- 07 Sep 20
The rape allegations against Julian Assange were a kind of Trojan horse, designed to distract from the reality that the Wikileaks founder is being pursued for bringing to light atrocities committed by US troops in Iraq, among other human rights violations by the US.
Julian Assange should be garlanded with every accolade journalism has to offer. Instead, he’s in solitary confinement on remand in Belmarsh high security prison, deemed such a serious threat to society he’s locked up 23 hours a day, allowed no association with other prisoners, no books in his cell, severely restricted access to lawyers, friends or family.
He’s being treated more harshly than someone charged with a terrorist atrocity or an alleged serial rapist.
The extradition case against Assange opened at the Old Bailey on September 7th. The American authorities want him delivered to the US to face 18 counts under the US Intelligence Act. If convicted, he will face up to 175 years. That is, he’ll never see the outside world again.
DUMPING TOXIC WASTE
Assange’s “offence” is to have published footage of US war crimes in Iraq on the platform which he’d founded, Wikileaks. The material had been passed to him by US Army Intelligence Officer, Chelsea Manning. She’d recoiled from some of the material she’d been required to review.
One video from July 12th 2007 was recorded from a helicopter hovering over a suburb of Baghdad, showing a group of civilians on a street near a crossroads. These included 22-year-old Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver, Saeed Chmagh, 40.
In the video, Noor-Eldeen is carrying a camera, Chmagh talking into his mobile phone. Other civilians are standing or moving around, apparently unperturbed. Suddenly, deafeningly, heavy gunfire erupts from the helicopter. The two Reuters men disappear in an instant in a flurry of panic and dust.
“Hahaha. I hit 'em," shouts an American voice. Another responds: "Oh yeah, look at all those dead bastards."
The dust clears. A man on the ground is trying to crawl away. A van draws up alongside him. Iraqis climb out. They lift the wounded man awkwardly and start carrying him towards the vehicle. One of the helicopter gunmen opens fire again.
The men carrying the wounded man fall. "Look at that. Right through the windshield," cries one of the crew, seemingly exultant.
Eleven died, including two children. As far as the upper echelons back in Washington were concerned, this was the last straw – not the glee of soldiers at the slaughter of innocent people but the publication of footage showing it happening.
Assange was already in the crosshairs of the US authorities. Wikileaks had published documents about western companies dumping toxic waste in Africa, a detailed account of the “protocols” for treating prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and much else that the Pentagon didn’t want getting out.
Assange is in the dock because he showed the world a piece of the truth about the American occupation of Iraq which US leaders didn’t want the world to see. There is no other reason.
SEX ASSAULT ALLEGATIONS
Some of the “crimes” alleged against Assange are no more than ethical journalistic actions. “Assange and Manning took measures to conceal Manning as the source of the disclosure.”
Guilty and proud of it, would be the answer of any respectable journalist.
“Assange encouraged Manning” to provide the information? Same answer.
But there hasn’t been a major international campaign on Assange’s behalf. Journalists in general have kept their lips zipped. One reason is that he has been accused of sexual assault of two women in Sweden. Sweden wanted him back for questioning. Assange refused to return voluntarily and sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy. Last year, British police barged in and hauled him out.
Assange had repeatedly offered to return to Sweden to answer the charges if Swedish authorities undertook not to extradite him onwards to the US. The Swedish government refused. Assange says this was because the Swedes were afraid to anger the Americans. If he went back to Sweden, he said, he wouldn’t be questioned about the assault allegations but would be shipped to the US once his feet touched the ground.
As a result of the sex assault allegations, anyone standing up for Assange can expect to be damned as a rape-denier and misogynist.
The feminist author Naomi Klein has become one of Assange’s fiercest defenders. “Rape is being used in the Assange prosecution in the same way that women’s freedom was used to invade Afghanistan,” she says. “Wake up!”
Naom Chomsky describes the treatment of Assange as “scandalous in several respects. It’s not just the U.S. government. The British are cooperating… The efforts to silence a journalist who was producing materials that people in power didn’t want the rascal multitude to know about… That’s basically what happened.
“The other scandal,” Chomsky adds, "is the extraterritorial reach of the United States… No other state could possibly do it. Why should the United States have power to control what others are doing elsewhere in the world? It’s an outlandish situation.”
The only people who would stand to gain from Assange’s extradition are people who stand for nothing.
The extradition hearing is likely to last three weeks. It would do no harm if voices from Irish politics and journalism were raised in the next fortnight.
The “Collateral Murder” film can be accessed on YouTube.