'One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star'- Nietzsche
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Book Review: In Defense of Julian Assange eds. Tariq Ali and Margaret Kunstler

By John Kendall Hawkins


Crikey, he gives them the shits.

Hillary once said — even before the 2016 election — “Can’t we just drone him?” 

Maybe you’re thinking she was just joking, like Obama that time at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2010, when he cracked that he’d take out the Jonas Brothers with a Predator drone strike, if they got grabby with his daughters.  Laughter all around. Of course, the joke was on them, because there was no drone warfare program at the time, WINK. Obama wouldn’t acknowledge the existence of such drone usage until he zapped out Anwar al-Awlaki a year later, and his 16 year-old son, Abdulrahman, shortly thereafter, both Americans. 

The MSM darn near bust a gut.  (The joke’s been told over and over since. Punch line here.)

Julian Assange had warmed the Press up nearly a month earlier when he released the top secret “Collateral Murder” video into the wilds of the public imagination.  You could hear all kinds of laughter from the gunship soldiers machine-gunning away at civilians, like Chuck Connors, Russian mole, in the film Embassy.  Rat-a-tat-tat! Who knew the War on Terror could be so funny? You don’t even want to call The Hague and file a report, you’re laughing so hard.

And Assange followed up that gag with a bing-bang-boom fusillade:  the Afghan War Logs (all those unreported haw-haw casualties);  the Iraq War Logs had Abu rolling over in his graib, with laughter; Cablegate released all that global goss and started the Arab Spring (Tunisia 2011); the Guantánamo Files — so many Code Reds the bulls went insane; the Spy Files demonstrated “the industrialization of global mass surveillance” — what an effing hoot; the Syria Files made Assad shoot off laughing gas at the rebels; elites fell over themselves, like drunken clowns, when Assange published “the secret draft of the TransPacific Partnership (TPP)”;  the Saudi Cables brought on the Curly Shuffle in Riyadh.  

You almost couldn’t believe that a guy who one wag described as having had a “wild…Tom Sawyer-like” childhood could cause so much angst. Why, he even spent his early years in an honest-to-goodness Jumping Frog of Calaveras County atmosphere on a small island, called Magnetic.  How could he be found so unattractive by so many? When he moved to mainland Oz for his teen years he became John Connor, where he had his whole future in the rearview mirror, and spent his time in MILNET “hacking Pentagon generals’ emails,” he tells Ai WeiWei in the new collection of testimonials and supportive documents that make up In Defense of Julian Assange edited by Tariq Ali and Margaret Kunstler. 

Assange was determined to rip off the veil of the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC) from an early age.  And it’s another peculiarity that he, along with fellow Aussie John Pilger, have been so successful in penetrating to the core of the fascist heart that drives American foreign policy.  Peculiar, because Australia, unlike America, has no Bill of Rights, so no fire in the belly for constitutional protections, and the press here is weak and getting weaker — thanks to the recent passage of “retention” laws that seem very much like the US Espionage Act that Assange will face in America.  Yet, Pilger, in an interview with ex-CIA operative, Duane Clarridge, has totally exposed the ugly, roaring heart of Empire. Assange has laid out its blueprints.

So much has been written, movies have been made, you could make the case that Assange’s life is over-exposed, and that, ironically, this champion of personal privacy and governmental transparency, hasn’t had any real alone-time for quite awhile and has been swarmed with layers of surveillance designed to break his spirit.  Outside the Ecuadorian embassy police spent years poised to pounce. Inside, there were microphones and cameras everywhere. “It was the Truman Show,” Assange is quoted in the book.

In the introduction to In Defense, Nils Melzer, a special UN rapporteur on torture, declared after visiting Assange in May at Belmarsh that:

In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonize and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law.

Clearly, the State intends on having the last laugh. Sadists like their punch lines.

The great virtue of In Defense is that it collects all the controversial bits and pieces of Assange’s situation into one volume and mounts a fierce support for his personal and professional crises.  A cogent introduction summarizes key segments of his current entrapment in a web of intrigue. There’s an impressive chronology of Wikileaks’ publications, from “Collateral Murder” to the Vault 7 CIA hacking tools. You wonder aloud if he’s more courageous than nuts, given the likely repercussions.  The book is broken up into four parts: Expulsion; Confinement; the Internet, Censorship, and Scientific Journalism; and the Legacy of Wikileaks and Assange. A helpful point-by-point defense to Assange’s critics by Caitlin Johnstone lends focus. An appendix contains the superseding indictment for which he faces extradition to America.

