In a somewhat surprising turn of events, the US government just won an appeal to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from the UK in an effort to prosecute the journalist on espionage charges that he faces for publishing information from whistleblower Chelsea Manning. This has been a years-long pursuit for many at the highest levels of our government.
Assange first came to prominence in 2010 after publishing a series of leaks that revealed war crimes by the United States—information that was provided by US Army Intelligence Analyst and whistleblower Chelsea Manning. The information in these leaks included the Collateral Murder video from the Baghdad airstrikes, the Afghanistan and Iraq war logs, and Cablegate.
Following these revelations, the US government launched a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks that eventually led to an indictment against Assange. According to PBS, “The indictment includes one count of conspiracy to hack a computer to disclose classified information that ‘could be used to injure’ the US. According to the indictment, Assange ‘conspired’ with Manning by helping her crack a Defense Department computer password in March 2010 that provided access to a US government network that stored classified information and communications.”
But while the US has been after Assange for some time, they’ve struggled to get their hands on him. Assange sought refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for seven years where he was basically untouchable. A series of disagreements between Assange and the Ecuadorian government ultimately led to him being kicked out of the embassy, making him vulnerable to the efforts of governments to extradite him. Upon his exit in 2019 he was quickly arrested in the UK.
That arrest was related to charges that he skipped bail in order to evade extradition to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault—charges later dropped. Assange said the allegations were a pretext and that Sweden was conspiring to extradite him to the US.
The 50-year old Assange has been held as a political prisoner in the UK ever since, while the US government has continued its campaign to have him extradited. If forced back to the US, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Many have criticized the US government’s pursuit of Assange, claiming that the charges against him violate the First Amendment. At issue are serious free speech and freedom of the press concerns, not to mention the persecution of whistleblowers.
Hero or Villain?
Opinions on Assange are pretty split. Many believe he is a hero who has repeatedly risked his own life and freedom to alert the public to corruption—some even say he is the father of modern investigative journalism. Others believe he is a traitor.
What’s clear is Assange has made no shortage of enemies on both sides of the political aisle.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo, for example, has called WikiLeaks a “nonstate hostile intelligence service.” US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said arresting Assange was a priority. A former employee, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, said Assange was “brilliant, paranoid, and obsessed with power.” And following WikiLeaks’ publication of DNC emails that showed the party clearly worked to make Hillary Clinton the nominee over Bernie Sanders, the claws really came out. Hillary Clinton said Assange needed to answer for what he had done. Chuck Schumer said he hoped Assange would be “held to account for his meddling in our elections on behalf of Putin and the Russian government.” And Diane Feinstein has been a longtime advocate of his extradition and prosecution.
Despite the bipartisan hatred of Assange, the only people who should be facing criminal charges in this entire scenario are the people throughout our government who are responsible for the war crimes revealed by WikiLeaks, Assange, and Manning.
Assange was merely doing what the vast majority of the mainstream media has long since neglected: his job. Without this kind of reporting and actual journalism, US citizens would have no idea what our government is actually up to, the depths of corruption in our wars, the human rights violations we have carried out, how our tax dollars are really being spent, and what’s being done in our name. We need more of this kind of work, a lot more of it. And the prosecution of Assange does one thing and one thing alone—it scares other journalists from doing their jobs.
Whether Assange is a likable guy or not is pretty irrelevant. And the notion that he somehow exposed secrets of the US government that made us vulnerable is bogus. What he exposed were war crimes and crimes against the American people. Even if that made our government more vulnerable (it didn’t, there have been no repercussions), it would be a worthy exchange for making the American people more informed.
A Free Press Is a Non-Negotiable
Our founders devoted significant time to discussing the importance of a free press.
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” Thomas Jefferson said. Benjamin Franklin remarked, “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”
And the founders weren’t the only people throughout history who have recognized that a free press is an absolute necessity for a free people to exist.
Nelson Mandela, another political prisoner and a person who knew a thing or two about persecution said, “A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference.”
While Julian Assange is one of the more famous journalists currently being persecuted for his work, it’s important to remember he is not the only one. In other countries, journalists are routinely silenced, tortured, and even killed. Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered at the Istanbul consulate of US ally Saudi Arabia. Colombian journalist Claudia Duque has been repeatedly harassed and attacked. And Mauritanian journalist Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed faced a death sentence for an article he wrote. Persecution of the press is nothing new, but it’s supposed to be different here in the US.
Our country cannot function without a diligent free press that provides the American people with the access to information and education they need to hold their elected officials accountable. Indeed, to limit that ability is a far greater threat to national security than anything leaked by Chelsea Manning or published by Julian Assange.
What is happening to Assange is grotesque and an international question of human rights. He has been a political prisoner for over a decade, he is under constant threat from various governments, and his health is in serious jeopardy. It’s time for this to end.
Assange did nothing wrong and we should all rally to his cause.
Hannah Cox is the Content Manager and Brand Ambassador for the Foundation for Economic Education.
This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.