Tuesday 25th February 2020, 6.30-10.00 pm in St Pancras New Church, Euston Road, London, UK
Eva Bartlett (journalist).
Mike Barson (music group Madness)
Joti Brar (Workers Party GB)
Neil Clark (journalist)
George Galloway (campaigner and journalist)
Joe Lauria (Consortium News)
Peter Lavelle (RT)
Alexander Mercouris (The Duran)
Live-streamed by RT UK.
The following account was written at the invitation of, and is published with the approval of, the event’s organiser, Greg Sharkey (@gregsharkey68).
The views expressed are the speakers’ own.
I reproduce them in order to express support for the event, for Julian Assange, and for Wikileaks.
The following account is based on the notes that I took at the event. It is not a word-perfect transcription, and is selective, emphasising points that have been less-commonly made at previous events in support of Assange (for which see the write-ups below). To the best of my belief it does not misrepresent any of the speakers’ views, but I would welcome any corrections sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further materials concerning Julian Assange on this blog, please see my reports on:
‘Free the Truth’, 3rd February 2020, 5.50-8.30 pm in St Pancras New Church, Euston Road, London, UK, with speakers Craig Murray (former UK ambassador, now human rights activist), John Shipton (father of Julian Assange), Eva Joly (former French prosecutor, Green EU parliamentarian and member of the Development Committee), Lisa Longstaff (Women’s rights campaigner and spokesperson for Women Against Rape), and Nils Melzer (UN Special Rapporteur on Torture),
Free the Truth, Thursday 28th November, 2019, 5.50-8.30 pm in St Pancras New Church, Euston Road, London, UK, with speakers Lowkey (rapper), Lissa Johnson (clinical psychologist), Fidel Narvaez (former Ecuadorian consul), Lisa Longstaff (of Women Against Rape), Mark Curtis (historian and journalist), Nils Melzer (UN Special Rapporteur on Torture), Craig Murray (former UK ambassador, now human rights activist), and John Pilger (investigative journalist).
This write-up contains, at the bottom, general background information on the case.
‘Imperialism on Trial’, 11th and 12th June 2019, St James’s Church, Clerkenwell, London, with speakers including Vivienne Westwood (fashion designer), Chris Hedges (Pulitzer Prizewinner), Clare Daly (Irish TD and MEP), Ogmundur Jonasson (former Icelandic Interior Minister), and myself (on the subject of character assassination).
‘Imperialism on Trial’, 1st May 2019, Bloomsbury Baptist Church, London, with speakers including Kristin Hrafnsson (the Editor-in-Chief of Wikileaks), Annie Machon (former-MI5 officer), and Peter Ford (former UK ambassador to Syria).
The February 25th 2020 event took place on Day 2 of Assange’s extradition hearing at Belmarsh Magistrate’s Court.
Thanks to RT UK for live-streaming this. I want to emphasise that we are a broad church at Imperialism on Trial. Peter Lavelle is conservative; George Galloway isn’t. We may differ on economic and social questions, but are united in our opposition to imperialism and neo-liberalism.
I left Woolwich Crown Court in a car to get here in about 45 minutes. I saw some of you here standing outside the Court. I have no idea how you got here before me – well done. Those of you that have been there know how horrible and dispiriting it is. I feel very tired after a few days of attending that Court. It is oppressive, and deliberately unpleasant. A trial that is of interest to the world is deliberately put where the world can’t see it. The mainstream media turns up but doesn’t report it. Yesterday the BBC, The Guardian, ITN, Sky, were all there for the prosecution statement and left after it. Today, for the opening of the defence statement, they were not there. They are only interested in putting the government’s case. It is deeply dispiriting to be present at this sham of justice. It is impossible to sit in that Court without realising that what you are watching is a charade. Every comment the magistrate makes is to query, question or belittle the points the defence made. Her final point today was that the UK Extradition Act UK allows you to extradite for political reasons, and that that trumps the UK-US treaty which says otherwise. She made not even the barest attempt at a covering of impartiality. Today the defence completely demolished the argument that lives were put at risk by Wikileaks in the diplomatic cables. They brought out the great good that was done and the terrible things that were revealed in the public interest: the murder of children and journalists, torture, black ops. You sit there thinking ‘this is good’. Then you realise it doesn’t matter, because there isn’t a jury. We are not seeing a genuine process.
