“Julian Assange, in courageously upholding political beliefs that most of us profess to share, has performed an enormous service to all the people in the world who treasure the values of freedom and democracy” — Noam Chomsky
On September 7th, as Julian Assange’s extradition hearing entered its final stage, John Pilger gave this address outside the Central Criminal Court in London:
When I first met Julian Assange more than ten years ago, I asked him why he had started WikiLeaks. He replied: “Transparency and accountability are moral issues that must be the essence of public life and journalism.”
I had never heard a publisher or an editor invoke morality in this way. Assange believes that journalists are the agents of people, not power: that we, the people, have a right to know about the darkest secrets of those who claim to act in our name.
If the powerful lie to us, we have the right to know. If they say one thing in private and the opposite in public, we have the right to know. If they conspire against us, as Bush and Blair did over Iraq, then pretend to be democrats, we have the right to know.
It is this morality of purpose that so threatens the collusion of powers that want to plunge much of the world into war and wants to bury Julian alive in Trumps fascist America.
In 2008, a top secret US State Department report described in detail how the United States would combat this new moral threat. A secretly-directed personal smear campaign against Julian Assange would lead to “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”.
The aim was to silence and criminalise WikiLeaks and its founder. Page after page revealed a coming war on a single human being and on the very principle of freedom of speech and freedom of thought, and democracy.
The imperial shock troops would be those who called themselves journalists: the big hitters of the so-called mainstream, especially the “liberals” who mark and patrol the perimeters of dissent.
And that is what happened. I have been a reporter for more than 50 years and I have never known a smear campaign like it: the fabricated character assassination of a man who refused to join the club: who believed journalism was a service to the public, never to those above.
Assange shamed his persecutors. He produced scoop after scoop. He exposed the fraudulence of wars promoted by the media and the homicidal nature of America’s wars, the corruption of dictators, the evils of Guantanamo.
He forced us in the West to look in the mirror. He exposed the official truth-tellers in the media as collaborators: those I would call Vichy journalists. None of these imposters believed Assange when he warned that his life was in danger: that the “sex scandal” in Sweden was a set up and an American hellhole was the ultimate destination. And he was right, and repeatedly right.
The extradition hearing in London this week is the final act of an Anglo-American campaign to bury Julian Assange. It is not due process. It is due revenge. The American indictment is clearly rigged, a demonstrable sham. So far, the hearings have been reminiscent of their Stalinist equivalents during the Cold War.
Today, the land that gave us Magna Carta, Great Britain, is distinguished by the abandonment of its own sovereignty in allowing a malign foreign power to manipulate justice and by the vicious psychological torture of Julian – a form of torture, as Nils Melzer, the UN expert has pointed out, that was refined by the Nazis because it was most effective in breaking its victims.
Every time I have visited Assange in Belmarsh prison, I have seen the effects of this torture. When I last saw him, he had lost more than 10 kilos in weight; his arms had no muscle. Incredibly, his wicked sense of humour was intact.
As for Assange’s homeland, Australia has displayed only a cringeing cowardice as its government has secretly conspired against its own citizen who ought to be celebrated as a national hero. Not for nothing did George W. Bush anoint the Australian prime minister his “deputy sheriff”.
It is said that whatever happens to Julian Assange in the next three weeks will diminish if not destroy freedom of the press in the West. But which press? The Guardian? The BBC, The New York Times, the Jeff Bezos Washington Post?
No, the journalists in these organisations can breathe freely. The Judases on the Guardian who flirted with Julian, exploited his landmark work, made their pile then betrayed him, have nothing to fear. They are safe because they are needed.
Freedom of the press now rests with the honourable few: the exceptions, the dissidents on the internet who belong to no club, who are neither rich nor laden with Pulitzers, but produce fine, disobedient, moral journalism – those like Julian Assange.
Meanwhile, it is our responsibility to stand by a true journalist whose sheer courage ought to be inspiration to all of us who still believe that freedom is possible. I salute him.
Click here to read the same transcript on John Pilger’s official website.
