JULIAN Assange has defended WikiLeaks’ ability to protect its sources following the conviction of US soldier Bradley Manning on espionage charges.
Assange on Tuesday said the guilty verdicts against Manning – who leaked an estimated 250,000 diplomatic cables and 500,000 classified military documents to his WikiLeaks website – was an example of “national security extremism”.
A military judge on Tuesday acquitted Manning of “aiding the enemy,” but convicted him of espionage, theft and computer fraud charges.
Manning’s sentencing begins on Wednesday with the 25-year-old facing up to 136 years in prison.
Speaking after the judgment, Assange described the former US intelligence analyst as “the most important journalistic source the world has ever seen” whose disclosures had exposed war crimes, sparked revolutions and induced democratic reform.
“He is the quintessential whistleblower,” Assange told a handful of reporters, including AAP, inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
He said Tuesday’s ruling was the first ever espionage conviction against a whistleblower in the US.
“It is a dangerous precedent and an example of national security extremism,” the 42-year-old said.
“It is a short-sighted judgment that cannot be tolerated and it must be reversed.”
Assange said Manning had two appeals available through the US military system and then another to the US Supreme Court.
WikiLeaks wouldn’t rest until the “hero” was free, he said.
“There was only ever one just outcome from this trial and that was an acquittal.”
Assange said Manning was undone by a US informer who sold him out to the FBI.
“Our processes (to protect sources) have been successful,” he said.
“We are pleased that throughout this case, no evidence has been adduced from inside WikiLeaks, from its personnel or its operations against Bradley Manning.”
Assange said throughout the soldier’s trial there was a “conspicuous absence” of evidence that a single person had been harmed as a result of Manning’s leaks.
Further, the US government had never claimed Manning worked for a foreign power, despite charging him with espionage.
The WikiLeaks founder argued the “abuse” of Manning “had left the world with a sense of disgust at how the (Barack) Obama administration had fallen”.
He insisted it was still safe for people to blow the whistle, even though Edward Snowden revealed earlier this year the true extent of the United States’ mass surveillance network.
WikiLeaks was a high-tech organisation that specialised in understanding spy agencies and defeating their methods, he said.
Mainstream media organisations, however, needed to catch up.
“There is an obligation on all journalistic organisations to protect their sources technically if possible and advise their sources how to protect themselves,” Assange said.
Snowden remains stuck in Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow.
WikiLeaks helped him flee Hong Kong in June and Assange on Tuesday stated the organisation remained “pleased” with Snowden’s situation.
“He is in a relatively safe situation now – (although) of course not easy.”
Assange said if Snowden had stayed in Hong Kong the 30-year-old would have spent years fighting extradition to the US.
The Australian himself has been holed up in Ecuador’s diplomatic mission in London for more than a year, avoiding extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations. – AAP