UK Judges Rule That WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to the US, Accepting Risible US Assurances Regarding His Mental Health and Suicide Risk

10.12.21

A protestor opposing WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange’s proposed extradition to the US outside the Old Bailey in London on October 1, 2020 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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In a depressing but predictable ruling in the High Court in London today, two judges have overturned a lower court ruling preventing the extradition to the US of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, accepting US assurances that he will not be held in conditions that, as a result of his fragile mental state, would result in him committing suicide. The previous ruling, made in January this year by Judge Vanessa Baraitser, prevented his extradition because of the perceived suicide risk.

I happen to agree with his lawyers that the US assurances are fundamentally untrustworthy, as I explained in an article in October, Like a Wheedling Abuser, the US Makes Groundless Promises in Julian Assange’s Extradition Appeal, but what is particularly dispiriting about today’s ruling is how it wasn’t allowed to focus on the key reason why Assange shouldn’t be extradited, which had already been dismissed by Judge Baraitser; namely, that prosecuting a publisher for publishing confidential government documents (in this case leaked by Chelsea Manning) that highlight government wrongdoing — and even involvement in war crimes — is a necessary prerequisite for press freedom.

It is also worth noting, of course, that if Assange is to be prosecuted for publishing the material leaked by Chelsea Manning, then so too should the New York Times, the Washington Post, McClatchy, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and numerous other newspapers that worked with Assange on the publication of these documents.

It is to be hoped that an appeal by Assange’s lawyers to the UK Supreme Court will be accepted, but in the meantime those concerned with press freedom, and the very notion of freedom of speech, supposedly protected in the US via its precious First Amendment rights, will continue to put pressure on the US government to drop this extradition request (as I have been calling for since before Joe Biden inherited this poisonous chalice from Donald Trump), and to allow Assange to be reunited with his partner and their two young boys, and, in all likelihood, to return to Australia, where he is a citizen.

The Biden administration needs to recognize, as Obama did, that prosecuting Assange crosses a line that cannot be crossed in countries that claim to respect press freedoms and the freedom of speech, and would, if successful, have chilling ramifications for the mainstream media; in effect, stifling press freedom in ways that bear all the hallmarks of dictatorships rather than liberal democracies.

Throughout this year, Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, has repeatedly spoken out in support of journalists and press freedom worldwide while refusing to acknowledge the US’s hypocrisy in the case of Julian Assange, and has repeatedly been criticized for doing so. He — and President Biden — need to take this criticism on board, and drop this pernicious extradition request immediately.

You can sign an Amnesty International petition calling on the US government to drop all charges against Julian Assange here. As Amnesty explain, “Authorities in the USA must drop the espionage and all other charges against Julian Assange that relate to his publishing activities as part of his work with Wikileaks. The US government’s unrelenting pursuit of Julian Assange for having published disclosed documents that included possible war crimes committed by the US military is nothing short of a full-scale assault on the right to freedom of expression.”

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Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.50).

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the struggle for housing justice — and against environmental destruction — continues.

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30 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    As the UK High Court allows the extradition to the US of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, overturning a lower court’s ruling regarding his suicide risk, I explain my disappointment with the ruling, not only because US assurances regarding his treatment are fundamentally untrustworthy, but also because the key element of the case wasn’t under discussion: the US’s reprehensible efforts to prosecute a publisher for making available leaked information that it is in the public interest to know about (including the Guantanamo files, on which I worked as a media partner), which sends a chilling message to the world about the US’s disregard for press freedom.

