The extradition hearing of Julian Assange in the United Kingdom concluded testimony this week and now awaits a decision by Judge Vanessa Baraitser. During the past four weeks, it became increasingly clear the United States does not have a valid case and the conditions warranting extradition were not met. It is also clear that were Julian Assange to be extradited to the United States, he would be punished severely and this would dramatically change the willingness of journalists and publishers around the world to do their job of informing the public about what governments are doing.
Julian Assange must be freed for many reasons, not the least of which is that his right to a fair trial was denied. The hearing was opened with a request from the defense team for a delay until January because they had not been able to meet with Assange to provide information to him for his input and to prepare. They stated that Assange is the expert in this situation and they relied on his guidance. Defense further stated that new information was given to them without adequate time to review it. The judge denied the request and further restricted Assange’s participation by forcing him to sit in a glass box where he was isolated from his lawyers.
During the hearing, in what was a harsh and restrictive environment where the US prosecutors bullied and maligned defense witnesses, the defense was able to establish that no crime was committed, that the case was purely political and that if extradited, Assange’s health and safety would be at risk.
In creating Wikileaks and publishing information, Julian Assange was engaged in “journalistic behavior,” which is protected by the First Amendment that establishes freedom of the press. Assange did what every good investigative journalist does in seeking truthful information from sources. Many media outlets routinely provide tools for people to leak information and classified information is given to reporters regularly. Investigative journalists regularly press their sources for more information. This is part of the job and necessary for respecting the right of the public to be informed.
Wikileaks also published documents it received after thoroughly reviewing them and redacting portions that would put people at risk. Assange was meticulous about this, even contacting the US State Department for assistance, which was refused. Everything Wikileaks published was true and there is no evidence that anyone was harmed as a result. This is no different from what the New York Times and The Guardian did in publishing material provided by Wikileaks.
The political motives in this extradition request by the United States became obvious through witness testimony. The Obama administration had first sought to use the Espionage Act against Assange but then decided that doing so would violate press freedom and so it declined. The situation changed once President Trump was in office and is just one part of Trump’s assault on the media. Working through former Congressman Dana Rohrbacher and German Ambassador Richard Grenell, Julian Assange was offered a deal that the charges would be dropped if he revealed his sources. Assange refused to comply, and it was after that the Grand Jury was convened and charges were brought against him. It was also revealed during the trial that it was the Trump administration that ordered Ecuador to allow Assange to be arrested. Extraditing a person for political reasons, as opposed to committing a crime, is illegal.
It is also illegal to extradite a person if their health and safety will be compromised, In fact, the purpose of asylum, which Assange had sought and gained from Ecuador, is to protect people. Health professionals and prison experts testified that Assange’s health is at great risk. He suffers from depression and suicidal ideation. If he is extradited, he faces up to 175 years in prison and would likely be placed in solitary confinement where his rights would be extremely restricted. When Assange was placed in isolation in the health ward of Belmarsh Prison, where he is currently being held, his health deteriorated.
Julian Assange’s health is not a priority for the US government. Witnesses from UC Global, the Spanish security firm hired by the CIA to spy on Assange while he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy testified that their boss was instructed to leave a door of the embassy open so Assange could be kidnapped and even to poison Assange.
The fact that UC Global spied on Assange, recording both video and audio of his stay in the embassy including his meetings with his lawyers, and gave that information to the CIA is grounds for dismissal of the case. A major factor in Daniel Ellsberg’s charges being dropped is that his psychiatrist’s office was broken into, which was ruled to be government misconduct.
Finally, Judge Baraitser announced that she will not make her decision in this case until after the US election in November. This highlights that this is a political and not a criminal case and should be dismissed. Although the prosecution is happening under the Trump administration, there is no guarantee that Assange would be safe under a Biden administration. Joe Biden previously stated that he did not believe Julian Assange was a journalist and that he committed a crime by seeking secret documents. He also accused Assange of causing harm to people and said he is not protected by the First Amendment.
Julian Assange should be freed immediately to be with his family in safety. He has done what every journalist and publisher do in fulfilling an important duty to inform the public of what is happening. If he is extradited and tried in the United States, we will enter a dark era where any journalist and publisher anywhere in the world who exposes information the US government wants hidden will be threatened with similar treatment. It will allow the United States to continue to act with impunity and violate the international laws designed to maintain peace in the world.