We should oppose the extradition to the USA of Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange, whose court battle against extradition has just started.
Those on the left who hail him as a political hero are wrong. But we should still oppose extradition.
Assange’s politics are a confused and noxious mix of “libertarian”, left-wing and right-wing. Moreover, credible charges of sexual assaults have been made against him in Sweden.
After a Swedish court blocked extradition in May 2019, the Swedish authorities announced in November 2019 that they had dropped their investigation.
But now, if extradited to the US, Assange faces one count of computer hacking and 17 allegations of violating their 1917 Espionage Act; he could face up to 175 years in an American prison.
The reason is Wikileaks’ release of hundreds of thousands of classified military documents and diplomatic cables, particularly concerning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many show the US government, politicians and military in a very bad light, and some reveal brutal crimes.
Former US soldier Chelsea Manning, who obtained many of the documents, spent seven years in prison and has been jailed again for refusing to name those who helped her. The charge against Assange, is that by encouraging a then-serving US soldier to covertly obtain classified documents he acted in the manner of a foreign spy.
This is the first time a publisher or journalist has been prosecuted under the Espionage Act. No public interest defence is allowed, and Trump officials have argued that Assange should not be allowed to claim First Amendment rights to free speech and free press because he is a foreign national.
During his 2016 election campaign, Trump praised WikiLeaks (which in recent years has continued to operate, from Iceland): “I love WikiLeaks… It’s been amazing what’s coming out on WikiLeaks… This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove… Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks”.
But Trump doesn’t do consistency, or gratitude. Now he says “I know nothing about WikiLeaks”. On 23 May 2019 the US Department of Justice had a federal grand jury approve an indictment of Assange.
Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, believes Assange has already suffered mistreatment in the British prison system. You can imagine what is waiting for him in the US.
Most fundamentally, what Assange is accused of in this case is no crime from a socialist point of view. A workers’ government would do the same on a bigger scale.