    The Biden administration should drop the extradition request immediately.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia Rivera Scott wrote:

    My heart is broken.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, a sad day, Natalia, but the bigger problem was the original ruling, and Judge Baraitser’s refusal to turn down the extradition request because no one should be prosecuting someone who publishes leaked material that it is in the public interest to know about.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia Rivera Scott wrote:

    Andy, I know … I understand your point … but still … I’m broken-hearted.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    I understand, Natalia. 🙁

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalya Wolf wrote:

    aarrrghhhhhhhhh

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Exactly, Natalya.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Jessica Neagle wrote:

    Absolutely agree.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jessica. Good to hear from you.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    The question of whether or not Assange was merely a publisher or not is exactly what the US courts intend to contest. “The publisher” strategy was always going to be his best defence but he brushed against that line more than once, largely through inexperience and youthful folly at that time. That said – this has been a very unedifying dogs dinner of a mess for years by the various authorities and nobody comes out of it terribly well. It isn’t even over.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s the ‘publisher’ aspect that’s so troubling though, David, because logically it doesn’t make sense to pursue Assange and not those who also published the files. I don’t think that’s how the US government sees it; they seem motivated by a particular hatred of Assange, but if a prosecution were to go ahead and be successful, its effect on the mainstream media’s ability to publish leaked material that could embarrass governments or expose wrongdoing on their part would be devastating.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Andy, I think it would probably have a chilling effect. The sensible way to deal with this would have been to treat it like any other whistleblowing case – same goes for Snowden. No question, vitally important public interest stories and necessary leaks were revealed by Assange of a Government in complete disconnect with the rule of law but what a mess too.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    The First Amendment problem is why I’m doubtful that a prosecution in the US will be successful, David, but it seems that everyone involved in the US and the UK is happy to keep Julian Assange locked up for as long as possible before we even get to that point.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    They are certainly doing a great job of creating that impression, Andy.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    The UK is no more supportive of journalistic freedom than the US, it seems.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that’s right, Jan, as Judge Baraitser made clear in January, when she refused to even consider that the press freedom aspect of the extradition request ought to have been where she took a stand.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Pam Arnold wrote:

    we are all fkd

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, a bad day, Pam – and on Human Rights Day as well.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Pam Arnold wrote:

    and the day two journalists win the Nobel Prize!!!

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for mentioning Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, Pam, who attended the prize-giving ceremony on Friday. https://www.dw.com/en/nobel-peace-prize-maria-ressa-and-dmitry-muratov-receive-award/a-60081458

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Kathleen O’Connor Wang wrote:

    I was hoping Biden would stop this horrible treatment of Assange.
    His poor family, wife, children.
    Huge blow to justice.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Pressure needs to be put on Biden to drop the extradition request, Kathleen, but I’m unsure of the extent of support for Julian Assange in the US, although there’s an Amnesty petition that’s worth signing. https://www.amnesty.org/en/petition/julian-assange-usa-justice/

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Aleksey Penskiy wrote:

    This is not an act of justice, it is an attempt to intimidate society.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, well said, Aleksey.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Meagan Murphy wrote:

    Yes the information needed to be public and well discussed in the front and center of the public, because the US military was harming innocent people.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, right upfront the ‘Collateral Murder’ video made that clear, Meagan. https://collateralmurder.wikileaks.org

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Pat Sheerin wrote:

    I believe he has had a stroke. This is heartbreaking. A brave man, whose “crime” was to expose the criminals. Priti Patel must stop the extradition!

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    I hadn’t heard that, Pat. If true, it needs to be publicised widely. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) noted how ill he was during the hearing back in October. https://www.ifj.org/media-centre/news/detail/article/free-assange-julian-assange-left-trial-early-because-of-ill-health.html

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    I now see that the story you mentioned has broken widely, Pat. It seems to have been reported first by the Daily Mail. Surely it must make a difference to the extradition plans. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10300037/Julian-Assange-stroke-Belmarsh-prison-Fianc-e-blames-extreme-stress.html

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    For a Spanish translation, on the World Can’t Wait’s Spanish website, see ‘Jueces británicos decidieron que el fundador de WikiLeaks Julian Assange puede ser extraditado a los Estados Unidos, aceptando las ridículas garantías de seguridad en relación a su salud mental y riesgo de suicidio’: http://www.worldcantwait-la.com/worthington-jueces-britanixos-decidieron-assange-puede-ser-exrraditado.htm

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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