This week's Supreme Court hearing in the Julian Assange case has profound meaning for the preservation of basic freedoms in Western democracies. This is Assange's final appeal against his extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual misconduct that were originally dismissed by the chief prosecutor in Stockholm and constitute no crime in Britain.
The consequences, if he loses, lie not in Sweden, but in the shadows cast by America's descent into totalitarianism. In Sweden, he is at risk of being "temporarily surrendered" to the US where his life has been threatened and where he is accused of "aiding the enemy" with Bradley Manning, the young soldier accused of leaking evidence of US war crimes to WikiLeaks.
The connections between Manning and Assange have been concocted by a secret grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, which allowed no defense counsel or witnesses, and by a system of plea bargaining that ensures a 90 percent conviction. It is reminiscent of a Soviet show trial.
The determination of the Obama administration to crush Assange and the unfettered journalism represented by WikiLeaks is revealed in secret Australian government documents released under freedom of information, which describe the US pursuit of WikiLeaks as "an unprecedented investigation." It is unprecedented because it subverts the First Amendment of the US constitution that explicitly protects truth-tellers. In 2008, Barack Obama said, "Government whistleblowers are part of a healthy democracy and must be protected from reprisal." Obama has since prosecuted twice as many whistleblowers as all previous US presidents.
With American courts demanding to see the worldwide accounts of Twitter, Google and Yahoo, the threat to Assange, an Australian, extends to any Internet user anywhere. Washington's enemy is not "terrorism," but the principle of free speech and voices of conscience within its militarist state and those journalists brave enough to tell their stories.
"How do you prosecute Julian Assange and not the New York Times?" a former administration official asked Reuters. The threat is well understood by The New York Times, which in 2010 published a selection of the WikiLeaks cables.
The editor at the time, Bill Keller, boasted that he had sent the cables to the State Department for vetting. His obeisance extended to his denial that WikiLeaks was a "partner" - which it was - and to personal attacks on Assange. The message to all journalists was clear: do your job as it should be done and you are traitors; do your job as we say you should and you are journalists....read more