Debunking The Smear That Assange Recklessly Published Unredacted Documents

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This is a new section for my newly updated ongoing mega-article Debunking All The Assange Smears, a resource for debating 30 of the most common smears against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Use it, share it, and let me know if there’s anything you think should be changed or added.

The prosecution in the Assange extradition trial has falsely alleged that WikiLeaks recklessly published unredacted files in 2011 which endangered people’s lives. In reality the Pentagon admitted that no one was harmed as a result of the leaks during the Manning trial, and the unredacted files were actually published elsewhere as the result of a Guardian journalist recklessly included a real password in a book about WikiLeaks.

A key government witness during the Chelsea Manning trial, Brig. Gen. Robert Carr, testified under oath that no one was hurt by them. Additionally, the Defense Secretary at the time, Robert M Gates, said that the leaks were “awkward” and “embarrassing” but the consequences for US foreign policy were “fairly modest”. It was also leaked at the time that insiders were saying the damage was limited and “containable”, and they were exaggerating the damage in an attempt to get Manning punished more severely.

As Assange’s defense highlighted during the trial, the unredacted publications were the result of a password being published in a book by Guardian reporters Luke Harding and David Leigh, the latter of whom worked with Assange in the initial publications of the Manning leaks. WikiLeaks reported that it didn’t speak publicly about Leigh’s password publication for several months to avoid drawing attention to it, but broke its silence when they learned a German weekly called Freitag was preparing a story about it. There’s footage of Assange calling the US State Department trying to warn of an imminent security breach at the time, but they refused to escalate the call.

It wasn’t long after that that the full unredacted archive was published on a website called Cryptome, where it still exists in its unredacted form today, completely free from prosecution. It wasn’t until the leaks were forced into the public, at the initiation of Leigh’s password shenanigans, that WikiLeaks published them in their unredacted form.

“Assange said the leak publishing outfit’s usual editorial ‘harm minimisation’ procedures had become irrelevant after other websites published the full text of the unredacted cables,” New Scientist reported in 2011.

“For harm minimisation, there are people who need to know that they are mentioned in the material before intelligence agencies know they are mentioned — or at least as soon after as possible,” Assange told New Scientist. “By the time we published the cables, the material was already on dozens of websites, including Cryptome, and were being tweeted everywhere. And even a searchable public interface had been put up on one of them.”

Assange’s US criminal defense lawyer Barry Pollack said in a press conference after the second day of the extradition trial being held at Belmarsh Prison: “What was laid out in great detail in court today was that the United States government making this extradition request claimed that Julian Assange intentionally published names of sources without redaction. We learned today that the United States government knew all along that that wasn’t true. That when others were about to publish those names without redaction, Julian Assange called the State Department to warn the State Department that others were about to publish, and pleaded with the State Department to take whatever action was necessary to protect those sources. The idea that the United States government is seeking extradition of Julian Assange when it, the United States government, failed to take any action is really unfathomable. I think we will learn more as this trial goes on that the United States government simply has not disclosed, in the extradition request, the underlying facts.”

The US government doesn’t care about unredacted publications, or it would have gone after Cryptome. The US government doesn’t care about people being harmed by the Manning leaks; it knows that didn’t happen. The US government cares about punishing a journalist for exposing its war crimes, plain and simple.

The attempts to smear Assange as reckless, cold and cavalier with the Manning leaks have been forcefully disputed by an Australian journalist named Mark Davis, who was following Assange closely at the time filming footage which would become the documentary Inside WikiLeaks. You can listen to Davis’ account of what transpired here, or you can read about it in this WSWS article.

Davis details how The Guardian, the New York Times, and Der Spiegel journalists were putting Assange under extreme pressure to go to press before Assange had finished redacting names from the documents. None of the outlets offered any resources or support to help redact them, and Assange had to pull an all-nighter himself and personally cleanse the logs of over 10,000 names before going live.

Davis says that it was Guardian journalists such as Leigh and Nick Davies, the two most vocal critics of Assange, who were displaying the cavalier attitude toward redaction back then.

“Of course, it was apparent that they would be risking, if not the safety, certainly exposing the identity of many people — there’s tens of thousands of documents there,” said Davis. “I never witnessed a conversation where anyone took that seriously. Not one.”

Davis says the only conversation that he witnessed on the topic of redaction was between Davies and Leigh, and Assange wasn’t present.

“It occurred to Nick Davies as they pulled up an article they were going to put in the newspaper — he said ‘Well, we can’t name this guy,’” recalls Davis. “And then someone said ‘Well he’s going to be named on the website.’ Davies said something to the effect of ‘We’ll really cop it then, if and when we are blamed for putting that name up.’ And the words I remember very precisely — from David Leigh was he gazed across the room at Davies and said: ‘But we’re not publishing it.’”

Indeed, the only ones who seem to concur with this “cavalier” characterization of Assange are those who’ve had a lot invested in making sure they weren’t blamed for the leaks.

Journalist Iain Overton observed on Twitter recently that his experience working on the Iraq war logs with Assange was very different to the gossip about him.

“I worked closely with Assange when editor of Bureau of Investigative Journalism on the Iraq War Logs,” Overton said. “This claim absolutely false when it applies to that. We went to great lengths to redact names, protect identities. This is an assault on whistleblowing.”

Finally there is a quote attributed to Assange by Leigh, “They’re informants, they deserve to die,” with regard to the sources in the logs that he painstakingly redacted all their names from. It was supposedly said at a dinner that was attended by John Goetz from Der Spiegel, who provided a testimony saying that he heard no such thing from Julian.

In a classic case of projection, it appears that Assange’s enemies are charging him with the very sins they were committing.

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