Video: The War on Journalism – The Case of Julian Assange

17.10.20

The poster for ‘The War on Journalism: The Case of Julian Assange’, directed by Juan Passarelli, and released in August 2020, and a screenshot of Andy Worthington, one of the WikiLeaks experts interviewed for the film.

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In a prison cell in HMP Belmarsh, in south east London, which is supposedly reserved for the most violent convicted criminals in the UK, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks and a non-violent individual who has not been convicted of a crime, awaits a ruling regarding his proposed extradition to the United States, to face disgracefully inappropriate espionage charges related to his work as a publisher of classified US documents that were leaked by US soldier Chelsea Manning.

The first stage of hearings regarding Julian’s extradition took place in February, and were supposed to continue in May, but were derailed by the arrival of Covid-19. In February, I had submitted as evidence a statement in support of Julian, based on having worked with him as a media partner on the release of classified military files from Guantánamo in 2011. I expected to be questioned about my evidence in May, but, in the end, it wasn’t until September that the hearings resumed.

To coincide with the resumption of the hearings, a 38-minute film was released, “The War on Journalism: The Case of Julian Assange,” directed by filmmaker Juan Passarelli, for which I was interviewed, in the esteemed company of of John Pilger, UN torture rapporteur Nils Melzer, lawyers Jennifer Robinson and Renata Avila, Julian’s wife Stella Moris, journalists Barton Gellman, Margaret Sullivan, Iain Overton, Max Blumenthal and Matt Kennard, WikiLeaks’ editor in chief Kristin Hrafnsson, and Conservative MP David Davies.

The film is available below, via PeerTube, and provides a powerful summary of what WikiLeaks did, how and why the US, with the support of the UK, has responded so aggressively, and why that is both vindictive against Julian personally, but also a profound threat to press freedoms not just in the US, but worldwide.

To pick out a few highlights from the film, it includes a reflection on how President Obama — unlike Donald Trump — concluded that there was “no way to prosecute Julian Assange without endangering press freedom,” John Pilger discussing how the US’s intention is simply to “put Julian in a black hole and throw away the key,” and Nils Melzer talking about the long years to which Julian has been subjected to psychological torture.

Also significant is the section on the CIA co-opting a surveillance company to spy on Julian, via devices installed inside the embassy, in which it was revealed that meetings with his lawyers were spied on, an intrusion of attorney-client privilege that, on its own, as Matt Kennard explained, should have led to his extradition case being thrown out of court by the judge.

The month of hearings that took place at the Old Bailey has now passed, of course, and although it was a process that looked like it was legitimate — there was a judge, and lawyers on both sides, and evidence was submitted by numerous expert witnesses — it appeared to have been nothing more than a box-ticking exercise, an illusion intended to show that the process of extradition is subject to serious scrutiny, even though the conclusion has already been decided.

My own small involvement in the hearings was instructive. First of all — despite me travelling to the court to be a witness — the prosecution didn’t want to accept my statement, quibbling about aspects of it involving references to torture. There was then, as with other witness statements, protracted exchanges between the defence and the prosecution about changes demanded by the prosecution to enable statements to be read into the evidence without the witnesses being present. This was what happened with my evidence (my first statement, and a second submitted during the hearings), and, while I was spared a probably brutal encounter with prosecutor James Lewis, I didn’t get to see Julian, and my evidence — only a gist of which was was read into the evidence — was, as a result, unfairly watered down.

The ruling is due on January 4, 2021, and with the spotlight no longer on Julian — to the extent to which the mainstream media paid attention at all during the hearings — it concerns me that people will forget him. I’m stuck with one abiding memory of my efforts to present evidence in his case. On the first day that I was supposed to give evidence but didn’t get to do so (there was also a second occasion), I found myself thinking intensely about Julian’s long confinement — first in the Ecuadorian Embassy, for nearly seven years, and, for the last year and a half, in Belmarsh — as I cycled through London to the Old Bailey, as it was one of those luminous days on the cusp of summer and autumn, and the air was warm and calm. The freedom I felt, in a City whose streets were almost empty because of Covid, was intoxicating, and I felt acutely the extent to which Julian has been denied this freedom for so many years — and, if the US government has its way, will be entombed for the rest of his life.

In conclusion, I’m posting below some excerpts from an interview with John Pilger conducted by Arena, in Australia, just after the hearings ended, in which, responding to the question, “can you describe the prevailing atmosphere in the court?”, John said:

The prevailing atmosphere has been shocking. I say that without hesitation; I have sat in many courts and seldom known such a corruption of due process; this is due revenge. Putting aside the ritual associated with ‘British justice’, at times it has been evocative of a Stalinist show trial. One difference is that in the show trials, the defendant stood in the court proper. In the Assange trial, the defendant was caged behind thick glass, and had to crawl on his knees to a slit in the glass, overseen by his guard, to make contact with his lawyers. His message, whispered barely audibly through face masks, was then passed by post-it the length of the court to where his barristers were arguing the case against his extradition to an American hellhole.

Consider this daily routine of Julian Assange, an Australian on trial for truth-telling journalism. He was woken at five o’clock in his cell at Belmarsh prison in the bleak southern sprawl of London. The first time I saw Julian in Belmarsh, having passed through half an hour of ‘security’ checks, including a dog’s snout in my rear, I found a painfully thin figure sitting alone wearing a yellow armband. He had lost more than 10 kilos in a matter of months; his arms had no muscle. His first words were: ‘I think I am losing my mind’.

I tried to assure him he wasn’t. His resilience and courage are formidable, but there is a limit. That was more than a year ago. In the past three weeks, in the pre-dawn, he was strip-searched, shackled, and prepared for transport to the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, in a truck that his partner, Stella Moris, described as an upended coffin. It  had one small window; he had to stand precariously to look out. The truck and its guards were operated by Serco, one of many politically connected companies that run much of Boris Johnson’s Britain.

The journey to the Old Bailey took at least an hour and a half. That’s a minimum of three hours being jolted through snail-like traffic every day. He was led into his narrow cage at the back of the court, then look up, blinking, trying to make out faces in the public gallery through the reflection of the glass. He saw the courtly figure of his dad, John Shipton, and me, and our fists went up. Through the glass, he reached out to touch fingers with Stella, who is a lawyer and seated in the body of the court.

We were here for the ultimate [act] of what the philosopher Guy Debord called The Society of the Spectacle: a man fighting for his life. Yet his crime is to have performed an epic public service: revealing that which we have a right to know: the lies of our governments and the crimes they commit in our name. His creation of WikiLeaks and its failsafe protection of sources revolutionised journalism, restoring it to the vision of its idealists. Edmund Burke’s notion of free journalism as a fourth estate is now a fifth estate that shines a light on those who diminish the very meaning of democracy with their criminal secrecy. That’s why his punishment is so extreme.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or here for the US, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from eight years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

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9 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, promoting “The War on Journalism: The Case of Julian Assange,” a 38-minute film directed by Juan Passarelli, which provides a powerful summary of what the extradition case against WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange is all about, and why it is such a chilling effort to both silence one man and to restrict press freedoms. I was interviewed for the film (because of my work with WikiLeaks on the release of classified military files from Guantanamo in 2011), along with many other people including John Pilger and UN torture rapporteur Nils Melzer, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

    Also in my article are my reflections on the month of hearings in Julian Assange’s extradition case, some excerpts from a powerful interview with John Pilger, and my hope that people won’t forget about Julian over the next few months, as we await the ruling on his extradition, which is due on January 4, 2021.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Nick Jewitt wrote:

    Is the hearing over? For sure it has been a disgusting travesty.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, the last day was October 1st, Nick. It’s why I’m trying to do my bit to keep the story alive until the ruling on January 4th. There’s a good, detailed report here by Charles Glass for the Intercept – ‘The Unprecedented and Illegal Campaign to Eliminate Julian Assange’: https://theintercept.com/2020/10/06/julian-assange-trial-extradition/

