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The Assange Case Means We Are All Suspects Now
By John Pilger
This week's Supreme Court hearing in the Julian Assange case has profound
meaning for the preservation of basic freedoms in western democracies.
This is Assange's final appeal against his extradition to Sweden to face
allegations of sexual misconduct that were originally dismissed by the chief
prosecutor in Stockholm and constitute no crime in Britain.
The consequences, if he loses, lie not in Sweden but in the shadows cast by
America's descent into totalitarianism. In Sweden, he is at risk of being
"temporarily surrendered" to the US where his life has been threatened and
he is accused of "aiding the enemy" with Bradley Manning, the young soldier
accused of leaking evidence of US war crimes to WikiLeaks.
The connections between Manning and Assange have been concocted by a
secret grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, which allowed no defence counsel
or witnesses, and by a system of plea-bargaining that ensures a 90 per cent
conviction. It is reminiscent of a Soviet show trial.
The determination of the Obama administration to crush Assange and the
unfettered journalism represented by WikiLeaks is revealed in secret
Australian government documents released under freedom of information
which describe the US pursuit of WikiLeaks as "an unprecedented
investigation". It is unprecedented because it subverts the First Amendment
of the US constitution that explicitly protects truth-tellers. In 2008 Barack
Obama said, "Government whistleblowers are part of a healthy democracy
and must be protected from reprisal." Obama has since prosecuted twice as
many whistleblowers as all previous US presidents.
With American courts demanding to see the worldwide accounts of Twitter,
Google and Yahoo, the threat to Assange, an Australian, extends to any
internet-user anywhere. Washington's enemy is not "terrorism" but the
principle of free speech and voices of conscience within its militarist state
and those journalists brave enough to tell their stories.
"How do you prosecute Julian Assange and not the New York Times?" a
former administration official told Reuters. The threat is well understood by
the New York Times, which in 2010 published a selection of the WikiLeaks
cables. The editor at the time, Bill Keller, boasted that he had sent the cables
to the State Department for vetting. His obeisance extended to his denial
that WikiLeaks was a "partner" - which it was - and to personal attacks on
Assange. The message to all journalists was clear: do your job as it should be
done and you are traitors; do your job as we say you should and you are
Much of the media's depiction of Bradley Manning illuminates this. The
world's pre-eminent prisoner of conscience, Manning remained true to the
Nuremberg principle that every soldier has the right to a "moral choice". But
according to the New York Times, he is weird or mad, a "geek". In an
"exclusive investigation", the Guardian reported him as an "unstable" gay
man, who got "out of control" and "wet himself" when he was "picked on".
Psycho-hearsay such as this serves to suppress the truth of the outrage
Manning felt at the wanton killing in Iraq, his moral heroism and the criminal
complicity of his military superiors. "I prefer a painful truth over any blissful
fantasy," he reportedly said.
The treatment handed out to Assange is well-documented, though not the
duplicitous and cowardly behaviour of his own government. Australia
remains a colony in all but name. Australian intelligence agencies are, in
effect, branches of the main office in Washington. The Australian military has
played a regular role as US mercenary. When prime minister Gough Whitlam
tried to change this in 1975 and secure Australia's partial independence, he
was dismissed by a governor-general using archaic "reserve powers" who
was revealed to have intelligence connections.
WikiLeaks has given Australians a rare glimpse of how their country is run. In
2010, leaked US cables disclosed that key government figures in the Labor
Party coup that brought Julia Gillard to power were "protected" sources of
the US embassy: what the CIA calls "assets". Kevin Rudd, the prime minister
she ousted, had displeased Washington by being disobedient, even
suggesting that Australian troops withdraw from Afghanistan.
In the wake of her portentous rise ascent to power, Gillard attacked
WikiLeaks as "illegal" and her attorney-general threatened to withdraw
Assange's passport. Yet the Australian Federal Police reported that Assange
and WikiLeaks had broken no law. Freedom of information files have since
revealed that Australian diplomats have colluded with the US in its pursuit of
Assange. This is not unusual. The government of John Howard ignored the
rule of law and conspired with the US to keep David Hicks, an Australian
citizen, in Guantanamo Bay, where he was tortured. Australia's principal
intelligence organisation, ASIO, is allowed to imprison refugees indefinitely
without explanation, prosecution or appeal.
Every Australian citizen in grave difficulty overseas is said to have the right
to diplomatic support. The denial of this to Assange, bar the perfunctory, is
an unreported scandal. Last September, Assange's London lawyer, Gareth
Peirce, wrote to the Australian government, warning that Assange's
"personal safety and security has become at risk in circumstances that have
become highly politically charged". Only when the Melbourne Age reported
that she had received no response did a dissembling official letter turn up.
Last November, Peirce and I briefed the Australian Consul-General in
London, Ken Pascoe. One of Britain's most experienced human rights
lawyers, Peirce told him she feared a unique miscarriage of justice if
Assange was extradited and his own government remained silent. The