What America's Pursuit of Assange Means for Our Government and Its Citizens
Updated: Feb 2
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By Eric A.S. Harvey, JD
COPYRIGHT PENDING 2020
Photo Credit: World Socialist Web Site
Our administration’s antipathy toward Wikileaks-Founder and former Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange represents a threat to freedom of the press. But what does freedom of the press mean in the political context that Assange occupies? What is really at stake these days, as The United States so aggressively pushes for Assange’s extradition from the United Kingdom to the U.S.?
Our administration is seeking to imprison him for 175 years, alleging that he has regularly violated espionage and anti-hackings laws through the attention that Wikileaks has drawn to the evils that the U.S. has perpetrated around the world.
Recently on trial in the U.K. to determine whether he will be extradited to the U.S., Assange is rotting in Belmarsh maximum security prison in rural London. The decision on whether he will be extradited is set to be handed down in early January 2021. A handful of governments all over the world are conspiring against him at the behest of the United States, as the U.S. views Wikileaks and how it represents the value of a free press as a threat to the security of its status as a global superpower.
At this point, we all know so well that President Donald Trump hates the media; it has so frequently exposed the flagrancy and frequency of his dishonesty and the abusive nature of so many of his policies. Wikileaks perfectly embodies the assault the media has led on President Trump’s illegitimate power.
28 April 2017 Wikileaks released “Vault 7,” a trove of documents that revealed the problematic aspects and vulnerabilities of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s surveillance and cyber-weapons programs. As Director of the CIA at the time of the “Vault 7” leak, Michael Pompeo called Wikileaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service” and Assange “a darling of terrorists.”
Early April 2019 British police dragged Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where the anti-secrecy radical had lived under political asylum for seven years. After a change in leadership in Ecuador, from an establishment that favored Assange to one that wished to improve its relationship with the U.S., the South American country revoked his protected asylum status. Now incarcerated in the U.K., he is awaiting the extradition trial decision that is set to be handed down 4 January 2021.
In the wake of the “Vault 7” leak, Wikileaks and how it represents the value of a free press are more than a nuisance for President Trump. Wikileaks is a challenge to his authoritarian power.
Our Commander-in-Chief epitomizes the antithesis of what The Founding Fathers believed, when Delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787 George Mason said, "The freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.”
Given that President Trump’s hold on power is based on manipulation of the truth to delude poorly informed members of his support base into blindly believing in the legitimacy of his authority, Assange and many other news organizations have represented a threat to his administration. And so our administration is pursuing him, the quintessential journalist and publisher. President Trump is making an example out of Assange, issuing a dictatorial warning of what he might do to other news organizations that continue to attempt to challenge his authority. To reiterate, Assange faces 175 years in prison for the leaks he has facilitated as the Editor-in-Chief of Wikileaks.
But again, what really is freedom of the press? What does it mean for our liberal democracy? Given how The Framers felt about a free press, it is pretty clear that unbridled access to information is just as much a check on power as our three branches of government are supposed to be in relationship to one another.
Our government all too often operates in secrecy and beyond the scope of the American public’s awareness. So how then are the citizens subject to it supposed to engage meaningfully in the electoral process without a countermeasure to such clandestine behavior. Democracies should be organized around the governing class’ commitment to serving its citizens. Citizens’ ability to meaningfully oppose state power should be guaranteed. And it is access to information that allows one to organize one’s thoughts about and one’s engagement of one’s government.
And so what is happening with Assange is indeed a threat to freedom of the press. Pursuing him criminalizes journalism, as what is he other than the epitome of the journalistic ideal? But on a deeper level, it is also an assault on what our country was meant to be, which is, to quote President Abraham Lincoln as he delivered The Gettysburg Address, a“government of the people, by the people, for the people.”