The plot to discredit and destroy Julian Assange
A day after dozens of doctors around the world released a statement about their mounting concerns regarding Julian Assange’s health as he’s detained in a British prison, Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer spoke with Tariq Ali, a renowned British journalist and co-editor of a recent collection of essays titled “In Defense of Julian Assange.” To Scheer, Ali and the book’s many contributors, the case against the WikiLeaks founder boils down to an international effort to suppress press freedoms. Yet as Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States have co-authored Assange’s downfall, many journalists and publishers, including some at The Guardian and The New York Times—two publications that published work based on WikiLeaks—have refused to defend Assange.
“What we did in assembling ‘In Defense of Julian Assange’ was to take every single facet of the case and present it before a reading public. And one reason we had to do this is because the [liberal] press have given up on him, having used WikiLeaks, having got their scoops, having raised their own circulations,” Ali says in the latest installment of the “Scheer Intelligence” podcast.
Corporate media’s abandonment of Assange and whistleblower Chelsea Manning is no surprise to Scheer, who has spent much of his career defending and working with whistleblowers Daniel Ellsberg, John Kiriakou, Edward Snowden and others.
“Everyone likes a whistleblower, as long as he’s blowing the whistle on their opponent, or in some other regime, or so forth,” Scheer tells Ali.
A prime example of this hypocrisy can be seen in the treatment of the Ukraine scandal whistleblower, who has been touted by Democrats and much of the press as a hero. Manning and Assange, on the other hand, are vilified, discredited, ignored, jailed and, in Assange’s case, psychologically and possibly physically tortured.
“The British government [is] keeping [Assange] in Belmarsh prison, which is a high-security prison where he’s [surrounded] either by people who have committed unspeakable murders, or so-called terrorists charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Acts, with very high security; he’s been kept in isolation. [Doctors are] worried that he might die in prison.”
Listen to Ali and Scheer’s full conversation on the many facets of the persecution of Assange, a man who, both journalists agree, is solely guilty of exposing war crimes and uncomfortable truths the establishment wanted to keep hidden from the public. You can also read a transcript of the interview below the media player and find past episodes of “Scheer Intelligence” here.
—Introduction by Natasha Hakimi Zapata
Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case, Tariq Ali, a well-known British journalist born in Pakistan; educated, I think, largely in England; and who has written incredibly important books and analysis of U.S. foreign policy, generally critical of the tendency towards empire. And the reason for this interview is he’s assembled, along with Margaret Kunstler, a really important book. It’s called In Defense of Julian Assange, and it’s scores of people writing about different aspects of the case of Julian Assange.
Now, one reason I do these podcasts is it compels me to read a book that I might otherwise have skimmed. And that’s certainly the case of this book; its [publisher is OR Books], and In Defense of Julian Assange. I thought I knew a lot about this case. And I was surprised, in reading this book, that I fell for some of the traps set by the mass media and by governments–the U.S. government, the Swedish government; the Ecuadorian government, of late; and the British government, certainly, where Julian Assange is being held as a prisoner. I must say, much to my shame, had I not read this book carefully, I was falling for some of the personal attacks and attempts to dismiss the significance of Julian Assange.
Having read the book–and I think it’s 450, almost 500 pages–I was rewarded with an understanding, a very clear understanding, that Julian Assange is truly one of the most important journalists of, I don’t know what, the last 50 years. And I say this having been an active journalist, as Tariq has, and thought I knew quite a bit. But when I went through, really, what WikiLeaks revealed, and the universality of their concerns–including, by the way, documents unflattering for Putin’s Russia, since that’s at the key of the drama now, what was WikiLeaks’ connection with Russia–but, you know, throughout the world. And the very idea–I ended up sort of in a rage at the end of this, thinking, how dare anyone challenge Julian Assange’s role as a journalist? You don’t have to agree that he’s your kind of journalist, but the idea that he is a journalist, deserving of press freedom, acknowledgment–which is, you know, the whole attempt to justify his being held under the most brutal conditions in England–that, to my mind, is the value of your collection.
I defy anyone to spend even a few hours with this collection and have any doubts as to the significance of Julian Assange as a practicing journalist, as a publisher, deserving–as even lawyers who’ve worked for the New York Times recognize–the same consideration that the Washington Post or the New York Times had when they published the Pentagon Papers, when they publish other information uncomfortable to the U.S. government on national security terms, and so forth. And as they warned–some of these lawyers most effectively, who represented the New York Times–that if you can get these charges that are filed against Julian Assange right now by the U.S. government, basically concern the normal practices of journalists dealing with the national security state. And take it from there. I mean, but I think that is the power of this collection that you have assembled.
