On Monday, it was announced at the Old Bailey that Julian Assange would not be extradited to the US to face charges of endangering the lives of informants in Afghanistan, and for collusion with Chelsea Manning to hack US government computers. This news has rightly been greeted with enormous relief from Assange’s supporters.
Yet there is a caveat. The British court’s ruling was based on concerns that the US prison system would be incapable of preventing Assange from taking his own life. In fact, the court ruled in favour of the prosecution, stating that Assange should be extradited to the US. The message is clear: the British judicial system is subservient to the whims of US imperialism.
Assange first rose to prominence in June 2010 when his organisation, Wikileaks, leaked 470,000 classified military documents that exposed US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. This was followed in November with the leaking of 250,000 US diplomatic cables. One document revealed a horrifying incident in which an attack helicopter murdered civilians in Iraq in 2007, with a commanding officer revealing that this was an “everyday occurrence”. These revelations proved to be an enormous embarrassment to the US ruling class, as in one fell swoop, a light was shone on the brutal reality of what maintains the dominant position of US imperialism.
The predictable response of the ruling class was to immediately clamp down on Wikileaks and its leadership. We have explained in detail the methods that were deployed. At once, an attempt at character assassination was launched, as US imperialism revealed the true nature of its relationship with its ‘valued allies’ in Europe: that of master and lapdog. Washington turned to Sweden, described in leaked diplomatic cables as “pragmatic” and “reliable.” Sexual allegations against Assange were used by the Swedish authorities to issue a European Arrest Warrant. Assange correctly argued that if he was extradited to Sweden for questioning on these allegations he risked being then handed over to the US where he would face life imprisonment. It is true that all of America’s allies are beholden to its will, but no one can best the British ruling class’s enthusiastic subservience to Washington. The British police arrested Assange, and following an extensive legal battle, he was released on bail.
Assange was all too aware that this farce was a pretext to deliver him into the hands of the gangsters he had exposed. This prompted him to seek asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy, where he remained for nearly eight years. Despite the fact that the Swedish authorities decided not to pursue the case against Assange, the British authorities declared that he would be arrested if he left the embassy, thus keeping him as a prisoner in the narrow confines of the building.
Yet in 2019, the Ecuadorian government of Lenín Moreno made a deal with US imperialism, and as part of that, it agreed to expel Julian Assange from its embassy. This was a clear violation of asylum rights against a person who furthermore was now a citizen of Ecuador.
Assange was handed over to British police and jailed for 50 weeks for skipping bail, giving the US the time it required to prepare a case for the prosecution. Notably, the British police arrested and jailed Assange on the basis of having skipped bail in relation to an arrest warrant that was no longer active!
Since his arrest in April 2019, Assange has been kept at Belmarsh high-security prison as if he were a dangerous criminal. Most of the time, he has been in conditions of isolation, which amounts to torture. Never missing an opportunity to oblige US imperialism, the British government quickly signed off on an extradition trial that began on 24 February 2020. We have previously documented this appalling miscarriage of justice, as the ‘hallowed’ institutions of bourgeois justice have been used to legitimise US imperialism’s attempts to silence a fierce critic.
Throughout the trial, the judge showed a clear bias towards the prosecution and undertook every measure to disadvantage Assange, even forcing him to stand trial behind a glass case, meant for dangerously violent individuals. The true nature of bourgeois justice has been exposed during this farce, revealing how, under capitalism, democracy and justice are skewed to serve the interests of the ruling class. It therefore came as little surprise that the court found that there were grounds to extradite Assange on the basis of the US government’s request, and that the actions he is wanted for in the US are not covered by freedom of speech legislation. As mentioned, he was spared this fate only due to his fragile mental state.
Australian journalist John Pilger, a long-time supporter of Assange, took to twitter to celebrate Assange avoiding extradition, while stating: “It's a face-saving cover for the British to justify their disgraceful political trial of #Assange on America's behalf.” By agreeing to the arguments of the US government, the judge is collaborating with the main aim of the prosecution against Assange. Namely, sending a warning to others that the secret criminal activities of imperialism, both the US and the UK, should not be publicly divulged.
So why did the judge refuse the extradition request? We can only speculate. Probably, the protest campaign and the scandalous nature of the case played a role. The British state wanted to avoid the embarrassment that would have been caused by handing over Assange. Another possibility is that they are trying to use him as part of a negotiation with the US. We also need to make clear that this decision not to extradite him is still subject to appeal. The case is not over yet.
Finally, today we have learned of the judge’s decision to deny Assange’s application for bail. This decision is particularly absurd in the light of the judge’s own ruling Assange’s mental state. This is a vindictive decision: a prisoner who has been ruled by the court as at risk of taking his own life is to be kept in a high security jail, where there is currently a COVID-19 outbreak, pending an appeal by the US government.
This whole saga has exposed the horrors of imperialism, revealing the brutal nature of the US state as it guarantees enormous profits for its arms industry and the global domination of its ruling class. Despite the extensive lip service paid to freedom and the rights of the individual, the bourgeoisie is all too willing to crush and roll back the hard-won democratic rights that the working class gained in past struggles. One can only conclude that the whole system is rotten to the core.
Under capitalism, you have the right to publish whatever you want – as long as you do not expose the dirty secrets of imperialist powers. As we have argued from the start, the labour and trade union movement should involve themselves energetically in the campaign for the freedom of Julian Assange, whose only “crime” is to have brought to light the murderous activities of imperialism. The deafening silence of the Labour frontbench on this question is a disgrace.
We say: free Assange now! Defend free speech! Abolish secret diplomacy!