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They Commit in Our Name…
Q: Having watched Julian Assange’s trial firsthand, can you describe the prevailing atmosphere in the court?
The prevailing atmosphere has been shocking. I say that without hesitation; I have sat in many courts and seldom known such a corruption of due process; this is due revenge. Putting aside the ritual associated with ‘British justice’, at times it has been evocative of a Stalinist show trial. One difference is that in the show trials, the defendant stood in the court proper. In the Assange trial, the defendant was caged behind thick glass, and had to crawl on his knees to a slit in the glass, overseen by his guard, to make contact with his lawyers. His message, whispered barely audibly through face masks, was then passed by post-it the length of the court to where his barristers were arguing the case against his extradition to an American hellhole.
Consider this daily routine of Julian Assange, an Australian on trial for truth-telling journalism. He was woken at five o’clock in his cell at Belmarsh prison in the bleak southern sprawl of London. The first time I saw Julian in Belmarsh, having passed through half an hour of ‘security’ checks, including a dog’s snout in my rear, I found a painfully thin figure sitting alone wearing a yellow armband. He had lost more than 10 kilos in a matter of months; his arms had no muscle. His first words were: ‘I think I am losing my mind’.
I tried to assure him he wasn’t. His resilience and courage are formidable, but there is a limit. That was more than a year ago. In the past three weeks, in the pre-dawn, he was strip-searched, shackled, and prepared for transport to the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, in a truck that his partner, Stella Moris, described as an upended coffin. It had one small window; he had to stand precariously to look out. The truck and its guards were operated by Serco, one of many politically connected companies that run much of Boris Johnson’s Britain.
The journey to the Old Bailey took at least an hour and a half. That’s a minimum of three hours being jolted through snail-like traffic every day. He was led into his narrow cage at the back of the court, then look up, blinking, trying to make out faces in the public gallery through the reflection of the glass. He saw the courtly figure of his dad, John Shipton, and me, and our fists went up. Through the glass, he reached out to touch fingers with Stella, who is a lawyer and seated in the body of the court.
We were here for the ultimate of what the philosopher Guy Debord called The Society of the Spectacle: a man fighting for his life. Yet his crime is to have performed an epic public service: revealing that which we have a right to know: the lies of our governments and the crimes they commit in our name. His creation of WikiLeaks and its failsafe protection of sources revolutionised journalism, restoring it to the vision of its idealists. Edmund Burke’s notion of free journalism as a fourth estate is now a fifth estate that shines a light on those who diminish the very meaning of democracy with their criminal secrecy. That’s why his punishment is so extreme.
The sheer bias in the courts I have sat in this year and last year, with Julian in the dock, blight any notion of British justice. When thuggish police dragged him from his asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy—look closely at the photo and you’ll see he is clutching a Gore Vidal book; Assange has a political humour similar to Vidal’s—a judge gave him an outrageous 50-week sentence in a maximum-security prison for mere bail infringement.
For months, he was denied exercise and held in solitary confinement disguised as ‘heath care’. He once told me he strode the length of his cell, back and forth, back and forth, for his own half-marathon. In the next cell, the occupant screamed through the night. At first he was denied his reading glasses, left behind in the embassy brutality. He was denied the legal documents with which to prepare his case, and access to the prison library and the use of a basic laptop. Books sent to him by a friend, the journalist Charles Glass, himself a survivor of hostage-taking in Beirut, were returned. He could not call his American lawyers. He has been constantly medicated by the prison authorities. When I asked him what they were giving him, he couldn’t say. The governor of Belmarsh has been awarded the Order of the British Empire.
At the Old Bailey, one of the expert medical witnesses, Dr Kate Humphrey, a clinical neuropsychologist at Imperial College, London, described the damage: Julian’s intellect had gone from ‘in the superior, or more likely very superior range’ to ‘significantly below’ this optimal level, to the point where he was struggling to absorb information and ‘perform in the low average range’.
This is what the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Nils Melzer, calls ‘psychological torture’, the result of a gang-like ‘mobbing’ by governments and their media shills. Some of the expert medical evidence is so shocking I have no intention of repeating it here. Suffice to say that Assange is diagnosed with autism and Asperger’s syndrome and, according to Professor Michael Kopelman, one of the world’s leading neuropsychiatrists, he suffers from ‘suicidal preoccupations’ and is likely to find a way to take his life if he is extradited to America.
