The Prosecution of Julian Assange is a Threat to the Free Press

The crux of the US case against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is simple: he put American and allied lives at risk through his exposure of classified material from military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The proof of this claim is where the problem arises for the prosecution. Because there isn’t any solid proof. Assange is in ill health and reportedly a high suicide risk. According to a psychiatric assessment Assange has resigned himself to die if the British court ultimately decides to extradite him to the US and he has already made his confession to a Catholic priest and started writing goodbye letters to family in the event that extradition is ordered. The Assange Case Assange started Wikileaks in 2006 and it entered the spotlight after releasing troves of material in 2010 relating to US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan accessed by US Army intel analyst Chelsea Manning. These included videos showing US military members killing Reuters journalists. Further material also exposed numerous lies and misleading actions taken by the Obama Administration and intelligence community and exposed worldwide diplomatic corruption. Assange was accused of sexual assault in Sweden in 2010 although the case was eventually not pursued. Assange fled the charges and the mounting political firestorm around his work at Wikileaks by hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he was given asylum so that he wouldn’t be extradited to the United States as a result of his publishing actions pertaining to the US national security establishment. In 2016 Wikileaks put out another massive release of Democratic National Committee documents that were partly credited with helping Donald Trump win the presidential election. This anti-Hillary Clinton move lost Assange many of his former progressive backers and has left him out to dry politically, abandoned by the left who formerly loved his work exposing the Bush Administration and on the target list of the Trump Administration and the GOP. Nonetheless it is fair to say Assange currently has much more backing among Trump supporters than among most mainstream progressives and centrists. Despite 2018 charges against Russian spies from Special Counsel Robert Mueller over working with Wikileaks to release the DNC material, Assange has stated that he never cooperated with Russia. Assange’s 2019 Arrest Assange was arrested at the Ecuadorian embassy in April, 2019 and given 50 weeks in prison for breaching bail. He was charged with violating the Espionage Act by the US the next month. His trial over extradition to the US began in May, 2019 and he is currently jailed at HM Prison Belmarsh in the UK. An unsealed indictment in 2017 charged Assange with working with Manning to cover her tracks after hacking classified materials and US grand jury hit him with 17 more spying charges last year. Assange’s lawyers warn of up to 175 years behind bars if he is convicted of all 18 charges. What’s Behind the Additional Charges? The additional 17 charges against Assange stretch back to the Obama Administration’s fervent pursuit of hacking groups, particularly Assange and Wikileaks. The charges are also part of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s ongoing crusade to punish Wikileaks at all costs. The charges are mainly cobbled together from past investigations and are full of holes where evidence should be and timeline irregularities. It’s quite apparent that the main purpose of the additional charges is to get charges which will be severe enough to prompt an extradition to the US. Trump called for Assange to be executed in 2010, praised him during the 2016 election for utilitarian reasons, later claimed to not have much idea who Assange is in any case and has since softened into hoping Assange just stays “quiet” in jail. Trump-supporting congressman Dana Rohrbacher reportedly offered Assange an end to the extradition proceedings and a presidential pardon in a 2017 meeting at the Ecuadorian embassy if he would name his source on the DNC leak and thereby exonerate Trump of Russian collusion. Assange refused. Potential Extradition to the United States Assange and Wikileaks provided Americans and people all over the world with valuable information about what their governments and military leadership were doing. Now that he faces potential extradition to the United States it’s worth asking why there isn’t more media attention. One of the few individuals who’s been reliably chronicling the proceedings is historian and former ambassador Craig Murray. His work has shed a lot of light on the monkeying around that is going on in the case and the actions of Judge Vanessa Baraitser which he has witnessed first-hand. As Murray wrote on Sept. 24: “It has been clear to me from Day 1 that I am watching a charade unfold. It is not in the least a shock to me that Baraitser does not think anything beyond the written opening arguments has any effect. I have again and again reported to you that, where rulings have to be made, she has brought them into court pre-written, before hearing the arguments before her. I strongly expect the final decision was made in this case even before opening arguments were received.” Amnesty International monitors have not been allowed to observe the ongoing hearings, despite in the past being allowed to observe human rights situations from Guantanamo Bay to Turkey. Assange’s legal team is correct in arguing that the charges against him are political and should not potentially trigger extradition. The evidence that the campaign against Assange is political is evident to anyone who takes even a cursory glance at his case and the bipartisan witch hunt against him by what Trump terms the “Deep State.” The Assange Case is an Assault on Transparency Every reputable news organization lists methods for