The prosecution doesn’t appear to be doing very well. They seemed under-prepared and not trying, but this is because they know they don’t have to prepare. This is a show trial. I think we will win in the High Court – but that could take 2-3 years at least. For me to see Julian in his current mental and physical condition is extremely worrying. Today, later in the afternoon, the magistrate stopped proceedings for a while to ask if he was fit to continue. Today we heard that yesterday he was twice taken out of his cell and strip-searched; eleven times he was handcuffed; all the papers his lawyers had given him in the Court were taken off him.
Those papers included confidential communications between him and his lawyers, which are privileged. These are gross abuses of process. They should be enough alone to stop the proceedings. Yesterday we heard that the CIA had organised spying on his meetings with his lawyers in the Ecuadorian Embassy. That by itself, in a genuine process, would stop proceedings.
I am tired, a little shaken. By the obvious brutality of it. That is the point of it – to shake us, and turn us into compliant citizens. We may be tired. But we are going to carry on and we are going to win.
It is always a privilege to follow Craig Murray, whose work and whose actions I draw on. We hear all the time about whether or not this is political. Let us be clear – the reason he is being tried, and the UK is considering extraditing him to the US, is because the US government is embarrassed by his exposure of their war crimes. Consider the way he has been treated: kept in a glass case after years of confinement in the Ecuadorian Embassy; violation of privilege; this can only be explained by the fact that this is a political case.
And let us always remember that there is another person involved: Chelsea Manning. She is also in indefinite detention because she is not prepared to give evidence against Wikileaks. That happens in the most brutal authoritarian societies. Where are the stern editorials about the abuse of this woman? (We’ve heard a lot about the abuse of women in this case; here is a woman whose human rights are being grossly abused.)
In the first decade of my life I lived in a country – Greece – where due process collapsed, torture was pervasive, and there was no freedom of speech. Even as a child I could sense how it affects the whole way that a society is run. We can see in the Assange and Manning cases that these practices – which have been exported around the world by the US and UK – are being imported back to our countries. It’s not going to stop there. The reason this is happening is that when people like Murray denounce the torture of supposed enemies of our country, not enough people made a stand. Now we see it happening in our own country, with the collusion of our Courts and legal system. So it is very troubling for me, who saw it elsewhere, now happening here. If mistreatment and abuse are normalised, and due process collapses, the effects will eventually spread inexorably to all of us.
Manning is both an example to us, and of what may happen to us. This is a cause we have to win.
I’d like to raise the broader issue of freedom of the press. There are some parallel cases to Assange that have happened in, for example, Ukraine. In May 2018 the journalist and editor Kirill Vyshinsky was taken into pre-trial detention under the pretence that he had committed high treason against Ukraine. The evidence presented against him, editor for RIA Novosti, was that he had published articles of different opinions – some critical, some not, of the Ukrainian government – none of them by himself. Four years later, the Ukrainian authorities decided that he was dangerous and that he must be imprisoned. There were 39 volumes of case files with hundreds of pages, and he was given limited time to see these files (I interviewed his lawyer in Kiev). He was released in August 2019 in an exchange, never having been tried or convicted of anything.
Members of the Maidan movement are now in government. Anyone who wants peace with Russia, and for Russian to be the second official state language, is considered an enemy of the state. I have a list of journalists being prosecuted by the Ukrainian authorities.
In Estonia the authorities were ready to charge around 35 employees of Sputnik with prison terms of up to five years if they didn’t stop working with Rossiya Sevodnya. Sanctions had been imposed on the general director of Rossiya Sevodnya – but that should have had nothing to do with it. They had to stop their work with Sputnik. We see so much Russophobic censorship of the media. At the recent media freedom conference, which I attended, Russian media were excluded. It was more like a regime change conference.
I’ve done a lot of reporting from Syria. What I see in Russian reporting on Syria has been accurate, in contrast to the reporting of the mainstream Western media. I’ve therefore been accused of being on the payroll of the Russian government. One difference is that Russia actually has correspondents on the ground.
There are many journalists who have been murdered in Syria and Palestine, who are not reported about in the Western corporate media. In 2014 I detailed some of those journalists murdered by Western-backed terrorists in Syria. It is clear that journalists’ lives only matter when they serve propaganda purposes. Other journalists’ lives don’t seem to matter.
People often come up to me and ask ‘is that earpiece [that he wears when hosting Crosstalk] connected to the Kremlin?’ Actually, the good thing is that they [the Russian authorities] leave me alone, even out of the loop. At RT, I don’t know that the news room is doing.
