On Oct. 8, Chris Hedges and others will gather in Washington, DC, to demand Julian Assange’s release and denounce the US government’s campaign against him.
The long campaign against Julian and WikiLeaks is a window into the collapse of the rule of law, and the rise of what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls a system of inverted totalitarianism—where the outward symbols of capitalist democracy remain, but the system itself is captured by corporate interests. Assange has spent over a decade fighting imprisonment, extradition, and CIA espionage. On Oct. 8, Chris Hedges and others will gather in Washington, DC, to demand Assange’s release at the same time that protestors surround the British Parliament. For this special episode of The Chris Hedges Report, John Shipton, Assange’s father, shares updates on the international campaign to free his son.
Chris Hedges: A society that prohibits the capacity to speak in truth extinguishes the capacity to live in justice. Tyrannies invert the rule of law. They turn the law into an instrument of injustice. They cloak their crimes in a full legality. They use the decorum of the courts and trials to mask their criminality. Those such as Julian Assange who expose that criminality to the public are dangerous, for without the pretext of legitimacy, the tyranny loses credibility and has nothing left in its arsenal but fear, coercion, and violence.
The long campaign against Julian and WikiLeaks is a window into the collapse of the rule of law, the rise of what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls our “system of inverted totalitarianism”, a form of totalitarianism that maintains the fictions of the old capitalist democracy, including its institutions, iconography, patriotic symbols, and rhetoric, but internally, has surrendered total control to the dictates of global corporations.
I was in the London courtroom when Julian was being tried by Judge Vanessa Baraitser, an updated version of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, demanding the sentence before pronouncing the verdict. It was judicial farce. There is no legal basis to hold Julian in prison. There is no legal basis to try him, an Australian citizen, under the US Espionage Act. The CIA spied on Julian and the embassy through a Spanish company, UC Global, contracted to provide embassy security. This spying included recording the privileged conversations between Julian and his lawyers as they discussed his defense. This fact alone invalidates any trial of Julian.
Julian is currently being held in a high security prison so the state can, as Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture has testified, continue the degrading abuse and torture it hopes will lead to his physical and psychological disintegration. The US Government directed the London prosecutor James Lewis. Lewis presented these directives to Baraitser in the court. Baraitser adopted them as her legal decision. It was judicial pantomime. Lewis and the judge insisted they were not attempting to criminalize journalists and muzzle the press while they were busy setting up the legal framework to criminalize journalists and muzzle the press.
And that is why the court worked so hard to mask the proceedings from the public, limiting access to the courtroom to a handful of observers, and making it hard, and at times impossible, for us to access the trial online. It was a tawdry show trial, not an example of the best of English jurisprudence, but the Lubyanka.
It is imperative that those of us who care about a free press and the persecution of an innocent man – For Julian has not committed a crime – Make our presence felt in the streets. I will be in Washington on October 8 with, I hope, thousands of others to ring the Department of Justice to call for Julian’s release, an act that will be replicated by protestors surrounding the British Parliament the same day.
Joining me from Mexico, where the Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has defended Julian’s innocence and offered asylum to the WikiLeaks founder, is Julian’s father John Shipton.
So, John, first just bring us up to date as to where we are. I worked very hard to follow it, but it’s a little convoluted. It’s gone back down to the lower court. In that appeal process, can you explain what’s happening?
John Shipton: Well, Julian has submitted to the High Court an application to get approval to appeal. After Julian submitted his appeal, the United States has eight weeks from that date to submit their arguments, and the United States have asked for a four-week extension. So, they want 12 weeks. I guess that’ll take it up to past the midterm elections. For some reason or other, they want to do that.
And after that, the judge, a single judge, High Court judge, makes a decision as to whether the appeal can go ahead, and then the preparation for the appeal. So I guess all up at least another eight months, if the appeal can go ahead. If it doesn’t go ahead, if they refuse permission to appeal, then Julian can, at the moment, appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. But that is looking powerless, as the United Kingdom has decided that they want to introduce what they call a bill of rights based on community values, which a committee set up by the government decides what the community values are. It is a convoluted movement towards a sort of arbitrary lawlessness, depending upon what the committee decides, this day or that.
Chris Hedges: The Court of Human Rights doesn’t have any jurisdiction in the UK. It doesn’t have any capacity to actually block the extradition, does it?
John Shipton: No. It doesn’t, but it makes a recommendation, and as the United Kingdom is a signatory that recommends its signature to the Council of Human Rights, the European Council of Europe, they, so far, have taken seriously the declarations of the European Court of Human Rights and acted upon them. I assume, in the case of Julian, they seem determined. They seem to be an equal participant. Many people make the observation that the United Kingdom is a cat’s paw for the United States, or a proxy. But from their behavior, which you just described, and their malice intent, they are equal partners in this, or more than equal partners in this persecution. I’ll just remind everybody that in the Nuremberg Code, the first element is that if you commit a crime, you can’t say, somebody asked me to do it or ordered me to do it. The committing of a crime falls upon your shoulders.
So, it is with the United Kingdom Crown Prosecution Service and those judges: Judge Taylor, Judge Snow, and Judge [inaudible], and finally Judge Baraitser, who have taken these decisions and… How can we say… Turned the whole thing into an [inaudible] rolling star chamber?
Chris Hedges: Well, Baraitser didn’t hide her malice, I mean, on just petty little stuff. For instance, they put Julian in this plastic box, or plexiglass box where he couldn’t really hear the proceedings, and his defense attorneys ask that he’d be allowed to sit with them, as any defense, anybody can in a court of trial, and the prosecution didn’t object, and she wouldn’t let him out.
John Shipton: That was the most extraordinary thing, that Julian had to get on his knees and whisper through a 30 millimeter crack into the ear of the barrister on the other side, her standing on their tip toes to give instruction. It was just a comedy. Well, a cruel comedy.
But, not only that, Julian, as you remember, spoke up once, and the Judge Baraitser said, you have two barristers, two able QCs to speak for you. You must sit down. If you speak again, you’ll be taken to the cells below the court and the hearing will continue. Julian is held in, as you mentioned, a maximum security prison incommunicado. He cannot communicate, and that is a deliberate act of the Crown Prosecution Service because, as you know, Julian’s support and his voice would carry around the world. So held incommunicado and with malicious intent, unable to give instructions to his barristers in the court hearing.
Chris Hedges: On what issues are the lawyers basing the appeal? Because they are the issues that were not addressed by the High Court. Perhaps you can explain what it is he’s appealing.
John Shipton: So, there’s 18 charges in all. 17 of them are under the Espionage Act, and one of them is a computer intrusion charge. So, these accumulated in indictments one after the other after the other. So, the first indictment was the computer intrusion. The second was the 18 Espionage charges, and the third is a combination of the two. Each time, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Judge Baraitser allowed these, what they call a super indictment… Oh my God… A super indictment to go ahead. I guess, after a while, words fail you, how to describe this grotesque and monstrous injustice that’s carried on before our eyes, and as a professor Nils Melzer describes, a slow motion death before our eyes, a slow motion murder, he said, before our eyes. This has, in the face of every single European parliament, having a cross-party group of Assange supporters in its parliament.
The German Parliament, to the extent that 90 parliamentarians voted to bring before the US the United States and Germany Friendship Group as an agenda item the persecution of Julian. The French Parliament spent an hour debating Julian’s circumstances. The recent election of the Australian Labor government, similar to the Democrats, under Anthony Albanese, was elected on a platform of bringing Julian Assange home. 88% of Australians want Julian brought home to Australia. So, the support in the community is immense, worldwide, globally. The institutions of state, state department, the Department of Justice, and the FBI, seem to have a malignant approach to Julian Assange, using Julian as a means to constrain – I would say truncate all together – That magnificent element of the American Constitution: the First Amendment. They don’t like it. They don’t like their own golden gift, those people. It’s very strange.
Chris Hedges: Do you think that the persecution of Julian, it appears, was ramped up after WikiLeaks published Vault Seven? This was the leaked information about how the CIA could hack into smartphones and cars and everything else – Because the Obama Administration did not call for the extradition of Julian. But this changed under the Trump Administration, Mike Pompeo at the CIA. Do you see that as the kind of turning point, or do you think this was always the intent?
John Shipton: I think it was always the intent, but the fellow like Mike Pompeo thought that he’d lever support from the institutions of state, particularly the CIA, if he put his weight behind it. That’s what I think. It was opportune. He’s just an opportunist, and not much good at being secretary of state, nor was he any good at running the CIA.
