Read John Pilger’s latest piece of polemic about his mate Julian Assange then the comment below by “Phil Howe”.
JP: ‘The British government’s threat to invade the Ecuadorean [sic] embassy in London and seize Julian Assange is of historic significance.’
PH: The British government has never threatened to ‘invade’ the Embassy. What it said was the following: “Under British law we can give them a week’s notice before entering the premises and the embassy will no longer have diplomatic protection”. This is not ‘invading the embassy’, it is an entirely legal and above board process of severing diplomatic relations. The Ecuadorian diplomats would retain their diplomatic immunity and be allowed to leave the country unscathed but their embassy would lose its protected status. Nothing about this is unusual or unprecedented, and has been done hundreds of times before over the few hundred years modern diplomacy has existed. The Ecuadorian government’s claim that Britain has threatened to ‘storm’ the embassy is utterly unfounded and it surprises me that a journalist of your standing accepted at face value these wild and implausible claims and failed to research this further.
‘David Cameron, the former PR man to a television industry huckster and arms salesman to sheikdoms, is well placed to dishonour international conventions that have protected Britons in places of upheaval. Just as Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq led directly to the acts of terrorism in London on 7 July 2005, so Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague have compromised the safety of British representatives across the world.’
This is an ad hominem attack which adds absolutely nothing to your argument. What you say here about Cameron is entirely true but given the UK is not flouting or abusing diplomatic convention, it is entirely irrelevant. If anything, giving credence to blatantly false claims that they are is going to ‘compromise the safety of British representatives across the world’, making this article – by your own definition – irresponsible journalism.
‘Threatening to abuse a law designed to expel murderers from foreign embassies, while defaming an innocent man as an “alleged criminal”, Hague has made a laughing stock of Britain across the world, though this view is mostly suppressed in Britain.’
Assange is an ‘alleged criminal’. He is an ‘alleged rapist’. What arrogance it takes to blithely declare that he is ‘an innocent man’! On what grounds do you make this reckless claim? Has he stood trial and been exonerated? No. Has he presented a shred of evidence in favour of his innocence? No. The only reason you feel comfortable declaring that he is categorically innocent is because you value his word absolutely when weighed against the testimony of the two women who have accused him. This betrays two possible flaws in your character, both highly dangerous. Perhaps you are a misogynist who automatically discounts the testimony of women when weighed against that of men; alternatively perhaps you have developed an attachment to Assange which has reached the level of religious zealotry – I use this phrase deliberately, since only religious zealots claim absolute knowledge in the absence of evidence. Then again there is the third possibility, that both these flaws are in evidence here. I will cease to speculate since to go further would be vulgar.
‘The same brave newspapers and broadcasters that have supported Britain’s part in epic bloody crimes, from the genocide in Indonesia to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, now attack the “human rights record” of Ecuador, whose real crime is to stand up to the bullies in London and Washington.’
The first part of this sentence is shoehorned in apropos absolutely nothing. Stay on topic. As for the second part, it is factually true that Eduador does have a poor human rights record. Freedom House ranks it as only ‘partly free’ and the Ecuadorian government is presently considering extraditing a Belarussian democratic activist who is almost certain to be tortured and executed upon his arrival in his home country. Ecuador’s ‘real crime’ is not to ‘stand up to the bullies in London and Washington’, it is to prevent the nasty bullies from London from extraditing the poor alleged rapist Julian Assange to face trial in the world’s most unimpeachable legal system. As for the ‘bullies in Washington’, they have yet to say anything. They have not demanded the extradition of Assange and in any case it is hard to see what law they would do this under. He is not a US citizen so treason laws do not apply to him. (Oh, and since you mentioned it, Britain never recognised the Indonesian conquest of Timor Leste – you may be confused since Australia did).
‘It is as if the Olympics happy-clappery has been subverted overnight by an illuminating display of colonial thuggery.’
Oh yes, what thuggery! How dare the UK demand Ecuador end their abuse of the asylum system and return a man legitimately accused of rape!
‘Witness the British army officer-cum-BBC reporter Mark Urban “interviewing” a braying Sir Christopher Meyer, Blair’s former apologist in Washington, outside the Ecuadorean embassy, the pair of them erupting with Blimpish indignation…’
‘Braying’. ‘erupting with Blimpish indignation’. Stay classy, Pilger.
‘…that the unclubbable Assange and the uncowed Rafael Correa should expose the western system of rapacious power.’
I’m sorry, but this sentence is so disgusting it is almost beyond belief. In what possible way is the extradition of Assange a demonstration of ‘rapacious power’? Unless of course you believe that criminalising rape is an example of undue government intrusion into citizens’ private lives. Come to think of it, given the tone of the rest of this article, perhaps you do.
