Defend democratic rights, free Assange

Extradition hearings begin in London today for WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange. While Sweden nominally seeks Assange’s extradition on allegations of sexual misconduct, the circumstances surrounding the charges make it clear they are politically motivated.

Assange will argue if extradited to Sweden, “there is a real risk that… the U.S. will seek his extradition and/or illegal rendition to the USA.” If brought to the United States, it is likely that he could face the death penalty or be subject to ill-treatment and torture prohibited under Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The concerns of Assange are well-founded given the current treatment of Army Pvt. Bradley Manning. Accused of having leaked classified information to WikiLeaks, the 23-year-old American citizen has been held for the past seven months in solitary confinement at Quantico Marine Corps base just outside Washington, D.C.
The conditions of Manning’s internment are appalling. According to Amnesty International, he “has been held for 23 hours a day in a sparsely furnished solitary cell and deprived of a pillow, sheets, and personal possessions since July 2010.” During the day, Manning is prevented from sleeping or exercising in his cell. He is allowed only one article of reading material at a time and is denied his prescription glasses when not actually reading.

Manning’s classification as a “maximum custody” detainee means “he is shackled at the hands and legs during all visits,” despite having no history of violence or disciplinary offenses. Moreover, a Prevention of Injury assignment issued over the objection of his official military psychiatrist has guards checking on him every five minutes, requiring Manning to verbally respond that he is “OK.” Attempts by Manning’s attorneys to challenge these designations have been ignored.

While Manning has been convicted of no offense, AI notes that “military authorities appear to be using all available means to punish him while in detention.” Reports of these conditions prompted the U.N. to open an investigation in December into whether his treatment constituted torture.

The abuse of Bradley Manning and the attempts to prosecute Julian Assange as a “terrorist” are being fueled by the devastating exposures of U.S. imperialism made by WikiLeaks. Although only around 1 percent of the quarter-of-a-million diplomatic cables have been released so far, their revolutionary impact is undeniable in light of the events in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

As part of this escalating campaign against leaks, the U.S. Justice Department also arrested and indicted former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling on Jan. 6 for allegedly leaking classified information to New York Times’ journalist James Risen. It is claimed Sterling is the unidentified source who provided details about the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program and torture practices which are exposed in Risen’s 2006 book, State of War. Like Manning, Sterling has been jailed before trial.

These developments point to the further erosion of democratic rights in the U.S. which must necessarily flow from a government engaged in conspiracies against the interests of its citizens and the population of the world. In Orwellian fashion, the “criminal” has become he who reveals the crimes of U.S. imperialism, not the perpetrators of the crimes exposed.

This attack on fundamental democratic rights is being carried out through the police-state scaffolding erected after Sept. 11 by the Bush administration but continued and expanded under President Obama. Both the Democrats and Republicans are implicated in the country’s criminal foreign policy and torture practices preventing any section of the political establishment from taking a principled political stand against it.

Any defense of democratic rights will have come from outside these quarters among workers and young people. Free Julian Assange and Bradley Manning! Hands off WikiLeaks!

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