- Gabriel Shiptonfilmmaker and Julian Assange’s half-brother.
- John Shiptonfather of Julian Assange.
The U.S. State Department is pushing to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from Britain, where Biden is now meeting with leaders during the G7 summit. A U.K. judge blocked Assange’s extradition in January, citing serious mental health concerns. Assange faces up to 175 years in prison if brought to the U.S., where he was indicted for violations of the Espionage Act related to the publication of classified documents exposing U.S. war crimes. We speak with Assange’s father and half-brother, who are on a tour of the United States to advocate for his release. “The G7 meeting is based upon values, and yet they have, just a few kilometers down the road, a foremost journalist in jail,” says John Shipton. Assange is a victim of “an abusive process” meant to punish him for his journalism, adds Gabriel Shipton. “The situation there is really dire, and Julian is suffering inside that prison.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman. By the way, you can sign up for our daily news digest email by texting the word “democracynow” — one word, no space — to 66866 and get our headlines and news alerts. That’s “democracynow” — one word — to 66866.
The U.S. State Department has pushed to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from Britain, where he has been locked up for over two years after being dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he was taking refuge. President Joe Biden is now meeting with world leaders in the U.K. during the G7 summit. A U.K. judge blocked Assange’s extradition in January, citing serious mental health concerns. Assange was indicted for violations of the U.S. Espionage Act related to the publication of classified documents exposing U.S. war crimes. He faces up to 175 years in prison, if brought to the U.S.
On Thursday, the British Parliament held a debate on the safety of journalists, where Labour lawmaker Richard Burgon addressed Assange’s case.
MP RICHARD BURGON: I appeal to President Joe Biden, now in the country for the G7, to drop the charges so that the extradition is called off.
AMY GOODMAN: This comes as Julian Assange’s father and brother are on a nationwide tour of the United States to advocate for the founder of WikiLeaks’ release. They’re joining us now here in New York. John Shipton is Julian’s father. Gabriel Shipton is a filmmaker and Julian’s brother.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Thanks so much for joining us. Gabriel, let’s begin with you. First of all, did it surprise you to hear Julian’s case brought up in the British Parliament? And talk about where the case stands. The extradition was denied by a judge in January, yet he’s still in the maximum-security Belmarsh Prison.
GABRIEL SHIPTON: I think I wasn’t surprised to hear it brought up in the Parliament. There’s quite a large support group for Julian in the U.K. Parliament. I think it’s got almost 30 members. So, that group is advocating for the charges to be dropped and the extradition to be stopped.
So, where Julian’s case is at, at the moment, you know, as you said, his extradition was rejected on the 4th of January, and his bail was refused on the 6th of January. So, the U.S. has appealed the extradition rejection, and it’s been six months now since Julian — since that extradition rejection, and we still don’t know when there will be an appeal date. So Julian has just been sitting in Belmarsh Prison for six months, not knowing when there will be an appeal heard.
So, really, what I think we’re seeing is an abuse of process to keep Julian imprisoned. And, you know, he hasn’t had any visits since October. The prison is in a COVID lockdown. So, the situation there is really dire, and Julian is suffering inside that prison, for basically just — he’s on remand. He has no sentence. So, why is he in that prison? I just don’t understand.
AMY GOODMAN: John Shipton, you’re Julian Assange’s father. When was the last time you got to see him?
JOHN SHIPTON: Good morning, Amy.
Sometime ago now, March last year, I had visited. Since then, it’s not been possible. There was one visit of Julian’s children to the prison, and Stella, his partner. But they had to be separated during the visit by two meters — or two yards, in your money. And Julian had to wear full PPE. Now, Julian is in his cell 23 hours a day. The guard said to Julian, “If your children embrace you or Stella embraces you, you will have to spend the next two weeks in lockdown, 23 hours a day in your cell.” You can see that there’s comic ironies and difficulties all the time in the treatment of Julian. But that was the last visit. Gabriel visited in October last year. So, it’s a very uncomfortable situation.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, who visited Julian Assange in London’s Belmarsh Prison several years ago.
