On Friday 10th December, the High Court, in a hearing that lasted barely 10 minutes, reached judgment that the appeal against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition to the US would be allowed, explicitly on the basis that the US has provided assurances that he will be safe in the care of their prison system.
These assurances, of course, are totally worthless, as has been pointed out in awful detail by the journalist Richard Medhurst in an article on the RT website, ‘The US will break its assurances on Assange. Here’s why’, dated 12 December 2021.
Assange’s lawyers had pointed to the case of David Mendoza Herrarte as proof that the US paid no regard to its assurances, but only gave them in order to get their hands on people they wanted to prosecute, often people neither having US citizenship nor having committed the alleged crime on US territory. The response given by the judge to this was:
“We take a similar view of two other cases relied on by Mr Assange, namely those of David Mendoza and Abu Hamza [the latter having been extradited in 2015 from the UK to the US on terrorism charges and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole]. Both can be said to show that the USA may be expected to apply the strict letter of an assurance which it has given, but neither provides any evidence of a failure to comply with an assurance and neither provides any support for Mr Assange’s submission that this court should not regard the offered assurances as reliable.”
The facts show that whereas the US may apply “the strict letter”, it most certainly does not apply the spirit and intention expressed by the assurance which would have been expected by the authorities of the country agreeing to the extradition.
“In Mendoza’s case, Spain placed three conditions on his extradition:
“1) He had to serve his sentence in Spain.
“2) There should be no life sentence (or similar term of confinement).
“3) There should be no ‘currency-structuring’ charge” (Richard Medhurst, op.cit.).
However, by the use of weasel words, the US left itself free to ignore all these promises: the diplomatic note sent by the US Embassy in Madrid “doesn’t actually say the US will allow Mendoza to serve a sentence in Spain – it says the US does not object to Mendoza ‘making an application to serve his sentence in Spain’, which is completely different…
“As for the life sentence, it says the US ‘will not seek a sentence of life imprisonment‘, but that it ‘will do everything within its power, that Mendoza receives a determinate sentence of incarceration’. That could mean five months, five years, five centuries or any number of years – a practice not unusual in US courts.
“It also lists all the charges brought against Mendoza – including the currency-structuring charge, despite this being explicitly ruled out by the Spanish court” (ibid.).
Similar ambiguities are at work in the wording of the ‘assurances’ accepted by the Supreme Court in Assange’s case: “The wording is equally ambiguous; even if you take these assurances at face value you simply can’t trust them. They allow the United States to subject the WikiLeaks co-founder to so-called special administrative measures (SAMs) or imprison him at ADX Florence supermax prison, a maximum-security facility in Colorado, if ‘after entry of this assurance, he was to commit any future act that met the test for the imposition of a SAM’.
“I spoke to Mendoza, who was imprisoned at Englewood, near ADX Florence, where Assange is likely to be sent. He said that any innocent, random conversation Assange has with his partner or lawyers could be interpreted by the US authorities as some sort of ‘code’, and used as a pretext to lock him up immediately under SAMs in some other hellhole – that’s if they don’t do it the moment he sets foot in the US.
“Alternatively, they could also place Assange in a communications management unit (CMU) or special housing unit (SHU) and then say, ‘See? We didn’t break any assurances, because we didn’t place Assange under SAMs.’ The thing is, the reason Baraitser blocked the extradition is because the isolation and psychological torment is what could drive Assange to suicide. Whether it’s SAMs or a CMU or an SHU isn’t the issue here.
“The High Court has also accepted an assurance from Washington that Assange could serve any potential sentence in his home country, Australia. As I heard [the US prosecutor] put it in court, Assange could ‘look forward’ to being jailed Down Under…
“In Mendoza’s case, the assurances he got from the US were so vague, the Spanish courts ordered more concrete assurances. The result of this was a contract called the ‘Acta de Entrega’ or ‘Deed of Surrender’. …
“This contract was very explicit: it didn’t say only that Mendoza had been surrendered to the US authorities, it said he had been surrendered to them ‘in accordance with what was previously stipulated by Section Two of the National Criminal Court’. That means the US agreed to all the conditions of Mendoza’s extradition i.e., serving his sentence in Spain, no life sentence, etc.
“And did the US respect the contract once Mendoza was on American soil? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, it refused to give him a copy of the contract once he got there so he wouldn’t be able to contest non-compliance in court. They told him it was classified and, instead, gave him a copy without his signature.
“Mendoza was extradited to the US in 2009 and sentenced to 14 years. He applied three times for a treaty transfer back to Spain. Washington denied his request on every single occasion, and also told him he would have to wait two years before reapplying. I couldn’t find any mention of such a rule in the prisoner-transfer treaty.
“Mendoza was allowed to return to Spain in 2015 only after he sued Spain in the Spanish Supreme Court – twice – and won both times. The Supreme Court practically threatened to suspend the Spain-US extradition treaty if the Spanish government didn’t get him back. Mendoza told me this was really when Washington began to feel some pressure, because the Americans wanted to keep extraditing people to the US – having the treaty suspended would have been a legal nightmare and required getting it through the Spanish congress again and having all their dirty practices exposed.
“Mendoza also sued the US Department of Justice (DoJ) for breach of contract. He was only able to do so because a Spanish judge, sympathetic to his case, sent him a copy of the original Acta de Entrega with his signature on it. [Without his signature, his action to enforce the contract would have been dismissed on the ground that he was not a party to the contract, even though it affected him].
“I spoke to Mendoza’s lawyer, Alexey Tarasov. He recalls how American prosecutors called him up one day and said that if his team dropped the civil suit against the DoJ, Mendoza could go back to Spain. Mendoza said having agreed to drop the suit had been the ‘biggest regret’ of his life. He spent six years and nine months trapped in the United States. He was able to return only after suing both Spain and the US for failing to enforce the conditions of his extradition.
“If Julian Assange is extradited, and Washington breaks its diplomatic assurances, what options will Assange be left with? He can’t sue the US in the civil courts. They’ll tell him: you’re not a signatory of the US-UK Extradition Treaty, so you have no claim, which is what they told Mendoza.
“Assange’s other option would be to go to the UK courts. Does anyone seriously believe the British government could be compelled into pressuring the US to hold up its end of the deal and raise hell on Assange’s behalf? You can already see the results of the Special Relationship in the extradition itself”…
“Anyone with a shred of common sense can see these assurances are worthless. Ironically, in that regard, Assange’s case isn’t all that unique. Mendoza told me about the countless Spaniards, Colombians, Mexicans and others he’s seen extradited to the US. It’s standard practice for the US to give these ambiguous assurances to game foreign judges and jurisdictions. It will play whatever games it can to get people into its jurisdiction, whether through the courts or by kidnapping and rendition, because once you’re in its grasp, there’s nothing you can do” (ibid.).
Following this development, Assange’s fiancée, the South African human rights lawyer Stella Moris, revealed to the press that he had suffered a stroke back in October whilst under lock and key in Belmarsh prison, where he has languished in solitary confinement since his kidnapping from the Ecuadorean embassy in 2019.
Since these developments have become known, there have been a number of articles published in opposition to the High Court decision through the mainstream channels which have for some time been criminally silent on the question of his extradition to the US on charges of espionage. Notably, the Guardian, one of a number of outlets which had published material from the WikiLeaks cables in the first place, but had not published anything resembling useful support for Assange, published an editorial on the day of the judgment voicing the paper’s opposition to the ruling.
Echoing the argument expressed by Moris with reference to the fact that the Court released this verdict on the annual date of ‘Press Freedom Day’, the Guardian editorial ended with the words:
“The US has this week proclaimed itself the beacon of democracy in an increasingly authoritarian world. If Mr Biden is serious about protecting the ability of the media to hold governments accountable, he should begin by dropping the charges brought against Mr Assange” (Editorial, ‘The Guardian view on the US pursuit of Julian Assange: set him free’, 10 December 2021).
This case is of course a fine example of the hypocrisy exhibited by the US on the international stage when it comes to claiming right of moral, ethical and democratic superiority over other nations, although one feels that the Guardian newspaper itself, which subscribes to and seeks to maintain the notion that the US is a “beacon of democracy in an increasingly authoritarian world” has really, after a period of inexcusable silence on the matter, been forced to utter a hoarse admonition against the US and British states, owing to the fact that its own position, the moral high-ground of liberalism, and the role that serves in forming a section of public opinion in line with the overall maintenance of imperialism, will be threatened if it does not speak out.
In Australia, Liberal, Independent and Green parliamentarians have called on PM Scott Morrison to demand the US drop the charges against Australian citizen Assange, with independent MP Andrew Wilkie stating:
“Again the United Kingdom proves it’s a lackey of the United States and that Australia is delighted to go along for the ride.”
Such clear cut dissent being shown through the Parliament of one of the AUKUS pact countries, which is also connected to Nato through the ‘Five-Eyes’ intelligence sharing network, could be cause for alarm at the US Department of Defence, which has otherwise been firming things up nicely to prepare the ground for military conflict against the People’s Republic of China. The cultivation of Australia as a launchpad for operations in such a conflict appears to have been effected, (Morrison having been involved in the 2018 decision to ban Huawei from Australia’s telecommunications development before he assumed the office of PM – see Peter Hartcher, ‘Huawei? No way! Why Australia banned the world’s biggest telecoms firm’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 May 2021) and is evidently all the more valuable to US imperialism in the regional sense in the light of New Zealand’s refusal to comply totally with the intelligence sharing demands of the Five Eyes network.
If public opinion becomes inflamed against the Australian government’s unwillingness to challenge the US on behalf of one of their citizens, and the sentiment is reflected by a range of prominent political figures, the stability of US relations and AUKUS could be threatened.
Again, we come to the issue of imperialism and its ability to fool those enmeshed within its structure into believing it is driven by a superior moral ethos to that of its adversaries.
When it comes to the propaganda currently being churned out against China by the same anglophone media and political class which have belatedly raised a voice against the extradition of Assange – be that in Britain, Australia or the US – the accusations of press restrictions, persecution of journalists and general state brutality in dealing with dissent are integral to the narrative these scribes of ruling class are busy weaving.
This narrative, which allows imperialism to feign that China has ‘forced’ it to act in response to alleged belligerency when in fact it is making one aggressive, predatory move against China after another, looks set to provide the same moral framework for eventual military action as it played in backing cataclysmic interventionist war against Syria, Iraq and many others.
In the clearest sense, it seems obvious that the corporate media’s reticence in defending Assange can be understood as partly a wish to disassociate itself with the content of the WikiLeaks revelations regarding US military crimes, which many media entities saw fit to publish details of at the time but have so far allowed Assange himself to be sacrificed to the beast which these exposures had angered.
At this stage, however, with the physical and mental condition of Assange having clearly deteriorated so, and the naked brutality of the US on plain display, it is welcome that sections of the bourgeois media have seen their own existence to be threatened in more ways than one by the prospect of the extradition being fulfilled.