Nine Years Ago, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks Released the Guantánamo Files, Which Should Have Led to the Prison’s Closure

25.4.20

The logo for Wikileaks’ release of the previously classified Guantánamo military files in 2011, on which I worked as a media partner.

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Just over ten years ago, Pfc. Bradley Manning, stationed in Iraq as an intelligence analyst, undertook the largest leak in US history of classified government documents. These documents included 482,832 Army reports from the Afghan and Iraq wars, 251,287 US diplomatic cables from around the world, and classified military files relating to the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, as well as the “Collateral Murder” video, which showed US military personnel killing civilians from helicopters and laughing about it.

Manning leaked the files to WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange, which published the documents in 2010 and 2011. The last releases were of the Guantánamo Files, on which I worked as media partner, along with the Washington Post, McClatchy, the Daily Telegraph, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, El Pais, Aftonbladet, La Repubblica and L’Espresso.

WikiLeaks began publishing these files nine years ago today, on April 25, 2011, introduced by an article I had written about their significance, “WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Files on All Guantánamo Prisoners,” posted on my own website that same day as WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Guantánamo Files, Exposes Detention Policy as a Construct of Lies.

As I explained when I published an article a year ago commemorating this anniversary, “The files primarily revealed the extent to which the supposed evidence at Guantánamo largely consisted of statements made by unreliable witnesses, who told lies about their fellow prisoners, either because they were tortured or otherwise abused, or bribed with the promise of better living conditions.”

As I also explained in my article a year ago, I had been working with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the release of the files for several weeks. I had been contacted by them as I was recovering from a grave illness, but we had to leap into action suddenly after the Guardian and the New York Times, which — oh, the irony — had been leaked the files, suddenly began publishing them. I still stand by my introductory article, which I wrote in what I described as “a few hours of turbo-charged activity” after midnight on April 25, 2011, when I suddenly received notification of the imminent pre-emptive publication of the files by the Guardian and New York Times.

Just one week after the files’ publication, the US government assassinated Osama bin Laden, a move that seems to have taken place in order to discredit the revelations in the Guantánamo Files, as a false narrative was propagated, originating from the CIA, claiming that it was torture — and the existence of Guantánamo — that had led to bin Laden being located.

Despite my best efforts to expose the significance of the revelations in the Guantánamo Files, via a million-word analysis of 422 prisoners’ files over 34 articles, no one in the US government has ever been held accountable for the crimes of torture and prisoner abuse after 9/11, including — as the files so shockingly revealed — at Guantánamo.

Instead, Bradley Manning — now Chelsea Manning — was charged, tried and convicted in a court martial, and given a 35-year prison sentence (commuted by President Obama as he left office), while Julian Assange, after being given asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for nearly seven years, was arrested by the British authorities just over a year ago, on April 11, 2019, and imprisoned in the maximum-security Belmarsh prison, where he remains to this day, as he tries to prevent the British government’s plans to extradite him to the US to face espionage charges relating to the publication of the files leaked by Manning.

As I have repeatedly explained over the last year, beginning with a Facebook post, and my article, Defend Julian Assange and WikiLeaks: Press Freedom Depends On It (and also see here, here and here), the proposal to try Julian Assange for being a publisher ought to strike fear into the heart of anyone who cares about press freedom and freedom of speech.

As I put it in my Facebook post, his arrest “ought to be of great concern to anyone who values the ability of the media, in Western countries that claim to respect the freedom of the press, to publish information about the wrongdoing of Western governments that they would rather keep hidden.”

I also explained, “Those who leak information, like Chelsea Manning” — who was subsequently imprisoned because of her refusal to testify in a Grand Jury case against WikiLeaks, and only released last month, owing $256,000 in outrageously imposed fines — “need protection, and so do those in the media who make it publicly available; Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as much as those who worked with them on the release of documents — the New York Times and the Guardian, for example.”

I concluded my Facebook post by stating, “If the US succeeds in taking down Julian Assange, no journalists, no newspapers, no broadcasters will be safe, and we could, genuinely, see the end of press freedom, with all the ramifications that would have for our ability, in the West, to challenge what, otherwise, might well be an alarming and overbearing authoritarianism on the part of our governments.”

Unfortunately, the British government has shown no willingness to listen to the many powerful critics calling for Assange’s extradition to be stopped. Instead, he remains imprisoned in Belmarsh, where his companions are convicted criminals regarded as dangerous, and where, like prisoners everywhere, sadly, — including, of course, at Guantánamo — he is at risk from the coronavirus that is tearing through all manner of detention facilities around the world.

In addition, the judge in his extradition case is determined to proceed with his extradition hearing next month, even though it is obvious that the entire system of court cases and witnesses is simply not feasible under the coronavirus lockdown. As WikiLeaks spokesperson Joseph Farrell explained, “Julian’s lawyers cannot prepare adequately, witnesses will not be able to travel, and journalists and the public will not have free, adequate and safe access to the proceedings. Justice will neither be done, nor seen to be done.” Lawyers for Assange will be challenging this outrageous decision on Monday, but for now please think of Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, and the prisoners at Guantánamo on this anniversary.

For more on Assange’s case, please check out this new video published by the Intercept, featuring Glenn Greenwald speaking to “the international human rights lawyer Jen Robinson, who has long represented Assange in this and other legal proceedings, and the Washington Post’s media reporter Margaret Sullivan, who is one of the few major media figures to have denounced the Assange indictment.”

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or here for the US, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from seven years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

17 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Today is the 9th anniversary of the release, by WikiLeaks, of classified military files relating to the Guantanamo prisoners (originally leaked by Chelsea Manning), on which I worked as a media partner, and in my latest article I recall their significance, exposing a system of alleged “evidence” that is actually based primarily on torture, abuse and bribery, and that is therefore fundamentally unreliable.

