VIPS on Julian Assange and Freedom of the Press
Today, May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. It is sadly ironic that on this day, the United States is exercising all of its political might to get its lapdog, the United Kingdom to extradite Julian Assange to the United States for the crime of journalism.
The United Nations recognizes May 3 as World Press Freedom Day, and this year’s theme is “Media for Democracy, Journalism, and Elections in Times of Disinformation” — a choice meant to encourage discussions of the challenges faced by the press today when it comes to reporting on elections.
Julian Assange has spent the last seven years of his life locked up in the Ecuadoran embassy due to his well founded fear that he would be sent to the United States and be disappeared for publishing embarrassing and criminal acts committed by the United States government. As a result of economic and political pressure by the United States, Ecuador rescinded the asylum it had granted to Assange, thus allowing the British police to enter and physically remove him from the embassy. Now the United States is pushing for his extradition.
Assange told the court: "I do not wish to surrender myself for extradition for doing journalism that has won many awards and protected many people."https://t.co/LYamcvbwmC
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) May 2, 2019
Many pundits and commenters on the internet have failed to articulate the gravity of Assange being extradited to the United States and eventually being imprisoned or disappeared for committing the crime of journalism. Assange is a publisher, just as the New York Times or the Washington Post are publishers. The right of a publishing organization to publish documents provided by a source, regardless of how that source came into those documents, was settled with US Supreme Court ruling on the publication of the Pentagon Papers.
In the now-famous case of New York Times Co. v. United States, the Times and the Washington Post joined forces to fight for the right to publish, and on June 30 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the government had failed to prove harm to national security, and that publication of the papers was justified under the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of the press.
In addition to publication in the Times, Post, Boston Globe and other newspapers, portions of the Pentagon Papers entered the public record when Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska, an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, read them aloud in a Senate subcommittee hearing.
Now, the United States government, by requesting the extradition of Julian Assange in connection with Wikileaks' publication of information given to them by Chelsea Manning, is once again trying to shut down the freedom of the press as guaranteed by the First Amendment.
On April 30, 2019, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) has issued an excellent memorandum addressed to the governments and people of the United Kingdom and United States regarding the extradition and charging of Julian Assange. Consortium News has printed a copy of this memorandum which was signed by twenty eight members and affiliates, including such notables as Bill Binney, Mike Gravel, John Kiriakou, Ray McGovern, Craig Murray, and Larry Wilkerson.
Every word in this memorandum is meaty and it is very difficult to excerpt small portions of it without failing to honor the document as a whole. I encourage everyone to read the memorandum linked above, including the links within the memorandum which show just how unequal justice is in this country as well as providing excellent background information.
“These are not only legitimate but professionally advised journalistic practices for source protection,” notes POGO (Project on Government Oversight). It is worth noting that Manning had Top Secret clearance and did not need Assange’s assistance to gain access to databases, but only to hide her identity.
(my emphasis) The NSA’s big bag of past communications offers abundant material from which to spin an indictment years later, and even circumstantial evidence can produce a conviction. Moreover, the secret landscape—a recent and arbitrary development—continually expands, making ever more of government off limits to public view.
Reporters Without Borders has ranked 180 countries according to how free their press is. In 2019, the top five countries for having a free press are Norway, Finland, Sweden, Netherlands, and Denmark. The United States does not even make the top twenty five and barely makes the top fifty out of 180 countries, coming in at number forty eight (48). If Julian Assange is extradited and prosecuted for the crime of journalism, we can be sure that the United States' 2020 ranking is destined to fall even lower.
Among the unalienable rights protected by the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights are the rights to free speech and freedom of the press. While the First Amendment has not been subject of as much emotional debate as the Second Amendment, it is my personal belief that without the protections of the First Amendment from government intrusion into free speech and free press, all the other rights in the Bill of Rights are severely weakened. Without the public's right to know and to freely exchange information, we are not a free people.
We have already seen severe limitation on free speech placed by private corporations who are not bound by the First Amendment, but are often acting on behalf of or in coordination the government to limit the exchange of ideas on popular social platforms. The consolidation of media into six giant corporations has also created an atmosphere of censorship in which the exchange of ideas is often limited through shadow banning or the limitation on access to the information being published on their platforms.
This extension of a whistleblower reprisal regime onto a publisher of disclosures poses an existential threat to all journalists and to the right of all people to speak and hear important truths. The U.S. indictment of Julian Assange tests our ability to perceive a direct threat to free speech, and tests our will to oppose that threat.Without freedom of press and the right and willingness to publish, whistleblowers even disclosing issues of grave, life and death public safety, will be like a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear.
Only in the open areas of alternative media such as Wikileaks is there a wide range of information and ideas being exchanged. This is information that we have a right and need to know in order to make rational decisions as to what we want in the future of this country. This is exactly why the persecution of Julian Assange is so dangerous to our freedoms of speech and press in the United States.