Julian Assange rally extradition wikileaks
(Image: AP/Francisco Seco)

The treatment being handed out to Julian Assange would be called a farce if there were anything the least bit funny about it.

The WikiLeaks founder has returned to a UK court for the beginning of extradition proceedings against him by the US government. This was initially on 17 charges under the US’ Espionage Act and one computer charge, carrying a total of 175 years prison. Other accusations have since been added to round out the indictment, some very recently. 

From the start, the Assange case has utterly exposed the ludicrous claims to justice of the extradition system. This session was no exception.

With the COVID-19 pandemic ending public court hearings, numerous NGOs and other non-journalist observers were last week offered the chance to dial in to the hearings. This was withdrawn without notice, leaving a vastly reduced scrutiny of the case.

The hearing was plagued by connection problems between multiple locations, as all such hearings have been plagued, in a state that spends several billion pounds on satellite and computer surveillance of millions of people. 

The charges against Assange are based on multiple instances of alleged assistance to Chelsea Manning in 2010 in bypassing password encryption of the several hundred thousand files that would go on to form Cablegate and other archives. 

The US department of justice added extra material to the 18-count indictment in June. These weren’t extra charges; simply accusations designed to add to the existing charges, largely accusations that Assange had been encouraging people to break into government sources at hacking conferences from 2009 onwards.

The hearing yesterday in London was to determine if Assange would oppose the extradition (he did!), and to set proceedings. Assange’s team sought to delay matters in order to have time to deal with the material added to the indictment.

This was refused, even though client-lawyer access is proving near impossible. The hearing is now expected to last several weeks, a decision will take months more, and there will then be an appeal by the losing side. 

Well, ordinarily the decision would take months. But don’t be surprised if the initial decision is fast-tracked. The UK establishment wants to hustle him in shackles onto a plane to DC as fast as possible, and the pressure from without and within the judiciary will be enormous.

A panel of more than 150 international lawyers and judges have argued that the extradition request is illegal, should be thrown out, and is based on essentially political charges in breach of UK and international treaties. 

The degree of support Assange got from Corbyn Labour is now gone; current Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was head of the Crown Prosecution Service when Assange was threatened with extradition to Sweden, and there is no love lost.

Both major parties here are silent about the treatment of an Australian journalist, with the campaign left to current and ex-politicians acting independently, from Kevin Rudd to George Christensen and Andrew Wilkie.

Nor can he expect much support from the fourth estate. The UK is battening down into a post-liberal order, as is the West. The Murdoch papers and others on the right have featured the occasional article worrying as to whether the Assange case criminalises journalism. But by and large they have battened down to national security.

That’s to be expected. As COVID-19 drives the world towards a crisis of globalisation, and of the powers that enforce it, the struggle to contain dissent is getting very brutal indeed.

Since that is in part due to the epochal effect that the Cablegate releases had in 2010, permanently undermining the occult legitimacy of the nation-state and its right to presume secrecy rather than openness in any given process. 

The fact that Assange is being pursued to the end of time — the 175 year sentence is like a death sentence, designed to cast pure terror by its scale and the threat of isolation it portends — is a measure of this threat, and it makes it all the more incumbent on those who partnered with WikiLeaks in Cablegate, and benefited from it, to mount a full defence. 

The absence of such by The Guardian and The New York Times, a few editorials aside, is telling.

The Guardian especially has hung Assange out to dry multiple times, with distorted and false reporting, mostly by journalists who’d worked on the Cablegate project. How can it leave a co-publisher it shafted to this judicial rendition and not make a front page campaign about it?

It’s shameful, and for journalism shows a dangerous lack of self-awareness. 

WikiLeaks, by one measure at least, kicked off this period of history, in which the gangsterish rule of the Iraq War and ’08 crash period was held to account.

States responded with a turn to the grinding machine of national security, supercharged with illiberal populism. If you think two years on remand in a terrorist holding jail and no access to lawyers for a decade-old exposure of power is something out of the past, you’re looking in the wrong direction.

How can the media better support Julian Assange? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say section.

Peter Fray

Save 50% on a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

The US election is in a little over a month. It seems that there’s a ridiculous twist in the story, almost every day.

Luckily for new Crikey subscribers, we’ve teamed up with one of America’s best publications, The Atlantic for the election race. Subscribe now to make sense of it all, and you’ll get a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year’s digital subscription to The Atlantic (usually $70AUD), BOTH for just $129.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW