Saving Julian Assange is Saving Ourselves

The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner issued a statement based on special-rapporteur-on-torture Nils Melzer’s fact-finding mission into the incarceration of WikiLeaks founder and publisher Julian Assange. The facts were a scathing indictment of those nations behind the targeting of Assange.

‘The evidence is overwhelming and clear,’ the expert said. ‘Mr. Assange has been deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture.’

The more immediate concern, as Assange’s father made known, is his fear for the life of his son. Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson iterated the concern for her client’s life on Friday (15 November).

If all sentient life is sacred, then surely Assange’s life must be saved. Assange works from the principle that the people have the right to know what their governments are doing. Thus Assange is working on behalf of the wider humanity. As such, it is incumbent upon the peoples of the world to protect Assange, if not out of concern for his well-being and regard for the sacrifice he has performed for humanity — then because doing so is in people’s own self-interest.

Recently, RT devoted a portion of a news video to the “power of protest.”

Is there a power of protest? Or is this too simplistic? For a protest to have power, it must have the overwhelming support of the masses, and it must be sustainable — not a one-off.

In 2003, as the US-UK invasion of Iraq was approaching, an estimated two million people took to the streets of London to protest launching a war. United States president George W. Bush was dismissive of the protestors, likening them to a “focus group.” The massive anti-war protests fizzled out, and the illegal attack on Iraq began. The then United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan stated the US-led invasion violated the UN Charter.

The devastation received scrutiny. A John Hopkins University epidemiological study estimated as many as 654,965 excess mortalities in Iraq. Particularly incriminating for the invading nations was the release of the “Collateral Murder” video by WikiLeaks. The video depicts a US Apache helicopter gunning down people in a Baghdad street and also those who came to the victims’ aid.

WikiLeaks put a spotlight on the war crimes committed by the US in Iraq. For the act of informing on the war crimes, Assange has found himself languishing many years in some form of incarceration, lately under extremely grueling conditions in Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh.1

In an earlier article, I adumbrated four avenues to bring about the release of Assange (to which I add one more avenue):

1. The fourth estate, especially the western state/corporate media needs to do what it exists to do: to use the power and influence of its wide reach to advocate and frame political issues for the good of society. This, however, in the case of the western state/corporate media is equivalent to beating a dead dog.2

2. The second suggestion has already passed by, as the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to award the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize to Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmedmay. Ahmedmay is an otherwise seemingly deserving choice, and he has done much to promote peace in his region. However, Ahmedmay walks around freely. He does not suffer in a prison. Making Assange a Nobel Peace Prize laureate would have gone far to thwart his extradition to a rogue superpower. In addition, awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to a publisher who exposed the malignancy of war might have thrown a wrench into future warmongering by the US (as Syria, Iran, Palestine, Yemen, and North Korea among others still find themselves in the American crosshairs). In other words, the Nobel Peace Prize would arguably have better served Alfred Nobel’s intended purpose: to end war and promote peace.

3. Invoke the political machinery of the UN. The UN has demonstrated negligible power of persuasion over recalcitrant nation states to abide by the UN Charter, the Declaration of Human Rights, or other international laws. The UN’s Security Council, which is charged with primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, is often hamstrung by the inegalitarian allotment of vetoes to its permanent five members. So egregious can the UN’s role be that lawyers Abdul Haq Al-Ani and Tarik al-Ani strongly argued the UN is complicit in a genocide committed in Iraq.3

4. That leaves people power. The force to challenge the might of the military-governmental-industrial structure is people power — the power of the masses.

In Brazil many people held vigils for former president Lula Da Silva who recently was released from lock-up. Dozens rally for freeing Assange now. There was a larger rally for Assange in London earlier this month. There is support elsewhere in the world, including in his country of birth, Australia.

5. One could add the power and influence of government as a fifth structure, but it is well known that the US government is a bought institution.4 Among progressives running to be the next presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, Tulsi Gabbard has been at the forefront in advocating justice for Assange; Bernie Sanders has also been acceptable in his more cautious approach to Assange. The faux progressive Elizabeth Warren has been a disappointment.

It should be mentioned that a glimmer of hope has appeared in some political latecomers who are organizing for Assange in Australia.