John Pilger also gave an extended interview with Afshin Rattansi on today’s ‘Going Underground’:
Yesterday was the last day of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing at the Old Bailey and unless you have followed the daily reports from Craig Murray; Binoy Kampmark at Counterpunch; Joe Lauria of Consortium News or a handful of other alternative media sites, it is more than likely you have remained unaware that any trial was taking place, let alone what is at stake.
As Binoy Kampmark reported on Thursday – summing up events of the previous day:
Today will be remembered as a grand expose. It was a direct, pointed accusation at the intentions of the US imperium which long for the scalp of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. For WikiLeaks, it was a smouldering triumph, showing that the entire mission against Assange, from the start, has been a political one. The Australian publisher faces the incalculably dangerous prospect of 17 charges under the US Espionage Act and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Stripped to its elements, the indictment is merely violence kitted out in the vestment of sham legality. The rest is politics.
Doubtless, and was not for ‘the politics’, the Assange case would have made headline news and featured front-and-centre of mainstream news bulletins for weeks, not only because the seriousness of its potential ramifications – how it will cast a long shadow over press freedom and set a precedent for further US overreach based on trumped up charges of ‘spying’ – but more straightforwardly because of the prominence and quality of so many of the witnesses called to give testimony in Assange’s defence. These include (to single out just three of the more outstanding) Daniel Ellsberg, ‘Pentagon Papers’ whistleblower; Clive Stafford Smith, esteemed human rights lawyer and a co-founder of Reprieve; before, on Wednesday, Noam Chomsky joined these illustrious ranks having issued a fourteen point submission of concise eloquence which concludes as follows:
One device to control the population is to operate in secret so that the ignorant and meddlesome outsiders will stay in their place, remote from the levers of power, which are none of their business. That’s the main purpose for classification of internal documents. Anyone who has pored through the archives of released documents has surely come to realise pretty quickly that what is kept secret very rarely has anything at all to do with security except for the security of the leadership from their domestic enemy, their own population. The practice is so routine that illustration is really quite superfluous. I’ll mention only one current case. Consider the global trade agreements: Pacific and Atlantic, in actuality investor rights agreements masquerading under the rubric of free trade. They’re negotiated in secret. There’s an intention of a Stalinist style of ratification by parliaments – yes or no – which of course means yes with no discussion or debate, what’s called in the United States “fast track”. To be accurate they’re not negotiated entirely in secret. The facts are known to the corporate lawyers and lobbyists who are writing the details in such a way as to protect the interests of the constituency that they represent which is of course not the public. The public on the contrary is an enemy that must be kept in ignorance.
Julian Assange’s alleged crime in working to expose government secrets is to violate the fundamental principles of government, to lift the veil of secrecy that protects power from scrutiny, keeps it from evaporating – and again it is well understood by the powerful that lifting the veil may cause power to evaporate. It may even lead to authentic freedom and democracy if an aroused public comes to understand that force is on the side of the governed and it can be their force if they choose to control their own fate.
In my view, Julian Assange, in courageously upholding political beliefs that most of us profess to share, has performed an enormous service to all the people in the world who treasure the values of freedom and democracy and who therefore demand the right to know what their elected representatives are doing. His actions in turn have led him to be pursued in a cruel and intolerable manner.
Click here to find Chomsky’s statement uploaded in full within Craig Murray’s report.
Returning to Binoy Kampmark’s report from the same day, he continues:
Witness statements were read from a veritable who’s who of courageous investigative journalism (Patrick Cockburn, Andy Worthington, Stefania Maurizi and Ian Cobain) and an assortment of legal freight from Guy Goodwin-Gill, professor of law at the University of New South Wales, Robert Boyle, well versed in the dark practices of grand juries and Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
These statements, pointing to the value of the WikiLeaks publications, the care taken in releasing them, and the terrifying prospects for press freedom, deserve separate treatment.
Kampmark’s report then scrutinises in granular detail, evidence presented by two anonymous witnesses from the Spanish security firm UC Global S.L. in what he describes as “Wednesday’s grand show”. Since this lies outside of my purview, I direct and encourage readers instead to read his full article entitled “Assange on Trial: Embassy Espionage, Contemplated Poisoning and Proposed Kidnapping” published by Counterpunch on October 1st.
