Julian Assange case shows the hypocrisy of the US and UK over war crimes – Kenny MacAskill MP

As war wages in the Ukraine, as in every conflict, atrocities are taking place with demands for Vladimir Putin to be brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC) and condemnation of apparent Russian use of cluster bombs.

Julian Assange gestures to the media from a police vehicle after his arrest at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2019 (Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Julian Assange gestures to the media from a police vehicle after his arrest at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2019 (Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Now I’m sympathetic to action on both counts but there’s hypocrisy from many, especially in the USA, in those albeit legitimate calls.

After all, the USA fails to recognise the authority of the ICC. That wasn’t a perverse position taken by Donald Trump but a refusal at the very outset from Bill Clinton and it has been sustained by every US President since.

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It’s apparently fine to punish war crimes by Serbians, Rwandans and even Russians, but not them. It’s the same with cluster bombs, outlawed by a treaty signed by more than 120 countries, though not by Russia or, you’ll have guessed, the USA who themselves don’t seem averse to using them.

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That hypocrisy was further vividly exposed when reading The Trial of Julian Assange by Nils Melzer. The author’s the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, not some Putin acolyte. An academic, not a politician, he acts without fear or favour and rightly calls out all for their wrongs.

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I found his book especially interesting as he narrated how he’d had doubts about Assange at the outset. The allegations of sexual crimes in Sweden had similarly caused me to be hesitant to support him, albeit I had very much welcomed what he’d exposed through Wikileaks.

It now seems so long ago but Assange brought to the world’s attention actions in Iraq that can only be classified as war crimes; but tragically only he is likely to face prosecution.

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Melzer’s book narrates his journey of discovery. It was revelatory that Wikileaks had disclosed communications by the Swedish secret service with US counterparts indicating actions that they were doing without the knowledge or approval of their government.

The initial prosecution of Assange appears perverse with the Swedish system being manipulated and, in my book, abused. The case has since been abandoned.

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That allowed for attempts to be made, which are still ongoing, to extradite Assange to the USA and, in that, the UK has been complicit. Again the book was revelatory in the exposure of not just court, but media manipulation.

As well the initial doubts cast by allegations of sexual crimes, I was unsympathetic to the sight of the man all dirty and dishevelled-looking being detained outside the Ecuadorian Embassy.

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What I hadn’t realised was that when the left-orientated government in that South American country fell, the UK and USA set to work. UK ministers colluded with counterparts, the Ecuadorians denied him shaving equipment and other supplies and co-ordinated his removal, looking weird and frightening to an awaiting media.

Assange is facing extradition to the USA not for perpetrating any crime but instead for exposing war crimes carried out by the US military. His case is a stitch-up and in which the UK, once again, has a despicable role as the USA’s sidekick. The hypocrisy stinks.

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Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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