On Assange and the right to free speech
By Jimoh Oladipupo, Revolutionary Socialist Vanguard (Sympathizing RCIT Section in Nigeria), 23 April 2019, https://revolutionarysocialistvanguard.wordpress.com/
These are the four words the US justice department hopes to base their case of indictment against the journalist Julian Assange if he is extradited to the US for 2010 allegations of computer intrusion in which he was accused of illegally gaining access to highly classified military data base to obtain data in form of videos. These videos reveal the killings of civilians, women and children inclusive, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and other locations by US soldiers, the implication of which is tantamount to war crimes committed by the US. The videos were obtained through collaboration with an inside man in the US secret service Chelsea Manning. In an attempt, according to US sources, to compromise the information through hacking either by breaking US database pass codes, Julian Assange sent a message that he had "no luck so far" after trying for the umpteenth time a message which investigators intercepted and will make their whole case on against Assange and his co-conspirator Manning.
Mainstream media is replete with debates as to whether the arrest of Assange some days ago is repression of freedom of the press as Assange's legal council have stated immediately after his arrest by London police and removal from the Ecuadorian embassy in the UK where he has been since 2010. This argument is countered by pro-US elite through the claim that Assange displayed extremity the moment he conspired to hack US secret intelligence database thus this group labels him as an "irresponsible journalist." This lot also claims that the US is right to charge Assange not for publishing the information he got from the "hack" but for illegally obtaining the information thus separating the act from the motive of the act. Yet before revising the motives and technicalities of the acclaimed violation of the US computer intrusion act there are more important questions that have been obscured by the International Criminal Court (ICC), the UN and other national unions: what steps have been taken to make the US answer for the war crimes committed? What investigations have these global associations carried out to know the true extent of these war crimes (are there more to be uncovered)? What steps have been taken to prevent the recurrence of such crimes?
The relegation of these questions by the UN and the media reveals the leaning of world governments in favour of US military interventionist interests instead of the world peace which is the pretext for their military coalition in the Middle East. Yet this favouritism is more clearly displayed by the yielding of the Ecuadorian government to pressure from the US and its allies when they invited London police into the Ecuadorian embassy to arrest Assange claiming that he had "violated the terms of his asylum" even after granting him citizenship. The almost puppet role the UK judiciary is playing speaks volume of the collaboration between its closest ally to maintain their imperialist grip on the Middle East making the revelation of their war crimes most threatening. As such we see the judge who presided over the incarceration of Assange betray the blindness of justice by calling Assange a "narcissist." If the justice system of the UK can be this biased against the journalist how much more the US justice department and this raises concerns about a would-be trial in the US if Assange is extradited.
The hostility of the UK, a country which has continued the flagrant selling of arms to Saudi Arabia (which is committing more crimes against humanity in Yemen); its police and court towards Assange confers special scrutiny on the whole case of the US against him; a case which as earlier stated is based on the claim that Assange hacked secret intelligence US databases and which is justified through the assertion that he is facing charges not because he published the information but because he obtained it illegally. But to test these arguments logically one might require a simpler analogy. A case can be referred to as theft only by the motive which the accused has when obtaining the article of interest, for instance, if the accused has the motive of using the article for himself or converting it to his property it becomes theft. In simpler terms the use of the article by the accused which forms the evidence determining the motive is what makes the crime a theft as is the case for many other crimes. Again if Assange obtained the information without publishing it or using it in anyway, he would be mentally retarded for what is the essence of stealing something if not to use or sell it. And a mentally retarded person cannot be charged that means that it is the utility of the information that formulates the crime. More so, if the article in this case is a "classified" document then the crime must be making it public. Another example forms the distinction between murder and manslaughter - the motive; to say little it's illogical or impossible to charge someone for obtaining a piece of information without also indicting him for what he did with it which in this case is publishing it.
This reveals what the case of the US against Assange is an attempt to hamper free speech and investigative journalism for by indicting him for gaining access to the information either by hacking or whatsoever. They also indict him for publishing it but this would not be the first time the US government is conducting a witch hunt against journalist and whistle blowers whose reportage they find disturbing. The US has also made John Snowden a former CIA operative, who is currently in asylum, a public enemy. At the same time the US Administration drags its feet to take action against the crown prince of Saudi Arabia for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi because the interest of the US government and Saudi Arabia align on many a front which implies that they share joint secrets.
Concerning those peddling arguments of responsible journalism and the extent to which a journalist should go to expose secrets it is because they lack a sense of careful juxtaposition of the present situation with others related to it. When the Egyptian president El Sisi ordered the arrest of Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein it was not because he had hacked some highly classified databases or because he had collaborated with a government official to leak secrets but the Egyptian government still labeled him as someone culpable of treason. When Maria Ressa was arrested in Manila by the Philippine government it was not because she hacked the government but other allegations were cooked up just to see her locked away. Thus the meaning of "irresponsible" in this case is highly subjective and debatable for different states clamp down on journalism when it violates a certain level of "responsibility" plus there's a great difference in the way people and their governments define "responsible." So the issue does not become a question of morals but a matter of interest.
It would not be surprising that the Trumpian government of the US kept mum even in the face of the above highlighted instances just as they will not admit that crown prince Bin Salman is culpable in the assassination of Khashoggi. Neither will they support the public release of the Mueller report on Russian collusion with Donald Trump for his victory in the 2016 US elections. So far only Jeremy Corbyn has condemned the attacks on free speech specifically in the Egyptian case just as he did after the arrest of Julian Assange advising against his extradition to the US which Theresa May has given consent to.
A thousand and one links can be established from the imperialist and government-sponsored onslaught against free speech and press freedom. One of which is that information should never be monopolized but put forward at all times for public consumption.
The arguments in this piece culminate in two paths which converge to vindicate Assange and expose the attempt of the US, UK and her allies to attack press freedom;
First, it is impossible to separate the motive of an action (which can only be established by careful investigations of events before and after the action which are related to it) from the action itself in which case Assange published the information he obtained publicly meaning that the US charges against him for obtaining the information is the same as charging him for publishing it which is an indictment on free speech.
Secondly, the constitution remains a tool in the hands of the ruling class to achieve their pernicious aims. Hence serious revolutionaries and progressives must always be critical with the laws of the land and support it only when it backs the interests of the masses.
Thus, the people of the US, UK and around the world must reject the extradition of Assange and his total exoneration from the charges against him. The international working class and the oppressed should mobilize in defence of Assange and of free speech!
Assange is no criminal and deserves not to be treated as one!
Jimoh Oladipupo is a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology student of Obafemi Awolowo University; the Branch Secretary of the Revolutionary Socialist Vanguard section of the university; a member of Great Ife Students' Union Action Committee and a progressive supporter of independent journalism and unionism.