Patrick Cockburn joins the show for an update on Julian Assange, who continues to languish in jail as he awaits the results of his possible extradition from Britain to the U.S. on charges under the Espionage Act. Scott and Cockburn revisit the important role Assange has played in exposing government malfeasance over the last decade, including, notably, by enabling the heroic leaks by Chelsea Manning, which provided the source material for tens of thousands of news stories that the public needed to hear. Many in the mainstream media have been quick to vilify Assange, even though the supposed crimes he is in trouble for could be equally applied to them.
Discussed on the show:
- War in the Age of Trump
- “Julian Assange in Limbo” (London Review of Books)
- “Iraq War Logs” (WikiLeaks)
- “Afghan War Diary” (WikiLeaks)
- “State Department Cables” (WikiLeaks)
- Espionage Act of 1917
- Collateral Murder
- “A murderous system is being created before our very eyes” (Republik)
This episode of the Scott Horton Show is sponsored by: NoDev NoOps NoIT, by Hussein Badakhchani; The War State, by Mike Swanson; WallStreetWindow.com; Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom; ExpandDesigns.com/Scott; Listen and Think Audio; TheBumperSticker.com; and LibertyStickers.com.
The following is an automatically generated transcript.
All right, y’all welcome it’s Scott Horton Show. I am the director of the Libertarian Institute editorial director of antiwar.com, author of the book Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan. And I’ve recorded more than 5000 interviews going back to 2003, all of which are available at ScottHorton.org. You can also sign up to the podcast feed. The full archive is also available at youtube.com/ScottHortonShow. All right, you guys on the line. I’ve got the great Patrick Cockburn. He is the author of chaos and caliphate. And he’s got a brand new book coming out can’t wait for this war in the age of Trump, the defeat of ISIS, the fall of the Kurds in the conflict with Iran. All right, and here he is it The London Review of Books, Julian Assange in limbo. Welcome back to the show. Patrick. How are you, sir?
Patrick Cockburn 1:08
I’m great. Thank you.
Scott Horton 1:10
Great to have you back on the show here and great to see you sticking up for Julian Assange again, you know, I think, Well, a lot of his most important work really came out took place a decade ago. And there are a lot of people who may not really be familiar with the saga of Julian Assange, maybe they only know him as being accused of rigging the election for Trump or this kind of thing. But he is in a lot of trouble. And according to your article, he should not be so I was, you know, hoping, or Well, I was looking forward to this opportunity give you a chance to explain to the people who is Julian Assange. Why is Wikileaks so important and why is his prosecution so important, sir.
Patrick Cockburn 1:59
I think You know from us to start with trying to sum it up in a few phrases is that what Julian Assange and WikiLeaks did in 2010 was really just that a weaponized freedom of expression. They had I’ll go into this a little more detail in a moment. But they were given or got access to a great trove of American documents. the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan War Logs, hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables. And they gave them to the press. They were in the in the New York Times and The Guardian, the Mondale pace, you name it. And this was very revealing about American, the American government and the way it operated. I should say this came from a thing well, you know, the way it was set At the time, but names of us agents were revealed by this. Now the Pentagon afterwards spent three years and 128 counter intelligence officers trying to find somebody who was named and all the oceans of facts revealed by WikiLeaks who’d subsequently been killed by Al Qaeda and Taliban or somebody. They couldn’t find a single person. And they admitted this at the sentencing hearings of chelsea manning the but the private who’d given this information to WikiLeaks in 2013. You know, so that accusation should have sort of disappeared hasn’t disappeared, but it’s still there as one of the reasons the main reason I tried to get him extradited from the UK but you know, that should have been that accusation should have been buried dead and buried a long time. I think that was really important that this really showed you the inside of the government. And governments really don’t like that. It affects their party legitimacy. It affects their credibility. That’s why they spent 10 years pursuing a source. And, you know, people talk about Daniel Ellsberg and make films about him as the patron saint of whistleblower whistleblowing. He gave the pentagon papers to the media in 1971. You know, and is locked up as almost a saint but by many people, but Julian Assange is currently in Belmarsh prison. In a maximum security prison in Britain. The party can’t even get a radio sent to him 23 and a half hours a day in his cell. You know, this is very bad stuff. And they’re seeking to extradite him to the US under the explanation act of 1917. passed at the height of War fever in the First World War. And he could spend 175 years in prison because of this. So I think this is the most important sort of case about freedom of the press that I’ve seen in my lifetime as a journalist. And I’ve also think it’s one of the, the most ill reported, you know, rumors are reported as fact, people think that source was accused, you know, was charged by the Swedes with with rape, you know, that, you know, once you have a rape suspect attached to somebody’s name, they become a sort of pariah. The newspapers, including all the enormous newspapers, powerful newspapers, who which originally published soldiers and WikiLeaks revelations, or distance themselves from him. I think because they got nervous, you know, they didn’t I saw the government’s were coming after him. And they didn’t want to be there. They did sight sort of minor things they didn’t get on with him. They didn’t like his character or something. But these are really trivial excuses that nobody should pay much attention to. But I think what they should pay attention to, is that this is a tremendous challenge for freedom of the press, freedom of expression. And because of this sort of multiple charges that have been hurled at a soldier, that hasn’t been enough resistance or discussion to what the government is seeking to do in this case.
