On Jan. 20, Democracy Now! livestreamed the Belmarsh Tribunal from Washington, D.C. The event featured expert testimony from journalists, whistleblowers, lawyers, publishers and parliamentarians on assaults to press freedom and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Watch the archived video of the event above.
Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman and Srecko Horvat, the co-founder of DiEM25, co-chaired the tribunal, which was organized by Progressive International and the Wau Holland Foundation.
Members of the tribunal include:
Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers whistleblower
Noam Chomsky, linguist and activist
Jeremy Corbyn, member of U.K. Parliament and founder of the Peace and Justice Project
John Shipton, father of Julian Assange
Chip Gibbons, policy director of Defending Rights & Dissent
Kevin Gosztola, managing editor of Shadowproof
Margaret Kunstler, civil rights attorney
Stefania Maurizi, investigative journalist, Il Fatto Quotidiano
Jesselyn Radack, national security and human rights attorney
Ben Wizner, lead attorney at ACLU of Edward Snowden
Renata Ávila, human rights lawyer, technology and society expert
Jeffrey Sterling, lawyer and former CIA employee
Steven Donziger, human rights attorney
Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief, WikiLeaks
Katrina vanden Heuvel, editorial director and publisher, The Nation
Selay Ghaffar, spokesperson, Solidarity Party of Afghanistan
Betty Medsger, investigative reporter
AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to the Belmarsh Tribunal. I want to welcome all the people in this room, a particularly significant room given that it was here almost exactly 13 years ago that Julian Assange released his “Collateral Murder” video of WikiLeaks. I’ll talk about that in a moment. But thank you to all of you, as well as all of the people who are viewing on the democracynow.org live stream, people around the world. I’m Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, which airs on 1,500 public television and radio stations around the world and on the internet at democracynow.org. It is absolutely critical that, as journalists, we speak out on this critical issue of press freedom.
The Belmarsh tribunal was convened by the Progressive International and the Wau Holland Foundation and brought to you live by Democracy Now! The Belmarsh Tribunal sits for the fourth time today, here in Washington, D.C., to hear testimony from a range of expert witnesses, from constitutional lawyers to acclaimed journalists, whistleblowers, human rights defenders and a dad, to the ongoing attack on press freedom and the First Amendment.
The Belmarsh Tribunal was inspired by the Nobel Prize-winning British philosopher Bertrand Russell and the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir and others. First, the tribunal was established in 1966, when representatives of 18 countries gathered to hold the United States accountable for war crimes in Vietnam, in the absence of an international authority to do so.
Today, the tribunal pursues justice for the global campaign against the suppression of dissent, and it pursues justice for journalists who are imprisoned or persecuted, publishers, whistleblowers who dare to reveal the crimes of our governments. From Ankara to Manila to Budapest to right here in the United States, state actors are cracking down on journalists, their sources, their publishers in a globally coordinated campaign to disrupt the public’s access to information. It’s not just critical to talk about freedom of the press, but it’s critical to talk about the right of the public to have access to information. That is why freedom of the press is so important.
A landmark case in this campaign is that of Julian Assange, the publisher who founded WikiLeaks, exposed crimes by the United States government and now faces 175 years in prison if extradited by Britain from the Belmarsh prison, where he is currently being held. Assange’s case is the first time in history that a publisher has been indicted under the Espionage Act. Recently, it was revealed the CIA had been spying illegally on Julian, his lawyers and some members of this very tribunal. The CIA even plotted his assassination at the Ecuadorian Embassy under President Trump.
Julian Assange made one of the most explosive revelations right here, not only at the National Press Club, but right here in this room, and we will show images of his news conference. In fact, on Democracy Now!, we interviewed him the following morning. Right here at the National Press Club, he released “Collateral Murder,” what WikiLeaks called this videotape, which showed harrowing footage of a U.S. Apache helicopter assassinating civilians and journalists in Iraq.
I want to talk about that moment, that crime that was documented, not by peace activists on the ground but by the military itself, the footage coming from the Apache helicopter itself. It was July 12th, 2007, an area of Baghdad called New Baghdad. Men were walking by below the helicopter unit. They called back to base, the soldiers in the Apache helicopter. They weren’t rogue. They asked for permission to engage, and they opened fire. They killed Iraqi civilians and two Reuters journalists — Namir Noor-Eldeen, an up-and-coming 22-year-old videographer, and his driver, the Iraqi Saeed Chmagh, father of four. Saeed didn’t die immediately. He was crawling away, having been injured. A white van pulls up, a dad with his two kids, taking them to school. The unit — the helicopter blows up the van, as well as kills Saeed Chmagh. The kids are critically injured.
Now, I dare say this would never have happened if, six months before, in February of 2007, something that appeared in the Iraq War Logs that WikiLeaks released had been exposed at the time, why standing up for press freedom, free flow of information is so important. It was then that the same helicopter unit, Apache unit, flying overhead, saw two men below. They were putting up their hands in a surrender sign. They called back to base. They spoke to the lawyer, and they got permission to attack, and they killed them. People gasp in this room, as anyone would. And if we knew that at the time, if we had that information — why it’s so critical to have — I dare say an investigation would have been launched, and what happened six months later in new Baghdad with that attack, that Reuters had appealed for for years under the Freedom of Information Act to get that video, to find out what happened to their staff, and were denied — I dare say that attack would not have happened, because we would have known about it before. That’s why freedom of the press, the free flow of information saves lives.
And that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. President Joseph Biden has continued to enforce the stance of the Trump administration before him, calling for Assange’s extradition. U.S. Congress and the White House otherwise have remained largely silent, although, though belatedly, The New York Times, The Guardian, El País, Der Spiegel and Le Monde have called for the Biden administration to drop the charges.
Today we’re going to hear from an illustrious group of people, including the British parliamentarian Jeremy Corbyn; Noam — we’ll be hearing, in person and also in video, going back and forth, Noam Chomsky; the Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi; Daniel Ellsberg, the world’s most famous whistleblower; the critically important Betty Medsger, who exposed COINTELPRO — I wonder if she was doing this today, if she would be in prison; Steve Donziger, who knows about prison, the U.S. attorney; and more. But first I’m going to introduce the co-chair of today’s panel, Srecko Horvat.
SRECKO HORVAT: Thanks a lot, Amy. It is a great honor to be here today at the National Press Club, at the very place where a very courageous publisher, one of the most courageous publishers in the world, in our contemporary history, revealed American war crimes. WikiLeaks revealed war crimes, and Julian Assange is for almost four years in prison, in a prison which is called Belmarsh prison, while those who committed the war crimes are still free.
I come from a country which, unfortunately, had the experience of a bloody war, namely ex-Yugoslavia. And, you know, “Collateral Murder” was published in 2007. Now it’s 15 years — it was published in 2010, but the atrocities happened in 2007. And now it’s 15 years since that crime. And I don’t know whether anyone ended up in prison or if anyone was charged or convicted. In ex-Yugoslavia, 15 years after the war, some war criminals actually were convicted. Some died in prison. Some are still free. Some are unfortunately still in power. In the United States, no one was convicted. Some died without being charged and convicted. Most of the war criminals of these war crimes which you could have seen in “Collateral Murder” and other publications of WikiLeaks are still free, and others are powerful members of your society.
And this is the reason why the Belmarsh Tribunal is coming to Washington, D.C., just two blocks away from the White House. It’s called Belmarsh, as you can imagine, because we called it after the prison where Julian Assange is still being held. We had several tribunals already, one in London, one in New York City. Members of the tribunal included Edward Snowden, another hero; Rafael Correa; President Lula; Yanis Varoufakis; and many others. Today we are here, two blocks from the White House, to focus on the crimes of the U.S. government committed against the freedom of press, against journalism, against the First Amendment and against Julian Assange.
It is the first time that a publisher is being charged under this very anachronistic law, namely the Espionage Act, which comes, as you know better than me, from 1917, you know, which is a wartime document. And you think your country is progressive, you know? You still have a law which is like hundred — more than a hundred years old, from the First World War. I mean, I have to say that as an outsider to this country. It’s really — as Bertolt Brecht said, it’s very — a country is sad which needs heroes. And the United States is really sad if someone like me has to come from Croatia to talk about the First Amendment.
As you know, Julian Assange has been targeted by the most powerful institutions in the world, by American institutions, by the CIA, by the NSA and by the Pentagon, who plotted to kill him or to kidnap him from British soil. And after 12 years of persecution, almost four years in prison, of what the United Nations characterized as arbitrary detention, he now faces 175 years in a supermax prison in the United States. For what? For publishing the truth, for publishing facts about war crimes of your government, for publishing the truth and secrets about the CIA program of surveillance of you, my dear fellow American citizens.
So we are here today, among other reasons, to remind President Biden of what the presidential candidate Biden said in 2020: quote, “Reporters Without Borders tells us that at least 360 people worldwide are currently imprisoned for their work in journalism. We all stand in solidarity with these journalists for, as Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1786, [quote] 'Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.'”
Now, I’m not really a big fan of Jefferson, given the fact that the same guy you Americans celebrate, even today, owned more than 600 slaves. And in the same way Jefferson was nominally opposed to slavery but owned slaves, President Biden is nominally advocating freedom of press but at the same time continuing the persecution of Julian Assange.
Today we gathered in Washington, D.C., to demand President Biden to drop the charges against Julian Assange, if he really wants to protect freedom of press and the First Amendment. In the meantime, while Julian Assange is still in prison, all major newspapers of the world have demanded the same, to drop the charges — The Guardian, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, El País and Le Monde. All major human rights organizations demanded the same, to drop the charges. And even the United Nations called Julian Assange’s prolonged detention torture.
I am honored to be co-chairing today’s tribunal with Amy Goodman, a great source of inspiration. And I’m happy to welcome all the members of our tribunal, and you, the audience, who is here in a big number and everyone who is watching us today. And by this, I officially proclaim the tribunal launched. Thanks a lot.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll move right into the tribunal members. Ben Wizner is the director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. He’s been at the ACLU for 20 years, has worked at the intersection of civil liberties and national security, litigating numerous cases involving airport security policies, government watchlist surveillance practices, targeted killing and torture. He’s testified before Congress as an adjunct professor at New York University School of Law. And since 2013, Ben Wizner has been the principal legal adviser to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Ben.
