No ‘flight risk’
In fact, the judge was up to something else entirely in delaying the bail hearing till Wednesday, two days later. She wanted – as presumably did those who have been supervising her behind the scenes – to refashion the image of her court, which for months has given every appearance of being entirely beholden to the US administration.
As the corporate media briefly raised its head from its slumber to meaningfully acknowledge for the first time the Assange hearings, she wanted to ensure those reports noted how independent her court was. For two days, commentators could crow about British legal sovereignty and humanitarian values, even as most tacitly accepted her dangerous premise that the US has a justified claim to extradite Assange.
When Baraitser slammed the cell door shut once again on Assange, leaving him exactly where he was before she discharged him, her decision was presented as little more than a technical ruling based on a reasonable assessment of Assange’s “flight risk”.
In fact, Assange is no flight risk, and never was. He didn’t “jump bail” in 2012 by heading into the Ecuadorean embassy. He sought political asylum there to escape the very real threat of being extradited to the US for his journalism. He was accepted by the Ecuadorean authorities because they believed his fears were genuine.
Back then, a Swedish prosecutor had revived demands Assange return to Sweden for questioning over flimsy sexual assault allegations – allegations that had been dismissed by a previous prosecutor. That investigation, we now know, was kept alive at British insistence. Nonetheless, Sweden refused to give assurances that they would not extradite Assange on to the US, where a grand jury was drawing up charges against him.
Assange’s decision to seek asylum in the embassy has, of course, been entirely vindicated by the fact that the US did indeed seek his extradition – as soon as they could get their hands on him.
Baraitser even let the cat out of the bag herself at the bail hearing, disrupting her own narrative that he had “absconded” in 2012, when she stated – as evidence against Assange! – that he entered the embassy to evade the threat of extradition to the US.
In doing so, she undermined the narrative promoted for years by every corporate media outlet in the UK that Assange had “holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy to flee the Swedish investigation”. (In fact, that statement was typically corrupted even further by the media, including notably the Guardian, which repeatedly referred not to an investigation, one going nowhere, but to entirely imaginary “rape charges”.)
Baraitser exploited and accentuated Assange’s suffering to make her court look good, to add a veneer of credibility to her deeply flawed political ruling, and to create the impression that she was making her judgment based on the facts rather than illicit collusion with US authorities denying Assange his rights.
Where does the case head now?
Assange’s only immediate hope is that his legal team can appeal the bail decision and win, or that the US throws in the towel and decides not to submit its own appeal on the extradition ruling within the next couple of weeks.
If Washington does press for an appeal, as still seems likely, Assange faces many more months in Belmarsh high-security jail, in declining health in Covid-infested conditions he may not survive if he catches the disease. As experts have warned, the toll taken by nearly two years of almost no contact with other humans, no mental stimulation, no prospect of release – his case ignored by most of his peers and the public – will intensify his sense of despair, his deep depression, and the danger that he tries to take his own life.
His death looks increasingly like an outcome Britain and the US desire, and possibly one that they have been striving towards. That is certainly the conclusion of Yanis Varoufakis, a public intellectual and former Greek finance minister who has seen up close himself how ready European and US elites are to ruthlessly crush dissent.