sources to leak to them securely and without being caught. It’s called journalism. Encryption in journalism is not a crime, in fact it’s basic source protection. Assange’s help of Manning to get around being caught was not criminal, and the argument that Wikileaks is not actually a publisher and doesn’t deserve journalistic protections is bogus as well. Trying to arbitrarily separate them out as not a publisher is mere sophistry and it doesn’t even matter, anyway. The First Amendment and press freedom is not some specialized club that just applies to the Washington Post. It’s for the right to print words short of incitement that reveal information and hold the government accountable. If we regress to an increasingly blinkered view of who is a journalist or not the free press will be even more impacted – and less respected – than it is in today’s currently tense environment. Progressives and anti-Trump conservatives seem very alarmed and angry about Trump’s attacks on the press and criticism of unfriendly journalists. Every day seems to be a new “how dare he!” But when it comes to Assange you can almost hear the birds chirping at most mainstream outlets. Trump’s mean words about Jim Acosta make headline news, but a man rotting away in a jail cell for publishing material in the public interest is nowhere to be found on CNN. In fact, even some progressive journalists like Intercept founder Glenn Greenwald have only been given platforms on shows like Tucker Carlson Tonight now that MSNBC and other outlets have moved so far into the corporate wing of the Democratic party they even won’t give alternative views a hearing. The Obama Administration’s previous pursuit of Edward Snowden reflects a similar pattern of executive overreach. Trump’s musing of potentially pardoning Snowden shows that despite his past harsh statements on Assange he’s aware of how these cases are being prosecuted to protect the system of endless war and the perpetual bolstering of the military-industrial complex. If Assange dies in prison with hearings stretching out interminably or is extradited to face additional charges and prison time in the United States it will be a clear signal to journalists and truth-tellers everywhere to shut up about anything important or face similar consequences. Trump should pardon both Snowden and Assange and upset James Clapper, Susan Rice, John Brennan and James Comey’s self-righteous dinner party. Why side with the very people who oppose him? Whether you support Assange and believe he’s pursuing a noble and necessary mission or think he’s a pretentious stooge hopped up on Russophilia, the underlying fact remains: the prosecution of Julian Assange is a threat to the free press. As the character Tyrion says in Game of Thrones: “When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”

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RBG’s Death and the 2020 Election

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sept. 18 has shaken up the 2020 election and is sure to plunge an already dramatic election year into a raging political firestorm. Already dealing with riots, massive forest fires, economic problems and a global pandemic, the United States now faces an election that might actually be the most important in many people’s lifetimes — and not just in the way that the line has been previously employed for the sake of political rhetoric to get voters to the polls. A conservative replacement will be appointed soon. US President Donald Trump will reportedly nominate a woman to SCOTUS this coming week. RBG’s Record Ginsburg took her seat on SCOTUS in 1993 under President Bill Clinton and served there almost three decades. She was often part of the dissenting opinions as conservatives held a 5-4 voting majority, bolstering the image of her as a feisty fighter and underdog. RBG was a committed progressive who was staunchly in favor of abortion rights and legislating for increased labor protections and rights protections for women and minorities. Her dissenting opinions became well-known for their fiery conviction about gender equality, including landmark rulings on women’s right to administer estates and get survivor benefits when their husband died. Cases such as these and more made RBG into a feminist and progressive icon as she rose up the ranks and became prominent in the national eye. Who Will Trump Pick? Trump will most likely select Barbara Lagoa or Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacant SCOTUS seat. Both picks have various advantages. Both are socially conservative, devout Catholics, but there are some compelling reasons in favor of each from the right-wing perspective. Barrett works for the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago since being put there by Trump in 2017 and previously clerked for Justice Scalia. She’s a former law professor who is believed to be committed to overturning landmark abortion ruling Roe vs. Wade.  Lagoa has more judicial experience than Barrett and was put on the 3rd District Court of Appeals by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush in 2006. She moved to the US Court of Appeals for the 11th District in 2019 under orders from Trump. Lagoa is conservative, but is not as strongly opinionated on Roe vs. Wade. As a Cuban-American from Miami, however, she could also help solidify Trump’s growing support among Hispanic Americans. Left characterizations of Barrett as a “Catholic extremist” tend to tip the scales in favor of her being chosen by Trump. Furthermore, choosing Barrett would allow Trump to jeopardize much of the media and Democratic party’s emphasis on Biden’s Catholic faith. Is Hunter Biden also a “Catholic extremist” for having a large family? Is Biden a “good Catholic” for being liberal but Barrett is a “bad Catholic”? These are exactly the kind of litmus tests that will further sink the already disastrously falling support for Democrats among Hispanics and