Nozomi Hayase, PhD, is a US-based journalist who has been covering
the issue of free speech. She has authored the book WikiLeaks, the Global Fourth
Estate: History Is Happening. In an interview with John Kendall Hawkins,
as the US extradition hearing of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange in the UK
unfolds, Hayase talks about the significance of WikiLeaks and why its editor-in-chief
needs public support.
John Hawkins: How are the extradition proceedings going?
Nozomi Hayase: First of all, WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange has
been indicted on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of conspiring with a
source to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for his reporting on the
US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the torture at Guantanamo Bay.
This US extradition case is a direct attack on the First Amendment by the US
government. This is the first time the US Espionage Act is being used to prosecute
a publisher. If it’s successful, it would threaten media freedom everywhere.
This is the most important press freedom case of our time and the hearings
are taking place at the Old Bailey behind closed door. NGOs and international
political observers were denied remote access to the court on the first day
of the hearing. This includes Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders.
What has been unfolding this month at the London court is a Kafkaesque show
trial. There have been problems with the abuse of process. Assange has not been
allowed to sit with his lawyers and he’s been placed behind a glass cage, as
was the case during the hearing in February. The presiding judge, Vanessa
Baraitser has been micromanaging the proceedings, challenging the credentials
of the defense’s expert witnesses and giving an unfair amount of time to the
With that said, I think Julian’s defense team has been doing extremely well.
From an offer of a pardon for Assange by the US President Tweety McTreason (which
Assange refused to accept) to his administration’s high-level plan to revoke
Assange’s political asylum granted by Ecuador, the defense team’s witness testimonies
have revealed the highly political nature of this case. Now, the judge acknowledged
this and indicated that a ruling would not be delivered until the US presidential
election was over.
But remember, this is a show trial. If this were a fair trial, where the judge
has her own judicial authority, there’s no way that his US extradition request
would be accepted. So ending this political prosecution requires ordinary people
to engage in political action. More than 150 politicians and lawyers, judges
and legal academics including 13 former presidents called for an end to this
political prosecution of the journalist who exposed the evidence of US government’s
war crime and torture. We can all increase our pressure to demand our representatives
to join those who decided to be on the right side of history and are standing
up for free press.
Consortium News and journalist Kevin Gosztola, managing editor of Shadowproof.com,
along with Courage Foundation, the organisation that defends rights of whistleblowers,
have been giving updates on the hearing. So please follow their work to know
the latest about this important case.
In your preface to WikiLeaks, the Global Fourth Estate, you reference
“illegitimate governance,” by which you seem to mean any “democracy” out there
that hides from the People what they need to know in order to pressure their
representatives in Congress (or Parliament) to make corrective changes to improve
their democracy. Can you say more about such “illegitimate governance” and how
it relates to Assange’s work?
Governments in modern democratic states require the consent of the governed.
For people to give their consent to those who govern, they need to be informed
about what their governments are doing. Illegitimate forms of governance are
ones that violate this principle. We can see it in oppressive regimes like Saudi
Arabia and Turkey, where the governments can act dictatorially with draconian
top down laws, coercing people’s will.
In Western societies, where there is a notion of free press, governments don’t
engage in outright violence. Instead they engage in secrecy and manipulation
of public perception, as Noam Chomsky documents in his seminal book The Engineering
of Consent, which fits into this category. Assange, through his work with
WikiLeaks, defended the public’s right to know. By publishing material that
is verified to be authentic and is of public interest, WikiLeaks helped to keep
the government honest and make it function on the principle of consent of the
How does what you call “Revolutionary Journalism” compare to good old adversarial
The role of journalism from the very beginning was to perform vital checks
and balances of government power. The founding fathers of the US had an inherent
distrust of the government. Thomas Jefferson once noted that if he had to choose
between the government and the newspaper, he would choose the latter. So the
press was meant to be a watchdog. Sadly the media has now been infiltrated with
commercial interests, and is failing to fulfil this role. Corporate media has
become a stenographer of power. Instead of seeking the truth and challenge power,
they lie and deceive the public.
When I say WikiLeaks is revolutionary, I am echoing the sentiment described
by Orwell’s phrase, “in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is
a revolutionary act”. When western governments criticise WikiLeaks and
create controversy, it actually is deflecting people from recognising the failure
of established media and their lack of commitment to the duty of a free press.
What WikiLeaks does is not radical. It is in line with the US tradition of a
free press. Defense witness on the second week of Assange’s extradition
hearing testified that WikiLeaks publication of Iraq War Logs released in 2010
revealed an estimated 15,000 civilians causalities that were previously unknown.
