Assange Justice Politics

Merrick Garland: Drop the Charges Against Julian Assange

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

By David Rovics / CounterPunch

I turned on the news yesterday and there was Attorney General Merrick Garland somewhere in Ukraine, talking about being part of the effort to prosecute war crimes charges against the Russian invaders. Coincidentally, the night before seeing our chief prosecutor in Ukraine, I had finished reading Nils Melzer’s recently-published book, the Trial of Julian Assange, which is an eloquent and devastating exposé of endemic political corruption deep within the state apparatuses of the US, the UK, Sweden, and other countries.

The unmistakable fact is that Merrick Garland’s Justice Department is still actively pursuing the extradition of Julian Assange, in order for him to face charges under the Espionage Act and spend the rest of his life in prison. This is the same Espionage Act that the Nixon administration considered using against Daniel Ellsberg, for leaking what became known as the Pentagon Papers, which were published in the New York Times and elsewhere.

Unlike Ellsberg, Assange did not himself steal, hack, or otherwise make off with secret documents that exposed US war crimes. He only facilitated the leaking of these documents, and the eventual publication of redacted parts of them by Wikileaks, the New York Times, and most of the rest of the world’s media. But unlike with Ellsberg, the government is going ahead with prosecuting someone — a journalist and editor named Julian Assange — under the Espionage Act.

The Espionage Act is one of these laws that is on the books but is not generally considered particularly useful by prosecutors because the law is so blatantly an outrageous, draconian relic of the Red Scare, an example of the most authoritarian responses to the militant labor movement of the post-World War 1 period. Enforcing the Espionage Act makes a complete mockery of all of the most fundamental democratic institutions. It’s obviously in total conflict with the First Amendment and many other elements of the Bill of Rights. The possibility that other journalists who expose war crimes might go to prison for the rest of their lives for violating the Espionage Act is a terrifying prospect. But Garland’s prosecution of a journalist for exposing war crimes under the Espionage Act continues.

While Garland makes plans to help prosecute war crimes committed by Russian soldiers, the war crimes committed by US forces in Bagram, Kama Ado, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Fallujah, Haditha, Baghdad, and on and on and on, go almost entirely unprosecuted and unpunished, and generally unacknowledged, except when the media spotlight is temporarily impossible to ignore, and a few crocodile tears must be shed to maintain appearances. But even while occasional noises are made by officials to half-heartedly acknowledge some of the shortcomings of the US military invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, the person most responsible for bringing the knowledge of these shortcomings to the global public is being prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917.

As far as I can surmise, the significant difference between 1971 and 2022 is Daniel Ellsberg had a very large national and global antiwar movement supporting him, and Julian Assange does not have such a movement behind him. He has many, many supporters, to be sure, despite all the massive deluge of propaganda actively put out by the US, UK, Swedish, and, since a change in administration in Ecuador, by the Ecuadorians as well, to delegitimize and vilify Assange. But the anti-imperialist movement that existed in Ellsberg’s day is absent today in the countries where it would be needed for Assange, such as in the UK and US.

Listening to the loud voices in the media constantly focusing on the war crimes of one particular nation — Russia — while consistently dismissing those committed by the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, the fact that the world’s most well-known exposer of US war crimes is in prison, silenced by the British authorities, makes this a silent scream if ever there was one.

In a maximum-security prison on the outskirts of London, built for what they call terrorists, barely allowed any visitors, cut off from communication with the outside world, while being tortured through solitary confinement, isolation, deprivation and degradation of all kinds. You and I have not heard Julian Assange’s actual voice for years. Almost no one has.

Most people who attempt to visit him in prison are turned away, including members of parliament. Whatever we know about Julian’s condition and his thoughts on anything can only be transmitted through Julian’s wife, Stella, who is able to talk to him regularly, but his ability to follow his own legal case, let alone global events, is made impossible by the British authorities, who are also clearly trying to drive him completely mad, in addition to silencing him, in the true tradition of authoritarian regimes everywhere.

The caging and silencing of Julian Assange today, and for years now, from his involuntary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy to his abduction and imprisonment at Belmarsh, the inability of Julian to communicate with the outside world, makes the brief conversation I had with him a decade ago seem that much more precious and rare.

I had written a song about Chelsea Manning’s heroic whistle-blowing on US war crimes in Iraq. (“Song for Bradley Manning” as it was originally recorded and released — later with the vocal track re-recorded and the song re-released as “Song for Chelsea Manning.”) Folks at Wikileaks were putting out an album of songs related to whistle-blowing, and I got an email from the people in charge of the album project, followed soon after by a phone call from Julian.

