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When the punishment is worse than the crime, the punishment itself is a crime

February 23rd, 2024 at 07:08am

The legal system can be a very strange beast at times, producing ridiculously convoluted bureaucratic processes which seem to do little for justice, and yet at other times those very processes which seem convoluted are necessary to ensure that justice is in fact served, and served well.

Alas, the scenes in London over the last couple of days seem to fall into the category of bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy. Something which keeps the courts busy and the lawyers paid, but does nothing whatsoever for justice.

I refer to the court battle over whether Julian Assange is allowed to appeal his extradition to the United States. Yes, you read that correctly, it was a hearing to decide whether it is allowable to have a hearing to determine the fate of the extradition. It seems implausibly ridiculous that you would have to have a hearing to decide whether to have a hearing, especially when this initial hearing was always going to cover a lot of the ground that the hypothetical next hearing would be covering.

Some of the arguments against having the next hearing were as ridiculous as the process itself, arguing that if the US as an ally of the UK has reasons for extradition which it wishes to keep secret, the UK shouldn’t test them in court and should just put Mr. Assange on a plane and be done with it. This makes no sense when courts have perfectly good processes for holding sessions behind closed doors if the evidence is too sensitive to become public. Although here in Australia we’ve seen such processes fall well short of reasonable when Bernard Collaery was being prosecuted for alleged breaches of national security legislation (charges which were ultimately withdrawn after a very very very long time) as the federal Attorney-General’s department insisted on some utterly impossible conditions surrounding secret evidence which made it almost impossible for Mr. Collaery’s legal team to review and examine the evidence which was to be presented against him, this limiting his ability to be defended against the charges.

In Mr. Collaery’s case, it’s hard to know whether the charges would have been upheld if the case had proceeded, but I fear it and subsequent appeals would have dragged on for the rest of his life. It became clear that the prosecution was simply not worthwhile from the government’s perspective, and frankly given how much of an impact being dragged through the courts had on Mr. Collaery, any sentencing court would probably determine that he had already been punished enough and not bother to impose any meaningful sentence.

At this point I think the same principle should apply to Mr. Assange’s case. Whether you believe him to be guilty of some awful crime against national security or not (and I admit, I have changed my view on this, having originally been quite critical of Mr. Assange and Wikileaks, I now concede that for the most part there was an immense public interest and utility in the publication of the material which was published, and have come around to the view that many national security laws are overly draconian and governments keep too many secrets from citizens, but I’ll cover that another day), the fact that Julian Assange has been effectively locked up for 12 years, with the most recent years being in quite harsh environments which have caused enormous detrimental effects to his health from which it is unlikely he will ever fully recover, and even if set free will probably face a signifcantly shortened lifespan, it seems to me that it is unlikely that any fair court would impose any further sentence if he were to be found guilty of whatever charges may ultimately be brought. He has already been punished far in excess of the degree of any crime of which he is accused.

We probably won’t have an outcome until sometime next month. And even then, if Julian is granted permission to have a hearing to appeal against his deportation to the United States, it seems unlikely that a conclusion will be reached this year, and in the meantime he languishes in Longmarsh.

How ironic that our supposedly freedom-loving western nations have treated Julian Assange in this way, a man not convicted of anything and not even accused of leaking information entrusted to him via a security clearance, yet Edward Snowden who did have a security clearance and admits to revealing information entrusted to him under said clearance, was granted asylum by Russia and is living a free and happy life in Russia. It really makes you think about which countries actually care about truth and liberty, which ones don’t, and what it might mean for the various statements of the governments of said countries when put in that context.


Entry Filed under: General News,Samuel's Editorials

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