When I first saw Julian Assange in Belmarsh Prison in 2019, shortly after being dragged out of his refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy, he said, “I think I’m losing my mind. head.
By John Pilger
He was thin and emaciated, his hollow eyes and the thinness of his arms highlighted by a yellow identification cloth tied around his left arm, a symbol evocative of institutional control.
For all but the two hours of my visit, he was confined to a segregation cell in a wing known as “health care,” an Orwellian name. In the cell next to him, a deeply disturbed man cried out all night. Another occupant suffered from terminal cancer. Another was severely disabled.
“One day we were allowed to play Monopoly,” he said, “as therapy. It was our health!
“It is Flight over a cuckoo’s nest,” I said.
“Yes, only crazier.”
Julian’s dark sense of humor has often saved him, but no more. The insidious torture he suffered in Belmarsh had devastating effects. Read reports by Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, and the clinical opinions of Michael Kopelman, Professor Emeritus of Neuropsychiatry at King’s College London and Dr Quinton Deeley, and reserve contempt for the American mercenary in court , James Lewis QC, who called this a “sham”.
I was particularly touched by the expert words of Dr Kate Humphrey, clinical neuropsychologist at Imperial College London. She told the Old Bailey last year that Julian’s intellect had gone from “in the upper range, or more likely very much higher,” to “significantly below” that optimal level, to the point where he was. struggling to absorb information and ‘perform in the low to medium range.
At another court hearing in this shameful Kafkaesque drama, I saw him struggle to remember his name when the judge asked him to pronounce it.
For most of his first year at Belmarsh, he was locked up. Deprived of proper exercise, he walked the length of his little cell, back and forth, back and forth, for “my own half marathon,” he told me. It reeked of despair. A razor blade was found in his cell. He wrote “farewell letters”. He telephoned the Samaritans several times.
At first, he was denied his reading glasses, left behind in the brutality of his abduction at the embassy. When the glasses finally arrived at the prison, they were not delivered to him for days. His lawyer, Gareth Peirce, wrote letter after letter to the prison director protesting against the withholding of legal documents, access to the prison library, the use of a basic laptop with which to prepare his case. The prison would take weeks, if not months, to respond. (Governor Rob Davis received the Order of the British Empire.)
Books sent to him by a friend, journalist Charles Glass, himself a survivor of a hostage-taking in Beirut, were returned to him. Julian couldn’t call his American lawyers. From the start, he was constantly on medication. Once, when I asked him what they gave him, he couldn’t answer me.
At the High Court hearing in late October to finally decide whether or not Julian would be extradited to America, he appeared only briefly via video link on day one. He looked sick and unstable. The court heard that he had been “excused” because of his “medication”. But Julian had asked to attend the hearing and was refused, said his partner Stella Moris. It is certainly a right to appear in court for judgment on you.
This intensely proud man also claims the right to appear strong and consistent in public, as he did at the Old Bailey last year. Then he constantly consulted his lawyers through the slit of his glass cage. He took a lot of notes. He stood up and protested with eloquent anger against the lies and abuse of process.
The damage done to him during his decade of incarceration and uncertainty, including more than two years in Belmarsh (whose brutal diet is celebrated in the latest Bond film) is beyond doubt.
But so does his courage beyond any doubt, and a quality of endurance and resilience that is heroism. This is what can get him through the current Kafkaesque nightmare, if he is spared an American hell.
I have known Julian since he arrived in Britain in 2009. In our first interview, he described the moral imperative behind WikiLeaks: that our right to transparency of governments and the powerful was a fundamental democratic right. I saw him cling to this principle as it sometimes made his life even more precarious.
Almost nothing of this remarkable side of the man’s character has been reported in the so-called “free press” whose own future is said to be threatened if Julian is extradited.
Of course, but there has never been a “free press”. There have been extraordinary journalists who have occupied positions in the “mainstream”, spaces that have now closed, forcing independent journalism to turn to the Internet.
There it became a “fifth estate,” a samizdat of dedicated, often unpaid work, of those who were honorable exceptions in a media now reduced to an assembly line of platitudes. Words like “democracy”, “reform”, “human rights” are stripped of their dictionary meaning and censorship is done by omission or exclusion.
