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ANY innocent still possessed of the illusion that the British legal system is the impartial instrument of justice should get down to Belmarsh prison on the windswept Thames estuary first thing in the morning and stand in line for one of the very few public seats in this prison-house courtroom.
If lucky enough to gain admission, they will see screened behind security glass and guarded by prison officers the weakened figure of Julian Assange, currently on trial for the rest of his life and maybe for his life itself.
The Australian journalist is not accused of any crime committed in this country or against its citizens.
The much-publicised charges against him in Sweden were abandoned the moment he was prised away from the sanctuary of the Ecuadorian embassy.
He has served his time for jumping bail in this country and is presently held on remand under the punitive security conditions reserved for dangerous criminals and terrorists.
Anyone minded to condemn him for this bail-jumping might consider how they would act if the alternative was a rendition flight to a United States federal prison and the prospect of a life sentence for the crime of exposing the machinations of the United States imperial war machine.
A reminder of why Assange is in prison: as editor-in-chief of the media organisation Wikileaks he was associated with the dissemination of a very large number of documents supplied by the US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.
These mostly related to the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan and to the exercise of US global power, including the illegal rendition of people to the extra-territorial detention centre at Guantanamo.
The most striking episode exposed by this material was a video and audio capture showing the US military in Iraq attacking civilians on the ground and killing 18 of them, including two journalists.
It is rare that such graphic material emerges and its exposure enraged the centres of imperial power in the US. Perhaps more important were the so called Cablegate files which Assange published in co-operation with major media organisations and which revealed sharp contradictions between the US and its allied rivals and the sinews of the global network of corruption that bind the global elites together.
We don’t have to like Assange very much, approve of his actions or share his opinions to understand that what is happening to him is an injustice and that the indignities and oppression dealt him arises from his public and acknowledged role as an investigative journalist whose work has reached deep into the nervous system of the imperial war machine.
The mantelpiece in the home of Assange’s mother must groan under the weight of the media awards his work has attracted.
No matter, the state machine of our North American allies has called in the debt that our own supine government owes its senior partner in imperial crime.
The British legal system is mobilised in its squalid majesty to render Assange the spy to the custody of a justice system that rivals ours in the protections it affords ruling-class power and executive privilege.
Spying is a morally ambiguous activity that can only acquire moral stature by the cause it serves. But Assange is not a spy. The work of a spy has value only if it remains secret.
Assange is a journalist who makes his work public in the service of the public and as such he deserves our solidarity and, like Manning, our admiration for their fortitude.
These people are unlikely heroes but heroes nevertheless.
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