By John Jones, Oslo, Norway, May 15, 2019
In an English prison at the time of this writing, a sick Julian Assange is sitting and waiting to be extradited to the United States under a draconian law for war spies from 1917. Forgotten by the press and politicians, is the fact that he was actually arrested to be sent to Sweden to meet rape charges. Assange’s crime is to have done what every journalist and publisher should have done, but that too few have: brought to the rest of us evidence of abuse of power, even war crimes, to an extent which is difficult to grasp. In other words, he is a dangerous man. He is dangerous to the mighty, in this case, the US’s mighty: Obama, Clinton, Trump, the CIA, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Worst of all is the press which is deeply embarrassed, for Assange has done nothing but what they themselves should have done. They will never forget it.
What the rest of us should remember, however, are the furious words of the head of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg on April 17th of this year: “[The Assange case] is characterized by everything from irresponsible conspiracy theories, totally without support in reality, to reprehensible legal treatment from both British and Swedish sides. “For this is about far more than what we may think about Assange,“ she says, and summarizes: “It is about freedom of expression and respect for the law. Ultimately, it’s about the right and moral duty to reveal war crimes. Assange and Wikileaks did this.” And to really emphasize the seriousness of the case, Ramberg concludes “Would we have handed over to Germany’s Hitler one who had revealed information about the concentration camps and genocide?” She herself replied, laconically: “I don’t think so.”
Today, the suspicion of secret agreements to extradite the prisoner to the United States are no longer a loose “conspiracy theory.” Swedish and British authorities are not even ashamed to show their servility to the empire in the West. The universally hated Trump has suddenly become a decent judge and humanitarian prison guard for Assange. In the UK, commentators such as Suzanne Moore, James Ball, and Jess Phillips are commenting in the Guardian, New Statesman and Sunday Times with descending descriptions that are not suitable for the Norwegian language. While here on the mountain, it seems to be “too early” for Aftenposten to conclude on the Assange case. The journalists in Bergens Tidende and Dagbladet ridicule the prisoner in the embassy who was allowed to speak to the University of Bergen during the prestigious Holberg Days together with John Pilger. The man is fair game. Obviously, good stories don’t need facts. Also in Norway.
What exactly does the Assange case have to do with us in Norway? Do we need to have an opinion about the bearded prisoner being dragged down the embassy staircase?
For me, my trust in my leaders’ relationship to transparency and truth and has been seriously shaken – and the Assange case has been a catalyst in this. The reason for increasing leadership contempt is, in my eyes, not so much pathetic liars like Donald Trump or leaders like Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu’s four corruption lawsuits, to name two peaks in the terrain. Neither am I thinking of Norwegian parliamentary politicians’ tampering with travel bills or vulnerable children. Nor the Storting being populated by large and small criminals like the rest of society. No, I realise that I no longer trust that our politicians and leaders let the basic quest for truth and openness override petty pragmatic and short-term gains. And neither do we seem to have structures that will honestly look for for and capture the truth. Let me start four years back:
“I want Daniel Ellsberg in studio”, NRK’s Ole Torp insisted on the phone one summer day in 2015. We were hosting, together with Norwegian PEN, among others, the American whistleblower icons Daniel Ellsberg, Jesselyn Raddach, and Thomas Drake in Oslo, Stockholm, Berlin, Reykjavik and London. “Stand up for Truth,” the tour was called. We were covered by the Guardian itself, but more important to me: NRK’s Torp’s professional interest, The daily Aftenposten‘s Harald Stanghelle’s and Dagens Naringsliv‘s Osman Kibar’s deep commitments delivered strong texts. They seriously covered the price that whistleblowers had paid to ensure truth and openness for the rest of us, which all democracies requires from their leaders. Particularly when they are threatened by devastating war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The aim of the tour was to raise awareness for the significance of whistleblowers to democracy, but in particular to bring attention to Edward Snowden and for him to allowed to come to Norway and receive the Bjørnson Prize for his whistleblowing. In London, we visited Julian Assange who greeted the tour from his room in Ecuador’s Embassy.