A précis is also provided by Craig Murray’s report from Wednesday:
Twenty minutes sufficed for the reading of the “gist” of the astonishing testimony of two witnesses, their identity protected as their lives may be in danger, who stated that the CIA, operating through Sheldon Adelson, planned to kidnap or poison Assange, bugged not only him but his lawyers, and burgled the offices of his Spanish lawyers Baltazar Garzon. This evidence went unchallenged and untested.
Meanwhile, here is what BBC has been reporting throughout what is (without exaggeration) the trial of the century – quite literally nothing! (the top article here is a ‘profile’ from September 23rd):
“If I am a conspirator to commit espionage, then all these other media organisations and the principal journalists in them are also conspirators to commit espionage. What needs to be done is to have a united face in this.”
These are the words of Julian Assange quoted from an interview with journalist Mark Davis of Australian TV channel SBS back in 2011, as he unpacked why the US preferred to charge him under the Espionage Act of 1917 in their determined effort to isolate him from other journalists and thereby lessen an otherwise perceived threat that they too might share his fate. (The relevant section is from 24–43 mins and the quote is at 40:00 mins.)
In a different article published last week by Counterpunch, investigative reporter Jonathan Cook reminds us of Assange’s statement and places it in context:
During the course of the current extradition hearings, US officials have found it much harder to make plausible this distinction principle than they may have assumed.
Journalism is an activity, and anyone who regularly engages in that activity qualifies as a journalist. It is not the same as being a doctor or a lawyer, where you need a specific professional qualification to practice. You are a journalist if you do journalism – and you are an investigative journalist if, like Assange, you publish information the powerful want concealed. Which is why in the current extradition hearings at the Old Bailey in London, the arguments made by lawyers for the US that Assange is not a journalist but rather someone engaged in espionage are coming unstuck.
Assange was doing exactly what journalists claim to do every day in a democracy: monitor power for the public good. Which is why ultimately the Obama administration abandoned the idea of issuing an indictment against Assange. There was simply no way to charge him without also putting journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian on trial too. And doing that would have made explicit that the press is not free but works on licence from those in power.
For that reason alone, one might have imagined that the entire media – from rightwing to liberal-left outlets – would be up in arms about Assange’s current predicament. After all, the practice of journalism as we have known it for at least 100 years is at stake.
But in fact, as Assange feared nine years ago, the media have chosen not to adopt a “united face” – or at least, not a united face with Wikileaks. They have remained all but silent. They have ignored – apart from occasionally to ridicule – Assange’s terrifying ordeal, even though he has been locked up for many months in Belmarsh high-security prison awaiting efforts to extradite him as a spy.
In a follow-up piece also published by Counterpunch, Cook discusses at greater length and in detail how the corporate media have betrayed Assange. Most egregious is the Guardian, which of course worked in collaboration with Wikileaks to publish the Iraq and Afghan war diaries. Cook writes:
My first criticism was that the paper had barely bothered to cover the hearing, even though it is the most concerted attack on press freedom in living memory. That position is unconscionably irresponsible, given its own role in publishing the war diaries. But sadly it is not inexplicable. In fact, it is all too easily explained by my second criticism.
That criticism was chiefly levelled at two leading journalists at the Guardian, former investigations editor David Leigh and reporter Luke Harding, who together wrote a book in 2011 that was the earliest example of what would rapidly become a genre among a section of the liberal media elite, most especially at the Guardian, of vilifying Assange.
Leigh and Harding’s book now lies at the heart of the US case for Assange’s extradition to the US on so-called “espionage” charges. The charges are based on Wikileaks’ publication of leaks provided by Chelsea Manning, then an army private, that revealed systematic war crimes committed by the US military.
Lawyers for the US have mined from the Guardian book claims by Leigh that Assange was recklessly indifferent to the safety of US informants named in leaked files published by Wikileaks.
Assange’s defence team have produced a raft of renowned journalists, and others who worked with Wikileaks, to counter Leigh’s claim and argue that this is actually an inversion of the truth. Assange was meticulous about redacting names in the documents. It was they – the journalists, including Leigh – who were pressuring Assange to publish without taking full precautions.
