Yesterday District Judge Vanessa Baraitser announced the ruling in the Julian Assange US extradition hearing. Shockingly, she ruled against the extradition to the United States of WikiLeaks founder Assange, citing health reasons and a high chance that Mr. Assange would kill himself in prison should he be extradited. Despite the overall ruling she agreed with every other point raised by the US prosecution, including that Assange would get a fair trial in the US, that the UC Global scandal (where the CIA was spying on Assange in the embassy including privileged communications with his lawyers) was irrelevant, that Assange endangered lives by releasing the information provided by former US Army Intelligence officer Chelsea Manning, and that the US-UK Extradition Treaty 2007 banning extradition for political offenses is irrelevant because the Extradition Act 2003 does not ban extradition on political grounds.
Is this a victory? The answer to this question is ‘Yes, but.’
The sense in which this qualifies as a victory is this. Without scrutiny on this decision by ordinary citizens, the few journalists that bothered to their jobs, and individuals such as the UN Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer, I fully believe that Baraitser would have rubber stamped US extradition. In fact, I was shocked that she announced she would not be sending Assange to the US even with these factors. I think this decision does show that putting scrutiny on the establishment can work, and what’s more, its the only thing that does work.
Here’s the ‘but’. Many people, including Jonathan Cook and Rebecca Vincent, have pointed out that the fact that Baraitser agrees with everything the US prosecution said aside from the argument about prison conditions and suicide risk means that the ruling still sets a horrible precedent and does not protect journalism. This is of course a perfectly reasonable point.
Focusing simply on the implications for Assange however, there are two points which limit this victory. The first is that for now (pending a bail appeal tomorrow, 6th January) Assange remains incarcerated in Belmarsh prison. Due to his weak health and the effects of psychological torture, Assange will remain at risk of death in Belmarsh if he does not receive bail. If he has to remain in Belmarsh throughout the course of any appeal that will limit the victory in this case.
The second point to make is that we need to be aware of the possibility of establishment mind games. Having realised that they may not have been able to get away with having Baraitser rule against Assange, they may hope to induce complacency among supporters by giving them a victory and then overturn the decision on appeal. They may hope to get the idea across to the more uninformed public that “Assange has won so there is no need to pay any attention” while they plot a plane to the US.
Assange supporters must not let that happen. By all means, celebrate an unexpected gain yesterday. But as for today, it’s back to work.
ETA: Julian Assange was denied bail, meaning that he has to remain in prison throughout any US appeal. It is now looking as though the decision on Monday – though gained by public scrutiny on the case – was a ploy by the establishment. The establishment obviously thinks that rejecting the extradition and denying bail and hoping Assange dies in Belmarsh is a better option than granting extradition. If he dies in Belmarsh from the effects of psychological torture that serves their purposes just as much as if he was extradited to the US. Of course they may also have a plan to ensure that Assange is extradited on appeal, perhaps by hoping to inculcate complacency and hoping the public gets the misleading impression that ‘Assange has won’. Either way Assange loses more years of his life to horrific torture even if he does not die in Belmarsh and the appeal does not succeed.
It’s important that we don’t fall for the establishment’s lies and maneuvers and that we never give upon Julian Assange despite everything that they will try.