Julian mainly wanted to talk about Chelsea Manning, how important her whistle-blowing was, how good it is that artists write songs about her and get the word out in whatever ways possible. I believe he was calling each of the artists on the album to thank them, basically.

As for me, I wanted to take the opportunity of having Julian Assange on the phone with me to thank him for all of his work, which I assured him was very threatening to the powers-that-be. He of course well knew this, but deflected my compliments, as people often do with compliments generally.

I also wanted to make sure he knew how much he was loved and appreciated, in the face of the onslaught of negative publicity he was receiving in the wake of a police report being filed by two women in Sweden. It was abundantly obvious that whatever went on between Julian and his hosts in Sweden, the police report was being weaponized in the fullest way possible by governments and corporate media outlets all over the world who hated Assange for exposing their dirty laundry, and he had exposed a hell of a lot of it.

It was equally obvious that many people on the left, including many people I knew, were apt to assume the worst, and also were somehow unable to distinguish between allegations of sexual misconduct between two people, and governments that wanted to kill or imprison a man for exposing war crimes. For many people, once the sexual allegations were floating around, Julian was a hot potato, too hot to touch, war crimes exposures or not.

Around a couple weeks after our phone conversation came the news that he had received asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy, fearing extradition to the US.

For years it was the case that Julian had tepid levels of support on so much of the left, particularly in the US and Sweden, as the Swedish authorities have intentionally dragged on legal proceedings purely in order to assist British authorities in keeping Julian locked up in London under a plainly preposterous legal pretense, while simultaneously managing to make sure that any time he’s in the news, the words “sexual misconduct” or worse will be associated with his name.

The demonstrations I attended outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London during these years were embarrassingly small. At least some of the global press still took him seriously and interviewed him and his advocates regularly (thank you, Amy Goodman), but by and large he was either ignored or ridiculed, in many cases by journalists writing for the same publications that had worked with Wikileaks to expose US war crimes. Since his access to a phone and the internet was cut off in the embassy, after there was a change in administration in Ecuador, no more interviews with Julian.

Things have changed in recent years, with what is unmistakably a significant upsurge in support for Assange, and recognition of the importance of his case, and the implications of his persecution for the freedom of the press in the US, the UK, and Sweden, along with the rest of the world. It turned out that his fear of being extradited to the US and facing life in prison was fully accurate, and since the extradition proceedings and his imprisonment at Belmarsh, the ever more obvious injustice here is becoming too obvious to ignore for increasing numbers of individuals and organizations.

Whether the increasingly vocal support of mainly European political blocks, newspaper editors, organizations representing journalists, doctors, lawyers, artists, and many other professions, or human rights groups like Amnesty International might have any impact on the ongoing persecution and caging of this man, there is one person who could, with the swoop of a pen, release Julian from what is now over a decade of some form of intentionally cruel confinement. That is Attorney General Merrick Garland.

The Obama administration persecuted more whistle-blowers than ever before, but in the end the president at least pardoned Chelsea Manning, so she wouldn’t have to serve the rest of her 35-year prison sentence, and he opted not to try to prosecute anyone under 1917’s Espionage Act. But as with so many other initiatives of the Trump administration, we are not seeing Biden or his chief prosecutor change course here.

If Merrick Garland actually believes in the rule of law, as he claims he does, then while he is prosecuting war crimes committed in Ukraine, he should drop the charges against this man who exposed war crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan by the United States, Julian Assange. Then he should prosecute US war criminals, and Israeli and Saudi ones as well, while he’s at it. And he should renounce future use of the Espionage Act to persecute journalists for doing what we all need journalists to continue to do: hold the powerful to account, by shining a light on the crimes and corruption they are trying to hide.

David Rovics

David Rovics is a songwriter, podcaster, and part of Portland Emergency Eviction Response.  Go to to sign up to receive text notifications, so you can be part of this effort.  Another Portland is possible.


  1. Are you just in La-La Land?


    Just the premise of that perversion in Ukraine, as you say, looking at prosecuting for war crimes (who, ZioLensky), should tell you enough about the Extortion Racket that the United $tates of AmeriKKKa is running.

    As Derrick Jensen wrote in Beyond Hope:

    Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth. To start, there is the false hope that suddenly somehow the system may inexplicably change. Or technology will save us. Or the Great Mother. Or beings from Alpha Centauri.

