The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing.
(John Adams, 1735-1826)
According to the Nuremberg Principles, the citizens of a country have a responsibility for the crimes that their governments commit. But to prevent these crimes, the people need to have some knowledge of what is going on. Indeed, democracy cannot function at all without this knowledge.
What are we to think when governments make every effort to keep their actions secret from their own citizens? We can only conclude that although they may call themselves democracies, such governments are in fact oligarchies or dictatorships.
At the end of World War I, it was realized that secret treaties had been responsible for its outbreak, and an effort was made to ensure that diplomacy would be more open in the future. Needless to say, these efforts did not succeed, and diplomacy has remained a realm of secrecy.
Many governments have agencies for performing undercover operations (usually very dirty ones). We can think, for example of the KGB, the CIA, M5, or Mossad. How can countries that have such agencies claim to be democracies, when the voters have no knowledge of or influence over the acts that are committed by the secret agencies of their governments?
Nuclear weapons were developed in secret. It is doubtful whether the people of the United States would have approved of the development of such antihuman weapons, or their use against an already-defeated Japan, if they had known that these things were going to happen. The true motive for the nuclear bombings was also kept secret. In the words of General Groves, speaking confidentially to colleagues at Los Alamos, the real motive was “to control the Soviet Union”.
The true circumstances surrounding the start of the Vietnam war would never have been known if Daniel Ellsberg had not leaked the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg thought that once the American public realized that their country's entry into the war was based on a lie, the war would end. It did not end immediately, but undoubtedly Ellsberg's action contributed to the end of the war.
Julian Assange, a martyr to the truth
We do not know what will happen to Julian Assange. If his captors send him to the US, and if he is executed there for the crime of publishing leaked documents (a crime that he shares with the New York Times), he will not be the first martyr to the truth.
The ageing Galileo was threatened with torture and forced to recant his heresy, that the Earth moves around the Sun. Galileo spent the remainder of his days in house arrest.
Giordano Bruno was less lucky. He was burned at the stake for maintaining that the universe is larger than it was then believed to be.
If Julian Assange becomes a martyr to the truth like Galileo or Bruno, his name will be honored in the future, and the shame of his captors will be remembered too.