Free Julian Assange

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Nobody told me there’d be days like these. Strange days indeed—the most dangerously Orwellian days I can remember. Absolutist authoritarians dominate both the Trump and anti-Trump camps inside and outside Congress, and both are committed to the new McCarthyism. Devin Nunes, head of the House Intelligence Committee, insists that Trump didn't collude with Russians, but that he, Nunes, repeatedly warned of Russian interference in US elections during Obama’s second term. I suppose that the rival accusations of the Democratic and Republican parties make this a little better than a monolithic, absolutist authoritarianism, but not much since both claim that the Russian Bear is everywhere. Whichever party is in power will bait the Bear, then say we have to expand domestic surveillance, the military budget, and the empire of bases, despite enormous potential for shared abundance. We can look forward to more murder, poison, and privation within our own borders and beyond.

Former CIA Director John Brennan called for a military coup if Trump fires Robert Mueller, and my otherwise affable neighbor called for a military coup because Trump traveled to Helsinki for a summit with Vladimir Putin.

At least a few prominent Republicans are likely to call for a coup if a Democrat becomes the next US president, especially if that Democrat is Black. #KounterfeitKamala and #BoughtBooker are both in the running, so hold onto your hat and your civil liberties.

Midterm Mayhem

Once again, the rivalry of the duopoly parties seems to be the one thing saving us from full blown totalitarianism. But Dems are so taxed trying to outdo Republicans in baiting the Russian Bear that they’ve got little energy left for fighting Trump’s ever more aggressive privatization and austerity measures. But then again, why would they? They’ve been down with the program ever since Bill Clinton took the White House, and Trump is just speeding it along. They’re all rich stockholders, and the market’s been booming ever since Trump took office. They’re now a lot richer.

If Republicans hold onto their control of the House in the midterms, Nunes will continue as House Intelligence Committee Chair and keep investigating Democrats for fabricating Russiagate. If Democrats take the House, Ranking Member Adam Schiff will assume the Chair and investigate Republicans for Russiagate. As it is now, Nunes has declared the Democrats’ Russiagate investigations over and denied them funds to bring witnesses to Washington and hold hearings. Someone is footing the Dems’ witness travel bills anyway, and they’re holding their own hearings in Nancy Pelosi’s office.

Genius in Peril

Now Ecuador is close to handing Julian Assange over to UK authorities, who will no doubt extradite him to the US to stand trial, but for what? Neither Assange nor Wikileaks are named in Mueller’s latest indictment for the alleged hacking and theft of DNC and Podesta emails. Mueller blames instead Guccifer 2.0, a dubious identity, and DCLeaks, a dubious website, both allegedly created by Russian spooks. Last year Wikileaks’ Vault 7 release revealed CIA cyber tools that could hide the origins of its own hacking attacks and disguise them as Russian.

In December 2017, Julian Assange appeared at the Holberg Debate in Oslo by video conference from his cell in Ecuador’s London Embassy,” where he called the claims that he did it “a very interesting form of fake news”:

On the one hand, we don’t speak about our sources in general, but we have said our source is not a state in this case. There’s been no presentation of evidence that that claim is not a correct claim. But what are the allegations, the formal allegations by US intelligence agencies? They obviously can’t be trusted. Their business—the CIA’s business—is both stealing information and fabricating information. That’s its business. Its statements obviously can’t be trusted. But what are its statements at their strongest? Its statements at their strongest are that there were hacks of the DNC. They provide no evidence. It’s their ‘assessment.’ There were hacks of the DNC that they believe were somehow sponsored by Russia, and this information then flowed through some third party [Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks] and came to us. And we published it.

“That’s the US intelligence allegation at its strongest. They say explicitly that there’s not an allegation that Wikileaks conspired with Russia or conspired with the Trump campaign. That’s not the allegation from the US intelligence services.

“But are their allegations that Wikileaks did conspire with [Russian] intelligence services and the Trump campaign? Yes. Every day. Those are made every day in the US press, fabricating even the strongest allegation of the US intelligence services. So here we have an interesting example where the statements of the CIA are more moderate than the statements of the US mainstream press. It’s very interesting. You would think that the CIA would be making outlandish allegations and then the press would be checking those allegations and somehow producing a less strident form of them. It’s exactly the opposite.”

Assange thus demonstrated once again that he is reason incarnate whether applying his genius to advanced mathematics, computer wizardry, or ordinary language, even in extreme circumstances. Reminds me of Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, who turned his execution by guillotine in 1794—the bloodiest year of the French Revolution—into his final science experiment. He promised to blink as many times as he could after his head was severed from his body while a fellow scientist counted.

We’re not going to see Assange’s head roll, although some, including Donald Trump, have called for his execution. The more likely outcome will be that his persecutors lock him up and throw away the key. A grim prospect for him and for the rest of us who care about truth, transparency, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.

I can’t imagine that even Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III’s DOJ plans to prosecute Assange over the DNC and Podesta emails since neither he nor Wikileaks are named in the Mueller indictment that blames all that on Guccifer 2.0, DCLeaks, and 13 Russian spooks. They couldn’t prove it if they did.

This week Glenn Greenwald explained the consequences of the alternative, prosecuting Assange for espionage because he published classified documents, a crime he could not and would not deny:

“The U.S. Justice Department has never wanted to indict and prosecute anyone for the crime of publishing such [classified] material, contenting themselves instead with prosecuting the government sources who leak it. Their reluctance has been due to two reasons: First, media outlets would argue that any attempts to criminalize the mere publication of classified or stolen documents is barred by the press freedom guarantee of the First Amendment, a proposition the Justice Department has never wanted to test; second, no Justice Department has wanted as part of its legacy the creation of a precedent that allows the U.S. government to criminally prosecute journalists and media outlets for reporting classified documents.

“But the Trump administration has made clear that they have no such concerns. Quite the contrary: Last April, Trump’s then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, now his secretary of state, delivered a deranged, rambling, highly threatening broadside against WikiLeaks. Without citing any evidence, Pompeo decreed that WikiLeaks is ‘a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,’ and thus declared, ‘We have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.’”

Got that? Prosecuting Assange could establish a precedent for prosecuting any media outlet that publishes classified material. Will that mean the original publisher and/or ensuing republishers? What about journalists who quote classified materials? What about their outlets? It’s a slippery slope.

I wish Theresa May's Tory government would hurry up and collapse, so Julian Assange could find safe harbor in the UK, but the US is no doubt rushing to get him out of there before that happens. So we have to keep writing, talking, broadcasting, and protesting before and after Ecuador hands him over, however futile that may seem. He’s not only shared troves of documents that reveal the workings of the world’s power elites, but also shared his genius to help us understand advancing technology’s implications for privacy and information control.

A friend of his just told me, “Julian is a genius, and geniuses have a way of winning in these situations that the rest of us would never imagine.”

Amen to that. I wish he could upload his astonishing brain into hyperspace and vanish for the time being, but Ecuador has taken his computer away. Strange days indeed.

Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at ann@anngarrison.com.

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