Today’s make or break for President Joe Biden and his wimpy attorney general Merrick Garland on the issue of a free press.
The US Constitution, flawed as it is as a founding document, is unequivocal on the matter. Its much cited and touted First Amendment states;
“Congress shall make no law…abridging freedom of speech or of the press. ”
There are no caveats, no ambiguous words or placements of commas as in the case of the controversial Second Amendment.
You either have a free press, or you don’t.
And you cannot claim to have a free press in a country that seeks to arrest, try and convict a journalistic publisher for publishing news — especially news about government and military criminality that was widely disseminated by the nation’s leading news organizations.
That is what is being done, and has been attempted by three successive US presidential administrations, using a century-old and from its initial Congressional passage highly controversial Espionage Act to attempt to capture, extradite and prosecute the founder of Wikileaks, one of the most important and successful publishers and distributors of important information from whistleblowers seeking to expose government abuses.
Joe Biden, speaking today on World Press Freedom Day, cynically declared press freedom to be “a pillar of democracy,” and then declared, referring to two incarcerated Wall Street Journal and freelance reporters incarcerated in Russia and Syria, “Evan Gershkovich and Austin Tice weigh heavy on my mind today, No family should have to endure the pain I’ve seen their families bear.”
He went on to say, “But in far too many places around the world, autocrats and their enablers continue to repress a free and independent media — through censorship, retribution, threats, lawsuits, harassment, disinformation, detention, and physical attacks.”
The president needn’t look far to find a place where that is happening. It’s in his own Oval Office (and his bathroom mirror), and just a three-minute walk down Pennsylvania Avenue in the office of the US Attorney General Garland that the First Amendment is being trampled and a journalist is being cruelly attacked in the interest of the US national security apparatus that Biden heads.
Efforts to lock up and silence Australian citizen Julian Assange on espionage charges began in the Obama administration in April 2010 when hjs publication Wikileaks released publicly to major media organizations in the US and around the globe videotape from a US attack helicopter gunsight camera showing the massacre by machine-gun fire of a group of unarmed civilian Iraqis in a Baghdad square, including two Iraqi video journalists. The tape inclued audio showing the gunner and the chopper pilot laughing as they mowed the men and two young boys down. The US caught, tried and imprisoned the enlisted US Army private, Chelsea Manning, who provided Wikileaks with that horrifying tape with Obama finally releasing her early under public pressure.
Since then the CIA, NSA, and before during Manning’s imprisonment, the State Department, the Justice Department and the White House have engaged in a vile, secret and deceitful international campaign, including bugging of a foreign embassy and bribing of a foreign government (and even plotting a never executed kidnap and murder attempt against and a call by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a drone attack on Assange in the UK), all in an effort to silence him and to let journalists around the world know the price to be paid for publishing negative or embarrassing truths about US foreign policy or its military’s unpunishable war crimes.
This behavior, continued under the Biden administration, which has been pushing the British government and its shamelessly compliant legal system to approve its extradition request for Assange, so that it can try him in a US legal system where he would not be allowed to use a First Amendment defense for his actions.
Biden could make some kind of amends for the atrocity that has kept Assange in some form of captivity since 2012, the last four of them in solitary confinement in a high security prison designed to hold violent killers and terrorists, by declaring before World Press Freedom Day, that the prosecution of Assange will be ended immediately and that efforts to extradite him are ended. If he doesn’t do that (and it doesn’t look like he will, World Press Freedom Day will have to be recognized as a joke in the United States of America,
Biden’s failure to end the persecution of Assange should make US journalists denounce him as a fraud and a hypocrite whenever he seeks to criticize other autocracies for their repression of or arrest of journalists.
The British government should also for the same reasons, act today to declare that in the interest of a free press it is rejecting the US request for Assange’s extradition and is releasing him from jail and from any old charges relating to his skipping bail on a trumped up Swedish case that has long since been dropped, making him a free man in that country.
Joe Biden is not just a hypocrite. His actions, and his inaction in this particular case, are reducing the US Constitution’s First Amendment to what President George W Bush reportedly at one point in his presidency referred to as ‘just a scrap of paper.”
History will record this day as one of Joe Biden’s most ignominious. The suffering and worried Gershkovich and Tice families, with whom the president claimed to empathize, should know that Biden’s continued persecution and hounding of Assange only gives a pass to leaders in Russia and Syria to hang on to their journalist captives.
The irony is that the entire rest of the world knows that the US’s vaunted ‘free press” claim is a Potemkin fraud.
Either you have it or you don’t, and clearly we don’t here in the US.