Category Archives: WikiLeaks

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Demolishes Fake Claims Targeting Julian Assange

On the face of it, the task seems almost hopeless. As Tolstoy wrote:

‘The power of the government is maintained by public opinion, and with this power the government, by means of its organs – its officials, law courts, schools, churches, even the press – can always maintain the public opinion which they need.’ (Leo Tolstoy, Writings on Non-Violence and Civil Disobedience, New Society Publishers, 1987, p.111)

Last December, we witnessed the awesome capacity of state-corporate power to manipulate public opinion and undermine a democratic election with a ruthless propaganda campaign smearing Jeremy Corbyn, a passionate anti-racist. The campaign depicted Corbyn, not just as an anti-semite, but as someone who might ‘reopen Auschwitz’. The truth wasn’t just distorted, it was reversed.

Israeli-born academic and author Jamie Stern-Weiner has commented:

‘no mainstream reporter ever investigated whether the allegations against Labour were true.

‘Where journalists did not reflexively endorse the accusations against Labour, they were content to uncritically relay them alongside the party’s response.

‘Accusations by Jewish communal figures or anti-Corbyn MPs were considered inherently significant, whether or not they were accompanied by supporting evidence.’

Careful, credible analysis that made a nonsense of the claims here, here and here was simply ignored.

Vested interests may appear to hold all the cards – they work hard to give that impression – but this is only an appearance. The very fact that they work so relentlessly to shape public opinion indicates the precarious nature of their dominance.

The problem is inherent, structural – a ‘democratic’ society that subordinates the needs of the many to the needs of the few is a society based on lies. Propaganda obfuscating those lies can be disseminated endlessly, day and night, but it will always be vulnerable to individuals and groups with genuine expertise motivated by genuine concern for others. As the Buddhist sage Je Gampopa commented:

‘Even a single virtuous act overcomes many evils… a small good action can overcome a great wrong; it is highly efficient.’ (Gampopa, Gems of Dharma, Jewels of Freedom, Altea, 1994, p.135)

Following in the footsteps of senior UN officials like Denis Halliday, Hans von Sponeck and Scott Ritter – who, between them, demolished many of the deceptions ‘justifying’ the genocidal 1990s US-UK sanctions regime in Iraq and the 2003 war of aggression on Iraq – consider the ‘highly efficient’ comments made to the Swiss magazine, Republik, by Nils Melzer on Julian Assange:

‘Four democratic countries joined forces – the U.S., Ecuador, Sweden and the UK – to leverage their power to portray one man as a monster so that he could later be burned at the stake without any outcry. The case is a huge scandal and represents the failure of Western rule of law. If Julian Assange is convicted, it will be a death sentence for freedom of the press.’

The problem for the propaganda system targeting Assange is that Melzer is not just someone blogging on the internet; he is the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. In addition, he is a professor of international law at the University of Glasgow and holds the Human Rights Chair at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in Switzerland, where he has been teaching since 2009, including as the Swiss Chair of International Humanitarian Law (2011–2013). Melzer even speaks fluent Swedish. In other words, it is hard to imagine anyone better qualified to comment on the Assange case.

Melzer describes how, on August 20, 2010, a headline appeared on the front page of Expressen, a leading Swedish tabloid, declaring that Julian Assange was suspected of having committed two rapes. Melzer describes his reaction on investigating these claims:

‘I speak fluent Swedish and was thus able to read all of the original documents. I could hardly believe my eyes: According to the testimony of the woman in question, a rape had never even taken place at all. And not only that: The woman’s testimony was later changed by the Stockholm police without her involvement in order to somehow make it sound like a possible rape. I have all the documents in my possession, the emails, the text messages.’

The order of events is extraordinary and outrageous:

‘A woman walks into a police station. She doesn’t want to file a complaint but wants to demand an HIV test. The police then decide that this could be a case of rape and a matter for public prosecutors. The woman refuses to go along with that version of events and then goes home and writes a friend that it wasn’t her intention, but the police want to “get their hands on” Assange. Two hours later, the case is in the newspaper. As we know today, public prosecutors leaked it to the press – and they did so without even inviting Assange to make a statement. And the second woman, who had allegedly been raped according to the Aug. 20 headline, was only questioned on Aug. 21.’

As Melzer says, this behaviour demonstrated the ‘willful malevolence of the authorities’. Melzer leaves no doubt about the real significance of the rape claims:

‘Imagine a dark room. Suddenly, someone shines a light on the elephant in the room – on war criminals, on corruption. Assange is the man with the spotlight. The governments are briefly in shock, but then they turn the spotlight around with accusations of rape. It is a classic maneuver when it comes to manipulating public opinion. The elephant once again disappears into the darkness, behind the spotlight. And Assange becomes the focus of attention instead, and we start talking about whether Assange is skateboarding in the embassy or whether he is feeding his cat correctly.’

The goal:

‘A show trial is to be used to make an example of Julian Assange. The point is to intimidate other journalists. Intimidation, by the way, is one of the primary purposes for the use of torture around the world. The message to all of us is: This is what will happen to you if you emulate the Wikileaks model.’

It is very much to Melzer’s credit that he admits that he was himself initially taken in by the propaganda campaign. He reveals that, in December 2018, he was asked by Assange’s lawyers to intervene. He declined:

‘I was overloaded with other petitions and wasn’t really familiar with the case. My impression, largely influenced by the media, was also colored by the prejudice that Julian Assange was somehow guilty and that he wanted to manipulate me.’

After Assange’s lawyers made a second request in March 2019, Melzer felt that that ‘my professional integrity demanded that I at least take a look at the material’. The result:

‘It quickly became clear to me that something was wrong.’

With unprecedented clarity, Melzer unpacks the meaning of the many bizarre twists and turns in the political persecution of Assange. Was it true, as so many journalists claim, that Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy to evade Swedish justice? Melzer comments:

‘The [Assange] lawyers say that during the nearly seven years in which Assange lived in the Ecuadorian Embassy, they made over 30 offers to arrange for Assange to visit Sweden – in exchange for a guarantee that he would not be extradited to the U.S. The Swedes declined to provide such a guarantee by arguing that the U.S. had not made a formal request for extradition.’

Was this standard practice?

‘Such diplomatic assurances are a routine international practice… I say this on the strength of all of my experience behind the scenes of standard international practice: If a country refuses to provide such a diplomatic assurance, then all doubts about the good intentions of the country in question are justified. Why shouldn’t Sweden provide such assurances? From a legal perspective, after all, the U.S. has absolutely nothing to do with Swedish sex offense proceedings.’

Melzer was asked if it was normal, or legally acceptable, for Swedish authorities to travel abroad for such an interrogation:

‘For exactly these kinds of judiciary issues, there is a cooperation treaty between the United Kingdom and Sweden, which foresees that Swedish officials can travel to the UK, or vice versa, to conduct interrogations or that such questioning can take place via video link. During the period of time in question, such questioning between Sweden and England took place in 44 other cases. It was only in Julian Assange’s case that Sweden insisted that it was essential for him to appear in person.’

Melzer’s conclusion:

‘From my perspective, Sweden very clearly acted in bad faith. Had they acted in good faith, there would have been no reason to refuse to answer my questions. The same holds true for the British: Following my visit to Assange in May 2019, they took six months to answer me – in a single-page letter, which was primarily limited to rejecting all accusations of torture and all inconsistencies in the legal proceedings. If you’re going to play games like that, then what’s the point of my mandate? I am the Special Rapporteur on Torture for the United Nations. I have a mandate to ask clear questions and to demand answers.’

