Since 2012, an increasingly smug cabal of western liberals have peddled the myth that Julian Assange should have voluntarily walked out of the Ecuadorian Embassy that had previously served as his asylum from prosecution. The mythical narrative stated that those fearing that the US would seek to convict Assange under the Espionage Act and sentence him to either a lifetime in prison or to death, were merely conspiracy theorists.
In reality, the narrative alleging that “Assange is to blame for his woes” was always the true conspiracy. It defied not only logic but went against the grain of events on the ground which witnessed the UK spending thousands on turning the Ecuadorian Embassy in London into a makeshift prison whilst influential US politicians up to and including Hillary Clinton spoke openly about their desire to kill Assange, even if done through extrajudicial means.
Now however, that which Assange’s defenders and supporters knew for years is there in black and white for all to see. For the first time in history, a publisher (who did not even publish from the US) is being charged under the notorious Espionage Act by the US Department of Justice. Even legal experts who are on the record condemning Assange have raised their concerns that such an indictment effectively nullifies key elements of the First Amendment of the US Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech and of association.
The notion that Assange was ever anything but a political prisoner is now not only an insult to common sense, but such an assertion demonstrates an aversion from admitting objective truths among those who once proffered such deceptive nonsense.
In order to destroy Julian Assange, the US judicial system is willing to run the precious First Amendment through the military-industrial paper shredder and soon it will be a slippery slope for anyone else who believed that their peaceful activities were protected by the First Amendment.
Today it is Julian Assange in the iron grip of a lawless penal system and the next day, the US might adopt the draconian and anti-freedom “hate speech” laws that have risen to prominence in places like India and even the European Union. Today it is Assange being persecuted for publishing truthful information that embarrassed major world governments. Tomorrow one might well face treatment akin to that confronting Assange for simply expressing an opinion that the authorities find distasteful. In typical Orwellian fashion, such speech will be labelled “hateful” and one might find him or herself on the road to Assange style oblivion. If this happens, the First Amendment will be well and truly dead.
For those who remain unconvinced by the slippery slope argument, one should recall that in 1971 the New York Times published Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers. The New York Times was protected a publisher although Ellsberg was tried under the Espionage Act. However, charges against Ellsberg were ultimately dismissed owning in part to gross misconduct on the part of government authorities.
Several years after the publication of the Pentagon Papers, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s investigative reports on the Watergate scandal were published in the Washington Post. Woodward and Bernstein subsequently won multiple media awards as did the Washington Post. Both men are considered journalistic legends and the Washington Post ended up increasing its public reputation as a result of its role in shedding light on Watergate.
In hindsight, the early 1970s now appears to be a golden era for investigative journalism, the publishing of leaked material in the public interest and whistle-blowing. By contrast, the 21st century has seen whistle blower Chelsea Manning thrice imprisoned for her activities which were very much relevant to the public good. Whistle blower and leaker Edward Snowden is currently in exile for exposing the nefarious activities of the NSA and publisher Julian Assange now finds himself facing a life behind bars or execution because he published multiple truthful and publicly beneficial reports on multiple scandals across governments, state bodies and armed forces throughout the world.
The legal precedents that separate a publisher from an informant have been cast to the wind and now Julian Assange faces an unprecedented trial by fire. But it is more than just Assange that is set to be on trial. The very concept of free speech is also on trial. If Assange falls, everyone who has ever benefited from the right to free speech will also have fallen.