Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno arrived in London on Friday the 21st of July 2018, ostensibly to attend a global disability conference. If anonymous sources close to The Intercept are correct he will also meet with UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt to discuss ending Julian Assange’s asylum status in the Ecuadorian embassy.
[As a side note, the UK are hosting a global disability conference less than a year after the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) labelled the Tory’s government’s treatment of disabled benefit seekers a ‘human catastrophe’.]
Assange has lived in the Ecuadorian London embassy since 2012, but three months ago he saw his communication with the outside world completely shut off and remains isolated. Lenin Moreno took charge of Ecuador in 2017, and has looked to sweeten relations with the US, departing from the anti-imperialist policies of his socialist predecessor Rafael Correa. Since Moreno’s ascendancy the UK and US have viewed the more acquiescent leader as an opportunity to take terminal action against the whistleblowing advocate, and are making progress in convincing Ecuador to give up Assange’s asylum status.
The second Assange steps out of the embassy and into UK custody the US will request his extradition under Espionage charges as part of a federal investigation into Wikileaks which began back in 2010. If this is granted it would be a watershed moment in media history: the moment the role of publisher and spy/hacker/whistleblower became conflated and keyboard warriors across the West became fair game for criminal proceedings.
Considering the current furore surrounding Russian interference in the 2016 election and Wikileaks’ alleged involvement in it, Assange and his confidants certainly lack friends willing to fight in their corner within establishment media circles. MSNBC and CNN express their wish to see the ‘foreign adversary’ behind American bars for life, unable to grasp how this manoeuvre might damage the media landscape they profit from.
As Glenn Greenwald points out in his regular Intercept column, the so-called ‘Russiagate’ contingent are themselves responsible for leaking classified government information. Many of the chief conspiracy theorists behind it are themselves foreign nationals and are disseminating this information for foreign eyes and ears, such as the unhinged Louise Mensch. Ultimately, the argument that Assange is different to their own particular case is whittled down to ‘I don’t like him or his work and thus want him prosecuted’. This rationale cannot be allowed to seize hold of the justice system or our concept of press freedom.
Conceivably, the same way Assange can be construed as a ‘hostile non-state agent’ (in the nebulous words of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo) for publishing emails and documents, the Washington Post and David Ignatius could be pursued by the Justice Department among similar lines for publishing government emails between National Security Adviser nominee Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Once that door has been opened, it is naive to assume that it will ever be closed.
Assange played no part in the acquisition of DNC or Podesta emails, unless you can produce definitive proof that he personally hacked the material. The emails in question – which showed a campaign of extreme bias by neutral party officials against Bernie Sanders, including leaking debate questions and coordinated media attacks through outlets such as Politico, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post – were indisputably of public interest. No media outlet would have declined publishing them if given the opportunity; especially in light of how eager the mainstream press was to jump on a discredited Trump ‘pee pee tape’ funded by the Clinton campaign recently.
Personal opinions on Assange, the consequences of his decision to publish the emails of the Democratic National Convention or residual schädenfreude are moot: any attempt to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act of 1917 – the tool used to silence American feminist Emma Goldman, socialist leader Eugene Debs and Pentagon Papers’ publisher Daniel Ellsberg before him – would be a horrendous blow to the US free press. It would set a precedent that would haunt newsrooms, bloggers, even social media users for years to come – perhaps to never truly be reversed.
The Espionage Act was legislated in order to prohibit military insubordination, but waves of Washington administrations have been eager to test its powers against civilian press, political opponents and revolutionaries, despite it’s obvious repudiation to the 2nd amendment of the US constitution, as well as foreign nations’ equivalent free speech protections.
Nothing highlights the brazen hypocrisy of the media like the current lionisation of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers by Hollywood and scores of Washington Post feature articles. Ellsberg was charged under the Espionage Act and faced 115 years in prison for leaking confidential government documents to the Washington Post. He was narrowly spared a sentence after the extremely aggressive government campaign against him was found to have illegally gathered evidence.
Ellsberg recognises the clear parallels between his own experience and what Assange is going through, and is a leading voice in trying to ensure that Assange is able to leave the embassy without being extradited. History has been extremely kind to Ellsberg: he is now credited as shortening the ill-conceived and scarring Vietnam War through relentlessly pushing for transparency. At the time though, the labels ‘traitor’, ‘foreign adversary’ and ‘enemy’ were branded on him by the corporate press, similar to the deafening cloud that follows every mention of Assange.
EVERY attack now made on Assange and @wikileaks was made against me and release of Pentagon Papers http://bit.ly/eZnep8
— Daniel Ellsberg (@DanielEllsberg) December 8, 2010
The tide of opinion crafted by the corporate media is firmly against Assange. Journalists for the major newspapers, cable news anchors and Twitter users myopically call for his head; inviting the devil into their own homes. There is nothing novel about this, the corporate lapdog media have been lifting weights for Washington against their contemporaries, sources and fellow citizens ever since: whether it was Emma Goldman disseminating birth control to American women as a ‘foreign plot to derail Christian values’, Eugene Debs becoming a ‘traitor to his country’ for creating the railroad unions or Chelsea Manning releasing a video of American troops gunning down a Reuters journalist in broad daylight and thus becoming an ‘anti-American terrorist’.
The narrative is always an outsider, polluting and defacing the American dream; the only way to stop them is by surrendering freedoms for Uncle Sam.
If you believe in a truly free press, you must stand against the extradition of Assange to the United States of America after Lenin Moreno’s new-look Ecuadorian foreign policy kicks him through the embassy doors.