Renowned academic Dr. Cornel West and Intercept reporter Ryan Grim spoke alongside John and Gabriel Shipton in the First Amendment Lounge of the National Press Club in Washington D.C., concluding their tour of the United States, calling on the Department of Justice to drop the charges against Assange.
RYAN GRIM – I will speak really briefly about the latest, potentially explosive news development in this case. And then we’re gonna hear from Gabriel Shipton the brother of Julian Assange, and John Shipton, his father, and an academic, one of the towering intellectual figures of our of our time, Dr. Cornel West will also be sharing some thoughts with us.
So the news over the weekend if folks hadn’t seen it, is that a young man named Sigurdur Thordarson, who had been a central witness that the Department of Justice is using against Assange has told reputable press in Iceland that he lied to the FBI. And it appears also, that the FBI lied to Iceland, as part of its effort to extradite Assange and why this revelation is so important is because of what exactly he was saying. So, Assange is effectively being prosecuted here for publishing evidence of war crimes. But because of our remaining reverence for the First Amendment here in the United States, the Department of Justice can’t just come out and say that he’s being prosecuted for publishing evidence of war crimes, because then you have to prosecute the New York Times, you have to prosecute The Intercept, you have to prosecute the Washington Post, you have to prosecute all of media that publishes classified information. They don’t want to do that. So they want to say, ‘No, no, no, in fact, he’s actually a hacker. So he’s working with hackers, and he’s hacking into classified systems, and he’s extracting information.’
So a key piece of evidence they had was this witness from Iceland, who said that Assange was directing hackers in Iceland to hack into the bank of Iceland. And otherwise kind of operating this hacker syndicate. That turns out, as we as many people knew already, but now he’s confirming on the record, not to be true, that it was a lie. Now, the reason they needed this claim in their indictment, even though he’s not being charged, with those particular crimes is that it buttresses what they’re trying to say about his relationship with his source, Chelsea Manning. What they’re trying to say is that it wasn’t that Chelsea Manning, based on her conscience leaked information about war crimes to Julian Assange in his role as a publisher and a journalist published. No, in fact, what they’re trying to say is that there was a hacking conspiracy here. And they back it up with this evidence from Iceland.
So with that gone, all they have is the relationship between Manning and Assange. And when you look closely at it, you see a source and journalist relationship. In fact, in the chat logs that have been released, you see Assange being rather careful to make sure that he’s not soliciting, soliciting any specific information from Manning, even one quote where he says, something like, you might remember the exact quote, but something like ‘curious eyes are always interested in more information that the public ought to learn about.’ So he’s very careful never to say, “Go look, in this particular file for this particular information, the only thing he does is help Manning with confidentiality and source protection. And the Department of Justice has tried to flip that into some sort of a hacking charge. When if you step back, Bob Woodward, when he’s working with Deep Throat, and telling him we’re gonna put the plants on this side of the door, and that’s your signal to me that you have information that will meet in the parking garage. That’s, that’s the same, that’s functionally the same thing. That is that Assange was helping Manning with trying to make sure that the source could leak information and retain anonymity. The Washington Post, The New York Times do that every single day. There’s nothing wrong with that. I would also argue there’s nothing wrong, constitutionally, with leaking, that there’s no classification exception in the First Amendment. That’s a separate question that we could talk about later, if we have time. But with Sigurdur Thordarson new allegation or new admission that he lied to the to the FBI, the case is falling apart. And so the only case they’re left with is that they’re prosecuting a publisher for publishing information that the US did not want to be published. Gabriel, if we could start with you. I’m curious to know, how has the tour been going so far? What’s the reception been like around the country?
GABRIEL SHIPTON : Yeah, so the tour has been absolutely incredible. The reception that we’ve been getting across the country, the outpouring of support, and this upwelling of people who’ve been coming out to talk to us about why they care about this case, why they care about the press freedom implications, the dangers to press freedom that this case represents, and why they care about their First Amendment rights. We’ve literally spoken to thousands and thousands of people across the country.
We started off in Miami at the Bitcoin conference of primarily technologists, people who are really, really interested in a free internet and how this case constrains internet freedom. We moved on to Boston, where we received a Sacco and Vanzetti award on Julian’s behalf. We stopped in New York, and we had to expand the capacity of the venue three times, that was the amount of people that wanted to come down and hear about this case, to get updated and find out more about this case. In New York, Roger Waters ended up going viral. He had a deal offer from Instagram for use of his song. He tore it up at the event and called Mark Zuckerberg a prick. That went totally viral online, over a million hits, and that sort of feeds into this. Julian saw the internet as for its emancipatory value, whereas others like Zuckerberg, see it as a tool of control or a tool to make money from people. Then we went on to Washington, where we stopped at the Jefferson Memorial. One thing that really struck us there was a quote from Jefferson, which says, “were it left to him to have a government without newspapers or, or newspapers without a government, he would choose the latter.” I had never heard that quote before.
