“Authentic journalism is telling people something that the government doesn't want them to know.” --Gary Webb
I was fortunate weekend before last to catch some of the second online #Unity4J vigil live, and watch and listen to some of the conversations, starting with Suzie Dawson and Cassandra Fairbanks, and going down through Dmitry Babich, Graham Ellwood, Cynthia McKinney, Diana Barretti, and Mark Crispin Miller, each of whom offered important and interesting insights as they spoke for Wikileaks and Julian Assange.
Elizabeth Lea Vos, Editor-in-Chief of Disobedient Media, who co-hosted this 2-day marathon event with Suzie Dawson, following on an earlier vigil hosted by Suzie Dawson, has written a comprehensive article on this vigil,and the videos can be watched again by all interested, in day segments Part 1 and Part 2, or by interviewee, in segments now posted on Suzie Dawson's channel.
I hope to write more about each of the many conversations but I can tell you it was extraordinarily comforting to listen on a Sunday morning to these open conversations live as journalists and political commentators of conscience spoke candidly about the lunacy of the joint surveillance state and military-industry complex, its excesses and abuses in war, its casual use of secrecy to cover up its tracks, its clear lack of humanity, and its open persecution of Julian Assange—who has now been locked in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for six years, removed from free society and his family, and recently egregiously deprived of all modes of communication including Internet and phone access, even with his own family.
Unity4J Vigil Provoking Change?
There's some current evidence of progress with the Australian High Commission making a first-in-years effortto address the situation by going in to the Ecuadorian Embassy and speaking presumably with Julian and his lawyers, as well as hints that Ecuador wishes to resolve the situation in some fashion. The latest as I finalize this is encouraging note of a United Nations meeting with Wikileaks General Counsel scheduled for next week,on June 19, the 6th anniversary date of his arrival at the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012.
No doubt this vigil has played a big part in driving home to these governments that people are waking up to what is going on here, that activists and journalists are seriously concerned. Because the persecution of Julian Assange is ultimately an issue of persecution of a free Press and journalists of conscience, of attempted domination over all humanity seeking informed awareness in times of war or threatening war, especially now with all the raging military rhetoric of “forever war.”
Keeping Julian Assange Captive Shouldn't Be Normalized
Cassandra Fairbanks made the important point that what really has happened here as the years have rolled on and Assange continues to be a refugee in the heart of the financial capital of the world, inside a country which like the US makes much publicly of its interest in human rights but stands ready to arrest and extradite Assange the moment he steps foot outside the Ecuador Embassy, is that his captivity has been normalized. It has become as much a part of our continuing global awareness today as the attempted normalizing by Israel of Israeli military persecution of unarmed Palestinians as “self-defense,” of continued weapon sales by the US to Israel, or the mainstream media demonizing of Middle-Eastern countries like Iran and Syria, and the farcical blame-game being played out on Capitol Hill involving Russia in the US's internal elections and affairs. “It never should have been normalized; it's not a normal thing at all, if this had happened to any other journalist, every human rights group would be speaking out.”
Embassy Confinement as Torture
Suzie Dawson noted that stepping out of the Embassy for Julian, which the UK Govt. likes to suggest is always an option for him, is tantamount to saying Anne Frank could have stepped out of hiding anytime in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam—we all know what happened when indeed her family was betrayed, uncovered, and arrested by the Nazis: they were deported to concentration camps, and Margot and Anne Frank died in Bergen-Belsen, their mother in Auschwitz. In Julian's case, what was meted out to US soldier Chelsea Manning is being promised: arrest and capture, torture and solitary confinement, what Russian journalist Dmitry Babich termed “indecent treatment, well beyond Guantanamo.”
The irony here of course is that Julian is already being tortured and held in solitary confinement. Denied medical treatment and sunlight, normal closeness to Nature, simple walks and exercise, and now even communication with his family, Cynthia McKinney made the point that he was already in a situation of incarceration:
“His life is in danger...That is something that needs desperately to be raised. He is in custody, a kind of custody—that when I think of the most hardened criminals who are in US prisons, they at least get exercise in some way—so you think about it: no direct sunlight, no normal pleasures of being outside, no grounding, putting your feet in the dirt, in the soil, in the grass, not able to (hear) the singing of the birds, the buzzing of the bees, none of that-- that we kinda take for granted--he is experiencing—and what makes this all the more criminal is that there is a responsibility in the current US Administration to resolve this issue in a way that's favorable and consistent with the US Constitution but it's not happening...the Trump Administration has definitely abdicated all responsibility, which is shameful.”--Cynthia McKinney
This subject of actual torture and deprivation was raised also by British activist and filmmaker Jeff Godwin in this conversation we had shortly after Julian's communications were cut off, where he covered the 5-year vigil of London activists at the embassy, and we examined the cost and human rights implications of such forced-captivity in the center of London and how the courageous publications of Wikileaks in exposing war crimes have helped expand humanity's consciousness--a conversation which was interrupted, interestingly, by London police.
