As jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces an extradition hearing Wednesday in London, supporters gathered Friday for the Belmarsh Tribunal, named for the Belmarsh maximum security prison where Assange is being held. The mock trial highlighted major WikiLeaks revelations of U.S. war crimes and demanded Assange’s freedom. Assange faces up to 175 years in prison in the U.S. under the Espionage Act for publishing classified documents exposing U.S. war crimes. Though a British judge blocked his extradition in January, the U.S. appealed the decision. We feature speakers from the tribunal, including writer Tariq Ali, Afghan political activist Selay Ghaffar, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and former Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn. “Julian, far from being indicted, should actually be a hero,” said Ali. “He should never have been kept in prison for bail. He should not be in prison now awaiting a trial for extradition. He should be released.” We also hear from Srećko Horvat, philosopher and Belmarsh Tribunal chair; Ewen MacAskill, former Guardian journalist; and Stella Morris, partner of Julian Assange.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.
The imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is going to be back in a London court for an extradition hearing Wednesday. In January, a British judge blocked Assange’s extradition to the U.S., but the U.S. appealed the decision. He faces up to 175 years in prison in the U.S. under the Espionage Act for publishing classified documents exposing U.S. war crimes. Assange has been jailed in England for two-and-a-half years; prior to that, spent over seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he had political asylum.
On Friday, the Progressive International convened a gathering of the Belmarsh Tribunal, which is named after the prison where Assange is being held. The people’s tribunal is modeled on the Russell War Crimes Tribunal, which was formed in 1966 by Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre and others to investigate U.S. war crimes in Vietnam. We’ll spend the rest of the hour airing excerpts from the Belmarsh Tribunal, beginning with the British writer Tariq Ali, who served on the Russell War Crimes Tribunal in the ’60s.
TARIQ ALI: Julian exposed another set of wars. Basically, he exposed the so-called war on terror, which began after 9/11, has lasted 20 years, has led to six wars, millions killed, trillions wasted. That is the only balance sheet of that war. Nowhere has it redeemed itself or done any good, as we’ve seen most recently in Afghanistan.
So, what do you say to people like Chelsea Manning and Julian, who’s the principal target of the legal and judicial brutalities taking place, when they reveal stuff, which everyone knows it’s true, since some of it is on video — Americans bombing Iraqi families, totally innocent — totally innocent — laughing about it and are recorded killing them? That’s a big joke. Well, it isn’t a big joke for the millions who have died in the Arab world since these 20 years of war began. And Julian, far from being indicted, should actually be a hero. He’s not the first. And if they think that punishing him in this vindictive and punitive way is going to change people’s attitudes to coming out and telling the truth, they’re wrong. …
Julian is unfortunate to be captured by this particular state and its different apparatuses in order to appease the United States of America. He should never have been kept in prison for bail. He should not be in prison now awaiting a trial for extradition. He should be released. And I hope that acts like the Belmarsh Tribunal will help to bring that nearer.
SREĆKO HORVAT: Thank you, Tariq. And thank you for mentioning Afghanistan, which brings us directly to our next member of the Belmarsh Tribunal, which is Selay Ghaffar, the spokesperson for the Solidarity Party of Afghanistan.
SELAY GHAFFAR: Dear comrades and friends, I am thrilled and honored to join you on this historical tribunal. All Afghans, particularly the families of the war victims, expect the Belmarsh Tribunal to heal their wounds by holding the United States accountable for the thousands of innocent Afghans’ lives they destroyed and the future they stole. And I salute the Progressive International for this remarkable initiative.
In the wake of the U.S. humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan, everybody asks this question: How did the two decades of the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan, under the pretext of fighting terrorism, ended with the Taliban terrorists gaining a swift and easy victory in Afghanistan?
Well, so far, in my opinion, only one person, by the name Julian Assange, possibly had the answer to this mystery. In 2011, he unmasked the truth through a set of documents called the Afghan War Diary, where he exposed the tyrannical U.S. policy in Afghanistan and said that one of the goals behind sustaining the war was to wash money out of the tax bases of the U.S. and Europe through Afghanistan and back into the hands of the transnational security elite.
Two decades of U.S. occupation brought us nothing but ruin and loss of lives. And while the mainstream media tried to portray a rosy picture of Afghanistan, the leaks by Assange, in contrary, revealed bloody atrocities committed by the U.S. and NATO occupying forces. For instance, in 2007, the U.S. Special Forces dropped six 2,000-pound bombs on a compound where they believed a high-value individual was hiding; however, locals reported that up to 300 civilians had been killed in this raid. None of the media reported that incident.
