‘Mirthless Laugh’ – The Persecution and Torture of Julian Assange
11 Jun 2019 – For anyone persuaded by the state-corporate campaign of sneers and smears depicting Julian Assange as a shit-smearing narcissist and rapist, the comments made by Nils Melzer, the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, must be deeply shocking. The BBC headline:
‘Julian Assange subjected to psychological torture, UN expert says’
Melzer is Professor of International Law at the University of Glasgow. He also holds the Human Rights Chair at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in Switzerland, where he has been teaching since 2009, including as the Swiss Chair of International Humanitarian Law (2011–2013). Melzer previously worked for 12 years with the International Committee of the Red Cross as Deputy Head of Delegation and Legal Adviser in various zones of conflict and violence. He commented:
‘I’ve worked in many areas of war in my life, in situations of violence, and I’ve talked to victims of persecution around the world and I’ve seen very serious atrocities.
‘But [what] I have never seen is that a single person has been deliberately isolated and, I would say, persecuted – not prosecuted, but persecuted – by several democratic states in a concerted effort to eventually break his will.’
Melzer added that, because of his treatment, Assange’s health was at serious risk:
‘We could see that Assange showed all the symptoms that are typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture.’
Assange, he said, needs access to a psychiatrist who is ‘not part of the prison service – someone he can fully trust’ – to avoid his health deteriorating further.
In an interview with The Canary, Melzer described exactly how and by whom Assange has been ‘persecuted’:
‘The evidence made available to me strongly suggests that the primary responsibility for the sustained and concerted abuse inflicted on Mr Assange falls on the governments of the United Kingdom, Sweden, the United States and, more recently, also Ecuador…
‘The consistent and repeated failure of all involved states to protect Mr Assange’s fundamental right to fair judicial proceedings and due process makes the hypothesis of mere coincidence extremely unrealistic and gives a strong impression of bias and arbitrary manipulation. This starts with the secretive grand jury indictment in the United States, continues with the abusive manner in which Swedish prosecutors disseminated, re-cycled and perpetuated their “preliminary investigation” into alleged sexual offences, exacerbates with the termination by Ecuador of Mr Assange’s asylum status and citizenship without any form of due process, and culminates in overt bias against Mr Assange being shown by British judges since his arrest.
‘The only realistic explanation for this sustained systemic failure of the judiciary is that the United States, and probably also the other involved states, are trying to make an example of Mr Assange before the eyes of the world, not as much as a punishment for whatever real or perceived harm he is alleged to have caused, but as a measure of deterrence for others who might be tempted to imitate Wikileaks and Mr Assange in the future. In these circumstances, Mr Assange has absolutely no chance to get a fair judicial proceeding in any of these jurisdictions.’
With admirable candour, Melzer explained to Democracy Now! how he had himself been influenced by the smear campaign:
‘[I] had been affected by the prejudice that I had absorbed through… public… narratives spread in the media over the years. And only when I scratched the surface a little bit, I saw how little foundation there was to back this up and how much fabrication and manipulation there is in this case.’
He made the same point on Twitter:
‘For the record: I never said I considered #JulianAssange “a bad actor” but that, initially, I had been affected by the same misguided smear campaign as everybody else, and only saw the real facts once I investigated in detail’
This comment instantly recalled the ‘mainstream’ commentators who have seemed so certain in their damning view of Assange. We thought, for example, of Guardian commentator Suzanne Moore, who said of Assange on Twitter in 2012:
‘He really is the most massive turd.’
Tragicomically, Moore then commented to a colleague:
‘I never met him. Did you?’
We tweeted Melzer’s thoughtful tweet to Moore and two other leading lights of the Guardian’s smear campaign below this message:
‘If one tweet might give Guardianistas like @MarinaHyde @HadleyFreeman and @suzanne_moore pause for thought, perhaps it’s this one from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.’
Marina Hyde responded:
‘What a privilege for us ladies to be lectured on our incorrect response to a rape accusation by the men who have famously only read one book (Manufacturing Consent, and they didn’t even understand aspects of that)’
Hyde was bluffing about her supposed insight into our misreading of ‘Manufacturing Consent’. The late Edward Herman, the book’s lead author, told us repeatedly, ‘Media Lens is doing an outstanding job’, often emailed us in support and regularly sent donations. The book’s co-author, Noam Chomsky, has said: ‘Am really impressed with what you are doing’ (Chomsky, email to Media Lens, September 14, 2005) and commented on our latest book, ‘Propaganda Blitz’ (Pluto Press, 2018): ‘A great book. I’ve been recommending it.’ In response to earlier dismissive remarks on Twitter in 2015, former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald commented to us, copying to Hyde:
‘Mocking you as conspiracists is how UK journalists demonstrate their in-group coolness to one another: adolescent herd behavior’ (Greenwald, Twitter, 25 August 2015)
Hyde was similarly bluffing in accusing us of lecturing (in effect, ‘mansplaining’) – we were simply highlighting credible, new expert testimony. And she was also bluffing in making an issue of our gender: obviously, Melzer’s comments stand or fall on their own merits, regardless of the gender of people recommending them. If Hyde imagines the opinion of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture is skewed by sexist bias, then she should feel free to supply the evidence.
Sometimes, of course, gender does matter, and it is why we selected just these three Guardian commentators for inclusion in our tweet. As anyone who has been following the smear campaign knows, female journalists have been used by the Guardian and other media to lead attacks on a male political dissident facing accusations of rape; their gender helping to empower and protect the smears. Hyde’s tweet provided an excellent example – male critics can be instantly dismissed as ‘lecturing’ ‘mansplainers’, ‘misogynists’ and ‘rape apologists’. As Chomsky has pointed out, there is very little one can do to defend against these personal attacks:
‘There’s no way to respond. Slinging mud always works.’
‘Poisoned Junk Food’ – Smirks, Giggles and Laughter
In 2013, Hyde responded to Assange’s plight inside the Ecuadorian embassy with a question:
‘who in all seriousness can continue to suppress the odd smirk at the thought of Assange, holed up with his sunbed and his computer and his radioactive self-regard…?’
‘Many natural allies will recall the various moments at which they first realised they would have to work incredibly hard not to giggle at the WikiLeaks founder.’
Why would one of the most important, courageous and effective truth-tellers of our time merit this kind of vicious mockery? Hyde speculated that the Ecuadorian ambassador might have insisted that Assange be allowed to leave for medical treatment, because ‘she had the terminal ministrations of an NHS geriatric ward in mind’. In other words, perhaps the ambassador wanted him out and even dead. Bitter comments indeed, now that Assange really has been moved to a prison hospital. His defence lawyer, Per Samuelson, said recently that Assange’s state of health was such ‘that it was not possible to conduct a normal conversation with him’.
Samuelson’s comments have been supported by testimony, as well as shocking photos and video, from a fellow inmate inside Belmarsh, London’s highest security prison. The photos were taken of Assange before he fell ill and was moved to the prison’s hospital wing last month. Nevertheless, he looks thin and much older than his actual age:
‘The photos reveal a thin blue mattress within a scarce and very small cell.
‘The photos of Assange himself reveal considerable weight loss since I last visited him in the Ecuadorian embassy in March.’
Over many years, the abuse has poured from Hyde’s keyboard:
‘Assange… the very name seems a sledgehammer hybrid of ass and angel.’
‘Assange seems quite insufferable, certainly in any sort of long term.’
Hyde never tires of smirking, giggling and laughing at Assange’s horrendous situation:
‘If one subscribes to the view that only an ultimately insufferable narcissist could have had the balls to do what he did, then it was always going to come to this. But when so very few come out of a story well, from star to supporters, perhaps a mirthless laugh is the only option left.’
In 2016, Hyde wrote:
‘for my money he looks more and more like just another guy failing to face up to a rape allegation’.
Now that the US is openly seeking Assange’s extradition, having charged him with violating the Espionage Act and computer hacking, it is clear that Hyde was just plain wrong – Assange was not motivated to avoid the Swedish allegations, he was genuinely and rightly acting in fear of US extradition. Melzer commented that he believes Assange ‘has a very strong case, and a very reasonable fear, that if he gets extradited to the Unites States he has no chance to get a fair trial with the level of public and official prejudice that exists there for him’.
Also in 2016, Hyde referred to the ‘latest flare-up of Knightsbridge’s Assange condition’, as if Assange was a disease.
Her gender has not protected the actress Pamela Anderson, a high-profile supporter of Assange, from Hyde’s poison pen. As part of her effort to present Assange as a ridiculous, sleazy figure, Hyde has repeatedly highlighted Anderson’s background in TV. She wrote in February 2017:
‘The Baywatch star and the Wikileaks founder are being coy about their closeness, stoked by vegan snacks in the confines of the Ecuadorian embassy’
In June 2017, Hyde commented:
‘The former Baywatch star is in amorous mode online as she extols the virtues of her WikiLeaks hunk’
And again in May 2018:
‘The ballad of Pammy and Julian Assange – her poor, mournful sea lion – The WikiLeaks emperor has been wrongly accused of so many things, says the former Baywatch star. But can their relationship survive now that the Ecuadorian embassy has cut his internet?’
We asked John Pilger for comment. He replied:
‘I have known Julian Assange since he first landed in the UK. My respect for him as a journalist and free thinker and human being has grown with every landmark of his remarkable achievements and personal struggle. The arrival of WikiLeaks – as publisher and protector of whistleblowers – has revolutionised journalism while shaming those self-endowed with a divine prerogative to guard the boundaries of public knowledge; they include the lazy, the echoes, the agents of power, the over-paid poseurs.
‘The authenticity and accuracy of WikiLeaks’ disclosures have no equal and achieve what real journalists should aspire to, but rarely do any more. They tell the public what governments and their rapacious vested interests conceal from us. This makes the witch-hunting of Julian beyond contempt. I remember one of his media smearers, speaking to an audience of students, mocking the very idea that Julian could end up in an American Guantanamo. Today, Julian is within the grasp of a vengeful and largely lawless US system, his life at risk. Watch now how the faux-journalists have fallen silent or are writing their tweets and editorials that betray a fear that they may be next for Trump’s wild west justice.
‘When I visited Julian in Belmarsh prison I was astonished by his courage and resilience but I worried about his vulnerability. He is ill; there is only so much the man can take. Shame on his craven assassins. Let civilised people give him the support he deserves and to which he has every right. What he and Chelsea Manning are enduring is just the beginning of a subversion not only of journalism but of dissent and democracy itself, if we allow it.’ (Email to Media Lens, 10 June 2019)
The Canary asked Melzer about the media’s role in the persecution of Assange. He discussed the immense influence of the corporate media:
‘This enormous power comes with an equally enormous ethical responsibility. Many media outlets and individual journalists have shown a remarkable lack of critical independence and have contributed significantly to spreading abusive and deliberately distorted narratives about Mr Assange.
‘When the media find it more appropriate to spread humiliating jokes about Mr Assange’s cat, his skateboard and his faeces, than to challenge governments consistently refusing to hold their officials accountable for wars of aggression, corruption and serious international crimes, they demonstrate a deplorable lack of responsibility, decency and respect not only towards Mr Assange, but also towards their own readers, hearers and viewers, whom they are supposed to inform and empower. It is a bit like being served poisoned junk food at a restaurant – a betrayal of trust with potentially serious consequences.
‘First of all, we have to realize that we have all been deliberately misled about Mr Assange. The predominant image of the shady ‘hacker’, ‘sex offender’ and selfish ‘narcissist’ has been carefully constructed, disseminated and recycled in order to divert attention from the extremely powerful truths he exposed, including serious crimes and corruption on the part of multiple governments and corporations.
‘By making Mr Assange “unlikeable” and ridiculous in public opinion, an environment was created in which no one would feel empathy with him, very similar to the historic witch-hunts, or to modern situations of mobbing at the workplace or in school.’ (Our emphasis)
According to the ProQuest media database, since Melzer reported on Assange’s condition on May 31, the Guardian has mentioned his name in one article.
As Melzer says, corporate media have an astonishing power to influence what we think. We are all vulnerable to the impact of numerous, apparently independent and impartial journalists all insisting that Assange is a vile narcissist, that Jeremy Corbyn is a dangerous anti-semite, that Nicolas Maduro is a brutal dictator, that Gaddafi is planning a vast massacre, that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction that pose a genuine threat to the West, that Iran is working on a ‘nuclear trigger’, and so on.
We are always invited to suspend disbelief – these claims could be accurate. But when a massively hyped state-corporate narrative is ‘too good to be true’ from the perspective of power, then we are all well-advised to suspect the consensus and look much deeper, exactly as Melzer did.
Media Lens is a UK-based media watchdog group headed by David Edwards and David Cromwell. In 2007, Media Lens was awarded the Gandhi Foundation International Peace Prize. We have written three co-authored books: Guardians of Power-The Myth of the Liberal Media (Pluto Press, 2006), Newspeak-In the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 2009), and Propaganda Blitz (Pluto Press, 2018).
Tags: Activism, Assange, Democracy, Journalism, Justice, Media, Military, NATO, Nonviolence, Social justice, Surveillance, UK, USA, Violence, War, Whistleblowing, WikiLeaks
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