BEN WIZNER: Thank you, Amy. Thank you, friends, for being here in this room today to talk about this most important case.
About a half a century ago — in fact, the very week that I was born — just a few blocks from here, the Supreme Court heard and then decided the case of the Pentagon Papers. And we’ll all be hearing from the Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg a little bit later this afternoon. In the half-century that has passed from then until now, there has been no greater threat to press freedom than United States v. Julian Assange. And you’ll hear quite a bit today about the freedom of the man. My comments will be about the freedom of the press to fulfill its necessary constitutional role in any democracy.
No government in any kind of system will voluntarily disclose its own crimes. For that, we need brave sources who have firsthand evidence, and we need a free press and brave publishers who are willing to bring this information to the people, to whom it belongs.
Now, in this case, the government characterizes that collaboration between a courageous source and a courageous publisher as a conspiracy. Of course it was a conspiracy. Good investigative journalism is always a conspiracy. It’s a conspiracy to end the monopoly on information that governments control and to give people the seat at the table that they must have in order for us to be able to judge powerful people and hold them accountable. But this is the first time, as you’ve heard already today, under the century-long history of the Espionage Act that the government has charged this kind of collaboration as a criminal conspiracy. And this is vitally important.
Remember, without sources like Chelsea Manning, like Edward Snowden, without publishers like WikiLeaks and the partners that it worked with to bring this information forward, what would we have not have known? Just over the course of my career, we would not have known that prisoners were tortured and sexually humiliated at Abu Ghraib. We would not have known that the CIA set up an archipelago of dungeons where people were held incommunicado and subjected to barbaric treatment. We wouldn’t have known that any innocent person ever died in a drone strike. We wouldn’t have known that governments developed and deployed systems of mass surveillance without the consent or knowledge of the public. These are all things that governments classified at the absolute highest level of secrecy. And yet, can anyone really say that the public in a democracy doesn’t have a right to know or a need to know any of the things that I have just said?
If this prosecution goes forward and ends in conviction, it will be a very dark day for press freedom in the United States. The prosecution has already had a chilling effect in newsrooms around the country. The lawyers for publications are already assessing the risks of publishing certain information in a way that they never had before.
But let’s not just focus on the threat to press freedom in the United States, because this is an attack on press freedom globally. And that’s because the United States is advancing what I think is really the extraordinary claim that it can impose U.S. criminal secrecy laws on a foreign publisher who is publishing outside the United States. Let’s think about that for a second. Let’s linger on that for a second. This is opening an incredible Pandora’s box. Every country has secrecy laws. Some countries have very draconian secrecy laws. If those countries try to extradite New York Times reporters and publishers to those countries for publishing their secrets, we would cry foul, and rightly so. Does this administration want to be the first to establish the global precedent that countries can demand the extradition of foreign reporters and publishers for violating their own laws? I truly hope not.
And let me wrap up by saying that a country in which a publisher has been extradited and imprisoned for publishing truthful information will be a very different country than the one that we have lived in our whole lives. And let’s make sure that we do everything possible to make sure that we don’t become that country. Thank you so much.
SRECKO HORVAT: It is my great pleasure to announce the next speaker, Jeffrey Sterling, who is an American lawyer and former CIA employee, who was arrested, charged and convicted of violating the Espionage Act. Please, Jeffrey, join the stage.
JEFFREY STERLING: It is an absolute honor to be here today, here at the Press Club, where, years ago, my wife spoke on my behalf about the injustice that happened to me. I spent two-and-a-half years in prison after being wrongfully convicted — on no evidence — of violating the Espionage Act. It was a travesty of a trial. And that sentence was held up as a shining example of the reasonableness and fairness that Julian Assange will face being tried here for violating that same Espionage Act. I remain sickened to this day that my persecution was held up as the benchmark of what Julian Assange is going to face in trial here.
Of course, the benchmarks they did not talk about include my experience fighting against the Espionage Act, a biased criminal justice system and the realities of being behind bars here in the United States. I can tell you that any claims of fair or humane treatment in store for Julian Assange here within our criminal justice system and prisons were outright lies.
But I would like to focus on the law that Julian Assange has supposedly violated. First and foremost, it is virtually impossible to defend against the Espionage Act. Truth is no defense. In fact, any defense related to truth will be prohibited. In addition, he won’t have access to any of the so-called evidence used against him. And to make it even more difficult, the government doesn’t have to show any harm. It is a law and prosecution in which the government says what it wants. It’s a “because we say so” law, not to be questioned, not to be challenged. The trial will be nothing more than an affirmation and continuation of the character assassination that the government has launched against Julian Assange from the moment that he spoke up.
So, but what are we really talking about here? I mean, what is this law, the Espionage Act, that he’s accused of violating, and that I was accused of violating? You know, we’re led to believe that Julian and other whistleblowers are threats to the national security of this country, hence being charged with violating the Espionage Act. But I’m living proof of what national security actually means here in the United States.
Here’s a real benchmark they don’t tell you about. In my example, I sued the CIA for racial discrimination because they said I was too big and Black to serve my country. According to the government, in that instance, and upheld by the same courts that they’re intending to try Julian Assange, was that a Black man fighting for his constitutional rights is a threat to national security. Not a surprise, really. One of the original and enduring threats to the national security of this country is and has always been African Americans. And to punish me as an African American for having the audacity to sue the CIA, I was falsely accused of and put on trial for violating the Espionage Act and, by default, our national security. The only evidence needed to convict me was the color of my skin.
Julian won’t be afforded any so-called constitutional rights that I had. What chance is he going to have to fight against these charges of violating the Espionage Act?
Now, when I think about how national security dictated that I can be blatantly discriminated against, it painfully reminds me of the horrors of slavery and the laws that were designed to preserve it. When examining the Espionage Act and how it’s being used, it’s not unreasonable to be reminded of the anti-literacy laws that were enforced during slavery in this country. Those laws were used to prevent educating slaves because of the fear that an educated slave population would threaten the nation’s security. Keeping us uneducated and ignorant was a tenet of national security then, and we see the same thing with how the Espionage Act is being used now against whistleblowers and against Julian Assange. Truly, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
When we look at it, the Espionage Act is no different than those anti-slavery laws. They both represent and they are the very — the very embodiment of white supremacism, that has always been a part of the identity and governance of this country. The Espionage Act has not been used to fight espionage. It’s being used against whistleblowers and Julian Assange to keep the subjugated ignorant of its wrongdoings and illegalities in order to maintain its hold on authority, all in the name of national security. I mean, think about it, none of the Espionage Act prosecutions have or are even allowed to examine the truth of the matter brought to light by the whistleblower. The focus is always only on what was done for the sake of education and accountability. The white slave owners knew the truth: An educated slave won’t be a slave for long.
That is what this Espionage Act is about, what this endless persecution of Assange and whistleblowers everywhere has always been about, all in the name, again, of national security. And thanks to complicity like from the United Kingdom, who has been all too willing to serve Julian up to the U.S., that same ideology is expanding beyond the bounds of slavery and fomenting racial discord in this country to reach perceived threats anywhere under perfidious claims of national security.
I think it compelling that this tribunal is happening the same week that the nation celebrates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When he said, in the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” that one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws, he was talking about laws like the Espionage Act. What makes the Espionage Act unjust is that it is not being used to protect this nation. It does not apply to the power brokers in this nation. It is being used to keep us all slaves. It is, therefore, an unjust law and should be disobeyed.
The most immediate and meaningful way this wrongful law can be disobeyed is by the release of Julian Assange. The U.S. government has already demonstrated a boundless intent to persecute those who dare reveal its transgressions. And it won’t end with Julian Assange. Free the man. None of us will be free until he is released and the Espionage Act is abolished. Set the man free. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Our next speaker, by video, is Katrina vanden Heuvel. Katrina is editorial director and publisher of The Nation magazine and writes a weekly column in The Washington Post, a frequent commentator on many networks, including ABC, MSNBC, CNN, PBS. Her articles have appeared in newspapers in this country and around the world. The Nation’s journalism has been given many awards, including those from the Society of Professional Journalists, National Magazine Awards. This is Katrina vanden Heuvel.
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: I’m honored to join today. I’m publisher of The Nation, America’s oldest weekly, founded in 1865 by abolitionists committed to ending the scourge of slavery. Time and again since then, writers for The Nation have identified threats to privacy and liberty, the dangers of hypersecurity, of surveillance, long before they were acknowledged by the mainstream media and the broader public. The Nation remains vigilant, committed to keeping watch on the watchers, the patrioteers, the securocrats, those who worry more about national embarrassment than national security. We abide by the belief that holding government accountable is central to the mission of a free and independent press in a true democracy.
Our democracy is fragile today, because, as The Nation has argued since its founding, endless wars do not contribute to healthy democracy at home. There’s a lot of talk today about the rules-based order. Whose rules? The rules that give us still preeminent, endless wars, who believe we’re preeminent in a multipolar world and have the authority to lecture the world on issues of press freedom? Three successive administrations in this country have mercilessly gone after Julian Assange. Persecution and prosecution of Assange undermine U.S. efforts to promote the cause of press freedom internationally.
The Biden administration, if it’s serious about its commitment to media freedom in the world, could lead by example, end the more than decade-long prosecution and persecution of Julian Assange. It is not necessary to make Assange a hero in order to vigorously oppose his prosecution. It is necessary to reject of the project of successive presidential administrations that, if seen through to the conclusion, set a gravely dangerous precedent for prosecuting journalists and publishers.
I’ve thought a good deal about the threats faced by journalism in the 21st century. There are many, but fewer so serious as the criminalization of speaking truth to power. By the way, those in power already know the truth, and they often hide it from us. The Biden administration must end years of politically motivated prosecution of Assange by at long last dropping the charges against him. The criminalization of whistleblowers and investigative journalists have no place in a democracy. Free Assange. Thank you.