‘Similar affront is vivid in the pages of the Guardian, which has counselled Hague to be “patient” and that storming the embassy would be “more trouble than it is worth”.’
For the last time, Britain is not going to ‘storm the embassy’! Hague is considering severing diplomatic relations. This is not even a tiny bit the same thing and conflating the two demonstrates an extraordinary ignorance of international law and diplomatic conventions.
‘Assange was not a political refugee, the Guardian declared, because “neither Sweden nor the UK would in any case deport someone who might face torture or the death penalty”.’
‘The irresponsibility of this statement matches the Guardian’s perfidious role in the whole Assange affair. The paper knows full well that documents released by WikiLeaks indicate that Sweden has consistently submitted to pressure from the United States in matters of civil rights. In December 2001, the Swedish government abruptly revoked the political refugee status of two Egyptians, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed el-Zari, who were handed to a CIA kidnap squad at Stockholm airport and “rendered” to Egypt, where they were tortured. An investigation by the Swedish ombudsman for justice found that the government had “seriously violated” the two men’s human rights.
In a 2009 US embassy cable obtained by Wiki¬Leaks, entitled “WikiLeaks puts neutrality in the Dustbin of History”, the Swedish elite’s vaunted reputation for neutrality is exposed as a sham. Another US cable reveals that “the extent of [Sweden’s military and intelligence] co-operation [with Nato] is not widely known” and unless kept secret “would open the government to domestic criticism”. The Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, played a notorious leading role in George W Bush’s Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and retains close ties to the Republican Party’s extreme right.’
This is undoubtedly true, although it seems highly unlikely that Sweden’s involvement in the United States and NATO is any greater than that of any of NATO’s actual members, such as the United Kingdom. Which is also the US’s closest ally and has an extremely US-friendly extradition treaty. If Assange genuinely feared the long arm of the States, his stupidity in choosing to flee Sweden for the UK is astounding. Either Assange is a complete moron or his fears of US intervention are a fabrication in order to allow him to escape legitimate rape charges.
‘According to the former Swedish director of public prosecutions Sven-Erik Alhem, Sweden’s decision to seek the extradition of Assange on allegations of sexual misconduct is “unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate”.’
It interests me that you (and presumably Alhem) use the term ‘sexual misconduct’ rather than the more accurate ‘rape’. Perhaps because the following sentence is manifestly absurd: ‘Sweden’s decision to seek the extradition of Assange on allegations of rape is “unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate”.’ If, as I suspect, Alhem is using the Galloway defence (i.e. that what Assange did does not count as rape), I advise you please to look into the legal definition of rape, as well as to read some survivors’ accounts. The vast majority of rape is not by a stranger in a back alley, it is a man who you’ve already had consensual sex with penetrating you again in your sleep. It is your boyfriend deciding that since you’ve agreed to sleep with him before, you have implicitly agreed to do it now. It is your date lying to you about wearing a condom and then penetrating you without one.
‘Having offered himself for questioning, Assange was given permission to leave Sweden for London where, again, he offered to be questioned. In May, in a final appeal judgment on the extradition, Britain’s Supreme Court introduced more farce by referring to non-existent “charges”.’
Once again, this sentence betrays a complete failure to do any research. This is how the Swedish legal system works. You cannot be charged until you have been arrested, and you cannot be arrested until you have been extradited. The filing of a formal indictment takes place relatively late in Swedish legal proceedings. Assange’s offer to be questioned in London is highly disingenuous in that he knows it is not one that can be fulfilled. This is because (once again) Assange is being extradited in order to be arrested so that an indictment may be made. He is not wanted for questioning, as that part of the process is long over.
‘Accompanying this has been a vituperative personal campaign against Assange.’
Heaven forbid anyone would begin a ‘vituperative personal campaign’ against an alleged rapist whose desperate attempts to avoid standing trial cast major doubt on his innocence!
‘Much of it has emanated from the Guardian, which, like a spurned lover, has turned on its besieged former source, having hugely profited from WikiLeaks disclosures. With not a penny going to Assange or WikiLeaks, a Guardian book has led to a lucrative Hollywood movie deal. The authors, David Leigh and Luke Harding, gratuitously abuse Assange as a “damaged personality” and “callous”.’
NO. NO, NO, NO. This is the most insidious, vicious sort of rape apologia there is. This is the form of rape apologia which means that Roman Polanski still gets invited to Cannes and Mike Tyson gets a cameo in The Hangover. This is the form of rape apologia which says ‘how dare you accuse such a wonderful man of rape – look at his achievements!’ as though Wikileaks, or an Oscar or a world title belt mean that one cannot be guilty of rape, or as though they excuse rape once committed. Assange’s achievements are irrelevant. It would not matter now if he had cured cancer and the common cold, brought on world peace and stopped global warming. If he committed rape, he would still be a rapist. Men of all kinds commit rape – successful and unsuccessful, left-wing and right-wing, rich and poor, good and bad (in all other senses), and their goodness, or their success, or their leftism are irrelevant. The fact is, if a man commits rape, he is a rapist, and to accuse the Guardian of disloyalty for acknowledging this fact is the height of misogyny and rape apologia. You, Mr Pilger, are contributing to rape culture, and you seriously need to check your male privilege.
‘They also reveal the secret password he had given the paper which was designed to protect a digital file containing the US embassy cables.’
This is true, and it is highly negligent of the journalists in question. That said, there is a lot more to the story – for instance, they were told that the password they were given would expire within hours, so ultimately a great deal of the blame must fall on Wikileaks for their own negligence in encrypting these sensitive documents. All this, however, is completely irrelevant to the central issue of Assange’s alleged guilt. It is a complete red herring to go after the Guardian when the issue remains Assange’s Polanski-esque decision to go on the run rather than facing trial.
‘On 20 August, Harding was outside the Ecuadorean embassy, gloating…’
‘gloating’. Stay classy, Pilger.
‘…on his blog that “Scotland Yard may get the last laugh”. It is ironic, if entirely appropriate, that a Guardian editorial putting the paper’s latest boot into Assange bears an uncanny likeness to the Murdoch press’s predictable augmented bigotry on the same subject. How the glory of Leveson, Hackgate and honourable, independent journalism doth fade.’
Ah yes, honourable independent journalists, bravely fighting for the rights of rapists to avoid trial for their alleged crimes. Give me a break. An astonishingly small proportion of rapes ever end in the conviction of the rapist, and part of the reason why this happens is that men like John Pilger make excuses for the rapists. They ask whether she really said no; they declare that it was not rape, merely ‘bad sexual etiquette’; they derail the entire conversation by discussing the rapist’s achievements in the rest of his life, as if that was in any way relevant; they derail it in other ways, such as by turning their ire on the accusers, whether the victim herself or those like the Guardian who have the temerity to take her at her word and demand that the accused hero stand trial like any other human being. It staggers me how someone like John Pilger, who has stood up so strongly against the dehumanisation of Aboriginal Australians, and against the dehumanisation of non-Westerners in general, can participate so enthusiastically in the dehumanisation of women. Misogyny truly is the last acceptable prejudice (along with trans*phobia, but that’s another story entirely). To make an analogy, if Assange was accused of a hate crime against black people, rather than a hate crime against women, I very much doubt that conspiratorial hacks like Pilger would be standing up for the poor oppressed racist, in the way they have been standing up for the poor oppressed rapist. The persistence on the left of unreconstructed misogyny is truly staggering.
‘His tormentors make the point of Assange’s persecution. Charged with no crime, he is not a fugitive from justice.’
My god, did you even think about doing any research when you decided to write this execrable pile of steaming misogyny and misinformation? For the last time, the Swedish legal system does not work that way. The formal indictment does not take place until – I’ve explained this already, you get my drift.
‘Swedish case documents, including the text messages of the women involved, demonstrate to any fair-minded person the absurdity of the sex allegations’
Ah yes, the old ‘she clearly wanted to have sex with him at some point so there’s no way he could have ever raped her’ gambit. I wonder if Mr Pilger supports the legalisation of marital rape? I suspect, in the abstract, that he does not, and yet here he is, blithely declaring that friendly sexual communications between the (alleged) rapist and victim demonstrate the ‘absurdity’ of the charges. If I was not by now thoroughly convinced of Mr Pilger’s arrogance (permit me one moment of ad hominem anger at least – rape apologia surely makes Pilger worthy of this) it would astound me that he has written an article about a rape case while knowing next to nothing about rape as a phenomenon in the real world. I would wager that, like most men (excepting the 10% who are survivors), Pilger’s opinions about rape are gleaned from TV, films and sensationalist headlines. If this is untrue, he is doing a very good job of hiding it.
‘allegations almost entirely promptly dismissed by the senior prosecutor in Stockholm, Eva Finne, before the intervention of a politician, Claes Borgström.’
