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Holding governments to account for their crimes: the case of Julian Assange

By Brian Vickery

Brian is a former treasurer of the Libertarian Party (UK). He helped create LibertyForAssange, a libertarian focus group campaigning for the end of the persecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. He took an interest in the case after watching Assange being dragged from political asylum in London - a spectacle he did not expect to see in an advanced democracy.

Almost daily we are presented with examples of human right abuses from around the world. The treatment of homosexuals in Qatar, women in Iran, and protestors in China. Not to forget, of course, the war crimes taking place in Ukraine. There are risks, though, with allowing ourselves to focus overly on human right abuses abroad. It has become all too easy, particularly under the influence the Blair Doctrine of humanitarian intervention, to allow self-interested parties to persuade us of the need for intervention in the internal affairs of other nations. Interventions that have done little or nothing to improve their human rights. My main argument here though is that by allowing ourselves to focus on the human rights abuses overseas we have fuelled in ourselves a sense of self-righteousness. This, in part, has led to a failure to examine our own shortcomings in upholding human rights. Obviously, however, anything I write here should not be seen as excusing the behaviour or actions of other national governments or any failure of their citizens to hold their own governments to account.

“In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonize and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law." Professor Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on torture

Before I move on to highlight the decade-long persecution of Julian Assange, here are just a few detailed accounts of the abuses that occurred whilst the UK stood ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the US:

Instead of taking responsibility for our complicity in these abuses and crimes, investigating them, prosecuting the perpetrators, and where necessary punishing those responsible, we turned on the journalist who published the evidence. Julian Assange has faced over a decade of arbitrary detention, grave and systematic due process violations, judicial bias and manipulated evidence. He has been exposed to constant surveillance, defamation and threats; his privileged legal conversation being recorded and supplied to the US; and his private legal papers also handed over to the US. Nils Melzer the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture gathered consolidated medical evidence proving that Assange has suffered from prolonged psychological torture. There is also credible evidence from separate investigations that the CIA and White House made plans to assassinate Assange.

For an in-depth understanding of the abuse of process both in Sweden and the UK I would recommend two books: The Trial of Julian Assange by Nils Melzer UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Secret Power Wikileaks and Its Enemies by Stefania Maurizi who has single-mindedly battled the British and Swedish prosecuting authorities using Freedom of Information requests to highlight the manipulation of the judicial process. For a slightly dated but useful discussion on Julian Assange's case, I can recommend this YouTube in-depth discussion by Nils Melzer.

This is about more than the persecution of one individual though. This is an attack on our freedom of expression, our ability to hold our governments to account for actions taken in our name. Without investigative journalism and a free press, democracy is little more than a façade. This extradition would give the US jurisdiction throughout the world on what can and can not be published about their crimes. What journalist would be prepared to risk 175 years in a US prison for reporting on US government crimes?

This would be the first time a publisher would be prosecuted under the Espionage Act (a United States federal law enacted on June 15, 1917). Even President Richard Nixon refrained from prosecuting the New York Times for publishing the Pentagon Papers. This would also drive a hole through the US 1st Amendment – the gold standard of free speech and press freedom.

To mingle John Quincy Adams and Clarence Darrow: "True patriotism is not about seeking monsters to destroy abroad. True patriots hate injustice at home more than anywhere else."

Julian Assange will soon be starting his fifth year silenced in Belmarsh, locked away alongside murderers and terrorists. It would be unconscionable for the UK to extradite a journalist and intellectual for what is clearly a political offence to a nation that had planned to kill him. We need to end this shameful episode in British history.

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