Free Assange

The indictment against Julian Assange runs to 37 pages. It was signed on May 23, 2019. It details Assange’s interactions with Chelsea Manning, how he encouraged her to access secret files and helped her with password-breaking.

The indictment describes this as a conspiracy. It says Assange’s intention was “to subvert lawful measures imposed by the United States government to safeguard and secure classified information, in order to disclose that information to the public and inspire others with access to do the same”.

What the indictment describes is journalism. The searches Manning made of the classified network make this clear: “retention+of+interrogation+videos” and the next day “detainee+abuse”. These are not military secrets, they are outrages.

Hundreds of thousands of cables and reports were leaked. Without them, the world would not know of America’s war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq or its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The story on the front of this newspaper would not contain details of the tensions inside the Reserve Bank board.

Manning, a whistleblower, has twice been jailed for her involvement in these leaks. Her first sentence, later commuted, was for espionage and theft. Her second sentence was for refusing to testify against Assange.

Britain has now approved Assange’s extradition to America, where he faces a 175-year sentence. He has been effectively imprisoned for the past 10 years, first in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and then at Belmarsh prison. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has concluded his treatment constitutes psychological torture. Doctors have described it as medical neglect. He has suffered a stroke and appears emaciated and withdrawn.

It has become controversial to describe Assange as a journalist but that is what he is. His prosecution is an attack on the freedom of the press. The newspaper editors who worked with him to publish the WikiLeaks cables were not prosecuted and nor should he be.

Australia should do more to ensure the case against Assange is dropped. Anthony Albanese says he does not see the purpose of the prosecution. He implies a resolution is being sought in private.

“There are some people who think that if you put things in capital letters on Twitter and put an exclamation mark, that somehow makes it more important. It doesn’t,” he says, adding: “I intend to lead a government that engages diplomatically and appropriately with our partners.”

In reality, there is nothing to be lost from publicly pushing for Assange’s release. Relations with America will not be damaged. All it would take is a phone call.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 2, 2022 as "Free Assange".

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