Whatever your thoughts on Julian Assange and his alleged crimes, it’s hard to deny that a once brilliant man has been broken by the very system he sought to bring to justice.
As a non-practising lawyer from the UK, I have followed the proceedings with interest and concern, as the issue of liberty and freedom are right at the heart of the matter.
How would such a complex and compelling case come to a conclusion, especially as a trial in the US, featuring Julian Assange as the star witness, could only serve to alleviate his cult status while highlighting the conduct of the US in foreign matters outside of its jurisdiction, and how the land of the free deals with both US and non-US citizens who go against the state.
When District Judge Baraister handed down her verdict at the Old Bailey, many of Julian Assange’s supporters took to the airwaves to declare him the winner of the extradition battle.
Yet, I fear the verdict is a clear declaration that he may have lost the war. With this loss, investigative journalism, liberty, and freedom have taken a hit from which they may never recover.
It’s very clear from the decision that the District Judge believed there to be compelling evidence that Julian Assange should be extradited to the US to face trial for his alleged crimes.
In her verdict, she stated there was sufficient evidence to show that Julian Assange was acting outside of his role as an investigative journalist and, instead, aided and abetted hacking, theft, and the disclosure of the identities of informants working for the US security agencies. Her ruling stated that there was sufficient evidence to commit him for trial in the UK and, therefore, sufficient evidence to commit him for trial in the US, for which he should be extradited.
However, the extradition process in the UK clearly calls for the Judge to consider the health of Julian Assange. In her ruling, she stated that there was a significant risk that Julian Assange may take his own life, due to severe nature of the US penal system, citing the death of Epstein on two occasions during her summation. On this basis, she denied the extradition request of the US Justice Department. I hesitate at this point to say she ruled in Julian Assange’s favour for the following reasons.
You see, the response from the US Justice Department was the swift reply, “While we are extremely disappointed in the court’s ultimate decision, we are gratified that the United States prevailed on every point of law raised.”
In other words, the Judge indirectly ruled on the issue of the boundaries of investigative journalism and criminal acts, setting a precedent that will ricochet down the line for years to come, at a time when issues of civil liberty and freedom are already under attack.
For Julian Assange? Unless the charges are dropped or he receives a pardon, while he is likely to make a bail application to be released from prison, his liberty will remain at risk. The US Justice Department is likely to make an application to the Court of Appeal to overturn the Judge’s decision .so he will face continued uncertainty This process in itself could take years, during which time it is unlikely that he would be able to leave the Court jurisdiction of England or Wales for fear he may face a further request for extradition in a different country.
Considering that he has been deemed to be a broken man, as attested to by the medical evidence submitted to the Court, it’s highly unlikely that he will publicly speak out during this time.
Even if the US Justice Department’s appeal fails, he will be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life, for fear he could face further charges and extradition requests in the future.
Which would appear to play right into the hands of the US Justice Department. As the US struggles to deal with the fallout of the latest political round of divide and conquer, which has created a tinder box that could ignite at any moment and descend into civil unrest, the world could be forgiven for thinking that the result creates an easy way out for the US.
In my opinion, the US Justice Department has settled the score, so to speak, without the fallout of such a high profile trial of a cult figure who could lift the veil on the inner workings of the state during a high profile trial.
For Julian Assange, on the other hand, there was never going to be an easy way out.
When I think of his predicament, the following lines of the Magna Carta, known as “The Great Charter of Liberties,” which is a legal agreement that has been enshrined in English common law for the last 800 years, springs to mind, specifically as the contents of this document inspired the US Declaration of Independence.
“No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon or send upon him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land”
While some may say that Julian Assange forfeited his right to a trial by contesting the extradition request, the District Judge ruled that there is clear evidence that he may not receive a trial by his peers in a justice system as notorious as the United State’s, where his safety could not be guaranteed. Let’s face it. He has already been taken, imprisoned, and destroyed. In my opinion, his rights as a free man have been well and truly breached through the actions of the UK and US justice systems.
Indeed, Julian Assange could be forgiven for giving up the fight at this stage A father of two, forced to seek exile and live in one room of the Ecuadorian Embassy for seven years of his life, may value a limited amount of freedom that this decision is likely to bring him.
Instead, Julian Assange may pay the price by facing a lifetime of exile, the borders of the legal jurisdiction of England and Wales his prison walls, as he continues to watch his own back. That is the life sentence he is now facing.
As for investigative journalism, we’ll have to see just how catastrophic this ruling will be in terms of liberty and freedom, especially in the USA, the alleged land of the free.
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(c) Samantha Wilson 2020. All Rights Reserved.