John Pilger: Julian Assange is Cleared of Rape Allegations, but Far From Free
Filmmaker and journalist John Pilger says Swedish authorities should be ’embarrassed’ for pursuing what he called trumped up accusations against Assange and also how journalists are increasingly targeted as enemies of the state.
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
Sweden’s Chief Prosecutor announced on Friday that she is dropping the rape investigation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. This is an important turn of events for Assange, who has spent much of the past five years holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London. He was granted political asylum in Ecuador but was prevented from leaving the embassy because of an outstanding arrest warrant and extradition request from Sweden. Here’s the announcement from Sweden’s Chief Prosecutor, Marianne Ny, explaining why the case is no longer being pursued.
MARIANNE NY: [Translated] It is correct that the decision to close the preliminary investigation was not because we could not do a complete evaluation and a final evaluation of the evidence in the case, but forced to close because it is not possible to carry on the investigation further from this point.
KIM BROWN: So even though Sweden is no longer seeking Assange’s arrest, London police announced that their arrest warrant, based on a 2012 bail violation, remains in force. Also, recently US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the Justice Department is looking into prosecuting WikiLeaks and Assange related to WikiLeaks’ release of classified government information. In other words, Assange still cannot leave the embassy building in London without risking arrest and extradition to the United States.
Joining us to talk about the recent developments in the Julian Assange case, we’re joined today with John Pilger. John is a world-renowned documentary filmmaker and investigative journalist who has been following the Assange case very closely. John, we appreciate you joining us today.
JOHN PILGER: You’re welcome.
KIM BROWN: Please explain to us why Sweden is dropping the investigation against Julian Assange, because last November Swedish prosecutors finally interviewed him at the embassy, and Sweden’s Chief Prosecutor says that she still believes Assange is guilty of having raped two women over seven years. So why drop the case then?
JOHN PILGER: Well, she would say that, wouldn’t she? The case is being dropped because it’s demonstrably a farce and always has been. Marianne Ny, the prosecutor, has embarrassed the Swedish judiciary. She’s embarrassed the Swedish government. I would suggest she’s probably embarrassed many people in the Swedish public with her obsession, and a previous prosecutor has described it as an obsession, with Julian Assange. It’s not simply that, of course. There are great political aspects to this that are very sinister. But there never was a case against Assange. The Chief Prosecutor of Stockholm, Eva Finné, when Assange was arrested, said: “There is no case to answer here, no crime was committed,” and she dismissed it. Marianne Ny picked it up only after a local politician, Claes Borgström, a very ambitious and highly contentious character, encouraged her to do so.
Ny’s distinction has been to withhold evidence. She refused to allow the lawyers of Assange to include in their case hundreds of SMS messages which the two women in question had sent. These SMS messages made very clear how the police had manipulated them. One of the women refers to being railroaded by the police, that she’d never wanted it to end up in a police situation, that she was shocked by it, and so on and so forth. There are many others. I’ve seen these SMS messages. They make the whole case very clear, and that is it’s a farce. The women themselves early on said they hadn’t been raped, and Borgström, the politician I was referring to who then became their lawyer, said, “Ah, well they would say that, wouldn’t they? But they’re not lawyers.”
Here we are, what, seven years of this. The last time you mentioned when Marianne Ny sent a couple of her deputies to London in the embassy, that became almost a comedy, because some of the evidence, because they’re in a Spanish-speaking embassy, they had to give some of the evidence in Spanish. The presumption of innocence was taken away. Assange was being smeared all these years. It’s just one of those epic miscarriages of justice.
KIM BROWN: Well, John, as we know that Julian Assange is still not free to leave because of an outstanding British warrant arrest related to a bail violation from some years ago, so tell us what that is all about. Why isn’t that arrest related to Sweden’s prosecution of Assange?
JOHN PILGER: London’s Metropolitan Police have been surrounding the embassy in some numbers until recently. They want their man. He did break his bail. There’s no question about that. That is not a very serious crime. I think there’s up to a year, probably a few months in prison at most, or a fine. The problem with that is that, once Julian Assange is in any kind of custody, first of all, he was very fearful, and rightly so, of being in custody in Sweden, but custody in London would mean that the US then would have an opportunity to prepare an extradition application to the British courts. That’s really what this is all about, is it’s about Assange ending up in the kind of hellhole that Chelsea Manning has just been able to escape from.
KIM BROWN: During his-
JOHN PILGER: What the British police are doing at- Excuse me. Well, they would say that’s their job, but there’s also a political dimension to this. It’s really now down to the British government to negotiate Assange’s safe passage out of the embassy to a third country.
KIM BROWN: Well, you raise a very interesting point and a question that many are asking, because during his presidential campaign Donald Trump said that he, quote, “loved WikiLeaks,” but his appointees, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, have recently said that they want to prosecute Assange and Wikileaks. Now, we know the Obama Administration explored this possibility but later dropped the case because they concluded that what WikiLeaks did was not so unlike what major news outlets do when they published secret government information. So what do you expect to happen to Assange now, especially as it relates to the United States getting involved?
JOHN PILGER: Well, having Donald Trump publicly say that he loves you I would’ve thought has all kinds of difficulties to it. Yes. I’m not sure that both of those said that they wanted to actually prosecute Assange, but that’s what it adds up to. The CIA Director’s extraordinary statement, his first in public, was in the wake of WikiLeaks releasing a number of very important leaked CIA files. What will happen? I’m not a futurist. I don’t know. I’ve been always surprised by the twists and turns of this. This is very good news for Assange, there’s no doubt, because it takes away the whole notion that he could go to Assange and then be extradited on, and puts it back really with the British government.
I would’ve thought at the moment there’s a lot of, as we say, strategizing going on in London, with people trying to work out with the Americans whether they would accept Assange going to another country. It’s difficult even for the United States, because they also haven’t prosecuted Assange. There’s been a lot of rumors, and there is undoubtedly a huge prosecution file, both FBI, CIA, and others. There’s no question about that. Department of Justice has something there, but it hasn’t said straight out, “This is what we have, we want to prosecute him.”
One good reasons, as you point out, what Assange did and what WikiLeaks has done is in fact no different whatsoever in principle from what The New York Times does, or The Los Angeles Times or The Baltimore Sun or whatever. Assange is the Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks. He’s in the same boat constitutionally as the editor of The New York Times. They’ll try and get him with perhaps some Espionage Act from the First World War, but this is difficult.
It’s not a foregone conclusion. It’s a very fundamental struggle, this. It throws up fundamental issues here about freedom of press, real journalism, truth, the unilateral power of great power, and so on and so forth.
KIM BROWN: John, obviously you are a renowned journalist in your own right, and you spoke with Julian Assange shortly before the US presidential election late last year. How do you see his physical and mental state after being confined to a fairly small area in the Ecuadorian embassy for five years now? Because Ecuador has continued to offer Julian Assange political asylum, so in theory he should be able to go there. First, let’s start with the first part of the question. How is Julian Assange holding up after being stationary and somewhat imprisoned in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for these many years?
JOHN PILGER: Well, Julian retains a very active, dark sense of humor, and when he’s asked that question, he says, “Sure beats a supermax.” Yes, but, putting that aside, it’s very confining. There’s no sunlight. He’s been ill from time to time but has been refused safe passage to a hospital, to diagnostic facilities. It’s been a very difficult time for him.
Yes, he should be able to go to Ecuador. Ecuador has made him a political refugee. But look what happened to the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, when he was flying from Moscow back to La Paz a few years ago. His plane was forced down, undoubtedly with the orders of the US to do that, expressing the ruthlessness with which the US operates, especially against its perceived enemies. In that case, they thought that Edward Snowden was on the plane. He wasn’t. There are dangers ahead. Whether or not Latin America is a safe place for Julian Assange to go to, I don’t know.
What we have now in London, right in the heart of London, next door to Harrods where all tourists are, is what governments really hate, and that’s a vacuum. It’s something that’s unresolved. Taking the Swedish element out of the equation, it’s now crying out for resolution. So let’s see.
KIM BROWN: Expand upon that, if you could, John, because what needs to happen for this case to be resolved? It is obvious that Julian Assange is an enemy, a perceived enemy of the US government.
JOHN PILGER: You see, what WikiLeaks has done, founded by Assange, is real journalism. Your station is rightly called Real News. It’s real journalism. I mean that very sincerely, because in my career real journalism has been getting behind the façade of power and telling people what power really gets up to in secret, how it lies to us in secret, what it does, how it starts wars, and so on. Wikileaks has done all that, but it’s done it directly. It’s brought people from within the system to tell us directly. That is intolerable, but it’s real journalism.
It’s the kind of journalism, I have to say, that shames most journalism, at least now most so-called mainstream journalism that I see. But it’s that information that makes Julian Assange an enemy, if not enemy number one, makes Edward Snowden enemy number one. It makes any truth-teller journalist, agent of the people rather than agent of power, an enemy. Very interesting.
KIM BROWN: We’ve been discussing Julian Assange. The seven-year-long investigation into rape allegations has been concluded. Swedish prosecutors announced last Friday that they will no longer be pursuing this rape allegation investigation against Julian Assange. However, he is still not free to go after British authorities say that they have an arrest warrant for him in regards to a bail violation and US authorities have expressed an interest in prosecuting him, so he will remain in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the time being.
We’ve been speaking today with John Pilger. John is a world-renowned filmmaker, documentarian, also investigative journalist. John, we certainly appreciate you joining us and give us your very valuable perspective on the Assange developments. Thank you so much.
JOHN PILGER: Thank you. You’re welcome.
KIM BROWN: And thank you for watching and supporting The Real News Network.