Tony Greenstein | 29 June 2024 | Post Views:

Assange & the Guardian  – How a ‘liberal’ newspaper jeopardised journalistic freedom

Last Tuesday Julian Assange was freed after 12 years of wrongful imprisonment after agreeing a ‘plea deal’ with the US government over espionage charges when the only significant US witness admitted under oath that he had been lying the whole time.

When Assange was set free from Belmarsh for the ‘crime’ of having revealed American war crimes, I wondered what angle I should take. I decided that Guardian hypocrisy was a good approach after I read The Guardian view on the WikiLeaks plea deal: good for Julian Assange, not journalism. If hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue then Editor Katherine Viner must have overdosed on the stuff.

At last Julian Assange is Free

I then came across Jonathan Cook’s excellent It was the media, led by the Guardian, that kept Julian Assange behind bars.

Cook wrote about how David Leigh and Luke Harding, who worked with Assange on behalf of the Guardian, had become extremely hostile to him for not agreeing to their writing his. Instead they 

‘repeatedly betrayed confidences and manoeuvred against Wikileaks rather the cooperating with it. Assange was particularly incensed to discover that the paper had broken the terms of its written contract with Wikileaks by secretly sharing confidential documents with outsiders, including the NYT.

In giving evidence at the Old Bailey, a senior investigative journalist, Nicky Hager, described the pair’s 2011 book WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy as “not a reliable source”. Hostility to Asssange extended to virtually all the Guardian’s ‘journalists’.

Deepa Driver interview with BBC on Assange’s Release

It was Luke Harding and Dan Collyns who wrote the article Manafort held secret talks with Assange (Guardian 27.11.18). This was a fabrication, planted by the intelligence services which alleged that Assange was in league with Donald Trump. Manafort had been Trump’s campaign manager. No evidence was provided for the allegation that they had had 3 visits. The security cameras didn’t catch sight of Manafort and the Embassy visitors’ book was not signed by him. This was Harding’s revenge, courtesy of MI5/6.

At the centre of the US case against Assange was information in Leigh and Harding’s book that ‘Assange was recklessly indifferent to the safety of US informants named in leaked files published by Wikileaks.’ In fact this was the opposite of the truth.

‘Assange was meticulous about redacting names in the documents. It was they – the journalists, including Leigh – who were pressuring Assange to publish without taking full precautions….

But to bolster its feeble claim against Assange – that he was reckless about redactions – the US has hoped to demonstrate that in September 2011, long after publication of the Iraq and Afghan diaries, Wikileaks did indeed release a trove of documents – official US cables – that Assange failed to redact….

In fact, the story behind the September 2011 release by Wikileaks of those unredacted documents is entirely different from the story the court and public is being told. The Guardian has conspired in keeping quiet about the real version of events for one simple reason – because it, the Guardian, was the cause of that release.

The February 2011 Guardian book the US keeps citing contained something in addition to the highly contentious and disputed claim from Leigh that Assange had a reckless attitude to redacting names. The book also disclosed a password – one Assange had given to Leigh on strict conditions it be kept secret – to the file containing the 250,000 encrypted cables. The Guardian book let the cat out of the bag. Once it gave away Assange’s password, the Old Bailey hearings have heard, there was no going back.

Demonstration Outside the Guardian’s Offices 2020

It is this that explains why, for over a decade Guardian’s writers and columnists have attacked the very person who the Guardian had teamed up with, to produce its scoops. Instead of campaigning against the extradition proceedings against Assange the Guardian kept quiet. ‘Left’ journalists like George Monbiot refused to cover the case. In 2020 we held a demonstration outside the Guardian’s offices near King’s Cross to protest at its silence during the extradition hearings.

It is therefore a chutzpah (defined as when a boy who has killed both his parents asks the court for mercy because he’s an orphan!) when, after Assange’s release, in its leading article the Guardian wrote that

‘Julian Assange should never have been charged with espionage by the US. The release of the WikiLeaks founder from custody in the UK is good news… This is no triumph for press freedom. Mr Assange’s plea has prevented the setting of a frightening judicial precedent for journalists, avoiding a decision that might bind future courts. Nonetheless, this is the first conviction for basic journalistic efforts under the 1917 act.

Using espionage charges was always a bad and cynical move. … Alarmingly, the Espionage Act allows no public interest defence, preventing defendants from discussing the material leaked, why they shared it, and why they believe the public should know about it. … It is possible that future administrations could take this case as encouragement to pursue the press under the Espionage Act. … The political solution to this lengthy saga is welcome, … But the threat to press freedom has not ended. Its defence cannot rest either.

