Julian Assange of WikiLeaks has been silenced. Assange was prevented from communicating with the outside world in his final 13 months at the Ecuador embassy in London, where he had obtained sanctuary from extradition to the United States. The silencing has continued in a British prison where Assange has been detained pending extradition to the US since British police forcibly removed him from the embassy in April.
Similarly, communication by Chelsea Manning has been much curtailed after Manning reveled United States military secrets. First, Manning served seven years in United States military prison after being convicted for the leak. Released from prison in 2017, Manning has been condemned to jail for most of the time since March of this year for refusing to testify for a grand jury involved in the US government’s effort to prosecute Assange.
Manning, a whistleblower, and Assange, a publisher who through WikiLeaks helped make public revelations of government activities provided by Manning and other whistleblowers, are prevented by the US and British governments, respectively, from speaking up on their own behalf. But that does not mean that other individuals cannot speak up for them. In fact, with Assange and Manning’s ability to communicate limited, it is more important than ever that advocates for their freedom speak up on their behalf.
Last week, Edward Snowden, a whistleblower who has since 2013 escaped similar silencing via retaining sanctuary in Russia, spoke up in strong advocacy for Assange and Manning’s freedom. He did so in an interview with Democracy Now host Amy Goodman.
Snowden points out in the interview that the US cases against Assange, Manning, and himself all derive from the Espionage Act, the same Espionage Act that he notes was used against Daniel Ellsberg in the 1970s after Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to media. Pointing as an example to Ellsberg being prevented from even telling a jury at trial why he leaked the Pentagon Papers that revealed the hidden truth about US actions in the Vietnam War, Snowden emphasizes that the Espionage Act “is a special law that absolutely rules out any kind of fair trial.”
Continuing, Snowden discusses in the interview Manning’s revelations of “torture and war crimes, indefinite detention on the part of the United States government in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba” and Snowden’s own “involvement in the revelation of global mass surveillance” as being part of activities by a “new generation” of whistleblowers.
Like Ellsberg, Snowden relates that he and Manning were confronted with the Espionage Act “that forbids the jury to consider” if the leaking activity at issue “was something that did more good for the public to know than it did harm to the government in terms of inconvenience or theoretical risks of investigative journalism in a free society.”
And Snowden makes sure to emphasizes that the victims of this type of persecution over the last few years extend beyond Manning and himself. Indeed, the charging of Julian Assange under the Espionage Act Snowden sees as particularly threatening. States Snowden:
We moved from an individual and exceptional case that was not repeated for decades and decades in the Ellsberg instance to something that under the Obama administration he charged more sources of journalism using this special law than all other presidents in the history of the United States combined. And now, under the Trump administration, we have taken one more step. We have gone from the United States government’s war on whistleblowers to, now, a war on journalism with the indictment of Julian Assange for what even the government itself admits was work related to journalism. And this I think is a dangerous, dangerous thing — not just for us, not just for Julian Assange, but for the world and the future.
Watch Snowden’s complete interview here: