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Simpich writes: "What we are facing is an all-out assault against one of the most significant acts of civil resistance in the history of the United States. Specifically, the civil resistance of Chelsea Manning, her whistleblowing that helped end the US combat role in Iraq in 2011, and the courage of Julian Assange in ensuring that Manning's resistance was effective."

A screengrab from 'Collateral Murder' video of a 2007 attack in Baghdad, released by WikiLeaks. (photo: WikiLeaks)
A screengrab from 'Collateral Murder' video of a 2007 attack in Baghdad, released by WikiLeaks. (photo: WikiLeaks)


The Julian Assange Case: Revealing War Crimes Is Not a Crime

By Bill Simpich, Reader Supported News

12 April 19

 

he US government’s case against Julian Assange is now before the American public. It was revamped in 2017 to avoid a skirmish with the corporate media over the breadth of the “reporter’s privilege” to receive classified materials from a source. Assange is facing a charge of conspiracy with former intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to “break a password” to gain access to classified information.

What we are facing is an all-out assault against one of the most significant acts of civil resistance in the history of the United States. Specifically, the civil resistance of Chelsea Manning, her whistleblowing that helped end the US combat role in Iraq in 2011, and the courage of Julian Assange in ensuring that Manning’s resistance was effective.

The daily leaks to the media from the “reliable sources” inside the Trump administration are portrayed as a rational tool used to prevent the president and other high officials from abusing their power. These Washington journalists are rewarded with the sign of the dollar.

The all-too-infrequent leaks to the media about US government war crimes are portrayed as criminal conduct. Assange and his journalist colleagues are rewarded with attacks on their integrity and threats to their freedom.

This hypocrisy must end. American citizens and civil society must lead the effort to provide a whistleblower defense in military cases – and, for that matter, in every case that involves the release of classified material or that abused term “national security.”

To end this hypocrisy, it will ultimately take a statute that will somehow make it through Congress. Only then will Edward Snowden be willing to come home and have a fair trial.

A practical first step is a call to the European Court of Human Rights to bar the extradition of Assange. Without a whistleblower defense protected by law, the courts of the United States are unable to provide Assange with a fair trial.

Until this hypocrisy ends, we are all complicit.

Nine years ago, Julian Assange collaborated with Chelsea Manning with a sweeping set of revelations depicting US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan and the factual background underlying these events.

After many years, a horrified American public saw in April 2010 a graphic video of hardened soldiers gloating about “dead bastards“ while innocent Iraqi civilians died in an Apache helicopter assault.

A 22-minute documentary based on this footage was nominated for a 2012 Academy Award. Ethan McCord, an Army specialist, picked up a wounded child and ran to a US military vehicle. His superiors refused to take the child to a US military hospital, and McCord was reprimanded for his response. When McCord sought psychological assistance, he was told by his staff sergeant to “get the sand out of your vagina.

McCord and fellow Army specialist Josh Stieber wrote a public apology to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, emphasizing that the Wikileaks footage depicted not an aberration, but “everyday occurrences” in Iraq. McCord’s address to a 2010 antiwar conference can be seen here in a YouTube clip.

Ethan McCord and Josh Stieber offer an example of the nation that we could be.

What Wikileaks entitled the “Collateral Murder” video helped bring the US phase of the Iraq war to an end in 2011.

Chelsea Manning admitted releasing this video and a trove of related classified material. She said at her trial that she did it to spark public debate on US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Scott Galindez and I covered the Manning trial on behalf of Reader Supported News for many days in 2013. It was clear that the prosecution was obsessed with any way they could find an angle to attack Julian Assange for working with Manning.

Army investigator David Shaver testified to the jury that an unknown user unsuccessfully attempted to reverse engineer a password. Mark Johnson, an expert witness, testified that of the purported Manning-Assange conversations he had heard, none of them contained solicitations for files. None of us at the trial thought they had anything substantive on Assange – but it certainly wasn’t for want of trying.

Private Manning was denied the right to present a whistleblower defense to the jury – the right to argue that one’s actions were justified in order to expose war crimes. The outcome was predictable. Manning was sentenced to 35 years, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a dishonorable discharge. They even demoted Manning from Private First Class to Private.

The next day, Manning publicly announced her intention to be identified as a woman. She launched a pathbreaking battle to force the military to honor her rights as a transgender woman while behind bars. She continued to win the respect of people throughout the world.

World opinion makes a difference. Just before he left office in 2017, President Obama commuted her sentence. Manning has continued to inspire people in the years since – and especially in the last month, when she returned to prison rather than testify against Julian Assange to a federal grand jury.

Keep in mind that Manning has answered thousands of questions about Assange – every conceivable question has already been asked.

Manning refused to testify to the grand jury precisely because criminal grand juries are tools of repression – and are not used by any civilized country other than the United States and Liberia.

In particular, grand juries are routinely used to harass dissidents. The primary approach is to force dissidents to testify against one another and weaken their political movements. No attorney is allowed to stand in the hearing room with the client. The purpose is to sow division and discord.

Chelsea Manning refused to comply for these principled reasons, and she will almost certainly remain in jail until the end of the Assange grand jury’s term.

It should be said that a review of the indictment – issued in late 2017 as the statute of limitations was running out – indicates the possible weakness of the conspiracy case against Assange. The key language cited to support the conspiracy: “Manning told Assange that ‘after this upload, that’s all I really got left.’ To which Assange replied, ‘curious eyes never run dry in my experience.’”

But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume a robust conspiracy. A situation where Assange actively encouraged Manning to provide additional files. For that matter, let’s also assume that Assange assisted Manning to reverse-engineer a password to obtain the material.

Taking measured actions to bring the truth to light is what whistleblowers do. Whether these actions were reasonable is the role of the jury to decide.

The real question is: Will Assange be allowed to use a whistleblower defense to the jury in order to justify his actions? Will Ethan McCord be allowed to testify? Or the child that he helped save?

The real answer is: No. The European Court of Human Rights should step in and halt Assange’s extradition. The government doesn’t want a fair fight. In a fair fight, the government will lose.

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Bill Simpich is an Oakland attorney who knows that it doesn't have to be like this. He was part of the legal team chosen by Public Justice as Trial Lawyer of the Year in 2003 for winning a jury verdict of 4.4 million in Judi Bari's lawsuit against the FBI and the Oakland police.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

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