Julian Assange was arrested one year ago on Saturday and sent to Belmarsh Prison where he still languishes, a symbol of the Empire’s oppression.
By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News
The British court system continues to mock the Magna Carta. Bowing vassal-like to U.S. pressure it persists with Star Chamber proceedings against WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange until he is either extradited to the U.S. or winds up dead.
The judicial pantomime under way in London, under the guise of an extradition hearing, would make the English nobles who wrested precious civil rights from King John eight centuries ago sob in anger and shame. But nary a whimper is heard from the heirs to those rights. One searches in vain for English nobles today.
Yet the process stumbles along, as awkward as it is inexorable, toward extradition and life in prison for Assange, if he lasts that long.
The banal barristers bashing Assange now seem to harbor hope that, unlike the case of Henry VIII and Thomas More, the swords of royal knights will be unneeded to “deliver the Crown from this troublesome priest” — or publisher. Those barristers may be spared the embarrassment of losing what residual self-respect they may still claim. In short, they may not need to bow and scrape much longer to surrender Assange to life in a U.S. prison. He may die first.
For the UK and U.S. barristers and their puppeteers in Washington, salivating to seize the Australian publisher, a deus ex machina has descended backstage. It is called Covid-19 and London’s Belmarsh prison is accurately described as a petri dish for such disease. We already know of one prisoner death there from the virus. God knows how many more there already are — or will be.
In refusing to allow nonviolent prisoner Julian Assange to leave that crowded prison (with his immunocompromised condition, weakened lungs, and clinical depression), presiding Judge Vanessa Baraitser leaves an open door to deliver Kings Boris and Donald this “troublesome” publisher by “natural” means. The swords of royal knights are not needed for this kind of faux-judicial, royal screw. And, happily for Lady Baraitser, she may not have to keep washing blood off her hands as Lady Macbeth was compelled to do.
Meanwhile, as all await Assange’s demise — one way or the other — his lawyers have had no contact with him for three weeks. They cannot visit him in prison; nor can they even talk to him by video chat, according to WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnnson.
Empire Drives Home an Old Lesson
However Assange is eventually dispatched — dead or alive — from Star Chamber and prison, the Empire remains hell-bent on demonstrating that it will give no quarter to those endangering it by WikiLeaks-type disclosures.
The lesson is now abundantly clear to all “troublesome” publishers tempted to follow Assange’s example of publishing documentary truth (a function of what used to be called journalism). They will be cut down — whether by “natural” means, or by endless faux-judicial proceedings resulting in lengthy imprisonment, financial ruin, or both.
On Tuesday Judge Baraitser announced that the Assange extradition hearing will resume on May 18, as previously scheduled and that it may drag on into July — Covid-19 notwithstanding. The big question is whether Assange, if he is kept confined in Belmarsh prison, will live that long. Meanwhile, thousands of other nonviolent prisoners are being released from other UK prisons in a humane step to reduce the chances of infection.
As I think of my good friend Julian, what comes to mind are the desperate words of Willy Loman’s wife Linda in “Death of a Salesman”:
“He’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.”
(On the chance you are wondering, The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal — as well as National Public Radio — have paid zero attention to the extradition hearing in recent weeks — much less to Judge Baraitser’s Queen of Hearts-style, “off-with-his-head” behavior.)
The pitiable Baraitser, of course, is simply a cog in the imperial machinery, a self-impressed, self-interested, rigid functionary aping the role of Caiaphas, the high priest beholden to an earlier Empire. “It’s better that one man die,” he is said to have explained, when another nonviolent truth-teller dared to expose the cruelties of Empire to the downtrodden of his day — including the despicable accessory role played by the high priests.
Here is how theologian Eugene Peterson’s renders Caiaphas’s words in John 11: “Can’t you see that it’s to our advantage that one man die … rather than the whole nation be destroyed.” (“Nation” in that context meant the system of privilege enjoyed by collaborators with Rome — like the high priests and the lawyers of the time.)
The lesson meant to be taken away from Assange’s punishment are as clear — if less bloody — as the crucifixion that followed quickly after Caiaphas explained the rationale. The behavior of today’s empire pretends to be more “civilized” as it manufactures stories of rape, leans on ratty satraps in Sweden, England, and Ecuador, and ostentatiously thumbs its nose at official UN condemnations of “arbitrary detention.” And, if that were not enough, it also practices leave-no-marks torture.
Cutting Off Nose to Spite Face
Meanwhile, those who in an ideal world should be natural allies of WikiLeaks, the media, are cowed, and are as pitiable as Baraitser. Many loudly betray Assange outright.
There is no need now, two millennia later, to erect crosses along the roadside as graphic reminders to intimidate those who would expose Empire’s oppression. Civil rights wrested from King John 800 years ago — habeas corpus, for one — have become “quaint” and “obsolete”, adjectives applied by that distinguished American jurist, and George W. Bush “lawyer,” Alberto Gonzales to the Geneva Convention protections against torture. The successors to the English “nobles” of Runnymede seem to have gone the way of Gonzales.