We then headed west, down to Columbus and onto Chicago where we marched through the streets with about 70 people cheering for Julian and a free press. From there to Denver. What was surprising about Denver is that so many young people, very active activists, were all interested solely in their First Amendment rights. In places like Minneapolis and St. Paul, we had a huge turnout of very antiwar people, very interested in transparency specifically military transparency. And then we went on to Oakland, which was a huge event. But everywhere we went, we were always just blown away by the outpouring of support that we saw. And as we moved across the country, the media interest increased. We’ve had 30 plus articles, some even in mainstream media. We were able to do the Amy Goodman show and we were able to do Tucker Carlson’s show. A couple of days ago, we were on [Mehdi] Hassan’s show. So the media interest has developed. This issue is not a left or right issue. If Amy Goodman and Tucker Carlson agree that this prosecution is a danger to press freedom, and there are not many issues that they can agree on, I think it’s beyond left and right. Wherever we go, local radio is always interested in talking to us. It’s just been incredible, we are just absolutely blown away by the people of the US.
A lot of the persecution of Julian originates from here, which is why we’ve come here. This is where the decisions are made. But we had this impression that maybe we would have some trouble, people might abuse us, or we might get arrested. We didn’t know what would happen. It’s been the exact opposite. The hospitality has been incredible. The people are amazing. Every day we were just so surprised about how much Americans care about their First Amendment, their democratic rights, and even about Julian Assange.
RYAN GRIM: And John, has any of this momentum translated into anything tangible from the administration? You know, Joe Biden, I think famously called Julian a high-tech terrorist or something a long time ago. And secondly, when was the last time you got you had any communication with Julian? How is he doing personally?
JOHN SHIPTON: We were here in January, had some communication with part of the Biden administration. They asked us to wait till after the inauguration, but since the inauguration, as you can see, there’s been a turmoil of demands upon the administration. And consequently, I don’t think we would be rewarded by making approaches, but we are feeling — and it’s demonstrated by the phenomenon of what we call, an upwelling in support — our feeling is that it begins with people. And the concerns of the people rise up in the Congresspeople and the administration. That’s particularly in our case, because this is a worldwide phenomenon. In the Western world, we travel to every country, and there is support there. There are cross party groups in many Parliaments supporting Julian Assange, so that in Spain, France, particularly Germany, Australia, is quite big in Australia and the United Kingdom. Yesterday in the United Kingdom, on behalf of the 21 members of the cross-party group, three MPs went out to Belmarsh prison in a protest and delivered a letter to the governor, because parliamentarians have been unable to get access to the jail to see Julian.
To the second part of your question, Julian has permission to ring externally international calls, as long as his account is in credit, since the jail was fully locked down, about a year ago. He rings me for 10 minutes each day, and then at the guillotine, we are cut off. He would like to ring more. sometimes he does, but it depends upon the availability of access, because there are 800 prisoners there, all of them wishing to use the telephone to ring their loved ones or the lawyers or whatever.
RYAN GRIM: Dr. West, could you put the prosecution of Assange into some context for us with a goal of giving people some sense of how he can actually be freed through public pressure?
CORNEL WEST: Yeah, let me first say that it is a blessing, honor and privilege to sit here with my dear brother Gabriel and brother John, who are biologically and lovingly connected to my very dear brother, Julian. I have a deep love and respect for him. I had dialogue with him when he was there in the Embassy of Ecuador back eight years ago. And we appreciate the work that you’ve done with The Intercept, and another’s brother Ryan, and the great Jeremy Scahill.
I understand the predicament of our brother Julian Assange as part of the legacy of all the great journalists who tried to raise their courageous voices and vision in the face of forms of terrorism. That Ida B. Wells Barnett, one of the great journalists, a black woman dealing with American terrorism at home on lynching. Seymour Hersh, Jeremy Scahill trying to tell the truth about American lies and crimes. That is a tradition that my dear brother Julian Assange is a part of. And one of the reasons why I would not miss this moment of not just being in solidarity with him and brother john and Julian, but also raising my voice is to accent the degree to which the vision, courage, the willingness to serve and sacrifice in the name of being a truth seeker. And a judge, Justice witness, sir, that’s what brother Julian is. And one of the reasons why the various administrations, be it Obama, be it Trump, be it Biden, have yet to fully come to terms with who he is, and what his witness is all about, is an attempt to try to hide and conceal the American Imperial crimes based on the lies told, and we know that every nation, every government, every Empire, tells lies, to conceal its crimes.