Tariq Ali: Well, thanks, Bob. I mean, it’s very good, especially as it comes from someone like you, who knows what investigative journalism is. It’s a sort of dying cause now, and very little of it goes on. But precisely what we did in assembling In Defense of Julian Assange was to take every single facet of the case and present it before a reading public. And one reason we had to do this is because the press have given up on him, having used WikiLeaks, having got their scoops, having raised their own circulations–the liberal press, The Guardian and the New York Times and others in Europe. It was El País, actually, to its credit, which carried on supporting the Assange. The others fell a bit silent and hoped that the case would go away, instead of defending him. Because in defending him, as The Guardian has now recognized, they were defending themselves. If Julian is found guilty of these absurd charges that have been laid against him of espionage, et cetera, then the same applies to the editor of the New York Times and the editor of The Guardian, who published these things. Why aren’t they being tried? And the reason they’re not being tried is because that would be going too far, and would raise a storm. And we did this, we put this collection together, precisely to raise a storm–saying Julian is not the editor of a mainstream liberal newspaper in the Western world, but he is the editor, and has been, of WikiLeaks, which has done an amazing job. You’re absolutely right, there’s been nothing like it over the last 50 years. Obviously there’s been whistleblowers, and some famous ones; the Pentagon Papers, you know, in the Vietnam days–
RS: And by the way–and by the way, Daniel Ellsberg has been very clear. Because nowadays, you know, he’s the favorite whistleblower for many establishment, and particularly democratic party, people. You know, they say well, Daniel Ellsberg–but at the time, I happened to be at his trial. I was then editing Ramparts, which had published quite a few whistleblowers. And at that trial, Daniel Ellsberg was facing, you know, 125 years in jail, facing the same espionage charge. Which was only, at that point had been used in, I think, three cases. It was Barack Obama who brought, I think, 11 cases under the Espionage Act, you know, and revived this 1917 legislation, which really had nothing to do with this sort of issue; it was giving secrets, military secrets to a real enemy that you would recognize.
But in this case, what is so appalling is that–and I want you to discuss the range of your book. Because you know, people are dismissing Julian Assange, or are hostile to him–as many democratic politicians, they call–can’t call him a traitor, since he’s not an American citizen. But they were really hostile because he inconvenienced or harmed Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president. Which, after all, has never been the standard of judging the value of journalism. I mean, Daniel Ellsberg harmed Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign with the revelations of the Pentagon Papers–big deal. You know, that’s not the test of journalism, whether it’s inconvenient. But the fact is–and discuss the charges against Julian Assange; they predate anything to do with telling us what was in Hillary Clinton’s speeches to Goldman Sachs and others, or what was in the Podesta files about undermining Bernie Sanders’ campaign. This all relates these charges to journalism that he did in 2010–correct me if I’m wrong. And why don’t you tell us the kind of journalism–the range, the scope, you know, of powerful people [who have] been disturbed by this, which does range from Russia to the U.S. with stops along the way in Africa and the Mideast, and actually credit for fueling the Arab Spring reprisal against Mideast dictators.
TA: Well, exactly, Bob. I mean, the range of Assange’s journalism and publishing activities is quite unique in this world. The scale of it is pretty amazing; every continent covered, every report WikiLeaks considered was important, published, from Iraq–I mean, one of the things they did in the case of Iraq, which enraged the Pentagon and the Defense Intelligence Agency, was to release a video–a very, very notorious video now; it’s on YouTube, people can watch it–of a helicopter gunship killing innocent Iraqis for no bloody rhyme or reason. I mean, just killing them, celebrating their murder, saying ”we got them,” as if they were playing a video game.
RS: Yeah, they described that, ”Let them pick up the gun and then we can shoot”–and they killed two Reuters correspondents, because they confused the camera with some sort of weapon, right?
TA: Yeah. They did that. And they killed a lot of Iraqis like that. And the video released, sent on to WikiLeaks–
RS: Let me just say–I’m sorry–one little detail, a lot of Iraqis. One was a child, and the pilots actually made a joke about it–”Who told them to bring their child along to such an event?”
