He’s idolized by the extreme right and the extreme left. He’s been praised to the skies by Russian strongman Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump. He’s beloved of a constellation of celebrities, from the 1960s’ era personalities Yoko Ono and Bianca Jagger to the counterculture documentarist Michael Moore and 1990s’ Baywatch pin-up Pamela Anderson.
But none of that did Julian Assange any good, and the combined efforts of his weird cult following was completely useless to the bedraggled 47-year-old Wikileaks headman when the London Metropolitan Police dragged him kicking and shouting from the Ecuadoran embassy in Knightsbridge Thursday, where he’s been holed up for the past seven years.
Assange was stuffed into a police van and driven directly through Belgravia and around Hyde Park to the Westminster magistrate’s court just off Marleybone Road. He wasn’t dispatched to the cruelly imperialist American empire. He wasn’t sent to Guantanamo Bay. He was immediately convicted on the actual charge awaiting him, a charge of jumping bail and ducking into the embassy back in 2012 after he’d lost a high court appeal against extradition to Sweden to face an investigation into allegations of sexual assault and rape.
Simultaneously, the U.S. Justice Department unsealed court documents prepared back in March last year that form the basis of an extradition request to have him sent to the Eastern District of Virginia to face charges that he engaged in a conspiracy to commit “computer intrusion” in 2010, in an effort to crack a password to gain access to classified documents on a U.S. government computer. But, as is always the case with Assange, the facts were drowned out in a crescendo of paranoia, hyperbole, hysteria and conspiracy theory.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a longtime Assange admirer, got things started with an inside-job claim that the U.S. was masterminding everything in order to have Assange punished for “exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan.” The highbrow outrage about Assange’s arrest on offer from the creaky avant-garde oracle Noam Chomsky quickly reached a pitch every bit as fervid as the lamentations bellowed by the lowbrow far-right conspiracy theorist and Infowars crackpot Alex Jones.
For the record, then: Assange is not facing charges that he exposed anything. His alleged offence is that in 2010 he actively colluded with the low-level U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning—who at the time went by the name Bradley Manning—in an effort to hack into a U.S government computer for the purpose of stealing classified data. Manning was later sentenced to serve 35 years in prison for stealing 750,000 sensitive military and diplomatic documents.
And no, Donald Trump did not throw Manning back into prison after President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence to the seven years she’d already served, allowing for Manning’s release, just days before Trump’s January, 2017 inauguration. Manning is in jail again as an act of civil disobedience. She has refused to testify before a grand jury as a protest against what she calls the inherent injustice of the grand jury system.
As for Assange, his friend Maggie Gyllenhaal could do nothing to help him this week. Neither could film star and Bernie Sanders supporter John Cusack, or Lady Gaga, or the fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood, nor the movie director Ken Loach, who had gifted the poor put-upon Assange with a treadmill, for exercising, in his too-tiny Ecuadoran embassy flat. So small the place was that Assange was obliged to demand and receive the use of the main floor women’s washroom, because he wanted it refitted to serve as a quieter bedroom.
There are all sorts of amusing conspiracy theories already making the rounds about the “real” reason for Ecuador’s decision to revoke the citizenship Assange had been granted and to call the London Metropolitan Police to ask, please, come and take him away. The reasons we know about aren’t all that glamorous, unfortunately. But that doesn’t make them any less real. Assange had simply worn out his welcome. He’d violated his solemn promise not to use the embassy as a base to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.
President Lenín Moreno was also decidedly unimpressed with Wikileaks’ threats to expose embarrassing information about him should he object too forcefully to the boorish behaviour of his weird and unhygienic Knightsbridge tenant. Those threats, by the way, were acted on, with the release of hacked photographs, from Moreno’s own cell phone, one of which showed Morino eating lobsters in bed.
Assange had engaged in creepy, dirty, discourteous and aggressive behaviour. He’d monkeyed with the embassy’s security cameras, demanded his own security detail (to include some Russians), confronted and mistreated the embassy’s own security guards, and according to Ecuador’s Interior Minister, he’d smeared feces on the embassy’s walls.
“The patience of Ecuador has reached its limit on the behavior of Mr. Assange,” Moreno explained. And so it was that Assange was just hustled away, the humiliating event captured only by Ruptly, an offshoot of the Kremlin’s English-language propaganda behemoth RT.
As he was pulled and more or less carried from the embassy, Assange was conspicuously clutching a book edited by Paul Jay, a sort of presenter with something called The Real News Network. TRNN is what you’d get if you wanted something that looked like a television news station aimed at high school students determined to give the impression that they’re more clued in to world events than their parents. The book, “Gore Vidal on the History of the National Security State,” consists in the main of interviews Jay conducted with Vidal in the once-famous novelist’s sad and deranged twilight years.
None of his ardent admirers could stand in the way of the Metropolitan Police visiting this indignity upon Assange. Not even Assange’s longtime friend Israel Shamir, the Russian Jewish convert to Orthodox Christianity who has made a living for himself as a holocaust denier who calls Jews “a virus in human form.” In their salad days, when Assange reached the zenith of his popularity back in 2010 with Wikileaks’ groundbreaking Manning-supplied document dump, Shamir’s career as an author was coming along swimmingly with the publication Breaking the Conspiracy of the Elders of Zion. It’s a book that brilliantly tells you absolutely everything you need to know about its contents just by its revolting title.
Assange retained Shamir to promote and distribute Wikileaks documents in Russia in 2010, and to no complaint from Assange, Shamir provided his favorite tyrant, Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, with privileged access to Manning’s stolen diplomatic cables—without a thought for the safety of any Belarus dissidents whose names appeared in the documents. Shamir’s son would later go on to take a leading role in smearing the reputations of the Swedish women who had pursued sexual assault and rape allegations against Uncle Julian, putting it about that the women were CIA agents. Assange chose to stick instead with the disgusting insinuation that the women were jilted lovers, conspiring in a “honey trap” against him, for reasons he could of course only surmise.
Vladimir Putin himself weighed in. “What is he persecuted for? For sexual crimes? Nobody believes that, you do not believe that either,” he told a reporter. “He is being persecuted for spreading the information he received from U.S. military regarding the actions of the U.S.A. in the Middle East, including Iraq.”
This disregard for the innocent victims of his vanity is as indelible a mark on Assange’s career trajectory as a personal signature written in the blackest ink. In their book on Wikileaks’ history, David Leigh and Luke Harding described a reporter pleading with Assange at a fashionable London restaurant to redact from an Afghanistan war cables dump any names of Afghans who had cooperated with NATO forces. The point was to save cooperating Afghans from an assassination campaign the Taliban was running at the time. “Well, they’re informants,” Assange is reported to have replied. “So, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.”
It took the begging and pleading of Amnesty International, the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the International Crisis Group to persuade Wikileaks to redact their names.
In plain-as-day evidence that Assange is nothing like the liberal-left truth-teller his legions of half-witted admirers need to believe in for some reason, Assange never made any secret of his support for the right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party’s dream of a Brexit breakup with Europe. From the first days of Donald Trump’s race for the Republican presidential nomination, Assange was openly and desperately wishing for Hillary Clinton’s defeat. During the long run-up to election day, Assange was slathering over the prospect of a Trump victory, and in return, Trump mentioned Wikileaks favourably more than 100 times during his grotesque election campaign.
Wikileaks kept up a running background conversation with Donald Trump Jr. throughout the campaign and kept up the steady, debilitating drip of the Clinton campaign’s emails, now conclusively shown to have been hacked by the Russians. After Assange’s arrest, as you might expect, Clinton was not displeased with Thursday’s developments. “I think it is clear from the indictment that came out it’s not about punishing journalism,” Clinton said at an event in New York. This is not about press freedom, as the alarmists and Wikileaks’ cultists insist. It’s about “assisting the hacking of a military computer to steal information from the United States government,” Clinton stated.
That is the awkward truth of all this. The U.S. Justice Department indictment that was unsealed on Thursday contains no charge against Assange for his role as a publisher of stolen documents. Journalists should and do routinely publish information from sources who acquired information illegally. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right of journalists to do so. That doesn’t mean journalists—and Assange isn’t even a journalist—are permitted to participate in criminal activity or conspire to break the law.
If Assange is to have his day in court on the charge outlined in the American indictment, the issues of free speech and the sanctity of a free press should be foremost in the minds of the prosecution and the judge. But just when or even if Assange will be extradited to the United States is by no means clear.
