International Human Rights Day brings activists together to speak out on behalf of Julain Assange and in defense of freedom of the press
By Vince DeStefano
December 14, 2022
To commemorate International Human Rights Day and in concert with actions across the United States and around the world, the Assange Defense Committee, CODEPINK, National Lawyers Guild, LA Progressive, the Pasadena-Foothill Chapter ACLU, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) and Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) presented a “Free Julian Assange—Defender of a Free Press” event at All Powers Books, located at 4857 W Adams Blvd. in Los Angeles, on Saturday, December 10th.
There was a capacity crowd at the event which was also live-streamed on CODEPINK’s Facebook page as well as All Power Books Instagram page. The Assange event was followed by a reading, video and book signing with Medea Benjamin and Nicholas Davies about their new book War in Ukraine.—Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict. Medea and Nicholas also spoke in defense of Julian and the necessity of a free and open press.
The focus of both events was protection of Freedom of The Press in a time of occupation and war. There was a banner that greeted attendees asking the question “Where is Julian Assange now that we need him?” With that question in mind the speakers highlighted the importance of WikiLeaks to ensuring the dissemination of fact-based information rather government manipulated propaganda.
Using the government’s own documents in collaboration with The New York Times, DER SPEGIEL. Le Monde, the Guardian and El Pais, WikiLeaks, under the direction of Julian Assange, exposed the lies and war crimes committed in our names and with our tax dollars that the US government never wished to be known or exposed.
There are many things to know about Julian and the journalism produced through WikiLeaks, the organization he helped to establish in 2006. The first is that they have released millions of documents provided by anonymous whistleblowers from across the globe. Those documents exposed the crimes and lies of many nations and organizations who never wished them to see the light of day. During its more than 16 years in existence, WikiLeaks has never had to issue a single retraction or an apology for anything they or their partners have published. That is because WikiLeaks used the government’s own words and documents that were always scrupulously vetted for accuracy and then carefully redacted to ensure no harm would come to individuals from their release.
Julian’s successful extradition to the US will, in a very real sense, spell the end of the kind of journalism Thomas Jefferson said was “the necessary predicate for a functioning democracy, an informed and well educated electorate”. Investigative journalism—the kind practiced by journalists such as Seymour Hersh, I .F. Stone, Carl Bernstein, David Halberstam, Jane Mayer, Susan Sontag or Ida B. Wells, to name but a few—would be silenced and the public’s right to know ended by a successful prosecution of Julian Assange.
With the consolidation of our media landscape to a mere six mega-corporations, it’s not The New York Times we need fear losing. Rather it is all the alternative outlets of news that are clearly in the crosshairs of the Assange prosecution. The successful extradition and prosecution of Julian Assange on the 17 counts under the 1917 Espionage Act will criminalize contact with classified documents in any fashion. These are the documents that are not only the foundation of investigative journalism but are also often released by government officials themselves to promote their own agendas.
The unprecedented use of the Espionage Act of 1917 in this case makes conviction a near certainty. That is because the law prevents the defense from arguing their case on the basis of compelling interest of the public’s right to know or a greater good argument. In addition, to all that Julian’s trial will end up in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. This court has an unbelievable 98.2% conviction rate. One of the reasons for this is that it sits in the hub of our intelligence community (the NSA and CIA) and its members make up the jury pool.
Daniel Hale, Chelsea Manning, Reality Winner, John Kiriakou, Jefferey Sterling, and many have others appeared before this court. All have been found guilty and all have been subjected to long and harsh sentences. Their crimes? Telling us the truth about what our government does in our names. However, the very organizations and individuals whose crimes they exposed walk free. In many cases those criminals appear ad nauseum in major media outlets to pontificate and propagandize with impunity while these heroes languished under harsh prison conditions and then upon release see that their lives have been shattered.
The event at All Power Books opened with statements by Marcy Winograd and myself. Following our remarks Tom English gave a moving acapella rendition of the 1970’s anti-war song “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” that was breathtaking in it pathos. Then there were selected readings from Wikileaks Afghan and Iraq War Logs and a panel reading of the headlines from 2021 to the present regarding the ongoing extradition trial of Julian Assange read by Marcy Winograd (CODEPINK), Carolfrances Likins (ICUJP), myself (Assange Defense), Dave Clennon (Actor) and Estee Chandler (Jewish Voice for Peace).
This was followed by Medea Benjamin talking about the media coverage and collaboration with WikiLeaks.
There was then a reenactment of conversations between Julian Assange and Richard Stengel, editor of TIME magazine by actors Dave Clennon and Ricco Ross, followed by a reading from the Iraq War Logs by Carolfrances Likins. More reenactments followed by the two actors.
Estee Chandler then took the stage to cover Cable Gate, the release of 251,000 documents regarding what the US State Department was doing and who they were surveilling including the heads of state of some of our closest allies. She focused on the impact that US actions in concert with some of the world’s most powerful corporations had on the oppression of the Palestinians by the US’s unquestioning support of the State of Israel.
Lastly Alan Minsky spoke on the Guantanamo Files. These are 771 documents that exposed one of the darkest stains in our national history . He covered the horrors where more than 150 innocent Afghans and Pakistanis were held for years without charges under torturous and unbelievably cruel conditions where many prisoner still languish in a moral limbo created by George W. Bush’s “War on Terror.”
Marcy Winograd as the emcee brought this event to a close and as always with any event involving CODEPINK there was a call for direct action. Marcy asked all attendees to write and call their representatives then and there. In addition to calls, attendees were directed to the QR code on the event flyers and the Assange Banner that directed individuals to the Assangedefense.org action page where they could also write directly to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Attorney General Merrick Garland and President Joe Biden to drop their misguided extradition of Julian Assange immediately and unconditionally, to return him to his family and loved ones and to protect the bedrock of our democracy: Freedom of the Press.
Once the Assange event concluded, Medea Benjamin took the stage to discuss the ongoing crisis in Ukraine explored in the book she and Nicholas Davies wrote War in Ukraine—Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict. Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Editor of The Nation, writes in the book’s preface “Shouldn’t the consequences and human, economic and strategic costs of this proxy war be a central topic of informed analysis, discussion and debate? This primer by Medea Benjamin and Nicholas Davies is a needed and accessible contribution. ” Medea then provided in a video presentation and in her own words that very contribution with an illuminating history lesson almost totally absent from our corporate media’s march to war painted in the most simplistic black and white terms.
There are no heroes or villains in Benjamin and Davis’s telling account of this crisis, just deep analytical assessment of the history and players. It is a compelling read that informs without propagandizing, a clear and concise history lesson going back to its beginnings. It is written to ensure that all of the necessary elements for an objective analysis of the causes and possible solutions that will bring the bloodshed to an end are presented. I cannot recommend this book enough for anyone who wants to have the best source for the facts that have put the world closer to Armageddon. Where is Julian Assange when we need him to reveal the government’s secrets behind its role in this proxy war.
Gratitude to Steven Rohde and Carolfrances Likins for editing support. First published at the LA Progressive.