It may appear unnecessary to repeat the truism that democracy depends on transparency and accountability, and yet, how often has the democratic order been betrayed by our leaders in the recent past? How often have the medias abandoned their watchdog function, how often have they simply accepted the role of an echo-chamber for the powerful, whether government or transnational corporations? Among the many scandals and betrayals of democracy and the rule of law we recognise the persecution of inconvenient journalists by governments and their helpers in the media. Perhaps the most scandalous and immoral example of the multinational corruption of the rule of law is the “lawfare” conducted against Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, who in the year 2010 uncovered war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the United States and its NATO allies in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In a world where the rule of law matters, the war crimes would have been promptly investigated, indictments would have been issued in the countries concerned. But no, the ire of the governments and the media focused on the journalist who had dared uncover these crimes. The persecution of this journalist was a coordinated assault on the rule of law by the United States, United Kingdom and Sweden, later joined by Ecuador. The instrumentalisation of the administration of justice – not for purposes of doing justice, but to destroy a human being pulled more and more people into a joint-criminal conspiracy of defamation, trumped-up charges, investigations without indictment, deliberate delays and covers-up.
In April 2021 my college, Professor Nils Melzer, the UN Rapporteur on torture, published a meticulously researched and methodically unassailable documentation of this almost incredible saga. His book can well be called the “J’accuse” of our time, reminding us how our authorities have betrayed us, how four governments colluded in the corruption of the rule of law. Like Emile Zola, who in 1898 exposed the web of lies surrounding the scandalous judicial framing of the French Colonel Alfred Dreyfus in France, Nils Melzer shocks us 122 years later with proof of how countries that are ostensibly committed to the rule of law and human rights can betray the democratic ethos with the complicity of the mainstream media. Melzer writes about “concrete evidence of political persecution, gross arbitrariness on the part of the administration of justice and deliberate torture and abuse.”1 This is an enormously important book because it requires us to abandon our “comfort zone” and demand transparency and accountability from our governments. Indeed, it is scandalous that none of the four governments involved in the frame-up cooperated with Professor Melzer and only answered with “political platitudes.” Me too, I experienced the same lack of cooperation from powerful countries to whom I addressed notes verbales concerning violations of human rights – none of them responded satisfactorily.
Melzer reminds us of Hans-Christian Andersen’s fable “The King’s new clothes”. Indeed, everyone involved in the Assange frame-up consistently maintains the illusion of legality and repeats the same untruths, until an observer says – but the king has no clothes! That is the point. Our administration of justice has no clothes and instead of advancing justice, it colludes in the persecution of a journalist, with all the implications that this behaviour has for the survival of the democratic order. Melzer convinces us with facts – that we are living in a time of “post-truth”, and that it is our responsibility to correct this situation now, lest we wake up tyranny.2 •
1 Nils Melzer, Der Fall Julian Assange, Piper Verlag, Munich 2021, p. 14. See also https://www.dw.com/en/the-case-of-julian-assange-rule-of-law-undermined/a-57260909; https://www.republik.ch/2020/01/31/nils-melzer-about-wikileaks-founder-julian-assange
2 Ibid. pp 326-331.
* Professor Dr iur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas, Geneva School of Diplomacy, UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order 2012–2018
The UN Special Rapporteur on torture had not been keen on getting involved with the “case Assange”.
On the first pages of his book1 the distinguished international law expert and ICRC delegate, who had decades of experience on the dark side of this world, reports on his own inner journey towards his professional commitment to this prisoner. He admits how as a person he had started this journey from mainstream prejudices2 until urgent appeals of several organisations made him start his investigation, in the course of which he finally arrived at a factual documentation of what really had happened. This confession of the author and the explanation of his professional viewpoint renders the book even more valuable. The courage and outspokenness3 of Professor Melzer provide a comforting contrast to the events in the “case Julian Assange”.
Because this is a protocol of state crimes and criminal state cover-ups, committed by international-law-abiding democracies rather than “failed states”. Unfortunately, the difference between the two entities seems to boil down to Melzer being subject to “soft harassment”, rather than him being prevented from doing his humanitarian job at gunpoint, or as he put it: orders obviously issued at government level resulting in bullying disrespect towards his position in the international arena. After years of non-cooperation between him and the states involved, the UN Special Rapporteur decided to blow the whistle himself and published the results of his investigation as a book.
So now the case is before us – the citizens of the world.
The book is divided into three parts: “Glance behind the curtain”, “Anatomy of a persecution” and “Fight for the truth”. In the introduction Melzer explains, how and in which capacity he became involved with the case of Julian Assange and why he went public with this book.
