In a pivotal moment defending journalistic rights, a groundswell of bipartisan support surges behind Julian Assange’s protracted legal battle. Recent resolutions and legal rulings have thrust Assange’s plight into the limelight, emphasizing the critical debate on the rights of investigative journalists in an era of intensified scrutiny. As the UK High Court sets the stage for Assange’s final appeal against extradition in February 2024, a chorus of lawmakers and advocates on both sides of the aisle stand unified in challenging the U.S. government’s prosecution of the WikiLeaks founder.
The resolution introduced on December 13th by Rep. Paul Gosar, (R-Arizona), along with a coalition of bipartisan lawmakers, has sparked significant debate. The bill asserts the protection of journalistic activities under the First Amendment and urges the U.S. government to drop its prosecution against Assange, who is accused of publishing classified U.S. military documents.
Currently, the resolution has eight co-sponsors, including Democrats James McGovern and Ilhan Omar, along with Republicans Thomas Massie, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Anna Paulina Luna, Eric Burlison, Jeff Duncan, and Clay Higgins.
The resolution highlights Assange’s charges under the Espionage Act, stemming from the 2010 publication of cables leaked by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. These documents unveiled war crimes committed by the U.S. in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The materials also exposed the CIA’s involvement in torture and rendition practices.
“Whereas, in 2010, WikiLeaks, a media organization established by Julian Assange, published a cache of hundreds of thousands of pieces of information including Guantánamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, State Department cables, rules of engagement files, and other United States military reports.”
In a notable move, the resolution emphasizes that Assange’s publication aimed at promoting public transparency by revealing concerning issues such as the hiring of child prostitutes by Defense Department contractors, friendly fire incidents, human rights abuses, and civilian killings.
“Whereas the disclosure of this information promoted public transparency through the exposure of the hiring of child prostitutes by Defense Department contractors, friendly fire incidents, human rights abuses, civilian killings, and United States use of psychological warfare.”
Amidst this, Assange has been held in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison since his removal from the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2019. The resolution raises concerns over the potential ramifications of his extradition, highlighting that if extradited and convicted, Assange could face up to 175 years in a U.S. maximum-security prison.
The resolution follows previous bipartisan efforts by lawmakers in the U.S. and Australia advocating for Assange’s freedom. Multiple lawmakers signed letters and resolutions, citing concerns about press freedom, urging the Biden administration to halt Assange’s prosecution.
Furthermore, the resolution emphasizes the gravity of prosecuting Assange under the Espionage Act, a move widely criticized by press freedom advocates who fear it could set a dangerous precedent of criminalizing journalism. It also echoes global support for Assange from various human rights, press freedom, and privacy rights advocates and organizations.
Assange Embassy Surveillance Lawsuit
In related news, a recent ruling by Judge John Koeltl allowed four Americans to proceed with their lawsuit against the CIA, alleging intrusive surveillance while visiting Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. The lawsuit alleges that a security contractor linked with the CIA accessed data copied from visitors’ phones during their meetings with Assange, violating their privacy rights protected under the U.S. Constitution.
Judge Koeltl, while dismissing certain aspects of the visitors’ lawsuit, acknowledged the potential privacy infringement concerning the contents of their electronic devices. The ruling opens the door for the plaintiffs to pursue the destruction of any records the CIA may have obtained from their phones. However, the judge rejected the claim for monetary damages against former CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
Filed in 2022, the lawsuit represents attorneys and journalists who visited Assange in 2017. It alleges that a security firm at the embassy provided the CIA with data collected from hidden cameras, microphones, and phone inspections during their interactions with the WikiLeaks founder. Pompeo’s involvement is highlighted, pointing to his historical animosity toward the organization.
Politico reports, “The suit tracks allegations in reports by the Spanish newspaper “El Pais” that a security firm at the Ecuadorian embassy gave the CIA information about Assange’s visitors. The data was gleaned from hidden cameras and microphones and from opening their phones while they were meeting with the WikiLeaks founder.”
The recent ruling allowing the lawsuit against the CIA to proceed further underscores the intricate web surrounding Assange’s legal battle. This development, while not directly tied to Assange’s extradition case, amplifies concerns regarding privacy rights and government surveillance tactics.
With the hearing scheduled at the UK High Court on February 20 and 21 looming as the climax of Julian Assange’s extradition battle, bipartisan support has surged in defense of journalistic rights. Recent resolutions and legal rulings have spotlighted Assange’s fight, igniting a crucial debate on investigative journalists’ rights in a time of heightened scrutiny and growing censorship. As advocates unite against the U.S. government’s prosecution of Assange, concerns escalate over the potential fallout of his extradition and the enduring impact on press freedoms, paving the way for 2024 as a pivotal year in the intersection of press freedom, government accountability, and the broader landscape of journalistic integrity.