One of the most important subjects in the news right now is Julian Assange and what the United States government ends up doing with him. It will be very telling how his case gets handled. Does he just vanish into a prison cell forever? Or is he brought before a jury of his peers where the allegations against him are articulated in the light of day and he is allowed to defend himself?
I have learned over the years how to hold my tongue. A word spoken rashly, especially on political things people seem to be more and more emotionally invested in all the time, does more harm than good. But this is an issue that pricks my conscience, so I will transmit from here the truth as I see it, lodge the objection I believe is good and right, and let the chips fall where they may.
So, will Assange be justly tried and defended? Anything else should be regarded as completely unacceptable if there is anything left of the high ideals of Western liberal democracy. Even if he gets a trial, will he be condemned for injuring National Security, or exonerated for being a pioneer of 21st century journalism?
Politicos and the synoptic media have been working hard to season our perceptions with the idea that maybe he raped somebody in Sweden, that he smeared poop on the walls in the Ecuadorian embassy, that he’s been running a spying operation, that he “hacked” the Clinton campaign or is some kind of Russian agent. (I may from here on use the term “synoptic media” to refer to the allegedly mainstream press, due to their conspicuous uniformity whenever the subject really matters to the health of the empire.) “Assange is no hero, and no one is above the law,” they repeat in unison. “No hero,” is vague enough to sound like a description of the uncontroversial fact of his disagreeable personality, but it is also easily read as a warning not to admire or seek to imitate his journalistic achievements. “No one is above the law,” should also be uncontroversial and obvious, but it is clear by now that some in the prestigious tiers of our society are above the law, so I can’t help but interpret this phrase as meaning “resistance is futile,” when Theresa May says it.
The allegations you hear about him cast a prejudicial fog around the man and make it harder to reason about the actions that really matter to his case. If they do convene a jury, will it really be an impartial one?
I hold that what Assange has done, his work that has so offended the United States government, is simply journalism. Journalism at its most effective and dangerous extreme. One of the allegations, “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion” is just a pejorative euphemism for the perfectly legitimate journalistic act of negotiating with a source that intends to leak, when the leaking happens to have involved a computer. In the cases of WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden and the New York Times publishing the Pentagon Papers, someone exposed true raw data that Americans deserved to know about. One cannot simlutaneously believe in representative government and a government entitled to vast caches of secrets and unacknowledged surveillance programs on the people it supposedly represents.
I find it very ironic that in a time when Congress is holding inquisitions about Fake News, that so many are so ready to pour contempt on one of the few people who has competently wielded truth against corrupt powers. WikiLeaks is how we know why those Reuters journalists died in Iraq. It is how we have a sense of the scale of prison abuse in Iraq. It is how we know (what should have been obvious to the naked eye) that the DNC slanted against Bernie Sanders in 2016. WikiLeaks is responsible for for the fact that we know what we now do about the extent of NSA and CIA cyberwarfare. Without information like that, a public debate about our intelligence agencies’ appropriate limits cannot even begin.
Julian Assange was not running some fly-by-night amateur page like PATRIOT-AMERICA-VERY-TRUTHY-NEWS-DOT-COM. He is the founder of WikiLeaks, the organization with an unbroken record of veracity and protection of source anonymity, and their revelations have each been timely and important. If that isn’t journalism at its most real, its most effective, its most dangerous and important, what is?
Watch very closely how this case proceeds. Do our leaders intend to hew to the American tradition? Or will they defend the warfare and espionage interests of a National Security State? Can one still utter true and useful things in the Land of the Free, even if they embarrass the State? We will find out soon.
I fear the judgment will come down on the wrong side on this one. In Europe it might be different but in the USA a direct abolition of free subversive political speech will be a hard sell. Instead Assange may quietly be made an example of as he is punished not de jure by a fair trial and sentencing, but de facto by being left to languish in prison while an intentionally sluggish legal proceeding does its Kafkaeque work. I will be very happy to be wrong, but time will tell.
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