close
Saturday January 22, 2022

The Assange case

October 09, 2020

Allegations against Assange put forward by the lawyers for the US government are flimsy or demonstrably false, yet he is still in real danger of being sent to a maximum security prison in the US after the court makes its ruling on 4 January. Once there he faces a sentence of up to 175 years and, whatever the length of his incarceration, he is likely to spend it in solitary confinement in a tiny cell.

The Assange case creates a precedent that mortally threatens freedom of the press in Britain. If Assange is extradited then any journalist who publishes information that the American authorities deem to be classified, however well-known or harmless it may be, will risk being extradited to face trial in America. The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, says that non-Americans like Assange do not enjoy First Amendment rights to free expression.

The outcome of the Assange extradition hearing is a crucial tipping point which will tell if Britain and the US go further down the same path towards ‘illiberal democracy’ as Turkey, Hungary, Brazil, India and the Philippines. What Assange and WikiLeaks did – obtaining important information about the deeds and misdeeds of the US government and giving that information to the public – is exactly what all journalists ought to do.

Journalism is all about disclosing important news to people so they can judge what is happening in the world – and the actions of their government in particular. The WikiLeaks disclosures in 2010 only differed from other great journalistic scoops in that they were bigger – 251,287 diplomatic cables, more than 400,000 classified army reports from the Iraq War and 90,000 from the Afghan War – and they were more important. [Full disclosure: I gave a statement read out in court this week seeking to explain the significance of the Wikileaks revelations.]

Astonishingly, British and American commentators are in a state of denial when it comes to seeing that what happens to Assange could happen to them. They argue bizarrely that he is not a journalist, though the Trump administration implicitly accepts that he is one, since it is pursuing him for journalistic activities. The motive is openly political, one of the absurdities of the hearing being the pretence that Trump-appointed officials provide a reliable and objective guide to the threat to the US posed by the WikiLeaks revelations.

Why has the British media been so mute about the grim precedent being established for themselves, were they to investigate the doings of a US government that makes no secret of its hostility to critical journalism. Ten years ago, The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El Pais published extracts from the WikiLeak documents on their front pages for days on end, but they long ago distanced themselves from its founder. Yet, however much they may wish the contrary, their future is wrapped up in his fate.

Excerpted from: ‘The Assange Extradition Case is an Unprecedented Attack on Press Freedom, So Why’s the Media Largely Ignoring It?’

Counterpunch.org

Comments