And therefore, we have to be in genuine solidarity based on a moral consistency. And myself, as a revolutionary Christian part of the legacy of Dr King Jr. is a spiritual constancy for those who have been victimized by American terrorism and crimes, drones and a variety of other mechanisms. And so anytime I get a chance to say a word about my brother Julian be that on television, radio, with the father or the son, or the journalist, I come running. So I was blessed to drive down from New York, and we drive right back to New York with smiles on our faces. I do want to point out brother Randy, and Randy Credico was unique in the culture, the legacy of the Richard Pryor’s and the George Carlin’s, who, as activists, and we’ve been in jail together on many occasions, concerned with the kinds of things that brother Julian is concerned about. The ability for the wretched to live lives of dignity and decency. And that truth ought to resonate, no matter how many of the mainstream press show up, no matter how many politicians show up, because truth, crushed earth will rise again. And the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak, not just brother Julian suffering, but the suffering of those who have been killed, murdered, brutalized by American terrorism here, be it in Ferguson, or abroad, be it as victims of us drones. And that’s what we’re talking about. That’s why this is a life and death issue. This is why it’s an issue of press freedom, it is an issue of trying to preserve the conditions for the possibility of democracies here and abroad. That’s what’s at stake here. And it is never a matter of numbers and quantity. So matter of the quality of the issues raised, that’s what’s at stake when we talk about my dear brother, Julian Assange.
RYAN GRIM: I like that you mentioned the concept of moral consistency. I’d like to get everybody’s response to this because Gabriel, when we spoke last in Washington, several weeks ago, there were several people in the audience, who said I’m with you, and I’m with this cause, but whenever I tried to spread it, I get pushback from my normie Democratic friends who are still bitter, about 2016 and the email leaks. Everybody should know, and it matters, that this has nothing to do with these charges. Assange has not been charged related to anything in 2016. A journalist job if they get a leak is to authenticate it and publish it. If it comes from a hack, if it comes from a conscientious, conscious-driven leaker. That’s not the point. The point is, is the information valuable to the public? If it is, the public ought to have a right to review it. But the question of moral consistency comes in because as soon as the principle becomes hard to defend, and as soon as that there’s a person that you’re still angry at over the 2016 grievance, you see people start to shrink away from the principal. Have you confronted much of that on the road? And what have you found as a way to get through to people that that the principle is far more important than your small grievance here?
GABRIEL SHIPTON: Yeah, we haven’t confronted that a lot, as much as we expected we would. And when we do, we explain its about the Chelsea Manning leaks and the publication of those leaks. It’s about explaining to people what it’s about, what Julian’s being prosecuted for and how this precedent is dangerous. I think this is a real problem that people feel that they can excuse this prosecution. It is the first of its kind against a publisher. They might have a disagreement with that person, but when you talk to people and explain this is the first time that this has ever been done to a publisher, and affects people not just here, but around the world. People in other countries, journalists in other countries where they don’t have the same rights that they do here or in Australia, or Britain, journalists who live in totalitarian states, or authoritarian states. This prosecution and persecution of Julian Assange affects them when the United States State Department goes and confronts, say, China about their human rights record, and their press freedoms. China says to them, well, who are you to lecture us? Look what you’re doing to judge Julian Assange! The Russian ambassador to the UK was confronted about the treatment of Nalvany, and he was able to turn around and say, “You can’t lecture us, down the road, you’ve got a publisher and a journalist locked in prison for publishing.”
Another example is the dictator of Azerbaijan being interviewed by the BBC, confronted about his record on torturing journalists, jailing journalists, killing journalists, was able to say to the BBC, “Who are you to lecture me? Look, what you’re doing the Julian Assange! You’re claiming moral superiority over us, but you’re doing the exact same thing to a publisher and a journalist.”
I think it’s very important to realize that it doesn’t just affect people here in the US, or the Western countries like Australia or the UK, but it affects people who have a lot less rights and freedoms than we do. That message for me, really takes it out of that local political message and puts it on a broader scale that people can understand that if the Biden administration were to end this prosecution, they would be able to reclaim that moral high ground and pressure on them once again, without the Assange problem that they now have. Thinking about those people in those countries who have a lot less rights than, than Australia, or or here in the States, I think that’s very important.
