Jubilation at the Old Bailey ruling that Julian Assange should not be extradited to the United States will be tempered by the judge’s other remarks, the likelihood of further prosecution appeals and the continued US indictment standing against this much abused journalist.
Mr Assange’s ‘crime’ is his publication of confidential military records, revealing just a small fraction of the war crimes of imperialism. Particularly damning was a video of an Apache helicopter launching an attack in Baghdad in 2007 (dubbed ‘Collateral Murder’), killing a dozen people, two of whom were Reuters journalists. But rather than deal with the overwhelming proof of US war crimes, the order has gone out to shoot the messenger.
Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s grudging recognition of the likely fatal consequences that would attend Assange’s extradition to the USA was welcome. However, she was at pains to make it clear that she accepted the main thrust of the prosecution arguments, thus establishing a dangerous precedent which is already having a chilling effect on the right of journalists to seek out and protect their sources in the course of their investigative work.
Assange had the right and moral duty to protect the courageous source of the encrypted documents, Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning. The prosecution, backed up by Baraitser, chose to portray this ethical relationship between journalist and whistleblower as a conspiracy to crack secure passwords.
Baraitser airily demolished at a stroke the foundations of a pretended ‘free press’, saying that freedom of speech rights do not give “unfettered discretion by Mr Assange to decide what he’s going to publish”.
It is likely that the case will go to appeal in the high court and thence possibly to the supreme court. Whilst it is to be hoped that Baraitser’s verdict will stand and Assange will be freed, it is abundantly clear that, either way, this case puts a chill in the hearts of journalists and whistleblowers alike.
Whether extradition happens or not, the fact is that Assange has already sacrificed years of his life and his own physical and mental health, just for the crime of being an honest journalist. It is an indictment of the state of mainstream journalism that the state persecution of a fellow journalist has been so largely ignored.