Prosecution of Assange Would Lead to End of the First Amendment, Advocates Warn

Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg joined different main journalists, attorneys and human rights defenders to name on the Biden administration to drop its extradition request and indictment in opposition to journalist and WikiLeaks writer Julian Assange, citing the grave menace Assange’s prosecution would pose to journalism worldwide.

“Each empire requires secrecy to cloak its acts of violence that keep it as an empire,” Ellsberg testified through the Belmarsh Tribunal held on January 20 on the Nationwide Press Membership in Washington, D.C. The tribunal is called after London’s high-security Belmarsh Jail, the place Assange has been held for almost 4 years, preventing extradition to the USA. The Belmarsh Tribunal, impressed by the Russell-Sartre tribunal of the Vietnam Battle, was sponsored by Democracy Now!, Defending Rights & Dissent, Braveness Basis, DiEM25, The Intercept, The Nation and PEN Worldwide.

Assange is charged with violations of the Espionage Act for exposing proof of U.S. struggle crimes and faces 175 years in jail if convicted.

Freedom of the Press Is at Stake

Former British Labour Social gathering chief Jeremy Corbyn defined that if Assange is sentenced to life in a maximum-security jail in the USA, it should have a chilling impact on journalists. Corbyn stated that each journalist all through the world will assume, “Oh, ought to I actually report this info I’ve been given? Ought to I actually communicate out about this denial of human rights, a miscarriage of justice in any nation all over the world? As a result of the lengthy arm of the USA [Espionage Act] would possibly attain me and an extradition treaty would possibly put me in that very same jail.”

Thinker, writer and political activist Srećko Horvat, co-chair of the Tribunal, famous that the U.S. authorities “is nominally advocating freedom of press, however on the identical time continues the persecution of a writer — Julian Assange.”

When Biden was operating for president in 2020, he declared on World Press Freedom Day, “All of us stand in solidarity” with the 360 journalists imprisoned worldwide “for his or her work in journalism.” Biden quoted Thomas Jefferson’s 1786 assertion, “Our liberty will depend on the liberty of the press, and that can not be restricted with out being misplaced.”

Since Biden’s election, nonetheless, his administration has refused to dismiss the costs Donald Trump introduced in opposition to Assange. Biden ignored the truth that the Obama-Biden administration, which prosecuted extra whistleblowers underneath the Espionage Act than all its predecessors mixed, refused to indict Assange due to “the New York Occasions downside.” In the event that they charged Assange, the Obama administration reasoned, they must cost The New York Occasions and different media shops that additionally revealed categorised navy and diplomatic secrets and techniques.

Horvat stated, “Each nation has secrecy legal guidelines. Some nations have very draconian secrecy legal guidelines. If these nations tried to extradite New York Occasions reporters and publishers to these nations for publishing their secrets and techniques we’d cry foul and rightly so. Does this administration wish to be the primary to ascertain the worldwide precedent that nations can demand the extradition of overseas reporters and publishers for violating their very own legal guidelines?”

On November 28, 2022, The New York Occasions, the Guardian, Le Monde, DER SPIEGEL and El País signed a joint open letter calling on the Biden administration to drop the Espionage Act costs in opposition to Assange. “Publishing just isn’t a criminal offense,” they wrote, noting that Assange is the primary writer to be charged underneath the Espionage Act for revealing authorities secrets and techniques.

In 2010, the 5 signatories to the open letter collaborated with WikiLeaks to publish “Cable gate” — 251,000 confidential U.S. State Division cables that “disclosed corruption, diplomatic scandals and spy affairs on a world scale.” The paperwork, in response to The New York Occasions, revealed “the unvarnished story of how the federal government makes its greatest selections, the choices that price the nation most closely in lives and cash.”

Assange’s indictment additionally stems from WikiLeaks’s revelation of the Iraq Battle Logs — 400,000 subject experiences that chronicled 15,000 unreported deaths of Iraqi civilians, and systematic rape, torture and homicide after U.S. forces “handed over detainees to a notorious Iraqi torture squad.” And the indictment coated the Afghan Battle Diary — 91,000 experiences of bigger numbers of civilian casualties by coalition forces than the U.S. navy had reported.

