Julian Assange: Hero or Traitor?

Julian Assange was arrested on April 11 and is planned to be extradited to the United States (U.S.), so who is he and what does this mean for the world?

Assange is the director and founder of the international organization Wikileaks, whose mission statement is: “to bring important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to our journalists” (Wikileaks.com).

What Wikileaks does is it takes information (usually classified or otherwise hidden from the public), obtains it (either from leaks or hacktivists) and then prepares it to be published in articles to the general public.

This became an issue for the U.S. government in Spring of 2010, when Wikileaks published combat videos that were recorded from an Apache attack helicopter. U.S. armed forces killed a number of civilians in the attack.

The U.S. then caught the individual who leaked the video, Private First Class Bradley Manning, and court-martialed him, sentencing him to a total of 35 years in jail.

It is worth noting that in 2017, President Barrack Obama commuted (or shortened) Manning’s sentence to seven years. Personally, I feel that he made the right move, in this case, seeing as how the information that Manning leaked should have been public knowledge anyway.

Around the time of Manning’s arrest, the hunt for Assange began. The U.S. charged him with a hacking conspiracy; however, since he was a Swedish national, there was no way for the U.S. to obtain him.

At this same point in time two Swedish women decided to bring up charges against Assange of rape and sexual assault– which would bring him into the Swedish judiciary system, allowing him to be extradited to the U.S. should they choose to do that.

Assange fled the country once the government filed the warrants, heading to the United Kingdom. U.K. police arrested him almost immediately on an international warrant from Sweden. However, he posted bail and fled to the Ecuadorian embassy, where he was granted asylum and citizenship.

This began a seven-year waiting period for Assange who remained in the embassy, all the while the U.K. waited outside to arrest him the moment he stepped outside.

This holding pattern ended on April 11 when Ecuador decided to end Assange’s asylum, claiming that he had been very rude to his hosts and that he had, on multiple occasions, violated the terms of his asylum.

So what does this mean for the common person?

Assange’s arrest and arraignment is a travesty to free press around the world. At no point in time has Assange participated in something that was not of journalistic substance? The job of a journalist is to keep the public informed, as well as to be the watchdogs of government, which is what Wikileaks has been doing.

Other documents that Wikileaks has released include the U.S. Guantanamo Bay Operating Procedures, the Chinese Government Cover-up of Tibetan Dissent, and a compilation of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) espionage orders.

In an age where governments have given themselves the ability to determine what should or should not be public knowledge, it is imperative that organizations like Wikileaks are kept alive and in the forefront of the battle.

Censorship is in and of itself an extremely gray area, and if the government is not held accountable by organizations outside of itself, it holds unlimited power.