Out of all that, In Defense attempts to answer three main questions: One, is Assange a terrorist or a journalist? Two, Is he a rapist?  Three, What happens next? In Defense is unusual in that it transparently addresses all the questions Assange is likely to face in a courtroom, and summons forth the kinds of witnesses and evidence that will manifest in the proceedings.  We hear from lawyers, technologists, whistleblowers, ex-spooks, radical feminists, government officials, and Assange himself — in a kind Open Source trialing of ‘discovery’ materials. The gambit in play appears to be that Assange is hoping to win people over to create a swelling base of support/protest once the secretive political trial begins. 

Is Assange a terrorist or a journalist?  As Tariq Ali notes in the introduction, “Assange and his colleagues made no secret of the fact that their principal subject of publication was the American Empire and its global operations.”  Through his Wikileaks publishings, Assange has demonstrably established his intention to ‘document’ the dark agenda of Empire — and to oppose it.  In this sense, he is an activist publisher, no different than, say, Ramparts, Counterpunch or Harper’s.  But the material to support his opposition is primary documentation, procured through hacks and leaks. Like Socrates the “gadfly,” he wants people to make up their own minds.  He sees himself as an Ethical Hacker, and an ethical leaker. 

While he may not be able to use it as a defense tactic, WikiLeaks reminds me of the “necessity defense” that Abbie Hoffman and Amy Carter successfully argued in 1987 at their trial for criminal trespassing that followed their disruption of CIA recruiting efforts on the campus of the UMass-Amherst.  They were able to convince the court that their ostensibly ‘illegal’ actions were to stop bigger crimes from happening on foreign soil, in the name of Americans, who were never consulted. Thus, when a Kissinger can advise a Nixon that he doesn’t see why America should sit by while a Chile elects an Allende, when there’s a Duane Clarridge ready to fix the problem, people needn’t accept it as the American Way. Wikileaks is necessary.

Because they control the narrative arc of “The Global War on Terror,” the US government can characterize its antagonists any way it pleases.  The Americans, deeply learning from the tactics of the Viet Cong who gave them the shits in ‘Nam, labelled al Qaeda (who they’d helped set up to give the Russians a taste of their own ‘Nam quagmire in Afghanistan), after 9/11, “unlawful non-state enemy combatants.”  They didn’t wear pajamas, had no central command, and, thank Christ, were a wonderful reason to slap boots down in multiple countries in search of naked sleeper cells who might wake from their dogmatic slumbers and hate on America for her Human Freedom Project™.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described Julian Assange and Wikileaks, as “a hostile non-state intelligence service.” This clown’s description of Wikileaks could include almost any left wing publication.  Curiously, even the New York Times, a publication that has in the past spinached up its circulation by featuring stories based on Wikileaks documents, has turned on him. In April, the editorial board called him “a “foreign agent seeking to undermine the security of the United States through theft.” Pompeo would like to see Assange as akin to al Qaeda, then maybe honeypot him to some remote location, and, as Bobby Dylan would say, he could be caught without a ticket to the dance “and be discovered beneath a truck.”  What, you think Empire is joking?

In a column for the volume,  “The Naivete of Julian Assange,” Margaret Kimberly, a senior writer for Black Agenda Report, chides Assange for his ignorance of American domestic issues.  Australia, while still dealing with aboriginal issues, has no legacy of slavery, and no Bill of Rights, and these deficits mean Assange lacks depth when it comes to American domestic political passions.  She takes issue with a Tweet exchange he had during which “he questioned the need to fight the American Civil War” and seemed “unaware that the Confederacy started the war and steadfastly refused to end slavery.” 

Nevertheless, she conceded, “His willingness to show us what war looks like or how trade agreements deprive millions of people of their rights make him an ally not just as a person but an ally of the principles Americans claim to care about.”

Her observations are a reminder that a lot of what’s going on is a bunch of white people fighting over power, with no sign that minorities are included in the conversation or will benefit from the process. 

