John Pilger on the Urgency to Free Assange

In an interview, the renowned Australian investigative journalist warns that the U.S. is close to getting its hands on the the courageous WikiLeaks publisher.

Julian Assange at an antiwar rally in London, Oct. 8, 2011. (Haydn, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

By Oscar Grenfell
World Socialist Web Site

In an interview with the World Socialist Web Site, renowned Australian investigative journalist John Pilger warns that the “U.S. is close to getting its hands on” the courageous WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange.

Last month, British Home Secretary Priti Patel approved Assange’s extradition to the U.S., where he faces 175 years imprisonment under the Espionage Act for publishing true information exposing American war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As Pilger explains, Patel’s order will be the subject of a further appeal, but the British judiciary that will adjudicate has facilitated Assange’s persecution every step of the way. This underscores the urgency of a political fight to free Assange, based on the powerful struggles of the working class that are emerging all around the world.

Pilger began his media career in the late 1950s. His first documentary, The Quiet Mutiny, exposed aspects of the U.S. war in Vietnam in 1970. Since then, Pilger has produced more than 50 documentaries, many of them feature-length and centering on revealing the crimes of the major imperialist powers.

In a 2012 Rolling Stone interview, Assange was asked: “Who has been your most critical public supporter?” He replied: “John Pilger, the Australian journalist, has been the most impressive.”

Pilger has been unwavering in his defence of the WikiLeaks publisher. In 2018 and 2019, he addressed Socialist Equality Party rallies, demanding that the Australian government use its diplomatic and legal powers to free Assange.

Because of his principled defence of Assange and opposition to war, Pilger is hardly ever referenced in Australia’s official media, despite being one of the country’s most well-known and respected journalists.

WSWS: After Patel’s announcement allowing extradition, where is the Assange case? Are the dangers he confronts of a greater urgency than previously?

John Pilger. (WSWS)

John Pilger: It is a dangerous, unpredictable time. Since the home secretary signed the extradition order, a provisional appeal has been filed by Julian’s lawyers. “Provisional” is part of the tortuous process of appeal. The lawyers must submit what are known as “perfected grounds of appeal” in the next few weeks, then the U.S. and the home secretary file their responses. Only after that does it go to a judge (not sitting in a court) to decide whether or not he will accept it. It may sound meticulous but, having observed it, it looks to me like a finely spun blanket of obfuscation over a profoundly biased system.

Until the High Court hearing last year, I believed the country’s senior judges would reject the U.S. appeal and reclaim something of the mythologised notion of British justice if only for the system’s survival, which partly depends on “face” within the arcane reaches of the British establishment. This show of “independence” in support of justice has happened in the past. In Julian’s case, the facts are surely too outrageous — no properly constituted court would even consider it — yet I was wrong. The decision by the lord chief justice of England and Wales last October that the U.S. in effect had the right to fabricate and belatedly introduce “assurances” that had not even been part of previous due process was quite shocking. There was no justice, no process; the guile and ruthlessness of U.S. power was on show. Might is right.

Today, the U.S. knows it is close to getting its hands on Julian. Unlike previous parliaments at Westminster, there is not a single voice speaking up for him. In spite of a tenacious campaign emphasising the threat Julian’s extradition poses to a “free press,” he is barely acknowledged in the media, which remains intensely hostile to him. Journalists have never been as compliant as they are today, and Julian’s case is a reminder — to some — of what they ought to be. He shames them.

Supporters of Julian Assange block the road opposite the Royal Courts of Justice where the U.S. appeal was being heard, Oct. 28, 2021. (Don’t Extradite Assange Campaign)

WSWS: You have consistently defended Julian for more than 10 years. Over that period have you been shocked by the intensity with which he has been pursued?

JP: Perhaps not shocked; as a journalist, I have had my own taste of state ruthlessness. Remember the pursuit of Julian is a measure of his achievements. He informed millions about the deceptions of governments too many trusted; he respected their right to know. It was a remarkable public service.

WSWS: Do you think this is bound up with a broader assault on democratic rights?

JP: Yes, it’s the latest stage of the abandonment of what used to be called “social democracy.” The “rollback” of rights in the U.S. and U.K. is in reaction to the uprising, in the 1960s and 1970s, of people and their conscientiousness and of ideas of equity. This was an historical “moment” when society was becoming more enlightened; minority and gender rights were gaining acceptance; workers were fighting back. At the same time, the so-called information age was launched. It was only partly about information; it was a media age, with the media establishing a ubiquitous, controlling place in people’s lives. One of the most influential books of the time was The Greening of America. On the cover were the words: “There is a revolution coming. It will not be like revolutions of the past. It will originate with the individual.” The message of its author, a young Yale academic, Charles Reich, was that truth-telling and political action had failed and only “culture” and introspection could change the world.

