- You have followed the trial against Julian Assange closely, John Pilger. Can you describe the atmosphere in the courtroom?
- The atmosphere in the hall has been shocking. I say that without reservation. I have witnessed many trials, but have seldom experienced such corruption in the legal security of the accused. I call it pure bullying. Leaving aside the purely ritualistic aspects of the British judiciary, the trial was at times reminiscent of a Stalinist quasi-trial, the Moscow trials. With one exception: In Moscow, the accused stood in a proper courtroom. Assange has been caged behind thick glass and had to crawl on his knees to an opening in the glass to consult his lawyers, closely monitored by guards. Assange whispered almost inaudibly through a face mask. His messages were then conveyed via post-it notes across the room, in which the defenders argued against extradition to hell in an American prison.
An ailing, thin figure
- Imagine Julian's everyday life: He is awakened at five o'clock in the cell of Belmarsh Prison in gloomy South London. The first time I saw him in Belmarsh, after half an hour of "security checks," including a dog's snout up his back, I found an ailing, thin figure, alone, wearing a yellow bracelet. He had lost more than ten kilos in a few months. The arms were without muscles. The first thing he said was, "I think I'm about to lose my mind."
- I tried to assure him that there was no danger of it. His resilience and courage are formidable. But also for Julian's health, there is a limit somewhere. It's been over a year since we last met. For the past three weeks, he has been body searched every morning. He was then handcuffed before being transported to Old Bailey Central Criminal Court in a truck described by his partner, Stella Morris, as an open coffin. It has a small window, and standing on unsteady legs, Julian can get a look out. The truck and guards are operated by Serco, one of the many politically affiliated companies that run much of Boris Johnson's UK today.
"I think I'm losing my mind." Assange
- The trip to Old Bailey takes at least an hour and a half. There will be three hours of transport every day, with shaking at a snail's pace through London traffic. He is led into his narrow cage at the back of the courtroom: he looks up and winks at the bright light and tries to glimpse faces among the audience in the gallery through the reflections in the glass. Then he sees the soothing figure of his father, John Shipton, and me. We raise our fists. He stretches his hands towards the glass to somehow touch the fingers of his girlfriend Stella. She is a lawyer and sits in the main courtroom.
- The clear bias in the lawsuits against Julian shatters any notion one may have of British legal security. When the thug police pulled him out of the asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy – look closely at the press photos of this – you see that he doubts a book by Gore Vidal. Assange has a political sense of humor similar to that of Vidals. In Southwark Crown Court, he was sentenced to hair-raising 50 weeks in a high-security prison, only for a bail violation that is not even considered a crime!
- For several months he was refused training and was kept in isolation "for the sake of his own health". He once told me that he ran back and forth in the cell until he had covered a half-marathon distance. In the neighboring cell, fellow prisoners screamed through the night.
At first he was denied his reading glasses, which had been left in the embassy after the brutal arrest. He was then denied access to the case documents he needed to prepare his case, and denied access to the prison library and the use of a simple laptop. Books sent to him by his friend the journalist Charles Glass, himself a hostage-taker from Beirut, were returned to the sender. He was not allowed to call his American lawyers. He had always been medicated by the prison authorities. When I asked him what they gave him, he did not know. The director of Belmarsh Prison has been awarded the Order of Merit, the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
He is led into his narrow cage at the back of the courtroom: he looks up and winks at the bright light and tries to glimpse faces among the audience in the gallery through the reflections in the glass.
Then he sees the soothing figure of his father, John Shipton, and me. We raise our fists. He stretches his hands towards the glass to somehow touch his girlfriend's fingers
In Old Bailey, one of the medical experts, Dr. Kate Humphrey, spoke about Julian's health condition. Humphrey is a clinical neuropsychologist at Imperial College London: Julian's intellectual capacity had gone from "above average", or more likely "very high", to "significantly below optimal levels", to the point where he now struggled to perceive information or " performs in the low average ».
