Assange: Empire of Surveillance and Imperialism


The trial against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is a perfect metaphor for how United States imperialism operates in the world today. The Armed Forces, the Department of State, and the CIA caused thousands of deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or Syria, but it’s the person who showed to the world those crimes who is going to be sentenced to 175 years in prison for 18 crimes (17 of them described in the Espionage Act of 1917, passed on the occasion of War World I).

Former Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa expressed it categorically. If Assange’s revelations had been about China or Russia, the Assange Memorial would have been built already in Washington in defense of freedom of expression and against war crimes.

But in this digital age, the messenger is killed, whether he is Australian, like Assange, or from the U.S., like Chelsea Manning, who spent seven years in prison (from a 35-year sentence commuted by Barack Obama). Exactly seven years more than any U.S. intelligence analyst who has tortured Afghan or Iraqi civilians.

Seven years (2,487 days) also were spent by Julian Assange as a refugee in the Ecuadorian embassy in the United Kingdom before the withdrawal of his political asylum status by  Lenin Moreno; a subordinate of the interests of the United States.

If Assange is guilty of anything, it is for opening our eyes to U.S. war crimes, of putting in front of us the Guantanamo torture manuals, or the collateral murder video, where AH-64 Apache helicopters opened fire on the streets of Baghdad and massacred 11 civilians (including two reporters of Reuters). Manuals and images that made it difficult to look the other way in the face of war crimes committed by the United States and its allies across the planet.

But tortures and massacres of civilians is only the tip of the iceberg of a new digital age where there is no longer privacy and though there is an apparent freedom of communication thanks to the Internet, our communications are spied on and the cyberspace and civil life, in general, have been militarized.

WikiLeaks brought the iceberg to the surface and it suddenly became an elephant that was in front of us and that did not allow us to look the other way. Thanks to WikiLeaks we know what SIPRNet is, a secret protocol of interconnected computer networks used by the U.S. Department of Defense to transmit classified information.

The Collateral Murder or the Iraq War Logs leaks in April and October 2010 paved the way for Edward Snowden to leak information about the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) PRISM and Xkeyscore programs in 2013. Programs used to obtain and analyze massive data and metadata collected from companies such as Google, Facebook or Apple.

It is for showing us how the empire of surveillance and imperialism operates in the digital age, an alliance between the military security apparatuses and the big Internet companies, that Snowden is taking refuge in Russia and Assange is being held in the high security prison of Belmarsh, London, while he is being tried with the aim of extraditing him to the United States in a trial that will be resumed between May 18 and June 5. Meanwhile, the first week of Assange’s trial has also become a metaphor for what awaits the founder of WikiLeaks if he is extradited: on the first day of the trial he was stripped naked twice, held in five different cells and handcuffed 11 times.

Regardless of what a court that is a strategic ally of the U.S. in NATO decides, both the U.N. Human Rights Council and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have described Assange’s situation as arbitrary detention and insisted on the need to guarantee asylum. Not to mention the worldwide condemnation of the attempt to censor free speech in a case protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

That’s why the trial of the founder of WikiLeaks is a trial against freedom of expression, because as Assange himself said, “Every time we witness an injustice and don’t act we are more passive in its presence and with this we can lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we love”.

But in addition, Assange’s trial is the possibility of demonstrating against the imperialism of the digital age and the empire of surveillance it builds. Snowden said it himself: “I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity, or love, or friendship is recorded.”

We do not want governments to monitor their citizens, but we do want citizens that keep an eye on the sewers of power so that they can answer for their crimes committed in wars to plunder the planet’s natural resources.

Originally published in La Jornada

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