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Julian Assange – The Australian lost in journalistic purgatory

“Never believe anything until it’s officially denied.”- Claud Cockburn

This year’s ANZAC day has passed in Australia. It is a national religious holiday where many give thanks for the sacrifice of Australian combatants that served, died, and were injured in the nation’s many wars during its young history. It is a time for reflection, when Australians remember their national war heroes, those who fought for empire in far away lands, from arid deserts to terrifying jungles, against foes from all over the world. It is the popular belief that those who fought did so with freedom in mind. Australia after all is, “One(formerly “Young”) and free” as is sung in the national anthem. Free. But Australian national Julian Assange is not free.

From Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture,

A journalist uses a new platform to expose the dirty secrets of powerful governments, including war crimes, corruption, and torture. However, it isn’t the war criminals and torturers who are punished, but the journalist who brought these crimes to light. His reputation is systematically destroyed, his freedom is taken away, he suffers psychological torture. All this happens not in a military dictatorship or a one-party state known for such behavior, but in Western democracies that portray themselves as shining examples when it comes to human rights.

A Glimmer Into the Future for Journalists?

Conversations about Assange as he lingers in a legal purgatory, has become divisive and at times ignores wider implications that extend beyond the man himself. If Assange is extradited to the United States he may be tortured, forced into indefinite solitary confinement and as the more cynical speculate, suicided or at the very least die from his ailing health. In his current purgatory his mental health is deteriorating. He is being punished.  The Australian government is mostly quiet on Assange. And as it now trembles defiant against the juggernaut of Communist China, it can barely condemn such a state for its treatment of political dissidents and journalists when it is mute on the fate of one of its own citizens.

The Old Bailey in the UK was the scene for the trial of Julian Assange. He is a prisoner of the British government but it is the US that wants him. In a sort of victory the UK judge ruled that it would be to dangerous for Assange’s health if he was to go into a U.S.jail. An indictment on how the US is viewed to treat its prisoners, but Assange is still not free.

The trial of Assange is one for concern and consideration. If he is found guilty will journalists and critics of government face extradition to nation that they are not a citizen, even if they are in another legal jurisdiction?  Currently the United States is a special nation, it is the great empire and its hubris and hegemony is unlike any that has ever existed. In its pursuit of its own contemporary self interests, (often serving partisan domestic politics), the rest of the world is learning what may be possible. Namely future rulers in China, Russia and India may also apply such lessons in the pursuit of dissidents, critics and whistle blowers.

The conversation on free speech has become one of meandering failure. It is no longer a sacred virtue of a free society, it apparently comes with caveats and nuances. Or outright confused liquidity changing with cultural fashions, political correctness and domestic political imperialism. The West which boasts being a champion of free speech, despite a history of prohibitions and censorship, now leads a new front against such a freedom. But those same liberal democracies like the US, UK and Australia are not above lecturing other nations for their rights abuses.

A Bad Man?

The Swedish extradition of Assange for sexual misconduct is still a spectre over his head as a man, it is a serious charge. The Swedish authorities it turned out had worked in a secret agreement to extradite Assange to the US should he return to Sweden. Two women reported to Swedish police that Assange had engaged in unprotected sex with them, one alleged that she was asleep at the time. The women wanted Assange to undergo an STD test, the prosecutor soon dropped the charges against Assange after he was questioned by police while still in Sweden. On the day that Assange had left Sweden, with approval from the authorities, an arrest warrant was issued. Upon his arrival in London, the Swedish authorities refused to meet with Assange regarding the case against him.

Rape is a very serious allegation. Two women alleged that while the sexual interactions started consensual, they became non-consensual. Those who stand for free speech and Wikileaks should not downplay such allegations. A man can be a champion for transparency and journalism while also being responsible for rape or sexual misconduct. To downplay the allegations when victims have come forth is disingenuous and biased. Just as it is to automatically assume that the women were guided by third party actors into accusing Assange. The details of those intimate moments are unknown. What is known is that in 2019 the Swedish proceedings against Assange were dropped.