Within a few years, driven by new opportunities of profit, the cult of “me-ism” had subverted people’s sense of acting together, their sense and language of social justice and internationalism. Class, gender and race were separated; class as a way of explaining society became heresy. The personal was the political, and the media was the message. The propaganda was that something called globalism was good for you. Corporatism, its specious language and its authoritarianism, appropriated much about the way we lived, ensuring what the economist Ted Wheelwright called a “Two Thirds Society”— with the bottom third beholden to debt and poverty while an unrecognised class war uprooted and destroyed the power of labour. 

In 2008, the election of the first black president in the land of slavery and the fabrication of a new cold war completed the political disorientation of those who, 20 years earlier, would have formed a critical opposition and an anti-war movement.

WSWS: Is there a relationship with the escalation of war, including the U.S.-led confrontations with China and Russia?

JP: Events today are the direct result of plans laid in the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, a document that laid out how the U.S. would maintain its empire and see off any challenges, real and imagined. The aim was U.S. dominance at any cost, literally. Written by Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney, who would play key roles in the administration of George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq, it might have been written by Lord Curzon in the 19th century. They formed “The Project for a New American Century.” America, it boasted, “would oversee a new frontier.” The role of other states would be as vassals or supplicants, or they would be crushed. It planned the conquest of Europe and Russia, with all the zeal and thoroughness of Hitler’s imperialists. The roots of NATO’s current war on Russia and provocations of China are here.

WSWS: What do you think of the role being played by the Albanese Labor government? Can you comment on The Declassified Australia report, with internal briefings for Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, which indicated that the only focus of the Labor government is a hypothetical prison transfer, after Assange has been extradited to the U.S. and convicted of Espionage Act charges there?

JP: The Albanese Labor government is as right-wing and compliant as any Australian Labor government — only the Whitlam government in 1972–75 broke the mold, and it was got rid of. It was the Labor government of Julia Gillard that initiated Australia’s collusion with the U.S. to silence Assange. The “prison transfer” idea may be seen as a weasel way of satisfying support for Julian in his homeland. Whatever happens, the U.S. will decide and the Albanese government will do as it’s told. 

WSWS: We are raising the need for workers and young people to come to Assange’s defence, as the spearhead of the fight against war and authoritarianism. Why do you think ordinary people should take up the struggle to free Assange? 

JP: Julian Assange is the courageous embodiment of a struggle against the darkest, most oppressive forces in our world; and people of principle, young and old, should oppose it as best they can; or one day it may touch their lives, and worse.

Oscar Grenfell is a member of the Socialist Equality Party and writer for the World Socialist Web Site, focusing on Australian politics and social issues. Follow him on Twitter at @Oscar_Grenfell.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.


8 comments for “John Pilger on the Urgency to Free Assange

  1. Mcelroy
    July 29, 2022 at 12:22

    To the dude talking about a free press – I’ll have what you’re smoking bro. Free press? More like free propaganda.

    Someone start the damn protest so we can do something about assange. Where do we need to be? What do we need to do?

    This is the hill worth dying on.

  2. LeoSun
    July 28, 2022 at 13:25

    W/o a doubt, John Pilger, Joe Lauria, Chris Hedges, Mairead Maguire, Caitlin Johnstone, CN, et al., the Truth Seekers/Leaders (HEROS) who wholeheartedly, w/GENUINE empathy & passion bring balance between dark & light, war & peace, i.e., “THE FIRST CASUALTY when war war comes is TRUTH;”

    And, “call on all people to bring awareness to Julian’s situation and support him in his struggle for basic human rights, freedom of speech, and peace.” (Mairead Maquire)

    Living w/war is hell, i.e., “Surveillance of Everyone is going on by the USG.” Hence, the affirmation becomes, “We will NOT be rendered unconscious by the Powers That Be!”

    “The Espionage Act charges against Assange were originally brought by the Trump administration. Despite pleas from press freedom groups and progressive leaders across the globe, the Biden administration has opted to continue pushing for Assange’s extradition and prosecution.”

    APRIL 18, 2019 -“Journalists, Whistleblowers and Defenders of the Right to Information.”