He adds:

‘There is only a single explanation for everything – for the refusal to grant diplomatic assurances, for the refusal to question him in London: They wanted to apprehend him so they could extradite him to the U.S. The number of breaches of law that accumulated in Sweden within just a few weeks during the preliminary criminal investigation is simply grotesque.’

The media version was rather different. In 2012, the Guardian’s Laura Barton wrote of Assange and the Ecuadorian embassy:

‘Poor Julian. It can’t be easy to be confined to one building, no matter how prestigious the postcode… And so we decided to assemble a collection of items that Assange might be missing, and deliver them.’

A photograph showed an unsmiling Barton delivering a Guardian hamper to their bete noire at the Ecuadorian embassy:

‘we packed our hamper with a selection of edible items not native to Ecuador – Kellogg’s cornflakes fortified with vitamin D to compensate for the lack of sunlight in Assange’s life, a jar of Vegemite (as an antipodean, Julian was likely to spurn Marmite), a packet of chocolate-chip cookies, and a punnet of clementines.

‘Recalling that Bill Keller, editor of the New York Times, once remarked upon Assange’s questionable hygiene and the fact he wore “filthy white socks” we added three pairs of crisp, white sports socks and a shower gel in the “feelgood fragrance of eucalyptus and citrus oils” that promised to be both “revitalizing” and “refreshing.”’

We have documented many similar examples of this relentless, ferocious and frankly weird corporate media mockery of Assange here and here.

Assange is currently being held in London’s Belmarsh prison prior to a hearing that will determine if he is to be extradited to the US. He has already served a 50-week sentence for skipping bail. Melzer comments on this sentence:

‘It is obvious that what we are dealing with here is political persecution. In Britain, bail violations seldom lead to prison sentences – they are generally subject only to fines. Assange, by contrast, was sentenced in summary proceedings to 50 weeks in a maximum-security prison – clearly a disproportionate penalty that had only a single purpose: Holding Assange long enough for the U.S. to prepare their espionage case against him.’

A US grand jury has indicted Assange on 18 charges – 17 of which fall under the US Espionage Act – around conspiracy to receive, obtain and disclose classified diplomatic and military documents. Melzer explains why Assange has no chance of receiving justice in the US:

‘He will not receive a trial consistent with the rule of law. That’s another reason why his extradition shouldn’t be allowed. Assange will receive a trial-by-jury in Alexandria, Virginia – the notorious “Espionage Court” where the U.S. tries all national security cases. The choice of location is not by coincidence, because the jury members must be chosen in proportion to the local population, and 85 percent of Alexandria residents work in the national security community – at the CIA, the NSA, the Defense Department and the State Department. When people are tried for harming national security in front of a jury like that, the verdict is clear from the very beginning. The cases are always tried in front of the same judge behind closed doors and on the strength of classified evidence. Nobody has ever been acquitted there in a case like that. The result being that most defendants reach a settlement, in which they admit to partial guilt so as to receive a milder sentence.’

Meanwhile, Assange’s physical condition has continued to deteriorate:

‘I visited Assange in his cell in London in May 2019 together with two experienced, widely respected doctors who are specialized in the forensic and psychological examination of torture victims. The diagnosis arrived at by the two doctors was clear: Julian Assange displays the typical symptoms of psychological torture. If he doesn’t receive protection soon, a rapid deterioration of his health is likely, and death could be one outcome.’

Melzer’s conclusions are utterly damning:

‘We have to stop believing that there was really an interest in leading an investigation into a sexual offense. What Wikileaks did is a threat to the political elite in the U.S., Britain, France and Russia in equal measure. Wikileaks publishes secret state information – they are opposed to classification. And in a world, even in so-called mature democracies, where secrecy has become rampant, that is seen as a fundamental threat.’

He adds:

‘We give countries power and delegate it to governments – but in return, they must be held accountable for how they exercise that power. If we don’t demand that they be held accountable, we will lose our rights sooner or later. Humans are not democratic by their nature. Power corrupts if it is not monitored. Corruption is the result if we do not insist that power be monitored.’

His final thoughts are an urgent warning to us all:

‘I have seen lots of horrors and violence and have seen how quickly peaceful countries like Yugoslavia or Rwanda can transform into infernos. At the roots of such developments are always a lack of transparency and unbridled political or economic power combined with the naivete, indifference and malleability of the population. Suddenly, that which always happened to the other – unpunished torture, rape, expulsion and murder – can just as easily happen to us or our children. And nobody will care. I can promise you that.’

We tweeted the Guardian editor and a number of key Guardian journalists who have commented on Assange:

‘For the first time, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, speaks in detail about the explosive findings of his investigation into the case of Julian Assange. Please read and comment @KathViner @MarinaHyde @suzanne_moore @GeorgeMonbiot @HadleyFreeman @OwenJones84’

We also tweeted:

‘As @NilsMelzer says, a failure to respond to his findings indicates a lack of good faith. Please respond @KathViner @MarinaHyde @suzanne_moore @GeorgeMonbiot @HadleyFreeman @OwenJones84’

We also wrote to Ash Sarkar, contributing editor at Novara Media, who described Assange on Twitter as ‘a definite creep, a probable rapist, a conspiracist whackjob’:

‘Hi @AyoCaesar, will you please respond to these comments from @NilsMelzer, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, on attempts to portray Julian Assange ‘as a monster so that he could later be burned at the stake without any outcry’? @novaramedia @AaronBastani’

We received no answer from any of the journalists contacted (to be fair to Monbiot and Jones, having blocked us on Twitter for sending them polite, rational challenges, they may not have seen our tweet).

Despite the credibility and integrity of the source, and the obvious newsworthiness of the issue, our ProQuest database search finds that Nils Melzer and his comments published in Republik on 31 January have not been mentioned in any US or UK media outlet.

German TV Exposes the Lies that Entrapped Julian Assange

A major German TV network has aired an interview with the UN rapporteur on torture that reveals the invention of the Swedish “rape” case against Julian Assange.

Truth has broken through for those confused about how a publisher ended up in a maximum security prison in London with a one-way extradition ticket to court in the U.S. and the rest of his life behind bars.

One of the main German TV channels (ZDF) ran two prime-time segments on Wednesday night exposing authorities in Sweden for having “made up” the story about Julian Assange being a rapist.

Until last night most Germans, as well as other consumers of “major media” in Europe, had no idea of the trickery that enmeshed Assange in a spider-web almost certainly designed by the U.S. and woven by accomplices in vassal states like Sweden, Britain and, eventually, Ecuador.

ZDF punctured that web by interviewing UN Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer. One ZDF “Heute Sendung” segment (in German) is especially telling from minute 13:00 to 15:30 . The second is ZDF “Heute Journal” (minute 25:49 to 30:19.)

Both ZDF programs show Melzer being interviewed, with minimal interruption or commentary, letting his findings speak for themselves about how allegations against Assange were “made up” and manipulated to hold him captive.

The particularly scurrilous allegation that led many, including initially Melzer, to believe Assange was a rapist — a tried and tested smear technique of covert action — was especially effective.  The Swedes never formally charged him with rape — or with any crime, for that matter.  ZDF exhibited some of the documents Melzer uncovered that show the sexual allegations were just as “invented” as the evidence for WMD before the attack on Iraq.

Melzer had previously admitted to having been so misled by media portrayals of Assange that he was initially reluctant to investigate Assange’s case.  Here is what Melzer wrote last year in an op-ed marking the International Day in Support of Torture Victims, June 26. No major media would print or post it. Medium.com posted it under the title “Demasking the Torture of Julian Assange.”

Excerpts:

But surely, I found myself pleading, Assange must be a selfish narcissist, skateboarding through the Ecuadorian Embassy and smearing feces on the walls? Well, all I heard from Embassy staff is that the inevitable inconveniences of his accommodation at their offices were handled with mutual respect and consideration.

This changed only after the election of President Moreno, when they were suddenly instructed to find smears against Assange and, when they didn’t, they were soon replaced. The President even took it upon himself to bless the world with his gossip, and to personally strip Assange of his asylum and citizenship without any due process of law.

In the end it finally dawned on me that I had been blinded by propaganda, and that Assange had been systematically slandered to divert attention from the crimes he exposed. (Emphasis added.)

Melzer ended his op-ed with this somber warning:

… This is not only about protecting Assange, but about preventing a precedent likely to seal the fate of Western democracy. For once telling the truth has become a crime, while the powerful enjoy impunity, it will be too late to correct the course. We will have surrendered our voice to censorship and our fate to unrestrained tyranny. (Emphasis added.)

Melzer’s indefatigable efforts to expose what Assange has gone through, including “psychological torture,” met with some modest success in the days before the German ZDF aired their stories. Embedded in the linked article is by far the best interview of Melzer on Assange.

Opposition to extraditing Assange to the U.S. is becoming more widespread. Another straw in an Assange-favorable wind came last week when the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) called for Assange’s immediate release, ending years of silence by such European institutions.

It remains, nonetheless, an uphill struggle to prompt the British to think back 800 years to the courage of the nobles who wrested the Magna Carta from King John.

Duh, Jared! Who built the PA as a Police State?

Maybe something good will come out of the Trump plan, after all. By pushing the Middle East peace process to its logical conclusion, Donald Trump has made crystal clear something that was supposed to have been obscured: that no US administration has ever really seen peace as the objective of its “peacemaking”.

The current White House is no exception – it has just been far more incompetent at concealing its joint strategy with the Israelis. But that is what happens when a glorified used-car salesman, Donald Trump, and his sidekick son-in-law, the schoolboy-cum-businessman Jared Kushner, try selling us the “deal of the century”. Neither, it seems, has the political or diplomatic guile normally associated with those who rise to high office in Washington.

During an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria this week, Kushner dismally failed to cloak the fact that his “peace” plan was designed with one goal only: to screw the Palestinians over.

The real aim is so transparent that even Zakaria couldn’t stop himself from pointing it out. In CNN’s words, he noted that “no Arab country currently satisfies the requirements Palestinians are being expected to meet in the next four years – including ensuring freedom of press, free and fair elections, respect for human rights for its citizens, and an independent judiciary.”

Trump’s senior adviser suddenly found himself confronted with the kind of deadly, unassailable logic usually overlooked in CNN coverage. Zakaria observed:

Isn’t this just a way of telling the Palestinians you’re never actually going to get a state because … if no Arab countries today [are] in a position that you are demanding of the Palestinians before they can be made a state, effectively, it’s a killer amendment?

Indeed it is.

In fact, the “Peace to Prosperity” document unveiled last week by the White House is no more than a list of impossible preconditions the Palestinians must meet to be allowed to sit down with the Israelis at the negotiating table. If they don’t do so within four years, and quickly reach a deal, the very last slivers of their historic homeland – the parts not already seized by Israel – can be grabbed too, with US blessing.

Preposterous conditions

Admittedly, all Middle East peace plans in living memory have foisted these kinds of prejudicial conditions on the Palestinians. But this time many of the preconditions are so patently preposterous – contradictory even – that the usually pliable corporate press corps are embarrassed to be seen ignoring the glaring inconsistencies.

The CNN exchange was so revealing in part because Kushner was triggered by Zakaria’s observation that the Palestinians had to become a model democracy – a kind of idealised Switzerland, while still under belligerent Israeli occupation – before they could be considered responsible enough for statehood.

How was that plausible, Zakaria hinted, when Saudi Arabia, despite its appalling  human rights abuses, nonetheless remains a close strategic US ally, and Saudi leaders continue to be intimates of the Trump business empire? No one in Washington is seriously contemplating removing US recognition of Saudi Arabia because it is a head-chopping, women-hating, journalist-killing religious fundamentalist state.

But Zakaria could have made an even more telling point – was he not answerable to CNN executives. There are also hardly any western states that would pass the democratic, human rights-respecting threshold set by the Trump plan for the Palestinians.

Think of Britain’s flouting last year of a ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague that the Chagos Islanders must be allowed to return home decades after the UK expelled them so the US could build a military base on their land. Or the Windrush scandal, when it was revealed that a UK government “hostile environment” policy was used to illegally deport British citizens to the Caribbean because of the colour of their skin.

Or what about the US evading due process by holding prisoners offshore at Guantanamo? Or its use of torture against Iraqi prisoners, or its reliance on extraordinary rendition, or its extrajudicial assassinations using drones overseas, including against its own citizens?

Or for that matter, its jailing and extortionate fining of whistleblower Chelsea Manning, despite the Obama administration granting her clemency. US officials want to force her to testify against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for his role in publishing leaks of US war crimes committed in Iraq, including the shocking Collateral Murder video.

And while we’re talking about Assange and about Iraq…

Would the records of either the US or UK stand up to scrutiny if they were subjected to the same standards now required of the Palestinian leadership.

Impertinent questions

But let’s fast forward to the heart of the matter. Angered by Zakaria’s impertinence at mildly questioning the logic of the Trump plan, Kushner let rip.

He called the Palestinian Authority a “police state” and one that is “not exactly a thriving democracy”. It would be impossible, he added, for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians until the Palestinians, not Israel’s occupying army, changed its ways. It was time for the Palestinians to prioritise human rights and democracy, while at the same time submitting completely to Israel’s belligerent, half-century occupation that violates their rights and undermines any claims Israel might have to being a democracy.

Kushner said:

If they [the Palestinians] don’t think that they can uphold these standards, then I don’t think we can get Israel to take the risk to recognize them as a state, to allow them to take control of themselves, because the only thing more dangerous than what we have now is a failed state.

Let’s take a moment to unpack that short statement to examine its many conceptual confusions.

First, there’s the very obvious point that “police states” and dictatorships are not “failed states”. Not by a long shot. In fact, police states and dictatorships are usually the very opposite of failed states. Iraq was an extremely able state under Saddam Hussein, in terms both of its ability to provide welfare and educational services and of its ruthless, brutal efficiency in crushing dissent.

Iraq only became a failed state when the US illegally invaded and executed Saddam, leaving a local leadership vacuum that sucked in an array of competing actors who quickly made Iraq ungovernable.

Oppressive by design

Second, as should hardly need pointing out, the PA can’t be a police state when it isn’t even a state. After all, that’s where the Palestinians are trying to get to, and Israel and the US are blocking the way. It is obviously something else. What that “something else” is brings us to the third point.

Kushner is right that the PA is increasingly authoritarian and uses its security forces in oppressive ways – because that’s exactly what it was set up to do by Israel and the US.

Palestinians had assumed that the Oslo accords of the mid-1990s would lead to the creation of a sovereign state at the completion of that five-year peace process. But that never happened. Denied statehood ever since, the PA now amounts to nothing more than a security contractor for the Israelis. Its unspoken job is to make the Palestinian people submit to their permanent occupation by Israel.

The self-defeating deal contained in Oslo’s “land for peace” formula was this: the PA would build Israeli trust by crushing all resistance to the occupation, and in return Israel would agree to hand over more territory and security powers to the PA.

Bound by its legal obligations, the PA had two possible paths ahead of it: either it would become a state under Israeli licence, or it would serve as a Vichy-like regime suppressing Palestinian aspirations for national liberation. Once the US and Israel made clear they would deny the Palestinians statehood at every turn, the PA’s fate was sealed.