“The evidence is not strong enough to form the basis of an indictment,” concluded Eva-Marie Persson, Sweden’s deputy director of public prosecutions.

In the minds of many however Julian Assange remained a rapist. Assange’s concerns of extradition to the U.S. where he would not face justice but instead be punished were grounded. The U.S. governments involvement in the Swedish case for Assange is one of concern. As far as the Swedish prosecutors go, there is no longer a cause to pursue Assange. His current legal concerns and limbo in regards to his liberty has nothing to do with the rape allegations but instead deal with the rights of journalism. And among all of the allegations against Assange the war crimes are snuffed away and seemingly no longer matter.

Recollected Julian Assange,

From the beginning I offered simple solutions. Come to the embassy to take my statement or promise not to send me to the United States. This Swedish official refused both. She even refused a written statement. Now she has manage to avoid hearing my side of the story entirely. This is beyond incompetence. I am strong but the cost to my family is unacceptable. Even though I have been improperly treated, I would like to thank the many people in Sweden and the UK who have been very understanding of the wrong which has been done to me and my family.

Personal defects such as being ‘a creep’ or ‘an egomaniac’ are also often raised. When Assange faced a London judge after he was removed by police from the Ecuadorean embassy, he was accused of being a ‘narcissist.’ All he had done was plead not guilty to the charges levelled against him. And so the narrative that his releasing of the many leaks were done because he was an egomaniac was another narrative pushed to condemn him. Rape should be taken seriously, but such character traits and apparent defects are at best slurs or tabloid speculation.  Irrelevant especially given the nature of the evidence presented by Wikileaks and the nature of what those exposed in the leaks are capable of doing.

Russian Asset?

A criticism of Assange and WikiLeaks is in its softer approach on Russia. Wikileaks has never released any documents taken from the Russian government itself. Only those that came from U.S. and Syrian sources. The fact that Julian Assange was able to host his own show on Russian state media, RT, also suggested a pro Moscow angle. It is also alleged that Assange turned down information that if published on WikiLeaks could have challenged Russian ambitions in the Ukraine. But for many it is with the U.S. domestic political circus known as ‘Russiagate’ notably in relation to the 2016 DNC leaks. It is falsely claimed that Assange worked with Russian agents to discredit the Democratic Party and its presidential candidate. The Teflon skin that many inside of the U.S. political establishment seem to have is impressive, especially given the nature of the leaks and yet again it is not the content of the leaks that angers but those who would dare to expose such information for the wider world to consider and know.

The Russian, other governments and groups most certainly have benefited from the information exposed by Wikileaks. Though often confirming and highlighting to the public what they mostly knew about U.S. military and government conduct. In the past Moscow and Hanoi would have also benefited from the journalism that exposed the My Lai Massacre along with the Pentagon papers. That does not remove the guilt of those committing such atrocities or by default mean that those reporting on them do so with the intent of supporting another government.

Assange’s apparent softness on Russia is a weakness, it is perhaps even a bias. Whether this is due to paranoia in the hopes that he would have potential sanctuary in Russia, as NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden received, is unknown. That does not devalue the purity of the evidence that was unveiled to the world. The victims and those in the war zones know the facts, they know who is responsible for the killing. Those inside the corrupt regime such as Tunisia knew the misery of such a place, they are aware of the greed and malicious actions of their rulers thanks to “Cablegate” made possible by the Wikileaks reporting.

The pro-Russian accusation was furthered by the fact that it was only Ruptly cameras that were present to capture the moment that British police took Assange into custody, as though that was some fault of his. The question is why was Australian state media was not interested in one of its citizens going through such a monumental international ordeal. Why were other media outlets not interested in recording the British police enter the Ecuadorean embassy to take Assange into custody. Not for the dropped Swedish charges but to satisfy U.S. extradition demands. Ruptly claims it is because of their determined journalism and likely because the Russian state media persisted with the case while many other mainstream outlets seemed satisfied with the official narrative levelled against Assange.

