“Its anarchic methods may not be ideal, but WikiLeaks improves our understanding of the world and provides for more open and honest government.” That was our verdict on Julian Assange’s whistleblowing organisation in December 2010, days after the release of the leaked US embassy cables. It remains true. As Jemima Khan writes, the WikiLeaks cables exposed Washington’s lies and evasions over its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the corruption of US-backed regimes in the Middle East. The effect of its disclosures was felt not merely in Britain and the US, where the Guardian and New York Times published the documents, but around the world, adding fuel to the popular anger that led to the Arab spring.
More than two years on, what is the legacy of WikiLeaks? The first obvious point is that Private Bradley Manning, the alleged source of the leaked documents, has been subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment while the legal process against him rumbles on. The second is that Mr Assange’s grand whistleblowing project is unlikely to shake the world again.
He has a knack for alienating his allies, from his earliest WikiLeaks collaborators to the journalists who worked with him. Ms Khan, our associate editor, now joins that list: after supporting him by standing bail following sex assault allegations by two Swedish women in 2010, she did not receive answers to her questions about his decision to break bail conditions and seek refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London last year.
Mr Assange says that he is concerned about onward extradition to the US, where he could face the death penalty. But Sweden has shown more independence than the UK when dealing with US extradition requests. It would be outrageous for the US to attempt to extradite Mr Assange to stand trial for espionage but there is no reason he should be exempt from facing the sexual assault allegations against him in Sweden. He should leave the Ecuadorean embassy without delay.