Put another way, the point of Oslo from the point of view of the US and Israel was to make the PA an efficient, permanent police state-in-waiting, and one that lacked the tools to threaten Israel.

And that’s exactly what was engineered. Israel refused to let the Palestinians have a proper army in case, bidding to gain statehood, that army turned its firepower on Israel. Instead a US army general, Keith Dayton, was appointed to oversee the training of the Palestinian police forces – to help the PA better repress those Palestinians who tried to exercise their right in international law to resist Israel’s belligerent occupation.

Presumably, it is a sign of that US programme’s success that Kushner can now describe the PA as a police state.

Freudian slip

In his CNN interview, Kushner inadvertently highlighted the Catch-22 created for the Palestinians. The Trump “peace” process penalises the Palestinian leadership for their very success in achieving the targets laid out for them in the Oslo “peace” process.

Resist Israel’s efforts to deprive the Palestinians of statehood and the PA is classified as a terrorist entity and denied statehood. Submit to Israel’s dictates and oppress the Palestinian people to prevent them demanding statehood and the PA is classified as a police state and denied statehood. Either way, statehood is unattainable. Heads I win, tails you lose.

Kushner’s use of the term “failed state” is revealing too, in a Freudian slip kind of way. Israel doesn’t just want to steal some Palestinian land before it creates a small, impotent Palestinian state. Ultimately, what Israel envisions for the Palestinians is no statehood at all, not even of the compromised, collaborationist kind currently embodied by the PA.

An unabashed partisan

Kushner, however, has done us a favour inadvertently. He has given away the nature of the US bait-and-switch game towards the Palestinians. Unlike Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk and Aaron David Miller – previous American Jewish diplomats overseeing US “peace efforts” – Kushner is not pretending to be an “honest broker”. He is transparently, unabashedly partisan.

In an earlier CNN interview, one last week with Christiane Amanpour, Kushner showed just how personal is his antipathy towards the Palestinians and their efforts to achieve even the most minimal kind of statehood in a tiny fraction of their historic homeland.

He sounded more like a jilted lover, or an irate spouse forced into couples therapy, than a diplomat in charge of a complex and incendiary peace process. He struggled to contain his bitterness as he extemporised a well-worn but demonstrably false Israeli talking-point that the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.

He told Amanpour: “They’re going to screw up another opportunity, like they’ve screwed up every other opportunity that they’ve ever had in their existence.”

The reality is that Kushner, like the real author of the Trump plan, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would prefer that the Palestinians had never existed. He would rather this endless peace charade could be discarded, freeing him to get on with enriching himself with his Saudi pals.

And if the Trump plan can be made to work, he and Netanyahu might finally get their way.

The Assange Extradition Case Drags on

It is being increasingly larded with heavy twists and turns, a form of state oppression in slow motion, but the Julian Assange extradition case now looks like it may well move into the middle of the year, dragged out, ironically enough, by the prosecution. Curiously, this is a point that both the prosecutors, fronted by the US imperium, and the WikiLeaks defence team, seem to have found some inadvertent agreement with. This is the biggest case of its kind, and will determine, for an era, how journalism and the publication of nationally classified information is treated. Neither wish to misstep in this regard.

The last procedural hearing ahead of the full extradition trial of Assange over 17 counts of espionage and one of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion was trained on the issue of logistics. The prosecutors seemed to be bellyaching in their discontent, lamenting matters of availability for their staff. One striking example concerned the US government’s chief barrister, James Lewis, who would be taken up with a trial in Northern Ireland of “a great deal of substance and importance.” This would make him unavailable for up to three months after the commencement of the extradition case.

Clair Dobbin, representing the US, was the first to make an application that the substantive hearing be split. Various legal rulings, she argued, would have to be made subsequent to the full February proceedings, including the ticklish issue of whether certain witnesses were to remain anonymous or not. WikiLeaks wishes that they remain so; the prosecution would like that cloak removed.

Despite already furnishing the court with a meaty affidavit, Dobbin claimed that more needed to be done in responding to the defence evidence. (Good of them to give a sense of formality that they are doing so.) Besides all that, experts sought by the prosecution were “extremely busy practitioners and academics with very full diaries”, many still chewing over the issue of where Assange fitted in the security paradigm. This statement of itself is odd, as is so much of the entire effort against the WikiLeaks publisher.

Procedural dragging was also a matter of importance for the Assange team. Despite working with manic dedication over Christmas, the issue of access remains crippling for the defence. “We simply cannot get in as we require to see Mr Assange and to take his instruction,” argued one of Assange’s lawyers, Edward Fitzgerald. “Frankly, we require more time before calling the main body of our evidence.”

The point of journalism, and its legitimate pursuit in this nasty, brutish and rather long encounter, lies at the heart of the battle. The framing of the US indictment purports to negate journalism as a factor in the case, with the prosecutors honing in on the issue of espionage and hacking. Spies cannot be journalists, so goes the claim; espionage and publication should not be seen as comparable or even linked matters. This very claim suggests that any form of national security journalism, the sort that exposes abuses of power, is illegal.

This round of submissions merely confirmed the point, though it is one sharpened to specifically exclude foreigners. In other words, press protections enshrined by the First Amendment of the US Constitution cannot apply to non-US nationals, a daringly dangerous assertion.

As WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson crisply put it, “We have now learned from submissions and affidavits presented by the United States to the court that they do not consider foreign nationals to have a first amendment protection.” To the AAP, he surmised that the US had also “decided that they can go after journalists wherever they are residing in the world, they have universal jurisdiction, and demand extradition like they are doing by trying to get an Australian national from the UK from publishing that took place outside US borders.”

The US case also insists that, should the extradition be successful, Assange will be subject to that troubling euphemism of “special administrative measures”. Even in a bureaucratic penal system, such language entails a formal and legal disappearance of the subject.

Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi suggests with understandable gloominess that “Pandora’s box will open” if the prosecutors make their case fly in court. The extradition of an Australian or Italian journalist by the US would just as easily justify the same action by Saudi Arabia and Russia. This terrifying precedent is reiterated as a distinct possibility across the spectrum of commentary, an extra-territorial extension of US power to punish the world’s scribblers, bloggers and publishers.

The outcome of this set of stuttered proceedings seemed to irritate District Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who conceded to the split, but sternly spoke of disfavour regarding any other requests for moving dates. She did relent to another case management hearing scheduled for February 19. The full extradition hearing is now set to open on February 24 at London’s Woolwich Crown Court, adjourning after one week, then continuing in May 18 with a three-week hearing. The chess pieces in this critical encounter have again been moved.

In this dark turn, a smattering of light seemed to shine through. Having been held in withering solitary confinement in the prison medical wing of Belmarsh, news came that Assange will be moved to an area with other inmates. Joseph Farrell of WikiLeaks described it as “a dramatic climbdown,” “a huge victory for Assange’s legal team and for campaigners, who have been insisting for weeks that the prison authorities end the punitive treatment of Assange.” The same could not be said about legal and medical access, both of which have been sorely lacking.

The decision to initiate the move seems to have sprung from prisoners within Belmarsh itself. The prison governor has been petitioned on no less than three occasions by a group of convicts insisting that the treatment being afforded Assange smacked of injustice. Human rights activist Craig Murray subsequently reflected on this “small victory for basic humanity – and it took criminals to teach it to the British state.”

Such victories in penal terms do tend to be mixed. Assange will hope that those inmates he keeps company remain sympathetic to his cause. The new quarters will house some 40 of them, and the risks to his being remain. Even in prison, Assange’s case and plight never ceases to astonish.

