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Freeing Julian Assange: the last chapter

by John Pilger


One of the epic miscarriages of justice of our time is unravelling. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention – the international tribunal that adjudicates and decides whether governments comply with their human rights obligations – has ruled that Julian Assange has been detained unlawfully by Britain and Sweden.

After five years of fighting to clear his name – having been smeared relentlessly yet charged with no crime – Assange is closer to justice and vindication, and perhaps freedom, than at any time since he was arrested and held in London under a European Extradition Warrant, itself now discredited by Parliament.

The UN Working Group bases its judgements on the European Convention on Human Rights and three other treaties that are binding on all its signatories. Both Britain and Sweden participated in the 16-month long UN investigation and submitted evidence and defended their position before the tribunal. It would fly contemptuously in the face of international law if they did not comply with the judgement and allow Assange to leave the refuge granted him by the Ecuadorean government in its London embassy.

In previous, celebrated cases ruled upon by the Working Group – Aung Sang Suu Kyi in Burma, imprisoned opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia, detained Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian in Iran – both Britain and Sweden have given support to the tribunal. The difference now is that Assange’s persecution and confinement endures in the heart of London.

The Assange case has never been primarily about allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden. The Stockholm Chief Prosecutor, Eva Finne, dismissed the case, saying, “I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape” and one of the women involved accused the police of fabricating evidence and “railroading” her, protesting she “did not want to accuse JA of anything”. A second prosecutor mysteriously re-opened the case after political intervention, then stalled it.

The Assange case is rooted across the Atlantic in Pentagon-dominated Washington, obsessed with pursuing and prosecuting whistleblowers, especially Assange for having exposed, in WikiLeaks, US capital crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq: the wholesale killing of civilians and a contempt for sovereignty and international law. None of this truth-telling is illegal under the US Constitution. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama, a professor of constitutional law, lauded whistleblowers as:

…part of a healthy democracy [and they] must be protected from reprisal”.

Obama, the betrayer, has since prosecuted more whistleblowers than all the US presidents combined. The courageous Chelsea Manning is serving 35 years in prison, having been tortured during her long pre-trial detention.

The prospect of a similar fate has hung over Assange like a Damocles sword. According to documents released by Edward Snowden, Assange is on a “Manhunt target list”. Vice-President Joe Biden has called him a “cyber terrorist”. In Alexandra, Virginia, a secret grand jury has attempted to concoct a crime for which Assange can be prosecuted in a court. Even though he is not an American, he is currently being fitted up with an espionage law dredged up from a century ago when it was used to silence conscientious objectors during the First World War; the Espionage Act has provisions of both life imprisonment and the death penalty.

Assange’s ability to defend himself in this Kafkaesque world has been handicapped by the US declaring his case a state secret. A federal court has blocked the release of all information about what is known as the “national security” investigation of WikiLeaks.

The supporting act in this charade has been played by the second Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny. Until recently, Ny had refused to comply with a routine European procedure that required her to travel to London to question Assange and so advance the case that James Catlin, one of Assange’s barristers, called:

a laughing stock … it’s as if they make it up as they go along”.

Indeed, even before Assange had left Sweden for London in 2010, Marianne Ny made no attempt to question him. In the years since, she has never properly explained, even to her own judicial authorities, why she has not completed the case she so enthusiastically re-ignited – just as the she has never explained why she has refused to give Assange a guarantee that he will not be extradited on to the US under a secret arrangement agreed between Stockholm and Washington. In 2010, the Independent in London revealed that the two governments had discussed Assange’s onward extradition.

Then there is tiny, brave Ecuador. One of the reasons Ecuador granted Julian Assange political asylum was that his own government, in Australia, had offered him none of the help to which he had a legal right and so abandoned him. Australia’s collusion with the United States against its own citizen is evident in leaked documents; no more faithful vassals has America than the obeisant politicians of the Antipodes.

