19 April 2019

Free Julian Assange!

APRIL 15—Last Thursday, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, was dragged out of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London by British cops and arrested. He is now being held in the maximum security Belmarsh prison on an extradition request from Washington. Assange, an Australian citizen, has been in the crosshairs of U.S. imperialism for years. Both Democrats and Republicans have been howling for his head ever since 2010 when WikiLeaks released a trove of documents provided by Chelsea Manning, then an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, that exposed U.S. war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. No extradition! Free Julian Assange now! For unobstructed passage to any country that grants him asylum!

Assange resided in the embassy for seven years, having been granted political asylum by Ecuador’s then president Rafael Correa. At the time, he was facing deportation to Sweden on bogus allegations of “sexual molestation” and “rape,” which was simply a step toward handing him over to U.S. authorities. Correa’s successor, the U.S. imperialist lackey Lenín Moreno, revoked Assange’s asylum (as well as the Ecuadorean citizenship he had acquired). Trampling on the sovereignty of his country, Moreno threw open the embassy doors to the British cops.

Workers in the U.S. and Britain must fight to keep Assange from falling into the clutches of the U.S. imperialist butchers. The Partisan Defence Committee, a legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League/Britain, wrote to the British Home Secretary to denounce the vendetta against Assange and demand “the immediate and unconditional release of Julian Assange and an end to all extradition proceedings. This includes the possibility of extradition to Sweden on cooked-up ‘rape’ charges, which were never anything more than a flimsy cover for handing Assange over to the vengeful US rulers.”

Washington’s extradition request is based on the accusation that Assange conspired with Manning to crack a Department of Defense computer password. An extradition hearing is scheduled for May 2. If sent to the U.S., Assange will likely find himself facing far more serious charges, and could disappear into one of the bourgeoisie’s dungeons.

A taste of what is in store for Assange is shown by the Obama administration’s treatment of Manning, who was convicted for violating the Espionage Act and held in torturous prison conditions for seven years. Since last month, she has been back behind bars for courageously refusing to testify before the grand jury that indicted Assange. The U.S. imperialists and their British junior partners want to send a message that anyone who tries to reveal imperialist atrocities will be severely punished. Free Chelsea Manning!

Democrats hold particular animus toward Assange because in 2016 WikiLeaks released a cache of Hillary Clinton emails, including some pointing to her role in the 2011 invasion of Libya, as well as the machinations of her presidential campaign (see “WikiLeaks Reveals Truths,” WV No. 1099, 4 November 2016). Democratic Party pols and the liberal press claim, without any evidence, that Assange is a Russian agent and blame him for the election of Trump. As part of the smear campaign, the Guardian last November ran a now-debunked story that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort met with Assange inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in advance of the 2016 elections.

A number of leading bourgeois newspapers, including the New York Times and the Guardian, published (and profited from) material made available by WikiLeaks, only to turn on Assange and help lead the witchhunt against him. Their editorial boards heaved a collective sigh of relief that the indictment did not include any charges related to publishing leaked material, which could set a precedent for going after these news outlets. Even so, by treating news gathering processes—communicating via encrypted messages, cultivating sources and encouraging them to provide more information—as parts of a criminal conspiracy, the indictment is an attack on freedom of the press.

The New York Times, the U.S. bourgeoisie’s paper of record, praised Assange’s arrest. An 11 April editorial declared: “The administration has begun well by charging Mr. Assange with an indisputable crime.” The Times editors, who are crusaders for the anti-Trump “resistance,” then wring their hands that “there is always a risk with this administration” that his prosecution “could become an assault on the First Amendment and whistle-blowers.” In fact, an all-out war on whistle-blowers, not least WikiLeaks, predates the Trump administration. Obama used the 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute more people for leaking secrets than all of his predecessors combined, and his Justice Department laid the groundwork for Assange’s indictment.

Even before Obama was in the White House, the Pentagon aimed to destroy WikiLeaks and Assange. In a CounterPunch article (18 June 2018), award-winning Australian journalist John Pilger reported on a secret Pentagon document from 2008 that outlined a plan replete “with threats of ‘exposure [and] criminal prosecution’ and a unrelenting assault on reputation. The aim was to silence and criminalise WikiLeaks and its editor and publisher.”

Central to the assault on Assange’s reputation were the manufactured Swedish rape allegations. The two women involved, by their own accounts, had consensual sex with him. Neither claimed at the time that she had been the victim of rape or sexual assault. Never formally charged, Assange repeatedly offered to be interviewed by Swedish authorities in London or by video link, but the Swedes refused. They also refused to rule out his extradition to the U.S. if he went to Sweden for questioning. In May 2017, Swedish prosecutors dropped the investigation. However, now that he is in British custody, authorities are reviewing one of the cases and might reopen it.

In Britain, a whole raft of liberals, Labour Party Members of Parliament and reformists like the Socialist Workers Party are calling for Assange to be dispatched to Sweden to answer the allegations, if demanded by Stockholm. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn claims to oppose Assange’s extradition to the U.S. However, in response to a reporter’s question as to whether he would support extradition to Sweden, Corbyn stated: “I do think he should answer those questions, so yes.” For Assange, Sweden would be nothing more than a layover on a journey to U.S. prison hell.

It is in the interests of the working class and all the oppressed to oppose the witchhunt of Julian Assange. We Marxists seek to imbue the working class with the understanding that imperialist war, with all its savagery, is inherent to capitalist class rule. The brave acts of truth-tellers like Assange and Manning have lifted the lid, even if slightly, on imperialist barbarities. Ridding the world of imperialist war and pillage requires a series of socialist revolutions internationally to shatter the capitalist order.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1153, 19 April 2019)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.