According to reliable sources, about 241,000 Afghans have been killed by crossfire between the U.S. forces and the Taliban, of whom 48,000 civilians have been killed by U.S. occupation forces in a number of unknown incidents. But in my belief, the real number is much, much higher, as many incidents are not reported and not documented.
Well, the U.S. occupation has also inflicted invisible wounds. In 2009, the former Afghan Ministry of Public Health reported that fully two-thirds of Afghans suffer from mental health problems. The war has exacerbated the effects of poverty, malnutrition, poor sanitation, a lack of access to healthcare, and environmental degradation on Afghans’ health. Therefore, U.S. and NATO allies are responsible and accountable for all the past 20 years’ misery of our tormented people, particularly our ill-fated women.
Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to be among you all today in this tribunal. And I hope Julian Assange will be free soon. Thank you.
SREĆKO HORVAT: So, from Afghanistan, we are back to Church House, the heart of Westminster. And I’m really glad that I can present the next member of the Belmarsh Tribunal, who is a member of U.K. Parliament, Jeremy Corbyn.
JEREMY CORBYN: Julian Assange has paid a very, very, very high price for his lifelong determination to expose the truth. Why? Is it because he has some idea that he can make himself famous by exposing the truth? Or is it something much stronger and much more moral than that, the belief that by exposing the truth, you can save lives, you can stop wars, and you can make sure that democracies function properly by holding all public officials, elected or unelected, to public account?
And that’s why the role of Julian Assange in all of this is so important. His information exposed the dishonesty surrounding the claims on Iraq. His information exposed the dishonesty of the continuing reporting of Iraq after 2003 with hidden information about the numbers of people that had died from “friendly fire” in Iraq, but also the dangers to all journalists, to everyone who believes in free speech, of the concept of the embedded journalist, embedded on an aircraft carrier, sent into a barracks or whatever else, to produce reports that are to the liking of the military.
So, those of us who want to live in a peaceful world and do not believe that a repeat of Iraq will do anything other than bring about even worse consequences than the Iraq War did are here because we want to support Julian Assange in the bravery that he’s shown and the price that he’s already paid for that bravery of ensuring that the whole world knows the truth about it.
SREĆKO HORVAT: Our next speaker is the former finance minister of Greece, currently a member of the Greek Parliament and co-founder of the movement DiEM25, Yanis Varoufakis.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: A young man in Australia, a long, long time ago, well before we ever knew about WikiLeaks, had an idea: the idea of using Big Brother’s technology to create a large digital kind of mirror to turn to the face of Big Brother so as to enable us to be able to watch him watching us — a bit like turning the mirror to the face of the Medusa. WikiLeaks is based on that idea.
I remember spending a very long night with Julian in the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge, when he called upon me to help him decipher and transcribe a conversation between officials of the International Monetary Fund. Having spent, in the previous year, a very long time negotiating with them, listening to them on that tape that Julian had procured, through WikiLeaks, through this blind, digital post box, was such a splendid experience. It was so liberating, because I could suddenly hear with my own ears the very same officials effectively agreeing with everything that the good people of Greece were saying, that we were saying, that I had been saying to them.
Now, of course, WikiLeaks has done far more important work than simply revealing that the International Monetary Fund knew that they were committing crimes against the Greek people and other peoples, in Latin America and so on, while perpetrating them. WikiLeaks and Julian, as we know, have been persecuted for revealing to the world, especially to liberals, Democrats, Tories, social democrats — revealing to them the crimes against humanity perpetrated by our own elected leaders, in our name, behind our backs. This is why they are now killing Julian Assange.
So, our message as the Belmarsh Tribunal must not simply be one of support for Julian or a call to have him released. No, we are a tribunal. We are trying the criminals that are killing Julian, as we speak, for crimes against humanity, not just for the crime of slowly murdering Julian Assange. You are criminals, and we are going to pursue you to the end of the Earth and back for the crimes you are committing all over the world against humanity while also murdering slowly Julian Assange and other whistleblowers who are revealing your crimes.
SREĆKO HORVAT: The next one who will testify is a Pulitzer-winning journalist, someone who spent more than two decades at The Guardian. This is Ewen MacAskill. And I’m really glad that you joined the Belmarsh Tribunal.
