We are in a new dark age: David Langwallner on Julian Assange | Cassandra Voices

We are in a new dark age: David Langwallner on Julian Assange


David Langwallner is a barrister working in the U.K.. He has written numerous articles for Cassandra Voices, and was a natural choice to speak to about the Julian Assange case, which shows every sign of drawing towards a dénouement in a London courtroom.

Between Tuesday, February 20 and Wednesday, February 21, a strange scene played out before the High Court. As the judges listened to Assange’s lawyers and to American envoys advance contrasting arguments about the case, outside the chamber protestors demanded freedom and clemency for the Australian journalist. Facing a 175-year custodial sentence in the U.S. in what could be a CMU (a Communications Management Unit), Assange must struggle with the possibility of a future that could mean death – or even worse.

The CMU, as we discuss in conversation with David, represents a carceral system many degrees more cruel than the Belmarsh Prison where he has languished for half a decade.

In places like the Terre Haute, Indiana facility or Colorado’s Supermax, inmates typically enjoy nine hours of visiting time per month, and CMU prisoners are barred ‘from any physical contact with visiting friends and family, including babies, infants, and minor children.’

However, Assange’s lawyers may have a compelling argument to work with in this respect, as Britain, despite Brexit, still adheres to the European Convention on Human Rights. A U.K. Court must still follow judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. Assange’s lawyers based their arguments on his current condition, and the probability of torture and death resulting from the extradition.

Over the two days – with their client unable to attend due to physical weakness – Assange’s lawyers pushed back against the U.S. argument that Assange and Wikileaks committed harmful acts of espionage when they published huge tracts of confidential material, as America’s post-9/11 wars were raging across the Middle East.

The publication of diplomatic cables revealed the casual corruption of many regimes, not only the U.S.. Videos like ‘Collateral Murder’ showed U.S. war crimes – revelations that were surely in the public interest. Indeed, the U.S. Espionage Act, with the severe punishments it entails, has never before been used to prosecute a journalist.

The Court’s decision on whether to grant a final appeal hearing in this case is expected in the coming weeks. For David Langwallner, while he did entertain a number of options – including one whereby Assange might be publicly condemned but eventually released after informal, behind the scenes diplomacy – Assange’s fate, and the state of the world more broadly, looks increasingly dark.

He argues that a ‘New Dark Age’ may be upon us, whereby authoritarian dictatorships and Western democracies alike are emboldened to fling their truth-telling critics into the oubliette with impunity.

Citing the proposed ‘Hate Speech’ bill in Ireland as an example of creeping authoritarianism in the digital age, he condemned the clear hypocrisy:

We’ve reached a world where a subversive is what you designate to be a subversive… Under the Hate Speech bill in Ireland, which is totally ludicrous in my view,  we are going to have the criminalization of offense. As long as you offend them. They can offend you by locking you up, but if you offend the establishment they’ll prosecute you… Also, with the notion of taking rigorous actions against hackers who may not have done anything criminal, it is the slippery slope to ‘pre-crime,’ and guilt by accusation.

The interview began with a question about the prison where Assange is being held – His Majesty’s facilities at Belmarsh, a place with which David Langwallner has an interesting history. It was apt to start by discussing complex questions of fundamental rights and justice systems in democracies, and our ability to trust the behaviour of technocratic leaders in this digital age.

The brutal treatment of an increasingly frail Julian Assange is diminishing any trust in the rule of law, natural justice and freedom of speech.


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