SRECKO HORVAT: Yeah, that was a bit of a windy testimony, but let me assure you that the winds of change are coming to Washington, D.C. I’m really happy that I can now announce our next member of the tribunal, Margaret Kunstler, the legendary American civil rights attorney, who has spent her whole career providing support and protecting the rights of activists. She was the co-chair of the Belmarsh Tribunal together with me in New York City, but this time she is coming to this stage, to this room, to Washington, D.C., as a witness to speak about the lawsuit against the CIA. Please, Margaret, join us.
MARGARET KUNSTLER: Well, I’m not only deeply involved in this lawsuit as a witness, but I am deeply involved in this lawsuit as a plaintiff. And there are many people who — perhaps who are not with us today who would be very happy to hear that the name of the lawsuit was Kunstler against Pompeo.
And one of the major things — this is going to be a narrow topic, so I hope you’ll understand that this is not a massive defense of Julian. But this is a lawsuit that we hope will, in fact, be one of the major ingredients about why the United States cannot try Julian in this country. They cannot try Julian in this country because they’ve overdone their misconduct. They’ve engaged in the level of misconduct in interfering in the defense of Julian Assange that cannot be tolerated.
And it’s brought in this country so that people can understand just the tip of the iceberg about what has been done to Julian Assange, the actions that have been taken against him. Here, lawyers, doctors and other professionals who visited Julian Assange were — their conversations were recorded. But more than that, their equipment was taken — their telephones and their computers — and they were gone through.
Now, this started happening in 2017. Before that, we had thought that the surveillance of the embassy was to protect Julian. But we found out, through a lawsuit that was brought in Spain, that starting in 2017, the lawsuit had completely — the type of surveillance that was going on had completely changed. And now the surveillance was on a level that has been unheard of in this country and unheard of anywhere in the world, that you would record and take information about conversations, about what plans were being drawn up, about — specifically about the health of Julian and about what was going to be the defense at trial. Now, you’re not allowed to do this. This absolutely violates the concept of justice in this country.
And what caused this? How did we reach this level of hatred, of disobeyance of law when it comes to Julian Assange? Well, it’s significant that it began in 2017, because that was the year that Pompeo came into authority. And Pompeo’s very first speech was that he considered Julian and WikiLeaks a nonstate hostile intelligence agency. Now, to say that was an explanation that Julian had no rights left to him, that they could go in, they could kill him, anything they wanted to do was fair game. And that is something that is so astounding to our level of understanding of justice in this country, that that was the cause of this lawsuit. He allowed what happened to happen, and his effect was so outrageous that he deserves to really suffer under this lawsuit. And I don’t know that he’s going to suffer enough. He was served in an embarrassing way, and he was very unhappy about how he was served. He was served publicly, and we got footage of him being served, and we were very thrilled about that.
But this lawsuit is not only a lawsuit about how far that the government can go, but it also is an example of what they have carried out against Julian all along, the attitudes towards Julian, the use of the press to indict him illegally, all of the things that — the searches that have been done of his lawyers, all the actions that have been carried out against him, which were COINTELPRO actions that you’ll hear about later on. The COINTELPRO was used against Julian. And he is considered an enemy and treated as an enemy in the most — well, he has not committed any crime. The only thing he has done is reveal the truth. And to have someone suffer and to treat someone so vilely for telling the truth is really astounding.
And we hope that this lawsuit will reach out to people in this country and begin to explain to them what has been done to Julian Assange. And we hope that it will have an effect that a lawsuit cannot be brought, then Julian will not be extradited, and he will not be tried in this country, and he will be freed, because he should be.
AMY GOODMAN: Next up, Stefania Maurizi. She’s an investigative journalist, currently contributing to the major Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano, after working for the last 14 years for La Repubblica, consistently rated among the top two Italian newspapers, and for L’Espresso, the most important Italian news magazine. Stefania worked with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks since 2009, teaming up with teams of international media to cover and investigate all WikiLeaks secret documents, from the secret files on the War in Afghanistan, called the Afghan War Logs, to the U.S. diplomacy cables, Cablegate, from the files on the Guantánamo prisoners, called Gitmo Files, on up to the most recent revelations about the European military mission against boats traveling from Libya to Italy smuggling migrants and refugees, and the espionage activities against French and European leaders by the National Security Agency. Her book is just out in English. It’s called Secret Power: WikiLeaks and Its Enemies. This is Stefania.
STEFANIA MAURIZI: It is a great honor to be a member of this Belmarsh Tribunal. As an investigative journalist, I’m not here to make any grand statement about this case. I’m here to provide some solid evidence, I would say forensic evidence, of extremely suspicious facts about the persecution of Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.
I have been there since the very beginning. My first media partnership with WikiLeaks was in 2009. And since then, I have worked on all their documentation. I can assure you that this work hasn’t gained me any powerful, powerful friends in high places. Quite the opposite, it set me on a collision course with my former newspaper, from which I had to resign in order to keep doing my work on WikiLeaks.
What I have seen in the course of my journalistic work on this case has deeply disturbed me. I have been stunned by the state criminality documented in the files, by the impunity that war criminals and torturers enjoy in our democracies. I have been shocked that whistleblowers and journalists who reveal war crimes do not have a place to hide in our democratic societies. From 2010 on, Assange sought every possible refuge. He shut himself in an embassy and sought protection in asylum. He knocked at the door of the United Nations working group. He knocked at the door at the U.N. special rapporteur on torture. Nothing and no one was able to prevent the ruin of his physical and mental health.
That is why I have have engaged in a trench warfare — I call trench warfare — to unearth the truth about this case, litigating an FOI case in the United States, in the United Kingdom, Sweden and Australia, represented by seven lawyers, because four governments not just denying me access to this documentation, but they have used all legal resources and tactics to prevent me to access this documentation.
I’m sure you know that in the current they attempt to extradite Julian Assange from the United Kingdom to the United States. The U.S. authorities are acting through a public authority, British public authority, called the Crown Prosecution Service. This is the very same authority through which the Swedish prosecutor tried to extradite Julian Assange in connection with the rape allegations. The Swedish allegations — the Swedish investigation was dropped once and for all in 2019, after remaining in the preliminary stage for nine years with no charge whatsoever.
My FOI litigation has allowed the revealing that it was the Crown Prosecution Service that trapped Julian Assange in a legal and diplomatic quagmire, which has kept him arbitrarily detained for a decade. Why did they provide this legal advice? It was an advice that destroyed any chance of justice for anyone. It cost the British taxpayers 13.2 million pounds. And it basically destroyed his health and his physical and mental health. When I tried to dig into this, I discovered incredible things, like that the Crown Prosecution Service destroyed key documents about the Swedish case. Why they did so? They did it under when Sir Keir Starmer was heading the Crown Prosecution Service.
After I discovered this, in November 2017, I shared this information with The Guardian Pulitzer Prize, Ewen MacAskill, and we published this revelation. A month after these revelations, I went to the embassy to discuss this with Julian Assange. Well, I discovered that my devices were secretly accessed, my phone unscrewed, and the SIM card extracted, and our conversation recorded and so on. Nothing is normal in this case. Nothing is normal.
In the United States, Australia and Sweden, I have run up against the same pushback. When last year I appealed to the Swedish parliamentary ombudsman for an investigation into the highly anomalous handling of the documentation on the Julian Assange case, the parliamentary ombudsman refused to open an investigation and refused to provide any explanation. This month, I discovered new information, but I’m not allowed to discuss it publicly at this stage, due to the ongoing litigation.
I want to close these remarks with an appeal to the American public and media. I’m aware that you are dealing with so much right now. But this case marks a point of no return for the United States and for our democratic societies. I come from a country, Italy, which invented fascism. Few things mark the sliding of a society into fascism than the destruction of freedom of the press and the destruction of the right of the public to know what our government does with our money and in our name. In an authoritarian society, you cannot reveal war crimes, torture and state criminality at the highest level, as Julian Assange did, and remain free and safe. They kill you. In a democracy, it must be possible. This is why we must win this case and free Julian Assange. There are only a few months left. Thank you.
SRECKO HORVAT: Stefania Maurizi, who is also one of my big heroes — also, she doesn’t want to be characterized as a hero — already mentioned Keir Starmer. Luckily, Keir Starmer is not with us today. But we have the pure opposite of Keir Starmer with us, the British politician, former Labour Party — former Labour Party leader, a great friend of ours, a member of the Progressive International and a vocal supporter of Julian Assange. If he was prime minister of the United Kingdom today, perhaps Julian Assange would have been free already. But it’s never too late. So, it’s my great pleasure to present Jeremy Corbyn today in Washington, D.C.
JEREMY CORBYN: Thank you. Thank you, Srecko, and thank you, Amy, for presiding over today’s event in this amazing setting of the National Press Club, where Julian Assange revealed uncomfortable truths to the world about the murder — the murder — of innocent civilians in Iraq, by specific military orders to do so, knowing full well they were breaking the law.
What’s Julian charged with? Telling the truth. Telling the truth all over the world about what governments do and what governments want to hide from. I, as an elected politician, am very well aware that elected politicians don’t like being questioned on the decisions that they make. But it’s fundamental to a democratic society that they are constantly under surveillance and under question. They’re very keen on putting everybody else under surveillance. Their decisions should be under surveillance at the same time.
And so, Julian published, through WikiLeaks, huge volumes of information. He went to extraordinary lengths to anonymize the sources and protect the sources at the same time. He was extremely responsible in his journalistic approach to this.
And the way his character has been denigrated all over the world is a shame and a disgrace. He’s threatened with the Espionage Act — the Espionage Act, for somebody who revealed truths. And if he arrives in this country and is put on trial here, which I hope he never is and I hope he never does, would then face a 175-year sentence. It is, in effect, a death sentence, and he would be left for the rest of his life in a maximum-security prison in the most appalling conditions.
But he’s already in the most appalling conditions. He’s being held in Her Majesty’s Prison — His Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh in southeast London. I’ve visited that prison on previous occasions to visit prisoners there. It is an awful place. It is a brutal place. It is a place devoid of humanity. And he is stuck there — not a convicted criminal but a remand prisoner who is potentially awaiting trial. He’s the only one in that category in that particular prison.
