But every dog in the street knows it can and it does, argues John Rees.
The irony is a deep and bitter one. The defeat for Julian Assange’s lawyers in the Court of Appeal proved beyond doubt that their argument is correct.
It has always been a central contention of Julian Assange’s defence that the US government is bringing a political prosecution which should be thrown out because the Extradition Act specifically excepts political cases.
The US prosecution mob’s lawyer, Jimmy Lewis, and his faithful assistant (Clair) Dobbin, make this point over and over again. Their whole original case in Westminster Magistrates Court was that Assange isn’t really a journalist and was just engaged in common-or-garden thievery.
And yet, for all that, here they were in the appeal court relying on those most political of all political things: a diplomatic assurance from a government.
For in the end the whole appeal rested on diplomatic assurances from the US government that they would not subject Julian Assange to life-threatening conditions in a super-max US prison, the very reason why the original Magistrates Court had ruled against extradition earlier this year. To have upheld that refusal to extradite the appeal court judges would have had to said they did not trust the US government's assurances.
It’s not, of course, that the judges couldn’t reach such a view based on the evidence before them. Indeed, all the evidence pointed in that direction. The CIA were revealed, during the appeal, as plotting to either kidnap or kill Assange; the key US witness was revealed as a liar; the ongoing case in Spain has revealed that the CIA spied on Julian Assange, his family and lawyers; the US authorities are impeding that investigation. These are hardly trust-building actions of a state with Assange’s best interests at heart.
And then there’s the fact that the very document which offers the assurances also says that they can be withdrawn at any time.
So, all in all, there are many reasons which might have led the judges to conclude that US bagman Jimmy Lewis was offering the court assurances that could not be trusted.
The judges took a different view. They took the assurances very seriously. In the gravest and most sonorous tones the appeal court judge stressed how important it was to take US government diplomatic assurances in good faith. They were not something that was lightly given, he intoned, and had to be accepted. As the written judgement says:
"There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say. There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith."
And that decision by the judges is a first order political decision.
It’s a political decision in the narrowest possible sense: it refers to a diplomatic statement by a government about its own future actions. But, even more importantly, it's political in the broader sense that if the judges were to have ruled any differently they would in effect be saying ‘we do not believe the US government on a highly sensitive question of national security’.
That would have been a political bombshell exploding right underneath the supposed ‘special relationship’ between the UK and the US. The judges explicitly referred to this when they cite the argument that the ‘United Kingdom has entered into five substantial treaties on extradition over a period of more than 150 years. Over this continued and uninterrupted history of extradition relations there is no instance of any assurance given by the United States, as the requesting state in an extradition case, having been dishonoured’.
That is a political stance the establishment in the UK are never, unless forced, going to reverse. High Court judges are hard-wired into that establishment. One of the two judges that delivered this verdict is an old (private boarding) school friend of Tory MP Alan Duncan, who as a minister oversaw the operation to remove Julian Assange from his place of asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy.
In the Declassified article which revealed this link Duncan and Burnett denied any collusion over the Assange case. But the truth is they don’t need overt collusion. By the time judges and politicians have been to the same private schools, all gone to the same Oxbridge colleges, been members of the same Mayfair clubs, attended one another’s birthday parties (as Burnett attended Alan Duncan’s birthday party in the elite Beefsteak club) the ruling class group-think is so firmly established that identical conclusions are reached without conspiracy or collusion, although that often follows.
So, without doubt, the US has relied on this vital political relationship to obtain its victory in the appeal court.
But that decision can now be appealed by Julian Assange’s lawyers in the Supreme Court. In addition, the original issues on which Assange lost in the Westminster Magistrates Court, which include the political nature of the extradition and the public interest defence of Assange’s publications, can also be appealed.
So this argument is far from over. And as it continues the essentially political persecution of a journalist under the US 1917 Espionage Act, never before used against the press, never used against a foreign journalist operating outside the US, publishing stories in the most reputable media outlets on the globe, will once again become the central issue.
And not all the US government’s arguments were accepted in this judgement. The US appeal was rejected even by these judges where it tried to prove that the medical evidence about Julian Assange’s fragile health was concerned. They won simply and solely because the judges could not countenance that the US state was not acting in good faith.
The mountain of evidence to the contrary has grown in every month that this case has spent in the courts. The smart money must be on further proof of duplicity emerging before the case is next in court.
The task of everyone who wants to defend a free press is to ensure that the court of public opinion, already swinging decisively behind Julian Assange, continues to bring such pressure on the legal system that even the inbred political prejudices of top judges can no longer resist the obvious conclusion that this is a political prosecution brought by a state that is willing and able to propound the most grotesque untruths to silence its critics.
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John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.
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