Essentially the most infamous launch by WikiLeaks was the 2007 “Collateral Homicide” video, which confirmed a U.S. Military Apache assault helicopter goal and kill 11 unarmed civilians, together with two Reuters information workers and a person who got here to rescue the wounded. Two youngsters had been injured. The video clip reveals proof of three violations of the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Military Discipline Guide.

Amy Goodman, co-host of Democracy Now! and the Tribunal’s different co-chair, stated that the occasions depicted within the Collateral Homicide video “would by no means have occurred” if the Iraq Battle Logs had been made public six months earlier than. “An investigation would have been launched,” Goodman speculated. “That’s why freedom of the press, the free stream of data, saves lives.” She stated that it isn’t simply freedom of the press at stake in Assange’s prosecution, but additionally the general public’s proper of entry to info. Paradoxically, Assange first screened the Collateral Homicide video on the Nationwide Press Membership greater than a decade in the past.

However, as Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privateness and Know-how Venture and Edward Snowden’s lead legal professional, famous, “No authorities will voluntarily disclose its personal crimes. For that, we’d like courageous sources who’ve firsthand proof, and we’d like a free press and courageous publishers who’re prepared to convey this info to the folks, to whom it belongs.”

Wizner continued that the U.S. authorities “characterizes that collaboration between a brave supply and a brave writer as a conspiracy. After all, it was a conspiracy,” Wizner stated. “Good investigative journalism is all the time a conspiracy. It’s a conspiracy to finish the monopoly on info that governments management and to provide folks the seat on the desk that they should have to ensure that us to have the ability to choose highly effective folks and maintain them accountable. However that is the primary time . . . the [U.S.] authorities has charged this type of collaboration as a legal conspiracy.”

The Espionage Act Ought to Be Repealed

“The Espionage Act ought to be stricken from the books,” public mental Noam Chomsky testified. “It has no place in a free and democratic society. We shouldn’t be stunned that the Act is now getting used to punish the train of journalism.”

Different witnesses echoed Chomsky’s critique of the Espionage Act. Legal professional Jesselyn Radack, who has defended a lot of the whistleblowers investigated and charged underneath the Act, stated, “Defendants can’t get a good trial underneath the Espionage Act. These instances are tormented by secrecy and outlined by their Kafkaesque options.”

“It’s nearly unattainable to defend in opposition to the Espionage Act,” legal professional Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA clandestine officer falsely accused of violating the Act by leaking info to a journalist, stated. “Fact isn’t any protection. In reality, any protection associated to fact will likely be prohibited.” Sterling noticed that Assange “gained’t have entry to any of the so-called proof used in opposition to him.”

Furthermore, Sterling famous, “The Espionage Act has not been used to combat espionage. It’s getting used in opposition to whistleblowers and Julian Assange to maintain the general public unaware of [the government’s] wrongdoings and illegalities in an effort to keep its maintain on authority, all within the title of nationwide safety.”

Chip Gibbons, coverage director of Defending Rights & Dissent, concurred. “Make no mistake, this try to jail Assange is an element of a bigger effort to silence those that expose the crimes of empire, militarism, and the U.S. nationwide safety state,” he testified. “Assange is a journalist and writer, not a whistleblower or a supply, however the normalization of using the Espionage Act in opposition to whistleblowers paved the way in which for Assange’s unprecedented indictment.”

“In case you’re going to make use of the Act in opposition to a journalist in blatant violation of the First Modification,” Ellsberg acknowledged, “the First Modification is actually gone.”

Journalists “Create the Footnotes of Historical past”

“Journalists are an important folks . . . as a result of they create the footnotes of historical past,” activist author Suchitra Vijayan instructed the tribunal. “Lies begin wars and silence permits impunity,” she stated. “Assange is a political prisoner and a dissident of the West. His crime — exposing brutal acts of violence, abuse of energy, and crimes in opposition to harmless civilians.”

John Shipton, Assange’s father, denounced the “ceaseless malicious abuse” of his son whereas confined within the U.Ok. Shipton stated the conduct of Assange’s case is “a humiliation” that has undermined the U.Ok.’s declare to respect freedom of speech and the rule of legislation.

Assange is interesting the U.Ok. Residence Workplace’s extradition order to the Excessive Court docket of Justice, arguing that he can be extradited for a political offense in violation of the U.S.-U.Ok. extradition treaty. As WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson stated on the tribunal, “Not solely is espionage a pure type of political offense, however the indictment in opposition to Julian Assange is affected by accusations of political motives.”