by Jeff Mackler, published on Socialist Action, December 22, 2021
Imprisoned Wikileaks founder, journalist, free speech champion and world-renowned social critic Julian Assange today faces life imprisonment for telling the truth about U.S. war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and at the U.S. torture base in Guantanamo, Cuba.
Assange’s legal team has announced his appeal of the December 2021 UK High Court decision to extradite Assange to the U.S. to face charges under the 1917 Espionage Act. U.S. mass prosecution under that WWI-era anti-democratic atrocity placed thousands of antiwar activists in prison for exercising their free speech right to protest the inter-imperialist cabal to divide up the colonial world. Millions, mostly civilians, were slaughtered in that war.
Ironically, the Dec. 19 New York Times front-page two-part series entitled, “Hidden Pentagon Records Reveal Patterns of Failure in Deadly Airstrikes,” follows in Assange’s footsteps in reporting U.S. war crimes, yet, unlike Assange, The Times’s staff writers remain free to tell some basic truths, long hidden from public view.
We quote The Times here at some length:
• “The trove of documents — the military’s own confidential assessments of more than 1,300 reports of civilian casualties — lays bare how the air war has been marked by deeply flawed intelligence, rushed and often imprecise targeting, and the deaths of thousands of civilians, many of them children, a sharp contrast to the American government’s image of war waged by all-seeing drones and precision bombs.”
• “Not a single record provided includes a finding of wrongdoing or disciplinary action.”
• “The hidden documents show that civilians have become the regular collateral casualties of a way of war gone badly wrong.”
• “In the end, what emerges from the more than 5,400 pages of records is an institutional acceptance of an inevitable collateral toll. In the logic of the military, a strike, however deadly to civilians, is acceptable as long as it has been properly decided and approved — the proportionality of military gain to civilian danger weighed — in accordance with the chain of command.”
• “The weaponry was hardly untested. This high-tech arsenal, increasingly sophisticated, had been critical to success [sic] in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in NATO’s 1999 campaign in the Balkans, and more recently in Yemen and Somalia. By the time of the wars in the Middle East, the MQ-9 Reaper drone, outfitted with laser-guided Hellfire missiles, had become the surveillance and attack vehicle of choice.”
• “At an ever-quickening pace… and as the administration of Mr. Obama gave way to that of Donald J. Trump, American forces would execute more than 50,000 airstrikes in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, in accordance with a rigorous approval process that prized being “discriminate,” “proportional” and in compliance with the law of armed conflict. Not only would this be the most precise air campaign ever; it would be the most transparent. [But] The Times’s reporting in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan points to the broader truth.”
• “In addition to the finding that many allegations of civilian casualties were erroneously dismissed, The Times discovered that even when civilian deaths were acknowledged, they were often significantly undercounted.”
• “Roughly 37 percent of the allegations deemed credible stemmed from prior ground investigations by journalists or nongovernmental organizations; in those cases, the acknowledged death tolls roughly tracked outside reporting. But in the other cases, The Times’s own reporting found that the civilian toll was nearly double that acknowledged by the military. (That did not include ISIS fighters’ wives and children, whose information was difficult to verify.)” [Emphasis in italics added]
• “The documents identify children killed or injured in 27 percent of cases; in The Times’s ground reporting it was 62 percent. In 40 percent of the sites visited, survivors had been left with significant disabilities, which were not tracked by the military.”
• “Of the 1,311 assessments from the Pentagon, in only one did investigators visit the site of a strike. In only two did they interview witnesses or survivors.”
• “Mr. Obama authorized a campaign of airstrikes against ISIS targets and in support of allied forces in Iraq and Syria.” [Emphasis in italics added.]
Assange and the NYT on collateral damage
Unlike Julian Assange’s Wikileaks revelations, The Times relied on thousands of pages of highly-redacted material obtained via lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act, but supplemented by some 100 Times–assigned investigators sent to the locations that the U.S. bombed with impunity.
In contrast, Assange’s revelations, received from U.S. soldier whistleblower, Chelsea Manning, were not redacted. They included the infamous “Collateral Murder” video of a U.S. Apache helicopter on July 12, 2007 indiscriminately slaying over a dozen innocent people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad — including two Reuters news staff. The video, shot from the helicopter’s gun-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.
The Times revelations demonstrate that Assange’s single “Collateral Murder” video revelation is tragically and terribly the norm, explicit in the U.S. “rules of war.”
