Monday, January 4, 2021, will be a seminal day for press freedom and our right to know what our governments and corporations are doing around the world. Judge Vanessa Baraitser will announce her decision on the United States’ request to extradite Julian Assange to the US for trial on 18 charges for his work to publish leaked documents that expose US war crimes and other wrongdoing in Wikileaks.
If Assange is extradited, this will have a chilling effect on any journalist or publisher anywhere in the world who dares to expose the truth about what the United States and its transnational corporations are doing. Already, Assange has endured what would break the will of many people – false accusations of sex crimes, seven years holed up in the small Ecuadorian Embassy in London and almost two years in a maximum security prison. His health has deteriorated due to these conditions and lack of proper health care.
Assange is enduring this for his belief in transparency, that people have a right to see leaked documents directly without the gate-keeping of corporate media that protects the interests of the ruling class. This is what frightens the power holders the most. Knowledge is power. That is why corporate media spend so much effort to distract the public with meaningless gossip to hide the real conversations we should be having nationally about the failed state in which we live.
We can expect a propaganda campaign to follow the judge’s announcement on Monday. Here is what we need to know about Assange, the hearing and next steps to protect Julian Assange.
The Extradition Hearing
In the Popular Resistance Newsletter written at the end of the witness portion of the extradition hearing last October, I outlined five reasons why it is clear that Julian Assange must be freed. Assange is facing 17 charges under the US Espionage Act and one charge of attempted hacking. These carry a sentence of up to 175 years in prison. If extradited, Assange would be tried in a Virginia court that is favorable to the security state. Jeffrey Sterling writes about his conviction by that court and why Assange would not have a fair trial.
Assange’s September hearing was full of injustices. Assange did not have adequate access to his lawyers or to the documents related to his case while he was in prison. The excuse for this was the COVID-19 pandemic, but the court refused to accept that as an excuse to delay the hearing so he could prepare properly when his lawyers made the request to push it back. During the hearing, Assange was placed in a glass cubicle behind his lawyers where he struggled to hear the proceedings and could not communicate freely with his legal team. John Pilger writes about Assange’s experience in court:
“The prevailing atmosphere has been shocking. I say that without hesitation; I have sat in many courts and seldom known such a corruption of due process; this is due revenge.”
Chris Hedges spoke with Craig Murray, who attended the hearing virtually and wrote a daily summary of it.
The legal team for Assange clearly demonstrated that Assange is a publisher and that his publishing of materials leaked by Chelsea Manning was done in a responsible way. His actions were the same as those of media outlets around the world who press their sources for information and publish leaked materials regularly. They also showed that the United States’ case against Assange is purely political and that the United States worked with a Spanish security corporation, UC Global, to spy on Assange while he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy. The United States is retaliating against Assange for exposing its crimes. And, Assange’s lawyers demonstrated that extradition of Assange would be physically harmful to him. It would also harm press freedom worldwide.
For any of these reasons, the extradition request must be denied and Julian Assange should be freed to be with his young family. Assange needs to receive comprehensive health care to restore him physically and mentally. And, Assange must be applauded and supported for his brave actions. Whether any of this happens depends on what we do.
Defending Julian Assange and Press Freedom
As Glenn Greenwald explains:
“Whether a society is truly free is determined by how it treats its dissidents, those who live and speak and think outside of permissible lines, those who effectively subvert ruling class aims. If you want to know whether free speech is genuine or illusory, look not to the treatment of those who loyally serve establishment factions and vocally affirm their most sacred pieties, but to the fate of those who reside outside of those factions and work in opposition to them.”
This is why Julian Assange’s struggle is our struggle. If he is extradited, the power holders will win another victory against the people that further cements their power and our oppression. Julian’s fight is our fight for our right to have access to information about what is being done. Without that right, we will be much weaker.
Think about how important it has been for us to know about what US troops were really doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, about torture in the prison at Guantanamo Bay, about what was being negotiated in the secret TransPacific Partnership and about what State Department officials are doing, to name just a few Wikileaks revelations. This information fueled our movements for peace and justice.
Whatever happens on January 4, our struggle continues. This week, I spoke with Kevin Gosztola who has been covering the extradition process on Clearing the FOG about what we can expect and what our next steps could be.
If the judge decides against extradition, it is possible Assange could be freed but it is also possible the US government could appeal the decision and he would remain in prison pending that process. If the judge decides to extradite him, Assange’s lawyers could appeal that decision on the basis that it would imperil his health, which has been a successful strategy in other recent cases in the United Kingdom. It is possible the judge could issue a split decision by denying the charges under the Espionage Act and ruling in favor of extradition to face the hacking attempt charge. If that is the case, there is no reason to believe the United States would comply with the UK court once Assange is in the US.
Here are some actions being taken or that could be taken:
- Always be the media. Share articles that provide accurate information about the situation. You will find them at PopularResistance.org, Consortium News, Craig Murray’s website, Shadowproof, and The Grayzone, to name a few. We can expect a barrage of misinformation after the decision. Counter it everywhere you see it using comment sections on articles, letters to the editor and responding on social media. If we all do this, we can have an impact on the national dialog.
- Push for a presidential pardon. Over the past few weeks, there has been an effort to push President Trump to pardon Julian Assange. United Nations’ torture expert Nils Melzer has called for his pardon as well as Australian Members of Parliament, Pamela Anderson and even Sarah Palin.
- Push the Biden Department of Justice to drop the charges. Julian’s father, John Shipton, said he would fly to Washington to speak with Joe Biden personally. Remember, it was the Obama-Biden administration that charged Julian Assange using the Espionage Act back when Chelsea Manning was facing trial. They declined to take that charge any further under the realization of the harm it would cause to the functioning of the press. For the Trump administration to proceed with the charges years later does not make sense. The Biden administration must revert to the original position of protecting press freedom or if they won’t do that, they can justify dropping the extradition request on the grounds that Assange’s health is in poor condition.
- Encourage members of Congress to speak out on Assange’s behalf. The new Congress provides an opportunity to get your member on the record about their position regarding Assange’s case. Write or email them to find out whether they support the First Amendment or not. If a group of lawmakers were willing to back Assange, this could have a big impact on the new administration.
- Press for stronger protections for the press. The Espionage Law was created in 1917 to prevent dissent to the first world war. It has been used more in the past decade than in all the years prior to that. It needs to be repealed and we need laws that end corporate media monopolies and empower independent media outlets.
No matter what happens in the Assange case, we must continue to advocate for him and to press for stronger protections for our right to know. We are headed in a dangerous direction considering the culture of censorship that is developing. I can’t emphasize enough that access to knowledge is power. Whoever controls that access has the power. Wikileaks was trying to put that power into the hands of the people. We must keep working to democratize the media with the understanding that it is essential to our success in our two-pronged strategy of stopping the machine (resisting harmful policies and practices) and creating the new world (building alternative systems that are democratic and equitable).