Drained Swamps and 5D Chess

“Oh, we love WikiLeaks,” said then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

President Obama can be called a lot of things, intelligent he certainly was. Like most presidents the position of office compromised his election promises. As president the U.S. government removed freedoms and imposed itself militarily with greater energy. Under his presidency their was also a resurgence in the war against whistle blowers and journalists. The Wikileak releases peaked under the Obama years, but they were mostly of events that occurred under President Bush. So for the most part they did not harm Obama in the public narrative. The nature of partisan politics is peculiar in that it seldom harms the government itself, only the administration renting the office space.

Despite the Obama administrations animosity towards journalists it did not pursue Wikileaks or Assange because it was understood that other news outlets would then be as guilty. And that this could be of wider consequence to the U.S. governments relationship with its usually cooperative media. Even as Wikileaks revealed uglier aspects of the Obama years, Assange was not pulled from the embassy. Leading up to his run as president Donald Trump promised and said a lot of things, flying from the seat of his pants and running on instincts he won because he appealed to many who were tired of the same U.S. government and leadership. In the end Trump bought with him more of the U.S. government.

In his first public speech as CIA director, in April 2017, Mike Pompeo went on an anti-Julian Assange tirade. It was also pledged that the assassination and spy agency would go on a campaign against WikiLeaks in his self righteous speech. This in itself revealed the Trump administrations intention on Assange, regardless of pre-election delusions that may have been believed by his libertarian and free speech champions. Trump after all was just another American president, the figurehead of the U.S. government.

Whatever compromises were made by Trump in his final days, he did not pardon Assange or Snowden or any of those others who exposed the dirty secrets of the U.S. government. Trump who came in with the promise of draining the swamp of its many entrenched politicians and government types did very little to do so. And while his champions proclaimed that he was playing some long game or advanced chess to outwit his political rivals and the “deep state,” it was under his presidency that the British police took Assange and started the chain of events that would lead to his potential extradition to the United States.

“I know nothing about WikiLeaks, It’s not my thing,” said then-President Donald Trump.

“Can’t we just drone this guy [Assange]?” asked a similarly minded presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Is He Guilty?

In 2019 Julian Assange was charged with 18 new criminal counts, including violating the U.S. governments Espionage act. Before that time it was unclear exactly what the U.S. government was specifically going to charge him with. While the British judge, Vanessa Baraitser, ruled in January 2021 that Assange could not be extradited to the United States on health grounds for fear that it may end in suicide. It has not been a reprieve or any victory. Instead Julian Assange remains in Belmarsh prison facing the potential for 175 years in a U.S. jail if he is extradited. So long as his trial remains in limbo and difficult to prove or disprove his innocence, Assange remains indefinitely imprisoned and punished. His guilt or innocence are meaningless in regards to his current condition and freedom.

He is guilty by default, is a position that is held by much the mainstream media, the minds of the public and clearly his critics. Guilty of exactly what is difficult and varies according to who. Is he guilty for what he did with the women in Sweden, that is unknown to most but that issue should not be conflated with what he is at present being accused and punished for. Is he guilty of exposing war crimes and government corruption? If that is a crime, then one can say yes.

Project Veritas obtained a phone conversation between Julian Assange and the U.S. State Department then headed by Hilary Clinton from 2011. The phone call was one of the many efforts that Assange went though to warn and then minimise the damage that the 251,000 U.S. embassy cables may put at risk the individuals whose names were not redacted in them. Assange was attempting to warn the US authorities, then unaware, that such cables had been leaked and were available through multiple sources. Wikileaks only published these specific cables after they had already been leaked on websites and were available on torrents and social media. Assange is now being charged with the release of these cables.

“And Who will be releasing these cables? WikiLeaks?” asked Cliff Johnson, a U.S. State Department lawyer, in an August 26, 2011 phone conversation with Julian Assange.

