John Pilger: A Judicial Kidnapping

Julian Assange’s High Court judges offered no mitigation, no suggestion that they had agonised over legalities or even basic morality, writes John Pilger.

Let us look at ourselves, if we have the courage, to see what is happening to us” –-  Jean-Paul Sartre.

By John Pilger

Sartre’s words should echo in all our minds following the grotesque decision of Britain’s High Court to extradite Julian Assange to the United States where he faces “a living death”. This is his punishment for the crime of authentic, accurate, courageous, vital journalism.

Miscarriage of justice is an inadequate term in these circumstances. It took the bewigged courtiers of Britain’s ancien regime just nine minutes on Friday to uphold an American appeal against a District Court judge’s acceptance in January of a cataract of evidence that hell on earth awaited Assange across the Atlantic: a hell in which, it was expertly predicted, he would find a way to take his own life.

Volumes of witness by people of distinction, who examined and studied Julian and diagnosed his autism and his Asperger’s Syndrome and revealed that he had already come within an ace of killing himself at Belmarsh prison, Britain’s very own hell, were ignored.

The recent confession of a crucial F.B.I. informant and prosecution stooge, a fraudster and serial liar, that he had fabricated his evidence against Julian was ignored. The revelation that the Spanish-run security firm at the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where Julian had been granted political refuge, was a C.I.A. front that spied on Julian’s lawyers and doctors and confidants (myself included) – that, too, was ignored.

Collage of UC Global surveillance photos made for C.I.A. inside Ecuador embassy.  (Cathy Vogan)

The recent journalistic disclosure, repeated graphically by defence counsel before the High Court in October, that the C.I.A. had planned to murder Julian in London – even that was ignored.


Each of these “matters”, as lawyers like to say, was enough on its own for a judge upholding the law to throw out the disgraceful case mounted against Assange by a corrupt U.S. Department of Justice and their hired guns in Britain. Julian’s state of mind, bellowed James Lewis, QC, America’s man at the Old Bailey last year, was no more than “malingering” – an archaic Victorian term used to deny the very existence of mental illness.

To Lewis, almost every defence witness, including those who described from the depth of their experience and knowledge, the barbaric American prison system, was to be interrupted, abused, discredited. Sitting behind him, passing him notes, was his American conductor: young, short-haired, clearly an Ivy League man on the rise.

Nine Minutes of Infamy

In their nine minutes of dismissal of journalist Assange’s fate, two of Britain’s most senior judges, including Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett (a lifelong buddy of Sir Alan Duncan, Boris Johnson’s former foreign minister who arranged Assange’s brutal police kidnapping from the Ecuadorean embassy) referred in their summary judgment to not one of a litany of truths that had struggled to be heard in a lower court presided over by a weirdly hostile judge, Vanessa Baraitser.

Her insulting behaviour towards a clearly stricken Assange, struggling through a fog of prison-dispensed medication to remember his name, is unforgettable.

What was truly shocking Friday was that the High Court judges – Lord Burnett and Lord Justice Timothy Holroyde, who read out their words – showed no hesitation in sending Julian to his death, living or otherwise. They offered no mitigation, no suggestion that they had agonised over legalities or even basic morality.

Their ruling in favour, if not on behalf of the United States, is based squarely on transparently fraudulent “assurances” scrabbled together by the Biden administration when it looked in January like justice might prevail.

These “assurances” are that once in American custody, Assange will not be subject to the Orwellian SAMS – Special Administrative Measures – which would make him an un-person; that he will not be imprisoned at ADX Florence, a prison in Colorado long condemned by jurists and human rights groups as illegal: “a pit of punishment and disappearance”; that he can be transferred to an Australian prison to finish his sentence there.

Stella Moris, Julian Assange’s partner, addressing his supporters on Oct 28, during the U.S. appeal hearing in London. (Don’t Extradite Assange Campaign)

The absurdity lies in what the judges omitted to say. In offering its “assurances”, the U.S. reserves the right not to guarantee anything should Assange do something that displeases his jailers. In other words, as Amnesty has pointed out, it reserves the right to break any promise.

There are abundant examples of the U.S. doing just that. As investigative journalist Richard Medhurst revealed last month, David Mendoza Herrarte was extradited from Spain to the U.S. on the “promise” that he would serve his sentence in Spain. The Spanish courts regarded this as a binding condition.

“Classified documents reveal the diplomatic assurances given by the U.S. Embassy in Madrid and how the U.S. violated the conditions of the extradition,” wrote Medhurst. “Mendoza spent six years in the U.S. trying to return to Spain. Court documents show the United States denied his transfer application multiple times.”

The High Court judges, who were aware of the Mendoza case and of Washington’s habitual duplicity, describe the “assurances” – not to be beastly to Julian Assange – as a “solemn undertaking offered by one government to another.”

The Imperial Way

This article would stretch into infinity if I listed the times the rapacious United States has broken “solemn undertakings” to governments, such as treaties that are summarily torn up and civil wars that are fueled. It is the way Washington has ruled the world, and before it Britain: the way of imperial power, as history teaches us.