Of course, none of these corporate journalists – only Assange – is being put on trial, revealing clearly that this is a political trial to silence Assange and disable Wikileaks.
Cook then provides details regarding a specific incident that is central to the prosecution claims highlighting how it was the Guardian journalists themselves and not Assange who must be held responsible for many of these unredacted leaks:
The February 2011 Guardian book the US keeps citing contained something in addition to the highly contentious and disputed claim from Leigh that Assange had a reckless attitude to redacting names. The book also disclosed a password – one Assange had given to Leigh on strict conditions it be kept secret – to the file containing the 250,000 encrypted cables. The Guardian book let the cat out of the bag. Once it gave away Assange’s password, the Old Bailey hearings have heard, there was no going back.
Any security service in the world could now unlock the file containing the cables. And as they homed in on where the file was hidden at the end of the summer, Assange was forced into a desperate damage limitation operation. In September 2011 he published the unredacted cables so that anyone named in them would have advance warning and could go into hiding – before any hostile security services came looking for them.
Yes, Assange published the cables unredacted but he did so – was forced to do so – by the unforgivable actions of Leigh and the Guardian.
Not that any of Wikileaks publications are believed to have harmed informants, as a Guardian report substantiates:
“Brigadier general Robert Carr, a senior counter-intelligence officer who headed the Information Review Task Force that investigated the impact of WikiLeaks disclosures on behalf of the Defense Department, told a court at Fort Meade, Maryland, that they had uncovered no specific examples of anyone who had lost his or her life in reprisals that followed the publication of the disclosures on the internet. “I don’t have a specific example,” he said.
It has been one of the main criticisms of the WikiLeaks publications that they put lives at risk, particularly in Iran and Afghanistan. The admission by the Pentagon’s chief investigator into the fallout from WikiLeaks that no such casualties were identified marks a significant undermining of such arguments.
Click here to read the full Guardian report entitled “Bradley Manning leak did not result in deaths by enemy forces, court hears” written by Ed Pilkington, published on July 31st 2013.
Moreover, John Young, the editor of a US website Cryptome (which has in the past been highly critical of Wikileaks) is another who gave evidence at the Assange hearings. Young told the court they had published the unredacted cables on September 1st 2011, crucially the day before Wikileaks published, though they (unlike Wikileaks) have never been pursued by law enforcement agencies. Craig Murray, who has been reporting from the public gallery throughout the trial, writes that:
Cryptome is US based but they had never been approached by law enforcement about these unredacted cables in any way nor asked to take them down. The cables remained online on Cryptome.
Similarly Chris Butler, Manager for Internet Archive, gave evidence of the unredacted cables and other classified documents being available on the Wayback machine. They had never been asked to take down nor been threatened with prosecution.
Click here to read the same in Craig Murray’s report from day 17 of the hearing published on September 25th.
Jonathan Cook then goes on to list the Guardian’s deceptions point-by-point. He writes – and I have reproduced below his criticism in full:
Every time the US cites Leigh and Harding’s book, it effectively recruits the Guardian against Assange and against freedom of the press. Hanging over the paper is effectively a threat that – should it not play ball with the US campaign to lock Assange away for life – the US could either embarrass it by publicly divulging its role or target the paper for treatment similar to that suffered by Assange.
And quite astoundingly, given the stakes for Assange and for journalism, the Guardian has been playing ball – by keeping quiet. Until this week, at least.
Under pressure, the Guardian finally published on Friday a short, sketchy and highly simplistic account of the past week’s hearings, and then used it as an opportunity to respond to the growing criticism of its role in publishing the password in the Leigh and Harding book.
The Guardian’s statement in its report of the extradition hearings is not only duplicitous in the extreme but sells Assange down the river by evading responsibility for publishing the password. It thereby leaves him even more vulnerable to the US campaign to lock him up.
Here is its statement:
“The Guardian has made clear it is opposed to the extradition of Julian Assange. However, it is entirely wrong to say the Guardian’s 2011 WikiLeaks book led to the publication of unredacted US government files,” a spokesman said.
