If Joe Biden Really Wants to Celebrate Press Freedom, He Should Free Julian Assange

| 3rd May 2024

Joe Biden will celebrate World Press Freedom Day tomorrow. But it is a safe bet that he’ll have nothing to say about Assange or Imran Khan, both behind bars for defying the US.

President Joe Biden’s eloquence, such as it is, soars highest when he hymns alleluias to the free press. “Courageous journalists around the world have shown time and again that they will not be silenced or intimidated,” he proclaimed last year on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day. “The United States sees them and stands with them.” He reprised the theme last week at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner: “There are some who call you the enemy of the people. That’s wrong and that’s dangerous. You literally risk your lives doing your job.” The assembled correspondents, although themselves confronting no risk greater than crossing Pennsylvania Avenue to rewrite press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre’s handouts, applauded their stalwart champion.

The administration’s commitment to freedom of the press is rivaled only by its devotion to democracy beyond America’s borders. The public need not wait until 15 September — International Democracy Day — for the State Department to support fair elections in, say, Pakistan. Donald Lu, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, shared his concern for Pakistani electoral integrity in testimony to a House subcommittee on March 20. Lu, referring to February’s contested results, stated, “We have never used the term ‘free and fair’ in the characterization of this election.” Lu mentioned, among other deviations from democratic norms, “mass arrests of those in opposition, the shutdown of internet, and censorship and pressure placed on journalists.”

To the world’s journalists and Pakistan’s voters, the message is clear: America has your back. American actions, however, send a message at odds with Biden’s and Lu’s rhetorical flourishes: Don’t mess with Uncle Sam. Those who do will end up like Julian Assange in London’s Belmarsh Maximum Security Prison and Imran Khan in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail…

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Demonstration for Julian Assange, Barcelona Feb 20, 2024

The US Government’s Plot to Murder Julian Assange

While dictators kill troublesome journalists with guns and missiles, democracies can afford to be more patient. But the end result is the same.

In most of the countries whose wars I’ve covered over the past 50 years, journalists were fair game. The first deliberate killing I remember took place during Lebanon’s civil war in May 1976, when a sniper shot Le Monde correspondent Edouard Saab. Saab, who also edited Beirut’s French language daily, L’Orient-Le Jour, had excoriated the Syrian regime for stoking Lebanon’s violence … The Syrians were not the only ones killing writers in Lebanon. In 1966, supporters of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser murdered Kamal Mrowe, the esteemed editor-publisher of the Arabic daily Al Hayat. Mossad killed Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani in Beirut in July 1972, two months before I moved there … That’s just the Middle East. In other regions where I’ve worked soldiers and politicians murdered journalists with impunity. There is barely a corner of the globe where reporters are not targets of the powerful forces they challenge. The United States presents itself as an exception, despite its toleration of friendly states, like Saudi Arabia and Israel, that have killed journalists. On World Press Freedom Day, May 3, last year, President Joe Biden declared, “Courageous journalists around the world have shown time and again that they will not be silenced or intimidated. The United States sees them and stands with them.”

America did not stand with the reporters and camera operators from Al Jazeera, Reuters, and Spain’s Telecino in Baghdad when US forces fired on and killed them on April 8, 2003. The case that the killings were unintentional wore thinner in July 2007, when a US Apache helicopter killed a group of unarmed civilians on the streets of Baghdad. Among the dead were Reuters journalists Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Only WikiLeaks’ publication of the “Collateral Murder” footage, complete with the crew’s voiced glee at the killings, exposed the official lie.