Assange responded,

No, we would not be releasing them, we are doing our usual thing of continuing on with our redaction plan, but we have in the past 24 hours released a some 100,000 unclassified cables as an attempt to head off the incentives for others to release the entire archive, but I believe that nonetheless while we may have delayed things a little by doing that they will do so unless attempts are made to stop them. We have already engaged in some legal attempts to get them to stop but I think that it will not be enough.

Many claim that Assange will not get a fair trial including former CIA officer and whistle blower Jeffrey Sterling. In a recent interview Sterling who has been charged under the same 1917 Espionage Act as Assange, for revealing that safety protocols were not being followed in operations to undermine Iran’s nuclear program, Sterling was jailed on trumped up charges. His experience and insight does not give a positive outlook for Assange and his supporters. Justice will not be served should got to the United States. The trial of Julian Assange is not about right or wrong but revenge for defying the U.S. government.

In a 2020 ‘The Grayzone’ investigation and article by Max Blumenthal, evidence was unveiled about Sheldon Adelson’s security team working for the CIA helped to conduct an obsessive campaign of spying against Julian Assange. The CIA recorded every intimate moment that Assange had while trapped inside the Ecuadorean embassy, including his supposedly confidential meetings with his lawyer. It is even claimed that plots to kidnap and poison Assange were considered. This is the actions of a desperate and obsessed government, bent on revenge. Not one pursuing justice or due process.

Is he guilty of helping whistle blowers gain access to information that they already had access to? Well that is very unlikely. It was with the DNC leaks that hurt presidential candidate Hilary Clinton that raised the modern ire of the US political class, government and media. A rather benign leak that most observers had already an inclination towards knowing as a truth. It was a leak that American partisan political celebrants considered to be far worse than the collateral murder footage. Exposing partisan corruption that may or may not have assisted the election really says a lot about how democracy is viewed in the United States. And in leaking such cables, thanks to the Trump years of madness, in the eyes of many Assange is guilty.

Becoming China

Some who support Assange claim democracy needs truth in order to function and prevail. That is the splendid illusion that such a government provides. It is the liberal democracies that are persecuting Assange and other journalists and whistle blowers. Despotic regimes of a more fascist, theocratic or communist nature also have done, at times on a greater scale, such horrendous acts of suppression and persecution of those who reveal truth and champion its cause. It seems that government itself is allergic to honesty. It is a threat to its sacred power. To have one challenge the narrative and to reveal that beneath the curtain of legitimate power, despite the rule of law and elections, that power and its dangerous outcomes remains.  Whether this is corruption of such values or the very nature of them is one for ideological debate, regardless, Julian Assange and others stand accused before the power of the liberal democracies and their empire.

Nations such as Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA in rhetoric and when it suits them are committed to human rights and the rule of law. They will wage war and execute suspects across the planet in the name of such values and yet when it is for them to yield to such rights they can fall short. Mainstream media pundits and partisan political voices join in with the inconsistency. The inconsistency does not go unnoticed, leaders and voices from the Peoples Republic of China or Russia, places with their own repression, can look to the West and with valid points challenge them on how they are prosecuting Assange.

The Australian government, much of its media and public now find the courage, as Chinese dollars slowed up during the year of COVID, to criticise the CCP for its human rights abuse. It does so with a limp sword lacking any weight or virtue, because the Australian government has done little to champion its own citizen Assange. It has a history of punishing whistle blowers and the journalists that give them a voice. From Save The Children workers being investigated by the Australian Federal Police over “Unauthorised” disclosures of information over sexual assault and mistreatment of children in refugee detention. To Richard Boyle, the Australian Tax Office debt officer that exposed unethical practices to David McBride in the war crimes leak pertaining to Australian forces in Afghanistan. Among many others that have been persecuted by the Australian government for exposing corruption and far more heinous acts. This is the nature of government, democratic of not.

