Assange's extradition to the US will further weaken journalistic protections
'Freedom of the press' applies to all in a healthy democracy
April 20, 2022 - A British judge formally approved the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States on espionage charges. The UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel has up to 4 weeks to make the final determination, which Assange can appeal to the British high court. But it seems Assange’s fate is already sealed.
The last we heard of Julian, he got married to his now wife Stella Moris in late March at Belmarsh prison. Moris, a lawyer, described the wedding venue as “the most oppressive high-security prison in the country.” Of the invited guests, only 6 were allowed to attend - all family members, including the couple’s two children. Many of their friends are journalists and were barred from attending. Even the wedding photographer was banned. Moris said of the prison’s decision, “The prison states that our wedding picture is a security risk because it could end up in social media or the press. How absurd. What kind of security threat could a wedding picture pose?” She spoke determinedly that she believed the prison’s real fear was that any potential coverage of the wedding would humanize Julian.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges was one of the guests who was barred from attending the wedding last month. When he spoke about Assange to Democracy Now earlier this month, he told host Amy Goodman:
Because UC Global, the Spanish security firm, in the embassy filmed all of Julian’s meetings with his attorneys, revoking or destroying the capacity for attorney-client privilege, the case shouldn’t even be in court. This has been a kind of judicial farce. Julian did not commit a crime. In fact, the people who did commit the crimes, which he exposed, have never been charged. He ripped back the veil, in a way that no other publisher has done in our lifetime, on the inner workings of power, whether it was the Podesta emails or Vault 7, which exposed the ability of the CIA to hack everything — our smartphones, our televisions, even our cars — or the Iraqi War Logs, which you mentioned. And the ruling elites are determined to destroy him.
To be clear, Assange is not currently serving a prison sentence. In August 2010, Julian was accused of rape and molestation by two different individuals after a speaking engagement in Sweden. Speaking to Swedish authorities, he denied the allegations. An arrest warrant was issued by Swedish police and Assange cooperated. He went to the extradition hearing and was granted bail. After years of legal battles, Assange went to the Ecuadorian embassy to be granted political asylum for fear that extradition to Sweden would be followed by extradition to the US. Both Swedish charges were eventually dropped, but fears of the UK extraditing him to the US kept him inside the embassy. While Assange was in the embassy, Wikileaks reported on a corruption investigation into Ecuador’s President Moreno, and subsequently Moreno invited the Metropolitan Police to arrest Assange based on the US extradition warrant.
From Obama to Trump to Biden, each administration has refused to grant clemency. The United States has charged Assange with 17 counts of espionage and 1 count of aiding Chelsea Manning of computer intrusion. According to the Justice Department indictment, if convicted of all charges Julian could be sentenced to 175 years in prison.
Chelsea Manning, of course, is a former United States Army soldier who leaked approximately 750,000 military and diplomatic documents, which included the Afghan and Iraq war logs, documenting among other things tens of thousands of civilian deaths, including some by military contractors. The leaks were the largest of their kind and were reported by WikiLeaks, The New York Times, Der Spiegel and The Guardian. Julian Assange did not receive the protections afforded to others who exposed military secrets documenting unquestionable war crimes.
As Amnesty International states:
Julian Assange’s publication of disclosed documents as part of his work with Wikileaks should not be punishable as this activity mirrors conduct that investigative journalists undertake regularly in their professional capacity. Prosecuting Julian Assange on these charges could have a chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression, leading journalists to self-censor from fear of prosecution.
Upon hearing the UK court’s decision, former Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn:
Back in 2015, the Intercept published a series of articles called the Drone Papers, which detailed the civilian causalities of America’s drone program in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. In 2021, Daniel Hale, a former U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst, was sentenced to 45 months in prison “after pleading guilty to leaking a trove of government documents exposing the inner workings and severe civilian costs of the U.S. military’s drone program.” The Intercept’s Editor-in-Chief said:
Daniel Hale will spend years in prison for leaking documents that the government implied were published by The Intercept. These documents revealed the truth about the U.S. government’s secretive, murderous drone war, including that the killing of civilians was far more widespread than previously acknowledged. The Intercept will not comment on our sources. But whoever brought the documents in question to light undoubtedly served a noble public purpose.
If journalists at the Intercept were proven to be the recipients of said documents, would they receive the same fate as Assange? Should they? From 2011 to 2020, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, globally more than 1000 journalists have been imprisoned, 544 have been confirmed murdered and 242 have died but cannot be confirmed that they were indeed murdered. And while reporting in North Korea, China and Saudi Arabia is clearly more dangerous than being a journalist in the West, journalistic protections in an era of growing independent journalism will be negatively impacted by the government’s ability to imprison Assange for exposing war crimes and human rights abuses. And soon, journalists at larger media organizations will see their ability to foster government transparency start to diminish as the government will be able to cite precedent against independent and nonmainstream journalists.
..if you want to learn more: