By Dave DeCamp
Over the weekend, President Biden declared “journalism is not a crime” at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, a statement that rings hollow as his Justice Department is seeking the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for exposing US war crimes.
Biden opened his speech by discussing Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal who was recently arrested in Russia. “Evan went to Russia to shed light on the darkness that you escaped from years ago,” Biden said, addressing Gershkovich’s parents.
Biden also mentioned Austin Tice, an American who disappeared in Syria in 2012 while working as a freelance journalist. The US accuses the Syrian government of holding him, an allegation Damascus denies. “Tonight, our message is this: Journalism is not a crime,” Biden said.
The president did not mention Assange or Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist for Al Jazeera who was killed by Israeli forces in May 2022. She was gunned down by Israeli forces while covering an Israeli raid in the West Bank and wearing a blue vest with “PRESS” written on it.
Biden’s speech came after a group of progressive Democrats led by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging the Justice Department to drop the charges against Assange, who faces up to 175 years in prison if convicted in the US.
“We write you today to call on you to uphold the First Amendment’s protections for the freedom of the press by dropping the criminal charges against Australian publisher Julian Assange and withdrawing the American extradition request currently pending with the British government,” Tlaib and the other lawmakers said.
Assange is being charged for publishing documents leaked to him by former Army Private Chelsea Manning on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The WikiLeaks founder obtained the documents using standard journalistic practices, and his conviction under the Espionage Act would set a very dangerous precedent.
The indictment against Assange was unsealed by the Trump administration in April 2019. At the time, Assange was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London and taken to Belmarsh Prison, where he is still being held today. While in Belmarsh, Assange has been subject to psychological torture, a UN special rapporteur has determined.
Image: Common Dreams
Provide, Protect and Profit from what’s coming! Get a free issue of Counter Markets today.