Editor’s Note: The week of October 25 saw another set of hearings in the case of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has been held in Belmarsh Prison in London since 2019 while the United States attempts to extradite him on charges of stealing secret military and diplomatic documents that expose U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other things.
In January a British judge denied the extradition request citing the dangers to Assange’s physical and mental health posed by the harsh conditions he would almost certainly face in the U.S. prison system. The United States is appealing that ruling, saying it would not place Assange in situations that would endanger him, even as a report came out last month showing that the CIA allegedly considered plans to kidnap and/or assassinate him.
The article below, written in August by renowned filmmaker and journalist John Pilger, lays out what is at stake in this case, beyond questions of Assange’s life and sanity, serious enough issues on their own. What is at stake here goes beyond even the concept of a free press. It is the ability of the public to know the truth, as apposed to what an essentially undemocratic government with unchecked surveillance capacity wants us to know, a government that makes war and tortures individuals with impunity even as it tries to hide its true role.
It was not so much what Julian Assange exposed, a multitude of specific war crimes and more, but the very fact that this vault of government secrets was opened at all. That is the biggest threat to a system that is moving ever closer to absolute totalitarian control. George Orwell was right, only it is more sophisticated and deadly than imagined in his book 1984.
What’s happening to Julian Assange is the most important media event of our time but outside of the alternative media, like Peace and Planet News, Democracy Now!, Counterpunch and others, we see almost nothing about this case. Despite the existential threat this case poses to freedom of the press, the corporate media have joined U.S. officials in depicting Assange as an egomaniacal hacker rather than a journalist who believes people have a right to know what their governments are up to.
In a recent panel with Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald and Chris Hedges, moderated by Amy Goodman, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hedges said, “The press, I’m talking about institutions like the [New York] Times, they hate Julian and they hated him when he was giving them that information and the reason they hate him is because he shamed them into doing their job. There’s a real hatred because they want to present themselves as the journalistic and kind of moral center and so that’s why the press, after these revelations, turn with a vengeance.”
Snowden added, “Glenn has written extensively about professional jealousy for people who have broken major stories and then you’ve got these people who work for a major institution newspaper right there, the voice of record, yet they don’t actually have a significant impact on the historic record beyond providing what officials want. What Julian’s case represents and why the media seem so self interested and don’t look at the bigger picture here [is] because obviously this precedent is not intended for use against them–but it will be used against them once it’s there, because, why not?”
Snowden went on to say, “Force is not a barrier to the state when it comes to securing their objectives and I believe anything they could have done to stop this story … . Julian Assange is not a whistle blower. … He’s not the source, he’s the publisher. That means he should be less at risk than whistleblowers and yet, somehow he has ended up more at risk. And the question is how is that possible? Has Assange changed? What has changed is the nature of the State and its relationship to the press. And if we let that be established with Assange, not with a gunshot in the streets of London, not with a drone, but with concrete in Belmarsh or whatever prison they put him, it is not better to kill someone faster or you kill someone slow, if you are killing them because you don’t like what they say … . That is, I think, a final judgment on the state rather than on the victim of the state.”
Without the light provided by whistleblowers and journalists, we would, all of us, be in the dark, in that place of little light, exactly where this monstrous system and those few who profit immensely from it, want us.
The case against Assange is about more than one man. It’s a case against all of us.
“There’s the big future, there’s the deep future, that one can long for. That is a future where we are all able to freely communicate our hopes and dreams, and factual information about the world with each other, and the historical record is an item that is completely sacrosanct, that would never be changed, never be modified, never be deleted, and we will steer a course away from Orwell’s dictum of ‘he who controls the present controls the past.’ That is something that is my life-long quest to do. And from that, justice flows, because most of us have an instinct for justice, and most of us are reasonably intelligent, and if we can communicate with each other, organize, not be oppressed, and know what’s going on, then pretty much the rest falls out. That is my big hope.”–from Julian Assange In His Own Words
A Day in the Death of British JusticeThe pursuit of Julian Assange for revealing secrets and lies of governments, especially the crimes of America, has entered its final stage as the British judiciary–upholders of ‘British justice’–merge their deliberations with the undeterred power of Washington.
I sat in Court 4 in the Royal Courts of Justice in London with Stella Morris, Julian Assange’s partner. I have known Stella for as long as I have known Julian. She, too, is a voice of freedom, coming from a family that fought the fascism of Apartheid. Today, her name was uttered in court by a barrister and a judge, forgettable people were it not for the power of their endowed privilege.
