The Ecuadorian diplomat who gave Julian Assange political asylum reports from the extradition hearing against the WikiLeaks journalist, and explains why it is “the most important case against the freedom of expression in an entire generation.”
by Fidel Narváez, (translated by Ben Norton)
Part 3 - There was never a reckless disclosure of names. No one has been hurt due to WikiLeaks publications.
The legendary leaker of the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, told that court that he “totally disagrees with the ‘good Ellsberg / bad Assange’ theory.” He said Julian did “everything possible” to redact and withhold damaging information, working with media outlets in the redaction process.
The Pentagon Papers were top secret, but WikiLeaks’ documents were not classified as restricted and hence, by definition, there should be nothing that is truly sensitive.
Ellsberg said that Assange withheld 15,000 files from the Afghan War Diary to protect names, and also requested help from the State Department and Defense Department to redact names, but the U.S. government refused to help, despite the fact that it is standard journalistic practice to consult with officials to minimize damage.
In the court-martial of Chelsea Manning, Ellsberg noted, the Defense Department admitted that it could not identify a single death caused by WikiLeaks publications.
The co-founder of the organization Iraq Body Count (IBC), John Sloboda, whose work has been recognized by the United Nations and European Union, testified that he worked with WikiLeaks and media outlets to prepare the Iraq War Logs before their publication. Sloboda recounted that Assange demanded and directed a “very strict redaction process” to prevent possible harm.
WikiLeaks used a software that was able to edit thousands of documents, identifying each word that was not in the English-language dictionary and automatically removing it, such as Arab names for example. Then, the files were scanned again to remove occupations, such as “doctor” or “driver,” in order to better protect identities.
This editing took “weeks” and was a “meticulous process,” Sloboda recounted. “There was considerable pressure on WikiLeaks because other media outlets wanted to push it to publish more quickly,” but “the position of Assange and WikiLeaks was to be excessively cautious.”
John Goetz, the current director of investigations for German public television NDR, confirmed that when he worked with Assange in 2010, representing Der Spiegel, WikiLeaks had a “rigorous redaction process,” and that Assange was obsessed with keeping classified documents secure and preventing harmful disclosures.
“I remember being very irritated by Assange’s constant and endless reminders that we needed to be safe,” and that WikiLeaks “ended up removing more things than even the Defense Department,” Goetz said. Assange frequently discussed “how to find confidential names so that we can redact them and take measures to make sure that nobody is at risk.”
The journalist Nicky Hager, author of the book “Other People’s Wars: New Zealand in Afghanistan, Iraq and the war on terror,” testified that one of his jobs was to “identify any cable that should not be released for reasons like the personal security of people mentioned,” and that WikiLeaks personnel were “committed to a careful and responsible process.”
He was “shocked” to see the level of care that they were taking to redact information that could hurt third parties. “People were working in silence for hours and hours” reviewing documents,” he recalled.
The veteran Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi, whose persistent reporting showed how British prosecutors pressured their Swedish counterparts to not interrogate Assange in London, said in her written testimony:
I myself was given access to 4,189 cables… I sat down with Mr Assange and went through the cables as systematically as possible… Everything was done with the utmost responsibility and attention… That was the first time I had ever worked in any publishing enterprise involving strict procedures of that kind. Even experienced international colleagues found the procedures burdensome, involving protections considerably beyond those which any of them were accustomed to exercising… Not even the work done by close colleagues about the Italian mafia required such extreme precaution and security, it never rose to those levels.