By James Edwin Gibson
Many of us in the United States pride ourselves on our nation’s reputation for freedom of speech and freedom of the press. But, to what extent do we really have it?
Current efforts by the United States to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the U.S. to face charges are leading to discussions about how much freedom of the press is proper.
Also, is the real reason that the U.S. seeks to prosecute him, the fact that he and WikiLeaks exposed much wrongdoing by the government?
I remember some years ago when the United States government repeatedly denied reports of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Then, when photos were publicly released showing the abuse, the government seemed to first seek to prosecute the person who took the photos. It seems the government, both then and now with Assange, perhaps seems to convey the message that persons who document government wrongdoing will face more severe charges than those who commit the wrongdoing. I strongly oppose the commission of wrongdoing and its cover up.
In a column posted yesterday (April 12, 2019) Guardian columnist Owen Jones wrote persuasively1 opposing the extradition of Assange and supporting freedom of the press for those exposing wrongdoing. I urge you to read his column.
While many elected and appointed officials in the United States are urging the prosecution of Assange, the United States government itself often seeks to crack passwords and access confidential documents of other governments around the world. The National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, the United States military, and other U.S. government agencies are guilty and have been guilty of many of the same things they accuse Assange of doing—and worse.
United States Government Wrongdoing
The United States government has interfered in numerous other nations’ elections, as reported by the New York Times2, The Atlantic3, and numerous other sources. The United States has also been involved in numerous military actions in various countries, as noted by Global Policy Forum4, a Congressional Research Service piece on FAS.org,5 and a huge number of other sources. Furthermore, many (most?) of those military actions were apparently not justified.
How much spying, election interfering, and military action has the United States taken against other countries that we don’t know about since it hasn’t been exposed by WikiLeaks or anyone else?
The United States government often does things in secret that it seeks to cover up. In recent years the organization WikiLeaks has published a huge quantity of secret documents exposing much wrongdoing. Some of the information it released (such as Social Security numbers and credit card numbers) should have remained secret as I see it, but a huge amount of the material it released has exposed wrongdoing that otherwise might not have come to light.
If what Assange and WikiLeaks did was wrong, much of what the United States government does and has done is wrong, too. Also, if Assange was wrong, were all the major media outlets that republished information leaked by WikiLeaks in the wrong, too?
Personally, I think WikiLeaks was guilty of doing wrong by leaking Social Security numbers and credit card numbers. And, some of the other information it released likely would better have been kept out of the public eye. However, the huge amount of leaked information that led to the exposure of wrongdoing, as well as corrective action in at least some cases, make the good outweigh the bad as I see it.
If the United States is to truly have freedom of speech and freedom of the press to a reasonable extent, I think persons who publish the truth and expose wrongdoing need to be protected from unreasonable prosecution. When (and if) Assange goes to trial, I hope that he faces only reasonable charges. And, perhaps most importantly, I hope those guilty of even greater wrongdoing face reasonable charges, especially if they haven’t repented.
I will close by asking readers to please note that I am focusing on Assange with regard to WikiLeaks and freedom of the press. Allegations he committed sexual abuse are another story that I don’t seek to address here. My focus is on freedom of the press and freedom of speech, both of which need to be allowed within reasonable limits—perhaps especially when they expose wrongdoing.
1 Jones, Owen; “Whatever you think of Julian Assange, his extradition to the US must be exposed”; TheGuardian.com; https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/12/julian-assange-extradition-wikileaks-america-crimes; April 12, 2019; website accessed April 13, 2019.
2 Shane, Scott; “Russia Isn’t the Only One Meddling in Elections. We Do It Too”; New York Times; https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/17/sunday-review/russia-isnt-the-only-one-meddling-in-elections-we-do-it-too.html; February 17, 2018; website accessed April 13, 2019.
3 Beinart, Peter; “The U.S. Needs to Face Up to Its Long History of Election Meddling”; The Atlantic; https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/07/the-us-has-a-long-history-of-election-meddling/565538/; July 22, 2018; website accessed April 13, 2019.
4 “U.S. Military and Clandestine Operations in Foreign Countries – 1798-Present”; Global Policy Forum; https://www.globalpolicy.org/us-westward-expansion/26024-us-interventions.html; December 2005; website accessed April 13, 2019.
5 “Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad 1798-2018”; Congressional Research Service (accessed on Federation of American Scientists website ); https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R42738.pdf; updated December 28, 2018; website accessed April 13, 2019.
This piece is being submitted to Craft News Report on April 13, 2019. But, the author has long felt the need to support freedom of speech and freedom of the press within reasonable limits. In past years he has written other articles on the subject for other websites.
Copyright © 2019 James Edwin Gibson. James is the author of the books True Christianity: It May Not Be What You Think (2014, second edition 2015, third edition 2017) and Several True (I Think) Stories: Can Truth Be Stranger Than Fiction? (2016, second edition 2017). You may contact James at firstname.lastname@example.org regarding this column. James thanks his friend Paul for publishing it on his website, thanks you all for reading, and hopes you all enjoy God’s blessings!