Now, he is accused and WikiLeaks are accused of damaging the interests of the U.S. government, of the British government, of the French government. And actually, if you plow through the tens of thousands of documents there, you’ll find they’re pretty embarrassing to pretty well every government in the world, including, as a matter of fact, the government of Russia, as well, because Julian wanted the truth out about what powerful nations do to people without power, who are victims of their exercise of that power. So he also exposed the way that desperate, poor migrant people face dangers in the Mediterranean, the English Channel and so many other places.
And so, our plea is here today about support for Julian. But I say this to journalists who may be watching this around the world. You might say, “Well, OK, that’s Assange. That’s different. That’s the way.” Sorry, it’s not. It’s you, as a journalist, because if Julian Assange ends up in a maximum-security prison in the United States for the rest of his life, every other journalist around the world will think, “Oh, should I really report this information I’ve been given? Should I really speak out about this denial of human rights or miscarriage of justice in any country around the world? Because the long arm of the United States espionage might reach me, and an extradition treaty might put me in that same prison.” And around the world, there are, sadly, hundreds of very brave and brilliant journalists who have lost their lives trying to expose the truth. So, today, here in the National Press Club, we’re speaking up for journalists, real journalists, all over the world who want to expose the truth, that we are better informed, and democracy functions better as a result.
Now, as I said, I’m an elected politician. And what worries me is the silence of so many fellow elected politicians around the world. So, my plea here today is this. You have been elected by an electoral democratic process. The people who elected you placed their faith and their trust in you to speak up for them and their democracy. Your silence makes it worse for Julian. Your silence makes it worse for democracy as a whole. And so, when we surrounded the U.K. Parliament, the British Parliament, the Houses of Parliament, with a chain of people, thousands of people, in support of Julian, we were demonstrating our wish that our Parliament speaks up. In the same way, some politicians in a number of countries have spoken up.
But I appeal to elected politicians in the United States. Speak up to defend democracy. Speak up against the powers of the Espionage Act. And speak up for Julian Assange, because our human rights are under threat all over the world. The rollback of the advances of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Declaration of Human Rights, European Convention on Human Rights, and many others are under threat at the present time. Our actions around the world in support of Julian, in support of the right to know, can and, I believe, will change the course of what’s going on.
So, let’s get a message out here today from this National Press Club in Washington. We are bearing witness to a travesty of justice, to an abuse of human rights, to a denial of freedom of somebody who bravely put himself on the line that we all might know that the innocent died in Abu Ghraib, the innocent died in Afghanistan, the innocent are dying in the Mediterranean, and innocents die all over the world, where unwatched, unaccountable powers decide it’s expedient and convenient to kill people who get in the way of whatever grand scheme they’ve got. We say no. That’s why we are demanding justice for Julian Assange. Hear the call. Let’s free Julian Assange, and we will all be safer as a result of that. Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Our next speaker is the American human rights attorney Steven Donziger, who was part of a team that won a historic $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron Corporation for polluting the Ecuadorian Amazon. In 2019, he was targeted in New York with the first corporate prosecution in the history of the United States. Overall, he would serve 993 days under house arrest and in prison for a charge where the maximum sentence under law was 180 days. Steven Donziger.
STEVEN DONZIGER: Thank you, Amy and Srecko and this wonderful panel.
You know, half the battle, when you sort of deal with the attacks — and I don’t mean to compare in any way my situation to the cruelty that Julian is enduring right now. But half the battle is this. You know, it’s the solidarity. There’s so many people here, when I was in those long — you know, this long period of detention, that I never could have imagined would happen in this country, because maybe I was a little naive. So many people came through for me and my family, just like people are here today for Julian, and I cannot tell you how completely uplifting that was.
You know, part of the challenge, when truth tellers speak truth to these entrenched pools of power, is how to turn the attacks into opportunities. And as I sort of watched the trajectory of Julian’s case — and I really haven’t dug into it very deeply until the last year or two, by the way, when I read a book by Nils Melzer — I don’t know if you folks know the book — former U.N. special rapporteur on torture, who has completely and meticulously documented that the U.S. government narrative about Julian is a complete fraud. It is a complete fraud from A to Z. And Nils is not someone who comes at this from a movement perspective. Like, he’s a serious clinical lawyer. And I would recommend, by the way, to all the journalists out there watching this, that if you have doubts about Julian, and if you have doubts about the case, and if you’ve been sort of maybe a little bit taken with, like, “Well, I don’t know about that guy,” that you read Nils’s book.
Because I can tell you, as someone who, you know, represented Indigenous peoples in Ecuador for many, many years against Chevron — and for those who don’t know, there’s a bunch of stuff online, but Chevron, over a period of years, through Texaco, deliberately dumped billions of gallons of cancer-causing waste into the Amazon. And, you know, I went down there as a young lawyer in 1993. Just like Julian started WikiLeaks, you know, you start thinking, “Hey, man, we can do these big things and make a big difference in the world.” And when you’re a little too effective at what you do, suddenly these entrenched interests of power, whether they be, you know, in the national security apparatus or the fossil fuel industry, they figure out ways to just forget the rule of law.
You know, the rule of law, as is normally understood to be applied — and I get the fact in this country we’ve had a lot of problems through history of not applying the rule of law, not just recently. But as normally understood, the rule of law is not being applied to Julian’s case. It was not applied to my case. I am the first person in U.S. history, the first lawyer, ever to be detained pretrial on a misdemeanor charge. And my misdemeanor charge was that Chevron had figured out a way to get a judge to order me to turn over my computer to their lawyers in the middle of the case, with all this confidential information. And when I appealed that order to a higher court, the judge charged me with criminal contempt of court. He took his charges to the federal prosecutor in New York, who refused to prosecute me. And then the judge appointed a private corporate law firm to prosecute me in the name of the U.S. government, without disclosing the fact that that corporate law firm had Chevron as a client. I was prosecuted in the name of the U.S. government by a corporation.
And, you know, when I sort of go through the experience — and I’m so happy to be through that piece of it, although I’m still dealing with a lot from Chevron, but I don’t have my ankle bracelet — and I looked at what Julian is dealing with, all I can say is it is absolutely vital that we understand the importance of Julian feeling all of our love and energy, and that we continue to spread the word. It is critical. And I will say, as I look at Julian — I met Julian one time, by the way, a few years ago in the Ecuadorian Embassy when he was there. But there is something big happening, whether he realizes it or not, through the process of fighting for his freedom. You know, it is a process of consciousness raising around the world. It can be seen as an opportunity to strengthen our freedoms, to strengthen freedom of the press, as is happening.
And I just want to point out, before closing, that there is an increasing corporatization of these types of attacks happening in this country. Just this week, just this week in the United States, we had the first police killing of a climate activist in Atlanta. I don’t know if folks know about this “Cop City” project. And there are now 15 people, by my count, peaceful climate activists, who have been charged with domestic terrorism in the United States of America. We see in Line 3, the protests in Minnesota, the pipeline company pouring millions of dollars into public police to arrest protesters. So, whether it’s the national security state, the fossil fuel industry or other elements of the corporate class, we have a serious problem with our government in this country essentially being coopted by elements that could give a damn about the freedom for the rest of us.
And a few blocks from here, at the Supreme Court — which, by the way, is meeting today to discuss whether they’re going to take my appeal of my misdemeanor contempt conviction. But that court, if you really think about it, has six justices now, four of whom were appointed by presidents who did not win their elections. They’re unelected, and they’re making decisions about almost every critical issue related to the freedom for 330 million people, including what happens, by the way, in Julian’s case, ultimately.
So, we need to fight harder. And I don’t mean to be sort of — you know, leave a message that might demoralize people, because whenever I’m asked to talk about my experience, like to law students, I’m like, “No, no, no. You can really do this work. This work must be done.” And it must be done. And as we see this increasing oppression, we must continue to organize, fight, spread the word and really try to turn the resistance they’re giving us into opportunities to advance the cause of justice. So, I call on President Biden to step up. Come on. This is ridiculous. Drop the charges, and free Julian Assange. Thank you very much.
SRECKO HORVAT: Unfortunately, some people who are connected to WikiLeaks couldn’t have been today with us. I want to remind of two names, particularly, who were, besides Julian Assange, working on the leaks and analyzing all these secret documents, who are still not allowed to come to the United States because they would probably end up in Virginia or in a high-security prison. One name is Sarah Harrison, and the other name is Jacob Appelbaum.
We were supposed to have Kristinn Hrafnsson with us today, but he was advised by his lawyers not to travel to the United States, similar to some other members of the tribunal who didn’t arrive today. So much about the United States again. Kristinn Hrafnsson is an Icelandic investigative journalist, who became, unfortunately, because Julian Assange is in prison, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks in 2018. Recently, together with Joseph Farrell, he was part of a WikiLeaks delegation who had a tour in Latin America, and they visited five presidents, of Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, Argentina and Mexico. And all of those five presidents pledged that they will support the fight for the freedom of Julian Assange. So, I’m really happy that today — unfortunately, he’s not in person, but, per video, Kristinn Hrafnsson will speak also about that experience.
KRISTINN HRAFNSSON: The story of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange has two main components, two chapters, both equally important. One is about the publications, the most important journalistic work of the century. The other chapter is about the reaction to this work, and it is equally revealing.
The explosive stories that emerged from the publications more than a decade ago are well known: war crimes, killing squads, human rights abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, the underbelly of U.S. diplomacy and the diplomatic cables released in 2010 and ’11.
The reaction side in the WikiLeaks saga is an ongoing one. It is the story of how empire has used all its might against one individual, Julian Assange, in an attempt to crush him, silence him, kill him. His resistance has not yet brought him any justice, but it has laid bare the raw elements of the empire, the one that totally disregards the principles it so proudly preaches of human rights, freedom of the press, the rule of law.
