The trials of Julian Assange: A death sentence for democracy | Julian Assange

In June 2022, when Russia’s foreign ministry announced that it was considering “stringent measures” against United States media outlets in response to US restrictions on Russian media, the US Department of State huffily complained that the Kremlin was “engaged in a full assault on media freedom, access to information, and the truth”.

This sort of hypocrisy was nothing new; after all, the world’s self-appointed greatest democracy has long made it clear that basic rights and freedoms are things that only its enemies must abide by. The shameless double standard enables the US to do stuff like make a ruckus over Cuba’s political prisoners while simultaneously operating an illegal US prison on occupied Cuban territory – or call out China for an alleged “spy balloon” while simultaneously spying on China and everyone else on the planet.

And on Wednesday, February 21, as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange completed one last legal attempt to avoid extradition to the US, the country’s own “full assault on media freedom, access to information, and the truth” was once again on full display.

If extradited, the Australian-born Assange faces up to 175 years in prison on spying charges – which again is pretty rich coming from a nation with an extensive history of illegally spying on its own citizens. In reality, Assange’s only “crime” was to utilise WikiLeaks to expose the truth of US military crimes, as in the notorious “Collateral Murder” video that was released in 2010.

The video footage, which dates from 2007, shows a massacre of a dozen people in Baghdad by upbeat helicopter-borne US military personnel, who did not find it necessary to conceal the extent to which they were getting off on the slaughter.

Among the murdered Iraqis were two staffers for the Reuters news agency. Talk about assaults on media freedom.

The US insists that, by publishing such content, Assange actively endangered the lives of innocent people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond. But as I have pointed out before, it would seem that one surefire way to not endanger innocent lives in such places would be to refrain from blowing them up in the first place.

To be sure, it is common knowledge that the US has killed a whole lot of civilians in a whole lot of countries, although the official narrative still maintains that all killing is ultimately done in the name of freedom, democracy, and other noble goals – rather than for sport or fun, as might be suggested by the “Collateral Murder” production.

So why, then, the need for such over-the-top pretences to secrecy and the super-vilification of the person of Julian Assange?

In the end, the US can’t afford to have its global do-gooder disguise too relentlessly or thoroughly challenged – since too much “access to information and the truth” would relieve the nation of its alibi for wreaking havoc across the world. Regardless of the final outcome, the protracted US war on Assange has already set a chilling precedent in terms of press freedom and other essential liberties.

Indeed, the calculated physical and mental destruction of Assange is meant to deter other publishers and journalists from the crime of pursuing the truth, as the US has effectively undertaken to classify reality itself. To that end, pending his extradition to the US, Assange has been held for the past five years in Belmarsh prison in southeast London, where the British government has proved faithfully complicit in the protracted efforts to bring about his demise.

Shortly after Assange’s arrest and incarceration in 2019, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer warned that the man’s life was at risk, and that he exhibited “all the symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture”.

Melzer, who is now a professor of international law at the University of Glasgow, also remarked at the time that, “while the US Government prosecutes Mr. Assange for publishing information about serious human rights violations, including torture and murder, the officials responsible for these crimes continue to enjoy impunity.”

Maybe Melzer should have been jailed, too?

And as Assange’s extradition battle now comes to a close, it seems the US may at long last get to definitively kill the messenger – and not just metaphorically. As his wife Stella Assange recently told reporters, “If he’s extradited, he will die.”

But Julian Assange’s persecution and torment also constitute a death sentence for any approximation of democracy and justice in the United States of America, a country whose constitution supposedly enshrines freedom of speech and the press.

At any rate, injustice has already scored a major victory with the chronic underreporting in US corporate media of Assange’s trials, which National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has described as “the most important press freedom case in the world”.

In other words, this should be major news for the news industry itself. But disappearing the truth is another way to kill it – and in that respect, Julian Assange is already dead.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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