It is good that we’re having this event in a church, because we are gathered together in good faith. ‘We’re all Julian Assange now’ – I don’t mean to be trite here. He is a world-historic individual. You know the most important thing he did for me and my friends? He told us that we’re not crazy. We were trying to connect the dots, and got denounced as fake news. Then we read the emails [revealed by Wikileaks], and they gave us the details we needed to connect the dots.
We live in a world of not just fake news but omission. They wipe people away. Assange has exposed how much of the media is a fraud. His farcical trial parallels that of Roger Stone – a prankster – but they need his conviction to tie the bow on the Russiagate narrative. Both trials rely on anonymous sources, and are influenced by a deep state which is connected around the world; a good deal of the Russiagate narrative originated in this country and in Ukraine. Empire is the glue that keeps the elite together: the Republican/Democrat distinction is superficial; and they will go to great lengths to protect their empire, at the expense of our civilisation and our moral codes. We have seen regime change all around us since the end of the Cold War. It has now come home. They first perfected it in places like Libya; now they have brought it to the US and UK. We are all poorer for it. Assange has revealed to us the truth; we, his defenders, get smeared and called unpatriotic. I have never seen such unpatriotic elites.
There is a spark of divinity in all of us. Don’t let them take it away from you, or from Julian Assange.
This is a magnificent event attended by people of different political stripes but all united by Prisoner A9379AY, the world-historic figure Julian Assange. I have mentioned ‘the honourable Craig Murray’. All the speakers are honourable. But he is ‘right-honourable’. People like me were born into this path; we had no alternatives; the struggle against imperialism was the only choice we ever had. Craig Murray had a glittering career in the Foreign Office. He was Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Uzbekistan, but he gave up his career because he stood up against torture and disappearances. He will always be ‘Sir Craig Murray’ to me.
I was once kidnapped by the thugs of Hosni Mubarak, who died today. They couldn’t speak English. They drove me for many hours, I knew not where, and eventually deposited me at the airport in Cairo. They gave me the blue paper certificate declaring me persona non grata and no longer welcome in Egypt. The legal proceedings as described here this evening and in the various blogs (because that’s the only place you’re going to read what’s going on in a substantial way) are more fitting in Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt. Who cannot tremble with indignation at what happened to him just yesterday, never mind over the last decade? He should have been in Oslo getting the Nobel Peace Prize, but was being stripped and searched by goons. Why was he handcuffed? He was in a bullet-proof box. There was a [CIA-ordered] camera in the toilet [in the Ecuadorian Embassy] where Pamela Anderson, Craig Murray, me, and Assange himself, peed. They spied on every legal meeting Assange had with his legal representatives, in brazen defiance of the rules of justice and lawyer-client privilege. No trial can take place when it has been compromised in this way. The criminals have made it a crime to report on the crimes that they have committed.
The journalists didn’t even show up today at the trial. This Church tonight should be bulging with journalists, because if they had any intention of doing their job, what is happening is a mortal danger to them. For a shilling or two they have abandoned any claim to moral authority. I am glad that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonell have finally found a voice to speak for him.
I was in Parliament when this extradition treaty was reached. It was concluded behind the backs of Parliament during the summer recess. David Blunkett, Tony Blair’s Home Secretary, concluded it. No free country would ever sign such a treaty with any other country. I expressed this to Blunkett. He said to me ‘you’re worrying unnecessarily. Article 4.1 takes care of this, because it precludes extradition for political offences to the US’. Now the judge [Vanessa Baraitser] is telling us that this part of the treaty does not apply.
Any extradition order has to be signed off by Home Secretary Priti Patel; an elected politician must sign it off. If we allow Assange to be sent for the rest of his life to the dungeons of the US injustice system, then journalism, freedom of speech, and democracy will have been murdered in plain sight on our watch. We have to fight to free Julian Assange.
A selection of the points made:
In my lifetime I haven’t seen a time when the politicians are so out of touch with public opinion. As Peter [Lavelle] and George [Galloway] said earlier, left-or-right political opinion doesn’t matter any more. It is very sad what happened to Corbyn; the establishment worked to destroy him. We had a real chance with him in 2015. If he had carried on in that way, instead of allowing himself to be thrown under the bus, and rather taken on his enemies in his party on Day 1, he would have stood a chance to make a difference (now Bernie Saunders is going the same way). The attacks he was subject to will be studied for years to come. If he had had the vigour and fearlessness that we’ve seen in George Galloway we might see him Prime Minister now, and Julian Assange would be free.
