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The Assange Extradition Case Is an Exceptional Attack on Press Freedom
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The silence of journalists in Britain and the US over the extradition proceedings against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is making them complicit in the criminalisation of newsgathering by the American government.

In an Old Bailey courtroom in London over the past four weeks, lawyers for the US government have sought the extradition of Assange to the US to face 17 charges under the Espionage Act of 1917 and one charge of computer misuse. At the heart of their case is the accusation that in leaking a trove of classified US diplomatic and military cables in 2010, Assange and WikiLeaks endanger the lives of US agents and informants.

One of the many peculiarities in this strange case is that the evidence for any such thing is non-existent. The Pentagon has admitted that it failed to find a single person covertly working for the US who had been killed as a result of the WikiLeaks disclosures. This failure was not for lack of trying: The Pentagon had set up a special military task force, deploying 120 counter-intelligence officers, to find at least one death that could be blamed on Assange and his colleagues but had found nothing.

Other allegations against Assange put forward by the lawyers for the US government are similarly flimsy or demonstrably false, yet he is still in real danger of being sent to a maximum security prison in the US after the court makes its ruling on 4 January. Once there he faces a sentence of up to 175 years and, whatever the length of his incarceration, he is likely to spend it in solitary confinement in a tiny cell.

The Assange case creates a precedent that mortally threatens freedom of the press in Britain. If Assange is extradited then any journalist who publishes information that the American authorities deem to be classified, however well-known or harmless it may be, will risk being extradited to face trial in America. The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, says that non-Americans like Assange do not enjoy First Amendment rights to free expression.

The outcome of the Assange extradition hearing is a crucial tipping point which will tell if Britain and the US go further down the same path towards “illiberal democracy” as Turkey, Hungary, Brazil, India and the Philippines. What Assange and WikiLeaks did – obtaining important information about the deeds and misdeeds of the US government and giving that information to the public – is exactly what all journalists ought to do.

Journalism is all about disclosing important news to people so they can judge what is happening in the world – and the actions of their government in particular. The WikiLeaks disclosures in 2010 only differed from other great journalistic scoops in that they were bigger – 251,287 diplomatic cables, more than 400,000 classified army reports from the Iraq War and 90,000 from the Afghan War – and they were more important. [Full disclosure: I gave a statement read out in court this week seeking to explain the significance of the Wikileaks revelations.]

Astonishingly, British and American commentators are in a state of denial when it comes to seeing that what happens to Assange could happen to them. They argue bizarrely that he is not a journalist, though the Trump administration implicitly accepts that he is one, since it is pursuing him for journalistic activities. The motive is openly political, one of the absurdities of the hearing being the pretence that Trump-appointed officials provide a reliable and objective guide to the threat to the US posed by the WikiLeaks revelations.

Why has the British media been so mute about the grim precedent being established for themselves, were they to investigate the doings of a US government that makes no secret of its hostility to critical journalism. Ten years ago, The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El Pais published extracts from the WikiLeak documents on their front pages for days on end, but they long ago distanced themselves from its founder. Yet, however much they may wish the contrary, their future is wrapped up in his fate.

Alan Rusbridger, the former Guardian editor under whom the cables and war logs were printed, made this clear in an interview, saying that he had no doubt about the damage being done to freedom of the press. “Whatever we think of Assange,” he said, “what he is being targeted for is the same or similar [to what] many journalists have done, then it’s surprising to me that more people can’t see that this case has worrying implications for all journalists.”

The danger to a genuinely free press is, indeed, so glaring that it is a mystery why the media has, by and large, ignored the issue. Coronavirus is a contributory reason, but treating Assange and WikiLeaks as pariahs long predates the epidemic. Pundits wonder if he is a journalist at all, though he is clearly a journalist of the electronic age, publishing raw information in a different way from traditional newspapers, radio and television. His politics are unashamedly radical, which further alienates many commentators.

Far more important, however, in converting Assange from being portrayed as a heroic fighter against state secrecy into a figure beyond the pale, were the allegations of rape made against him in Sweden in 2010. This led to a Swedish prosecutorial investigation that continued for nine years, was dropped three times and three times restarted, before being finally abandoned last year as the statute of limitations approached. Assange was never charged with anything and none of this has anything to do with the extradition hearings, but it helps explain why so much of the media has ignored or downplayed the Old Bailey hearings. Many on the political right always believed that Assange belonged in jail and many progressives felt that the rape allegations alone made him anathema.


Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon papers to the media in 1971, gave evidence to the court that he had leaked the secret history of the Vietnam War to show the public that the war was continuing though its perpetrators knew it could not be won. He said that Assange had done much the same, this time in relation to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Pentagon Papers and the WikiLeaks disclosures were similar in every way.

The saga of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks is now so long and complicated that it is worth reminding oneself of the piercing light they cast on the US government’s activities in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. I myself first used the material from the disclosures in the summer of 2010 to explain why the Afghan government, supported by 90,000 US troops, was not winning a war that Washington claimed was in defence of democracy.

I quoted a report from an American civil affairs official in Gardez, Afghanistan, in 2007, who said that he had been bluntly informed by a member of the Afghan provincial council in the town that “the general view of the Afghans is that the current government is worse than the Taliban”. The US official lamented that this was all too true. Why this was so was explained by another US report dated 22 October 2009, this time from Balkh in northern Afghanistan, which described how Afghan soldiers and police were mistreating local civilians who refused to cooperate in a search. I wrote how the official US report said that “a district police chief raped a 16-year-old girl and when a civilian protested the police chief ordered his bodyguard to shoot him. The bodyguard refused and was himself killed by the police chief.”

Such revelations explain why the Afghan war is still going on and tens of thousands more people have died – and why the US government is so keen to put Assange in jail for the rest of his life.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
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  1. Sean says:

    First of all , the US authorities have said he is going to get a four to six-year term in prison, which is quite realistic considering the term Manning served. Professional journalists like David Leigh (no friend of the British secret state) are supposedly making up these stories about various remarks of Assange in private conversation? Assange also says Ian Hislop the satirical magazine editor lied about what Assange said on the phone. Assange repeatedly claimed to be suing the The Guardian over the Leigh book about him and Wikileaks. Wikileaks colleagues of Assange have spoken of women being willing to have sex with him after spending 10 minutes with him and how he took those opportunities. He went to an anti-war seminar in Sweden. Ater a rapid succession of sexual encounters with leftie humanitarian females during his his ten days total in the country, Assange applied for a residence permit to live and work in Sweden.

    He did not leave the UK when the allegations of consensual sex turning into assaults emerged. If he wanted to avoid prison, he ought to have left for Ecuador or back to Australia, which is his country. But he didn’t get the same opportunities with multiple women in his own land. He decided to delay the inevitable and wasn’t lonely in his Embassy bolt hole either

    Assange said he regarded Clinton as an enemy, and a feature of the DNC emails release during critical parts of the presidential race by Wikileaks was it seemed timed to dampen her surges in the polls. Poitras, who took a big chance when she along with Greenwald was instrumental in the Edward Snowden leak. She did a film about Assange and found that Assange wanted to censor the film. When you see Assange talking he seems to have no ideas of his own (beyond Aussie male chauvinism). In his 2012 show on Russia Today in which he interviewed the head of Hezbollah about Israel’s future on the first episode.

    Assange is not a British subject like Gary McKinnon, who the British government point blank refused to hand over to America. Nor did not hack into the American government’s most secret computers looking for information about UFOs like the hapless McKinnon. No, Assange conspired with a willing dupe with access to secret databases to steal information and publish it. Now he suddenly wants Britain–amid a confluence of crises–to assert its national sovereignty against the world’s most powerful country so he does not have to do a couple of dozen months at Club Fed like Manning has.

    • Replies: @Rev. Spooner
    , @voicum
  2. Antiwar7 says:

    First of all , the US authorities have said he is going to get a four to six-year term in prison,

    No, he’s facing 175 years.

    Or are you saying that they’ve already tried him in the US, without him or the evidence? Good to know. And if not, of course we can take a not-in-writing promise from an enraged government that blows away people with abandon all across the world.

    • Agree: Wielgus
  3. eggplant says:

    Assange is the author of his own misfortune.

    • Disagree: Ann Nonny Mouse
  4. Wielgus says:

    The USA wants to deter whistleblowers – putting Assange inside for just a few years does not do that. Confidently stating even before any trial in the US what a US court would sentence him to suggests they have already found him guilty, and proceedings are as hollow as those experienced here:

  5. Biff says:

    He said that Assange had done much the same, this time in relation to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Pentagon Papers and the WikiLeaks disclosures were similar in every way.

