On Thursday, April 25, 2019, I had the honour of participating in two separate radio interviews concerning the case of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. The first was with Glen Ford of Black Agenda Radio, and the second was with Chris Cook of “Gorilla Radio” at CFUV 101.9 FM—both of the sound files are available below. In the interview with Glen Ford, I was particularly honoured to follow Mumia Abu-Jamal, a noted US political prisoner whose reports from prison I have long admired and appreciated—Mumia speaks about Julian Assange in the latest of his calls from prison, with his trademark clarity of thought and depth of insight. Chris Cook somehow figured out that Kobo-Town was one of my favourite bands, and played my favourite song of theirs, “Sing Out, Shout Out,” before bringing me on air—it was very encouraging. I am very grateful to both Glen Ford and Chris Cook for the opportunity to speak.
A Political Prosecution with Predetermined Outcomes
One of the key points that I tried to present in both interviews is that—contrary to my initial optimism two weeks ago—we should not expect a fair trial for Julian Assange, but instead a succession of kangaroo courts driven by a political agenda, and with a predetermined political outcome.
If Julian Assange were to have a truly fair trial, the case would immediately be thrown out of court. Assange has done what other journalists did in assisting sources to deliver their leaks to the press, and that does not constitute espionage. Not only is what Assange did not illegal, what in fact is illegal is the attempt to cover up war crimes. It was thus illegal and unjust to persecute Chelsea Manning, and to do so again right now, but it does prove that politics predetermine judicial outcomes.
US soldiers have a legal duty to report war crimes, not to cover them up, and they have a duty to disobey unlawful orders, such as the orders that contravene the laws of war in the Geneva Conventions. Even in the last few days, we have seen more news about the US military’s attempts to suppress knowledge of war crimes and prevent prosecution, in the case of Edward Gallagher (a US Navy SEAL)—with Donald Trump himself intervening to help make life more comfortable for a war criminal. On Fox News the savagery practiced by Gallagher is masked by praise for him as if he were some sort of saint. If you can stomach it, it’s actually quite sickening to read this latest report.
Assange has no legal duty to cover up US war crimes—and once he possessed the information, he had every ethical obligation to expose those war crimes. In a fair trial, the US would have no right to prosecute Assange or Chelsea Manning for exposing US war crimes. The very suggestion that it was wrong, on any level, for US war crimes to be exposed has to be one of the most perverse corruptions of ethics, morality, and law that you will ever encounter. It boils down to making the obstruction of justice, justice itself.
The War on Free Speech
As I argue in the radio interviews below, what’s at stake is the meaning and reality of our citizenship. To what does our citizenship actually amount? To what do we have a right as citizens? How can we exercise citizenship in the absence of information and knowledge about our system of government, about those who presume to govern us? Also at stake is the legitimacy of the governing system—primarily, that it has lost all legitimacy, and the system knows it. We are dealing with states that are guilty of trying to conceal their crimes—that is the real obstruction of justice that exists in Washington. It’s not the obstruction of justice of Donald Trump allegedly trying to smother investigation into non-existent, conspiratorial Russia-related crimes concocted by the hysterical elite of the bipartisan War Party. The obstruction of justice that really happened in the time WikiLeaks became prominent, was George W. Bush’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, committing torture and war crimes, and then covering up those crimes; followed by Obama’s failure to prosecute Bush administration officials, while his government committed even more war crimes, and cracked down on whistle-blowers to an unprecedented level; to Trump maliciously turning on WikiLeaks in the final act of punishing those who revealed the truth. That is the only obstruction of justice that should concern any of us—the rest is a deliberate distraction.
The Pentagon has also long claimed that what WikiLeaks published was essentially “nothing new”. Then that makes the question even more compelling: why has the US government failed, for so long, to act to prosecute the obvious cases of war crimes committed by US forces? It’s not because of ignorance—since, after all, there is “nothing new” about the WikiLeaks’ publications. This only underlines the fact that higher-ups in the Pentagon and the US government have been fully aware of the crimes—remember, “there is nothing new”—and chose not to act and, indeed, even tried to cover up those crimes by not disclosing this information.
One crime is to commit actual war crimes; the other crime is trying to conceal those crimes. As Ray McGovern put it recently: “there is no good counter-argument to exposing war crimes”.
Freedom of speech is the actual “threat” here—in other words, a basic right of citizenship. It’s about the right of citizens not to be ruled by secret, shadow governments that commit crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Let’s remember that it was WikiLeaks itself that was forced to resuscitate the following speech by President John F. Kennedy, as a reminder to Americans about what’s at stake:
“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment. That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control. And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.”
The US Department of Defense: A Calculated Fear
The authorities use fear to prod us into self-censorship and heightened self-monitoring. Everything is now criminalized, including the very revelation of crimes. Whenever those in power try to distract you by pointing to the fact that a given piece of information was revealed by unlawful and unethical means—and then stop there, without discussing the nature of what was revealed—then what we have is an attempt at censorship, plain and simple.
