By Margaret Kimberley, BAR Exec. Editor & Senior Columnist

July 3,  2024  Black Agenda Report

 

After seven years of asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London and another five years imprisoned by the United Kingdom, Julian Assange is finally a free man. The prospect of justice, of Assange successfully fighting extradition to the United States, moved the Biden administration’s Department of Justice to offer him a plea deal. Unfortunately, journalism is not safe and the U.S. can still use the Espionage Act to ensure that its dirty deeds never see the light of day.

The sudden announcement that Julian Assange would be freed after a plea agreement came as a great and very welcome surprise. Assange and the Wikileaks team were targets of United States persecution and prosecution by three different presidential administrations because they revealed secrets that the state wanted to keep hidden.

Wikileaks revealed war crimes committed during the George W. Bush administration in their Iraq War Logs and Afghanistan War Logs. Private Chelsea Manning leaked the Collateral Murder video, which shows the deaths of civilians, including two Reuters reporters, as they were gunned down by a U.S. army helicopter crew in 2007.

Collateral Murder was released in 2010 when Barack Obama was president. All of the purported differences between Democrats and Republicans disappear when U.S. hegemony is in need of protection. Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, confirmed that Assange was under investigation. While the Justice Department ultimately chose not to indict, they laid the groundwork for Donald Trump to make Assange a political prisoner.

Obama’s unprecedented use of the Espionage Act sent other whistleblowers to jail and gave Trump license to get his hands on Assange. The Trump administration built on the work of the Obama DOJ and secured a 17-count indictment in 2018, with charges that could have resulted in a 175-year sentence. Of course criminal charges alone were useless as long as the Ecuadorian government gave Assange sanctuary in its London embassy. The Trump administration interfered in Ecuador’s election and brought a different political party to office and then secured a $4 billion IMF loan for Ecuador, just one month before Assange’s protections were lifted. The timing of the transaction and the arrest were clearly not coincidental.

Even after Assange was indicted and then removed from the Ecuadorian embassy, the Trump administration had harsher measures in mind. CIA Director Mike Pompeo declared Wikileaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service” and sources have reported on plans to kidnap or even to assassinate Assange.

As always, Joe Biden followed Trump foreign policy and continued the DOJ prosecution. In April of this year Biden revealed that he was “considering” a plea agreement for Assange. What he did not say was that Assange’s case was not going in the direction that the U.S. wanted.

Assange’s legal team never gave up fighting on his behalf, and the possibility that the  British High Court of Justice would hear his claim of acting within the U.S. first amendment’s guarantee of the right to speak without government interference, moved the Biden administration to offer a plea deal rather than risk losing in court.

It is indeed wonderful news that Assange has his freedom but it has come with a price for all of journalism. He had to plead guilty to one charge of violating the Espionage Act, and thus journalism has been criminalized in the United States.

What was Assange’s crime? He dared to tell the world what powerful people and states do not want us to know, which was reason enough to be an Assange supporter. So many things that had been said about him are untrue. It’s not true that he was ever charged with rape. It is not true that anyone was harmed by any of his revelations. It is not true that he worked with Russia or any foreign government to obtain the Democratic National Committee emails. In fact there is ample evidence that those emails were leaked to him by someone at the DNC.

But he exposed the dark underbelly of the US, that our electoral politics are rigged, that the Hillary Clinton campaign rigged the nomination process against Bernie Sanders. He revealed that Hillary Clinton and her campaign colleagues feared that news of her involvement with a Clinton Foundation deal with a Canadian company selling uranium to Russia would harm her electoral prospects. Polling indicated that this transaction, which ended with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, being paid half a million dollars to give a speech in Moscow, would be viewed in a negative light.  And thus, she had to demonize Russia and Donald Trump too, in order to cover her own tracks.

Media outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and The Guardian worked with Assange for years, printing Wikileaks revelations on a regular basis. Yet they said little in his defense after he was arrested on April 11, 2019. Neither did the liberal elites, who parroted the falsehood that Assange was responsible for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 defeat. According to Democratic propagandists, Russian operatives hacked the Democratic National Committee computers and gave a trove of embarrassing emails to Wikileaks. Hillary Clinton even referred to the organization as “Russian Wikileaks” just in case anyone forgot to blame others for her political debacle.

Of course, Wikileaks received the DNC documents the same way they received all others. A whistleblower leaked the material and the rest is history. Except history didn’t turn out as most people predicted. Hillary Clinton lost, in part because of the corrupt behaviors that Assange revealed.

The DNC revelations were as big a threat as the war logs. Assange exposed how the Clinton campaign amplified Trump, in a mistaken belief that he would be the easiest Republican to defeat. They also proved that the primary process was rigged against Bernie Sanders, who might have succeeded in the general election where Clinton had failed. The revelations had to be squelched and the need to turn Assange into a scapegoat only intensified over time. Russiagate was the means of vilification and made Assange persona non grata with people who otherwise might have been his defenders.

It is ironic that his freedom comes in the heat of another presidential campaign, where a resurgent Donald Trump has a chance of defeating Joe Biden. Trump was first amplified by campaign trickery which blew up in the Democrats’ faces, now Biden’s political failures and physical deterioration can no longer be kept hidden. If Assange hadn’t been hammered with criminal charges perhaps an intrepid journalist would tell us why and how the Democratic Party is now facing the possibility of another loss.

Journalism has lost too, because no one will be willing to repeat what Assange was subjected to. As part of the plea agreement Wikileaks must destroy any unpublished files and Assange cannot make Freedom of Information Act requests about his case. Another president may use the World War I era Espionage Act, a remnant of the Red Scare and infamous Palmer Raids, as a weapon to keep U.S. crimes secret.

The end result of Julian Assange’s experience is bittersweet, with freedom for a man unjustly charged but with a state which still has the ability to punish anyone who exposes its crimes.

 

Margaret Kimberley is the author of Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents. She is also a contributor to the anthology, In Defense of Julian Assange. She can be reached via email at margaret.kimberley@blackagendareport.com .