Julian Assange faces a 175 year prison sentence in the United States for publishing documents, including those which exposed wilful, or otherwise reckless, sabotage of climate action during prior climate change summits.
Targeted surveillance of negotiators, cabinet ministers, heads of state and even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was also exposed by cables revealed by Assange, and are among the documents the US is charging him for receiving and publishing.
Assange’s environmental publications have created the political impetus for the US government to go after Assange, but he is also formally charged over his role in publishing the cables that contain these very revelations - and which account for 50 years of the sentence.
A full-frontal assault on the freedom of the press and the public’s right to know
The WikiLeaks publisher is being prosecuted for, among other things, informing the public about the ways in which powerful nations have undermined meaningful action in the face of a climate crisis.
The US indictment represents a full-frontal assault on the public’s right to impart and receive information; thereby undermining the very basis of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the First Amendment to the US constitution.
In September of this year, it was revealed that the CIA drew up plans to kidnap or assassinate Assange after he published documents revealing how the spy agency targets iPhones, Androids and other devices, from a covert CIA hacker base in the US consulate in Frankfurt.
The multi-award-winning journalist remains incarcerated in Belmarsh prison in the UK, in pre-trial detention, separated from his wife and two young children.
On 4 January 2021, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected the US government’s extradition request on the grounds that extradition would be “oppressive” and would result in his death.
Nobody should face a single day in prison, let alone a life sentence, for their journalistic work which, in this case, has helped to inform environmental activists and civil society organisations the world over.
The prosecution against Julian Assange is an attack on the publics right to know - the truth about the environment, and our future, and what powerful countries want to keep hidden from the public.
Although Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are perhaps best known for the release of the Afghanistan Diaries, Iraq War logs, and Guantanamo Bay detainee files the materials published by the award-winning investigative news outlet go far beyond this.
As the latest climate change summit, COP 26, due to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, fast approaches, it is worth remembering some of the key environment-related documents published by Assange.
Such revelations as government spying and surveillance of diplomats and negotiators. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for example, drafted a detailed “human intelligence” directive calling on all manner of biographical and even biometric data (e.g. fingerprints, DNA) belonging to UN workers to be obtained.
Spying and surveillance is done in order to gain a competitive edge between countries. During environmental summits, human and electronic intelligence gathering methods are used in order to determine what the bargaining positions of even ‘friendly’ governments are. An NSA intercepted conversation between German and Japanese diplomats, for example, revealed that the US was pressuring the Germans to drop their demand for a 25-45% reduction in carbon emissions, and that the lobbying would likely be successful.
Spying is also being used to help bribe, blackmail or coerce governments into acting as desired. Meanwhile, even as climate negotiations proceed from year to year, separate treaty negotiations such as TPP, TTIP and TiSA, all have provisions that would preference the rights of corporations over the ability of governments to protect the environment, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote renewable energy.
Diplomatic cables published by Assange also exposed that an environmental “marine reserve” pushed by the UK government in the Chagos Islands was actually designed to prevent the people of those Islands from ever returning (the British government forcibly removed the Chagos Islanders from their homes against their will in the 1960s and 70s). The UK was admonished by the International Court of Justice and the UN General Assembly, its greenwashing of a major colonial crime was exposed thanks to the cable.
Worrying developments, such as the melting of the polar ice caps, are shown in other cables, as offering positive economic opportunities to US, Russian and European government ministers who see “new shipping routes” and the possibility of previously infeasible resource. A former Danish foreign minister described the new mood optimistically as a scramble to “carve up” the Arctic.
Serious corruption and “neocolonial exploitation” of mining resources by multinational corporations was also laid bare by documents focusing on the Central African Republics mining resources. As was a suppressed report into the devastating toxic dumping of waste in the Ivory Coast by commodities trader Trafigura.
All this and more has been brought to light by documents revealed by Julian Assange and then provided to the public at large.
