In 2010 Chelsea Manning (then known as Bradley Manning) was working as a US military intelligence analyst when she came across a video of an American helicopter crew calmly massacring Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. So shocked was she that she sent the video to Wikileaks, which published it, thereby exposing the nature of the US military occupation of Iraq. (You can watch the video at https://collateralmurder.wikileaks.org. It is not easy to watch, but watch it anyway.)
Since then she and Julian Assange have been the target of the fury of the US authorities, with the aid of Britain and Sweden and, since the treason of Lenín Moreno, also of Ecuador.
Chelsea Manning was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison but was released by Barack Obama after seven years. (117,000 people signed a petition for her release.) She is now jailed for refusing to answer questions to a grand jury, that is, refusing to testify against Assange.
Julian Assange is now held in a high-security prison in England; having completed a sentence for skipping bail, he is now held without charge or trial awaiting extradition to the United States.
The UN special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, has expressed alarm at the continued deterioration of Julian Assange’s health since his arrest and detention earlier this year, saying that his life is now at risk.
The blatant and sustained arbitrariness shown by both the judiciary and the Government in this case suggests an alarming departure from the UK’s commitment to human rights and the rule of law. This is setting a worrying example, which is further reinforced by the Government’s recent refusal to conduct the long-awaited judicial inquiry into British involvement in the CIA torture and rendition programme.
In my view, this case has never been about Mr. Assange’s guilt or innocence, but about making him pay the price for exposing serious governmental misconduct, including alleged war crimes and corruption. Unless the UK urgently changes course and alleviates his inhumane situation, Mr. Assange’s continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life.
Once again the British and American authorities have shown their vindictiveness and their contempt for their own laws, especially their frequently declared democratic principles of freedom of speech and freedom of publication. This is a threat to press freedom in general.
If you are looking for a campaign of protest from the corporate press you will not find it; instead it is conducting a campaign of vilification against Julian Assange. The rest of us should realise that it is our democratic rights that are under attack, and it is Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning who are defending them.
This article first appeared in the Socialist Voice, Dublin.