Four years ago, in Sydney, I spent several hours with the Liberal Member of the Federal Parliament, Malcolm Turnbull. We discussed the threats to Assange and their wider implications for freedom of speech and justice, and why Australia was obliged to stand by him. Turnbull is now the Prime Minister of Australia and, as I write, is attending an international conference on Syria hosted the Cameron government – about 15 minutes’ cab ride from the room that Julian Assange has occupied for three and a half years in the small Ecuadorean embassy just along from Harrods.

The Syria connection is relevant if unreported; it was WikiLeaks that revealed that the United States had long planned to overthrow the Assad government in Syria. Today, as he meets and greets, Prime Minister Turnbull has an opportunity to contribute a modicum of purpose and truth to the conference by speaking up for his unjustly imprisoned compatriot, for whom he showed such concern when we met. All he need do is quote the judgement of the UN Working Party on Arbitrary Detention. Will he reclaim this shred of Australia’s reputation in the decent world?

What is certain is that the decent world owes much to Julian Assange. He told us how indecent power behaves in secret, how it lies and manipulates and engages in great acts of violence, sustaining wars that kill and maim and turn millions into the refugees now in the news. Telling us this truth alone earns Assange his freedom, whereas justice is his right.


  1. Manda says

    Assange has responded to Cameron today at PMQ stating Assange was wanted for trial.

  2. meh says

    Assange says he is annoyed by anyone that questions the impossible official account of 9/11. Nothing he “leaked” was a secret, and no wars were stopped, and new ones started. Pilger is on record saying the most “plausible” explanation for 9/11, was that “they let it happen”. It is not plausible John, that building 7 can fall at freefall acceleration for ~2.5 seconds, because “they let it happen”. They are both, willfully ignorant, or deliberately deceptive.


    • Many people think the 9/11 issue is a tar pit. Even acknowledging the obvious fact there are unanswered questions allows those so inclined to label one a “conspiracy theorist” which of course is now a synonym for ‘lunatic”. Whether they are right to dodge the question or simply cowardly is another thing. Having said that, some of the nuttier theories about how the towers were brought down does deter people from keeping an open mind on the subject. Judy Wood, anyone? Space beams? What is that all about?

      • Tom Turner says

        Regarding the strange case of 9/11, this documentary is excellent. It’s called ‘9/11 In The Academic Community’. Scholars talk about the taboo of the whole subject and its effect on history and academia etc.

      • meh says

        Thanks for your response and allowing me to have my say.

        If 9/11 was/is, in fact, a false flag event to push forward a particular agenda by the powers that be, then it is not unreasonable that they would engage tactics of obfuscation, misinformation, and disinformation. A lot of those that pretend to be on the side of truth and justice, are in fact working as hard as they can to subvert such causes.

        However, it is not just about the unanswered questions, it is the official account itself, that is Impossible. Without even having to consider Judy Wood, holograms, or that it was the Jews, there is absolutely zero evidence of any substance that can withstand the slightest scrutiny, that proves the official account beyond all reasonable doubt.

        For Assange and Pilger, to then claim what they do, should be a big red flag to anyone with a functioning cognisant ability, to doubt their motives for anything and everything else they do.

        9/11 is the litmus test.

        The consensus is in.

        • Tom Turner says

          I suppose one of the reasons Assange leaves 9/11 well alone is that it might change people’s perceptions of him and WikiLeaks even further. One reason the US government might want him silenced is that he has the potential to reveal something unsavoury about the events of that day. That being said, you only need to watch any documentary about Paul Thompson’s 9/11 Timeline to discover that even the MSM reported numerous accounts of warnings for the attacks. At the very least, Bush and Co. knew there was a viable threat against New York, but they lied about it and did nothing.

          • O Lucky Man! says

            I would agree that people like Assange and Pilger are in a position where up to this time, and still now, it would be more detrimental than beneficial for them to voice support for 9/11 as an active false flag. They, along with others like Chomsky, who are often accused of being blind to this truth have a much wider field of work that they are shedding light on largely removed from 9/11. In the prevailing media climate it would be all too easy for them and their wider work to be dismissed with the puerile “conspiracy theorist” tag that the mainstream world is still programmed to spasm away from like Dracula beholding a cross. I suspect that while they may personally hold deeper doubts than they state it would completely box them into a corner and drain the energy they currently put into bringing awareness into other much needed areas.

