At Woolwich Crown Court, immediately adjacent to the southeast London jail that has held him for nearly a year, Assange’s hearing on being extradited to the US to stand trial on 18 charges relating to WikiLeaks publications began. The charges include that he helped then-US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning break into a US government computer to steal documents WikiLeaks later published, and that he violated the 1917 Espionage Act by publishing stolen classified documents.
Those documents exposed systematic coverups by Washington of war crimes carried out by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the murder of Reuters journalists by US soldiers, which the Pentagon claimed had been a tragic incident of collateral damage. However, barrister James Lewis QC, representing the US government, revealed in the courtroom Monday that Assange isn’t wanted for exposing war crimes, but for dissemination of "particular classified documents concerning national defense, including the unredacted identities of sources,” even though he also admitted “no harm” came from those divulgences.
Protesters around the world rallied on Monday against Assange’s potential extradition to the US from the UK, where he was arrested last April in connection with the indictments. In Washington, DC, they met in front of the White House before marching to Trump Hotel and then the US Department of Justice.
“We really want to make sure people know that this is happening right now,” Christy Dopf of Action 4 Assange told Sputnik Monday outside the White House. “There’s a lot going on in the US - primary season kicking off and the candidates taking up a lot of the news cycle - so we really want to make sure the American public understands that the US government is the one indicting Assange and why we do not want him brought here: because he would face a show trial and essentially be put away for 175 years for publishing war crimes.”
.@action_4assange @AndrewZigmund said while minor candidates talk abt #AssangeCase, it's "absent from @CNN's debate stage." "They won't even bring up his name in reference to info ... it's really disheartening to see the established political order constantly killing this man." pic.twitter.com/nYhIERoLqh— Morgan Artyukhina (@LavenderNRed) February 24, 2020
Action 4 Assange was one of several groups that convened a week of protests in the US capital in conjunction with those in London and elsewhere, including Unity4J and anti-war group Code Pink.
Andrew Smith, another Action 4 Assange activist, said that while third-party, US candidates for the Libertarian, Green and Socialist Equality parties had come out against Assange’s charges, no mainstream candidates were willing to talk about the case, and the corporate media avoids mentioning the content of the documents WikiLeaks published, even when discussing information that came from them.
“Even with the discussions around Syria and all the things that WikiLeaks has revealed, they won’t even bring his name up in reference to the information that we now know,” Smith said. “So it’s really disheartening to see the established political order constantly killing this man.”
“Absent from CNN’s debate stage is any mention of Julian Assange whatsoever,” Steve Boykin, another Action 4 Assange activist, said.
Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin told Sputnik that as a journalist and publisher, Assange’s case is “about free expression and releasing information that’s critical for the public to know about how our governments act. And to take that as a case of espionage is to so totally twist what he has been doing and trying to punish him to the max to send a message out to other journalists around the world: ‘Don’t mess with what we consider our national security.’”
.@medeabenjamin said #AssangeCase will show if the UK court answers to @BorisJohnson's whims, who wants to satisfy Trump, or if it's independent & sees, as the public does, that this is a political case & extradition to US isn't allowed by existing treaty for political charges. pic.twitter.com/8ug6DKymQp— Morgan Artyukhina (@LavenderNRed) February 24, 2020
“There’s a big discussion about this extradition treaty that there exists between the US and the UK: it says ‘except for political cases,’ and this, for the public, I think, it’s very obvious that this is a political case,” Benjamin said, noting the case was further complicated by the Conservative UK government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who “wants to please [US President] Donald Trump.”
“We’ll see if there’s really an independent court in the UK that understands that this is a totally political case, and Julian Assange should not be extradited - on the contrary, he should be set free and allowed to go back home to Australia.”
An activist with Unity4J named Dack told Sputnik he had personally asked 18 Democratic presidential candidates what their positions on Assange’s case were.
Dack said @PeteButtigieg wouldn't commit to pardoning #Assange & his crowd cheered it. "I even framed it 'do you support Trump's war on journalism?' They couldn't show clear definitive opposition to that. If any got into power I wouldn't be optimistic for Assange's survival." pic.twitter.com/lz2WKp8hfm— Morgan Artyukhina (@LavenderNRed) February 24, 2020
“The only person who actually took a clear, unambiguous stance against the prosecution was [Hawaii Rep.] Tulsi Gabbard. She of course has been disrespected by the Democratic Party from the beginning, the mainstream media did not cover her, and her campaign is basically dead in the water now,” Dack told Sputnik. “All of the other candidates expressed either an unwillingness to talk about the case, an ignorance of the case or said that they did not support him and they felt that he did something wrong and he should face the consequences for it. We saw a lot of agreement with what the Trump administration is doing.”
The activist noted that businessman Andrew Yang, despite being a party outsider, nonetheless gave a “disappointing” answer in favor of prosecuting Assange; Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), “who’s good friends with Hillary Clinton, he claimed he didn’t know enough about the issue to comment. I find that hard to believe.”
As for former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, “when I explained that Assange was dying in prison, Pete Buttigieg said that he’s not going to make a commitment pardon Assange, and the crowd of about three or four hundred erupted in applause,” Dack said. “This is the state of American morality in the year 2020.”
“They’re really not any different from Trump in terms of superficial style,” he noted. “I even framed it: ‘Do you support Trump’s war on journalism?’ And they could not show a clear definitive opposition to that. So if any of them were to get into power, I would not be optimistic for Assange’s chances for survival.”