Assange’s Extradition Case Is Critical Moment for Anti-War Movement


Jeremy Corbyn and other politicians are speaking up for the WikiLeaks‘ publisher, writes Nozomi Hayase. Will more U.S. presidential candidates join them? 

By Nozomi Hayase
Common Dreams

Last week, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the U.K. opposition, challenged Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons on the U.S. extradition request for WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange.

Corbyn stated that Assange had been charged by the U.S. “for exposing war crimes, the murder of civilians and large-scale corruption.” Backing the Council of Europe, which warned that the prosecution of Assange sets a dangerous precedent for journalists and called for his immediate release, he asked:

“Will the Prime Minister agree with the Parliamentary report that’s going to the Council of Europe that this extradition should be opposed and the rights of journalists and whistleblowers upheld for the good of all of us?”

Corbyn, who lost his campaign for prime minister in the U.K. general elections in December, has risen to political prominence for his lifelong activism against military action. He opposed the 2003 Iraq War and also voted against British military involvement in Afghanistan and Libya. The Labour Party leader, who is known for his staunch commitment to democratic rights and peace, understood very well the value of WikiLeaks’ disclosure of government secrets.

WikiLeaks’ publication of documents concerning U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was a major contribution to the anti-war movement. The release of the Collateral Murder video provided a rare window into modern asymmetric warfare, revealing the war crime of a U.S. military airstrike killing innocent civilians in a suburb of Iraq.

Corbyn has not mentioned Assange’s plight over the last 10 months. With less than two weeks before Assange’s extradition hearing, Corbyn finally broke his silence.

Media’s Role in Keeping Peace

This decisive action by Corbyn came shortly after Assange was nominated for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, along with whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. The nomination letter stated that these three need to be recognized for their “unprecedented contributions to the pursuit of peace and their immense personal sacrifices to promote peace for all.” It acknowledged how they have “exposed the architecture of war and strengthened the architecture of peace.” In the following week, Assange also won the 2020 Gary Webb Freedom of the Press Award, adding another prize to his list of journalism awards.

Assange understood the critical role of media in keeping peace. He once noted: “Populations don’t like wars. They have to be lied into it. That means we can be ‘truthed’ into peace.” Speaking in defense of the disclosure of classified U.S. military documents on the Iraq War, Assange pointed out how “most wars that are started by democracies involve lying.” He continued: “the start of the Iraq War involved very serious lies that were repeated and amplified by some parts of the press.”

The Iraq War is a good example of the massive failure of Established media in the West. Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s fabrication about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction at the UN Security Council  was a particular low point for the U.S. in its base war propaganda.

While media have become stenographers to power and have long betrayed ordinary people, WikiLeaks has defended the public’s right to know by publishing more than 10 million documents, with a pristine record of accuracy in exposing human rights abuses, government spying and war crimes on an unprecedented scale. By bringing truth to the public, the whistleblowing site transformed the Fourth Estate into a powerful vehicle for peace-making.

Australian MPs’ Initiative

In the EU, the number of parliament members, lawmakers and ministers who support Assange is growing. In Assange’s home country, Australia, concern for one of the nation’s legendary journalists is becoming stronger. As more and more people voiced disappointment with the inaction of the Australian government, individuals inside the institution began to take action.

On Feb. 10, Australian MP Andrew Wilkie tabled a historic petition in Australia’s Parliament calling for an end to the U.S. extradition. As he urged the government to bring Assange back home, he added:

“That the perpetrator of those war crimes, America, is now seeking to extradite Mr Assange to face 17 counts of espionage and one of hacking is unjust in the extreme and arguably illegal under British law.”

Then, a day later, he announced that he would travel to London to visit Assange in Belmarsh prison, where he has been kept in complete isolation until recently. Another Australian MP George Christensen will also visit Assange in London and together they plan to lobby Britain for his freedom.

Momentum is now building, with political figures demonstrating great leadership in urging their governments to do the right thing. In the U.S., during the lead-up to Assange’s U.K. hearing, the Democratic Party’s primary nomination contest is intensifying.  

Presidential Race to Rescue Free Press?

Who among the U.S. presidential candidates will join Corbyn’s defense of  Assange in order to rescue the free press that is now under attack by the Trump administration?

So far, Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, from Hawaii, the first female combat veteran to run for president, has indicated that, if elected president in 2020, she would drop all U.S. charges against Julian Assange and pardon Edward Snowden.

What about the other major candidates?

Both Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren have recognized the dangerous precedent that the Trump administration’s indictment of Assange poses for press freedom, yet neither has strongly defended Assange, who faces 175 years in a U.S. prison for publishing activities that exposed U.S. war crimes.

Will Sanders, who is viewed by many as America’s counterpart to U.K. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, stand up for what has become the most essential media freedom issue of our time? Would Warren, who promises to take on Wall Street to protect economic opportunities for working families, show the same enthusiasm to protect media freedom? Will any of them challenge rival Joe Biden for the remarks he made while vice president comparing Assange to a “high-tech terrorist?”

Bill Weld, a former Massachusetts governor, who now has become the only opponent to challenge Trump for the Republican ticket, indicated that his administration would not press Espionage Act charges against Julian Assange.

Grassroots Action

While presidential candidates are lacking in their courage to defend Assange, support for the WikiLeaks founder is growing at the grassroots level in the U.S. Rick Sterling, the Bay Area-based investigative journalist, recently launched a petition to intervene on behalf of Assange’s freedom. The petition, endorsed by the National Lawyers Guild and Veterans for Peace, is addressed to Vanessa Baraitser, who will be the presiding judge at Assange’s formal extradition hearing starting Feb. 24, urging her to exercise judicial independence and reject the U.S. extradition request.

Sterling, who is a member of Syria Solidarity Movement, has been critical of the U.S. military invasion of the Middle East, and has traveled to London with other concerned friends to investigate Assange’s current situation. He said, “Once there, we were inspired by the dedication of activists who protest outside Belmarsh Prison every Saturday and in Trafalgar Square every Saturday night. People from around the world are coming to express their solidarity.”

He said that he initiated this petition because he wanted to make it known that  “there are informed American citizens who adamantly OPPOSE what our government is doing”. He added: “We want the judge to consider all the facts and not be pressured or bullied into extraditing Assange.”

In Defense of Peace

Assange’s U.S. extradition hearing is set to start Feb. 24 and last five days. It will resume on May 18 for three more weeks. His first day in the court is marked as a Global Day of Protests, where supporters around the world are organizing rallies and demonstrations. In the U.S., supporters across the country are planning to gather for solidarity actions planned in Washington DC throughout the first week of his hearing.

Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, who investigated Assange’s situation, spoke at a recent rally in London. He reminded the audience that Assange has been and continues to be psychologically tortured, and that if he were to be extradited to the U.S. he would be tortured until the day he dies.

The U.S. government’s extradition and prosecution of Julian Assange is a critical moment for press freedom, but also for the anti-war movement. This aggressive government’s assault on journalists poses grave danger to peace, for without a press that is free and independent, truth that has the power to stop wars is defenseless.

If the Trump administration were to succeed in extraditing Assange to the U.S., where he will not receive a fair trial, it will be the death of investigative journalism and the victory of senseless wars. If this is ever allowed to happen, the murder of an innocent journalist will not be the end, but only the beginning: the unchecked power of the U.S. Empire will bring misery and death to countless innocents around the world, and tyranny inevitably follow with wars without end. We need to solidify our opposition to the U.S. extradition of Julian Assange, because peace needs a great public defense.

Nozomi Hayase, Ph.D., is an essayist and author of “WikiLeaks, the Global Fourth Estate: History Is Happening. Follow her on Twitter:@nozomimagine

This article is from Common Dreams.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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