other portions of the electorate. Republicans Want to Fill RBG’s Seat ASAP Trump is promising that RBG’s seat will be filled quickly, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged to confirm Trump’s appointee, although there’s no guarantee that will happen before election day on November 3. In order to confirm the pick the Republicans would have to be singularly unified without losing more than three party member confirmation votes. Senators do not like being pressured on SCOTUS appointees and generally like to take their time to make a lifetime appointment to the vitally important court, and there’s a chance that the GOP could lose more votes than it could afford from Senators who are already finishing up their political career anyway, don’t support the pick, and don’t care any longer about the political suicide of not voting to confirm a new conservative justice. Regardless, progressive fury at the perceived Republican hypocrisy will be intense. President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in the spring of 2016 was declined by the Republican-controlled Congress who insisted that the presidential election must be finished before a SCOTUS nomination could move forward. Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch was put in the seat in 2017. McConnell wouldn’t move forward then on the other party’s pick, but he will now on his own party’s selection. This should not surprise anyone, particularly as federal politics has slid into an all-out brawl in the past few years and Democratic tactics have become increasingly intense and gloves-off as they seek to oust Trump from office. There is no reason to expect the GOP to play fair or adhere to standards of political civility at this point. Biden has already emphasized that the nomination should not take place until this presidential election is decided, but has declined to put out a list of who he would potentially nominate were he to become president. It is also possible that Democrats will put through some legislation to make it easier to pass laws in the Senate and allow them to possibly expand the Supreme Court and end the impending Republican power play. More Possible Choices to Replace Ginsburg Although reports say Trump has narrowed it down to Barrett or Lagoa, other women on the shortlist include Bridget Bade from the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Martha Pacold from the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Sarah Pitlyk from the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, deputy White House counsel Kate Todd, Joan Larsen of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Britt Grant of the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and Allison Jones Rushing of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. It is always possible that Trump will go with one of these women instead, as he is known for his unpredictability and has already changed his mind on a SCOTUS pick, having previously remarked he’d put Senator Ted Cruz in but recently announcing that it will be a woman instead. Political Calculus The Republicans could have held off on naming a replacement in order to further intensify the election and boost evangelical and socially conservative turnout. Making the 2020 election a referendum on Roe vs. Wade and putting a conservative on the bench would have strongly enthused many right-leaning voters. However, naming a replacement now has several advantages for the GOP. Firstly it can be seen as another feather in Trump’s cap and another win for voters to reflect on when they cast their ballot. Secondly, the Democratic party and left-leaning electoral meltdown that is sure to come as a replacement is named and vetted will likely provide unrest, dramatic rhetoric and behavior that will actually decrease support for the Democrats in crucial swing states and boost Republican voter turnout. RBG’s statement prior to her death that she wishes above all that a replacement not be appointed until a new president is “installed” will further inflame angry progressives and intensify their threats and accusations of rank hypocrisy from Republicans for their previous refusal to allow President Barack Obama’s pick of Merrick Garland to proceed forward onto SCOTUS. Various celebrities and establishment liberal figures have already made outlandish and possibly illegal statements inciting violence and promising that they’ll die before they allow the GOP to put in a replacement for RBG and “burn the entire f–ing thing down,” in the words of TV host Reza Aslan, for example. What’s Next? If Trump nominates Barrett the media and national uproar will be considerable. The hearings will be intensely partisan and bitter, but the election would be clearly tipped in Trump’s favor. Even a less contentious pick than Barrett is likely to result in a meltdown by coastal elites and progressives. Look for late night talk shows and other broadcast mediums for coastal folks to go absolutely bonkers, and don’t be surprised to see increased street-level agitation and unrest. The United States is now in the unenviable position of melting down over race relations and politics with a contentious Supreme Court hearing on the horizon. No matter what happens, the death of RBG is likely to go down as a pivotal point in US history and what comes next is likely to be dramatic on the political and popular level. Trump got a major boost in 2016 with the chance to fill the Supreme Court with a conservative justice, and his later appointments of Gorsuch to replace Scalia and Brett Kavanaugh to replace Anthony Kennedy helped bring many evangelicals and social conservatives over to his side and see him as a winner who gets things done. The death of RBG is likely to be what wins Trump the 2020 election and assists his administration in reshaping the federal bench to become more conservative across the board.

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