    Except that the WikiLeaks disclosures were labeled “secret – classified” and the pentagon papers were labeled “Top secret – classified”

  6. Patrick Cockburn, have you noticed that of the two main Julian Assange judges, the Chief Judge Arbuthnot still supervising the Assange court trial, has a son Alex selling millions of pounds of ‘anti-Assange cyber security’, with the whole trial being a kind of advert for the judge’s son’s business at Darktrace?

    Mr Cockburn, have you noticed that Julian Assange always declared himself a loyal ally of Israel, anti-Palestinian just like he is anti-9-11-truth, and that Julian Assange has multiple links to the Rothschild family, with Assange’s early ‘Wiki-leaking’ decimating a Rothschild bank rival, his bail in the UK posted by a Rothschild family relation, one of Assange’s lawyers also a lawyer for a Rothschild Trust? And that Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu himself told Israeli media that Assange is a Mossad asset?

    Mr Cockburn, have you noticed that one of Julian Assange’s defence lawyers at Doughty Chambers, was thrown under a train and killed, possibly when he found out that Julian is a fraud who was never really ‘living’ at the London Ecuador Embassy, but moved in & out by UK MI5 for photo ops & meetings?

    Mr Cockburn, have you noticed that several people trusting Julian Assange have turned up dead, such as Peter W Smith, of whom Wikileaks claims that they ‘never received his files’ before he was killed?

    Mr Cockburn, did you see when 82-year-old Zbig Brzezinski blurted out US television, the PBS News Hour on their 29 Nov 2010 broadcast, that the ‘Wikileaks’ came from the intel agencies themselves?

    Mr Cockburn, is it not strange that Wikileaks and Assange are not de-platformed and blocked from fundraising around the world despite ‘serious criminal charges’, when the tech companies and banks are de-platorming genuine dissidents all over the place?

    Mr Cockburn, did you know that Assange, Wikileaks and their ‘defence lawyers’ – apparently receiving laundered US-govt-tied-funds via ‘legal defence fundraising’ – have all agreed to hide the USA Dept of Justice files on Virginia federal judge bribery, which they all know would make Assange’s extradition impossible, given these are the same judges who would put Julian Assange ‘on trial’?

    • Replies: @Verymuchalive
  7. @Sean

    You are despicable if you think Chelsea Manning did a couple of dozen months at Club Fed? And why should Assange do even a day in a prison? Is he an american?

  8. Sean says:

    And why should Assange do even a day in a prison? Is he an american?

    He is not British, autistic, or a journalist. He wanted to be James Bond, but you cannot live like that. He is not going to serve 84 months like Manning.

    • Replies: @Wielgus
  9. Wielgus says:

    84 years, then?

    • Replies: @Sean
  10. The Press alas “press”, paid, for media corporations working journalists, scribes, bread-writers, video bloggers, Joey Rogans´, Youtubers, alternative “news” sites, are way satisfied that the Assange competition/disturbance was lifted. You could not trust this Assange persona to content himself with wages, salaries, and knitting on the feeds of “infotainment’ handed down from the powers that be.

    Journalists do just that, they elaborate in word-counts what is obvious and handed to them. Assange was not a team player. Knowing how to write, pose, soundbite, attract advertising, does not mean having something to say. In our society the middle class media labourers are whores by definition. “Do not bite the hand that feeds you” is the credo. Two emotions prime with regard to Assange, deep envy and revenge.

    In the end, Assange has little to do, the model of how to do real journalism is there in the open, any-one with balls and a sponsor can adopt the methods of Assange. Somebody as Stallman, of FSF and gnu is a slightly less attractive example of flushing real opposition down the toilet. FSF and Wikileaks are genuinely attractive ideas out in the open. Github sold out a while ago, that is how it is supposed to be. Bourgeois comfort, not ambition beyond convention. Remember the engine of our “sophisticated” Western society is greed for the few, and prostration for all others.

