As I write, British police have surrounded the Ecuadorian embassy there, demanding the release of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange into their custody. Britain wants to extradite him to Sweden, where he is accused of the sexual assault of two women, which he denies.
He was arrested in London in 2010 but fought extradition to Sweden all the way to the Supreme Court, fearing it was a pretext for him to be sent to the US, where the authorities were incensed by his release of thousands of confidential diplomatic cables. After the court rejected his last appeal in June, Mr. Assange walked into the embassy and applied for political asylum. When he refused to come out, he broke his bail terms, becoming liable for arrest.
A Wikileaks spokesman said the group wanted guarantees from the Swedish government that it would not extradite Mr Assange to the United States, but Sweden has refused such a guarantee.
The U.S. apparently wants Assange to eventually be extradited here on charges that include espionage and conspiracy. Basically, Wikileaks embarrassed the U.S. government, and that cannot be allowed! They apparently want to be free to do that themselves.
Many consider Assange a hero for exposing war crimes by U.S. forces in Iraq, and for making transparent the lies perpetuated by governments around the world. Wikileaks claims it has been careful not to release information that might help terrorists or endanger innocent people.
It really comes down to a free speech issue. Both the U.S. and Britain have let far worse criminals go if it is convenient, and has even supported some pretty awful individuals, like dictators, when it suits their goals.
For example, in 2000, Britain released the likes of Augusto Pinochet, rather than extradite him. The Chilean dictator was known for “disappearing” thousands, tax evasion, pilfering his country’s treasury, and hoarding it all in secret bank accounts. Assange exposed war crimes. Who’s the real criminal?
One of the things Assange released that really sticks in the craw of President Obama and the U.S. government is a 38-minute video taken from the cockpit of an Apache military helicopter in Iraq in 2007. The video depicted American soldiers killing at least eighteen people, including two Reuters journalists. It later became the subject of widespread controversy.
Since WikiLeaks.org went online over three years ago, the site has published an extensive catalogue of secret material, ranging from information about Guantánamo Bay, to “Climategate” e-mails from the University of East Anglia, England, to the contents of Sarah Palin’s private Yahoo account.
WikiLeaks keeps its information from being censored by maintaining content on more than twenty servers around the world and on hundreds of domain names.
Assanges says Wikileaks’ mission is to expose injustice. In an invitation to potential collaborators in 2006, he wrote, “Our primary targets are those highly oppressive regimes in China, Russia and Central Eurasia, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the West who wish to reveal illegal or immoral behavior in their own governments and corporations.”
In this age of free-flowing information, governments should realize they cannot keep secrets like they used to, and instead, clean up their act. The world would be a better place for it, and we would have Wikileaks and Mr Assange to thank.