This reporting on deaths of innocent people, the consequences of war, is real
journalism and WikiLeaks set an excellent standard for all other media organizations
In the 60s, we had alternative media streams—the birth of FM radio, which
activists listened to, as well as magazines like Ramparts, which gave
long-read exposes of what The Man was up to. Can you compare Ramparts
I don’t compare WikiLeaks to Ramparts. WikiLeaks invented scientific
journalism, which was unprecedented. Just like scientists writing a scientific
paper are required to provide all data that they used to form their conclusions,
WikiLeaks publishes full archives (after going through harm minimisation process,
to redact information that brings imminent harm). In fact, the London court
at Assange’s extradition hearing heard from witness testimonies that Assange
took great care of handling material and that WikiLeaks had a very rigorous
redaction process in place.
Also, after 10 years of publication, no evidence of harm has been found caused
by WikiLeaks publications. Also because of WikiLeaks commitment to provide the
public full documents, a German citizen who was mistakenly identified as a terrorist
and kidnapped and tortured by the CIA was able to find information that relate
to his case. He was able to use this at the court and get justice. Now, during
the court hearing, Khalid El-Masri gave a written statement at the London court.
He was trying to testify at the court, but was not able to do so due to technical
difficulties. US prosecutors objected to him giving live testimony.
WikiLeaks scientific journalism provides a means for ordinary people to directly
engage with the material. This allows each individual to independently check
the claims of journalists and this enables a mechanism of accountability for
journalists. So, with WikiLeaks, the source of legitimacy that used to be placed
in the “objectivity” of journalists (that determine their editorial
decisions) is now placed in the actual source documents. People don’t have to
believe in journalists, they can independently check the validity of the reporting
on their own.
If anything, I say, WikiLeaks is Howard Zinn on steroids! Just like Zinn, who
worked to restore the history of ordinary people, WikiLeaks brings information
back to the historical record. By opening the archives, WikiLeaks freed people
from a stolen history that repeats the abuses of the past. Leaked documents
allow us to look at past events anew and restore perspectives that were oppressed
and pushed to the margins. History can no longer be censored and written by
those in power. Now ordinary people can claim their own history and participate
in its unfolding narratives.
There are different kinds of whistleblowers. One can do great good, but
still be motivated by venial desires. FBI assistant director, Mark Felt, aka
Deep Throat, was very helpful in bringing down Nixon. But only because he was
angry for being overlooked by Nixon for promotion to director after Hoover died.
He was motivated by a type of revenge. But also, it means that had he been made
director, he would have sat on that criminal information. Woodward and Bernstein
turned him into a ‘hero’ but, really, he wasn’t. How would you compare someone
like Deep Throat to the kinds of whistleblowers we need today?
I think what you are saying is difference between a “leaker” and
whistleblower. What makes someone a whistleblower is his or her motive.
Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden are whistleblowers. They identified
themselves as citizens, as part of the public. Their interests were to defend
the public’s right to know. Their act of releasing information was done in service
of common people.
Whereas, so called a leaker doesn’t release information out of a sense of duty
to defend public interests. For me, what really determines someone’s act of
whistleblowing is conscience. I see the highest law of the land is ideals that
were described in the words of Jefferson at the beginning of this country. Those
ideals that inspired and united all people are not codified into law yet. It
is inscribed into the heart of each person. To me conscience is a language of
the heart that remembers our inherent obligation to one another. This tiny voice
inside each of us reminds us when those ideals are violated and urges us to
act and uphold those ideals. Manning and Snowden followed the voice of conscience
and it is only through those acts of ordinary people that the highest law of
the land can truly be enforced.
How would you describe the greatest benefit Assange has gifted us as global
Even though WikiLeaks is a transnational journalistic organisation, I see their
work as being very much tied to the impulse that came through the US during
its Revolutionary War against Great Britain. This impulse was people’s aspiration
toward individual liberty. I think what happened at the time in the US was historically
significant and its impact is not only important for the US but also for the
entire world. US independence from King George III set a new trajectory in history.
It opened up a possibility to move away from monarchy and into creating a society
based on the rule of law.
Thomas Jefferson, as a principal author of the Declaration of Independence
stated that, “All men are created equal” and have certain unalienable
rights that we are all endowed with, such as “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit
of Happiness”. Those words inspired people around the world—even to this
Of course, as history has shown, our founding fathers were not perfect. They
had their own hypocrisy and contradictions manifested in the genocide of natives,
enslavement of blacks and suppression of women. But I would like to think that
the signers of this document, 56 people who put their livelihood and lives on
the line to achieve America’s independence, believed in the ideals spelled
out in the document. I would like to think those words were not lies. I see
them as promises and believe that Jefferson had aspired to create a society
that lives up to the words that he had written.
