Was the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange justice against a man who broke the law or a warning that journalism is under threat, not only in the United States, but globally?
Tomorrow marks ten years since WikiLeaks released the Iraqi war logs. The exposure of over four hundred thousand documents relating to the Iraq War changed much of the discourse around the controversial war. As Assange awaits the results of his extradition hearing, Sputnik columnist Tommy Sheridan sat down with John Shipton, the father of Julian Assange, about the ongoing court case and the well-being of his son.
SPUTNIK: Almost exactly 10 years ago, WikiLeaks, the organization founded by Julian Assange, exposed the dark secrets and excesses of the powerful nations of the world as they conduct illegal wars across the planet by publishing the Iraq War Logs, the 22nd of October 2010. Those war logs were published, and they are stunning. They reveal what many had suspected, that war claims were endemic within the United States invasion of Iraq. Of the recorded deaths, two thirds were civilian deaths. A minimum of sixty-six thousand civilians were recorded to have died. Julian Assange did a service to the world because he exposed the darkness that the United States visited on Iraq. 10 years on, it’s Julian Assange that’s in a prison cell in London’s Belmarsh, not the strategists of that illegal war., and not those who ordered the gunships to shoot innocent journalists and civilians in Iraq, murdering them and cheering about it.
Today, I have a great pleasure to be joined by the father of Julian Assange, John Shipton, who, by his own admission, should be enjoying his retirement, but is instead campaigning for the release of his son, and for the exposure of the horrible injustice that his son has faced at the hands of the powerful nations across the planet. Julian Assange, let’s make no mistake about this, is not subject to a criminal prosecution. He is subject to political persecution. John, you said last month, that your son Julian was the subject of a ‘Plague of Malice’ from the rich and powerful nations across the world seeking revenge for his exposure of their war crimes. As well as great pride in what your son has done and the way he shaped the world, you must also have concern for his health and his well-being.
Shipton: Concern for Julian’s health and well-being is a constant. And we all, his family, his brother and children, and a partner, are all here in England, bringing our force, such as it is, to have Julian released from this plague of malice. His health varies. Recently, Craig Murray and I were in the gallery above the well of the court. Julian was surrounded by friends and lovers and lawyers fighting on his behalf. And that sight to see him again, surrounded by his friends was heartening, and brought some substantial health to Julian. It’s momentary, but you give thanks for small things.
Overall, the circumstances are, if I could describe to you; Julian would be sent, if extradited, to the United States to a prison called a “supermax” in Colorado, in a place quaintly named Florence. The opposite of Florence Nightingale. Under SAM, Special Administrative Measures, Julian would be in a cell about 50 square feet; tiny. In that cell there would be a shower and a toilet. The walls are concrete, there’s a slot into a steel door where every half an hour a prison [guard] looks in to see that you’re not going to commit suicide, that you continue to suffer the insufferable. The prisoners have an exercise period. They’re taken out, they’re prohibited from speaking to other prisoners. So there’s no it’s association with other people.
Consequently, they scream out to communicate with each other because the words don’t travel well through concrete. Each prisoner screams to the other, the other screams back. After many years, fissures and cracks appear in the minds of those so incarcerated. Some, like Abu Hamza, have been there 10 years in these circumstances, so they bellow and yell, up a concrete hallway, this cacophony of sound, as these people try and communicate with another human being, it’s a vision of hell. That’s what they want to do to Julian Assange.
SPUTNIK: And they’re trying to use a piece of legislation that’s 103 years old that has never effectively been used to persecute a journalist for political reasons that was supposed to be specifically ruled out of extradition treaties. For political reasons, they are trying to persecute Julian, for doing no more. Julian never exposed government secrets, Julian exposed government crimes and that that’s the difference. That must make you so angry that your son is far from being a criminal. He and Chelsea Manning and other whistleblowers, they are heroes in this whole sad situation.
Shipton: The river of gifts that Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange and WikiLeaks brought to ordinary people all over the world; I’ll give you a pertinent example. I give these examples so that we may continue to generate support for Julian to free him from this ‘Plague of Malice’, as I call it.
In 2006, a group of United States soldiers in Iraq went into a house and murdered the entire family, the children and the mother and the father and brothers and grandfather. They’re contemplating their crime, their slaughtering this family. They called in, saying that there was resistance there from fighters or rebels, or whatever they wish to call them. They called in an airstrike, the strike destroyed the home and what was left of the family. So [the family] disappeared from the earth forever. This was revealed in the cables, as a consequence of the fury broken out in Iraq and in the Iraqi government. And the Iraqi government refused to resign the Status of Forces Agreement, which meant that the United States had to withdraw its soldiers from Iraq, which it did. So a leak brought an end to a war, saving many thousands of lives.
So please, don’t ever underestimate the consequence of the bravery of Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
SPUTNIK: The bravery of Chelsea Manning and your son, Julian is there for us all to see, despite a decade and more of personal assassination, which has distorted stories of trumped-up charges attempting to undermine Julian as a person, Chelsea Manning as a person. But tell me about the courage and the character of Julian, because any ordinary human being would be broken by even a quarter of what’s been thrown to Julian and yet reports show that Julian is still standing tall and refuses to be broken.
