The Last Chance for Julian Assange
The Crusading Journalist's Life, and Our Freedom, Are At Stake
“ ‘Posterity gives everyone his due honor. If I am condemned, people will remember me as well as Cassius and Brutus’
…The senate ordered his books to be burnt by the aediles. But they survived, first hidden and later republished. This makes one deride the stupidity of people who believe that today’s authority can destroy tomorrow’s memories. On the contrary, repressions of genius increase its prestige. All that tyrannical conquerors, and imitators of their brutalities, achieve is their own disrepute and their victims’ renown.”
- Tacitus [Annals, IV.35]
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On Tuesday, February 20th, at a Royal Court of “Justice” in London, Julian Assange, perhaps the world’s most famous political prisoner, will face his final extradition hearing. His “crime,” of course, being publishing true information that the world’s most powerful government, the United States, found it inconvenient for the public to know. All other avenues exhausted, all that is left is to determine if his mental health- which by all accounts has deteriorated in 12 years of captivity, including 4 in solitary confinement at London’s Belmarsh prison- makes it inhumane to transfer him to the United States, which has a record of awful treatment towards high-profile prisoners. Though the Russia conspiracists of America’s alt-center believe that Assange is a Russian agent who worked with the GRU, the charges he faces relate to publishing information received from US hero Chelsea Manning, who already spent 7 years in prison after being convicted of leaking the information, before her sentence was commuted in a rare noble move by Barack Obama before he left office [of course, he was the one who had her imprisoned for the prior 7 years.] On most of the charges Assange faces the United States entirely lacks jurisdiction- Assange being an Australian citizen who was not in the United States at any point in this saga. One charge for which the US would have a reasonable claim to jurisdiction, that he helped Chelsea Manning crack passwords, is clearly spurious. What’s more, it’s the US government’s stance that as Assange is not an American citizen he lacks the protections of the Constitution, but somehow still falls under their punitive power. It is widely considered by Assange’s supporters that the 52 year old, who is now in failing health, would die in a dungeon before the US government’s clearly unconstitutional persecutions have their day in court. While it seems unlikely that it is possible to have an impact on this matter, the stakes are high for Assange the man and for the freedom of humans the world over. The precedent set by this persecution of Julian Assange for publishing true information should strike fear into the heart of every person who considers liberty to be the most celestial of goods.
No one who would be reading this needs to be told the story of Julian Assange, but it is good to remember what he did for us. Perhaps when this started you were too young to follow politics, perhaps your views have changed entirely since, or perhaps, like me, you were already an opponent to the imperial surveillance state living in constant anxiety about our fading freedoms. After the horrors of the Bush years, which were defined by terrorism, illegal war, and egregious violations on civil liberties, there was a belief that Obama would be a new type of President. Unfortunately for those of us who oppose war and value civil liberties, this facade took most of the mainstream liberals who had been the key opponents of Bush’s policies out of our camp. Obama certainly ran on a sort of “return to normalcy” and the blindly optimistic belief that this man from nowhere1 would wrap up the wars and curtail the surveillance state and reverse the abuses of the Bush Administration. By the end of Obama’s first year it was obvious to those of us paying attention or holding any principles that he was not as promised. Indeed, he had already greatly increased troops in Afghanistan, of course for the purpose of ending the war, but do people escalate wars upon any other justification?
This is the state we found ourselves in when Julian Assange’s Wikileaks, previously a small organization which had earned praise exposing the misdeeds of smaller governments, shocked the world with the “Collateral Murder” video showing the killing of several individuals including 2 Reuters journalists and those who had tried to help victims. The video was from three years prior, and though the killing of the journalists had been reported at the time, the public was shocked to see what it seemed to many was an obvious war crime, that had of course been covered up. This was followed by another video of an airstrike massacre, diplomatic cables, and logs from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. All of these were leaked by Army Specialist Chelsea Manning, who had access to the files at work. Chelsea Manning is a hero, but what she did was obviously illegal, being active duty military under an obligation to properly handle classified documents. She was arrested in 2010. However, it is well established that in America a journalist has a legal right to publish such documents if provided with them, and in Assange’s case he in absolutely no way fell under American jurisdiction. The “right” way for Chelsea to deal with her concerns would have been to use the official whistleblower procedure of alerting some bureaucrat about her concerns and then nothing would happen except for her career being sidelined. Instead she provided them to Assange, and the world learned the truth.
