The Struggle Against Assange’s Extradition Continues

Photograph Source: Ivan Radic – CC BY 2.0

As Julian Assange’s appeal of his extradition to the United States wends its way through British courts, now is a good time to review what’s at stake. Nothing less than a free press and the rule of law. That’s because Assange is being persecuted for publishing proof of U.S. military criminality, among other war and political matters. The charges may sound technical and focus on “hacking,” but the U.S. has pursued him for over a decade, thanks to his shocking revelations of American war crimes in Iraq. If the U.S. can get him on a technicality, even a fabricated one, it will try to do so. In the process, the empire has perverted the rule of law in the U.K., where Assange was tried in a kangaroo court. I say kangaroo court, because the judge, Vanessa Baraitser, ignored recognized standards of justice and law to reach a predetermined conclusion.

In early June, justice Jonathan Swift dismissed Assange’s appeal of his extradition. Not only that, he also informed the petitioners that “The application to rely on fresh evidence is refused.” The evidence we already have dates from September 2020, when Baraitser heard the case. Not surprisingly, since that time, Assange’s counsel found more evidence, because, frankly, there’s no dearth of it. More to the point, the old evidence was never weighed properly by Baraitser to begin with. It screams to be revisited.

But judge Swift, formerly a lawyer for the British government, dismissed it all rather brusquely. “There are eight proposed grounds of appeal. They are set out at great length (some 100 pages) but the extraordinary length of the pleading serves only to make clear that the proposed appeal comes to no more than an attempt to re-run the extensive arguments made to and rejected by the District Judge.” Never mind that the district judge, Baraitser, adopted the prosecutor’s directives as her legal decisions, and that that prosecutor, John Lewis, got those directives from the U.S. government, according to former diplomat Craig Murray. Baraitser’s ruling made a shambles of the law, from which it will not easily recover.

And never mind that, as award-winning journalist Chris Hedges observed: “The CIA spied on Julian in the embassy…recorded the privileged conversations between Julian and his lawyers as they discussed his defense. This fact alone invalidated the trial.” And never mind that Assange isn’t even a U.S. citizen, so what business the Espionage Act has being applied to him is far from clear to a lay person of average common sense. Such application apparently means that American laws apply globally, to anyone the U.S. sees fit to prosecute anywhere on the planet, though these non-citizens lack any of the American rights defined in the U.S. constitution. That, on its face, is preposterous. So the question remains: by what legal hocus pocus can Assange, a publisher, be construed as a traitor to the U.S., when he is not an American citizen?

Leaving aside the debate on whether the horrific Espionage Act – which should not exist in any government and jurisprudence that boast of their freedoms – can even apply to Assange, you should note that the indictment oversteps in other ways as well. Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University told the New York Times, back on May 23, 2019: “The charges rely almost entirely on conduct that investigative journalists engage in every day. The indictment should be understood as a frontal attack on press freedom.”

Assange’s appeal discusses his exposure of U.S. government criminality in its wars of choice. “The law is fiercely protective of human rights defenders,” the appeal notes. “Exposure of state criminality is, in law, a protected political act, the product of a political opinion. Prosecutions on account of such acts are straightforwardly prohibited…The history of this prosecution…is a textbook example of political persecution. The course of this case since 2011 is simply extraordinary. It involves, inter alia, U.S. Governmental plots to interfere with judges who investigate the matters Mr. Assange exposed; to silence the International Criminal Court (ICC) who have taken up Mr. Assange’s disclosures and to kidnap and rendition Mr. Assange himself, or else murder him.” So the U.S. violated Assange’s human rights based on his political views. It persecuted him based on those political views. Those facts rebut the rulings against him. But both judges Swift and Baraitser closed their eyes, ears and minds to these self-evident truths.

Meanwhile, the U.S. violation of Assange’s rights is deeper and darker than may first appear. The Trump administration was up to its neck in criminal machinations on how to murder or kidnap Assange. On September 27, 2021, the Guardian recounted, “The discussions on kidnapping or killing Assange took place in 2017, Yahoo News reported…The then CIA director, Mike Pompeo and his top officials were furious about WikiLeaks’ publication of ‘Vault7.’…Some senior officials inside the CIA and the Trump administration went so far as to request ‘sketches’ or ‘options’ for killing Assange.”

So again, as Assange’s appeal states, the prosecution amounts to political persecution. Assange’s counsel demolishes that prosecution, arguing that: “(a) It is unprecedented in law. (b) It cuts clean across established principles of free speech. (c) To deal with that, it anticipates a trial at which Mr. Assange, as a foreigner, can be denied reliance on the First Amendment (d) indeed a trial without protections of the U.S. Constitution altogether and (e) is accompanied by exposure to a grossly disproportionate sentence.” Got that? Assange will be prosecuted in the U.S. with NO constitutional protections, just as if he were in a Nazi or Soviet court.

The appeal’s section treating Assange’s political views begins: “Professor Noam Chomsky, Professor Paul Rogers and Daniel Ellsberg all outlined for the DJ [district judge Baraitser] Mr. Assange’s political opinions and how/why these opinions brought him into conflict with the U.S. Government. The U.S., in the end, did not challenge those witnesses’ assertion that Mr. Assange has ‘political opinions’ related to transparency, democratic accountability, opposition to surveillance, opposition to war crimes and human rights abuses. Nor did the prosecution challenge the evidence of Rogers, Ellsberg and Chomsky that these opinions motivated his conduct.” The prosecution did not challenge these things because it couldn’t. Only in the very skewed world of Baraitser’s courtroom could such an atrocious prosecution have prevailed.

So Assange has been persecuted by an abusive prosecution for his political views and for the free speech right to express them. This prosecution defies the law. It should never have happened. Hopefully, either Assange’s next appeal to the British court or the one to the European Court of Human Rights will prevail. In the U.K., his case will come before two new judges, so, as his wife, Stella Assange, noted, there is good reason for optimism that he will not be extradited. For Assange, his human rights are at stake and possibly his very life, as even judge Baraitser noted, when she referred to him as a serious suicide risk in a U.S. supermax prison. For the rest of us, the end of press freedom and basic legal fairness hang in the balance.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Busybody. She can be reached at her website.