TA: Exactly, exactly.
RS: I mean, it was–the cynicism was ghoulish. It was creepy. And yet those pilots and the people who ordered them into this kind of activity–they’re not condemned. They’re not judged. Julian Assange is sitting in jail. So is, by the way, we should mention Chelsea Manning, who was then Bradley Manning, was a lower-level U.S. military person who had access to this and released it, because this was evidence of serious war crime. And if you take the Nuremberg principles, which the U.S. held up for the whole world, you’re not supposed to sit by when you’re witnessing a war crime. And there was no question, serious war crime. And Bradley Manning should have been rewarded with some kind of Medal of Freedom or something, and instead is now in jail. Let’s cut to the chase here. Bradley Manning, now Chelsea Manning, is in prison. Why? Because they want to break her to testify against Julian Assange, that somehow he was complicit. So he’s not just a publisher, he’s actually an activist or something. The same way Daniel Ellsberg–Daniel Ellsberg was not a publisher, Daniel Ellsberg was in the position that Chelsea Manning is in: seeing evidence of war crimes, and releasing them as a whistleblower. Julian Assange, as you pointed out, is in the position of the New York Times and the Washington Post, that published the Pentagon Papers.
TA: We live in a very debased world now, Bob, where double standards have prevailed for so long that very few citizens actually recognize what a norm is, or how people should behave. They’ve been swept into this mainstream media bubble. And you know, when the WikiLeaks papers were published by all these journalists, their readers were applauding them for doing it. But then memories are short. And I think what did play some part in sidelining Julian was the role of the Swedish government, which initially said–on the basis of very confused complaints, which many of us pointed out at the time–that in most countries of the world, what these two women who Julian had had relationships with were saying would not be considered rape. And in fact, three times the Swedish prosecutors said they had no case and dropped it, then were pushed into picking it up again. Now, just 10 days ago they’ve dropped it, hopefully finally, and said there is no case to answer. And the reason they gave was that he has no case to answer because memories are confused. It’s their phrase they’re using now.
The question is this, that the one thing we all know from the enormous amount of writing and coverage of rape, of men, young men and women in different parts of the world, that the one experience which is never confused–they never forget it; they might put it out of their minds for a while–is the day, the time, the hour they were raped. So if there was doubt right from the beginning, which has now become plain, some of the charges being made by Julian’s supporters when this case first went in that direction in Sweden was that this is a frame-up, that it’s a rigged trial. And the aim is to lock Julian up in a prison in Sweden till the United States can lift him from there somehow or the other, and take him back to the United States. When–
RS: Right, and–
TA: When Assange said this, they said he’s paranoid.
RS: No, but–yeah, but let me–let me just interrupt you for a second, because I earned the right, because I read the book [Laughs] very carefully. And one of the compelling points in the book that you edited is even if you took the worst case, this has nothing to do with why Julian Assange is sitting in a jail, in a prison, in England. And he’s there because the United States government has filed a complaint against him–complaints–that have nothing to do with what he did in Sweden. And had nothing to do, in fact, with what he did or did not do in relation to the 2016 election campaign. They specifically relate to the incident, and the incidents, of that time period that you described, where Julian Assange revealed very serious war crimes committed by the United States in Iraq. And that information–going back to 2010, preceding all this other stuff–is clearly information which Julian Assange, as a publishing journalist, revealed information that the world had a need and a right to know, OK.
And so we should, if we read the charge that the U.S. government has leveled now against Julian Assange–and against, even though Barack Obama pardoned Chelsea Manning, but they’re keeping Chelsea Manning now in jail to testify against Julian Assange–the issue here is a classic Nuremberg trial whistleblower issue. If you see war crimes, as Chelsea Manning, then Bradley Manning did, do you have an obligation to reveal that information? And should a publisher, within the standard that the U.S. has held up to the whole world with this First Amendment–does that fall under the protection of press freedom? Everything else–and that’s what I got from your book more than anything else–everything else is a distraction. Everything else is a distraction. The U.S. government has now asked the government of England to keep this man under horrible conditions, in prison, where he can’t even consult his notes, easily consult his lawyers. Why? For only one reason, according to their document, which is that he revealed information relating to war crimes committed by the United States government. And now they want to grab him, they want to extradite him, and they want to throw him in a maximum security prison somewhere in Colorado so no one can ever hear from him again. That’s the nut of this case, is it not?
