MExecutors, torturers and war criminals will toast to the British Home Secretary Priti Patel tonight. Its decision to allow the extradition of Julian Assange makes investigative journalism a criminal offense and allows the United States to ruthlessly hunt down criminals, bring them to justice and punish them with the utmost severity wherever they are found.
Julian Assange’s alleged crime was to expose the atrocities committed by the United States and its allies, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq, during the War on Terror. He highlighted the systematic mistreatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. He revealed the fact that more than 150 completely innocent inmates have been held for years without charge.
He posted a video of armed helicopters laughing while slaughtering unarmed Iraqi civilians in an attack that killed about 15 people, including a Reuters cameraman and his assistant.
The United States refused to discipline the perpetrators of these atrocities. But they are hunting Assange to the ends of the earth to reveal that this is happening.
Once he is safely in the hands of the United States, it is quite certain that Assange will spend the rest of his life in prison. Because the United States is intent on showing that any journalist who publishes a story based on U.S. government documents faces severe retaliation.
That’s why Daniel Ellsberg, the former US Marines officer behind the disclosures of the Pentagon Papers that exposed secret US bombings of Cambodia and Laos, said he feels “a great affinity” with Assange’s work.
Edward Fitzgerald, Assange’s attorney, argued persuasively in court that Assange’s only crime was investigative journalism. For example, the US indictment states that he attempted to conceal the “source of disclosure of confidential records”. Any journalist worth doing would do the same, but the US insists Assange is guilty of espionage – and Britain’s Home Secretary shamefully agrees.
While it is true that Patel is an extraordinarily authoritarian Home Secretary, I doubt that any other incumbent, Labor or Conservative, would have made a similar decision. Britain values its security relations with the United States immeasurably.
That helps explain Patel’s ruling, but it doesn’t make it more forgiving. Boris Johnson and his ministers like to claim that they support press freedom. When it came, they dealt him a fatal blow.
The blow to note was dealt with the tacit approval of much of the mainstream press. Too many British newspapers and broadcasters have treated the Assange affair as a dirty family secret. They fail to realize that the Assange hearing that led to Patel’s ruling is the most important free speech issue of this century.
Assange’s legal team will appeal and we pray that they succeed. If they don’t, intelligence gathering in Britain – and anywhere else where the US government has influence – becomes a criminal activity, ultimately punishable by life imprisonment.