There is a left-to-right continuum of bourgeois imperial politics. I come from the communist left, but I don’t even call myself left now, because my anti-imperial stance doesn’t exist on that spectrum. [As another example], there are progressive working-class reasons for supporting Brexit, but these never appeared in the media.
There is indeed a bipartisan consensus in US politics. The impeachment of Trump was a joke. Trump is not the worst president there’s ever been, but he has committed war crimes. Stealing Syria’s oil is against the 1905 Hague Convention. There was the assassination of Soleimani. The support for building colonies on the West Bank of Israel in violation of the Geneva Convention. Why wasn’t he impeached for these? Because both parties want future presidents to be able to do these things.
The only profession mentioned in the American Constitution is journalism – there is a section on journalists’ rights and protections. Yet today there is no discussion of about what is actually in the documents that Wikileaks released, only how they came into the public eye.
Let’s go back to Yugoslavia. I opposed it [the Western military intervention there]. The rubicon was crossed there, because the bombing was in contravention of international law. The Serbs had attacked no other state. To justify that war, which coincided with the 50th anniversary celebrations of NATO, Tony Blair gave a speech concerning ‘humanitarian intervention’, in Chicago, which has no basis in international law. There were 78 days of bombing with no break for Orthodox Easter. It was a Labour government in power then, and the Greens were strongly in favour. There is such thing as the pro-imperialist ‘left’. The real left were out on the streets marching against that war. Tony Blair and George Galloway were amongst the few Labour MPs who voted against it.
We are in a worse place now than we were in back then. Then we had a large number of [dissenting] voices in the public sphere. John Pilger was a columnist on the Daily Mirror when I was growing up; his documentaries were never off TV. Where is he today? He is only on RT. So are too many other journalists who used to be mainstream.
There has been a diversion into identity politics. Everyone is encouraged to learn why they’re different from each other and what they don’t have in common with each other. This is a deliberate hijacking of the working class movement. We argue over who’s the most oppressed, like idiots; instead of struggling against injustice, we are fighting over the words to describe injustices. There has been a turn towards concentration on language, which helps nobody. The mass of people are afraid to open their mouths now lest they use the wrong word.
The last five years have been a real case study of the limitations of democracy. It wasn’t Corbyn’s domestic but his foreign policy [that aroused particular opposition on the part of the state]; it was his pro-Palestinian activism, and Stop the War work. Unfortunately Corbyn didn’t fight back against the smears. But as soon as the general election is over, the old Corbyn has been back, saying great things on Iran, Soleimani, and Assange.
Trump made a campaign promise not to start a new war and he has kept to that. But otherwise is a dream for the deep state.
A man was released from Belmarsh Prison who had a knife rampage in Streatham. This was the man they allowed onto the streets of London. Yet Assange is kept as though he were a huge public danger.
Probably everyone on this panel has been smeared. The takeaway is to persevere in the face of whatever smears you encounter.
I remember the first five death threats. I don’t remember the several thousand. But suppression of the media has a boomerang effect – sometimes shorter, sometimes longer.
Keir Starmer has just attacked Corbyn and McDonell for their belated support of Assange.
The invasion of Iraq was not just about oil or Israel. It was about demonstration of the hegemony of the empire and its neoliberal orthodoxy: capitalist economics at home and imperial domination of countries abroad. Such thinking exists on both sides of the aisle in all Western countries now.
QUESTION: do we need a change to the constitution to facilitate whistleblowing?
You can write any rule book. But if you have a society where a few people control all the wealth, it doesn’t matter what the rules are, as they will never apply to the people in power.
A key factor is what happened in 1989 and 90: the ending of Communism in Eastern Europe. It ushered in a new period of international lawlessness, as the US saw the opportunity to colonise the rest of the world. So the 1990s collapse of Russia was a disaster not just for Russia, but the rest of the world. Russia has now returned as a counter-weight, which is why it is so demonised, and why there are so many attempts to get RT off air in the UK. In 1990 Peregrine Worsthorne warned about precisely this [effect of the end of the Soviet Union], and he was speaking as a Conservative realist.
We must all become journalists – citizen journalists. We must stop buying the mainstream press. Ignorance is self-inflicted now; we have the ability to find the truth with a few clicks on a computer or phone. Represented here are sites and programmes like The Duran, 21st Century Wire, CrossTalk. We must become evangelists for alternative media sources. The mainstream journalists know that they aren’t telling the truth, for example on Syria. I left school at 16 and I know it. They went to Oxford and they certainly know it.