OPCW Investigator testifies at UN that no Chemical Attack Took Place in Douma, Syria

Video and a transcript of former OPCW engineer and dissenter Ian Henderson’s UN testimony appears at the end of this report.

A former lead investigator from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has spoken out at the United Nations, stating in no uncertain terms that the scientific evidence suggests there was no gas attack in Douma, Syria in April 2018.

The dissenter, Ian Henderson, worked for 12 years at the international watchdog organization, serving as an inspection team leader and engineering expert. Among his most consequential jobs was assisting the international body’s fact-finding mission (FFM) on the ground in Douma.

He told a UN Security Council session convened on January 20 by Russia’s delegation that OPCW management had rejected his group’s scientific research, dismissed the team, and produced another report that totally contradicted their initial findings.

“We had serious misgivings that a chemical attack had occurred,” Henderson said, referring to the FFM team in Douma.

The former OPCW inspector added that he had compiled evidence through months of research that “provided further support for the view that there had not been a chemical attack.”

Western airstrikes based on unsubstantiated allegations by foreign-backed jihadists

Foreign-backed Islamist militants and the Western government-funded regime-change influence operation known as the White Helmets accused the Syrian government of dropping gas cylinders and killing dozens of people in the city of Douma on April 7, 2018. Damascus rejected the accusation, claiming the incident was staged by the insurgents.

At the time, Douma was controlled by the extremist Salafi-jihadist militia Jaysh al-Islam, which was created and funded by Saudi Arabia and formerly allied with Syria’s powerful al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra.

The governments of the United States, Britain, and France responded to the allegations of a chemical attack by launching airstrikes against the Syrian government on April 14. The military assault was illegal under international law, as the countries did not have UN authorization.

Numerous OPCW whistleblowers and leaks challenge Western government claims

In May 2019, an internal OPCW engineering assessment was leaked to the public. The document, authored by Ian Henderson, said the “dimensions, characteristics and appearance of the cylinders” in Douma “were inconsistent with what would have been expected in the case of either cylinder having been delivered from an aircraft,” adding that there is “a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft.”

After reviewing the leaked report, MIT professor emeritus of Science, Technology and International Security Theodore Postol told The Grayzone, “The evidence is overwhelming that the gas attacks were staged.” Postol also accused OPCW leadership of overseeing “compromised reporting” and ignoring scientific evidence.

In November, a second OPCW whistleblower came forward and accused the organization’s leadership of suppressing countervailing evidence, under pressure by three US government officials.

WikiLeaks has published numerous internal emails from the OPCW that reveal allegations that the body’s management staff doctored the Douma report.

As the evidence of internal suppression grew, the OPCW’s first director-general, José Bustani, decided to speak out. “The convincing evidence of irregular behavior in the OPCW investigation of the alleged Douma chemical attack confirms doubts and suspicions I already had,” Bustani stated.

“I could make no sense of what I was reading in the international press. Even official reports of investigations seemed incoherent at best. The picture is certainly clearer now, although very disturbing,” the former OPCW head concluded.

OPCW whistleblower testimony at UN Security Council meeting on Douma

On January 20, 2020, Ian Henderson delivered his first in-person testimony, alleging suppression by OPCW leadership. He spoke at a UN Security Council Arria-Formula meeting on the fact-finding mission report on Douma.

(Video of the session follows at the bottom of this article, along with a full transcript of Henderson’s testimony.)

China’s mission to the UN invited Ian Henderson to testify in person at the Security Council session. Henderson said in his testimony that he had planned to attend, but was unable to get a visa waiver from the US government. (The Trump administration has repeatedly blocked access to the UN for representatives from countries that do not kowtow to its interests, turning UN visas into a political weapon in blatant violation of the international body’s headquarters agreement.)

Henderson told the Security Council in a pre-recorded video message that he was not the only OPCW inspector to question the leadership’s treatment of the Douma investigation.

“My concern, which was shared by a number of other inspectors, relates to the subsequent management lockdown and the practices in the later analysis and compilation of a final report,” Henderson explained.

Soon after the alleged incident in Douma in April 2018, the OPCW FFM team had deployed to the ground to carry out an investigation, which it noted included environmental samples, interviews with witnesses, and data collection.

In July 2018, the FFM published its interim report, stating that it found no evidence of chemical weapons use in Douma. (“The results show that no organophosphorous nerve agents or their degradation products were detected in the environmental samples or in the plasma samples taken from alleged casualties,” the report indicated.)

“By the time of release of the interim report in July 2018, our understanding was that we had serious misgivings that a chemical attack had occurred,” Henderson told the Security Council.

After this inspection that led to the interim report, however, Henderson said the OPCW leadership decided to create a new team, “the so-called FFM core team, which essentially resulted in the dismissal of all of the inspectors who had been on the team deployed to locations in Douma and had been following up with their findings and analysis.”

Then in March 2019, this new OPCW team released a final report, in which it claimed that chemical weapons had been used in Douma.

“The findings in the final FFM report were contradictory, were a complete turnaround with what the team had understood collectively during and after the Douma deployments,” Henderson remarked at the UN session.

“The report did not make clear what new findings, facts, information, data, or analysis in the fields of witness testimony, toxicology studies, chemical analysis, and engineering, and/or ballistic studies had resulted in the complete turn-around in the situation from what was understood by the majority of the team, and the entire Douma [FFM] team, in July 2018,” Henderson stated.

The former OPCW expert added, “I had followed up with a further six months of engineering and ballistic studies into these cylinders, the result of which had provided further support for the view that there had not been a chemical attack.”

via @BenjaminNorton

US government pressure on the OPCW

The US government responded to this historic testimony at the UN session by attacking Russia, which sponsored the Arria-Formula meeting.

Acting US representative Cherith Norman Chalet praised the OPCW, aggressively condemned the “Assad regime,” and told the UN that the “United States is proud to support the vital, life-saving work of the White Helmets” – a US and UK-backed organization that collaborated extensively with ISIS and al-Qaeda and have been involved in numerous executions in Syrian territory occupied by Islamist extremists.

The US government has a long history of pressuring and manipulating the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the George W. Bush administration threatened José Bustani, the first director of the OPCW, and pressured him to resign.

In 2002, as the Bush White House was preparing to wage a war on Iraq, Bustani made an agreement with the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein that would have permitted OPCW inspectors to come to the country unannounced for weapons investigations. This infuriated the US government.

Then-Under Secretary of State John Bolton told Bustani in 2002 that US Vice President Dick “Cheney wants you out.” Bolton threatened the OPCW director-general, stating, “You have 24 hours to leave the organization, and if you don’t comply with this decision by Washington, we have ways to retaliate against you… We know where your kids live.”

Attacking the credibility of Ian Henderson

While OPCW managers have kept curiously silent amid the scandal over their Douma report, an interventionist media outlet called Bellingcat has functioned as an outsourced press shop, aggressively defending the official narrative and attacking its most prominent critics, including Ian Henderson.

Bellingcat is funded by the US government’s regime-change arm, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and is part of an initiative bankrolled by the British Foreign Office.

Following Henderson’s testimony, Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins tried to besmirch the former OPCW engineer’s credibility by implying he was being used by Russia. Until 2019, Higgins worked at the Atlantic Council, a pro-war think tank financed by the American and British governments, as well as by NATO.

Supporters of the OPCW’s apparently doctored final report have relied heavily on Bellingcat to try to discredit the whistleblowers and growing leaks. Scientific expert Theodor Postol, who debated Higgins, has noted that Bellingcat “have no scientific credibility at any level.” Postol says he even suspects that OPCW management may have relied on Bellingcat’s highly dubious claims in its own compromised reporting.

