A Call to Free Julian Assange on the 10th Anniversary of WikiLeaks’ Release of the Guantánamo Files

25.4.21

A composite image of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, in British custody, and the logo for “The Guantánamo Files,” released ten years ago today.

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Ten years ago today, I was working with WikiLeaks as a media partner — working with the Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, the Daily Telegraph, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, El Pais, Aftonbladet, La Repubblica and L’Espresso — on the release of “The Guantánamo Files,” classified military documents from Guantánamo that were the last of the major leaks of classified US government documents by Chelsea Manning, following the releases in 2010 of the “Collateral Murder” video, the Afghan and Iraq war logs, and the Cablegate releases.

All the journalists and publishers involved are at liberty to continue their work — and even Chelsea Manning, given a 35-year sentence after a trial in 2013, was freed after President Obama commuted her sentence just before leaving office — and yet Julian Assange remains imprisoned in HMP Belmarsh, a maximum-security prison in south east London, even though, in January, Judge Vanessa Baraitser, the British judge presiding over hearings regarding his proposed extradition to the US, prevented his extradition on the basis that, given the state of his mental health, and the oppressive brutality of US supermax prisons, the US would be unable to prevent him committing suicide if he were to be extradited.

That ought to have been the end of the story, but instead of being freed to be reunited with his partner Stella Moris, and his two young sons, Judge Baraitser refused to grant him bail, and the US refused to drop their extradition request, announcing that they would appeal, and continuing to do so despite Joe Biden being inaugurated as president. This is a black mark against Biden, whose administration should have concluded, as the Obama administration did (when he was Vice President), that it was impossible to prosecute Assange without fatally undermining press freedom. As Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation stated in April 2019, “Despite Barack Obama’s extremely disappointing record on press freedom, his justice department ultimately ended up making the right call when they decided that it was too dangerous to prosecute WikiLeaks without putting news organizations such as the New York Times and the Guardian at risk.”

The WikiLeaks revelations

All of the documents leaked by Chelsea Manning and released by Wikileaks in 2010 and 2011 were a revelation. The “Collateral Murder” video, with its footage of the crew of a US Apache helicopter killing eleven unarmed civilians in Iraq in July 2007, including two people working for Reuters, provided clear evidence of war crimes, as did the Afghan and Iraq war logs, as the journalist Patrick Cockburn explained in a statement he made during Assange’s extradition hearings last September, and as numerous other sources have confirmed. The diplomatic cables were also full of astonishing revelations about the conduct of US foreign policy, while “The Guantánamo Files,” as I explained at the time of their release, provide “the anatomy of a colossal crime perpetrated by the US government on 779 prisoners who, for the most part, are not and never have been the terrorists the government would like us to believe they are.”

Publication of the files, which had originally been intended to be sometime in May 2011, had suddenly been brought forward because WikiLeaks had heard that the Guardian and the New York Times, previous media partners of WikiLeaks, who had fallen out with Assange, and who had obtained the files by other means, were planning to publish them, and so, over the course of several hours on the evening of April 24, 2011, I wrote an introduction to the files that accompanied the launch of their publication.

With hindsight, that article, WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Guantánamo Files, Exposes Detention Policy as a Construct of Lies, was one of the most significant articles I’ve ever written, as it summed up why the files — covering 759 of the 779 men held by the US military since the prison opened on January 11, 2002 — were so important, most significantly because they provided the names of those who made false or dubious allegations against their fellow prisoners, revealing the extent to which unreliable witnesses were relied upon by the US to justify holding men at Guantánamo who were either innocent, and were seized by mistake, or were simply foot soldiers, with no command responsibility whatsoever.

The files also revealed threat assessments, which were fundamentally exaggerated. Because no one in the US military or the intelligence services wanted to admit to mistakes having been made, prisoners who posed no risk whatsoever were described as ”low risk,” and, by extension, “low risk” prisoners were labeled “medium risk,” while “medium risk” prisoners — and the handful of prisoners who could perhaps genuinely be described as “high risk” — were all lumped together as “high risk.”

The files also provided risk assessments based on prisoners’ behavior since their arrival at Guantánamo, establishing that many men were held (and some still are) not because of anything they did before they were seized, but because of their resistance to their brutal and unjust treatment in Guantánamo. Also included were health assessments, establishing that even the US authorities acknowledged that, as the Guardian described it, “[a]lmost 100 Guantánamo prisoners were classified … as having psychiatric illnesses including severe depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.”

Unfortunately, within a week of the release of “The Guantánamo Files,” the Obama administration decided that it was imperative to kill Osama bin Laden in a Wild West raid on the compound where he had been living in Pakistan, a move whose timing was, to put it mildly, suspicious, especially as, immediately afterwards, dark forces within the US started promoting the completely untrue notion that it was torture in the CIA’s “black site” program — and the existence of Guantánamo — that had led to the US locating bin Laden.

Following the release of “The Guantánamo Files,” I spent the rest of 2011 largely engaged in a detailed analysis of the files, writing 422 prisoner profiles in 34 articles, in which I dissected the information in those prisoners’ files, demonstrating why, in most cases, it was so fundamentally unreliable. It was a process similar to what I had done in 2006, when I had been the only person to conduct a detailed analysis of 8,000 pages of documents released by the Pentagon after losing a Freedom of Information lawsuit, for my book The Guantánamo Files — and much of my subsequent work — and I remain very proud of my analysis of the files released by WikiLeaks, and am only disappointed that, through a combination of exhaustion and a lack of funding, I was unable to complete my analysis.

I hope, however, that what I completed helps not only to expose the colossal injustice of Guantánamo, but also more than justifies the leak of the documents, for which, shamefully, Julian Assange is still being persecuted.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), 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 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).

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.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, recalling the significance of the release of “The Guantanamo Files” by WikiLeaks, ten years ago today, on which I worked as a media partner. As I explain, the files’ greatest significance lay in the fact that “they provided the names of those who made false or dubious allegations against their fellow prisoners, revealing the extent to which unreliable witnesses were relied upon by the US to justify holding men at Guantanamo who were either innocent, and were seized by mistake, or were simply foot soldiers, with no command responsibility whatsoever.”

    I also call for the release of Julian Assange, who is still imprisoned in Belmarsh, despite a judge refusing to allow his extradition to the US in January. As I note in the article, everyone else involved in the release of Wikileaks documents in 2010-11 — journalists and publishers — are at liberty to continue their work, and even Chelsea Manning, who leaked the documents and was given a 35-year sentence after a trial in 2013, was freed after President Obama commuted her sentence just before leaving office, and yet Julian remains imprisoned in Belmarsh, and President Biden has, shamefully, refused to drop the appeal against the UK ruling preventing his extradition.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Kevin Hester wrote:

    I think that what Andy and his associates in Wikileaks have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt is that Julian hasn’t committed a crime, he’s exposed dozens or maybe hundreds of state orchestrated crimes.

    I believe that the treatment of Julian is meant to be a stark warning to journalists world wide that if they do their jobs right the empire of chaos and the military industrial complex will take revenge.

    What this demonstrates is that none of us are safe and that fine journalists like Julian and Andy are risking their lives and freedoms to keep us informed.

    Andy, Wikileaks, Chelsea Manning and Julian are risking everything to keep us informed.

    We were warned.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the supportive words, Kevin.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Asiya Muhammad wrote:

    He’s just the scapegoat and the distraction, because everything just proved that kidnapping and torturing people while feeding them stories to repeat under torture, was only done to justify the previously orchestrated invasion of 7 countries in five years by the Bush administration, started by his father before him. And they call America a democracy 😒

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your comments, Asiya. Good to hear from you.

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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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