Julian Assange US Extradition: Show Trial of Journalism at the Old Bailey

Nozomi Hayase, PhD, is a US-based journalist who has been covering the issue of free speech. She has authored the book WikiLeaks, the Global Fourth Estate: History Is Happening. In an interview with John Kendall Hawkins, as the US extradition hearing of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange in the UK unfolds, Hayase talks about the significance of WikiLeaks and why its editor-in-chief needs public support.

John Hawkins: How are the extradition proceedings going?

Nozomi Hayase: First of all, WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange has been indicted on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of conspiring with a source to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for his reporting on the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the torture at Guantanamo Bay.

This US extradition case is a direct attack on the First Amendment by the US government. This is the first time the US Espionage Act is being used to prosecute a publisher. If it’s successful, it would threaten media freedom everywhere.

This is the most important press freedom case of our time and the hearings are taking place at the Old Bailey behind closed door. NGOs and international political observers were denied remote access to the court on the first day of the hearing. This includes Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders.

What has been unfolding this month at the London court is a Kafkaesque show trial. There have been problems with the abuse of process. Assange has not been allowed to sit with his lawyers and he’s been placed behind a glass cage, as was the case during the hearing in February. The presiding judge, Vanessa Baraitser has been micromanaging the proceedings, challenging the credentials of the defense’s expert witnesses and giving an unfair amount of time to the prosecutors.

With that said, I think Julian’s defense team has been doing extremely well. From an offer of a pardon for Assange by the US President Donald Trump (which Assange refused to accept) to his administration’s high-level plan to revoke Assange’s political asylum granted by Ecuador, the defense team’s witness testimonies have revealed the highly political nature of this case. Now, the judge acknowledged this and indicated that a ruling would not be delivered until the US presidential election was over.

But remember, this is a show trial. If this were a fair trial, where the judge has her own judicial authority, there’s no way that his US extradition request would be accepted. So ending this political prosecution requires ordinary people to engage in political action. More than 150 politicians and lawyers, judges and legal academics including 13 former presidents called for an end to this political prosecution of the journalist who exposed the evidence of US government’s war crime and torture. We can all increase our pressure to demand our representatives to join those who decided to be on the right side of history and are standing up for free press.

Consortium News and journalist Kevin Gosztola, managing editor of Shadowproof.com, along with Courage Foundation, the organisation that defends rights of whistleblowers, have been giving updates on the hearing. So please follow their work to know the latest about this important case.

In your preface to WikiLeaks, the Global Fourth Estate, you reference "illegitimate governance," by which you seem to mean any "democracy" out there that hides from the People what they need to know in order to pressure their representatives in Congress (or Parliament) to make corrective changes to improve their democracy. Can you say more about such "illegitimate governance" and how it relates to Assange’s work?

Governments in modern democratic states require the consent of the governed. For people to give their consent to those who govern, they need to be informed about what their governments are doing. Illegitimate forms of governance are ones that violate this principle. We can see it in oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, where the governments can act dictatorially with draconian top down laws, coercing people’s will.

In Western societies, where there is a notion of free press, governments don’t engage in outright violence. Instead they engage in secrecy and manipulation of public perception, as Noam Chomsky documents in his seminal book The Engineering of Consent, which fits into this category. Assange, through his work with WikiLeaks, defended the public’s right to know. By publishing material that is verified to be authentic and is of public interest, WikiLeaks helped to keep the government honest and make it function on the principle of consent of the governed.

How does what you call "Revolutionary Journalism" compare to good old adversarial journalism?

The role of journalism from the very beginning was to perform vital checks and balances of government power. The founding fathers of the US had an inherent distrust of the government. Thomas Jefferson once noted that if he had to choose between the government and the newspaper, he would choose the latter. So the press was meant to be a watchdog. Sadly the media has now been infiltrated with commercial interests, and is failing to fulfil this role. Corporate media has become a stenographer of power. Instead of seeking the truth and challenge power, they lie and deceive the public.

When I say WikiLeaks is revolutionary, I am echoing the sentiment described by Orwell’s phrase, "in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act". When western governments criticise WikiLeaks and create controversy, it actually is deflecting people from recognising the failure of established media and their lack of commitment to the duty of a free press. What WikiLeaks does is not radical. It is in line with the US tradition of a free press. Defense witness on the second week of Assange’s extradition hearing testified that WikiLeaks publication of Iraq War Logs released in 2010 revealed an estimated 15,000 civilians causalities that were previously unknown. This reporting on deaths of innocent people, the consequences of war, is real journalism and WikiLeaks set an excellent standard for all other media organizations to follow.