The quest of brutal revenge and the attempt to make an example out of Julian, the United States is willing to disregard and undermine the fragile system of international order. It has blatantly dismissed the United Nations’ findings in favor of Assange, and thereby weakened two important human rights bodies, one being the United Nations tribunal on arbitrary detention, that often has successfully contributed to the release of politically persecuted dissidents. The other body is the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, who found in Julian’s favor. By disrespecting and dismissing these U.N. mandates, it undermines their ability to assist other politically persecuted and tortured individuals. Authoritarian regimes will simply say, “Why should we abide by findings of these U.N. institutions, when the U.S., the U.K. and Sweden totally disregard it?” Similarly, other multilateral bodies are disregarded — the European Council, the European Parliament, the OAS, and on we can go. So the raging pursuit of Julian Assange stops at nothing, including undermining fragile international legal structures that had been built up over decades with great effort in an attempt to increase order on our planet.
In the Assange case, the U.S. and the U.K. are even violating their own bilateral treaty on extradition. That treaty exempts extradition for political offenses. Despite this exemption, the United States demands the extradition of Julian Assange on the basis of this treaty, whilst at the same time accuses Assange of political offenses. Not only is espionage a pure form of political offense, but the indictment against him is littered with accusations of political motives. It is true that Assange is guilty of attempting to put an end to war crimes and corruption by exposing it. You could call that political, but if it is truly a political crime, it is a crime every decent journalist should be committing. It is a journalistic duty. And Julian is clearly guilty of journalism. And the evidence of it are the dozens of awards that he and WikiLeaks have received over the last decade. In our twisted world, it has been decided by the empire that exposing the truth is now considered a political crime.
The desire to make an example out of Assange and send a threatening signal to every journalist in the world is so excessive that the United States is ready to put in jeopardy its press freedom principles enshrined in the First Amendment. Now, finally, all major mainstream media in the U.S. have seen the danger in the Assange persecution to their own position and have raised concern. So have all major press freedom, free speech and civil liberties organizations in the United States, and indeed in the world.
Still, the case is ongoing. Despite this, the U.S. is still demanding extradition from the United Kingdom, and Julian is still in Belmarsh prison. In April, he will have spent four years there, the longest-serving remand prisoner in the U.K. and latter times.
The attacks on Julian continue, despite the fact that the indictment against him is totally inconsistent with newly introduced press guidelines of the United States Department of Justice. These guidelines are de facto part of U.S. law since November. These guidelines recognize the journalistic right to request, receive, process and publish classified government information in the public interest. At least 17 out of the 18 counts in Julian’s indictment are completely incompatible with these new guidelines. Merrick Garland’s Department of Justice should be flooded with urgent demand to explain this obvious discrepancy.
Already, the prosecution of Assange has severely damaged the reputation of the United States. The fact the U.S. government is acting against its own principles, the one they preach around the world, has not gone unnoticed. In recent weeks I’ve traveled to several Latin American countries and met presidents who are very concerned about the precedent set in the Assange case.
After meeting President Alberto Fernández of Argentina and his vice president, Cristina de Kirchner, they both sided with the Assange campaign, urging the Biden administration to drop the charges against him. Argentinians, as do others in the region, know fully well the capability of the CIA in planning, kidnapping or killing of individuals. As we now know, the agency was plotting against Julian in 2017.
I met Luis Arce, the president of Bolivia, who fully committed himself in support of Assange.
The same applied to the newly elected president of Brazil, Lula da Silva, who understands better than most the nature of the lawfare against Julian, having himself spent more than 500 days in prison because of such lawfare, a lawfare where it is well documented that the U.S. Department of Justice was involved. President Lula assured me that the fight to end the injustice entailed in the Assange case would be a priority in his foreign policy.
I got the same strong support from Gustavo Petro, president of Colombia, who called for Julian’s release and the end of the persecution.
Lastly, I met Andrés Manuel López Obrador, president of Mexico, who has been a constant supporter of Julian, and one who understands that this case is more than the battle for the freedom of one individual, but a priority fight for underlying principles. It was Obrador who said that if Julian is extradited to the United States, the Statue of Liberty should be dismantled and returned to the France. The Mexican president received us in the WikiLeaks delegation earlier this month and assured us he would take the matter up personally with President Biden. They met last week in Mexico City.
It is not just the political leaders of every major country south of the border of the United States that now recognize the gravity of Julian’s case, as Anthony Albanese, prime minister of Australia, has recently added his voice to the demand for Julian’s freedom. He said in the Australian Parliament that enough is enough. And we agree.
All those leaders are now pointing a finger at the empire. They are pointing out that the emperor is naked. They are drawing attention to the naked brutality in the Assange case and the underlying principles that are threatened. And more world leaders will follow. Any message from the United States on liberty, peace, human rights and press freedom is now measured against the Assange case and dismissed as hollow and meaningless, unless the Biden administration drops the charges against Julian.
Before the turn of the century, the U.S. State Department used the term “rogue states” to describe violent regimes with appalling human rights records. The terminology was officially dropped at the beginning of this century, probably because many of the activities of the United States in latter times have fallen under the criteria of a rogue state as defined in the ’90s.
If there’s any desire in the United States to regain a position of credibility in the international arena, there needs to be a multilayered policy changes, or priorities should be put on doing the right thing to drop the charges against Julian Assange. And the moment to do so is now.
AMY GOODMAN: Our next speaker is Jesselyn Radack, human rights attorney, renowned for her work protecting whistleblowers and journalists. While working at the Justice Department, she disclosed the FBI committed ethics violations in their interrogation of John Walker Lindh. Among her many roles, Jesselyn is the director of national security and human rights at ExposeFacts.
JESSELYN RADACK: I’m the one who needed the step. I’m Jesselyn Radack, and I represent whistleblowers and sources for a living, basically. I have defended the most number of media sources in the U.S. who have been investigated and charged under the Espionage Act.
Defendants can’t get a fair trial under this law. In addition to the Espionage Act having no public interest defense, these cases are plagued by secrecy and defined by Kafkaesque features. For example, I have been shut out of my own clients’ unclassified hearings. The parts of the hearings and trials that are public often include code words and substitutions that make the proceedings very difficult for the public to understand. In one case, the government attempted to prevent defense attorneys from using the word “whistleblower” or the word “newspaper.” The government routinely also uses classification rules to withhold exculpatory evidence from defendants. In Chelsea Manning’s case, the government withheld a damage assessment showing that her disclosures caused no real harm to national security. She was facing 35 years in prison.
More recently, most recently, I represented, and still represent, Daniel Hale. Huge shoutout to Daniel. I know he’s paying attention to this. But, basically, Daniel had to navigate an Espionage Act prosecution in the most conservative federal court in the country, the exact same court where Assange is indicted, in front of the same judge.
Daniel is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force who participated in the U.S. drone assassination program. After leaving the Air Force, he became an outspoken opponent of the U.S.'s targeted killing program. He basically called out and informed the public about targeting ineffectiveness and casualties and consistently exaggerating the accuracy of drone strikes and underreporting civilian deaths. Daniel's house was searched in 2014. Like Julian Assange, he lived under a sword of Damocles for a better part of his adult life. In May 2019, he was finally arrested and indicted on allegations that he disclosed classified documents to the U.S. military’s clandestine drone program, believed to have been the source material for a series in The Intercept called “The Drone Papers.”
Daniel pleaded guilty to a single count under the Espionage Act and was sentenced to 45 months in prison. I think his case is a prescient warning of how an Espionage Act case against Assange would proceed. Bear with me. At sentencing, the judge recommended — he recognized that Daniel was a whistleblower, and recommended that he be placed in a minimum-security medical prison. But the Bureau of Prisons instead sent him to an Orwellian communications management unit, nicknamed Gitmo North. There are only two such facilities in this country. Created in the aftermath of 9/11, they were intended to house terrorists. Daniel is a pacifist with no priors. Until recently, he has been housed in this special prison with the “Merchant of Death,” Viktor Bout, who was recently released.
So, when the U.S. gives assurances that Assange won’t be put in a supermax, don’t be fooled, because he’ll end up in a far worse place, one of these communications management units. In the CMU, Daniel is far more isolated from his support network, unable to receive the medical and psychological care he so desperately needs, and has more restrictions on his communications, reading materials and visitors, with other people, than anyone on death row.
Earlier this year, Daniel applied to be transferred to the type of treatment program he was recommended for at sentencing. But in the case management unit where he’s housed, the counterterrorism unit gets a veto over such therapeutic programs, and his application was denied. They still label him a threat, meaning even if Assange were to reach an acceptable plea agreement, Daniel’s case proves that the U.S. government can still use the prison system to retaliate, the way that they are currently using process as punishment while Assange is in Belmarsh.
Assange is under attack for publishing information in the public interest, which is threat enough to the First Amendment in and of itself. But from my extensive experience fighting the injustices in cases brought under the Espionage Act, it is abundantly clear that the Assange prosecution is also a threat to the most basic constitutional principles of fairness and due process. These charges must be dropped immediately. Thank you.
SRECKO HORVAT: Thanks a lot. Surprise, surprise. There are a few people in Washington, D.C., who were not afraid to talk about Julian Assange all these years, and our next member of tribunal is one of them. So, it’s my big pleasure to present the one and only Chip Gibbons, policy director of the organization Defending Rights & Dissent.
CHIP GIBBONS: Thank you so much for that introduction. And thank you, everyone who is coming. As one of the few people in D.C. willing to talk about Assange’s case, it gets very lonely, but I’m very heartened and inspired to see all of you here today.
I want to start by acknowledging three people who cannot be here today. One is Julian Assange, who is imprisoned in a dungeon called Belmarsh.
The second is Daniel Hale, who is currently being held in a communications management unit. I’ve been told that Daniel watches Democracy Now!, which is streaming this. Daniel, if you can hear this, I want to say, on behalf of everyone in this room, you have our solidarity. Never let them break your spirit. A better world is possible only because of people like you. And as an aside, I’d like to note the CMU, much like Belmarsh, is associated with the “war on terror.” When governments kill civilians, not only is it not terrorism, but when you expose murder by government, they treat you as the terrorist.
