18July2019

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Assange Arrest - Part 1: 'So Now He's Our Property'

If 'journalism' meant what it is supposed to mean– acting as the proverbial 'fourth estate' to challenge power and to keep the public informed – then Julian Assange and WikiLeaks would be universally lauded as paragons. So would Chelsea Manning, the brave former US Army whistleblower who passed on to WikiLeaks more than 700,000 confidential US State Department and Pentagon documents, videos and diplomatic cables about the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The most infamous example was 'Collateral Murder', a video clip filmed from a US helicopter gunship, showing the indiscriminate killing of a dozen or more Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists, in 2007. Shockwaves reverberated around the world, to the deep embarrassment of the US government and military. Today, Manning is incarcerated in a Virginia jail, and Assange is locked up in the high-security HM Prison Belmarsh.

In 2013, Manning was given a 35-year prison sentence for daring to reveal brutal US abuses of power. This was commuted by President Barack Obama in 2017, two days before he left office, and Manning was able to go free. However, last month she was called to testify against WikiLeaks before a secret grand jury in Virginia. Recognising that this had clearly been set as a trap to incriminate both her and Assange, she refused to answer questions:

'I will not participate in a secret process that I morally object to, particularly one that has been used to entrap and persecute activists for protected political speech.'

And now Assange, after almost seven years of political asylum in cramped quarters in Ecuador's embassy in London, and in fading health, has been literally dragged out of what should have been a safe refuge, contrary to international law, and placed at the mercy of UK and US power.

Sean Love, a medical doctor who examined Assange while he was in the embassy, was clear that the WikiLeaks co-founder had suffered badly while in asylum, and would carry that suffering with him for the rest of his life:

'Assange does not leave behind the physical and psychological sequelae of his confinement at the embassy. The harms follow him; they are irreparable. The inhumanity of his treatment and the flagrant denials of his universal rights by Ecuador and the UK are unconscionable.'

He also countered the scurrilous propaganda that Assange had behaved badly while in the embassy:

'Never did I witness Assange having poor hygiene or discourteous behavior toward embassy staff. His suffering was readily apparent, yet he was always pleasant, professional; admirable characteristics under extreme and punitive circumstances.'

Fidel Narvaez, former consul at the Ecuador embassy from the first day Assange arrived, on 19 June 2012, until 15 July 2018, said that the claims smearing Assange's behaviour in the embassy were 'absolutely false, or distorted, or exaggerated'. Narvaez added that:

'whenever I was in the room with Julian, there was always an attitude of respect, of mutal respect, always, from all the diplomatic and administrative staff towards Julian and from Julian towards them... I challenge any member of the embassy staff to cite an occasion when Julian ever - ever! - treated them with a lack of respect.'

Narvaez says the atmosphere may well have changed after he left when, he believes, Moreno's regime tried to make life 'unbearable' for Assange in the embassy.

Prime Minister Theresa May boasted of Assange's arrest to Parliament:

'This goes to show that in the United Kingdom, no one is above the law.'

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt opined:

'Julian Assange is no hero'.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin on Thursday celebrated Assange's arrest, arguing that it's 'great for the American people':

'We're going to extradite him. It will be really good to get him back on United States soil. So now he's our property and we can get the facts and truth from him.'

But Rafael Correa, the former president of Ecuador who had granted Assange asylum in 2012, was scathing about the man who had succeeded him in 2017:

'The greatest traitor in Ecuadorian and Latin American history, Lenin Moreno, allowed the British police to enter our embassy in London to arrest Assange. Moreno is a corrupt man, but what he has done is a crime that humanity will never forget.'

Journalist John Pilger had strong words:

'The action of the British police in literally dragging Julian Assange from the Ecuadorean embassy and the smashing of international law by the Ecuadorean regime in permitting this barbarity are crimes against the most basic natural justice. This is a warning to all journalists.'

Former CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden warned:

'Assange's critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom.'

In an interview on Democracy Now!, Noam Chomsky called Assange's arrest 'scandalous in several respects' and expanded:

'One of them is just the effort of governments—and it's not just the U.S. government. The British are cooperating. Ecuador, of course, is now cooperating. Sweden, before, had cooperated. The efforts to silence a journalist who was producing materials that people in power didn't want the rascal multitude to know about [...] that's basically what happened. WikiLeaks was producing things that people ought to know about those in power. People in power don't like that, so therefore we have to silence it. OK? This is the kind of thing, the kind of scandal, that takes place, unfortunately, over and over.'

He added:

'The other scandal is just the extraterritorial reach of the United States, which is shocking. I mean, why should the United States—why should any—no other state could possibly do it. But why should the United States have the power to control what others are doing elsewhere in the world? I mean, it's an outlandish situation. It goes on all the time. We never even notice it. At least there's no comment on it.'

Read more: Assange Arrest - Part 1: 'So Now He's Our Property'

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