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On Contact: The Julian Assange case

On the show, Chris Hedges talks to documentary filmmaker and investigative journalist John Pilger about the upcoming appeals hearing in London for the Julian Assange case.

On Sept. 26, Yahoo! News published ‘Kidnapping, assassination and a London shoot-out: Inside the CIA’s secret war plans against WikiLeaks’. The article detailed discussions within the CIA to kidnap or assassinate Julian Assange. The revelations came a month before a hearing in Britain’s High Court that will see the US government appeal a decision that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange cannot be sent to the United States to face espionage charges. These revelations also coincided with the arrest of an Icelandic man who played a major role in the FBI’s case against Assange and who has now admitted he lied in his testimony about Assange to US federal investigators. The most recent revelations, coupled with the numerous legal anomalies of the Assange case, including leaks that show that the Spanish security firm at Ecuador’s Embassy in London, where Assange sought refuge for seven years, turned over recordings of his meetings with his lawyers to the CIA, amply illustrate that the judicial pantomime carried out against Assange is a political persecution led by the US government and the CIA because of embarrassing and damaging revelations about the inner workings of the US military, intelligence agencies, and the political class repeatedly exposed by Assange and WikiLeaks. The goal of the US government is to shut down WikiLeaks and organizations like it, and to make an example of Assange, who, if he is extradited to the United States, faces 175 years in prison, to dissuade others who might consider replicating his courageous reporting. The upcoming appeals hearing is on October 27 and 28 at Britain’s High Court, London.

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Chris Hedges: Welcome to On Contact.  Today, we discuss the upcoming extradition hearing in London of Julian Assange.

John Pilger: This is a CIA operation.  Anyone who knows the United States well knows the power of the CIA, the extrajudicial power of the CIA, the extra governmental power of the CIA.  That’s what this is.  All right.  Pompeo may have been a sort of a Hermann Goering look alike, and a clown, but he was a serious--he was a serious head of the CIA.  And that same CIA, which is in league with the Department of Justice, led by several of the more extreme people in the--in the DOJ wants Assange.  And, you know, it--it’s, like, just before we came, it all goes back to this.  This is--this is what you’ve probably seen, 2008, one of WikiLeaks, first major leaks.  It’s March the 18th 2008.  It’s from the US Army Counterintelligence Assessment branch, Department of Defense.  You read through this document, it lays out everything that happened from 2010, that we will get Assange by smearing him, by discrediting him, by destroying trust in WikiLeaks.  And that from here on, investigative journalism of this kind, in other words serious investigative journalism, is our enemy.

CH: On September 26, Yahoo! News published “Kidnapping, assassination, and a London shoot-out: Inside the CIA’s secret war plans against WikiLeaks.”  The article detailed discussions within the CIA to kidnap or assassinate Julian Assange.  The revelations came a month before a hearing in Britain’s High Court that will see the US government appeal a decision that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange cannot be sent to the United States to face espionage charges.  These revelations also coincided with the arrest of an Icelandic man who played a major role in the FBI’s case against Assange, and who has now admitted he lied in his testimony about Assange to US federal investigators.  The most recent revelations coupled with a numerous legal anomalies of the Assange case, including leaks that show that the Spanish security firm at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where Assange sought refuge for seven years, turned over recordings of his meetings with lawyers to the CIA amply illustrate that the judicial pantomime carried out against Julian Assange is a political persecution led by the US government and the CIA because of embarrassing and damaging revelations about the inner workings of the US military, intelligence community, and the political class repeatedly exposed by Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.  The goal of the US government is to shut down WikiLeaks and organizations like WikiLeaks, and to make an example of Julian Assange who, if he is extradited to the United States, faces 175 years in prison to dissuade others who might consider replicating his courageous reporting.  Joining me to discuss the Assange case and the upcoming hearing in London on October 27th and 28th is the documentary filmmaker and investigative journalist John Pilger.  So John, you have been, from the moment this began, one of the most outspoken and eloquent defenders of Julian, but just re-capsulate if you can a little bit about what has brought us to this point and why we’re having this hearing.

