Attack on right to report
Bernard Mattson investigates the charges against Julian Assange and finds them wanting
Julian Assange is fast approaching yet another date with the British courts, as they try and do their duty to their American master. He is alleged to be guilty of at least five charges:
- exposing US war crimes;
- helping Russia to interfere with American ‘democracy’;
- endangering US agents and friends all over the world;
- conspiring with a journalistic source; and
- rape - or at least sexual assault.
The US government - and thereby the UK government too - is only interested in the first and the fourth: they want to deter journalists from even looking at such things, let alone reporting them. In this they are only acting as so many governments do: Russia, Turkey, Iran, Israel, Colombia - the list goes on and on. The second helped the mainstream media and the Democrats to keep up a pathetic attack on Donald Trump instead of taking him to task for anything real. The third is just for show. The last one is the only one that anybody much outside the US is interested in.
Let us start with the first allegation: exposing US war crimes. The best known of these was the video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, showing the slaughter of over a dozen civilians in Baghdad, including two journalists. Two young children were also seriously wounded. This - available on YouTube with currently over two million views - shocked people all over the world. There were plenty more exposed, including criminal actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, to mention just a few.
That the US government and military - with the eager assistance of the UK and others - has been committing war crimes for decades is fairly well known to those who are awake, including Weekly Worker readers. What WikiLeaks had done, however, was to provide detail; and not just that, but detail straight from the horse’s mouth. Grass on organised crime and you can get killed, but the US government likes to pretend that it isn’t like that and therefore has to approach things a little more ‘subtly’. For them, the real ‘crime’ is exposure.
Next we have ‘Russiagate’. What was the allegation? WikiLeaks published stuff from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) that showed that it had worked with Hillary Clinton to stitch up Bernie Sanders and make sure that she got the Democrat nomination for president in 2016. How did they get the information? There was a 20-page report from the FBI soon after the event that many outlets, and most techies, agreed did not say very much.
Some techies at the time - academics and the like - agreed that a leak was more likely than a hack. But the report suggested that malware originally issuing from Russia might have been used. It was, however, pointed out that the malware was out there in the online world and available for use by anyone, Russian or not. Any further investigation was perhaps hampered by the DNC refusing to let the FBI see the hard drive.
However, there was enough for the Democrats to blame their subsequent defeat by Trump on WikiLeaks in general and Julian Assange in particular. Never mind blaming the constitution - Clinton did, after all, get close to three million more votes than Trump. Never mind blaming her campaign - she fought pretty much entirely on an ‘I’m not Trump’ platform (with maybe a little ‘and I’m a woman’ thrown in). She also had the disadvantage that what Trump said about her being bought and paid for by Wall Street happened to be true.
‘Russiagate’ dominated the Democrat-supporting media for the next few years until the pathetic attempt at impeachment failed. Trump’s relationship with Russia was the big deal, not his treatment of immigrants, continuing wars, tearing up what few ecological protections the federal government had in place, or any other of his numerous crimes - perhaps because they did not really disagree with any of those.
‘Helping Russia’ in this way provided entertainment for leading Democrats and some of their more gullible followers, and was a bit of an irritation for Trump, but no big deal. ‘Russiagate’ involved more than the DNC leak: there was the several hundred dollars that ‘trolls’ spent on Facebook winding up voters, and several Trumpites were seen talking to Russians, but the ‘leak’ was the only bit that WikiLeaks was involved in, as far as I know.
Then we have the ‘endangerment’ of agents and friends all over the place because Julian Assange, without a care in the world, dropped an unredacted tranche of information, so that anyone could get their names and details. Except that it is not true. WikiLeaks had a carefully encrypted password for the files, which Assange made the mistake of revealing to a Guardian reporter, who was supposed to be working with him on publishing the information.
Several people have said how impatient some of the publications were with Assange because he took such great care to make sure that no identities were revealed, or at least those that might be vulnerable. Two Guardian reporters brought out a quick book to profit from the work and one of them gave the game away.
Assange went to great lengths to try and warn the state department, which did not seem very interested at the time. Another online publisher put the whole unredacted report out - this publisher was, of course, never prosecuted. WikiLeaks then published the lot, so that anyone named could be warned before they could come to any harm. As far as I am aware from the many online accounts of this, and indeed everything involved in this tale, nobody has suffered death, injury, arrest or torture because of this release.
Conspiring with a source - this seems to be the basis of the ‘espionage’ charges that Assange is facing. The ‘conspiracy’ is, of course, with Chelsea Manning, who has herself faced persecution. A commutation from Barack Obama reduced her time inside to seven years, instead of the 35 years that the courts had given her. Since her release, and since Trump went into the White House, she has been in and out of jail for refusing to testify before grand juries - and refusing to grass up Julian Assange or anyone else.
This is another real crime for the US state: Assange faces 175 years in jail and this is the one they want journalists all over the world to note - and be very afraid of. This is a threat to journalists everywhere, but the mainstream media - owned by the corporations - have barely reported it.
The fifth ‘crime’ is in many ways the most serious - even though nobody has ever charged Assange with it. That is the ‘rape, ‘sexual assault’ or ‘failure of sexual etiquette’. What happened? It is likely that we will never know. But what was alleged? There are a few different accounts: not using a condom, holding a woman down, etc. but little connected detail, as far as I can see, in the mainstream media. The main thing is that people think that Assange has been accused of rape. With one woman this might lead to a depressingly familiar tale of ‘she said, he said’ - but two women!
Yes, the accusations came soon after another WikiLeaks exposure of files and I think we can reasonably assume that the US badly wanted to damage his standing in the world. There have been accusations against the women by Assange supporters and shouts of ‘victim blaming’ from those who feel that the women have been falsely traduced by such supporters.
