1. The effort to extradite and prosecute Julian Assange for journalism is a threat to future journalism that challenges power and violence, but a defense of the media practice of propagandizing for war. While the New York Times benefitted from Assange’s work, its only reporting on his current hearing is an article about technical glitches in the court proceedings — utterly avoiding the content of those proceedings, even falsely suggesting that the content was inaudible and otherwise unobtainable. The corporate U.S. media silence is deafening. Not only does President Donald Trump’s effort to imprison Assange (or, as he has publicly advocated in the past, kill him) conflict with media fictions about Russia, and contradict fundamental pretenses about U.S. respect for freedom of the press, but it also serves an important function that is clearly in the interest of media outlets that promote wars. It punishes someone who dared to expose the malevolence, cynicism, and criminality of U.S. wars.
2. The Collateral Murder video and the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs documented some of the greatest crimes of recent decades. Even the exposure of the misdeeds of a U.S. political party was a public service, not a crime — certainly not the crime of “treason” against the United States by a non-U.S. citizen, a concept of treason that would make the entire world subject to imperial dictates — and certainly not the crime of “espionage” which has to be committed on behalf of a government, not on behalf of the public interest. If U.S. courts were to prosecute the actual crimes exposed by Julian Assange and his colleagues and sources, they would have little time available for prosecuting journalism.
3. The idea that publishing government documents is something other than journalism, that real journalism requires hiding government documents while describing them to the public, is a recipe for misleading the public. Claims that Assange assisted a source in criminally (if morally and democratically) obtaining documents lack evidence and appear to be a smokescreen for the prosecution of basic journalistic practices. The same goes for claims that Assange’s journalism harmed people or risked harming people. Exposing war is the very opposite of harming people. Assange withheld documents and asked the U.S. government what to redact prior to publishing. That government chose not to redact anything, and now blames Assange — without evidence — for a small number of deaths in wars that have killed huge numbers of people. We have heard testimony this week that the Trump administration offered Assange a pardon if he would reveal a source. The offense of refusing to reveal a source is an act of journalism.
4. For years the United Kingdom maintained a pretense that it sought Assange for criminal accusations from Sweden. The idea that the United States sought to prosecute the act of reporting on its wars was mocked as paranoid fantasy. For global society to now accept this outrage would be a significant blow to press freedom globally and to the independence of any vassal state from U.S. demands. Those demands tend to be, first and foremost, to buy more weapons, and, secondarily, to participate in the use of those weapons.
5. The United Kingdom, even outside of the European Union, has laws and standards. The extradition treaty it has with the United States prohibits extradition for political purposes. The United States would punish Assange brutally pre-trial and subsequent to any trial. The proposal to isolate him in a cell in a prison in Colorado would amount to a continuation of the torture that UN special rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer says Assange has already been subjected to for years. An “espionage” trial would deny Assange the right to put forward any case in his own defense that spoke to his motivations. A fair trial would also be impossible in a country whose top politicians have convicted Assange in the media for years. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called Wikileaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service.” Presidential candidate Joe Biden has called Assange a “hi-tech terrorist.”
6. The legal process thus far has not been legal. The United States breached Assange’s right to client-lawyer confidentiality. During the last year at the Ecuadoran Embassy, a contractor spied on Assange 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including during his private meetings with his attorneys. Assange has been denied the ability to properly prepare for the current hearings. The court has displayed extreme bias in favor of the prosecution. Were corporate media outlets reporting on the details of this travesty, they would soon find themselves treated in a hostile manner by those in power; they would find themselves on the side of the serious journalists; they would find themselves on the side of Julian Assange.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is executive director of World BEYOND War and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie and When the World Outlawed War. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. Swanson was awarded the 2018 Peace Prize by the U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation.