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The "getting" of Assange and the smearing of a revolution

By       Message John Pilger       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   3 comments

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The High Court in London will soon to decide whether Julian Assange is
to be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of sexual misconduct. At
the appeal hearing in July, Ben Emmerson QC, counsel for the defence,
described the whole saga as "crazy". Sweden's chief prosecutor had
dismissed the original arrest warrant, saying there was no case for
Assange to answer. Both the women involved said they had consented to
have sex. On the facts alleged, no crime would have been committed in
Britain.

However, it is not the Swedish judicial system that
presents a "grave danger" to Assange, say his lawyers, but a legal
device known as a Temporary Surrender, under which he can be sent on
from Sweden to the United States secretly and quickly. The founder and
editor of WikiLeaks, who published the greatest leak of official
documents in history, providing a unique insight into rapacious wars and
the lies told by governments, is likely to find himself in a hell hole
not dissimilar to the "torturous" dungeon that held Private Bradley
Manning, the alleged whistleblower. Manning has not been tried, let
alone convicted, yet on 21 April, President Barack Obama declared him
guilty with a dismissive "He broke the law."

This Kafka-style
justice awaits Assange whether or not Sweden decides to prosecute him.
Last December, the Independent disclosed that the US and Sweden had
already started talks on Assange's extradition. At the same time, a
secret grand jury -- a relic of the 18th century long abandoned in this
country -- has convened just across the river from Washington, in a
corner of Virginia that is home to the CIA and most of America's
national security establishment. The grand jury is a "fix," a leading
legal expert told me: reminiscent of the all-white juries in the South
that convicted blacks by rote. A sealed indictment is believed to exist.

Under the US Constitution, which guarantees free speech,
Assange should be protected, in theory. When he was running for
president, Obama, himself a constitutional lawyer, said, "Whistleblowers
are part of a healthy democracy and must be protected from reprisal."
His embrace of George W. Bush's "war on terror" has changed all that.
Obama has pursued more whistleblowers than any US president. The problem
for his administration in "getting" Assange and crushing WikiLeaks is
that military investigators have found no collusion or contact between
him and Manning, reports NBC. There is no crime, so one has to be
concocted, probably in line with Vice President Joe Biden's absurd
description of Assange as a "hi-tech terrorist."

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Should Assange
win his High Court appeal in London, he could face extradition direct to
the United States. In the past, US officials have synchronized
extradition warrants with the conclusion of a pending case. Like its
predatory military, American jurisdiction recognizes few boundaries. As
the suffering of Bradley Manning demonstrates, together with the
recently executed Troy Davis and the forgotten inmates of Guantanamo,
much of the US criminal justice system is corrupt if not lawless.

In
a letter addressed to the Australian government, Britain's most
distinguished human rights lawyer, Gareth Peirce, who now acts for
Assange, wrote, "Given the extent of the public discussion, frequently
on the basis of entirely false assumptions... it is very hard to attempt
to preserve for him any presumption of innocence. Mr. Assange has now
hanging over him not one but two Damocles swords, of potential
extradition to two different jurisdictions in turn for two different
alleged crimes, neither of which are crimes in his own country, and that
his personal safety has become at risk in circumstances that are highly
politically charged."

These facts, and the prospect of a
grotesque miscarriage of justice, have been drowned in a vituperative
campaign against the WikiLeaks founder. Deeply personal, petty,
perfidious and inhuman attacks have been aimed at a man not charged with
any crime yet held isolated, tagged and under house arrest -- conditions
not even meted out to a defendant presently facing extradition on a
charge of murdering his wife.

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Books have been published, movie
deals struck and media careers launched or kick-started on the
assumption that he is fair game and too poor to sue. People have made
money, often big money, while WikiLeaks has struggled to survive. On 16
June, the publisher of Canongate Books, Jamie Byng, when asked by
Assange for an assurance that the rumoured unauthorized publication of
his autobiography was not true, said, "No, absolutely not. That is not
the position ... Julian, do not worry. My absolute number one desire is
to publish a great book which you are happy with." On 22 September,
Canongate released what it called Assange's "unauthorized autobiography"
without the author's permission or knowledge. It was a first draft of
an incomplete, uncorrected manuscript. "They thought I was going to
prison and that would have inconvenienced them," he told me. "It's as if
I am now a commodity that presents an incentive to any opportunist."
 
