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EDITORIAL: Assange prosecution sends dangerous message to truth-tellers

German+members+of+the+Left+Group+in+the+Bundestag+Heike+Hansel%2C+right%2C+and+Sevim+Dagdelen%2C+center%2C+together+with+Spanish+MEP+Ana+Miranda+hold+a+press+conference+outside+Belmarsh+Prison+in+support+of+WikiLeaks+founder+Julian+Assange+who+is+currently+being+held+in+Belmarsh%2C+in+London%2C+Monday%2C+April+15%2C+2019.+
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EDITORIAL: Assange prosecution sends dangerous message to truth-tellers

German members of the Left Group in the Bundestag Heike Hansel, right, and Sevim Dagdelen, center, together with Spanish MEP Ana Miranda hold a press conference outside Belmarsh Prison in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who is currently being held in Belmarsh, in London, Monday, April 15, 2019.

German members of the Left Group in the Bundestag Heike Hansel, right, and Sevim Dagdelen, center, together with Spanish MEP Ana Miranda hold a press conference outside Belmarsh Prison in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who is currently being held in Belmarsh, in London, Monday, April 15, 2019.

Alistair Grant | AP Photo

German members of the Left Group in the Bundestag Heike Hansel, right, and Sevim Dagdelen, center, together with Spanish MEP Ana Miranda hold a press conference outside Belmarsh Prison in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who is currently being held in Belmarsh, in London, Monday, April 15, 2019.

Alistair Grant | AP Photo

Alistair Grant | AP Photo

German members of the Left Group in the Bundestag Heike Hansel, right, and Sevim Dagdelen, center, together with Spanish MEP Ana Miranda hold a press conference outside Belmarsh Prison in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who is currently being held in Belmarsh, in London, Monday, April 15, 2019.

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Nearly a decade ago, WikiLeaks published classified documents that former U.S. Army soldier Chelsea Manning leaked to WikiLeaks director Julian Assange and various other major news publications in the United States, revealing videos of war crimes committed on foreign soil using American tax dollars. 

Despite the First Amendment’s protections related to freedom of the press, the Obama administration, which notably spied on and prosecuted several journalists throughout its time in office, tried exhaustively, but ultimately decided against, prosecuting Assange, stating that doing so would set a dangerous precedent for journalists and freedom of the press.

In 2011, The Washington Post reported, “A conviction (of Assange) would also cause collateral damage to American media freedoms. It is difficult to distinguish Assange or WikiLeaks from The Washington Post.”

The reality is that prosecuting journalists for holding the most powerful people in the country accountable for their atrociously irresponsible actions both renders the First Amendment’s free press protections ineffective and spits in the face of fundamental journalistic principles and ethics.

The Trump Administration simply seems to not care.

To this day, not a single official has ever been prosecuted for the horrific American war crimes exposed by WikiLeaks. Meanwhile, Manning has been tortured by the U.S. government for years as punishment, and Assange has been seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in the United Kingdom for the past seven years.

Last week, Assange was dragged out of the embassy by police following a press conference in which WikiLeaks claimed to have discovered the Ecuadorian government spying on Assange. Shortly after, it was revealed the Trump Administration indicted Assange for conspiracy, claiming he helped Manning (unsuccessfully) uncover a government password related to the leaks from nearly a decade ago, the same exact claim the Obama Administration refused to prosecute Assange for because of its clearly dangerous impacts on journalists and freedom of the press.

The indictment against Assange also alleges he possibly encouraged Manning to stay vigilant for more possible leaks while helping to protect her identity, both extremely common practices for corporate and independent investigative journalists alike across the world.

Many corporate news outlets and journalists today—many of the same outlets and journalists who defended Assange for exposing American war crimes in 2010—are now supporting Assange’s prosecution for partisan reasons, citing his involvement in leaking Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016 and even alleging a conspiracy that Assange colluded with the Russian government to help bring down the Clinton campaign, an accusation for which there never has been any real evidence and which WikiLeaks and Assange have always denied.

Crucially, the 2016 leaks are not even mentioned in Assange’s indictment, and, furthermore, Robert Mueller’s extensive Russiagate investigation, including over 2,500 subpoenas, 500 witnesses and 500 search warrants, never once even attempted to contact WikiLeaks or Assange.

Considering the lack of any substantial evidence of collusion between WikiLeaks and Russia, it seems a glaring question as to why so many journalists—namely those working for corporate news outlets—are cheering on Assange’s persecution when it so clearly will have countless dramatic and dangerous impacts on journalists. Why are so many journalists neglecting to defend a fellow truth-teller being thrown in jail for exposing the corruption of countless government officials?

Journalists who do not stand up for truth-tellers holding the powerful accountable are only revealing they actually seem to identify more with establishment, elite, corrupt government officials than they do with the noble reporters seeking only to tell regular people the truth.

Even more interesting, despite frequently and publicly (via Twitter) praising the work of WikiLeaks throughout the 2016 campaign, President Trump recently claimed he “know[s] nothing about” the publication.

Assange’s prosecution, supposedly based on a non-significant technicality, clearly serves only to set a dangerous legal precedent: to send a message to journalists and truth-tellers across America and the world that they are never safe when dedicating their work to holding the powerful accountable, even if said journalists’ publications are the only major publications in the country to never be forced to retract a story for factual errors, and even if the First Amendment explicitly protects the rights of a free press.

Those currently in power and those defending Assange’s prosecution clearly do not care.

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