Scott Horton 6:36
Alright, so, you know, a lot of important points there. But on that last one, I think is really the most important is the possibility of the precedent set if he is extradited to the US and convicted under the Espionage Act. You know, it’s commonly said that we don’t have an Official Secrets Act here in America. Like you guys do over in the UK. But that’s not really true we do to it is the Espionage Act. And it’s very broad. And as written, it would include anyone who disseminates classified information, not just a source in the government, who links it to a reporter, but a reporter and his editor too. And yet, they just don’t have a history of prosecuting that we have a tradition of not going after journalists for that, but they could. And of course, it wouldn’t apply to David Sanger and Michael Gordon and all of their favorite pets. It would apply to good reporters doing important work and exposing real scandals. And you could see not just Assange, but a lot of other great reporters start going to federal prison after him if he is convicted of this.
Patrick Cockburn 7:53
Yeah, and then intimidate a lot of people. I mean, what’s important about this and is that You know, the US, you know, lots of other people have been down this road. You know, Turkey used to have a wonderful Free Press. Loads of, you know, newspapers and magazines and television and radio stations. It doesn’t anymore. You know, the government has criminalized dissent. It has put people in jail, who produced reports on things the Turkish government had done, which are completely true and refutable. But the Turkish Government just didn’t like this stuff appearing and accuse them of terrorism and put them in jail for the same thing or didn’t even charge them a toll just put them in jail. You know, worse than the, the tide against free freedom of the press is happening all over the world. But if it’s sort of if this happens in the US, this gives an extra an extra charge to two states that want to do that, you know, Philippines, the main television station there has been taken off the air by the by the government there, the India, freedom of the press increasingly under attack that’s happening all over. But this is the most, the most important place it’s happening is the US was freedom of expression. The press was greatest there. And this is a signal to all these other sort of pop up dictatorships all over the world. Yep.
Scott Horton 9:35
And ain’t that the truth to that there really are very few other societies in the world that have such an iron law as our First Amendment with as much protections as we’ve had, and Lord knows without it, our government would run roughshod over our right of, you know, free speech and freedom of the press and everything to the nth degree if they could, and that’s, you know, the wall in their way and this Looks like a great loophole through that wall. And as you said, and this is the most infuriating part of it, right, is the way that Julian Assange has been forsaken by the entire rest of the media, even though their skin is on the line to, they’re willing to say, you know, go ahead, feed him to the lions and leave me alone, which is never gonna work. And they cry all day, the way Trump insults them and call some fake news and D legitimizes them. But then when it comes to a real concrete threat to their right to continue doing their job, they’re all a wall.
Patrick Cockburn 10:35
Yeah, I think that that’s, you know, it’s a real decline. From what we saw, at the time of Daniel Ellsberg and the the Pentagon Papers, you know, then a lot of papers went in fighting for their Juno famously, probably their degree of attachment to freedom of the press, and finally, government’s grip was greater in the movies, and it really was, you know, but it was there in a way that it’s not now. And, you know, it’s not that difficult in most countries to eventually intimidate the press or drive dissent to the margins. You know. You know, there are some free papers in Russia, you know, but the main, the great mass of the media is controlled by the state or allies of this state. You know, that that’s, that’s the pattern all over. So the fact that they’ve managed to extradite might be able to extract somebody from the UK shows that this new level of repression in the US can be used outside the country as well as inside.
Scott Horton 11:51
And by the way, does it is it pretty much accepted that he will be extradited to the US
Patrick Cockburn 12:00
No, no, I don’t think that’s true. You know, but it’s sort of their various legal things they have to go through, you know, and then there will be appeals. It’s not automatic, you know, but you have a government, you know, which is in power here, which is Boris Johnson and the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, you know, these these, these are the rather muted UK equivalents of Donald Trump. So, they’re likely to be sympathetic to us or on the other hand, you know, let’s know. So, you know, there’s there are still courts, there’s still laws here. This doesn’t all happen automatically.
Scott Horton 12:43
It seems like there’s more law there than there is here. When Bill Hodge been last night that America fought the Libya war for once he won that war, he sued the EMI six for torture, he didn’t even bother suing the CIA. It would have got thrown right out of court. But the Brits actually settled with him. Because somewhere there was a guy with a powder when he talked.
Patrick Cockburn 13:12
He told me on Sunday that after he got back to Libya, and he told me he was going to sue the suit British intelligence, I thought I thought, you know, that sort of thing that people say when they’re angry, I was actually going to do it. So middle of it was sort of, but it’s but you know, the whole case the whole, extraordinary, reckless pursuit of souls, you know, at a number of levels. Immediately after the revelations were produced about Assange. He was accused of betraying American informants and agents who’s who would Then the murder unit. So I mentioned earlier, you know, 120 counter intelligence officers going through all these WikiLeaks documents trying to find somebody, and you would have thought somebody would have been killed by accident, you know, be or just happenstance, you know, that somewhere in Afghanistan, some guy would have been hit by a Taliban rocket. And you could have said, Well, you know, he was mentioned his name was mentioned by WikiLeaks, they couldn’t find a single one, you know, so that accusation should be dead and buried longer, but many people still believe it. Yeah, yeah, they did that again.
Scott Horton 14:33
This court martial.
Patrick Cockburn 14:36
Yeah, the more general thing? Sure, yeah. And then you have the more general thing of sayings of espionage letting classified secrets but you know, I was in Cabo when this when these were first released, and just by chance I was talking to an author record, talk with a
You said we don’t want to Cody on top of these and I can’t remember exactly the circumstances, but these must have been released. And I gave it to them then gave him the code number and he said, Oh, well that’s not really secret. You know, this came from a particular network, which was used by original videos by the Pentagon but after 911 within the the US government bureaucracy and particularly the security society or military side of it, you know, they discovered that there were pockets of information that one lot had that others would have been deeply interested but they didn’t know it was there so they set out for expanded this database called SEPA net that really about half a million people could get access to they would have had to get a password but you know, within the but people who had the right security ratings could have reached this but of course, you know, is this I was talking to her in Kabul said, you know, the US government is not so dumb, but its deepest secrets or things it really doesn’t want to know, in a system which half a million people can get into but you know, Manning was that was a private in the army, he was able to access this, you know, the people all over the place. So it actually it’s not whether deep secrets or even the sort of seek real Secrets of the US. Government sort of things are talking about the names of agents and so forth.
Scott Horton 16:25
Yeah, that’s a starting point that this is stuff that they had clearly taken a calculated risk would get exposed in order to give more people access to it. I was just reminded yesterday that john bolton said that Manning should have been put to death for this leak, even though as you’re sent, this is just secret and confidential level stuff. In fact, it was the perfect leak, right? Because it wasn’t sources and methods and highest level stuff, while at the same time it was the source for 10,000 important news stories about Iraq and Afghanistan and then also with the State Department cables. Stories. So, going back to the 70s,
Patrick Cockburn 17:04
you know, with the most, you know, the most famous part of this was this extraordinary and chilling film taken by the gun camera of a US Apache helicopter in Baghdad in July 2007. And I remember the incident where I was I was in Baghdad, that a 12 civilian 12 people on the ground had been machine gunned and killed by a US helicopter. in Baghdad, the US said they were all terrorists. Two of the people are writers photographers. And so we kind of knew it was very unlikely this was true, we couldn’t quite prove it. And they went on. They went on sort of saying this, and it was known that there was a video of what had happened and The Freedom of Information Act requests, but it was never released until Manning and WikiLeaks released it. And then it showed that, you know, guys on the ground that a, you know, very unlikely that armed insurgents would have been wandering around in the open with our guns, the US helicopter overhead, but leave that