The releases galvanized opponents of the American government’s many usurpations and abuses. They were followed by the Snowden leaks, which went through Glenn Greenwald and others, but the events remain tied together as having caused the American government enormous problems during the Obama years and having led to Obama’s unprecedented campaign of persecution against journalists and whistleblowers. If not for Assange as a publisher it seems likely that Obama could have glided through many oppressions on the force of his personality, but instead government malfeasance was always in the news. To anyone who would have interest in my newsletter, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange are true heroes. The Wikileaks releases, especially the embassy cables which dated back decades, have been a treasure trove for anyone trying to understand the US government. It did much to pull the mask off of the government itself, while showing who among the people was a principled believer in freedom and who was a partisan hack who only claimed to care about civil liberties when they are in the opposition. If someone hates the fact that Julian Assange published the Manning leaks, you can be sure that person has monstrous political views. The impact of Assange both in exposing the government and in changing the media environment by creating technology to anonymously submit information through online “drop boxes” cannot be overstated. His wife Stella, an attorney specializing in international law and human rights, recently gave a wonderful interview to Reason Magazine explaining just how much Assange has done for all of us, and the dear price he has paid for upsetting the world’s most powerful people.
The government’s response to Manning was swift, but Assange was more difficult to deal with. There was a campaign to “cancel” Wikileaks, of the sort we have grown used to, which is to say the organization was cut off from most funding sources and they attempted to block it across the internet. This was six years before Trump’s victory when there began to be an exponential growth in this sort of oppression, which you could call a “public-private partnership” in the fascist sense. Julian Assange was arrested to be questioned on weak sexual assault accusations out of Sweden that, if true, would not constitute a crime in most countries. He was let out on bail, but seeing it all as a ploy to get him to the United States, in 2012 he skipped bail instead of being extradited. Assange was offered political asylum by Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa [who somewhat ironically has since become a political asylee himself.] This led to Assange living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, a small office, for seven years. Though the building was not set up for long-term habitation, and the UK government did various things to make his life unpleasant and kept him under constant guard, he was still able to receive visitors [who were spied on, of course,] stand in the sun on the balcony, and keep a pet cat. It was also in this time he fathered two children with Stella Moris, whom he later married after he was moved to prison. .
In 2019, Sweden dropped the charges due to the inability to prosecute him in the embassy and the amount of time which had passed. However, that same year, Correa’s successor Moreno revoked his asylum and he was carried out of the embassy to be put in jail on the charge of skipping bail. It was then that the the US government under Donald Trump chose to prosecute Assange, charging him with 18 counts relating to his work as a publisher and journalist. This, of course, is despite that all he had done was legally protected in the United States under the 1st Amendment, he is not an American, and none of the actions took place in America. Even more incredibly, the arch-villain Mike Pompeo, who Trump had made CIA director in one of the worst of his many terrible appointments, admitted in 2021 that the CIA seriously considered kidnapping and assassinating Assange. After this arrest Assange was put in solitary confinement in Belmarsh Prison- sometimes called “The UK’s Guantanamo Bay” for all the people held there without trial- where he has been since. When Assange was still in the embassy, despite his personal struggles, he was able to remain a sort of living martyr for our freedoms and a leader in the struggle. It has been much harder to keep Assange’s plight at the forefront when he is deprived of the light of day in His Majesty’s Prison “under the guard of Hanoverian sabres,” to quote William Cobbett, the publisher of England’s first opposition newspaper, who himself spent time in the Tower of London 200 years ago.
