Sheila Coombes: The work of Julian Assange and Wikileaks is vital in informing the public of machinations for war

Thank you to Helen for very much for inviting me today. I’m here today as an anti-war campaigner who recognises how absolutely vital the work of Julian Assange and Wikileaks has been in informing the public of machinations for war.

I, like millions of others, was appalled at footage Wikileaks released in 2010. The footage that showed the murder of Reuters journalists and Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007, it was taken from the cockpit of a US fighter jet of the ‘Crazy Horse’ division. The aircraft fired from a position of safety over a mile from its victims. That footage became known as the ‘Collateral murder’ video.
We’d heard a lot about ‘collateral damage’ in wars perpetrated by the West this century. That so called ‘damage’ could be the destruction of buildings and infrastructure but it also applied to the deaths of innocent civilians. The video was a stark example of this and hence it was dubbed the ‘collateral murder’ video.

We all knew by 2010 that the Iraq war had been perpetrated on lies, but when this video came out the general public were genuinely shocked at not only the dreadful scenes but the crass language used by the US soldiers. They’re recorded on the video saying “Light ‘em up” then twice, ‘Keep shooting’. When the shooting was over a voice said ‘We just engaged all 8 individuals’ another voice said ‘Nice’. For the euphemism ‘engaged’ understand ‘murdered’.

There was public outrage, but it’s not as if this sort of thing hadn’t happened before. In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers had disclosed appalling atrocities committed against civilians in Vietnam, and journalist Seymour Hersh uncovered and exposed US forces’ Mai Lai massacre –these two releases initiated the beginning of the end of the war in Vietnam.

Did we think this sort of behaviour wouldn’t happen again in the 21st Century?
Did we think that invading forces had been trained out of such wanton murder of civilians? Perhaps we did, but we were wrong, it did happen again, and without the bravery of Chelsea Manning in whistleblowing and Julian Assange in publishing the details, the public would never have known. Wikileaks went on to publish the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs which legendary journalist John Pilger described as documenting the ‘wholesale killing of civilians’

In the 19th and early 20th centuries it was sufficient to evoke ‘Empire’ to persuade the public for the necessity for foreign military adventures, the British were particularly good at this.
In the latter part of the 20th century the mere mention of a nation’s supposed dalliance with the principles of Communism was deemed sufficient justification for demonization of leaders and cause for invasion, but in the 21st Century, talk of Empire is frowned upon and the supposed threat from the Communist Soviet Union is no more, given its demise in 1991.

In the 21st Century new mechanisms were required. Concepts such as ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ have been employed to persuade the public of the worthy cause to which they should give consent.. Western media ensures it demonises leaders of target nations using terms like ‘brutal dictator’ or tyrant. NGOs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch provide the moral authority with often unverified stories of human rights violations which media feed into their bulletins with alacrity, then the leader himself is set up for personal demonization and ridicule.

There’s a no holds barred policy and blatant lies are broadcast as truth, a case in point being the lie that Gaddafi issued Viagra to his troops to encourage wholesale rape of Libyan women. This lie was instigated by US Ambassador to the UN at the time, Susan Rice and parroted by mainstream media. The claim surfaced in an Al Jazeera report, the Qatari government owned news outlet.
The Qatari government supported the Muslim Brotherhood insurgents in Libya’s Eastern region of Benghazi. It was in their interest that lies like this took hold. Amnesty International, happy to repeat this and other lies, later undertook a three month on ground investigation in Libya. An Amnesty operative fluent in Arabic found that there was not one confirmed case of rape by the pro-Gadaffi fighters, not even a doctor who knew of one. All the Viagra mass rape stories were fabrications.

