20June2019

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‘Mirthless Laugh’ - The Persecution And Torture Of Julian Assange

For anyone persuaded by the state-corporate campaign of sneers and smears depicting Julian Assange as a shit-smearing narcissist and rapist, the comments made by Nils Melzer, the UN's special rapporteur on torture, must be deeply shocking. The BBC headline:

'Julian Assange subjected to psychological torture, UN expert says'

Melzer is Professor of International Law at the University of Glasgow. He also holds the Human Rights Chair at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in Switzerland, where he has been teaching since 2009, including as the Swiss Chair of International Humanitarian Law (2011–2013). Melzer previously worked for 12 years with the International Committee of the Red Cross as Deputy Head of Delegation and Legal Adviser in various zones of conflict and violence. He commented:

'I've worked in many areas of war in my life, in situations of violence, and I've talked to victims of persecution around the world and I've seen very serious atrocities.

'But [what] I have never seen is that a single person has been deliberately isolated and, I would say, persecuted - not prosecuted, but persecuted - by several democratic states in a concerted effort to eventually break his will.'

Melzer added that, because of his treatment, Assange's health was at serious risk:

'We could see that Assange showed all the symptoms that are typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture.'

Assange, he said, needs access to a psychiatrist who is 'not part of the prison service - someone he can fully trust' - to avoid his health deteriorating further.

In an interview with The Canary, Melzer described exactly how and by whom Assange has been 'persecuted':

'The evidence made available to me strongly suggests that the primary responsibility for the sustained and concerted abuse inflicted on Mr Assange falls on the governments of the United Kingdom, Sweden, the United States and, more recently, also Ecuador...

'The consistent and repeated failure of all involved states to protect Mr Assange's fundamental right to fair judicial proceedings and due process makes the hypothesis of mere coincidence extremely unrealistic and gives a strong impression of bias and arbitrary manipulation. This starts with the secretive grand jury indictment in the United States, continues with the abusive manner in which Swedish prosecutors disseminated, re-cycled and perpetuated their "preliminary investigation" into alleged sexual offences, exacerbates with the termination by Ecuador of Mr Assange's asylum status and citizenship without any form of due process, and culminates in overt bias against Mr Assange being shown by British judges since his arrest.

'The only realistic explanation for this sustained systemic failure of the judiciary is that the United States, and probably also the other involved states, are trying to make an example of Mr Assange before the eyes of the world, not as much as a punishment for whatever real or perceived harm he is alleged to have caused, but as a measure of deterrence for others who might be tempted to imitate Wikileaks and Mr Assange in the future. In these circumstances, Mr Assange has absolutely no chance to get a fair judicial proceeding in any of these jurisdictions.'

With admirable candour, Melzer explained to Democracy Now! how he had himself been influenced by the smear campaign:

'[I] had been affected by the prejudice that I had absorbed through... public... narratives spread in the media over the years. And only when I scratched the surface a little bit, I saw how little foundation there was to back this up and how much fabrication and manipulation there is in this case.'

He made the same point on Twitter:

'For the record: I never said I considered #JulianAssange "a bad actor" but that, initially, I had been affected by the same misguided smear campaign as everybody else, and only saw the real facts once I investigated in detail'

This comment instantly recalled the 'mainstream' commentators who have seemed so certain in their damning view of Assange. We thought, for example, of Guardian commentator Suzanne Moore, who said of Assange on Twitter in 2012:

'He really is the most massive turd.'

Tragicomically, Moore then commented to a colleague:

'I never met him. Did you?'

We tweeted Melzer's thoughtful tweet to Moore and two other leading lights of the Guardian's smear campaign below this message:

'If one tweet might give Guardianistas like @MarinaHyde @HadleyFreeman and @suzanne_moore pause for thought, perhaps it's this one from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.'

Marina Hyde responded:

'What a privilege for us ladies to be lectured on our incorrect response to a rape accusation by the men who have famously only read one book (Manufacturing Consent, and they didn't even understand aspects of that)'

Hyde was bluffing about her supposed insight into our misreading of 'Manufacturing Consent'. The late Edward Herman, the book's lead author, told us repeatedly, 'Media Lens is doing an outstanding job', often emailed us in support and regularly sent donations. The book's co-author, Noam Chomsky, has said: 'Am really impressed with what you are doing' (Chomsky, email to Media Lens, September 14, 2005) and commented on our latest book, 'Propaganda Blitz' (Pluto Press, 2018): 'A great book. I've been recommending it.' In response to earlier dismissive remarks on Twitter in 2015, former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald commented to us, copying to Hyde:

'Mocking you as conspiracists is how UK journalists demonstrate their in-group coolness to one another: adolescent herd behavior' (Greenwald, Twitter, 25 August 2015)

Hyde was similarly bluffing in accusing us of lecturing (in effect, 'mansplaining') – we were simply highlighting credible, new expert testimony. And she was also bluffing in making an issue of our gender: obviously, Melzer's comments stand or fall on their own merits, regardless of the gender of people recommending them. If Hyde imagines the opinion of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture is skewed by sexist bias, then she should feel free to supply the evidence.

Sometimes, of course, gender does matter, and it is why we selected just these three Guardian commentators for inclusion in our tweet. As anyone who has been following the smear campaign knows, female journalists have been used by the Guardian and other media to lead attacks on a male political dissident facing accusations of rape; their gender helping to empower and protect the smears. Hyde's tweet provided an excellent example - male critics can be instantly dismissed as 'lecturing' 'mansplainers', 'misogynists' and 'rape apologists'. As Chomsky has pointed out, there is very little one can do to defend against these personal attacks:

'There's no way to respond. Slinging mud always works.'

 

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