How Dangerous is Julian Assange’s Arrest to a Free Press?

The simple answer is very, especially if the First Amendment’s future is considered. For those readers who think Julian Assange will “pay” some price for his publication of the illegal acts of war of the U.S., among thousands of other documents, and then be free to go his way, perhaps some serious soul-searching is necessary.

Five years in prison, or whatever the U.S. government finally penalizes Assange with for so-called illegal access to a protected computer, would only be the beginning of the end for Assange.

The government of the U.S. has been waging a war against freedom of the press for decades, and that war took on all the characteristics of an information destroying Armageddon since the attacks of September 2001, while John Ashcroft was the U.S. Attorney General in the administration of George W. Bush. Readers will recall the battle for access to the library reading habits of ordinary people that was so vociferously fought by librarians. They will also recall how ordinary people’s communications became of interest to the U.S. government.

Go even farther back in U.S. history and readers will find the antipathy, and penalties for, speaking out against World War I. 

Go back to the Vietnam War era and another momentous battle between the right of the people to know and the right of the government to block that knowledge and Daniel Ellsberg’s case and the Pentagon Papers stands out. The government tried every legal stratagem it had in its anti-First Amendment bag of tricks then, but both government wrongdoing and the right to freely publish information in the people’s interest won the day and any who cared to look could see the illegalities and lies that led to the debacle that was the Vietnam War.

For an analysis of Mr. Ellsberg’s assessment of Mr. Assange’s plight and Ms. Manning’s incarceration,  go to the Real New Network (April 11, 2019).

The government has already made a mockery of the other part of the First Amendment, the separation of church and state,  by giving employers, in the case of Hobby Lobby, the right to refuse payment (Time, July 1, 2014) for its workers into health plans that cover birth control. I’m certain the latter was a prime concern of the Founders in the latter part of the 18th century.

Now the government is using the tactic of what’s called double-teaming or triple-teaming in basketball to strip away our right to know, and for journalists and news media outlets to be the conduit of that right to know. Without Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, we would not have seen the “Collateral Murder” video that showed a helicopter attack against media workers and civilians in Iraq. The government wants to cover up those crimes and keep them hidden from the public and Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning are now suffering the consequences of that government juggernaut against a free press!

Some critics say that Julian Assange is not a likable guy, or that WikiLeaks release of documents surrounding the 2016 election gave us Trump. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Poor campaign organization, a weak candidate, and lots of hatreds out on the streets gave us Trump, an autocrat who hates the First Amendment as no other president ever has. A trip down the “fake news” memory lane is all that is needed for those of goodwill to realize that attacks against Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning are attacks to all who hold that freedom of the press is an absolute freedom.

Quoted in the Guardian, Hillary Clinton said the Assange must “answer for what he has done.” When does Clinton get to answer for what she has done in Libya, just to cite one instance from her tenure as secretary of state?

Julian Assange’s legal team will obviously strenuously fight his extradition from England, but the so-called rule of law is very uncertain. The collusion of those in power across national borders to attack journalists and journalism is nauseating and well orchestrated. The cowards in charge in the U.S., Ecuador, and England come to mind.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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