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Editorial: Julian Assange must not be extradited to the US

THERE is a world of difference between the original extradition case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, which was based on a Swedish prosecution concerning rape allegations, and Scotland Yard’s announcement today that he has been “further arrested” on behalf of the United States.

Assange always said he had sought asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy because he believed the charges against him were motivated by a desire to send him to the US, which wants to prosecute him for “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion” — a charge linked to the many US secrets WikiLeaks spilled onto the world stage.

Whether they were or not is now moot since the Swedish prosecution has been dropped. But British authorities’ willingness to hand him to the US is shameful and — as whistleblower Edward Snowden puts it — “a dark moment for press freedom.”

It pays to remember some of the US secrets WikiLeaks helped bring to light. The 391,832 US army field reports from the Iraq war enumerating 66,081 civilian deaths between 2004 and 2009.

The video footage dubbed “collateral murder,” showing a US Apache helicopter crew killing 12 people — including a photographer and driver working for Reuters — in Baghdad in 2007, with crew commenting “Hahaha, I hit ’em” and “Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards,” before opening fire again on rescuers trying to help the wounded.

That the US was routinely spying on other world leaders, including allies like Angela Merkel, and had assets it labelled “strictly protect” in the British Parliament (the Labour MP Ruth Smeeth).

That it continued to hold unfortunate captives in its Guantanamo Bay concentration camp for years after itself clearing them for release.

Whatever one’s personal view of Assange, it is clear that WikiLeaks did the world an enormous service by releasing information of this kind, exposing the brutal and hypocritical nature of the US government and its “war on terror.”

That had no bearing on the Swedish extradition case but it is directly relevant to the US’s demand since that relates explicitly to WikiLeaks. 

It is also unclear what the US might have in store for Assange if he is sent there. The government has an obligation not to deport anyone to a country where they might face torture or the death penalty.

The penalty for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion is a mere five years, but once the WikiLeaks chief is in US hands other charges could be brought. 

Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years for releasing information to WikiLeaks. Admitting that leaking information as a serving soldier would be seen as a graver matter by any government, it remains the case that Manning faced more than three decades in jail for an act of enormous courage, motivated by compassion for the innocent victims of US violence.

A decision to commute the sentence by former president Barack Obama lifted that threat — though Manning is now again being held for refusing to testify against Assange before a grand jury.

And the chances of clemency from current President Donald Trump look decidedly slim — this is, after all, a president who claims “torture works” and says he wants to resume US intelligence’s use of waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse.”

Assange’s asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy looked doomed as soon as it became clear that the Lenin Moreno government had turned its back on the anti-imperialist credentials of his predecessor Rafael Correa, after claiming his mantle to get elected. Once Ecuador gave him up, his arrest to face charges of skipping bail was also a foregone conclusion.

But extraditing him to the US is another matter entirely. The government must not be allowed to get away with it and the left cannot turn away on the grounds that this is a matter for the courts. This is a political arrest and it calls for a political response.

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