            The actual quote from Assange on this is –

            “I’m constantly annoyed that people are distracted by false conspiracies such as 9/11, when all around we provide evidence of real conspiracies, for war or mass financial fraud.”

            Which if you read between the lines is really what he appears to be saying – focus on what I am bringing forward, forbear me that particular cross.

            Interesting to note the praise rightly lavished on the late Michael Meacher on the consensus911.org site linked to. He effectively takes the same stance as Pilger, which is as far as the mainstream allows any public figure to go on 9/11 – they let it happen. I would urge people who have studied this in depth and have seen the reality of the big lie for what it is to be mindful of the media machinations of empire that surround figures with a public profile.

            You may not agree with every opinion of Pilger or Chomsky, may find fault in Assange’s character, but to dismiss all they have brought to the table over the years because they do not want to be drawn on this subject that would derail their wider work seems myopic in the extreme. There are shades of grey out there. Not everyone is a black hat or a white hat. People who operate within the confines of the construct to get their message out to a wider audience have limits as to what they feel they can say.

            Yes, I am waiting desperately for the day that this is no longer the case and that the whole sickening facade collapses, but the Pilgers and the Assanges are digging against it, opening faults in the fetid tangle of fraud, corruption and bullshit in their own ways that are helping undermine and disable it. A full on frontal assault is not always the best strategy, but the day is coming closer when we will be able to truly kick this rotten facade down for all to see, and I feel it will be in no small part thanks to the attrition that these figures have inflicted.

            • meh says

              O lucky, and Tom… I understand your position, and do not entirely disagree with them but…

              ( i know that sounds like one saying, Im not a racist, but.. )

              these people are respected, or have high profiles.. or what they say, carries a lot of weight amongs a lot of people..

              If they only spoke the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, then all these wars since 9/11… could have, and in my opinion would have.. been avoided. the whole world would have been spared theis “oh youre a conspiracy theorist” bullshit… and the guilty would be swinging in the breeze.. or rotting in hell..

              that is millions of lives saved. if that is not worth doing it for.. then what is. celebrity?

              • meh says

                also .. in case youre unaware..
                before wikileaks, there was a site called cryptome.org

                cryptome.org, the original wikileaks.
                they actually were involved with assange for a while there, and knew him quite well. things didnt end on good terms. a little searching through their archives using the right keywords can be quite revealling into the whole affair.

                theres also things about transparency regarding funds raised by wikileaks.. where all the money went. for someone interested in shining a light in the dark places, assange himself is quite secretive.

                also i remeber controversy about a fund set up for chelsea manning.. how much of that went to manning? anything?

                he is not always painted in the best light, by people who know him well.. and really, for me, he doesnt pass the sniff test.

                I thank the people here for allowing me to express my thoughts and engaing in a proper discussion.. and sharing their opinions – on plenty of other sites, If i didnt say anything other than what a hero assange was, Id be howled down.

                pleasant surprise. thats probably about all i want to say – cheers

                • O Lucky Man! says

                  I get where you are coming from too. I would say this though, I don’t think you will find many people out there without flaws of one sort or another. Having worked with a couple of people who’s work in this field I greatly admire I am aware that this does not in any way make them immaculate in all aspects of their life. We are all human and full of tangles of contradictions in our emotions, egos and psyches.

                  Those that are motivated to put themselves into the public eye, boldly challenging the weight of mainstream rhetoric, will have aspects in their character that many of us don’t possess. For example even as a simple commenter on this forum I am happier not to use an identifying name, and as far as I can see the majority of editors who have been visionary and dedicated enough to make this site such a powerful challenge to the empire’s narrative prefer to remain largely pseudonymous.

                  If Assange pisses people off in his personal relationships and hasn’t always done the right thing I can allow that on balance as human nature rearing its lovely old head. I’m not inclined to equate personal faults with evidence of a hidden darker agenda, but then we must all make our own judgement calls on this kind of thing.

