Stella Assange: War On Journalism Behind Biden’s Persecution Of Julian Assange

Stella Assange: War On Journalism Behind Biden’s Persecution Of Julian Assange

The U.S. government must drop the case against the publisher of Wikileaks
Stella Assange, wife of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, gives a press conference at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on December 13, 2022 as the Australian publisher remains in custody in Britain pending a US extradition request to face trial for divulging US military secrets about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.. (Photo by Frederick FLORIN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Julian Assange is such a threat to America’s national security that he should die in prison, according to the United States government. Joe Biden, when he was vice president, called Assange a “high-tech terrorist.” Secretary of State under President Donald J. Trump, Mike Pompeo, likened Assange’s Wikileaks organization to a “non-state hostile intelligence service.”

According to U.S. government investigators and prosecutors, Assange conspired to steal classified documents and, by publishing them, put the lives of innocent American allies in danger. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who denounced Assange again recently, pointed out the US government is charging him with “very serious criminal conduct.” If Britain extradites Assange to the U.S., he will likely be tried, found guilty, and could be sentenced to 175 years in prison. 

And yet there is no evidence that what Assange did resulted in any deaths or compromising of the national security of the United States or its allies. The U.S. admitted in court in 2013 and in 2020 that it can not tie a single death or instance of harm to the Wikileaks disclosure of confidential human sources. In 2010, the day before Biden called Assage a “high-tech terrorist,” Biden said, “I don’t think there’s any substantive damage.”

Pompeo’s view of Assange is not universally held among Trump supporters, many of whom lobbied Trump to pardon Assange and were disappointed when he didn’t. Meanwhile, independent observers agree Assange’s actions hurt no one. "Mr. Assange is not a criminal convict and poses no threat to anyone,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Meltzer in his 2020 appeal to British Authorities, “so his prolonged solitary confinement in a high-security prison is neither necessary nor proportionate and clearly lacks any legal basis.”

Assange rose to international prominence in 2010 when he published a series of leaks, which exposed the reality of the U.S. government’s war crimes, its habit of spying on friends – and the rampant corruption that fuels global politics. In all, Wikileaks published hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic and military documents – including the “Iraq War Logs,” the “Afghan War Diaries,” and the “Embassy Cables,” leaked by U.S. Army Intelligence Analyst Chelsea Manning. The leaks enraged the government, but the Obama Administration stopped short of extraditing and prosecuting Assange. Now, under an indictment issued by the Trump Administration and updated by Biden’s Department of Justice, Assange stands accused of doing what is essentially the mandate of national security journalists everywhere: to acquire and publish government secrets.


The US government’s allegation that Assange unsuccessfully conspired to help a US soldier crack a password to access files is also problematic. The evidence shows the soldier didn’t need Assange’s help because she had Top Secret security clearance and legitimate access to the files in question. As such, Assange stands accused of conspiring to help his source conceal their identity – a core tenet of good journalism. Journalists are obliged to employ measures to limit their source’s risk of exposure and retaliation – things like using a pseudonym to protect someone’s identity, communicating over encrypted messaging platforms, or redacting sensitive documents before publication.

We at Public agree that revealing confidential human sources or other sensitive information is wrong in most instances. Assange should have redacted the information he released to protect people. Any journalist or publisher should consider the impact of their behavior on a wide variety of other people. But Assange’s missteps do not warrant the punishment of death in prison. There is a good reason that “No harm, no foul” remains the standard in many criminal cases. And whatever harm Assange may have caused, he has more than repaid it in the punishment of being either on the run or incarcerated for 12 years.

Moreover, what Assange and Wikileaks exposed — serious war crimes and U.S. government spying on its allies — is of great importance. Assange played the same constitutionally protected role of journalist-publisher that the New York Times and Washington Post did when they published a classified history of the Vietnam War. These documents, stolen by Defense Department analyst Daniel Ellsberg in 1969, came to be known as the “Pentagon Papers.” In 1971, the Supreme Court ruled that the Nixon Administration could not prevent publication, offering a deep precedent and robust defense of the First Amendment that arguably protects Assange, too.

The indictment criminalizes practices that are routine to good journalism and essential to the ethical framework that makes it possible. Even the New York Times acknowledges that news organizations received exactly the same archive of documents from Wikileaks without government permission. President Biden can’t champion values like due process, free speech, and the right to asylum only when it’s convenient. Given that, why is the Biden administration still threatening Assange with 175 years in prison?

To answer that question, we sat down with a woman who is a member of Assange’s legal team and the mother of his children, Stella Assange. What she told us is of great importance, not just for a single person but also for the future of free speech and journalism.

The War On Journalism

A scene from “Collateral Murder.”

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