    As I have been doing for over a year, I also call for Julian Assange’s proposed extradition from the UK to the US, to face espionage charges for being a publisher, to be stopped, because of the grave threat that would pose to press freedom and freedom of speech.

    I hope you recognize why I think it’s important to mark this anniversary, and that you’ll share this article if you agree with my assessment. It’s a pretty safe bet that no one in the mainstream media will have noticed, and meanwhile 40 men still remain at Guantanamo, entombed by Donald Trump, who doesn’t care how unreliable the basis of their imprisonment is.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Deborah Emin wrote:

    A rather sad anniversary.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I can’t really put a gloss on it, Deborah. Sorry about that. Nine years on, and so few people know or care what was in the files.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Deborah Emin wrote:

    Andy, that to me is the saddest point. This utter disregard for such grotesque miscarriages of the law. Then they complain about Trump as if he were sui generis. Thank you for not giving up. I don’t think I could have your fortitude.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Deborah. I appreciate your support. My persistence, I think, is both a personal trait and a place I inadvertently carved out for myself, where a journalist and activist (I was always both) doggedly takes a stand on an important issue.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Deborah Emin wrote:

    Andy, I still think it is an amazing ability.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you again, Deborah – and your support over all these years is very much appreciated!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Tom Pettinger wrote:

    Absolutely. You said something a while ago Andy that stuck with me, I always think about it, something like “we [resist/take a stand] even when it’s not likely to make an impact because it’s important to be people who [resist/take a stand]”
    I butchered what you actually said, but the sentiment is there. It has stayed with me.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. I’m deeply honoured when something I’ve said or written has that sort of impact. I reminds me of an anecdote I was told that has a deep resonance for me about activism. During the Vietnam War, a lone protestor held a candle outside the White House every night. Eventually, a reporter was sent to talk to him. “Don’t you know, sir”, the reporter asked, “that you’re aren’t going to change the president’s mind, standing here on you own with a candle?” The protester replied, “I’m not doing this to change his mind. I’m doing it to make sure that he can’t change mine.”

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia R Scott wrote:

    Andy, thank you for your work. I always tell you this, but I don’t know if you know that really it was because of your book that I got into the cause of activism for Assange. Your book and your work changed my life.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    I am so humbled to be reminded of this, Natalia, although I wonder what had appalled you so much about Guantanamo that you felt compelled to seek out my book in the first place. It wasn’t something you could just stumble upon! 😉

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Shahela Begum wrote:

    Thanks for highlighting this anniversary, Andy … it’s a shame that even after all this we still have Guantanamo open, men waiting to be reunited with their families and not knowing when that will happen. It angers me that Julian Assange sits at Belmarsh waiting for extradition when he and Chelsea Manning should have never gone through what they did, for showing the facts and blowing the lid off some of the most heinous war crimes. I cannot imagine the psychological toll on these prisoners and whistleblowers who should have been hailed as heroes. I hope there is accountability on the part of the US somewhere down the line, where they can’t be brushing everything under the rug and going after those that expose the truth. Thank you for keeping this campaign alive always.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you very much for your empathy and your powerful words, Shahela. I hope you’re staying well at this difficult time.
    Did you see Chelsea Manning’s tweet from a few days ago, out and about in NYC? https://twitter.com/xychelsea/status/1252707736585998336

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Geraldine Grunow wrote:

    Thank you for your faithful reporting over all these years, Andy.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    And thank you very much for caring, and for your support, Geraldine!

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    At a hearing on Monday, District Judge Vanessa Baraister finally recognized that the proposed extradition hearing on May 18 cannot go ahead, because neither Assange nor his lawyers would be able to attend the hearing in person. A decision will be taken on May 4 regarding a new date, with a suggestion that it “may be delayed until November.”

    Judge Baraister conceded, “Remote attendance by the parties in this case will not be appropriate. It is now appropriate to vacate that hearing and fix it to a later date.”

    As the Australian media described it, “Barrister Edward Fitzgerald had argued that, apart from brief phone calls, defence lawyers hadn’t spoken with Assange for over a month. He said they were due to meet him in the holding cells of Woolwich Crown Court last week but prison authorities wouldn’t allow it.”

    Fitzgerald told the court, “With the coronavirus outbreak the preparation for this case goes from difficult to impossible. There are no person-to-person meetings. The alternative of video conferences is medically dangerous. Mr. Assange will be facing a David and Goliath battle with his hands tied behind his back.” He also explained that “the lockdown prevented witnesses from attending in person and the press from monitoring proceedings.”

    Although Judge Baraister denied a bail application two weeks ago, when Assange’s lawyers argued that he was in danger of contracting the coronavirus in Belmarsh, his father, John Shipton, said outside the court that he hoped he would again apply for bail to protect his health, so that, as he put it, “Julian can come home to his family and children rather than being in constant danger of having a lung infection in a COVID prison where two people have died of the disease.” He added, “It’s just wrong, it’s just wrong, he’s an innocent man on remand.” He also said that Assange “should be with his fiancee and two young sons”, whose existence was recently revealed.

    See: https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/assange-s-case-may-be-delayed-until-november-amid-coronavirus-lockdown-20200428-p54nqe.html

  17.     DEMOKRATISCH – LINKS » Blog Archiv » Assange-Schauprozess: says...

    […] immer wieder gegen Julian Assange auftreten ließen. Weitere Zeugen waren der Guantanamo-Enthüller Andy Worthington, der auf Wikileaks-Dokumente zurückgreifen konnte, um eins der brutalsten Folterlager der […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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