On Monday, January 4, a London court will decide whether to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States on espionage charges. If convicted, the whistle-blower will face a prison sentence of up to 175 years in everyone’s favourite “land of the free”.
The Australian citizen is accused of having harmed the US and its allies by publishing classified documents.
Assange collaborated with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who has already been put through the horror show of the so-called US justice system for leaking classified documents related to, inter alia, the US wars on Afghanistan and Iraq.
Among the most notorious material published by WikiLeaks is the “Collateral Murder” video, released in 2010. It depicts a 2007 episode in Baghdad in which US Apache helicopter personnel enthusiastically slaughtered a dozen Iraqis, including two Reuters staffers – a fitting hint, perhaps, as to the existential perils of journalistic efforts to document the truth.
In Assange’s case, his crime is just that: telling the truth in contravention of an official narrative of heroic, world-saving interventions by the US military.
Indeed, according to the perverse perspective of the US, it is absolutely fine to massacre Iraqi civilians – just not to talk about it.
In the end, after all, what is imperial war if not sustained butchery and devastation of civilian populations? Yet pointing out the bleeding obvious is apparently enough to land you in jail for 175 years.
And not just any jail. Charles Glass, veteran journalist and former chief Middle East correspondent for ABC News – who has himself visited the imprisoned Assange in London – writes in The Intercept that, if extradited, Assange risks internment in the “Alcatraz of the Rockies”, a federal supermax prison in Colorado that houses Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Oklahoma City co-bomber Terry Nichols.
There, Assange’s life would consist of “permanent solitary confinement in a concrete box cell with a window four inches wide, with six bed checks a day and one hour of exercise in an outdoor cage”.
Similar punishment is of course also meted out to all of the US soldiers who kill and rape with abandon, and to the politicians who dispatch them to do so. (Just kidding.)
In the meantime, as Assange awaits the extradition verdict, the British are doing a fine job maintaining a regimen of “denial of access to healthcare and prolonged psychological torture” – as 117 doctors have affirmed in a letter to the medical journal The Lancet.
Back in November of 2019, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, had already warned that the psychological torture and abuse to which Assange was being subjected in the UK – at the behest of the US – could ultimately cost him his life.
It seems, then, that the act of exposing US crimes of torture and killing abroad can at times get you tortured and killed yourself. Call it poetic injustice.
In an email to me, Julie Wark, author of The Human Rights Manifesto, recalled the special rapporteur’s observations, emphasising that “a gang of so-called democratic states has deliberately demonised and abused a single individual with almost zero regard for human rights and rule of law”.
She continued: “The official leviathan turned against Assange and other whistleblowers is a measure of the crimes these states want covered up.”
Obviously, the precedent of extraditing an Australian citizen from the UK to the US for the “crime” of exposing reality would be a disastrous blow to journalism worldwide – although it would certainly assist in further exposing a reality in the world’s self-proclaimed “greatest democracy”, where, as it turns out, freedom of the press is not actually a thing. Ditto for other cool stuff like freedom of speech and thought.
Daniel Ellsberg, the iconic 1970s whistle-blower who was indicted under the US Espionage Act of 1917 for leaking the Pentagon Papers and thereby revealing the magnitude of US deceit and criminality in the Vietnam War, has issued a sobering advisory regarding the current target of empire: “Julian Assange is the first journalist to be indicted. If he is extradited to the US and convicted, he will not be the last.”
Other journalists do, however, come to mind – ones whose lives were destroyed without the need for recourse to espionage charges. Consider Gary Webb, the former San José Mercury News reporter who committed suicide in 2004 after being driven to disgrace for exposing how US support in the 1980s for right-wing drug-running Contra mercenaries in Nicaragua had launched a crack cocaine epidemic in Black communities in Los Angeles.
Clearly, publicising US policies that kill people abroad and at home is far more of a threat to “national security” than, you know, those policies in the first place.
As the US continues its sinister ambitions to classify reality itself, the extradition of Julian Assange would – in light of his annihilated mental state – almost certainly constitute a death sentence.
But for an empire that has auto-authorised itself to torture and kill with impunity and to eradicate the truth at every turn, it will all be in a day’s work.
The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.