Free Julian Assange! Defend freedom of the press!

Aug. 2019 Julian AssangeBy BRUCE LESNICK

On April 11, the Ecuadorian government revoked asylum protection for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Within minutes, British gendarmes entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, arrested Assange, and seized his computers, documents, and other materials.

He is now being held in London’s Belmarsh prison for bail violation. That spurious charge stems from a withdrawn Swedish extradition request that arose from a now defunct investigation into sexual misconduct. No charges were ever filed against the WikiLeaks founder in the Swedish case.

Assange sought asylum in 2012 due to a well-founded fear of rendition to the U.S. for activities related to WikiLeaks’ publishing. At the time, rumors were circulating of a sealed indictment against him. On April 13, 2017, then CIA Director Mike Pompeo raised the stakes by describing WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service.”

Then, on Nov. 16, 2018, the mask was torn off as The New York Times reported, “The Justice Department has secretly filed criminal charges against the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, a person familiar with the case said, a drastic escalation of the government’s years-long battle with him and his anti-secrecy group.

“Top Justice Department officials told prosecutors over the summer that they could start drafting a complaint against Mr. Assange, current and former law enforcement officials said. The charges came to light late Thursday through an unrelated court filing in which prosecutors inadvertently mentioned them.”

On April 11, 2019, the first actual U.S. indictment against Assange was unsealed, charging him with “working with Chelsea Manning, then a US army intelligence analyst, to break into the defense department network in March 2010 to obtain classified documents.”

A month later, a superseding indictment was issued accusing Assange of 18 counts of violating the 1917 Espionage Act for publishing the Iraq and Afghan War Logs and related information leaked by Manning documenting U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In other words, Assange, an Australian citizen, is currently being held in a British prison, facing extradition to the U.S. and a possible lengthy prison sentence for the “crime” of journalism.

Espionage is a capital crime. Thus, the Trump administration, which has recently reinstated federal capital punishment, could, in principle, seek the death penalty in Assange’s case. However, the UK Human Rights Act of 1998 protects anyone within UK jurisdiction from:

• Torture (mental or physical)

• Inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

Deportation or extradition (being sent to another country to face criminal charges) if there is a real risk you will face torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the country concerned.

In 2012, the U.N Special Rapporteur on torture accused the U.S. of cruel and inhuman treatment in its imprisonment and solitary confinement of Chelsea Manning. So, Assange has a well-founded fear of ill treatment at the hands of U.S. authorities. On this basis, extradition from the UK should not be possible. That’s where Sweden comes in.

Sweden is not bound by the UK Human Rights Act. If Assange had been extradited to Sweden to face sexual assault charges, there would have been nothing to stop Swedish officials from turning around and handing him over to U.S. authorities. Indeed, before the Swedish investigation was dropped, Assange offered on multiple occasions to cooperate with the Swedish investigators and even to return to Sweden for that purpose if Swedish officials would guarantee he would not be turned over to U.S. authorities. Though such a guarantee was within the power of Swedish authorities to grant, they flatly refused.

Of course, if Assange or anyone else were to be found guilty of rape, they should face the legal consequences. But aside from the fact that everyone is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty, the evidence in the Swedish case is chock full of holes. As columnist Caitlin Johnstone put it, “[Y]ou’d have to be out of your mind to believe a completely unproven allegation about a known target of US intelligence agencies. It’s just as stupid as believing unproven claims about governments targeted for US regime change, like believing Saddam had WMD.”

WikiLeaks’ outstanding record

All of the documents provided by Manning and published by WikiLeaks—the documents that form the basis for the indictment against Assange—have been confirmed as genuine.In fact, not a single thing published by Wikileaks since its inception in 2006 has been shown to be false or fraudulent. The same cannot be said for The New York Times, CNN or the Washington Post. In its 13-year life, WikiLeaks has published multiple blockbuster revelations, including:

• The Iraq and Afghan war logs (2010). A collection of Army field reports that exposed true civilian casualty rates. One of the key items in this release was the “Collateral Murder” video which showed a U.S. helicopter gunship targeting civilians and journalists, actions that many have said amount to war crimes.

• U.S. diplomatic cables (2010). These reveal candid comments and attempts at manipulation carried out by imperial diplomats.

• Guantanamo prison files (2011). Assessments, interview,s and internal memos about various prisoners. As reported by Democracy Now! and others and summarized by Wikopedia, “[M]ore than 150 innocent Afghans and Pakistanis, including farmers, chefs, and drivers, were held for years without charges.”

• The Stratfor files (2012). An intelligence company with ties to the Pentagon, this cache of emails exposed U.S. and other government machinations around the world.

Assistance provided to Edward Snowden (2013). WikiLeaks assisted Snowden in traveling from Hong Kong to Russia to escape capture.

• The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Intellectual Property Rights chapter (2015). This showed one way the TPP was designed to prioritize profits over people.

• The John Podesta and Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails (2016). Showed cheating and subterfuge carried out by the Hillary Clinton Campaign and the Democratic Party behind the scenes.

• Vault 7: The CIA’s secret hacking tools (2017). Exposed an arsenal of tools used by the CIA to spy on individuals, organizations. and governments the world over.

Each of these disclosures chipped away at the lies promoted by the U.S. empire and its allies.

Mainstream media fails miserably

As Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Glenn Greenwald has emphasized, the materials released by WikiLeaks were distributed “in partnership with some of the largest media outlets in the world, including The New York Times, the Guardinan, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, and El Pais, outlets that published many of the same secret documents that form the basis of the criminal case against Assange.”

If WikiLeaks or Assange are guilty of any crime, so too must be numerous mainstream outlets and journalists. Yet remarkably, a wide-range of mainstream media personalities have bought into the imperialist smear that Assange is not a journalist and that WikiLeaks is not a media organization.

(See, for example, AP News, the Washington Post, The New York Times, Bloomberg News, and David Corn of Mother Jones.)

But as Greenwald explains, “Press freedoms belong to everyone, not to a select, privileged group of citizens called ‘journalists.’ Empowering prosecutors to decide who does or doesn’t deserve press protections would restrict ‘freedom of the press’ to a small, cloistered priesthood of privileged citizens designated by the government as ‘journalists.’ The First Amendment was written to avoid precisely that danger.”

In the spirit of generations of labor and anti-imperialist struggles, we would add, “An injury to one is an injury to all!” Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are essential conquests of working-class and popular struggles against corporate oppression. Any attack on these rights hurts workers and the oppressed most of all.

The current dictatorship of capital relies heavily on messaging and propaganda to maintain the inequality of wealth and power on which it is balanced.

The minority at the top would like nothing more than to chip away at our ability to organize, speak, write, and expose the injustices of the current system that worships profits at the expense of human needs.

In response, we must steadfastly fight to defend and extend the rights of the majority. To that end we must demand: Free Julian Assange! Drop all the Charges against Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning! Defend Freedom of the press!