The US government request for Julian Assange’s extradition, following a raid by British police to remove him from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, is an attack on investigative journalists and whistleblowers everywhere. 

Assange, in a now unsealed US grand jury indictment, is charged with conspiracy to access a computer without authorisation. It is a petty and malicious proceeding that has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with US imperialism spitting the dummy. 

If the British government complies with the extradition request and Assange is tried and found guilty in the US, he faces up to five years in jail. But he may also face other charges related to espionage, which could result in decades behind bars.

The charges target not only Assange. The US government is determined to make an example of him to dissuade truth-seekers from ever again trying to show the world the criminality and horror that lie behind the official rhetorical curtain of promoting “freedom” and “democracy”.

The US state’s pursuit of the WikiLeaks founder began almost a decade ago, when he helped Chelsea Manning, a US Army specialist, leak classified documents. In early 2010, Manning is alleged to have downloaded four databases containing 90,000 Afghanistan and 400,000 Iraq war logs, a trove of diplomatic cables and hundreds of Guantanamo Bay files. The contents of the leaks were scrutinised by journalists, editors and lawyers before being published by media such as the Telegraph, Der Spiegel, the New York Times and the Guardian. 

The information contained the Collateral Murder video, which showed US soldiers in a helicopter gunship indiscriminately shelling and killing civilians in Iraq. It contained evidence of war crimes in Afghanistan and, contrary to the official narrative of the occupation, showed that it was failing badly. It revealed that a 14-year-old boy and an 89-year-old man were held in Guantanamo, that many of those held were not deemed a security risk and that torture was being used. In short, the huge cache of material showed the world that the US was lying on every front about its wars and its intelligence gathering related to those wars. It revealed an Evil Empire.

The disclosures incensed the US national “security” apparatus and every war hawk in the country, some of whom called for Manning to be executed and for Assange to be assassinated as an enemy of the state. Manning was convicted on 17 charges, including five counts of espionage, and sentenced to 35 years, before it was commuted after she served seven.

Now Assange is in the crosshairs of Trump’s Department of Justice, which charges him with conspiracy for allegedly helping Manning to use a computer other than her own to leak the documents. “The indictment seeks to criminalise what journalists are not only permitted but ethically required to do: take steps to help their sources maintain their anonymity”, the Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald notes. “That’s why the indictment poses such a grave threat to press freedom.” 

Manning has now been detained for more than a month in Virginia for refusing to testify in front of the grand jury that has indicted Assange. “I object strenuously to this subpoena and to the grand jury process in general”, she said in a statement in March. “We’ve seen this power abused countless times to target political speech. I have nothing to contribute to this case.”

It is a testament to her ongoing bravery that Manning continues to resist. She knows what the US state is capable of. Thanks to her – and Assange – we all know much more about its criminal operations. Together, they provided a tremendous public service. Both should be defended – and immediately released.