There was great jubilation outside Westminster magistrates’ court on 4 January when the news was announced that the court had turned down the US government’s request for the extradition of Julian Assange. It has turned out, however, that the celebrations were premature, since Julian was not freed from Belmarsh prison as one might have expected but, following an appeal by the US government against the refusal to extradite, he remains incarcerated pending the outcome of the appeal, his application for bail having been contemptuously refused on 6 January.
This forces us to look at the grounds given for Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser’s decision to refuse to extradite and to consider the chances of the US government succeeding in its appeal, whenever that might be heard.
A major cause of concern, and one which would be such to all journalists, whistleblowers and others seeking to expose criminal activity that US imperialism wished to conceal, is the failure of the magistrate at the extradition hearing to recognise either that the offence for which Julian’s extradition was being sought was political rather than criminal or that the treatment he would be subjected to in the United States would in all probability be in breach of his human rights, given the US predilection for imposing ridiculously long prison sentences, which in Julian’s case could be as long as 175 years.
Moreover, it was made clear at his extradition hearing that it is only too likely that when in custody he would be incarcerated in solitary confinement in a small room for 23 hours a day, and would only be allowed out, shackled, for exercise one hour a day, without any contact with other prisoners. It should have been recognised that this amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and that extradition should not be permitted under these circumstances – but oh no, it would only be refused in Julian’s case because of the risk of suicide!
The message to those who might be tempted to expose US imperialism’s embarrassing hidden crimes is: this is the punishment you can expect, and British ‘justice’ will not protect you from it, and in all probability nowhere in the so-called ‘free world’ will you be safe.
In fact, the suicide risk was the least powerful of all the defences put forward by Julian’s legal team at the extradition hearing, and it is probably the one against which the US is most likely to be able to appeal successfully, since it will not be difficult for the US authorities to establish that they will be more than happy to prolong Julian’s torture to the end of his days by making it impossible for him to commit suicide.
As far as the other, much stronger, points put forward by the defence, they were simply dismissed out of hand.
A big deal was made, for instance, out of the fact that the US charges against Julian were criminal not political because his revelations had put ‘American lives at risk’. Not only did Julian not have the benefit of being presumed innocent until proven guilty, not only did he have to prove his innocence, but his legal team in fact brought in incontrovertible evidence that he was innocent, yet that was simply arbitrarily dismissed.
During the hearing all necessary evidence was produced that the material leaked by Wikileaks was heavily redacted to ensure that no innocent person was put at risk. The only unredacted cables published had not been published by Wikileaks, but the person who did so was not prosecuted. Moreover, the Wikileaks material was published in the Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times but no action was taken against them.
Furthermore, to ensure protection of the innocent, the material to be published was discussed with White House personnel at all times. In the circumstances, it is impossible to believe that Assange’s prosecution is not political.
Even on the legal front, Baraitser’s judgment was fatally flawed. “She rejected the defence argument that the case should be governed by the extradition treaty but instead referred to the Extradition Act of 2003 as the presiding document on which her decision was based. The act removed the bar on extradition for political offences.” (Assange won’t be extradited to US on spying charges in shock decision at London’s Old Bailey, RT, 4 January, 2021)
However, it is well established in English law that extradition is not permitted unless a treaty provides for it. The Extradition Act does allow extradition for political offences but only via a treaty that expressly provides for it – which the extradition treaty with the US does not.
There are also procedural grounds on which Baraitser is very much at fault. She allowed new charges to be introduced half way through the hearing without leaving the defence any time to prepare for refuting them (eg, finding witnesses, etc). but even worse than that was her refusal to allow the defence any opportunity to rebut evidence brought by the prosecution. Her behaviour throughout the trial was of hostility to the defence.
The ‘icing on the cake’, so to speak, is her refusal to grant Assange bail, so that he, an innocent man who has acted wholly in the interests of justice, has to remain locked up in a high security prison where, incidentally, Covid is rife.
We can only hope – though probably in vain – that Britain’s higher courts will give her the thorough dressing down she deserves!
In the meantime, Julian’s plight continues to move people throughout the world to intervene to try to help him.
For instance, thousands of people begged US president Donald Trump to include him among those he is entitled to pardon upon leaving office. This did not seem an impossible expectation as Assange drew praise from Mr Trump during his 2016 election campaign, when Wikileaks released emails that undercut Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
No less a person than United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, “has urged the outgoing US president Donald Trump to pardon Wikileaks cofounder Julian Assange, arguing he suffered years of persecution for merely ‘telling the truth’.
“An open letter to the US president was published by the UN expert on Tuesday 22 December, with Melzer joining the chorus of calls to pardon Assange.
“Melzer stressed that Assange is ‘extremely vulnerable’, with his health greatly deteriorated over the years of isolation in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, as well as the harsh conditions in the UK’s Belmarsh high security prison, where he’s currently being held. Moreover, the facility has been plagued by coronavirus, putting the journalist’s life in immediate danger.
“‘Mr Assange has been arbitrarily deprived of his liberty for the past ten years. This is a high price to pay for the courage to publish true information about government misconduct throughout the world.’
“Melzer said that Assange has been persecuted for merely telling the truth and, basically, doing journalistic work in the public interest.
“‘I ask you to pardon Mr Assange, because he is not, and has never been, an enemy of the American people. His organisation, Wikileaks, fights secrecy and corruption throughout the world and, therefore, acts in the public interest both of the American people and of humanity as a whole,’ the UN special rapporteur wrote.
“Pardoning Assange would be the best way for Trump to live by his repeated promises to fight the so-called ‘deep state’ and alleged government corruption, Melzer noted, arguing that such a move would greatly solidify the legacy of the outgoing president.
“‘I ask because you have vowed, Mr President, to pursue an agenda of fighting government corruption and misconduct; and because allowing the prosecution of Mr Assange to continue would mean that, under your legacy, telling the truth about such corruption and misconduct has become a crime,’ the letter reads.” (‘Decade of persecution and unjust suffering’: UN special rapporteur on torture urges Trump to pardon Assange, RT, 23 December 2020)
To date, Trump has not come up trumps, and nobody is any more really expecting him to do so.
Let China and Russia and all other countries that are constantly being accused by the western imperialists of having no regard for human rights take note of what ‘human rights’ really mean to their accusers, who are nothing but rank hypocrites, only interested in the human rights of such people as murderous jihadi terrorists and those who plot the overthrow of elected governments that do not dance to the imperialists’ tune.
It would seem that in the present imperialist world there is no justice to be had for those people who are in the least progressive.
Julian is being persecuted for only one reason: because he exposed crimes committed by US imperialism.