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Editorial: The Belmarsh Tribunal is right – Washington, not Assange, should be on trial

THE Belmarsh Tribunal putting the United States on trial for its lawless and aggressive actions since the start of the century has heard devastating testimony about the consequences of wars on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and more.

As Jeremy Corbyn told the hearing — and as supporters of a free press will make plain as they march for his freedom tomorrow — Julian Assange, who still languishes in Belmarsh prison, has already “paid a very, very high price for his lifelong determination to expose the truth.”

Assange’s continued incarceration despite a court’s rejection of the US bid to extradite him disgraces the British judicial system, which has held him behind bars for two-and-a-half years despite the fact that he has not been convicted of anything.

And the complicity of Britain’s government and of our so-called opposition exposes how hollow are their claims to uphold the principles of a free and independent media.

This coming Wednesday the US government will appeal against Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s ruling that Assange cannot be extradited.

The whole left and labour movement must be clear on the extraordinary precedent that a victory for the US would set.

Whistleblowers such as former US soldier Chelsea Manning, who leaked material to Wikileaks exposing US war crimes such as the infamous “collateral murder” video showing US helicopter crew laughing as they gunned down Iraqi civilians, deserve universal esteem for their huge courage in divulging information that was clearly in the public interest.

Manning’s subsequent persecution by US authorities as a result is unacceptable. Yet the hounding of Assange does cross a further line. 

As former US Justice Department chief spokesman Matthew Miller has pointed out, “It is one thing to charge a government official who has sworn an oath not to disclose classified information. It’s another thing to charge someone outside the government who published information or solicited information, which is something that reporters do all the time.”

Not only is Assange “outside” the US government, he is not even a US citizen. To deport him to face prison in the US for publishing information on US war crimes would establish Washington’s right to jail problem journalists — anywhere in the world.

So outrageous has been Assange’s treatment by the British state throughout this process that we cannot assume justice will be done in the courts this coming week.

His prosecution is political and our response must be to raise the profile of this case so high that the political cost of doing Washington’s bidding is too high for British ministers.

The Belmarsh Tribunal does a public service in hearing detailed testimony from a range of expert speakers on the nature of the activity Assange is in the dock for exposing — the murder and mayhem visited on multiple countries in the Middle East and central Asia, the killing of civilians on a huge scale, the lies that were told to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq, the abduction, torture and imprisonment without trial of hundreds of people caught up in the sweep net of the war on terror.

Evidence that the world’s most dangerous rogue state is the United States has piled up even during Assange’s incarceration, with revelations this summer that US officials discussed options for kidnapping or assassinating him on British soil because of delays to the extradition process — news which would have prompted the immediate cancellation of further co-operation with his extradition by a less obsequious US satrap than Britain.

If Assange is deported to the US, an innocent man will spend the rest of his life behind bars for the crime of journalism and a grievous blow will be dealt to freedom of the press.

Solidarity with those marching on Saturday to stop it, and with those who will protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice from 9am this coming Wednesday as the appeal hearing begins.

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