Other subsequently disproven lies aimed at Gaddaif’s government included stories of helicopter gunships strafing citizens and very importantly the lie that Gadaffi’s forces had committed a massacre in Benghazi murdering 6,000 citizens. This story was spread by Dr Sliman Bouchuguir a member of the anti-Gaddaffi Libyan League for Human Rights. In early February 2011 he and the US NGO the National Endowment for Democracy, initiatied a petition with regard to the alleged massacre, it was signed by more than 70 NGOs including Amnesty International. A few days later Bouchuguir announced the massacre at the UN Human Right Council, of which Libya was a member at the time. Libya was expelled from the Human Rights Council as a result. Once again, although willing to believe Bouchuguir’s story and spread his claims, a later Amnesty International investigation concluded that there was no massacre in Benghazi, not 6,000 dead but only 110 deaths in local skirmishes which included deaths of Gadaffi supporters.

It was the UN’s R2P, or Responsibility to Protect doctrine with its seemingly caring and persuasive language of ensuring protection of citizens from a brutal government that enabled the destruction of Libya, formerly a wealthy and functioning nation at peace. Now the UN designated it as a failed state.
Hilary Clinton strongly supported calls for implementation of R2P in Libya it was her mechanism of choice. Wikileaks revealed her plans for destabilisation and regime change in her leaked emails ‘Tick-tock to Libya’

An abstract from a later study entitled ‘Responsibility to Protect at a Crossroads’ – The Crisis in Libya, states: “The intervention in Libya was the first full-blown test of the guiding principles of R2P. Although initially hailed as a model case of how R2P should be applied, the wisdom of intervention in Libya has increasingly been called into question as the country descends further into civil war.”

I’ve focussed on Gaddafi’s Libya because it particularly suffered, from the lies for war. A book by Maximillion Forte entitled ‘Slouching Toward Sirte’ covers these very well.
Libya suffered under the contrivance ‘No fly zone’ as did Iraq. No fly zone, sounds benign enough, but it actually means that NATO jets bomb air bases of the target nation rendering it impossible for that nation to protect its own airspace from further attack.

As I mentioned earlier the concept of spreading ‘freedom and democracy’ has been widely deployed this century. Unbelievably, the term was used in connection with the protests in Ukraine, despite Ukraine having a democratically elected leader, Yanukovych at the time. The US/EU orchestrated coup, resulted in the division of Ukraine, estimates of up to 50,000 citizens dead, thousands internally displaced and millions of refugees. Two million 500, thousand refugees fled Ukraine for Russia, 900,000 went to Europe. But who gained from this, well quite notably Washington and NATO which now has a permanent base on Ukrainian soil.

How did the orchestrators of this coup get away with suggesting that the tenets of ‘democracy and freedom’ would best be served by removing a democratically elected leader? How do they reconcile ‘freedom and democracy’ with the establishment of a foreign military base on Ukrainian soil?

We probably think that the drive toward war this century has been organic, Western governments portraying it as a response to threats to their security, but many interventions and regime changes have been deliberately planned, often years in advance, the goal being to seize resources and capture markets. Some regime changes are a response to a given leader’s refusal to comply with the will of those at the heart US foreign policy this century, the Washington NeoCons. But it’s diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks that confirm the machinations for regime change. From US Ambassador William Roebuck’s 2006 email describing how Washington and allies could ‘Throw Assad off balance’ (i.e. to destabilise prior to regime change attempt) to Hilary’s 1,700 emails relating to Libya. What many analysts had assessed to be the situation with regard to regime changes, Wikileaks confirmed. I highly recommend reading the Wikileaks Files – a publication by a journalist now incarcerated for telling the truth.

The 21st Century has had its fair share of media professionals willing to subsume any journalistic integrity to the will of those with a regime change agenda.
Matt Frei, then of the BBC and now employed by its sister channel, Channel 4, stated at the commencement of the ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Iraq in 2003 “There is no doubt that the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, especially in the Middle East is increasingly tied up with the American military” He’s quite clearly advocating for democracy and freedom loving bombs.