JOHN SHIPTON: The Collateral Murder video was released here, in this room, the First Amendment room, by Julian Assange. Julian’s birthday is next week, he’ll be 50. Since that day, the prosecution and persecution, this deluge of madness has continued like a Niagara Falls until, as was just mentioned, Sigurdur Thordarson put up his hand to criminal conspiracy entered into with the FBI, nine FBI officers, till eventually in Iceland in Reykjavik, the appropriate minister of government in Iceland told the FBI to withdraw, realizing what was being done.
This is a disgrace brought upon the Department of Justice, indelible, upon the administration of justice in the United States by William Barr and the Trump administration. Indelible. Railroading an innocent man, getting a pedophile, a convicted fraudster and thief, bribing him and flattering this damaged human being in order to bring a witness, because they realized that their case under the first indictment was just falling away, falling to bits. So they issued a superseding indictment, a second indictment in July 20, six weeks before the hearing. The defense found out about this matter in the newspapers. But still, the show trial continued and brought disgrace upon the administration of justice in the United Kingdom. The judge Baraitser, quoted Sigurdur Thordarson in her summary. Both sides knew that it was rubbish and that this man was damaged. The defense submitted an affidavit that they didn’t have time, that Julian was inaccessible because of a Covid lockdown. They needed more time, the judge refused. The judge agreed with every single aspect of the United States submission, despite the fact that the First Amendment and despite the fact that the treaty obligations for extradition between the United States and the United Kingdom, states specifically, that there will be no extraditions for political matters. As a consequence, they cooked up this damaged human being and they brought disgrace upon themselves in their society. The United States disgrace indelible equally. The magistrate of the magistrate’s court Arbuthnot saying that Julian ought to go out and get a bit of sunshine on the balconies as he is fond of going out there to speak. He can go and stand in the sun. The callousness of these people. How do they get jobs to judge people? Judge Tyler said Julian was a narcissist. Julian had just been three hours before dragged out of the embassy by six policemen. Despite the fact that Julian was an asylee, the judge said Julian’s a narcissist, I thought that such a woman would have a law degree, not a degree in psychology. She’d only seen Julian for five minutes. Julian had to correct her in court where she declared that the charges, she said the charges but there were no charges, but allegations. Julian had to correct her in court. The inaccuracy.
Anyway, the moral impediment to Julian has now spent well moving to the 12th and 13th year of arbitrary detention. Arbitrary detention declared by the United Nations working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 2017 and February 2018. The 2018 Report used even firmer language because the United Kingdom had appealed against the decision and failed. They took no notice, the judge said I don’t take any notice of them, trashing the United Nations. That’s the greatest civil accomplishment of the post war period, the United Nations, where nations can amongst themselves sort out their differences through negotiation, through debating their interest in the best way possible because states naturally compete. The United Nations Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Nils Melzer professor of law at Glasgow International University, made his 36-page report after seeing Julian for four hours with two experts on psychological torture, published the report that Julian had undergone years of psychological torture, lies, smears, and endless deluge from judicial officers, from newspapers, from executives of government. To the extent that one newspaper published that Julian had had a visitor just simply wasn’t true. It just wasn’t true, this particular visitor, but it had an important reverberation into the United States because of their concerns, concerns over 2016. It’s just a lie, the second most surveilled person in the world, Julian Assange, after the President of the United States easily demonstrate the proof.
On it goes until the other day, it was revealed that they used a damaged human being, because their case is in trouble. They bring disgrace upon themselves. That’s a moral question, as Cornel says, and a moral question is continuous. Julian will have his 50th birthday next week in jail.
Anyway, I’m starting to rant a bit, you’ll forgive me that there’s a lot more that I can offer you in this ongoing injustice. In 1200, the Magna Carta came about when the barons said, we’re not having any more of this. There’s got to be laws. As a consequence of that growth in Western societies, and other societies copying this wonderful civic gift of the English, that there had to be a law between the sovereign and the people, with the sovereign obeying the law as well as the people. In 1793, in the Enlightenment period, the Constitution of the United States understood this and brought about a wonderful thing we call the First Amendment based upon the understanding, implicit in the First Amendment, is that there’s only one road to freedom. And that’s knowledge.
