Is there anything Wikileaks wouldn't reveal

USA versus Julian Assange: The whistleblower as an enemy of the state

After several years of siege, there is now a big showdown: On February 24, the extradition process against Julian Assange began in London. The process not only decides whether the British authorities have to hand over the Wikileaks founder to the USA, but it also implicitly negotiates the status of all those who expose wrongdoing by companies, authorities and governments. But this means that the process is of decisive importance.

Assange had been waiting at the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012 after Swedish prosecutors issued a European arrest warrant against him on rape allegations. Assange feared being extradited to the USA via Scandinavia and therefore asked Ecuador for political asylum. [1] When he had to leave the embassy after a change of government in Ecuador in May of last year, the British police immediately arrested him.

The extradition process will drag on at least until June. Before the Woolwich Crown Court, the representatives of the US government and the defense lawyers of Assange argue whether and on what grounds the Australian must be extradited to the US authorities. At the same time, the question of what role Assange acted is discussed: is he an altruistic whistleblower or a journalist? Does he have his own political agenda? Or is he no more than an "ordinary criminal" in the end?

Public enemy number one

Even vehement critics of Assange usually cannot avoid recognizing the historical importance of Wikileaks, even if the platform - by publishing thousands of emails from the US Democrats in the 2016 presidential election campaign - recently lost its reputation, even among its closest supporters. But it is all the more fatal that Assange is to be extradited to the government of the state whose misconduct he has repeatedly brought to light. [2]

In 2010 and 2011 in particular, Wikileaks published secret documents of the US government, which, among other things, prove war crimes committed by the American army. These include the “Collateral Murder” video that Wikileaks made public on April 5, 2010 exactly ten years ago. It shows an air strike by US soldiers on Baghdad in which at least twelve people were killed. Two journalists from the Reuters news agency were among the victims. Wikileaks published the "Collateral Murder" video for the first time not only without comment in the original, but also as an edited version. The then Wikileaks spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg described the publication, which caused a great stir around the world, as a journalistic contribution.

Not least because of this video, however, the US government regards Wikileaks as a "non-state, hostile secret service" that is allegedly supported by Russia. [3] She wants to make an example of Assange: According to her extradition request, he not only has to go to court in the USA, but also with special administrative measures expect - special administrative measures, including strict solitary confinement.

In addition, Washington has significantly expanded the 2018 indictment, which is also the basis for the extradition proceedings. It initially comprised only one charge: Assange had helped whistleblower Chelsea Manning to crack the password of a computer network in the Pentagon - an offense that could be punished with a maximum of five years in prison. [4] In May 2019, 17 additional points were added at the instigation of the US Department of Justice. The American government now also accuses Assange of having violated the American espionage law. If convicted on all counts, he faces a total of 175 years in prison.

The representatives of the US government refer primarily to the Espionage Act, which was passed in 1917 during the First World War. In order to be able to pursue enemy agents without restrictions, the law suspends, among other things, the special protection for journalists, which Assange could otherwise invoke. The Obama administration had already resorted to the Espionage Act when it took action against Manning and Edward Snowden. Assange didn't want to bring her to court like this. The US Department of Justice worried that doing so would irreparably damage freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

Faded love

Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration shows far fewer scruples - also because Assange turned down an offer from the incumbent US President in August 2017: Trump offered to pardon Assange if he publicly stated that Russia would not be involved in the publication of e- Mail from the Democrats was involved in the 2016 US election campaign. Assange refused, making Trump his enemy once and for all. In October 2016 - just a few weeks before the presidential election at the time - the Republican raved about the disclosure platform at a rally: "Wikileaks, I love Wikileaks!"

There is no trace of this love today. Washington firmly denies having ever proposed such a deal to Assange - contrary to indications to the contrary, which are likely to play a role in the extradition proceedings.

So far, three questions have dominated the court hearing: On what legal basis could Assange be extradited? Is Assange a Political Activist? And does his state of health speak against a possible extradition?

Even clarifying the legal basis proves to be extremely complicated. Although there is a bilateral extradition treaty between Great Britain and the USA and the resulting Extradition Act from 2003, the treaty and law are not congruent on the question of whether extraditions due to political crimes are allowed. This results in an almost mirror-image argument in front of the court: Assange's lawyers point out that the contract expressly forbids extradition on the basis of political offenses. In addition, legal protection against political persecution is a cornerstone of British legislation and is also anchored in the Magna Carta. The representatives of the US government, on the other hand, argue that the extradition treaty has not been ratified by the British Parliament and therefore the Extradition Act, which basically rules out extradition, comes into play Not exclude.