The disingenuousness of this statement is astounding. In fact, it would not be going too far to declare that in its egregious misrepresentation of the facts of the matter, it reaches the status of an outright lie. The allegations were not dismissed by Finne. Two allegations were made, one of rape and one of molestation. Only the allegation of rape was dismissed. The arrest warrant was rescinded since in Sweden a warrant cannot be issued on the basis of molestation. At this point, Claes Borgström, the lawyer representing Assange’s alleged victims, lodged an appeal which was upheld. Borgström is indeed also a politician, but this is completely irrelevant to his role in the case. There is absolutely nothing about this process that is not legal, normal and above board, and yet you manage to tease out and cherry-pick odd little facts to make it sound like something out of Putin’s Russia. This sentence puts the final nail in the coffin, for me at least, of your journalistic credibility. Either you completely failed to research the case properly or you knowingly twisted and misrepresented the facts in full knowledge that most people would not bother to spend the five minutes on Google necessary to find out what actually occurred.
‘At the pre-trial of Bradley Manning, a US army investigator confirmed that the FBI was secretly targeting the “founders, owners or managers of WikiLeaks” for espionage.’
So what? Of course they were. I’m shocked that you find this shocking. Moreover, there is a hell of a leap from espionage to trumped up rape allegations, and the connection you make between them is utterly dismissive of the fact that there are two very real, flesh and blood women in Sweden whose decision to go to the police (which is a tremendously courageous thing for a survivor to do) is being systematically slandered worldwide on the basis of extremely tenuous evidence.
‘Four years ago, a barely noticed Pentagon document, leaked by WikiLeaks, described how WikiLeaks and Assange would be destroyed with a smear campaign leading to “criminal prosecution”. On 18 August, the Sydney Morning Herald disclosed, in a Freedom of Information release of official files, that the Australian government had repeatedly received confirmation that the US was conducting an “unprecedented” pursuit of Assange and had raised no objections. Among Ecuador’s reasons for granting asylum is Assange’s abandonment “by the state of which he is a citizen”.’
All this may be true, but it seems extremely cobbled together compared to the mountain of evidence indicating that this is nothing more than a normal, albeit high-profile, rape case. Nothing about the prosecution has been anything but above board so far. The Swedish judiciary, to a much greater extent than that of the US or even the UK, is studiously independent. If these charges have indeed been invented by US agents, there is no better group of people in the world to find this out than a group of Swedish lawyers and judges. To respond that they might succumb to corruption is incredibly insulting.
‘In 2010, an investigation by the Australian Federal Police found that Assange and WikiLeaks had committed no crime. His persecution is an assault on us all and on freedom.’
And here, in the final sentence of Mr Pilger’s nauseating article, we find the deep problem lying at the heart of it – the conflation of Assange and Wikileaks. Wikileaks and Julian Assange are not the same thing. By conflating them, Pilger is, once again, engaging in that loathsome form of rape apologia that declares that a man’s accomplishments make him immune to accusations of rape. Whether this takes the form of assuming that a good man (in all other respects) cannot be a rapist, or that his rape must be ‘weighed against’ all his positive achievements, it is an extremely dangerous, brutal and misogynistic argument that all-but declares any woman who is raped by a ‘great’ man to be either a liar (the implicit argument here, of course, is that Assange’s accusers are CIA moles) or irrelevant in the face of his greatness, a sacrifice to be thrown under a bus that the great maverick may live in peace and freedom. Because as everyone knows, Assange’s humanity and freedom are far more important than those of mere women.
What really astounds me, however, is not John Pilger’s misogyny and rape apologia. I have come almost to accept that from privileged, successful men – it no longer shocks me like it once did when someone I admire (like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Penn Jilette, Michael Moore, Bill Maher, Louis CK…) turns out to be a bigot. That is not to say that Pilger’s bigotry is acceptable, or anything but awful, but it is not unexpected. What I did not expect was how poorly researched, poorly structured and disingenuous this article is. Many of its allegations turned out to be based on a poor understanding of the Swedish legal system. Others were pure fabrications, easily dismissed on the basis of a single Google search. And then there was that sentence, wherein Claes Borgstrom’s entirely normal legal appeal against the dismissal of the rape allegation was made to sound like the corrupt machinations of an Orwellian politician in the pocket of the NSA. I refuse to believe, Mr Pilger, that you refused to research that properly. The story the way you tell it is so incredibly implausible (politicians in Rechtsstaaten like Sweden do not ‘intervene’ in the legal system) that you must have been compelled to look up the facts to verify this. However, having done this you misrepresented the true situation so completely that I will find it hard to take seriously anything you say in the future.
This is a breathtaking article – breathtaking in its bigotry, breathtaking in the poverty of the research that went into it, breathtaking in its sheer lie-spinning. This is truly one of the worst pieces of ‘real’ journalism I have ever read.