TA: Absolutely right. And the British government organizing a dress rehearsal for this by keeping him in Belmarsh prison, which is a high-security prison where he’s [surrounded] either by people who have committed unspeakable murders, or so-called terrorists charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Acts, with very high security; he’s been kept in isolation. And just yesterday, Bob, 60 doctors signed a public statement saying that they were extremely concerned at Julian’s state of health, and they were worried that he might die in prison. And one reason why they’re worried, some have actually inspected him and done tests. The others are basing their judgments on how he was when he appeared before court, and found it very difficult to speak because of the conditions under which he’s being kept. We don’t know for sure whether he’s being given drugs, as well, as they used to do in the bad old hospitals to calm him down, et cetera, et cetera.
So it’s a very serious situation. And you’re right, the main charge against him, so-called espionage, is actually revealing war crimes. And even though, because of the human rights interventions, so-called, there was a court set up at The Hague in Holland to try politicians and leaders and military leaders for war crimes, this is only applied to countries which the United States regards as hostile. So Milosevic of Serbia was taken to prison, tried; he died during the trial, in bad health conditions. The same court has also dried Rwandans, et cetera. But this court cannot try the United States for war crimes, because the United States refused to accept any foreign jurisdiction or international jurisdiction on what they do. And if my memory serves me right, they actually passed in Congress a law which was like the invasion of Holland act–that if any U.S. soldier or officer was taken before this court, the U.S. reserved right to invade that country and get him or her released.
So, but leave aside the United States–I mean, in Britain, where I’m based, Tony Blair lied through his teeth to force this country to go to war against massive opposition, and they’ve committed war crimes. And Blair really should, Blair and Bush and Cheney should be tried as war criminals. But will they be touched? No. Instead, they have gone on the offensive against people who are now revealing systematically what war crimes took place, not just in Iraq, but also other parts of the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. And this is now a continuing problem.
So the case of Julian Assange is extremely important. Because they’re now–in the way they’re dealing with him, in trying to crush him–is I think, by and large, intended as a deterrent to stop any other whistleblowers in doing government jobs. Which Assange wasn’t; he’s just a publisher. But the people who he got the leaks from–Bradley, now Chelsea Manning, and others–were working in, you know, important positions. Important not in a hierarchical sense, but important in the sense that they were reading the information. It’s to frighten these people off–your Edward Snowdens, who’s a nice, decent, all-American kid, shocked by his bosses when they lied to the Senate committee and said that American citizens weren’t being spied on. And then it was revealed not only were American citizens being spied on, but European heads of states. And Angela Merkel, the German chancellor’s secret, private phone, was being tapped with the collaboration of the German secret service.
RS: Right, and let me just point out that–and which in your book is pointed out very clearly–that Julian Assange played a critical role in helping Edward Snowden avoid prosecution and being grabbed and silenced, which is what the U.S. government wanted to do at that point. And then they denied him the right to fly anywhere, and he ended up in Moscow not out of choice, but because his passport was pulled. But let me just cut to the key issue here. Because it’s interesting; at this very moment when we’re taping this, Donald Trump is now under attack by the same democrats that called Snowden a traitor, and attacked Julian Assange because he inconvenienced them. But Donald Trump has come, I think immorally, to the defense of a Navy SEAL who was involved in the death of innocents, or somebody they claimed was criminal, and was photographed with this person. It was the same kind of act that Bradley Manning was able to reveal on the part of U.S. pilots. They were gleefully killing civilians, and photographing it and everything else, you know. And so what was revealed by Julian Assange, which is the basic charge against him, is exactly the kind of activity that this Navy SEAL was convicted on, and that Donald Trump is now trying to release.
I also want to make one critical point here, which your book is a collection of essays by really quite authoritative voices, and it does range through all of the character assassination against Julian Assange, and it dissects it, and it’s important for that reason. Yes, and the character assassination, by the way, I didn’t mean to dismiss it; it’s quite effective. It’s why Julian Assange is not getting the support he deserves from the very news organizations that publish the information he revealed. They’re in this incredibly hypocritical position of saying he’s not a journalist, but they won prizes publishing the material that he gave them. That’s called journalism, OK. They endorsed his journalism by reprinting it all over the world, the most famous publications. But character assassination of a whistleblower is not new. It’s the norm.
