The Unprecedented and Illegal Campaign to Eliminate Julian Assange

Source: The Intercept

Over the 17 days of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing in London, prosecutors succeeded in proving both crimes and conspiracy. The culprit, however, was not Assange. Instead, the lawbreakers and conspirators turned out to be the British and American governments. Witness after witness detailed illegal measures to violate Assange’s right to a fair trial, destroy his health, assassinate his character, and imprison him in solitary confinement for the rest of his life. Courtroom evidence exposed illegality on an unprecedented scale by America’s and Britain’s intelligence, military, police, and judicial agencies to eliminate Assange. The governments had the edge, like the white man of whom Malcolm X wrote, “He’s a professional gambler; he has all the cards and the odds stacked on his side, and he has always dealt to our people from the bottom of the deck.”

The deck was clearly stacked. Assange’s antagonists were marking the cards as early as February 2008, when the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Center set out, in its words, to “damage or destroy this center of gravity” that was WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks, from the time Assange and his friends created it in 2006, was attracting sources around the world to entrust them, securely and anonymously, with documents exposing state crimes. The audience for the documents was not a foreign intelligence service, but the public. In the governments’ view, the public needed protection from knowledge of what they were doing behind closed doors and in the skies of Afghanistan and Iraq. To plug the leaks, the governments had to stop Assange. The Pentagon, the CIA, the National Security Agency, and the State Department soon followed the Counterintelligence Center’s lead by establishing their own anti-Assange task forces and enlisting the aid of Britain, Sweden, and Ecuador.

What a ride it’s been. The first recorded “black op” against Assange occurred on September 27, 2010, when a suitcase containing three laptops, hard drives, and clothing vanished from the aircraft carrying him from Sweden to Germany. Efforts to retrieve his belongings, which included privileged communications with his legal counsel, elicited vague excuses from the airline that it knew nothing. The fate of the purloined items became public knowledge in 2013 when information from his laptops appeared in prosecution briefs against U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning. In 2011, FBI agents went to Iceland to employ an 18-year-old informant, Sigurdur “Siggi” Thordarson, to spy on WikiLeaks. When Iceland’s authorities discovered the FBI’s illegal activities, it deported the FBI agents. Thodarson, whom the FBI had paid $5,000 and flown around the world, later confessed to stealing money from WikiLeaks and was convicted for sexually abusing underage boys.

Surveillance, constant wherever Assange found himself, intensified when he took political asylum in Ecuador’s London Embassy in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden. He told me on one of my visits to him there that life in the embassy, with cameras and microphones everywhere, was like “The Truman Show.” The intelligence services observed his every movement and heard his every word. They spied on private discussions with his lawyers and his physicians. If a priest had visited the Catholic Assange, they would have violated the sanctity of the confessional.

Meanwhile, the NSA and Britain’s equivalent, GCHQ, tracked people who logged onto the WikiLeaks website. U.S. financial institutions attempted to cripple WikiLeaks financially by denying donors the use of credit cards and PayPal to support the organization. Assange’s legal counsel did not escape scrutiny. His Spanish lawyer, the famed former judge, Baltasar Garzón, who had prosecuted Chile’s Gen. Augusto Pinochet, was followed, and his computer was stolen from his office in late 2017. I had a curious experience in 2019, and I’m just a journalist. Two days after one of my meetings with Assange at the embassy, burglars broke into an office I shared with two designers in London. The only item missing was my computer, the thieves having left my office mates’ computers untouched. It’s impossible to prove who did it, but it’s not impossible to guess.

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