Topics covered by WikiLeaks releases COP 15 agreement draft text first published by Julian Assange
- Government manipulation of countries into accepting their climate strategy
- Spying and surveillance to gain advantages commonplace in prior climate discussions
- Geopolitics interfering with a science-based and cooperative approach to tackling climate change
- US uses its economic position to lobby/coerce countries to accept genetically modified foods
- Melting Arctic due to Global Warming seen as opportunity for oil drilling
- Middle-range powers also sought to water down climate accords
- ‘Environmental protection’ used to disguise ulterior motives: The ‘marine reserve’ in Diego Garcia
- Pollution is seen as a tradeable commodity
- China opposed 60 per cent carbon emission reduction target during Copenhagen 2010 talks
- Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
- Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), aka Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA)
- Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA)
- Iraq’s city of Basra heavily contaminated by war, oil and radioactive weaponry
- Dirty war for uranium and mineral rights in the Central African Republic (CAR)
- Suppressed Minton report on Trafigura toxic dumping along the Ivory Coast
1. COP 15 agreement draft text first published by Julian Assange [Julian Assange is being formally extradited over these publications]
Julian Assange attended the Climate summit in Copenhagen (COP15) in 2009 and obtained a draft of the agreement. The text revealed an agreement^1
largely devoid of meaningful efforts to tackle global warming, with a substantial shift in the demands made on poorer countries. COP15 would ultimately be declared an “‘incredible disaster” by the EU’s president.
The documents show that world leaders were to be asked to sign “an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN's role in all future climate change negotiations”, according to analysis of the text by The Guardian^2
The COP 15 text revealed an agreement that reversed the position staked out in the Kyoto Protocol which expected richer nations – that were responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions – would take “firm and binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gases” leaving poorer countries with the flexibility to act.
The Copenhagen Agreement would also prohibit poor countries from emitting more than 1.44 tonnes of carbon per person by 2050, while allowing rich countries to emit nearly double that amount (2.67 tonnes).
One diplomat called it a “very dangerous document for developing countries”. Although it was not a final text, it reveals the dangers of secret negotiations between states which are vastly unequal in their power.
2. Government manipulation of countries into accepting their climate strategy [Julian Assange is being formally extradited over these publications]
Amid the Copenhagen climate change summit and COP 15, the US government was revealed by Assange to have been seeking “dirt” on nations opposed to its approach to tackling global warming, but also using financial pressures to compel countries to act in a particular manner^3
The US privately pressured Germany into dropping its demand for “a 25- to 45-percent mid-term carbon dioxide reduction” in 2008^4
ahead of the 2009 COP 15.
On 17 February 2010 the EU Commissioner for climate spoke with US Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs regarding upcoming climate talks in Mexico and beyond post Copenhagen. They both agreed that the US and EU “will need to neutralize, co-opt or marginalize” so called “unhelpful countries” such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador^5
. All of which had been critical of past climate policies and negotiations for being insufficient or undemocratic.
EU’s Climate Action Commissioner, also on 17 February 2010, suggested to US Deputy Special Envoy on Climate Change that the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) “could be our best allies given their need for financing”^6
. This suggests that poorer countries could potentially be ‘bought off’ to accept potentially inadequate climate policies despite the existential threat rising sea levels pose to such states.
Only a few days later, on 23 February 2010, Maldives Ambassador-designate informed then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that if “small countries, like Maldives” receive “tangible assistance from the larger economies” then other states “would then come to realize that there are advantages to be gained by compliance” with climate change agreements^7
. The Maldives Ambassador also pushed for $50 million in assistance for climate change “adaptation programs” such as harbour deepening and strengthening sea walls.