    Freaky writing, and nothing new, again, in Sheared Off Post!

  2. This is weak tea puff opinion piece of which there are too many, where what would be useful is a fully rounded full force legal argument on the merits of the case under the statute. More’s the pity. It may be that the author doesn’t know the difference, but having had my life on the line in a court of law I can assure readers that terms like “it’s obvious” do not fly as argument in the judicial system nor is a, “fact” reinforced by the adjective, “unmistakable.”

    What interested parties should be doing is raising money for Assange’s defense, not lofting pleas to a person so tortured of mind as to be in Ukraine attempting a reverse Nuremberg. The best privately hired legal minds can put the big upside-the-head wallop on the comparatively small brains of government when push comes to shove in a court. And there is the bigger job, the legacy of this in case law. Presuming Assange is going to trial, It will be, win or lose, the written record of the arguments that matters to history not the man himself. If he’s jailed for life he’s still open for a pardon, if the legal arguments made as his trial are good enough he might get one, but his fate is not the greater issue, it’s about the case.

    It is curious that Assange support consists of professional whiners where what is required is some $millions in legal defense. Invoking the tired story of Ellsberg, claiming Assange exposed “war crimes,” cry babying about jail, all this stuff is too typical of the pudding-soft Left’s “feel my pain” approach to all things societal. Real defense is tougher than the prosecution. As a lawyer friend told in describing himself, “I’m a hired assassin.”

    1. The money won’t help, Kent. You trust too much on the legal system–it’s been bought. It’s a smoke screen of long duration. Review the witch trials of the seventeenth century./

      1. Try reading for content rather than running off led by your feelings. My post was about creating a great defense that creates a record of the case for posterity, not about one guy with or without whom the world will go on ticking.

  3. Not having Barach Obama’s Merick Garland appointment to the Supreme Court apparently was no great loss when it comes to justice.

  4. I very much appreciate the objective analysis that scheerpost provides and duly note the claims from its contributors that it is non partisan. But one cannot help but wonder at the pro-Russian orientation of many of its articles. One or two times, coincidence. But it is more consistent than that.

    1. It’s not by coincidence the Russians find support among the well read, it’s wisdom.

      The Russians have been being abused by the US for 32 years, including dragging them to the precipice on Ukraine from which they decided to push us back rather than jump. They deserve all the kudos across a variety of topics from offering ideas on security in Europe to bitch slapping the US out of Syria to putting the boot down on US unipolar hegemony in Ukraine. pro-Russian is not a put down, try to digest that fact please.

      1. Imagine how furious John D. Rockefeller was in the 1880s when Russian oil drillers struck enormous deposits in Baku, on the Caspian Sea. Russia was able to sell oil to Europe at prices that undercut Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. Cruel, underhanded, ruthless to his competitors, and lethally negligent towards his employees, Rockefeller, who had a history of selling temporarily at low prices to put his competitors out of business, wanted that market. So Rockefeller, who had mercilessly swallowed up his American competitors, schemed to destroy Russian competition. He lowered prices for Europeans, raised prices for Americans, spread rumors questioning Russian oil’s safety, and barred cheaper Russian oil from US consumers. This pattern of telling lies, pursuing greed, and not really caring at all about foreigners or Americans is a pattern that eerily persists in US foreign policy. Of interest, Rockefeller, the son of a religious mother and swindling father, somehow managed to think of himself as virtuous.

        Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, which eventually purchased a stake in Baku’s oil fields, lost millions of dollars when Russia became Communist in 1918 and the Bolsheviks nationalized Baku’s oil business. Perhaps it comes as no surprise, then, that beginning that same year, US policymakers chose to dispatch 10,000 troops to invade the USSR and battle against the Bolshevik’s Red Army in the Soviet Union’s civil war. Once the USSR fell in 1991 and transformed back into non-Communist Russia, Azerbaijan, and several other independent nations with economies open to foreign investors and bankers, US businessmen and investors eagerly continued where Rockefeller had left off.

      2. I’d seriously advise that you don’t at all, but if you must rip whole paragraphs out of a publication and post them under your name, then state you are doing so and how you think they relate to the post to which you reply.
        Furthermore it is an ethical requirement that you put the remarks in quotes with an attribution to the author not just a link.
        And for the record the quote you pulled is barely tangentially related to my comment and thus stands as obtuse, this is a comments section not a bulletin board.