This is what the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Nils Melzer, calls "mental torture". It is the result of bullying-like bullying by governments and their media collaborators. Some of the medical evidence is so shocking that I do not intend to repeat it here. Suffice it to say that Assange has been diagnosed with autism and Asperger's syndrome, and according to Professor Michael Kopelman, one of the world's leading neuropsychiatrists, he is struggling with suicidal thoughts and will probably find a way to take his own life if extradited to the United States.
The innate strength of a principled political prisoner
The United States' British prosecutor, James Lewis, used most of the cross-examination of Professor Kopelman to dismiss diagnoses of mental illness and various dangers such as "exaggerations". I have never experienced such a primitive view of human weakness and vulnerability. My own view is that if Assange is released, he will probably restore a significant part of his life force. He has a loving partner, devoted friends and allies and the innate strength of a principled political prisoner. He also has a raw sense of humor.
But all this seems far away right now. The cooperation between Judge Vanessa Baraitser, whom we know little about, and the prosecution, which represents the Trump regime, has been shocking. Until the last days of the trial, the defense's arguments have been routinely rejected.
WikiLeaks has given us a glimpse of a violent superpower breaking through one country after another – think of the massacres in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
Prosecutor Lewis is a former British elite soldier (SAS) and currently a justice of the Falkland Islands. He gets it pretty much as he wants, for example a full four hours to insult expert witnesses, while the defense's allotted time is cut down to half an hour. I have no doubt that a jury would acquit Julian.
The world-famous Chinese artist Ai Weiwei joined us at the audience gallery one morning. He noted that in China, the judge would have already concluded. This triggered a somewhat dark, ironic laugh.
My entourage up in the gallery, the wise writer and former British Ambassador Craig Murray, wrote:
"I fear that all over London there will be tougher times for those who have worked all their lives in liberal, democratic institutions and who are governed by clear rules. It has been clear to me from day one that it is a prank that unfolds before my eyes. It is not the least bit shocking to me that Judge Baraitser does not think that anything, beyond the written opening arguments, is of interest. I have repeatedly reported that in the cases where she has to make a decision, she has brought them with her already written, even before she has heard the defenders' arguments. »
I am convinced that the final verdict in this case was made even before the judge heard the arguments that have been put forward.
Few report from the court
- The US government's plan has been to provide as little information as possible. We have experienced extreme restrictions on both physical access and video access. Collaborating established media have ensured that very few have been told what is happening. Almost no one reports from the trial.
Honorable exceptions are Craig Murray's personal blog, Joe Lauria's live reporting on Consortium News and the World Socialist Web Site. The American journalist Kevin Gosztola's blog, and Shadowproof, which is mainly self-financed, has reported more from the trial than a combined American press and television, including CNN.
The absence of serious, ordinary coverage of the trial is at best self-harming.
Journalists should ask themselves: Who is the next victim?
In Australia, Assange's home country, "media coverage" follows a well-known recipe – controlled from abroad. Sydney Morning Herald's London correspondent Latika Bourke wrote: "The court heard that Assange was depressed during the seven years he spent in the Ecuadorian embassy, where he sought political asylum so as not to be extradited to Sweden to respond. accusations of rape and sexual assault. "
But there have never been any rapes or sexual assaults in Sweden, as Latika Bourke insinuates! However, she is not alone in coming up with such easy lies.
Who is the next victim?
If the Assange trial is the political trial of this century, as I believe it is, the outcome will not only be fatal for a journalist who has only done what he is supposed to, it will threaten the basic principles of free journalism and freedom of expression. The absence of serious, ordinary coverage of the trial is at best self-harming. Journalists should ask themselves: Who is the next victim?
What a shame! Ten years ago, the newspaper took advantage of The Guardian Assange's publications, profited from WikiLeak's publications, and entered into a lucrative Hollywood deal, then turned on him with poisonous attacks.
