Sterling: Espionage Act Like Slave-Era Anti-Literacy Laws

C.I.A. whistleblower Jeffery Sterling, who was sentenced to 3½ years in prison, says punishing Julian Assange for publishing critical information is designed to keep us enslaved in ignorance. 

Sterling gave the following address to the Belmarsh Tribunal on Friday night at the National Press Club in Washington. A transcript follows. 

Srecko Horvat

It is my great pleasure to announce the next speaker, Jeffrey Sterling, who is an American lawyer and former C.I.A. employee who was arrested, charged and convicted of violating the Espionage Act. Please, Jeffrey, join the stage.

Jeffrey Sterling

It is an absolute honor to be here today. Here at the Press Club. Years ago, my wife spoke on my behalf about the injustice that happened to me. I spent two and a half years in prison after being wrongfully convicted on no evidence of violating the Espionage Act. It was a travesty of a trial, and that sentence was held up as a shining example of the ‘reasonableness and fairness’ that Julian Assange will face being tried here for violating that same Espionage Act.

I remain sickened to this day that my persecution was held up as the benchmark of what Julian Assange is going to face in trial here. Of course, the benchmarks they did not talk about include my experience fighting against the Espionage Act, a biased criminal justice system, and the realities of being behind bars here in the United States. I can tell you that any claims of fair or humane treatment in store for Julian Assange here within our criminal justice system in prisons were outright lies.

But I would like to focus on the law that Julian Assange has supposedly violated. First and foremost, it is virtually impossible to defend against the Espionage Act. Truth is no defense. In fact, any defense related to truth will be prohibited. In addition, he won’t have access to any of the so-called evidence used against him and to make it even more difficult, the government doesn’t have to show any harm.

It is a law and prosecution in which the government says what it wants. It’s a ‘because we say so law,’ not to be questioned, not to be challenged. The trial will be nothing more than an affirmation and continuation of the character assassination that the government has launched against Julian Assange from the moment that he spoke up.

So what are we really talking about here? I mean, what is this law, the Espionage Act that he’s accused of violating, and that I was accused of violating? You know, we’re led to believe that Julian and other whistleblowers are threats to the national security of this country, hence being charged with violating the Espionage Act. But I’m living proof of what national security actually means here in the United States.

Here’s a real benchmark they don’t tell you about. In my example, I sued the C.I.A. for racial discrimination because they said I was too big and black to serve my country, according to the government in that instance, and upheld by the same courts that they’re intending to try Julian Assange in — that a black man fighting for his constitutional rights is a threat to national security.

Not a surprise, really. One of the original and enduring threats to the national security of this country is and has always been, African-Americans. And to punish me as an African-American for having the audacity to sue the C.I.A., I was falsely accused of and put on trial for violating the Espionage Act and by default, our national security.

The only evidence needed to convict me was the color of my skin. Julian won’t be afforded any so-called constitutional rights that I had. What chance is he going to have to fight against these charges of violating the Espionage Act? And when I think about how national security dictated that I can be blatantly discriminated against, it painfully reminds me of the horrors of slavery and the laws that were designed to preserve it.

When examining the Espionage Act and how it’s being used, it’s not unreasonable to be reminded of the anti-literacy laws that were enforced during slavery in this country. Those laws were used to prevent educating slaves because of the fear that an educated slave population would threaten the nation’s security. Keeping us uneducated and ignorant was a tenet of national security then, and we see the same thing with how the Espionage Act is being used now against whistleblowers and against Julian Assange.

Truly, the more things change, the more they stay the same. When we look at it, the Espionage Act is no different than those anti-slavery laws. They both represent, and they are the very embodiment of white supremacism that has always been a part of the identity and governance of this country. The Espionage Act has not been used to fight espionage.

It’s being used against whistleblowers and Julian Assange to keep the subjugated, ignorant of its wrongdoings and illegalities in order to maintain its hold on authority all in the name of national security. I mean, think about it. None of the Espionage Act prosecutions have or are even allowed to examine the truth of the matter brought to light by the whistleblower.

The focus is always only on what was done for the sake of education and accountability. The white slave owners knew the truth. An educated slave won’t be a slave for long. That is what this Espionage Act is about. What this endless persecution of Assange and whistleblowers everywhere has always been about, all in the name again of national security.

And thanks to complicity like from the United Kingdom, which has been all too willing to serve Julian up to the U.S., that same ideology is expanding beyond the bounds of slavery and fomenting racial discord in this country to reach perceived threats anywhere under perfidious claims of national security. I think it compelling that this tribunal was happening the same week that the nation celebrates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

When he said in the letter from a Birmingham jail that one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws, he was talking about laws like the Espionage Act.