aside, you know, they’d mistaken a camera for a journalist camera for a rocket propelled grenade launcher and so forth. And they’ve been sort of laughing and shouting and shooting, getting these people and then kill the people who do you know, in a van that stopped to rescue some of the wounded and so forth. So it was very horrible. This was shown in 2010 pretty intense embarrassment to the US government. Most of the stuff isn’t quite like that, you know, there are kinds of people who’ve been shot at checkpoints and so forth. An awful lot of it just embarrassed the us you know, that as to what you know, diplomats were saying about Saudi Arabia or and stuff like that.And I think they saw that information just released like that, you know, it means a real loss of power for any state for any government that loses, that no longer controls that information, although it’s not really sort of secret. You know, given the ease with which basically, WikiLeaks was able to take it over, you know, foreign states hostile, foreign or hostile or not, I don’t think would have had too many problems getting into that system, you know, and then the UN the Pentagon would have known that. You know, the third thing which and this is what gave us our pariah status was the accusation of rape. In Sweden, and this was pursued by the Swedish government from the beginning, in very sort of murky circumstances. The two women had gone to the Swedish police and they wanted they had sex with Assange. But they want to have him to, to they wonder if you could be forced to have an HIV test. And almost immediately, the Swedish police so leaked to the press that he was being accused of rape. You know, and once that’s one of those sort of allegations, which means that the person can’t really defend themselves because their reputation is so damaged by the accusation itself, that they don’t really get a hearing. The Swedes kept dropping this they kept on bringing it back. Now in my piece when I do quote, at some length, Nils melt melted the UN, rapporteur on torture who did a long judicial review of the treatment of someone And eventually, last year wrote an 18 page letter to the Swedish government asking for to, you know, to explain what had happened, why they’d maintained, you know, for over a long period asking to interview, the source wanting him to go from UK worried, and the Ecuadorian embassy where he taken refuge back to Sweden, but when he offered to talk to them, you know, on video and other circumstances, didn’t really seem to want to do so they didn’t want us the preliminary investigation, which went on for 10 years, it was dropped three times it was returned three times. The it’s pretty clear the British did not want them to drop it because in this report, the Crown Prosecution Service in UK is quoted as saying that The writing to the sweets to Sweden’s chief prosecutor saying Don’t you dare get cold feet? In other words, don’t you get a drop this? Right? Your efforts? Your pursuit of source. So I think this was very much you know, extraordinary persecution of a very long period.
Scott Horton 22:25
Yeah. And I’m really glad you mentioned that report. It’s by Nils Melzer if people just search that and Assange, as Patrick mentioned, 19 page report, it’s the single best piece of investigation on the issue of those accusations. But to wrap up here real quick, Patrick, I wanted to ask you, because it seems like we’re at a real turning point here and it makes sense that Wikileaks would be the thing that really pushes the issue to a head because it is such a step forward in the evolution of journalism and posting so many Raw documents at once like this in a way that neither your times or mind would ever dream of. Right? And so but now it’s sort of given the government the opportunity here then to overreach in their own way. And maybe it, it threatens a future of sort of a Chinese style censorship regime over communication here in the West. And but it really could go both ways. As you said, even with the extradition in England, it could go both ways. And it could be that a jury or Well, I don’t know about a jury in Virginia, but at least maybe the Supreme Court would throw this out and would not allow it to go through in the US there. There would be chances for the right thing to happen. But I wonder if you have a prediction about the future, either without Wikileaks, very reasons,
Patrick Cockburn 23:52
you’re quite right, Scott. That’s what makes it such an important case. You know, it could go either way. But if it goes against it, So, you know, Justice is a tremendous blow to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. You know, governments don’t much mind freedom of expression, the freedom of just expressing things which don’t affect real power, you know, this, it did affect real power. And that’s why they’ve pursued it so long and I’m still pursuing.
Scott Horton 24:21
All right, well, I gotta tell you, while we were talking, I went ahead and ordered the new book. And so it’s coming out on July the seventh, I’ve got my order in, brand new coming out everybody. It is called war in the age of Trump, the defeat of ISIS, the fall of the Kurds, the conflict with Iran. And thank you so much again, for all your time on the show, and especially for sticking up for Assange and all that he represents your Patrick. Thank you. Aren’t you guys and again, this piece is in the London review of books lrb.co.uk Julian Assange in limbo. The Scott Horton show anti war radio can be heard on kpfk 90.7 FM in LA, APSradio.com antiwar.com ScottHorton.org and libertarianinstitute.org