James Lewis QC, America’s British prosecutor, spent the best part of his cross-examination of Professor Kopelman dismissing mental illness and its dangers as ‘malingering’. I have never heard in a modern setting such a primitive view of human frailty and vulnerability.
My own view is that if Assange is freed, he is likely to recover a substantial part of his life. He has a loving partner, devoted friends and allies and the innate strength of a principled political prisoner. He also has a wicked sense of humour.
But that is a long way off. The moments of collusion between the judge—or magistrate, a Gothic-looking Vanessa Baraitser, about whom little is known—and the prosecution acting for the Trump regime have been brazen. Until the last few days, defence arguments have been routinely dismissed. The lead prosecutor, James Lewis QC, ex SAS and currently Chief Justice of the Falklands, by and large gets what he wants, notably up to four hours to denigrate expert witnesses, while the defence’s examination is guillotined at half an hour. I have no doubt, had there been a jury, his freedom would be assured.
The dissident artist Ai Weiwei came to join us one morning in the public gallery. He noted that in China the judge’s decision would already have been made. This caused some dark ironic amusement. My companion in the gallery, the astute diarist and former British ambassador Craig Murray wrote:
I fear that all over London a very hard rain is now falling on those who for a lifetime have worked within institutions of liberal democracy that at least broadly and usually used to operate within the governance of their own professed principles. It has been clear to me from Day 1 that I am watching a charade unfold. It is not in the least a shock to me that Baraitser does not think anything beyond the written opening arguments has any effect. I have again and again reported to you that, where rulings have to be made, she has brought them into court pre-written, before hearing the arguments before her.
I strongly expect the final decision was made in this case even before opening arguments were received.
The plan of the US Government throughout has been to limit the information available to the public and limit the effective access to a wider public of what information is available. Thus we have seen the extreme restrictions on both physical and video access. A complicit mainstream media has ensured those of us who know what is happening are very few in the wider population.
There are few records of the proceedings. They are: Craig Murray’s personal blog, Joe Lauria’s live reporting on Consortium News and the World Socialist Website. American journalist Kevin Gosztola’s blog, Shadowproof, funded mostly by himself, has reported more of the trial than the major US press and TV, including CNN, combined.
In Australia, Assange’s homeland, the ‘coverage’ follows a familiar formula set overseas. The London correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald, Latika Bourke, wrote this recently:
The court heard Assange became depressed during the seven years he spent in the Ecuadorian embassy where he sought political asylum to escape extradition to Sweden to answer rape and sexual assault charges.
There were no ‘rape and sexual assault charges’ in Sweden. Bourke’s lazy falsehood is not uncommon. If the Assange trial is the political trial of the century, as I believe it is, its outcome will not only seal the fate of a journalist for doing his job but intimidate the very principles of free journalism and free speech. The absence of serious mainstream reporting of the proceedings is, at the very least, self-destructive. Journalists should ask: who is next?
How shaming it all is. A decade ago, the Guardian exploited Assange’s work, claimed its profit and prizes as well as a lucrative Hollywood deal, then turned on him with venom. Throughout the Old Bailey trial, two names have been cited by the prosecution, the Guardian’s David Leigh, now retired as ‘investigations editor’ and Luke Harding, the Russiaphobe and author of a fictional Guardian ‘scoop’ that claimed Trump adviser Paul Manafort and a group of Russians visited Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy. This never happened, and the Guardian has yet to apologise. The Harding and Leigh book on Assange—written behind their subject’s back—disclosed a secret password to a WikiLeaks file that Assange had entrusted to Leigh during the Guardian’s ‘partnership’. Why the defence has not called this pair is difficult to understand.
Assange is quoted in their book declaring during a dinner at a London restaurant that he didn’t care if informants named in the leaks were harmed. Neither Harding nor Leigh was at the dinner. John Goetz, an investigations reporter with Der Spiegel, was at the dinner and testified that Assange said nothing of the kind. Incredibly, Judge Baraitser stopped Goetz actually saying this in court.
However, the defence has succeeded in demonstrating the extent to which Assange sought to protect and redact names in the files released by WikiLeaks and that no credible evidence existed of individuals harmed by the leaks. The great whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg said that Assange had personally redacted 15,000 files. The renowned New Zealand investigative journalist Nicky Hager, who worked with Assange on the Afghanistan and Iraq war leaks, described how Assange took ‘extraordinary precautions in redacting names of informants’.