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Protest in solidarity with Julian Assange outside the walls of Belmarsh Prison

A Visit to Belmarsh Prison, Where Julian Assange Awaits His Final Appeal Against Extradition to the US

HMP Belmarsh. It is 2:30 pm on Wednesday, December 13, when Julian Assange strides into the visitors’ area. He stands out in the column of 23 prisoners for his height — 6′ 2″ — and flowing white locks with trimmed beard. He squints, looking for a familiar face among the wives, sisters, sons, and fathers of the other inmates. I am waiting, as assigned, at D-3, one of about 40 sets of small coffee tables surrounded by three upholstered chairs — two blue, one red — screwed into the floor of what looks like a basketball court. We spot each other, walk forward, and embrace. It is the first time I have seen him in six years. I blurt, “You’re pale.” Through a mischievous smile I remember from past meetings, he jokes, “They call it prison pale.”

He has not been outdoors — apart from a minute when police dragged him into a paddy wagon — since he took refuge in London’s cramped Ecuadorian Embassy in June 2012. The embassy’s French windows had afforded glimpses of sky. Here at Belmarsh maximum security prison in southeast London, his abode since April 11, 2019, he has not seen the sun. Warders confine him to a cell for 23 out of every 24 hours. His single hour of recreation takes place within four walls, under supervision. His paleness is best described as deathly.

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Activists supporting Julian Assange in London's Piccadilly Circus with banners declaring 'Free Assange' and '2023 - Time to Set Him Free!'

Behind closed doors: A fresh look at Julian Assange and WikiLeaks

In December 2018, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, received an email from a group of lawyers headed “Julian Assange is seeking your protection”. Melzer, a Swiss international lawyer, asked himself: “Was this not the founder of WikiLeaks, the shady hacker with the white hair and the leather jacket who was hiding out in an embassy somewhere because of rape allegations?” As he recalls,

I was overtaken by a host of disparaging thoughts and almost reflexive feelings of rejection. Assange? No, I certainly would not be manipulated by this guy.

Three months later, Assange’s legal team contacted him again. Ecuador intended to expel Assange from its embassy in London, where he had taken refuge in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden and from there to the US. “A question started forming in my mind”, Melzer writes in The Trial of Julian Assange: A story of persecution. “Had I overlooked something when I dismissed this case the last time around?” Thus began a two-year investigation that uncovered the lengths to which the US – and the UK, Sweden and Ecuador – went to silence and punish Assange. Melzer changed his mind. This book should change others’.

The story begins in 2006, when Assange, together with fellow tech prodigies and free-speech advocates, founded WikiLeaks as a safe depository for inside sources to reveal wrongdoing without fear of retribution. Encryption prevented governments and corporations, not to mention WikiLeaks itself, from detecting the identities of whistleblowers, thereby protecting them from prosecutions of the kind that tormented many who had confided in traditional media, among them the Foreign and Commonwealth Office official Sarah Tisdall, who was jailed in 1984 for leaking British government documents to the Guardian, and the GCHQ translator Katharine Gun, who in 2003 was charged under the Official Secrets Act for leaking top-secret information to the Observer. A year into its existence, WikiLeaks published the US army’s protocols for detainee treatment at Camp Delta in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, including the denial of access to Red Cross delegates. It also released documents related to the ruling Moi family’s corruption in Kenya. In 2008 came the Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s emails, then in 2009 intercepts of government pager messages about the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001. It was a measure of the trust sources placed in WikiLeaks that so many were…

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Ruling Assange Can’t Be Extradited Is an Indictment of US Prisons

But the British court judgment, which is likely to be appealed, also delivers a body blow to freedom of speech.

My junior year high school English teacher liked to tell a story about Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson to illustrate the differences between America’s two great transcendentalist writers. Thoreau was jailed in 1846 for withholding taxes that paid for the invasion of Mexico and protected slave owners. Emerson came to speak to Thoreau through the bars of his cell. My teacher, with theatrical flair and stentorian voice, recounted the conversation:

‘Emerson: “What are you doing in there, Henry David?”
Thoreau: “The question is, what are you doing out there, Ralph Waldo?”’

