The case for the extradition of Julian Assange raises questions on the freedom of the press, about the extraterritorial creep of US regulation and Europe’s readiness -or lack of – to guard media freedom, writes Dick Roche.
Dick Roche is a former Irish Minister for European Affairs and former Minister for the Environment. He additionally served as Chairman of the Irish Commission of Justice and Peace.
Since its basis, Wikileaks has been a thorn in the facet of highly effective US businesses.
It precipitated crimson faces in Washington by publishing a guide on the operation of the Guantanamo detention centre in 2007.
In April 2010, Wikileaks gained world recognition by releasing surprising video footage of an assault by US helicopters in Baghdad that killed civilians, together with two Reuters employees members.
Later in 2010, Wikileaks revealed an intensive cache of materials regarding US conduct in Afghanistan. Iraq, materials on Guantánamo, and US diplomatic cables from US Army intelligence Chelsea Manning.
The doc launch infuriated US businesses. A grand jury held closed hearings as as to whether Assange and Wikileaks ought to face prices below the Espionage Act and the Obama administration held its hand. It took the view that if Assange had been charged, a precedent could be set impacting conventional media that made revelations primarily based on leaks bringing political blowback.
During the 2016 US Presidential race, Wikileaks made world headlines by releasing emails despatched by Hilary Clinton on a personal electronic mail server whereas Secretary of State and emails from the Chair of Clinton’s election marketing campaign, John Podesta. The motion broken the Clinton marketing campaign. It additionally broken Wikileaks. Democrats accused Assange of aiding Russian efforts to elect Donald Trump.
In Spring 2017, as the Trump administration was settling in, Wikileaks was again in the information revealing that the CIA had spied on political events contesting the 2012 French Presidential and dropping a bombshell which it code-named “Vault 7”.
Vault 7 revealed that the CIA had developed malware focusing on Android, iOS, and Windows working techniques permitting it to entry cellphones, laptops, and even sensible TVs. An inner investigation referred to as the launch “the largest information leak in CIA historical past.”
The CIA was deeply stung by the leak. Mike Pompeo, the newly appointed CIA Director, referred to as Wikileaks “a hostile intelligence service” and argued that Assange “as a foreigner” had no First Amendment rights, the rights that shield journalism.
A sequence of authorized actions adopted. In December 2017, a federal decide issued a prison criticism in opposition to Assange, making him the first particular person charged below the 1917 Espionage Act for publishing a authorities doc. A sequence of indictments adopted in March 2018, May 2019, and June 2020. Yahoo News reported that the CIA examined the risk of kidnapping and even assassinating Assange.
While this was occurring in the US, Assange was dealing with main authorized issues in the UK. In June 2012, whereas dealing with extradition to Sweden on prices of molestation and rape – which he denied – Assange jumped bail and took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy.
Assange, who claimed that if extradited to Sweden, he could be handed over to the US, remained in the embassy till April 2019 when, following political modifications in Ecuador, British police had been allowed to enter the embassy and arrest him.
Within days of the arrest, Swedish prosecutors dropped the investigation into the rape allegation. Sweden’s statute of limitations had already run out on the molestation prices.
Assange was charged with leaping bail in 2012 and given a 50-week jail sentence.
The US instantly launched an 18-count indictment in opposition to Assange and sought his extradition from the UK to the US. The prices in the indictment carried a possible 175-year jail sentence.
In January, a UK decide blocked the extradition request citing issues over Assange’s psychological well being and the threat of suicide. The US Department of Justice indicated that whereas “disillusioned by the Court’s final determination, we’re gratified that the US prevailed on each level of regulation raised”.
Just two weeks later, Joe Biden was inaugurated as President. On 9 February, it was introduced that the Biden administration would attraction the January extradition determination.
The attraction was heard in the UK High Court on 27 and 28 October. In court docket, the US supplied a “package deal of assurances” as to how Assange could be handled if extradited, together with a suggestion permitting him to serve any custodial sentence in Australia. That was the solely US concession.
The US argued that the ‘political exception’ bar on extradition didn’t apply in Assange’s case, that publishing the paperwork obtained from Chelsea Manning was not a ‘political’ act and that Assange’s actions weren’t protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and contested his freedom of expression safety below the European Convention on Human Rights.
The case set out by the US has chilling implications for press freedoms and for many who have the braveness to disclose proof of state wrongdoing.
It closes down protections which were the key to defending the potential of journalists and the media to share data that these in energy generally relatively suppress.
In 2013 the Obama administration determined to not take motion in opposition to Assange on the grounds that what Assange and WikiLeaks did was just like journalistic actions protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. The Trump and now the Biden administrations reverse that place.
By circumscribing protections which have lengthy been accepted as the norm the US is undermining an essential bedrock of democracy.
There is a second facet of the Assange case, that has obtained much less consideration than it deserves – the problem of the extraterritorial attain of US regulation.
In 2019 the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) flagged issues about the extraterritorial attain of US regulation, noting that “European policymakers have just lately been uncovered as kind of powerless” to take care of US extraterritorial authorized creep. A January 2021 report produced by CEPS for the European Parliament mirrored comparable issues.
The case of Frédéric Pierucci, a French citizen and former Alstom government, offers a stark instance of the human affect of the extraterritorial attain downside.
Pierucci was arrested in New York in 2013. He languished in US prisons for 2 years throughout FBI investigations of corrupt behaviour by Alstom, his employer in Indonesia. The corrupt actions had little to do with any direct motion by Pierucci. He was successfully an financial hostage. The case ended with Alstom being compelled to pay the largest monetary penalty ever imposed by the US and shedding management over key areas of its enterprise to its US competitor General Electric.
When Wikileaks launched the paperwork from Chelsea Manning, Assange, an Australian nationwide, was working in Europe. The launch of the materials was not challenged in Europe. No European prosecution company charged Wikileaks or Assange with breaking any regulation in Europe. The US motion in opposition to Assange is a sinister extension of US extraterritorial attain.
The lack of any vital push again inside Europe in opposition to Assange’s prosecution is a disturbing instance of the powerlessness famous by SWP in its 2019 report.
The European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union decide to defending media freedom. The perturbing silence on the Assange case raises questions as to how significantly that dedication is taken.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]