The following is a speech delivered by Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi to the Chaos Computer Club Congress on Tuesday.
WHY WE MUST SAVE JULIAN
ASSANGE AND WIKILEAKS
Thank you to the Chaos Computer Club for this panel. Let me introduce myself: I am an Italian investigative journalist working for the major Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano, and previously working for l’Espresso and la Repubblica. The reason why I am here is to discuss with you why we must save Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
I have spent the last 11 years working on all WikiLeaks secret documents. I started working as a media partner back in 2009, when very, very few had even heard of WikiLeaks. I want to make you understand how crucial Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks’ work has been.
They have revealed exceptionally important information. I am not sure if you realise how exceptionally important the WikiLeaks revelations are. Just consider documents like the Guantanamo manual, which they published back in 2007, when they were a very small and unknown media organisation.
Even the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, had tried to get a copy of that manual using the Freedom of Information Act, and yet they didn’t succeed in getting it, whereas thanks to some bold whistleblower, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks did obtain it and they had the courage to publish it, even if the Pentagon had asked them to remove it from the WikiLeaks website.
They did not comply and that was amazing: you have to realise what it means to say no to the Pentagon, even the world’s biggest media organisations have legal and extralegal concerns in saying no to the Pentagon.
So back in 2008, when I heard about WikiLeaks for the first time, considering that WikiLeaks had been established just two years before, for me it was amazing to learn that there was a media organisation capable of getting documents which were very very difficult to obtain and bold enough to resist the Pentagon request to remove those documents from its website. If you ever worked in a newsroom, you can understand the risk of publishing documents which the Pentagon wants you to remove from your website.
But Wikileaks didn’t remove them and for me it was refreshing, especially in those days when some of the biggest newspapers and media in the world were willing to publish lies which supported the Iraq War or were so timid that they called the CIA torture techniques enhanced interrogation techniques.
In addition to this they published the Iraq War Logs, which, among other things, revealed 15,000 civilian deaths previously unaccounted for. They published the Afghan War Logs, which revealed the true face of the war in Afghanistan. WikiLeaks also published the State Department cables, which exposed scandals all around the world.
Just to give you an idea how important the cables have been: they exposed how U.S. diplomacy put pressure on Italian politicians to stop them from sending arrest warrants for the CIA agents involved in the extraordinary rendition of Abu Omar.
Abu Omar was a Milan cleric, who was kidnapped in Milan, in Italy, in the middle of the day, like in Pinochet’s Chile and he was sent to Egypt and brutally tortured for months. This is an incredibly important story as Italy was the only country in the world to nail the CIA agents, using phone metadata, to put them on trial in absentia, and to get a final sentence.
However, none of the 26 U.S. nationals, almost all of them CIA agents, spent a single day in prison. Why? Because six Italian Justice Ministers refused to send the arrest warrants to the U.S. in order to extradite them to Italy and put them in prison. Only thanks to WikiLeaks I was able to get solid evidence of those pressures on Italian politicians, which resulted in impunity to an extent that Italy, the only country in the world which got a final sentence for the CIA agents, was finally condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, for granting them impunity.
Without the WikiLeaks documents it would have been simply impossible to get evidence of such state criminality, we could have guessed of course, but we could have never ever got evidence.
This kind of evidence proved to be crucial: it allowed the victims of this state criminality to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, it allowed the Chagos islanders to fight their case up to the British Supreme Court, it allowed dozens of journalists like me to expose the crimes, abuses, and cover up by our governments.
The tragic thing is that after publishing these documents Julian Assange has never known freedom again. You have to realise that for my newspaper I have worked with him and his organisation as a media partner for the last 11 years: the last time I met as a free man was the 28th September 2010: I left him in Berlin at Alexanderplatz, where I had met him to work on the Aghan War Logs, and after that meeting I have never met Julian Assange as a free man again: it was ten years ago. And I have always worked with him as a media partner confined under house arrest, confined in the Ecuadorean Embassy, and now in prison.
It’s unacceptable to me: my newspaper and I have published the very same revelations and yet I was never put in prison or arrested. Dozens of journalists published the very same documents for which he is now in prison: none of us have had any problem at all. So I feel the duty to speak out, to denounce his appalling treatment and to explain to you why we must save Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
In the last 10 years, he and the WikiLeaks journalists have tried to look for a place to be protected, not to hide, and they haven’t found one. Julian Assange tried with Sweden, due to the famous Swedish laws when it comes to free speech. And it didn’t work. He tried to take refuge in the embassy, it worked for 7 years, as long as Rafael Correa granted him asylum, however he did pay a huge price: he remained in the embassy for 7 years with no access to proper medical treatment, no sunlight, not even an hour outdoor per day. I mean we Italians give an hour outdoors per day to some of the worst mafia killers who killed children in the most horrific way. Julian Assange didn’t have an hour outdoors for his 7 years in the embassy.
Then not even the asylum worked: Lenin Moreno cancelled it and allowed him to be arrested. Julian Assange tried everything that he could to protect himself after publishing the U.S. secret documents, he tried with the United Nations and succeeded: the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention established that Sweden and the United Kingdom arbitrarily detained him since 2010.
He succeeded, but the British authorities ignored the UN decision, then he tried with the UN special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, and again: he succeeded. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer established that Sweden, Britain, the United Stated and Ecuador have tortured him psychologically, but again, the United States and Britain completely ignore the UN special rapporteur on torture.
So Julian Assange tried to find a place to protect himself and WikiLeaks, but found no such place. This is most terrifying thing I have experienced in such work as a media partner. It didn’t scare me that I was tailed for intimidation purposes. It didn’t upset me that I had to leave my newspaper, la Repubblica, to keep doing my work on WikiLeaks, it didn’t scare me that I was attached and stolen very important documents.
No, the thing that most terrified me was to discover that in our democracies there is no place to protect whistleblowers, journalistic sources and media organisations like WikiLeaks and journalists like Julian Assange: they have been put in prison, psychologically tortured as Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, they have been forced to escape like Edward Snowden, they risk ending up in prison like Sarah Harrison for helping Snowden, they risk extradition as the WikiLeaks journalists, they have been brutally spied inside the embassy, as I was.
What have seen in the last decade of this work has terrified me. I have seen the United States, the UK authories, the Swedish authorities, the Australian authorities, the Ecuadorian authorities destroying Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks journalists little by little, day after day, death by thousands cuts. This is of huge concern to me.
This is why I am talking to you about why we must save Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks journalists: we must save them, if we want to live in a society in which you can reveal war crimes, torture, drone killing without ending up in prison like Chelsea Manning, without being forced to escape like Edward Snowden, without having your life destroyed like Julian Assange. This is what a democratic society is to me.
Stefania Maurizi is an Italian investigative journalist, currently working for the major Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano, after working 14 years for the Italian daily la Repubblica and for the Italian newsmagazine l’Espresso. She has worked on all WikiLeaks releases of secret documents, and partnered with Glenn Greenwald to reveal the Snowden files about Italy. She has also interviewed A.Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistani atomic bomb, revealed the condolence payment agreement between the U.S. government and the family of the Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto killed in a U.S. drone strike, and investigated the harsh working conditions of Pakistani workers in a major Italian garment factory in Karachi. She has started a multijurisdictional FOIA litigation effort to defend the right of the press to access the full set of documents on the Julian Assange and WikiLeaks case. She authored two books: Dossier WikiLeaks. Segreti Italiani and Una Bomba, Dieci Storie, the latter translated into Japanese.