  5. Thank you for a timely, much needed article.
    A correction. Chelsea Manning’s sentence was commuted (lessened), her crime not pardoned. A very important distinction. (Obama should have pardoned her.)
    Additionally, I believe ALL the whistleblower prosecutions by Obama were under the odious 1917 Espionage Act.

  6. David Rovics don’t you think it’s time for you to give up your childish view of US politics and stop writing such drivel. Merrick Garland could give a rats ass what happens to Julian Assange. He is not where he is because he is a nice guy. Our democracy is stone cold dead and we are slaves to the global power elite. Nobody is going to bail us out, nobody is going to do the right thing, nobody is going vote or protest their way out of this nightmare.

    David Rovics until you realize you are a slave, you can’t even begin to try to free yourself. Wake up slave.

    1. “Those who do not move do not notice their chains”- Rosa Luxumberg

  7. This is a political hit. It has little relation to justice. The Russians know this certainly. To submit their soldiers to war crimes would itself be a travesty. Since Russian media is forbidden, one can’t hear to howls of laughter and derision from Russia.

    1. You can’t “submit soldiers to war crimes.” And it would be a joke on us, not a travesty. History is larded with kangaroo courts, they mean nothing, in our case it’s just more CIA pieces being moved around the world game board.

  8. Thanks for this and for targeting Garland, recently sainted for his cleverness in doing nothing. He is a loyal representative of establishment law and talented at avoiding justice. I am so delighted he is in Ukraine helping prosecute soldiers in the middle of a war.

    But thanks, too, for reminding your readers of the torture of Assange and of his service to truth. I don’t expect he will survive efforts to drive him insane and suicidal. The Espionage Act of 1917 was invented by the Wilson regime to compel support for an unpopular war by terrorizing anti-war leaders, WWI came to an end. Now wars are perpetual. Obama used it readily though no war had been declared. Democrats, along with Republicans, love that sort of thing.

    We need songs and anthems … keep up the good work.

  9. In this article, just is in almost every other article about Julian Assange, it is never mentioned that he is a citizen of Australia, the Commonwealth of Australia.

    Do all these authors and pundits believe that Julian Assange is an American with a funny accent who must be “brought back” as more than one imbecilic American politician put it? I may be mistaken, but from all the research I have conducted, Julian Assange has never set foot on American soil! So, how can an American law enacted in 1917 apply to him?

    How can the Australian government allow the United States to accuse an Australian citizen of espionage in a country of which he is not a citizen?

    My question to the Australian government is this: why have you not raised a finger to assist this Australian citizen in distress, an Australian citizen who has committed no crime in any country yet has received–without trial–a punishment and incarceration in solitary confinement in the United Kingdom reserved for the most violent and dangerous criminals?

    Furthermore, why have you not demanded to the British authorities that your citizen, Julian Assange, be returned to his home country of Australia instead of being shipped off to an uncertain fate and possible lifetime imprisonment in the United States–for the “crime” of telling the truth?

    The craven mistreatment that Australian citizen Julian Assange has endured and suffered to this day has not only been committed by the British government, but by the Australian government by its inaction and its complicity. Australia bears a heavy responsibility for its callous and shameful abandonment of its citizen, Julian Assange.

    1. Spot on. The US is in many respects a rogue nation. It carries a big stick and speaks out of the side of its mouth. The hypocrisy is simply stunning.

      But one wonders if Churchill may have been on to something (paraphrasing): US democracy is the worst form of all governments… except for all the others.

  10. Enacted in June 1917, the Espionage Act was used during W.W. I to persecute anti-war critics, including Eugene V. Debs.
    After the war it was used against socialists and labor activists. To refer to it simply as “a draconian relic of the Red Scare” is to miss its original import.

  11. Let’s see: The US Deep State wants to lynch Julian Assange — no, make that is lynching Julian Assange — and the author thinks there’s a possibility that Milquetoast Merrick will adhere to his oath of office and uphold the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments in the face of that pressure? Hope truly does spring eternal.

  12. the anglo attempt to assassinate Assange reflects anglo immorality and insecurity
    “censorship reflects a society that has no confidence in itself”. Potter Stewart
    “amerika has never been a country for dissidents”. Richard Hofstadter
    “I know of no nation where there is not independence of mind nor any freedom of debate except USA”. Tocqueville
    “amerikan academia is far more effectively censored than was Soviet academia”. Georgi Derlugian

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