But the British court judgment, which is likely to be appealed, also delivers a body blow to freedom of speech.
My junior year high school English teacher liked to tell a story about Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson to illustrate the differences between America’s two great transcendentalist writers. Thoreau was jailed in 1846 for withholding taxes that paid for the invasion of Mexico and protected slave owners. Emerson came to speak to Thoreau through the bars of his cell. My teacher, with theatrical flair and stentorian voice, recounted the conversation:
Emerson: What are you doing in there, Henry David?
Thoreau: The question is, what are you doing out there, Ralph Waldo?
We might ask ourselves what we are doing out here while Julian Assange remains “in there” at Belmarsh Maximum Security Prison in London. The extradition hearing’s magistrate, Vanessa Baraitser, declared on Monday that Britain could not send Assange to the United States for reasons of health. In theory, Assange was a free man. Yet, at the conclusion of the court session, guards returned him to prison. He will languish there until the government’s appeal against her verdict is adjudicated in a higher court. That is likely to consume another year of Assange’s life to add to the 10 he has endured in prisons, house arrest, and in the Embassy of Ecuador.
The magistrate’s judgment, while giving Assange hope that he will not spend the rest of his life in the brutal recesses of the American penal system, dismissed his defense that revelations of war crimes were in the public interest and press freedom statutes in Britain and the United States barred his prosecution. It was an indictment of American maximum security prisons, where the magistrate recognized Assange was likely to kill himself, but it was a body blow to free speech. Nils Muižnieks, Europe director at Amnesty International, explained, “The fact that the ruling is correct and saves Assange from extradition does not absolve the UK from having engaged in this politically-motivated process at the behest of the USA and putting media freedom and freedom of expression on trial. It has set a terrible precedent for which the US is responsible and the UK government is complicit.”
Read the full article on The Nation
Reading recommendation: Julian Assange In His Own Words.
Main image: Aerial view of HM Prisons Isis, Belmarsh and Thameside in Thamesmead West. Photograph by Kleon3.