The New Atlantic Charter & Julian Assange

With the great transparency advocate locked up in London, Tareq Haddad says the recent U.K.-U.S. affirmation of independent media stands hollow.  

U.S. President Joe Biden, left, and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson at G7 in Cornwall, U.K., June 10. (Andrew Parsons, Number 10, Flickr)

By Tareq Haddad
in London

Leaders of The Group of Seven nation states met for their annual summit in Carbis Bay in Britain’s south-west on June 11-13. Some time between pantomime with elbow-bumps (later replaced by a far more intimate setting) and photo-ops with the queen, U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stepped aside from the remaining G7 members to sign a new version of the 80-year old “Atlantic Charter”— a historic document once drafted by Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt that preceded America’s entry into World War II.

The 1941 document, with its dedication to democracy and territorial integrity, is widely regarded as paving the way for the creation of the United Nations. It’s the favorite of U.S. and U.K. leaders for invoking our “special relationship”— in 2019, Prime Minister Theresa May gifted President Donald Trump a reproduction of Churchill’s personal copy of the Charter, including corrections he’d made in red pencil.

And while the original focused on the “final destruction of Nazi tyranny,” the revised version postured at Russia and China by calling for Western allies to “oppose interference through disinformation or other malign influences, including in elections” — while not naming the countries directly. It added: “We affirm our shared responsibility for maintaining our collective security and international stability and resilience against the full spectrum of modern threats, including cyber threats.”

Aug. 10, 1941: Franklin D. Roosevelt, left, and Winston Churchill on the quarterdeck of HMS Prince of Wales during the Atlantic Conference. (LC. Priest, Wikimedia Commons)

But aside from wagging their fingers at the West’s latest bogeymen of choice, particularly those of the U.S., The New Atlantic Charter makes important reaffirmations to “defend the principles, values, and institutions of democracy and open societies.” In the first emphasized point, it draws a line in the sand to:

“champion transparency, uphold the rule of law, and support civil society and independent media. We will also confront injustice and inequality and defend the inherent dignity and human rights of all individuals.”

One cannot help but feel that all such affirmations stand hollow with arguably the most well-known journalist of this generation, WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, incarcerated in solitary confinement at a British maximum-security prison, however.

Imprisoned at Belmarsh

In spite of a judgment by a British judge to refuse an application for his extradition to the United States in January, he remains imprisoned at H.M.P. Belmarsh in south-east London pending the outcome of a High Court U.S. appeal. (The High Court’s Administrative Court Office told this reporter that with regards to whether a decision to proceed with the appeal has been reached and when that would be, it confirmed that no information was yet available, nor would it say when any update could be expected.)

As such, the 49-year-old Australian has been imprisoned for what is approaching six months after a ruling that set a worrying precedent for investigative journalism, but ultimately found that sending Assange to an American super-max would be unjust and oppressive to his mental health, ordering his discharge as a result (although bail was henceforth refused).

Julian Assange on way to Belmarsh Prison, April 11, 2019. (Twitter)

It takes his total spell at H.M.P. Belmarsh to well over two years, though still not convicted of any crime, and is preceded by his confinement at the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he had been penned in by London’s Metropolitan Police Service without access to sunlight or medical treatment for a period of seven years. The United Nations twice defined this period as “arbitrary detention.”

And aside from unaddressed concerns that Assange had inadequate time with lawyers to prepare his case against the U.S., or that Spanish firm UC Global was hired to carry out illegal surveillance on him on behalf of the CIA (in violation of his right to privacy and rights to legal and medical privilege) — both examples running afoul of accepted norms on what constitutes a fair legal proceeding — the New Atlantic Charter’s calls for strengthening democracy by championing transparency also ring hollow as no one has been a greater advocate of transparency in government than Assange himself.

In his month-long extradition proceedings that took place at the Old Bailey in London in September 2020, professor Paul Rogers, a senior fellow at the Oxford Research Group and a peace studies professor at the University of Bradford, testified that:

“The political objective of seeking to achieve greater transparency is clearly both the motivation and the modus operandi for the work of Mr Assange and the organisation WikiLeaks.”

It was this, Rogers said, that brought Assange into direct confrontation with the Trump administration:

“The chronology of the subsequent progression of prosecutorial actions in relation to Mr Assange suggests that it paralleled the overt expression of hostility by President [Donald] Trump to the press generally as enemies, and the reporting of accurate news being dismissed as ‘fake news’ and of whistleblowers as ‘traitors’, widening the gulf between reporting of state actions and the desire of government for preserving secrets.”

Eric Lewis, an American attorney who is partner at Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss PLLC and is the U.S. chairman of Reprieve, told the court that Assange’s indictment came as a direct result of Trump’s “personal vitriol towards journalists and leakers.” He pointed to a quote from the then-Washington Post commentator Chris Cilizza who said: “I’ve never seen so much leaking so quickly — and with such disdain for the president — as I have in the first six days of Donald Trump’s presidency.”

Trump’s Attack on Leakers  

Poster near Belmarsh Prison in London, February 2020. (HOGRE, Flickr)

This caused Trump to launch a crusade on journalists and whistleblowers in February 2017, with him publicly directing the Department of Justice to aggressively go after leakers. “We’re going to find the leakers. They’re going to pay a big price for leaking,” Trump said.