The Time’s two-part series purports to document only the mass slaughter of civilians during the U.S. war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But it inadvertently, perhaps, includes U.S. bombing of Syria on behalf its “allies,” that is, NATO and the Gulf State monarchies who aimed at “regime change” in Syria. These forces, in combination with ISIS, in the course of ten years of war to remove the Bashar Assad government, at one time occupied three-fourths of that beleaguered nation. They were responsible for the death of some 500,000 Syrians, mostly civilians. Indeed, these forces included ISIS units, financed and deployed by the U.S. and its ally Saudi Arabia. They were given a free pass when they were arrayed against Syria’s army, which lost an estimated 60,000 soldiers in the fight against the U.S.-backed war and invasion. Our sources here include repeated articles in The Times itself. [See Syria: Anatomy of Another U.S. Imperialist War, 2017, by Jeff Mackler at socialistaction.org]
New York Times’s editorial on jailed journalists
Coinciding with The Times’s revelations of U.S. civilian slaughter in its multiple wars – seven conducted by the Obama administration – was the publication of a major editorial entitled, “A Record Number of Journalists Jailed.”
The Times editorial board recounted the recent Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) annual report that puts the number of reporters jailed around the world at 293, an increase of 13 from 2020. But the CPJ report, which usually focuses on governments unfriendly to the U.S., somehow neglects to mention the case of Julian Assange.
Nevertheless, The Times comments:
“It is most unfortunate that the U.S. government has chosen to continue to use a law as potent as the Espionage Act to pursue Mr. Assange. There is a debate about whether Mr. Assange is a journalist, but equating the publication of classified materials received from government sources with espionage strikes at the very foundations of a free press and should be rejected by Mr. Biden.”
The Times here declines to reference President Obama’s decision to not prosecute Julian Assange. Obama cited “the New York Times problem,” that is, the fact that The Times published the voluminous Pentagon Papers given to them by then CIA-associated Daniel Ellsberg. The U.S. Supreme Court at that time declined to punish Ellsberg or to prohibit The Times from publishing classified government documents.
We leave aside The Times’s equivocations that follow in their editorial, including the notion that perhaps it would be OK to prosecute Assange “in an open court where he could contest the charges under the First Amendment’s protection of press freedoms”!
The Times concludes with a statement replete with ambiguity at best:
“But if Mr. Assange’s and his colleagues’ methods and motives are sometimes murky — they released numerous documents leaked by an Army private without removing the names of confidential sources, putting lives in danger — his case could set dangerous precedents that could interfere with a free press monitoring the shenanigans of those in power. That should be inviolable.”
The Times did not bother to inform its readers that among Assange’s “colleagues” who published his Iraq War logs and other material was the NYT itself!
U.S. war crimes
Yes, the persecution and threatened life imprisonment of Julian Assange is a threat against free speech and a free press. It is also a dire warning to all those who seek to tell the truth about U.S. wars of slaughter and genocide, including the ten-year war against Iraq conducted in the name of defending the U.S. against Saddam Hussein’s non-existent “weapons of mass destruction.” The same with the U.S. war against Muammar Gaddafi’s non-existent threat to murder 50,000 people in Benghazi. These CIA and corporate media-created pretexts justified the murder of some 1.5 million Iraqis and the destruction of the infrastructures of Iraq and Libya.
Today, U.S. wars of intervention and conquest are accompanied by deadly sanction wars, Special Operation wars, drone wars, death squad assassination wars, etc., all funded by a bloated U.S. military budget that approaches the combined military expenditures of the entire rest of the world. The victims are most often the poor nations on earth who seek their right to self-determination, free from imperialist domination. Today’s U.S. deadly economic sanction wars are conducted against some 39 countries. In Venezuela alone, UN officials report a U.S. sanction death toll of 50,000. Similar horrors, including U.S. coups, embargos, blockades and U.S.-backed terror bombings perpetrated against the people of Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, as well more than a dozen African nations where U.S. troops are stationed.
Indeed, the list is longer. In a June 2021 letter to the U.S. Congress, President Biden admitted all of the countries where U.S. troops are waging war against groups opposed by the United States. According to the journal Conflict Management and Peace Science, the United States has 173,000 military troops engaged in conflicts in 159 other nations!
Truthtellers like Julian Assange frighten the imperial leaders of the U.S. “national security state,” a state power that, as Edward Snowden revealed, oversees an Orwellian system of total surveillance.
Assange’s defense team presented clear evidence to the UK court that the CIA, in the person of its former Director Mike Pompeo, considered plans to kidnap and assassinate Julian Assange. Today the Biden administration aims to use its criminal “justice” system to keep him in prison for the rest of his life.
Let us join together to demand:
• Drop the charges against Julian Assange!
• Free Julian Assange Now!
• Free speech! Freedom of the press! Hands off all journalists!
• Self-determination for all poor and oppressed nations and people!
• No to all U.S. wars! Bring the Troops Home Now!
Jeff Mackler is the National Secretary of Socialist Action. He was Socialist Action’s candidate for the U.S. presidency in 2016 and 2020. He serves on the Administrative Committee of UNAC and on the National Steering Committee of the Julian Assange Defense Committee
For information on Assange’s national defense committee contact: assangedefense.org
For information on the U.S. antiwar movement contact United National Antiwar Coalition at unacpeace.org
To contact Socialist Action see: socialistaction.org