NILS MELZER: I spoke with him for an hour just to get a good first impression. Then we had a physical examination for an hour by our forensic expert, and then we had the two-hour psychiatric examination. And all three of us had the same impression — and, well, I had certainly an impression, and the medical doctors had a diagnosis, that they — we all came to the conclusion that he showed all the symptoms that are typical for a person that has been exposed to psychological torture over an extended period of time.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, often shortened to the U.N. special rapporteur on torture. John, explain what your son is going through, the kind of isolation he’s faced. He’s been at Belmarsh for several years, but, before that, also in a sense, to say the least, very isolated, though could see more people — we at Democracy Now!, I went to see him a number of times to interview him, and before, when he was under house arrest — all this because the U.S. wants him in the United States to try him under the U.S. treason act. Can you talk about his mental state of mind now and why he does the work he does as a publisher of WikiLeaks, and what he faces?
JOHN SHIPTON: Well, Amy, the circumstances are, of course, described by Nils Melzer very accurately. The mobbing, the smearing, the constantly not knowing where he’s staying — there’s no end to it, so you can’t count on one day being able to see your children — over the number of years, has accumulated to a situation where Nils Melzer accurately describes it as psychological torture.
This circumstance is — well, it’s easily fixed. The G7 meeting is based upon values, and yet they have, just a few kilometers down the road, a foremost journalist in jail. And so, they can be genuine about basing the new world order on values and release Julian. That would be something sincere.
As to Julian, what motivates him, always Julian rejects, and has a sort of a natural leaning towards, injustice, so wherever there’s an injustice. Also to right injustices requires speaking truthfully. The third thing is that freedom only comes about through knowledge. So, once you accumulate knowledge and talk to your friends, you are able then to make proper decisions and understand the circumstances that you’re in or your community is in. So, those three elements seem to be, to me, the prime motivating forces in the manifestation of Julian in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Julian applied for bail. I mean, the judge ruled he was a suicide risk. She would not extradite him to the United States, Gabriel. And yet he has been denied bail. Can you talk about the significance of this? Why is he being held in London right now? And are you concerned that Joe Biden, now president of the United States, said — when he was vice president, he likened Julian to a “high-tech terrorist”? That was the strongest criticism of the Obama administration. Have you had any dealings with the Biden administration at this point?
GABRIEL SHIPTON: I think, you know, why Julian is still in prison, he’s being punished like this as an example to everyone else, everyone else who might think about speaking truth to power, that this is what will happen to you. You know, this is the extent that you will be pursued. So, if you think about publishing truth or truthful information, this is an — you know, Julian is the example of what will happen. So, this chilling effect is already in place by what we’re seeing, you know, what we’ve seen happen to Julian over the last 12 years of his detainment.
We were here in January this year trying to see the Biden administration. We did have some contact through an intermediary, with the human rights people in the administration, who — you know, we got a letter in to them, and they said, “Let’s meet after the 20th of January.” But, obviously, a lot’s happened since then, and the Biden administration has a lot to deal with at the moment.
But really, I think this has to come from the DOJ, you know, Merrick Garland. This is a Trump-era prosecution. And, you know, under — an independent DOJ, under Obama, found that this prosecution, they couldn’t prosecute Julian because of what they called The New York Times problem, and so they didn’t pursue the case. And at the end of —
AMY GOODMAN: What’s The New York Times problem?
GABRIEL SHIPTON: — Obama’s term, you know, Obama-Biden’s term, Obama commuted Chelsea Manning’s sentence. Chelsea Manning is the leaker that Julian is charged — that the Espionage Act charges are relating to, to Julian. So, that was a clear signal from the Biden-Obama presidency that this prosecution wasn’t going to go forward. And it was only under Trump — and it was the Trump DOJ, Jeff Sessions and then William Barr, who opened up this prosecution. And so, you know, we’re just asking Biden and Merrick Garland to just revert to the independent DOJ under Obama’s position that this prosecution was detrimental to a free press and First Amendment and the Constitution, which is — you know, I think we find it quite ironic that two Australians are traveling the country, traveling the U.S., talking about a free press and the First Amendment.
