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Truthdigger of the Week: Julian Assange, Publisher of the Clinton Campaign Emails

Posted on Oct 22, 2016

By Alexander Reed Kelly

    WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange reads from a U.N. report as he speaks from London’s Ecuadorean Embassy in February. (Frank Augstein / AP)

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Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating.

Should we condemn Julian Assange for his recent interventions in U.S. politics?

The Australian hacker-turned-journalist became an international hero for free speech and government transparency in 2010 when he published through WikiLeaks, an organization he co-founded, a quartet of award-winning disclosures revealing the U.S. military behaving far worse in its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq than it had admitted and U.S. State Department officials speaking frankly about their allies and intentions around the globe.

Under threat of exposure, the Obama administration, led by Hillary Clinton’s State Department, leapt into action, opening a criminal investigation into Assange and pursuing him through its international allies to the Ecuadorean Embassy in London in 2012, where he remains to this day, functionally imprisoned under asylum. This week, while he was still coordinating his work with others, the Ecuadorean government suspended his internet access.

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Now, after publishing searchable databases of thousands of emails over the summer hacked or leaked from the servers of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta (messages that include transcripts of Clinton’s paid speeches to Goldman Sachs and give further substance to allegations of duplicity, disdain for activists and compromising self-interest that have followed her and her circle for more than a decade), Assange is under fresh attack from familiar adversaries representing the establishment and taking hard criticism from erstwhile allies.

Citing rationales that U.S. intelligence agencies have not made available to the public, Clinton and her aides assert—and their media allies uncritically report—that Assange is working with the Russian government to help Donald Trump win the presidency by strategically timing the release of the emails—the authenticity of which the Clinton camp has not denied—to cause maximum damage to her presidential campaign.

Relative newcomers to the critique of Assange are NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, journalist, author and activist Naomi Klein and Harvard Law professor and civil liberties advocate Lawrence Lessig. They take issue with the failure of Assange and his colleagues to strip the leaked documents of information that is not essential to the business of informed democracy and which unnecessarily spotlights the personal lives of the people involved. In a conversation with The Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald (who maintains that public interest requires that powerful people, especially officials, forfeit a measure of their privacy), Klein eloquently expressed her concern “about the subjectivity of who gets defined as sufficiently powerful to lose their privacy,” adding that she is “absolutely sure there are plenty of people in the world who believe that you and I are sufficiently powerful to lose our privacy.”

“I’m not comfortable with anybody wielding that much power,” Klein said. “I’m not comfortable when it’s states, but I’m also not comfortable when it’s individuals or institutions.” As a high-profile role model to journalists and activists for his role in bringing Snowden’s NSA leaks to the public, Greenwald has a special responsibility to protect the ethics that underpin his efforts in public service. And that means criticizing Assange (whom Greenwald, a trained lawyer, ably defended in the press during WikiLeaks’ initial burst of activity in 2010) when Assange fails to meet his own ethical standards, or those he once claimed and practiced.


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