On Feb. 15, 2020, the Courage Foundation organized an informational mass meeting at the City University of New York Law School in Long Island City, NY entitled “The Prosecution of Julian Assange: His Right to Publish is Our Right to Know.”
Over 100 people gathered to hear presentations by a panel of lawyers and journalists who laid out how important the outcome of his pending case is to press freedom in the United States and the world.
It was one of many meetings and rallies worldwide to raise consciousness and support for the director and founder of Wikileaks, who has been jailed in a maximum-security prison since April 2019 in London, England (until this week in solitary confinement) after he was forced to leave the Ecuadorean Embassy, where he had received asylum for seven years.
“This is a case I have dreaded for 50 years, and it is a case we must all fight.”
The U.S. Government has indicted Assange under the Espionage Act, and the trial for his extradition from England will begin on Feb. 24.
If the extradition and the trial come to pass, it will be the first time in U.S. history that a journalist will be prosecuted for espionage for publishing truthful information in the public interest. If successful, all partner press outlets in the U.S. which published leaked information obtained by WikiLeaks (including the New York Times, The Intercept, The Guardian, The Nation, and Haïti Liberté) may also become targets of Washington’s campaign to repress the publication of information documenting its crimes.
After an opening statement by the Courage Foundation’s Margie Ratner Kunstler, lawyer Jim Goodale, the former General Counsel to the New York Times, spoke. He advised the daily in 1971 that it was well within its rights to publish the “Pentago Papers,” a trove of secret government documents which were leaked by Defense Department analyst-turned-whisteblower Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg also was charged under the Espionage Act, but the courts dismissed the case, Goodale said. Today, the U.S. Government has resuscitated the Espionage Act to go after Assange.
“Prosecution under that statute, whether it had taken place then [at the time of the Pentagon Papers’ leak] or now, is extraordinarily damaging to all journalism and journalists,” Goodale said. It creates a situation where if “a Daniel Ellsberg or a Julian Assange leak information, they can be criminally prosecuted… This is a case I have dreaded for 50 years, and it is a case we must all fight.”
Renata Avila, one of Assange’s lawyers, also explained the legal dangers at play as well as Assange’s terrible treatment and fragile health. “What is at stake in this case is precisely our community, and our ability to say things that upset people and the ability to change things,” she said.
She warned that the character assassination of Assange “will only intensify in the upcoming weeks and we will hear a lot of propaganda about him. So I hope this presentation will be a vaccine against all these terrible stories you are going to hear about Julian.”
Glen Ford, the executive editor of the Black Agenda Report, provided an historical overview of the international context in which the assault on Assange is taking place. “The U.S. has implanted more than 800 military bases around the world as a kind of global military occupation, a kind of army of occupation everywhere around the planet,” he said, “and it has transformed the militaries of much of Africa into extensions of the U.S. military, and hence into enemies of their own people.”
“Assange became the [U.S.] empire’s Public Enemy #1,” even though “he is not a U.S. citizen, he is Australian,” Ford continued. “But none of that matters, because the United States asserts its own global rights and privileges over and above all others. It has universal jurisdiction in its own mind, and it backs it up with the tools of empire. Assange is therefore a traitor to empire and must be destroyed…. WikiLeaks has been disrupting imperial rule.”
Finally, journalist, author, and filmmaker Max Blumenthal, the editor of “The Grayzone,” complemented Ford’s presentation by explaining why most of the mainstream press is either not talking about Julian Assange’s case or smearing him.
“This is about the survival… of critical, skeptical, courageous, adversarial journalism itself.”
“There have been years of public demonization,” Blumenthal explained. “He has been branded as an anti-woman rapist, a lunatic colluding with a psychologically dysphoric transnational security criminal, a far-right libertarian, a far-left anarchist, an anti-democratic Russian asset wrecking the otherwise perfectly democratic Democratic Party, and a hacker in the words of the inappropriately named Ecuadorian president Lenin Moreno,” he continued to laughter from the audience.
Assange’s message is more than just about transparency, Blumenthal continued. “It is a message about the survival, not just of Julian Assange, but of critical, skeptical, courageous, adversarial journalism itself.”
Blumenthal also blamed the silence about and attacks against Assange on a “political ecosystem” of NGOs, journalistic consortiums, human rights groups, and “civil society” activists “funded by U.S-regime-tied billionaires and corporate multinationals which function exclusively in the interest of American empire, operating behind the language of solidarity, rights, and justice coopted from the global left.”
World-renowned Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker also called into the meeting to talk about her recent visit to Assange, and a video featuring interviews with famed intellectual Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg was also aired.
The event was moderated by Anya Parampil, a journalist with The Grayzone, and audience members posed many questions to the panelists after their presentations.
The event which ran for over three hours, was also sponsored by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), National Lawyers Guild-NYC, NYC Free Assange, Big Apple Coffee Party, and OR Books.
There is a vigil in support of Julian Assange held in New York’s Grand Central Station every Thursday from 4:30-5:30 p.m.
The Courage Foundation is an international whistleblower support network, campaigning for the public and legal defense of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks at defend.wikileaks.org, where one can find more information about future actions. Readers are encouraged to obtain the book “In Defense of Julian Assange” (available on Amazon) to learn about all aspects of the case.