|Colleen Bolger 24 December 2010|
Julian Assange has been released from custody but he is not a free man. After 9 days in solitary confinement, the British High Court on 17 December upheld a magistrate’s decision to release Assange on bail. However, this is only the first of the legal battles he faces.
A triumphant Assange addressed his supporters and media outside the court: “I hope to continue my work.” Of the prosecution he said, “It has not altered my position; in fact, it has confirmed my position to me personally that we are on the right path. It has given me enough anger about the situation to last me 100 years.” His defiance should spur on his supporters to continue to fight to defend Wikileaks:
In solitary confinement in the bottom of a Victorian prison I had time to reflect on the conditions of those people around the world also in solitary confinement, also on remand in conditions that were more difficult than those faced by me. Those people also need your attention and support.
Assange was likely conscious that the next day Bradley Manning, the soldier who leaked the cables, would celebrate his 23rd birthday alone in a prison cell in Virginia. Like a rat in a cage, he is kept in solitary confinement under 24 hour surveillance. Arguably the rat is better off as it can run around a wheel. Manning on the other hand is prevented from exercising in his cell where he spends 23 hours a day as well as being denied sheets and pillows for his bed.
Nothing short of torture, these conditions are designed to break the spirit of a young soldier who simply adhered to the Geneva conventions of war, in reporting a war crime he witnessed. That crime is the cold blooded killing of Reuters journalists and civilians as they attempted to get medical assistance.
It is precisely because Wikileaks has exposed this and so many other crimes that the organisation, its figurehead and Manning have been hounded. As Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff when he was Secretary of State under George W. Bush) said, “Wikileaks has teased the genie of transparency out of a very opaque bottle, and powerful forces in America, who thrive on secrecy, are trying desperately to stuff the genie back in.”
In early February Assange will face his first hearing of to have him extradited to Sweden for questioning. The Independent has reported that Sweden and the United States have been negotiating to have him extradited from Sweden to the United States.
The Swedish prosecutor’s office has confirmed any charges laid by the United States would take precedence over the possible charges he faces in Sweden, prompting Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens to ask whether they were merely a “holding charge” so that “ultimately they can get their mitts on him”.
Assange also believes that an indictment under the Espionage Act, which was used against Daniel Ellsberg, is imminent. Further, his lawyers believe that a secret grand jury investigation is already under way to try to establish that he is an accomplice to Manning.
US Vice President Jo Biden added his voice to those who have likened the Wikileaks founder to Osama bin Laden, calling Assange a “high-tech terrorist”. Fox News commentators continue to call for him to be assassinated. Bob Bechell suggested that rather than having him tried in a court, someone should “illegally shoot the son of a bitch”.
Bank of America has announced it will not process transactions to Wikileaks. It is the latest in a list of companies – including Paypal and Amazon – that have complied with the US Government’s insistence that Wikileaks be treated as a terrorist organisation and denied service. In the words of Assange, this is “business McCarthyism”. He added, “There is a threat to my life. There is a threat to my staff. There are significant risks facing us.”
Nonetheless Assange and Wikileaks remain intransigent in their commitment to continue to publish the leaks and plan to release a major leak that will devastate the US banking sector early in 2011.
So long as there are these attempts to silence Wikileaks, we must continue to fight for Assange and the organisation. The protests organised around the country while Assange was in prison and after were very positive, and received international press coverage.
Protests are planned around the country again through January in the lead up to the extradition hearing. Supporters of Wikileaks should be joining the facebook groups, inviting friends to the demonstrations, putting up posters in their suburbs, leafleting train stations and using all mechanisms to publicise the rallies in their capital cities.
It is important that these demonstrations build on the anger displayed at the first round of demonstrations, to establish an ongoing campaign to free Assange and in so doing standing up for our democratic rights.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
The battle over Wikileaks has only just begun