Higgins has no expertise or scientific credentials, and even The New York Times acknowledged in a highly sympathetic piece that “Higgins attributed his skill not to any special knowledge of international conflicts or digital data, but to the hours he had spent playing video games, which, he said, gave him the idea that any mystery can be cracked.”

In his testimony before the UN Security Council, Ian Henderson stressed that he was speaking out in line with his duties as a scientific expert.

Henderson said he does not even like the term whistleblower and would not use it to describe himself, because, “I’m a former OPCW specialist who has concerns in an area, and I consider this a legitimate and appropriate forum to explain again these concerns.”

Russia’s UN representative added that Moscow had also invited the OPCW director-general and representatives of the organization’s Technical Secretariat, but they chose not to participate in the session.

Video of the UN Security Council session on the OPCW’s Douma report

Ian Henderson’s testimony begins at 57:30 in this official UN video:

Transcript: Testimony by OPCW whistleblower Ian Henderson at the UN Security Council

“My name is Ian Henderson. I’m a former OPCW inspection team leader, having served for about 12 years. I heard about this meeting and I was invited by the minister, councilor of the Chinese mission to the UN. Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances around my ESTA visa waiver status, I was not able to travel. I thus submitted a written statement, to which I will now add a short introduction.

I need to point out at the outset that I’m not a whistleblower; I don’t like that term. I’m a former OPCW specialist who has concerns in an area, and I consider this a legitimate and appropriate forum to explain again these concerns.

Secondly, I must point out that I hold the OPCW in the highest regard, as well as the professionalism of the staff members who work there. The organization is not broken; I must stress that. However, the concern I have does relate to some specific management practices in certain sensitive missions.

The concern, of course, relates to the FFM investigation into the alleged chemical attack on the 7th of April in Douma, in Syria. My concern, which was shared by a number of other inspectors, relates to the subsequent management lockdown and the practices in the later analysis and compilation of a final report.

There were two teams deployed; one team, which I joined shortly after the start of field deployments, was to Douma in Syria; the other team deployed to country X.

The main concern relates to the announcement in July 2018 of a new concept, the so-called FFM core team, which essentially resulted in the dismissal of all of the inspectors who had been on the team deployed to locations in Douma and had been following up with their findings and analysis.

The findings in the final FFM report were contradictory, were a complete turnaround with what the team had understood collectively during and after the Douma deployments. And by the time of release of the interim report in July 2018, our understanding was that we had serious misgivings that a chemical attack had occurred.

What the final FFM report does not make clear, and thus does not reflect the views of the team members who deployed to Douma — in which case I really can only speak for myself at this stage — the report did not make clear what new findings, facts, information, data, or analysis in the fields of witness testimony, toxicology studies, chemical analysis, and engineering, and/or ballistic studies had resulted in the complete turn-around in the situation from what was understood by the majority of the team, and the entire Douma team, in July 2018.

In my case, I had followed up with a further six months of engineering and ballistic studies into these cylinders, the result of which had provided further support for the view that there had not been a chemical attack.

This needs to be properly resolved, we believe through the rigors of science and engineering. In my situation, it’s not a political debate. I’m very aware that there is a political debate surrounding this.

Perhaps a closing comment from my side is that I was also the inspection team leader who developed and launched the inspections, the highly intrusive inspections, of the Barzah SSRC facility, just outside Damascus. And I did the inspections and wrote the reports for the two inspections prior to, and the inspection after the chemical facility, or the laboratory complex at Barzah SSRC, had been destroyed by the missile strike.

That, however, is another story altogether, and I shall now close. Thank you.”

• Article first published in The Grayzone

Short of Time: Julian Assange at the Westminster Magistrates Court

LONDON — Another slot of judicial history, another notch to be added to the woeful record of legal proceedings being undertaken against Julian Assange. The ailing WikiLeaks founder was coping as well as he could, showing the resourcefulness of the desperate at his Monday hearing. At the Westminster Magistrates Court, Assange faced a 12-minute process, an ordinary affair in which he was asked to confirm his name, an ongoing ludicrous state of affairs, and seek clarification about an aspect of the proceedings.

Of immediate concern to the lawyers, specifically seasoned human rights advocate Gareth Peirce, was the issue that prison officers at Belmarsh have been obstructing and preventing the legal team from spending sufficient time with their client, despite the availability of empty rooms. “We have pushed Belmarsh in every way – it is a breach of a defendant’s rights.” Three substantial sets of documents and evidence required signing off by Assange before being submitted to the prosecution, a state of affairs distinctly impossible given the time constraints.

A compounding problem was also cited by Peirce: the shift from moving the hearing a day forward resulted in a loss of time. “This slippage in the timetable is extremely worrying.” Whether this shows indifference to protocol or malice on the part of prosecuting authorities is hard to say, but either way, justice is being given a good flaying.

The argument carried sufficient weight with District Judge Vanessa Baraitser to result in an adjournment till 2 pm in the afternoon, but this had more to do with logistics than any broader principle of conviction. As Baraitser reasoned, 47 people were currently in custody at court; a mere eight rooms were available for interviewing, leaving an additional hour to the day. In her view, if Assange was sinned against, so was everybody else, given that others in custody should not be prevented from access to counsel. (This judge has a nose for justice, albeit using it selectively.)

As things stand, Peirce is aiming to finalise the exhibits for submission to the prosecution by January 18. The government deadline for responding to those documents will be February 7. The case proceeding itself was adjourned till January 23, and Assange will have the choice, limited as it is, of having the hearing at the Westminster Magistrates Court or Belmarsh.

Supporters outside the court were also of same mind regarding the paltry amount of time awarded Assange. The rapper M.I.A, showing how support for the publisher can at times be sketchy, managed to have a dig at the state while also acknowledging thanks from it. (An announcement had just been made that she would be receiving an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.) “I think it is important to follow this case. I am off to get a medal at Buckingham Palace tomorrow and I think today is just as important. To give somebody an hour to put their case together is not quite right.” Assange supporters would agree with her view that, for “a case of this scale, having only access to two hours to prepare, is illegal in itself.”

The atmosphere around the proceedings has thickened of late, and the WikiLeaks argument here about CIA interference and surveillance conducted by the Spanish firm Undercover Global S.L. while Assange was in the Ecuadorean embassy in London is biting. Prior to Christmas he gave testimony to Spanish judge Jose de la Mata claiming he was not aware that cameras installed by the company in the Ecuadorean embassy were also capturing audio details.

Leaving aside the broader issues of free speech, an argument has been made that CIA meddling might well be the fly in the ointment that impairs the prosecution’s case. This might be wishful thinking, but this is a line of inquiry worth pursuing. The WikiLeaks legal team is keen to press the matter in February during the extradition hearing.

In the well-considered view of James C. Goodale, former Vice Chairman and General Counsel for The New York Times, “After reading El Pais’s series, you would have to be a dunce not to believe the CIA didn’t monitor Assange’s every move at the Ecuadorean embassy, including trips to the bathroom.”

Goodale cites the Pentagon Papers case as an example that the defence may well draw upon. Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked classified Pentagon reports to The Washington Post and The New York Times, had the office of his psychiatrist broken into by President Richard Nixon’s notorious “plumbers”, led by former CIA agent E. Howard Hunt. The conscience stricken analyst was also facing charges under the Espionage Act of 1917. When it came to the trial judge’s attention that government misconduct, including the FBI’s interception of Ellsberg’s telephone conversations with a government official had characterised the entire effort against the whistleblower, the case was dismissed with prejudice. Ellsberg’s treatment had “offended a sense of justice” and “incurably infected the prosecution”.

