The case of Julian Assange: An assault against democracy

The persecution of Julian Assange represents an all-out assault on democratic rights. For what “crime” is this man being persecuted? The Swedish authorities are trying to get him extradited on a trumped up “rape” case that has long been exposed as fraudulent. No serious person will believe for a single moment that this is the real reason for the witch-hunting of the founder of Wikileaks.

In 2010, two female ex-Wikileaks volunteers in Sweden accused Mr Assange, an Australian citizen, of committing sexual offences against them while he was in Stockholm to give a lecture. Mr Assange insists the sex was consensual and the allegations are politically motivated. Originally, the charge of rape was dropped in August 2010 after the head prosecutor considered there not be enough evidence. However, a couple of weeks later the case was reopened by a different prosecutor.

We will never find out exactly what happened between Assange and the women who accuse him but that is not really the question at stake. The zeal with which the Swedish state and the international press have pursued Assange is unlike any other rape case. Everybody knows that Assange’s real “sin” is to have exposed the criminal machinations of US imperialism, its shady deals and cynical intrigues. He has laid bare the real motives that lie behind all the cynical and lying propaganda about “democracy” and “humanitarianism”. He has shown to the whole world the real attitude of the US military and political establishment towards its “friends and allies”.

The US is waging a vendetta against Wikileaks, which has published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables, embarrassing several governments, including the Swedish, and international businesses. Assange has helped to expose the CIA as a vast international conspiracy dedicated to the ruthless pursuit of the aims of US imperialism by means of terrorism, murder, torture and the destruction of unfriendly governments through coups, wars and invasions. He has helped to expose the crimes of the US occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The British government had behaved in a disgustingly servile manner in this whole affair. In the days when Britain really ruled the waves, when it was a powerful and wealthy state governing an Empire upon which the sun never set, the British ruling class felt confident enough to offer the right of asylum to the likes of Marx and Lenin. How things have changed! Now that it has lost all its power, the British bourgeoisie is reduced to the role of a second-rate lackey of Washington, and must obey its every whim without question.

That is the real nature of the “special relation” between Britain and the USA. The Assange case only provides new evidence of this sorry state of affairs. Obama shouts “jump!” and Cameron replies: “how high?” Fortunately for the London government, there is an even more servile and disgusting set of bourgeois, to whom Cameron can pass the blame as one man throws a hot potato to another.

A truly despicable role in all this has been played by the Swedish government. Everybody can see the openly reactionary nature of US imperialism. No intelligent person now pays any attention to its protestations about “democracy” and “humanitarian missions. Washington therefore requires the services of more credible allies in a country renowned for its democratic and humanitarian values – at least in theory. The task of the persecution and entrapment of Julian Assange has been enthusiastically embraced by the government of Sweden.

The loathsome hypocrisy of the Scandinavian bourgeoisie and middle class has been very well exposed by writers like Ibsen in works such as An Enemy of the People. True, he was writing about the bourgeois of his native Norway, but exactly the same traits can be seen in neighbouring Sweden.

The nice, democratic, civilized Swedish bourgeoisie demonstrated its strong commitment to pacifism when it traded with Britain and Germany in both World Wars, cheerfully exporting the raw materials necessary for the efficient functioning of the machines of war and even more cheerfully pocketing the profits of death. Such “pacifism” makes a lot of money!

Now the same nice, democratic, civilized Swedish bourgeoisie demonstrates its strong commitment to “feminism” by persecuting an Enemy of the People, and, by the way, ingratiating itself to the Boss in Washington. Such strong principles! And such a profitable relationship with the Boss! What more can any bourgeois government desire? What a pity there is no Nobel prize for cynical hypocrisy! The ladies and gentlemen in Stockholm would have no difficulty in winning every time.

If the Swedish authorities had the slightest interest in getting the facts of the “rape” case, there is a very simple option open to them. Assange has said repeatedly that he is quite happy to be questioned by Swedish prosecutors - but in the UK, not in Sweden. If the Swedes think he is bluffing, they should call his bluff.

They could easily send over a team to London to interrogate him. In this day and age, it is surely not beyond the technical resources of Sweden to arrange a video conference to allow the participation of witnesses. But no! All the efforts of the Swedish state are aimed at one thing, and one thing only: to get Assange extradited

Only a complete simpleton could swallow the silly stories emanating from Stockholm. Only a fool or a rogue could fail to understand that behind this whole scandalous affair lies the long hand of Washington. There can be no doubt that the revelations of Wikileaks dealt a severe blow to US imperialism and its murderous international network of espionage and conspiracy. The imperialists were determined to take revenge and they are doing so.

