Julian Assange’s treatment amounts to torture — it must end

September 17, 2020
Photo: Garry Knight Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

After enduring more than year and half of solitary confinement in Britain's Belmarsh Prison, despite not having been convicted of a crime, Julian Assange is at last able to confront the United States’ extradition claim.

However, the conditions of his detention and the overt intervention by the presiding judge make it clear this is a show trial: it is designed to make an example of Assange and to warn any whistleblower and journalist not to go down the same path.

Assange is not on trial for any crime he might have committed in the US or anywhere else, but for his role in exposing war crimes perpetrated on a grand scale.

The response of the establishment, aided by the liberal press, was to distract people from the enormity of the crimes that had been exposed by shifting the focus onto gossip about Assange’s personal life.

This attack went into overdrive when Swedish police announced they were investigating Assange for sexual assault.

While it doesn’t take much intellectual rigour to comprehend that Assange was being pursued for the crimes he had exposed (not those he was speculated to have committed), the swirling intrigue was a potent weapon that sucked plenty of energy out of the campaign in his defence.

Some commentators offered up the lame excuse that Wikileaks was not a genuine publishing enterprise deserving of protection, only proving their own lack of journalistic credentials. In Australia, the chaotic and short-lived intervention by the Wikileaks Party into the electoral process added to the confusion.

The explosive investigation by Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, into the conduct of the Swedish police should leave noone in any doubt as to how Western democracies are prepared to manipulate their supposedly independent judicial system to sinister ends.

While the two women at the centre of the allegations are real, and one of them may have complained about Assange’s behaviour, according to Melzer there was no allegation of assault. Despite their insistence otherwise at the time, the Swedish police did not want to question Assange and with no complainants, witnesses or evidence, they never even anticipated bringing charges.

The Swedish police went to the media with the story for the purpose of damaging Assange’s reputation and opening a door to his extradition to the US. When Lenin Moreno became President of Ecuador, he cut a loan deal with the US in return for agreeing to expel Assange from his country’s London embassy and the Swedish establishment was free to quietly drop the whole charade.

With the truth now laid bare, the failure of the corporate media to defend Assange is remarkable. This is even more the case given the Australian Federal Police raids on journalists for exposing possible war crimes committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan and the persecution of “Witness K” and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, for exposing illegal Australian government actions in East Timor.

So many important issues are at stake.

The treatment of Assange amounts to torture and must be condemned by anyone with a moral compass. Furthermore, his treatment is designed precisely to scare anyone from publishing material passed to them by fearless whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, especially evidence of war crimes committed by our government.

This is why Manning, despite having been pardoned and released, refuses to testify against Assange, even if it means being returned to indefinite solitary confinement. Her moral compass is exemplary.

Investigative journalism of the most serious crimes, the ones about which we most need to know, will suffer a mortal blow if Assange is extradited.

The case is also about the empire. Assange is not a US citizen and the crimes he is alleged to have committed did not take place on US soil. The US simply has no right to impose extraterritorial legal authority over the whole world.

Only a vassal state would even contemplate taking the US extradition request seriously. This explains the failure of both the federal government and the Labor “opposition” to even raise a squeak in protest. They have placed military and intelligence allegiance to the US above such niceties as the rule of law.

The post-September 11, 2001, US-led invasions have laid waste to great swathes of the Middle-East, leaving millions dead and millions more displaced.

Speaking about this in a Facebook post on September 12 this year, US Iraq War veteran and now anti-war campaigner Vince Emanuele declared: “In the end, we must end the US Empire if we hope to survive the century. It’s just that simple. Only full-scale demilitarization will suffice. Our only hope is international solidarity across national boundaries. I believe another world is possible.”

Stopping and dismantling this horrific war machine starts with telling the truth.

To do that, we need access to the truth. For that reason, more than any other, Julian Assange must be set free.

[Sam Wainwright is a member of the national executive of the Socialist Alliance.]

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