Prosecution of Assange Would Lead to End of the First Amendment, Advocates Warn

Former National Lawyers Guild President, Marjorie Cohn says, "Prominent lawyers, journalists and human rights defenders say prosecuting Assange poses a grave threat to journalism." Her article highlights many of the speakers at the January 20 Belmarsh Tribunal, held at the Washington DC Press Club and chaired by Amy Goodman of Democracy NOW!.  The speakers included notables such as Ben Wizner of the ACLU, Jeremy Corbyn, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg and others.  She begins:

Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg joined other leading journalists, attorneys and human rights defenders to call on the Biden administration to drop its extradition request and indictment against journalist and WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, citing the grave threat Assange’s prosecution would pose to journalism worldwide.

“Every empire requires secrecy to cloak its acts of violence that maintain it as an empire,” Ellsberg testified during the Belmarsh Tribunal held on January 20 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The tribunal is named after London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison, where Assange has been held for nearly four years, fighting extradition to the United States. The Belmarsh Tribunal, inspired by the Russell-Sartre tribunal of the Vietnam War, was sponsored by Democracy Now!, Defending Rights & Dissent, Courage Foundation, DiEM25, The Intercept, The Nation and PEN International.

Assange is charged with violations of the Espionage Act for exposing evidence of U.S. war crimes and faces 175 years in prison if convicted.

Cohn begins with a quote from Jeremy Corbyn who says that given the imprisonment of Assange at the behest of the United States, journalists all over the world will now ask, "Oh, should I really report this information I've been given?"

Freedom of the Press Is at Stake

Former British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn explained that if Assange is sentenced to life in a maximum-security prison in the United States, it will have a chilling effect on journalists. Corbyn said that every journalist throughout the world will think, “Oh, should I really report this information I’ve been given? Should I really speak out about this denial of human rights, a miscarriage of justice in any country around the world? Because the long arm of the United States [Espionage Act] might reach me and an extradition treaty might put me in that same prison.”

Cohn then cites philosopher, author and political activist Srećko Horvat who was also the co-chair of this Tribunal, who notes the hypocrisy of the Biden administration that lauds press freedom as  but continues to imprison Assange and call for his extradition to the United States.

Philosopher, author and political activist Srećko Horvat, co-chair of the Tribunal, noted that the U.S. government “is nominally advocating freedom of press, but at the same time continues the persecution of a publisher — Julian Assange.”

Horvat notes the extradition and prosecution of Julian Assange makes New York Times reporters and publishers vulnerable to extradition by countries who can claim they have violated their secrecy laws.

Horvat said, “Every country has secrecy laws. Some countries have very draconian secrecy laws. If those countries tried to extradite New York Times reporters and publishers to those countries for publishing their secrets we would cry foul and rightly so. Does this administration want to be the first to establish the global precedent that countries can demand the extradition of foreign reporters and publishers for violating their own laws?”

In her opening remarks, Amy Goodman noted that the slaughter of more than a dozen Iraqis including two Reuters employees shown in the "Collateral Murder" expose' by WikiLeaks likely would not have happened if a similar assault six months earlier had been exposed by the media.

Amy Goodman, co-host of Democracy Now! and the Tribunal’s other co-chair, said that the events depicted in the Collateral Murder video “would never have happened” if the Iraq War Logs had been made public six months before. “An investigation would have been launched,” Goodman speculated. “That’s why freedom of the press, the free flow of information, saves lives.” She said that it is not just freedom of the press at stake in Assange’s prosecution, but also the public’s right of access to information. Ironically, Assange first screened the Collateral Murder video at the National Press Club more than a decade ago.

Cohn also quotes the ACLU Director Ben Wizner who stated that "No government will voluntarily disclose its own crimes" and who cited the necessity for both "brave sources who have firsthand evidence" and "brave publishers who are willing to bring this information to the people, to whom it belongs." 

But, as Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project and Edward Snowden’s lead attorney, noted, “No government will voluntarily disclose its own crimes. For that, we need brave sources who have firsthand evidence, and we need a free press and brave publishers who are willing to bring this information to the people, to whom it belongs.

The U.S. government has framed the charges against Assange as a "conspiracy" with his source, Private Chelsea [formerly Bradley] Manning, as a way to distinguish Assange's receipt of information from his source from the relationships other publishers have with their sources.  Given the lack of any credible evidence that Assange's relationship with his source was any different than any other publishers' or journalists' with their sources, Wizner says, “Good investigative journalism is always a conspiracy. It’s a conspiracy to end the monopoly on information that governments control and to give people the seat at the table that they must have in order for us to be able to judge powerful people and hold them accountable."

Wizner continued that the U.S. government “characterizes that collaboration between a courageous source and a courageous publisher as a conspiracy. Of course, it was a conspiracy.” Wizner said, “Good investigative journalism is always a conspiracy. It’s a conspiracy to end the monopoly on information that governments control and to give people the seat at the table that they must have in order for us to be able to judge powerful people and hold them accountable. But this is the first time . . . the [U.S.] government has charged this kind of collaboration as a criminal conspiracy.”

Marjorie Cohn then cites Noam Chomsky from the Tribunal who saied that the Expionage Act under which Assange is the first publisher to ever to be so charged must be abolished.

“The Espionage Act should be stricken from the books,” public intellectual Noam Chomsky testified. “It has no place in a free and democratic society. We should not be surprised that the Act is now being used to punish the exercise of journalism.”

To read the entire article, please go to TRUTHOUT at

Thank you for caring about press freedom and the publisher, Julian Assange.

Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.