That Assange has finally gained his freedom is no thanks to the Guardian which lied and deceived throughout his 14 year ordeal.

Just a few of the poisonous articles in the Guardian – all based on trivial, malicious and unfounded allegations

The stench of hypocrisy emanating from the Guardian’s offices is overwhelming. The Guardian, which benefitted from scoop after scoop after scoop after scoop after scoop as a result of Wikileaks revelations, turned on the person who enabled those front page stories, with a tale of treachery and deceit that would put Judas to shame.

Deepa Driver Speaks on the Injustices of our ‘Justice System’ vs Julian Assange

But when the United States and its masters of the dark arts hit on the idea of framing Assange for rape in Sweden, knowing full well that such an allegation would inevitably cause people to question whether they should be supporting him, the Guardian and the rest of the liberal rat pack ran as fast as their little legs could carry them.

Unlike liberals and identity politics feminists, the Deep State is not stupid. It knows very well how to sow the seeds of division among its opponents. Sexual crimes and #metoo rank highest of all in the list of accusations to wreak havoc in the ranks of Assange’s supporters.

The same has happened over Israel’s genocide in Gaza.  Israeli propagandists have worked hard to conjure up tales of ‘rape’ by the Palestinian resistance despite a total lack of evidence. The weaponisation of rape has a long history and Black and Jewish people have both been its victims as they were portrayed as sexual predators in the Deep South and Nazi Germany. The case of the Scottsboro Boys, 9 Blacks who were falsely accused of rape and nearly executed in Alabama, stands out as an example of racialised lynch mob justice.

Nils Melzer, the UN Rapporteur, in The Trial of Julian Assange demolished the accusations of rape showing that it was the Police and a corrupt Swedish prosecutor who formulated these charges despite a lack of evidence. The women concerned hadn’t made allegations of rape. That was the Swedish state on behalf of the United States.

The Guardian was assiduous in playing up the rape allegations. In February 2016, in response to a UN Report that Assange was the victim of arbitrary detention, the Guardian published a leading article  Julian Assange: no victim of arbitrary detention. It said:

It is true that he has never been charged, as his lawyers have argued. But that is because Swedish legal procedure requires an interview to take place before any decision to prosecute: since Mr Assange left Sweden in 2010 before he could be questioned and has resolutely refused to return, no such interview has taken place.

But that was a lie. As Nils Melzer pointed out, Assange delayed his departure from Sweden in order that prosecutors could question him. They refused to do so. He had already been questioned by police. The Guardian and its contributors made a special effort to run with the rape allegations in order to cover up its own malfeasance.

But that did not stop feminists and liberals using these accusations to target Assange on behalf of US imperialism. The Guardian’s ‘journalists’, not least its female journalists, were the worst.

Marina Hyde, the Guardian’s empty head, was the nastiest and snidest of the lot. Hadley Freeman, on loan from the Jewish Chronicle, penned a puerile attempt at wit. Suzanna Moore a poisonous transphobe and Hanna Jane Parkinson joined in the baying mob.

The Guardian’s male ‘journalists’ lacked the viciousness and bitchiness of their female colleagues but they made up for it. None more so than Nick Cohen, whose years of sexual abuse, was covered up by Jonathan Freedland and other senior editors.

Cohen’s abuse was the subject of an article in the NYT. The Guardian prided itself on #metoo but when it came to it, it too covered up gross and persistent sexual assault bordering on rape. As Martha Gill put it in the Observer #MeToo men want to be forgiven, but what of the careers of their casualties? I’m sure all the young journalists who were forced to give up internships or jobs at the Guardian because of Cohen have been handsomely compensated-not.

None of this prevented Cohen from attacking Assange though!

Some of Assange’s supporters say that the women have no right to put allegations of sexual abuse before a competent court. Instead, they denounce them as “feminazis” in language so extreme that the women’s lawyer said his clients were “the victims of a crime, but they are looked upon as the perpetrators”. …  Activists, who claim they are the enemies of patriarchy, dismiss allegations of sexual abuse as a CIA conspiracy.

Cohen wasn’t the only righteous hypocrite on the Guardian. Marina Hyde was convinced that Assange was ‘a man hiding in an embassy to avoid a rape investigation’. Nothing to do with the CIA wanting to bump him off. The talentless Hyde had an obsession with Assange, remarking in another turgid article that ‘the higher he has gone in his “quest for justice”, the smaller he has looked.’