3. Spying and surveillance to gain advantages in prior climate discussions [Julian Assange is being formally extradited over these publications]
The US National Security Agency intercepted 2008 communications between Japanese and German diplomats about upcoming 2009 Copenhagen climate talks. The German official acceded that pressure from the US would likely result in their country dropping their demand for 25 – 45% mid-term carbon dioxide reductions^8
A 2010 leaked document from the UK’s communications spy agency GCHQ lays out why spying on climate change participants is a priority in order to know other countries’ negotiating positions and “red lines”^9
. Following these revelations the UN General Secretary stated that an investigation was being opened into spying by the UK and other countries as “UN information should be protected in its entire confidentiality”^10
In fact, other leaked documents reveal a 2010 directive from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to obtain (ie steal) “biometric information” from top UN officials^11
4. Geopolitics interfering with a science-based and cooperative approach to tackling climate change [Julian Assange is being formally extradited over these publications]
In 2009, the US pressured then Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chairman Dr Rajendra Pachauri who agreed to help prevent Iranian climate scientist Dr Mostafa Jafari from being elected as a co-chairman to a key working group at the IPCC. The cable, sent by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, recognised Jafari as a “highly-qualified scientist with research ties to the UK and Japan” but argued that having “US and Iranian co-chairs would be problematic and potentially at odds with overall US policy towards Iran”^12
. Jafari was ultimately not elected as co-chair of the working group in question.
5. US uses its economic position to lobby/coerce countries to accept genetically modified foods. [Julian Assange is being formally extradited over these publications]
How the US has behaved in relation to GMO foods provides insight into how it gets its way on environmental issues.
In 2007, US ambassador to France recommended the USG “calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the E.U.” in defence of GMO crops^13
Food and Water Watch analysed 926 diplomatic cables, sent between 2005 and 2009, containing the words “biotech” or “GMO”. It concluded that the emails “reveal a concerted strategy to promote agricultural biotechnology overseas, compel countries to import biotech crops and foods they do not want, and lobby foreign governments — especially in the developing world — to adopt policies to pave the way to cultivate biotech crops”^14
6. Melting Arctic due to Global Warming seen as opportunity for oil drilling [Julian Assange is being formally extradited over these publications]
Diplomatic cables from 2007 – 2010^15
, published by Julian Assange in 2011^18
, reveal that the melting ice in the Artic is seen as an opportunity to “carve up”^19
the Arctic – as the ex-Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller told US diplomats - for oil, gold and uranium extraction when it otherwise would not have been. Melting ice due to global warming is also seen as a positive for opening “new shipping routes”^20
according to Møller in a 2009 cable.
The cables also reflect that this ‘opportunity’ is also seen in the context of great power competition with NATO and Russia^21
worried that a military scramble in the Arctic may lead to war^22
7. Middle-range powers also sought to water down climate accords [Julian Assange is being formally extradited over these publications]
While it has been noted that US negotiators seek to limit the cuts and commitments amid climate negotiations, France was also revealed to have played a key role in lobbying against a legally binding treaty. According to a 2010 US embassy cable, “French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo told the [US] Ambassador that the key to advancing climate negotiations is to drop the notion of a legally binding treaty in favour of a system of national commitments”. The French Minister also argued that it would be down to a “small group” of 8 – 10 to negotiate the Copenhagen Accord^23
8. ‘Environmental protection’ used to disguise ulterior motives [Julian Assange is being formally extradited over these publications]
In 2009, The UK government proposed the establishment of a "marine park" or "reserve" in the Chagos Archipelago. The Chagos Islanders were forcibly removed by the British in the 1960s and 70s who then leased territory in Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands, to the US to establish a military base^25
According to a cable revealed by WikiLeaks the true motive of establishing a marine reserve would be to ensure Chagos Islanders could not return to their homes. The “former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve”^26
, according to discussions between senior UK foreign office officials and US diplomats. Meanwhile the reserve “would in no way impinge on [US Government] use of the [British Indian Oversees Territory], including Diego Garcia”^27
In 2019, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion stating that the UK “is under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible”^28
. In reaching its decision, the ICJ made explicit reference to the aforementioned cables published by Assange^29
. A vote in the UN General Assembly adopted the text of the ICJ decision and demanded that the islands be returned to Mauritius^30
. A maritime law tribunal at the UN later also confirmed the ICJ decision and the UNGA vote^31
. The UK continues to ignore the ICJ and UN decisions stating that the islands are required “for defence purposes” and that the archipelago has been under UK sovereignty since 1814^32
9. Pollution is seen as a tradeable commodity [Julian Assange is being formally extradited over these publications]
A 2007 confidential research document Air Pollution as a Commodity: Regulation of the Sulfur Dioxide Allowance Market^33
, prepared for members of the US congress, reveals the extent to which air pollutants and greenhouse gases driving global warming are also seen as potential money-making opportunities.