This is not only a case of “killing the messenger”, lamentable as that is. It amounts to cutting off our collective nose to spite our face.
Because most Americans are so impoverished on accurate information, and so misled by the corporate media regarding WikiLeaks –and Assange, in particular—they are blissfully unaware of WikiLeaks’ capability to expose crucial information that can head off disaster.
Several Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) have written retrospectives, sharing acute personal frustration at our inability to get important warnings through calcified bureaucracies before calamity struck — real calamities like 9/11 and the unprovoked attack on Iraq that has brought chaos and widespread death.
We have asked ourselves, “What if?” What if WikiLeaks had been up and running before those catastrophes? Would those of us privy to critical — but unheeded — information have turned to WikiLeaks to get the word out? Could those liminal events have been prevented?
The answer is consistently Yes, those events could have been exposed and prevented.
“WikiLeaks and 9/11: What If?” is the title The Los Angeles Times gave an Oct. 15, 2010 op-ed by former FBI Special Agent/Minneapolis Division Counsel Coleen Rowley and former Air Marshal Bogdan Dzakovic, who led an elite “Red Team” for the Federal Aviation Administration to probe vulnerabilities of airports and aircraft during the years before 9/11.
After arresting would-be hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui on August 16, 2001, Rowley’s colleagues in Minneapolis ran into unconscionable foot-dragging by FBI headquarters functionaries, who would not permit a search of Moussaoui’s laptop computer or his personal effects.
In late August, the same Washington functionaries stonewalled an FBI Minneapolis Division supervisor, who emphasized that he was just “trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing it into the World Trade Center.” (Yes, those were his exact words.) Special Agent Harry Samit, who helped arrest Moussaoui, later testified that the actions of his FBI superiors in Washington constituted “criminal negligence.”
This was before WikiLeaks was up and running. Would Samit’s sense of duty and his frustration have prompted him to contact WikiLeaks, were it to have been available then and as technically easy to approach (via anonymous drop box) as it continues to be now? Someone should find Samit and ask that question. (Thus far, we have had no success contacting him.)
Hijacking Planes? Child’s Play
No one has to ask Federal Air Marshal Dzakovic whether he would have gone to WikiLeaks in desperation over the foot-dragging he encountered at senior levels of the FAA. His story is as painful to hear as Special Agent Samit’s, in terms of being ignored and stymied in the period leading up to 9/11.
Dzakovic’s “Red Team” included two Vietnam veterans: Steve Elson, a retired Navy Seal lieutenant commander, and Brian Sullivan, a retired Army lieutenant colonel with experience in intelligence and law enforcement. They both join Dzakovic in a loud “Hell Yes,” when I asked if they would have gone to WikiLeaks before 9/11, if it were in operation at the time.
That elite Red Team had found weaknesses in airport and airline security nine out of ten times, vulnerabilities that made it possible to smuggle weapons aboard and seize control of airplanes.
Starting in 1997-98, the Team worked feverishly through its chain of command, and got nowhere with its urgent warnings. It then went to the FAA inspector general and, later, the Government Accountability Office; and got nowhere.
Team members then contacted and briefed members of Congress in person; and got nowhere. As a last resort, about a year before the 9/11 attacks, Team members desperately tried to get the media interested in the calamity they could see brewing. This resulted in only two small stories, easily ignored in other mainstream media.
Testifying before the 9/11 Commission, Dzakovic summed up the Team’s experience:
“In the simulated attacks, the Red Team was extraordinarily successful in killing large numbers of innocent people … [and yet] we were ordered not to write up our reports and not to retest airports where we found particularly egregious vulnerabilities… Finally, the FAA started providing advance notification of when we would be conducting our ‘undercover’ tests and what we would be checking.”
Dzakovic has expressed “contempt… for the bureaucrats and politicians who could have prevented 9/11 but didn’t.” Adding further bureaucratic insult to injury, the 9/11 Commission did not see fit to include any of his testimony in its report.
The Unprovoked U.S./UK Attack on Iraq
Many — probably hundreds — of U.S. intelligence analysts knew in 2002-03 that there was no reliable evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or — still less — had significant ties to al-Qaeda.
They did not have to wait for the conclusions of the five-year Senate Intelligence Committee’s study. Announcing the committee’s bipartisan findings on June 5, 2008, then Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA) was unusually direct:
“In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent. As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.”
What does “non-existent” intelligence look like? And who created it out of nothing? We know the names. No one has been held accountable. One of the miscreants, former Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin, unabashedly regaled a large audience at the National Press Club last October with, “Thank God for the Deep State.”
