The silence in front of Julian Assange’s persecution, the bashing against him by part of the media, partly reveal political miscalculation and fear. These attitudes speak volumes about the state of Western democracy.
Here stands Julian Assange, Australian citizen, a man morally and physically devastated, having been persecuted for the last 10 years for publishing truthful information, normally protected by the 1st Amendment to the U.S. constitution. The website he founded, Wikileaks, has revealed to the world war crimes by the U.S. army in Irak and Afghanistan, the killing of civilians, torture in Abou Ghraib and Guantanamo. This is crucial information, which isn’t only of public interest and owed to every American citizen, but of worldwide importance. We are talking about information that made history for uncovering the illegal dealings of the most powerful army in the world, which entered Irak in 2003 on the basis of a major state lie (Bush/Cheney administration), and whose actions concern every citizen on the planet. Information that only the most courageous journalists would dare publish; the kind that provides all of its meaning to the 4rth power. Julian Assange, now hardly surviving and forsaken by the international community, also revealed the key role played by Hillary Clinton in the Libya war, that was but a foretaste of what could have been the presidency of Barack Obama’s ex-State secretary.
Big media journalists, after widely spreading Assange’s leaks until 2016, abruptly distanced themselves from him, switching to an overtly critical approach. How can we explain such an about-face?
« He got Trump elected »
The media’s anti-Assange stance came out right when the establishment turned against him in 2016. That was when defeated presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wanted him punished for having disclosed information about her and about the controversial donations to the Clinton Foundation. The Democratic party, quite a sore loser after the 2016 defeat, put a price tag on Assange’s head. The Hillary Campaign team blamed him for the Trump election, suggested he was an agent of the Russians. Part of Assange’s opponents, among the U.S and French media, largely endorsed this narrative. Deeming that an election of Hillary Clinton was the « lesser evil », these Assange critics decided that he was guilty of the coming to power of Trump. What sense does this make, when the Trump administration is suing the one who supposedly put him in office, for 18 charges and wants to gratify him with 175 years in prison? The pro-Democrat inclination of these critics is obviously misleading them. It is Indeed the American voters who brought Trump to the White House in November 2016. Countless analyses have since confirmed the discontent of large parts of the population, left out after 30 years of globalization policies, with declining employability and purchasing power. The same phenomenon had clearly played out in the Brexit vote in the UK, just six months before the Trump election. But these social and economic variables had been too quickly brushed away by complacent established parties, not only in the US but in Europe as well. At no point, though, have Democrats properly acknowledged any responsibility for these policy excesses. Nor has the Bush clan and its associates ever had to account for war crimes and state lies.
Assange was quite a convenient expedient. Dropped by the pro-Hillary journalists as from 2016, the Wikileaks founder later was sacrificed by the Ecuadorian embassy, that had protected him for 7 years. Right when the new president Lenin Moreno took office in 2017, Assange’s stay was made increasingly unbearable as he was deprived of the light of day, was spyed on, and his communications were obstructed. Moreno made no secret of his plan to get rid of this cumbersome guest who was getting in the way of a commercial agreement between Quito and the U.S. In September 2019, Assange was directly handed over to the British authorities, imprisoned in even worse conditions, and in several instances deprived of his right to a fair trial. No legal basis justifies his current confinment 23 hours a day, while his health is quickly deteriorating and his life endangered after years of enduring diverse forms of torture. Defending himself before the court is made tremendously difficult as he allegedly endures daily bullying and arbitrary treatment from the judicial authority, according the the United Nations Special Rapporteur, who couldn’t understand how such a persecution is possible in democratic countries like Sweden, the UK, the US and Ecuador. Russia and China can no longer receive any democracy lessons from this side of the world.
Journalists sacrifying their own rights
All of this doesn’t exactly spurr massive revolt in Western media, a good number of which have even become the main Assange contradictors, right when the U.S. first indicted him in 2018. When the Justice Department issued a warrant against Assange, and then a second one in 2019, part of the opinion started bashing him, presenting him as the perpetrator instead of the victim, who « had it coming », i.e. got what he deserved. Was necessity turned into a virtue, as it is safer to side with the U.S. government? That is certainly an explanation. The fact remains that, even since Assange was clearly exonerated of the rape charges made against him in Sweden, some members of Western media still find ways to justify his arbitrary detention, while most don’t have much to say about the psychological torture he went through, or on instances of denial of justice and obstuction to his lawyer’s work.
Attacking Assange, who is only the messenger, is attacking whistleblowers, but also investigative journalists exposing government crimes. Chelsea Manning, the U.S. military analyst who passed on to Wikileaks in 2010 war crime information, but also Edward Snowden, ex-CIA and NSA employee, who exposed mass U.S. spying, are also in danger and facing the same general indifference, or fear. When it is journalists, in particular, who throw out of the window the rights of whistleblowers and informants, they sacrifice their own right to disclose vital information, and deny the right of citizens to the truth, inseparable from democracy. On February 28, 2020, on the first day of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing in London, his lawyer said: “President Trump came into power with a new approach for freedom of the press (…) amounting effectively to declaring war on investigative journalists ». Whether the said journalists don’t care, or don’t dare, the point is they undermine their own value. In democracies, governments owe the truth to citizens, not the reverse. That is a cardinal value of democracies.