To get this gold in human affairs, you’ve got to grind up a lot of sand, and all you get is a fleck, the First Amendment being one, the Bill of Rights another, the Magna Carta being another. You’ve got to grind up so much to get the conventions of asylum and other United Nations instruments. 1000s of years of experiment go by, and these flecks of gold accumulate, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt, the first president of the united Nations, Herbert Doc Evatt, an Australian. But they trash it all in the case against Julian Assange. They trash all of the treasures that guarantee us that there will be some negotiation and moral impulse, imprimatur some gift that we can give to each other that holds us within a bound, whereby we don’t embark upon murderous escapades and millions and millions die. And according to Brown University, 37 million people wander the earth seeking refuge for the 20 years destruction in the Middle East.
RYAN GRIM: Dr. West, how do you respond to that point and the question of how do you reach people who will stipulate a principle of free expression, free speech, free Press, but shrink from it, in cases where it’s inconvenient for them in that moment?
CORNEL WEST: I just want to say I’m just so deeply moved by my brother, because he speaks with power. And eloquence. Also his brother Gabriel. July 3 is a very special birthday because it’s the birthday both of my dear brother Julian Assange, 1971, and that of my beloved mother, who just died just a few days ago, July 3 1932. And mom was an exemplar of what Jane Austen called constancy. She wasn’t pure pristine. But she was a woman of great moral consistency. And that’s where I come from. And so when I hear people say, if the New York Times had done it, then the First Amendment protects them. But when my dear brother Julian Assange, does it, and WikiLeaks does it, it doesn’t protect them. That’s a home of hail. That’s hypocrisy. I learned that from Irene v. West on the chocolate side of Sacramento, California, coming out of Shiloh Baptist Church in the West family. I have no monopoly on truth, the goodness of beauty. You could look at me and see that, but they live their hypocrisy as mendacity. And in hide criminality. I learned that from Irene B West.
And so when I say brother Julian, concerned about the lies and the crimes, and I’ll see when he reveals it, he’s not protected. But when the New York Times and Washington Post and others cooperate with it, they are protected. And that’s the only reason why the Obama administration tried to bring my dear brother into incarceration in the name of the Espionage Act. But when it came to their friends in the New York Times, they began to pull back. That’s moral inconsistency and hypocrisy of the highest level. We are not here to assess or evaluate the character, full-fledged character of brother Julian. He’s like me, he is a cracked vessel. He is a human being. But when it comes to the vision, when it comes to courage, when it comes to the willingness to expose lies and crimes, I am in deep solidarity with my dear brother Julian. And that’s why we drove down from New York today and driving back to night with smiles on our faces. And we will celebrate both birthdays on Friday. Julian 50. Mom, now gone, would have been 89.
RYAN GRIM: I think it’s important to add to that for people who are still not persuaded that governments, when they’re trying to roll back powers that people have accumulated to themselves are always going to try to find the case that they think they can move on. They’re not moving on the columnist for The New York Times, who was popular around the country. You have to be on guard for that. Because you have to know that it’s going to be those more difficult questions, not difficult questions for most people here. But we have to understand that there’s an entire country out there. And so you have to understand that when those questions are most difficult, that’s when you have to have the courage to say no, this violates the principle and you have to stand up against that. Otherwise, the precedent is set, the government has done its job of encroaching and pushing back. And the next time they’re going to push back a little further. They always are going to make that same play. Gabriel what in particular, are you asking people to do? Who wants to be involved?
GABRIEL SHIPTON: John mentioned the significance of this location. Here on  April 2010, when Julian was here literally in this room, he showed the Collateral Murder video, which showed a helicopter gunship that killed, gunned down, Reuters journalists and then the people who came to save their lives. Since the since that day, almost 11 or so years ago, Julian has been pursued by one force or another. The people who are responsible for those killings have never been pursued. This is a very important point. I think that all of these revelations that Julian has brought to us about all these wars, corruption, lies, laws, but for elected officials there’s little to no repercussions for them. Julian is the one who’s suffering. Julian is the one who was imprisoned.
RYAN GRIM: And can I interrupt you to add one thing, that nobody’s journalism over the past 10 years has been under as fine a microscope as his because you have the most powerful people and forces in the world looking for any slip up to take him down. There were extensive efforts to try to show that something he revealed had led to some type of death somewhere in Afghanistan or somewhere. Nothing. There were undoubtedly many efforts to get him to publish things that were untrue in an effort to discredit him. But like a good journalist does, he authenticated documents before he published them to have a record over a decade plus, that’s impeccable under that type of a microscope is an incredible journalistic achievement.
