By releasing the information provided by whistleblower Chelsea Manning, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange exposed the war crimes of the imperialist U.S. government. The most dramatic exposé was a July 2007 video of U.S. helicopter pilots shooting at Iraqi civilians, including Iraqi journalists working for Reuters.
Those of us who opposed and mobilized against the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq already knew the litany of U.S. war crimes, including the lie of “weapons of mass destruction” used to justify the invasion. The Wikileaks video, however, brought those crimes to light for anyone who doubted. And shooting Iraqi civilians was only one of many examples that Wikileaks exposed.
Even if that were all they accomplished, Manning and Assange would have helped the struggle of working-class and oppressed peoples worldwide against the U.S. empire. That alone has earned them the support of revolutionaries and working-class organizers against the newest imperialist attacks on their freedom.
The U.S. (in)Justice Department has now taken its aggression against Assange a big step further. It has brought 17 charges of violation of the 1917 Espionage Act against him — for being an honest journalist. In so doing, the U.S. government is now waging war against media freedom and against the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In effect, it is charging the media with treason.
Assange faces up to 175 years in prison, which is a de facto death penalty. And Manning is now in prison again for refusing to testify against Wikileaks. She previously did seven years in military prison before being pardoned.
But these attacks by the Republican government are against more than these two individuals, whom Democratic Party official leaders also call criminals. This administration is attacking the rights of all media to tell the truth about the U.S. empire and those who manage it.
Even ruling-class media giants like the New York Times and the Washington Post, whose loyalty to the imperialist system is unquestioned, say they are threatened by the offensive on Assange and Manning.
According to these media, here is how the quest for truth is supposed to work in a capitalist democracy: Should the government commit a crime or make a serious error in judgment, it will likely try to keep it secret. Someone working for the government who knows of the crime may run the risk and tell it to media. Since these media are supposed to be independent of the government, they verify, publish or broadcast the truth about this crime or error.
The crime or error then can be debated, at least among the bourgeoisie and its representatives, who really run the society. The crime is also exposed for all the people to know.
The media need to protect their sources, the whistleblowers or witnesses, by not identifying them. In recent cases, journalists have done prison time for refusing to name sources.
The case against Assange is an even more serious assault on press freedom and democracy, in that he is being charged with treason for publishing the truth about a criminal imperialist regime. It puts at risk any serious investigative media, including smaller left-wing media.
Any attack from an ultra-right regime on powerful media like the Times, the Post and CNN — which have resources to defend themselves — is also an attack on more progressive media. It leaves only one choice:
Defend Julian Assange and the right to publish. Defend Chelsea Manning and all whistleblowers who expose the imperialist U.S. regime!