Dear President Biden:
The recent news that British courts approved Julian Assange’s U.S. extradition is the occasion for this letter. Mr. Assange is one of the most astute publishers, activists, and intellectuals of my generation; I write imploring you to drop all charges against him and other Wikileaks affiliated individuals– past, present, and future.
I was born in 1970. Easy access to my parents’ Time Life photo book series had me opposing the Vietnam War by elementary school. The pictures said it all. I pursued anti-war activism in college during the Persian Gulf War, and as a CSU Sacramento junior faculty member in the early 2000’s, I lectured on the failed foreign policy leading to Afghanistan and Iraq invasions. All of this work relied on excellent journalism pursued outside official U.S. media channels.
In 2006, Wikileaks made perfect sense because we need truthful war journalism outside Pentagon control. Brave Wikileaks warriors have risked their lives to shed light on wartime’s truths beyond corporate media propaganda. Your pursuit of Mr. Assange reveals wartime journalism’s threat to the Biden White House. Current U.S. military failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere fuel the need for independent journalism more than ever.
Not only do I support Wikileaks, I laud it as an activist journalism model, mobilized by its international influences. Charging and incarcerating non-U.S. citizens is one of the most ludicrous and devastating examples of U.S. judicial overreach in my generation.
Judicial overreach is another hallmark of my generation. In addition to my extensive anti-war activism, I pursued prison abolitionist work as a California professor. As Black Lives Matter and anti-prison activism impact police and prisons, U.S. incarceration is more commonly considered a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Mr. Assange undergoes extensive persecution in isolation from loved ones, and his health is failing because of it. His ongoing incarceration and upcoming U.S. extradition is tantamount to a death penalty sentence.
Not only do I implore you to drop charges against all Wikileaks affiliated individuals, please champion new legislation protecting journalists’ rights. While The Espionage Act protects military actions, its employment here violates The First Amendment. As a President, classified information allows you to make educated decisions. How do you think valuable information is attained? You daily benefit from the very information accrual you punish Wikileaks for pursuing in the name of an informed global citizenry.
If any lesson can be learned from the longstanding attack on Wikileaks, it’s that freedom of speech is not a democratic guarantee. As you know, The Espionage Act emerged in 1917, the year of the Bolshevik Revolution. The attack on Wikileaks is nothing short of a new McCarthy Era style ideological attack. President Biden, for your brand of liberalism to have any distinction from Trump’s authoritarianism, you must uphold the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment–lest you reward and reinforce prevailing Fascist forces.
If you pursue Mr. Assange’s charges, your administration sets a Fascist legal precedent using the violence of extradition, courts, and prisons to violate press freedom and enforce cruel and unusual punishment. This at a time when more people consider demilitarization and decarceration as viable political strategies.
If you drop Mr. Assange’s charges, your administration is supporting press freedom and denouncing mass-scale war– even encouraging Middle East decolonization (read more here.) Peaceful diplomacy in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, not simply throwing around money, is what’s urgently needed. Pursuing Mr. Assange for Espionage is a step backwards from demilitarization, reinforcing a reactionary status quo foreign policy buttressed by media censorship and intimidation of the global citizenry.
The choice is yours.
With Deep Concern,
Michelle Renée Matisons, Ph.D.