    • Agree: jsinton
  11. Sean says:

    Federal sentences are in months and the prosecutors have publicly announced they are not going to ask the judge to give him more than 72. Manning’s sentence was 420 months and he was released by Obama after serving 84. Manning refused to testify about Assange to a Federal Grand jury and was put in prison for 11 months and only released after a suicide attempt. Manning has to pay court fines fines of \$250,000. An English court gave Assange a 50 weeks term in prison for jumping bail, which is just him being caught for him breaking his word: very different to doing time for refusing to snitch. Assange’s refusal to say where he got the DNC emails from is more a case of him refusing to expose himself as a willing tool of the GRU. So Manning has sh0wn more balls after a sex change that Assange seems to be able to muster.

    In the the style of Lauri Love and Gary MacKinnon’s legal representatives, Assange’s defence are asserting that he is autistic, which is laughable. The Swedish women said Assange obsessively checked social media for any mention of him. He is more narcissist than Rain Man believe me. Manning said Assange explained Wikileaks as an intelligence service; risible counter surveillance measures he was seen taking in Risk suggests he saw himself as a unaligned James Bond. Yet 007 operates as a detective trying to catch wrongdoers rather than a low profile covert operative. This was the flaw in Assange’s business model, he could not be a celebrity secret agent or peacemaking supercop because no country’s laws (with an ultimate resort to armed force) stood behind him.

  12. MEexpert says:

    Why does the Judge needs three months to do what she has already decided she is going to do?

  13. voicum says:

    Sean you just regurgitated the MSM point of view. What are you a 7 years old? Because if you are not then you are, cognitively , brain dead.

    • Replies: @Sean
  14. vot tak says:

    Useful article by Cockburn.

    Pilger also discusses the zionazi-gay media treatment of Assange here.

    Assange ‘forced’ those behind war crimes ‘to look in the mirror,’ now faces revenge, John Pilger tells RT

    “Assange’s demise came because he provided “too much truth” and exposed Western hypocrisy, Pilger believes.

    He made those who committed those war crimes, he forced them to look in the mirror… That’s his unforgivable crime.

    The West’s self-perception is that it generally doesn’t do awful things, and that its politicians are mostly truthful and are held in check by an independent media. WikiLeaks showed all these things not to be true, Pilger said.

    As a result, Assange was blatantly mistreated by the British justice system, both during his September trial at London’s Old Bailey and before that. He received an unprecedentedly harsh sentence for skipping bail, was locked up in a maximum-security prison with terrorists and violent criminals, was prevented from communicating with his defense team in a reasonable way, and faced numerous other injustices.

    There has not been due process in this court; there has been due revenge.

    Should Assange be extradited to the US and tried for things that are no different from what many other investigative journalists did for decades, it would set a dangerous precedent, Pilger warned. It would send a signal that the US can get to anyone in any country who dares to publish anything that is not to Washington’s liking.

    Despite the stakes, the Western mainstream media has turned a blind eye to the trial, including those who were happy to do reporting based on WikiLeaks disclosures.

    “The way they turned on their source because he wouldn’t be part of their collusive club has been a disgrace. They know it’s been a disgrace,” Pilger said.”

    • Agree: Ann Nonny Mouse
    • Replies: @m___
  15. Oh look here’s the prolific “Sean” again, the first commenter no less, vomiting out the same empire rubbish he always spews, mostly simperings about the fact that, as well as being a world hero, Assange is a normal heterosexual man, attractive to women. As heroes should be in a sane world.

    • Replies: @UncommonGround
  16. @brabantian

    There are too many things about Assange that just don’t add up. The latest one is as you say:

    Mr Cockburn, is it not strange that Wikileaks and Assange are not de-platformed and blocked from fundraising around the world despite ‘serious criminal charges’, when the tech companies and banks are de-platorming genuine dissidents all over the place?

    • Replies: @Ann Nonny Mouse
  17. m___ says:
    @vot tak

    “The way they turned on their source because he wouldn’t be part of their collusive club has been a disgrace. They know it’s been a disgrace,” Pilger said.”

    Envy, then hate, for not having the courage to stand up to the powers that be which Assange dared and did! The warning to them, as much as to the elites in power was fully understood but slightly different as suggested by Pilger! Assange was competition and pierced their complicity and convenience with the power system, now that complicity was for all to see, it made their spinning a complication, their net worth and ego took a hit. Envy, then hate, nothing more, nothing less.

    • Agree: Ann Nonny Mouse
  18. @Beobachter

    Sean is a disturbed person. The value of what he writes tends to zero.

