EDITORIAL: The criminalization of truth-telling

For years, Australian journalist Julian Assange has been locked up, tortured and spied upon while battling legally with the U.S. government, which under two presidential administrations, has attempted to prosecute him for revealing American war crimes in Iraq.

Two ongoing criminal trials involving Assange and the U.S. government have revealed even more stunning treatment of Assange by governments and officials wishing to prosecute him under the Espionage Act, posing a grave threat to journalism around the world.

As revealed by Grayzone journalist Max Blumenthal, the case in London, England involving Assange recently showed that a man named David Morales and his company called UC Global were contracted by the CIA to harass and violate the rights of Assange and his contacts.

“Two former (UC Global) employees in London testified that they were asked to poison Julian Assange and to consider kidnapping him, in addition to spying on him with hidden microphones and secret cameras and spying on everyone else, including journalists and friends, who came to meet with him,” Blumenthal said in a recent interview. “The leading dissident in the west was targeted with a plot to kill him by poisoning by the CIA and Mike Pompeo under the watch of Donald Trump, the man the whole media supposedly hates. And, in addition, all the journalists, including the Washington Post’s top national security advisor when she went to meet with Julian Assange, were not only spied on, but the spies also attempted to steal their personal electronic devices, which should be so scandalous that the whole U.S. press should stop everything they’re doing and follow this and protest this constitutional attack on journalism—yet all we hear is silence.”

Stunningly, even the several American journalists who were spied upon by U.S. intelligence agencies with aims of immorally and illegally prosecuting Assange have neglected to speak out against Assange’s persecution.

In a recent article about the trials, Blumenthal wrote: “Not only were the reporters initially uninterested in the spying scandal, one correspondent justified the CIA’s surveillance on national security grounds, saying, ‘Well, that’s what an intelligence service is supposed to do…’”

Though mainstream media outlets in the U.S. have long chosen to largely neglect the Assange trial, some refusing even to cover it at all, this sentiment about the role of intelligence services and governments to investigate truth-tellers is extremely dangerous.

Unaccountable intelligence agencies and all-powerful governments have no business spying upon and attempting to prosecute journalists under the outdated Espionage Act—especially not journalists known for exposing horrific war crimes of said governments. Anything else is illegal, unjust and meant solely to send a dangerous message to truth-tellers who intend to hold the powerful accountable for their actions. For a simple explanation of these dangers, one must only look so far as the Washington Post editorial board.

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.”

This is because Assange has done nothing illegal. Every journalistic practice executed by Assange to leak a trove of classified U.S. Military documents revealing rampant murder, rape and mistreatment of innocent civilians and even journalists has been used countless times in the past by countless other journalists, including those working for major outlets such as the Washington Post and The New York Times.

The most notable usage of such journalistic practices is in the publishing of the Pentagon Papers leaks which revealed American lies and war crimes in Vietnam and were published by major news outlets across the country and around the world—and for which no journalist ever has been prosecuted, and rightfully so.

It is shameful that so few media outlets refuse to cover the Assange hearing or to do so with appropriate prioritization and valuing of the story’s importance.

As journalists, we understand the world needs more bravery and more truth-tellers willing to stand up to power, and we also understand that it is not okay for governments and intelligence agencies to violate the most personal and established rights of such truth-tellers. Every journalist, every truth-teller and everyone who values journalism, transparency and democracy ought to stand in solidarity with Assange and against the crimes of the U.S. government and its intelligence agencies.