WikiLeaks has ever been wrong

Whistleblower : Julian Assange: The Hunted Journalist

Berlin - For a while it seemed as if the world had forgotten Julian Assange, especially the analogue one. As if he had disappeared from collective memory after all the years that he had already held out in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, to which he had fled in the summer of 2012 in order to evade arrest and extradition to Sweden, where he was was charged with rape and sexual harassment at the time. Julian Assange was not detained at the embassy, ​​but neither was he free. What did they do to him for almost seven years in a room barely larger than a cell, in which, as we now know, he was also monitored and wiretapped for a long time? At least towards the end he must have been desperate.

Even his public Twitter flirt with the environment of today's US President Donald Trump in 2016 indicated. Maybe then he really lost hope that the tide could turn in his favor. The founder of the Wikileaks disclosure platform had already sued through several instances in order to avoid extradition to Sweden. In any case, the public support, the demonstrations and "Free Assange" shouts had long since become less and quieter. And with them Julian Assange.

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That changed on April 11, 2019. On that day, Assange was arrested at the Ecuadorian embassy after the South American country had withdrawn his asylum status. Shortly before that, Wikileaks had reported on Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno. And Assange had one more enemy again. The first part of the hearing in a London court ended last Thursday, after which it will be decided in May whether Julian Assange should be extradited to the United States.

Julian Assange's life is in danger

There the Australian is accused on 18 counts, including espionage and betrayal of secrets. He is accused of disclosing classified national defense documents and the names of confidential sources. The maximum possible sentence: 175 years imprisonment. And suddenly the analog world woke up again. Because now there is more to it than just Julian Assange. It's about a man who, as his supporters say - who include politicians, writers, journalists and United Nations experts - has been charged for doing his job as a journalist. Because he helped bring US war crimes to light.

A judgment against Assange is nothing less than a judgment against freedom of the press. Sevim Dagdelen, a member of the Bundestag for the Left, was there as a trial observer in London. She has known Assange since 2012, the last time she met him personally shortly before Christmas 2018, in his exile at the embassy. Even then, she said on the phone, the now 48-year-old did not make a good impression on her. He was emaciated and complained of pain. And today he looks broken.

Like former Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and many other celebrities, Dagdelen signed an appeal launched by reporter Günter Wallraf calling for Assange's release from custody. The appeal is essentially based on the assessment of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer. The Swiss visited Julian Assange accompanied by doctors in custody. He says the Australian has been subjected to psychological torture there, which includes threats, permanent surveillance and isolation. Assange's health is badly damaged and his life is in danger. Sevim Dagdelen describes the London hearing as "organized chaos". Assange and his defense lawyers would hardly have had the opportunity to adequately respond to the accusations made by the other side.

"Julian Assange was sitting at the back of the courtroom behind bulletproof glass and was barely able to communicate with his lawyers through the thin slits, let alone confidential." Dagdelen considers the proceedings to be politically motivated. “He didn't do anything wrong. The only reason he's now being treated like a top terrorist is because of his journalistic work. Julian Assange is a journalist, not a terrorist. ”The left-wing politician is one of the few who defends Assange without mentioning his difficult character. Without emphasizing that he deserves a fair trial, of course, even though he is a narcissist, self-centered, maybe even someone who has molested women.

"Collateral Murder" video draws global attention to Wikileaks

Most of his other supporters admit this again and again - to point out in the same breath that there is now more to it than just the person. As a hero, that much is clear, Julian Assange is no good. One has to correctly say: no more. How different it was back then, more than ten years ago, at the height of his popularity, when the boyish Australian with the white-blonde hair toured the convention stages and graced the front pages of the newspapers. It was also a huge idea that he brought with him with his disclosure platform: the publication of sources was his vision, of authentic documents, in writing, sound and images, an unfiltered view that should make the truth immediately verifiable. It was a project programmed to be provocative.

And that threatened to become much more dangerous to the ruling power structure than the previously known investigative journalism. One of the most sensational publications on the platform is “Collateral Murder”. The video published on Wikileaks in 2010 shows US soldiers shooting from a helicopter at people, some of whom were unarmed, in July 2007. Two Reuters journalists were killed in the attack and two children were seriously injured. The incident caused horror around the world. Suddenly the question came up again, who owns information and who can control it.

