In early January, a British judge ruled against the U.S.’s request to extradite Julian Assange.
Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks, an international news source that publishes classified information provided by anonymous sources, and was charged with violating the Espionage Act under the Trump administration in 2019.
This is a decade long case that has been picked up and dropped due to lack of evidence and foreign policy. According to BBC and the New York Times, Assange took refuge in 2010 after publishing classified documents leaked by Chelsea Manning regarding wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Similarly, Edward Snowden was charged in 2013 under the same act for leaking classified information about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) illegal surveillance of Americans and foreign government according to the Associated Press.
These two cases raised a long-awaited debate on whether Assange and Snowden were heroes to the American people or threats to national security. Assange’s case has a widespread impact on the future of journalism, and the fallout of Snowden’s case will influence future whistleblowers’ decisions to reveal illegal acts by the government. Therefore, President Biden should use his power to pardon them because they risked their life and career to let unethical and illegal acts by the U.S. government see the light of day.
Freedom of the press is a liberty that has been exercised for centuries. It is a crucial channel for journalists who have their hands on bombshell documents; top newspapers like The Washington Post and The New York Times often publish leaked media like call tapes and official documents to hold the government accountable for serious accusations. Now, news outlets will have to report with one hand tied behind their back in fear of legal prosecutions.
Views of whistleblowers have also changed over the years. They are usually employees who uncover fraudulent actions in their organizations, especially within the government. Snowden was a contractor so he wasn’t protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act, which protects federal employees who expose “Government illegality, waste, and corruption.” As a government contractor who found damning evidence against the NSA, Snowden took great leaps to reveal the information to the public to hold the U.S. government accountable.
The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2020 further proves the importance of Snowden’s whistleblowing. According to Reuters, the warrantless programs by the NSA violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and could be unconstitutional. This decision was a vindication of Snowden’s decision to go public with evidence of NSA’s illegal activity.
Assange and Snowden were journalists and dutiful citizens who put their life on the line to reveal the truth to the people of the world. The power to pardon now lies in President Biden’s hands; it is time for America to thank them for their sacrifice to bring out the truth.