US imperialism has in effect identified the Australian journalist as a target. And it has enlisted the aid of its foreign stooges to help it eliminate this target. This and this only, is the reason why the Swedish and British governments have conspired against Julian Assange. They are acting as the hired agents of Washington, which was, and remains, determined to take revenge on the man who has helped to expose its criminal machinations on a world scale.

Assange has repeatedly stated that the campaign to get him extradited to Sweden is only the first step to eventually getting him extradited to the USA, where he would face a kangaroo trial and then a long term of imprisonment in the most inhuman conditions, or even a death sentence. There have been frequent attempts to deny this, from British Foreign Secretary Willam Hague among others.

These are lies and completely transparent. The US government has made little secret of their displeasure with Assange. US Vice-President Joe Biden has already branded him a “terrorist”. The head of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, Diane Feinstein, as late as July called for the Obama administration to prosecute Assange and the US Justice Department has confirmed that Assange is under investigation. This is the real reason why the Swedish government refuses to give Assange a guarantee against extradition to the US.

Stating that the British government has invited the Ecuadorian government to resume discussions on the issue as early as possible, Hague dismissed suggestions that Assange's human rights could be violated if he was extradited to Sweden. He stressed that those claims were "completely unfounded" and noted that they had been "comprehensively rejected" by UK courts.

"As we have discussed with the government of Ecuador, the United Kingdom and Sweden robustly implement and adhere to the highest standards of human rights protection. The suggestion that Mr. Assange's human rights would be put at risk by the possibility of onward extradition from Sweden to a third country is also without foundation," Hague said. But the facts incline us to think otherwise.

In 2001, the Swedish government handed over two Egyptian nationals to the CIA, who “renditioned” them to Egypt, where they were tortured on charges of terrorism. The Stockholm government ignored the existing human rights legislation in Sweden and took an executive decision to send the men to the torture chambers. One of the reasons they gave was that the charge was terrorism. But it is quite likely that the Americans will want to charge Assange with the same thing. The same year, they froze all assets of four Swedish citizens when the US put them on their list of terrorists.

The Swedish state has time and time again showed its subservience to US imperialism. This time is no different and Assange is correct to worry about extradition.

The torture of Bradley Manning

Let us now examine the case of Bradley Manning, now aged 24, an intelligence analyst in the American army who served in Iraq, who is alleged to have leaked US government cables to the whistle-blowing website. He is set to face a court martial. Following his arrest, the alleged Wikileaks source inside the U.S. military was held in the most barbarous conditions. The (then) 22-old Manning was “detained” at Quantico Marine Corps brig on “Prevention of Injury” watch.

That means: 23 hours of solitary confinement a day, with a ban on push-ups and sit-ups in the cell, with lying down and leaning against the walls also prohibited. Manning was deprived of all personal items in his cell, but equipped with a “tear-proof security blanket” that gave the prisoner rashes and carpet burns. Eventually, Manning’s reading glasses were confiscated; so was all of his clothing.

The United States has ratified the international Convention Against Torture, whose acting body, the Committee Against Torture, has recommended that long-term solitary confinement be wholly abolished. But that is just a scrap of paper, to be conveniently produced when Washington needs to denounce some “rogue state” or other, but to be ignored when its own actions come under scrutiny.

It is well known that solitary confinement can have serious psychological, psychiatric and sometimes physiological effects. I have talked to a man who spent years in solitary confinement after severe torture. He told me that he would have preferred to be taken out to be tortured as long as he had someone to talk to. A long list of documented symptoms includes insomnia, confusion, hallucinations and outright insanity.

The suicide rate for isolated inmates is substantially higher than among those living communally in the general prison population. But solitary confinement is only one of the methods used to break the prisoner mentally and physically. If Manning slept at night—he was not permitted to sleep during the day—in such a position that his guards could not see him, he was awakened and repositioned. In other words, he was systematically deprived of sleep.

Such treatment of a defenceless prisoner has a name known to all. It is called torture. The technique of sleep deprivation was well known to the Gestapo and the KGB, and is clearly equally well-known to those honourable defenders of American democracy and civilization who are so concerned with the health and wellbeing of Bradley Manning that they oblige him to respond every five waking minutes to the guards’ query, “Are you okay?”

This unrelenting repetitive stress, designed to stop the victim from sleeping or resting at any time, has a most damaging effect on mental health if kept up over a long period of time. It can drive a healthy man crazy, and that is just what it is intended to do. If this is not torture, then it is an excellent imitation. And despite the fact that the Quantico Brig’s psychiatrists urgently insisted that there was no medical or psychiatric justification for this treatment, the torture continued.

