Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked documents known as the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other news outlets, told the court that the WikiLeaks revelations showed Americans how they had been misled about US action in Iraq and Afghanistan, just like its leaks, which also revealed previously secret information, did on the Vietnam War.
Ellsberg cited a US military video, published by WikiLeaks in 2010 as “Collateral Murder,” showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters staff.
“I was fully aware that what was portrayed in this video deserved the term murder, a war crime,” he told the London Old Bailey court by videoconference. “I was very happy that the American public was confronted with this reality of our war.”
James Lewis, the attorney representing US authorities, said Assange was not wanted for posting the 2007 video, but for leaking a small number of documents with the unredacted names of sources or informants.
Lewis said many of them suffered harm or threats because they were named. He said some were missing, although he admitted there was no evidence that this was directly related to the WikiLeaks publication.
“How can you say… that there is no evidence that Mr. Assange’s publication of WikiLeaks put anyone at risk?” It’s just nonsense, ”Lewis said.
Ellsberg, who himself was accused of breaking espionage law in a case that was later dismissed, said there was no evidence of physical harm or death from the leaks. The exchange with Lewis led to an explosion of Assange in the courtroom and the judge warned him to remain silent.
Previously, John Goetz, an investigative reporter who worked for German magazine Der Spiegel on the first publication of the documents in 2010, said Assange ensured that the names of informants in hundreds of thousands of secret documents from the US government disclosed are never released.
Goetz said WikiLeaks was frustrated when a password to access full, unredacted content was published in a Guardian Journalists’ book in February 2011.
Lawyers for Assange argue he would not get a fair trial in the United States and that the charges are politically motivated. They also said he would pose a suicide risk if sent to the United States, where they say he could be sentenced to 175 years in prison.
In 2012, Assange fled to the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid his extradition to Sweden, where he was accused of sex crimes. He has always denied the charges and they were later dropped. After seven years he was dragged from the embassy by British police in 2019 and then jailed for skipping a bond linked to the Swedish case. He has been in prison ever since.