JP: Well, this is a show trial.  I’ve actually sat in on show trials.  And this is a show trial.  All that very relevant evidence you’ve mentioned in your preamble, the--particularly, the crucial witness, known as teenager, who has admitted that he fabricated all the evidence.  So, any case in any court, in any common law country would be thrown out just on the basis of that, just that one thing alone, but nothing will happen.  Nothing--because that’s what this is.  It’s a political show trial right from the beginning.  Some people hearing that will say that sounds like agitprop, it isn’t.  I’ve sat in courtrooms watching Julian now, I suppose since, what, 2010.  And it’s become increasingly bizarre, the last high court hearing which allowed the US to extend the terms of its appeal against a lower court judge who in fact in February said that Julian--if Julian is extradited, then he’s likely to take his own life.  The extension of the terms of the US appeal were absolutely absurd.  None of the relevant evidence, especially that which you’ve mentioned, and especially this latest revelation, I have to say though, Chris, coming up on many revelations over the years, there are a number of things wrong with this particular revelation, but its overall sense is correct.  And that is that--in fact, it’s really confirming what they’ve already done.  They’ve kidnapped Julian Assange, when the police went in on April 2019 into the Ecuadorian embassy, they kidnapped him.  They’ve rendered him to Belmarsh Prison.  And all that’s waiting for him now is a show trial and a possible assassination.  Now, I think assassination is unlikely.  If it was going to happen, it would have happened by now.  But certainly, that when you have--when you have--let me explain it.  In Britain, when you have a lower court judge, who said surprisingly, and she said it only in--said it in February, only because the evidence was too blatant, too obvious that Julian, who suffers from Asperger’s disease, had already made attempts on his own life.  That was terrible.  One day in court, we sat through and heard how Julian had called the Samaritans.  They found razor blades in his cell.  All the kind of evidence that made those of us who are his friends rather shiver, his father was sitting next to me with his head in his hand, this was something that judge could not ignore.  So, she had to go against--she had to go against the narrative, the preordained narrative.  There’s no question this is a preordained narrative.  We watched her after an argument between the two sides that have gone on for now, opened her laptop, and read their decision, which have been prewritten, precooked.  So that’s a show trial.  So she said, “No, he can’t be extradited on that basis.”  And the US since February, have tried to whittle down this--the terms of the appeal, and that is Julian’s mental health will be affected to such a degree that he will make an attempt on his own life.  If--no one has ever been--to my knowledge, no one in recent years has ever been extradited from Britain when a lower court judge has said that.  So, extending the terms of the appeal is part of that whittling down.  Now, when it gets to October the 27th and 28th in the high court, the judges will then consider what’s left of the terms of the appeal.  But if they go against that lower court judge, they will be setting a precedent in English law that I certainly don’t remember, and other lawyers don’t remember.  So we can draw from that.  There is a real possibility Julian will be set free.  Not on the 27th or 28th, the decision won’t--will be a written one or will be published in January.  There is that possibility that as this is a show trial, you can bet anything that some kind of--some kind of spinning of the judicial process is already underway to get Julian on a plane to the United States.  Now, I…

CH: I want to--I want to--I want to ask, John--I want to ask you, John, about John Shipton, his father, I think Stella Morris and you and others have talked about how--while they have not assassinated him, this incarceration under these draconian conditions is, kind of, a slow form of assassination.

JP: Yeah.  Oh, yes.  Absolutely right.  I mean, that’s why I say when we talk about, you know, people during the rendition days, the kidnapping, and rendition, and assassination that were all part of this lawless Wild West protests that went on and with them it was allegedly stopped, we’ve had that.  We’ve had that here.  It’s in slow motion.  And it’s not only just in slow motion, it’s in theatrical slow motion.  You go into a British court where the judges wear horsehair wigs and gowns, and it has all the pump considerably in the land of the Magna Carta, but it’s basically a kidnapping that ended up in a show trial.  And I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not.  However, among the judiciary in this country, especially it’s my experience, having watched the high court in action in a number of cases, especially amongst the more conservative judges, there are those who believe in the law almost obsessively, and they have gone against the state.  Now, even the judge in February, Vanessa Baraitser, who was openly hostile for Julian Assange, I think when you were over there, you saw her how hostile she was, she had to go against it because the evidence was so clear.  There is that real possibility that in--a judge will look to the law and not to the politics, and that’s what it comes down to.  Will one or two of the three judges do that?  I don’t.

CH: Great.  When we come back, we will continue our conversation about the current upcoming hearing in London, the extradition hearing with Julian Assange with the investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger.  Welcome back to On Contact.  We continue our conversation about the Assange hearing with the investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker, John Pilger.  So as I understand it, the crux of the US appeal is to attack the credibility of the experts who spoke about Julian’s mental health, to argue that he wouldn’t commit suicide, and to defend the conditions under which he would be incarcerated in the United States.  Is that correct?

