As Americans, we should be angry and disgusted that our government, and now the Biden administration, has been engaged in the persecution of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Assange is a political prisoner. He has never endangered the lives of Americans, and there is no evidence otherwise. “He went to extraordinary lengths to anonymize the sources and protect the sources at the same time. He was extremely responsible in his journalistic approach to this,” says Jeremy Corbyn, former leader of the U.K.’s Labour Party. When Wikileaks source Chelsey Manning was tried, she was acquitted of “aiding the enemy.” If she’s not guilty of it, how can Assange be?
Yet, the U.S. security-state crowd vengefully wants him punished — silenced. His “crime” has been to embarrass the powers that be by publishing accounts — confessions, really — voluntarily given to him by former U.S. military personnel (whistleblowers), who have committed war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. You don’t promote democracy, human rights and U.S. national security by using Black Ops death squads against innocent civilians. You don’t protect America by recklessly killing dozens of civilians in mistargeted and then covered-up drone strikes that make the locals hate us.
We, the people, in whose name and with whose tax dollars these wars are waged, have the right to know, the need to know. Through Wikileaks, Assange has helped the public learn about the dirty secrets, the crimes, of the powerful. His work has been heroic, as is the work of all responsible journalists who do the same things when they are truly doing their difficult job. That is why major newspapers around the world — the New York Times (U.S.), El País (Spain), The Guardian (U.K.), Le Monde (France) and Der Spiegel (Germany) — along with International PEN and the presidents of several nations, have asked that these spurious charges against Assange be dropped.
A free and independent press is supposed to act as a Fourth Estate in a democracy, a watchdog of the three branches of government. For there to be real democracy, with real freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment, the press must be allowed to do its job. If that means embarrassing the powerful by exposing the truth about them and their policies, so be it. Democracy requires that. This agenda of suppressing free speech, of harassing and persecuting journalists, is a shameless catering to those whose real agenda is a national-security state, a place where democracy, dissent and a free press have been replaced by Orwellian repression, where people like Assange can be convicted in secret National Security courts. American presidents, including Obama, seem to feel the need to let dictators control their policies — afraid that if they don’t, they’ll be called weaklings and traitors, that perhaps, like JFK, they’ll end up dead. But the national-security-state mentality that’s behind the Assange prosecution isn’t about protecting the nation, it’s about crushing dissent and crippling democracy.
We can’t let ourselves be intimidated by bullies. Around the world, the free press is under siege. News reporters are being jailed and murdered. Moving in the opposite direction is the right thing to do, the American thing to do. That means ending the persecution of Julian Assange and the war on journalism in general. Email the White House and your Congress people today.
Paul Dougan is a local writer and humanitarian activist.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.