By Joe Lauria / Consortium News
The following is an address delivered by Consortium News Editor-in-Chief Joe Lauria at a rally for Julian Assange in front of the U.S. Department of Justice Building in Washington on April 11, the fourth anniversary of Assange’s arrest.
At our last rally in front of this Justice Department building last October I read a letter I had written to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Now there is a more important letter delivered to Garland drafted bu Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and signed by six other House members.
This letter is part of the increasing pressure being brought by politicians and the public on the DOJ to drop the charges against Julian Assange. And it is slowly showing progress.
In Australia, Foreign Minister Penny Wong was directly asked in Parliament by Senator David Shoebridge whether Prime Minster Anthony Albanese asked President Biden directly about Assange when they met in San Diego in March. Wong waffled. She said Australia follows the rule of law. She said Australia can’t interfere in an ongoing legal process in another country.
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But Wong is full of crap. The Australian government has, through diplomatic intervention, won the release of six Australian citizens from foreign jails since 2007: David Hicks(U.S./Guantanamo),Melinda Taylor (Libya), James Ricketson (Cambodia), Sean Turnell (Myanmar), Kylie Moore-Gilbert (Iran), and Peter Greste (Egypt).
The legal process in Turnell’s case, for instance, was still ongoing as, like Assange, he had only been charged, but not convicted. Australian foreign affairs minister at the time, Liberal Marise Payne,issued a statement demanding Turnell’s release, something the Labor government refused to do for Assange. Payne said Turnell :
“… is a highly regarded adviser and member of the academic community in Australia … We called in the Myanmar ambassador into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to raise our concerns in relation to this, and we will continue to do that and press strongly for Professor Turnell’s release.”
The Hicks case is starker. He was never put on trial by the U.S. after years in Guantanamo. Yet Australia intervened to free him while that legal process played out.
Albanese encouraged the Australian High Commissioner in Britain to visit Julian in Belmarsh as the beginning of April. Julian’s father John Shipton told Consortium News the visit was “tremendous and substantial.” He said it was the “beginning of the end” for his son’s ordeal.
Albanese has been forced to finally say he is meeting U.S. officials at appropriate levels. But what is the appropriate level? Head of government to head of state?
Biden is headed to Australia in May. Will this be the moment when Albanese finally confronts him?
There is another bizarre way in which the message is getting through and the pressure is building. It’s a case of what can be called psychological appropriation. That is, taking something from your enemy and making it your own.
I’m old enough to recall the reaction to Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the Woodstock festival in 1968? There was outrage from conservatives. How could he desecrate the national anthem. And the fast forward 34 years. I walked into Madison Square Garden in 2004 for the Republican National Convention. And what did I hear on the loudspeakers?
Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. The Republicans played this.
And now we have Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer and then the State Department saying, “Journalism is Not a Crime.”
Where have we heard that before?
Of course they were speaking about the WSJ reporter imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges. Are they aware that this has been Assange supporters’ slogan for years? Are they trolling Assange? Are they trolling us? Or is it just some subconscious internalization?
So what or who is stopping Biden from dropping the charges?
The DNC and the C.I.A. Before the DNC leaks and the Vault 7 – for which Julian was not charged – Biden as VP told Meet the Press in 2010 that unless they could prove Assange actually stole the documents they could not charge him. And the Obama administration didn’t. So what changed? The indictment is about those 2010 leaks so that didn’t change.
It was WikiLeaks‘ DNC leaks and Vault 7. The DNC and the C.I.A. would be mighty pissed off at Biden if he dropped the charges.
What is the cost to Biden politically if he has the charges dropped? What would he gain? Unlike Albanese there is not the groundswell of public and political pressure building in the U.S. as in Australia, though Tlaib’s letter is a start.
And so are rallies like this. It may seem small but it is significant in putting pressure on Biden and Garland to finally do the right and not the expedient thing: Free Julian Assange.
Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @unjoe