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Assange Wins Delay, but ‘Punishment by Process’ Continues

Biden and the Pentagon remain vested in a system devoted to keeping Americans clueless on the U.S. government’s foreign crimes and debacles.


The good news is that Julian Assange’s lawyers blocked his extradition to the United States, where he would face a kangaroo court hearing and life in prison.

The bad news is that Assange remains locked up in Britain’s Belmarsh maximum security prison. “Punishment by process” is the term that his wife, Stella Assange, uses to describe his plight. Almost five years ago, Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, concluded after examining Assange that he showed all the signs of prolonged psychological torture.


Two judges on Britain’s High Court ruled on Monday that Assange can file a full appeal against the U.S. government’s attempts to extradite him. He is accused of violating the Espionage Act via his 2010 Wikileaks disclosures of American military war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

The ruling largely hinged on whether Assange would be permitted to invoke the First Amendment in his defense. The Justice Department lawyer James Lewis told the British court that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to anyone “in relation to publication of illegally obtained national defense information giving the names of innocent sources to their grave and imminent risk of harm.” As I noted in a March 28 piece in The American Conservative, the U.S. government has never proven that Assange’s leaks led to anyone’s death. 

“National defense information” is a blight that increasingly destroys any home for democracy in foreign policy. Each year, the federal government creates the equivalent of 20 million filing cabinets full of new secret documents. Any document that is classified is treated like a holy relic, unable to be exposed without damning the nation.

Biden officials and members of Congress clamoring for Assange’s legal impalement have offered no fix for a political-bureaucratic foreign policy that is practically designed for maximum deceit of the American people. Three years ago, Washingtonians were shocked when Afghanistan’s government collapsed like a house of cards under the Taliban’s assault, despite endless U.S. aid and bureaucratic boasts of progress. Eighteen months before that collapse, John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, slammed the institutionalized cover-up: “It turns out that everything that is bad news has been classified for the last few years.” Sopko testified to Congress that there was “an odor of mendacity throughout the Afghanistan issue…. The problem is there is a disincentive, really, to tell the truth. We have created an incentive to almost require people to lie.”

Sopko’s courageous condemnation rolled off the Washington establishment like water off a duck’s back. The Biden administration’s claims of success in Ukraine are probably at least as deceptive, if not depraved, as the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations’ claims about Afghanistan. 


The best antidote to systemic lies is freedom of the press. As Assange famously said, “If wars can be started by lies, they can be stopped by truth.” But, at the moment, there is scant support inside the Beltway for either peace or truth. 

Assange supporters are divided on whether the ruling is a victory or merely a reprieve. 

Thomas Fazi noted in Unherd, “Assange has now been subjected to relentless legal persecution by some of the world’s most powerful governments, primarily the U.S. and UK, for 14 years.” Those states “have had no qualms about disregarding fundamental principles of due process in their effort to crush Assange.” The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs scoffed, “It is difficult to qualify the ongoing persecution of Julian Assange as a decision in his favour.” A spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared on Tuesday that the Assange case reveals “American-style freedom of the press”: “Exposing other countries should be rewarded, while exposing the U.S. leads to punishment.... To the U.S., freedom of the press, like democratic human rights, is just a tool the U.S. uses to suppress dissidents and maintain its own hegemony.”

Assange’s lawyers are prudent to fight vociferously to prevent their client from facing trial in the U.S. John Kiriakou was the only CIA official sent to prison for the Bush-era torture scandal. His crime? Disclosing the waterboarding. Kiriakou warns, “Julian Assange will not receive a fair trial if extradited to the U.S. The so-called ‘espionage court’ is rigged.” As the Washington Post noted, Assange’s lawyers believe he would be denied a fair trial in part because jurors on his case “would be chosen from a pool filled with government employees, including people who work at the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency.” Biden administration prosecutors have relied on similar jury pools to score convictions of practically any Trump supporter accused of being within a mile of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. 

Assange is Australian and his countrymen are increasingly rallying to his cause. Emma Shortis, senior researcher at the Australia Institute, commented on Monday’s verdict: “Assange’s case is a political one—he continues to be punished for embarrassing the United States by drawing attention to possible war crimes by its military forces. Australia, in contrast, has acknowledged war crimes perpetrated by its soldiers.”  On Tuesday, Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese again called for the end of the prosecution, declaring that there was “nothing to be served” by Assange’s “ongoing incarceration.” The Australian parliament also passed a resolution calling for Assange’s release. 

Media outlets are finally consistently coming to Assange’s defense—belatedly recognizing that their fate could be tied to his. The Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins declared that perpetuating Assange’s case “merely prolongs the tedium. Washington should consider Assange’s more than a decade on the run to be penalty enough for his past sins. It should not want to see its own record in Afghanistan and Iraq revived before the court of world opinion.” Amnesty International’s Simon Crowther declared, “The USA’s ongoing attempt to prosecute Assange puts media freedom at risk worldwide. It ridicules the USA’s obligations under international law.” 

Since Biden’s reelection campaign is seeking to portray Trump as the sole threat to political decency, maybe Biden will drop the Assange case so that Uncle Joe seems less of an anti-freedom ogre. When a reporter asked Biden last month about Australia’s request to end the Assange prosecution, Biden replied, “We’re considering it.” Assange supporters were buoyed by that comment. But it would be imprudent to vest hopes in Biden’s attention span for anything beyond ice cream flavors.