The
editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, has called the WikiLeaks
disclosures "one of the greatest journalistic scoops of the last 30
years." Indeed, this is part of his current marketing promotion to
justify raising the Guardian's cover price. But the scoop belongs to
Assange not the Guardian. Compare the paper's attitude towards Assange
with its bold support for the reporter threatened with prosecution under
the Official Secrets Act for revealing the iniquities of Hackgate.
Editorials and front pages have carried stirring messages of solidarity
from even Murdoch's Sunday Times. On 29 September, Carl Bernstein was
flown to London to compare all this with his Watergate triumph. Alas,
the iconic fellow was not entirely on message. "It's important not to be
unfair to Murdoch," he said, because "he's the most far seeing media
entrepreneur of our time" who "put The Simpsons on air" and thereby
"showed he could understand the information consumer."

The
contrast with the treatment of a genuine pioneer of a revolution in
journalism, who dared take on rampant America, providing truth about how
great power works, is telling. A drip-feed of hostility runs through
the  Guardian, making it difficult for readers to interpret the
WikiLeaks phenomenon and to assume other than the worst about its
founder. David Leigh, the Guardian's  "investigations editor," told
journalism students at City University that Assange was a "Frankenstein
monster" who "didn't use to wash very often" and was "quite deranged".
When a puzzled student asked why he said that, Leigh replied, "Because
he doesn't understand the parameters of conventional journalism. He and
his circle have a profound contempt for what they call the mainstream
media." According to Leigh, these "parameters" were exemplified by Bill
Keller when, as editor of the New York Times, he co-published the
WikiLeaks disclosures with the Guardian. Keller, said Leigh, was "a
seriously thoughtful person in journalism" who had to deal with "some
sort of dirty, flaky hacker from Melbourne."

Last November, the
"seriously thoughtful" Keller boasted to the BBC that he had taken all
WikiLeaks' war logs to the White House so the government could approve
and edit them. In the run-up to the Iraq war, the New York Times
published a series of now notorious CIA-inspired claims claiming weapons
of mass destruction existed. Such are the "parameters" that have made
so many people cynical about the so-called mainstream media.

Leigh
went as far as to mock the danger that, once extradited to America,
Assange would end up wearing "an orange jump suit." These were things
"he and his lawyer are saying in order to feed his paranoia." The
"paranoia" is shared by the European Court of Human Rights which has
frozen "national security" extraditions from the UK to the US because
the extreme isolation and long sentences defendants can expect amounts
to torture and inhuman treatment.

I asked Leigh why he and the
Guardian had adopted a consistently hostile towards Assange since they
had parted company. He replied, "Where you, tendentiously, claim to
detect a 'hostile toe,' others might merely see well-informed
objectivity."

It is difficult to find well-informed objectivity
in the Guardian's book on Assange, sold lucratively to Hollywood, in
which Assange is described gratuitously as a "damaged personality" and
"callous." In the book, Leigh revealed the secret password Assange had
given the paper. Designed to protect a digital file containing the US
embassy cables, its disclosure set off a chain of events that led to the
release of all the files. The Guardian denies "utterly" it was
responsible for the release. What, then, was the point of publishing the
password?

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The Guardian's Hackgate exposures were a journalistic
tour de force; the Murdoch empire may disintegrate as a result. But,
with or without Murdoch, a media consensus that echoes, from the BBC to
the Sun, a corrupt political, war-mongering establishment. Assange's
crime has been to threaten this consensus: those who fix the
"parameters" of news and political ideas and whose authority as media
commissars is challenged by the revolution of the internet.

The
prize-winning former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook has experience in
both worlds. "The media, at least the supposedly left-wing component of
it," he writes, "should be cheering on this revolution... And yet,
mostly they are trying to co-opt, tame or subvert it [even] to discredit
and ridicule the harbingers of the new age... Some of [campaign against
Assange] clearly reflects a clash of personalities and egos, but it
also looks suspiciously like the feud derives from a more profound
ideological struggle [about] how information should be controlled a
generation hence [and] the gatekeepers maintaining their control."

 

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John Pilger grew up in Sydney, Australia. He has been a war correspondent, author and documentary film-maker. He is one of only two to win British journalism's highest award twice, for his work all over the world. On 1 November, he was awarded (more...)
 

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