JP: Yes.  And they weren’t successful in doing that.  In court, the--one of the most distinguished neuropsychoanalyst, Professor--sorry, it’s gone out of my mind--out of my memory at the moment.  But he was--he was attacked by the Council acting for the US.  And until he turned around to them, and he said, “Why are you attacking me?  Only the other day you asked me to appear in a case for you.”  So that’s the theater of the absurd.  But the point is that there was him and there were two or three others of equal distinction, that who had examined Julian over a period of two years, and not only had diagnosed him as having Asperger’s, and having the whole propensity to despair and take his own life.  It’s very difficult to accept that because in so many ways, and I should say this very quickly, Julian is an extraordinarily resilient man.  I don’t know how he’s survived as long as he has, but in a period--in a period perhaps over a year or two, he did clearly consider taking his own life and made one attempt.  He wrote very moving notes.  All this came out in court, and that’s why the judge said that he could not be extradited into the--into the hellholes, which what Julian described.  But discrediting these distinguished experts has been the US aim.  And how do they discredit them?  Well, one of them, the only thing that they can find that they think is worth pointing out as possible discrediting, and that is that this particular expert had not told Judge Baraitser that Julian was in a relationship with Stella Morris during a period of time.  But that--but he had.  He had told her, he had written it down, he’d put it in his report.  And we move almost into an Alice in Wonderland here.  What he hadn’t done is told her at one stage, but she was fully informed not only that, the judge herself said, I know Mr. Assange is in a relationship with Stella Morris, and he has two young children who were conceived in the Ecuadorian embassy.  She didn’t quite say it, but she might as well have said so what?  That’s the threadbare case that is being argued here and will be argued here in November.  My point, Chris, is this. This whole case is a travesty of any form of justice and would have been thrown out of court years ago.  The evidence of an innocent man who was setup--first he was set up in Sweden.  Then he was set up in Britain by the Crown Prosecution Service, which tried to keep him in prison, led then by the present leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer.  The corruption and this is quite extraordinary.  He was--he was set up and manipulated and when WikiLeaks--the crunch came when WikiLeaks released Vault 7, the CIA, which effectively ended a whole CIA archive, the kind of archive which allowed the CIA to spy on us through our television sets, and iPhones, and so on.  Once they’d done that, there was clearly a commitment in the Trump administration, unlike the Obama administration.  Obama said, “No, I’m not going ahead with this because there is what they call the New York Times problem.  If we get Assange, we’ll have to go to the New York Times, and The Washington Post and all the rest.”  But Trump agreed to do it.  And this is a CIA operation, anyone who knows the United States well knows the power of the CIA, the extrajudicial power of the CIA, the extra governmental power of the CIA, that’s what this is.  All right.  Pompeo may have been a sort of Hermann Goering lookalike and a clown but he was a serious--he was a serious head of the CIA.  And that same CIA, which is in league with the Department of Justice, led by several of the more extreme people in the--in the DOJ, wants Assange.  And, you know, it’s just before we came, it all goes back to this.  This is--this is what you’ve probably seen 2008, one of WikiLeaks’ first major leaks.  It’s March the 18th 2008.  It’s from the US Army Counterintelligence Assessment Branch, Department of Defense, if you read through this document, it lays out everything that happened that we will get Assange by smearing him, by discrediting him, by destroying trust in WikiLeaks.  And that from here on, investigative journalism, of this kind, in other words, serious investigative journalism is our enemy.  In fact, the Ministry of Defense document which Julian showed me, and then leaked it.  So there were the three main enemies, the three main enemies that were banging on the doors of civilization as the Ministry of Defense and the CIA, and the rest of them know it, they were the Russians.  They were terrorists, but the number one, were Investigative journalists.  And that’s what--that’s what this is about.  And that’s what makes the roll…

CH: John, I just--I just--I just want to--the way that--I want to go back to this statement by Pompeo because it’s important, where he accuses WikiLeaks of being a hostile Intelligence Service, he calls, it is a “A non-state hostile intelligence service,” which he says is abetted by the Russians.  But by redefining what a journalistic outlet is, and we know they went after a Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald in the same way, this legally gives them all sorts of mechanisms that they can unleash without any kind of findings or congressional approval or anything else.  And that precipitated especially after 2017 the spine and all the talks of assassination, but they were quite public about how they redefined at which I think you and I as journalists find deeply chilling, I just have two minutes but if you can talk about that.

JP: But they made it up, Chris.  They made it up.  He made up the words.  What is--what is this non-state whatever it is?  Like they call the Guantanamo people, what do I call them?  Non-combatants.  They can call anybody, the soldier, you know the soldier, you might be wearing uniform and shooting people but you’re not really a soldier, you know, you’re a--you’re--we’ll call you something else.  It--it’s ridiculous, the whole thing is lawless.  I don’t see how that has the backing of law.  How can that have the backing of law?  It came out of Pompeo’s mouth I’m sure that he didn’t make it himself, but whoever did in the CIA, it’s simply making up law as they go on.  There’s no such thing.  Julian Assange has been proven a journalist, as you and I are journalists, in so many respects, awarded so many awards, and acknowledged for his extraordinary number of what we used to call scoops.  And he’s pretty good.  That’s been the problem, Assange changed journalism.  This is the prosecution of--first of all of Assange, of course, but of journalism.  And I think the role that--particularly in the early part of this case, as it unfolded, the role of journalists have been, in my opinion, particularly disgraceful and not supporting, not supporting even from their own interests, not supporting.  But they understand now.  But if Julian goes down, well, anybody can.

CH: Great.  That was investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker, John Pilger on the US attempt to extradite Julian Assange.

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