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Life Arts    H4'ed 7/27/22

Film Review: Ithaka: A Fight To Free Julian Assange

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Humanizing Julian Assange

by John Kendall Hawkins

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about the prevailing public attitude toward Julian Assange, "The Assange Animus and the Spy Trial Ahead," in which I tried to flesh out the changing posture toward Wikileaks and Assange's perceived personality disorderliness. I began, "There's a schadenfreude going around when it comes to Julian Assange. I can feel the seethe and bristle crawling up my neck. Some people seem to want him to suffer for what he's done." It bothers me.

It didn't bother me more than when I perceived it for myself while watching Judy Woodruff of th PBS NewsHour interview Assange from London's Ecuadoraian embassy in August of 2016 -- just months before the election that resulted in Trump getting elected as president under a cloud of controversy that enveloped both candidates: His sexual scandals; Her handling of emails.

Judy and I go back a long way; she has long been one of my favorite newsreaders and interviewers on the nation's only network that is calm and rational and mostly balanced; paid by "viewers like you" and corporations, like the DNC. And though she never crossed the line, it was clear that she didn't trust Assange and seemed to be openly questioning how he received the first batch of emails from the DNC that he'd already published on Wikileaks. He begins by chiding the senior journalist for calling a "leak" of material a "hack," which was the line that the Obama administration was pushing through the MSM. This may be a moment when the media posture toward Assange began to change, and it's valuable to watch this rare and revealing footage:

As I wrote in a piece at the time:

This is an important exchange that tells an awful lot about how the MSM (PBS here) treats adversarial and independent journalists -- like bolshy junior siblings. Note that Judy (a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank) begins with the assumption that the emails referenced were the results of a Russian "hack." Assange needs to begin by immediately correcting her, explaining the difference between leaks (insider) and hacks (outsider), and telling her that they were leaked emails -- indeed, says:

Well, I can reveal to you the source of the information today. The source of the information is the Democratic Party. It is Debbie Wasserman Schultz. It is the chief financial officer. It is the communications officer, Luis Miranda, in fact all these people who have just been fired, and another (INAUDIBLE) so that's the source of the information that's known.

They came from insider leaks not Russian hacks.

Judy seems to understand the difference now, but presses him on whether the second tranche of emails to be published -- the so-called Podesta emails -- came to him as the result of a hack or leak. Assange doesn't answer, but he has just explained what Wikileaks deals in -- leaks. So, she's not listening and pushes to make the case that he's out to undermine Hillary's campaign, and, by implication (the intelligence community was already telling the MSM that the Russians were busy meddling in the electoral process), helping Trump -- and the Russians.

For instance, this ABC News report, "'Beyond a Reasonable Doubt' Russians Hacked DNC, Analyst Says," is what was going around the MSM at that time:

"We know for a fact that the malicious actors were in there and had access to this data for some time," Michael Buratowski, the senior vice president of cybersecurity services at Fidelis Cybersecurity, said. "The timing of the release of information from WikiLeaks is very suspect. When you look at it " it was released right before the [Democratic] convention " you have to question what the motivation was behind that."

Notice the lack, in the ABC report, of DNC insider names that Assange "reveals" to Judy above. He tries to tell her the source, but she seems skeptical. She's decided he's untrustworthy, not because of the information he's published, which is primary source stuff, but because of his character and its intentions. As far as Judy is concerned, Assange is working with the Russians to elect Trump.

The brief exchange highlighted two kinds of journalism and was 'instructive' on that front. Assange represents a kind of brash, confrontational journalism that is not especially new. It harkens back to H.L. Mencken, I.F. Stone, Jack Anderson, and other muckrakers who risked careers calling the Bastards liars when they/we needed to know it most, using primary doco leaks to spray-can the stonewallers. Judy comes from the more traditional lead-subject-balanced views (i.e., inverted pyramid), which is devastatingly gorgeous when executed neutrally, but has, over the years, devolved into authoritative leaks from anonymous "highly-placed" figures with unknown agendas.

