Three years after Ecuador's government granted political asylum to Julian Assange in its small ground-floor London embassy, the founder of WikiLeaks is still there -- beyond the reach of the government whose vice president, Joe Biden, has labeled him "a digital terrorist." The Obama administration wants Assange in a U.S. prison, so that the only mouse he might ever see would be scurrying across the floor of a solitary-confinement cell.
Above and beyond Assange's personal freedom, what's at stake includes the impunity of the United States and its allies to relegate transparency to a mythical concept, with democracy more rhetoric than reality. From the Vietnam War era to today -- from aerial bombing and torture to ecological disasters and financial scams moving billions of dollars into private pockets -- the high-up secrecy hiding key realities from the public has done vast damage. No wonder economic and political elites despise WikiLeaks for its disclosures.
During the last five years, since the release of the infamous "Collateral Murder" video, the world has changed in major ways for democratic possibilities, with WikiLeaks as a catalyst. It's sadly appropriate that Assange is so deplored and reviled by so many in the upper reaches of governments, huge corporations and mass media. For such powerful entities, truly informative leaks to the public are plagues that should be eradicated as much as possible.
Notably, in the U.S. mass media, Assange is often grouped together with whistleblowers. He is in fact a journalistic editor and publisher. In acute contrast to so many at the top of the corporate media and governmental food chains, Assange insists that democracy requires the "consent of the governed" to be informed consent. While powerful elites work 24/7 to continually gain the un informed consent of the governed, WikiLeaks has opposite concerns.
Genuine journalistic liberty exists only to the extent that overt or internalized censorship is absent. Especially in a society such as the United States with enduring press freedoms (the First Amendment is bruised and battered but still on its feet), the ultimate propaganda war zone is between people's ears. So much has been surrendered, often unwittingly and unknowingly. Waving the white flag at dominant propaganda onslaughts can only help democracy to expire.
Last week, in Sweden, most but not all of the sexual-assault allegations against Assange expired. Still, Assange notes, "I haven't even been charged." And Sweden's government -- while claiming that it is strictly concerned about adhering to its laws -- has refused to limit the legal scope to its own judicial process.
As the BBC reports, "Assange sought asylum three years ago to avoid extradition to Sweden, fearing he would then be sent to the U.S. and put on trial for releasing secret American documents." Closely aligned with Washington, the Swedish government refuses to promise that it would not turn Assange over to the U.S. government for extradition.
"Julian Assange has spent more time incarcerated in the small rooms of the embassy, with no access to fresh air or exercise and contrary to international law, than he could ever spend in a Swedish prison on these allegations," says one of his lawyers, Helena Kennedy.