And the third person who can’t be here is, of course, Edward Snowden, who exposed that our government was lying to us about how they were spying on us, and, for this patriotic act, was driven into exile, while the lying spies continue to enjoy lucrative careers with war profiteers and cable news programs. And you have to ask yourself: Do they view those as two different jobs? Because, after all, someone has to sell the wars that line their pockets.
I am here today to talk about Julian Assange’s case. Assange is — the persecution of Assange is part of a larger war on truth. Assange is a journalist and a publisher, not a whistleblower or a source. But the normalization of the use of the Espionage Act against whistleblowers paved the way for Assange’s unprecedented indictment. My fellow witness, Jesselyn, has long argued the war on whistleblowers was a backdoor war on journalism. Do you know who else agrees with this? The U.S. Army Counterintelligence Center, who in 2008 noted that the governments of North Korea, Russia and Israel — D.C.’s favorite democracy — had blocked the WikiLeaks website, but there was a better way to destroy them: expose and prosecute the whistleblowers. And they used the phrase “whistleblowers” in this document. They never do so publicly, but they did so privately in this document — to prosecute those whistleblowers to destroy WikiLeaks.
The U.S. government knows, like we know, that without sources, there is no journalism. But the U.S. government is no longer content with merely going after the sources. They have made Assange the first person ever indicted under the Espionage Act for the crime of publishing truthful information. Make no mistake: The attempts to silence Assange is part of a larger war to silence those who expose the crimes of empire, militarism and the U.S. national security state.
And it’s not just a legal war involving a prosecution, but an extralegal war involving covert action and propaganda. While the U.S. security state is cloaked in secrecy, there have been a steady trickle of revelations about the three-letter agencies’ war on WikiLeaks. The NSA added Assange to their man-hunting database. The CIA plotted to kidnap and maybe even kill Assange. Various agencies sought to get around rules protecting press freedom by arguing WikiLeaks were not journalists. The NSA discussed the idea of declaring WikiLeaks a malicious foreign actor. The FBI and the CIA demanded a personal audience with Barack Obama to persuade him that rules protecting press freedom should not apply to WikiLeaks, as WikiLeaks should instead be classified as information brokers. I’m not sure what an information broker is; I don’t think the CIA and the FBI know, either. And finally, they invented the term “hostile nonstate intelligence agency” to allow the CIA to engage in offensive counterintelligence against WikiLeaks, something previously reserved only for rival spy agencies, and requires even less oversight — and there’s the very little oversight over the CIA — over CIA covert action.
The U.S. government’s legal and extralegal war on WikiLeaks is a war on journalism itself. By bringing an indictment under the Espionage Act, the U.S. government has endangered the First Amendment’s guarantee of press freedom. By applying the Espionage Act extraterritorially to a foreign national, they jeopardize press freedom globally.
It’s also a war on everyone in this room’s right to know. The Supreme Court has long held the First Amendment also includes a right to receive information and ideas. Through its lawfare covert actions and propaganda campaigns, the U.S. government hopes to prevent WikiLeaks from publishing. Thus, the U.S. government has engaged in a conspiracy to deprive the U.S. people writ large of our First Amendment right to receive information and ideas. They are seeking to kill the messenger in order to prevent all of us from getting the message.
And I know my time is up, but I have my own message. I’m sure there’s someone from the J. Edgar Hoover Building, which is just a few blocks down the street, sitting in the audience somewhere. So I want you to write this down and take this to your bosses: We will free Julian. We will free Daniel. We will bring Edward home. And you can put in my FBI file that I said that. Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Gosztola is our next speaker, journalist, author, who’s worked extensively on U.S. violations of civil liberties, in particular in the cases of John Kiriakou, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange. He’s managing editor of Shadowproof, a press organization which exposes systemic abuses of power in government and business.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Thank you. It’s an honor to be here and be part of this really esteemed group of delegates. And also, this is a far better event than the Hayden Center event that was held back in December with some very unserious people, including a brief appearance by Michael “We Steal Secrets” Hayden.
The political case against Julian Assange is primarily composed of a conspiracy theory that comes from the Central Intelligence Agency. In April 2017, as we’ve been hearing, in the first speech from CIA Director Mike Pompeo, he not only labeled WikiLeaks a nonstate hostile intelligence service, but he also asserted WikiLeaks directed Chelsea Manning in her theft of specific secret information. Part of my book, Guilty of Journalism: The Political Case Against Julian Assange, focuses on unraveling this conspiracy theory. Manning was not directed by WikiLeaks to make submissions. She tried to share documents with The New York Times and The Washington Post. She maintains WikiLeaks was a last resort because the prestige media in the U.S. failed her.
Thanks to the work of Yahoo News reporters, we now know that the label Pompeo affixed to WikiLeaks stemmed from CIA policy. The CIA did not want to brief Congress or have President Donald Trump looped into their plans to target WikiLeaks with a disruption campaign. They treated WikiLeaks as a rival spy service, as you just heard from Chip, to mount offensive counterintelligence operations free of any oversight. Actions undertaken included the targeting of WikiLeaks’s digital infrastructure. Agents had a green light to provoke, quote, “internal disputes” within the organization by planting damaging information. They could steal the electronic devices of WikiLeaks staff. The CIA also allegedly sketched out plans to kidnap or poison Assange.
Much of the pressure campaign to force Assange out of the Ecuador Embassy was carried out by a Spanish security company called UC Global. Its director, David Morales, has been accused of crimes in a Spanish court. And this arrangement, formal or informal, gave the CIA the ability to deny involvement, which is typical. Just recall how the CIA developed arrangements with right-wing and often violent Cuban exile groups. UC Global planted microphones in the embassy. They targeted Stella Assange, their baby and Assange’s attorneys. There were audio and video feeds that kept them under constant surveillance. And as Margaret Kunstler said, people who came to visit the embassy had to hand over their electronics, which were then copied by people at these checkpoints. Dossiers were compiled on visitors.
When former CIA Director Leon Panetta was asked by a German public broadcaster about the CIA-backed operation, he let out a belly laugh. “That doesn’t surprise me. That kind of thing goes on all the time. And in the intelligence business, the name of the game is to get information any way you can. And I’m sure that’s what was involved here.”
For what it’s worth, the U.S. Justice Department did not indict Assange after Manning was convicted in a U.S. military court-martial. CIA discussions about putting Assange on a rendition flight stirred panic among senior officials in both the Trump administration and Justice Department. As the Yahoo News report indicated, there were no charges under seal. And if Assange was abducted, as the CIA did with Khaled El-Masri and Abu Omar, there would be no legal basis to try him in the United States.
Justice Department officials accelerated the drafting of charges against Assange. And by December 2017, within the first year of Trump’s presidency, the DOJ had a sealed indictment. The CIA’s actions were motivated by revenge, and they still are. WikiLeaks exposed their arsenal of cyberwarfare capabilities through files published in March 2017. It was embarrassing for the CIA. And by April, they were hell-bent on neutralizing Assange one way or another. Going back to Pompeo’s April 2017 speech, he said we have had administrations before that had been squeamish about going after these folks under some concept of this right to publish. Pompeo proclaimed that Assange had no First Amendment freedom, because he is not a U.S. citizen. The gloves were off.
We barely know the extent of the CIA’s operations against Assange and WikiLeaks, despite a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York brought on behalf of attorneys and journalists allegedly targeted. The U.S. Justice Department’s prosecution, along with the CIA’s influence over the judiciary, ensures that the full truth of their actions may not be known for several years or even multiple decades. But what can be stated confidently, largely as a result of the CIA, Assange languishes in detention, punished by a draconian process that takes a greater toll on him every day and leaves other dissident journalists, particularly foreign journalists, fearing that they may be next, if they follow Assange’s example and challenge the U.S. national security state. Thank you.
SRECKO HORVAT: I encourage you all to check out Kevin’s brilliant new book, Guilty of Journalism. I don’t know whether it’s still — it’s here yet. But there is another incredible book, by Stefania Maurizi, which you can buy after the event, and she will be signing the books. So, this is just an intermezzo. Before I present our next member of tribunal — and just to say, we have, I think, five more members of tribunal speaking and a little surprise at the very end. Before presenting our next speaker, I want to be a bit personal. Namely, I became father recently. Thanks a lot. And at the same time, my father, my own father, was imprisoned in Yugoslavia when I was born. So, with these two experiences, I can only start imagining what the family of Julian Assange is going through — his wife, his children, his mother, his father and his brother. So, the next speaker — I met the next speaker and the next member of tribunal, who is unfortunately not in person with us today, when I visited Julian Assange at the prison in — I think it was November 2019. It was the first time I met John Shipton, Julian’s father. And I must tell you that this man, who went through hell, similar like his mother, was much more calm than me when he was visiting. When we were visiting the prison, he was the one who was calming me down. He was the one who was telling me how everything functions in that very dark place. So I’m very honored to be presenting John Shipton to you today. Please take a look at his testimony.
JOHN SHIPTON: Hello, everyone. John Shipton here, Julian’s father.
Unbelievably, we’re now into the 14th year of the persecution of journalist and publisher Julian Assange. What’s most striking is the ceaseless malicious abuse, the hounding, the constant hounding of Julian, the spears, the unscrupulous calumnies, lies, that have characterized this 14 years, the interminable court cases, the abuse of process, the malicious application of bureaucratic regulations, the ceaseless application of the power of three states, Swedish, United Kingdom and the United States. Despite their constant adulation of theirselves, themselves, despite their constant crying from the rooftops about their free press, about how the right to free speech is an artifact which they bring to the world, despite all that, they continue the persecution of journalist and publisher Julian Assange.