There is no evidence that speculative or any other market trading in greenhouse gases will lead to an overall reduction in the substances, let alone enough to avoid climate catastrophe^34
. Carbon markets continue to be discussed as key to addressing climate change despite continued failures of the markets to show results^35
Extractive potentials noted above led US diplomats in 2007 to see “a unique opportunity to shape the circumstances in which an independent [Greenland] may emerge”^36
10. China opposed 60 per cent carbon emission reduction target during Copenhagen 2010 talks [Julian Assange is being formally extradited over these publications]
A Cable summarising discussion between US counsellor on Environment, Science, Technology, and Health Brent Christensen in Beijing and Shanghai Institutes of International Studies Vice President Chen Dongxiao was published by Assange^37
The Europeans "played a lot of tricks" and took advantage of their "united front" to endeavour to push China to increase its carbon intensity reductions to an unacceptable level of 60 percent, Chen said.
Amid discussions in Copenhagen in 2010, the Chinese were reportedly angry when UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown “simply repeated European earlier demands on the 60 percent target”.
China's delegation at Copenhagen was seen to reflect “a lack of coordination between the Foreign Ministry and National Development and Reform Commission” as well as the fact that “China's internal decision-making process does not mesh with the fast-moving negotiating environment that characterized the Copenhagen discussions”.
Chinese saw Copenhagen as representing a “new dynamic between the developing countries (led by China), Europe and other developed countries, and the United States emerging”.
11. Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) [Julian Assange is being formally extradited over these publications]
The TPP was negotiated in secret primarily from 2008 – 2015, the environmental chapter was published by Assange and contributed to growing pressure against ratification of the deal.
In addition to global warming and climate change the environmental chapter of the TPP covered conservation, biodiversity, indigenous knowledge and resources, over-fishing and illegal logging.
Notwithstanding rhetoric espousing the need to tackle climate change and ensure strong environmental protections more broadly, Assange revealed that the environmental section of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was “noteworthy for its absence of mandated clauses or meaningful enforcement measures”^38
. Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ publisher, described the environmental chapter as a “toothless public relations exercise with no enforcement mechanism”^39
In Article SS15 of the environmental chapter^40
the parties merely agree to discuss ways to deal with climate^41
with no further elaboration^42
, revealing global warming and climate change to be an afterthought or otherwise secondary to the primary objective of trade.
The TPP negotiations also show that environmental issues and policies are impacted by other policies and chapters such as rules pertaining to market access, tariffs, financial services and intellectual property.
Analysis of the TPP text in 2014 determined that the “most egregious threat” to the environment is the investment chapter, whereby signatories to the treaty agree in advance to dealing with disputes via investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms. In essence, these corporate courtrooms allow businesses to sue governments if their environmental and health policies impact on current and future profits of the enterprise, rendering domestic laws and protections ultimately meaningless^43
. According to Professor Jane Kelsey the “vast majority of investment arbitrations under similar agreements involve natural resources, especially mining, and have resulted in billions of dollars of damages against governments for measures designed to protect the environment from harm caused by foreign corporations”^44
The TPP was on the verge of becoming law in the US encompassing nearly one third of global trade, the leaks stimulated substantial opposition to the bill and both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump said they would not continue with it once in office. The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership evolved out of the failed TPP deal, with much of the same provisions^45
, with many countries ratifying the deal though without the US as a signatory.
12. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), aka Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) [Julian Assange is being formally extradited over these publications]
Negotiated between 2013 – 2016, if ratified, the currently stalled TTIP would address policies including health, environment and finance between the EU and US46.
Leaked drafts of the TTIP dated April 2016 reveal47 apparent failure of EU negotiators to remain committed to their pledge of tackling global warming and maintaining the independence of EU environmental protections.
The now-notorious ISDS mechanisms from TPP are also introduced via TTIP, which would allow corporations to sue governments for loss of profits allegedly resulting from health, safety and environmental protection laws.
13. Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) [Julian Assange is being formally extradited over these publications]
The TiSA is a proposed agreement between 23 parties including the EU, UK and US negotiated from 2013 to 2016^48
It was heavily criticised, following publication by Assange of analysis of various of its provisions^49
, for seeking to lock-in privatisation of public services (including healthcare) and guaranteeing market access for multinationals^50
Despite its focus, TiSA still covers environmental policies as it seeks to lower barriers to international trade in services, including environmental protections, according to analysis by Friends of the Earth^51
of a proposed “Energy Related Services Annex” shows that^53
TiSA would undermine the ability of regulators to distinguish between technology regardless of whether it is used for solar, nuclear, wind, coal, geothermal or fracking.
TiSA would undermine or eliminate a country’s ability to ensure control over and benefit of their natural resources by requiring free markets for foreign suppliers of energy related services.
Undermines climate change and other environmental policies by restricting governments from regulating energy markets, companies, and industry infrastructure.
14. Iraq’s city of Basra heavily contaminated by war, oil and radioactive weaponry [Julian Assange is being formally extradited over these publications]
A top US diplomat as early as June 2006 wrote a succinct yet detailed report/diplomatic cable revealing the extent to which the water supply and surrounding environment in Basra had been heavily contaminated by oil, toxic and radioactive materials^54
The cable, revealed by Assange as part of its Cablegate releases, describe the contamination as resulting largely from “25 years of war” in Iraq, all of which the US and UK were both directly and indirectly implicated in.
An estimated 70% of rural inhabitants and 40% of city-dwellers have no access to running water, with much of the water that is available being too contaminated to drink.
UN sanctions circa 1990s (which were pushed through by the US and UK governments) “caused a severe shortage of parts to maintain the oil industry” resulting in “an increased number of oil spills and leaks” which were “worsened because of a lack of technology for leak detection and the disposal of oil-contaminated water in shallow aquifers or land”, according to the cable.
“Large and widespread quantities of military debris” such as unexploded ordinance (ie explosives) and “toxic and material such as depleted uranium” are scattered in the area without any monitoring, the cable notes. The cable also notes that “it is believed” that “significant quantities of depleted uranium were used in Basrah during the 1991 Gulf War” by the US.
The cable, written by Principal Officer at the Regional US Embassy Office in Basrah Ken Gross, ominously and presciently warns that there is “very little attention being paid to the serious environmental issues facing Basrah today that could cause devastating results in the near future.”
Studies published by Iraqi experts showed that “cases of leukemia in children in Basra increased by 60 percent between 1990 and 1997, and that the number of children born with severe birth defects increased by a factor of three”, with the research pointing to the use of “depleted uranium” by the US^55
15. Dirty war for uranium and mineral rights in the Central African Republic (CAR) [Julian Assange is being formally extradited over these publications]
In February 2016, Assange published^57
documents exposing serious corruption and environmental degradation in the Central African Republic as a result of apparently unlawful and destructive policies of extractive multinational corporations.
Included among the revelations was:
Radioactive contamination (up to 30 times the natural radioactivity in the zone) left by French nuclear waste giant AREVA^58
, which failed to invest in the country as it had promised and with “neocolonial” conditions of exploitation of its mines.
