It is certainly a great relief that the district court judge in London considering the US government’s extradition request for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is facing espionage and other lesser counts in the United States for his organization’s expose of US war crimes and other embarrassing misconduct, has been denied.
Throughout the hearing process, Judge Vanessa Baraitser showed herself to be a shameless sycophant towards the US, often, as my colleague Ron Ridenour has reported, issuing rulings before even hearing responses to US allegations and claims from Assange’s defense team.
There is concern that the many US charges against Assange by the US Justice Department were not ruled invalid by Baraitser, charges which are predicated upon the US government’s absurd contention that Assange is not a journalist entitled to First Amendment protection. This is why there is such concern that her ruling, by leaving all of those bogus charges such as theft of government property, and leaking of confidential government documents that were alleged, without evidence, to threaten American lives, unchallenged, poses a future threat to all journalists, anywhere in the world (including in the US) who publish such US government secrets.
I’ll leave that urgent issue to other writers, though I will note that a district court’s non action in a proceeding in the UK does not in any way establish a precedent, though it was certainly a missed opportunity to slap down US government secrecy overreach.
What I will do instead is note that Baraitser’s perhaps unintentional but certainly nonetheless devastating slam against the criminally incarcerial obsession of the United States, which routinely sentences criminals facing lengthy or life sentences for major crimes like terrorism or espionage to incarceration in windowless solitry-confinement cells. It is treatment which organizations from the United Nations to Amnesty International to Human Rights Watch, the World Court and the European Court have denounced as a gross violation of human rights.
Baraitser’s order denying the US govenment’s extradition request was based narrowly upon her determination that Assange would be a suicide risk if sent to the US to face trial and almost certain conviction and sentencing.
That decision alone will be viewed globally as a massive stain on the reputation of the United States, which of course portrays and even imagines itself as a shining light of enlightened freedom and democracy, but which in fact is one of the most blighted nations on earth when it comes to the locking up of its own population. (US prisons are appalling places, overcrowded, blighted by epidemics of Covid-19, tuberculosis, hepatitis-c and other diseases, and filthy. Only recently the Vermont State Supreme Court ruled that filthy showers that reeked of sewage in a state women’s prison were not a violation of their rights.)
The US and all of its 50 states refer to their prisons euphemistically as “correctional institutions,” but in practice US penal practices have little or nothing to do with rehabilitation. They are, rather, designed to be slow torture facilities where people convicted of even minor non-violent crimes are punished — left to rot for years or even for life in conditions that would not be accepted these days for zoo animals.
Assange, were he to be shipped off for trial in the US, would have first of all been denied the right to defend himself properly, as judges in espionage and government secrecy violation trials routinely deny defendants the ability to even raise issues like the First Amendment guarantying freedom of speech and press, or to challenge cases of pre-trial torture, as happened to one of Assange’s sources, US soldier Chelsea Manning. Then, after being railroaded to conviction on espionage and other charges, Assange, most observers say, would have been sentenced to spend his live in solitary confinement in the uniquely dreadful US Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Fremont County near Florence, Colorado.
In that hell hole, clearly designed by sadistic architects, prisoners have no view of the outside or the sky, and spend their days in absolute isolation, far removed from civilization, transport facilities, etc., making visits by relatives (who are inexplicably denied physical contact) nearly costly and difficult at best.
We won’t know whether Judge Baraitser was honestly appalled at the prospect of such nightmare confinement and that this led to her decision to deny the US government’s extradition request or whether it was just a face-saving way for the British government to avoid the international condemnation which would have inevitably followed a decision to turn Assange over to the tender mercies of the US judicial meat-grinder without challenging the validity of the underlying charges. This is particularly true given predictions that in any event, had Baraitser approved Assange’s extradition, her decision would have been overturned by the European Court on appeal.
In any event, while the more than a decade of torment to which Assange has been subjected has certainly been chilling to all investigative journalists, we can still celebrate his impending freedom from imprisonment in the Belmarsh high-security prison he’s been held in pending and during the hearing, and also the embarrassing implied condemnation of the US criminal “justice” system and its mind-numbingly soul-crushing prison-industrial complex.
We need to cheer our victories when they are won!
Hang in their Julian. Freedom is coming!