It’s long past time for the U.S. and U.K. to free Julian Assange. His flagrantly unjust incarceration is a global scandal, and the world is quite upset about it. Indeed, on September 19 at the United Nations, heads of state denounced this phony prosecution for the fraud and subterfuge it is – an assault on a free press, and an attack on Assange personally, for practicing journalism. For over four years, this publisher has been left to rot in a dungeon in Britain’s notorious maximum-security prison, Belmarsh. The reason? Well, they might not admit it, but U.S. sachems want him crushed for embarrassing them, by revealing the murderous criminality of the American military in Iraq and elsewhere.
Periodically, some world leader lets loose a geschrei of protest. “It is essential to preserve freedom of the press. A journalist like Julian Assange cannot be punished for informing society in a transparent and legitimate way,” railed Brazilian president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva to the assembled UN diplomats. Honduran president Xiomara Castro also denounced the official abuse of Assange. And on September 20, a delegation of Australian politicians brought a letter to Washington officials, demanding the U.S. drop its grotesque prosecution of Assange.
This is not the first time heads of state or other political bigwigs have urged American President Joe Biden to end Assange’s ordeal. Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has twice written Biden, imploring him to release Assange and rightly fulminating over the damage done to a free press by his incarceration. In late 2022, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan leaders called for the publisher’s freedom. Colombian president Gustavo Petro vowed on social media to “ask President Biden…not to charge a journalist just for telling the truth.” Australia’s prime minister, Anthony Albanese also petitioned the U.S. on his Canberra constituent, Assange’s behalf. So far Biden appears unmoved.
But perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect a politico like Biden, with roots in the Obama regime, to be anything other than rabid when it comes to hunting whistleblowers. With a detestation of sunlight that brings vampires to mind, Obama smashed all records for whistleblower prosecutions, more than all previous presidents combined, and the way his government went after NSA hacker Edward Snowden was unhinged. I mean, forcing the plane of a foreign president – Bolivia’s Evo Morales – to land in Vienna so it could be searched for Snowden, presumably hidden under a seat? Obama’s entourage had an attack of hysteria regarding leakers and no doubt that fit of the vapors included Assange among its causes. This history has got to have affected Biden. It is not therefore surprising that he seems impervious to the wider world’s judgment, as his ideas on this matter were doubtless formed in what can only be described as a bizarre environment.
So the U.S. is an outlier in the universe of public opinion. That’s because of Assange’s treatment at the behest of American mucky-mucks like Hillary “Can’t We Just Drone Assange?” Clinton, Mike “We Lied, We Cheated, We Stole” Pompeo, Donald “No Pardon for Assange” Trump and Joe “Prefers Napping to Pardons” Biden has been so cruel and abusive that, according to the UN special rapporteur, Nils Melzer, this progressively severe suffering inflicted on Assange constitutes torture. For heaven’s sake, the CIA even sketched plans to kidnap and assassinate him, while he hid out, for almost seven years until 2019, in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Later they tried to break his mind in Belmarsh, doping him up with psychotropic drugs, while no doubt hoping he would catch COVID-19 and die. But he didn’t. Assange has been through the wringer, but miraculously, he’s still with us. For this, the ingrates in the media don’t show proper appreciation. Assange’s sheer tenacity may yet win us back the press freedoms his demise – conviction and sentencing possibly to multiple lifetimes in jail or a prison death – would destroy.
How could Assange’s resilience and endurance accomplish this? Well, there are already tentative signs that the sworn enemies of a free press, the Washington elite, would like this whole blot on their collective reputation to dissolve. The Biden bunch’s ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy, hinted back on August 14 at an exit from what they doubtless regard as their ugly dilemma: if only Assange would plead guilty to a lesser charge (why on earth should he plead guilty to anything? you naturally ask), then this whole mess could be resolved pronto. What this surprising avowal from a diplomat signifies is that possibly our imperial rulers have had enough of this persecution that has become a public relations fiasco. There is, of course, a much simpler solution: they could release Assange before the two British judges who will decide his fate convene. Or, if they don’t free him by then, those judges could rule in his favor, against extradition.
“It’s not really a diplomatic issue,” Kennedy said, “but I think there absolutely could be a resolution.” That would be to the 17 counts under the Espionage Act, the one count of conspiracy to commit computer hacking and the possible 175 years of prison hanging over Assange like a sword of Damocles, if he is extradited to the U.S. But other regime honchos, like Secretary of State Antony “Russia Fought Nazis in WWII?” Blinken, consider Assange to be charged with “very serious criminal conduct.” So who knows if Kennedy just spoke for herself or if this was a trial balloon from saner heads in the Biden gaggle of hacks? But one would think any politician with a shred of self-preservation would hasten to disassociate him/herself from the ignominy of this shockingly unfair and revoltingly political prosecution.
Indeed, back on April 11, seven liberal Democratic congress members wrote Attorney General Merrick Garland, asking him to drop the charges. “The prosecution of Mr. Assange,” they wrote, “marks the first time in U.S. history that a publisher of truthful information has been indicted under the Espionage Act.” The fact that he was should convince any believer in a free press that that Act should be repealed. Now with Assange as in the past, its main purpose has been to squelch free speech. Enacted at the urging of one of America’s most mediocre presidents (to put it kindly), Woodrow Wilson, who used it to promote a needless bloodbath, namely World War I (not unlike the World War III that Biden flirts with), the Espionage Act was promptly used to arrest socialist Eugene Debs for protesting the war. Later, during the McCarthy anti-communist witch-hunts, it clobbered the Rosenbergs and later still during the Vietnam War years Daniel Ellsberg, for leaking the Pentagon Papers.
The Espionage Act is an embarrassment and a disgrace to a free people. So are the charges against Julian Assange. Both the Act and the prosecution should be scrapped.
Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Lizard People. She can be reached at her website.