Ever since U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel formally ordered the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the U.S. last week, press freedom advocates around the world have been mobilizing.
Assange Defense, on whose advisory board I serve, is organizing a national and international campaign to pressure U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, and President Joe Biden, to drop the extradition request, and dismiss the charges against Assange. The stakes could not be higher.
The charges, which include 17 counts under the infamous Espionage Act, could result in 175 years in prison for the journalist, who exposed U.S. war crimes.
Last week, Assange's brother, filmmaker Gabriel Shipton, wrote in an email to Truthout, "UK Home Secretary has decided today that any publisher who exposes national security information of an allied country may face extradition to two lifetimes in prison. Julian will appeal this decision and this once in a lifetime fight for freedom of the press continues."
Assange's indictment is based on WikiLeaks's 2010-2011 disclosures of U.S. war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the military prison at Guantanamo. Those revelations included 400,000 field reports about the Iraq War; 15,000 unreported deaths of Iraqi civilians, and systematic rape, torture, and murder, committed by Iraqi forces after the U.S. military "handed over detainees to a notorious Iraqi torture squad."
WikiLeaks also disclosed the Afghan War Logs, which are 90,000 reports of more civilian casualties by coalition forces than the U.S. military had admitted to. And its revelations additionally included the Guantanamo Files, 779 secret reports showing that 150 innocent people had been held there for years and documenting the torture and abuse of 800 men and boys in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment, or Punishment.
WikiLeaks also published the notorious "Collateral Murder" video, which documented how in 2007, a U.S. Army Apache helicopter gunship targeted and fired on unarmed civilians in Baghdad. At least 18 civilians were killed. They included two Reuters reporters and a man who came to rescue the wounded. Two children were injured. Then, a U.S. Army tank drove over one of the bodies, severing it in half. That video contains evidence of three separate war crimes that are prohibited by the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Army Field Manual.
As several civil liberties and human rights organizations declared in October 2021, when they asked Garland to dismiss the case against Assange, his prosecution poses a significant threat to First Amendment freedom of the press.
"The UK's decision to extradite Julian Assange to the nation that plotted to assassinate him " the nation that wants to imprison him for 175 years for publishing truthful information in the public interest " is an abomination," wrote Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, and Alice Walker, co-chairs of Assange Defense, in reaction to Patel's extradition order. "The U.S. government argues that its venerated Constitution does not protect journalism the government dislikes, and that publishing truthful information in the public interest is a subversive, criminal act. This argument is a threat not only to journalism, but to democracy itself."
Trevor Timm, executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation, warned that if Assange is extradited to the United States and convicted of the charges against him, it "would potentially make receiving classified information, asking for sources for more information, and publishing certain types of classified information a crime." Timm noted, "Journalists, of course, engage in all these activities regularly."
Moreover, Assange has suffered psychological torture while confined in the U.K. for more than a decade, according to Nils Melzer, United Nations special rapporteur on torture. In December 2021, Melzer tweeted that the "U.K. is literally torturing him to death."
On June 10, more than 300 doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists calling themselves "Doctors for Assange" wrote to Patel that Assange's "deteriorating health" made it "medically and ethically unacceptable" to extradite him.
"Julian's 13-year persecution culminates in a decision of ostentatious callous indifference," John Shipton, Assange's father, told Truthout, "Who amongst us would not burn with indignation and loathing?"
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