Julian Assange’s extradition hearings are currently taking place. If he is extradited to the United States, an American lawyer has argued, Assange will face “decades in prison” if convicted of espionage charges.
Assange has become a divisive figure, even on the left. He has become one of those iconic figures that someone either loves or hates. Throughout the debate about Assange’s story, people never discuss what he has done to warrant such hatred. For Assange himself, the matter at hand could cost him his freedom.
Most know Julian Assange as the WikiLeaks guy. You might hear him referred to as a “hero” or “spy,” without hearing about why. Assange is both loved and hated for publishing the Iraq and Afghan War Logs, as well as the publishing of the DNC emails during the 2016 election.
While liberals generally tend to hate Assange for those DNC emails, his prosecution has nothing to do with that specific issue. All the charges brought against him by the Trump Administration are related to WikiLeaks publishing the Iraq and Afghan War Logs in 2010.
The Iraq and Afghan War Logs contained hundreds of thousands of documents detailing the conduct of the wars in both respective countries. As one might guess, a lot that was contained in the leaks was embarrassing to the United States.
The most infamous leak to come from the War Logs was a video known as “Collateral Murder”, showing a US helicopter crew gunning down a Reuters news crew. The video also showed an example known as a “double tap.” A double tap is when, following an air strike, the plane or chopper circles back around to kill the first-responders trying to help the wounded. This video, along with the Iraq War logs, was given to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning.
Manning is a prime example of the petulant cruelty inflicted on people who are labeled enemies of the US government. Manning spent several years in prison under the Obama Administration. After being pardoned shortly before Obama’s departure, she was then imprisoned again in 2019 for refusing to testify in court against WikiLeaks and, more specifically, Julian Assange. She was ordered to be released in March of this year.
During her time in prison, she was often thrown in solitary confinement and attempted suicide several times. During her first imprisonment, Manning was still medically transitioning, and she was denied her hormone treatments as a form of psychological torment. All of this was done to her, simply for releasing evidence of US war crimes committed in Iraq. Manning, compared to Assange, is small potatoes. If the US government were willing to be that cruel to Manning, imagine what they would do to Assange.
The proponents of prosecuting Assange accuse him of spying for countries like Russia or China. In releasing the Iraq and Afghan War Logs, Assange is accused of endangering the lives of US soldiers and contractors abroad by releasing their information. The issue here, as Assange’s defense has proved, WikiLeaks went out of its way to withhold up to 15,000 documents to protect the identities innocent people.
Regardless of the merits of Assange’s case, he may well be extradited anyway on purely political grounds. If he is prosecuted and convicted of espionage in the US, he will effectively serve a life sentence in prison. This life sentence is tied to nothing more then publishing evidence of US war crimes and mismanagement of the Iraq and Afghan wars.
On the principle alone, Assange should be universally defended by journalists and free speech advocates. No one until now has ever been convicted of publishing the news. Sadly, free speech is also a highly partisan issue in America. Speech is only worth defending if the party bosses say it is okay.
The precedent set by an Assange conviction would have dire consequences on our ability to hold our government accountable for its actions. Journalists and whistle-blowers will have no avenue to tell the truth, and our “news” will effectively be nothing more then a rubber stamp from the government. Our “journalists” will become stenographers of the oligarchy.
The bottom line is, if Julian Assange’s extradition goes through and he’s convicted in a U.S. court, real journalism would suffer beyond comprehension. Whether you love him or hate him, all he is guilty of doing is what the New York Times, Washington post and other news outlets have been doing since the beginning of our democracy. Publishing information.