    Brabantian (see his post above) may write some interesting things about other themes, but he is also completely mistaken about J.A. Contrary to what he says, WL also made public diplomatic documents concerning The Country which are critical about it. Lately I read twice articles mentioning those documents and even quoting from them (it’s easy to google the theme and find results which confirm what I said). I think a large part of the information which he provides is false, invented or irrelevant. Brabantian should simply stop writing about this subject because he cannot say anything meaningful about it.

  19. The article is about the shameful insouciance of the western media. That in the first place. Then it is about how this show trial is conducted, virtually behind closed doors. It is a travesty of British “Justice”. It is a Ksngeroo court, reminiscent to the show prosecution in Nazi Germany and during the Stalin era. Thirdly not one person has died as a result of Wikileaks revelations. It’s the other way round peoples lives may be saved following Wikileaks publications as governments are held accountable and the US military are put on notice. That’s what the media are supposed to do. These are points that are note worthy and where the media are failing miserably The public have a right to know, that’s the point.

    • Agree: Ann Nonny Mouse
    • Replies: @Sean
  20. polistra says:

    “Press freedom” is a meaningless empty term. Never existed, and can’t exist. Assange is a Deepstate foil.

  21. Sean says:

    It is a Kangaroo court

    His homeland would have given him more consideration. British justice for British subjects like McKinnon is different to that meted out to Australians who are granted the privilege of being in Britain. All he had to do is catch a plane back to his own country (or Russia!) as soon as he caught wind of the Sweden allegations, but he wanted to use stay in London so he could continue his hedonistic lifestyle there. Assange saw himself as above any national allegiance to the UK or any other country. His deliberate breaking of his promise to abide by the bail agreement removes any possible obligation Britain has to shield him from the penalty consequent on his theft of US government information. He had such an enjoyable ten days in Sweden that he applied to live and work in the country by the way.

    Thirdly not one person has died as a result of Wikileaks revelations

    Assange is not facing the death penalty.

    • Replies: @Wielgus
  22. @Verymuchalive

    Nonsense. De-platforming doesn’t mean that. Wikileaks has its own “platform”, It’s not part of that advertising scam called social media, Faecebook, Goo and the rest. There’s something called the Internet that you should try to learn about.

    How come the “tech companies and banks” have not de-platformed Ron Unz? How come the those fakes are allowing to exist?

  23. anon[267] • Disclaimer says:

    All right, what have we learned from this? Since publishers are spies, spies are publishers too. If you’re going to publish, or disclose, or denounce, get yourself all the advantages spies enjoy. When you need to defend some human rights, Article 19 or 5 or 3 or whatever, here’s how you do it now.

    Send it off to Wikileaks with instructions to dump it in six months unless they hear from you. Then you get in touch with a country with competent spies. Why? Because they have the resources to draw attention away from you. Remember that poor horny hick Clayton Lonetree? Russia honeytrapped him to keep the heat off their real spy Aldritch Ames. Wikileaks does not have OPSEC resources of that sort, sad to say.

    Pick a country that respects rights and rule of law, like Russia or Cuba. The enemy spies will naturally use your info in their national interest, but if their state is committed to rule of law, whatever they do with it is in your best interest too.

    Request that the enemy spies leak highlights, obfuscating the source. Let them exploit what they want, with Wiklileaks standing by as a backup or insurance dump.

    With CIA clearly willing to conceal their crimes by shitting on your rights of trial, freedom from torture, or any non-derogable right, don’t do the right thing with one hand tied behind your back. Enemy spies are enemies because they expose and denounce US state crimes. That’s a service to the world, and you should help them if you can. They can help you.

  24. Extradition, even with a treaty, depends on both countries agreeing that the behaviour is a crime in both their countries. This is the reality of the USA and UK.

    US censorship is based on the 1917 Espionage Act. UK censorship is based on the D-notice system, also based on a First World War law. Both ban a free Press. Neither has ever been successfully defeated in court.

    Yanks can bleat about their constitutional rights as much as they like. Laws supported by both Trump and Obama can be obviously unconstitutional but the US Supreme Court isn’t a law court but a club for politicians. It’d be nice if that changed after the politician Ginsberg died but I’ll believe that only if I see it.

    The publisher Assange will serve time in the USA for exposing US Government crimes. I expect no US support for him whether by a Justice, a media owner or a politician. That’s the reality of US values.

    Some Yanks will say “but, but, but the constitution”. [email protected]

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