Freedom of the press now rests with the dissidents on the internet who belong to no club but, like Julian Assange, produce fine, disobedient, moral journalism, writes John Pilger.
When I first met Julian Assange more than 10 years ago, I asked him why he had started WikiLeaks. He replied: “Transparency and accountability are moral issues that must be the essence of public life and journalism.”
I had never heard a publisher or editor invoke morality in this way. Assange believes that journalists are the agents of people, not power: that we, the people, have a right to know about the darkest secrets of those who claim to act in our name.
If the powerful lie to us, we have the right to know. If they say one thing in private and the opposite in public, we have the right to know. If they conspire against us, as George W. Bush and Tony Blair did over Iraq, then pretend to be democrats, we have the right to know.
It is this morality of purpose that so threatens the collusion of powers that want to plunge much of the world into war and to bury Assange alive in Trump’s fascist America.
In 2008, a top-secret US State Department report described in detail how the United States would combat this new moral threat posed by Assange. A secretly directed personal smear campaign would lead to “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”.
The aim was to silence and criminalise WikiLeaks and its founder. Page after page of the report revealed a coming war on a single human being and on the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of thought and democracy.
The shock troops would be those who called themselves journalists: the big hitters of the “mainstream”, especially the “liberals” who mark and patrol the perimeters of dissent.
And that is what happened. A reporter for more than 50 years, I have never known a smear campaign like it: the fabricated character assassination of a man who refused to join the club: who believed journalism was a service to the public, never to those above.
Assange shamed his persecutors. He produced scoop after scoop. He exposed the fraudulence of wars promoted by the media and the homicidal nature of America’s wars, the corruption of dictators, the evils of Guantanamo.
He forced us in the West to look in the mirror. He exposed the official truth-tellers in the media as collaborators. None believed Assange when he warned his life was in danger: that the “sex scandal” in Sweden was a set-up and an American hellhole was the ultimate destination. He was right, and repeatedly so.
US indictment a sham
The extradition hearing in London this week is the final act of an Anglo-American campaign to bury Assange. It is not due process. It is due revenge. The American indictment is clearly rigged, a demonstrable sham. So far, the hearings have been reminiscent of their Stalinist equivalents during the Cold War.
Today, the land that gave us Magna Carta, Great Britain, is distinguished by the abandonment of its own sovereignty in allowing a malign foreign power to manipulate justice and allow the vicious psychological torture of Assange – a form of torture, as Nils Melzer the UN expert has pointed out, that was refined by the Nazis because it was most effective in breaking its victims.
Every time I have visited Assange in Belmarsh prison, I have seen the effects of this torture. When I last saw him, he had lost more than 10 kilos; his arms had no muscle. Incredibly, his wicked sense of humor was intact.
As for Assange’s homeland, Australia has displayed a cringeing cowardice. Not for nothing did George W. Bush anoint the Australian prime minister his “deputy sheriff”.
It is said that whatever happens to Assange in the next three weeks will diminish, if not destroy, freedom of the press in the West. But which press? The Guardian? The BBC, The New York Times, Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post?
No, the journalists in these organisations can breathe freely. The Judases on the Guardian who flirted with Assange, exploited his landmark work, made their pile and then betrayed him, have nothing to fear. They are safe because they are needed.
Freedom of the press now rests with the honourable few: the dissidents on the internet who belong to no club, who are neither rich nor laden with Pulitzers but, like Julian Assange, produce fine, disobedient, moral journalism.
Meanwhile, it is our responsibility to stand by a true journalist whose courage ought to be inspiration to all of us who still believe that freedom is possible. I salute him.
This piece is the latest in a long series of investigations and films on the Julian Assange case by John Pilger, all of which are archived at www.johnpilger.com.