By Maxine Walker
The 18 December Guardian editorial on Julian Assange has been welcomed by many and shared widely. Although the Guardian has previously stated that it opposes Julian Assange’s extradition it has always been accompanied by so many attacks on the man, that it carried little weight. This is the first unequivocal statement that recognises the dangers faced by Julian Assange, his persecution, its context of WikiLeaks exposing ‘horrifying abuses by the US and other governments’ and the threat the case poses to democracy and press freedom in the US and Britain. It comes less than three weeks before the verdict in the Extradition case.
Many commentators noted this sudden change of tone from the Guardian. We are forced to ask why it has taken place. Was it a coincidence that it appeared one day after the JADC’s second picket of the Guardian HQ calling for it to support Assange, and stop its ten-year long relentless campaign of lies, smears and fabrications? We certainly think that our very visible, popular and hard-hitting campaign calling on people to Dump the Guardian added to the pressure on them. However, there were also other powerful pressures on them which may explain what has happened.
The Unravelling of Guardian Lies
In waging a decade-long war against Assange as he was persecuted and prosecuted by the US and UK governments, the Guardian has been crucial in turning liberal/progressive opinion against him and made it immeasurably more difficult to build a campaign in the UK against his extradition. As Assange suffered 10 years of deprivation of liberty, they continued mirroring CIA lies and spreading a false and malicious narrative of Assange’s character and actions, mobbing and ridiculing him. We should recall that Guardian journalists had worked with Assange, had published the leaks, and had won much profit and reputation from the publications while Assange went to gaol. The Guardian’s smear campaign cleverly diverted attention from the simple fact that Assange and WikiLeaks were under attack because they had revealed the iniquity and crimes of the US and other governments, particularly their war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some of their lies were more intensely damaging than others, two in particular.
First: In November 2018 Guardian journalists Luke Harding and Dan Collyns wrote an entirely fabricated sensational story that Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager had visited Assange at the Embassy three times. This was an outright lie, denied by all concerned and having not one iota of evidence to support it. Last week Wikileaks tweeted: ‘The front-page fabrication that Manafort visited Assange in the embassy was planted in The Guardian by an NED-funded operative.’ The NED is the National Endowment for Democracy, the propaganda and regime-change wing of the CIA.
Emmy Butlin’s article ‘The Guardian’s Dirty Little Secret’ shows that: ‘The function of the Assange/Manafort Article in November 2018 was to assist US/UK national security objectives in terminating Julian Assange’s political asylum and effect his expulsion from the Ecuadorian Embassy’.
In the Guardian’s print version of the Manafort article there was also a third author Fernando Villavicencio whose name Guardian editors later discreetly removed from the on-line version. Why? Perhaps because he has been named as CIA-linked. The Manafort article remains on the Guardian website – a monument to journalistic malpractice.
Second: The Guardian gave the most meagre possible coverage of the astonishing four-week Extradition hearing at the Old Bailey in September – called the Media Freedom Trial of the Century by many. This is astounding given that the Guardian’s reporting came up frequently in the case. At the Old Bailey it became clear that the Guardian’s other Big Lie was now being used by the US Prosecution in the Extradition case. The Big Lie – contained in the 2011 Guardian book by David Leigh and Luke Harding “Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy” – was that Assange was happy to release unredacted cables no matter if it endangered those named in them. ‘Lawyers for the US have mined from the Guardian book claims by Leigh that Assange was recklessly indifferent to the safety of US informants named in leaked files published by Wikileaks.’ https://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/2020-09-26/guardian-assange-denial-deceptions/) Whilst journalists who worked on the leaks with Assange testified at the Old Bailey that he was meticulous in redaction and harm reduction, the Guardian has stood behind Harding and Leigh’s story but it is the exact opposite of what actually happened.
In fact, it was Leigh and Harding in their book who revealed the password given to Leigh by Assange – reluctantly and in strict confidence – that enabled anyone with access to the encrypted file of cables to decrypt it. Those who have supported Assange know that he took strenuous steps to limit the damage caused by the Guardian journalists recklessly publishing this password. But now many more people know this because on 16 December (two days before the Guardian’s apparent change of tone) a leaked recording was released showing Assange having an hour-long conversation with a US State Department lawyer warning them that unredacted cables were about to become accessible, expressing concern over the safety of those named and offering assistance in limiting the damage to individuals.
This new evidence is a very big problem for the Guardian (and the Prosecution case). Could the sudden reasonable editorial of 18 December reveal that they know their lies are fast unravelling and being exposed, that their decade-long game is up? With their reputation in tatters and increasing numbers of people being disgusted with them, perhaps they decided it was time to cover their backs by sounding reasonable about the Julian Assange case.
As the old saying goes: One swallow does not make a summer. One reasonable editorial amidst a decade of lies does not reveal a profound change of heart. It does not in any way atone or make restitution for the severe damage caused by the Guardian. Only active and relentless campaigning by the Guardian against Julian Assange’s extradition and the crimes committed against him will show that the sinner has repented.
Our demands of the Guardian are:
- Take down the ‘planted’/fabricated Manafort article. Admit it was not true.
- There are only three weeks until the Extradition verdict is given (4 January Old Bailey). Put the Assange case on your front page and cover it every day.
- Do some honest journalistic work starting now. For example, report on the injustice of his current detention and Assange’s appalling prison conditions in Belmarsh; interview Nils Melzer who has repeatedly challenged the British government to investigate and respond to his conclusion that Assange has suffered ‘psychological torture’; expand on the political nature of the charges, and the barriers to open justice (see https://rsf.org/en/news/usuk-julian-assanges-extradition-hearing-marred-barriers-open-justice).