At worst, it can devolve into what happened in Atlanta in 1996, when Kathy Scruggs, an ambitious main reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution lied about sources and suspicions for the bombing and the paper supported her work with what's Voice of God journalism -- they staked the reputation of the paper on backing the false story; it was true, because the AJ-C said so, and ran her story without attribution (here's the original AJC story), turning Richard Jewell's life into a nightmare. This is similar to our expectation when we read something in the "paper of record," The New York Times, or watch the all-too-fair news broadcasts on middle class-friendly PBS. Reporters here are protected by layers of editors and lawyers, whereas a bad set of days for an independent, like Wikileaks, can be financially catastrophic, as it was for the outlet in 2010 when PayPal led the way in closing down fund transfers to Wikileaks, in a corporate version of the US government's use of SWIFT to implement unilateral economic sanctions on "enemies" (seeRussia). The irony here is that PayPal is owned by eBay, whose owner is Pierre Omidyar, financier of The Intercept.

All of this is a prelude to my recent viewing of a new two-part documentary about Julian Assange -- Ithaka: A Fight To Free Julian Assange. It roughly covers the period of his stay at the Ecuadorian the hole-in-the-wall embassy from just before his extraction on April 11, 2019, by security functionaries through the courtroom extradition hearings ending in first the high of his extradition being rejected through to the recent low of the successful appeal by the US to that finding. It is produced by Stella Morris, Julian's wife, and John Shipton, his father. I watched it on Australia's ABC iView (you may need a VPN-provided Australian IP address), but it is available on other streaming venues as well. It is a welcome, quiet production that gets away from the noise of the MSM coverage, with f*ckers screaming at you all the time -- You believe me, don't you!? You believe me, don't you!! You believe me, don't you?? Indeed, it is "a Shipton Family Production" that, as the film blurb offers up, sees Stella and John

"join[ing] forces to advocate for Julian on this international odyssey. As they rally a world-wide network of supporters and politicians, they cautiously step into the media's glare - and are forced to confront the events that made Julian a global flashpoint.

It's a family affair, warm, affectionate and alterior motivations divulged. One feels, watching, that goodness is still at play in the world.

It's a human film, doing what it sets out to achieve, with dignity and quietude and, by goodness, long-suffering humanity. They don't throw Jesus up on the Cross to start a church or anything, but we get the sense that Julian might actually be a human being, and not a pariah, or someone who needs to be moved to a leper's colony, or end up like poor ol' Oscar Wilde, dying destitute on the streets of Victor Hugo's Paris, crying "Each man kills the thing he loves / By each let this be heard," a coin drops into the busker bowl on the way to the smoky salon full of intellectuals, unanswered question marks curling from their Gauloises. You believe me, don't you?

Part One features a lot of quiet moments of Julian getting around his small gilded cage of freedom in the Ecuadorian embassy in London -- free from the Swedes, who, as Assange had guessed, had no real questions for him, but merely wanted to Here, kitty, kitty him back to Sweden so that he could be put on a rendition flight to Amerika (yes, spelled like Kafka's title) and, who knows, since they were referring to him as a "non-state enemy combatant," and brought to Gitmo, where Hillary could have been brought down as a member of the Chiefs and taken out the legs of our guardian of freedom. Look at that laugh that goes along with her name:

Pardon me, reader, I'm pent up. I'm old and I'm tired of all the bullshit.

So, in Part One we see Julian barely coping with the limited space. See him talking with Jennifer Robinson his lawyer in the conference room, Stella visiting, walking around like she lives there, too, but has leave if she wants privileges that she exercises, explaining in an early clip, her fear of being of being 'done' by some security contractor hired by the CIA to send a message or something. Her fear is no conspirator's; no, we've learned that the Duane Clarridge Secret Society may have been at work looking to kill Assange. "Can't we just drone him?" Hillary had asked rhetorically, with a laugh. No, they couldn't.

Saudi Prince MBS watching the proceedings on his Swarming Fly network, was sh*tting himself laughing at how complicated the West made the simplest things. A set of suitcases and a saw is all you needed, not this show of the Rule of Law that they mocked with pontifications and huffy-puffy references to It's Not Who We Are. MBS just cracked up every time at the Yanks and their Freedom language. MBS is said to have gone after Jeff Bezos online after the latter pulled out of a business deal following the Khashoggi discombobulation.

Some people think the Saudi psycho, may have information about 9/11, and some believe he may have given high-risk Biden Covid with that fist bump because he wanted to play around with Biden's replacement pod Kamala (name derived from karma), as the sad empire falls. (MBS laughed when he learned that Kamala had once jailed an Asian Jew, calculating she'd be ready to take on Israel if called upon.) But the Yanks laughed back, saying there's more than one way to Khashoggi a Khashoggi -- imprisonment, physical and mental anguish, over a long time, before charges are brought, with the guarantee of real deal time after the "extradition" to Amerika to face political charges that you can't defend against. Hell, there were rumors that security forces were not only spying on Assange from Spain, but zapping our Hero with Havana Syndrome type energy weapons from spots all around the Ecuadorian embassy. (Hillary.) Okay, I made that last bit up. You believe me, don't you?

So, Part One quietly captures Assange "holed up," as the MSM puts it, in his hovel of a token apartment owned by Ecuador, eventually without access to the Internet, a cruel reminder of the fall from grace of an ethical hacker. But perhaps more importantly we see John Shipton and Stella Morris just going about their doings. In John's case, these days, the old timer spends heaps of time walking and reflecting and advocating for his son's release in highly understated appearances before the Press. He's gentle. kindly, and generously patient when asked sometimes really stupid questions about Julian. "Do you think he is a journalist?"

Shipton might have let him have it -- asked the interviewer the same question, the same snarling way. Instead, he points out how many awards Julian has won. Douche'! journalism awardl" visual="175550" height="350uians-awards-684.png" />

The Russians wanted to nominate Assange for the Nobel Peace prize, probably thinking that why not? as the Americans Henry Kissinger and Barack Obama had been thrown the doggy bones that only encouraged more bellicose behavior, not less. Hell, why not toss the Peace award to Dylan while we're at it.

Part Two of Ithaka: A Fight To Free Julian Assange is more philosophically, intellectually and humanitarianly engaging than Part One, I thought. We think Ithaka, where are they going with that? You tell yourself they mean the Odyssey, Odysseus launching off with a thousand other ships to rescue a damsel in distress, even if she asked for it, Paris when it sizzles. Hero stuff, we'll leave Circe out of it, and the pigs that men become if they don't tie themselves to a moral mast or introject the teachings of our Savior on the Cross.

But Part Two also brings out the best in Stella Morris. And there's a lot of good there. We see her trying to raise her kids, with obvious disruptive elements at work -- temporary lodging, strange doings and a media that keeps feeding us milkshakes out of Rosemary's Baby. We hear of her fears of being abducted by nefarious Nosferatu forces of the State cruising around in bluelit vans, like something out of John Fowles's novel, The Collector. You'd like to hang a sign on her, like in the old days, that says paranoid loser, but now you know that you're the loser for not being more paranoid. (Jesus, we got enough warnings from people in the Know.) Stella comes across as a regular Josephine, a very likable person, who deals novingly with the suicidal ideation of her lover and acknowledges the importance to Julian and herself of the phone calls they share, which she says, is necessary for the psychological health of them both.

Shipton brings in mythological themes to set a kind of tone, move us in a certain direction, and he does so to a moody Brian Eno soundtrack that I'm considering incorporating into my sleep meditation sounds. Gentle, you know? Shipton alludes to Prometheus and the liver-eating torture the gods mete out for passing on the secrets of the Regime. (MBS isn't laughing now.) This is interesting and vaguely reminds me of Ed Snowden's constant referencing of mythology early in his memoir, Permanent Record. Snowden = Snow Dun = the place of some mountain fight between giants of old reasoning = King Arthur chopping off the fuckin head of the Hairy Man. The End. But the Assange mythology is a little less obvious. It needs tickling.

Shipton addresses the now-debunked US charge that some of Wikileaks's published material endangered (or worse) the lives of operatives in the field. In a teary appeal to Assange's better nature, John Shipton points out the incredibility of the charge:

From the time Cablegate was released to 2020 no harm came to those whose names were revealed on Wikileaks, a charge meant to bolster the claim that he was reckless and criminal -- like a man who would wear a leaky condom. The Dastard!

