Julian Assange and the Farce of US Press Freedoms

 

The eleven-year persecution of Julian Assange was extended and escalated on Friday morning. The British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, approved the U.S.’s extradition request to send Julian Assange to Virginia to stand trial on eighteen felony charges under the 1917 Espionage Act and other statutes in connection with the 2010 publication by WikiLeaks of thousands of documents showing widespread corruption, deceit, and war crimes by American and British authorities along with their close dictatorial allies in the Middle East.

This decision is unsurprising — it has been obvious for years that the U.S. and UK are determined to destroy Assange as punishment for his journalism exposing their crimes — yet it nonetheless further highlights the utter sham of American and British sermons about freedom, democracy and a free press. . . .

But putting oneself in Assange’s position, it is easy to see why he is so eager to avoid extradition to the U.S. for as long as possible. The Espionage Act of 1917 is a nasty and repressive piece of legislation. It was designed by Woodrow Wilson and his band of authoritarian progressives to criminalize dissent against Wilson’s decision to involve the U.S. in World War I. It was used primarily to imprison anti-war leftists such as Eugene Debs, as well as anti-war religious leaders such as Joseph Franklin Rutherford for the crime of publishing a book condemning Wilson’s foreign policy.

One of the most insidious despotic innovations of the Obama administration was to repurpose and revitalize the Wilson-era Espionage Act as an all-purpose weapon to punish whistleblowers who denounced Obama’s policies. The Obama Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act of 1917 than all previous administrations combined — in fact, three times as many as all prior presidents combined. One whistleblower charged by Obama officials under that law is NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who in 2013 revealed mass domestic spying of precisely the kind that Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (now of CNN) falsely denied conducting when testifying to the Senate . . .

Whatever else one might think of Assange, there is simply no question that he is one of the most consequential, pioneering, and accomplished journalists of his time. One could easily make the case that he occupies the top spot by himself. And that, of course, is precisely why he is in prison: because, just like free speech, “free press” guarantees in the U.S. and UK exist only on a piece of parchment and in theory. Citizens are free to do “journalism” as long as it does not disturb or anger or impede real power centers. Employees of The Washington Post and CNN are “free” to say what they want as long as what they are saying is approved and directed by the CIA or the content of their “reporting” advances the interests of the Pentagon’s sprawling war machine.

Real journalists often face threats of prosecution, imprisonment or even murder, and sometimes even mean tweets. Much of the American corporate media class has ignored Assange’s persecution or even cheered it precisely because he shames them, serving as a vivid mirror to show them what real journalism is and how they are completely bereft of it. . . .

Free speech and press freedoms do not exist in reality in the U.S. or the UK. They are merely rhetorical instruments to propagandize their domestic population and justify and ennoble the various wars and other forms of subversion they constantly wage in other countries in the name of upholding values they themselves do not support.

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