ASSANGE WALKS FREE

25 Jun 2024 • by John Rees

PROTEST AND CAMPAIGNING FREED ASSANGE


Make no mistake, the release of Julian Assange is a defeat for both the US and the UK political establishment.

This most political of cases always hung on whether the cost of continuing the case was greater than the cost of abandoning it.

What the establishments on both sides of the Atlantic have just admitted is that the damage that would likely result from continuing the case was just too much to bear.

It’s not hard to see why. Did either Biden or Trump want this case landing in their laps in the final months of a Presidential election campaign? Did they want it to be in their in-tray on their first day in office?

Keir Starmer had to make a similar calculation. He’s already implicated in the witch-hunting of Assange during his time as Director of Public Prosecutions. Did he want to be dealing with this hot potato immediately on becoming Prime Minister?

The first sign of establishment doubts came with the High Court decision in May to allow Assange a full appeal hearing, due in just two weeks time.

That hearing would have had to decide whether or not Assange could rely on freedom of speech protections guaranteed in the First Amendment in any trial in the US. There would have been no good outcome to that hearing for US prosecutors.

If the court decided that the US could not be trusted it would have had to release Assange. If it decided that the US should apply First Amendment rights then a successful prosecution would have become a lot more difficult.

Crucially, the High Court decision opened up a space for a political deal to be struck.

The deal that has been struck trades Julian Assange’s release for his agreement to plead guilty on just one charge. Its a face-saving deal for the US that doesn’t really save any face.

Everyone knows that campaigning pressure is the thing that made the Assange case too hot to handle. Without the mass protests, both in the UK and globally, the establishment would have been free to conclude the prosecution without suffering significant reputational damage. It was because the US and UK governments lost the battle for public opinion that they were forced into this deal.

Of course the US government will claim a paper victory. But Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice president, gave voice to the real disquiet felt about Assange’s release in US elite circles. He denounced the deal as a ‘miscarriage of justice’. That is unsurprising since it was Trump that restarted the Assange prosecution when it had been shelved by Obama.

The conclusion that most people will draw is that the US tried to prosecute, convict, and jail Assange and they failed. The images remembered will be him boarding a plane to freedom, when they easily might have been pictures of Assange incarcerated in a Supermax prison in the US.

This has been so bruising for the political establishment that it will be many years before they can even contemplate such a prosecution again. All such victories are temporary, press freedom always has to be actively defended, but today we have defended freedom of speech and rescued one of our own from enemy hands.

John Rees was the National Co-ordinator of the Free Assange Campaign from 2019-2024.

SourceCounterfire25 Jun 2024 • by John Rees