By MARTY GOODMAN
Feb. 15 was the first large event in New York City calling for freedom for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who faces 175 years imprisonment under the Espionage Act of 1917 for exposing U.S. war crimes, torture, and human rights abuse. The size and enthusiasm of the event shows support for Assange and free speech rights is growing.
The NY Assange panel included many well-known free-speech and justice advocates and attracted over 200 to the campus of the City University of NY Law School (CUNY). Sponsors were the Courage Foundation, a national whistleblower defense group; the National Lawyers Guild, and FAIR, a media watchdog organization. Endorsing was the very active NYC Free Assange Committee.
Speakers at the CUNY panel were Jim Goodale, who provided a unique perspective on the responsibilities of journalism as the former General Counsel for the New York Times during the release of the Pentagon Papers; Glen Ford, Executive Director, Black Agenda Report; Renata Avila, international lawyer, public and legal advocate for Assange; and Max Blumenthal, a journalist at The Grayzone.
Video interviews for the program were projected onto a screen, which featured Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower on Vietnam and Cambodia and MIT Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky, linguist and political philosopher.
Alice Walker addressed the audience via a live telephone hook-up. (see you-tube+Joe+Friendly for videos of this and other NY Assange events)
Daniel Ellsberg told the audience, “Julian Assange is now the first to ever actually have been indicted as a journalist and that will mean essentially that we won’t have a free press.”
Noam Chomsky compared the persecution of Assange to the war waged by fascist dictator Mussolini against Leftist writer Antonio Gramsci, whose court prosecutor famously said, “We must stop this brain from working.” Said Chomsky, “Assange faces that and possibly even worse. If the notion freedom of the press means anything this is a textbook example of an effort to undermine it.”
Said Alice Walker, who visited Assange in the Ecuadoran Embassy, “This is a man of character. We should continue with all our might to get him out of incarceration to reconnect him with his father and his children. This is incredibly vital and crucial to our freedom of speech.”
Panelist Glen Ford helped put it all in context, “U.S. imperialism is unprecedented in world history in claiming the power, the right to police the world and to imprison and kill anyone that opposes its global supremacy. Assange and WikiLeaks were put at the top of the Empire’s hit list. Assange became the Empire’s public enemy number one.”
During the Q&A period links were made between journalist Assange and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, framed-up by racist Philly cops on a murder charge in 1982 and, like Assange, Mumia’s health was brutally ignored by prison authorities. Also discussed was whistle-blower Edward Snowden, forced to flee the U.S. for Russia; the case of Black Liberation Army member Assata Shakur, who fled to Cuba in 1984, and the jailing and murder of members of the Black Panther Party.
Feb. 24 was Assange’s first day of trial in the UK and a global day of protest in more than 25 cities. In New York the NYC Free Assange Committee held a midday rally at the UK Consulate in Mid-town Manhattan. About 75 attended.
Speaking at the demonstration was civil rights lawyer and co-author of the indispensable book, “In Defense of Julian Assange,” Margaret Kunstler. Said Kunstler, “Delivering real journalism is a risky undertaking with uncertain rewards. Truth has become a revolutionary thing. Assange is accused of espionage and faces a show trial under a a law that has a lugubrious record (the Espionage Act-MG)….Everyone who has ever been tried under the law has been found guilty. There is no defense. WikiLeaks and Julian Assange are under the threat of extinction but our rights are threatened too.”
Speaker Ben Norton, journalist at Grayzone, told the mid-town crowd, “WikiLeaks has enriched our understanding of the crimes of this government that claims to act in our interest but of course it doesn’t and we have their own US State Department cables that prove it. When US politicians from both the Republican and Democratic parties go on TV and say Julian Assange is a spy, Julian Assange is responsible for whatever accusations they smear him with, that is a lie because Julian Assange has done the noble duty that the vast majority of journalists refused to do.”
Other speakers at the rally included Michael Smith, a member of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and co-author of “Who Killed Che?”; Kim Ives, editor of “Haiti Liberté” newspaper; Marty Goodman of Socialist Action and others.
Check-in with NYC Free Assange on Facebook or email NYCFreeAssange@gmail.com for details on future events.