Remember the cold-blooded shooting of Iraqi civilians in Collateral Murder? Remember torture in Guantanamo Bay? Remember the political corruption revealed by the diplomatic cables? Those were some of the stories that broke the news back in 2010 as major international papers from The New York Times to The Guardian to Der Spiegel teamed up with WikiLeaks to expose US war crimes and a long list of shameful truths that our governments had kept secret.
Ten years down the road, the man who made these possible is fighting for his freedom in shocking indifference, kept in solitary confinement in a high-security prison and subjected to a trial that independent experts qualify as a sham for those very popular publications of the 2010 era WikiLeaks. EXB got access to the court hearings that will decide on his fate: if the court decides to greenlight his extradition to the U.S., where he’ll face 175 years imprisonment over his alleged role in revealing to the public classified documents that exposed acts of torture, war crimes and misconduct committed by the US and their allies.
EXB is committed to reporting on the court hearings that will not only seal the future of a man, but also determine the future of investigative journalism . We’ll also run a series of interviews with independent experts and journalists who worked on the leaks as well as prominent supporters.
First up, N. Vancauwenberghe and J. Brown spoke with Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, who investigated the case. Stay tuned!
Can you please explain what’s going on in London on Monday?
Yes, Julian Assange will have to face the second part of a court hearing which is to decide on his extradition to the United States. Hopefully, we will then have a first instance decision around October. Whatever the decision will be, I expect an appeal will be made to the High Court. Probably by Julian Assange, because I don’t expect the first instance to refuse the extradition. But even if a miracle happens and the judge refuses to extradite him, then the US will certainly appeal this decision
So, you believe that the judge will greenlight Julian Assange’s extradition to the US?
Yes. Now, if the British judiciary is independent and they apply the law, there is no way that they can greenlight this extradition. It’s obvious to any conscientious lawyer that this extradition cannot lawfully go forward. There’s the formal reason that 17 out of the 18 charges that Julian Assange has been indicted for are for espionage. Espionage is the quintessential, textbook example of a political offence, and you cannot extradite for political offences. The extradition treaty between the US and the UK explicitly prohibits that.
It’s obvious to any conscientious lawyer that this extradition cannot lawfully go forward.
Then there’s the eighteenth charge, the so-called hacking charge. Julian Assange is not even accused of having hacked anything, he’s accused of having attempted to help Chelsea Manning, his source in the U.S. Army at the time, to decode a system password. While this password would not have given her access to new information, it would have allowed her to cover her own tracks inside a system to which she already had full access authorization. Even if Assange’s involvement were proven, it would not be a serious crime, but merely an unsuccessful attempt to help someone commit an offence. Perhaps he could get a fine or a penalty of six weeks imprisonment for that. But everyone knows that Julian Assange has not been subject to a decade of confinement, persecution and extradition hearings simply to be thrown in prison for only six weeks.
Then how do you explain that a democratic country like the UK can possibly go ahead with extradition if it’s unlawful?
My understanding is that, in Julian Assange’s case, the UK are trying to circumvent the applicable UK-US extradition treaty, which prohibits extradition for political offences, by basing themselves exclusively on the British Extradition Act, a domestic law of subsidiary importance in this case, which does not contain such a prohibition. In essence, the UK pick and choose whatever will enable them to extradite him. Another thing is that Assange’s procedural rights have been so severely and consistently violated that, by now, this extradition proceeding has become irreparably arbitrary. He has not had adequate access to his lawyers, he has not been granted a single meeting since the lockdown in March, he has had extremely restricted access to his case documents, he only received a computer after a year in prison, he doesn’t have internet access, and on top of that, they have glued down the keys of the keyboard so he can’t write. Importantly, all of these restrictions are clearly unlawful, because Assange is imprisoned solely for the purpose of preventing his escape during the extradition proceedings. He is not serving any criminal sentence but, like any other citizen, is fully entitled to freely interact with his lawyers, friends and family and to exercise his profession as he pleases.
What are the UK’s interests here? What does the UK government have against Julian Assange so it could justify such harsh treatment?
Let’s start with the big picture. This is not about Julian Assange or any crime he’s supposed to have committed. This is about WikiLeaks, the methodology introduced by WikiLeaks, which makes it easy for whistleblowers to disclose secret information about states’ misconduct while staying completely anonymous even for Wikileaks. And the proliferation of this methodology is what states are afraid of—not just the US, but also the UK—and I would argue just about any other state in the world, because governments worldwide strongly rely on secrecy to avoid public scrutiny. That’s why Julian Assange does not receive much support from any state. Ecuador was the only exception, until their new president, Lenin Moreno, bowed to very blunt economic pressure by the US.
This is not about Julian Assange or any crime he’s supposed to have committed. This is about WikiLeaks, the methodology introduced by WikiLeaks, which makes it easy for whistleblowers to disclose secret information about states’ misconduct while staying completely anonymous
That’s what some people would call conspiracy theory – governments relying on secrecy to commit their evil deeds and persecuting anyone who would dare to expose them.
I’ve worked for governments and international organizations for more than 20 years. So I know how political decisions are being made and I know that governments increasingly try to withhold compromising information from the public. This is not some kind of conspiracy theory. We all know about Snowden and the NSA. We know about the WikiLeaks disclosures. We also know about the recent “Cryptoleaks” scandal and countless other cases of corruption and abuse, which are but the visible tip of the iceberg. If the states persecuting Assange really had acted in good faith, they would at least have prosecuted the misconduct that has been exposed, the war crimes, the torture, some of the most serious imaginable crimes.
But what we see is that, despite compelling evidence, none of these crimes have ever been prosecuted or even investigated. That clearly proves the point that, in persecuting Assange, these governments are not pursuing justice, but are trying to protect their own impunity for war crimes, aggression and torture. The only soldiers and officials that have been prosecuted are the whistleblowers, or those who committed crimes that were not in line with what the government wanted. But all those that obeyed their government in conducting crimes enjoy complete impunity. This includes not only the Americans, but is a phenomenon we see worldwide, across the board. And WikiLeaks threatens this impunity by informing and empowering the public about government misconduct.
When released 10 years ago, the leaks were a huge thing. The mainstream media such as The Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel or New York Times collaborated with Julian Assange on exposing those war crimes and cases of misconduct committed by the US and their European allies. Ten years down the road, few seem to remember the leaks themselves and most big media don’t show much sympathy for Assange. What happened?
Initially, mainstream media profited greatly from Assange’s work. They realized that WikiLeaks had explosive exposures to make, and so they jumped on the train, and participated actively in their publication. But then they must have realized that they had made the US really angry with this. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, whether there have been threats or deals, but what we can see is that the mainstream media soon after started jumping off of the train again. Most mainstream media institutions are almost totally controlled either by governments, or by large corporations that are deep in bed with governments, and so they are no longer able or willing to exercise their function as the “Fourth Estate”, to subject political power to public scrutiny and to inform and empower the public objectively and impartially. Instead, they have bowed to power, betrayed their calling and helped to demonize Julian Assange in the service of their political and financial masters.
Mainstream media institutions are almost totally controlled either by governments, or by large corporations that are deep in bed with governments, and so they are no longer able or willing to exercise their function as the “Fourth Estate”
So do you see the media as complicit in the way they reported on Julian Assange?
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