It’s like reading something out of Solzhenitsyn: A courtroom that is nothing more than a stage for a grotesque parody of justice, some sort of theater meant to satisfy God only knows what audience; an intelligent, articulate man reduced to a mere shadow of himself by months of torture and possiblypharmacological abuse; a magistrate who is no more than a hand puppet for a powerful state, possessed neither of human feeling nor any appreciation for the the most rudimentary principles of justice.
Historian and former British ambassador Craig Murray had this to say on the extradition hearing for Julian Assange, held in London last week:
“To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable. Yet the agents of the state, particularly the callous magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, were not just prepared but eager to be a part of this bloodsport. She actually told him that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later. The question of why a man who, by the very charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, had been reduced by the state to somebody incapable of following court proceedings, gave her not a millisecond of concern.”
A MOCKERY OF JUSTICE
The degree to which this proceeding constituted a complete mockery of the justice system is difficult to believe:
First, Assange’s defense argued that the US government’s charges against him under the Espionage Act were political in nature and therefore excluded from the UK’s extradition treaty with that country. This is not a trivial matter. The treaty in question explicitly states that extradition requests will not be given for “political offenses.” “Pure” political offenses include espionage, and Assange has been charged under the US Espionage Act of 1917.
Assange’s legal defense requested a preliminary hearing to determine whether, given these facts, he could even be extradited under the treaty. According to Murray, “Baraitser dismissed the defence’s request for a separate prior hearing to consider whether the extradition treaty applied at all, .” (Emphasis mine.)
Second, Assange’s defense team requested a postponement of the full extradition hearing set for February 24th, 2020, on two separate grounds:
One, that he had been kept in isolation at Belmarsh Prison, with no access to any of the materials necessary to prepare his defense; And two, that evidence in a Spanish court case had shown that the CIA had been spying on Assange while he was living in the Ecuadorian embassy, including spying on privileged conversations he had with his lawyers. This fact alone, if verified, could be enough to invalidate any US charges against him, and his defense argued that the full hearing be extended so that information from the Spanish case (which has not yet concluded) could be included. Baraitser again denied the request, and then called a ten-minute recess to discuss altering dates for the submission of evidence.
“What happened next was instructive,” writes Murray. “There were five representatives of the US government present… seated at desks behind the lawyers in court. The prosecution lawyers immediately went into a huddle with the US representatives, then went outside the courtroom with them, to decide how to respond on the dates.”
After the recess, Murray observed as a junior counsel for the prosecution “scurried to the back of the court to consult the Americans again”, and that the prosecuting attorney, James Lewis, QC, “actually told the judge he was ‘taking instructions from those behind'”, referring to the US government representatives.
“At this stage,” he writes, “it was unclear why we were sitting through this farce. The US government was dictating its instructions to Lewis, who was relaying those instructions to Baraitser, who was ruling them as her legal decision. The charade might as well have been cut and the US government simply sat on the bench to control the whole process. Nobody could sit there and believe they were in any part of a genuine legal process or that Baraitser was giving a moment’s consideration to the arguments of the defence. Her facial expressions on the few occasions she looked at the defence ranged from contempt through boredom to sarcasm. When she looked at Lewis she was attentive, open and warm.”
In their treatment of Assange, and in their theatrical disregard for the law, both the British and American governments have ripped off their masks of civility and revealed their true nature: That of violent, criminal gangs that are restrained by no law and no morality. Any pretense that these entities act as “servants of the people” has been tossed aside. Everyone can now see them for what they are.
For some of us, this comes as no surprise. We have long been aware of the state’s violent and unaccountable nature. For us, this is simply one grotesque confirmation of what we have been trying to tell others for years. But now, even for those who are not opposed to the very institution of the state, those who believe in the legitimacy of “representative government”, it is becoming very difficult to pretend that what we see unfolding before us is in any way lawful or legitimate.
So now what? What do you do when you recognize that the government that rules over you is illegitimate by your own standards? That it casually and openly breaks its own laws when it suits it to do so, and that it cannot be held accountable for its genuinely criminal acts?
Julian Assange has famously said that “capable, generous men do not create victims. They nurture victims.” I say that capable, generous men do not stand by while aggressive, powerful states trample the rights of those who live under them, wage war against those who live under less powerful states, and systematically destroy those who are courageous enough to expose their crimes to the world.
There is a palpable frustration among those who care about Assange, who care about freedom of speech and who care about holding governments accountable, with what appears to be the futility of demonstrating and signing petitions on his behalf. As with so many other issues, it is becoming painfully clear to a great many people that marching in the streets, holding up signs, and appealing to the better natures of politicians does absolutely nothing to prevent the state from trampling our rights.
It is time for something else. Not violent revolution, because that can only bring more of what we are suffering from now: A political system founded in coercive violence. What is needed now are tangible ways of holding state actors accountable for their actions, including peaceful, civil disobedience that results in their not being able to perform those actions. What is needed now is for capable, generous men (and women) to start getting creative.
That’s not going to be easy. It is clear that the state–it doesn’t even matter which one–is using its tormenting of Julian Assange to send a message to the rest of us:
“Don’t you dare challenge our complete authority to do whatever we want, wherever we want, and to whomever we want. Do not dream of holding us accountable in any real way for our crimes in the way that we hold all of you accountable for the most minor of transgressions. Just keep on voting and arguing about which of us is best suited to lead the War Machine. But don’t you dare question the War Machine itself.
“…or this is what we will do to you.”
What is most chilling about this whole episode is that the perpetrators of this farce do not even seem to care that the world now sees them for what they are. Those running the extradition hearing made no attempt to conceal that they were performing nothing more than a charade–a charade directed by a foreign government no less. The magistrate made no attempt to conceal her contempt for Assange, and for the rule of law itself, smirking throughout the proceedings. They do not care that we see their true nature, and they do not seem to be the least bit afraid of making Assange into a martyr.
But they should be. Because capable, generous men do not respond well to threats. Capable, generous men do everything they can to prevent criminals from ruling over society. They take over courtrooms that make a mockery of justice, and peaceably prevent them from operating; they surround the vehicles carrying innocent men to show trials and prevent them from moving; they find ways to hold accountable the individuals who commit crimes on behalf of the state; they tear down the walls of prisons once they realize they do not serve justice. And capable, generous men do not allow vicious, rogue states to get away with locking away and torturing men like Julian Assange. What the world needs now is not “leaders” – certainly not political ones. What the world needs now, more than anything, is capable, generous men.
Bretigne Shaffer [send her mail] was a journalist in Asia for many years. She is the author of Urban Yogini (A Superhero Who Can’t Use Violence) and Why Mommy Loves the State. She blogs at www.bretigne.com.