The question, again: surely there was at least one intelligence officer with courage enough to go to WikiLeaks — had it been operating at the time — to out the lies and liars, “undeceive” the American people, and, not incidentally,
possibly head off the war on Iraq. Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, USAF (ret.), a VIPS member, says she would probably have done so.
As it was, Kwiatkowski, the 2018 recipient of the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence, exhibited unusual courage in doing what she could to get the truth out before the attack on Iraq. In a recent posting Karen explains:
“Almost two decades ago, I challenged the status quo in my workplace, the politicized Pentagon, for creating urgency when there was none, publicizing lies when the truth did not support the political agenda. I spoke directly to investigative reporters with Knight Ridder (as portrayed in the [Rob Reiner] film Shock and Awe).
Films and popular media coverage of the truth took a decade to percolate. Had Wikileaks been available in 2001 and 2002, global awareness of government and corporate lies relating to the Iraq war alone would have saved lives, protected the environment, and slowed or stopped the … wars that still invigorate Western foreign policy. The truth is owned by all of us; those willing to step up and risk careers, reputations, and even their own lives to speak truth to power are a small, and sadly, expendable number. Julian Assange and his vision of simple transparency, for the people, with technical protection for witnesses to evil, has saved lives … and elevated the concept of honesty everywhere. …”
So you say you have not seen the film (in which an actress plays Karen), and you had been wondering how it was that Knight Ridder journalists Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay were virtually the only newspapermen to see through and report accurately on the widespread lies before the attack on Iraq? Now you know.
The problem, of course, is that — however enterprising, dogged, and professional the behavior of Strobel and Landay, they were largely marginalized as outliers in the mainstream media and were not given much play before the war. Exposure of the lies through WikiLeaks surely would have been more effective.
Early Warning on COVID-19
In terms of fatalities in the U.S., the number of those succumbing to the Covid-19 pandemic already dwarf the total killed on 9/11. True, preparations, going back years, to prevent and/or deal with such a tragedy were inadequate, to say the least. Accountability for that, as usual, is zero, and there is abundant crow for recent administrations to eat. Even though this is not the time for a blame game, one is going full speed ahead. Consequently, it is doubly difficult to separate the fake-news chaff from the wheat.
On Wednesday, ABC News put out a breathless story titled “Intelligence report warned of coronavirus crisis as early as November; analysts concluded it could be a cataclysmic event.” The alleged report was said to have been prepared by the U.S. military’s National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI).
It was alleged to include information from satellite imagery and intercepts, and to have been briefed “multiple times” at the Pentagon and White House, with detailed warnings about the spread of what has become known as Covid-19.
Colonel Dr. R. Shane Day, director of the Center, wasted no time pouring ice water on the ABC report later on Wednesday. Col. Day stated:
“… in the interest of transparency during this current public health crisis, we can confirm that media reporting about the existence/release of a National Center for Medical Intelligence Coronavirus-related product/assessment in November of 2019 is not correct. No such NCMI product exists.”
A hint as to the probable motivation behind the original ABC report rests in its pointed suggestion that the “government could have ramped up mitigation and containment efforts far earlier to prepare for a crisis poised to come home.” The neuralgic question of how much time it took the Trump administration to take the pandemic seriously is, of course, a legitimate line of inquiry — assuming one stays alert for agenda-laden “breaking news.”
As for WikiLeaks, even U.S. intelligence officials have begrudgingly acknowledged, in backhanded but unmistakable ways, that WikiLeaks’ enjoys an unusually high reputation for accuracy. Documents, including emails and the like, are its stock in trade and considerable pain is taken to verify their authenticity and then let them speak for themselves. So, were WikiLeaks to be given an authentic document with significant information on the reaction of senior officials’ anywhere to Covid-19, it would almost certainly be posted.
The name of the game is documents. Daniel Ellsberg’s most insistent advice to leakers is: “Always bring documents.” With the help of clever, committed friends and the courageous stand taken by a highly principled senior lawyer at The New York Times, Ellsberg made it difficult for the Times to turn down The Pentagon Papers.
Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden followed Ellsberg’s advice on documents and, in their case, did not need to spend countless hours at a Xerox machine. It’s far easier now. Any questions as to why Assange is hated by those who have a lot to hide?
In the coming weeks and months there will be a high premium on the kind of transparency WikiLeaks can provide in publishing information otherwise hidden from the public.
This is particularly the case on the Covid-19 issue, inasmuch as government deliberations and decisions are being “classified,”thereby thwarting the transparency an educated populace should be able to expect.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said The New York Times knew Ellsberg had given the Papers to a competitor. In fact Ellsberg only gave a copy to another newspaper, The Washington Post, four days after the Times first published a story about the Papers on June 13, 1971.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as a Army combat Intelligence officer and later a presidential briefer during his 27-years as a CIA analyst. In retirement he co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) two months before the war on Iraq. Ray is honored to call Julian Assange friend.
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