Belmarsh Tribunal: Biden 'hypocrite' for extradition of Assange
US President Joe Biden is accused of double standards and hypocrisy for advocating for press freedom while seeking to extradite Julian Assange.
US President Joe Biden has been accused of hypocrisy for calling for the release of detained journalists around the world while the US president continues to seek the extradition of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from Britain to face American espionage charges.
The Belmarsh Tribunal, an ad hoc gathering of legal experts and supporters named after the London prison where Assange is being held, convened in Washington DC on Friday to press the Biden administration to drop the charges.
The hearing was held in the same room where Assange exposed the "collateral murder" video of US aircrew shooting down Iraqi civilians in 2010, the first of hundreds of thousands of leaked secret military documents and diplomatic cables published in major newspapers worldwide.
The revelations about America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including alleged war crimes, as well as US diplomats' candid assessments of their host governments, caused severe embarrassment in Washington.
The charges against Assange were described as an "ongoing attack on press freedom" by the tribunal because the Wikileaks founder was not a spy but a journalist and publisher protected by free speech laws.
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The tribunal's co-chairperson Srecko Horvat - a founder of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 whose father was a political prisoner in the former Yugoslavia - quoted Biden from the 2020 presidential campaign calling for the release of imprisoned journalists across the world, by quoting late president Thomas Jefferson's dictum that "our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost".
“President Biden is normally advocating freedom of the press, but at the same time continuing the persecution of Julian Assange,” Horvat said.
Horvat warned that continuing the prosecution could serve as a bad example to other governments.
He considered it an attack on press freedom because the United States is advancing what he believes is the extraordinary claim that it can impose its criminal secrecy laws on a foreign publisher who was publishing outside the United States.
“Every country has secrecy laws. Some countries have very draconian secrecy laws. If those countries tried to extradite New York Times reporters and publishers to those countries for publishing their secrets we would cry foul and rightly so. Does this administration want to be the first to establish the global precedent that countries can demand the extradition of foreign reporters and publishers for violating their own laws?”
Assange faces charges
Assange is facing 18 charges in connection with the publication of classified documents by Wikileaks, which was largely the result of a leak by former US army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, but his sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in 2017. Manning testified that he sent the documents to Wikileaks on his own initiative, not at the urging of Assange.
The tribunal heard that the accuracy of Wikileaks' information, including evidence of war crimes and human rights violations, was not in question.
Read next: Corbyn urges US lawmakers to oppose Espionage Act, support Assange
Assange is a divisive figure who has clashed with numerous news organizations, including the Guardian and the New York Times. When Ecuador expelled Assange from its embassy in 2019, the US Justice Department filed charges against him.
After his arrest, Assange fought a lengthy legal battle in British courts against extradition to the US, but he lost. Priti Patel, the then-home secretary, approved the extradition request last year. Assange has filed an appeal, claiming that he is being prosecuted and punished for his political views.
Assange’s father, John Shipton, condemned his son’s “ceaseless malicious abuse”, including the conditions in which he is held in Britain. He said the UK’s handling of the case was “an embarrassment” that damaged the country’s claim to stand for free speech and the rule of law.
Former CIA employee Jeffrey Sterling, who was imprisoned under the Espionage Act for revealing defense secrets to journalist James Risen, told the Belmarsh Tribunal that Assange has little chance of a fair trial in the United States.
He said: “It is virtually impossible to defend against the Espionage Act. Truth is no defense. In fact, any defense related to the truth will be prohibited. In addition, he won’t have access to any of the so-called evidence used against him."
The Belmarsh Tribunal D.C.— People For Assange (@people4assange) January 20, 2023
"Our message for today is simple, Free Julian Assange…The Espionage Act must be taken off the books. It has no place in a free and democratic society. It should come as no surprise that it’s now being used to punish journalism."- Noam Chomsky pic.twitter.com/XeIwyKg2a8
The Espionage Act was never used to combat espionage, he said, adding that it is being used against whistleblowers and Julian Assange in order to keep the public unaware of [the government's] wrongdoings and illegalities in order to maintain its hold on power, all in the name of national security.
The tribunal also heard from former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn of the United Kingdom, who said that continuing to prosecute Assange would make all journalists afraid to reveal secrets.
“If Julian Assange ends up in a maximum security prison in the United States for the rest of his life, every other journalist around the world will think, ‘Should I really report this information I’ve been given? Should I really speak out about this denial of human rights or miscarriage of justice in any country?’” he said.