In 2011, Assange described how Wikileaks was working to ensure Chinese citizens had access to their website;

China has aggressive and sophisticated interception technology that places itself between every reader inside China and every information source outside China. We’ve been fighting a running battle to make sure we can get information through, and there are now all sorts of ways Chinese readers can get on to our site.

In a January 4 tweet from this year, China Daily chief Chen Weihua said,

It’s shocking that none from New York Times and Washington Post coming out to support Julian Assange. And Also shocking that Australian PM Scott Morrison is dead quite about the greatest Australian citizen. Shame.

As the West ramps up the rhetoric and war footing against China, it is with a perversity that the free nations replicate many of the same methods of repression and censorship used by the CCP. In Australia there are no laws protecting free speech, despite the common belief that Australia is a free nation with such a basic right. The laws regarding whistle blowers are complicated and those who do come out with information do so with great risk to their freedom. Not to mention scrutiny and financial cost levelled against them. The Australian government has also voiced its intention in going after encrypted messaging services like Signal and Telegram making private conversation harder. Only criminals it is claimed need such a service. For journalists, among others they are crucial. Perhaps they are the criminals that the Australian government refers.

For a time Wikileaks and Assange were an accepted reality, a new phase of journalism. Assange even ran in an Australian election with the WikiLeaks party while he was in exile inside the Ecuadorean embassy, for a moment their was optimism. Governments grew less tolerant and accepting, optimism died. New laws are passed and in Assange’s homeland journalists homes have been raided for their coverage of war crimes.

Free Assange!

Despite mainstream disregard for Assange and his fate, there remains those who put up posters and stickers with his name. “Free Assange!” It is not just about him, but all of us. He is one man, flawed and fragile. But it is the nature of his persecution and the implications that it represents. It is the fork in the road between the deceit of ruled freedom and a darker period of control. One of claimed benevolence, where the state guides and controls every aspect of life, deciding what we are allowed to know, while it conducts itself in our names, it does so without any accountability and with a recklessness that serves only its own self perpetuation.

Assange may very well become a martyr, what life he has remaining will be scarred by his ordeal. And to some that is acceptable. He is being punished. To expose war crimes and corruption is dangerous, it destabilises the credibility and legitimacy of rule and the state itself. To murder innocent civilians or to support tyrannies in the pursuit of hegemonic interests in ever confusing foreign policy, is apparently acceptable. The victims apparently do not matter. They are insignificant, a necessity in a wider plan. No matter how many whistle blowers and journalists expose these acts, they continue to occur. Are the atrocities exposed worse than the criminality of exposing such crimes? That is what defines the morality of the two perspectives.

How will Australians remember Julian Assange? As a hero or a villain? A reminder of both cowardice and complicity, a man who was lost to a moment in time that led to far worse outcomes. A man whose own national government pretended did not exist out of respect to a powerful ally, a man that few Australian journalists championed and a man that some in the Australian public proudly called an Aussie hero. Freedom of speech is a belief in ones right to say and hear things that others may not agree with or enjoy, we have the right to ignore and not listen as much as we should have the right to speak and write. It is one of the great freedoms that many of us assume is a hallmark of a liberal society, the societies that most in the West proclaim to be. A war on free speech soon becomes a war on thoughts. That is why Julian Assange should matter. For Aussies the belief that our history of glory was fought for freedom is sullied by the Australian government not concerned with rights but in its loyal service of empires.

Assange is important to many people the world over, Wikileaks was not just exposing the U.S. government. But most other governments, environmental and financial corruption and the inner workings of power. Wikileaks was a torch that exposed the fangs and slime that slither and bite from within the shadows and darkness of government. What the common person does with this information is individual. If anything Wikileaks pulled down the mask of the ugly beast and if nothing changes, so be it but at least for a time the common person could stare the monstrosity in the eye as it quivered in some shame for what it had done. At times it may seem that much of the world does not want Wikileaks or Julian Assange, it certainly needs them.

May, 2021

Published inAll Articles and EssaysPhilosophy, Society and LibertyWar, History and Foreign Policy