Glance behind the curtain
In a protocol of meticulous investigation of what happened in Sweden and England, we see how the admired and feared investigative journalist Julian Assange was hunted down and deprived of his human rights by state power abuse. As an internal mail communication of the US Global Intelligence consultancy firm Stratfor4 reveals, this was all ordered and co-ordinated in the Western intelligence community. What had Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, done? He had unmasked the ugly face of warfare, which is still the same as always even if military operations are advertised under such fancy names as “Iraqi Freedom”, and he did it among other things by publishing classified documents. That way he had directed the searchlight of public interest on sinister, criminal acts of the states involved. And they retaliated by turning the searchlight around, directing it at the person Julian Assange and smearing him.
Anatomy of a persecution
Melzer analyses in detail how the Swedish Crown prosecution service altered the testimony of an intimidated woman into a rape lawsuit in the summer of 2010 and denied the accused any right to lawfully defend himself. Instead, details from the alleged case were leaked to the yellow press right from the start. Although Julian Assange had voluntarily cooperated with the Swedish authorities, there was no presumption of innocence for him. The State prosecutor in charge who had made this her priority case from the beginning let him wait for an opportunity to testify for weeks (p. 166). When he finally applied for permission to leave the country, she approved the request but issued an international arrest warrant on the day of his flight. On the direct flight Stockholm-Berlin his baggage with important data storage devices disappeared after check-in (p. 173).
After Berlin he travelled to London. His attorney stayed in touch with the Swedish authorities. Their investigation dragged on; nobody was in a hurry. Meanwhile Assange received messages from America with blatant death threats and reports that a lawsuit for espionage was being prepared there against him.5 In view of the obvious irregularities in the Swedish legal procedures he demanded a written confirmation from Sweden that he was not going to be extradited to the USA (p. 176). The state of Sweden denied him this guarantee of “Non-Refoulement” and also refused to interrogate him in England. Instead, another international arrest warrant was issued. He turned himself in to the London police. After 9 days of solitary confinement, he was released to house detention on probation with 200.000 British pounds. He was allowed to stay at the house of a friend with an electronic ankle bracelet for the time of the Swedish-British extradition process. The British authorities circumvented international law which required them to protect this victim of prosecution by issuing what really amounts to a new law tailored for this particular case, a “Lex Assange” (p. 189). His native Australia also let its citizen Assange down and denied him a guarantee not to extradite him to the USA where he could have faced torture, a trial before a secret court6 a life sentence of solitary confinement or even the death sentence.
Escaping to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London
After Great Britain had agreed on his extradition to Sweden Julian Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy. During the era of their president Correa Ecuador bravely stood up to the big brother in the North of their continent and granted asylum to the persecuted Julian Assange. They even had to fight off Great Britain who had warned they might ignore international law yet again and storm the embassy building (p. 194). The British authorities then downgraded their threat to a seven-year long siege by the police, during that time Assange would have faced immediate extradition had he set one foot outside the building. Despite this, the British minister of foreign affairs informed the UN Special Rapporteur that Julian Assange had been free to leave the Ecuadorian embassy at any time (p. 246).
After the change of administrations in the USA (Trump) and in Ecuador (Moreno) this asylum turned into a trap. The Moreno government followed a neoliberal course and wanted to “normalise” their relations with the USA. “Assange’s stay in the Ecuadorian embassy becomes an obstacle on the way to the reconciliation they were hoping for.” (p. 206)*. In the autumn of 2018, the US Congress told President Moreno how he was to proceed towards this reconciliation.7 At this time at the International Monetary Fund a decision about a loan was due which was desperately needed by Ecuador, and the USA had the vetoing power. Therefore, Ecuador changed the personnel at their London embassy and created a pretext to expel Julian Assange.8
During all that time the whistle blower was constantly smeared by the mainstream media. In order to discredit him, a campaign was launched alleging his predatory behaviour in the embassy despite the fact that the 24/7 audio-visual surveillance in the building never had picked-up anything like that, let alone that his deteriorating health would not have allowed “predatory behaviour” anyway. The ceaseless hunt for Julian Assange in this combined effort of state authorities and media outlets fulfils all criteria of psychological torture.
Part of psychological torture is social death, a defamation campaign to discredit a person. This aim was achieved by the “strong suspicion” of rape, which all potential victims had publicly denied before the Swedish Crown prosecution service had illegally published the accusation and maintained it for 10 years without ever going to court. This defamatory assault on Julian Assange prevented distinguished human rights organisations from getting active on his behalf. “… the rapist stain never left him and continues to this day to distort the public view so that his case is not acknowledged as what it obviously is: politically motivated persecution.” (p. 121) The abusive delay of his trial by the Swedish authorities also meant that the women, who kept denying that they were ever raped, had no protection against smear articles alleging that they were “liars” and “honeytraps”. “They were recklessly instrumentalised for a political persecution and forced against their will into the humiliating roles of doubtful rape victims.” (p. 124) It has to be added: The Swedish indictment was dropped in 2017 despite everything.
