The Ecuadorian diplomat who gave Julian Assange political asylum reports from the extradition hearing against the WikiLeaks journalist, and explains why it is “the most important case against the freedom of expression in an entire generation.”
by Fidel Narváez, (translated by Ben Norton)
Part 2 - The accusation is for a “political crime,” which is not subject to extradition. Publishing classified, and truthful, information is not a crime.
Julian Assange would be prosecuted under the Espionage Act of the United States for a political “crime,” which is excluded from the extradition agreements between the United Kingdom and U.S.
The U.S. attorney general’s office has furthermore said that Assange, as a foreigner, would not be able to exercise the right of the First Amendment. That is to say, punishments apply to foreigners in the U.S., but not legal protections.
The director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Trevor Timm, told the court that the extradition of Assange would be the “end of national security journalism” because it would criminalize all reporters who receive secret documents.
He criticized the accusation that having a SecureDrop is a crime, as The Guardian, Washington Post, New York Times, and more than 80 other news organization, including the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, also currently use SecureDrop.
Timm said the Department of Justice has a political orientation, that the prosecution cannot decide who is a journalist and who is not, and that the charges against Assange “would radically rewrite” the First Amendment.
This was also affirmed in the written testimony by the director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, Jameel Jaffer, who insisted that the accusation against Assange is meant to discourage journalism that is essential for democracy, and represents a grave threat to the freedom of the press.
The professor of journalism and former investigative reporter Mark Feldstein testified that leaks are a “vital element” of journalism, that the collection of classified information is a “standard operating procedure” for journalists, and that WikiLeaks’ publications are constitutionally protected.
The US lawyer Eric Lewis, a former law professor at Georgetown University, noted that the Obama administration had finally decided not to try Assange Assange because of what is known as “the New York Times problem” — that is to say, there was not a way to prosecute him for publishing classified information without the same principle applying to many other journalists.
Lewis testified that the Trump administration had put pressure on prosecutors from the Eastern District of Virginia, and cited a New York Times article that referenced Matthew Miller, the former Justice Department spokesman under Obama, who warned the case could establish a precedent that threatens all journalists.
This same concern was expressed before the court by the lawyer Thomas A. Durkin, a former assistant United States attorney and professor of law, who warned that “the Trump administration ordering the reopening of the case was clearly a political decision.”
Both Durkin and Lewis affirmed that Assange would be condemned for life, given that the sentences for spying in the U.S. are generally life in prison, and the most lenient are from 20 to 30 years.
The lawyer Carey Shenkman, who wrote a book about the history and use of the Espionage Act, testified that the law is “extraordinarily broad” and one of the most divisive laws of the United States. “Never, in the history of the Espionage Act, has there been an accusation against an American editor … and neither has there been an extraterritorial accusation against a non-American editor.”
The prosecution, for its part, in what was one of the most terrifying admissions heard in the court, recognized that, while the Espionage Act had never been used against a journalist, its extensive scope would allow them to use it in this occasion.
The lawyer Jennifer Robinson, a member of Assange’s legal team, submitted to the court a written testimony detailing an offer of a pardon by President Trump, in exchange for Assange identifying the source of the leaks that WikiLeaks published from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2016.
The offer was made through the US Representative Dana Rohrabacher during a visit to the embassy of Ecuador. The congressman had explained that the information from Assange about the source of the leaks would be “interest, value, and assistance” for the president, and would “resolve the ongoing speculation about Russian involvement.”
The offer from the White House demonstrated the politicized nature of the case, given that the charges were made after Assange refused to provide any information.
The award-winning journalist Patrick Cockburn, who has written for The Independent for more than 30 years, submitted written testimony in which he said that Assange is being persecuted because he “exposed the way the US, as the world’s sole superpower, really conducted its wars – something that the military and political establishments saw as a blow to their credibility and legitimacy.”
For his part, the journalist Ian Cobain, who worked for The Guardian during the publication of WikiLeaks materials in 2010, said in written testimony that Assange is being persecuted because, “There is always the understanding – one that is so clear that it needs not be spoken – that anyone who has knowledge of state crimes, and who comes forward to corroborate allegations about those crimes, may face prosecution.”
The renowned professor Noam Chomsky told the court in written testimony that Assange “has performed an enormous service to all the people in the world who treasure the values of freedom and democracy and who therefore demand the right to know what their elected representatives are doing. His actions in turn have led him to be pursued in a cruel and intolerable manner.”
Yet, if there remain doubts about the political nature of the case, there was also the Judge Baraitser herself, who in the court said her original intention was to have the verdict before the U.S. presidential elections, and who asked the defense and the prosecution what implications a ruling would have had after said elections.
Why is a British judge, who is supposed to impart justice solely based on facts and evidence, waiting for a purely political event in another country to reveal her verdict?