Julian Assange: The Sunshine Kid

Utne Reader visionary

| November-December 2010

A grainy black-and-white video tracks a group of men who scatter in a cloud of dust to a soundtrack of gunshots. “Keep shooting,” a voice repeats calmly. “Keep shooting.” On the video, the Apache helicopter gunmen obey, until most of the men lie dead in the street. A van pulls up in an attempt to remove an injured man from the scene. The gunmen blow up the van. 

The official response: Just another afternoon of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  

It’s likely that the 2007 incident wouldn’t have registered more than a blip in the nightly news except that two of the men killed were a Reuters photographer and his assistant. (The American helicopter crew mistook the camera for a weapon.) Even so, the chilling video footage of the incident would remain classified except for the extraordinary efforts of the website WikiLeaks. 

Launched in 2007, WikiLeaks publishes classified documents—like the Apache helicopter video film of the shooting of the Reuters newsmen—that would otherwise never see the light of day. The volume of leaks on the website is overwhelming. Notable among them are Sarah Palin’s hacked e-mail messages, a banned report on assassinations and torture enacted by Kenyan police, and tens of thousands of classified documents related to the war in Afghanistan. 

A notorious Australian ex-hacker, Julian Assange is only one of a dozen, mostly anonymous, people who helped set up the site, but he’s become the face of WikiLeaks and a tireless proponent of exposing the ruling class’s dirty secrets. “It is impossible to correct abuses,” Assange told the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2010, “unless we know that they’re going on.” 

The rise of WikiLeaks comes at a crucial time, when daily and alternative newspapers—the traditional vehicles for exposing wrongdoing in government and business—are gutting newsrooms, disassembling costly investigative teams, and refocusing on profit. “When I look at the next ten years, investigative reporting is going to die in corporate settings,” Nick Penniman of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund recently told Columbia Journalism Review.  

11/30/2010 8:55:20 AM

This guy is a terrorist. The people leaking the information should be arrested and tried for high treason. And then executed.

norman keena
10/14/2010 8:52:45 PM

bit tung-in-cheek, some factual errors. like the bit about: “The government has its own versions of WikiLeaks: the Freedom of Information Act,” he writes. “An official government Web site that would make the implementation of FOIA quicker and more uniform, comprehensive, and accessible, and that might even allow anonymous whistleblowers within federal agencies to post internal materials, after a process of review and redaction, could be a very good thing—for the public, and for the official keepers of secrets, too.” but you know these things usually work the other way around.