In case you missed it: Free speech on trial By John Pilger

16 March 2011 — Morning Star

As the United States and Britain look for an excuse to invade another oil-rich Arab country, the hypocrisy is familiar.

Colonel Gadaffi is ‘delusional’ and ‘blood-drenched,’ while the authors of an invasion that killed a million Iraqis who have kidnapped and tortured in our name are entirely sane, never blood-drenched and once again the arbiters of ‘stability.’

But something has changed.

Reality is no longer what the powerful say it is.

Of all the spectacular revolts across the world, the most exciting is the insurrection of knowledge sparked by WikiLeaks.

This is not a new idea.

In 1792 the revolutionary Tom Paine warned his readers in England that their government believed that ‘people must be hoodwinked and held in superstitious ignorance by some bugbear or other.’

Paine’s The Rights Of Man was considered such a threat to elite control that a secret grand jury was ordered to charge him with ‘a dangerous and treasonable conspiracy.’

Wisely, he sought refuge in France.

The ordeal and courage of Paine is cited by the Sydney Peace Foundation in its award of Australia’s human rights Gold Medal to Julian Assange.

Like Paine, Assange is a maverick who serves no system and is threatened by a secret grand jury – a malicious device long abandoned in England but not in the United States.

If extradited to the US Assange is likely to disappear into the Kafkaesque world that produced the Guantanamo Bay nightmare, and now accuses Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks’ alleged whistleblower, of a capital crime.

Should Assange’s current British appeal fail against his extradition to Sweden he will probably, once charged, be denied bail and held incommunicado until his trial in secret.

The case against him has already been dismissed by a senior prosecutor in Stockholm and only given new life when right-wing politician Claes Borgstrom intervened and made public statements about Assange’s ‘guilt.’

Borgstrom, a lawyer, now represents the two women involved.

His law partner is Thomas Bodstrom who, as Sweden’s minister for justice in 2001, was implicated in the handover of two innocent Egyptian refugees to a CIA kidnap squad at Stockholm airport.

Sweden later awarded them damages for their torture.

These facts were documented in an Australian parliamentary briefing in Canberra on March 2.

Outlining an epic miscarriage of justice threatening Assange, the inquiry heard expert evidence that, under international standards of justice, the behaviour of certain officials in Sweden would be considered ‘highly improper and reprehensible [and] preclude a fair trial.’

Former senior Australian diplomat Tony Kevin described the close ties between the Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and the Republican right in the US.

‘Reinfeldt and [George W] Bush are friends,’ he said.

Reinfeldt has attacked Assange publicly and hired former Bush crony Karl Rove to advise him.

The implications for Assange’s extradition to the US from Sweden are dire.

The Australian inquiry was ignored in Britain where black farce is currently preferred.

On March 3 the Guardian announced that Stephen Spielberg’s DreamWorks was to make ‘an investigative thriller in the mould of All The President’s Men’ out of its book WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War On Secrecy.

I asked David Leigh, who wrote the book with Luke Harding, how much Spielberg had paid the Guardian for the screen rights and what he expected to make personally.

‘No idea,’ was the puzzling reply of the Guardian’s ‘investigations editor.’

The Guardian paid WikiLeaks nothing for its treasure trove of leaks.

Assange and WikiLeaks – not Leigh or Harding – are responsible for what Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger calls ‘one of the greatest journalistic scoops of the last 30 years.’

The Guardian has made clear it has no further use for Assange.

He is a loose cannon who did not fit ‘Guardianworld,’ who proved a tough, unclubbable negotiator.

And brave.

In the Guardian’s self-regarding book, Assange’s extraordinary bravery is excised.

He becomes a figure of petty bemusement – an ‘unusual Australian’ with a ‘frizzy-haired’ mother, gratuitously abused as ‘callous’ and a ‘damaged personality’ that was ‘on the autistic spectrum.’

How will Spielberg deal with this childish character assassination?

On the BBC’s Panorama Leigh indulged in hearsay about Assange not caring about the lives of those named in the leaks.

As for the claim that Assange had complained of a ‘Jewish conspiracy,’ which follows a torrent of internet nonsense that he is an evil agent of Mossad, Assange rejected this as ‘completely false, in spirit and word.’

It is difficult to describe, let alone imagine, the sense of isolation and state of siege of Julian Assange, who in one form or another is paying for tearing aside the facade of rapacious power.

The canker here is not the far-right but the paper-thin liberalism of those who guard the limits of free speech.

The New York Times has distinguished itself by spinning and censoring the WikiLeaks material.

‘We are taking all [the] cables to the administration,’ said its editor Bill Keller.

‘They’ve convinced us that redacting certain information would be wise.’

In an article by Keller, Assange is personally abused.

At the Columbia School of Journalism on February 3 Keller said, in effect, that the public could not be trusted with the release of further cables.

This might cause a ‘cacophony.’

The gatekeeper has spoken.

The heroic Bradley Manning is kept naked under lights and cameras 24 hours a day.

Director of the Australian Lawyers Alliance Greg Barns says the fears that Julian Assange will ‘end up being tortured in a high-security US prison’ are justified.

Who will share responsibility for such a crime?

This article first appeared in the New Statesman

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