And while Assange was no doubt the biggest fish to catch in this assault, in 2018 it emerged that New York Times reporter Ali Watkins, who had worked on a July 2017 story about the FBI’s ongoing investigation of Russia, had her phone and email records seized by the DOJ in a leak investigation. Earlier this year, it was also revealed that reporters from The Washington Post and CNN also experienced similar targeting.

President Joe Biden labeled it “simply wrong” that the DOJ seized the phone and email records of journalists in the aftermath of anger following the disclosures, adding that he would not let it happen under his administration.

However it was revealed on June 4 that attempts by the DOJ to obtain private records had in fact continued under Biden — on March 3, the Justice Department placed a gag order on lawyers for The New York Times in relation to efforts to seize four journalists’ records.

On Monday (June 14), the newly appointed Attorney General Merrick Garland met with executives from The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN in an effort to assuage them that his department would no longer continue the practice. Times’ publisher A.G. Sulzberger issued a statement following the off-the-record meeting that read: “We were encouraged by Attorney General Garland’s statements but we will continue to push until our concerns are addressed.”

A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times in February 2021. (Patrick Farrell, Knight Foundation, Wikimedia Commons)

So perhaps President Biden and his administration have some ways to go in ensuring press freedoms are respected, but may be forthright in their commitment to rolling back the Trump- and frankly Obama-era style of assaults on freedom of speech, namely in their prosecution of leakers and journalists. It is welcome news from Monday that NSA whistleblower Reality Winner, a former intelligence contractor for Pluribus International and language analyst in the U.S. Air Force—the first leaker to be prosecuted under Trump—will be released from prison into a halfway house later this year. Although by all indications, the move was a result of good behaviour as opposed to actions by Biden or the DOJ.

Nonetheless, if his administration is earnest in ensuring that the promises of late are kept, be it to the media executives or the proclamations emblazoned on the New Atlantic Charter, keeping Assange in jail is incongruent with any such goals.

As pointed out in a letter to President Biden from a cross-party group of 24 British lawmakers on the eve of the G7 Summit:

“The case against Mr Assange weakens the right to publish important information that the government finds uncomfortable. Indeed, this value is central to a free and open society. Our countries are increasingly confronted with the contradiction of advocating for press freedom abroad while holding Mr Assange for years in the U.K.’s most notorious prison at the request of the U.S. government.”

The British MPs—which included Conservative David Davis, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas—therefore called on President Biden to drop the prosecution of Assange, describing it as an act “that would be a clarion call for freedom that would echo around the globe.”

The White House has been contacted for a statement in response to the politicians, but as of yet, one is yet to be received.

Originally published on

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

6 comments for “The New Atlantic Charter & Julian Assange

  1. rosemerry
    June 23, 2021 at 15:45

    To people of good will this is obvious, though the disgraceful compliance of so many “journalists” whose lack of support for Julian , or even disdain (like David Leigh and Luke Harding in the Sycophant -/”Guardian”) has continued for years. Not only media bias, but complete pretence of democracy and freedom for most of their population, let alone designated enemies, is the policy and behaviour of the USA?UK and of course NATO.
    International law? ignored. (Look at Israel and the US/UK “leaders”);
    Cybercrime-US/Israel speciality (scientists in Iran spring to mind).
    Poison gas and sudden death of certain figures- pick any dissident and assume it is a hero
    Election interference? anyone claiming US or UK elections are free and /or fair has not been observant, and Venezuela, Syria, Bolivia and others can attest to their “help” by the USA.The cries about Vladimir Putin, as if there were any evidence or reason for the alleged hacks, seem to rise up whenever desired to exhibit the pre-determined hatred for Russia.

  2. rick
    June 22, 2021 at 17:54

    The deafening hypocrisy of the UK government is without equal as a joint signatory of the “New Atlantic Charter” it prostitutes itself as the pinnacle of democratic virtues yet in reality its openly seedy project to impose the vagaries of a police state on its domestic population go largely unopposed by a quiescent parliament and public. Its historic meddling in other countries affairs is infamous while extolling the superiority of its values and system of Government. Emboldened by the success of its populist appeal the Boris Johnson Tory Government is attempting to consolidate its power over society and its institutions by extending and deepening the police powers of the UK National Security State to undermine the right to free speech and peaceful assembly – the pillars of a supposed liberal democracy. These powers will be reinforced by allowing police and intelligence agencies to remotely access any computer to collect evidence or alter files. Other laws already allow undercover agents from a wide range of Government Agencies to commit any crime in the UK including rape and murder while British troops and Special Forces have been given immunity from war crimes prosecutions. This hypocrisy is ignored by the UK Mainstream Media to the evident glee of Government Ministers who see no end to their lies and deceptions showered on a mute population at home and on complicit actors abroad.

  3. dave racine
    June 22, 2021 at 16:45

    We should arrest the incarcerators; maybe they’ll like their little cages.

  4. June 22, 2021 at 14:20


  5. Mark Walsh
    June 22, 2021 at 12:46

    The persecution of Julian Assange for press freedom is the responsability of Obama and Hillary Clinton who were embarrassed by their scandelous behavior. Biden is clearly responding to his feelings of responsability to Obama more than a consciensious decesion on his part -something he seems to be incapable of.,being a man of low character.

    • dave racine
      June 22, 2021 at 16:49

      . . . and low intelligence! He’s stupid.

Comments are closed.