The remainder of Julian Assange’s hearing begins tomorrow as Assange fights against extradition to the U.S. on seventeen counts “relating to obtaining and disclosing classified information, and one charge concerning an alleged conspiracy to [help Chelsea Manning] crack passwords on government servers.” The charges stem from material Manning leaked to WikiLeaks in 2010, including Collateral Murder, a military video that exposed U.S. troops gunning down Iraqis, including two Reuters journalists.
If he’s extradited and found guilty, he faces 175 years in a U.S. prison which would likely be in a Supermax prison under SAMS, an abusive, administrative process that would cut Assange off from the rest of the world for the remainder of his life. (go to abc.net.au for more)
There are three important things to note about the U.S. charges against Assange:
- Publishing in the public’s interest isn’t a crime
- Manning was never charged for “cracking passwords” because she already had clearance to the documents she leaked
- Assange allegedly helped Manning maintain her anonymity, not hack
According to The Intercept:
“The other key fact being widely misreported is that the indictment accuses Assange of trying to help Manning obtain access to document databases to which she had no valid access: i.e., hacking rather than journalism. But the indictment alleges no such thing. Rather, it simply accuses Assange of trying to help Manning log into the Defense Department’s computers using a different username so that she could maintain her anonymity while downloading documents in the public interest and then furnish them to WikiLeaks to publish.”
As The Intercept noted as have so many others, this is just one of many reasons why the case against Assange is such a threat to press freedom and investigative journalism. Assange’s legal team will probably also argue:
- Assange is unfit to travel to the U.S. and attempts to do is an “abuse of process.”
- His case is politically motivated (which would make it exempt under the terms of the UK-US extradition treaty)
- The indictment against Assange is an overreach “beyond its territory,” which if the court agrees to extradition that would mean any journalist or publisher in the world can be extradited to the U.S. for writing/publishing something the U.S. government doesn’t like
- They’ll probably bring up the fact that the United States illegally listened in on conversations between Assange and his attorneys and for that alone the extradition request should be dismissed
- Go to abc.net.au for more
According to ABC, prosecutors have to show that the laws they’re charging Assange under are similar to U.K. law which they’ve already argued that they would fall under the U.K.’s Official Secrets Act. If the court accepts the United States’ argument:
- The court has to consider Assange’s health
- If they accept the argument that he’s not fit to travel, Assange could be protected under European human rights law
Other Things to Keep In Mind
Obviously no one can stress enough the importance of this case and how it will affect future journalism but also keep in mind:
The War on Journalism
- This is the first time in history that the Espionage Act is being used against a publisher for “receiving and publishing information.” Assange is Australian, not American, and has never worked on American soil
- Assange is being charged under the Trump administration which has been openly attacking the media for years
- The Obama administration refused to charge Assange for publishing and yes, even while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.
- After spending years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, the UN ruled in Assange’s favor twice, concluding that he was being arbitrarily detained against international law, he had been denied “fundamental liberties,” and that he should be compensated
- In a separate investigation, the UN also concluded that Assange has been tortured for years by four different western countries: Sweden, U.K., United States, and Ecuador
- In March 2018, the Ecuadorian government shut off all of Assange’s communications for allegedly merely tweeting about Catalonia’s fight for independence
- In April 2019, the Ecuadorian government under President Lenin Moreno, illegally revoked Assange’s political asylum and then allowed British authorities to enter their embassy and arrest Assange
- He was an Ecuadorian citizen at the time
- Despite being open about the extraordinary steps they took to help Australian journalist Peter Greste come home after being detained in Cairo for seven years over trumped up allegations of “terrorism and inventing the news,” the Australian government has done virtually nothing to help Assange and stop his extradition
What if the U.K. rules that Assange should be Extradited?
According to Renata Avila who has worked with WikiLeaks, if Assange loses then he can appeal the decision. If that fails, they can take it to the Supreme Court and challenge any decision made there. As she put it, “It can take months and years” for this to play out in its entirety. In the meantime, it seems likely that the U.K. will keep Assange imprisoned in a high-risk, high-security prison for the duration of the legal proceedings.
- This morning, long-time activist and PopularResistance.org co-director Kevin Zeese passed away unexpectedly. He was on the advisory board of Courage Foundation and his death has sent shockwaves throughout the activism community. It’s even more shocking that this happened the day before Assange’s hearing
- I personally didn’t know Zeese but I did meet him once at a 2018 #FreeAssange protest in Washington D.C. He was extremely friendly, funny, and helpful
- More recently, it was Zeese, his partner Margaret Flowers, and other activists who defended the Venezuelan Embassy in D.C. for over a month while the Trump administration tried to overthrow the Venezuelan government
- Zeese, Flowers, and two other activists were arrested in the embassy and later charged federally for “interfering with certain protective functions”
- There has been an outpouring of shock and condolences online over Zeese’s unexpected death. You can follow those messages here
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