From a viewpoint of international law both torture and abuse are absolutely and universally forbidden and cannot be justified under any circumstances. Moreover, any suspicion of torture is required to be subject to criminal investigation and legal prosecution worldwide due to its special nature of cold-blooded instrumentalisation of pain and suffering.
In the morning of 11 April 2019 Ecuador illegally cancelled both citizenship and asylum status of the politically persecuted Assange and invited the British police to arrest him in their embassy building. He disappeared in Her majesty’s Belmarsh prison. What happened immediately afterwards was what Assange had already suspected when he was still in Stockholm and what had made him the mainstream media laughing stock as a “paranoiac” for years: The US Department of Justice unsealed their indictment and officially requested his extradition from Great Britain. The personal belongings of the detainee, including documents and computers, were directly handed over to the Americans in a blatant breach of good legal practice, “answering to a request of the US department of justice for prosecutorial collaboration” (p. 224).
In the chapter “a glance across the Atlantic” Melzer comments on the situation of the US American justice system. His predecessor as UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, had already given up on this issue. His interventions had been simply ignored. This resonates with reports by Solzhenitsyn and Bukovsky from Soviet times. In addition to the, from a European perspective, somewhat archaic proceedings, cases involving national security allow for “special administrative measures” to be undertaken by the US Department of Justice – these may result in conditions of custody fulfilling all criteria of torture as in the case of whistle blowers Chelsea Manning. Whistle blowers, even though they acted without violence and helped to uncover criminal acts, may be regarded as threats to US national security. One should bear that in mind when speculating about a fair and dignified trial of Julian Assange in the USA.
Struggle for the truth
The states involved responded to the interventions of the UN Special Rapporteur with “reality denial”, or as Christian Morgenstern might have put it: That which must not, cannot be.9 Their responses to the United Nations representative, whom they had helped to elect into his position, varied according to national language culture from wordy attack mode or wordy vacuous mode to “stiff upper lip” negation. Meanwhile Her British Majesty’s government tried to challenge the neutral position of the Rapporteur and the German government, who had not even been asked to comment, expressed their “concerns regarding the respectability of his mandate”. (p. 256) Both however kept silent about the suspected human rights violations in the case Julian Assange, while – double standard par-excellence – sharply criticising and even sanctioning other governments for other cases with sparse evidence. Considering the blatant and deliberate misconduct of the involved officials one cannot help but assume that this concerted action is meant to discourage Julian Assange and potential epigones from ever again making injustices public.
Anglo-American show trial
The British-American extradition trial degenerated into a show trial against Julian Assange at the end of 2020 and at the same time into a undignified example of “…British obedience towards the American indictment.” Step by step even the most bizarre arguments of the USA were accepted without questioning. At the same time district court judge Baraitser dismissed legal counter-arguments as well as exonerating affidavits of the defendant side en-bloc and without any detailed consideration. (p. 318)
On 4 January 2021 the judge declined extradition of Julian Assange not for legal but for medical reasons. The sentence alleges that the harsh conditions in a US high security prison might drive Assange suicidal, considering his unstable psyche. (p. 319)
Melzer suspects that “this sentence is a brilliantly set-up trap rather than a sign of the rule of law, humanism or justice for that matter.” (p. 320). Because the judge has now set a legal precedent which might well scare other journalists, publishers and activists globally into thinking again, should they have considered to follow the example of Julian Assange, since in her sentence she has extended the US espionage act’s area of application to that of the British Official secrets act.10
Nils Melzer could have chosen the easy way out of this. He is aware that his stance and the publication of this book do carry a risk for him personally. (p. 115) He has now turned into a whistle blower himself and has challenged those in power, who act under the cover of state secrets, by exposing their corruption – made possible by us citizens putting up with injustice instead of paying attention.