Despite the many reasons why Assange should not be extradited to the United States- lack of jurisdiction, not having committed a crime, the admission that the CIA considered assassinating him, among others- it has unfortunately come down only to his mental health and if the US will treat him sufficiently well in prison. And indeed, this poor man’s mental and physical health have suffered in confinement. He appears drugged and is believed to have recently suffered a minor stroke. This is on top of the normal mental health problems arising from long-term solitary confinement, which is widely considered to be inhumane. The veteran journalist Charles Glass visited him at Belmarsh at the beginning of this year, and his condition is truly dismal, little different from a prisoner one would find in a Romanticist novel. Mary Kostakidas, an Australian journalist and Assange activist, said in a speech which was printed at Consortium News, that “Assange’s Very Life is At Stake.” Though the US has claimed it would treat him properly and ensure his well-being, in another instance they extradited an Islamist cleric Abu Hamza to face terrorism charges after lengthy court proceedings, and despite that the man doesn’t have hands did not make a proper effort to even accommodate his ability to use the bathroom. The US has “promised” it would let Assange serve a sentence in his native Australia. However, there is a “claw-back” clause, meaning they reserve the right to not do any of the things they are claiming, which is to say, it is no promise at all. Perhaps most concerning is that since most of what Julian Assange is charged with simply is not illegal, and further they don’t have jurisdiction, it seems as if the US government has no legal grounds to try Julian Assange at all; it is hard to know what the government would do with him besides see that he “killed himself” in his cell like Epstein or was sent to the real Guantanamo Bay. They cannot have him going before any judge or jury. Even given their insane reasoning that he is under their jurisdiction but doesn’t have the civil rights of an American because he isn’t an American and wasn’t in America, he would have those rights in any court in America with a modicum of fairness. Putting him in front of a judge would be a big risk for the government, in my view, too big of a risk for them to take.
The United Kingdom is in a difficult position. It is a vassal of the United States, but at the same time, this extradition demand takes things too far. Even under literal feudalism a vassal has pretty broad power to keep prisoners. There is also a fair amount of global pressure due to the patent unfairness of the legal proceedings. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Alice Jill Edwards, has urged the UK to stop the extradition, citing the fact that Assange is unlikely to be treated fairly or protected and may face conditions which constitute torture in the United States, and thus it would violate the UK’s legal obligations against torture were they to extradite him. Further, there is the significant issue that a high-ranking former US intelligence official admitted to considering assassinating the man. Unfortunately, these Rapporteurs are routinely ignored and are little more than human rights activists the UN employs; in fact, the last person in this position, Nils Melzer, wrote a book called The Trial of Julian Assange which is heavily critical of his persecution, but clearly Melzer was unable to change anything through his official position. Still, despite the UK’s many problems it still positions itself as some sort of defender of universal values, so if anything bad were to happen to Assange in America the UK’s already failing reputation would get even worse. However, they also don’t want to upset the United States, as being in the US’s service is the only way the former world power has maintained global relevance. It is not clear what would happen if the extradition is declined. His only charge in the UK was for skipping bail, and whatever punishment there is for that the time has been served years ago. Presumably they would keep Assange in prison indefinitely while trying to agree on how to improve his health enough to be extradited as the US works on treatment guarantees.
The UK’s best move, perhaps, is to make a sort of “lateral pass”2 and deport Assange home to Australia. Though Australia has itself devolved into an authoritarian hellhole [somewhat rebounded since covid ended] its political class have shown at least some interest in protecting their native son. A Columbia Journalism Review article from September 2023 went over the Australian political class’s increasing interest in the case, which ranges from a principled belief in civil rights to the general premise that an Australian national should not be extradited to a third country for a crime not committed on its soil. Still, the Australian response over the years has left much to be desired, and its not clear if they have the unity or determination to help him in any way, nor what conditions Assange might face if he were to return home. At the very least, as far as international law is concerned, he is actually an Australian citizen so one of the most terrifying aspects of this case- US omnipotence- would be somewhat tempered by that resolution.
Julian Assange’s situation is bleak. As a natural pessimist, I hold little hope. Still, in the immortal words of Philip J. Fry, “You can’t give up hope just because something is hopeless, you have to hope even harder, and cover your ears and go BLAH BLAH BLAH.”