In the 60s, we had alternative media streams—the birth of FM radio, which activists listened to, as well as magazines like Ramparts, which gave long-read exposes of what The Man was up to. Can you compare Ramparts to WikiLeaks?

I don’t compare WikiLeaks to Ramparts. WikiLeaks invented scientific journalism, which was unprecedented. Just like scientists writing a scientific paper are required to provide all data that they used to form their conclusions, WikiLeaks publishes full archives (after going through harm minimisation process, to redact information that brings imminent harm). In fact, the London court at Assange’s extradition hearing heard from witness testimonies that Assange took great care of handling material and that WikiLeaks had a very rigorous redaction process in place.

Also, after 10 years of publication, no evidence of harm has been found caused by WikiLeaks publications. Also because of WikiLeaks commitment to provide the public full documents, a German citizen who was mistakenly identified as a terrorist and kidnapped and tortured by the CIA was able to find information that relate to his case. He was able to use this at the court and get justice. Now, during the court hearing, Khalid El-Masri gave a written statement at the London court. He was trying to testify at the court, but was not able to do so due to technical difficulties. US prosecutors objected to him giving live testimony.

WikiLeaks scientific journalism provides a means for ordinary people to directly engage with the material. This allows each individual to independently check the claims of journalists and this enables a mechanism of accountability for journalists. So, with WikiLeaks, the source of legitimacy that used to be placed in the "objectivity" of journalists (that determine their editorial decisions) is now placed in the actual source documents. People don’t have to believe in journalists, they can independently check the validity of the reporting on their own.

If anything, I say, WikiLeaks is Howard Zinn on steroids! Just like Zinn, who worked to restore the history of ordinary people, WikiLeaks brings information back to the historical record. By opening the archives, WikiLeaks freed people from a stolen history that repeats the abuses of the past. Leaked documents allow us to look at past events anew and restore perspectives that were oppressed and pushed to the margins. History can no longer be censored and written by those in power. Now ordinary people can claim their own history and participate in its unfolding narratives.

There are different kinds of whistleblowers. One can do great good, but still be motivated by venial desires. FBI assistant director, Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat, was very helpful in bringing down Nixon. But only because he was angry for being overlooked by Nixon for promotion to director after Hoover died. He was motivated by a type of revenge. But also, it means that had he been made director, he would have sat on that criminal information. Woodward and Bernstein turned him into a ‘hero’ but, really, he wasn’t. How would you compare someone like Deep Throat to the kinds of whistleblowers we need today?

I think what you are saying is difference between a "leaker" and whistleblower. What makes someone a whistleblower is his or her motive. Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden are whistleblowers. They identified themselves as citizens, as part of the public. Their interests were to defend the public’s right to know. Their act of releasing information was done in service of common people.

Whereas, so called a leaker doesn’t release information out of a sense of duty to defend public interests. For me, what really determines someone’s act of whistleblowing is conscience. I see the highest law of the land is ideals that were described in the words of Jefferson at the beginning of this country. Those ideals that inspired and united all people are not codified into law yet. It is inscribed into the heart of each person. To me conscience is a language of the heart that remembers our inherent obligation to one another. This tiny voice inside each of us reminds us when those ideals are violated and urges us to act and uphold those ideals. Manning and Snowden followed the voice of conscience and it is only through those acts of ordinary people that the highest law of the land can truly be enforced.

How would you describe the greatest benefit Assange has gifted us as global citizens?

Even though WikiLeaks is a transnational journalistic organisation, I see their work as being very much tied to the impulse that came through the US during its Revolutionary War against Great Britain. This impulse was people’s aspiration toward individual liberty. I think what happened at the time in the US was historically significant and its impact is not only important for the US but also for the entire world. US independence from King George III set a new trajectory in history. It opened up a possibility to move away from monarchy and into creating a society based on the rule of law.

Thomas Jefferson, as a principal author of the Declaration of Independence stated that, "All men are created equal" and have certain unalienable rights that we are all endowed with, such as "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness". Those words inspired people around the world—even to this day.

