We reprint below two speeches from the April 19, 2020 webinar “The Prosecution of Julian Assange and the Fight for Free Speech”
The two speeches below are by Joe Lombardo, the National Co-Coordinator of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) and Jim Lafferty, the Executive Director Emeritus of the Los Angles National Lawyers Guild and a board member of the LA-area ACLU. Attracting thousands of viewers, the event was live streamed in the U.S. and around the world. Moderated by Jeff Mackler, Steering Committee member of the newly-constituted Committee to Defend Julian Assange and Civil Liberties and author of Obama’s National Security State: The Meaning of the Edward Snowden Revelations, the webinar featured presentations by the defense committee’s co-chairs, Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker and Daniel Ellsberg. Other speakers were Assange’s London-based attorney, Jennifer Robinson, Nathan Fuller, Director of the Courage Foundation (formed to defend WikiLeaks founder Assanage, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers), and Nozomi Hayase, journalist, liberation psychologist and contributor to the new book, In Defense of Julian Asssange. The webinar was sponsored by the Committee to Defend Julian Assange and Civil Liberties, the Courage Foundation, the National Lawyers Guild and UNAC.
The right to print the truth about U.S. wars
By JOE LOMBARDO
Julian Assange’s struggle for free speech and freedom is critically important for the antiwar movement and for any movement for social change. The right to speak out and protest is essential to our movements. Julian Assange was doing just that; he was speaking truth to power and so the powerful U.S. government seeks to shut him down permanently via burying him in a U.S. prison with a threatened sentence of 178 years. If they succeed, other journalists who criticize the U.S. government – regardless of what country they are from – will fear when they speak the truth, and so will we.
It was the “collateral murder” video that Chelsea Manning sent to WikiLeaks, and they published, that enraged the U.S. government the most and made them go after Assange. I saw that video at the founding conference of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), where it was shown to the 800 activists present. It was introduced by Ethan McCord, who was a soldier at the massacre in Iraq that the video records. Through that experience, Ethan McCord began questioning the war and later became a vocal opponent and then a speaker at our antiwar conference.
The video depicts an American helicopter flying above a group of people in Baghdad. Some were reporters and had cameras, but the Americans did not know what they were carrying, and so they shot and killed or wounded the whole group. Taken from the helicopter you can hear the American soldiers laughing as they shoot and kill the civilians and reporters on the ground. Soon after a van arrived to try and help the wounded. The soldiers fired on the van, killing the driver who was the father of two young children who were in the back seat. The children were both wounded. Soon after American soldiers arrived on foot. Ethan McCord was one of them. He carried a young girl from the back seat of the van and had to pull out a piece of glass that was stuck in her eye.
Exposing U.S. war crimes
This was a war crime. It is one of many that the U.S. is responsible for in its never-ending wars. The U.S. covered it up. They classified the video and made the entire incident disappear until Chelsea Manning sent the video to WikiLeaks and they published it.
The U.S. routinely classifies anything that it does not want people to see. There were no secret military codes or information about maneuvers or secret weapons. The video just showed a war crime. And war crimes should not be covered up. War crimes should be exposed. That’s what WikiLeaks, Assange and Manning did. They provided a necessary service for the people of the world. They told the truth.
By classifying this video we were all denied our right to know what the U.S. did and continues to do around the world. The U.S. military, which today operates in 172 countries, has 20 times the number of foreign military bases than all other nations in the world combined.
To the warmongers, the truth is a crime and not their illegal and immoral wars. So, the U.S. has gone after Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning. It can be expected to do so with regard to all truth tellers.
U.S. war on the truth
This U.S. war on the truth is growing in intensity. Conducted in the name of “national security” or their phony “war on terrorism,” every form of war is justified, including overt wars, drone wars, Special Operation wars, death squad and privatized army wars.
The Telecommunications Act, enacted under the Clinton administration, removed many of the safeguards that prevented media domination by wealthy right-wing groups. When we organize in the streets today we are likely told that there is a police-established “free speech zone” – often a far distance from the event we are focused on – to which our protest must be confined. The attacks on Julian Assange come in the context of these ever-escalating assaults on free speech and democratic rights.
