Journalist and founder of the whistleblower organisation WikiLeaks Julian Assange can now be extradited to the US to face charges of espionage, ruled Her Majesty's High Court on 10 December. This ruling was in favour of an appeal by the US government to overturn the previous decision by the Westminster Magistrates' Court from January, which denied the extradition on the grounds that the harsh and restrictive prison conditions that Assange may face could worsen his mental wellbeing, creating a real risk of suicide.
The UK government, however, is demonstrably not concerned with the well-being of Julian Assange, who spent seven years isolated in the Ecuadorian embassy in London under prison-like conditions. After which, in response to the US extradition request and as a result of a deal between the Ecuadorian government under Lenin Moreno and the US, he was arrested by the London Metropolitan Police and put in Belmarsh maximum-security prison where he’s being held in solitary confinement to this day: an extremely harsh treatment for a person who poses no threat to the public.
Now he is likely to be extradited to the US, whose government had planned his abduction and murder, where he will face trial for charges carrying a combined sentence which would amount to life in prison. Throughout, the UK government has been complicit with US imperialism.
The horrible conditions to which Assange has been subject have obviously been detrimental to both his mental and physical health. Recently it was revealed that he suffered symptoms of a stroke during the hearings this October. However, putting the focus of the defence on Assange’s bad health rather than the wrongful charges against him is a serious mistake. It could provide cover if something bad were to happen to Assange after being taken to the US.
And in the end, all it took to get around this defence was for the US to make some vague promises. For example, they said he would not be subject to “special administrative measures” or held at a maximum security facility. The ‘magnanimous’ US authorities even went so far as to promise that, in the event that Assange was convicted, he would be allowed to apply to serve the time in an Australian prison.
The worth of these promises can be seen, for example in the case of David Mendoza, who was extradited from Spain to the US on drug charges, on the condition that he would be allowed to serve the time in the former. But his applications were rejected for six years, breaking the diplomatic assurances he had received from the US.
Mendoza testified to the harsh treatment he received at even a medium-high security facility:
“You don’t have a name; you have a number, and you have to repeat it during every count. Counts are every three hours in higher security federal prisons. Another thing guards would do is, instead of pointing their flashlight up to the ceiling, they would flash it right in your face.”
This can give us an idea of the treatment that Assange would be subject to in a medium-high security prison. But the promises that he would not end up in a maximum-security prison during or after his trial came with the condition that he doesn't do anything to justify it in the future. Exactly what would justify going back on this promise? That would be up to the US authorities, rendering the promise worthless.
Guilty of standing up to imperialism
And what did Assange do to justify the nightmare he is currently facing, and which he has been facing for almost 10 years? The charges of espionage brought against him relate to assisting Chelsea Manning in acquiring and publishing confidential documents and information relating to the brutality of the US army in the imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of the justifications for this charge was that the release of this information endangered the lives of Afghan informants and US soldiers. It should be clear to anyone that the blame for any potential lives lost, and the many innocent lives which actually have been lost, lies squarely at the feet of the imperialist warmongers, and not at the journalists and whistle-blowers who seek to expose them!
The real reason for Assange’s prosecution has nothing to do with how these documents were acquired, or whether they were published with the names of individuals redacted (which they were). The actual reason behind the campaign against Assange lies in him revealing the crimes of US imperialism and the American ruling class.
Ironically, this ruling in favor of the US's attack on freedom of speech came two days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a “liability fund” to defend independent journalism and reporters targeted for their work. This announcement was made at the opening of the so-called “Summit for Democracy”.
Blinken also boasted that the US government will “make the biggest contribution by any government to the recently launched International Fund for Public Interest Media", a fund with the stated goals to “sustain independent media in countries around the world” and “bolster press freedom by supporting journalists and news organisations that speak truth to power”. It's safe to assume that no funding will be given to journalists speaking truth to the greatest imperialist power. The hypocrisy here is staggering.
This verdict by the High Court represents an attack on journalistic freedom and the freedom of information. As Marxists, we stand on the side of Julian Assange and whistleblowers like him, in defence of free speech, and against the bullying of the capitalist states of those who expose their crimes.
Stop the extradition, and free Julian Assange!