Chris Hedges: The Slow-Motion Execution of Assange

The ruling by the High Court in London permitting the WikiLeaks publisher to appeal his extradition order leaves him languishing in precarious health in a high-security prison. That is the point.

Dust to Dust – by Mr. Fish,

By Chris Hedges 

The decision by the High Court in London to grant Julian Assange the right to appeal the order to extradite him to the United States may prove to be a Pyrrhic victory. 

It does not mean Julian will elude extradition. It does not mean the court has ruled, as it should, that he is a journalist whose only “crime” was providing evidence of war crimes and lies by the U.S. government to the public. It does not mean he will be released from the high-security HMS Belmarsh prison where, as Nils Melzer, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, after visiting Julian there, said he was undergoing a “slow-motion execution.”

It does not mean that journalism is any less imperiled. Editors and publishers of  five international media outlets — The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, El Pais and DER SPIEGEL — which published stories based on documents released by WikiLeaks, have urged that the U.S. charges be dropped and Julian be released.

None of these media executives were charged with espionage. It does not dismiss the ludicrous ploy by the U.S. government to extradite an Australian citizen whose publication is not based in the U.S. and charge him under the Espionage Act. It continues the long Dickensian farce that mocks the most basic concepts of due process.

This ruling is based on the grounds that the U.S. government did not offer sufficient assurances that Julian would be granted the same First Amendment protections afforded to a U.S. citizen, should he stand trial. The appeal process is one more legal hurdle in the persecution of a journalist who should not only be free, but feted and honored as the most courageous of our generation.  

Yes. He can file an appeal. But this means another year, perhaps longer, in harsh prison conditions as his physical and psychological health deteriorates. He has spent over five years in HMS Belmarsh without being charged. He spent seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy because the U.K. and Swedish governments refused to guarantee that he wouldn’t be extradited to the U.S., even though he agreed to return to Sweden to aid a preliminary investigation that was eventually dropped.

Never About Justice

The Royal Courts of Justice where Assange’s hearing was held on Monday. (Joe Lauria)

The judicial lynching of Julian was never about justice. The plethora of legal irregularities, including the recording of his meetings with attorneys by the Spanish security firm UC Global at the embassy on behalf of the C.I.A., alone should have seen the case thrown out of court as it eviscerates attorney-client privilege.

The U.S. has charged Julian with 17 acts under the Espionage Act and one count of computer misuse, for an alleged conspiracy to take possession of and then publish national defense information. If found guilty on all of these charges he faces 175 years in a U.S. prison.

The extradition request is based on the 2010 release by WikiLeaks of the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs — hundreds of thousands of classified documents, leaked to the site by Chelsea Manning, then an Army intelligence analyst, which exposed numerous U.S. war crimes including video images of the gunning down of two Reuters journalists and 10 other unarmed civilians in the Collateral Murder video, the routine torture of Iraqi prisoners, the covering up of thousands of civilian deaths and the killing of nearly 700 civilians that had approached too closely to U.S. checkpoints.

In February, lawyers for Julian submitted nine separate grounds for a possible appeal. 

A two-day hearing in March, which I attended, was Julian’s last chance to request an appeal of the extradition decision made in 2022 by the then British home secretary, Priti Patel, and of many of the rulings of District Judge Vanessa Baraitser in 2021. 

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The two High Court judges, Dame Victoria Sharp and Justice Jeremy Johnson, in March rejected most of Julian’s grounds of appeal. These included his lawyers’ contention that the U.K.-U.S. extradition treaty bars extradition for political offenses; that the extradition request was made for the purpose of prosecuting him for his political opinions; that extradition would amount to retroactive application of the law — because it was not foreseeable that a century-old espionage law would be used against a foreign publisher; and that he would not receive a fair trial in the Eastern District of Virginia. 

The judges also refused to hear new evidence that the C.I.A. plotted to kidnap and assassinate Julian, concluding — both perversely and incorrectly — that the C.I.A. only considered these options because they believed Julian was planning to flee to Russia.

But the two judges determined Monday that it is “arguable” that a U.S. court might not grant Julian protection under the First Amendment, violating his rights to free speech as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

First Amendment Assurances Sought for Assange

Assange at the “New Media Days 09” in Copenhagen, November 2009. (New Media Days, Peter Erichsen, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The judges in March asked the U.S. to provide written assurances that Julian would be protected under the First Amendment and that he would be exempt from a death penalty verdict. 

