My Volte-Face On Julian Assange

I didn’t know what to feel last month seeing Wikileaks founder Julian Assange being hauled out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London like a recalcitrant child misbehaving at a county fair.

After all, this is the guy who, despite his altruistic fervor about journalistic freedom and uncovering the unvarnished truth behind the establishment veneer, ultimately assisted the Trump campaign in 2016 by publishing nearly 20,000 hacked Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails hours after the Access Hollywood footage of Donald Trump admitting sexual assault broke on television.

Not to mention, Donald Trump Jr. exchanged direct messages with the WikiLeaks Twitter account two months before Election Day.

Let’s not forget former Trump political adviser Roger Stone admitted communicating with Assange, hailing him a “hero,” suggesting Assange “could theoretically drop a tranche of documents” before each of the Clinton-Trump presidential debates.

Trump, on multiple occasions, extolled Wikileaks on the campaign trail (before claiming “I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing” last month in the wake of the Mueller Report.)

Although not the only culprit, like it or not, Assange’s Wikileaks bears some culpability for Trump’s current occupancy of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

However, this is the same Julian Assange who published the “Collateral Murder video,” footage of a U.S. military helicopter opening fire on civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

This is the same Assange who exposed the Afghan and Iraq war logs that documented myriad mass killing operations in which the American military was engaging.

This is the same Assange who publicized news of the secretive kill-capture task forces, prisoner torture, and the U.S.’s intent to “Iraqicize” forces so they would comply with U.S. occupation objectives to divide up Iraq.

He and other whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, Daniel Everett HaleJames Risen, Reality Winner, and Edward Snowden are vital to press freedom because they exposed the festering rot behind U.S. foreign and domestic policy the complicit corporate media serves to keep us “patriotic;” i.e., ignorant.

Assange’s 18 indictment charges under the Espionage Act are the blatant assault on the First Amendment the administration he helped install is making its stock and trade.

We must not be so shortsighted as to accept Assange’s fate as an aberration.

If Trump can get away with coming for him, any leader can get away with prosecuting anyone who speaks out against his or her government’s abuses.

Once that happens, it’s all over. We can kiss the free press and freedom of speech good-bye.

Even here.

Because of this, I support Assange.

I agree with “Pentagon Papers” whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971, revealed a top-secret Pentagon study about the Vietnam War, when he asserted:

“Every journalist in the country now knows for the first time that she or he is subject to prosecution for doing their job as journalists. It cuts out the First Amendment, essentially. That eliminates the First Amendment freedom of the press, which is the cornerstone of our American democracy and of this republic. So there’s an immediate focus, there should be an immediate concern not just for journalists over here and publishers, but for everyone who wants this country to remain a democratic republic.”

I agree with world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, Noam Chomsky, who stated:

“The Assange arrest is scandalous in several respects. WikiLeaks was producing things that people ought to know about those in power. People in power don’t like that, so therefore we have to silence it. OK? This is the kind of thing, the kind of scandal, that takes place, unfortunately, over and over.”

Assange’s arrest is a warning to all journalists, bloggers, and even those who have a tendency to spout off political criticism on social media about what is “acceptable” to the establishment.

As Daniel Ellsberg argued:

This shows…that they’re saying, well, we won’t prosecute responsible journalists. But that assurance is worth nothing, aside from the question of who they’ll consider responsible or not. Remember that President Trump’s unprecedented charge here is that the American press, the mainstream press, is the enemy of the people…The idea that they’re distinguishing that should not reassure any journalists. I’m sure it won’t, actually. So they’re feeling the chill right now, before the prosecution actually begins. These indictments are unprecedented. And I would say they are blatantly unconstitutional, in my opinion.”

Assange’s arrest and indictments mean more than just a government attempting to stifle bad press. It was the United States who ordered his arrest in the Ecuadoran embassy–sovereign territory–in London, not the United States.

Does this imply, then, that, say, the Chinese government can order a journalist arrested in the United States for publishing damning information about China?

What if the Saudi Arabian government had killed Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi here on American soil instead of at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for speaking out about the oppressive Saudi regime?

Could we expect something like that to be permitted in the future?

Ellsberg added:

“I thought that Trump would hold off on declaring war on the press until the extradition matter had been settled. But no, the declaration of war came today. This is a historic day, and a very challenging one for American democracy.”

But there is hope.

More than journalists are coming out defending Assange.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Ron Wyden, and Bernie Sanders are a few high-profile Democrats joining free-press advocates in condemning Assange’s Espionage charges.

Wyden said in a statement he is “extremely concerned about the precedent this may set and potential dangers to the work of journalists and the First Amendment,” adding:

“This is not about Julian Assange. This is about the use of the Espionage Act to charge a recipient and publisher of classified information.”

Sen. Sanders tweeted:

“Let me be clear: it is a disturbing attack on the First Amendment for the Trump administration to decide who is or is not a reporter for the purposes of a criminal prosecution. Donald Trump must obey the Constitution, which protects the publication of news about our government.”

Sen. Warren said in a statement to The Intercept:

“Assange is a bad actor who has harmed U.S. national security—and he should be held accountable. But Trump should not be using this case as a pretext to wage war on the First Amendment and go after the free press who hold the powerful accountable everyday [sic].”

Some claim Assange is an exception because he is not a journalist.

As Knight First Amendment Institute staff attorney Carrie DeCell tweeted, though:

“The government argues that Assange violated the Espionage Act by soliciting, obtaining, and then publishing classified information. That’s exactly what good national security and investigative journalists do every day.”

Daniel Ellsberg added:

“By saying that, for example, that he requested information, classified information, from Chelsea Manning, and that’s what distinguishes him from the press, or the responsible press, well, let me tell you, I can’t count the number of times I have been asked and urged to give classified information to the responsible press. The Times, the Post, AP. Anything you can name. So that is journalism.”

We should all care about what transpires with Julian Assange, even if we don’t agree with him all the time.

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