Five days ago, supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange marked 1,000 days the journalist has spent in prison, Laurie Churchman reported at The Independent last week.
He is currently detained in Belmarsh Prison in London as the US moves to extradite him to face espionage charges related to WikiLeaks’ publication of secret government media files documenting its actions in the Iraq and Afghanistan war.
As Churchman notes, “Mr. Assange’s fiancé Stella Moris has renewed her call for his release, saying he has spent longer in Belmarsh than many prisoners sentenced for violent crimes.”
If we count all the time Julian Assange spent in an asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy, it has been many more days than a thousand that Assange has had his liberty revoked by an open conspiracy of some of the international community’s most prominent power players.
It’s hard to wonder why CNN et al. have been busy for decades fueling a mental health epidemic with endless, psychotic, nearly fan fictional articles and segments that merely incorporate elements of fact and reality into a narrative rather than effectively informing and orienting their audiences in the world, a mental epidemic that had risen to the threshold of a public health crisis when one of the few journalists who did their job got treated the way our government treats the worst criminals for it.
“I detest the disgusting state into which our newspapers have descended and the malignity, vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write for them. Nothing seen in a newspaper can now be believed,” said US President Thomas Jefferson.
And yet Jefferson did not see the stopping of any printer’s press as the remedy, writing in 1787, “If it were up to me to choose whether we should have a government without media or newspapers without a government, I would not hesitate for a moment to choose the latter.”
The laws of the United States are predicated on the establishment and safekeeping of a free society, and one of its bedrock principles, encoded in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights, is the principle of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. As the Virginia Declaration of Rights puts it, “That the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.” (Something the jury should be reminded of if Mr. Assange stands trial in Virginia.)
It views humanity, law, and government with deep roots in English law. In 1742, David Hume wrote of the British press at the time, “Nothing surprises a visitor more than the extraordinary liberty which we enjoy in this country of broadcasting whatever we please to the public and openly condemning every measure undertaken by the king or his ministers.”
By the time this view of publishing had matured in the revolutionary American English colonies, Jefferson had this to say about why freedom of the press was so important: “No experiment can be more interesting than that which we are now attempting, and which we hope will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. As a result, our first goal should be to leave all paths to truth available to him. The independence of the press has proven to be the most fruitful thus far.”
Julian Assange’s years under arrest should have nothing to do with the popularity or unpopularity of WikiLeaks’ publication of the documents and Assange’s correspondence with PFC Manning. It doesn’t matter whether you like what Julian Assange did or not. What matters is what the law says. And the law says this is the kind of speech that deserves the utmost protection.
He also does not stand charged by government authorities on any count of practicing journalism recklessly, as government officials and news journalist yakkers have accused him.
WikiLeaks’ disclosures of the pertinent documents were made responsibly, carefully, in a controlled way, and with corporate news partners at the New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel as intermediaries and publication outlets. No one has been demonstrated to the public to have come to any physical harm due to the disclosures (other than Julian Assange).
His fiancé disclosed last month that Mr. Assange suffered a stroke in October that she believes was caused by the stress of imprisonment and fighting extradition to the United States in court. Hopefully, his detainers do not neglect his physical and mental health, especially since he is pretty understandably viewed as a political prisoner by many familiar with his story and case.
The crux of the U.S. Justice Department prosecutor’s case in the Eastern District of Virginia is not that Assange embarrassed the government, published irresponsibly, or committed any crime as a journalist.
Instead, the prosecutor alleges Mr. Assange was part of a conspiracy with PFC Manning to hack government computers, rather than a journalist who received the information from Manning as a source. The US Attorney’s office wrote in April 2019:
“The discussions also reflect Assange actively encouraging Manning to provide more information. During an exchange, Manning told Assange that ‘after this upload, that’s all I have got left.’ To which Assange replied, ‘curious eyes never run dry in my experience.’”
There is at least some uncertainty about this allegation because Assange may not have intended to push Manning to disclose further information with that message. He could have meant, for example, that viewing the material that had been revealed to him by Manning made him cry.
In January 2017, while serving a 35-year prison sentence, Chelsea Manning had nearly all the remaining time commuted by President Obama for an early release four months later, stating the punishment was “very disproportionate relative to what other leakers have received.”
As Daniel Ellsberg, who had his case over “The Pentagon Papers” dismissed outright after a comedy of errors in the government’s prosecution, led the judge to decide the case was impossible to try.
As the New Year kicked off, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he sought a pardon for Julian Assange from outgoing and incoming presidents Trump and Biden and reiterated an offer he made a year ago to grant the journalist asylum in Mexico.