Bribery of local officials and legal violations by nearly two dozen mining companies^59
A fake UN-backed organisation (the World Sports Alliance)^60
which undertook to establish numerous infrastructure obligations including creation of a system of garbage disposal, electricity production, 4 sport centres and 12 youth centres none of which ever materialised. The WSA was revealed to be a front organisation which facilitated the illicit acquisition of mineral resources belonging to the CAR public.
16. Suppressed Minton report on Trafigura toxic dumping along the Ivory Coast [Julian Assange is being formally extradited over these publications]
In September 2009, Assange published an internal study known as the “Minton report” detailing an incredibly serious toxic waste dumping incident which effected up to 108,000 people in the Ivory Coast, according to a UN report^61
Oil and commodity trader Trafigura, which dumped the toxic waste, commissioned the report. But the multinational corporation successfully obtained a ‘gag’ order from a UK High Court judge. The order was so strict that it prevented any person or news outlet served with the ‘gag’ order or even aware of its existence, from reporting any aspect of the incident, its link to Trafigura, or even the exitance of the order itself.
The ‘gag’ order, known as a ‘super injunction’ because, unlike with most injunctions, in this case news outlets were not permitted to even disclose its existence, prevented anyone from sharing the WikiLeaks’ link to the “Minton report”.
Assange also revealed the court order itself^62
After five weeks, the highly controversial super-injunction - which Trafigura’s lawyers argued prevented anyone even from reporting on a Parliamentary question raised about the incident^63
by a member of parliament– was discharged by the company following growing criticism and outrage by politicians, press and civil society organisations^64
WikiLeaks was launched in 2007 as a not-for-profit news organisation. It trailblazed by offering a means for whistblowers the world over to anonymously leak information like never before. The methods for securely receiving leaks first established by Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have now become standard for many elite news organisations.
Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ founder and publisher, came to global attention for his role in publishing what are known as the Afghanistan diaries, Iraq War logs, Guantanamo Bay detainee files and US diplomatic cables. These documents, published from 2009 -2011, exposed war crimes, crimes against humanity and other wrongdoing by the US and allied governments.
The US is seeking the extradition of Julian so that he can be tried before a jury stacked with current or former members of the national security state or their family members in the Eastern District of Virginia, less than 20km from the CIA’s headquarters. A court with a near 100% conviction rate. The charges are almost entirely under the archaic 1917 Espionage Act, which does not permit any public interest defence for journalists, publishers or whistleblowers. Prosecution of a publisher under this law is unprecedented in US history.
Julian faces a 175 years prison sentence if extradited to the US.
In 2013, the Washington Post reported that officials in the US Department of Justice concluded that there was no way to prosecute Julian without opening the door to prosecutions against establishment outlets such as the Post, New York Times and The Guardian for publishing leaked information. Yet, Donald Trump’s administration secured a deal with a newly elected Ecuadorian government to unlawfully renege on its grant of asylum to the award-winning publisher. After nearly two years, a British judge determined in January 2021 that extradition would be “oppressive” and would result in his death. However just two days before Trump left ofice the US appealed this decision. The latest court hearings were held on October 27-28, just weeks after bombshell revelations that the CIA planned to assassinate Assange were revealed.
Dozens of press and civil liberties organisations including the American Civil Liberties Union, Freedom of the Press Foundation, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, have called for the charges to be dropped describing them as an afront to a free press and basic democratic norms. Over 167 notable governmental figures, including current and former heads of state oppose the charges. As have over 189 jurists, lawyers, academics and lawyers’ associations. The Council of Europe’s parliamentary arm and its human rights Commissioner condemning the “broad and vague nature of the allegations” against Julian which “concern activities at the core of investigative journalism”.
Write to your representatives and ask them to demand that the charges be dropped.
Finally, please spread the word about all of the good that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have done and his persecution.
Defend a free press, defend democracy, *defend Julian Assange!*