reported in 2014 that more government leakers have been prosecuted under President Barack Obama than all previous administrations combined, a trend that is expected to continue through the final days of his administration.
Here are five more victims of the U.S. war on whistleblowers that have been convicted since Assange entered the embassy:
- In January 2015, independent journalist Barrett Brown was sentenced to 63 months in prison on multiple counts relating to his sharing of information obtained from the 2012 hack of Strategic Forecasting, a corporate intelligence agency, by the hacktivist collective Anonymous. His charges include threatening a federal officer, based on an angry video published in the wake of federal agents threatening his mother. Some believe he’s been singled out for poor treatment in prison thanks to his continued reporting from behind bars.
- In November 2013, Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in Anonymous’ hack of Stratfor, which resulted in the leak of millions of emails that revealed the private corporation had collaborated with the U.S. government to spy on activists. The files leaked by Hammond and the other members of the LulzSec collective became the basis for WikiLeaks’ Global Intelligence Files archive.
- Stephen J. Kim, a former State Department arms expert, was sentenced to 13 months in prison in April 2014. Kim leaked details of the North Korean nuclear weapons program to James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, apparently in an attempt to draw more media attention to the dangers of the program. The government even moved to paint Rosen as a “co-conspirator” in an effort to access the journalist’s personal emails.
- Convicted in August 2013, former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning is serving a 35-year sentence in a military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. She leaked classified files and diplomatic cables which formed the basis of WikiLeaks’ Iraq War Diary and Afghan War Diary, and revealed the murder of civilians and Reuters journalists by U.S. forces. She continues to fight for her human rights and government transparency despite her imprisonment.
- In May 2015, former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison based largely on circumstantial evidence that he shared classified information about Operation Merlin, a botched attempt to undermine the Iranian nuclear program, with New York Times reporter James Risen. Sterling had previously sued the CIA over racial discrimination and testified to Congress about internal waste and corruption, leading fellow CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou to accuse the agency of singling out Sterling for punishment.
Watch “CIA Whistleblower: US Alliance w/ Gulf Monarchies Why MidEast In Crisis w/ Mnar Muhawesh” from MintPress News’ “Behind the Headline”:
Clinton & Trump likely to continue prosecuting whistleblowers
Statements about Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, suggest that the war on transparency that began under Obama is likely to continue into the next administration. Snowden, who revealed the widespread surveillance of millions of people, including most American citizens, has lived in Russia under asylum since the U.S. revoked his passport in June 2013.
In an October debate, Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, stressed the need for Snowden to face jail time. “[H]e stole very important information that has unfortunately fallen into a lot of the wrong hands. So I don’t think he should be brought home without facing the music,” she said.
Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has spoken even more strongly about the whistleblower. Although Snowden laughed it off during a September interview, Al-Jazeera quoted Trump calling for Snowden’s death at the hands of the U.S. government:
“This guy’s a bad guy. There is still a thing called execution.”
Watch “Chelsea Manning: The US’ Forgotten Political Prisoner?” from MintPress News’ “Behind the Headline”: