Julian Assange’s resistance has laid bare the raw elements of empire that totally disregards the principles it so proudly preaches of human rights, press freedom and the rule of law, says the WikiLeaks editor.
Hrafnnson gave the following address via video to the Belmarsh Tribunal on Friday night at the National Press Club in Washington. A transcript follows.
The story of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange has two main components, two chapters, both equally important. One is about the publications, the most important journalistic work of this century. The other chapter is about the reaction to this work, and it is equally revealing.
The explosive stories that emerged from the publications more than a decade ago are well-known: war crimes, killing squads, human rights abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, the underbelly of U.S. diplomacy and the diplomatic cables released in 2010 and 11.
The reaction side to the WikiLeaks saga is an ongoing one. It is the story of how empires used all their might against one individual, Julian Assange, in an attempt to crush him, silence him, kill him.
His resistance has not yet brought him any justice, but it has laid bare the raw elements of the empire, the one that totally disregards the principles it so proudly preaches of human rights, freedom of the press, the rule of law; the quest of brutal revenge, and the attempt to make an example out of Julian.
The United States is willing to disregard and undermine the fragile system of international order. It has blatantly dismissed the United Nations findings in favor of Assange and thereby weakened two important human rights bodies, one being the United Nations Tribunal on arbitrary detention, that often has successfully contributed to the release of politically persecuted dissidents. The other body is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, who found in Julian’s favor.
By disrespecting and dismissing these U.N. mandates, it undermines their ability to assist all the politically persecuted and tortured individuals. Authoritarian regimes will simply say, ‘Why should we abide by the findings of these U.N. institutions, when the U.S., the U.K. and Sweden totally disregard them.
Similarly, other multilateral bodies are disregarded: the European Council, the European Parliament, the OAS, and on we can go. So the raging pursuit of Julian Assange stops at nothing, including undermining fragile international legal structures that have been built up over decades with great effort in an attempt to increase order on our planet.
In the Assange case, the U.S. and the U.K. are even violating their own bilateral treaty on extradition. That treaty exempts extradition for political offenses. Despite this exemption, the United States demands the extradition of Julian Assange on the basis of this treaty, whilst at the same time accuses Assange of political offenses.
Not only is espionage a pure form of political offense, but the indictment against him is littered with accusations of political motives.
It is true that Assange is guilty of attempting to put an end to war crimes and corruption by exposing it. You could call that political. But if it is truly a political crime, it is a crime every decent journalist should be committing. It is a journalistic duty and Julian is clearly guilty of journalism. And the evidence of it are the dozens of awards he and WikiLeaks have received over the last decade.
In our twisted world, it has been decided by the empire that exposing the truth is now considered a political crime. The desire to make an example out of Assange ourselves and send a threatening signal to every journalist in the world is so excessive, that the United States is ready to put in jeopardy its press freedom principles enshrined in the First Amendment.
Now, finally, all major mainstream media in the U.S. have seen the danger in the Assange persecution to their own position and have raised concern. So have all the major press freedom, free speech and civil liberties organizations in the United States and indeed in the world.
Still, the case is ongoing. Despite this, the U.S. is still demanding extradition from the United Kingdom, and Julian is still in Belmarsh Prison.
In April, he will have spent four years there, the longest serving remand prisoner in the U.K. in latter times. The attacks on Julian continue, despite the fact that the indictment against him is totally inconsistent with newly introduced press guidelines of the United States Department of Justice.
These guidelines are de facto part of U.S. law since November. These guidelines recognize the journalistic right to request, receive, possess and publish classified government information in the public interest.
At least 17 out of the 18 counts in Julian’s indictment are completely incompatible with these new guidelines. Merrick Garland’s Department of Justice should be flooded with urgent demand to explain this obvious discrepancy.
Already, the persecution of Assange has severely damaged the reputation of the United States. The fact that the U.S. government is acting against its own principles, the one they preach around the world, has not gone unnoticed.
In recent weeks, I have traveled to several Latin American countries and met presidents who are very concerned about the precedent set in the Assange case. After meeting President Alberto Fernandez of Argentina and his vice president, Cristina de Kirshner, they both sided with the Assange campaign, urging the Biden administration to drop the charges against him.
Argentinians, as do others in the region, know fully well the capability of the C.I.A. in planning kidnaping or killing of individuals.
As we now know, the agency was plotting against Julian in 2017. I met Luis Arce, the President of Bolivia, who fully committed himself in support of Assange. The same applied to the newly elected president of Brazil, Lula da Silva, who understands better than most the nature of the lawfare against Julian, having himself spent more than 500 days in prison because of such lawfare, a lawfare, where it is well documented that the U.S. Department of Justice was involved.
President Lula assured me that the fight to end the injustice entailed in the Assange case would be a priority in his foreign policy. I got the same strong support from Gustavo Petro, President of Colombia, who called for Julian’s release and the end of the persecution.
Lastly, I met Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, president of Mexico, who has been a constant supporter of Julian, and one who understands that this case is more than the battle for the freedom of one individual, but a priority fight for underlying principles.
It was Obrador who said that if Julian is extradited to the United States, the Statue of Liberty should be dismantled and returned to France. The Mexican president received those from the WikiLeaks delegation earlier this month and assured us he would take the matter up personally with President Biden. They met last week in Mexico City.
It is not just the political leaders of every major country south of the border of the United States that now recognize the gravity of Julian’s case. As Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister of Australia, has recently added his voice to the demand for Julian’s freedom, he said in the Australian Parliament that enough is enough. And we agree. All those leaders are now pointing a finger at the Empire.
They are pointing out that the Emperor is naked. They are drawing attention to the naked brutality in the Assange’s case and the underlying principles that are threatened. And more world leaders will follow.
Any message from the states on liberty, peace, human rights and press freedom is now measured against the Assange case and dismissed as hollow and meaningless unless the Biden administration drops the charges against Julian.
Before the turn of the century, the U.S. State Department used the term rogue states to describe violent regimes with appalling human rights records. The terminology was officially dropped at the beginning of this century, probably because of many of the activities of the United States in later times have fallen under the criteria of a rogue state as defined in the nineties. If there’s any desire of the states to regain a position of credibility in the international arena, there needs to be multilayered policy changes.
Priorities should be put on doing the right thing to drop the charges against Julian Assange and the moment to do so is now.
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