Of course, as history has shown, our founding fathers were not perfect. They had their own hypocrisy and contradictions manifested in the genocide of natives, enslavement of blacks and suppression of women. But I would like to think that the signers of this document, 56 people who put their livelihood and lives on the line to achieve America’s independence, believed in the ideals spelled out in the document. I would like to think those words were not lies. I see them as promises and believe that Jefferson had aspired to create a society that lives up to the words that he had written.

I think WikiLeaks released documents helped us see the unaccounted power inside the US and its history. The publication of the collateral murder video, the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and illegal torture at the Guantanamo Bay showed us how America had become a global empire, repeating its dark past of killing natives and destroying their culture, now under the name of fighting terrorism abroad in the oil-rich Middle East. We were able to see America’s betrayal of its own ideals and how this nation lost its own course.

Also, WikiLeaks release of Vault 7, the largest leak in CIA history that exposed their cyberwarfare and malicious hacking tools was significant. It let us see how the republic has been turned into a national security state.

Sources of WikiLeaks’ publications risked their personal liberty to inform people about this subversion of American ideals. Whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond who allegedly provided the Stratfor documents to WikiLeaks, the private Texas-based global intelligence company, reminded us of the ideals that founded the United States and how they are universal ideals that apply to everyone around the world.

Manning demonstrated this by giving WikiLeaks raw video footage that captured the US military strike in Iraq, killing innocent civilians. Through her own act of conscience, she upheld the principle of equality and liberty for all people. She made it possible for those who were conjured into enemy combatants by the US military industrial complex to tell their side of the story.

In her request for a presidential pardon, she made clear the motive of her action. She indicated how she is willing to serve her time knowing that one has to pay a heavy price to live in a free society and how she wishes to have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.

What Assange did was by enabling the true function of free press to help whistleblowers to fulfil the promise that our founders made. It is not just for the American people, but ordinary people all around the world can now engage in a participatory process of creating a society based on a principle of liberty and equality for all people.

When we truly recognise the significance of WikiLeaks, we can see why Assange has been put into prison, tortured and politically persecuted. We can understand why the former CIA director and Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo called WikiLeaks "a non-state hostile intelligence service" and declared war against the whistleblowing site. We can understand why the CIA, via a Spanish security firm, spied on Assange and his privileged communication with his lawyers while he was inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and as Assange’s defense evidence revealed, the intelligence agency plotted to poison him. I hope people then realise what is truly at stake with Assange’s extradition case and how we need to do whatever it takes to stop this.

I like your notion of the contagion of courage. It seems really vital right now with regard to privacy. Do you agree with that and, if so, could you elaborate.

With the phrase contagion of courage, I am referring to the waves of whistleblowers that have emerged in recent years; how one person’s act of courage created a ripple effect for social change. For instance, Jeremy Hammond and Snowden both indicated how they were inspired by Manning’s act of conscience.

The principle of civil disobedience was put forward by an American transcendentalist and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau. He believed this was a vital mechanism that enables a democracy, one that bridges between the ideals in the Declaration of Independence and the constitution.

Thoreau’s idea taught us how the premise of equality and liberty expressed in America’s founding document can be made legally binding through each individual’s act of conscience, by refusing to obey certain unjust laws in order to uphold the higher moral laws.

From women’s suffrage, civil rights and free speech movements, ordinary people from history have shown the power of We the People. They all risked their lives to engage in an act of civil disobedience in order to truly codify the ideals in the Declaration of Independence into law. Now, a new generation of people from the Internet are carrying on this past struggle for justice. As America increasingly moves away from its own original vision, we desperately need more people who are willing to act courageously to defend her spirit.

With that said, I need to now emphasise on how those who engaged in civil disobedience have been attacked and broken down. The US government has been using the Espionage Act of 1917 to punish whistleblowers who performed a vital duty to hold power accountable. Now, with Assange’s extradition case, the Trump administration is going after not just the source but also the journalist. The Espionage Act was created during WWI to prosecute spies and it prohibits public interest defense. Those who are tried under the Espionage Act are not allowed to talk about their motivations for their actions.

For publishing evidence of the war crimes and human rights abuses of the US government and their allies, Assange now faces the risk of extradition to the US, where he could receive no trial. If convicted, he would be sentenced up to 175 years in prison and be subjected to very harsh conditions through Special Administrative Measures. History is happening now inside the Old Bailey that could determine the future of press freedom and democracy. We need to act now and take back our own narrative to end the political prosecution of Julian Assange.

John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia. He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.