It is this institutional lying and duplicity that Julian Assange brought into the open and in so doing performed perhaps the greatest public service of any journalist in modern times.

Julian himself has been a prisoner of lying governments for more than a decade now. During these long years, I have sat in many courts as the United States has sought to manipulate the law to silence him and WikiLeaks.

This reached a bizarre moment when, in the tiny Ecuadorean embassy, he and I were forced to flatten ourselves against a wall, each with a notepad in which we conversed, taking care to shield what we had written to each other from the ubiquitous spy cameras – installed, as we now know, by a proxy of the C.I.A., the world’s most enduring criminal organization.

Look at Ourselves

This brings me to the quotation at the top of this article: “Let us look at ourselves, if we have the courage, to see what is happening.”

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote this in his preface to Frantz Fannon’s The Wretched of the Earth, the classic study of how colonised and seduced and coerced and, yes, craven peoples do the bidding of the powerful.

Who among us is prepared to stand up rather than remain mere bystanders to an epic travesty such as the judicial kidnapping of Julian Assange? What is at stake is both a courageous man’s life and, if we remain silent, the conquest of our intellects and sense of right and wrong: indeed our very humanity.


John Pilger’s 2003 film, Breaking the Silence, about the “war on terror” is available to view here.  


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25 comments for “John Pilger: A Judicial Kidnapping

  1. Marine Laugt
    December 13, 2021 at 03:58

    Thank you Mr Pilger for this brilliant text and for your work as a whole, your documentaries are so precious, you have always played a major role in helping humanity, with your courage, your intelligence, your empathy for the victims of violence in any of its forms. Thank you so much, for being such a great man and helping the people.

  2. Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
    December 13, 2021 at 02:18

    This is a timely piece by Pilger on behalf of an equally responsible and conscientious Aussie journalist Julian Assange from whose works and leaks, security cleared or otherwise, numerous researchers, without ready and direct access to diplomatic cables and official briefs like me, have benefited enormously in completing our academic projects. Everything must be done within our means to save Assange from the non-rosy prospects that awaits him as this band of British judges wash their hands off him, otherwise we researchers would appear even to our own conscience as being highly ungrateful and irresponsibly indifferent. It is a shame that the current Australian government is not sticking up for a fellow Aussie and worst working in tendem with the British who contemptously dismiss all Aussies as their Down Under to jointly pander to their American imperial masters. What a shame we ASS.ANGEred people the world over need to work with the like-minded American public to save Assange ASAP !

  3. Lois Gagnon
    December 12, 2021 at 20:21

    What is the difference between Western neoliberal governments and organized crime? Nothing. They make up their own rules according to their ambitions. Get in the way, you’ll be taken out by whatever means are most convenient.

    We need to stop pretending we are dealing with governments established by laws. That ship sailed a long time ago. These “governments” are run by ruling psychopaths willing to employ whatever means are necessary to maintain control. Any illusions to the contrary should be abandoned. They are waging a war to the end with the 99%. We need to think in those terms. We can not afford to do otherwise.

    Free Assange!

    • Daniel
      December 13, 2021 at 12:58

      Hear, hear.

    • Hujjatullah M.H.B. Sahib
      December 13, 2021 at 23:57

      You just hit the post-modern reality nail on its head !

  4. polbel
    December 12, 2021 at 19:23

    USA deserves their coming energy crash. Let’s see then how the powerful will take their social drop. The us military consumes a quarter million barrels of petroleum a day, for not much longer will their ships terrorize the planet and seek the wrong targets. It will be too late when they finally conclude the real enemy is excessive consumption by the military-industrial complex. Kentucky is paying the price right now for electing Trump and his dumb-ass team of anti-environmentalists. Idiots in Maine and New Hampshire controlled by the fossil fuel industry are blocking by referendum an electric line that would save consumption of the equivalent of hundreds of thousand of cars in Massachusetts and New York states. Empty fuel tanks, floods and fires will be their epitaph. They deserve Biden and they will pay for what he did to Assange…

  5. jmg
    December 12, 2021 at 14:21

    On editor and publisher Julian Assange…

    How do we call a person who has always risked his life to help others? What is the proper English word?

    • Bob_.
      December 12, 2021 at 18:22

      He is a hero.

      • jmg
        December 13, 2021 at 07:48

        I think you are right, Bob. By definition, he is.

        “If wars can be started by lies, peace can be started by truth.”
        — Julian Assange, speech in Trafalgar Square, October 8, 2011

  6. Skip Edwards
    December 12, 2021 at 14:04

    The treatment of Julian Assange by the government of the USA and the British government as the acting puppet of the US makes it ever more difficult to take pride in being an American! Is there truly any respect for our Constitution by the US government?

  7. David Otness
    December 11, 2021 at 21:20

    These are hard cynical men and women, ultra class conscious and totally aware of their extreme power of The Law over any and all us. We are but flies to be flicked, or as in this most sadistic and perverse case, likely as well in their spying and all-encroaching power, taking satisfaction in having at their disposal a trapped man whose wings are being torn off most cruelly in crass public torture—for both their class’s entertainment and as an object lesson for any and all who yet dare to bring forth the ugly truth of their own unprosecuted and most odious self-debasing.

    Fie on Them.

  8. David Owen Evans
    December 11, 2021 at 20:58

    The smell of death lingers.

  9. Piotr Berman
    December 11, 2021 at 19:50

    If I correctly understand, Mendoza was returned to Spain for the remainder of his sentence only after a court in Spain threatened to declare that the extradition treaty with USA is invalid. The record of Australian government suggests that no such independence can be expected there.

  10. Piotr Berman
    December 11, 2021 at 19:44

    What do fellow Australian think?

    On YouTube, I found three short videos posted by Australian TV networks on this subject, and neither of the three allows comments. I checked several other videos on the topic, they allow comments, and condemn the Court and USA. Some written by Australians. I did not scroll that much.

    Increasingly, obedient imperial media are blanking out inconvenient facts, and for some reasons, revealing the public opinion on Assange is inconvenient. Perhaps I should check on the comments for American videos from major networks.

    • Marie
      December 12, 2021 at 16:30

      What do Australians think? Well,i for one are outraged. Outraged at the treatment dealt out to Assange by the American & British governments. But worse than all, our pathetic government that kow tows to America & does not support its own citizens.

    • Anonymous
      December 12, 2021 at 21:35

      Citizens here in the states are also largely obedient. Disobedience or disagreement is seen as a sign of insanity or criminal intent…

  11. bevin
    December 11, 2021 at 19:00

    The missing ingredient in this travesty is the Jury. Which was also notably absent in the first offering on this Two Part Playbill- The Death of British Justice- the Trial of Craig Murray.
    The appalling LCJ Burnett put me in mind of Lord Ellenborough whose enormities included the sentencing of William Cobbett-another honest truth teller in 1812. Ellenborough relied upon hand picked “Special Juries” to follow his instructions.
    Now we are fallen so low that there are no Juries at all involved in capital trials. And the only peers that Julian will find in court are the scoundrels like these judges who have risen to the top of the Establishment, where they form a greasy crust.

  12. Ray Peterson
    December 11, 2021 at 18:52

    John, while as always your writing about Julian goes to the heart, and I used your documentary
    film: Palestine is still the issue, to teach world history; there’s something terrible going on here.
    Some journalists call it “fascism,” but could it be that today with corporate media not much more
    than CIA propaganda, and social media with few exceptions a megaphone for right wing violence,
    that “humanity” is a: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt; who can
    understand it?” (Jer.17.9).

  13. jayc
    December 11, 2021 at 16:03

    From the High Court: “General statements of opinion calling into question the good faith of the USA from those who establish no relevant expertise to give such an opinion are of no more value than a journalistic opinion culled from an internet search.”

    What a vile reprehensible statement. It is nothing more than a casually dismissive F.U. addressed to the commoners – a “let them eat cake” moment – which perhaps should call forth a 1789-like reaction and attendant deck-clearing, but probably won’t. The bewigged judges are no doubt confident of that.

    In my opinion, the continuing desire of the jailers is that Assange dies in Belmarsh, to spare the Americans the reputational damage of the show trial that awaits. The haughty attitude from the High Court and the obvious weasel wording of the U.S. “assurances” are part of the psychological pressure designed to whither the prisoner’s will and weaken his body.

    The elites of late-stage neoliberal capitalism are now openly at war with the vestiges of the Enlightenment concepts which could still be described as positive and affirming. Any hope of reform is lost at this point. We must reject their wicked world-view and reject their institutions to build something entirely new.

    • Daniel
      December 12, 2021 at 11:18

      Hear, hear. No time like the present.

  14. Ray Tanner
    December 11, 2021 at 12:25

    I am grateful that there are people/journalists like John Pilger in the world, who still care about journalistic integrity. Thank you. John; you are credit to both journalism and humanity.

  15. alley cat
    December 11, 2021 at 05:26

    “Julian himself has been a prisoner of lying governments for more than a decade now.”

    “Fair is Foul, Foul is Fair”
    — chanted by three witches in Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 1.

    Another brilliant post by John Pilger.

    We need to bear in mind that all “assurances” of humane detention by fork-tongued torturers and thugs are red herrings. Worse than worthless, they distract us from the overarching truth that Assange has done nothing wrong or illegal, while those persecuting him have done everything wrong and illegal for over a decade.

    It would be relevant to argue about conditions of imprisonment for them, but not for Assange.

    So let’s keep one thing clear during this moral and legal chaos instigated by British and American authorities: any imprisonment of Julian Assange is a crime and there can be no moral or legal order in either Britain or America as long as the criminal persecutors of Assange reign over us.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      December 11, 2021 at 12:35

      Hear, hear. Thank you for saying what I was going to say.

    • Mike Maddden
      December 11, 2021 at 14:14

      Nobody in this comment section has said it better than you alley cat. The wrong party is on trial.

    • Daniel
      December 12, 2021 at 11:21

      Absolutely correct. We must wrest power from the freedom-strangling hands of these people without delay.

Comments are closed.