Revolution #279, September 2, 2012

From A World To Win News Service

Assange, Manning and Pinochet: Kill thousands, live free; uncover murder, die in prison

August 20, 2012. A World to Win News Service. When Ecuador granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's request for political asylum, the British government responded almost as if it were an act of war. Foreign Minister William Hague, with all the bellicosity of his recent call for military intervention in Syria, issued a note threatening to revoke the Ecuadorean embassy's diplomatic status and send the police storming in. In fact, police did swarm through the building's stairwells and lobby (which are not part of the embassy's offices). The building is currently surrounded by 50 constables at all times, with two more vans full and an armored car waiting nearby. On the day Assange came on the balcony to give a statement, a police helicopter hovered overhead.

To an objective observer, this frenzied escalation of the campaign to imprison Assange, including through the blatant threat to violate international law protecting diplomatic missions, would reveal how much is at stake. Yet British, American and other media who claim to be impartial have unleashed a cloud of smoke and lies to cover up the importance and meaning of this case, arguing that the real issue is rape, and that the UK is merely complying with its legal obligations.

The UK Guardian, just to take one of many possible examples, stated in its August 19 editorial, "It is to avoid questioning by Swedish prosecutors that Mr. Assange battled extradition orders for 18 months... It is to avoid being confronted with accusations of rape that Mr. Assange is now holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy." The British and American media in general have maligned Assange, and even many people with high ideals have been confused and taken in.

The facts seem to indicate that while accusations of rape should always be taken seriously, that's not really what this case is about. The Swedish prosecutors failed to question Assange during the weeks he was in Sweden after two young women complained about him to the police, they refused to question him in the UK, and they are now refusing offers to interview him in the Ecuadorean embassy. In fact, the Swedish authorities didn't seem to take the case seriously until Assange left Sweden, with a prosecutor's permission according to Assange.

Once Assange left, Interpol issued an international warrant demanding not only that he be arrested but that he be held in prison and cut off from communication with the outside world, including lawyers, visitors and other prisoners, not because of the nature of the charges against him—no formal charges have been filed and he is wanted, supposedly, for questioning—but because he is a "flight risk."

Both the Swedish and American governments have refused to say whether or not they have plans, if Assange is brought back to Sweden, for him be extradited to the U.S., where he could be charged with espionage, and sentenced to death or life imprisonment if convicted. It has become known that a U.S. federal grand jury convened in secret in Alexandria, Virginia, is investigating him and other people allegedly associated with WikiLeaks for violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986. Despite their names, both laws were designed to punish people for what used to be considered free speech.

An article in the Washington Post (December 15, 2010) speculated that it would be much easier for the American government to accuse and convict Assange for espionage if it could charge him for being an active "conspirator" in the leak and not just a passive receiver of information. This strategy would also allow the Obama government to go after Assange and not after the media that carried WikiLeaks material, including The New York Times and the Guardian, both of which have turned against Assange. This ongoing inquiry is led by the Justice Department under the supervision of Obama's Attorney General, Eric Holder. Assange's lawyers and others believe that he has already been named in a secret indictment.

The timeline of events proves nothing conclusively, but it makes powerful implications. In April 2010, WikiLeaks released a video called "Collateral Murder," a documentary showing American forces deliberately and callously killing Iraqi civilians. In May of that year, U.S. Army soldier Bradley Manning was arrested and [later] charged with having found that footage in supposedly secure U.S. military online archives and sending it to WikiLeaks, along with a great deal of other material. By June 2010 several news outlets reported that the U.S. government was trying to "locate" Assange, who had been traveling from country to country. The Interpol warrant was issued in November, and the UK government arrested him for extradition.

Assange contested the legality of this extradition in court, and against the wishes of the British government a judge assigned him to house arrest instead of jailing him while the extradition order was appealed. It was after he lost his Supreme Court appeal that Assange decided to enter the Ecuadorean embassy.

How could this be interpreted as trying to "avoid questioning by Swedish prosecutors"?

Assange used his recent public appearance on the embassy balcony to call attention to the other track being taken by the U.S. in its campaign against WikiLeaks, the imprisonment of Bradley Manning, who at that moment "has his 815th day of detention without trial."