Is Assange a rapist?  In Defense recounts the investigatory details that keep Assange tied to the Swedish justice system.  The even reference a helpful YouTube animation that brings a viewer through the specious semi-allegations.  The fact is that Assange would not be regarded as a potential rapist for ‘what happened’ in any other part of the world but Sweden, as the sex was consensual. He was investigated because a woman he slept with feared an alleged faulty condom might have allowed the transmission of an STD. As Caitlin Johstone  writes in one of her mythbuster segments, “[One of the woman] admitted she had been ‘railroaded by police and others around her’” to pursue Assange. She reminds: He hasn’t actually been charged with anything in Sweden.

The US government doesn’t mind if Sweden takes its sweet ass time with its version of due process — the longer the better; they may even be behind the delays.  Assange’s instincts were right about seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to the US; the chances are they were right for the same reason had he returned to Sweden.  Meantime, as long as the ‘investigation’ goes incomplete, he gets to be painted by the MSM as a sexually aggressive hornball who intentionally ‘leaks’ without regard for his partner. As he’s been accused of by the CIA with his Wikileaks. This helps sell him as a predator. We got drones for that.

The breach of the servers at the DNC during the 2016 presidential campaign changed everything about how Assange has been perceived in the US. 

The Obama intelligence community successfully sold Americans — through a compliant MSM — on the still unsubstantiated claim that the Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election, foisting Trump on us, effectively paying us back, clown for clown, for giving them Yeltsin in 1991. Obama then wanted to connect Assange to the Russian mischief by claiming he either worked directly with them to hack the DNC, or else worked indirectly by posting to Wikileaks emails received from Russians.

But understated is how irate Obama was in 2013 when Assange sent an emissary to Hong Kong to help Edward Snowden avoid being taken by the CIA, after he was outed by the mainstream media as the greatest top secrets leaker of all time. Recall that Obama’s unprecedented forcing of the plane of a head of state to land in Austria when he thought Snowden was aboard. Virtually an act of war, and something that should have been condemned by the paper tiger United Nations, who exist to keep nation-states from crossing the line with each other.. 

As Kevin Gosztola points out in the book, “[T]he Obama administration realized in 2013 that it … could not prosecute Assange without exposing journalists at the Times or Washington Post to potential prosecutions for publishing classified information.” But all of that changes if Assange can be re-classified as an agent of foreign powers, a kind of enemy combatant, rather than a journalist.  Thus, as Gosztola suggests, Democratic leaders started referring to him as an enemy. Joe Biden called him a “high-tech terrorist” and Diane Feinstein referred to him as “an agitator intent on damaging our government, whose policies he happens to disagree with, regardless of who gets hurt.” Oh, those condomnations.

The Russian-DNC-Guccifer thing has all the hallmarks of a set-up.  Tariq Ali points out in the intro, “The finding that the DNC documents were hacked from seven separate accounts by agents of the Russian state rests on the assertions of private cybersecurity companies, CrowdStrike, Fidelis, and Mandiant, rather than of the FBI, which was denied access to the DNC server.” And as Craig Murray adds, “[The Mueller Report’s] identification of ‘DC Leaks’ and ‘Guccifer 2.0’ as

Russian security services is something Mueller attempts to carry off by simple assertion.” You gudda pwobwem wid dat?

It is still an open question whether emails taken from the DNC servers were the result of a hack or an insider thumb drive.  Former NSA techie and whistleblower William Binney says it was a thumb.  Craig Murray reminds the reader of In Defense that he personally met the thumb.  Assange has named DNC insiders as sources for his cache.  None of them were sought out by Mueller.

The IC says the Russkies did it and that the Guccifer 2.0 WordPress site from which Assange got some emails was a Russian site.  But an email address can be acquired in seconds, a wordpress site set up in minutes, and the site populated with all kinds of blog posts — like the one that tells about how to spoof a foreign power during a hack. Even “Guccifer” has the smell of the kind of spook nomenclature that Edward Snowden describes in detail in his memoir Permanent Record — Gucci Lucifer = Guccifer.  Get it?

Who knows what kind of an environment Assange will be immersed in when he comes in chains to the Land of the Free.  The current business with Trump could make a conspiracy-fearist out of anyone. Yeltsin may not even be president by the time Assange is tried — what with whistleblowers climbing over each like a Ukrainian sitcom to put an end to corruption as we know it. You can almost see CIA analysts lounging in the coffee room, mooning over the days of yore, and wondering aloud,  “I don’t see why we have to sit around and watch this country go banana republic due to the irresponsibility of its people. Who wants to whistle dixie next?”

