Witch hunt against Julian Assange continues

Letters / Opinions

The relentless hunting-down plans for WikiLeaks’ publisher are again coming to a head. His ongoing persecution is widely seen as a threat for freedom of speech. But not enough is being done to support him, and the nature of the charges against him are not transparent.

Julian Assange 2018
Photo Credit AFP

Julian Assange (WikiLeaks) has been incarcerated at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, England since 2012. Ecuador had granted him political asylum as he feared extradition to the United States to face trial over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret US military documents and diplomatic cables in 2010. At the time, it seemed to be a necessary move, as Mr. Assange was threatened to be extradited to Sweden where dubious allegations over sexual assaults had been made against him which he denied. Last year, Swedish prosecutors dropped those charges.

He was forced to remain inside the embassy because he is still subject to arrest in the UK for jumping bail six years ago. He is reportedly in extremely poor health, having been deprived of natural light and access to fresh air on a constant basis. He is not even allowed safe passage to and from a hospital for an X-ray. It is said that his condition may deteriorate to the point where his life is in jeopardy.

Mr. Assange believes that if he leaves the Ecuadoran Embassy, the British will snatch him and ship him to the USA to be prosecuted as a spy.

John Pilger wrote on June 29, 2018 ¹:

The persecution of Julian Assange must end. Or it will end in tragedy. The Australian government and [then, ed.] prime minister Malcolm Turnbull have an historic opportunity to decide which it will be.

They can remain silent, for which history will be unforgiving. Or they can act in the interests of justice and humanity and bring this remarkable Australian citizen home.

Assange does not ask for special treatment. The government has clear diplomatic and moral obligations to protect Australian citizens abroad from gross injustice: in Julian’s case, from a gross miscarriage of justice and the extreme danger that await him should he walk out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London unprotected.

We know from the Chelsea Manning case what he can expect if a US extradition warrant is successful – a United Nations Special Rapporteur called it torture.

I know Julian Assange well; I regard him as a close friend, a person of extraordinary resilience and courage. I have watched a tsunami of lies and smear engulf him, endlessly, vindictively, perfidiously; and I know why they smear him.

In 2008, a plan to destroy both WikiLeaks and Assange was laid out in a top secret document dated 8 March, 2008. The authors were the Cyber Counter-intelligence Assessments Branch of the US Defence Department. They described in detail how important it was to destroy the “feeling of trust” that is WikiLeaks’ “centre of gravity”.

This would be achieved, they wrote, with threats of “exposure [and] criminal prosecution” and a unrelenting assault on reputation. The aim was to silence and criminalise WikiLeaks and its editor and publisher. It was as if they planned a war on a single human being and on the very principle of freedom of speech.

Their main weapon would be personal smear. Their shock troops would be enlisted in the media – those who are meant to keep the record straight and tell us the truth.

Academics, civil rights lawyers and journalism groups worry that an attempt to put Mr. Assange behind bars could damage constitutional free speech protections, with repercussions for newsrooms covering national security across the United States.

“This isn’t about Julian Assange, this is about the First Amendment and press freedom,” said Elizabeth Goitein, who co-directs the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center in New York. “You can’t support First Amendment freedoms and still support the government chipping away at those freedoms of people you don’t like.”

US officials clearly have been itching to get their hands on the 47-year-old Mr. Assange for some time; he has been a thorn in Washington’s side for almost a decade. And Assange’s long-time claim that prosecutors secretly were preparing charges against him was vindicated late Thursday when his name accidentally surfaced in an apparently unrelated legal filing.

WikiLeaks has revealed that Mr. Assange has been already charged under seal by the US, but the case is to remain sealed until his arrest.

“…no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged,” assistant US Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer wrote, urging a judge to keep the matter sealed. However, the exact nature of the alleged charges against the whistle-blower was not immediately revealed and is not to be disclosed until Assange’s arrest, according to the document.

WikiLeaks tweeted the document on Thursday, saying it was an “apparent cut-and-paste error.”

SCOOP: US Department of Justice “accidentally” reveals existence of sealed charges (or a draft for them) against WikiLeaks’ publisher Julian Assange in apparent cut-and-paste error in an unrelated case also at the Eastern District of Virginia.
– WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 16, 2018

The same court filings were cited in a Washington Post report. The paper said, citing its sources, that what Dwyer said was true, but the disclosure was unintentional.

Mr. Assange is not a criminal – but he is accused of having unveiled US government secrets. WikiLeaks published secret information, news leaks, and classified media from anonymous sources. By 2015, WikiLeaks had published more than 10 million documents and associated analyses, and was described by Assange as “a giant library of the world’s most persecuted documents.” The published material between 2006 and 2009 attracted various degrees of publicity, but it was only after it began publishing documents supplied by Chelsea Manning, that WikiLeaks became a household name.

According to a document released by Edward Snowden, Mr. Assange is on a “Manhunt target list.” One leaked official memo says: “Assange is going to make a nice bride in prison. Screw the terrorist. He’ll be eating cat food forever.”

In Alexandra, Virginia – the suburban home of America’s war-making elite – a secret grand jury, a throwback to the middle ages – has spent seven years trying to concoct a crime for which Assange can be prosecuted.

As John Pilger states, “This is not easy; the US Constitution protects publishers, journalists and whistle-blowers. Assange’s crime is to have broken a silence.”

Speaking the truth, revealing truths that have been hidden and classified for decades or longer is a courageous act. Mankind has a right to know what their elected governing bodies are doing. Particularly and necessarily in this age of ‘fake news’, it is the media’s responsibility to report responsibly.

Julian Assange must be allowed by the UK government to leave the premises of the Ecuadorean Embassy as a free man and be granted protection.

¹ John Pilger is a widely-known senior Australian journalist and BAFTA award-winning documentary film maker; since 1962 he is mainly based in the UK. Source of excerpt: greenleft.org.au

General sources: Internet

BhagawatiBhagawati is a regular contributor

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