Well, Julian Assange is out on bail. I watched him emerge from Wandsworth Prison last night, to face a barrage of flashing cameras and cheers. He thanked those who had supported him and his team; his lawyers; journalists who hadn’t been “taken in”; and the British Justice System where, he said, “if justice isn’t always an outcome at least it’s not dead yet”.
Assange has some very creditable people supporting him, which lends authenticity to his mission and to him as a man. Today I read an article on dscriber.com about a letter written, by faculty members of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York, to Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.
The authors (writing in their private capacity) believe that leaks don’t damage American democracy, but government overreaction does, and that prosecuting Wikileaks staff will set a very dangerous precedent “for reporters in any publication or medium, potentially chilling investigative journalism and other First Amendment-protected activity.” They urge Obama to “pursue a course of prudent restraint in the Wikileaks matter”. For the full article and the letter, click this link.
The world has gone beserk over this issue, and understandably. There’s a lot at stake. But truth is getting very blurred on both sides. On one hand the [often US-driven] media image of Assange as a neurotic, out of control anarchist with a chip on his shoulder doesn’t appear anywhere close to the truth. As this saga unfolds, and Assange reveals more of who he really is it becomes increasingly clear that the neuroses and the distortions lie elsewhere.
With the US and Obama? I’m not so sure. I’m beginning to think they lie more with the media reports and rumors, and not just on the part of those who are against Assange. When he was first granted bail, there was an appeal against it. The media and Assange’s lawyer represented that appeal as allegedly coming from the Swedish prosecutor. Which very quickly became absolute truth. It was the Swedish authorities.
That turned into the entire Swedish government being in cahoots with the entire US Justice Department which wants Assange extradited into Sweden on a trumped up charge. Then Sweden can hand him over to the US where he can be tried for espionage and dispensed with.
Hold your horses! Last night on BBC a commentator said categorically that the Swedish authorities had not in fact launched the appeal against Assange’s bail. He said the British authorities did it, because that’s what they always do in extradition cases where there appears to be a flight risk. According to him there was no skullduggery, it was just the British Justice system doing its thing.
Assange was given a fair hearing, the outcome of which was that it was understood he’s not a flight risk. So the tiny little bit of truth – that Assange’s bail had been appealed – has been elaborated on and cloaked in a lie, and turned into an international conspiracy.
As for the US intention to extradite Assange and try him for espionage, and the role that Barack Obama is apparently actively playing – I can’t find evidence of that either. I find people saying “there are rumors” and “so and so is allegedly…” and “it’s been said”. I haven’t seen proof. I’m very aware that the fault could lie with me in that I’m just not looking in the right places. I’ll continue to look.
Emotions are running so high and when stakes are so high, it’s easy to lose track of what’s real, no matter which side you’re on. But if we support journalistic freedom and truth, and we expect the US to respect it, then we have to respect it also. Innocent until proven guilty. We want it to apply to Assange. But not to the US Justice Department, and not to Barack Obama. Why? Do we care about truth or don’t we?