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U.N. Report Condemns Torture of Assange

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Julian Assange and the future of WikiLeaks
Julian Assange and the future of WikiLeaks
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While it is rare that publishers themselves make headlines, reports about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange now probably outnumber articles based on the information he published. This is the extent to which the man behind some of the most shocking revelations about U.S. war crimes has come under public scrutiny. Despite the profound journalistic importance of the work Assange and whistleblower Chelsea Manning have done, the two have been smeared, persecuted and imprisoned in an effort to "shoot the messenger," which effectively distracts from their revelations and works to undermine their credibility.

The mass media has played into this character assassination while both Manning and Assange are in jail, and instead of refusing to treat this as one of the most egregious assaults on press freedom, it has largely turned their back on the victims. Now, the media's reporting has been revealed to have done something even more damaging than destroy Assange's reputationit has served to torture him.

That is the conclusion Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and two medical experts who examined the WikiLeaks founder came to, according to a recent piece by Melzer published on Medium titled "Demasking the Torture of Julian Assange." While initially hesitant to meet with Assange after he was detained in the United Kingdom where he had been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy for several years, Melzer ultimately decided to do so, despite having formed negative opinions about Assange based on widespread media coverage of the man.

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"Basically, I didn't take [the request to examine Assange] seriously," Melzer tells Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer on the latest installment of Scheer's podcast, "Scheer Intelligence." "It took a second attempt to kind of shake me a little bit and say, [I] need to look at this. Once I opened the book and started looking at the actual evidence and facts for all these nametags that are being circulated in the press, I was shocked to see that there was very little substance that actually supported these qualifications."

The Truthdig Editor in Chief, who has been a vocal critic of media and government treatment of Assange, highlights how even those who have come to the WikiLeaks founder's defense have, at times, been misled by the media's portrayal of him.

"I generally side with whistleblowers," Scheer tells Melzer, "[and as] I was following this case, as with most people, [I thought I was] on guard against distortion. But until I read your article, I didn't realize how grotesque this case is.

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"To my mind, it was like Emile Zola in J'Accuse!, in the Alfred Dreyfus case 120 years ago," he adds.

Throughout the interview, Scheer breaks down the tenets of Melzer's arguments about Assange into several basic points. The first two relate to the allegations about his sexual misconduct in Sweden; the next is regarding his hacking abilities or actions; and the final point concerns the global media's role in the conditions that led to Melzer and his colleagues deeming the WikiLeaks founder a victim of torture.

"With a relatively high degree of certainty, [my colleagues and I] were able to identify the causes and effects [of Assange's torture]," the U.N. Special Rapporteur explains. "What I saw is that he has been exposed to a concerted and kind of sustained campaign of mobbing [which is] where you shame and insult someone, you intimidate people. But it's always the collective turning against an isolated individual. " It can cause people to commit suicide, even in this isolated environment. Now, in Assange's case, basically the whole world ganged up against him."

The hypocrisy behind the media's part in this mobbing is glaringly apparent, as Scheer has repeatedly pointed out, given how internationally renowned publications such as The New York Times and The Guardian worked with Assange and benefited from the information he received from Chelsea Manning through his whistleblower platform. Now, it turns out, these same news organizations are to some extent digging their own graves as the charges the U.S. government is using to persecute Assange attack the heart of journalism.

Moreover, in a shocking move that shows the breadth of the corporate media's betrayal of Assange, Melzer, who is not only a widely respected international lawyer and human rights expert, but an academic who has published several books on international legal frameworks, writes in his Medium piece that he approached several publications, including The New York Times and The Guardian, and "None responded positively."

Listen to Scheer and Melzer discuss the details of Julian Assange's torture and how several Western democracies, widely-circulated and reputable publications, and even many average people have contributed to the mobbing and dehumanization of the WikiLeaks founder. You can also read a transcript of the interview below the media player and find past episodes of "Scheer Intelligence" here.

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Introduction by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of "Scheer Intelligence," where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case, Nils Melzer, a brilliant human rights attorney. And I will let him talk a little bit about his own credentials. But in some ways this is one of the most important interviews that I've ever done. And let me explain that. We're talking about the case of Julian Assange. And I went to a Los Angeles Press Association meeting last night; his name didn't get mentioned. Chelsea Manning's name doesn't get mentioned. And this was a gathering of the elite of the Los Angeles press corps, but it's true nationally. And Nils Melzer is somebody who has devoted most of his adult life to considering questions of human rights. He worked for the Red Cross for over a decade, he's the U.N. Special Rapporteur on this; I'll let him define that obligation. He's written very important books on warfare, drone warfare; he's written guides for NATO. And so why don't you explain how you came to write this report? And what I found so devastating about it is you say over and over -- particularly in an article that I'm going to list on the site and talk about, "Demasking the Torture of Julian Assange." You were a skeptica -- deep skeptic, actually -- about his case. Were you not?

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Robert Scheer is editor in chief of the progressive Internet site Truthdig. He has built a reputation for strong social and political writing over his 30 years as a journalist. He conducted the famous Playboy magazine interview in which Jimmy (more...)

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