It was a declaration of war on states, companies and organizations whose systems are designed to keep control over their secrets. Wikileaks was a spear that stuck right into the heart of secrecy. And the tip of the spear was Julian Assange, the visionary, the pop star of the information age who wanted to shake up the world and revolutionize journalism at the same time. And many, very many trusted him to do it. Then came the descent. Exactly how this came about is almost as complicated to explain as the phenomenon of Assange itself, which has long been inseparable from the phenomenon of Wikileaks.

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"Good luck with this," says Daniel Domscheit-Berg, at least right at the beginning of the conversation. The computer scientist and internet activist is sitting with his wife, Anke Domscheit-Berg, member of the Bundestag, in the old station building of Fürstenberg an der Havel. The hall with the high ceilings and unplastered walls belongs to the Verstehbahnhof, a technology laboratory of the havel: lab e association founded by the Domscheit-Berg couple and colleagues. V. Here, children and young people can try out what tomorrow's electronics world has in store. The Domscheit-Bergs believe that you can learn how to use technology and new media responsibly, and that knowledge of this is essential.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg: "With digitization, the power structure has shifted in society"

Daniel Domscheit-Berg was one of Julian Assange's closest colleagues at Wikileaks. And he still believes in the big idea. To the idea of ​​a platform that would give journalism new opportunities to accomplish its task. "With digitization, the power structure has shifted in society," he says. “As a result, people, governments, companies are now able to amass and wield far more power than ever before. The task of critical journalism is to control this power independently and to question and denounce it wherever there is an excessive imbalance. "

For that, he believes, a tool is needed that opens up new techniques and possibilities for journalism. Wikileaks could be such a tool. “Wikileaks and journalism could have been mutually beneficial. That would have been good for both sides, ”says Domscheit-Berg. And by choosing the subjunctive past tense, it sounds like he has already said goodbye to the idea that it might be possible to use the platform to create journalism for the data age. As if the vision remained a utopia in the end. A utopia that he and Julian Assange once shared.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg joined Wikileaks in 2007, he helped set up the project and was the spokesman for the disclosure platform. Was the quiet counterpart to the dazzling eccentric Assange. There was a rift in 2010. Assange and Domscheit-Berg disagree on the direction of the platform. Daniel Domscheit-Berg does not like the total focus on the character Assange. Although he could understand them well "from an activist point of view". During a conversation in the old station building, Domscheit-Berg said without hesitation: "Julian is a narcissist." He says this without resentment in his voice. In any case, there is no impression that he resents the former comrade-in-arms.

He speaks of Assange with respect for a companion whose ideals he once shared. But he also says: “Julian likes to be the gentleman. But he's also totally focused on himself. And he uses people, regardless of whether they are men or women. ”The UN special envoy Nils Melzer, who also worked through the files on the Swedish rape allegations, considers the allegations made to be a conspiracy in the final analysis. In an interview with the online magazine Republik in January of this year, Melzer made serious allegations against the Swedish authorities. The allegations were very likely fabricated. Melzer also blames the Swedish authorities for the fact that the incident landed in the tabloids.

Treatment of Julian Assange in custody violates fundamental human rights

"For almost a decade, the Swedish state specifically and publicly denounced Julian Assange as a sex offender," says Melzer. Neither Daniel nor Anke Domscheit-Berg believe in a conspiracy. But the allegations, whether they are true or not, reveal a weakness in the Assange system, which has long been inseparable from the Wikileaks system. A weakness that Assange's enemies knew how to use. To this day, Daniel Domscheit-Berg believes that Assange's biggest mistake is that he left Sweden despite the allegations that were made against him. “We all said, 'Don't do it. Clarify that somehow ‘."

Then, Domscheit-Berg believes, the whole thing would soon be over. There has never been so much public support as at that time. His former colleague can only speculate about the reasons why Assange ignored the warnings. “It wasn't rational what Julian did. And it didn't go with the picture I have of him. Julian is the most rational person I know. He is an absolutely strategic, rational, calculated thinker who takes everything apart on a systemic level. ”Domscheit-Berg believes that Assange did not want to deal with this“ dishonorable accusation ”. "That didn't go with the picture he had of himself and that everyone else had of him."