    “One short story. You see the Western Media has demonized Julian Assange. And, I am deeply ashamed that they would stoop into the gutter and talk about a good man and his cat. And saying he’s not clean enough. WHAT KIND of MEDIA have we got?…That is the extent of their intellectual thinking? They can’t see the dangers ahead. THEY CAN’T SEE we are going to war”

    “Let me tell you about somebody who regards Assange as a hero, the Afghani children, “We love Julian Assange. He told the world what’s happening here, to save us” (Mairead Maguire, Ireland)

    Julian Assange Wins 2019 GUE/NGL Journalism Award

    ? Julian Assange has won the 2019 EU Journalism Award. He sent an audio message which was played @ the award ceremony:

    “What is occurring is not about protocol.”

    “What has occurred since March 2017/2018 is about something much more serious. It is the Ecuadorian Govt., positioning itself in terms of its public discourse. Gagging me in order to rebut allegations that is making publicly this apparently, deliberately leaking out to the press selective scandal material.

    It’s all about setting the grounds in order to violate the asylum, in order to hand me over to the United States.” JULIAN ASSANGE

    “The award is given to individuals “uncovering the truth and exposing it to the public” and to honor “individuals or groups who have been intimidated and/or persecuted for uncovering the truth and exposing it to the public.” Onward & Upwards. “KEEP IT LIT!” hxxps://

  3. ray Peterson
    July 27, 2022 at 08:53

    John, as one so close to Julian and his family, and to
    me, who used your documentary films in my world
    classes; justice for Julian, anywhere in the world, will be
    hard to find, but especially in the West.
    Nils Melzer, in his The Trial of Julian Assange, said
    that if mainstream media (NYT, WaPo et al.), demanded
    that Julian go free in the morning, that he’d be released
    in the afternoon. So it’s the established corporate employees,
    being traitors to their profession, that are keeping him captive.
    Other than intervention from the Holy Spirit, maybe the
    CIA will be divided over him as an asset or an enemy. Something
    Ray McGovern might be willing to address.

  4. Graeme
    July 27, 2022 at 01:09

    Julian Assange is being persecuted mainly because he (and Chelsea manning) informed the world of war-crimes committed in Iraq.
    Because these crimes have never been properly investigated, nor the perpetrators charged, responsibility for these acts extends all the way to the Oval Office.
    The following commanders-in-chief and many of their underlings – Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden – are all culpable in the prevention of justice.

    The compliance of the governments of Sweden, UK, Australia and post-Correa Ecuador has permitted successive US regimes to get away with murder.

    Comments by PM Albanese and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus that this affair needs to be concluded should not provide any assurance or comfort to those hoping that Julian will be freed – such comments have more holes than a sieve.

    John’s comment that “The Albanese Labor government is as right-wing and compliant as any Australian Labor government” is so sadly true, although after 10 years of ultra-right conservative governments many Australians are merely relieved that Morrison and his mob are jettisoned to history.

    • ray Peterson
      July 27, 2022 at 08:37

      So depressingly accurate Graeme. America’s “war
      industry” (bk. title, C. Sorensen), makes profit from
      war and the crimes that go with the sales have to
      be silenced. And so the CIA does its dirty work by
      disappearing Assange.

  5. CNfan
    July 26, 2022 at 20:54

    The purpose of a free press is to help prevent criminals from controlling the government. Our protections for a free press clearly need to be beefed up.

    • July 27, 2022 at 09:32

      How can the protections for a free press be “beefed” up if the press has become an organ of the government. They already have protection from the government since they speak for the government. Any journalist/organization that is not part of the “press” needs to watch out. These journalists will be called by many names but not “journalist or member of the press”.

    • Em
      July 27, 2022 at 10:02

      Don’t you mean, need to begin to be implemented; by immediately releasing the wholly illegitimately incarcerated Julian Assange?
      If the indigenous populations of the Americas’ and elsewhere, can forgive those of the Catholic churches, and others, who committed genocide upon them, in the name of a civilizing Christianity, (when the Church was, in deed, the state) then it ought to be an easy task for the unindicted criminals in government to recant; to do the same for the much vaunted, so-called ‘free press’ thereby upholding the ‘laws’ supposedly there to protect society from the really ‘bad apples’ poisoning the body politic all these long years.
      If anyone thinks the aforementioned is a long sentence, be aware of, and keep in mind what Julian has had to go through every day!

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