On April 11, 2019, the United States government dealt another serious blow to the First Amendment by having Julian Assange arrested in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. Assange is the founder of Wikileaks, an online non-profit publication that publishes news leaks and classified information by anonymous sources.
This move sets an extremely dangerous precedent when dealing with press freedom, which is why the Obama administration decided not to pursue charges against him.Instead they arrested Chelsea Manning, a former military officer, for releasing video footage of war crimes committed by American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with other classified documents that exposed government wrongdoing, or, in her own words, “to show the true cost of war.”
On May 27, 2010, Manning was arrested on multiple charges and eventually sentenced to 35 years in prison.A UN investigation found that Manning (named Bradley at the time) was subjected to conditions and actions that fell under the definition of torture “in an effort to coerce him into ‘cooperation’ with the authorities, allegedly for the purpose of persuading him to implicate others.”
Julian Assange was part of the “others,” and a report published in November 2018 by the Wall Street Journal revealed that the Department of Justice had been working with prosecutors on ways to have Assange arrested and extradited to the United States. Obama wasn’t at all kind to whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, but he recognized that going after Assange would be a blatant violation of press freedom.
President Trump, on the other hand, hasn’t been shy in expressing his disdain for any media outlet that paints him or his administration in a negative light, and this move is just one more piece of information added to a growing list of recognizing the United States as an increasingly authoritarian state.
Wikileaks has never once published false information, and if someone like Julian Assange can be targeted and eventually arrested for exposing war crimes perpetrated by our own military, then every journalist and media outlet that published that same information is subject to the same standards. This includes all of mainstream media, including outlets like The New York Times and Washington Post, and many other freelance journalists around the country.
This isn’t anything new, though. The United States government has been known to repeatedlyviolate the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments throughout history, and let’s not forget about theEspionage Act of 1917.
In 2017, current Secretary of State and former CIA directorMike Pompeo deemed Wikileaks a threat to the US and compared them to terrorist organizations Al Qaeda, ISIS and Hezbollah. He went on to say that he feels like Assange should be executed, andcurrent National Security Advisor John Bolton recommended the same punishment for Edward Snowden for exposing the government’s violation of the Fourth Amendment through NSA spying.
Various journalists and democratic politicians have been using ad hominem defenses of Assange’s arrest by attacking his moral character pertaining to his personal life, including rape allegations that have been dropped. But this arrest has absolutely nothing to do with his moral character; this is a matter of principle.
Those in the mainstream media—the same ones who published the information that he leaked—have also denounced him by claiming that he isn’t a real journalist, even though Wikileaks has never had to issue an apology or redact any information because it was proven false. If Assange isn’t a real journalist, then nobody at CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times or Washington Post is either. Fox News at this point is almost indistinguishable from state-run media, so they don’t count.
Many Democratic politicians and Hillary Clinton supporters have had a vendetta against Assange since 2016 when he leaked deleterious information about Clinton and her campaign. In a time when speaking out against his arrest is the most vital, Democrats such as Joe Manchin (who might as well be a Republican), Dianne Feinstein, Chuck Schumer and Clinton herself (who has blamed everyone and everything for her loss instead of looking in the mirror) have either lauded the arrest or have previously expressed comments that he should be arrested. Presidential candidates Tulsi Gabbard and Mike Gavel have been the only ones expressing support for Assange and freedom of speech so far. Bernie Sanders has been disappointingly silent on the issue.
Freedom of speech is the most important tool humans possess, and a government that works to stifle dissent and cover up truths that expose wrongdoing is by definition an authoritarian state. The soldiers who killed innocent civilians along with two Reuters journalists—and laughed while doing so—have never been reprimanded and continue to walk the streets. This really is a serious issue that should be at the front of everyone’s mind between now and November 3, 2020.