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Julian Assange & Edward Snowden Are Heroes: There's No Debate
A recent poll conducted by Elon Musk asked, "Should Assange and Snowden be pardoned?" The answer was an overwhelming yes, with 80.5 percent of approximately 3.3 million people voting.
For those of you who don't know, Julian Assange is the founder of Wikileaks, an organization that obtained genuine classified documents from various sources. These documents exposed various war, environmental, financial and other crimes by multiple governments around the world, especially the United States.
They also revealed the corruption within the intimate relationships between big multinational corporations, whether it be pharmaceutical companies or big food companies for example, and agencies like the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). In short, many of these documents exposed unethical and immoral actions by powerful entities. One of many great examples was the "Collateral Murder" leak.
Edward Snowden is the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower who blew the whistle on the NSA's mass global surveillance program. The extent and sophistication of these programs was quite shocking, and revealed that citizens don't really have any privacy whatsoever. Snowden, like Assange, took a stand for ‘doing the right thing’ in the face of corrupt governments.
So what does this recent twitter poll tell us? It tells us like many others surveys conducted in the past, that the majority of people believe these two are heroes. It makes sense, what else would those who have the ability to expose such unethical and immoral actions by governments and actually do it be branded as? Human rights groups, civil liberty groups and press freedom advocates have all been on the side of Assange and Snowden.
Assange was charged under the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, largely for actions rightfully recognized as protected news-gathering practices. Snowden is currently living in Russia, exiled from the United States. Assange has been held in prison in the United Kingdom for several years, subjected to torturous treatment while the US attempts to to extradite him to face criminal charges.
For the first time in history, the government has brought criminal charges against a publisher for the publication of truthful information. This establishes a dangerous precedent that can be used to target all news organizations that hold the government accountable by publishing its secrets. And it’s equally dangerous for U.S. journalists who uncover the secrets of other nations. Over the past few years we've seen an unprecedented amount of censorship of independent media outlets who present truthful information that calls into question government measures. This effort continues to gain momentum and strength.
Snowden was charged with theft, "unauthorized communication of national defence information" and "willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person." The last two charges were brought under the espionage act.
The Espionage Act was originally intended for use against spies. But it’s been used against journalists and whistleblowers in recent decades. These new charges against Assange threaten to criminalize reporting in the United States and around the world.
Snowden wasn't the first to do so, there have been many before him. William Binney, for example, is a former high ranking intelligence official with the NSA. He is one of the highest placed intelligence officials to ever blow the whistle on insider NSA ‘knowings.’ He made headlines when he resigned in 2001 after 9/11, having worked more than thirty years for the agency. He was a leading code-breaker against the Soviet Union during the Cold war, and like Snowden, was repelled by the United States’ massive surveillance programs.
Seven years ago he stated the following,
“At least 80% of fibre optic cables globally go via the US, this is no accident and allows the US to view all communication coming in. At least 80% of all audio calls, not just metadata, are recorded and stored in the US. The NSA lies about what it stores. The ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control.”
Proponents of Assange’s extradition would argue that he threatened national security. We would argue, as would many others, that national security has become an umbrella tool to censor information that exposes unethical and immoral actions of corporations and governments. It’s simply used as an excuse to justify these actions for ulterior motives, be it financial or political gain, while simultaneously deeming these actions as necessary and good for the collective.
I'm reminded of a quote here from John F. Kennedy, in his address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association on April 27, 1961
"We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment."
When it comes to Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, I like to share a hard-hitting quote from Nils Melzer, Human Rights Chair of the Geneva Academy of Int Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, Prof of Int Law at the University of Glasgow, UN Rapporteur on Torture and Other Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
"How far have we sunk if telling the truth becomes a crime? How far have we sunk if we prosecute people that expose war crimes for exposing war crimes? How far have we sunk when we no longer prosecute our own war criminals? Because we identify more with them, than we identify with the people that actually expose these crimes. What does that tell about us and about our governments? In a democracy, the power does not belong to the government, but to the people. But the people have to claim it. Secrecy disempowers the people because it prevents them from exercising democratic control, which is precisely why governments want secrecy."
I came across an interesting post by activist Greg Bean. In it, he brings up Johannes Gutenberg, the man who first introduced the printing press to the world.
He writes about how that single act created a free press, which gave birth to the concept of freedom of speech, and how the two are “inextricably linked; printing is a form of speech.”
"Gutenberg’s invention started the Printing Revolution, a milestone of the 2nd millennium that initiated the modern period of human history including the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Age of Enlightenment, and the Scientific Revolution, and began the knowledge-based economy that spread learning to the masses. Such mass communication permanently altered the structure of society. Removing control of information from the hands of the powerful and delivering it into the hands of the disempowered.
The broad circulation of information, including revolutionary ideas, in many languages, undermined Latin’s dominant status and the authority previously held by those trained in Latin, it transcended borders, threatened the power of political and religious authorities, increased literacy breaking the monopoly of the literate elite on education and learning, and bolstered the emerging middle class. It increased cultural self-awareness and cultural cohesion and undermined the authority of distant rulers and high priests.
WikiLeaks’ threat to the powerful was recognised and every effort was, and is, being made to criminalise anonymous leaking, which would be akin to criminalizing Gutenberg’s printing press, but there is not much chance this criminalisation will succeed."
I suggest you read the full piece as it makes some very interesting points.