The Travesty Of Julian Assange’s Prosecution Raises Wider Issues

Above Photo: Julian Assange is seen behind a thick glass screen – where he struggles to hear the legal proceedings against him. Credit: Priscilla Coleman/ MB Media

In all societies that are pleased to describe themselves as adherents to the basic principle we commonly refer to as the “rule of law” there are certain basic fundamental principles that are taken as the bedrock of the system.

Among the foremost of these principles is that all citizens are deemed to be equal before the law. There is one set of laws and all are expected to adhere to those laws. If one deviates from those laws, then the alleged trespassers are to be treated equally.

We know of course that the treatment one receives, the processes one undergoes, even the outcomes are not equal. But for all its flaws it is the system we have. All are expected to honor their obligations under the system.

Similarly, when one falls foul of the law, whether it is something as relatively innocuous as breaking the speed limit right through to the most serious crimes on the statute books, the expectations remain the same.

One of those fundamental principles is that in return for being a good citizen the government will exercise its powers to ensure equal treatment to all those that are alleged to violate the basic principles  That truism is expected to apply irrespective of where the alleged crime is said to have been perpetrated or the status of the alleged violator.

Where a citizen of the country is alleged to have fallen foul of laws of another country, the principles remain the same, but with added conditions.

It is part of the social contract that all citizens in a professed democracy such as Australia should be entitled to rely upon. When those principles are violated, as in the case of Julian Assange, widespread outrage and condemnation should be the immediate response. With some honorable exceptions that has not been the case in Australia.

The outrage is certainly coming from concerned individuals. They have joined protests, petitioned the local members of parliament and taken other various actions to record their concern. In those endeavors, they should be able to enjoy the support of the local mainstream media. That also is conspicuous by its scarcity.

There are many disturbing features of the treatment of Julian Assange by the British authorities. That treatment makes a mockery of fundamental principles that we have been enjoined since we were in the cradle of being synonymous with “British justice”.

If there is one lesson to be drawn from the Assange saga it is that all of those fundamental principles we were nurtured to believe in can be quickly sacrificed in the crude exercise of state power. The shattering of naïve illusions is perhaps one small benefit to be gained from this process that is otherwise a travesty of what we would nurtured to believe was British justice.

What has happened to Assange during the recent preliminary hearing in a London Court (in fact part of a maximum-security prison complex) has been superbly chronicled by former United Kingdom diplomat Craig Murray on his website People are urged to go to his website to read the grisly details of the recent travesty of justice described as a preliminary hearing. If one has any lingering belief in the efficacy and value of British justice, then Murray’s detailed account should be a radical antidote.

Assange’s alleged crime was to publish details of war crimes and other atrocities carried out by the United States military forces in Iraq. That information was passed on to mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times and the United Kingdom Guardian, neither of whom have been prosecuted for their publication of US war crimes.

It is almost redundant to add that the perpetrators of the crimes revealed by those media outlets, as well as Assange and the original source of the leaks, Chelsea Manning, have not been prosecuted, whereas Manning has served jail time and has been re-imprisoned for failure to disclose his sources.  Assange has received unprecedented abuse and ill-treatment by the United Kingdom authorities.

There could not be a clearer illustration of shooting the messenger but leaving unscathed the perpetrators of the crimes and their political and military leaders who are ultimately responsible. The Nuremberg principles are well and truly dead.

The other travesty of accepted principles of justice and international law revealed by the Assange prosecution is the almost complete indifference and inaction by the political leadership of his country of nationality, Australia.

That indifference and inaction by Australia’s political class (with a very few limited exceptions of whom the Independent Andrew Wilkie deserves a special mention) is one of the most alarming features of the Assange prosecution.

It is a fundamental principle that governments have a duty of care to their citizens. That principle was demonstrated recently with reports that the Australian government was taking steps and making representations about the fate of an English citizen but Australian resident and academic sentenced to prison by an Iranian court.

No such concern or action has been detectable on behalf of Assange, either by the government or the official Opposition. In this, as in so many other areas of international conduct, including but not limited to the waging of illegal wars, the two principal parties are indistinguishable.

One does not have to delve too deeply to determine a likely explanation for this complete abdication of a government (and Opposition) as to the ill-treatment, violation of fundamental legal principles (see Murray’s reporting for excruciating details). In this writer’s review the behavior and inaction of the Australian government, its tolerance of the breach of the most fundamental principles of due process in international law, is explicable in terms of Australia’s utter subservience to the United States.

If this hypothesis is correct, then it ought to be a matter of the greatest concern to all Australians, irrespective of their political allegiance or views on the propriety or otherwise of one individual’s actions.

It means no Australian citizen can do or say anything, anywhere in the world that might violate the firmly entrenched American view that they have universal jurisdiction to pursue and punish anyone who violates their sense of moral and legal entitlement to do as they wish anywhere in the world.

If that is indeed correct, and the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that is the case, then we are all imperiled. That includes the smug and self-righteous journalists whose hubris utterly inoculates them to the very great dangers to us all that the persecution and fundamental breaches of international law that the British treatment of Julian Assange exposes.