Trump Administration's Pursuit of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange an Affront to Human Rights
Updated: Feb 2
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By Eric A.S. Harvey, JD
COPYRIGHT PENDING 2020
Photo Credit: Getty Images, Jack Taylor
Judge Vanessa Baraitser, the judge presiding over the on-going extradition proceedings against Wikileaks’ Julian Assange in the United Kingdom, will soon hand down the decision as to whether the anti-secrecy radical will be deported to the United States. Judge Baraitser will rule on this matter 4 January 2021, less than two weeks from now.
America’s pursuit of Assange was originally precipitated by Wikileaks’ release of The Afghan War Diary 25 July 2010. The Diary featured extensive documentation of America’s abuses of power in The Middle East from 2004 through 2009.
Not always apparent to most is that the ramifications of extraditing Assange extend beyond a threat to press freedoms. It is just as problematic insofar as it represents an affront to human rights. This claim is true in two regards:
(1) What Assange has endured during his imprisonment at HMP Belmarsh, a maximum-security prison in rural London, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture has said; and,
(2) Assange’s anti-secrecy platform, Wikileaks, has exposed war crimes committed by the United States, particularly during our now 19-year-old war in The Middle East. This will very likely result in the following:
(a) If our government makes it impossible for Assange to resume his role at Wikileaks by protracting his incarceration in the United Kingdom with the ultimate intention of jailing him for 175 years in the so-called “Land of the Free,” Assange will, at the risk of sounding obvious, be barred from participation in the platform that he founded; and,
(b) The Trump Administration will also send a devastating message to other journalists engaged in exposés on American-perpetrated war crimes, which is that, if they speak truth to power as Assange has done, they will face severe and debilitating punishments.
31 May 2019 The Office of The High Commissioner of The United Nations released a statement featuring Milzer’s observations that Assange is suffering through the symptoms of severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and clinical depression, as the onslaught against him has gotten increasingly violent, libelous, and defamatory. In addition, it is now common knowledge that Assange has said he will take his own life if he were to be extradited and held in solitary confinement well beyond his natural life in America.
The UN report implies to varying degrees that: (1) the United States is violating prohibitions on torture that were set by the Geneva Convention of 1949; (2) in the event Assange is extradited, the U.S. would likely engage in violations of the Eighth Amendment to our Constitution insofar as the kinds of penalties our government plans to impose on Assange constitute cruel and unusual punishment; and, (3) the pursuit of Assange is problematic, as the extradition treaty between the U.S. and the U.K., also called Extradition Act 2003, forbids extradition for offenses of a political nature. Assange’s tenure at Wikileaks has never been anything other than political. In addition, Extradition Act 2003 bars extradition of those that are ill in the way that Assange is in terms of his PTSD, depression, and plans for suicide if extradited.
In regard to Wikileaks’ revelations about war crimes, we need only point to how The International Criminal Court conducted a study in recent years, which concluded our military had committed egregious human rights violations during its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States government then faced a case, in which the ICC pursued the U.S. on charges that it had violated human rights during the American military campaign in the Middle East. The ICC decided to conduct this study and then lodge criminal complaints against the U.S. as a result of Wikileaks exposing these war crimes.
That said, what is happening with Assange is not just a threat to press freedoms. It is also another chapter in the United States’ imperialistic abuse of vulnerable peoples across the globe. Destroying Wikileaks, a publication that facilitated an international judicial entity’s focus on war crimes that the United States has committed, could result in an impediment to other publications doing the same. These publications would likely shy away from attempting to hold the powerful accountable.