By JIM LAFFERTY
The persecution and prosecution of Julian Assange is a far, far more dangerous assault on freedom of the press and America’s democracy than it might, at first, have appeared to be. For in prosecuting Assange for espionage, the Trump Administration has dug deep, and come up with a buried subsection of the Espionage Act to prosecute anyone who simply “receives” or “retains” “national defense information.” Matt Taibbi, in the new book titled, In Defense of Julian Assange, makes the point that if the government is allowed to get away with using this tool to successfully prosecute reporters and publishers, in very short order we will have no reporters and no publishers.
Shamefully, in the beginning, not all in the U.S. media, or all in the civil liberties community, supported Julian Assange as they should have; they did not understand the threat to themselves, as well as a free press and the democracy that depends upon it, posed by the prosecution of Assange. Many in the press have even questioned whether Assange is a “journalist.” Many civil libertarians who should have known better, have been misled by one or another of the false charges and dishonest rumors circulated against Assange, to deny him the support he deserves. Hillary Clinton did not lose the 2016 election because of anything Assange did. She lost because of what she did not do: pay proper attention to the several swing-states that cost her the presidency. And both of the women involved in the so-called “Assange sex scandal” denied publicly that he had ever assaulted them.
But what is true, and what should alarm us, and alarm us greatly, is that the Trump Administration is hell-bound on a campaign to silence any journalists and publishers who dare to expose the too-many-to-name crimes and corrupt acts of the U.S. and other western imperialist countries; crimes such as the multitude of U.S. war crimes in the Middle East disclosed to the public by Julian Assange, in WikiLeaks!
Yes, it is obviously and painfully clear that freedom of the press is in grave danger in America today; in grave danger all around the world. The autocrats’ dismissal of critical news as “fake news”; the acceptance by all too many people of “alternative facts”; the growing physical and political attacks on journalists; the ever-growing monopolization of the corporate owned media; the government lockout, and lockup, of journalists who ask too many tough questions; the recent Senate impeachment hearings being filmed only by government cameras … are but a few examples of what is happening to a truly free press in America today.
Facing extradition to the United States and up to 175 years in prison, for months and months now Julian has been locked away in isolation, and otherwise abused in England, in a way that doctors who have examined him declare amounts to torture; torture that has taken a grave toll on Julian, physically and mentally. The Trump Administration and its allies abroad, fear the kind of journalism Asssange practices. And they will do anything, including torturing him and over-charging him, as a warning to any other journalist wanting to follow in his brave footsteps.
Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, says, “In 20 years of working with war victims, violence and political persecution, I have never seen a group of democratic states unite to deliberately isolate, demonize and abuse a single individual for so long a time and with such little respect for human dignity and status of rights. Julian Assange’s collective persecution must end here and now!”
But, for that to happen, all journalists and publishers of journalism, and everyone in America who still gives a damn about the U.S. Constitution and freedom of the press, must come to see the persecution of Assange for what it is, and do all in their power to end it.
The only question that should concern us; indeed, alarm us, and alarm us deeply; and, arouse within us a most just anger, is whether we will let Julian assange’s case become a final nail in the coffin of a free and independent press in America? Or, will we fight like hell to save Julian, as we fight like hell to save freedom of the press? These are the critical questions we face today. And the importance of how we answer them cannot be overstated.
After all, if our nation’s press is not robust; if it is not free and independent and able to fearlessly subject to critical scrutiny those who govern us…then not only do we not have the freedom of the press guaranteed to us in our Constitution…then we do not have a democracy. In fact, is it not now clear that our professed democracy has already slipped over the tipping point in America? Is it not clear that America is now in a post-democratic state; an authoritarian state? In such a situation, is it not clear that a free press is absolutely crucial if we hope to win back our lost democracy?
This is why it is so crucial that we defend Julian Assange. As one of Julian’s lawyers, Jennifer Robinson writes in the book In Defense of Julian Assange, “We are living in a world where the person responsible for giving us the tools we need to achieve justice and accountability is in prison, while those responsible for the war crimes and human rights abuse he exposed continue to enjoy impunity. It is a grave injustice that must be put right. That’s why I defend Assange. And why we all should.”
Julian, himself, on May 13 of last year, writing from his horrific British imprisonment tells us that, “I am unbroken, albeit literally surrounded by murderers, but the days when I could read and speak and organize to defend myself, my ideals and my people are over until I am free! Everyone else must take my place. I am defenseless and am counting on you and others of good character to save my life….Truth, ultimately, is all we have.”
And so I urge all who read this to join the growing numbers of Assange supporters who are fighting to save Julian Assange’s life and, even more critical, join us in saving freedom of the press in America; freedom to write and speak and publish the truth! For Julian is right: truth, ultimately, is all we have.
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NOTE: Jim Lafferty is the Executive Director Emeritus of the National Lawyers Guild in LA; a governing board member of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California; and the host of The Lawyers Guild Show on Pacifica Radio’s KPFK.