This forces us to contemplate the magnificent gift the English-speaking people gave to the world, the civilizational gift of due process between the state and the citizen. Due process came about 800 years ago from the Magna Carta at Runnymede, placing between the people and the state a shield of laws through which the state must — must — relate to the people. This great artifact has been abandoned, ruined in the case of Julian Assange. And it has now become — the persecution of Julian has now become a global problem, which the United Kingdom and its judiciary and its Crown Prosecuting Service and its Colonial and Foreign Office ignore, to the detriment of their reputations and their relationships with other states in the world, that where once they could say that we, the United Kingdom, are governed by laws from which we — which we called the common law, which goes upon precedent — well, these precedents, they call the authorities in court cases — these authorities, they crushed, they discarded in their haste to hound a man, Julian Assange, who only ever spoke truthfully, who only ever published, accurately, some form of malicious resentment of a state, the United Kingdom, another state, the United States, that had committed war crimes upon war crimes, human rights abuses, human rights crimes, crimes against humanity, crime against humanities and simply a crime against us, our mothers and fathers and our children. And pointing out this allows these states to reform. But in their pride and hubris, they have decided not to use the democratic process to reform themselves, but used the democratic process to deceive people and hound, close to death’s door, in dire circumstance, publisher and journalist Julian Assange.
So, I believe that the work of the volunteers, the supporters over the last four or five years have brought to a nadir, to an end point, to such embarrassment for the United Kingdom, the Crown Prosecuting Service and the English judiciary, to a point of embarrassment where other states that once looked to the mother of parliaments, the United Kingdom, once looked as example to the United Kingdom and its Parliament and its laws, now turn their face away in worry and in contempt for this announcing to the world that they — as they have done in the United Kingdom in their Parliament, that they are the leaders in free speech, among the leaders in free speech, among the leaders in the rights to publish, among the leaders in advocating for journalism, among the leaders in advocating that having an educated populace produces policy influences from the populace that guide the executive and the Parliament. That is no longer the case. All of us turn away and look to other states or other circumstances, wherein we agitate, wholeheartedly, firmly, in solidarity for Julian Assange as an icon of a decay and as an — of the application of laws, an icon of persecution, and an icon of righteous statements, of accurate statements and of steady hand, despite us being now in the 14th year of this prosecution, persecution, torment, interminable hounding, scurrilous lies, calumnies, mobbing.
There is a book by professor Nils Melzer which outlines in detail, in quite readable language, in English, French, German, all of the abrogation of human rights, abrogation of conventions of asylum, abrogation of due process, and the collapse of equitable administration of the law into a decayed circumstance of malice, of bureaucratic malice, judicial indifference, due process ignorance.
We, Julian’s supporters, Julian’s family, are beginning to prevail, are beginning to see around the world, in every European parliament, support for Julian Assange, every civil society of standing giving support, all unions giving support. In Australia, we have a government which is elected on a platform which we characterize as an Assange platform, an Assange election, a government elected principally in we, in our view, principally on its stand for Julian Assange. I say this to indicate the level of support worldwide, in the Western world, in Middle East, in India, in Eurasia, for Julian Assange. Together, we have done this. And together, we will prevail in bringing about Julian’s freedom. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Julian’s father. And now to Betty Medsger. As a reporter for The Washington Post in 1971, she was one of the only journalists willing to cover leaked documents exposing FBI crimes, including surveillance of students, of academics, of antiwar and civil rights activists. One of the stolen files revealed the existence of one of the FBI’s illegal programs, COINTELPRO, the Counterintelligence Program, under J. Edgar Hoover. She’s the former chair of the Department of Journalism at San Francisco State University and the author of The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI. Betty Medsger.
BETTY MEDSGER: I’m honored and humbled to be part of this panel that seeks justice for Julian Assange, sorely needed.
I’m here with a case study, something that I think shows very clearly the great importance of protecting whistleblowers and the necessity of a free press. And it is the story of the people — the impact of the people who burglarized an FBI office in 1971 and then stole every file in the office and made them public. I’ve worked with them twice — when I didn’t know them, and they sent files to me, back in 1971, and then when I worked on the book, when they revealed their identity, even though the FBI had at that time the largest search that they had ever had and didn’t find the burglars. They came out in 2014.
These eight people were outside whistleblowers. They were average citizens, though they did extraordinary things. In fact, they called themselves a Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI. They had decided that because Congress and the executive branch had never carried out responsibility to oversee the FBI, they would exert oversight, as citizens, in order to get documentary evidence of whether the government was suppressing dissent. And they made the decision to do this after thinking very seriously about it. Three of them had very young children, and they realized that, if arrested and convicted, they could serve many years in prison. But they thought it was so important to uncover what this hidden, all-powerful agency was doing, that they decided to break in to an office. They used tools quite different from the tools of today’s whistleblowers. Instead of multiple thumb drives or vast spaces on the internet, their tools were a crowbar, a carjack, large suitcases, flashlights and getaway cars, and eventually copiers. But their motivation — their motivation was the same as the motivation of other whistleblowers: get important information to the public about injustices being done secretly by the government.
They found what they were looking for: evidence of massive suppression of dissent. But they also found — and I should say, it’s important that this was 52 years ago, and nobody prior to that was writing about anything about intelligence agencies. It was assumed, both by the government, by Congress, the people who should have had oversight, and by journalists, that they had an obligation to let those agencies keep their secrets. There was no accountability.
In the files that these people released was that one thing was a shocking policy: enhance the paranoia, get the point across there is an agent behind every mailbox. They also found campus employees were hired as FBI informers to inform on students and faculty. And every Black student on at least one campus in the Philadelphia area was under FBI surveillance. They also found that Hoover operated a massive, Stasi-like program throughout the country against Black Americans. Every agent in the country was forced to participate and had to hire an informer to create files on Black people. To be Black, in Hoover’s mind, was to be dangerous, and therefore subject to surveillance by the FBI. They also discovered that Hoover maintained a security index, an ever-expanding list of people believed by Hoover to be subversive and who were to be secretly detained by the FBI during a national emergency.
Calls for congressional investigation of Hoover and FBI died less than two months after the burglary. Congress had no appetite for this. But thanks to NBC reporter Carl Stern, a congressional investigation later became imperative. Without Carl’s determined effort to find out what COINTELPRO was, those bureau operations, regarded eventually as the worst, might never have been revealed. Carl would like to have been here with us today, and I wish he could have been, but he has a very serious case of COVID. As a result of his successful lawsuit in December 1973, journalists were now armed with the stated purpose of COINTELPRO: to secretly expose, disrupt and neutralize political movements. And they began requesting COINTELPRO files, and they started pouring out.
The public now learned for the first time that the FBI conducted lawless operations that ranged from crude to cruel to life-threatening and murder. Prostitutes known to be having a venereal disease were hired to infect campus activists. FBI informers were coached to give false testimony against innocent people, people known to be innocent to the person testifying, testimony that led to convictions and decades in prison for the falsely accused, most of them Black people. A plot was designed to cause Martin Luther King to commit suicide and murder. An FBI informer provided the Chicago police with the crucial information that made it possible for police to shoot Fred Hampton dead as he slept.
In January 1975, thanks to all this information that came out, both the House and the Senate opened investigations of FBI and all intelligence agencies. It was the first time Congress had done such a thing. At hearings, high FBI officials testified under oath that bureau officials had never considered the legality or ethics of COINTELPRO or any other operations.
These hearings and the reforms the senators successfully recommended would not have happened without whistleblowers who risked their freedom and a free press that reported their important revelations, and, ultimately, a Congress that finally was willing to act, including establishing permanent intelligence oversight committees and strengthening the Freedom of Information Act. All of these reforms, as probably everybody in the room knows, have been battered and bruised at various times since then, but they exist, and they are still valuable.
It was Joe Biden’s Congress that put in place the reforms that flowed from the Media burglary. The Biden administration surely knows, from the very important revelations made by whistleblowers in the past, that this source of crucial information must not only not be threatened, but must be protected. To continue the prosecution of Mr. Assange under the Espionage Act of 1917 could not only continue Mr. Assange’s imprisonment for decades, it also could, in violation of the Constitution, gut the First Amendment rights of journalists — a radical result that surely neither President Biden nor Attorney General Garland wants to have as their legacy. Thank you.
SRECKO HORVAT: Thanks a lot to our member of tribunal, Betty. I think it was a very important testimony because it shows that there is a continuous persecution and oppression of dissent in this country, and that those who are courageous enough to protest the measures of this government end up criminalized, end up in prison, end up in character assassination, and so on.
So, the next speaker at this tribunal, and we have three more left — thanks a lot for the patience of all of you — is one of the most famous whistleblowers, not in U.S. history but in global history. And it’s my great honor to present him today, Daniel Ellsberg.
DANIEL ELLSBERG: Hi. I’m Dan Ellsberg.
One of the foundation stones of our form of government here in the United States and democracy in our republic is our First Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids any law by Congress or the states abridging freedom of speech or of the press, along with freedom of religion and of assembly. That press precluded the passage of a British-type Official Secrets Act, which most countries have. Almost no other country has a law singling out the press as protected by our freedom by the First Amendment. And the British-type Official Secrets Act, which criminalizes any or all disclosure of information protected by the government, by the executive branch, even disclosure to the public or to the press or to the Congress or Parliament, is criminalized and subject to prison. We’ve never had such an act because of our First Amendment.
In fact, one was almost inadvertently passed by Congress in the year 2000, but it was vetoed by President Clinton as a clear-cut violation of the First Amendment. He cited in his opinion accompanying that some of the opinions in the Pentagon Papers case of half a century ago. That had resulted from my disclosure of information that I had authorized possession of as a contractor to the government at that time, 7,000 pages of top-secret documents about the history of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam, which disclosed a repeated sequence by four different presidents of lies and, in effect, violations of the Constitution, treaties, and, in particular, misleading Congress as the costs for war.
I was facing 115 years in prison, but not for an Official Secrets Act, which we don’t have. It was an experiment by President Nixon to use our Espionage Act, which had always been directed and intended for use against spies giving information secretly to a foreign government, especially in time of war, had never been used, as it was by Nixon in my case, in substitute for an Official Secrets Act for disclosure to the public, with no arrogation of my intentions there, but simply that doing that was a violation. That was dismissed on grounds of government criminality against me. And there never has been a Supreme Court decision on whether the use of the Espionage Act, as is now facing Julian Assange as a basis for an attempt to extradite him from Britain to the U.S., was constitutional. They’ve never received it, even though there have been dozens of cases since then, since my case, in which the act was used as if it were an Official Secrets Act, in effect, making it a reliable substitute in withholding from the public any information the government doesn’t want it to have, which is an enormous amount of information.
