The fight to free Julian Assange is not over. We must step it up

A Morning Star Editorial | December 11, 2021

Supporters of Julian Assange demonstrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London

JOE BIDEN opened his “summit for democracy” this week by denouncing “rising authoritarianism” and the “diminishment of freedoms around the globe.”

His administration’s relentless hounding of Julian Assange shows he needs to look in the mirror.

Yesterday’s successful US appeal against a British court’s ruling that Assange could not be extradited to the United States brings closer the criminalisation of journalism and a potential 175-year sentence for a man whose only “crime” was to expose US war crimes around the world.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett’s judgement that US assurances — that they will not hold Assange in the most restrictive conditions — can be relied upon is surprising.

They come, after all, from a state which we now know discussed options in 2017 for kidnapping or murdering Assange on British soil if they were unable to get hold of him legally, displaying a complete contempt for British and international law that should have seen the entire extradition thrown out immediately.

Any suggestion that those crazed plots, reportedly hatched by then CIA chief Mike Pompeo, were a Trump era aberration is undermined by the Biden administration’s very decision to continue with the extradition bid. It is continuing Trump’s mission to suppress critical journalism.

US promises regarding Assange’s treatment are not worth the paper they are written on. It is unsurprising that this does not trouble British authorities, whose own treatment of Assange has been scandalous.

Ministers have ignored appeals from hundreds of doctors to end the “psychological torture” and medical neglect of the Wikileaks founder. Warnings that he was so unwell his life was at risk haven’t fazed his brutal jailers.

Assange has not been convicted of anything but is in his third year behind bars in a “punishment by process” that is an effective denial of habeus corpus.

Yet though British institutionalism’s complete indifference to Assange’s welfare is disgusting, the reason this appeal hinges on whether or not he would be a suicide risk in a US jail is because our courts have already accepted the grave attack on media freedom that Washington’s arguments for his extradition represent.

We cannot stop emphasising — with the National Union of Journalists, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet, former US Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller and many, many more — that Assange has never worked for the US government.

He has never therefore leaked classified information. What Wikileaks did is to publish classified information that was leaked to it — journalism, in other words.

Since that information involved details of appalling war crimes by the United States — from the “collateral murder” video of a US helicopter crew laughing as they gunned down Iraqi civilians (including a journalist) to the war logs indicating the huge civilian casualties caused by drone strikes in Afghanistan — it is clear that Assange is being punished for exposing matters that it is in the public interest to know.

By denying that this is a political extradition and accepting that he has a case to answer under the US’s draconian Espionage Act, Britain is signalling that journalists of any nationality, anywhere in the world can be shipped to the United States if it doesn’t like what they publish.

If Assange is extradited the chilling effect on free media worldwide will be profound.

Amid parliamentary bids to increase state and corporate censorship of online content, alongside the Policing Bill curtailing the right to protest and the government’s attempt to outlaw Palestine solidarity in universities, the extradition of Julian Assange stands out, a stark example of the new authoritarianism that defines the West at least as much as the bogeyman states denounced at Biden’s “democracy summit.”

It has been called the most important press freedom case of the 21st century. It is. The struggle to free Julian Assange must continue.



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