The Pentagon has tried to impress on us that what matters, first and foremost, is “the safety of US forces,” and protecting knowledge of the methods they use. That is plainly wrong—in fact, it’s almost perverse. First of all, if you are worried about the safety of US troops, then don’t fling them far and wide into endless wars in countries where the US does not belong. Second, the safety of US troops cannot be our first concern—our first concern has to be with what those troops are doing to other people, in other people’s countries, while acting in the name of their citizens and with funds that taxpaying citizens supplied. Third, it’s base propaganda for the Pentagon to cry about lives being put at risk: the very essence of its core mission is to put the lives of millions around the world at risk.
What the Pentagon wants is to commit a heist against democracy, and not be called out for it—the only two acceptable responses are either applause, or silence. It’s a heist against democracy when you say, “here, give me your money, and now I won’t tell you what I’m really going to do with it, and I will shut you up if you try to find out”. That is both theft, a denial of democracy, and an obstruction of justice.
Obama promised repeatedly, and he was amplified on this by Hillary Clinton, that his government would be all about transparency, accountability, and openness. Freedom of information, we were lectured by them, was essential to preventing authoritarian and dictatorial regimes from cementing their power. A free Internet, and freedom of government information, were said to be the lifeblood of democracy. What they actually delivered was almost the exact opposite.
American Exceptionalism, American Criminality
American exceptionalism demands that US war crimes be concealed, and that the US military be greeted either with applause or silence. The US’ imperial security state is absolutely desperate that it cannot control what we know, and what we think. Consider this: years after the initial mass of WikiLeaks publications based on leaks from Chelsea Manning, a huge treasure trove of sensitive data was leaked from no less than the CIA itself, which we now have under the heading of Vault 7. Nothing can stop future leaks when a state is so determined to commit crimes of naked aggression against weaker states around the world, while imprisoning its own population in a mass surveillance and mass disinformation regime that fuels permanent war. Such a system is not tenable.
Assange did endanger US national security, if US national security is honestly defined as a structure that commits numerous war crimes as a fundamental part of its global modus operandi, as a purveyor of violence on an unprecedented international scale.
A Selection of This Month’s Key Articles on Assange
- “We are all Julian Assange,” John Wight, RT.com, April 11.
- “Assange arrest final step in character assassination campaign – Slavoj Zizek,” RT.com, April 11.
- “‘Dirty, deceitful, rotten traitor’ – Julian Assange’s mother hits out at Ecuador’s president,” RT.com, April 11.
- “Exposing ‘collateral murder’ and mass surveillance: Why the world should be grateful to Assange,” RT.com, April 11.
- “Assange is a scapegoat, distraction for scandal-ridden Ecuadorian government,” Pablo Vivanco, RT.com, April 11.
- “Bolivian president condemns ‘persecution of Assange over US’ murders & spying’,” RT.com, April 11.
- “No fair trial awaits Assange at US ‘Espionage Court,’ only more charges – CIA whistleblower Kiriakou,” RT.com, April 11.
- “WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be punished for embarrassing the DC establishment,” Jonathan Turley, USA Today, April 11.
- “EDITORIAL: Beware of an attack on the press in the indictment of Julian Assange,” The Editors, Chicago Sun-Times, April 11.
- “The Martyrdom of Julian Assange,” Chris Hedges, TruthDig, April 11.
- “Why the Assange Arrest Should Scare Reporters,” Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, April 11.
- “The Assange Arrest is a Warning From History,” John Pilger, CounterPunch, April 12.
- “Behind the Assange Saga: Radicalized by Frustration,” William M. Arkin, April 12.
- “The Next Woodward and Bernstein Could Go to Jail,” Branko Marcetic, Jacobin, April 12(?).
- “Assange Arrest and Extradition Round-Up,” Lambert Strether, Naked Capitalism, April 12.
- “Cascading Cat Litter,” James Howard Kunstler, April 12.
- “There’s no evidence to justify Assange’s eviction, Snowden’s lawyer says,” RT.com, April 13.
- “CIA’s Vault 7 Files Launched New Case Against Assange – Attack Intends To Prevent Further Leaks,” Moon of Alabama, April 13.
- “4 Myths About Julian Assange DEBUNKED,” Washington’s Blog, April 13.
- “If we lose WikiLeaks, we lose a whole stratum of freedom — Pilger,” RT.com, April 13.
- “Julian Assange Is Guilty Only of Revealing the Evil Soul of US Imperialism,” Federico Pieraccini, Strategic Culture Foundation, April 14.
- “The Affair Assange shows us what’s behind the curtain,” Larry Kummer, Fabius Maximus, April 15.
- “Freedom Rider: The ‘Resistance’ is Silent on Julian Assange,” Margaret Kimberly, Black Agenda Report, April 17.
- “Why Julian Assange’s War is Our War Too,” Paul Mansfield, 21st Century Wire, April 21.
- “When ‘threatened’ media cheer arrests & bombing of journalists on ‘wrong’ side,” Nebojsa Malic, RT.com, April 22.
- “Never Forget: The Towering Exposure of Hillary Clinton by Assange and WikiLeaks,” Sheila Coombes, 21st Century Wire, April 26.