The case against extraditing Julian Assange to the US

Currently Julian Assange sits in a British prison after being unceremoniously ousted from his asylum situation in the Ecuadoran embassy in London. The US has indicted him and seeks to extradite him to the US to face charges. Assange arouses strong feelings. Some people detest him for some of the things he is accused of in his personal capacity while some journalists hate him because he exposed government secrets in ways they do not approve of. But Matt Taibbi argues that whatever we may feel about him, we should be very concerned about the implications for journalism as a whole contained in the indictments.

The troubling parts of that case lurked in the rest of the indictment, which seemed to sell normal journalistic activity as part of the offense. The government complained that Assange “took measures to conceal Manning as the source of the disclosure.” Prosecutors likewise said, “Assange encouraged Manning to provide information and records from departments and agencies of the United States.”

The indictment stressed Assange/Manning were seeking “national defense information” that could be “used to the injury of the United States.” The indictment likewise noted that the pair had been guilty of transmitting such information to “any person not entitled to receive it.”

I’m not exaggerating when I say virtually every reporter who’s ever done national security reporting has at some time or another looked at, or been told, or actually received copies of, “national defense” information they were technically “not entitled to receive.”

Anyone who covers the military, the intelligence community, or certain congressional committees, will eventually stumble – even just by accident – into this terrain sooner or later. Even I’ve been there, and I’ve barely done any reporting in that space.

This is why the latest indictment handed down in the Assange case has been met with almost universal horror across the media, even by outlets that spent much of the last two years denouncing Assange as a Russian cutout who handed Trump the presidency.

The 18-count indictment is an authoritarian’s dream, the work of attorneys who probably thought the Sedition Act was good law and the Red Scare era Palmer raids a good start. The “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion” is there again, as the 18th count. But counts 1-17 are all subsection 793 charges, and all are worst-case-scenario interpretations of the Espionage Act as pertains to both the receipt and publication of secrets.

Slowly – it’s incredible how slowly – it is dawning on much of the press that this case is not just an effort to punish a Russiagate villain, but instead a deadly serious effort to use Assange as a pawn in a broad authoritarian crackdown.

The very news outlets that have long blasted Donald Trump for his hostility to press freedoms are finally coming around to realize that this case is the ultimate example of all of their fears.

Hence even the Washington Post, no friend of Assange’s of late, is now writing this indictment could “criminalize investigative journalism.” CNN wrote, “What is at stake is journalism as we know it.”

Add to this the crazy fact that the Assange indictment targets a foreigner whose “crimes” were committed on foreign soil, and the British government now bears a very heavy responsibility. If it turns Assange over to the United States and he is successfully prosecuted, we’ll now reserve the right to snatch up anyone, anywhere on the planet, who dares to even try to learn about our secret activities. Think of all the ways that precedent could be misused.

Britain is in a box. On the one hand, thanks to Brexit, it’s isolated itself and needs the United States more than ever. On the other hand, it needs to grow some stones and stand up to America for once, if it doesn’t want to see the CIA as the World’s Editor-in-Chief for a generation. This case is bigger than Assange now, and let’s hope British leaders realize it.

Depending on the UK to defy the US seems like a hopeless dream. With a Labour prime minister like Jeremy Corbyn there is some hope but if Labour is led by a Blairite then it, along with any Conservative leader, will play its usual role of being the US’s lapdog and doing what it is told.


  1. Ketil Tveiten says

    Absolutely extradite him to Sweden, if they ask for it, because Assange is a cunt who has credibly been accused of pretty bad crimes there. Absolutely don’t extradite him to the US, because the crime he is being charged with there is “revealing embarassing information that we’d rather have kept secret”, which is ridiculous.

  2. jrkrideau says

    Amazingly enough even Rachel Madow seems to have suddenly realized the implications of extraditing Assange to the USA.

    Given the torture of Maria Butina and Chelsea Manning while in US custody, I would not give much for Assange’s life if he is extradited to the USA. He currently is reported to be in the prison hospital in very poor health and incarceration in a US prison would likely kill him.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Assange has made himself into a totalitarian’s dream: an appalling, widely reviled target whose deserved unpopularity provides a perfect hook for dragging down crucial rights of free speech.

    Years ago, it seemed the Swedish government wanted to extradite him mostly so as to pass him over to the US with a ribbon tied on. Now the UK grovels even more obsequiously to Washington, and he might possibly face less risk in the hands of Stockholm -- particularly if they drag his case out beyond 18 months and USAians somehow contrive to deliver their country back to the somewhat-less-evil party.

  4. KG says

    Years ago, it seemed the Swedish government wanted to extradite him mostly so as to pass him over to the US with a ribbon tied on. -- Pierce R. Butler@3

    Swedish prosecutors wanted to extradite him to face charges of rape and sexual assault -- and that request (with regard to the rape, the other charge having run out of time according to Swedish law) has now been re-submitted. There was never to my knowledge a particle of evidence that Sweden would extradite him to the USA. Only assertions by Assange (who described Sweden as “the Saudi Arabia of feminism”) and his supporters that they would do so. If anyone has actual evidence that Assange would have been, or would be now, extradited from Sweden to the USA, do feel free to present it. Extradition from the UK to the USA was always more likely. I’d also be interested in evidence of the claims by Taibbi and others that those in the media who dislike Assange have only now realised his extradition to the USA would be a bad thing.


  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    KG @ # 4: There was never to my knowledge a particle of evidence that Sweden would extradite him to the USA.

    Back circa 2010, when the rape charges came to light, we saw lots of speculation that Stockholm would bow to Washington, but I don’t remember anything more specific than the usual anonymous “informed sources” backing that up. A typical example, from Dave Lindorff:

    It strains credulity to believe that the same US government that put such pressure on a NATO ally Germany is not behind Swedish prosecutors’ sudden intense interest in this preposterous case of consensual sex and a broken condom.

    Another from Bill Blum:

    Stockholm’s behavior in this matter and others has been as American-poodle-like as London’s, as it lined itself up with an Assange-accuser who has been associated with right-wing anti-Castro Cubans…

    But yes, hard evidence eludes us.

    Only a lowly churl would bring up Assange’s pledge to turn himself over to US mercy if Obama released Chelsea Manning, of course.

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