EWEN MacASKILL: Another whistleblower that I owe much to is Edward Snowden. I went to Hong Kong in 2013 with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras and spent over a week holed up with Snowden in our hotel room in Hong Kong.
Whistleblowers are essential to good journalism. They allow reporters to get behind the walls of secrecy, the walls of secrecy built up by officials and press officers. The whistleblowers reveal abuses and wrongdoing within governments, companies, the military, intelligence agencies. These whistleblowers should be rewarded for their courage; instead, too often they end up facing prosecution or jail.
There’s been a war being waged against journalism and free speech that’s been going on since at least 9/11. It’s not a general war. It’s specific to national security and the intelligence agencies. The intelligence agencies are waging it to try and dissuade future leakers within the agencies, and try and dissuade the journalists covering the national security beat. And this is what Assange has been caught up in.
What Assange has been accused of is fundamentally no different from the normal interaction between whistleblowers and journalists on the national security beat. There’s no fundamental difference between what Julian Assange was doing and what I was doing. And when I was in Hong Kong with Snowden, I spent a week with him discussing the ins and outs of his work at the National Security Agency. I spent a week going through tens of thousands of secret documents. And he passed me a memory stick with tens of thousands of secret documents on it. I mean, how is that fundamentally different from the relationship between the whistleblower Chelsea Manning and the publisher Julian Assange? …
If Julian is to be prosecuted, then there’s a equally good case for the editor and journalists in The Guardian or New York Times, Der Spiegel, El País, La República and all the other organizations involved in this coverage being prosecuted, too.
Obama, in spite of his liberal background, failed to stand up to the pressure from the intelligence agencies, and he used the draconian 1917 Espionage Act and other laws against whistleblowers and journalists. In fact, Obama was responsible for more prosecutions and action against journalists and whistleblowers than all the other presidents in the U.S. combined.
SREĆKO HORVAT: Our next member of the tribunal is the partner of Julian Assange and member of his defense team, Stella Moris. Thanks a lot for being today with us.
STELLA MORIS: Thank you. We’re meeting five days before Julian’s — before the U.S. appeal at the High Court here in London. And I want to remind everyone that Julian won the case on January 4th, and the Trump administration, two days before leaving office, lodged the appeal. And Julian’s bail application was refused, so he’s been in prison, in Belmarsh prison, for over two-and-a-half years. …
In the last few weeks, the mask has fallen in relation to the case against Julian. It’s fallen because there was an article — well, it’s been progressively falling over the years. There is no case, as others have said. This is just a naked political persecution. But there was an article published by Yahoo News just a few weeks ago, a 7,500-word investigation with over 30 sources, named and unnamed, high-level sources from current and past U.S. administrations, from the National Security Council, from the CIA, and that story revealed that the extrajudicial assassination of Julian in London was discussed at the highest levels of the U.S. government, that the seventh floor of the CIA in Langley, which is the director’s office, requested sketches and options for how to kill Julian inside the Embassy of Ecuador. They talked about kidnapping him, too, about rendition, rendition, extraordinary rendition, which is what the CIA developed to kidnap people and take them across jurisdictions to disappear them and then put them in a black site somewhere. And the embassy was essentially a black site towards the end. I felt that anything could happen there.
Julian’s lawyers were targeted by name, not just incidentally spied on. There are emails telling the security company to target Gareth Pierce, to target Aitor Martínez, to target Julian’s legal team, and their documents were stolen. And Baltasar Garzón’s office was broken into, just as the CIA was planning to murder Julian. And our 6-month-old baby’s nappy was instructed to be stolen so that they could use that, analyze the DNA to check whether Julian was the father.
This is flagrant criminality. We’re dealing with criminals who have instrumentalized the law, instrumentalized the extradition arrangements with this country and their good relationships with this country to politically persecute an innocent man, a journalist for doing his job.
SREĆKO HORVAT: Thank you so much. And now the moment has come to greet a great guest, a member of the tribunal who is joining us live from Moscow. This is Edward Snowden. I am sure we don’t need more introduction who he is. I think everyone knows who he is. And I’m really thankful, Ed, for joining us today and raising your voice at the Belmarsh Tribunal.
EDWARD SNOWDEN: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be with you. It’s difficult to be here. I struggle to understand how we can be here, after so many years there has been. There have been so many stories told. There’s been so much criticism. There has been so much deception. And where has it brought us? Has this been constructive? Is this a victory for us, for the state, for humanity, for our rights?
