Eamonn MCann - The case of Julian Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures after his statement to the media and supporters on a balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012. Julian Assange entered the embassy in June in an attempt to gain political asylum to prevent him from being extradited to Sweden, where he faces allegations of sex crimes, which he denies. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures after his statement to the media and supporters on a balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012. Julian Assange entered the embassy in June in an attempt to gain political asylum to prevent him from being extradited to Sweden, where he faces allegations of sex crimes, which he denies. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

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Has there ever been an example of missing the point to equal coverage of the plight of Julian Assange?

The WikiLeaks founder is holed up in the London embassy of Ecuador, on the run from extradition proceeding brought by Sweden in relation to allegations of sexual misconduct against two women. Assange insists that while his behaviour towards the women might have been offensive and improper it didn’t amount to a crime.

He says that his refusal to return to Sweden is based on fear not of these charges but of the likelihood of being deported to the US to face accusations which could potentially land him in prison for the rest of his life.

This suggestion has been derided by commentators as a ploy for avoiding the Swedish allegations.

But there is every reason to believe that Assange might never see freedom again if the US authorities get their hands on him.

Just a few days after WikiLeaks in November 2010 published a tranche of documents exposing disgraceful behaviour, some of it criminal, by governments, including the US Government, Senators Diane Feinstein and Kit Bond - respectively the chair and most senior member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence - sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder demanding prosecution of Mr. Assange under the Espionage Act.

The maximum punishment for breach of the Espionage Act is death.

Former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee declared that “anything less than execution [of Assange] is too kind a penalty”.

Influential media commentator Bill Kristol asked on air: “Why can’t we use our various assets to harass, snatch or neutralize Julian Assange?”

The leader of the pack baying for Assange’s blood is New York Congressman and chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Peter King, He, too, wrote to Holder urging prosecution of Assange for espionage and demanding that he be formally declared ”a terrorist”, leaving him open to assassination under current US rules of engagement in the “War on Terror”.

King has also “call(ed) on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare Wikileaks a foreign terrorist organization. By doing that, we will be able to seize their funds and go after anyone who provides them help or contributions or assistance whatsoever.”

King has repeatedly returned to the subject, demanding that Assange be brought to the US for trial by any means necessary.

The New York Congressman is in equal measure loathed and feared by civil rights organisations. This hasn’t deterred a number of Irish republican leaders from endorsing and describing him as “a great friend of Irish freedom.”

Ich bin ein Paddy, and all that.

But the main point that’s being missed is that Assange’s record in vindicating the public’s right to know is unequalled in recent journalism. If it had not been for Assange and WikiLeaks we might never have found out that the feudal ruler of Saudi Arabia, King Fadh, had pleaded with the US and Israel to launch a nuclear attack on Iran; that Russian forces had been given free hand to use lethal force against Chechen civilians; that Irish Labour leader Eamonn Gilmore, while publicly denouncing suggestions of a re-run of the Lisbon Treaty referendum, was simultaneously assuring the US ambassador that he didn’t mean a word of this and would come out in support of a second poll at the earliest plausible opportunity.

Literally hundreds of similar stories of State violence and double-dealing have been made public by Assange and WikiLeaks. Which of these snap-shots of hidden truth do his detractors say would have been better kept secret?

One revelation, on its own, seems to me to provide full justification for Assange’s journalistic actions - video footage from 2007 showing US military shooting from an Apache helicopter to kill civilians on a Baghdad street below. The dead included Reuters’ photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver, Saeed Chmagh.

The footage shows the helicopter coming in for a second attack, on a van that had stopped to pick up the dead and wounded from the first assault.

The van driver is killed and two children wounded. One of the soldiers shouts: “Ha! Ha! I hit ‘em. Look at those dead bastards.”

To view the 17 minutes of footage of the helicopter attack, google WikiLeaks Apache Baghdad.

To put your name to a petition calling for Assange’s release, go to FreeAssange.org.