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Wikileaks founder Julian Assange: The criminal persecution of a truth-teller
8 February 2016. A World to Win News Service. The 5 February report of a United Nations working group on arbitrary detentions (UNWGAD) has concluded that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been held in “arbitrary detention” by the UK and Sweden for more than five years and they should end “Mr Assange’s deprivation of liberty, respect his physical integrity and freedom of movement, and afford him the right to compensation.” In announcing the decision, Christophe Peschoux, a senior official at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, argued the UN panel ruling is legally binding because of its basis in international human rights law.
Outraged over this decision, the British and Swedish governments have rejected these conclusions, claiming Assange took refuge from arrest in the Ecuadorian embassy in London simply to avoid facing allegations of rape during a visit to Sweden. After allegations were made against him in August 2010, the Swedish government willingly allowed him to leave the country in September. His detention was ordered in late November and he was put under house arrest in the UK. In 2014, a Swedish appeals court scolded the prosecution for failing to move forward the preliminary investigation of the allegations against Assange. When Sweden demanded he return for questioning, Assange jumped bail and sought asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy fearing that Sweden would then send him to the US.
The UN’s Peschoux also criticised the “lack of diligence” by Swedish authorities and the lack of preliminary investigation. The UN group determined that he has effectively been detained, and that since he has never been formally charged with any crime or offence, let alone brought to trial, this detention is illegal.
The panel called on the UK and Sweden to compensate Assange for their illegal actions, but the US is the central figure in this case. This is because Assange could face extradition to the US if the UK were to send him back to Sweden. Rather tellingly, just as Sweden has refused to promise that they won’t send Assange to the US if they get their hands on him, there has been no official US denial of rumours that a secret grand jury investigation has laid the basis to extradite him from Sweden for trial on charges that could result in a lifetime in prison. Prominent US political figures have publicly called for his death.
The appeal to the UN panel by Assange’s lawyers had been going on for a year and a half, with input from the UK government. In the past this panel has demanded the release of prominent individuals such as Aung San Suu Kyi (released in 2010, she is now president of Burma) and Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian recently release by Iran. The US (and UK) used the panel’s calls when they served to legitimize its diplomatic manoeuvring. Only now, when the UN body has decided against them, do they question its authority.
An even harsher light on this hypocrisy is cast by the fact that in 1998 UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher protected Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet from extradition to Spain, when that country requested his extradition to stand trial for the murder of Spanish nationals who were part of the 3,000 people killed during his regime. Obviously for imperialist ruling classes the question of who has “human rights” is to be decided according to their political interests.
Shameful amnesia on imperialist war crimes
Assange’s persecution by various Western governments intensified some weeks after the April 2010 release of 250,000 US intelligence reports and embassy cables on the wars waged by the US (with help from Europe) in Afghanistan and Iraq and American spying on “friendly” governments to better position Washington in international trade deals. An international arrest order was issued, with Interpol putting out a “red notice”, making Assange one of the planet’s most wanted men.
The true face of the US government was righteously exposed by these revelations. There are details on war, rendition (the practice of kidnapping suspects and sending them to secret detention facilities to be tortured under CIA supervision in third countries such as Syria), direct torture by American operatives and soldiers, extra-judicial killings, illegal mistreatment and murder in US prisons in Iraq (Abu Ghraib) and Afghanistan (Bagram) and other atrocities and war crimes that could have been kept secret for years. How can we forget how the US lied, coerced, bribed, threatened, and blackmailed governments around the world to back off from investigating and prosecuting these crimes?
To mention a few of the murky dealings pursued by the US government revealed by the diplomatic cables alone, among the other documents Wikileaks made public: The US agro-industrial multinational Monsanto received help from the US government to fight Argentina environmentalists/farmers who opposed use of Roundup pesticides, considered by an Argentinian medical association to be the cause of the rise of cancer among children. The US trained and funded Costa Rican security forces to suppress anti-free-trade agreement protests. Ex-Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to cover up US drone strikes. The US and China conspired to block reform on climate change at the 2009 Copenhagen summit. The US interfered in Spain’s judicial process to prevent US military servicemen from being prosecuted for killing Spanish journalist Jose Couso. US diplomats were ordered to spy on UN officials.
President Barack Obama, chief guardian of the US-dominated current world order, has viciously gone after more “whistleblowers” than any other US president. The vengeful tone against Assange was set by his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called the Wikileaks publication of US diplomatic cables “an attack on the international community, the alliances and partnerships, the conventions and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.” Her office sent out letters calling on internet providers to refuse to host the Wikileaks website, which they did. US military chiefs referred to Assange as having blood on his hands.
The persecution of Assange by the US and its allies came only a few months after Wikileaks leaked a video it called Collateral Murder, edited from US military footage and recorded through the gun-sights of an Apache helicopter as it gunned down civilians in Iraq. This American secret archival material was uploaded to Wikileaks by US soldier Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning.
The 2007 footage shows the aircraft machine guns cutting down a Reuters news service photographer and his assistant and other people casually walking down the street in a Baghdad suburb. Several minutes later, a van pulls up, and men get out to rescue a severely wounded man who is trying to crawl onto the sidewalk. Children are visible through the window. The helicopter flies over the van, opening fire again and again on each pass until the crew is satisfied that everyone seems dead.
The audio track records the crew’s eagerness to kill Iraqis, and their laughter and mutual congratulations at the sight of at least 18 bodies (“Good shooting!”). When ground troops report over the radio they have found two seriously wounded children in the wrecked van, one of the crewmen sneers, “It’s their fault for bringing children into a war zone.” American medics are about to take the children for treatment when an officer orders that they be abandoned.
Manning was arrested and targeted by a media slander campaign that portrayed him as a psychologically disturbed misfit whose motivation was anything but political, and Assange as a bizarre paranoid with obscure motives. Manning has since been tried and sentenced to 35 years in prison.
In 2010 Time magazine conducted a poll asking people who their choice would be for Person of the Year. Among the magazine’s list of 25 candidates, Assange received 382,024 votes, greater than the total received by the second and third choices combined. Despite the fact that, according to Time itself, its Person of the Year selection is not an award or an indication of approval on its part, but instead goes to the person who “for better or worse … has done the most to influence the events of the year,” Time overruled the people’s choice in favour of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, with the reactionary Tea Party as the runner-up. The hypocrisy here is another example of the system-embedded media toadying to the government script.
To show what lengths the US government would go to silence truth-tellers, there is also the example of Edward Snowden who revealed how the U.S. government spies on every person in the US and almost everyone around the world. The US took drastic measures to capture him. While condemning Snowden for taking refuge in Russia, the US has made it impossible for him to leave. They forced Bolivian president Evo Morales’ plane to land in Austria as it was rumoured that Snowden was on board. The Danish government recently revealed that a US government jet already used in renditions (read kidnappings for the purpose of torture) was waiting in Copenhagen to grab Snowden should he decide to go onward to a Scandinavian country from Moscow in June 2013. Were Snowden to return – or be forcibly returned – to the US he would face charges of theft and espionage and likely be imprisoned.
During the current controversy following the UN panel ruling, the question of what the US, the UK and others did in Afghanistan has been the “elephant in the room”, unmentioned by most of the major Western media, reactionary talking heads and even some self-identified progressive people whose focus is on what they guess about Assange as a person. This amounts to a cover-up, in that the facts are known to all who care to know them but public opinion makers don’t want them mentioned in hopes that the world has forgotten.
All these revelations call into question why there is such ubiquitous monitoring of people across the planet by those who rule over the system. Why is it that the greatest criminals are in power and people who expose their crimes are hounded, threatened with assassination or jailed?
Assange, Manning, Snowden and truth-tellers like them should be actively supported for their courage. People of the world are indebted to them.