And Daniel Ellsberg experienced it. Let me just make that point, because again, I was at that trial, and I’ve known Daniel for all these years; I admire him enormously. But he was the victim of very similar character assassination about his personal life and everything. And indeed, Watergate came unglued over the revelation it started that these same Watergate people had broken into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychologist’s office in Beverly Hills to get negative material about Daniel’s personal life. That was the whole–preceded Watergate, the break-in of–why were they there? Because they were out to smear Daniel Ellsberg, and say oh, he’s not really a serious person concerned about issues. he’s some kind of degenerate. And they do that with every whistleblower. They manage to effectively destroy their lives, they deny them their pensions, and they always try to break the whistleblowers. And in this case, Julian Assange is not the whistleblower, he is the publisher, very much like–exactly like–the New York Times or the Washington Post, that is printing someone else’s story.
Now, let’s talk about the US. charges against him. The reason some in the media are now changing their editorial tone is because the charges go to the very idea of investigative journalism. They say if you take any material that has been called classified on some level–and by the way, the material that Julian Assange revealed was a low level of classification, it should be pointed out, you know. But the fact of the matter is that every newspaper that publishes stories on the national security state, and what the military does, they’re printing material that generally have a higher level of classification than that revealed by Julian Assange. So it finally dawned on the editorial board of the New York Times, which first had attacked Julian Assange and the Washington Post, that wait a minute, this is setting a very dangerous precedent. Because Julian Assange didn’t do anything different than what the New York Times did.
TA: Well, this is absolutely correct. I mean, it’s the same here. The Guardian, which had ignored Julian for some years, and not been supportive, was forced to write an editorial in which they said that the–more or less what you’re saying, in a milder way. But–and said that under no circumstances should he be extradited to the United States. So they have come clean. And the last time I met Julian, just before he was transferred to Belmarsh prison, when we were about to commence work on the book, I went to see him to make sure he was OK with the idea of doing a book like this. And he was naturally very happy and pleased, since support for him had ebbed away. I said, Julian, tell me honestly, do you have any hope? And he said, in the judicial system of the West, no; but my one hope is that Jeremy Corbyn is elected and is in Downing Street; that is the only hope I have. And of course the Labour frontbenches in Parliament have defended Julian very strongly. Both Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, and his shadow Home Secretary–the woman who would be the Home Secretary if Corbyn won, Diane Abbott–made it very clear that they don’t accept these charges, that what Julian is really being charged for is exposing murder and war crimes in a number of countries which have been invaded, et cetera. So the other point, Bob, which is I think worth stressing, is that however much they used debased stuff to try and discredit Ellsberg, as you point out, which I have a vague memory of, and more recently Julian Assange–
RS: By the way–by the way–
TA: –it doesn’t work, because sooner or later someone else, someone decent, watching a war crime being committed, will do the same thing. They will not remember these things, of what was done to X or Y, or won’t let it influence them, and will reveal them. And the big difference between the Ellsberg phase and the world today is that the access to the web, the existence of the web, does make a huge difference. And the stuff can be transmitted, published, very quickly, without even appearing in a mainstream paper. So I think in a way–and they probably know it, which is why the stakes are so high–they’re fighting a losing battle.
RS: Well, except have you read your Orwell lately? Ah–
TA: Well, no. I mean–yes, that would of course be a question of making democracy purely a ritual. So no substance whatsoever.
RS: Let me just jump in on this thing with Ellsberg, because I think it’s important. The reason Daniel Ellsberg–and I’ve done a podcast with him, but I also know him quite well–the reason he speaks out so strongly is he knows, he felt the lash of this kind of character assassination, dismissal. Here was a guy who had been a Marine, he supported the war, he worked for the Pentagon, he was one of the real top, bright guys. And then he realized he had been lied to, and he revealed this history, which is what the Pentagon Papers showed: that the whole effort was a tissue of lies, and that they knew it in real time–the top people, McNamara and Johnson and then others. And what is at issue here, really, is political convenience and opportunism and power taking over logic, fact, decency, morality. That’s really what’s going on.
And the power of your collection here–and by the way, OR Books, I guess, is a smaller publisher, but people–thanks again to the internet, yes, they can go online and get this book in Kindle form, or find some independent bookstore, or get it through Amazon or what have you. So they can have this book within 15 minutes of hearing this podcast. And I would really recommend it, because you may think you know a lot about this case–and every aspect is dealt with. Every single aspect–the indictment, the charges in Sweden, the slander–everything is dealt with, and I think in a ruthlessly honest way, by the way. Ruthlessly honest, you know. And yet at the heart of it is, this is a question of press freedom and the right of citizens to know the truth. That is the issue.