As with Assange, the footprint of the CIA in Ellsberg’s case was far from negligible. It assisted in the muddled break-in. It penned a clumsy psychiatric profile of Ellsberg and assembled a full identification ensemble for the plumbers: Social Security cards, disguises, drivers’ licenses, speech alternation devices. As Goodale rhetorically poses, “Can anything be more offensive to a ‘sense of justice’ than an unlimited surveillance, particularly of lawyer-client conversations, livestreamed to the opposing party in a criminal case?” It remains for the British courts to consider whether that degree of offensiveness has been achieved in this case.

Question for Kirbymoorside UK Hustings Meeting: Would you stand up for Julian Assange?

To those candidates who are putting themselves forward as MPs to become a voice within the UK Parliament — would you stand up for Julian Assange and for those who. in speaking truth, have the audacity to challenge the dialogue of power?

I am disappointed that my question relating to the arbitrary detention of Julian Assange was not presented at the Hustings meeting at Kirbymoorside. I consider it to be a question of such vital importance for all those who share a common belief in justice, truth and commitment to democracy and freedom of speech, so I have chosen to re-present a significantly fuller version of the question by using an open letter form.

The treatment of Julian Assange, arguably one of the world’s most brilliant, courageous and outspoken personalities, raises serious concerns in so many ways that we urgently need an open discussion on it. These areas include: unlawful arbitrary detention, the law on asylum and extradition, democracy, sovereignty, torture, free speech, and state violence.

The initial investigation against Julian Assange, which originated in Sweden, never reached the stage of prosecution and all investigations have since been withdrawn. Julian Assange has also served time in prison for skipping bail by seeking asylum within the Ecuadorian Embassy because of the well-founded fear that he would be extradited to the United States. In such circumstances skipping bail and seeking asylum was a rational and fully justified decision. Nevertheless, our judicial system chose to punish him by giving him a prison sentence in Belmarsh — a prison reserved for Britain’s most dangerous and violent offenders.

That sentence has now been served which brings into question why Julian Assange continues to be detained. Within the UK extradition of political prisoners is prohibited. Therefore, questions arise as to the legality of this extradition order and what the justification is for his continued detention, especially within a top security prison. Julian Assange is charged with espionage, which by any definition, comes under the umbrella of political activity. Along with Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange is charged with publishing information regarding US war crimes in Iraq. The UK is a sovereign kingdom and signatory to international human rights laws, over and above its relation with the US. For UK laws to be subverted at the behest of a foreign government raises a further serious question. Just who is being represented here: the citizenry or some other power?

In 2016 a UN Working Party on arbitrary detention determined that the detention of Julian Assange was unlawful. How this same Working Party in 2019 would view his forcible extraction from the Embassy and his subsequent detention at Belmarsh Prison can only be speculated upon.

Nils Melzer, UN Rapporteur on torture, has stated that the current treatment of Julian Assange — of being under surveillance and placed in solidarity confinement, both during the latter years within the Ecuadorian Embassy and within Belmarsh Prison — amounts to psychological torture.

Julian Assange is a researcher and publisher. His crime has been to publish truthful information relating to serious war crimes committed against civilians, including journalists and children, by US forces within Iraq. Clearly this revelation is embarrassing for the US — which along with the allied military forces invaded Iraq on a contrived pretext — at the time deemed illegal by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The devastation of this war has been disastrous for civilians throughout much of the Middle East as this toxic war mentality kiled hundreds of thousands, created a huge refugee population, and contributed to terrorism that has expanded into Europe and beyond. Definitively, telling, writing, and publishing the facts was a moral obligation. There is a glaring irony here given that within the UK “it is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment ‘not’ to reveal information relating to a serious crime if one becomes aware of it.”1

The state has normalised war just as it has normalised the extremes of wealth and power. The oligarchy has relegated a large segment of the population to a marginal economic existence. The so-called democracy has been subverted to the whims of transnational corporations, banks too big to fail, the military industrial complex, the pharmaceutical medical monopoly and special interest groups. The violence inflicted upon Julian Assange for his factual revelations should serve as a warning to all publishers, journalists, writers, artists, whistleblowers and anyone of integrity who values human rights, justice, honesty, and democracy.

Freedom of speech is what protects us all from tyrannical governments. It brings them into check when they acquire too much power. A government which represents those with money and power serves only to foster a climate of corruption and fear. It does nothing to address the increasing division between rich and poor and the growing population of those who find themselves afflicted by poverty or sent to fight wars of aggression.

Julian Assange was a leader in researching facts, exposing corruption, crime, and injustice. He became a teacher for those who value original thought and inspired critical thinking. Without such people our world is poorer.

My question therefore is: Where do you stand with regard to the treatment of Julian Assange and others who are willing to risk their freedoms in speaking truth and revealing information that the state finds embarrassing, including that of war crimes and crimes against humanity?

  1. See  Craig Murray, “Violence and the State“, December 3, 2019.

Journalism is Not a Crime

Every time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train ourselves to be passive in its presence.

— Julian Assange

In what Canadian news room is what’s happening to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and to press freedom not worthy of the public’s right to know?

This week Swedish prosecutors dropped their sexual misconduct investigation of Assange for lack of evidence. On CBC’s The National, Ian Hanomansing took less than 10 seconds to update the nation on what is arguably the most important press freedom story of our time.

On October, 21 Assange, whose incarceration in high security Belmarsh prison in London has been deemed “psychological torture” by UN special rapporteur Nils Melzer, entered the next phase in the proceedings to extradite him to the US. If convicted as charged under 18 counts of the 1917 US Espionage Act, Assange could face 175 years of prison for publishing US war crimes.

Was there not one Canadian journo assigned to a London bureau who was curious enough to walk over to Westminster Magistrates Court and file a report?

The October 21 hearing set the timetable for US extradition of the much-maligned Australian publisher. Assange’s lawyers had requested more time to prepare their evidence, including vital evidence from a Spanish court investigating security company UC Global hired by the CIA to spy on Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy. Assange’s lawyers also requested a preliminary hearing to determine whether the extradition treaty applied at all arguing that political offences are excluded from the extradition treaty. District magistrate Vanessa Baraitser dismissed the argument and told Assange that his full extradition case would begin on February 25, as scheduled.

Former UK diplomat and independent journalist Craig Murray was at the hearing. He said,

The reasons given by Assange’s defense team for more time to prepare were both compelling and startling. They had very limited access to their client in jail and had not been permitted to hand him any documents about the case until one week ago. He had also only just been given limited computer access (reportedly an inadequate device), and all his relevant records and materials had been seized from the Ecuadorean Embassy by the US Government; he had no access to his own materials for the purpose of preparing his defense.

Why is this unfolding press freedom drama with implications for the future of journalism as we know it not on the news?

The US investigation of Assange and Wikileaks first began in 2010 under Obama after the transparency web site published Chelsea Manning’s leaked State Department cables, Guantanamo secrets, the Afghan War Diaries and the Iraq War Logs which includes Collateral Murder the helicopter gunsight video that shows unprovoked slayings of civilians by US troops in the streets of Baghdad. Obama’s Department of Justice stopped short of bringing charges to Assange, “out of concerns that a precedent could be set for prosecuting publishers,” reported the New York Times.

In April when Assange was dragged out of his seven-year asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy and carted off to Belmarsh Trump’s DOJ charged Assange with conspiring with military analyst Chelsea Manning to publish what it calls “the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.” In May when the US added spying charges to Assange’s indictment the New York Times reported, “It is a marked escalation in the effort to prosecute Mr. Assange, one that could have a chilling effect on American journalism as it has been practiced for generations.”

