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The hunt for Julian Assange

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The battle over Julian Assange has been ongoing for a long time. Assange, editor of the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks, is wanted in Sweden to answer allegations of rape; he is currently hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London after another bid to reopen his extradition case was rejected.

He and many others believe that this is simply a ploy to get him extradited to the United States. The US has harboured a grudge against him since his documents and video releases made him public enemy number one, with former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin demanding that he be targeted in the same way Al Qaeda is.

Anyone who takes this view will be unsurprised that the chair of the Senate Select Committee on intelligence, Dianne Feinstein, was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald as saying: "He has caused serious harm to US national security, and he should be prosecuted immediately". The basis of this is the Espionage Act of 1917, an archaic act brought in at the time of America’s entry into the First World War.

The Espionage Act was also used to arrest Bradley Manning, a man declared guilty before any kind of trial by former lawyer President Obama. His incarceration led UN special rapporteur Juan Mendez to state: "I conclude that the 11 months under conditions of solitary confinement... constitutes at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture." Assange can only expect the same treatment if he was extradited to the US (after massive pressure Manning’s conditions have improved although he has still been held for two years without trial).

Patrick Cockburn wrote an excellent piece on the vendetta against Assange not only by governments but by the press as well. He wrote:

"As Julian Assange evades arrest by taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge to escape extradition to Sweden, and possibly the US, British commentators have targeted him with shrill abuse. They almost froth with rage as they cite petty examples of his supposed gaucheness, egotism and appearance, as if these were criminal faults.

"These criticisms tell one more about the conventionality and herd instinct of British opinion-makers than they do about Assange. Ignored, in all this, is his achievement as founder of WikiLeaks in publishing US government cables giving people across the world insight into how their governments really behave."

He also reminds us that another great whistleblower of the past, Daniel Ellsberg, had to endure the same kind of treatment after leaking the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Richard Nixon’s infamous ‘plumbers’ broke into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist's office hoping to find information that he was crazy.

We know that governments desperately attempt to shield damaging information from us because they believe it would be too damaging for ordinary citizens to know what they are really up to. The attacks on Assange by the mainstream press however show us another thing: that they feel ashamed. Ashamed that they have cheered on a decade of brutality, that they have meekly submitted themselves to being an arm of state power, setting the limits of debate to very narrow margins. This is why they focus on the man rather than WikiLeaks.

This doesn’t mean that you should ignore the charges against Assange. But think which is more important: his character or his website?  A website which has done more to expose what really goes on than any other site or newspaper.

 




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