Julian Assange is right to fear U.S. prosecution

Michael Ratner writes: As the drama unfolds over Julian Assange’s bid for political asylum in Ecuador, a troubling irony has emerged: the besieged founder of WikiLeaks is seeking refuge in this small Andean nation because he fears persecution from the United States, a nation whose laws famously grant asylum to people in precisely Assange’s situation. Indeed, the US has demonstrated its commitment to be a safe haven for those being persecuted for their political beliefs by recognising that journalists punished for expressing political opinions in places like China meet the criteria for asylum under the US’s own laws.

The journalistic function and legacy of WikiLeaks cannot be disputed. The site has published 251,287 leaked US diplomatic cables and military documents that revealed the inner workings – warts and all – of US foreign policy. These publications illuminated state-sponsored human rights abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, exposed a secret war in Yemen, and revealed the Obama administration’s interference with independent efforts to prosecute Bush officials for torture and other war crimes.

So why is Assange so concerned? Are his fears of persecution due to his political beliefs and expression reasonable?

US officials scoff at the idea that the Obama administration even seeks Assange’s extradition – “It’s not something the US cares about, it’s not interested in … there’s nothing to it,” said Jeffrey Bleich, the US ambassador to Australia. This is a remarkable claim given several unambiguous signs that the US is on track to prosecute Assange for his work as a journalist. A grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, empanelled to investigate violations of the Espionage Act – a statute that by its very nature targets speech – has subpoenaed Twitter feeds regarding Assange and WikiLeaks. An FBI agent, testifying at whistleblower Bradley Manning’s trial, said that “founders, owners and managers” of WikiLeaks are being investigated. And then there is Assange’s 42,135-page FBI file – a compilation of curious heft if the government is “not interested” in investigating its subject.

In this context, Assange’s fears of extradition to and persecution in the US, and therefore his plea for asylum, are eminently reasonable. [Continue reading…]

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