There are, however, a lot of dodgy aspects to the whole ‘case’. Why did the Swedish authorities let him leave the country, after several interviews and a willingness on his part to be further interviewed? Why did one prosecutor drop the case, only for another to take it up again? Why, when Assange demanded a guarantee not to be extradited to the US if he returned to Sweden to face charges, was this not given? And, apparently, cuddly Sweden has a record of extraditions if the US asks - so the UK is not the only obedient puppy in Europe.
Talking of the UK, why, when the Swedish authorities wanted to drop the case, did the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) - then under the rule of that well-known socialist, Keir Starmer - insist that it should be revived? And, why did the Swedish prosecutors not come to Britain for so many years to question Assange? He was willing for this to happen and, apparently, they have done it many times before, for more serious charges.
There are, however, far more searching questions to be answered. Craig Murray, as British ambassador to Uzbekistan, complained about human rights abuses, including torture. His bosses at the foreign office did not like that, so they kicked him out - even though it was true. He was also a speaker at the December 12 2020 launch rally of the Campaign for Free Speech, where he mentioned Julian Assange (as did Chris Williamson), but told us of his difficult struggles to lecture in British universities due to the strangling bureaucracy of the ‘Prevent’ programme. So he seems like a trustworthy chap.
In 2012 he wrote, on his blog, some of the details of the Assange case that he had been able to find out: he had a lot of questions. One of them: “But the key question which leaps out at me - and which strangely I have not seen asked anywhere else - is this: Why did Anna Ardin not warn Sofia Wilen?” That is, why did the first alleged victim not warn the second one? Murray gives a detailed account of what happened over the relevant days.1
Wilen wants Assange to take a medical test to make sure that she is safe and she takes her worries to Ardin, who assures her that the police can compel such a test. They go and see Ardin’s mate in the police, who wanted to make a rape case of it. Wilen was shocked at this development and refused to sign such a complaint. Ardin then added her own weight to the charge. She had many friends who knew that she had been having sex with Assange, so she produced a broken condom to allege his lack of consideration. Trouble was, there was no DNA to be found - of anybody.
Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, has made similar allegations about the charges and, from a paragraph in Wikipedia, no less:
In a January 2020 interview Melzer said he had never seen a comparable case, where a person was subjected to nine years of a preliminary investigation for rape without charges being filed. He said Assange’s lawyers made over 30 offers to arrange for Assange to visit Sweden in exchange for a guarantee that he would not be extradited to the US and described such diplomatic assurances as routine international practice. Melzer criticised the Swedish prosecutors for, among other things, supposedly changing one of the women's statements without her involvement in order to make it sound like a possible rape.2
There is more, and one place to look is Jonathan Cook’s article, which I found on the American site Counterpunch.3 He writes of the errors that people make when looking at the history of Assange’s ordeal over the years: “The fact that so many ordinary people keep making these basic errors has a very obvious explanation. It is because the corporate media keep making these errors.” And further: “Rather than listen to experts, or common sense, these “journalists” keep regurgitating the talking points of the British security state, which are as good as identical to the talking points of the US security state.”
The charges in themselves take away enormous support that Assange might have got from many left and liberal people all over the world - not least in Britain. But sex accusations like this? Many will be opposed to Assange’s extradition to the US and may even realise the threat to all journalists and journalism - but how can we support such a nasty piece of work? This also gives the mainstream media, including ‘liberal’ publications like The Guardian and The New York Times, cover to leave the story in the shadows.
This is the greatest of Assange’s crimes to the innocent bystander, but I think that we can safely say that it is of little import to the governments of the USA, UK and Sweden and their agencies - though they recognise its value to them. For the UK one can see the often reported low numbers of rape accusations brought to the CPS by the police, the low numbers prosecuted and the pathetic number of convictions.
And, as for Sweden, to quote Craig Murray again:
The other thing not widely understood is there is no jury in a rape trial in Sweden and it is a secret trial. All of the evidence, all of the witnesses, are heard in secret. No public, no jury, no media. The only public part is the charging and the verdict. There is a judge and two advisors directly appointed by political parties.
Not something to fill Julian Assange with confidence.
This charge wrecks Assange’s reputation for many - likely to be a smear that he can do little to combat. And yet there seem to be a lot of people who know or have met him - not least the mother of two of his children - who apparently think that he’s okay.
Now we have the ‘trial’ - is that what it is? The extradition proceedings have been meticulously covered online (but meagrely covered, if at all, by the mainstream media). You might naively think that it would be possible to follow proceedings in The Guardian. After all, one of the items that comes up is the unredacted files put out to public view and a Guardian journalist has been accused - though not in any court - of giving away the password to the files.
Then there are the nonsensical - in legal and moral terms, rather than the political intentions - restrictions on what evidence he can produce, witnesses they can cross-examine, etc. And there is the clear and constant role of US actors in this: they instruct the prosecutors and it seems clear that the judge knows which side she is on.
All the time Assange has this cloud over his head: is he a rapist? How very convenient for the powers-that-be. It is a bit like the false assertions of ‘anti-Semitism’ in the Labour Party: any honest person willing to investigate can find that this is untrue - though not in the mainstream media. So Assange, like the socialists in the Labour Party, can be slandered and libelled for the benefit of the, largely unseeing, public.
Judgment is due on January 4 and the chances of justice - ie, of Assange being released - must be pretty slim. Press reports have suggested that in any event one side or the other will likely appeal and this could go on for years - to the detriment of his health.
Another significant date is January 20: Biden’s inauguration. Obama did not pursue the extradition of Assange, which may well be the main reason that Trump took the opposite decision. Biden may decide to drop the case for similar reasons - another one in the eye for Trump. But then he is keen on the ‘intelligence community’ too, so I doubt that Julian Assange will be holding his breath.