Five major Western news organizations have finally spoken out for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and are calling on the US government to drop the charges against him.
In a letter to the US government, the editors and publishers of The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, DER SPIEGEL, and El País said that “publishing is not a crime” and that it was time for the US “to end its prosecution of Julian Assange for publishing secrets.”
The five news outlets benefited greatly from documents released by WikiLeaks and worked with the organization to publish State Department cables in a release known as “Cable Gate.” The letter explains that for receiving those leaks and the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs from whistleblower Chelsea Manning, Assange has faced “the most severe consequences.”
The letter reads: “On 12 April 2019, Assange was arrested in London on a US arrest warrant, and has now been held for three and a half years in a high-security British prison usually used for terrorists and members of organized crime groups.”
While being held in Belmarsh Prison on no charges, Assange has been subject to psychological torture, a UN special rapporteur has determined. If extradited to the US, he could face up to 175 years in a maximum security prison.
The US Department of Justice indicted Assange under the Espionage Act even though he used standard journalistic practices to receive the information he published. The letter explains that the Obama administration refrained from seeking Assange’s indictment due to the precedent it could set and that the Trump administration decided to pursue charges.
“Under Donald Trump however, the position changed. The DOJ relied on an old law, the Espionage Act of 1917 (designed to prosecute potential spies during World War 1), which has never been used to prosecute a publisher or broadcaster,” the news organizations said.
The Trump administration’s decision to indict Assange was likely related to WikiLeaks’ publication of documents that detailed the CIA’s hacking tools, known as Vault 7. While there was nothing illegal about the release, and Assange is being charged for unrelated leaks, Vault 7 enraged the CIA and then-Director Mike Pompeo.
Last year, in a bombshell report, Yahoo News revealed that the CIA under Pompeo plotted to kidnap and discussed assassinating Assange over the release of Vault 7. The report has been cited by Assange’s legal team to argue against the UK’s former Home Secretary’s decision to extradite him to the US, which is currently being appealed.