Assange’s ‘crime’

Editorial Board
Friday, Feb 23, 2024

To what extent can a government get away with committing war crimes? A government of a rich nation can do whatever it pleases with little to no pushback. This is an uncomfortable truth that we keep witnessing every few years. The Julian Assange case is one example of this harsh reality. The US government is no stranger to criticism, but it does not like when its war policies are questioned. By its very definition, a democracy has to represent the will of the people who keep a vigilant eye on the workings of their representatives, protesting against their policies if they do not align with the ideologies of the people. So, when democracies do things they know would be met with severe backlash, they do so discreetly, away from the watchful eyes of their constituents. Assange, an Australian computer expert, attacked America’s invincibility and published hundreds of classified documents in 2010. He hacked into a Pentagon computer and accessed files that contained information about the US government’s military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. One such file contains a short clip of an attack by an Apache helicopter in Baghdad, which resulted in the deaths of 11 people, including two journalists.

Assange might be in the wrong on legal and technical terms, but his work exposed the crimes of a government that otherwise likes to call itself a champion of human rights. The US wants the UK to extradite Assange who has filed an appeal against the decision. A UK court recently heard his appeal case, although Assange couldn’t attend it due to his deteriorating health condition, and has reserved the verdict; it is not known when it will be announced. But Assange’s case is a reminder for many about the loopholes of our lopsided global system. US officials who should ideally be facing criminal charges are receiving medals of bravery, going on record to say that the deaths of 500,000 children in Iraq, for example, were “worth it”, and are more interested in punishing the whistle-blower.

That the US government is guilty of war crimes is no surprise. If someone objects to it, the photos of Abu Ghraib prison are readily available. No one should ideally be going back in the past to search for US war crimes. The current genocide, which is being live streamed on our TVs and mobile phones, is enough to provide evidence of rich nations’ tendency to violate all rules and laws if they or their allies want to reach their war goals. Democracies cannot work this way. Assange’s extradition to the US is not only about punishing someone on spying charges, but is a dangerous precedent that will force more people to remain complicit when the government they work for keeps violating laws. The Apache video clip from Iraq and the most recent clips from Falasteen show how people in the Middle East are seen as sub-humans, deprived of any rights to protection during wars. When war victims are white, they deserve entry into Western countries. But when they are brown, they are deserving of collective punishment – their press jackets, medical coats and other marks of identity remain invisible to the eyes of trigger-happy soldiers who take indescribable pleasure in their deaths. This power imbalance must be shaken, and rich nations cannot have their way all the time.