Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed Monday that the United States “will always support the indispensable work of independent journalists around the world”—a commitment that the Biden administration has refused to apply to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, whom the U.S. government is attempting to prosecute for releasing classified information that exposed war crimes in Iraq and elsewhere.
“We won’t tolerate efforts to intimidate them or silence their voices,” Blinken tweeted, referring specifically to Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-American journalist and critic of Iran’s government. Alinejad, who currently works as a television host for the Voice of America Persian News Network—a U.S. government-funded outlet—says Iranian intelligence agents recently attempted to kidnap her from her home in New York City.
Critics were quick to note that Blinken’s expression of support for Alinejad and “independent journalists around the world” has not yet been extended to Assange, given that the Biden administration has continued its predecessor’s attempt to extradite the publisher from the United Kingdom, where he has spent more than two years in a maximum-security jail.
“Every U.S. media outlet should lambast this comment and reference Assange, but they won’t, because they suck,” political commentator Kyle Kulinski tweeted in response to Blinken’s remark.
Clare Daly, a socialist member of the European Parliament, noted that “the upshot of the ongoing Trump/Biden prosecution of Julian Assange is the United States believes all journalists, whatever their nationality, wherever they are, have a legal duty to keep the U.S. government’s dirty secrets.”
“Now I’m sorry, but that’s not ‘supporting’ journalists,” Daly added.
In January, a British judge rejected the Trump administration’s request to extradite Assange on the grounds that the brutal American prison system posed a threat to the publisher’s life. Despite pressure from press freedom groups to drop the charges, the Biden administration appealed the judge’s ruling in February and has since promised to let Assange serve out his potential 175-year prison sentence in his home country of Australia.
International advocacy organizations have consistently argued that prosecuting Assange for publishing classified information—something journalists do frequently—would pose a grave threat to press freedoms around the world.
“Journalists at major news publications regularly speak with sources, ask for clarification or more documentation, and receive and publish documents the government considers secret. In our view, such a precedent in this case could effectively criminalize these common journalistic practices,” a coalition of press freedom groups wrote in a letter to the Biden Justice Department earlier this year.
Since the Biden administration’s appeal of the U.K. judge’s extradition ruling, new revelations about the U.S. government’s case against Assange have sparked growing calls for an end to the prosecution effort and his immediate release from jail.
In an interview with the the Icelandic newspaper Stundin last month, a key witness against Assange admitted to fabricating accusations that the U.S. government used in its indictment (pdf) of the WikiLeaks founder. Common Dreams reported the news of Sigurdur Thordarson’s admission earlier this month, but the corporate media in the U.S. has largely ignored the walk-back.
As Jacobin‘s Branko Marcetic summarized:
The [U.S. government’s] indictment charges, among other things, that Assange instructed Thordarson “to commit computer intrusions” and secretly record high-ranking Icelandic officials, including members of parliament; that they tried to decrypt a “stolen” file from an Icelandic bank; that Assange tried to use “the unauthorized access given to him by a source” to make use of a government website that tracked police vehicles; and that he had ordered and encouraged Thordarson to set up a relationship with a hacking group, who would hack and illegally obtain documents to pass on to WikiLeaks. All of these claims, Thordarson has now admitted to Stundin, are either highly misleading or outright false, the paper reports.
“No one should be under any illusion that Blinken or Joe Biden is actually concerned about press freedoms, of course, as the administration’s actions in the first six months in office plainly show—just with assuring liberal voters this presidency is different from Trump’s,” Marcetic continued. “But that’s a lot harder to do when a key part of the case that Assange wasn’t merely a publisher of official secrets, but a criminal directing global hacking operations, turns out to have been fabricated.”
By Jake Johnson