But when it comes to getting it badly wrong, no one was quite as skilled as Cohen. In another paranoid article Cohen wrote that:

Greenwald and the rest of Assange’s supporters do not tell us how the Americans could prosecute the incontinent leaker. American democracy is guilty of many crimes and corruptions. But the First Amendment to the US constitution is the finest defence of freedom of speech yet written. The American Civil Liberties Union thinks it would be unconstitutional for a judge to punish Assange.

And yet Assange was prosecuted. Under the Espionage Act. The Americans were determined to exclude his protections under that same First Amendment (because he wasn’t a citizen). Cohen to be fair was not the only one to get it wrong. James Ball, wrote in 2018 that

The only barrier to Julian Assange leaving Ecuador’s embassy is pride. The WikiLeaks founder is unlikely to face prosecution in the US, charges in Sweden have been dropped – and for the embassy, he’s lost his value as an icon

David Crouch attacked Assange over breach of privacy with an article about how he had defied Swedish prosecutors by releasing a statement. Having been interviewed by Sweden’s prosecutors Assange was perfectly entitled to release his version of events.

In 2019 Jessica Elgot, another transfer from the Jewish Chronicle reported on a letter from MPs that urged that priority be given to rape claims that were by then dead. Quite conveniently that saved them from defending someone who had revealed the US’s dirty secrets.

None of these people have apologised for their squalid attacks, despite having got it wrong about the US intention to extradite Assange. If the Guardian had any principles it would have fired the lot. As I said on the demonstration outside the Guardian, it had only one good journalist, its cartoonist Steve Bell, and he was fired!

Declassified Clip on Starmer’s Role When at the CPS on the Framing of Julian Assange

All of this pales in comparison with Starmer’s role as head of the Crown Prosecution Service. The CPS urged the Swedes not to drop their extradition request when the lack of evidence was plain.  ‘Don’t you dare get fold feet’ was the message sent by the CPS to them.

The CPS has admitted to destroying key emails related to the Assange case, mostly covering the period when Starmer was in charge, while the CPS lawyer overseeing the case advised the Swedes in 2010 or 2011 not to visit London to interview Assange.

Now is a good time to remember that when Starmer was (a deeply unpopular) Director of Public Prosecutions and Assange was fighting attempts to extradite him to Sweden, as a staging post for extradition to the US, Starmer flew at least three times to the US in connection with the Assange case. He was accompanied by security officials. The CPS destroyed all records of Starmer’s discussions – as it did with records showing what he knew about serial rapist Jimmy Savile:

This was not Starmer’s only example of grovelling to the US on extradition. When the US wanted autistic hacker Gary McKinnon after he had hacked its servers looking for information on UFOs, Starmer told the Americans he would ‘do everything’ to ensure the extradition went ahead – and flew in fury to bow and scrape to Washington after the then Home Secretary Theresa May quashed it.

Starmer has been described as a ‘long-time servant of the British security state’ and has relentlessly backed moves to protect state agents from crimes such as rape and murder. He attacked environmental and human rights protesters, supported immunity for soldiers who murdered civilians in Northern Ireland and refused to oppose laws allowing the state to persecute journalists. Not once did he speak out against the relentless US pursuit of Assange, despite the collapse of the US case when its main witness admitted lying.

If Starmer is elected as Prime Minister we can expect a continuation of the Tory policy of criminalising protest. There isn’t a piece of paper between him and the Tories. See Video: Starmer met US agencies about Assange extradition – CPS destroyed all records

An important article in the London Review of Books by Patrick Cockburn, one of the few genuine journalists left, described how:

Melzer describes an investigation that was politicised from the moment on 20 August 2010 when two women, then known only as AA and SW, went to a police station in Stockholm ‘to inquire whether Mr Assange could be compelled to take an HIV test’. Within hours, ‘the Swedish prosecution ordered the arrest of Mr Assange and informed the tabloid newspaper Expressen that he was suspected of having raped two women.’

Over the next nine years, as the investigation was repeatedly closed by one prosecutor only to be reopened by another, Sweden regularly indicated that it wanted to question Assange, but in practice showed little desire to do so or to bring the investigation to a conclusion. The main effect of the stop-go judicial proceedings was to keep the controversy over what Assange did in Stockholm in 2010 on the boil. The Swedish government finally replied to Melzer’s letter in November only to say that it had ‘no further observation to make’; the following day the investigation was formally closed.

None of this is likely to change the way Assange is seen. In keeping with past experience, almost no mainstream news outlet paid any attention to Melzer’s questions about the conduct of the case. The world’s biggest newspapers, which had published the WikiLeaks disclosures on their front pages in 2010, distanced themselves from Assange very shortly afterwards, often declaring that he was a difficult person to deal with or was slapdash in his handling of the US government cables and reports. He was accused of being a ‘narcissist’, as if that were something more than a character flaw, or as if his character flaws – whatever they were – had any bearing on the information that had been revealed.