And you have really not talked about the range of Julian’s work. So I want to make that point. I was unaware of the, you know, the attack on Julian–which should be irrelevant anyway–is to say, oh, he’s got an axe to grind against the U.S. government or so forth. OK, even if that were true, shooting the messenger, the publisher of information–which is what Nixon did to Ellsberg, by the way. You know, challenge him, character assassination and so forth, weakening American security and all that. But the reality is that Julian Assange was an equal opportunity [Laughs] exposer of crimes. And he did so with dictators in Africa and the Middle East; he released a lot of information that was very inconvenient to Putin’s government in Russia. And your book makes very clear, in a number of these really detailed and important articles on every level–including from Women Against Rape and so forth, who attack that whole canard against him–that in fact the media has distorted this case, and until it realized that they were going to be the next target, were quite willing to have Julian Assange destroyed.
That is the ugly truth here. That here you have a guy who performed incredibly valuable journalism–and as I say, equal opportunity, and making powerful people around the world uncomfortable–uncomfortable, given a lot of credit for the Arab Spring, for example. And yet there’s a failure to support him. And particularly–I’m part of the liberal, so-called liberal or neoliberal community in the United States. I can tell you, I’m doing this from a university campus, the University of Southern California; I have colleagues here who have told me, I don’t give a rat’s ass about Julian Assange. Or they don’t care about him anymore, even though they may be journalism professors or what have you. It is appalling. And why? Because you know, they’re not–they’re saying if the information that came out was valuable, but it inconvenienced–and let’s cut to the chase here, even though it’s not the basis of the charges against him. What is the big crime that he released this information?
And let’s end on this. In your book, there are a lot of people who say, wait a minute, the Russian connection–there’s no evidence for a Russian connection. Which by the way, even if there was, if the information is information that should be out there, that should be the standard. But in your book, there’s really detailed discussion of the whole case here that is motivating a lot of liberal people, that somehow he came down on the side of Trump. Where on the contrary, first of all, the information that was revealed, we had a right to have. What did Hillary Clinton say in those speeches to Goldman Sachs? Which was, basically, she was going to take these same bankers who caused the Great Recession with her back to Washington. And also the evidence in the Podesta emails of the Democratic National Committee undermining Bernie Sanders’ campaign. You know, nobody ever talks about what was the information revealed; they talked about where did it come from. But in your book, there’s a pretty strong case made that the Russia connection is highly dubious.
TA: Well, it is very dubious. And you know, Julian Assange has denied it to me personally, and to lots of other people. But he’s not being taken seriously, because it doesn’t fit in with the liberal attack on Julian Assange. I mean, there are U.S. democrat senators, Bob–Senator Joe Manchin, for instance, who declared–and I just want to read out what this democrat senator said: ”It will be really good to get him back on United States soil. He is our property, and we can get the facts and the truth from him.” I mean, it’s just disgusting–
RS: How does he get to be their property?
RS: That’s like kidnapping, because he’s not even–he’s not a US citizen.
TA: No. It’s sort of, it’s–it’s the use of gangster language, actually, both in relation to him and others, which has now got so common. And if, you know, if Americans want to know the honest truth, which many of them know, that the people who put Trump into power, I’m afraid, are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and their failures. That’s who put Trump into power, not the leaking of documents which just simply tell the truth. I mean, why should these documents be hidden from the U.S. public? The way the United States functions now, and many European countries as well, is that there are certain things which the public–should be kept from the public. It’s as though citizens were children, and as parents used to say, ”not in front of the children.” And that is how they treat their own citizens. They don’t want them to know. But it’s very difficult now to push this through and carry on behaving as they were decades ago, because of the web and the internet. A lot of rubbish and lies are published on the web, too, but it’s incredibly useful when it comes to revealing information. And this hatred for him, professed by Clinton supporters, don’t challenge what Clinton herself was doing. It was Goldman Sachs, it was the coup in Honduras, et cetera, et cetera. How the hell does that help the Russians in particular? I don’t even understand.