When I came forward in 2013, I said the reason that I came forward was that we have a right to know that which is done to us and that which is done in our name by our governments. That was already under threat. And when you look at the world since, it seems that that trend is accelerating. Do we still have that right? Do we have any rights if we don’t defend them? Well, today we see someone who has stood up to defend that right, who has aggressively championed that right, at an extreme cost. And it’s time for us to defend his rights.
What we are witnessing is a murder, that passes without comment. And I want to say that it is difficult for me to comprehend the spectacle of the press of a nation, the “developed world,” aiding and abetting, with full knowledge, a crime not only against this man, but against our public interest. However, at this moment that we are, we all see this. We all feel it. It’s no less familiar than the shoes on my feet.
Everywhere we look, from Afghanistan to economics, from pandemic to pervasive surveillance, the obvious has been made unspeakable. And it has become unspeakable because the truth of our circumstances could be taken as evidence in the defense of the actions of the out of favor. And in the eyes of the American state, few represent this class, a greater object of hatred, than the person of Julian Assange. He has been charged as a political criminal — something that I understand quite well, but he has been charged as the purest sort of political criminal, for having committed the transgression of choosing the wrong side.
The charges, which are — they are absolutely an unadorned legal fiction. We are told to believe that the state has these powers over what can be said and what can’t be said, the things that can and cannot be said. But what happens if we permit that? Where does that lead? What are we? Can we be said to be free, if even our power to express ourselves, to understand the facts of our world, can be fenced off from us, and we look beyond, through the gauze, through the veil, at what could be the facts of the world, but we’re not permitted to acquire them?
Julian Assange did not accept that. And the charges against him reduce to an allegation to commit the crime of journalism in the first degree, which is to say, when we look at it applied elsewhere, the same sort of publication of classified material that we see in The New York Times or The Washington Post, aggravated by a conspiracy to accomplish the same, which is simply uncovering an uncomfortable truth. But something distinguishes Julian Assange from the greatest newspapers of our day, and that is his independence. Julian Assange is not a person who will be told no lightly.
I remember, in the case of 2013, when I came forward and revealed evidence of mass surveillance, which the government of my country had constructed the apparatus of mass surveillance, an entire scheme that spanned the globe, with the participation of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and, of course, the United Kingdom. And when the newspapers of all of these countries began publishing these things, one of the papers who held the archived material originally included The Guardian, who was headquartered in the United Kingdom, still is. And I remember reading a story — of course, I wasn’t there for it personally; I’m getting this secondhand — who knows what we can rely on, the state of journalism as it is today? But they were approached by the British state, who said, “OK, OK, you’ve had your fun. You’ve done enough. Now it’s time to stop.” And they had to send their archival material away to the United States, to a partner publication, because they no longer believed that they were safe to continue publishing. And they were right. Agents in the British state went to The Guardian. They destroyed their laptop computers. They’ve got it all on film, the putting angle grinders to computer chips, trying to erase any trace that these stories had been written from within the confines of the newsroom.
Now, Julian was not deterred by that, and he never would be. When you perform the level of surveillance against a person that has clearly been performed, and is being performed even today, certainly in prison, against Julian Assange, you understand at least something about their character. You understand what the breaking point is. You know what it will take to make them bend. And he didn’t bend. He will break before he does. He has consistently and continuously dared to speak the unspeakable, in the face of opposition, in the face of power. And that is a remarkable and rare thing. That is the reason that Julian Assange sits in prison today.
If you love the truth, as I think everyone here does — you wouldn’t be listening to this, you wouldn’t be watching this, you wouldn’t be participating in this, you wouldn’t care about this, unless something in you told you that something important was happening here. And if you do care, as I think you do, you are a criminal of the same category as Julian Assange. In the eyes of the state, what differentiates you, what divides you from him, that is only the degree. We share the same guilt. Each of us share in the crime. And we are unindicted co-conspirators in his quest to raise a lantern in the halls of power.
AMY GOODMAN: NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, speaking Friday from Moscow at the Belmarsh Tribunal in London, named for the Belmarsh maximum security prison where Julian Assange is being held, the tribunal organized by Progressive International. We’ll link to the full event at democracynow.org. An extradition hearing for Julian Assange will be held on Wednesday. Special thanks to Novara Media.