By R. Banks
HOME SECRETARY Priti Patel has agreed to extradite Julian Assange to the United States, where he faces up to 175 years in prison for the ‘offence’ of publishing evidence of war crimes committed by the USA and Nato.
Although his lawyers have lodged an appeal in the High Court, setting the stage for months and years of legal battles, the ruling marks a dark day for press freedom.
Since being evicted from the Ecuadorian embassy in 2019, Assange has been held in Belmarsh prison and subjected to regular mistreatment and humiliation in a campaign that medical experts have described as ‘psychological torture’. The most recent incident saw him strip searched and thrown naked in a cell after his extradition hearing.
In 2010 WikiLeaks released a video, recorded in 2007, which showed US troops laughing as they shot and killed 18 Iraqi civilians from a helicopter gunship. It followed up with thousands of US Army field reports exposing deliberate falsification, torture and war crimes in Iraq.
In November it published a vast trove of US diplomatic cables detailing espionage against other world leaders, including its supposed allies.
All of these revelations were entirely in the interest of progressive people around the world, for which Assange and those who helped him like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning deserve commendations for services to humanity, not the barbaric persecution they have been subjected to.
Wikileaks’ publications of US classified material are some of the greatest exposures of American imperialist foreign policy of all time.
For that reason he has been hunted to the ends of the earth. This persecution reveals the truly anti-democratic nature of the US, behind the façade.
He is being extradited to face charges trumped up under the 1917 Espionage Act. This is the first time a journalist has been prosecuted under the act, more usually reserved for spies, political dissidents and whistle-blowers. However, Assange did not leak classified information; he merely published it, as journalists do every day. These charges are a calculated attempt to silence critical journalists who would expose the crimes of our rulers.
Although the US has promised Assange will not face the death penalty, he has no prospect of a fair trial. The foregone conclusion is at a minimum a life sentence, one that effectively amounts to a slow death sentence through deterioration caused by imprisonment and poor treatment. Hundreds of doctors have spoken on his behalf against the extradition on health grounds.
An international coalition of journalists, editors and publishers have lobbied the government in his defence. Yet the British state and justice system have turned a deaf ear to public pressure. For the crime of journalistic exposure against the global hegemon, Assange must be punished, embarrassed, slowly tortured and eventually killed.
In extraditing Assange, Patel has demonstrated once again that Britain is a loyal subordinate to its US master, happy to trample all over so-called democratic freedoms and principles, such as freedom of speech.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party has been virtually silent on the issue, apart from the odd solidarity tweet from a left MP like Zara Sultana.
Australia shares this attitude. Despite being the country of Assange’s birth, they have refused to act in his defence. The new Labor Party government has dismissed calls to publicly demand the US drop its prosecution, while senior Labor ministers have stated that they will not exercise their legal and diplomatic powers to free the WikiLeaks founder, as previous Australian governments have done for its citizens persecuted abroad.
For workers and socialists in the US, UK, Australia and across the world, our demands must be:
• Defend press freedom!
• End the torture of political prisoners!
• Free Julian Assange!