Given the gravity of the issues at stake, the silence of journalists about Assange’s detention in Belmarsh following Ecuador’s revoking of his asylum status is striking. Here was evidence of a radical shift in US security policy, towards the position taken by countries like Turkey and Egypt, which have sought to criminalise criticism of the state and to conflate the publication of news it doesn’t want the public to hear with terrorism or espionage. … as Glenn Greenwald has pointed out in the Intercept, Western media have ‘largely ignored what is, by far, the single greatest attack on press freedoms by the US government in the last decade at least: the prosecution and attempted extradition of Julian Assange for alleged crimes arising out of WikiLeaks’s … publication – in conjunction with the world’s largest newspapers – of the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and US diplomatic cables’. They couldn’t jail the editor of the New York Times so they pursued Assange instead.

Tribute needs to be paid to Stella Assange, who I had the privilege of meeting during the Future of the Left events at the 2022 Labour Party conference in Liverpool where I spoke. Stella has been a dogged campaigner. John Pilger was a staunch supporter as was Yanis Varoufakis but with very few exceptions Labour MPs like Jess Philips, who ran with the rape allegations, have been silent or hostile.

I have a few observations. The thrust of the US charges related to Wikileaks having endangered their agents and operatives. Although Assange took care not to reveal their names I have to confess that I couldn’t care less what happened to them. I remember when ex-CIA agent Phil Agee, deliberately went out of his way to expose them in his book Inside the Companywhichis still a good read. Agee was deported by Home Secretary Merlyn Rees in 1977

The CIA has been responsible, through the coups it has engineered in Chile, Indonesia, Iran etc. for the deaths of over a million people in Indonesia alone. If there are a few less CIA thugs roaming the streets then that makes far more people safe. US foreign policy is designed to make all except the elites unsafe.

I also want to comment on the judicial proceedings. Yet again our judges, who never let it be forgot are the ‘most socially exclusive groups of all the professions’ according to the reportElitist Britain by the Social Mobility Commission and the Sutton Trust. It shows that 65% of senior judges were educated at an independent school & 75% attended Oxford or Cambridge. [Law Gazette, 25.6.19.]

The inquities in this case are staggering. There is firstly the conflict of interests. The Westminster Chief Magistrate Lady Emma Arbuthnot who made key rulings against Assange is married to Lord James Arbuthnot, a former Defence Minister and Chair of the Defence Select Committee. Arbuthnot was also an advisor to the Islamaphobic Henry Jackson Society.

The Lord Chief Justice who was responsible for rejecting Assange’s first appeal, Ian Burnett, was a long-standing friend of Alan Duncan, the Minister at the Foreign Office who was responsible for the campaign against Ecuador for  harbouring Assange. He later described Assange in parliament as a ‘miserable worm’.

But it’s not just these obvious conflicts of interest. Running through these proceedings is the assumption that the United States has the right to prosecute non-citizens for ‘offences’ committed outside its territorial jurisdiction. Of course in reality the evil empire considers that its reach extends everywhere but at no point did this point even enter the heads of the judiciary.

Secondly Article 4 of the Extradition Treaty of 2007 between the US and Britain explicitly excludes political offences. It reads:

Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense.

 However  the judges are well paid to ensure that their duty to the security state always outweighs their duty to justice and naturally they found a form of weasel words to get around this.

It might be thought that revealing details of war crimes committed by the United States was in itself a compelling reason for rejecting the extradition request however that would be to underestimate the morality of Britain’s judiciary. Crimes by the state are never crimes unless there is a political advantage to making them so. The fact that committing war crimes is illegal under the International Criminal Court Act 2001 is no bar to making revelation of them an offence.

Then there is the small matter of the CIA listening in to privileged conversations between Assange and his lawyers. The judges didn’t rule on this they simply ignored it altogether.

Then there was the attempt of the CIA to assassinate Assange. Naturally the judges didn’t think this had any bearing on the extradition proceedings. After all that’s the CIA’s job. So how can one party trying to kill another be of any relevance? 

So all in all Britain’s judiciary completely disgraced themselves but that too is not the first time.

We can thank Australia’s electorate that they turfed out the previous administration under Scott Morrison and elected a Labour government under Anthony Albanese that campaigned vociferously for Assange’s release. Whatever the sins of the Australian Labour Party, and they are many, one can be thankful that Albanese is not Keir Starmer otherwise Assange would still be in Belmarsh.Tony Greenstein 

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