On the final day of this hearing, the defence argued that Assange would not survive extradition to the US. John McGrath reports.
Thursday, October 28 marked the second and final day of Julian Assange’s extradition appeal hearing in London. The Biden administration is trying to extradite and imprison Julian Assange under the Espionage Act for his journalism which detailed war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. If Wednesday was set aside for the US lawyers to prosecute the case to extradite Assange, Thursday gave the Assange defence team an opportunity to uphold the District Judge’s ruling which barred Assange’s extradition on medical grounds.
Before the trial began, Jeremy Corbyn addressed the crowd of Assange supporters who assembled in front of the Royal Courts of Justice. “This is the 21st century, this is Britain, we pride ourselves on being a democracy, and we’re holding an independent tribunal for somebody who has no conviction against them in this country, who has now been held for over two years in the most maximum security prison this country has. And he’s still there. He’s committed no crime,” Corbyn asserted. “That is what we have done to this person who told us the truth - the truth about Afghanistan, the truth about Iraq, the truth about surveillance, and revealed the incredible level of secretive power held by the United states, and indeed, many other governments around the world. In a different place, in a different denomination, in a different country [Assange] would be hailed as a whistleblower who told the truth about dangers we are all facing.”
For the second day in a row, Julian Assange was not present in his own hearing. Before Thursday’s trial started, Stella Moris, Julian Assange’s fiancée, tweeted:
Reports that Assange didn’t attend court in person due to medication are incorrect. He asked to appear in person. The request was rejected.
For the most part, the proceedings of the trial picked up where Wednesday’s trial left off; relitigating and reframing the Court’s previous decision to block Assange’s extradition on the grounds that the US couldn’t guarantee Assange’s safety. The defence made the point that even if acquitted in a US court, after pre-trial solitary confinement and a lengthy trial, Assange could be re-arrested under a civil complaint and would once again face solitary confinement. This is especially worrying as it has been established that Assange is at risk of committing suicide. As for the US assurance that Assange, if convicted, could serve his prison time in Australia, the defence argued that legal proceedings in the US could drag on indefinitely with endless appeals, and provided examples of US cases that were embroiled by continuous cycles of litigation. “On the evidence, Mr Assange will most likely be dead before [the promise to return to Australia] can have any purchase, if it ever could” the defence contended.
After the trial, Wikileaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson described the inhumane treatment Assange would face if sent to the US, “They are throwing people in cells and keeping them in there for 22-23 hours a day. Only an hour a day outside the cell- in a cell with nothing in it. That’s what awaits Julian on the other side, on Devil’s Island, if he is extradited. The Judges have only two choices: uphold the decision not to extradite Julian Assange or de facto hand out a death sentence.”
Observers of the trial maintain the judges kept their thoughts to themselves and gave no indication of their leanings, with judges concluding both parties have “given [them] much to think about.” No timeline was given for the High Court Ruling.
President Biden is pursuing Donald Trump’s mission of extraditing Assange. US presidents have had a long, dishonourable history of trying to undermine the First Amendment, especially the freedom of the press. Biden served as Vice President under Barack Obama who was no fan of whistleblowers and press freedoms. Although Obama was the former president of the Harvard Law review, the Obama Justice Department famously targeted Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning under the Espionage act of 1917, an arcane piece of legislation Obama relied on more times than every other US president combined to prosecute state employees who were leaking information he wanted to curtail.
Joe Biden and his press secretary Jen Psaki avoid taking responsibility for the fate of Julian Assange when asked, which happens rarely and never by US outlets. Last month Al Jazeera White house correspondent Kimberly Halkett managed to ask Psaki, “Why has President Biden kept the Donald Trump era charges against Julian Assange? Why is he allowing the prosecution from allowing publishing the truth about human rights abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo? And does the president believe the outgoing detention of Assange is reasonable, even moral, given the transparency delivered in the greater good served?” Psaki responded: “I don’t have anything new to say on Julian Assange and I’ll point you to the department of justice on that.”
The DOJ falls under the jurisdiction of the executive branch and is headed by Biden appointed US Attorney General Merrick Garland. Biden could drop all charges against Assange tomorrow if he wanted to.
The United states currently incarcerates roughly 2,000,000 people, far and away the most of any country in the history of the world. That said, if imprisoned in the US, Assange would be breaking new ground. Assange marks the first time the Espionage Act has ever targeted a journalist or a foreign national operating entirely outside of the US. This is a disaster and future implications are horrifying. If the UK allows Julian Assange to be extradited, it would confirm the US empire’s belief that not only can it prosecute journalists for exposing war crimes, but it can judicially kidnap any journalist anywhere in the world for doing so.
After the trial concluded on Thursday, Irish MEP Mick Wallace gave an impassioned speech to the crowd. “Journalism is in serious danger. But international law is equally under threat. The Americans take it every day. They’re a lawless state. All the more reason why Assange shouldn’t be sent there. And if the UK sends Assange to America, it just goes to show, they’re a lawless state themselves. This is a political debate, but it will only be won by the people. Politicians don’t serve you. The people need to pressure the politicians into doing what you want them to do. We need to say “No” to US imperialism, UK imperialism, and European colonialism. The hell with the lot!”
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