By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Jan. 8, 2021)
“WikiLeaks and you personally are facing a battle that is both legal and political. As we learned in the Pentagon Papers case, the US government doesn’t like the truth coming out. And it doesn’t like to be humiliated. No matter if it’s Nixon or Bush or Obama or Trump, Republican or Democrat in the White House. The US government will try to stop you from publishing its ugly secrets. And if they have to destroy you and the First Amendment and the rights of publishers with you, they are willing to do it. We believe they are going to come after WikiLeaks and you, Julian, as the publisher.” — Len Weinglass, US human rights lawyer.
“The Assange’s arrest eviscerates all pretense of the rule of law and the rights of a free press. The illegalities, embraced by the Ecuadorian, British and US governments, in the seizure of Assange were ominous. They presaged a world where the internal workings, abuses, corruption, lies and crimes — especially war crimes — carried out by corporate states and the global ruling elite will be masked from the public. They presaged a world where those with the courage and integrity to expose the misuse of power will be hunted down, tortured, subjected to sham trials and given lifetime prison terms in solitary confinement. They presaged an Orwellian dystopia where news is replaced with propaganda, trivia and entertainment.” — Chris Hedges.
The decision by a British high court judge to deny the Trump regime’s extradition request to extradite to the United States, Wikileaks publisher, Julian Assange, is a major victory for press freedom and the rule of law. Alluding to the US prison system’s horrendous nature, the judge ruled that to extradite Assange would be oppressive because of mental harm. She feared the prison conditions might lead Assange to commit suicide.
On Wednesday, the judge refused Assange’s application for bail while he awaits the US Government’s appeal. Assange will remain in the British prison even after the UN Human Rights Rapporteur’s revelation that Assange’s treatment amounts to torture, which is illegal under international human rights law. The decision to deny bail to Assange is both cruel and inhumane. There is no pending charge in Britain against the WikiLeaks publisher.
Assange’s trouble began 10 years ago after WikiLeaks released the Iraq War Logs which documented numerous US war crimes — including video images of the gunning down of two Reuters journalists and 10 other unarmed civilians, the routine torture of Iraqi prisoners, the covering up of thousands of civilian deaths and the killing of nearly 700 civilians that approached US checkpoints.
First, they tried to smear him with sexual assault/rape charges. One of the women said, “I did not want to put any charges on Julian Assange, but the police were keen on getting their hands on him … I felt railroaded by the police.” The chief prosecutor of Stockholm dropped the rape accusation concluding, “I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape.” Yet, a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct.
Assange is charged with violating 17 counts of the Espionage Act, along with an attempt to hack into a government computer. If extradited, tried and convicted, he could face as much as 175 years in prison.
Ominously, the judge accepted all of the charges levelled by the US against Assange — that he violated the Espionage Act by releasing classified information and was complicit in assisting his source, Chelsea Manning, in the hacking of a government computer.
If the appellate court overrules the decision to deny extradition, it will be a very dangerous ruling for the media. The publication of classified documents is not yet a crime in the United States. Bob Woodward of the Washington Post has made a career publishing establishment secrets. However, if Assange is extradited and convicted, it will become a crime to publish classified information.
According to Chris Hedges, “The extradition of Assange would mean the end of journalistic investigations into the inner workings of power. It would cement into place a terrifying global, corporate tyranny under which borders, nationality and law mean nothing. Once such a legal precedent is set, any publication that publishes classified material, from The New York Times to an alternative website, will be prosecuted and silenced … Journalists can argue that this information, like the war logs, should have remained hidden, but they can’t then call themselves journalists.”
Make no mistake, Julian Assange has done more than any contemporary journalist or publisher to expose the inner workings of the US government, and the lies and crimes of the US ruling elite. This fact explains the deep hatred towards Assange.
The Democrats despise Assange because WikiLeaks exposed emails from John Podesta’s account, Hilary Clinton’s campaign manager. They exposed Clinton as a deceitful pathological liar. The emails exposed her telling the financial elites that she wanted “open trade and open borders” and wanted Wall Street executives to manage the economy, a statement that contradicted her campaign statements. They exposed the Clinton campaign’s efforts to influence the Republican primaries to ensure that Donald Trump was the Republican nominee. They exposed Clinton’s advance knowledge of questions in a primary debate. They exposed Clinton as the principal architect of the war in Libya, thus turning Africa’s second most-developed country into a failed state.
Among the documents WikiLeaks released were cables from US embassies. Assange’s lawyer, Michael Ratner said the cables “pulled back the curtain and revealed American foreign policy behind-the-scenes manipulations”. Some of the most stunning revelations:
* In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered US diplomats to spy on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and other UN representatives from China, France, Russia, and the UK. The US and British diplomats also eavesdropped on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan before the US-led Iraq invasion in 2003.
* President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton refused to condemn the June 2009 military coup in Honduras after American diplomats described the coup as “illegal and unconstitutional”.
As a journalist and publisher of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange had every right to asylum. The law is clear. The exercise of political free speech — including revealing government crimes, misconduct, or corruption — is internationally protected and is grounds for asylum.
Democracy dies in the dark. Julian Assange should be freed. His only crime is his courageous effort to expose the lies, crimes and deceit of the ruling elite.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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