Julian Assange Wins A Major Battle in His Long War Against Punitive US Overreach

Campaigners for Julian Assange outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London on May 20, 2024 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Today, in the High Court in London, WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange secured a major legal victory in his long struggle against a blatantly unfair US extradition request, which seeks his extradition to the US to face espionage charges relating to the publication by WikiLeaks, in 2010 and 2011, of classified US files leaked by Chelsea Manning, a US private who had worked as an intelligence analyst in Iraq.

Assange’s victory today came when the High Court judges in his case refused to accept US assurances involving two aspects of the extradition request: his right not to be prejudiced against because of his nationality (he is an Australian citizen), and his entitlement to the protections of the US First Amendment, the guarantor of freedom of speech, and the bedrock of protection for journalists and publishers who make available classified information which it is in the public interest to know about, whether it embarrasses governments, or even exposes crimes that they hoped to keep hidden.

Assange’s long struggle against extradition began over five years ago, in April 2019, when he was arrested and taken to HMP Belmarsh, a maximum-security prison in south east London, after the Ecuadorian government withdrew the asylum granted to him in June 2012, which had allowed to him to live, for nearly seven years, in the cramped confines of the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge.

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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

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.

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The Ongoing and Unjustifiable Persecution of Julian Assange

A van bearing the message ‘Don’t extradite Assange’, photographed today, September 9, 2020, in Waterloo (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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A hugely important struggle for press freedom is currently taking place in the Old Bailey in London, where, on Monday, three weeks of hearings began regarding the proposed extradition to the US of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. In 2010 and 2011, WikiLeaks published documents leaked by a serving member of the US military — Bradley, now Chelsea Manning — that exposed evidence of war crimes committed by the US and, in the case of my particular area of expertise, Guantánamo.

The Guantánamo revelations were contained in classified military files relating to almost all of the 779 men held at the prison by the uS military since it opened in January 2002, which, for the first time, explicitly revealed how profoundly unreliable the supposed evidence against the prisoners was, much of it having been made by prisoners who had made numerous false statements against their fellow prisoners. I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the release of the Guantánamo files, and my summary of the files’ significance can be found in the article I wrote when they were first published entitled, WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Guantánamo Files, Exposes Detention Policy as a Construct of Lies.

I should add that I am one of the witnesses for the defence, and will be appearing in court sometime over the next few weeks to discuss the significance of the Guantánamo files. See this post by Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof listing those taking part, who include Professor Noam Chomsky, Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, journalists John Goetz, Jakob Augstein, Emily Dische-Becker and Sami Ben Garbia, lawyers Eric Lewis and Barry Pollack, and Dr. Sondra Crosby, a medical doctor who examined Assange while he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he lived for almost seven years after claiming asylum in 2012.

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Stop the Extradition: If Julian Assange Is Guilty of Espionage, So Too Are the New York Times, the Guardian and Numerous Other Media Outlets

An undated photo of a billboard outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, criticizing efforts by the US to punish Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange for having leaked and published classified US government documents.

Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Nearly seven years ago, when WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London (on June 19, 2012), he did so because of his “fears of political persecution,” and “an eventual extradition to the United States,” as Arturo Wallace, a South American correspondent for the BBC, explained when Ecuador granted him asylum two months later. Ricardo Patino, Ecuador’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke of “retaliation that could endanger his safety, integrity and even his life,” adding, “The evidence shows that if Mr. Assange is extradited to the United States, he wouldn’t have a fair trial. It is not at all improbable he could be subjected to cruel and degrading treatment and sentenced to life imprisonment or even capital punishment.”

Assange’s fears were in response to hysteria in the US political establishment regarding the publication, in 2010 — with the New York Times, the Guardian and other newspapers — of war logs from the Afghan and Iraq wars, and a vast number of US diplomatic cables from around the world, and, in 2011, of classified military files relating to Guantánamo, on which I worked as media partner, along with the Washington Post, McClatchy, the Daily Telegraph and others. All these documents were leaked to WikiLeaks by former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. 

Nearly seven years later, Assange’s fears have been justified, as, on May 23, the US Justice Department charged him on 18 counts under the Espionage Act of 1917, charges that, as the Guardian described it in an editorial, could lead to “a cumulative sentence of 180 years.” 

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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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