Letter: Assange and free speech

Published: 12/11/2020 12:02:20 AM
Modified: 12/11/2020 12:02:09 AM

“History has shown us that it is vital to the health of our democracy that journalists are able to publish information that discloses government wrongdoing or mistakes of policy. The discomfort and embarrassment of exposed government officials does not outweigh the importance of bringing to light matters that are of profound interest to the public.”

So spoke candidate Joseph Biden in 2019 when asked to comment on the case of Julian Assange. Assange is an award-winning journalist, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and chief publisher of WikiLeaks, a news organization dedicated to revealing truth.

Assange was forced to seek asylum after WikiLeaks published the Iraq War Logs. One horrific element included in this release was a video of a U.S. helicopter attack on civilians. The video shows the crew begging for permission, and then proceeding to machine-gun innocents on the ground. Two of the 18 killed in the attack were members of Reuter’s news staff. The others were noncombatants. Dubbed the Collateral Murder, no member of the helicopter crew was charged with a crime.

However, Assange, in exposing these and other war crimes, has become an unconstitutional target of Trump’s administration. Removed by force from the Ecuadorian embassy in London on April 11, 2019, and subsequently imprisoned in Belmarsh Maximum Security Prison (a.k.a. “British Guantanamo”) Assange’s extradition to the United States is sought under the Espionage Act of 1917. This act has never been applied to journalists.

Will President-elect Biden honor his words above? Will he follow the Obama administration’s lead and honor the First Amendment, which guarantees a free press and freedom of speech – guarantees them even if and when information revealed embarrasses a government or country? If so, then Assange must not be extradited to the United States. He must be released.

CHRIS BALCH

Wilton


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