In a world that doesn’t seem capable of giving a shit any more (see climate change), we have been blessed with some people willing to do the dirty work of keeping the plumbing of the people running.  Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Julian Assange, along with the many whistleblowers, VIPS, and voices of outrage and clarity that make up this volume, could be seen as a kind of superhero group in a future comedic movie: The Empire Turns Its Back.   Assange as a Tom Sawyer figure  — radicalized — the movie poster boasting: He didn’t just want a piece of the Empire, he wanted the whole Inshaallahllah.  

 Coming soon to a ‘reality-based’ cinema near you.




‘50 years later, we are celebrating (in that we are not protesting) a summer of surveillance and opacity instead of freedom and inclusion’

As large pockets of the African-American population spend parts of the summer of 2014 reminiscing about the spirited songs and protest marches of half a century ago in Mississippi that are widely regarded as keystones in the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s, most American whites, even progressives, will look on quaintly and with detachment, as though passively watching the doings of Carnivale or the Mardi Gras. It does not move them as an event of democratic solidarity and a celebration of inclusion.

History and memory being what it is, few will venture beyond the vagaries of the Summer of Love, let alone drift back to the violent, revolutionary beginnings to the slow, on-going evolution of black freedom in America that took hold that summer.

And fewer people around the world will see it as a watershed moment that can help them understand their own nation’s development in coping with the tolerant inclusion of the Other—the glue that makes civilization possible. Could the French not gain perspective on their historical treatment of Arab cultures by studying the riotous growth spurts in America? Could Czechs not gain insight into their treatment of the Roma? Do not the terrible insufficiencies of Mississippi in 1964 not have a blazing resonance in Australian Aboriginal relations? 

There was a time — and it was then — when JFK was a Berliner and MLK was the living gospel of hope, when all eyes were on America and her determination to break through the remaining chains holding back the final growth spurt of civilization. America the exceptional. Or so it seemed.

In a recent Guardian article, Errin Haines points out the obvious: “Unfortunately, the anniversaries of the watershed moments of the civil rights movement are not embraced as thoroughly by white people in America as they are by black people, despite the reality that these events have benefited us all.”

Yes, this is sad indeed, the begrudging tokenism, the sense that the hard-fought “victories” of these years is seen by many whites with the same resentment as Affirmative Action.  These early civil rights actions, especially the voting rights act, were the catalyst for the eventual near-revolutionary protests against violence in general and the war in particular that followed.

You could even argue that it was the principal progressive outlet for middle class whites, until the draft changed their focus and the 1970 Kent State atrocity forced progressives to put aside their sweet Age of Reasoning and inch closer to a more militant, black-driven ‘by any means necessary’ resolve.

But it should never be forgotten that though the events of Mississippi in 1964 were brutal and terrifying some mention is necessary, even in passing, of some of the blood sweat and tears years that came before and made Freedom Summer possible – Rosa Parks in 1954, Emmett Till in 1955, Little Rock in 1957, Medgar Evers in 1963, MLK’s Dream speech of 1963. All of these events built toward that tipping point momentum which made changes possible.

The Freedom Summer led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and, of course, it is right to emphasize that this was an accomplishment shared by like-minded whites and blacks. Clearly, the equal right to vote should be the crown jewel of any modern, pluralistic democracy, and the struggle to get there should be recalled with more universal pride than it is.  Again as Haines sums up: “It is not … the responsibility of black Americans to make white Americans feel comfortable with this history. Rather, it is time for white Americans to simultaneously own their role in the ugly parts of segregation and be proud of those who were on the right side of history.”

And that’s where the rub comes in.

Had such pride in universal inclusivity been in play in 2000, it is unthinkable that the Florida presidential election debacle would have taken place—or, if it did, that it would have been allowed to stand. 

While many white Democrats and self-styled progressives point to that colossal systemic failure in democracy and blame Ralph Nader for siphoning votes away from Al Gore, or the failure of the latter to win his own home state’s electoral votes, it is the rather quiet, almost-forgotten-already decision by the US Supreme Court to not allow a recount of votes in key Florida districts — with strictly partisan reasoning and the application of obtuse partisan technicalities (it would have gone beyond a mandated deadline).

