• Eric A.S. Harvey, JD

Wikileaks’ Assange as Facilitator of The Civil Rights Movement

Updated: 12 hours ago

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By Eric A.S. Harvey, JD


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25 July 2010 Wikileaks released The Afghan War Diary, part of the largest leak of intel documents in American history.

The Diary showcases Julian Assange’s relevance within the current struggle against the oppression of marginalized peoples everywhere in the world, including people of color overseas and in the United States.

Within the over 91,000 documents of the leak, facilitated by former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, extensive documentation of mass civilian casualties and detainee abuse resonate powerfully. It is imperative that people recognize the following, although it should be obvious: those subjected to these illegal, unethical, and egregious assaults upon human rights, ultimately recognized as war crimes by The International Criminal Court, were black and brown people within the international community.

To put it another way, Assange has only ever served the interests and rights of victims, and those victims have included classes of people systemically discriminated against for the immutable quality of their character that the color of their skin is. This discrimination is indeed urgently apparent since the brutal murder of unarmed black man George Floyd by racist police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis 25 May 2020. However, let us not forget that this system of oppression has existed since well before and without a doubt after the inception of our country. Our government doesn’t just try--and all too often succeed--in terminally disabling black and brown people overseas. Our government also does so within the domestic sphere. Insofar as Assange has advocated for the rights of black and brown people in the ways I have mentioned thus far, he represents a countermeasure against racism both within America and abroad.

Targeting Assange with the intention of incarcerating him for a period of time extending far beyond his natural life (175 years), holding him for that period of time in a 7’ by 12’ concrete solitary confinement cell at a detention center often called America’s worst prison (ADX Florence in one of the most remote deserts of Colorado), confining him to that cell for 23 hours a day, and placing him in such a facility that is home to criminals as infamous as Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera (a.k.a. “El Chapo”) and “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, not only just criminalizes journalism in our government’s assault upon our First Amendment, but also is an attempt to deter, in the most severe of ways, Wikileaks and every other publication everywhere in the world from drawing attention to America’s systemic oppression of black and brown people.

It is indeed true that these people of color, the abuse of which was documented in The Afghan War Diary, are citizens of countries remote from the United States. But what I mean to affirm is that criminalizing the kinds of journalism Assange has engaged in directly affects all news organizations’, all publications’, and all whistleblowers’ willingness to expose not just America’s international abuses of power, but also our government’s targeting of people of color.

Thought it can be rare, whistleblowers within police departments all over the U.S. have attempted to expose their co-workers’ practice of police brutality against black and brown people. All too often, those whistleblowers within law enforcement face retribution for how they expose these atrocities. Given what our government is doing with Assange, irrefutably an advocate for whistleblowers and minorities, it should be apparent that America is now reinforcing systems fundamentally essential to battling the oppression of people of color.

Most readers of this site may not know that finds its headquarters in Chicago, IL. I point this out for two reasons: (1) to draw attention to a recent case of police brutality within our city, which demonstrates the value of whistleblowers in a geographically immediate way; and, (2) to try to make our audience within this “City by the Lake” appreciate that the threat to our First Amendment and the corresponding and consequent threat to the rights of minorities are far more up-close-and-personal than many readily recognize. In other words, this idea of Wikileaks as a countermeasure to racism is not just an issue occurring well beyond our readers’ domain. It is an issue occurring violently in the streets of Chicago, across every ghetto on the deep South Side, and now even in the most historically affluent and white neighborhoods of “The Windy City.” The war is here. It is not elsewhere. It never was.

Substantiation of the aforementioned claims about news organizations, publications in general, whistleblowers and by extension Wikileaks is found to varying degrees within Chicago Policy Department Sgt. Isaac Lambert’s refusal in September to falsify reports in order to justify fellow Sgt. Khalil Muhammad’s unjustified shooting of autistic black teen Ricardo “Ricky” Hayes 13 August 2017. News outlets reported Hayes had merely been running in Muhammad’s neighborhood, when the police officer shot him in the chest.

In the wake of Lambert’s refusal to falsify the reports, Lambert was demoted.

Lambert’s subsequent whistleblower complaint of retaliation and police brutality precipitated a review of Muhammad’s assault. And in celebration of how important to opposing governmental abuse whistleblowers are, justice was done. The CPD levied penalties against Muhammad. These penalties may not have been severe enough, but it still suggests the relevance of those that risk their reputations, livelihoods, and even freedom to expose our government’s abuse of marginalized peoples. Assange is an emblem of this; he prominently occupies, in an anti-racist, positive, and righteously empowering way, the socio-political context in which minorities are subjected to assaults upon their rights as human beings.

Given the present explosion of opposition to police brutality, not more apparent these days since the civil unrest of the late 60s after civil rights trailblazer Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, the importance of whistleblowers is an issue both urgent generally speaking and in the context of the race-related conflicts all across America in recent months.

Assange is entitled to fervent endorsement by all, protection from the handful of governments all across the world that (at the behest of the United States) are making his life a living hell, and a sanctuary from the Trump Administration’s illegal assault upon what Assange stands for and has only ever always done—self-sacrificing engagement in political endeavors guaranteed protection by our Constitution, which have been a medium by which justice may be done in the world. He is the quintessential journalist and whistleblower; Wikileaks has facilitated revelations about many governments’ abuse of vulnerable peoples, entirely comparable and just as consequential as Lambert’s activities against policy brutality and corruption in the CPD.

The decision as to whether Assange will be extradited is set to be handed down by an English court in just under two weeks 4 January 2021. Thus, this issue has never been more urgent. Extradition will mean one more monumental step closer by our government toward realizing what is likely the most potent and most complete disavowal of the need to empower marginalized peoples, segregated against not just on the grounds of their race, but for a plethora of other completely unjustifiable reasons.

Assange is an emblem of meaningful opposition to state power, fundamental to the maintenance of free and democratic states. It is just the case that the threat to our democracy and the notion that we are all entitled to three unalienable rights, articulated first within the United States Declaration of Independence as “the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” has always borne down most acutely upon the victims of our racist system of oppression, from Dred Scott, thru Rosa Parks, thru George Jackson, thru Martin Luther King, Jr., thru Malcom X, thru Emmett Till, thru Fred Hampton, thru Rodney King, thru Mumia Abu-Jamal, thru Eric Garner, thru Michael Brown, thru Laquan McDonald, thru Tamir Rice, thru Walter Scott, thru Samuel DuBose, thru Freddie Gray, thru Alton Sterling, thru Philando Castile, thru Ahmaud Arbery, thru Breonna Taylor, thru George Floyd, thru Casey Goodson, Jr., thru the countless numbers of black men in prison and on death row across this country, thru those men’s female and neutral-gender-identifying counterparts, thru every slave ripped from Africa and relocated to the United States hundreds of years ago, and thru every other person of color subject to the violence of racism.

Let’s review one of the first statements within our Declaration of Independence. It is as follows:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Review of this statement is important in two regards: (1) The Framers understood our government to be a system for securing “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” (2) in light of that, what our government is doing with Assange and people of color is antithetical to the ideas around which The Framers organized our government; (3) it is our right, under The Framers’ Declaration, “to alter or to abolish” our government should it no longer serve the ends the Framers deemed essential to the maintenance of our liberty; and, (4) in light of that, our government’s attempt to curtail the potency of the press’ social and political utility, articulated powerfully when James Madison said, "The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.” Is an attempt to abridge our rights to question and challenge our government towards the realization of a better world, a world where all human beings are equal.

America’s pursuit of Assange is indeed a threat to press freedoms. But it also a threat to the rights of black and brown people. That is key. Remember that.

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