What makes the Espionage Act unjust is that it is not being used to protect this nation. It does not apply to the powerbrokers in this nation. It is being used to keep us all slaves. It is therefore an unjust law and should be disobeyed. The most immediate and meaningful way this wrongful law can be disobeyed is by the release of Julian Assange.

The U.S. government has already demonstrated a boundless intent to persecute those who dare reveal its transgressions. And it won’t end with Julian Assange. Free the man. None of us will be free until he is released and the Espionage Act is abolished. Set the man free. Thank you.

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13 comments for “Sterling: Espionage Act Like Slave-Era Anti-Literacy Laws

  1. Expat Paula
    January 25, 2023 at 02:59

    Assange is not even a USAmerican & has never even set foot in this country. Not many ever mention this.

      January 25, 2023 at 03:10

      He did come to the National Press Club in Washington to reveal the Collateral Murder video. A 1961 amendment to the Espionage Act extended jurisdiction beyond US territory and the high seas to the entire world. Of course Britain does not have to recognize that.

  2. Piotr Berman
    January 24, 2023 at 22:50

    Jeffery Sterling proved a very germane precedent. Ignorance of those under control benefits those who control, be them slaves or the general population as it is now. BTW, Southern whites (especially the majority that did not own slaves) were also “protected” by censorship, Southern postmaster removing anti-slavery literature from the mail, to cite but one measure.

    Anti-espionage act says that what government decides that should not be in public knowledge should stay outside public knowledge, and if you make a dent in this wall of ignorance, you should suffer retribution.

  3. January 24, 2023 at 22:06

    Great to hear him speak out. And, he is right. When one looks back at the things that are done in secrecy like torture, killings, assassinations, too many to mention…there has become awarness of this after someone comes out and points to it. Nothing is done about the vileness of these acts but the tables are turned on the person who said it was vile and should be stopped. We have to have this exposure otherwise we are all in trouble. Free Assange.

  4. Sharon
    January 24, 2023 at 20:49

    It was interesting to hear this keeping in mind the classified documents squirreled away by Trump.
    ….by Joe Biden.
    ….by Mike Pence.
    Demonstrates how they depend on secrecy to run the government. Classify what they don’t want the taxpayers to know.
    Then hide them anyway. Of course they hate Julian Assange and any whistleblowers. And have the “justice” rigged to not have to show evidence.
    Biden claiming “transparency” is just the icing on the cake.

    • Barbara
      January 25, 2023 at 16:50

      Add John McCain to those who keep secret everything about the Vietnam POWs. The families are forbidden to know any data the Armed Services Committee has on the prisoners who were left behind alive.
      There is no right to know what the government has on citizens. The government betrayed around 2,500 soldiers who would embarrass the politicians should they come home.
      Every president since Nixon could have brought them home but did not.

  5. Larry Lambert
    January 24, 2023 at 20:48

    Thsnk you Jrffery Great article. Keeping a population in ignoranve of the truth is a clasic way those in power maintain control I t happedned inNazi Germany R Read the white Rose, the story abrother and a sister who stoodup to Hitler and paid with their lives .we should think about the ubiquitus censor ship of todsy and realize we all slaves ” the truth shall se you free”

    • Barbara
      January 25, 2023 at 16:52

      Assange is not a citizen of the US. So how he could possibly face charges of traitor has to be a reach.

  6. Maggie Harrison
    January 24, 2023 at 19:57

    Will Julian Assange ever be free? He is not guilty of any crime and treated like a murderer…imprisoned in
    Belmarsh Prison, with murdererers, while his two little boys, are deprived of their Daddy!
    I doubt our new PM will ever think about Julian…a much better man that Sunak..brought up in a wealthy family,
    and given the best of everything, but, not a man who should be in charge of this Country…he just hasn t the skills
    and experience that Labour MPs have learned, throughout their lives….and his expensive Education has not taught him humility.or even common sense! Sadly, this is the man we are stuck with indefinitely…a man who has had a wealthy family and knows nothing about people…who don t have the privileges that he has always had!

    • Valerie
      January 25, 2023 at 04:08

      The British government of late is an absolute disgrace. Just look at some of the ministers. And listen to their rhetoric. The recent revelations of tax evasion and “favoured” appointments tells us all we need to know.

  7. January 24, 2023 at 18:32

    There are so many, many reasons to abolish the espionage act. This article just scratches the surface. The article is right on, though. It serves ignorance and the perpetuation of our enslavement.

  8. Carolyn L Zaremba
    January 24, 2023 at 17:54

    Thank you, Mr. Sterling.

  9. Lois Gagnon
    January 24, 2023 at 15:51

    “An educated slave won’t be a slave for long.” Bingo. The US/NATO crime spree can only continue if the masses are kept ignorant of the crimes committed.

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