The unexpected decision by Judge Vanessa Baraitser to deny a US demand to extradite Julian Assange, foiling efforts to send him to a US super-max jail for the rest of his life, is a welcome legal victory, but one swamped by larger lessons that should disturb us deeply.
Those who campaigned so vigorously to keep Assange’s case in the spotlight, even as the US and UK corporate media worked so strenuously to keep it in darkness, are the heroes of the day. They made the price too steep for Baraitser or the British establishment to agree to lock Assange away indefinitely in the US for exposing its war crimes and its crimes against humanity in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But we must not downplay the price being demanded of us for this victory.
A moment of celebration
We have contributed collectively in our various small ways to win back for Assange some degree of freedom, and hopefully a reprieve from what could be a death sentence as his health continues to deteriorate in an overcrowded Belmarsh high-security prison in London that has become a breeding ground for Covid-19.
For this we should allow ourselves a moment of celebration. But Assange is not out of the woods yet. The US has said it will appeal the decision. And it is not yet clear whether Assange will remain jailed in the UK – possibly in Belmarsh – while many months of further legal argument about his future take place.
The US and British establishments do not care where Assange is imprisoned – be it Sweden, the UK or the US. What has been most important to them is that he continues to be locked out of sight in a cell somewhere, where his physical and mental fortitude can be destroyed and where he is effectively silenced, encouraging others to draw the lesson that there is too high a price to pay for dissent.
The personal battle for Assange won’t be over till he is properly free. And even then he will be lucky if the last decade of various forms of incarceration and torture he has been subjected to do not leave him permanently traumatised,