Some might say that the so-called justice system should be cited as an avenue to achieve justice for Assange, but the entire process from Sweden to Britain and the US reveals such a hope to be farcical.

People Power and China

Assange cannot expect much support coming from the world’s most populous country. His case is not widely reported in China, and he has not made himself popular with some comments regarding Chinese censorship.

Assange said, “Journalism and writing is capable of achieving change which is why Chinese authorities are so scared of it.”

In an interview with the New Statesman, he said:

China has aggressive and sophisticated interception technology that places itself between every reader inside China and every information source outside China. We’ve been fighting a running battle to make sure we can get information through, and there are now all sorts of ways Chinese readers can get on to our site.

Yet WikiLeaks revelations on CIA spying caused China to denounce US hacking.

Surely, Assange must be aware of US machinations against China: hacking, funding rebels, disinformation, etc.5 I am all for the free access to information, but one must differentiate between information that upholds the people’s right-to-know and disinformation that is used for deception and other ulterior purposes. A country has a right to combat disinformation.6 The Chinese state does go beyond censoring disinformation, as it attempts to control some veracious information and deserves criticism in this regard.

Building an Effective People Power Movement

Unless the people power protests are of enormous size and sustained, it will only be a resistance blip on the radar. Depending on how much people value their right-to-know; how much they are opposed to the killing of people living far away (or near) who have never lifted a finger against them, their family, their neighbors, their countrymen and women; how much they are dedicated to justice for all humans; and whether they will engage in further sacrifice: for example, participate in a general strike. This will hurt corporations and send a signal to politicians who fear losing political prestige and influence. As an additional measure, people should consider abandoning reader- and viewer-ship of monopoly media, hurting their bottom line and spooking their investors.

This is a fight people must not lose. The protection and liberation of Assange would be a victory for all those who are unjustly incarcerated everywhere; a victory for the people’s right-to-know and the empowerment of the people (knowledge, they say, is power); a victory for the anti-war crowd; a victory for freedom of the press; and, of course, a victory-of-sorts for Assange and WikiLeaks. It is one victory, but a journey of a 1000 miles begins with one step.

Most importantly, it would be a victory for humanity.7

Closing Words

Assange’s life is imperiled. Chelsea Manning is being fined $500 for the first 30 days in custody and $1,000 for every day in custody after 60 days — and that was back in Mid-May. Where are the people now? In 2013, cyber-activist Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to 10 years jail time for providing 5 million emails to WikiLeaks on “the often very questionable activities” of a government contractor.

Whistleblowers, courageous publishers, and selfless hackers throw light on the criminal activities committed by our governments. They do all of us a great service, and they must be protected.

The fate of Julian Assange and others will stand as a testimony to the moral turpitude of people and their power or stand as an indictment to the bystanders among us. The extradition of Assange would not be just a failure to save Assange (and and throw a wrench into the works to gain the release of others unjustly incarcerated); it would be a failure to save ourselves.

  1. Julian Assange is one among others who put themselves in danger of recriminations from empire. Chelsea Manning and other whistleblowers and activists have also been persecuted for their courage in exposing the crimes of state. []
  2. Whistleblower Edward Snowden recently criticized the mass media for failing its audience. []
  3. See Genocide in Iraq: The Case against the UN Security Council and Member States (Clarity Press, 2013). []
  4. Greg Palast, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (2002). []
  5. Not to imply such actions are a one-way street, but using fire is often cited as the best way to fight fire. []
  6. Following four days of detailed information on the method and operation of disinformation, as well as relevant international law and conventions on propaganda, the Halifax International Symposium on Media and Disinformation participants unanimously found, “Disinformation—its creation and propagation—is a crime against humanity and a crime against peace.” []
  7. I wrote some articles addressing what our responsibility is regarding people of conscience who sacrificed themselves for the wider humanity and then found themselves abused by the establishment. See Kim Petersen, “Protecting Julian Assange: A Must for People of Conscience,” Global Research, 5 April 2019; “What Should “We” Do About Julian Assange?Global Research, 24 July 2019. []
Kim Petersen is a former co-editor of the Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be reached at: kimohp@gmail.com. Twitter: @kimpetersen. Read other articles by Kim.