The importance of WikiLeaks worldwide | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 29, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:23 AM, September 29, 2020

The importance of WikiLeaks worldwide

Nozomi Hayase, PhD, is a US-based liberation psychologist and widely published journalist. She has authored the book Wikileaks, the Global Fourth Estate: History Is Happening. In an exclusive (electronic) interview with John Kendall Hawkins, Hayase talks about the significance of WikiLeaks and why its editor-in-chief and publisher needs public support, as the US extradition hearing of Julian Assange unfolds in the UK.

 

How are the extradition proceedings going?

First of all, Julian Assange's US extradition case is a direct attack on the First Amendment by the US government. This is the first time the (US) Espionage Act is being used to prosecute a publisher. If it's successful, it would threaten media freedom everywhere. What has been unfolding this month at the London court is a Kafkaesque show-trial.

There have been problems with the abuse of process. Julian has not been allowed to sit with his lawyers and has been placed behind a glass cage, as was the case during the hearing in February. NGOs and international political observers were denied remote access to the court on the first day of the hearing. This includes Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders.

With that said, I think Julian's defence team has been doing extremely well. From an offer of a pardon for Assange by the US President Donald Trump to his administration's high-level plan to revoke Assange's political asylum granted by Ecuador, the defence team's witness testimonies have revealed the highly political nature of this case.

In your preface to WikiLeaks, the Global Fourth Estate, you reference "illegitimate governance," by which you seem to mean any "democracy" that hides from the people what they need to know in order to pressure their representatives in Congress (or Parliament) to make corrective changes. Can you say more about such "illegitimate governance" and how it relates to Assange's work?

Governments in modern democratic states theoretically require the consent of the governed. For people to give their consent to those who govern, they need to be informed about what their governments are doing. Illegitimate forms of governance are ones that violate this principle. We can see it in oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, where the governments can act dictatorially with draconian top down laws, coercing people's will.

In western societies, where there is a notion of free press, governments don't engage in outright violence. Instead, they engage in secrecy and manipulation of public perception, as Noam Chomsky documents in his seminal book The Engineering of Consent, which fits into this category. Assange, through his work with WikiLeaks, defended the public's right to know. By publishing material that is verified to be authentic and is of public interest, WikiLeaks helped to keep the government honest.

How does what you call "revolutionary journalism" compare to good old adversarial journalism?

The role of journalism from the very beginning was to perform vital checks and balances of government power. The founding fathers of the US had an inherent distrust of government. Thomas Jefferson once noted that if he had to choose between the government and the newspaper, he would choose the latter. So the press was meant to be a watchdog. Sadly, the media has now been infiltrated with commercial interests, and is failing to fulfil its role. Corporate media has become a stenographer of power. Instead of seeking the truth and challenging power, they lie and deceive the public.

When I say WikiLeaks is revolutionary, I am echoing the sentiment described by Orwell's phrase: "in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act". When western governments criticise WikiLeaks and create controversy, it is actually deflecting people from recognising the failure of the established media and their lack of commitment to the duty of a free press. What WikiLeaks does is not radical. It is in line with the tradition of a free press.

In the 60s, we had alternative media streams—the birth of FM radio, which activists listened to, as well as magazines like Ramparts, which gave long-read exposes of what "The Man" was up to. Can you compare Ramparts to WikiLeaks?

I don't compare WikiLeaks to Ramparts. WikiLeaks invented scientific journalism, which was unprecedented. Just like scientists writing scientific papers are required to provide all the data that they used to form their conclusions, WikiLeaks publishes full archives (after going through rigorous harm minimisation process, to redact information that brings imminent harm). They provide a means for ordinary people to independently check the claims of journalists and this enables a mechanism of accountability for journalists. So, with WikiLeaks, the source of legitimacy that used to be placed in the "objectivity" of journalists (that determine their editorial decisions) is now placed in the actual source documents. People don't have to believe journalists, they can independently check the validity of the reporting on their own.

WikiLeaks provided a means for common people to claim their own history. By opening their archives, WikiLeaks freed people from a stolen history that repeats the abuses of the past. Leaked documents allow us to look at past events anew and restore perspectives that were oppressed and pushed to the margins.

Different cultures have different ideas of what freedom of expression should look like—China, India, Japan, the US, France—but for Americans, their right to free expression came out of a revolutionary rejection of Britain. Their initial expression to the British was their freedom.

I think the US First Amendment was truly a major milestone in securing individual liberty, but it has shown to be not sufficiently fascist-proof. It has been compromised through economic censorship, now increasingly carried on by giant tech companies, such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, censoring and de-platforming anyone who challenges the status quo.

American people believe that they live in a democracy and a free society. In fact, they often compare their right to free speech with oppressive regimes like in China and Russia that don't have that protection. But what we have here in the US is a facade of a democracy and the illusion of freedom. While Americans live under this illusion, people in China know that their government engages in propaganda, and they are not getting accurate information. So at the end of the day, what we have is the same. None of us have the right to free speech and we are all controlled. The difference is just whether it is done overtly or done subversively. It is a choice between Orwell's 1984 or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

How would you describe the benefit of what Assange has done for people around the world?

Even though WikiLeaks is a transnational journalistic organisation, I see their work as being very much tied to the impulse that came through the US during its Revolutionary War against Great Britain. This impulse was people's aspiration toward individual liberty. I think what happened at the time in the US was historically significant and its impact is not only important for the US but also for the entire world. US independence from King George III set a new trajectory in history. It opened up the possibility to move away from monarchy and into creating a society based on the rule of law.

Thomas Jefferson, as a principal author of the Declaration of Independence said, "All men are created equal" and are endowed with certain unalienable rights, such as "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness". Those words inspired people around the world—even to this day.

Of course, as history has shown, our founding fathers were not perfect. They had their own hypocrisy and contradictions manifested in the genocide of natives, enslavement of blacks and suppression of women. But I would like to think that the signers of this document, 56 people who put their lives and livelihood on the line to achieve America's independence, believed in the ideals spelled out in the document. I would like to think those words were not lies. I see them as promises and believe that Jefferson had aspired to create a society that lives up to those words.

WikiLeaks released documents that helped us see the unaccounted power inside the US and its history. The publication of the collateral murder video, the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the illegal torture at Guantanamo Bay showed us how America had become a global empire, repeating its dark past of killing natives and destroying their culture, now under the name of fighting terrorism abroad in the oil-rich Middle East. We were able to see America's betrayal of its own ideals.

So what WikiLeaks did was help ordinary people around the world to engage in history, and make society more democratic and free. When we truly recognise the significance of WikiLeaks, we can see why Julian has been put in prison, tortured and politically persecuted. We can understand why the former CIA director and Trump's Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo called WikiLeaks "a non-state hostile intelligence service" and declared war against the whistleblowing site. We can understand why the CIA, via a Spanish security firm, spied on Julian and his privileged communication with his lawyers while he was inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and as Julian's defence revealed, why the CIA plotted to poison him. I hope people then realise what is truly at stake with Julian's extradition case and how we need to do whatever it takes to stop it.

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