The International Persecution of Julian Assange

Cross-posted from TruthDig. This is a lightly edited version of an article that appeared on John Pilger’s website.

Julian Assange has been vindicated because the Swedish case against him was corrupt. The prosecutor, Marianne Ny, obstructed justice and should be prosecuted. Her obsession with Assange not only embarrassed her colleagues and the judiciary but exposed the Swedish state’s collusion with the United States in its crimes of war and “rendition.”

Had Assange not sought refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, he would have been on his way to the kind of American torture pit that Chelsea Manning had to endure.

This prospect was obscured by the grim farce played out in Sweden. “It’s a laughing stock,” said James Catlin, one of Assange’s Australian lawyers. “It is as if they make it up as they go along.”

It may have seemed that way, but there was always serious purpose. In 2008, a secret Pentagon document prepared by the “Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch” foretold a detailed plan to discredit WikiLeaks and smear Assange personally.

The “mission,” as the Pentagon document says, was to destroy the trust that was WikiLeaks’ “center of gravity.” This would be achieved with threats of “exposure [and] criminal prosecution.” Silencing and criminalizing such an unpredictable source of truth-telling was the aim.

Perhaps this was understandable. WikiLeaks has exposed the way America dominates much of human affairs, including its epic crimes, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq: the wholesale, often homicidal killing of civilians and the contempt for sovereignty and international law.

These disclosures are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama, a professor of constitutional law, lauded whistleblowers as “part of a healthy democracy [who] must be protected from reprisal.”

In 2012, the Obama campaign boasted on its website that Obama had prosecuted more whistleblowers in his first term than all other U.S. presidents combined. Before Manning had even received a trial, Obama had publicly pronounced the former Army intelligence analyst guilty.

Few serious observers doubt that should the U.S. get its hands on Assange, a similar fate awaits him. According to documents released by Edward Snowden, Assange is on a “manhunt target list.” Threats to kidnap or assassinate him became almost political and media currency in the U.S. following then-Vice President Joe Biden’s slur that the WikiLeaks founder was a “cyber-terrorist.”

Hillary Clinton, the destroyer of Libya and, as WikiLeaks revealed last year, the secret supporter and personal beneficiary of forces underwriting Islamic State, proposed her own expedient solution: “Can’t we just drone this guy?” [Clinton later said she was joking.]

According to Australian diplomatic cables, Washington’s bid to get Assange is “unprecedented in scale and nature.” In Alexandria, Va., a secret grand jury has sought for almost seven years to contrive a crime for which Assange can be prosecuted. This is not easy.

The First Amendment protects any publisher, journalist or whistleblower, whether he or she is the editor of The New York Times or the editor of WikiLeaks. The very notion of free speech is described as America’s “founding virtue” or, as Thomas Jefferson called it, “our currency.”

Faced with this hurdle, the U.S. Justice Department has contrived charges of espionage, conspiracy to commit espionage, conversion (theft of government property), computer fraud and abuse (computer hacking) and general conspiracy. The favored Espionage Act, which was meant to deter pacifists and conscientious objectors during World War I, has provisions for life imprisonment and the death penalty.

Assange’s ability to defend himself in such a Kafkaesque world has been severely limited by the U.S. declaring his case a state secret. In 2015, a federal court in Washington state blocked the release of all information about the “national security” investigation against WikiLeaks, because it was “active and ongoing” and would harm the “pending prosecution” of Assange. The judge, Barbara J. Rothstein, said it was necessary to show “appropriate deference to the executive in matters of national security.” This is a kangaroo court

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