Q: What are the implications of this trial’s verdict for journalism more broadly—is it an omen of things to come?
The ‘Assange effect’ is already being felt across the world. If they displease the regime in Washington, investigative journalists are liable to prosecution under the 1917 US Espionage Act; the precedent is stark. It doesn’t matter where you are. For Washington, other people’s nationality and sovereignty rarely mattered; now it does not exist. Britain has effectively surrendered its jurisdiction to Trump’s corrupt Department of Justice. In Australia, a National Security Information Act promises Kafkaesque trials for transgressors. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has been raided by police and journalists’ computers taken away. The government has given unprecedented powers to intelligence officials, making journalistic whistle-blowing almost impossible. Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Assange ‘must face the music’. The perfidious cruelty of his statement is reinforced by its banality.
‘Evil’, wrote Hannah Arendt, ‘comes from a failure to think. It defies thought for as soon as thought tries to engage itself with evil and examine the premises and principles from which it originates, it is frustrated because it finds nothing there. That is the banality of evil’.
Q: Having followed the story of WikiLeaks closely for a decade, how has this eyewitness experience shifted your understanding of what’s at stake with Assange’s trial?
I have long been a critic of journalism as an echo of unaccountable power and a champion of those who are beacons. So, for me, the arrival of WikiLeaks was exciting; I admired the way Assange regarded the public with respect, that he was prepared to share his work with the ‘mainstream’ but not join their collusive club. This, and naked jealousy, made him enemies among the overpaid and undertalented, insecure in their pretensions of independence and impartiality.
I admired the moral dimension to WikiLeaks. Assange was rarely asked about this, yet much of his remarkable energy comes from a powerful moral sense that governments and other vested interests should not operate behind walls of secrecy. He is a democrat. He explained this in one of our first interviews at my home in 2010.
What is at stake for the rest of us has long been at stake: freedom to call authority to account, freedom to challenge, to call out hypocrisy, to dissent. The difference today is that the world’s imperial power, the United States, has never been as unsure of its metastatic authority as it is today. Like a flailing rogue, it is spinning us towards a world war if we allow it. Little of this menace is reflected in the media.
WikiLeaks, on the other hand, has allowed us to glimpse a rampant imperial march through whole societies—think of the carnage in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, to name a few, the dispossession of 37 million people and the deaths of 12 million men, women and children in the ‘war on terror’—most of it behind a façade of deception.
Julian Assange is a threat to these recurring horrors—that’s why he is being persecuted, why a court of law has become an instrument of oppression, why he ought to be our collective conscience: why we all should be the threat.
The judge’s decision will be known on the 4th of January.
With Washington fighting tooth-and-nail to extradite him from the UK, the notion that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange might die in prison is looking increasingly probable. At this point, it’s more a matter of when…
The United States has a heinous record when it comes to committing war crimes. Even more heinous, however, is the fact that commander in chief after commander in chief continues to pardon those convicted of these unspeakable acts. As whistleblowers like Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning rot in prison, the military personnel who’ve slaughtered civilians are receiving pardon after pardon. President Donald Trump has continued to walk down this shameful road by pardoning war criminals.
Earlier this month, Trump pardoned a former lieutenant in the US Army who was convicted of ordering his troops to slaughter innocent civilians. While on deployment in Afghanistan, First Lt. Clint Lorance ordered his soldiers to start firing at 3 random civilians on motorcycles. They did. Two of them died.
Todd Fitzgerald witnessed Lorance order his platoon to fire at three unarmed men on a motorcycle, killing two. Fitzgerald testified against Lorance in a 2013 trial. Lorance was convicted and spent six years in prison until Trump pardoned him on Nov. 15.
During the trial, multiple members from 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment testified against Lorance for issuing these murderous orders. Yet still, Trump found it necessary to free him.
That’s not all.
Ali Mansur Mohamed was shot and killed in 2008. The man who killed him, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, was found guilty of unpremeditated murder for Mansur’s death and sentenced to 25 years in 2009. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump has issued Behenna a full pardon.
As the pardons for war criminals continue to roll out, high-level military commanders are being forced to speak out against it, claiming, and rightfully so, that these pardons undermine the military justice system as well as America’s moral authority. After all, if we grant immunity to murderers, what grounds to we have to stand on when invading and occupying foreign countries — to give them some “freedom”? What’s more is the fact that pardoning these war criminals then justifies their behaviors, turning them from murderers into martyrs and even heroes.
