‘Do not defy us’

Ecuador's then-Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño meets with Julian Assange in 2013. Credit: Xavier Granja Cedeño/Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores.

The prosecution of Julian Assange is a deliberate threat by the US empire to freedom of speech. Socialists have a duty to speak out against it, writes Caoimhe Garland.

If there had previously been any uncertainty, the last couple of weeks have proved beyond any doubt that the extradition hearing of Julian Assange is nothing more than a farce. A show trial designed to humiliate and demean an innocent man; hounding him to prison and ultimately to his death. Medical experts have confirmed that his health is rapidly declining and there is a very real risk that he could die in prison in Belmarsh. He would most certainly die in prison in the United States. Of course, this is of little consequence to the United States, or their enforcers in the UK. The message is clear to anyone who wishes to expose the crimes and corruption of the US empire: ‘Do not defy us, or you will suffer the same fate.’ 

We must be under no illusion that this attack on Julian Assange is an attack on the working class, on freedom of speech, and ultimately on the right of every one of us to challenge and expose corrupt governments and kleptocrats and ensure that the public are aware of what takes place ‘in our name’. 

Aside from the fact that Assange has been denied access to his legal team since March, the behaviour of the prosecution has been shameful to say the least. Probably most deplorable of all, two days before the extradition hearing began the US Department of Justice issued a completely new indictment against him. An indictment Assange had not even been afforded the opportunity to read before appearing at his hearing. Specifically, 24 hours before the procedural hearing and four weeks before the extradition hearing William Barr, Attorney General, signed another turgid request to extradite Assange to the United States. It is worth noting that Barr recently appeared on Fox News where he bitterly and manically denounced anyone politically opposed to Trump as “revolutionaries” and “Bolsheviks” stating that their aim was to “tear down the system.” 

This new indictment is now what the extradition request is based upon. Despite the fact that it was originally sent on June 24th, the US prosecutors at two separate hearings (June 30 and July 28) would not confirm when this new document would be introduced in evidence. Even more concerning is that the new extradition request was introduced after the defence team had concluded submitting their evidence. Naturally, the defence attempted to argue that this new indictment would result in a lack of due process. Unsurprisingly, Judge (Magistrate) Baraitser refused the defence request and the opportunity to apply for a postponement. 

Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks Editor in Chief aptly summed up the strategy of the US when he said “The US government seems to want to change the indictment every time the court meets, but without the defence or Julian himself seeing the relevant documents.” 

The basis of this new indictment is to increase the scope of what is considered to be ‘criminal activity’. Originally the charges levied against Assange were based on the disclosure of unauthorised defence information. Effectively Assange was accused of ‘publishing the Afghanistan and Iraq war logs and the State Department Cables’ via the internet. This new indictment ominously expands the accusations to include the ‘distribution of the documents to other media organisations’. In fact, a number of Assange’s associates and WikiLeaks former employees have also now become targets, labelled ‘co-conspirators’. 

What is patently evident is that while Julian Assange has been isolated in prison, denied access to communicate or meet with his legal team, the United States government has intensified their vendetta ensuring that anyone who dares defy them and expose their corruption to the world is silenced. 

The reality now is that Julian Assange is confronted with 175 years in federal prison. For what? For exposing the imperialist war crimes of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. War crimes that claimed tens of thousands of lives, including the brutal murder of civilians and journalists in Iraq. Even more frightening is that this is part of a concerted strategy to criminalise and deter whistle-blowers, committed journalists and, in truth, anyone who dares to challenge or differs with them politically. The United States, as we well know, has a long record of human rights abuses, censorship and murder not only in their own country but across the world. We need only look at countries like Chile, Mozambique, Vietnam, El Salvador, the Congo, Angola, Palestine. In fact, the list is almost endless. They have continually believed themselves to be above the law, above any challenge and in each case have been aided and abetted by their corrupt and venal supporters, on this occasion the UK government. 

One would think that the hounding of an innocent journalist for exposing the bloody crimes of empire would be a cause célèbre for the media, politicians, the human rights ngos – for those who apparently believe in human rights and civil liberties but sadly this has not been the case. 

The silence is deafening from the supposed ‘left’ within the Democratic Party in the United States. Many, in fact, support Assange being extradited and prosecuted, their deranged conspiracy theories about him colluding with the Russian government to sabotage Hilary Clinton’s 2016 presidential chances serving as justification. The ‘liberal’ media, particularly the Guardian and the New York Times, have effectively thrown Assange to the wolves, the latter even going so far as to publish an editorial statement welcoming Assange’s arrest in April 2019. With the exception of a very small number there has been a worrying lack of any genuine concern or sincere attempt to block Assange’s extradition from those on the Labour left and the trade union movement. Why is this? How can so many people on the left stand by and allow the railroading of an innocent man?  

The Trump administration and the Johnson government have been facilitated in their persecution of Julian Assange by the silence of the so-called left. Many of these people were happy to regurgitate the slanders and falsehoods levied at Assange by the State Department, Pentagon and CIA regarding bogus allegations, ‘failure to redact’, and every other untruth they could fabricate to ensure the character assassination of Julian Assange. 

Socialists should be under no illusion that the extradition of Julian Assange is of vital importance to the working class. There is a fundamental connection between the hounding of Julian Assange and the defence of our basic right to oppose the capitalist system and to expose the crimes of US imperialism and the lies and complicity of our governments. In the words of former CIA director Leon Panetta ‘we are prosecuting Assange to intimidate others’.  

‘The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing’. Let us all do something to defend Julian Assange and ultimately to defend the right of every person to expose the deceit of our corrupt governments and military to ensure they are held to account. 

For more information see Amnesty International’s campaign or Defend Wikileaks.