  4. Malcolm Bush says...

    Thank you for this wonderful video and all the good stuff here. What troubles me is the fact that a very small percentage of people will ever see any such material out of those that do most will not understand or care about any of it. We have a very small ordinance; and some are asleep. I have sent Julian Assange a few letters, some with a PO, and message of good will. I am slowly sending a letter one by one to all prisoners at Guantanamo. The danger for Julian Assange is that if extradited he would be settled into a prison and 100% totally isolated from outside. and totally forgotten.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Very good to hear from you, Malcolm. You are absolutely right to point out that far too few people will see this video, and that the majority of people will remain oblivious to the proposed extradition of Julian Assange, and why it is such a threat to press freedoms – as well as being the pursuit of an individual that is nothing short of vindictive.

    If extradited, Julian would continue to be isolated as he is at Belmarsh – even more so, if that is possible – but there is a glimmer of hope: even if Judge Baraitser approves his extradition in January, there will be grounds for appeal, and this whole process is likely to continue for several years. And in the meantime, of course, we may get a change of government in the US, which could make a difference.

    Thanks, as always, for your concerns about these high-profile examples of states abusing their powers – in relation to Guantanamo, as well as WikiLeaks.

  6. Malcolm Bush says...

    Hi Andy,
    Just to emphasise the unbridled power and criminality of the US Gov.; I’ll mention a story from the past. When satellite TV came about I got a set top box, from an unnamed provider, with a deal for more added channels and a monthly magazine. Each movie was shown twice. I noticed a very nasty late film about the Vietnam war and the attack and murder of a girl by US Soldiers; there was an official cover up for this murder and vast numbers of others. 9/11 happened in September and the TV Mag did not arrive in the post until the 15th Sept, I believe. I looked inside the envelope and found two magazines, I read through to see if there was anything interesting. The excreta programs magazine had page carefully ripped out. The ad for the movie was gone. I rang customer services and I was very lucky, I got someone talkative who said the authorities had told them all evidence of this movie was to disappear, all references to the US Army or Government were to be good ones. The Business would be closed if these instructions were not carried out in full. I did not have a shadow of doubt about that murder, torture and other stuff was coming; not the detail, but a complete overview.

    The unnamed company was already being targeted by outsourced organised crime and folded up just after the time of the story above. I’ve more stories like this if they are not found be be boring; I’ll type them soon.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Interesting, Malcolm. It’s always alarming to get glimpses of the extent to which the US government is determined to hide evidence of its wrongdoing, and to punish those – like WikiLeaks – who try to reveal it.

  8. Anna says...

    Great film, I’ll send the link to the few interested journalists I know. All those legal ‘irregularities’ should indeed invalidate any trial at all !

    And as for Malcolm Bush’s offer, I for one am interested to know more such stories. How long must we read about the US government lecturing other countries about transparency & democracy (that fragment of the film is shocking even for someone already thoroughly immunised,) while at the same time avoiding any accountability for its own numerous crimes, the latest outrage being Sudan having to pay huge reparations to US victims of the Nairobi/Dar es Salaam bombings (but nothing to local collateral damage victims !) which were not carried out by any Sudanese – just like all Afghans have to pay for 9/11 while no Afghan was involved in that either – while the US can obliterate hospitals, weddings & funerals etc etc etc and refuse formal accountability.

    I think someone should systematically collate those two sides of this hypocrisy coin. Were it only for historic justice’s sake.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m glad you found the film instructive, Anna. I did as well. I didn’t know all the ins and outs of all the story threads. There’s a such a lot to it, which makes the mainstream media’s lack of coverage all the more shameful.

    Thanks for the update regarding Sudan – I had missed that: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-54609375

    You are right to point out the US’s astonishing hypocrisy. Anything they do – including war crimes and extrajudicial assassinations – is regarded by themselves as justifiable, while they crucify other countries, even when, as in the case of Sudan, the government was not even involved in the 1998 Embassy bombings, which took place in two completely different countries. If Saudi Arabia wasn’t such an ally of the US, it would no doubt be blamed for having ‘hosted’ Osama bin Laden in his youth.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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