There are several things you can do if you wish to help Julian Assange. If you live in England, the best thing is to show up to demonstrate at the Old Bailey, London’s Central Criminal Court, on February 20th and 21st. In a perfect world a judge should be immune to both public and political pressure, but this is the real world, and a judge who is under political pressure to do the wrong thing- as this judge surely is- will be the most susceptible to public pressure to do the right thing. Further, if the appeals run out it is still ultimately a political decision to let the extradition go forward. You can also donate to Assange’s defense fund. Craig Murray, a former UK diplomat and well-known human rights activist outlined severe restrictions that government has put on streaming what is meant to be a public hearing, which they are trying to limit to residents of England and Wales under severe force of law. He suggests you email the court to protest, mentioning that the US is claiming universal jurisdiction and thus it impacts everyone; it would be just terrible if people used VPNs or other software to find a way to view this proceeding which the UK government clearly hopes to hide. You can also follow Julian’s wife Stella Assange on Twitter, as well as my friend the American activist Misty Winston to stay informed about the case and efforts to save Julian Assange. Further, the Substack Indie Media Today posts daily updates on Assange activism. Individually, none of that may seem like doing much, but there are a lot more of us than there are of the creeps pushing this egregious persecution, and we can all try to do a part
Julian Assange is but one man suffering greatly in a highly unjust world. However, he has done much for us, and all of our fates are tied to his. Many have claimed that what he was doing “isn’t journalism,” which is both incorrect and irrelevant, being as he was curating the items and providing commentary and analysis. Further, and more importantly, it is the press, which is protected under the First Amendment, quite literally the right to publish, not the right to be a journalist based on the government’s decision about who is or isn’t a journalist. As Stella said in the Reason interview, “The question is, is Julian accused of journalism? And he is. It is the activity that has been criminalized.”
Human freedoms are under assault across the world, and perhaps none more in the West than freedom speech and freedom of the press. The Serbia-based journalist Kit Klarenberg, a UK citizen, was recently detained by counter-terrorism police when entering his country of birth. They interrogated him about his journalism and basically accused him of being on Russia’s payroll. He just published an article yesterday about the new British National Security Act- modeled on the US Espionage Act under which Assange is being charged- which heavily criminalizes whistleblowers and the journalists who publish the documents they release. Members of the EU Parliament threatened sanctions against Tucker Carlson for interviewing Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The US House Subcommittee on the Weaponization of Government just found out that the Biden Administration pressured Amazon to limit access to books because they didn’t like the search results for “vaccine,” and Amazon’s objection was not based on any principle, but simply that if they censored people might notice. These are stories I encountered just within the last week without seeking them out.
Though there is an eternal struggle between freedom and censorship, this round started with the heroic actions of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, and we need to stand up for Assange, as he has stood up for us. Tacitus, the great Roman historian, has a passage pondering the damage oppression does to history, when every man is scared to speak of the events around him. Freedom of speech is the reason we know so much from brief periods in the history of Athens and Rome, but so much less about the rest of ancient history. More or less just as many events happened at other times, but were not published widely because any man who wrote honestly risked death. He writes, living in the era of the wise leadership of Trajan, “It is the rare fortune of these days that you may think what you like and say what you think” [Histories, I.1] To the extent that remains true of our time, how long will it last if we don’t stand up? With modern technology, it is ever easier to communicate, but also easier to monitor ideas and change records. The true record of the history we are making every day is perhaps less safe than ever. Julian Assange always saw this, which is why he took the risks he did and is now facing the persecutions he does. Just watch this video from years ago when he was a much younger, and free, man:
Assange quotes Orwell’s dictum, “Who controls the present controls the past,” and proceeds to explain that internet servers control the entire intellectual record of our era. There is another quote, which Ron Paul attributes to Orwell, perhaps incorrectly: “Truth is treason in an empire of lies.” Of course, this is the real reason they must destroy Assange, and the reason we must try to save him.
Thank you for reading! The Wayward Rabbler is written by Brad Pearce. If you enjoyed this content please subscribe and share. My main articles will always be free but paid subscriptions help me a huge amount. I have a tip jar at Ko-Fi where generous patrons can donate in $5 increments. I am now writing regularly for The Libertarian Institute. Join my Telegram channel The Wayward Rabbler. My Facebook page is The Wayward Rabbler. You can see my shitposting and serious commentary on Twitter @WaywardRabbler.
This is in reference to Obama’s brief time on the world stage before his meteoric rise to power, not the “Birther” conspiracy.
I had to look that up to make sure I was using this rare sports reference correctly.