Free Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning!

Injustice and oppression will never be defeated unless at every turn they are resolutely resisted, whatever the cost.

Lalkar writers

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Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning free speech billboard on the side of a lorry near the Ecuadorian embassy in London, 5 April 2019.

Lalkar writers

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The renegade president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, has ordered the eviction of Julian Assange from his country’s embassy in London, and a team of police was invited into the embassy to effect the eviction.

Mr Assange was immediately arrested on 11 April on a charge of jumping bail, which is likely to lead to his being given the maximum prison sentence of one year, while plots are developed to facilitate his extradition to the United States, where he would face the rest of his life in prison on trumped up espionage charges.

Chelsea Manning, the whistleblower who is alleged to have assisted WikiLeaks in obtaining information about US war crimes, but who was recently released from jail, is now back in custody in the US for refusing to testify to a secret closed-door kangaroo grand jury.

“Grand juries are secretive affairs. The public is barred from knowing what takes place, and individuals hauled before them aren’t even allowed to have attorneys present. Manning wasn’t told what the grand jury was investigating, and a hearing in which she raised objections to being forced to testify occurred in secret.

“Grand juries are supposed to determine whether probable cause exists to return a criminal indictment. Originally, they were supposed to act as a check on prosecutorial power. Yet today, it’s commonly said that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to ‘indict a ham sandwich’. As a result, grand juries are often used as fishing expeditions against political activists and social movements.

“Manning cited these very concerns when explaining her refusal to testify. In a statement, she declared: ‘In solidarity with many activists facing the odds, I will stand by my principles.’” (Let Chelsea go by Chip Gibbons, The Jacobin, 27 March 2019)

It is safe to assume that in this case, too, the point of convening a grand jury is certainly not the pursuit of justice. This is supported by the fact that Chelsea Manning is, while in prison, effectively being tortured – ie, kept in solitary confinement without access to the prison library.

It is believed this is because the US authorities want her to say – which she never has – that Assange incited her to uncover secret information, while she has always claimed that she acted purely on her own account because of the moral outrage she felt about what was being done by US soldiers in Iraq.

It is thought that the US administration is trying to set up Assange as being guilty of ‘espionage’ and thus liable to an extremely long prison sentence, rather than the mere five years to which he would be liable if merely found guilty of knowingly publishing classified information.

Every possible step must be taken to defend Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, who are being pilloried for doing what any decent human being would do, and indeed in the case of an investigative journalist like Assange it is their vocation to do – ie, to uncover wrongdoing on the part of those who have responsibilities and are failing in their duties.

People like Assange and Chelsea Manning, even if they do not share our political views, are doing an essential job in enlightening the masses of the people about the crimes of imperialism, conducting the exposures that will help us in mobilising the masses for revolution. We must defend them at all costs.

War crimes exposed

Thanks to Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, the public was made aware of some of the worst war crimes committed by our imperialist masters:

According to the Guardian, a newspaper that profited hugely from publishing WikiLeaks material but is now hovering round the idea of joining the rest of the bourgeois media in condemning Assange, while apparently opposing his extradition to the US (trying to have its cake and eat it, in fact):

“He (Assange) believes in publishing things that should not be published – this has long been a difficult divide between the Guardian and him. But he has always shone a light on things that should never have been hidden.” (The Guardian view on Assange: it would be wrong to extradite him, 9 April 2019)

But, says the Guardian, it was wrong of him to avoid extradition to Sweden on the rape charges, although since these are now withdrawn they are irrelevant. It is difficult to believe that the editor of the Guardian has such a short memory that she cannot remember that the whole point of avoiding extradition to Sweden was that it was likely to end up in Sweden extraditing Mr Assange to the US.

John Pilger reminds us of some of the ‘things’ brought to light by WikiLeaks which include: “The truth about the homicidal way America conducts its colonial wars, the lies of the British Foreign Office in its denial of rights to vulnerable people, such as the Chagos Islanders, the expose of Hillary Clinton as a backer and beneficiary of jihadism in the middle east, the detailed description of American ambassadors of how the governments in Syria and Venezuela might be overthrown, and much more. It is all available on the WikiLeaks site.” (The Assange arrest is a warning from history, Counterpunch, 12 April 2019)

Nor is any of what Wikileaks published fake news:

“The content of the leaked videos and documents is not in dispute. They are what they are purported to be. American soldiers did murder civilians and Reuters staffers who posed no immediate threat to them. Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff did screw Bernie Sanders out of the Democratic nomination and she did give contradictory information about her political positions depending on what she thought her audience wanted to hear.” (Free Julian Assange and all political prisoners by Rob Urie, Counterpunch, 11 April 2019)

But it is, of course, deeply embarrassing to US imperialism, which likes to portray itself, and its criminal wars in supposed pursuit of these aims, as the great defender of human rights and the principles of democracy. Therefore it is seeking to inflict cruel and unusual, to say nothing of lengthy, punishment on Julian Assange, if only to terrorise others into keeping quiet about the imperialist crimes to which they are witness.

A secondary consideration is that the leaked materials prove that a great many of the ‘highly respectable’ individuals who run imperialist governments are provably guilty of war crimes, for which they should be convicted and severely punished. Of course, since imperialism controls the war crimes tribunals this will never happen, but it is embarrassing to the world rulers for this to have been so openly demonstrated.

The overwhelming majority of decent-minded people are capable of recognising that there was a moral duty on both Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange to make public the information brought to light by WikiLeaks, and are completely opposed to the manner in which they are both being victimised for their courage and principled behaviour.

Attempts to incriminate Assange

In Julian Assange’s case at least, the bourgeois media are trying to undermine this popular support for the him by, on the one hand, claiming he is a rapist, and, on the other hand, asserting that his behaviour towards the Ecuadorean embassy and government which gave him asylum was outrageously ungrateful.

With regard to the rape charges, there are several points to be made, starting with the insightful remarks of representatives of the organisation Women Against Rape:

“When Julian Assange was first arrested, we were struck by the unusual zeal with which he was being pursued for rape allegations.

“It seems even clearer now, that the allegations against him are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks for having audaciously revealed to the public their secret planning of wars and occupations with their attendant rape, murder and destruction. For decades we have campaigned to get rapists caught, charged and convicted. But the pursuit of Assange is political.” (We are Women Against Rape but we do not want Julian Assange extradited by Katrin Axelsson and Lisa Longstaff, The Guardian, 23 August 2012)

The authors also correctly point out that the British government is not in the habit of showing concern for women who have been raped when it comes to deporting them to countries where it is all too likely to happen again.

Secondly, when the Stockholm public prosecutor was originally asked to open a rape investigation into Assange’s conduct, “She wasted no time in cancelling the arrest warrant, saying, ‘I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape.’ Four days later, she dismissed the rape investigation altogether, saying, ‘There is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever.’” (Getting Julian Assange – the untold story by John Pilger, 20 May 2017)

Extraordinarily, the matter was then passed on to the Gothenburg chief public prosecutor, Marianne Ny, who was obviously ready and willing to pursue the matter. However, it would seem that to proceed further she had to suppress evidence:

“The war on Assange now [after he had left Sweden for London] intensified. Marianne Ny refused to allow his Swedish lawyers, and the Swedish courts, access to hundreds of SMS messages that the police had extracted from the phone of one of the two women involved in the ‘rape’ allegations.

“Ny said she was not legally required to reveal this critical evidence until a formal charge was laid and she had questioned him. Then, why wouldn’t she question him? Catch-22.

“When she announced last week that she was dropping the Assange case, she made no mention of the evidence that would destroy it. One of the SMS messages makes clear that one of the women did not want any charges brought against Assange, ‘but the police were keen on getting a hold on him’. She was ‘shocked’ when they arrested him because she only ‘wanted him to take [an HIV] test’. She ‘did not want to accuse JA of anything’ and ‘it was the police who made up the charges’. In a witness statement, she is quoted as saying that she had been ‘railroaded by police and others around her’.

“Neither woman claimed she had been raped. Indeed, both denied they were raped and one of them has since tweeted, ‘I have not been raped.’ The women were manipulated by police – whatever their lawyers might say now. Certainly, they, too, are the victims of this sinister saga.” (John Pilger, ibid)

Thirdly, when Sweden was seeking Assange’s extradition, no charges whatever had been laid against him – and, indeed, they still have not. What Sweden was asking for was that Assange be extradited to Sweden in order that he might be questioned in connection with an allegation of rape. The obvious question, since Assange was not refusing to be questioned, is why he could not be questioned by Swedish police in Britain. He was happy to go to Sweden to be questioned, too, but only if he received a guarantee that he would not be extradited to the US.

Fourthly, Assange was eventually questioned by Swedish authorities in Britain at the Ecuadorean embassy where he had taken refuge. The prosecutors must have been satisfied that his answers would not justify charges being laid because the case was then abandoned.

The bourgeois media, together with a whole host of British parliamentary toadies, are demanding that Sweden reopen the case, even though the Swedish authorities obviously decided that the case was not, through lack of evidence, worth bringing.

Finally, Assange remains happy to go to Sweden to be tried, confident in his defence that the sexual relations in question were entirely consensual, but subject to an undertaking that he would not be extradited to any third country.

That undertaking, of course, would never be forthcoming, since the whole point of the exercise is to get him extradited to the United States.

Assange’s behaviour at the embassy

With regard to his supposed antisocial behaviour within the embassy, including alleged spying on Ecuadorean affairs of state, there is of course no evidence of this except what is forthcoming from staff, who had been instructed by the Lenin Moreno government to make life as unpleasant for Assange as possible.

The Financial Times has admitted that the new Ecuadorean ambassador appointed by the Moreno government “had been instructed to concentrate on revoking the WikiLeaks founder’s diplomatic immunity”. (Julian Assange faces extradition to US after arrest in London by Helen Warrell, Jane Croft and Kadhim Shubber, 11 April 2019)

To that end, the embassy cut off Assange’s access to the internet and restricted his visitors. His lawyer has complained that he had no privacy whatever, and even lawyer-client confidentiality was not being respected.

Yet in spite of the fact that he had lost virtually all contact with the outside world and was under constant surveillance within the embassy, the Ecuadorean government persisted in insisting he was spying on it, being, in particular responsible for “the exposure of the president’s and his family’s involvement in a massive corruption scandal involving the funnelling of millions of dollars in bribe money from a Chinese construction contractor into an offshore shell company named after the president’s three daughters.

“The publication of the so-called INA papers exposing this corruption was widely reported and prompted the initiation of a congressional investigation in Ecuador before WikiLeaks called attention to the scandal on its Twitter account last month. The Moreno government seized on the tweet to accuse WikiLeaks and Julian Assange personally – despite the intense surveillance and conditions approaching that of solitary confinement in the London embassy – of having hacked the phones and social media accounts of Moreno and his family to secure the evidence of corruption.

“Moreno cast himself as a victim of an invasion of privacy, expressing his ire over the publication of personal photographs, including one of himself eating a lobster dinner in bed at the same time that his government was ordering massive layoffs and austerity measures.” (Ecuadorian police repress mass march demanding Julian Assange’s freedom by Bill Van Auken, wsws, 18 April 2019)

The fact is that there are millions of angry Ecuadorean people to choose from if one were wanting to identify the real culprit of these leaks, which certainly seem to be entirely in the public interest, as the livelihoods and wellbeing of the Ecuadorean masses have been very badly affected under the Moreno government. In particular as a result of the latter’s decision to bow to the dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and impose an austerity regime in return for loans.

“As part of a deal signed with the IMF for $4.5bn in credits, the Moreno government is implementing a series of ‘structural adjustment’ measures that have included the gutting of labour laws, the lay-offs of over 10,000 public employees, attacks on pensions and sharp cuts to government services.” (wsws, op cit)

Moreno’s capitulation to the IMF

It does seem that WikiLeaks (but not necessarily at Assange’s bidding, or even with his knowledge) did publish information about the loan deal that Moreno was negotiating with the IMF, as well they might since they directly affected Julian Assange:

“In addition to the $4.2bn IMF loan, Ecuador’s compliance with the US demand that Assange’s asylum status be revoked triggered the issuance of another $6bn from other US-dominated global aid funds such as the World Bank. That’s a total of $10.2bn in cash to a country in desperate need of economic CPR.

“The United States not only controls the largest share of the IMF, but pays for the bank’s overhead, a bill that amounts to over $164bn annually …

“The information reported by WikiLeaks claimed that Ecuador’s ‘handing over Assange and dropping environmental claims against Chevron’ were two of the prerequisites put in place by the Trump administration.” (Did US lean on Ecuador to hand over Assange in exchange for IMF loan? By Joe Wolverton, New American, 18 April 2019)

Lenin Moreno allows his country to be bullied by the US in a totally barefaced way (and we can be sure that Ecuador is only a small example of its imperialist bullying around the world):

“For instance, last July, the US threatened Ecuador with ‘punishing trade measures’ if it introduced a measure at the UN that supported breastfeeding over infant formula – a stunning move that showed the international community the US’s willingness to use ‘economic weapons’, even against allies. Ecuador, of course, immediately acquiesced under the threat of US retribution,” (New American, ibid)

The future plans for the people of Ecuador are dire: in the three months from December 2018 to February 2019 alone, 11,820 people were fired from the public sector, and thousands more redundancies are in the pipeline. Fuel subsidies have been drastically cut, and a VAT hike is proposed, along with a cut in public-sector wages.

It is with some trepidation that the imperialist world waits to see how the Ecuadorean masses will react:

“Austerity is never easy. Further public-sector lay-offs, rises in regulated fuel prices and a planned reform to make labour contracts a bit more flexible may bring street protests.” (Lenin Moreno’s new economic policy, The Economist, 11 April 2019)

And one can be sure that these street protests will not be easy to suppress as workers are stripped systematically of the benefits they gained while Rafael Correa was president.

Fight or flight?

There is no doubt that Ecuador is suffering serious economic difficulties as a result of the drastic fall in the price of oil.

Like Venezuela, it spent lavishly at the time when nobody thought that the oil price would ever fall in any significant way. This included borrowing money for major infrastructure projects when there was no reason at all, even by the standards of the most prudent management, to suppose that they would not easily be repayable.

However, the price of oil has fallen drastically, leaving both countries with the problem of paying the debts incurred in the days of plenty and of maintaining the higher living standards that their progressive governments facilitated for the masses of the people.

In the face of US imperialist bullying and its attempts to seize control of the country’s oil production, the Venezuelan government has stood firm, despite crippling sanctions. The Venezuelan masses under the Maduro leadership are prepared to stand up and fight, knowing that surrender would condemn the country to being bled dry in the interests of imperialist profitability.

Lenin Moreno, on the other hand, has hoisted the white flag on behalf of the people of Ecuador. It remains to be seen whether they are as grateful as Moreno thinks they should be at having been saved the troubles that Venezuela is currently experiencing.

It is quite likely, however, that the masses of Ecuador, who have already taken to the streets in large numbers to battle with the security forces over Julian Assange’s expulsion from the London embassy, will take the view popularised by Dolores Ibarruri (la Pasionaria) in the Spanish Civil War: “Más vale morir de pie que vivir de rodillas – it’s better to die on one’s feet than to live on one’s knees!

The British proletariat too has a duty to fight with all its might in defence of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning. The blood-sucking ruling classes of the world cannot be allowed to terrorise the champions of truth and human decency or those who struggle to advance the anti-imperialist cause of the proletariat and oppressed peoples.

Injustice and oppression will never be defeated unless at every turn they are resolutely resisted, whatever the cost.

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