We might ask ourselves what we are doing out here while Julian Assange remains “in there” at Belmarsh Maximum Security Prison in London…

Read Julian Assange In His Own Words

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Penn, Zenger, Assange

If Assange’s Fate Were Up To a Jury, He, Too, Might Have Walked Free

Like William Penn and John Peter Zenger, the Wikileaks founder is fighting for our freedom.

When the magistrate presiding last September at Julian Assange’s extradition hearing, Vanessa Baraitser, confined the defendant to a bullet-proof glass cage at the back of the court, she had precedent on her side. All who entered her courtroom at London’s Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, had to pass a plaque memorializing a case against another defender of free speech and thought…

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Free Julian Assange

Biden’s Choice on Julian Assange and the First Amendment

Assange’s liberty represents that of all journalists and publishers whose job is to expose government and corporate criminality without fear of prosecution.

When Joe Biden becomes president of the United States on January 20, a historic opportunity awaits him to demonstrate America’s commitment to the First Amendment. He can, in a stroke, reverse four years of White House persecution of journalism by withdrawing the application to extradite Julian Assange from Britain to the U.S. This would be in line with the departures from Trump policies Biden is proposing on health care, environmental protection, and tax fairness. Assange’s liberty represents the liberty of all journalists and publishers whose job is to expose government and corporate criminality without fear of prosecution. We need and deserve to be protected against government control of the press.

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Julian Assange

The Unprecedented and Illegal Campaign to Eliminate Julian Assange

Assange would never receive a fair trial in the U.S., but he’s not receiving one in Britain either. Over the 17 days of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing in London, prosecutors succeeded in proving both crimes and conspiracy. The culprit, however, was not Assange. Instead, the lawbreakers and conspirators turned out to be the British and American governments. Witness after witness detailed illegal measures to violate Assange’s right to a fair trial, destroy his health, assassinate his character, and imprison him in solitary confinement for the rest of his life.

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Julian Assange

Free Julian Assange!

By depriving the WikiLeaks founder of his freedom, prosecutors in the US and Britain are intimidating journalists—and abetting torturers, war criminals, and kleptocrats everywhere.

If WikiLeaks did not exist, the public would know much less than it does about what government and politicians are doing in its name.

When a 35-year-old Australian named Julian Assange launched WikiLeaks with a few like-minded friends in 2006, he little knew what exposing malfeasance would cost him. The WikiLeaks model was simple: provide a safe repository for documents showing state and corporate wrongdoing while guaranteeing anonymity for the leaker. Newspapers were not necessarily safe for whistle-blowers, as British civil servant Sarah Tisdall discovered in 1983 when London’s The Guardian caved in to a court order and handed over documents that identified her as the source for its story on US cruise missile deployment in the UK. She went to prison for four months and lost her job…

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Julian Assange

Julian Assange Languishes in Prison as His Journalistic Collaborators Brandish Their Prizes

While Julian Assange languishes in south London’s maximum security Belmarsh Prison, a British court is weighing his fate. The 48-year-old Australian founder of Wikileaks is serving time for the minor crime of jumping bail by taking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden. His fear at the time was that the Swedes, with a track record of assisting rendition of suspects sought by the U.S., would send him straight across the Atlantic. Now that he has lost his diplomatic refuge, 70 British members of Parliament have petitioned to dispatch Assange to Sweden if prosecutors there reopen the case they closed in 2017. The greater threat to his liberty is the United States Department of Justice’s extradition demand for him to stand trial in the U.S. for conspiring with Chelsea Manning to hack a government computer.

The U.S. insists Assange will not face the death penalty. If he did, Britain, in common with other European states, would not be able to send him there. The maximum sentence for the hacking offense is five years, but there is no guarantee that, once he arrives in the U.S., he will not face additional charges under the Espionage Act of 1917 that President Barack Obama used against nine individuals for allegedly leaking secret information to the public. The sentence for that offense could be death or life in prison. If Assange ends up in the U.S. federal judicial system, he may never been seen again.

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