CNN correspondent Jim Acosta returned to the White House on 17 November, a few days after a US judge had forced President Donald Trump to reverse the revocation of his press pass. Smiling before 50 or more photographers and cameramen, Acosta said triumphantly: ‘This was a test and I think we passed the test. Journalists need to know that in this country their First Amendment rights of freedom of the press are sacred, they’re protected in our constitution. Throughout all of this I was confident and I thought that … our rights would be protected as we continue to cover our government and hold our leaders accountable.’ Fade-out, happy ending.
Julian Assange probably did not watch the moving conclusion of this story live on CNN. He sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London six years ago, and his life there has become that of a prisoner: he cannot go outside for fear of being arrested by the British police, then probably extradited to the US; his access to communications is limited and he has been harassed repeatedly since Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, decided to please the US and make conditions less comfortable for his ‘guest’ (see Ecuador veers to neoliberalism, in this issue).
The reason for his detention, and the threat of several decades in prison in the US (in 2010 Trump wanted him executed), is his WikiLeaks website which has been behind the major revelations that have inconvenienced the world’s powerful over the last decade: photographic evidence of US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, US industrial espionage, secret bank accounts in the Cayman Islands. The dictatorship of former Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was shaken by the leaking of a US State Department cable that referred to this kleptocracy, a US ally, as a ‘sclerotic regime’ and ‘quasi-mafia’. WikiLeaks also revealed that two senior figures in France’s Socialist Party, François Hollande and Pierre Moscovici, had visited the US embassy in Paris in June 2006 to say that they regretted the vigour of President Jacques Chirac’s opposition to the US invasion of Iraq.
What the ‘left’ cannot forgive Assange for is WikiLeaks’ publication of stolen emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. They believe this favoured Russian designs and Trump’s election, and forget that, in this matter, WikiLeaks only unveiled her efforts to sabotage Bernie Sanders’s campaign during the Democratic primaries. In 2016 media around the world, especially in the United States, eagerly relayed the information, as they had done with previous leaks, without editors being called foreign spies or threatened with imprisonment.
The US authorities’ relentless pursuit of Assange is encouraged by the cowardice of many journalists who have abandoned him to his fate or even delight in his misfortune. MSNBC star anchor Christopher Matthews, formerly a Democratic Party bigwig, even suggested that the US secret service should ‘pull one of those Israeli numbers and just grab him.’
Serge Halimi is president and editorial director of Le Monde diplomatique.