By Maxine Walker, JADC
Who am I? I fought for liberty and was deprived of all liberty.
I fought for freedom of speech and was denied all speech.
I fought for the truth and became the subject of a thousand lies.
Julian Assange sent this message via twitter on 10th April 2019 the day before he was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy and imprisoned in Maximum Security Belmarsh gaol. He remains isolated there today (his 10th year of detention of various forms) awaiting a decision on extradition to the USA on bogus espionage charges carrying a possible 175 year sentence.
In 2010 he and WikiLeaks published millions of secret leaked documents showing the unvarnished, revolting facts about illegal western wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: the murder of civilians, corruption, torture, rendition and death squads. In doing so ‘Wikileaks has allowed us to see raw, naked power before it puts on a suit and tie, slicks back its hair and conceals the knife. (Jonathan Cook). And the US, UK and other NATO partners have been after his blood ever since.
The US/UK/NATO partners’ wars in Afghanistan and Iraq unleashed continuing disaster on the Middle East– with millions dead and 37 million people displaced. While none of the murdering war-criminals responsible – Blair, Bush, Cheney etc – has suffered any consequence, the person who played a major role in their exposure has been hunted down and used as an example to show that anyone who dares expose the truth about our rulers’ wars (and they are waging and planning many more) will be ground to dust and publicly annihilated. This will be a catastrophic defeat for freedom of the press but more than that, it will say ‘We can do anything, anywhere to anyone, and no national or international laws, treaties, rules can stop us’.
A Virtual Secret Trial
“… I have felt more welcome, respected, and able to do my job as an NGO observer in more professional conditions at a prison campus in Turkey than I have at Woolwich Crown Court or the Old Bailey Court”. (Rebecca Vincent, Reporters Without Borders)
On 7 September at the Old Bailey, Julian Assange’s Extradition hearing resumed. It was an extraordinary, politically dramatic event in central London. Multiple defence witnesses, some world famous such as Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg, tore the US case to shreds. Unfortunately the public will have little idea of what happened in court because as Craig Murray who attended the whole trial notes:
‘this entire hearing has been conducted in effective secrecy, a comprehensive secrecy that gives sharp insight into the politico-economic structures of current western society. Physical access to the courtroom has been extremely limited, with the public gallery cut to five people. Video link access has similarly been extremely limited, with 40 NGOs having their access cut by the judge from day 1 at the Old Bailey, including Amnesty International, PEN, Reporters without Borders and observers from the European Parliament, among many others. The state and corporate media have virtually blacked out this hearing, with a truly worrying unanimity, and despite the implications of the case for media freedom. Finally, the corporations that act as internet gatekeepers have heavily suppressed social media posts about Assange, and traffic to those few websites which are reporting.’
The last decade’s treatment of Julian Assange was symbolised at the Old Bailey where, having daily been strip searched naked and X-rayed, he sat silent, guarded behind a glass screen at the back of the court, unable to speak to his lawyers except by kneeling down and speaking or passing notes through a slit in the glass. UN Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer has assessed his treatment by the UK courts thus:
‘Assange’s procedural rights have been so severely and consistently violated that, by now, this extradition proceeding has become irreparably arbitrary. He has not had adequate access to his lawyers, he has not been granted a single meeting since the lockdown in March, he has had extremely restricted access to his case documents, he only received a computer after a year in prison, he doesn’t have internet access, and on top of that, they have glued down the keys of the keyboard so he can’t write…. all of these restrictions are clearly unlawful….’
A Political Trial
‘If the case in London were decided solely on justice, as it should in a state based on law, this battle would have been won by Assange. However, this “trial of the century” is, above all, a political trial, and there remains the feeling that the ruling was made beforehand, regardless of the law.’ Fidel Narváez served as Ecuador’s consul in the UK from 2010 until July 2018.
The Extradition hearings give a veneer of legal process to what is in effect an attempted judicial rendition of Julian Assange to the USA. “Courtroom evidence exposed illegality on an unprecedented scale by America’s and Britain’s intelligence, military, police, and judicial agencies to eliminate Assange.” (Award winning journalist Charles Glass)
The US government’s relentless campaign to bury Assange in the darkest cell of the most torturous US prison for the rest of his life has never ceased since 2010 when a Secret Grand Jury was convened. The CIA, the FBI and other agencies set up task forces to ‘Get Assange’. US operations were conducted in Europe, informers were recruited and intense collaborations took place with UK, Australian and Swedish governments. The Pentagon alone set up a special task force, deploying 120 counter-intelligence officers, to find at least one death that could be blamed on the published materials. They failed. Smears on an industrial scale were fed to tame media outlets and recycled endlessly with the Guardian taking the lead in this.
Operations were stepped up when Trump was elected with CIA Director, Mike Pompeo in 2017 making an open declaration of war on Wikileaks saying Assange runs a “Non-state hostile intelligence agency ….It ends now.” The Ecuadorian Embassy, always heavily surveilled, was in 2017 fitted internally with hidden 24-hour cameras and microphones (including the meeting room used by Assange and his lawyers) by the security company UC Global. That material was handed over to US ‘intelligence agencies’ as two employees statements to the court showed. One of them reported that the Americans became so desperate they suggested ‘extreme measures’ such as kidnapping or poisoning Assange.
The gross illegality of the surveillance alone should have stopped the case going forward as it has breached major laws concerning legal confidentiality and thus compromised the ability of the Defence case. But this is, of course, a political extradition – something that expressly is not allowed under Extradition agreements between the US and UK. But that has never stopped the case either.
The US Prosecution cannot of course say what the case is really about – truthful journalism – so they have cast round for various false pretexts: hacking, causing harm to people named in the leaks, saying Assange is not a journalist. Witnesses at the Old Bailey showed that none of these were accurate or true. Finally, they were left only with this:
‘the US Government explicitly argued that all journalists are liable to prosecution under the Espionage Act (1917) for publishing classified information …It is hard for me to convey to a British audience what an assault this represents by the Trump administration on Americans’ self-image of their own political culture. The First Amendment is celebrated across the political divide… (Craig Murray)
Unfortunately few major press outlets heard this. ‘The lack of media presence both outside and inside the Old Bailey was remarkable. The press annex was not at capacity – at times, it was half-empty.” (John McEvoy) Even if they had heard this it would perhaps not have disturbed them as mainstream papers are propaganda outlets for the government, so are not in danger. But independent outlets and journalists will certainly suffer from the Assange precedent if he is extradited and imprisoned.
The Guardian should be fine – its past false statements on the issue of whether Assange was negligent about redaction (it was not Assange’s but the Guardian’s negligence that led to unredacted material being published) are now a significant part of the evidence used by the Prosecution. (See Jonathan Cook’s article for more on this: ‘The US is using the Guardian to justify jailing Assange for life. Why is the paper so silent?’
We must Stand With Assange
When the Prosecution objected to hearing witness Khaled El-Masri – victim of CIA rendition and nightmarish torture – Julian Assange stood up behind his glass screen and declared very loudly: “I will not permit the testimony of a torture victim to be censored by this court”
This exemplifies his courage and his philosophy.
Julian Assange’s enemies are the enemies of all those fighting for democracy, peace, justice and progress. If we win this battle it will be a major blow against our war-criminal governments. It will help every struggle. If we lose the consequences are incalculable.
Julian Assange has stood up for us and now we must stand with him.
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