John Shipton himself comes across as a real interesting person. Almost a philosopher. And you can hear his proxy despair -- his filling for the feelings his suicidal son has as he is put through the ordeal of a lifetime. Here he poignantly explains the process of his thinking in a moment of transparency heroism:

I won't say I gushed or bawled like a vulnerable child, but you felt as if Shipton had struck the missing chord for a moment; the meaning of being; the loneliness of the task; the shaping forces that reduce our humanity and can break our spirit and purpose -- and for what!?

We now know, having heard over and over, that what the State (in this case, the tag team boffo clowns of the UK and the US) is doing to Assange amounts to torture. It's now official and the MSM no longer has cover to suppress the "truth" or call it something else. What's happening yo Julian is on a par with the evil doings of Abu Ghraib, and Gitmo, where so many have languished for decades without charges or trials. UN raconteur on torture, Nils Melzer, spills for us:

Yes. Unmediated, primary documents that the powers that be don't want you to see without mediation from the deep state tree. If the powers-that-be say the Russkies did it (whatever it isL It goes back 100 years) then you must believe it or risk being regarded as unpatriotic or too Left or a fuckin commie. You could be cancelled. Tweets pulled down like a bully pulling down the pants of a Twinkie target in the schoolyard to the mean girls's delight. Looking to defect. Feeling gaslighted everywhere.

Edward Snowden also shows up in the film, by way of an appearance on the Joe Rogan Show in late 2020. Snowden has an excellent perspective on the Assange matter. Thankfully he doesn't reiterate why he chose not to dump his revs at Wikileaks but shines on with that zest and clarity that brings on a modicum of hope and optimism. Snowden reminds us of Assange's value as a journalist and that we should duly note that he's being pursued by the US government not for his email revelations -- even the Podesta emails -- but for his early work that advertised the failures of representative government. Check it out:

And consider this possibility: We are heading for a time when Abu Ghraib and Gitmo can be achieved as implants in your head. Imagine a future where dissidents are targeted and non-surgical implants allow Duane Clarridge type drone operators to target your very thoughts -- for "national security" purposes.

John and Stella hope that somehow Assange will be freed and that he can return to Australia and a normal life back home. This sounds endearing, but one wonders at what price. "Conservative" Australia (ABC news, Andrew Fowler) has changed some since he left many years ago. Laws have been passed that could make him a criminal back home. In 2014, U wrote about how the Australian parliament passed, with to MP guffaws (I listened live, in disbelief) the Terrorism Act, which, when Preventative Detention Order (PDO) is added in, allows an "assessment" by a police or intelligence agency, to designate someone for liquidation -- including, potentially, a suspect's family, during the raid, with impunity. The State would shrug. This is a worry for someone who has been designated "an enemy combatant" by virtue of his reporting. More draconian still, and more recent, is the passage of an 2018 espionage bill that makes it a jailable offense to merely possess information that the State deems sensitive, including that which might embarrass the government. As the Guardian put it at the time,

The bill could criminalise publication of information, including opinions or reports of conversations, to international organisations "which may pose little or no threat to Australia's national security or sovereignty," it said. That could include information and opinions about food security, energy security, climate security, economic conditions, migration and refugee policies because these may affect Australia's "political, military or economic relations with another country"m and lead to its undermining, such as reporting.

Imagine Australian reporters drawing attention to Australia's astounding presence on the UN Human Rights Council and, as the Guardian puts it, rejection of "criticism of Australia's human rights record." In short, as a near-recent raid on the ABC, which, in a report called The Afghan File, was reporting on Australian special operations soldiers committing atrocities in Afghanistan, demonstrates, Assange's work would not be welcome if based in his home county.

At the end of the film, when pressed by his interviewer, John Shipton avers that "things can only get worse" for Assange, seemingly anticipating either a conviction in the IS followed by decades behind bars in ADX Florence, the supermax prison in Colorado that houses the likes of Ramzi Yousef, Eric Rudolph, and Ted Kaczynski. Ot he could be allowed to return home under a condition that he is permanently gagged and can no longer pursue a life of dissidence to the Regime. But who knows? Maybe he'll just want to be with his family -- and let the rest go, since so few have proven to give a sh*t to the degree required to change anything.

MBS can be heard tittering like a little girl -- or Heath Ledger's Joker -- you decide.

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John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelance journalist and poet currently residing in Oceania.

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