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Continuing Prosecutions: Assange and the Biden Administration

With changes of presidential administrations, radical departures in policy are always exaggerated. Continuity remains, for the most part, a standard feature. It is precisely that continuity being challenged by groups fearful of the continuing prosecution of Julian Assange.

The effort by the US Justice Department to extradite Assange from the UK on eighteen charges based on the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act met a stumbling block in the courts on January 4 this year. The decision by District Judge Vanessa Baraitser proved exceedingly unsympathetic to the press and to Assange in general, but found his “the mental condition … such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”

Undeterred, the Justice Department promised to appeal (the February 12 deadline looms), while President Donald Trump showed little interest in dropping the case or using his pardoning powers. With the Biden administration still finding its feet, advocacy groups have gathered to press for the dropping of the case against the founder of WikiLeaks. On February 9, the Freedom of the Press Foundation sent a letter to President Joe Biden making the case. Signatories included Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, the Knight First Amendment Institute, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.

“While our organizations have different perspectives on Mr Assange and his organization,” states the letter, “we share the view that the government’s indictment of him poses a grave threat to press freedom both in the United States and abroad.” The letter distils the implications of the continued prosecution to model simplicity. The indictment is a threat to press freedom given that it covers the sort of conduct “journalists engage in routinely – and that they must engage in in order to do the work the public needs them to do.” Journalism entails speaking with sources, seeking clarification or further documentation and receiving and publishing documents “the government considers secret.”

Biden is weakly kitted out in the garb of a press defender, having positioned himself against Trump’s designation of the fourth estate as “the Enemy of the People.” In May last year, he promised that a Biden White House would ensure that there was “no bullying of the media from the press room podium or by tweet.” But for a good stretch of the presidential campaign, Biden tended to ignore the press, part of a general strategy to avoid his famed bumbling. For three months he did not hold a single news conference, even in virtual format.

Biden was also Vice President in an administration that preached mightily about the values of the press while regularly resorting to the Espionage Act in prosecuting journalistic sources and whistleblowers. Parker Higgins of the Freedom of the Press Foundation even argues that the Obama administration created a model Trump would grasp with glee, one characterised by the Espionage Act, efforts to “eviscerate reporter’s privilege,” the use of surveillance and the “abuse of the classification system”.

The new president does not count himself among Assange’s fans. In the aftermath of the publication of US State Department cables by WikiLeaks in 2010, Biden went so far as to call the publisher a “high-tech terrorist”, a position almost intemperate relative to other White House officials. The point is worth reiterating, given the Obama administration’s general reluctance to prosecute either Assange or WikiLeaks given the proximity of their activities to journalism. In 2013, Obama’s officials fell back on precedent, sparing WikiLeaks, and by virtue of that other press outlets, from legal action.

In that unfortunate interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, an irony that eluded him at the time, the then Vice President revealed that the Justice Department was “taking a look” at possible charges. If conspiracy could be proven behind obtaining “these classified documents with a member of the US military that is fundamentally different than if someone drops on your lap … if you are a press person, here is classified material.”

Biden also threw cold water on any claims that the publications had been anything like the Pentagon Papers released during the Nixon administration. Assange had “done things that have damaged and put in jeopardy the lives and occupations of people in other parts of the world.” There was also a complaint that meeting world leaders had become more onerous. “For example, in my meetings … there is a desire to meet with me alone, rather than have staff in the room. It makes things more cumbersome – so it has done damage.”

Such reasoning has been essentially duplicated in the current indictment, despite a paucity of evidence as to what actual harm the disclosures are said to have caused. Daniel Ellsberg, the man behind the release of the Pentagon Papers, told the court in Assange’s extradition trial that US authorities had “not been able to identify a single person at risk of death, incarceration or physical harm.”

Given Biden’s previous form on the subject, it is hardly surprising that his administration is promising to continue the prosecution. On February 9, Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi revealed that there would be no change of tack in pursuing Assange. “We continue to seek his extradition.” The new is looking awfully like the old on this point.

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19 comments

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  1. DrakeN

    Whatever the cost, the electorate must never know what its government is actually doing: Secrecy, deflection and outright lying are essential to keep them and their mates in their positions of power and priviledge.
    As the ‘Great Bard’ wrote: ” ‘t was ever thus.”

  2. John OCallaghan

    Thank you for writing this honest and frank assessment of Biden and his administrations criminal and disgusting attitude/policy towards Julian Assange.
    Spot on!

  3. !

    Here’s the latest from the USA (via The Young Turks) with graphic footage.

  4. paul walter

    No hope.

    Not with Hillary pissing down his earhole.

  5. A Commentator

    Dear Julian
    Thank you for your valuable assistance in delivering the US presidency to the most narcissistic, sexist, racist, unhinged, incoherent, corrupt candidate in living memory
    Cheers

  6. paul walter

    A Commentator, it is probably too early to condemn Biden yet, though.

    It is a pity Clinton s arrogance delivered the US Presidency to Trump earlier also.

    Or was that Murdoch backing Trump?

    Let’s face it. The US system has been a stuffed meat puppet for Wall St for decades.

  7. paul walter

    Seriously, lies AND slander do not make for encouraging reading.

  8. Michael Taylor

    And let’s not forget Comey’s odd decision to release the emails two days before the 2016 election.

  9. paul walter

    Michael, that is a brilliant comment. Comey was the person who sank Clinton as much as Trump or Fox, right at the end. An idiot, him.

    Like so many of them…

  10. A Commentator

    There were plenty of assistants in Trump’s win. Particularly the disenchantment of the US public with “business as usual” politicians
    I say f*** all of those enablers. And don’t try to diminish the role of Assange

  11. Michael Taylor

    I don’t think anyone is trying to diminish Assange’s role. My take is that people are simply stating that it is just one of the number of reasons why Trump won.

    Personally, I was pissed off that he made all those emails public. However, it’s all hypothetical as to whether that was the reason why Clinton lost.

  12. paul walter

    And why should Assange have felt ANY affection for Clinton, who was leading the pack to destroy him on behalf of Israel and US and and Brit proxies in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia?

    What dirty deeds was Clinton and the CIA fulminating in the deserts of the Middle East when she was Secretary of State; when the Arab masses in various US-sponsored puppet states were seeking to gain democracy?

    Western TNC’s kept their stranglehold on Mid East oil, consigning the millions to yet another generation of poverty and suppression.

    A Commentator, how can you as brainwashed as the rest of the MAGA morons. None so blind…

  13. Michael Taylor

    paul, the worst thing about the 2016 US presidential election was that it was between the two most appalling candidates.

  14. paul walter

    Yes. It was a tragic demonstration of how complete the rot that had set in for some time with US democracy. It lazily attempted to botox itself as democracy in action and but only village idiots failed to recognise what an example of shadow puppet, shopfront politics it really was.

    Ancient or timid candidates to uphold the illusion but only rightists truly considered, against any desire of the now dumbed down masses for genuine reality-based reform as the Wasserman-Shultz machinations mercifully exposed by whistle blowers, revealed the extent of Wall St interference in a previously less undemocratic process.

    Wall St was never going to accept even moderate reform candidates like Warren and Sanders, at the cost of overtising the sort of pressure they had brought to bear to prevent accountability after the 2008 Meltdown on an inexperienced Obama Administration (read Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz for a detailed account over decades, including his book specifically on the Wall St crash, “Freefall”). In short, Wall St and its Media and press mouth pieces like Murdoch became so powerful as to hollowed out democracy in the USA and hence most Western countries, including ours.

    Only the husk of appearances has remained. Think.
    What does it mean that the ultra rich haver increased their wealth by 30% over the Covid period when so many others have felt the full blast of the cold winds of change? You may blame the gangsta Trump for setting the preconditions for this rupture and the subsequent ransacking, but he only got there because the Democrats refused or were unable, more likely, to face up to neo liberalism and institute a genuine reform process before and during 2016. Pretty much the parallel thing has happened here since Murdoch and Abbot got Labor chucked- eight years of dismemberment that now permits the likes of Dutton, Morrison, Angus Taylor, Joyce and the like to rort, lie, slander and obscure their behaviours through the non reportage from a large chunk of dumbed down media backed by surveillance laws.

    …………

    So, back to Julian Assange, Manning, Witness K here and Snowden, a number of others besides, really tell us about the slime of a ruling class we are burdened with and what becomes of those who try to hold such oligarchs to account?

  15. Jack sprat

    Scumo,, when replying to china’s taunts on Australian’s war crimes in Afghanistan,said unlike china we admit to our crimes forgot to mention that we also prosecute those whistle blowers who expose these crimes.

  16. paul walter

    Jack sprat, they have studiously avoided acknowledging their antics in various parts of West Asia and the Middle East.

    If you don’t want to find out what is happening in the real world, watch ABC 24 News.

    The list of issues never covered reaches down to the floor.

  17. Matters Not

    Yes Paul – might be worth reproducing his exact words.

    “Look,” Raytheon Technologies CEO Greg Hayes reassured investors anticipating this move, “peace is not going to break out in the Middle East anytime soon. I think it remains an area where we’ll continue to see solid growth.”

    Isn’t he just telling the truth? And doesn’t he have a fiduciary duty (as the CEO) to keep the share price as high as possible? Given he is probably a (significant) share-holder as well, doesn’t he have a financial obligation to the family also? Perhaps his reassuring comments earned him a bonus as well?

    Closer to home, there’s a few moral dilemmas in the corporate world that might involve lives so who (if anyone) should carry that responsibility? Or is suicide just down to the individual?

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