I think WikiLeaks released documents helped us see the unaccounted power inside
the US and its history. The publication of the collateral murder video, the
US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and illegal torture at the Guantanamo Bay showed
us how America had become a global empire, repeating its dark past of killing
natives and destroying their culture, now under the name of fighting terrorism
abroad in the oil-rich Middle East. We were able to see America’s betrayal of
its own ideals and how this nation lost its own course.
Also, WikiLeaks release of Vault 7, the largest leak in CIA history that exposed
their cyberwarfare and malicious hacking tools was significant. It let us see
how the republic has been turned into a national security state.
Sources of WikiLeaks’ publications risked their personal liberty to inform
people about this subversion of American ideals. Whistleblowers like Chelsea
Manning and Jeremy Hammond who allegedly provided the Stratfor documents to
WikiLeaks, the private Texas-based global intelligence company, reminded us
of the ideals that founded the United States and how they are universal ideals
that apply to everyone around the world.
Manning demonstrated this by giving WikiLeaks raw video footage that captured
the US military strike in Iraq, killing innocent civilians. Through her own
act of conscience, she upheld the principle of equality and liberty for all
people. She made it possible for those who were conjured into enemy combatants
by the US military industrial complex to tell their side of the story.
In her request for a presidential pardon, she made clear the motive of her
action. She indicated how she is willing to serve her time knowing that one
has to pay a heavy price to live in a free society and how she wishes to have
a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition
that all women and men are created equal.
What Assange did was by enabling the true function of free press to help whistleblowers
to fulfil the promise that our founders made. It is not just for the American
people, but ordinary people all around the world can now engage in a participatory
process of creating a society based on a principle of liberty and equality for
When we truly recognise the significance of WikiLeaks, we can see why Assange
has been put into prison, tortured and politically persecuted. We can understand
why the former CIA director and Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo called
WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service” and declared war
against the whistleblowing site. We can understand why the CIA, via a Spanish
security firm, spied on Assange and his privileged communication with his lawyers
while he was inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and as Assange’s defense
evidence revealed, the intelligence agency plotted to poison him. I hope
people then realise what is truly at stake with Assange’s extradition case and
how we need to do whatever it takes to stop this.
I like your notion of the contagion of courage. It seems really vital right
now with regard to privacy. Do you agree with that and, if so, could you elaborate.
With the phrase contagion of courage, I am referring to the waves of whistleblowers
that have emerged in recent years; how one person’s act of courage created a
ripple effect for social change. For instance, Jeremy Hammond and Snowden both
indicated how they were inspired by Manning’s act of conscience.
The principle of civil disobedience was put forward by an American transcendentalist
and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau. He believed this was a vital mechanism
that enables a democracy, one that bridges between the ideals in the Declaration
of Independence and the constitution.
Thoreau’s idea taught us how the premise of equality and liberty expressed
in America’s founding document can be made legally binding through each individual’s
act of conscience, by refusing to obey certain unjust laws in order to uphold
the higher moral laws.
From women’s suffrage, civil rights and free speech movements, ordinary people
from history have shown the power of We the People. They all risked their lives
to engage in an act of civil disobedience in order to truly codify the ideals
in the Declaration of Independence into law. Now, a new generation of people
from the Internet are carrying on this past struggle for justice. As America
increasingly moves away from its own original vision, we desperately need more
people who are willing to act courageously to defend her spirit.
With that said, I need to now emphasise on how those who engaged in civil disobedience
have been attacked and broken down. The US government has been using the Espionage
Act of 1917 to punish whistleblowers who performed a vital duty to hold power
accountable. Now, with Assange’s extradition case, the Trump administration
is going after not just the source but also the journalist. The Espionage Act
was created during WWI to prosecute spies and it prohibits public interest defense.
Those who are tried under the Espionage Act are not allowed to talk about their
motivations for their actions.
For publishing evidence of the war crimes and human rights abuses of the US
government and their allies, Assange now faces the risk of extradition to the
US, where he could receive no trial. If convicted, he would be sentenced up
to 175 years in prison and be subjected to very harsh conditions through Special
Administrative Measures. History is happening now inside the Old Bailey that
could determine the future of press freedom and democracy. We need to act now
and take back our own narrative to end the political prosecution of Julian Assange.
John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.
He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.