Biden must end Trump’s war on the press. Drop the Julian Assange case
- Editor’s note: I agree with Alice Walker when she says:
- “President Biden and Attorney General Garland should do the right thing: Drop the Assange case and make it clear that reporting and publishing — even when it makes the government look bad — is vital to democratic life. We cannot lecture the rest of the world on freedom and human rights while trying to extradite someone for publishing inconvenient truths about us.”
By Alice Walker, The Kansas City Star:
Do not be fooled by Biden’s persona. The White House’s more cordial relationship with the press conceals its continuation of the Trump administration’s attempt to criminalize newsgathering and publishing.
The Trump administration’s decision to prosecute WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange was the brainchild of authoritarian conservatives like Mike Pompeo and Jeff Sessions. They wore their disdain for press freedom proudly, declaring that Assange had no First Amendment rights and stepping up efforts to crack down on whistleblowers.
For his role in publishing the Chelsea Manning leaks, which were covered by major media outlets around the world, Assange was hit with 18 federal counts that carry a potential prison sentence of 175 years. Of those counts, 17 are for receiving and publishing information in violation of the Espionage Act. Such charges are unprecedented. “No journalist — self-described or otherwise — had ever been criminally charged for disclosing government secrets,” Deanna Paul noted in The Washington Post.
What did Assange do to provoke the Trump administration’s ire? In 2010 and 2011, he embarrassed the U.S. government by exposing truths about civilian casualties, war crimes and abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. The Obama-Biden administration was in power then, and set its sights on Assange. But officials had the wisdom and restraint to conclude that prosecuting Assange would create a dangerous precedent called “The New York Times problem.” Simply put, there is no way to prosecute Assange without criminalizing the same newsgathering and publishing practices used at The Times, The Kansas City Star and every other news outlet.
Surely, reasonable leaders such as Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland would not allow the prosecution — condemned by journalism and human rights groups around the world — to go forward. Right?
The Biden team inherited this debacle. Instead of abandoning Trump’s war on journalism, they have continued it. They have chosen the politics of “nothing will fundamentally change,” instead of correcting the injustices of a rogue administration.
President Biden and Attorney General Garland should do the right thing: Drop the Assange case and make it clear that reporting and publishing — even when it makes the government look bad — is vital to democratic life. We cannot lecture the rest of the world on freedom and human rights while trying to extradite someone for publishing inconvenient truths about us.