The Biden administration After four years of relentless journalistic and legal attacks under Donald Trump, it has been saying all the right things lately about respecting a free and vigorous press.
The attorney general, Merrick Garland, set out expanded protections for journalists this fall. to say “A free and independent press is essential to the functioning of our democracy”.
But the biggest test of Biden’s resolve is the WikiLeaks founder’s jail cell in London. Julian Assange Since 2019, the US has been prosecuted under the Espionage Act, a century-old law that has not previously been used to release classified information.
Whether the U.S. Justice Department will pursue Trump-era charges against the notorious leaker, who leaked classified information about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Guantanamo Bay, U.S. diplomacy and internal Democratic politics before the 2016 election, will be a long time coming. A way to determine whether the current administration is willing to fulfill its commitments to protect the press.
Now Biden faces a renewed push at home and abroad to drop Assange’s protracted prosecution.
Five major media outlets he trusted with government secrets, including the Guardian and the New York Times, Posted an open letter His indictment earlier this month “sets a dangerous precedent” and threatens to undermine the First Amendment.
At the same time, officials in Australia, where Assange is a citizen by birth, met with their American counterparts to appeal for his release. “My position is clear and has been made clear to the US administration: it is time for this matter to come to an end,” Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told the Australian Parliament late last month.
In Brazil, meanwhile, President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva demanded an end to Assange’s “unjust imprisonment” after a meeting. WikiLeaks The teachers press for his freedom.
Some of Assange’s defenders, who have attacked his case as a violation of the First Amendment, say they are hopeful the case may have reached a turning point that could lead to his freedom.
“This case is very important,” said Columbia University law professor Jameel Jaffer, who runs the Knight First Amendment Institute at the university. “Ultimately, I find it hard to believe that the Biden administration wants this case to be its press freedom legacy. desire Its legacy if they keep it up. It overshadows everything else when it comes to press freedom.
As he continues to challenge his extradition to the United States before a British appeals court, Justice Department officials have not tipped their hand about where Assange’s case might ultimately lead. The Justice Department declined to comment on all outside calls to drop the case, but an official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Garland “has made it clear that he will follow the law wherever it goes.” Alleged cases.
For all the outside pressure on the Justice Department to drop the case, “the internal rules Garland announced in October barring the seizure of records and other investigative actions against news media operating within the jurisdiction of the news will become an important factor, except in limited circumstances,” the department said.
The new rules grew out of a year-long review following frequent complaints from news organizations about intrusive tactics used during the Trump administration to gather records from journalists and investigate leaks and newsgathering practices. Other important things.
A central issue in Assange’s rise to fame has always been whether he should be considered a journalist under the First Amendment, as his lawyers have long maintained, or a rogue secretary, as Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has argued. , “as an outlet for foreign propaganda and … an enemy of the American people”.
Barry J Pollock, Assange’s lead lawyer in the US, told the Guardian, “The new terms should certainly have someone at the highest level of the judiciary clamoring for a fresh look at the case. New policy” and “Is this the kind of case we want to continue?”
“The time is ripe for that,” Pollock said.
Assange has been a polarizing figure around the world for more than a dozen years, ever since WikiLeaks, the Guardian and the New York Times began releasing and sometimes declassifying millions of pages of government-collected documents. Whistleblowers and other sources. His advocates praised him as a brave truth-teller, while critics – mostly within the intelligence community – attacked him for the damage the leaks caused to ongoing operations.
His group’s first major exposés in 2010 documented U.S. military abuses and misconduct in Iraq and Afghanistan, and each subsequent leak, from secret government cables to CIA hacking tools, brought Assange more fame and attention.
Beyond the massive leaks, Assange also faced sexual assault charges in Sweden — though the investigation was eventually dropped because Swedish prosecutors said The evidence is not strong enough. To avoid capture, he took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 under an agreement granting him political asylum. The CIA and the Trump administration were so convinced of the secrets he had exposed that they discussed the possibility of kidnapping Assange from the embassy and assassinating him. Last year’s report from Yahoo News.
The Justice Department, under Trump, first brought criminal charges against Assange in 2019 after British authorities arrested him and dragged him out of the embassy. Assange, looking disheveled with a long, white beard, shouted: “It’s illegal, I’m not leaving.”
His Justice Department has repeatedly asked British courts to renew a US request to extradite Assange, starting within two weeks of Biden taking office in January 2021. After a long battle in the British courts, then-Home Secretary Priti Patel approved the US extradition request in June, but Assange is appealing the decision, saying he “The case is prosecuted and punished For his political views.
Assange’s 18-count indictment centers on the 2019 indictment over the publication of classified military and government material online by WikiLeaks. Only one of the indictments accuses Assange of actively helping Manning protect classified information. In that event, prosecutors allege Assange offered to help Manning crack a password for a classified military system — an attempt that failed.
Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking government secrets before President Barack Obama commuted the remainder of his sentence in 2017. At a 2013 court-martial hearing, Manning He insisted that there was no pressure To seize any classified material from the military’s computer systems from WikiLeaks. “The decisions I made to send documents and information to (WikiLeaks) and the website were my own decisions, and I take full responsibility for my actions,” Manning said.
Charges against Assange for receiving and releasing classified information, without actually having any active role in stealing it, represent “crossing the legal Rubicon,” said Jaffer at Columbia University. This is an ominous legal limitation, he told Assange and all journalists.
“This is the first time the US government has used the Espionage Act to go after a publisher, and the implications are huge,” Jaffer said. “Assange has been charged with the actions that reporters engage in every day, and that reporters must engage in every day to inform the public. This will have dramatic implications for national security journalism.”