Manning was held for nine months in an American military brig under conditions that a UN Special Rapporteur on Torture called "cruel, inhuman and degrading." He was kept in a tiny isolation cell 23 hours a day (with up to an hour for exercise), deprived of sleep and often forced to remain naked. Even Obama's press secretary was repulsed enough that he criticized this treatment and was then forced to resign. Since then Manning has been transferred to another military prison.

Manning has been charged with a number of serious crimes for allegedly downloading classified material, including "aiding the enemy," punishable by death. Although who this enemy might be hasn't been officially specified, officials have said that by exposing American war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan he was objectively helping "Al-Qaeda." The Espionage Act of 1917 was used in the same way at the time it was passed. Leading opponents of U.S. entry into World War I were jailed for allegedly helping the "enemy" of that day, Germany. By this standard, any exposure of state crimes could be similarly punished. The prosecution has said they will not ask for an execution in this case, but his sentences could total up to as much as 150 years in prison.

According to the Bradley Manning Support Network, he will face a military court hearing in October and a court martial in early 2013.

When the prosecution presented its case against Manning last November, it included what was claimed to be evidence that Assange helped the soldier crack the password protecting the military archives. Manning's lawyers are said to believe that his mistreatment in prison, and the piling up of charges with such long sentences, are meant to force him to testify against Assange in a civilian trial.

As to whether the UK's role in this is simply "complying with our legal obligations" as FM Hague claims, under international law no country can extradite or deport someone to a country where it is reasonable to believe that they will then be sent to a third country to face inhuman treatment. While the Guardian mocked Assange for "the best legal representation money can buy," the British government has showed extraordinary enthusiasm, "determined to see Julian Assange extradited to Sweden," as Hague says, and has thrown the extraordinary legal, political and police resources of one of the world's richest countries into this campaign.

The British government, then under the Labour Party, had much less enthusiasm for its international legal obligations when the Spanish government asked it to extradite Chilean general Augusto Pinochet to stand trial for killing Spanish citizens, in addition to the murder of thousands of Chileans and the torture of tens of thousands more (including organized and supervised rape) after his U.S.-backed 1973 military coup. Pinochet had been in England as the guest of ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher when he was arrested in 1998.

Pinochet, too, fought a long legal battle against extradition, and like Assange, lost his appeal. But when the British courts ruled that Pinochet had to face trial for crimes against humanity, the government stepped in and declared that it would refuse to extradite him on "humanitarian grounds." When Pinochet arrived in Chile, the first thing he did as he addressed a crowd of supporters was to triumphantly stand up from his wheelchair. He lived another six years without ever having been convicted of anything.

When challenged about Manning's treatment in April 2011, Obama justified it by saying, "he broke the law." Manning had not even been charged with anything at that point, let alone convicted, and under U.S. law people are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. But the "law" Obama was referring to was probably this one: Whether or not an imperialist country abides by any law or not depends, in the end, on what its ruling class perceives as its best interests.

In his balcony speech, Assange said, "If Bradley Manning did as he is accused, he is a hero and an example to us all and one of the world's foremost political prisoners. Bradley Manning must be released."

The video Manning was first arrested for leaking was shot through the gun-sights of an Apache attack helicopter in 2007. It shows the aircraft machine guns cutting down a Reuters news service photographer and his assistant and other people casually walking down the street in a Baghdad suburb. Several minutes later, a van pulls up, and men get out to rescue a severely wounded man who is trying to crawl onto the sidewalk. Children are visible through the window. The helicopter flies over the van, opening fire again and again on each pass until the crew is satisfied that everyone seems dead.

The audio track records the crew's eagerness to kill Iraqis, and their laughter and mutual congratulations at the sight of at least 18 bodies ("Good shooting!"). When ground troops report over the radio they have found two seriously wounded children in the wrecked van, one of the crewmen sneers, "It's their fault for bringing children into a war zone." American medics are about to take the children for treatment when an officer orders that they be abandoned.

What made this video all the more an exposure of the U.S. government was that it had long been in the possession of the American military, which had ruled that its men had been doing what they were supposed to do.

In persecuting Assange and Manning, the U.S. authorities and their imperialist allies are not only seeking revenge for that and other WikiLeaks exposures, they are trying to make sure that no one dares expose and oppose their present and future crimes. In that sense, this persecution is of a piece with the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-backed coup in Chile and all the misery that the imperialist states have brought to the world's people.

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

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