“The tragedy of pardoning (Lt. Clint) Lorance isn’t that he will be released from prison – I’ve found room for compassion there,” Patrick Swanson, Lorance’s commander in Afghanistan told The New York Times. “The tragedy is that people will hail him as a hero.”RELATED: U.S.-Saudi Arabia Ink ‘Largest Single Arms Deal in American History’
There is nothing heroic about ordering troops to slaughter unarmed civilians — mistakenly or not. Nevertheless, Americans still beat on their chests, chanting “USA! USA!” blindly claiming the moral high ground.
As Steven Greenhut points out in an oped for the Orange County Register:
Our country claims to be different, to be a model for the rest of the world. Maybe not so much anymore. Common Dreams argued that the president’s action conforms to “a pattern of refusing accountability for violations of international law and a litany of war crimes over recent decades.” I don’t buy that leftist narrative, but why give fodder to those who do? The pardons stain the nation’s honorable service members by saying that they can’t be held responsible for their own actions. If they do atrocious things, well, boys will be boys.
The pardons also suggest that “Trump holds a dangerous, obsolete view of warfare—one that had fallen into disrepute after the horrors of World War II,” wrote Cornell law professor Jens David Ohlin, in a Washington Post column. “His actions suggest that he believes in ‘total war,’ in which warfare is conducted not only by professional soldiers but also by entire societies, including their civilians.” Indeed.
Making this entire situation that much more insidious is the fact that true heroes, whose actions have exposed criminals, shed light on the surveillance state, and given Americans a glimpse into the horrors of war, like Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden, are rotting in prison or exiled while pardons are doled out to murderers. A travesty, indeed.
As TFTP reported in April, several men in black suits, surrounded by a dozen cops, raided the Ecuadorian embassy in London and kidnapped Julian Assange. Moments later, the Department of Justice released a statement charging Assange with computer hacking “conspiracy” for allegedly working with US Army soldiers at the time, Chelsea Manning.https://hnewswire.com/frontend-order-form/embed/#?secret=pxa5oepmEn
According to the DOJ, Assange’s roll in the alleged conspiracy with Manning was encouraging her to provide more information—something that any journalist worth their salt would be doing. This move has amounted to little more than the blatant criminalization of journalism.
Here’s the Trump DOJ announcement about its indictment of Assange. It relates *only* to the 2010 classified docs about the Iraq & Afghanistan War logs & diplomatic cables. It has nothing to do with the 2016 election. This is a huge attack on press freedom https://www.justice.gov/usao-edva/pr/wikileaks-founder-charged-computer-hacking-conspiracy …WikiLeaks Founder Charged in Computer Hacking ConspiracyJulian P. Assange, 47, the founder of WikiLeaks, was arrested today in the United Kingdom pursuant to the U.S./UK Extradition Treaty, in connection with a federal charge of conspiracy to commitjustice.gov
The DOJ says part of what Assange did to justify his prosecution – beyond allegedly helping Manning get the documents – is he encouraged Manning to get more docs for him to publish. Journalists do this with sources constantly: it’s the criminalization of journalism
Not only did Trump refuse to step in and pardon one of the key players whose information leaks arguably led to him winning the presidency but he went on the offensive against him.RELATED: 6 Questions About the Vegas Massacre That Will Make You Wonder What They’re Hiding
Shortly after being kidnapped from the Embassy at the behest of the Trump administration’s Department of Justice, a kangaroo court was set up to railroad the journalist.
A London court ruled on May 1 that Assange was guilty of “violating bail conditions,” and he was sentenced to 50-week internment at a high-security Belmarsh prison—a sentence United Nations human rights experts called “disproportionate” over such a “minor violation.”
Assange now faces extradition to the United States where he will be further prosecuted for “conspiracy” for doing nothing other than exposing war crimes of the West.
Julian Assange is a hero. His actions helped to expose horrifying crimes carried out by the US government, including mowing down innocent journalists with a .50 cal. His persecution by the UK and the US is undoubtedly retaliation and punishment for exposing these crimes.
The idea that a journalist is being held in solitary confinement on a whim from this administration, and also faces the possibility of being “disappeared” in a US black site prison after his extradition, is utter insanity.
How much longer can we go down a road in which murder is celebrated and the truth is prosecuted before it all comes crashing down in a hellfire of smoke and ash? My guess is, not so long…. Source
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