Free press advocacy groups say the US Justice Department’s case against Assange will be “to redefine national-security journalism as a form of espionage.” Assange’s lawyers: “Our case will be that this is a political attempt to signal to journalists the consequences of publishing information.”

Canadian journalists have yet to be heard from about what it means should US extra-judicial proceedings seek to criminalize Canadian journalism – receiving and publishing classified material from a government source. That’s what journalists do.

But if you type ‘Julian Assange’ into the search engine of any major Canadian news outlet looking for the latest on Assange’s case what comes up is the same wire services report from Associated Press or Reuters re-published by the Star, the Globe, the National Post, CTV News, CBC News et al.

The invisibility of journalism on Canadian news screens about this urgent press freedom spectacle playing out before our eyes is more than a headscratcher, it’s a violation of the public’s right to know. Where are the press freedom round tables? Where are the j-school debates?

  • First published at National Observer.
  • The Lies about Julian Assange Must Stop Now

    Newspapers and other media in the United States and Britain have recently declared a passion for freedom of speech, especially the right to publish freely.  They are worried by the “Assange effect”.

    It is as if the struggle of truth-tellers like Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning is now a warning to them: that the thugs who dragged Assange out of the Ecuadorean embassy in April may one day come for them.

    A common refrain was echoed by the Guardian last week. The extradition of Assange, said the paper, “is not a question of how wise Mr. Assange is, still less how likable. It’s not about his character, nor his judgement. It’s a matter of press freedom and the public’s right to know.”

    What the Guardian is trying to do is separate Assange from his landmark achievements, which have both profited the Guardian and exposed its own vulnerability, along with its propensity to suck up to rapacious power and smear those who reveal its double standards.

    The poison that has fueled the persecution of Julian Assange is not as obvious in this editorial as it usually is; there is no fiction about Assange smearing faeces on embassy walls or being awful to his cat.

    Instead, the weasel references to “character” and “judgement” and “likeability” perpetuate an epic smear which is now almost a decade old.  Nils Melzer, the United Nations Rapporteur on Torture, used a more apt description. “There has been,” he wrote, “a relentless and unrestrained campaign of public mobbing.”  He explains “mobbing” as “an endless stream of humiliating, debasing and threatening statements in the press”. This “collective ridicule” amounts to torture and could lead to Assange’s death.

    Having witnessed much of what Melzer describes, I can vouch for the truth of his words. If Julian Assange were to succumb to the cruelties heaped upon him, week after week, month after month, year upon year, as doctors warn, newspapers like the Guardian will share the responsibility.

    A few days ago, the Sydney Morning Herald’s man in London, Nick Miller, wrote a lazy, specious piece headlined, “Assange has not been vindicated, he has merely outwaited justice.”  He was referring to Sweden’s abandonment of the so-called Assange investigation.

    Miller’s report is not untypical for its omissions and distortions while masquerading as a tribune of women’s rights. There is no original work, no real inquiry: just smear.

    There is nothing on the documented behaviour of a clutch of Swedish zealots who hi-jacked the “allegations” of sexual misconduct against Assange and made a mockery of Swedish law and that society’s vaunted decency.

    He makes no mention that in 2013, the Swedish prosecutor tried to abandon the case and emailed the Crown Prosecution Service in London to say it would no longer pursue a European Arrest Warrant, to which she received the reply: “Don’t you dare!!!” (Thanks to Stefania Maurizi of La Repubblica)

    Other emails show the CPS discouraging the Swedes from coming to London to interview Assange – which was common practice – thus blocking progress that might have set him free in 2011.

    There was never an indictment. There were never charges. There was never a serious attempt to put “allegations” to Assange and question him – behaviour that the Swedish Court of Appeal ruled to be negligent and the General Secretary of the Swedish Bar Association has since condemned.

    Both the women involved said there was no rape.  Critical written evidence of their text messages was wilfully withheld from Assange’s lawyers, clearly because it undermined the “allegations”.

    One of the women was so shocked that Assange was arrested, she accused the police of railroading her and changing her witness statement. The chief prosecutor, Eva Finne, dismissed the “suspicion of any crime.”

    The Sydney Morning Herald man omits how an ambitious and compromised politician, Claes Borgstrom, emerged from behind the liberal facade of Swedish politics and effectively seized and revived the case.

    Borgstrom enlisted a former political collaborator, Marianne Ny, as the new prosecutor. Ny refused to guarantee that Assange would not be sent on to the United States if he was extradited to Sweden, even though, as The Independent reported, “informal discussions have already taken place between the US and Swedish officials over the possibility of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange being delivered into American custody, according to diplomatic sources.” This was an open secret in Stockholm. That libertarian Sweden had a dark, documented past of rendering people into the hands of the CIA was not news.

    The silence was broken in 2016 when the United Nations Working Party on Arbitrary Detention, a body that decides whether governments are meeting their human rights obligations, ruled that Julian Assange was unlawfully detained by Britain and called on the British government to set him free.

    Both the governments of Britain and Sweden had taken part in the UN’s investigation, and agreed to abide by its ruling, which carried the weight of international law. The British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, stood up in Parliament and abused the UN panel.

    The Swedish case was a fraud from the moment the police secretly and illegally contacted a Stockholm tabloid and ignited the hysteria that was to consume Assange. WikiLeaks’ revelations of America’s war crimes had shamed the hand-maidens of power and its vested interests, who called themselves journalists; and for this, the unclubbable Assange would never be forgiven.

    It was now open season. Assange’s media tormenters cut and pasted each other’s lies and vituperative abuse. “He really is the most massive turd,” wrote the Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore. The received wisdom was that he had been charged, which was never true. In my career, reporting from places of extreme upheaval and suffering and criminality, I have never known anything like it.

    In Assange’s homeland, Australia, this “mobbing” reached an apogee. So eager was the Australian government to deliver its citizen to the United States that the prime minister in 2013, Julia Gillard, wanted to take away his passport and charge him with a crime – until it was pointed out to her that Assange had committed no crime and she had no right to take away his citizenship.

    Julia Gillard, according to the website Honest History, holds the record for the most sycophantic speech ever made to the US Congress. Australia, said she to applause, was America’s “great mate”. The great mate colluded with America in its hunt for an Australian whose crime was journalism. His right to protection and proper assistance was denied.

    When Assange’s lawyer, Gareth Peirce, and I met two Australian consular officials in London, we were shocked that all they knew about the case “is what we read in the papers”.

    This abandonment by Australia was a principal reason for the granting of political asylum by Ecuador. As an Australian, I found this especially shaming.

    When asked about Assange recently, the current Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, said, “He should face the music”. This kind of thuggery, bereft of any respect for truth and rights and the principles and law, is why the mostly Murdoch controlled press in Australia is now worried about its own future, as the Guardian is worried, and The New York Times is worried. Their concern has a name: “the Assange precedent.”

    They know that what happens to Assange can happen to them. The basic rights and justice denied him can be denied to them. They have been warned. All of us have been warned.

    Whenever I see Julian in the grim, surreal world of Belmarsh prison, I am reminded of the responsibility of those of us who defend him. There are universal principles at stake in this case. He himself is fond of saying: “It’s not me. It’s far wider.”

    But at the heart of this remarkable struggle – and it is, above all, a struggle – is one human being whose character, I repeat character, has demonstrated the most astonishing courage. I salute him.

    • This is an edited version of an address given by John Pilger in London at the launch of In Defense of Julian Assange, an anthology published by Or Books, New York.