Melzer refers to Hannah Ahrendt11, the philosopher who had emigrated from Germany and later coined the phrase “the banality of evil” after she had attended the Eichmann trial (1961 in Jerusalem), in her book she had already then posed the question how everything could possibly have happened the way it had. Melzer is concerned that unless some serious changes occur the amount of public “denial, self-deception and whitewashing” as evidenced by the case of Julian Assange will jeopardise our entire future because we as humanity might not be able to face the challenges ahead.12
The book shows with disturbing clarity that Western democracy has been hijacked by a powerful cabal. The people are no longer in control of democratic processes in crucial state institutions. Melzer analyses dryly: “Even though we might be tempted to resort to moralising: The reason for the systemic failure of the global community of states – be it in the case of Julian Assange or other cases – is not moral in nature but rather rooted in neurobiology and sociopsychology. […] As I have argued in my report to the UN General assembly in October 2020, even complicated political decision processes are steered by mainly subconscious emotions primarily aiming to secure one’s own existence and to avoid potentially dangerous conflicts. Inconvenient truths and moral ambiguities are supressed, denied and whitewashed by self-deception of various kinds. The result of this process of self-deception is always a moral-free space where inhumanity and injustice may run havoc without being recognised as such.” (p. 261)
Life at war
Considering that we have been living in a state of war not in far-away parts of the earth but right here in Europe since the 1990s, wars waged by European democracies, that means that we have already put-up with lies and injustice for decades. Propagandistic manipulation, violence and might-makes-right are openly practiced. This is the socio-psychological climate we have slowly got used to. This climate frames our reasoning and demolishes the freedom of the press. Non-transparent “narratives”, pushed by powerful media outlets, replace free public discourse. The difference can only be noted by comparing the current state of affairs with similar incidents decades ago. While in the early 1970s “New York Times” and “The Washington Post” were still able to defend themselves and thereby protect the freedom of the press13 before the US Supreme Court after they had published the “Pentagon Papers” about the Vietnam war, which were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg and showed how the American public had been deceived by their own government, today Julian Assange is openly and cynically denied all his rights by state authorities.
Honesty is the best policy
At the end the author makes a plea for self-reflection, only by paying attention and honest awareness of our own inclination to self-deception we can act in a politically mature way and tackle the problems of our time. “In order to make darkness disappear all we need to do is let our own light shine whereever we are and in our own way. That requires courage to be honest with ourselves and the world.” (p. 331)
Now that we know what is going on in our time it has become a question of mental hygiene to fight back.
Why one should read this book
As early as January 2020 Professor Melzer had outlined almost everything one needs to know about the case Julian Assange in his interview with Daniel Ryser of “Republik”14 In the meantime SARS-CoV-2 has taken over and dominates all public debates. Behind this smokescreen all wars, murderous sanctions, destabilisation programmes and regime changes against countries resisting global market radicalism continue, pursued by the same governments who keep us busy and distracted with their “Corona crisis management” – and so does the prolongated murder of whistle blower Julian Assange who made all this public.
The book opens our eyes for the details and the magnitude of criminality involved. Puzzle pieces from which a picture emerges that should wake us up – unless we want to lose our humanity. In the case of Julian Assange, it is still possible and necessary to make justice prevail. •
1 Melzer, Nils with Kobold, Oliver. Der Fall Julian Assange. Geschichte einer Verfolgung. (The case of Julian Assange. Protocol of a persecution) Piper, München 2021, ISBN 978-3-492-07076-8
2 see “… trapped in my own prejudices” (p. 28)
3 “Suddenly I realised the political dimension of this case and that I owed it to my personal and professional integrity to take a closer look and make up my own mind.” (p. 53)
4 “Pile on. Move him from country to country to face various charges for the next 25 years. But, seize everything he and his family own, to include every person linked to Wiki.” (p. 174)
5 death threats from America (p. 225ff)
6 secret national security trial (p. 228ff)
7 “In order to make progress in these crucial questions we need to solve a significant challenge first which had been created by your predecessor Rafael Correa – the status of Julian Assange.” (p. 221ff)
8 “While all points suggest the extradition to be unavoidable, at a closer look they turn out to be rather unconvincing if not absurd.” (p. 222)
9 “And he comes to the conclusion: His mishap was an illusion, for, he reasons pointedly, that which must not, cannot be.”
10 “This way the legal foundation has been laid to prosecute anybody worldwide who dares to pull dirty government secrets into open daylight in the future.” (p. 321)
11 “And it is the prosaic plots which eventually grow into the great tragedies of mankind, starting with political appeasement of the powerful, the denial of passive complicity up to bureaucratic perpetrators of horrific crimes – in other words the ‘Banality of Evil’ as Hannah Arendt had coined it.” (p. 260)
12 “Self-reflection, honesty and responsibility are no longer mere questions of personal morals, faith or life-style, but requirements for the survival of our species” (p. 326ff.)
13 6 May 2021: “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.” (https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/403/713.html)
Translation of all quotes by Current Concerns
The term “torture” in the sense of the UN convention against torture refers to – in a nutshell – the deliberate infliction of great bodily or psychological pain and harm, in order to achieve a certain goal. Moreover, torture is always directed against defenceless people whom the perpetrator has total control of.
Psychological torture is characterised by the concerted combination of four elements: intimidation, isolation, arbitrariness and humiliation.
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