Crusader’s hubris

At one point in history, the Australian Julian Assange was hailed as crusader, even a hero. He had founded the website WikiLeaks which, in 2010, published a series of leaks by a former US Army soldier, Chelsea Manning detailing alleged excesses of the US government.

In the same year, the website also released more than 255,000 diplomatic cables from the US, gathered between December 1966 and February 2010. These contained world leaders’ and diplomats’ views on numerous issues involving their host countries as well as the officials in these countries. The cables proved embarrassing, in some instances damning, to the officials identified.

Crusader’s hubris

Manning, the soldier who leaked the initial batch of files was convicted under the Espionage Act in 2013. Meanwhile, Assange was slapped with the unrelated charges of sexual asault—two cases, in fact—in Sweden. He fled to London, because he did not want to be extradited to the United States. In London, he sought refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy, which under the government of then-President Rafael Correa, granted him unconditional asylum.

Over the years, WikiLeaks published many other sensitive communication and stories involving world leaders, including emails of the US Democrats as hacked by the Russian military intelligence agency. This as he settled into life at the embassy, even after Ecuador’s transition into a new presidency in 2017, under Correa’s rival Lenin Moreno.

That was how things were until Thursday, when London authorities were allowed into the embassy to arrest Assange. He was arrested for skipping bail in connection with his sexual assault cases in Sweden (even though these cases had been dropped) and also on behalf of the United States which wants him for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, in relation to Manning’s case.

What changed the Ecuadorians’ mind about providing shelter to Assange?

The underlying causes are many and documented. The Guardian reports that the foreign minister, Jose Valencia, in fact released a list of the reasons why it turned on Assange. He was rude, ungrateful and meddlesome, he said. The behavior ranged from skatebording and playing football in the embassy premises, failing to be hygienic in his personal space, to mistreating embassy staff and installing unauthorized electronic equipment in the embassy.

The proximate cause was Assange’s legal team’s press conference Tuesday claiming the government in Quito was illegally spying on him.

Nobody would argue that people would always deserve to know the truth about their officials and the people who claim to represent them before the world.

It’s a worthy cause to champion, especially when up against powerful officials and big business, who sing paeans to the truth but stifle it when it threatens their own self-interests, and who go after those who dare challenge the status quo.

WikiLeaks also presented a new model, whereby it is no longer just mainstream media who get to decide what is revealed to the people. Anybody who has proof to show is free to make that proof public—and it will be up to the receiver of the information to decide if it is credible or worthy enough.

Unfortunately, crusaders are human, too.

Assange’s example shows us what happens when champions begin to think that the fight is all about them, personally. They then act entitled, do as they please, and expect support from others on the back of their crusade.

In the end, they do their own advocacy a disservice because they take down its relevance and credibility—unfairly so—with them as they fall.

It’s a good reminder that no single individual is bigger than any truly noble cause.

Topics: Editorial , Crusader’s hubris , Julian Assange , WikiLeaks , Chelsea Manning
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