AMY GOODMAN: John, if you can talk about what Julian released, the kind of information, the, ultimately, millions of documents, on the Afghan War, on the Iraq War, the State Department cables? And if you could start by talking about a video we have shown a number of times, because WikiLeaks made this available? It was a video that Reuters had requested for years. It’s about what happened to their two employees. Namir Noor-Eldeen, their 22-year-old up-and-coming videographer, and his driver, Saeed Chmagh, father of four, 40 years old, were in this area of Baghdad called New Baghdad, and they were being taken around by the community to show what had happened in their community the day before, a bombing. And a U.S. Apache helicopter comes overhead and opens fire on this group of men below, killing both Reuters staffers, as well as the community members. Can you talk about the significance of this video coming out, that Chelsea Manning had made available to WikiLeaks, and other examples?
JOHN SHIPTON: Well, yes. That video is sort of like fundamental to a change in understanding of the United States and its allies in Iraq and their destruction of that country. So, that is a pivotal point. So we understand, from that, that the occupation of Iraq was a tragedy, and that the ongoingness of that tragedy is in the Iraq War files. So, the Iraq War files revealed that 15,000 civilian deaths had happened and that were unreported in the current literature, but they were in the Iraq War files.
One of the really important revelations in the diplomatic cables was that there is an attack by a group of soldiers on a house outside Baghdad wherein the entire family was destroyed and killed. Contemplating this crime, the soldiers called in an airstrike and obliterated all evidence of those murders and destroyed the house. When this cable was seen, after the release by WikiLeaks, when it was seen by the Iraqi parliament, the Iraqi parliament gathered together the courage to refuse the status of forces agreement that the United States and its allies had put before them. As a consequence of that refusal, the United States and its allies withdrew their troops from Iraq. So, in this circumstance, as we can see, a profound thing about the leaks and the publication of those leaks, that it brought about peace, and it ended a war.
There are several more examples of that. So, there’s an — an American lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, set up an organization named Reprieve. And using the Guantánamo Bay files, Clive was able to go to Guantánamo Bay and secure the release of prisoners who were there under circumstances that they’re innocent of any crime and had been sold to the United States Army and moved to Guantánamo Bay. Twenty-two of those prisoners were children at the time. So, that’s another circumstance.
A third one, if I could illustrate, this time concerns the United Kingdom’s removal of the entire population of the Chagos Islands in order to provide the United States with an air base called Diego Garcia. Using the revelations in the cables, the people of the Chagos Islands and their lawyers were able to take a case to the International Court of Justice and win. Despite the United Kingdom’s appeal, they continued to prevail.
So, there’s three examples of what a leak can bring about and the importance of these revelations. And finally, that those documents are in a searchable library, so that, ongoing, they can be used to further people’s desire for justice and to deepen the understanding of the people of the United States of the involvement of their Pentagon and their foreign policy, their involvement, and the exercise of that foreign policy and the disaster that it’s brought to parts of the world.
AMY GOODMAN: John Shipton and Gabriel Shipton, I’d like to thank you so much for being with us. You are on this tour across the United States, brought here by the Courage Foundation, arrived in Miami, doing events here in New York, in Philadelphia, D.C., Boston, Columbus, Chicago, Milwaukee, as you travel the country. Next up, Philly today. Thanks so much for spending this time with us. John Shipton is the father of Julian Assange; Gabriel Shipton, a filmmaker and Julian’s brother.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. When we come back, we talk about Germany apologizing for its role in the first genocide of the 20th century in its former colony now known as Namibia. But descendants are saying that Germany’s offer of development aid is a pittance and are calling on the Namibian government to reject it. Stay with us.