The rape allegations - which have since been discontinued due to insufficient evidence - have, that much is certain, led to the former pop star's continued decline in popularity. Unlike her colleague Sevim Dagdelen, Anke Domscheit-Berg, who sits as a non-party member of the left-wing parliamentary group in the Bundestag, also finds critical words for Julian Assange. “With his behavior, with his misogynous positions and his undisguised support for Trump, he hit the left spectrum in the pit of his stomach, that is, exactly those who first supported him particularly. Those who adored and adored him the most are now particularly disappointed. ”This is another reason why he has lost so much support.

But now, now there is more to it than that. “You really have to separate the structural from the personal.” And Anke Domscheit-Berg agrees with Dagdelen on one more point: “The way this process works in London is subterranean. Human rights are definitely being disregarded. Why is Julian Assange sitting in maximum security prison, mostly isolated? Why is he denied access to adequate medical care? Why was his lawyer communications bugged? The reason for his imprisonment was because he violated probation. It's all disproportionate and violates fundamental rights. ”She is sure that Assange would not get a fair trial in the USA.

Julian likes to be the gentleman. But he's just as totally focused on himself. And he uses people, regardless of whether they are men or women.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg was one of Julian Assange's closest colleagues at Wikileaks.

“Every claim to a fair trial is already being given up and the world is shown without shame how rules are set out of power. Assange would have no chance in a trial. The moment he arrives in the USA, it would be clear: he will be locked away. Until the end of his days. ”Why that would be a fatal signal, not only for Julian Assange, can be explained by answering a question: Is Julian Assange a journalist? The answer to this question is not important because it would shed light on how Assange should be treated. Doctors, lawyers, UN experts, politicians - they all agree that the treatment of Julian Assange in custody in the maximum security prison in Belmarsh violates human rights.

Anke Domscheit-Berg: "He was stylized into a star"

The answer is important because it determines what the decision in the extradition process, whatever the outcome, means beyond the person of Assange. The US, it seems, passed its verdict a long time ago. Julian Assange is a spy, a traitor who endangers public safety with his work. Daniel Domscheit-Berg says: “Of course Julian is a journalist. You can first set that down quite formally. He is accredited as a journalist, he has a press card that he received from a press organization.

Regardless of what you think of your work: If you can't fix it - why do we need something like that anyway? ”Whether the methods that Assange uses are too simplified or whether he is crossing boundaries - one could certainly discuss it . "And yes, I think it crosses borders and it is much too simplified as Julian imagines it," says Domscheit Berg. “But that doesn't mean that you can deny him everything.” In the meantime, those who have distanced themselves from him over the years are also willing to recognize Assange as colleagues. Georg Mascolo, editor of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, worked with Assange during his time as Spiegel editor-in-chief.

He is now critical of his journalistic attitude. Nevertheless, he also warns urgently against a conviction. Even leaking to the press is equated in the Donald Trump system with espionage, writes Mascolo in the SZ. “But the indictment against Assange takes it a dangerous step further. Because he was not someone who worked in a government and passed on material. He received it. ”This means that the controversial US espionage law will be applied for the first time to those who publish classified material. It is difficult to draw the line between Wikileaks and the New York Times, for example, says Anke Domscheit-Berg.

“In one case it's a brown envelope, in the other it's an internet platform. In the end, it's just a different path with similar results. ”To what extent is this really different from what a newspaper or a news channel might do as well? Viewed in this way, a condemnation of Assange would actually be a condemnation of the press, the fourth power, whose job it is supposed to be to control the powerful. “We have to ask ourselves,” says Daniel Domscheit-Berg, “what that means for the big picture. When that can happen to a journalist who has become uncomfortable and there is nothing we as the public can do about it. "

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But there was probably something else that led to Julian Assange's undoing: that he wanted to be more than a journalist.Domscheit-Berg believes that he wanted to be someone who was able to make world politics. “At eye level with the world's leading politicians, without ever having had a political mandate. That's a role that he liked. ”“ He was stylized into a star, ”says Anke Domscheit-Berg. “That has led to the fact that he believed himself to be inviolable. He even chose this formulation himself at the time when he was on all front pages. He thought nobody could do anything for him now. But he was wrong. ”It is quite possible that Julian Assange will soon pay a very high price for it. And with it the freedom of the press.