You will see that the CIA, a total of 30 CIA members, either past or serving – I think nine serving out of the 30 – Leaked or… How to describe it… Gave evidence of the plans of the CIA in the spying on Julian, and their proposals to either murder or kidnap Julian, and their arrangements with MI5. So 30 CIA officers made statements to Yahoo journalists. So, in effect, blowing up Mike Pompeo’s chances of moving towards 2024 in an election. So, it’s not as homogenous as it looks. Julian does have support within the CIA. Those elements… Sorry, go on.
Chris Hedges: That’s all right. I just want to talk about the conditions under which he’s held, which are… I mean, first of all, I don’t even understand how they can hold him. Isn’t he in there on a bail violation? I mean, the whole thing is… And he’s in the highest security prison in the UK. But talk about the conditions.
John Shipton: Well, he’s held in a cell. Nils Melzer visited Julian in that cell. Nils at the time was the rapporteur on torture and unusual punishment from the United Nations. So, it is a cell that fulfills the regulations that are laid down by the United Nations for a single occupant, and he’s in there 23 hours a day. His circumstances over the last couple of years have been constrained by petty bureaucratic requirements, or bureaucratic ossifications, or bureaucratic saying, for example, as Judge Baraitser did, no. It’s the jail’s responsibility to let Julian out of the plastic box up the back of the court. And then the jail said, no. That’s the contractor’s. That’s the contractor’s responsibility, that they have contract officers who guard the prisoners on their journey to and from the court. So, they use bureaucracy to continue this what I describe as a deluge of malice. On one occasion, Julian had no access to his court papers [inaudible] to prepare, hadn’t seen his lawyers for six months over COVID, and was unable to have visits from family because the jail was locked down from COVID.
So, all of these things, they just continue to grow into a deluge of malice that is delivered upon Julian Assange. Now, I’ll remind everybody that Julian is a remand prisoner. That is, he’s innocent. I also remind people that he’s a publisher, and on either side of him in the jail are murderers in cells, and the prison itself is a remand prison for murderers, rape – Major crimes, terrorists, and so on. They keep Julian in there because that sort of prison, a maximum security prison, is incommunicado. You can’t speak out at all, and that is their intent with Julian.
Chris Hedges: He’s suffered from serious health issues. He’s had minor strokes. It came out in court that he’s had psychotic episodes. Of course, we have to acknowledge that he was already seven years locked up in the Ecuadorian embassy after being granted political asylum by Ecuador, but then of course the UK would not allow safe passage from the embassy to Heathrow Airport. I just don’t know how he endures what is now over a decade of this kind of systematic abuse, and I think, as Nils Melzer said, this is totally the intent.
John Shipton: So, his 26-page report, which was accepted by the UNGA, United Nations General Assembly, and he submitted that. Nils submitted that report to the United Kingdom Government, to the Swedish Government. The Swedish Government was a little more… How can we say… Responsive to Nils. The United Kingdom Government used several bureaucratic ossifications to cause Nils some discomfort. But Nils, in interviewing Julian in the jail, just used reserves of patients. For example, Nils, after completing the examination of Julian, asked to see the Prison Governor, but the Prison Governor had gone home early that day. So, there are several items like that. It’s really difficult, because Nils Melzer is a United Nations Officer, and the United Kingdom is a member of the United Nations. And as a member of the United Nations, the United Nations officers are treated with dignity and given access. That’s their job, that’s his job, is to go to the jails.
So, it’s really difficult to understand how the authors of these magnificent civil artifacts from the late 20th century, the United Nations, the covenants on covering… There’re the Geneva Conventions and Conventions of Asylum, all of these wonderful covenants. The very authors of those covenants have abandoned them completely. You can remind us clearly because it’s your area. In 1948, Eleanor Roosevelt and Herbert Vere Evatt, the president of the United Nations at the time, brought about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and adopted it into the United Nations. Equally, in 1958, they adopted the Conventions of Asylum, which were ratified under the authorship of Australia in 1973 by the UNGA, the United Nations General Assembly. These magnificent artifacts, they’ve abandoned. For what reason, we just cannot understand.
Chris Hedges: Well, I remember in Nils Melzer’s book – Which I recommend everyone, I think it’s probably the best book on the case – He talks about the disrespect that is visited upon him when he goes into Belmarsh and contrasts that with all sorts of tyrannies around the world. And as you mentioned, he said that it was unheard of that this, of course, visit was set up well in advance, that the Governor of the Prison decided not even to be there.
I want to talk about how we’re going to resist. I think there are many flagrant examples in the judicial process that, in any kind of normal trial, would’ve seen this thrown out of court, I mean, destroying attorney-client privilege, trying to try somebody who’s not even a US Citizen under the Espionage Act, et cetera, et cetera.
