Biden faces growing pressure to drop charges against Julian Assange

Biden faces renewed push, domestically and internationally, to drop the charges against Assange, who is languishing in a British prison.

The Biden administration has been saying all the right things lately about respecting a free and vibrant press, after four years of relentless media assault and legal assaults under Donald Trump.

The Attorney General, Merrick Garland, has even enacted expanded protections for journalists this fall, saying that "a free and independent press is essential to the functioning of our democracy".

But the biggest test of Biden's commitment remains being imprisoned in a prison cell in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been held since 2019 while facing charges in the United States under the Century-old Espionage Act, a century-old law that has never been used before. publish confidential information.

Whether the US justice department continues to pursue Trump-era charges against the high-profile whistleblower, whose group shared classified information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, American diplomacy, and Democratic internal politics prior to the 2016 election, will be a long story. a way to determine whether the current administration intends to live up to its promise to protect the press.

Now Biden faces a revived push, both within the United States and abroad, to end the protracted prosecution of Assange. Five major media organizations that rely on his government's secret holdings, including the Guardian and the New York Times, opened a letter earlier this month saying his indictment "sets a dangerous precedent" and threatens to undermine the first amendment.

At the same time, officials in Australia, where Assange was born and remains a citizen, are meeting with American counterparts to plead for his release. "My position is clear and has been made clear to the US government: that it is time for this matter to be closed," Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told the Australian parliament late last month.

In Brazil, meanwhile, President-elect Luis Inácio Lula da Silva is demanding an end to what he calls Assange's "unjust imprisonment" after a meeting with WikiLeaks editors who are lobbying for his freedom.

Some of Assange's defenders, who attacked his prosecution as trampling on the first amendment, said they were optimistic the case may have reached a turning point that could eventually lead to his release.

"This case is very significant," Columbia University law professor Jameel Jaffer, who runs the university's Knight First Amendment Institute, said in an interview. “Ultimately, I find it hard to believe that the Biden administration wants this case to be its legacy of press freedom, and will be its legacy if they continue to pursue it. It will overshadow everything in terms of press freedom.”

Justice department officials have offered no clue as to where Assange's prosecution will eventually lead, as he continues to challenge his extradition to the US before a British appeals court. The justice department declined to comment on all outside calls to drop the case, but one official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Garland "has made it clear that he will follow the law wherever it may lead", as he has in other areas of politics. prosecuted case. For all the outside pressure on the justice department to drop the case, the critical factor could turn out to be an internal regulation Garland announced in October that prohibits the use of record seizures and other investigative measures against "news media acting within the scope of news gathering" except in what department said it would be a limited state.

The new regulations grew out of a year-long review that followed frequent complaints from news organizations about intrusive tactics used by the department during the Trump administration to collect notes from journalists and probe news-gathering practices in investigations of leaks and other sensitive matters.

One of the major disputes in Assange's rise to fame has always been the question of whether he should be considered the journalist covered by the first amendment, as his supporters have long maintained, or the rogue agent who was, as Republican senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska once argued. , is "an outlet for foreign propaganda and... an enemy of the American people".

Barry J Pollack, Assange's lead attorney in the US, told the Guardian that "the new regulations are definitely asking someone at the highest level of the justice department to look back at this prosecution to see if it is completely consistent with the new policy" and to determine "is this the kind of case we want to pursue?”

"The time is ripe for that," Pollack said.

Assange has been a polarizing figure around the world for a dozen years now, since WikiLeaks began publishing and occasionally sharing with major media outlets, including the Guardian and the New York Times, the millions of pages of frequently classified material he collected from governments. whistleblowers and other sources. His supporters hail him as a brash truth teller, while critics – often within intelligence agencies – have attacked him for the damage they say the leak is causing to ongoing operations.

His group's first major exposure in 2010 documented American military abuses and missteps in Iraq and Afghanistan, and every subsequent batch of leaked material, from classified state department cables to CIA hacking tools, brought Assange more fame and attention.

Beyond the massive leaks, Assange also faces sexual assault charges in Sweden – charges which have since been dropped because Swedish prosecutors said the evidence was not strong enough. To avoid arrest, he took refuge in 2012 at the Ecuadorian embassy in London under a deal that granted him political asylum. The CIA and the Trump administration are so fixated on the secrets he is revealing that they are discussing the possibility of Assange's kidnapping from the embassy and his assassination, according to a report last year from Yahoo News.

The justice department, under Trump, first filed criminal charges against Assange in 2019, when British authorities arrested him and dragged him from the embassy. Assange, looking disheveled with a long white beard, shouted: "It's against the law, I'm not going."

Beginning less than two weeks after Biden was sworn in in January 2020, his justice department has repeatedly asked British courts to renew American requests for Assange's extradition. After a long battle in British courts, the then Home Secretary, Priti Patel, approved the US extradition request in June, but Assange is appealing against the decision, arguing that he was "sued and punished for his political opinions".

Nearly all of the 18 charges brought against Assange in the center of the 2019 indictment on the actual publication of classified military and government material online by WikiLeaks, were mostly collected from former US military whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Only one indictment accuses Assange of actively working to help Manning secure classified information. In that case, prosecutors allege that Assange offered to help Manning crack the password for a top-secret military system – an attempt that failed.

Manning was eventually sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking government secrets before President Barack Obama commuted the remainder of his sentence in 2017. At a court-martial in 2013, Manning insisted that there had never been pressure from WikiLeaks to seize classified material from military computer systems. "The decisions I make to post documents and information to (WikiLeaks) and the website are my own, and I take full responsibility for my actions," Manning said.

The charge against Assange for obtaining and publishing classified information, without any active role in actually stealing it, marks a "crossing of the rubicon of law", said Jaffer at Columbia University. That's an uncomfortable legal threshold, he said, for Assange and all journalists.

"This is the first time the US government has used the Espionage Act to pursue a publisher and the implications are profound," Jaffer said. Assange “has been charged with activities that journalists engage in on a daily basis and that journalists must engage on a daily basis to inform the public. This will have dramatic implications for national security journalism." This article was written by EDUKASI CAMPUS.  

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form