Julian Assange, the free press, and whistleblowers

Julian Assange from a video conference on May 26, 2019. Image adapted by Anarchimedia.
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As a journalist, Australian Julian Assange believed the dirty doings of governments should be available for all to see. That is why he co-founded WikiLeaks, a non-profit website that has revealed vast corruption and war crimes since 2006. They are now public knowledge, because brave whistleblowers and journalists uncovered the news, and WikiLeaks published it.

This is why it is critical to stop the campaign to destroy Julian Assange and freedom of the press.

Dire threat to First Amendment. For the past decade, Assange has been imprisoned, smeared by lies, and tortured. His health is so deteriorated that 60 physicians from around the world recently issued a call for better medical treatment. The U.N.’s special rapporteur on torture reported in September 2019 that Assange shows prolonged exposure to psychological torture; and that in all the legal proceedings, the U.S., Sweden and Ecuador severely and consistently violated due process.

This ruthless treatment is the product of WikiLeaks’ explosive impact. Its exposés have often been international. But when U.S. secrets were targeted, all hell broke loose. In 2010 the site revealed U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaked by U.S. army analyst Chelsea Manning. She served seven grueling years for espionage and is again behind bars for refusing to testify against Assange to a grand jury.

WikiLeaks exposed vast friendly-fire and civilian casualties in the Afghan War; brutal methods at Guantánamo prison; secret negotiations of the now defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement; U.S. complicity in the devastation of Yemen; ongoing, secret operations in Syria, Kenya, and by the CIA and National Security Agency; and more.

Today, Assange sits in an English prison, under no charges, awaiting a February hearing on extradition to the U.S. for trial. He was arrested in April 2019 when his asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London was revoked. The U.S. immediately indicted him, the first publisher ever to be charged under the Espionage Act. This is a new extreme, accusing the publisher of information, in addition to the leaker.

The aim is to bully, intimidate and threaten journalists, whistleblowers and the press. As Edward Wasserman, Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley puts it, all of them are informants who seek “not to peddle secrets to the country’s enemies but to share information with the public about things … we need to know.”

Corporate media smear. The most important tool in the U.S. persecution kit has been the corporate media. The Washington Post, The New York Times, Bloomberg News, etc., all have denigrated Assange as a hacker who endangers covert operatives. Yet all have published WikiLeaks reports. They have denied he is a journalist, some labeled him a spy, and they’ve said he spread feces on the walls of his Ecuador embassy room and abused his cat. Lies.

Leading the assault is the liberal CNN, which claimed that Assange colluded with Russian hackers and intelligence operatives, that he brawled with guards and overwhelmed embassy staff with unreasonable demands and innumerable visitors. Again, all lies and innuendo refuted by an embassy diplomat.

On the sexual assault claims, Sweden has never charged Assange for rape and there was never any evidence for it. Rape charges have been dropped three times. The two women involved in this highly publicized story went to the police to get Assange tested for HIV. Neither alleged rape.

Taking the defense. Protecting a free press has never been so crucial. As capitalism grows frantic to hide its abuses and utter incompetence, investigative reporters and whistleblowers are becoming endangered species. And that includes the establishment press.

Whistleblowers Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are paying a steep price for their courage. In 2013, Snowden revealed global mass surveillance by the National Security Agency and others. He was charged with espionage. Today, he is hunted and living in asylum in Russia. Both Assange and Manning are behind bars, and Assange may not survive captivity.

Compare their treatment to that of Daniel Ellsberg who released the Pentagon Papers, top-secret documents on Vietnam War crimes in 1971. He too was charged with spying, but the case was dropped because the antiwar movement was very strong then. Today, Ellsberg and Snowden defend Assange and Manning.

Despite hostility, the tide is turning. A swell of outrage followed Assange’s espionage indictment, and now even mainstream publications such as The New Yorker and The New York Times have published columns on the danger his case poses to the entire press. Good! We must all defend the right to uncover the truth. Assange should be freed from his London prison and not extradited for trial in the U.S.! For information and action, see defend.wikileaks.org.

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