Throughout the Old Bailey trial, prosecutors have cited two names: Guardian's David Leigh, now retired editor, and Luke Harding, the newspaper's Russia correspondent and author of a fictional Guardian scandal claiming that Trump's campaign leader (in 2016) Paul Manafort and a group Russians visited Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy. This never happened, but several years later the Guardian has not yet regretted it. Harding and Leigh's book on Assange, WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy, was written behind the main character's back. This book was the source that revealed a secret password to a WikiLeaks data file that Assange had entrusted to Leigh when they were working in partnership. The incredible thing that happened later is that Assange was accused of irresponsible leakage. Why the defense has not summoned this couple is difficult to understand.
[In Norway, the trade magazine Journalisten in November this year published an article that uncommentatively repeats this lie about Julian's "irresponsibility" in an interview with lawyer Floyd Adams, editor's note]
Assange did not say such a thing
In their book, Leigh and Harding say that during a dinner, Julian is said to have said that he did not care whether the informants he revealed were harmed. But neither Harding nor Leigh were present at the dinner. John Goetz, himself a digging journalist at Der Spiegel, on the other hand attended at dinner, has testified that Assange did not say such a thing. Incredibly, Judge Baraitser prevented Goetz from telling this in court.
I am convinced that the final verdict in this case was made before
the judge heard the arguments that have been put forward.
However, the defense has succeeded in showing that Assange tried to protect and edit out names in the files published by WikiLeaks, but also that no one is injured due to the leaks. The well-known whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg said that Assange had personally edited 15 files. Renowned New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager, who collaborated with Assange on the war leaks in Afghanistan and Iraq, described how Assange took "extraordinary precautions in editing the names of informants".
The banality of evil
- What will the consequences of the verdict in this trial be for journalism in general – is there a warning of things to come?
- The Assange effect can already be felt all over the world. If there's anything the Washington regime does not like, grave journalists are being prosecuted and threatened with the United States Espionage Act of 1917. It does not matter where you did this. And they do not take into account your nationality or your sovereignty. Britain has effectively left its law enforcement to Trump's corrupt Justice Department.
If you look at Australia, offenders are threatened with a Kafkaesque National Security Information Act.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation has been raided by police, and journalists' computers have been confiscated. The government has given great power to the intelligence service, which has made journalism almost impossible. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Assange must face punishment. How passionately abominable this statement is is surpassed only by its banality.
"Evil," wrote Amos Elon in the introduction to Hannah Arendt's book Eichmann in Jerusalem, "comes from the inability to think. Evil defies thought, because as soon as thought tries to engage in evil and examine the premises of it and the principles from which it originates, it is frustrated because it finds nothing there. Arendt calls this the 'banality of evil'. "
Wikilik's moral dimension
- You've been following the history of WikiLeaks closely for ten years. Has the eyewitness experience changed your understanding of what is at stake in this lawsuit against Assange?
- I have long been critical of journalism which is just an echo of indefensible power, and been a champion of the lighthouses among us. For me, WikiLeaks was an exciting newcomer. I admired the way Assange viewed readers: respectful and always ready to share his findings with mainstream media, but not to become part of their dense network. This – and sheer jealousy – made him an enemy of them overpaid and forgifted media people, insecure as they were where they pretended to be independent and impartial.
I admired the moral dimension of WikiLeaks. Assange is rarely asked about this, but it is clear that the source of his enormous energy comes from a strong moral conviction that governments and other powerful interests should not be allowed to operate in closed spaces. He's a Democrat. He explained this in one of the first interviews I did with him at my home in 2010.
What is at stake for the rest of us has done so for a long time: the freedom to hold authorities accountable, the freedom to challenge, to point to hypocrisy and to protest. The difference today is that the world's only superpower, the United States, has never been as uncertain about its ever-growing authority as it is today. As a dizzying criminal, it sends us ever closer to a world war if we allow it. Little of this threat is reflected in today's media.
WikiLeaks, on the other hand, has given us a glimpse of a violent superpower breaking through one country after another – think of the massacres in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Think of the 37 million displaced and 12 million killed: men, women and children in the "war on terror" – mostly behind a deceptive facade.
Julian Assange is a threat to these repeated atrocities – that is why he is being persecuted, that is why a court has been made an instrument of repression, that is why Assange should be our collective conscience, and that is why we should all become threats.