Let us remind ourselves that President Obama, before he was elected, promised to close down the notorious concentration camp and torture centre in Guantanamo Bay. Four years later, Guantanamo Bay is still open for business and torture is freely carried on in American prisons.

The smooth-talking hypocrite in the White House told a reporter that he had personally looked into the matter and that Manning’s ongoing isolation and enforced nudity was for the young man’s own good. In fact, the prison’s own psychiatric staff repeatedly found that there was no medical reason for Manning to be in isolation, and argued month after month that he be taken off “Prevention of Injury” status.

Just imagine the outcry from Washington, if the same methods were used on an American soldier, held prisoner, say, in North Korea or Iran. Yet for nine interminable months this treatment was inflicted on Bradley Manning. There was no objection raised by President Obama or Hillary Clinton. There were no editorials in the press, no campaigns on CNN. Their motto was: “Manning’s in his prison; all’s right with the world”.

There is an old legal phrase to the effect that silence signifies assent. The silence of Obama speaks louder than words! For the leaders of America, torture is fine, as long as it is “our boys” who are carrying it out. Precisely this kind of thing was what Wikileaks had exposed. For this “crime” a young American soldier has been imprisoned, brutalised, slandered and tortured.

Finally, in April of 2011, as a result of political pressure, mainly from overseas, Bradley Manning was transferred to the medium-security prison population at Fort Leavenworth. But these facts completely contradict the reassuring words of William Hague and his friends in Stockholm concerning the possible fate of Julian Assange once he is extradited.

The right of asylum

In order to escape an imminent danger, Assange took refuge in the embassy of Ecuador in Knightsbridge, London in June. He entered the embassy after the UK's Supreme Court dismissed his bid to reopen his appeal against extradition and gave him a two-week grace period before extradition proceedings could start.

Ecuador announced it had granted Mr Assange asylum but the UK has said it will not allow him safe passage out of the country. Moreover, they have hinted that they might lift the embassy's diplomatic status to allow police to enter the building to arrest Mr Assange for breaching his bail terms.

In a statement issued after the Ecuadorean decision to grant Mr Assange political asylum, Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UK was under a "binding obligation" to extradite him to Sweden. We do not know what “binding obligation” the London government has with Stockholm, but we are well aware of the “binding obligation” that ties both these governments to Washington: it is the “binding obligation” between the servants and the Master.

The hypocritical double standards of the British government are truly glaring. The bloody Chilean dictator Pinochet was welcomed with open arms when he came to London, allegedly for health treatment in 1998. When an attempt was made to get him extradited to stand trial in Spain for torture, the British government obstinately refused to allow it, using all kinds of tricks and subterfuges to defend this monster. Now they are doing everything possible to secure the extradition of a man whose only crime was to serve the cause of democracy and free speech.

“Quite apart from international obligations, the UK had 'complete confidence in the independence and fairness of the Swedish judicial system”, Hague said in a speech to the House of Commons. Assange does not believe these hollow assurances, and he is quite right not to do so. A spokesman for the Ecuadorian government in London said Hague's statement only partly addressed the issues. “The most significant omission was his failure to address the issue of extradition to a third party and specifically the USA,” he said.

“The Ecuadorian government would welcome cast iron guarantees from the UK government that will make sure that the fate that has befallen Bradley Manning will not be meted out to Mr Assange.  If the UK provided these basic human rights guarantees, then we believe that there would be a quick, fair and honourable solution to the present impasse.”

But the UK government is in no position to give any such guarantee.  There is absolutely no guarantee that Assange will not be seized the moment he leaves the relative safety he has found in Britain and put on the first flight to New York or Guantanamo Bay.

The right of asylum is a democratic right respected by every civilised nation, but now under threat in Britain. The British government has employed extreme measures in this case – measures that would never have been used in any similar case. They have surrounded the Ecuadorean Embassy in London with police, who have strict instructions that Assange must not be allowed to leave the embassy – even in a diplomatic car, but must be immediately arrested.

Ecuador is a small, poor country in Latin America. Britain is a rich and relatively powerful state, which is shamelessly bullying Ecuador by these strong-arm tactics. The British government has even gone so far as to claim the legal right to enter the Ecuadorian Embassy in London “in some circumstances”. This was an implied threat to violate the territorial integrity of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, an act that would be in violation of international law.

It is a well-established international convention that local police and security forces are not permitted to enter an embassy, unless they have the express permission of the ambassador. The Vienna Convention makes it clear that local police and security forces may not enter a diplomatic mission without the permission of the leader of that mission.

In a recent televised address President Correa correctly described this as “intolerable" and "an explicit threat" which had to be rejected out of hand. To his credit, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has defended Assange’s right of asylum. Mr Correa said he wanted a guarantee from Britain and Sweden that there would be no subsequent extradition of Mr Assange to a third country.