And the importance of what’s going to happen on October 8 in Washington – And I will be there. It starts at noon – The idea is to surround the Department of Justice and demand that Attorney General Merrick Garland drop the charges against Julian. People can find out more information about this at assangedefense.org. But I think you probably would agree that these popular protests are vital if we’re going to secure Julian’s freedom.
John Shipton: Yes. The street actions are just wonderful. They’re going to surround Parliament in London. In DC, they’re going to surround the Department of Justice. And in Australia, they’re going to cross the Princess Bridge in Melbourne, and so on in Sydney, and so on in Paris, and so on in Berlin. The upwelling of… What would you call it… There is a moral trajectory to life, which has been aggregated completely in the case of Julian Assange, and that moral trajectory, that hunger for truth, or the understanding that somebody who acts as a champion of truth is a treasure to all human beings, the understanding of that fills, to use a religious word, the soul, or to use a secular word, the social mores of societies. And this seems, to me – Because the upwelling is significant right around the world, this upwelling of support – It seems to me that this is a moment, a historical moment, where the degradation and collapse into barbarity of the last 20 years has finally worked its way into our societies as an understanding that this cannot go on. The flux of life will not permit ongoing barbarity.
And so, we use Julian Assange as a symbol of that. After my experience of the last five years of constantly speaking to people, it seems that is the motive, and it’s hard to grasp. There are no metrics for it except our sensibility. And I inumbrate that our sensibilities have been so inflicted with this decline into barbaric, barbarous nations, equal for my notion [inaudible] Australia, the UK, and the United States. It’s a global, Western phenomenon. As you can see in Germany and France, they’re indifferent. They’ve become indifferent. The distance between the governments and the people in particular… An example is the Yellow Vests, where several of them were killed for [inaudible] protests, and many hundreds blinded by rubber bullets. Similarly in Germany, the political class is completely indifferent to the coming collapse of German industry without energy supplies.
So, Julian Assange, a truth seeker – Sorry, not a truth seeker. A person who brings truth to us is a symbol that we can grasp and that our social sensibilities or soul feeling, if you are religious, can imbibe on that. And consequently, we do join hands and form a bridge or a circumnavigation of the Department of Justice.
Chris Hedges: And we should be clear, because I think it’s often lost on many people, that the WikiLeaks documents revealed the corruption, the cynicism, the manipulation, the abuse internally in governments around the world in Tunisia and Haiti. And this was tremendously empowering to people around the globe, because the veil was ripped back on what their rulers were doing to them. It was an extremely important global moment.
John Shipton: As I’m in Mexico City now, and having followed the history of South America – just as an interest, not as a study – Over the last 30 years, one can see now, after the revelations, particularly of the cables, is the form and structure and administrative structures of countries in South America have undergone significant changes, and Mexico is becoming a vibrant, industrial society, and I think even to the extent they’re contemplating manufacturing transistors here from wafers. This is the foremost technology on the earth, and they’re contemplating that here. This wouldn’t have happened under the crude administrations prior to the revelations in the cables.
You get to know how it is that your government administers, and what they do in order to administer, and how that power is distributed, who distributes the power, and why do they distribute the power in a particular area, and why is it that one country, for example Canada, can have single-payer medical care, and Mexico can’t have single-payer medical care?
So, they get to understand that, in the United Kingdom, which is where I go frequently, the contemplation of nationalization of a strategic mineral is impossible to think about. It’s unthinkable. It’s sort of a taboo. But here, the government of Mexico under Obrador has just nationalized lithium, which is a strategic metal. Again, it’s only measurable over the expiation of time. You can see the changes, and you can characterize it that the pink tide rolled in about 10 years ago, 15 years ago, and then it was repressed, and now the pink tide arises again. So, the community of feeling, the community feeling in South America rises again to the surface and carries the communities here into a future which has more participation by the people and less authoritarian impulses from governments.
Chris Hedges: Well, we have a lot to learn from the Global South. That was John Shipton, father of Julian Assange. We’re talking about the event on October 8 in Washington at 12 noon to surround the Department of Justice. I will be there, demanding that Merrick Garland drop the charges against Julian Assange. You can find out more about that protest at assangedefense.org. I want to thank The Real News Network and its production team: Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, Dwayne Gladden, and Kayla Rivera. You can find me at chrishedges.substack.com.