Up until Julian Assange’s indictment, the act, however, had never been used as an Official Secrets Act, yes, against other than sources, like myself, who had possession of information, who disclosed it to the public. It had never been used against a journalist, like Julian Assange, although in each case, of course, of such disclosures or leaks, some form of media was involved, many, many people involved in that, but they had never been indicted for that before.
Actually, if you’re going to use the act against a journalist, in blatant violation of the First Amendment’s denial of Congress’s ability to criminalize acts by journalists, by the press, the First Amendment is essentially gone. As I say, we’re almost the first to have it. We fought a War of Independence and established a Constitution, so we have a First Amendment. Britain does not, where Julian now is. And they have an Official Secrets Act, which we don’t. If we acquire that, we give up the main result, I would say, of that War of Independence, in the sense that we are no longer really a republic or a democrat. We have monarchal powers, imperial powers, formally. And every empire requires secrecy to cloak its acts of violence that maintains an empire, the American. It’s a major change in our form of government.
The fact is that the Espionage Act is even broader than the British Official Secrets Act. And that’s why Congress — any people in Congress who wanted to uphold secrecy have given up trying to pass a formal Official Secrets Act. They prefer the Espionage Act, because the wording of that act, so far not used, even against a journalist, until Julian Assange, and not used beyond a journalist as someone who simply receives the information or possesses and maintains it, without giving it to an authorized authority — that is covered by the language of the Espionage Act.
To challenge that, a year ago, I released a top-secret document on the Taiwan Straits crisis of 1958, that long ago, in which the U.S. came close to using nuclear weapons to uphold the protection of Taiwan from mainland China, an issue which is now very much facing us this year. And I challenged that as someone who had held that and refused to give it to authorized authority for all these years, in order to raise in court for the first time whether one can take the plain language of the Espionage Act as controlling, as overruling, basically, the First Amendment.
To go further, this year, in connection with the attempt to extradite Julian Assange, I also revealed the fact that I had been as subject to indictment as Julian all this time, since 2010, because I had possessed the information which he released to the newspapers, before he did that. He conveyed it to me before he did that, as a backup to what he was doing for the press. In the plain language of the act, then, as someone who possessed that information and did not disclose it to an authorized person and retained it, I — like, actually, every reader of the Times, The New York Times, The Guardian, El País, Le Monde, who received and published that information — every reader all over the world comes under the plain language of that act. I’m, in effect, saying, with Julian, then, I am prepared to face a test of that act, going up to the Supreme Court, if necessary, and restoring our status as a republic. I call on President Biden either to indict me along with Julian Assange, and others, or to drop this unconstitutional attempt to extradite Julian — I wouldn’t have to be extradited — or to prosecute either of us in these courts. That is really the only way for him to restore our status as a republic and a democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you, Dan Ellsberg. Before we turn to Noam Chomsky, attorney Suchitra Vijayan is — formerly worked for the United Nations war crimes tribunals in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. She is founder now of the Polis Project, a New York-based research and journalism organization supporting civil resistance around the world.
SUCHITRA VIJAYAN: Thank you. And what an honor to share the stage with people that you’ve grown up respecting, your idols. I’m not going to take more time, so I’m going to keep it very short.
I’m going to start with something that Julian Assange very famously said: You have to start with the truth. Truth is the only way we can get anywhere. Without truth, there is no reality. There is no way for us to challenge the power. And almost everybody who spoke here today spoke about this idea of truth, because there are two things that are human to us: truth, the capacity to understand what is before us, and our capacity to tell stories and pass it on. Truth is also our right to know. Without it, there is no way for us to fight for the values we hold dear — freedom, dignity and the moral equality of all people.
The persecution of Julian Assange is not just about First Amendment. It’s not just about the freedom of press. It goes to the heart of the crisis of citizenship, the rapid erosion of civil liberties in the hand of deeply authoritarian democracies in the West. We need to name the beast. We have to start calling Western liberal democracies what they are. They are deeply authoritarian, totalitarian, with deep lines of fascist ideologies that get implemented not today, but for many, many years. Criminalizing dissent, persecuting dissidents, political trials, imprisoning journalists in high-security prisons and treating them as terrorists are not new. These are part of the long-established strategies of state terror. Throughout history, the U.S. government has incarcerated its political opponents — Black activists, students, labor organizations, writers, intellectuals, antiwar activists, protesters. The list is long. Today the U.S. considers its most dangerous enemies those who challenge its abuse of power and expose its crimes both at home and abroad.
Assange is a political prisoner. He is a dissident of the West. His crime? Exposing brutal acts of violence, abuse of power, and about the crimes against innocent civilians. For this, every legality, deception and malice has been deployed against him — systematic violations of due process, judicial bias, manipulated and manufactured evidence, constant surveillance, defamation, lies, propaganda, denial of basic dignity, assassination attempts and threats. Just let that sink in. And I’m happy to read it one more time if you want. I know what: I’ll read it one more time. Systematic violations of due process, judicial bias, manufactured evidence, manipulated evidence, constant surveillance, defamation, lies, propaganda, denial of basic dignity, assassination attempts and threats.
But why is Assange a threat? I came of age in the age of the aftermath of 9/11. In the past 20 years, we’ve witnessed a proliferation of militarized borders, camps and carceral citizenships. As a young lawyer, I worked providing legal aid for Iraqi refugees in Cairo. During this time, we served over 800 families. Hundreds of legal summaries that I wrote were not just about asylum petitions or resettlement requests. These were also biographies of a destruction of a nation and its people, imperial violence unleashed on them, torture, death, mutilation, rapes, disappearances. In 2010, WikiLeaks posted classified U.S. military videos depicting the killing of dozens of unarmed Iraqis, including two Reuters journalists. The release confirmed what many of us had already known. The War in Afghanistan was no different.
Orwell wrote, “The frightening thing about totalitarianism is not that it commits 'atrocities' but that it attacks the concept of objective truth: it claims to control the past as well as the future.”
I also happen to teach. And when I teach young people today, they do not know what happened after 9/11. They do not know what happened in Afghanistan, and they do not know what happened in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon. They don’t know, because we have forgotten to teach them. And that is why truth is important. That is why stories are important. Journalists are the most important people, not because they are great, because they create the footnotes of history.
Lies start war, and silence enable impunity. Assange’s persecution is a result of publishing truth about atrocities committed against innocent civilians in the name of freedom. Fundamental to upholding the moral equality of all people is our capacity to hold the state and the powerful accountable. Yet, unfortunately, the ability to systematically hold power accountable is being eroded every single moment. And it’s being stripped away even as I speak. Today I stand with my fellow members of the tribunal demanding the release of Julian Assange. As we fight for his release, we fight for journalists, activists, truth tellers, and stand in unconditional solidarity with those fighting for freedom and dignity across the world. Thank you.
SRECKO HORVAT: Last but not least, we have a very short message by one of the most important living public intellectuals of the United States, Noam Chomsky.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Our message for today is quite simple: Free Julian Assange.
Assange has been indicted under the Espionage Act. It’s another shameful chapter in its sordid history from its origins, should be stricken from the books. The act has no place in a free and democratic society. We should, perhaps, not be surprised that the act is now being used to punish the exercise of journalism. Letting citizens know what is being done in their name is an unforgivable assault against the majesty of the state. The crime of the indictment under this disgraceful legislation is compounded by the years of imprisonment and torture that Julian Assange has already suffered.
The targets of the indictment, however, reach far beyond their immediate victim. They reach, in fact, to all of us who hope to understand what is happening in the world, and to the journalism profession, whose task it is to perform this essential service in a democratic order. Those who seek to perform this honorable task are under harsh attack in these troubled days. That’s more reason to assure the attack on journalism will not be joined by the most powerful state in human history.
In short, free Julian Assange, without further unconscionable delay.
AMY GOODMAN: I have never heard Noam Chomsky be so concise. And as we begin to wrap up, I’ll be even shorter. The ballroom here at the National Press Club is packed. Over 5,000 people are watching online. You can get the link of this whole event at democracynow.org. Spread it far and wide. Go to where the silence is, and say something.
SRECKO HORVAT: Don’t worry, it won’t be a long speech. I just want to thank all the members of the tribunal today. Thanks a lot for being with us today. I also want to thank especially Amy and Denis, behind the camera, and the team of Democracy Now! I also want to thank all our partners. The list is very long, so I won’t name all of them, but I want to especially thank the Wau Holland Foundation. I also want to thank the National Press Club for hosting us. And I want to thank all our volunteers for making this possible.
So, what are our next steps? Today we provided convincing testimonies and convincing evidence on the case of Julian Assange. And now it’s up to the Biden administration to drop the charges. But it’s also up to all of you here in the room and outside of the room to take this further and to make pressure as much as possible towards the Biden administration. We at the Progressive International, together with our partners, in March are coming to Sydney with another Belmarsh Tribunal. So watch out.
And I want to close this tribunal with the words of someone who is silenced. I want to close this tribunal with the words of the man himself, Julian Assange, because I think it’s a beautiful description of this tribunal, of everyone who is here with us today. Quote, “If we can live only once, then let it be a daring adventure that draws on all our powers. Let it be with similar types whose hearts and heads we may be proud of.” These people here. These people here in the room. “Let our grandchildren delight to find the start of our stories in their ears but the endings all around in their wandering eyes.” Julian Assange.
And now, for the very end, a little surprise by our common friend, Roger Waters, a song which was specially recorded for Julian Assange and this occasion Thanks a lot, everyone, for being with us today. Free Julian Assange. And Julian Assange will be free this year.
ROGER WATERS: [singing] So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell
Blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
And did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
And hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange
A walk-on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?
How I wish
How I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls
Swimmin’ in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
What have we found?
The same old fears
And I wish that you were here
Oh, how I wish you were here
How I wish
How I wish you were here
Running over the same old ground
What have we found?
The same old fears
And I wish that you were here.
Wish you were here, brother.