Shipton: In the court case a couple of weeks ago, one of the witnesses was El-Masri, a man who was kidnapped and taken by CIA officers, 13 of them. He was making testimony in court. There was some trouble with the communications and El-Masri couldn’t give verbal evidence or they wanted to read his evidence into the court record. The prosecution objected. The defense lawyers demurred a little, the judge began to say that it was unnecessary. Then Julian stood up and declared, “I will not have the testimony of a victim of torture. Not read out in this court.” He said that twice.
SPUTNIK: For Julian to have stood up and made that point is a tiny indication of the enormous courage that he has within him. Where does he get that? Has that come from his childhood, did it develop over a sense of injustice that he had as a child, growing up?
Shipton: I don’t know the answer. But he’s always been very, very firm on injustice, has always been. I mean, most children, of course, despise injustice, and we lose that sense of injustice as we grow older. But with Julian, he hasn’t lost it, and still would suffer himself, before allowing another to suffer cruelty.
SPUTNIK: How many of us are prepared to put our own leaves in the line, to expose injustice to save the lives of others? That’s what your son has done and for that he has been criminalized. Surely what enrages you more than anything is the conduct of a so-called mainstream media that has refused to take up the cause of Julian Assange and sat silent, and has been complicit in this political persecution of Julian?
Shipton: Well, this is a toughie for me, because I can’t go and tip a bucket on the media, because I need their help. Their help coming to me, and coming to Julian, will help themselves. They’ve been pretty blind in this, up till now. The New York Times and The Guardian and The Telegraph all wrote editorials, saying that the extradition must not go ahead. So in that sense, they’ve come to their senses. However, the full realization, that the destruction of Julian, the intimidation of journalists, the oppression of publishers and publications, destroys their prestige and their power and consequently their rewards and money. The full realization of that has to come to them and they have to ‘man up’ and face the government and say that this must not go ahead. That’s to their own benefit.
I’ll also point out that the publications are European, the Le Mond El País, Der Spiegel and The Guardian. The staff of Wikileaks are Europeans, except for Julian, who is an Australian citizen. So this is a European matter of intimidation, oppression, and of publications and journalists forbidding Europeans access to information, whereby you can evaluate and make decisions and have conversations with your friends and family about where you would like the government to go and what you can do for yourself. They just wish to keep them in the dark and feed them manure.
SPUTNIK: Sputnik followed Julian’s trial via Craig Murray’s excellent daily blogs, which were a gift to those interested in the exposure of the sham and the show trial that took place in relation to the High Court last month. Even given the rigged nature of that trial, however, it was clear that the prosecution’s case was so weak, that, by the end of the trial, even some independent observers were saying the case for extradition simply hadn’t been made.
Shipton: There’s no case for extradition whatsoever. That’s clear. That’s why they have to make up things. All we’ve ever asked is for these people to obey their own laws, and it starts from the top. One of the great gifts to civilization is the United Nations that allows nations to, in a civilized manner, sort out their interests without resorting to war. That United Nations has been, what would you say, abandoned by the United Kingdom and the United States and Sweden, in the case of Julian.
The United Nations rapporteur on torture, Professor Nils Melzer of Glasgow University, issued a report and the report is ignored. That report pointed out the Julian has suffered 10 years of psychological torture, deliberately. It also pointed out that there was a conspiracy between the crown prosecution service and the Swedish prosecuting authority. That’s Paul Close, now retired, and Marianne Nye, now retired. In order to keep Julian in the embassy. That’s what they conspired to do for seven and a half years.
This is, in itself, a crime, and furthermore, the abrogation of the right to asylum of a refugee. So Julian was given the status of asylum seeker in the Ecuadorian embassy. He was dragged from the embassy and that status was ignored. So, in three levels of human interaction, the United Nations, the conventions on asylum, and the ordinary, everyday regulations governing the application of law, have been abrogated, in Julian’s case. This brings no good to anybody.
SPUTNIK: What do you want us to do? Sputnik urges anyone who believes in free speech, freedom of expression, human rights, to sign petitions and get involved online, to join groups calling for Julian to be freed. What would you ask of ordinary citizens listening to this interview? What are you asking them to do?
Shipton: I would like just the simplest things, to speak amongst yourselves and consequently generate the energy to speak to your counselors. We’ve had great success in Australia, in just the ordinary council level, one council after another is voting that Julian ought not to be extradited. Because the councils aren’t in any way fearful of the United States. Speak to the local politicians here, they have no reason to fear the United States and they can add to the tidal wave of support that I find, traveling around Europe. Also speak to the national parliamentarians, because, together in unity, it is their own prestige and power that they defend, if they refuse these extraditions.
I’ll outline just briefly, over the last 10 years, the United States has gone about rewriting its treaty obligations for extradition with all the nations that would so agree to it. In every case, the United States puts in its side of the treaty, political. That is, you cannot be extradited from the US side for political reasons. In every case where it can, it uses its power, authority and bribery to put it in the treaties of the other side, there’s no prohibition on extradition for political purposes.
So they pluck and tear out of their communities, people wherever they like. Julian Assange, Meng Wanzhou – who is the CFO of Huawei – who has secrets about the technology that the United States wants. She’s under extradition in Canada. Mike Lynch, another IT expert, is under threat of extradition in the United Kingdom in England. And so it goes, that’s what the extradition is. It’s not for law. It’s for the application of politics, the oppression of comment and the robbery of technicians that the United States wants and doesn’t have.