            • meh says

              @ O lucky..
              ” I’m not inclined to equate personal faults with evidence of a hidden darker agenda,”

              myself, Im not inclined to let evidence of a hidden darker agenda equate to personal faults. 🙂


        • Tom Turner says

          This documentary is excellent. It’s called ‘9/11 In The Academic Community’. Scholars talk about the unusually strange taboo of the whole subject and its negative effect on the way history is recorded, reviewed, analysed and reappraised etc.

  3. Tom Turner says

    At the end of last week, I posted a link to John Pilger’s authoritative piece about the facts behind the Julian Assange case below a number of ignorant and offensive CiF comments. The comments were below an anti-Assange opinion piece. My comment merely said “Read the facts…” followed by the link. All instances of the link were quickly deleted and I’m now being pre-moderated. It seems the Guardian really dislike the facts and Mr Assange.

  4. ex-Guardian commentator says

    Hi John, thank you for this article. You have written for The Guardian, whose anti-Assange sentiments are well-known. Can you or someone else explain what is going with the vindictive and frankly laughable approach the Guardian has taken to the judgement of the UN Working Group? The Guardian is normally quite supportive of the UN, so what makes it take the extreme step of brushing that judgement aside, without argument? There was its bizarre editorial, but most extreme was the opinion piece by Martina Hyde, which for 90% consisted of ad hominem attacks on the Working Group’s members and on Assange, with the rest made up of easily refutable rubbish. What’s going on? Has the Guardian been instructed to wage some kind of anti-Assange campaign? If so, by whom, and for what price?

    Directly related to this, what’s going on with the moderation in this respect on CiF? I have written about 10 posts in reaction to Hyde’s article. They were strongly-worded sometimes, but none of them abusive or in any other way falling foul of its house rules. All were deleted, apart from one post, a one-line comment praising some else’s comment bringing some actual facts into the discussion. Other posters began commenting on the many pro-Assange comments that were being deleted, until these posts were deleted as well. So the remaining thread looks like some kind of cleaned-up Kafka-esque version of what was really being written.

    After posting another five comments pointing out the many comments that were being deleted, I’ve been put on pre-moderation. I’ll be writing to the Guardian to complain, and then will stop going there and hence will stop commenting. I also will not renew my Guardian supporter membership.

  5. Pilger’s essays have a lyrical world weariness as time and again, in case after case, he shows how the empire invents lie after lie to justify its oppressions against individuals, groups and states that oppose its agendas. Charges of rape or sexual impropriety are favourite propaganda tools intended to strip away support, inhibit challenge and distract from monstrous nature of the empire’s own and real crimes.

    • Mihangel apYrs says

      as they did with Roger Casement . . .

  6. Jane Crow says

    Delighted there’s signs the UN is not entirely cowed by the USA, by rightly deciding in favour of Assange. Disgusted by my own UK government and the lies and disinformation spread by MSM, including the BBC which has become a full-on Tory propaganda machine. Whistleblowers should be protected, not hunted. That’s at every level, from care home to Secret Services.

    Thank you John Pilger, Julian Assange, Ed Snowden, Chelsea Manning and all the other fighters for true democracy by giving so much of your own lives. True courage.

    • Mihangel apYrs says

      the BBC refer to the Syrian govt as a “regime”. It is a pity that they are not so punctilious about the plethora of dictatorships scattered across Africa, Me, and, well, everywhere

    • Manda says

      “Delighted there’s signs the UN is not entirely cowed by the USA, by rightly deciding in favour of Assange.”

      Me too. I am impressed by the braveness of the group, I too have become increasingly depressed by the UN being apparently co opted and cowed by US and allied agenda.

      The current UK government is an embarrassment. Hammond shames his office and UK citizens with his arrogant and mocking remarks regarding this UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruling.
      I suppose his comments set the tone for the corporate media et al to follow…

  7. Seamus Padraig says

    Thank God for Julian Assange … and Ed Snowden, and Chelsea Manning! They did their bit for society.

  8. Amer Hudson says

    A powerful essay. And then we get the shameful response from Hammond, as was to be expected.

  9. Laila khan says

    Waiting for this committee to make some similar pronouncement about the military detention of Pakestinian children and adult peace activists

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