The critical stance against Assange fails to weigh anything on the most elementary balance of interests. Assange is blamed for questionable motives; but he rendered unquestionable services. He acted against the interests of Uncle Sam, and it costs nothing for the intelligentsia to criticize the scapegoat. Countless tweets and comments on Facebook will tell us that he’s a creep, he’s not worth defending. We then ask why. We then read that this bastard got Trump elected. That he never cared for democracy (his opponents are capable of reading his mind). We’re told (by journalists) that he is no journalist. Which is quite a short-sighted view since the jurisprudence will be possibly applied to journalists. The fact that he « put lives at risk by sharing unredacted files » is the most substantial accusation, and it happens to be the line of attack of the US government as well. This allows to depict him as lacking in ethics. And all of this is said without a single acknowledgement of all the priceless information he offered humanity, of which newsrooms have generously benefited. But when it comes to the U.S. army’s ethics, its lack of respect of rules regulating armed conflict and international law, no one has to say a thing. War crimes, Assange’s persecution, these are absent from the chat. Obviously, these few blames, repeated over and over again, don’t measure up with what Assange unveiled to the world. Let us dig a bit more into the Assange hate.
Pro-war, but covertly
Part of Assange’s critics don’t want to admit that they are simply pro-war. They are aligned with the U.S. hawks of the White House and Pentagon on an ideological level. That is their right, obviously. Fundamentally pro-American, they were annoyed by Assange’s uncovering of the incriminated war behavior, tarnishing the U.S. image, that they identify strongly to. They support the preservation of U.S. and Western superiority, whatever it takes. But since it can look a bit gross to openly defend interventionnism, imperialism, warmongerism, especially when one wants to be considered right-minded, moderate and peaceful, they focus their speech on disqualifying Assange. But pro-war ideology is clearly behind part of Assange’s ennemy rhetoric – only it is not overtly declared. The rhetoric will jump on « antiamericanism » accusations whenever it can, towards those who spread verified information on the ugly US war realities. At the same time, they won’t find it particularly anti-Arab to defend Middle-East wars with their resulting death tolls by the million and countless atrocities. To these undeclared warmongers, torture, destruction, are not that revolting (« this is how wars are, war is all about this! »). They don’t see it as particularly terrible as long as they are siding with the camp of the good and the strong, to which they fully identify, who will « liberate » barbarian dictatorships, located far away from home.
Over the years, I had countless debates on this topic with intellectuals, journalists, bankers, businesspeople who subscribed to this worldview. Quick to pull the « antiamerican » trigger, they don’t see their own ideological bias (« proamericanism »). They deny support to imperialist policies and to the perpetuation of US military domination, in the Middle East and elsewhere. Nevertheless, after a while, they come to say: « Yes, I want the West to keep winning, I want our civilisation to remain at the top, whatever it takes ». Or: « I would rather die with the USA than live in a world dominated by Russians or Chinese ». Their criticism of Assange is deeply ideological. This is the real deal. Assange is an ideological gauge between two distinct camps: the pro-war and the anti-war. The ones who manage to keep a safe distance from US policies, and the ones who confuse US interests with their own interests. Their position is made perfectly clear by the fact that they have absolutely nothing to say, once again, about war crimes, or Assange’s persecution. Endorsing government language, they don’t consider it justified for the USA to be held accountable for any of their actions, as long as they approve these actions. And while they would never speak up to condemn any of these wars, no matter how wrong they go, everything changes the minute we talk about Assange. Suddenly, these fake indifferent, unconcerned, turn out to have opinions, « courage » (danger free), a « critical mind » (risk free). Assange is a bastard, he has no journalistic ethics, he mistreated his cat, he has a bad temper… since he unluckily can’t be called a rapist anymore, arguments need to dig elswhere. The art of aligning with the strongest, without spelling it out clearly, while giving up the responsibility to exert any sort of counterpower.
Will Switzerland defend its principles, or its interests?
And there are those who are scared. Scared of their employer, of not being able to travel to the USA with peace of mind and without molestation (you never know), a concern one can only understand. The hunt against Assange is chilling, the signal given to the world is terrifying and grim. One cannot be sure of what might happen, even in a… democracy.
Switzerland is currently attempting a courageous action, which nonetheless has little chances to succeed. The Geneva parliament (Grand conseil) has voted in favor of a humanitarian visa for Assange at the beginning of March, 2020. Only the Liberal Radicals voted against the initiative, launched by the Greens, the left and the far right. Where then are the liberals, in a battle for liberties? Calling oneself a liberal and defending repressive policies is an ill-advised strategy. It is time to stand up and defend the cardinal principles of our Western civilization, a struggle that extends way beyond one man’s fate. The whole coming century will be shaped by decisions taken today and principles defended today.
The Swiss Confederation will take the final decision on the Geneva humanitarian visa proposal. It is unlikely that it will risk going down this path. In 2016 already, the Swiss parliament asked the Federal Council whether Assange should be protected as a defender of human rights. Part of the answer was: «Switzerland must establish priorities depending on its interests, its room for manoeuver, its levers of influence and its resources», and the answer was no. With this kind of reasoning, countries stay on the sidelines, and stop defending the most important values, which involve more than themselves: humanity. Democracy deserves better.
What it means to be the « leader of the free world »
Let’s dream. The US could achieve a masterstroke: offering a pardon to Assange. It would make History. And the US could get back their – considerably damaged – position of « leader of the free world », which they are losing right now. We would see the country of Liberty and international cooperation, imagined by the founding fathers and by president Woodrow Wilson, rise back from the ashes. The America that motivated us to elevate ourselves, undertake and believe in ourselves, could shine again across the world. It might even deserve to go back giving lessons to Russia and China, provided that it can revive the « Pax Americana » which shaped its golden age. That, would be defendable. Maybe is it not too late?