“The book contained a password which the authors had been told by Julian Assange was temporary and would expire and be deleted in a matter of hours. The book also contained no details about the whereabouts of the files. No concerns were expressed by Assange or WikiLeaks about security being compromised when the book was published in February 2011. WikiLeaks published the unredacted files in September
Cook then goes on to highlight the deceptions:
- The claim that the password was “temporary” is just that – a self-exculpatory claim by David Leigh. There is no evidence to back it up beyond Leigh’s statement that Assange said it. And the idea that Assange would say it defies all reason. Leigh himself states in the book that he had to bully Assange into letting him have the password precisely because Assange was worried that a tech neophyte like Leigh might do something foolish or reckless. Assange needed a great deal of persuading before he agreed. The idea that he was so concerned about the security of a password that was to have a life-span shorter than a mayfly is simply not credible.
- Not only was the password not temporary, but it was based very obviously on a complex formula Assange used for all Wikileaks’ passwords to make them impossible for others to crack but easier for him to remember. By divulging the password, Leigh gave away Assange’s formula and offered every security service in the world the key to unlocking other encrypted files. The claim that Assange had suggested to Leigh that keeping the password secret was not of the most vital importance is again simply not credible.
- But whether or not Leigh thought the password was temporary is beside the point. Leigh, as an experienced investigative journalist and one who had little understanding of the tech world, had a responsibility to check with Assange that it was okay to publish the password. Doing anything else was beyond reckless. This was a world Leigh knew absolutely nothing about, after all.
But there was a reason Leigh did not check with Assange: he and Harding wrote the book behind Assange’s back. Leigh had intentionally cut Assange out of the writing and publication process so that he and the Guardian could cash in on the Wikileak founder’s early fame. Not checking with Assange was the whole point of the exercise.
- It is wrong to lay all the blame on Leigh, however. This was a Guardian project. I worked at the paper for years. Before any article is published, it is scrutinised by backbench editors, sub-editors, revise editors, page editors and, if necessary, lawyers and one of the chief editors. A Guardian book on the most contentious, incendiary publication of a secret cache of documents since the Pentagon Papers should have gone through at least the same level of scrutiny, if not more.
So how did no one in this chain of supervision pause to wonder whether it made sense to publish a password to a Wikileaks file of encrypted documents? The answer is that the Guardian was in a publishing race to get its account of the ground-shattering release of the Iraq and Afghan diaries out before any of its rivals, including the New York Times and Der Spiegel. It wanted to take as much glory as possible for itself in the hope of winning a Pulitzer. And it wanted to settle scores with Assange before his version of events was given an airing in either the New York Times or Der Spiegel books. Vanity and greed drove the Guardian’s decision to cut corners, even if it meant endangering lives.
- Nauseatingly, however, the Guardian not only seeks to blame Assange for its own mistake but tells a glaring lie about the circumstances. Its statement says: “No concerns were expressed by Assange or WikiLeaks about security being compromised when the book was published in February 2011. WikiLeaks published the unredacted files in September 2011.”
It is simply not true that Assange and Wikileaks expressed no concern. They expressed a great deal of concern in private. But they did not do so publicly – and for very good reason.
Any public upbraiding of the Guardian for its horrendous error would have drawn attention to the fact that the password could be easily located in Leigh’s book. By this stage, there was no way to change the password or delete the file, as has been explained to the Old Bailey hearing by a computer professor, Christian Grothoff, of Bern University. He has called Leigh a “bad faith actor”.
So Assange was forced to limit the damage quietly, behind the scenes, before word of the password’s publication got out and the file was located. Ultimately, six months later, when the clues became too numerous to go unnoticed, and Cryptome had published the unredacted file on its website, Assange had no choice but to follow suit.
This is the real story, the one the Guardian dare not tell. Despite the best efforts of the US lawyers and the judge at the Old Bailey hearings, the truth is finally starting to emerge. Now it is up to us to make sure the Guardian is not allowed to continue colluding in this crime against Assange and the press freedoms he represents.
On October 3rd, Craig Murray spoke about the hearing with Chris Hedges on his RT show ‘On Contact’: