New publication:

“In Defense of Julian Assange”

The charges Assange faces in the United States, which could mean life imprisonment, are presented as a major threat to press freedom.

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The book In Defense of Julian Assange[1], just published by OR Books, brings new light to the ongoing debate around the journalist-publisher and the media organization he founded, WikiLeaks.  Edited by Tariq Ali and Margaret Kunstler, the book explores different facets of Assange’s work and his contributions to revealing key information in the public interest that the governments concerned have tried to conceal.  It exposes the media offensive to discredit him, and examines the implications of the legal entanglement he has been facing in the United Kingdom, Sweden and the United States.


Expressing deep concern, several of the authors bear witness to the journalist’s present state of solitary confinement at the Belmarsh high security prison in London; others recount aspects of his previous seven-year sojourn at the Ecuadorian Embassy and his subsequent expulsion, last April.  On September 23, he completed the six-month sentence for breaching bail in the UK, yet he continues in detention awaiting the decision of the British courts on the US extradition request, in an audience to take place in February 2020.


The charges Assange faces in the United States, which could mean life imprisonment, are presented as a major threat to press freedom; James Goodale – the lawyer who defended the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case – is quoted on the book cover: “The charge against Assange for ‘conspiring’ with a source is the most dangerous I can think of with respect to the First Amendment in all my years representing media organizations.”  Several authors denounce that this threat means that any journalist in any country investigating security matters could be indicted by the US justice system for seeking any information the US government does not wish to have revealed.


A recurring theme throughout the book is the violation of due justice that Julian Assange continues to face.  Evidence is presented of manipulation in the Swedish sexual assault investigation that began in 2010 (shortly after WikiLeaks released Chelsea Manning’s trove of U.S. war secrets documents on Afghanistan and Iraq), in particular, that the UK was urging the Swedish authorities to continue the investigation, despite the scant evidence, and not consider the case as ‘just another extradition request’.


Also, as the editors state in their introduction, “If we lived in a world where laws were respected, Assange’s charge of failing to attend a bail hearing (a minor offense) would have resulted in a fine or a short prison sentence followed by release and a return to his native Australia”.  But, they add, both the UK and Australia are submissive to US demands, and the US needs to set an example, as a warning to others not to follow the WikiLeaks path.


Character assassination


One of the central themes of the book is the character assassination campaign explicitly directed against Julian Assange from across the political and media spectrum.  The introduction exposes that “The U.S. espionage indictment against Assange shows that he has been the victim of psychological operation warfare–rumor, disinformation and false news–designed to destroy his reputation and defame his character.”  Not the least of these was the smear campaign earlier this year in the Ecuadorian and global press, alluding to his alleged ‘dirty habits’, designed to minimize negative reactions to his arrest.


While Assange and his lawyers have consistently maintained that the primary reason he sought protection in the Ecuadoran Embassy was to avoid extradition on espionage, the media has insisted otherwise, downplaying the threat from the US.  Yet the fact that the US accusations were presented immediately on his removal from the Embassy shows that these fears were well-founded.


In the different sections of the book, Caitlin Johnstone responds one-by-one to the accusations often made by Assange’s critics and quotes proven facts to debunk a number of media myths and lies.


The philosophical underpinnings of Wikileaks


The volume goes on to explore the broader implications in terms of the Internet, censorship and scientific journalism.  In this section, Slavoj Žižek asks: “Why now?”  His answer is: Cambridge Analytica: “a name which stands for all that Assange is about, for what he fights against: the links between the great private corporations and government agencies.”  This author explains that the biggest achievement of the new cognitive-military complex, often replacing the use of direct oppression, is the understanding that: “individuals are much better controlled and ‘nudged’ in the desired direction when they continue to experience themselves as free and autonomous agents of their own life.”  Those in power therefore try to minimize the Cambridge Analytica scandal as a particular case of ‘misuse’; Assange has exposed those relations of the ‘deep state’ and therefore has to be silenced,


Other issues examined and documented are the debate around the rights and wrongs of publication by WikiLeaks of unredacted documents, the implications of the publication of the Clinton emails and their impact of the US presidential election result, along with the alleged connection between Assange and Russia. Other contributions look at Assange’s and WikiLeaks’ legacy.


The publication finalizes with the text of the indictment of 18 charges formulated against Assange by the US justice system, that could add up to a sentence of 175 years imprisonment.


Precisely for this reason, this is a critical moment to build support for Assange and prevent his delivery to the US administration, not only to protect his own human rights and integrity, but also to defend freedom of expression and investigative journalism globally.  This book is therefore conceived, as its title states, as a contribution to defending Assange.  This challenge has acquired a new urgency since the book’s launch coincided with the release by 60 medical doctors of a letter in which they denounce that the journalist could die in prison if he doesn’t receive immediate and adequate medical treatment.


Some 40 writers have contributed content, including Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, John Pilger, Vivienne Westwood, Pamela Anderson and the author of this article.



- Sally Burch is a British-Ecuadorian journalist and executive director of ALAI.  She has contributed to the book In Defense of Julian Assange.




[1] Tariq Ali, Margaret Kunstler (ed.), 2019. In Defense of Julian Assange, OR Books, New York.
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