"Ecuador, in a sovereign fashion, decided to grant diplomatic asylum to Mr Julian Assange," he said. "What sort of mentality is it that still doesn't realise Latin America is now sovereign and free?"  The president pointed out that if a South American nation had acted in the same way as Britain or Sweden, it would be dubbed a dictatorship.

At emergency talks held by the OAS in Washington, US envoy Carmen Lomellin said a meeting of foreign ministers "would be unhelpful and harmful to the OAS' reputation as an institution". She said the USA did not "recognise the concept of diplomatic asylum as a matter of international law". But the only two countries that backed her were the USA’s satellite Canada, and the diminutive island of Trinidad and Tobago.

Subsequently, the London government has shown signs of wanting to get out of the diplomatic row that has isolated both it and the USA in Latin America. Britain's permanent observer to the OAS, Philip Barton, said the UK would continue to work with Ecuador "to bring this matter to an amicable and successful conclusion”. However, the UK Foreign Office insists that it will arrest Mr Assange if he leaves the embassy.

The people of Ecuador are fully behind their President in this matter. The BBC quoted one man as saying:  "We're free to do as we please." The same report admitted that “It is that freedom to grant diplomatic immunity and asylum to whomever they please that has galvanised President Rafael Correa's supporters”.

“One man on a busy Quito thoroughfare says Mr Assange is being persecuted by the US for simply ‘telling the truth’ and it was right for Ecuador to support him”. Deputy Foreign Minister Rafael Quintero told the BBC that Mr Assange wanted to come to Ecuador as he felt "his human rights, civilian rights, civic rights and political rights would be protected". He said: "We only hope that the government of the United Kingdom will respect the sovereign decision of the Ecuadorean peoples."

Within yesterday's long and detailed explanation by Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino of why Julian Assange had been given asylum, there is one sentence which jumps out: "Ecuador is a free and democratic state, not subject to foreign tutelage, independent of interests other than those of its people and sovereign in its decisions." What popular interest could be in question with the political protection which the government decided to give to Julian Assange?

Ecuador has a preferential trade agreement with the US on some 1,300 goods and that deal is up for renewal in January. Yet its government has decided to stand up to the USA and defend democracy. The courageous stand taken by Ecuador is a blow in defence of the freedom of expression and free access to information. It deserves the full and unconditional support of the international labour movement.

Down with secret diplomacy!

The working class of the entire world has an interest in unmasking the intrigues of imperialism and exposing the crude calculations and cynical power-politics that are normally hidden behind an impenetrable screen of lies. What Julian Assange and Wikileaks did in publishing a mass of secret documents of US imperialism was a tremendous service to the working class and the peoples of the whole world.

From the standpoint of US imperialism, the actions of Julian Assange are seen as those of a dangerous criminal and a traitor. But from the point of view of the workers of the world, and even from the standpoint of the most elementary democracy, what Assange did was both progressive and extremely courageous.

We say that Julian Assange deserves a medal for his services to democracy. Instead of that, he has been shamelessly slandered, persecuted, hunted like a common criminal, until he had no alternative but to seek refuge in the embassy of Ecuador in London, where he lives like a caged animal.

From his refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy, Assange has maintained his defiant stand, demanding that the USA ends its witch-hunt against Wikileaks. In his first public statement since entering the embassy, he also called for the release of Bradley Manning, who is awaiting trial. The 41-year-old said the United States must also stop its "war on whistleblowers".

Assange said the United States was facing a choice between re-affirming the "revolutionary values it was founded on" or "dragging us all into a dangerous and oppressive world in which journalists fall silent under the fear of prosecution and citizens must whisper in the dark".

He said the United States must vow that it will not seek to prosecute Wikileaks staff or supporters: "The United States must pledge before the world that it will not pursue journalists for shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful”.

Addressing a crowd of his supporters from an embassy balcony, Assange said: "Inside this embassy after dark, I could hear teams of police swarming up into the building through its internal fire escape. But I knew there would be witnesses and that is because of you.

"If the UK did not throw away the Vienna Conventions the other night it is because the world was watching and the world was watching because you were watching."

That is correct! The only way to save Julian Assange is to step up the widest campaign of protest against the assault on democratic rights, which is being launched from Washington with the sly connivance of London and Stockholm. Above all, it is necessary to mobilise the full force of the international labour movement to demand the immediate and unconditional freeing of Julian Assange.

  • Defend the right to free speech and the right to information!
  • Let us cast a powerful searchlight on the dealings of the imperialists!
  • Put an end to all secret diplomacy!
  • Immediate freedom for Julian Assange and Bradley Manning!

London 4th September 2012