The barrister, Clair Dobbin, is in the pay of the regime in Washington, first Trump’s then Biden’s. She is America’s hired gun, or “silk”, as she would prefer. Her target is Julian Assange, who has committed no crime and has performed a historic public service by exposing the criminal actions and secrets on which governments, especially those claiming to be democracies, base their authority.
For those who may have forgotten, WikiLeaks, of which Assange is founder and publisher, exposed the secrets and lies that led to the invasion of Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the murderous role of the Pentagon in dozens of countries, the blueprint for the 20-year catastrophe in Afghanistan, the attempts by Washington to overthrow elected governments, such as Venezuela’s, the collusion between nominal political opponents (Bush and Obama) to stifle a torture investigation and the CIA’s Vault 7 campaign that turned your mobile phone, even your TV set, into a spy in your midst.
WikiLeaks released almost a million documents from Russia which allowed Russian citizens to stand up for their rights. It revealed the Australian government had colluded with the US against its own citizen, Assange. It named those Australian politicians who have “informed” for the US. It made the connection between the Clinton Foundation and the rise of jihadism in American-armed states in the Gulf.
There is more: WikiLeaks disclosed the US campaign to suppress wages in sweatshop countries like Haiti, India’s campaign of torture in Kashmir, the British government’s secret agreement to shield “US interests” in its official Iraq inquiry and the British Foreign Office’s plan to create a fake “marine protection zone” in the Indian Ocean to cheat the Chagos islanders out of their right of return.
In other words, WikiLeaks has given us real news about those who govern us and take us to war, not the preordained, repetitive spin that fills newspapers and television screens. This is real journalism; and for the crime of real journalism, Assange has spent most of the past decade in one form of incarceration or another, including Belmarsh prison, a horrific place.
Diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, he is a gentle, intellectual visionary driven by his belief that a democracy is not a democracy unless it is transparent, and accountable.
Yesterday, the United States sought the approval of Britain’s High Court to extend the terms of its appeal against a decision by a district judge, Vanessa Baraitser, in January to bar Assange’s extradition. Baraitser accepted the deeply disturbing evidence of a number of experts that Assange would be at great risk if he were incarcerated in the US’s infamous prison system.
Professor Michael Kopelman, a world authority on neuropsychiatry, had said Assange would find a way to take his own life – the direct result of what Professor Nils Melzer, the United Nations Rapporteur on Torture, described as the craven “mobbing” of Assange by governments – and their media echoes.
Those of us who were in the Old Bailey last September to hear Kopelman’s evidence were shocked and moved. I sat with Julian’s father, John Shipton, whose head was in his hands. The court was also told about the discovery of a razor blade in Julian’s Belmarsh cell and that he had made desperate calls to the Samaritans and written notes and much else that filled us with more than sadness.
Watching the lead barrister acting for Washington, James Lewis–a man from a military background who deploys a cringingly theatrical “aha!” formula with defence witnesses–reduce these facts to “malingering” and smearing witnesses, especially Kopelman, we were heartened by Kopelman’s revealing response that Lewis’s abuse was “a bit rich” as Lewis himself had sought to hire Kopelman’s expertise in another case.
Lewis’s sidekick is Clair Dobbin, and the 11th of August was her day. Completing the smearing of Professor Kopelman was down to her. An American with some authority sat behind her in court.
Dobbin said Kopelman had “misled” Judge Baraister in September because he had not disclosed that Julian Assange and Stella Morris were partners, and their two young children, Gabriel and Max, were conceived during the period Assange had taken refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
The implication was that this somehow lessened Kopelman’s medical diagnosis: that Julian, locked up in solitary in Belmarsh prison and facing extradition to the US on bogus “espionage” charges, had suffered severe psychotic depression and had planned, if he had not already attempted, to take his own life.
For her part, Judge Baraitser saw no contradiction. The full nature of the relationship between Stella and Julian had been explained to her in March 2020, and Professor Kopelman had made full reference to it in his report in August 2020. So the judge and the court knew all about it before the main extradition hearing last September. In her judgement in January, Baraitser said this:[Professor Kopelman] assessed Mr. Assange during the period May to December 2019 and was best placed to consider at first-hand his symptoms. He has taken great care to provide an informed account of Mr. Assange background and psychiatric history. He has given close attention to the prison medical notes and provided a detailed summary annexed to his December report. He is an experienced clinician and he was well aware of the possibility of exaggeration and malingering. I had no reason to doubt his clinical opinion.
She added that she had “not been misled” by the exclusion in Kopelman’s first report of the Stella-Julian relationship and that she understood that Kopelman was protecting the privacy of Stella and her two young children.
In fact, as I know well, the family’s safety was under constant threat to the point when an embassy security guard confessed he had been told to steal one of the baby’s nappies so that a CIA-contracted company could analyse its DNA. There has been a stream of unpublicised threats against Stella and her children.
For the US and its legal hirelings in London, damaging the credibility of a renowned expert by suggesting he withheld this information was a way, they no doubt reckoned, to rescue their crumbling case against Assange. In June, the Icelandic newspaper Stundin reported that a key prosecution witness against Assange has admitted fabricating his evidence. The one “hacking” charge the Americans hoped to bring against Assange if they could get their hands on him depended on this source and witness, Sigurdur Thordarson, an FBI informant.
Thordarson had worked as a volunteer for WikiLeaks in Iceland between 2010 and 2011. In 2011, as several criminal charges were brought against him, he contacted the FBI and offered to become an informant in return for immunity from all prosecution. It emerged that he was a convicted fraudster who embezzled $55,000 from WikiLeaks, and served two years in prison. In 2015, he was sentenced to three years for sex offenses against teenage boys. The Washington Post described Thordarson’s credibility as the “core” of the case against Assange.
In the High Court, Lord Chief Justice Holroyde made no mention of this witness. His concern was that it was “arguable” that Judge Baraitser had attached too much weight to the evidence of Professor Kopelman, a man revered in his field. He said it was “very unusual” for an appeal court to have to reconsider evidence from an expert accepted by a lower court, but he agreed with Ms. Dobbin it was “misleading” even though he accepted Kopelman’s “understandable human response” to protect the privacy of Stella and the children.
If you can unravel the arcane logic of this, you have a better grasp than I who have sat through this case from the beginning. It is clear Kopelman misled nobody. Judge Baraitser–whose hostility to Assange personally was a presence in her court–said that she was not misled; it was not an issue; it did not matter. So why had Lord Chief Chief Justice Holroyde spun the language with its weasel legalise and sent Julian back to his cell and its nightmares? There, he now waits for the High Court’s final decision in October–for Julian Assange, a life or death decision.
And why did Holroyde send Stella from the court trembling with anguish? Why is this case “unusual”? Why did he throw the gang of prosecutor-thugs at the Department of Justice in Washington–who got their big chance under Trump, having been rejected by Obama–a life raft as their rotting, corrupt case against a principled journalist sunk as surely as Titantic?
This does not necessarily mean that in October the full bench of the High Court will order Julian to be extradited. In the upper reaches of the masonry that is the British judiciary there are, I understand, still those who believe in real law and real justice from which the term “British justice” takes its sanctified reputation in the land of the Magna Carta. It now rests on their ermined shoulders whether that history lives on or dies.
I sat with Stella in the court’s colonnade while she drafted words to say to the crowd of media and well-wishers outside in the sunshine. Clip-clopping along came Clair Dobbin, spruced, ponytail swinging, bearing her carton of files: a figure of certainty: she who said Julian Assange was “not so ill” that he would consider suicide. How does she know?
Has Ms. Dobbin worked her way through the medieval maze at Belmarsh to sit with Julian in his yellow arm band, as Professors Koppelman and Melzer have done, and Stella has done, and I have done? Never mind. The Americans have now “promised” not to put him in a hellhole, just as they “promised” not to torture Chelsea Manning.
And has she read the WikiLeaks’ leak of a Pentagon document dated 15 March, 2009? I recommend this document, for it foretells much of what has happened. US intelligence, it says, intended to destroy WikiLeaks’ and Julian Assange’s “centre of gravity” with threats and “criminal prosecution”. Read all 32 pages and you are left in no doubt that silencing and criminalising independent journalism was the aim, smear the method.
I tried to catch Ms Dobbin’s gaze, but she was on her way: job done.
Outside, Stella struggled to contain her emotion. This is one brave woman, as indeed her man is an exemplar of courage. “What has not been discussed today,” said Stella, “is why I feared for my safety and the safety of our children and for Julian’s life. The constant threats and intimidation we endured for years, which has been terrorising us and has been terrorising Julian for 10 years. We have a right to live, we have a right to exist and we have a right for this nightmare to come to an end once and for all.”