Precedent for Extended Embassy Stay Highlights Soviet Totalitarianism
Dmitry Babich and Cynthia McKinney helped put this situation in historical perspective as they called up the spectre of past Soviet and Chinese repression of journalists and people of note.Dmitry related the extraordinary story of Hungarian Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, a dedicated opposer of Communism who lived in the US embassy in Budapest for 15 years during '50s Soviet-era occupation and repression in Hungary because he could not safely travel to the airport to fly into asylum in the US; the Soviet totalitarianism oppressing Mindszenty, he notes, offers the exact precedent now for the replete-with-irony US oppressing of Julian Assange.
Cardinal Joszef Mindszenty
Fascinating reminiscences of American diplomats on Mindszenty's embassy residence and the lengths to which the US govt went then to protect him—an American officer needed to be present at the embassy 24/7 night and day, for instance--can be found here.
I found especially resonant Cynthia McKinney's meaningful characterizing of governmental and agency repression of Vietnam-war activists and the continued repression of anti-war activism as the actions of a coterie well-removed from humanity. "In 1968...the reason the State had to resort to assassinations was because we were winning." By taking a repressive stance, the military and Deep State-led US government has set up historical precedent for acting as a hostile force against humanity; the simple humanity represented by activists and journalists keen to protect innocent people in Vietnam who were being slaughtered in the war was attacked by police and military inside the US, as for instance on the Kent State University campus when young college students protesting were killed. What was displayed by such hostility is a Them versus Us situation which continues.
Lone voice of reason in Congress in the 2000s, Cynthia McKinney who spoke out against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars while Colin Powell and George Bush lied their way into them, recalled the horrors of '60s and '70s era COINTELPRO when activists and presidents were so heavily targeted, a subject she studied for her dissertation—turning to Wikileaks for research support--and talked about the importance of asking "who is ours?" of finding those within as well as outside government supportive of humanity.
What is being done to Julian Assange of course is an extension of COINTELPRO, a modern witch-hunt, of the kind being reported in various form by other activists and citizens today, including FBI whistleblower Geral Sosbee, who reports 30-year persecution by the FBI/CIA and details in this very recent post the deceitful and repressive ways by which the FBI uses federal magistrate judges to turn whole American communities against targets in modern COINTELPRO—a subject mainstream media does not touch.
International Law, Historic Movements
Suzie Dawson spelled out what many of us are surely aware of, that Wikileaks' publishing of documents and videos such as the CIA's Vault 7 documents and the Collateral Murder video has led to incomparable effects on international law, affected the course of governments, and helped inform humanity about war crimes in action, which surely all peoples everywhere do indeed need to know about: “Wikileaks has had a historic impact on international law.”
Of note is Suzie's discussion of movements which yield action, such as the Free Mandela movement which took eight years to come to fruition as a worldwide movement, and the power and simplicity of what defines successful movements: unity—“inviting everyone across the political spectrum to join us,” singularity of message--”stick to the original demand,” decentralizing, repetition of message: “If you relentlessly push this message and let it be clear you won't stop, and keep organizing, the media will learn.”
Citing Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Cynthia McKinney notes the mechanisms “that Power uses to control and dominate us”:“Divide and Rule, Conquest, Manipulation, and Cultural Invasion...as well as the tools to liberate ourselves: Unity, Cultural Synthesis, Co-operation, and Organization...We have embodied in #Unity4J what we have embodied in Freire's tools for liberation.”
"Sustained Pressure is the Key"
Suzie Dawson opined that when we see leaders of countries other than Ecuador step forward to call the US and UK to book over Assange is when real progress and a turning point will occur, as it did eventually in Mandela's case: “I think sustained pressure is the key to actually achieving our objective.”
It is commendable that while journalists of integrity and courage across the world have been attacked, persecuted, and killed—including Serena Shims, Daphne Galizia, Gauri Lankesh, Michael Hastings, and Gary Webb—a small group of international journalists have stepped forward to cover Wikileaks and Julian Assange, seeing him not merely as a journalist but as a whistleblower who deserves the attention and protection of humanity; Suzie and Cassandra noted they were "a niche group of journalists, not working on commission.”
This has occurred while mainstream media (MSM), including Wikipedia, has sought to demean and deprecate Wikileaks; Suzie reports a “very short time turnaround between a smear piece on Wikileaks appearing in MSM and then on Wikipedia.” Candidly, MSM's denigration of Assange, she offers, resembles witch-burnings at the Salem Trials or throwing rotten tomatoes at “a stock in the public square.”
When governments fail us, the actions of journalists and activists to inform us become paramount. There is no doubt that the releases of Wikileaks have helped inform our collective awareness today, exposing the behind-the-scenes reality of strategic military-industrial build-up, weaponized foreign policy and condoned war crimes, as the behemoth Military-Industrial-Intelligence Complex blunders on, assaulting humanity. For all these reasons, these conversations note, humanity needs to come together now to fight for Assange's release, for a journalist who is surely “one of us.”