Today we meet virtually via this webinar format because the coronavirus prevents us from meeting in person. The authoritarian leaders around the world, including Trump in the U.S. government, are using this crisis to press for legislation to advance the interests of the wealthy at the expense of working people. They are establishing new rules with little opposition. These include attacks on civil liberties. However, the crisis is also creating a new consciousness among millions of people. When we emerge from today’s necessary confinement and isolation, we must push back against these new rules and attacks on civil liberties which the powers that be will seek to make permanent long after the present COVID-19 pandemic has passed. We can expect that there will be many more aroused people ready willing to fight for civil liberties and democratic rights, for the rights of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and to oppose today’s endless wars for plunder and profit.
The attack on Assange is an attack on all of us. Recalling the refrain that helped organize the early labor movement in the U.S., “An injury to one is an injury to all!” Let’s free Julian Assange
We Must Defend Julian Assange if We Are to Have Freedom of the Press and Democracy in America
By JIM LAFFERTY
Julian Assange is being prosecuted by the United States under the old Espionage Act, passed during World War I, for use against spies. He is the first journalist ever charged under that Act. He’s charged with conspiring with Chelsea Manning to publish the Iraq War logs which, among many documents, contain a video, now known as the “Collateral Murder Video”, showing American troops committing war crimes, as they gun down 10 Iraqi civilians, including two children and two Reuters reporters.
In prosecuting Assange for espionage, the Trump Administration has dug deep, and come up with a buried subsection of the Espionage Act to prosecute anyone who simply “receives” or “retains” or “possesses national defense information.” Matt Taibbi, in the new book entitled In Defense of Julian Assange, makes the point that if the government is allowed to get away with using this tool to successfully prosecute reporters and publishers, in very short order we will have no reporters and no publishers.
Shamefully, not all in the U.S. media, or all on the left and in the civil liberties community, have supported Julian Assange as they should have; have not understood the threat to themselves, as well as to a free press and the democracy that depends upon a free press, that is threatened by the prosecution of Assange. Many on the left have been dissuaded from supporting Assange because of one or another of the false charges and rumors circulated against Assange, circulated in some cases by the U.S. government. Hillary Clinton didn’t lose the 2016 election because of anything Assange did. She lost it because of what she did not do. And both women involved in that phony, so-called “Assange sex scandal” months and months ago publically denied that he ever assaulted them, that their government’s charges were not true!
But what is true, and what should greatly alarm us, is that the Trump Administration is hell-bound on a campaign to silence any journalists and publishers who dare to expose the too-many-to-name crimes and corrupt acts of the U.S. and other western imperialist countries; crimes such as the multitude of U.S. war crimes in the Middle East disclosed to the public by Julian Assange, in WikiLeaks!
And what is also true, sisters and brothers, is that our brother Julian Assange is now facing 175 years in a US prison if he is extradited back to the United States. Meanwhile, Julian has been locked away for a year in an isolated cell in England, where, so far, his on-going extradition hearing has made a kangaroo court look good. His treatment in England, according to the medical doctors who have examined him, amounts to torture; torture that has taken a grave toll on Julian, physically and mentally. Locked away in solitary confinement, Julian can’t even talk to his lawyers for more than 10-minutes at a time…and then with great difficulty.
Speaking of Julian, Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, says, “In 20 years of working with war victims, violence and political persecution, I have never seen a group of democratic states unite to deliberately isolate, demonize and abuse a single individual for so long a time and with such little respect for human dignity and status of rights. Julian Assange’s collective persecution must end here and now!”
And Julian Assange, himself, on May 13 of last year, writing from his horrific British imprisonment, tells us that, “I am unbroken, albeit literally surrounded by murderers, but the days when I could read and speak and organize to defend myself, my ideals and my people are over until I am free! Everyone else must take my place. I am defenseless and am counting on you and others of good character to save my life….Truth, ultimately, is all we have.”
And so, sisters and brothers, the question that confronts us today is this: will we let Julian Assange’s case become a final nail in the coffin of a free and independent press in America? Or will the almost unimaginable injustice of his case arouse our justifiable anger and inspire us to fight like hell to save Julian’s life, as we fight like hell to save freedom of the press? For without a free press we will never win back our now clearly lost democracy.
And so I urge us to keep reaching out to our sisters and brothers, as we are today, and tell them the truth about Julian Assange; and, urge them to join the growing numbers of Assange supporters who are fighting to save Julian Assange’s life and, even more critical, fighting to save freedom of the press in America; freedom to write and speak and publish the truth! For Julian is right: truth, ultimately, is all we have.