Outside the Storting one Wednesday in June, we had rigged up a stage. Singer-songwriter Moddi sang. Whistleblowers told their stories. Harald Stanghelle challenged attending the Speaker of the Parliament Olemic Thommessen to show that his many bold words about freedom of speech and rule of law, were more than words: You can get Snowden to Norway, a committed Stanghelle optimistically encouraged the speaker.
That was when it happened: Reality exploded right in front of my eyes: with raging eyes and assurance of never more working with me, the Speaker sneered and left . The call to listen to our most notable whistleblowers became too tough for the parliament’s most prominent listener. And the whistleblowers’ message to speaker Thommessen never reached the elected representatives. This is more serious than Thommessen’s well covered tampering with tax havens and parliamentary budgets. This is about commitment to democracy. And the speaker failed the test.
Then: During the hearing about the Norwegian Libya-bombing this spring, Assange re-entered the Storting. Wikileaks and Assange had published information that the English Parliament’s Libya commission had picked up from Wikileaks – and trusted: An email to Hillary Clinton revealed the motives behind French Sarkozy’s eagerness to crush Gaddafi: the strengthening of French influence in Africa and fortifying Sarkozy’s shaky political life in the upcoming election. Not a word about humanitarian motive or the desire to stop a genocide. One cannot bomb democracy from a height of 10,000 meters, the Brit which turned out be be exactly what the Norwegian Foreign Minister Store meant two days before he sent Norwegian bombers to do just that. The “humanitarian” argument was precisely Norway’s fig leaf when deciding to contribute to the destruction of a country and a people as we know it.
Then more parliamentary hearings: A clearly uninformed parliamentary committee on foreign affairs totally ignored information from one of Norway’s most well-known peace researchers, Ola Tunander, about Assange’s Sarkozy revelations to crush Gaddafi. – How strange, Socialist Party’s leader Lysbakken, uttered, since Gaddafi, and Sarkozy were known to be good friends. Representative Tetzchner did not know about Tunander’s book “The Libya War.” The book is packed with scientifically founded documentation and the only Norwegian published about precisely the topic the committee should “hear.” Frps Tybring Gjedde considered, smiling, that Libya under Gaddafi could barely be called a paradise. Tunander replied, support by Wikileaks and the UN, that the Norwegian humanitarian efforts had so far helped bring Libya down from 57th to 108th place on the UN Human Development Index. A disaster that 8 years later is still in decline. “Disaster” in this case means mass deaths, increasing violence, destroyed health, nutrition, infrastructure and jobs for millions. Lots of refugees and opening of locks for mass immigration to Europe. An almost unified Parliament is satisfied with its humanitarian endeavour. See video transmission at Stortinget.no and be convinced that the power of ignorance is underestimated. We laughed with Hillary Clinton: “We came, we saw, he died.” We have blood on our hands.
Revelations of plans, accomplishments, and the results of the abuses of the powerful do not come without a price to be paid. This time the price is paid by Assange and others who publishes information handed them from brave whistleblowers who cannot remain silent. People like Jesselyn Raddach, Katherine Gun, and John Kiriakou are just three of many I’ve gotten to know in recent years. Look them up! They have sacrificed jobs, family, and their entire future because they had to. With Wikileaks, the revelations from whistleblowers have reached us all. These three are not in jail, but Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning are.
On the stairs to Ecuador’s embassy, I recently met Tom from Australia. He had traveled far to sit three days guard over Assange. He did it in solidarity with those of us who would have liked to be there but could not. We talked about Catholic priest Daniel Berrigan who was imprisoned for his resistance to nuclear weapons and war. “I don’t do it because I think I’ll win,” Barrigan said. – I do it because it’s right.
But justice is rarely politically opportune. We who have spent time studying what Assange has done, and not done, have seen all the lies and all the ignorance – can we still hope to prove Berrigan’s words wrong, and believe that truth still has value, that truth can win? That there are media, politicians, and institutions that listen and act? Who joins lawyer Ramberg in asserting that fighting war crimes and abuses is not just a human right – it is a moral duty?