As lightning rod attorney Alan Dershowitz remarked after the Justices handed down their decision:  “[T]he decision in the Florida election case may be ranked as the single most corrupt decision in Supreme Court history, because it is the only one that I know of where the majority justices decided as they did because of the personal identity and political affiliation of the litigants. This was cheating, and a violation of the judicial oath.”

The decision outraged many people for a little while, and has now been all but forgotten. But it seems so much ‘progressive’ energy was poured into lamenting and blogging about the Supreme Court decision that all the outrage over the electoral processes that caused the crisis dissipated and went unaddressed.  Indeed, Florida had similar problems again in 2004. And Florida is not alone: Pennsylvania and Ohio, two crucial ‘swing states’ continue to have significant systemic flaws to this day which disproportionately affect black voters.

But the Florida political circus wasn’t disturbing merely because of infrastructural flaws and weaknesses, but more importantly it was the underlying meanness and nastiness of the treatment, of denying a citizen the chance to vote because, they were being told to their astonishment, that they were felons who no longer deserved –and, in any case, no longer had – the right to vote.

No doubt some people would argue that the system was unintentionally disenfranchising and malignant, part of the general malaise of bureaucratic dysfunction, but I would not be so luxuriantly generous.

When it comes right down to, controlling and Republican authorities in Florida were simply not going to allow the most important election of the 20th century to be decided by blacks. One need only see the speed with which the issue fizzled after the Supreme Court handed down their edict; in how little effort was put into making sure such voting transgressions didn’t take place again; how small was the squall of outrage that a whole class of people was dis-empowered at a crucial moment in American Democracy; in returning to that comfortable numbness so well described in a song by Pink Floyd.

There were very few, if any, apologies for the clearly racist intentions leading to obviously successful political ends. But that’s the way that it is in Florida, as the Trayvon Martin episode amply demonstrated.

Even many African-Americans have “moved on,” largely bolstered by the energy of renewed hope for better things that came with the ascension of Barack Obama, the first black president. But by any measurement, including his progressive club pass for being born black, Obama is a bust as president, who has broken almost every significant campaign promise he ever made and left African-Americans in worse shape, all things considered, than they were 50 years ago during the Freedom Summer.

It’s true that African-Americans are no longer routinely brutalized in the Dixiecrat South the way they were half a century ago, but they continue to be brutalized nationally on a scale that is depressing to behold, and it is tragic to see a black man preside over such decay.

 Glen Ford, of Black Agenda Report, has referred to Obama as a scourge to African-Americans, as not “the lesser of two evils but the more effective evil,” the implication being that after all Obama’s broken promises and betrayal there can be no hope again. 

In 1995, when the Nation of Islam staged its Million Man March on Washington, by some estimates drawing as many as 850,000 black men to the Mall outside the White House. Speaker after speaker decried the state of being black in America. They cited record imprisonment rates, unrelenting unemployment, sub-standard educations, no real hope for large scale upward mobility, poor health care. And this low reached its high in 2000 when the Republicans stole the presidential election by taking away the votes of thousands of black Floridians.

 It was an election that has turned into a key turning point in American (and, consequently, global) history, leading as it did to the lapses that helped produce pre-text tragedy of 9/11 and its security lockdown aftermath. It is no longer safe for the Nation of Islam to denounce American domestic policy. And Obama has turned into a smiling beast of posture, dissemblance, propaganda, and outright lies, turning his back on the black community and virtually handing the keys of the Republic over to elite private interests who don’t give a damn about plights or pleas or suffering.

In short, the irony is: 50 years later, we are celebrating (in that we are not protesting) a summer of surveillance and opacity instead of freedom and inclusion, and a black president is in charge as the ship of state sinks into the shark-infested waters of the post-democratic marketplace.

The world is busy fighting an abstract noun — terrorism that it cannot win.  And just as other nations once turned to the US to find guidance for the Good, they are doing so today to implement the Evil. 

In Europe austerity measures abound throughout the Union; in Turkey, the government works with the CIA to overthrow and possess Syria (and the former Ottoman imperial region); in Australia, the conservative Abbott government slashes away at the social safety net, while, at the same time, promising to find money to build up its military in support of Obama’s coming pivot toward confrontation with China.

In this milieu, voting rights seem quaint; democracy a dream that is almost too cruel to have ever had.