At the same time, however, the US lawyers also emphasize that Assange's actions cannot be considered political under British law. Assange is not even a journalist, so the court shouldn't treat him as such, but rather as an ordinary criminal. Under his leadership, Wikileaks published hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic dispatches in the fall of 2011 without blackening them, thus revealing the names of journalists, informants and dissidents in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, in the past, the platform had irresponsibly disclosed the names of individuals because it judged their actions to be morally reprehensible. [5] In the case cited by the US government, however, a data leak caused a complete, unedited set of cables to be published. Assange's defense lawyers stress that this was not done on purpose and that it did not harm anyone.

The USA has not yet been able to prove anything to the contrary. Your argumentation must therefore be seen primarily as an attempt to deliberately criminalize Assange's motives and expediently depoliticize them in order to legitimize his extradition. What remains open, however, is what the US government believes are the real motivations of the "enemy agent" Assange. Because so far it is not known that he was directly rewarded for his services.

Symptoms of a Torture Victim

And as much as the representatives of the American side emphasize this - Assange has not yet been treated like an “ordinary criminal”.

The accused followed the trial in a glass cage in the back of the courtroom; He is prohibited from communicating with his lawyers during the proceedings. The judge rejected their request that their client should be allowed to sit next to them. And when the defense criticized on the second day of the trial that Assange had been body searched twice the previous day, handcuffed eleven times and transferred to other cells five times, the judge merely stated that this was not her jurisdiction.

The court, like the prosecution, should actually have no interest in such harassment, as it plays into the hands of the defense. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, examined Assange in prison last May. Melzer came to the conclusion that the now 48-year-old showed the typical symptoms of a victim of mental torture, including "extreme stress, chronic fear and severe psychological trauma". Assange's defense lawyers use the findings to prevent the extradition of their client in this way as well. They refer to the case of the Briton Laurie Love, accused by the American authorities of unlawful intrusion into US government computers. In 2018, however, an English court refused to extradite Love because he was autistic and the judges feared for his health. [6]

Whether the Woolwich Crown Court will decide similarly in the case of Assange is currently completely open. The taking of evidence, which is scheduled for three weeks, begins on May 18. It is already foreseeable that - regardless of which side wins first - there will probably be an appeal procedure after an initial verdict. For Assange, this means that he is likely to remain in British custody for a long time to come.

What protection for whistleblowers?

Even before a final judgment is issued in London, a groundbreaking decision on the future protection of whistleblowers in Europe could be made elsewhere - namely in Berlin, among other places.

Last autumn, after years of debate, the European Council passed an EU directive on whistleblower protection, which the Bundestag has to implement into national law within two years. The directive provides for overdue minimum standards for the protection of whistleblowers at European level.

During the preliminary negotiations, the federal government in particular vehemently advocated a restrictive procedure. Accordingly, whistleblowers should first report abuses within the companies or authorities concerned before they are allowed to contact external bodies. Fortunately, Berlin did not prevail because it would have significantly increased the mental hurdles for whistleblowers.

Nevertheless, whistleblowers like Julian Assange would still not be adequately protected if the EU directive were to be implemented directly in national law. The EU leaves both the legal sanctioning of so-called public whistleblowing - i.e. the direct publication of grievances in the media, for example - and the publication of documents classified as secret to the design of its member states. [7] It is therefore to be feared that whistleblowers will have to take a high personal risk with their actions in the future too.

How fatal this is for democracies in particular is demonstrated not only by the war crimes of the US Army or the Cum-Ex scandal disclosed by Wikileaks, but also - very recently - the German case of former non-commissioned officer Patrick J. He had the in recent years Military counterintelligence notified of a large number of right-wing extremist incidents in the Bundeswehr. The soldiers he reported are still on duty. Only the 31-year-old whistleblower recently lost his job, giving questionable reasons. [8]

Such cover-ups and retaliatory actions could be prevented by strong whistleblower protection in the future. And in the end it could make a significant contribution to directing the focus on the real perpetrators - as in the Assange case: because in the USA, those soldiers who, as we know thanks to Wikileaks, have demonstrably committed war crimes, have not been charged to this day either. let alone put on trial.

[1] In November 2019, the Swedish authorities dropped the rape allegation against Assange for lack of evidence.

[3] So today's US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a speech as CIA director in 2017.

[4] Manning leaked Wikileaks secret documents from military computers and was sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2013, but after four years he was pardoned early by then US President Barack Obama. From May 2019 to March 2020, Manning was again in custody for refusing to provide the US authorities with information about Wikileaks.

[6] See Laurie Love case: Hacking suspect wins extradition appeal, www.bbc.com, 5.2.2018.

[7] See Friedbert Meurer and Christoph Sterz, Negotiations are not only about Julian Assange, www.deutschlandfunk.de, February 18, 2020.

[8] Cf. Caroline Walter and Katrin Kampling, Bundeswehr: Right-wing extremists stay, informant must go, "ARD Panorama", March 5, 2020.