The Prosecution of Julian Assange is a Threat to the Free Press

The crux of the US case against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is simple: he put American and allied lives at risk through his exposure of classified material from military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The proof of this claim is where the problem arises for the prosecution. Because there isn’t any solid proof.

Assange is in ill health and reportedly a high suicide risk. According to a psychiatric assessment Assange has resigned himself to die if the British court ultimately decides to extradite him to the US and he has already made his confession to a Catholic priest and started writing goodbye letters to family in the event that extradition is ordered.

The Assange Case

Assange started Wikileaks in 2006 and it entered the spotlight after releasing troves of material in 2010 relating to US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan accessed by US Army intel analyst Chelsea Manning. These included videos showing US military members killing Reuters journalists. Further material also exposed numerous lies and misleading actions taken by the Obama Administration and intelligence community and exposed worldwide diplomatic corruption.

Assange was accused of sexual assault in Sweden in 2010 although the case was eventually not pursued. Assange fled the charges and the mounting political firestorm around his work at Wikileaks by hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he was given asylum so that he wouldn’t be extradited to the United States as a result of his publishing actions pertaining to the US national security establishment.

In 2016 Wikileaks put out another massive release of Democratic National Committee documents that were partly credited with helping Donald Trump win the presidential election. This anti-Hillary Clinton move lost Assange many of his former progressive backers and has left him out to dry politically, abandoned by the left who formerly loved his work exposing the Bush Administration and on the target list of the Trump Administration and the GOP. Nonetheless it is fair to say Assange currently has much more backing among Trump supporters than among most mainstream progressives and centrists.

Despite 2018 charges against Russian spies from Special Counsel Robert Mueller over working with Wikileaks to release the DNC material, Assange has stated that he never cooperated with Russia.

Assange’s 2019 Arrest

Assange was arrested at the Ecuadorian embassy in April, 2019 and given 50 weeks in prison for breaching bail. He was charged with violating the Espionage Act by the US the next month. His trial over extradition to the US began in May, 2019 and he is currently jailed at HM Prison Belmarsh in the UK.

An unsealed indictment in 2017 charged Assange with working with Manning to cover her tracks after hacking classified materials and US grand jury hit him with 17 more spying charges last year.

Assange’s lawyers warn of up to 175 years behind bars if he is convicted of all 18 charges.

What’s Behind the Additional Charges?

The additional 17 charges against Assange stretch back to the Obama Administration’s fervent pursuit of hacking groups, particularly Assange and Wikileaks. The charges are also part of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s ongoing crusade to punish Wikileaks at all costs.

The charges are mainly cobbled together from past investigations and are full of holes where evidence should be and timeline irregularities. It’s quite apparent that the main purpose of the additional charges is to get charges which will be severe enough to prompt an extradition to the US.

Trump called for Assange to be executed in 2010, praised him during the 2016 election for utilitarian reasons, later claimed to not have much idea who Assange is in any case and has since softened into hoping Assange just stays “quiet” in jail. Trump-supporting congressman Dana Rohrbacher reportedly offered Assange an end to the extradition proceedings and a presidential pardon in a 2017 meeting at the Ecuadorian embassy if he would name his source on the DNC leak and thereby exonerate Trump of Russian collusion. Assange refused.

Potential Extradition to the United States

Assange and Wikileaks provided Americans and people all over the world with valuable information about what their governments and military leadership were doing. Now that he faces potential extradition to the United States it’s worth asking why there isn’t more media attention.

One of the few individuals who’s been reliably chronicling the proceedings is historian and former ambassador Craig Murray. His work has shed a lot of light on the monkeying around that is going on in the case and the actions of Judge Vanessa Baraitser which he has witnessed first-hand. As Murray wrote on Sept. 24:

“It has been clear to me from Day 1 that I am watching a charade unfold. It is not in the least a shock to me that Baraitser does not think anything beyond the written opening arguments has any effect. I have again and again reported to you that, where rulings have to be made, she has brought them into court pre-written, before hearing the arguments before her. I strongly expect the final decision was made in this case even before opening arguments were received.”

Amnesty International monitors have not been allowed to observe the ongoing hearings, despite in the past being allowed to observe human rights situations from Guantanamo Bay to Turkey.

Assange’s legal team is correct in arguing that the charges against him are political and should not potentially trigger extradition. The evidence that the campaign against Assange is political is evident to anyone who takes even a cursory glance at his case and the bipartisan witch hunt against him by what Trump terms the “Deep State.”

The Assange Case is an Assault on Transparency

Every reputable news organization lists methods for sources to leak to them securely and without being caught. It’s called journalism. Encryption in journalism is not a crime, in fact it’s basic source protection.

Assange’s help of Manning to get around being caught was not criminal, and the argument that Wikileaks is not actually a publisher and doesn’t deserve journalistic protections is bogus as well. Trying to arbitrarily separate them out as not a publisher is mere sophistry and it doesn’t even matter, anyway.

The First Amendment and press freedom is not some specialized club that just applies to the Washington Post. It’s for the right to print words short of incitement that reveal information and hold the government accountable. If we regress to an increasingly blinkered view of who is a journalist or not the free press will be even more impacted – and less respected – than it is in today’s currently tense environment.

Progressives and anti-Trump conservatives seem very alarmed and angry about Trump’s attacks on the press and criticism of unfriendly journalists. Every day seems to be a new “how dare he!” But when it comes to Assange you can almost hear the birds chirping at most mainstream outlets.

Trump’s mean words about Jim Acosta make headline news, but a man rotting away in a jail cell for publishing material in the public interest is nowhere to be found on CNN. In fact, even some progressive journalists like Intercept founder Glenn Greenwald have only been given platforms on shows like Tucker Carlson Tonight now that MSNBC and other outlets have moved so far into the corporate wing of the Democratic party they even won’t give alternative views a hearing.

The Obama Administration’s previous pursuit of Edward Snowden reflects a similar pattern of executive overreach. Trump’s musing of potentially pardoning Snowden shows that despite his past harsh statements on Assange he’s aware of how these cases are being prosecuted to protect the system of endless war and the perpetual bolstering of the military-industrial complex.

If Assange dies in prison with hearings stretching out interminably or is extradited to face additional charges and prison time in the United States it will be a clear signal to journalists and truth-tellers everywhere to shut up about anything important or face similar consequences. Trump should pardon both Snowden and Assange and upset James Clapper, Susan Rice, John Brennan and James Comey’s self-righteous dinner party. Why side with the very people who oppose him?

Whether you support Assange and believe he’s pursuing a noble and necessary mission or think he’s a pretentious stooge hopped up on Russophilia, the underlying fact remains: the prosecution of Julian Assange is a threat to the free press.

As the character Tyrion says in Game of Thrones: “When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”