Assange will be sentenced in the coming weeks for jumping bail, and for that he faces a possible prison term of 12 months in a British prison. And then there’s the matter of the extradition request Sweden had formally filed all those years ago. The statute of limitations has run out on the sexual-assault charges that one of Assange’s Swedish accusers alleged. But the rape allegations involving a second woman are still available for prosecution until next year. The Swedish deputy director of public prosecutions is now examining the case in order to determine how to proceed.
It might then take years for the U.S, extradition request to proceed through British courts, and if Assange does end up extradited, the charges he faces in the U.S. might trundle through the American courts for even more years, especially if further charges are added on. That’s a very real possibility. Life’s tough. But life’s worse when we’re all expected to surrender to fictional, comforting “narratives.” And the story that Wikileaks and Assange have built up around their squalid transgressions is a whopper.
Last summer, U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller laid charges against a dozen Russian intelligence officers arising from the 2016 election-campaign hacking of the Democratic Party mainframe along with the email account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. Mueller’s indictment states that Russian spies used the persona “Guccifer 2.0” to release stolen documents via Wikileaks. Mike Pompeo, the CIA director at the time, described Wikileaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” This seems, on the face of it, more than fair.
As for Russia, where Assange’s leak-master colleague Edward Snowdon is now comfortably situated, the Kremlin long ago offered Assange a visa should he ever find his Knightsbridge digs too tedious. The Kremlin has also proposed Assange for the Nobel Peace Prize. After Wikileaks’ funding started to dry up when American credit card companies stopped processing payments, RT granted Assange his very own show, The World Tomorrow, for an undisclosed fee.
At its outset, WikiLeaks insisted that it intended to serve as a wholly neutral organization, a digital refuge where principled whistleblowers could engage in truth-telling without fear of having their covers blown. It was supposed to be about employing advanced cryptography “to protect human rights.” It was supposed to focus its exertions on police states, like Belarus, Zimbabwe, Russia and China. It never did.
It’s unquestionable that Wikileaks document dumps have provided journalists with some big stories over the years, but Wikileaks also told some very big lies. Even the “Collateral Murder” video that put Wikileaks on the map back in 2007 was a distortion, fudged and edited in such a way as to depict an American Apache helicopter crew deliberately committing an unambiguous war crime in Baghdad, slaughtering at least a dozen civilians from the air. In fact, the complete video, and the evidence of the full military record of the event, provides a far more nuanced, complicated story of a bloody and horrible encounter with insurgents.
Wikileaks also told innumerable little lies, like the one about the U.S. “friendly fire” deaths of four Canadian soldiers in Panjwai, in September 2006. No such event occurred. The soldiers were killed in an encounter with the Taliban.
But the truth has mattered far less to Assange than his crowds of cheering admirers will ever admit. His commitment to transparency is at best grotesquely selective, and at worst, an empty boast. Two years ago, Foreign Policy magazine discovered that WikiLeaks had in fact turned down a trove of Russian documents, at least 68 gigabytes’ worth, from inside Russia’s Interior Ministry. Wikileaks’ excuse was that the information had already been made public. That wasn’t true. In 2014, the BBC had gotten hold of about half the documents, which contained damning information about Moscow’s military and intelligence operations in Ukraine. The full trove became available only two years later. Assange turned it down.
“President Trump must, must give Julian Assange a pardon,” the InfoWars nutcase Alex Jones pleaded after Assange’s arrest on Thursday. Jones was only returning a compliment. Jones is currently being sued for defamation by the parents of the Sandy Hook school massacre victims, owing to his relentless campaign accusing the parents of complicity in a government hoax involving “crisis actors.” Last year, Infowars content was purged from Apple, Spotify, Facebook, Youtube and Google. Assange sprang to Jones’ defence, calling Infowars’ conspiracy theories “a state power critique” that merely engages in “cultural transgression.”
And there you have it. “Cultural transgression.” That’s all Julian Assange genuinely cares about. It’s all he’s ever cared about. He is Alex Jones, but with better sources, better public relations, and a bigger ego. He is no friend to the truth. He is a true friend of tyrants and anti-semites, and an enemy of genuine whistleblowers, everywhere.