The U.S. assured the court that Julian would not be subjected to the death penalty, which Julian’s lawyers ultimately accepted. But the Department of Justice was unable to provide an assurance that Julian could mount a First Amendment defense in a U.S. court. Such a decision is made in a U.S. federal court, their lawyers explained. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg, who is prosecuting Julian, has argued that only U.S. citizens are guaranteed First Amendment rights in U.S. courts. Kromberg has stated that what Julian published was “not in the public interest” and that the U.S. was not seeking his extradition on political grounds.

Free speech is a key issue. If Julian is granted First Amendment rights in a U.S. court it will be very difficult for the U.S. to build a criminal case against him, since other news organizations, including The New York Times and The Guardian, published the material he released. 

The extradition request is based on the contention that Julian is not a journalist and not protected under the First Amendment.

Julian’s attorneys and those representing the U.S. government have until May 24 to submit a draft order, which will determine when the appeal will be heard. 

Julian committed the empire’s greatest sin — he exposed it as a criminal enterprise. He documented its lies, routine violation of human rights, wanton killing of innocent civilians, rampant corruption and war crimes. Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Labour, Trump or Biden — it does not matter. Those who manage the empire use the same dirty playbook.

The publication of classified documents is not a crime in the United States, but if Julian is extradited and convicted, it will become one. 

Julian is in precarious physical and psychological health. His physical and psychological deterioration has resulted in a minor stroke, hallucinations and depression. He takes antidepressant medication and the antipsychotic quetiapine. 

He has been observed pacing his cell until he collapses, punching himself in the face and banging his head against the wall. He has spent weeks in the medical wing of Belmarsh, nicknamed “hell wing.” Prison authorities found “half of a razor blade” hidden under his socks. He has repeatedly called the suicide hotline run by the Samaritans because he thought about killing himself “hundreds of times a day.” 

These slow-motion executioners have not yet completed their work. Toussaint L’Ouverture, who led the Haitian independence movement, the only successful slave revolt in human history, was physically destroyed in the same manner. He was locked by the French in an unheated and cramped prison cell and left to die of exhaustion, malnutrition, apoplexy, pneumonia and probably tuberculosis. 

Prolonged imprisonment, which the granting of this appeal perpetuates, is the point. The 12 years Julian has been detained — seven in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and over five in high-security Belmarsh Prison — have been accompanied by a lack of sunlight and exercise, as well as unrelenting threats, pressure, prolonged isolation, anxiety and constant stress. The goal is to destroy him.

We must free Julian. We must keep him out of the hands of the U.S. government. Given all he did for us, we owe him an unrelenting fight. 

If there is no freedom of speech for Julian, there will be no freedom of speech for us.

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for 15 years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East bureau chief and Balkan bureau chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor and NPR.  He is the host of show “The Chris Hedges Report.”

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14 comments for “Chris Hedges: The Slow-Motion Execution of Assange

  1. WillD
    May 22, 2024 at 22:34

    Looks like they (US & UK) will just keep dragging it out as long as possible to a) get past the November US election, and b) hope that he will die in prison, and save them the embarrassment of actually extraditing him and putting him on trial.

    Legal, if in appearance only, torture and execution. Yet another crime against humanity by the US and its vassals.

    Nobody should be in doubt any longer that justice has disappeared in the west. It has been hijacked, politicised and weaponised.

  2. May 22, 2024 at 08:24

    Thank You Chris

  3. hetro
    May 22, 2024 at 07:57

    We should also keep in mind that foremost in this persecution is the objective to shut him up. There was no great harm done and other publishers have done no less. And this purpose to shut him down is the same as any Stasi Operation from the worst of the tyrannical governments in history. Plus it has been ongoing from previous to his spell in the Ecuador Embassy, as his thinking and his intentions to curb the criminals were exposed early on. The persecution began the year before he took to the Embassy, with a full year of wearing an ankle bracelet and reporting to the police morning and evening over preposterously stupid sex assault charges. The women involved had continued to associate with him, and had dropped their complaints. But Julian was subjected to a year of persecution and a political game even back then.

  4. Adam Gorelick
    May 21, 2024 at 21:33

    Even if Julien Assange were released tomorrow the damage has essentially been done, as regards his physical and psychological well-being. More over, investigative journalism that ventures into security state malfeasance and egregious crimes received a vindictive caveat a long time ago. Not to say the fight for Assange’s and authentic journalism’s life is not imperative. Julien Assange has been subjected to legally verified torture, along with his wife Stella’s and their two little boy’s continual stress and deprivation of a husband and father. And while a decidedly chilling message has already been sent to the journalists whose work highlights the fatuous careerism of the bogus variety, the legal precedent set by Assange’s extradition and effective {or actual} death sentence would cement this sort of maniacal retribution into a pseudo-justified tactic. People the world over seem to be waking up to the reality that those who suffer most, due to imperial dominance and evil, are part of a continuum of humanity and consciousness that the wise recognize themselves in.

  5. Robyn
    May 21, 2024 at 20:20

    I assume Julian’s legal team has applied to have his prison conditions made more humane – if so, the applications obviously failed. Has the Australian government done anything along these lines? The prison conditions for Australia’s most notorious serial killer, Ivan Milat, were nowhere near as harsh as Julian’s.

  6. Barbara Raskin
    May 21, 2024 at 18:02

    In his latest podcast, Michael Moore published a statement made at a press conference by Campus Encampment leaders regarding the genocide in Gaza. The conference was not covered or acknowledged by any press outlet. It painfully coincides with the plight of Julian Assange. It reads: “We refuse to be distracted from genocide. My message to the Columbia University administration and the United States government is this: When the tide inevitably finishes turning, and your investment in moral bankruptcy is no longer politically profitable, understand that you have always been the villains. And when Palestine if finally free, we, your students, will never, ever forgive you. We will not stop fighting. This is only the beginning.”

  7. Andrew Nichols
    May 21, 2024 at 17:21

    FFS How many chances do theYanks get before the charade is called off. This enduring nonsense which would not have occurred for any other defrndant prides incontroveryible evidence this man is a political prisoner.

  8. Rick Kay
    May 21, 2024 at 16:27

    My message to all potential whistleblowers is, do not do it. Do not imperil yourselves for the sake of truth. Most of the population doesn’t care enough about the truth to stand up for you. If what you did mattered, a majority of citizens of the world would be in the streets protesting what is being done to Julian Assange. Not even .1% of the world is protesting. I don’t think it is worth your well-being to expose these pond scum.

  9. Valerie
    May 21, 2024 at 16:20

    “We must free Julian. We must keep him out of the hands of the U.S. government. Given all he did for us, we owe him an unrelenting fight.”

    We must keep him out of the hands of anyone who imprisons the truth tellers.

  10. Em
    May 21, 2024 at 15:19

    The long-time psychopathic obstinacy of the US regime has set in motion its own Pyrrhic victory: “a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat. Such a victory negates any true sense of achievement or damages long-term progress”.
    Long-term progress is a more inclusive, co-operative multi-polar order, rather than a unipolar hegemony!
    Surely, a piece of compassion and global harmony is much preferable to any peace of a Pyrrhic victory.
    Yet this simple idea is beyond the comprehension of the psychopaths at the helm of the sinking, wisdomless “ship of Fools” the USS Civilization.
    Expert knowledge and wisdom are not innately mutually inclusive!

  11. Carolyn/Cookie out west
    May 21, 2024 at 15:08

    Where are the progressives / liberals in Democratic Party and MSM,…all supporters of Biden. Why the huge silence?! Is Biden some sort of a saint to them in allowing this terrible situation for Julian Assange. Disgraceful!

    • May 21, 2024 at 18:25

      There are no progressives in the Democratic Party. The party’s philosophy has moved so far to the right that they’ve abandoned their left plank.

      As a journalist, I’ve written many articles about Julian’s political persecution. The US government has taken incredible acts to punish Julian for exposing their war crimes. However, not a single person has been charged with a crime. Only Julian has been persecuted.

      If I had to speculate, I’d say that Hillary Clinton is behind his torture. She blames Assange for losing the 2016 election to Trump. She’s psychopathic and sociopathic like most of the politicians in Washington.

      The Australian government requested that Julian be released but I am sure that private conversations between parties claim it was for show purposes only. The whole saga is a scam.

    • Adam Gorelick
      May 22, 2024 at 00:39

      For those obstinately supportive of the Democratic party, and career creep Biden, it is fear that absurdly drives their allegiance. The spectre of another Trump presidency – despite the fact that the heartless buffoon is no worse than his opponent – has effectively struck many as a looming calamity of biblical proportions. Conversely, a class of financially secure liberals remain oblivious to the Democratic party’s betrayal of the working class and the horrifying actions of Obama, Bill Clinton, and Biden that have caused such great suffering in the world.

      • floyd gardner
        May 22, 2024 at 13:31

        So true! Carter was not a great leader – certainly not for Labor-; but he was the Last decent human being to lead this country.

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