The recent fateful hearing before the High Court has been “disappeared” in the “free press”. Most people wouldn’t know that a court in the heart of London had ruled on their right to know: their right to question and to dissociate themselves.
Many Americans, if they know anything about the Assange case, believe in a fantasy that Julian is a Russian agent who caused Hillary Clinton to lose the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump. This is surprisingly similar to the lie that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, which justified the invasion of Iraq and the deaths of a million people or more.
They are unlikely to know that the main prosecution witness behind one of the concocted charges against Julian recently admitted to lying and fabricating his “evidence.”
They also will not have heard of the revelation that the CIA, under the leadership of its former director, Hermann Goering lookalike Mike Pompeo, had planned to assassinate Julian. And that was nothing new. Ever since I’ve known Julian he’s been threatened and worse.
On his first night at the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012, dark figures invaded the front of the embassy and banged on windows, trying to enter. has long called for Julian’s assassination. Current President Biden has condemned him as a “high-tech terrorist”.
Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was so eager to please what she called “our best friends” in Washington that she demanded that Julian’s passport be taken from her – until she was taken away. points out that this would be against the law. Current Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a public relations man, when asked about Assange said: “He should face the music.”
It’s a season open to the founder of WikiLeaks for over a decade. In 2011, The Guardian exploited Julian’s work as if it were their own, collected journalism awards and Hollywood contracts, and then turned to its source.
Years of assault on the man who refused to join their club followed. He was accused of failing to redact the documents from the names of people considered at risk. In a Guardian book by David Leigh and Luke Harding, Assange reportedly said during a dinner at a London restaurant that he didn’t care if the informants named in the leaks were injured.
Neither Harding nor Leigh were at dinner. John Goetz, an investigative reporter at Der Spiegel, was actually present at the dinner and said Assange had said no such thing.
Great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg told Old Bailey last year that Assange personally redacted 15,000 files. New Zealand investigative journalist Nicky Hager, who worked with Assange on war leaks in Afghanistan and Iraq, described how Assange took “extraordinary precautions to redact the names of informants.”
In 2013, I asked filmmaker Mark Davis about this. A respected SBS Australia broadcaster, Davis was an eyewitness, accompanying Assange as he prepared the leaked files for publication in The Guardian and The New York Times. He told me, “Assange was the only one who worked day and night to extract 10,000 names of people who might be targeted by the newspaper revelations.
Giving a class to a group of City University students, David Leigh scoffed at the very idea that “Julian Assange will end up in an orange jumpsuit.” His fears were exaggerated, he sneered. Edward Snowden later revealed that Assange was on a “manhunt timeline.”
Luke Harding, who co-wrote with Leigh the Guardian book that revealed the password to a mine of diplomatic cables Julian gave to the newspaper, was outside the Ecuadorian embassy the night Julian applied for asylum. Standing with a line of police, he was jubilant on his blog: “Scotland Yard may have the last laugh. “
The campaign has been relentless. The Guardian columnists have scratched the depths. “He really is the most massive turd,” Suzanne Moore wrote of a man she had never met.
The editor who chaired this, Alan Rusbridger, recently joined the chorus that “defending Assange protects the free press”. After releasing the first WikiLeaks revelations, Rusbridger must question whether the Guardian’s subsequent excommunication of Assange will be enough to protect his own skin from Washington’s wrath.
High Court justices are expected to announce their decision on the US appeal in the new year. What they decide will determine whether or not British justice has sacked the last vestiges of its vaunted reputation; in the land of Magna Carta, this shameful case should have been dismissed by the court long ago.
The missing imperative is not the impact on a collusive “free press”. It is justice for a man persecuted and willfully denied.
Julian Assange is a truth teller who committed no crime but exposed large scale government crimes and lies and thus rendered one of the great public services of my life. Should we remember that justice for one is justice for all?
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
John pilger is an award-winning journalist, filmmaker and author. Read his full bio on his website here and follow him on Twitter: @JohnPilger.