We’ve heard a lot about ‘peaceful protesters’ this century. The media focusses on those in nations targeted for regime change. Libya, Syria and Ukraine fell foul of this euphemism. Many so called ‘peaceful protests’ were not necessarily as media portrayed. In Libya, the Muslim Brotherhood instigated many protests and weapons were funnelled in by supporting factions in the US, NATO states and the Gulf Co-operation Council.

A similar situation occurred in Dar’aa in Syria where Ali Hashem of Al Jazeera witnessed protests becoming very quickly weaponised with floods of armed insurgents crossing into Syria at the border with Jordan. He filmed the scenes and provided them to Al Jazeera, but the Qatari owned channel refused to air them at which point he and other journalists resigned.
The ‘peaceful protesters’ in Dar’aa, Syria shouted slogans such as ‘Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the grave’, but mainstream media didn’t tell us this.
A film made in 2011 featuring Syrian journalist Alaa Ebrahim and Palestinian Syrian Mohammad Rafea entitled Manufacturing Consent, discusses the discusses use of some mosques to store weapons used in the protests. Mohammad Rafea was later captured, tortured and murdered by opposition forces.

On the periphery of Ukraine’s ‘peaceful protests’ on the Maidan square NeoNazi brigades flew Wolfsangle flags and other NeoNazi symbolism. What was it about these symbols that made them invisible to the lens of Western media at this time? Since the removal of Yanukovych the NeoNazi Azov brigade became officially aligned to the Ukrainian military.

We now have protesters in Hong Kong and while media has recently reluctantly admitted that they are not all ‘peaceful’, they still insist that protesters are merely seeking ‘democracy and freedom’ from one of the West’s competitors – China.
Whatever the requirement for reform, it has to be noted, and is admitted, by former Reagan official Michael Pillsbury that protests have been in part funded by an NGO he co-founded, the National Endowment for Democracy, the same NGO that had 64 so called ‘democracy promotion’ projects running in Ukraine at the time of the protests on the Maidan Square.

Former British Chief Prosecutor in Hong Kong Grenville Cross in an interview discussed the violence committed by what he called ‘extremists associated with the protest movement’.. He discussed highly organised and well equipped protests as being designed to undermine China itself. A bomb factory discovered at Tin Su Why not only contained petrol bombs but half a million dollars in cash.

Double standards prevail, protests in Bahrain in 2011 were brutally quashed by Saudi forces, but there were no calls for ‘humanitarian intervention’ or ‘responsibility to protect’ civilians from this brutal crackdown. Protests in Saudi Arabia were quashed. Participants, including a boy who was 16 at the time, have later been beheaded. This despite international law dictating that a person under the age of 18 cannot be sentenced to death.

Where are the calls for the tenets of ‘democracy and freedom’ to be upheld in these two absolute monarchist systems, Bharain and Saudi Arabia? It appears that the so called ‘international community’ has a selective approach to infringements of human rights and the right to democracy and freedom. While it allows infringements to exist in friendly nations, it seeks out or fabricates those in those nations unfriendly to its various agendas.

All mainstream establishment and corporate media have used the same persuasive terminology to manufacture consent for war. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine have all fallen foul of their Uriah Heep sycophancy to regime change powers.

Wikileaks has provided us with inside knowledge which we would otherwise not have had – the truth behind the euphemisms. Mainstream journalists who crave informed sources, should have welcomed this, but instead they’ve acted as henchmen for US power as have the governments of Britain and Sweden in their appalling vilification of Assange. Mainstream corporate and establishment journalists have failed to speak ‘Truth to Power’ but as members of the public, we shouldn’t fail to speak truth to journalists. We should make them understand that given the rise of independent media and organisations like Wikileaks, we’ve seen an alternative narrative, and that narrative has been proven correct.

We shouldn’t, in what should be an enlightened and sophisticated 21st Century, be holding a whistle blower, who revealed truths of war and machinations for war to the public, in jail, and we shouldn’t have to be combatting calls for his extradition to the US. This grotesque situation will be harshly judged by history and the work of all who support Assange is to make sure that it does.

Thank you.

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