Wednesday 27 September 2023

The Man Whose Name They Dare Not Speak

Raising the issue of Julian Assange’s incarceration in Westminster recently was the political equivalent of releasing a bad smell. Heads turned away, papers were shuffled, and after what seemed a stunned silence, a non-answer was given by a minister. But why should that be?

There are rightly loud denunciations of the incarceration of Alexei Navalny, the treatment of Ai Weiwei and even the plight of Jagtar Singh Johal.

But of Julian Assange there’s virtually none. Yet he languishes not abroad under a despotic regime but in Belmarsh maximum security prison in London, where he’s been detained since April 2019 and even denied attendance at proceedings related to him since January 2021.

He’s the man whose name they dare not speak. It’s fine to condemn the actions of others, especially regimes that are rightly condemned for their totalitarianism. It’s quite another to address actions being taken here by our own authorities, never mind those of the US.

For what crime has Assange committed? The only offence he has been convicted of in the UK is a minor breach of bail when he sought sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy. A relatively trivial offence, given the context and circumstances, and one which would rarely merit a custodial sentence, let alone detention for this length of time or in these conditions.

And I write that not from the perspective of a politician but as a former defence agent for 20 years, never mind justice secretary for nearly eight.

His real crime, of course, is to have been the father of WikiLeaks, the website that exposed war crimes and challenged not just the narratives but actions of governments. That ranged from the brutality of helicopter gunships murdering innocent civilians through to the connivance of governments both powerful and not, in keeping vital information from their people.

I used the site myself when seeking information about Lockerbie for a book written when I’d stepped down as justice secretary. It was information I’d never have obtained from the US or UK and certainly painted a different picture.

The sham of the supposed “war on terror” was revealed by Wikileaks along with the hypocrisy and barbarism of the term “collateral damage” being exposed in all its horror. Similarly, the collusion, obfuscation and downright lying of administrations of many political hues was also laid bare. Tentacles of deceit ran far and wide and the lies and connivance of governments and the powerful there for all to see. Julian Assange’s initiative and courage did democracy a great service.

And that’s why the US is seeking revenge and other countries including the UK are openly conniving in a manifest injustice. There appears to be credence to the suggestion that the CIA has sought to assassinate him. But currently it’s just hunting him down through legal process which if he’s extradited could see him face a sentence of 175 years. Belmarsh would be benign to the regime he’d then be incarcerated in.

Of course, as with others, my view of Assange was challenged by allegations of rape made against him. These weren’t just personal insults but formal proceedings in Sweden. Now that’s a country I’ve long both admired and respected, surely nothing would go amiss with the judicial system there?

But it did and that is why all proceedings against him have since ended there. Questions remain, though, about why they were initiated at all and how due process there seems to have been manipulated, never mind by who or for whom.

Any doubts I had about Assange’s innocence and the connivance of states to not just prosecute but persecute him were removed by reading Nils Melzer’s book The Trial Of Julian Assange.

The author was the UN special rapporteur on torture and has an extensive hinterland beyond that, being an advocate in international law, a legal adviser to the International Committee of the Red Cross and senior security policy adviser to the Swiss government. A man with both specialist knowledge and integrity.

Melzer details the manipulation of the judicial system in Sweden and then goes on to narrate continued connivance by the US in other states and legal systems. The asylum provided to Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy ending when there was a change of government in that country and an administration closer to the US came to power. Influence was exerted and out he was to go.

Manipulation, though, with Assange hasn’t been restricted to judicial proceedings as in Sweden or with governments like Ecuador. Like many I was shocked by the photos and footage of him being detained when he left the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

While not as insidious as rape allegations, pictures of him with wild hair and heavily bearded were designed to create an unfavourable image. But as the book detailed, this was another set-up. His appearance wasn’t through personal choice. Instead, he’d been denied access to razors and scissors for months.

That manipulation of the press put me in mind of what I’d managed to find out myself through the information disclosed by WikiLeaks. After my decision to release Megrahi back in 2009, both myself and the Scottish Government were pilloried for an apparent hero’s welcome given by Libya on his return.

However, WikiLeaks and other sources subsequently showed that there had been none. Gadhafi’s son had feted him on the plane when it arrived, but the apparent jubilant crowd scenes were at an event entirely unconnected and where no-one knew of his release. But the film was spliced, and a false narrative given. One in which the British and Americans colluded although they knew that it had never been.

So, after Sweden and then Ecuador, now it’s the UK where both government and judicial proceedings seem to have the fingerprints of US involvement all over them. The delay and treatment as deplorable as that of despotic regimes.

Julian Assange is guilty only of exposing war crimes and the deceit of governments. It’s why he’s being persecuted and why supporting him is about defending democracy – not just him.


  1. Any news on getting Assange to contest Starmer's seat?