And in any event, any newspaper–serious newspaper with serious editors, and there are very few now, I agree–when handed a piece of information, and after they’ve convinced themselves that this piece of information is actually accurate, they never release, or they shouldn’t release, the name of the source. I mean, that is a golden rule of investigative journalism. If you are convinced by your source–I mean, Sy Hersh does it all the time. Publishes facts about massacres, war crimes all over the world; he carries on doing this; he will not reveal his source. He will say it was someone in intelligence; he will not go beyond that. Does that disqualify the information? I don’t think so. If the journalist in question, whether it’s Sy Hersh or Julian Assange, is proved right.
But Sy Hersh isn’t in prison–fortunately. Julian Assange is. And I think American journalism departments, and American journalists–people who actually believe in the ideology that the press should be free, and not like, as they say constantly in Putin’s Russia–they should do something about it. It’s time to take a stand on Julian, whatever you may think of his personal character or his personal habits–utterly irrelevant in this case. It’s the role he plays, the role he occupies, and why he is getting support from all of us. But we’re not enough to try and stop the extradition. And here the plans are being made for a big demonstration when the court trial begins in February, which could go on for some time. Unless there’s a Labour government, in which case the charges–they might find a way to, you know, challenge the extradition.
RS: Let me wrap this up by saying there’s a human drama here that is appalling. And we’ve talked a lot about Julian Assange, but the real victim here is Chelsea Manning. And here is an incredibly heroic figure. Not originally some famous person, not some highly educated person; not some, you know, person who could articulate a great deal about a lot of things. Sitting there as a low-ranking army personnel person, with access to this data. And says, ”My god, this stuff is horrible. My god, I just saw a video where”–and I’m, you know, I’m putting words in her–in his mouth, then, and Bradley Manning. But you know, my sense of it is this is a person looking at video and saying, ”They’re killing children, they’re killing innocent people, and they’re laughing about it. They are monsters, our own troops, my colleagues are acting as monsters. I have an obligation to get this out there.”
And let’s be clear about one thing that your book that you edited makes very clear. Bradley Manning did not take this material originally to Julian Assange. Bradley Manning took this material, originally tried to get the Washington Post, the New York Times, and others to print it. They were not interested, as I understand. And in the telling of the story in this book, In Defense of Julian Assange, he becomes the publisher of last resort. He’s the one that has the courage to reveal war crimes, which you would think would be the obligation of any publisher.
TA: Yeah. And then having, Julian having done it, these newspapers which refused to touch the material when it was provided directly to them by Manning, are only too happy to use a third party, a mediator, who has taken the risks, done everything, and then they can publish it. I mean, that itself is, in itself is a sad commentary, Bob, on the state of mainstream journalism today. I mean, it just is atrocious.
RS: Well, let’s really nail that one down. And there’s a side issue connected with it. Because first of all, you’ve written a lot about foreign policy, and about communism and everything else. And in fact, there’s a very interesting essay in your collection, I forget who wrote it. But really, this debate between Russia and the United States is not a debate between communism and capitalism. It’s a debate between the 1% in Russia–in post-communist Russia, capitalist Russia–the 1% against the 1% in the U.S., you know, fighting over leverage. And you know, and we have red-baiting without reds. I mean, Putin was elected–actually, Putin was working, you know, for the American-selected leader of Russia. And he was the candidate against the communists, and he was–when Boris Yeltsin was hopelessly drunk, Putin was the one that Yeltsin turned to, to be the candidate in that 2000 election against a communist.
But we have red-baiting without reds. We have red-baiting against a rival cartel economy. And the irony here is that the principle that should be driving everyone is freedom of information, right? Freedom, the right of the public to know. And no one can question that Julian Assange did more than any other single publisher that I know of. After all, the New York Times spread misinformation about the Gulf War; the New York Times spread misinformation about the Vietnam War. I mean, these other publishers don’t have these spotless records, after all, you know. But the irony here is that the character assassination against Julian Assange is used to disparage the importance of his journalism. You know, and the journalism is unquestionably excellent journalism.
You know, if you want to talk about fake news, if it had been fake speeches that Hillary Clinton gave to Goldman Sachs, you could say wait a minute, this guy fabricated, or those were fake videos of U.S. troops shooting innocent civilians. But no one has questioned the veracity. In fact, they have actually accused Julian of releasing too much of the information, because in the early release there were names and so forth. They wanted him, as most journalists of the establishment do, to redact it, so you don’t get into these security issues, and then Julian Assange and WikiLeaks performed differently. But the fact of the matter is, no one has questioned the veracity of the information, or said it was cherry-picked or distorted, or anything else. The mainstream media made a living off this information from this publisher, when they themselves didn’t have the guts to run it. And then they turned on him. That’s the reality.
