He’s back! After three months of radio silence, fed-up follower pin-up boy Julian Assange is back to taunt the political and penal establishments across Europe and America. Assange is, of course, the mastermind behind WikiLeaks, who happens also to be wanted in Sweden on charges of rape and sexual molestation.
But now is different. Now Assange has been given asylum by Ecuador – which is why on Sunday he was perched on the balcony of the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, to speak to the crowd below and demand the U. S. “renounce its witch hunt against WikiLeaks.”
The Austrailian-born Assange is something of a genius. Whatever he did or did not do in Sweden (he denies all charges against him), he was able against all odds to post to the web hundreds of thousands of secret documents, most from the U. S. State Department relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover he is a self-dramatist. Again, against all odds, he has managed to remain free after a fashion, eluding incarceration by staying one step ahead of the authorities. Think of Assange as an old-fashioned outlaw, scum to some and a hero to others – to those who believe in radical transparency.
But behind Julian Assange is another fed-up follower, an all but invisible man by the name of Bradley Manning. Manning is the young army intelligence analyst who was charged by the U. S. government with feeding Assange those secret Pentagon documents. For his troubles, Manning, who has been hidden from the public since the scandal broke (in 2010), faces a court-martial and possible life sentence.
When he spoke in London a couple of days ago, Assange drew attention to Manning, calling him on the one hand a “hero” and on the other “one of the world’s foremost political prisoners.” Whatever you might think of Assange, or of Wikileaks, or for that matter of Bradley Manning, Assange is right to point to Manning’s plight. Since he was initially arrested, the 22 year-old Army private has been treated harshly, extremely harshly. In fact, for the first nine months of his imprisonment he was put in solitary confinement, despite evidence he was entirely different from Assange, not a cool customer but a troubled youngster. Only after an international protest drew attention to his cruel and unusual punishment, was Manning more conventionally confined, though to this day we hear hardly a word about him or his plight, from any of the authorities.
Americans don’t think of themselves as having political prisoners. And, even if they, we, did, there’s a question whether Manning would qualify. But when Assange accuses the U. S. government of a “witch hunt” against WikiLeaks, it’s not so clear he’s way off base.