And the crucifixion of Julian Assange–which is really what’s going on. Because if the man is driven mad, if he’s destroyed–and as I say, even more so–we haven’t spent time, because this book is not called “in defense of Chelsea Manning.” But for my money, the real hero here is Chelsea Manning. This is the person that is now sacrificing her freedom. So instead of just turning on Julian Assange–if she had turned on Julian Assange, she’d be a hero to the very people in the Democratic Party who are now, you know, trying to crucify Julian Assange. So Chelsea Manning has shown, from beginning to end, an incredible courage. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a more courageous person on the side of freedom of information than Chelsea Manning. And I don’t want that lost in this podcast, because that’s the thought I had in reading this book. Their effort now to get Julian Assange really depends on breaking Chelsea Manning, who as we speak is in prison.
TA: I couldn’t agree more, Bob. I mean, what Chelsea, then Bradley Manning, did as a very junior operative in signals in the U.S. military intelligence, working for the U.S. Army took a hell of a lot of guts and courage. And one can only imagine the impact of watching these crimes being committed day in and day out, and finally watching things he just–at that time, he–couldn’t simply accept anymore. That is when he broke, if you like, from the system and its pattern of lies and evasions and cover-ups, and came out. And then was locked up, kept in horrible conditions in the United States, finally released–the one useful, decent, halfway decent thing Obama did. And then captured again. Let’s not say ”arrested”; captured by the U.S. judicial system, and told to testify against Julian. And if she did so, obviously, she would have been–you know, she’s kept very strong, I mean very, very strong faith in what she did, and in what he did. And it is to their enormous credit that we are where we are in our knowledge of what happened in the case, particularly of war crimes in Iraq. No doubt in 25 years’ time everyone will be saying it like they never believed us when we said it about Vietnam till My Lai erupted; then they said the My Lai massacre was just, you know, a bad–a bad thing, it wasn’t like that. But we now know it was like that. And this wasn’t the only massacre that was carried out.
And so Julian has reminded us of all that history in the publication of U.S. diplomatic documents. Now the irony here is, Bob, which we should just register, is that some of the stuff being sent by American embassies secretly, in classified encryptions back to DC and the State Department, contained some very useful information from some intelligent U.S. diplomats, contradicting the public stuff the politicians were coming up with, and giving an account privately, or in private documents, of what was actually going on in the country they were based in. I mean, very useful stuff for any investigative journalist. So even on that level, they shouldn’t have been victimizing him. And the later Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, saying that he’s running a privatized intelligence agency–now, think about that. What the hell is a privatized intelligence agency? I mean–
RS: I’ll tell you what it is, and we’re going to close with this. Everyone likes a whistleblower as long as he’s blowing the whistle on their opponent, or in some other regime, or so forth. And you know, [Laughs] Donald Trump–I don’t know why I’m laughing, but it’s such a bizarre situation–at one point praised Julian Assange, because he’s taking on the democrats. And now of course he’s the man that’s going to kill Julian Assange, one way or another; drive him mad, try to drag him to a maximum security prison in the United States and throw away the key until the guy’s a blithering idiot. And that’s what it’s all about. But that’s all the hypocrisy we can explore in this limited time. I’ve been talking to Tariq Ali, who along with Margaret Kunstler has collected an incredible book. I mean, you’ve got to get ahold of this book if you really want to understand. And In Defense of Julian Assange is really in defense of press freedom.
We recorded at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism where Bobby Prom was the engineer. We want to thank KCRW for hosting this show, and Christopher Ho is our editor there. And Joshua Scheer is the overall producer of Scheer Intelligence, and thank him for lining up our guests and setting the tone for this program. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.
Robert Scheer Documentary: "Above the Fold"
“Robert Scheer: Above the Fold” profiles the renowned journalist whose six-decade career spans Ramparts magazine, the legendary San Francisco muckraker; the Los Angeles Times, where he wrote a nationally syndicated column; and Truthdig, the award-winning news site. The film also recounts Scheer’s involvement in Berkeley politics, including a campaign for Congress in the 1960s. His extraordinary body of work reminds us that journalism, at its best, is about pursuing the truth at all costs.