GABRIEL SHIPTON: So I just wanted to point that out that Julian has been the victim in this whole situation that John outlined. What we’ve been asking people to do across the country is get in touch with their representatives, and tell them how concerned they are about their democratic rights that are under threat through this prosecution of Julian Assange. That’s what we’ve been sort of imploring people to do across the country, to stand up for their democratic rights and their free press until their representatives that they really care about their First Amendment, their free press, and so they want this prosecution dropped.
JOHN SHIPTON: How do you go about redemption? The burden of bad conscience that Washington has placed on the people of the United States, this interests me because to alleviate that suffering is such an important thing. So those revelations 10 years ago, Iraq War, Afghan War files, the cables, the Collateral Murder video, the Guantanamo Bay detainees files have seeped in to the consciousness of the people of the United States, in a thin band, that’s not as you would expect, like holding knowledge in the head. It’s a historical phenomenon. So it’s hard for us to read, but we can read the results. They’re out of Afghanistan. Guantanamo Bay closure is, well, on the cusp. People can’t bear it anymore and understand that Washington put it in Guantanamo Bay, because it wouldn’t be covered by the decency of the laws of the United States. Its closure is imminent. They’re out of Iraq and just have a few troops in Syria, causing a little bit of trouble and discomfort, but they’ll be added to it really important to understand that those leaks ended wars, in specific examples I can give you the Status of Forces Agreement between the United States in Iraq was refused by the Iraqi government. And as a consequence, there’s troops of the United States were an allies, my country, were withdrawn. They’re gone, they’re out. Such an enormous Empire takes a bit of turning around, but it has an excuse.
What I intend is to alleviate a burden of consciousness that that accusation places upon the United States and accompany that the realization that the redemption has been and gone, it’s there. All you have to do is partake of the understanding that the revelations have worked their course. In my imagination, Chelsea Manning is a historic historical figure none less than Joan of Arc and is a treasure of the United States. Her rise to the pantheon of gods will continue in my view.
RYAN GRIM: Dr. West,, Gabriel, anything else before we open it up for questions?
CORNEL WEST: I was blessed to be at a trial of Chelsea with Chris Hedges and to witness the unbelievable courage of this Chelsea. Let me say this about journalism that we’re living in a moment of such a massive spiritual decay and moral decrepitude. By spiritual decay, I mean indifference toward the suffering of weakened vulnerable people and by moral decrepitude, I mean the relative eclipse of integrity and honesty and decency. So when it comes to journalism, there is a dearth of quality journalism in the American Empire. And there’s a near death of genuine journalism. And what that means then, is that you got levels of careerism, opportunism, the cronyism between the owners of newspapers with the powers that be so, that truth seeking and witness bearing is an afterthought. And journalism is reduced to superficial PR relations and strategy and tactics that have little to do with the truth. Because the condition of truth is to allow the suffering to speak of everybody no matter what color, gender, sexual orientation or nation.
So when we hear the US government bring critiques to bear on journalists in China, and China’s authoritarian, journalists in Iraq, Iraq, authoritarian, Haiti, Haiti, authoritarian, and then come back to the States, and can’t say, a mumbling word of support for the release of my dear brother Julian. That’s true for Chelsea. That’s true for a whole host of whistle blowers, then that is hypocrisy. And the inconsistency and the inconstancy comes to the surface. And that’s why the Amy Goodmans, the Intercepts, the Black Power media, the Black Agenda Report, WBAI, brother Randy Credico, and the others make a difference. And this is no small talk. Because in the end, it becomes the very grounds upon which you lose any sense of your democracy, any sense of press freedom, any sense of individual liberty. And I come from a black folk in this belly of the American beast, whose history bears witness to that loss of liberties and democracies. It is celebrating itself with forms of national idolatry as the misery continued day in and day out. And that’s what my brother Julian and I talked about, the legacy of Martin Luther King, we talked about the legacy of Ella Baker, we talked about the legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer. All the way down from Australia, that opened his heart, and opened his mind and say, lo and behold, brother, Wes, given whatever differences we have, we are committed to press freedom, and democratic flourishing. And I said to him, my dear vanilla brother from Australia, I am in solidarity with you, because I’m committed to press freedom, individual liberty, democratic, flourishing, and keeping track of the victims of the war crimes of the largest empire in the history of the species called the American Empire.
RYAN GRIM: Again, that’s assangedefense.org for anybody who needs to find out how to get involved or get any more information. We do have a little more time. If there are any questions.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: I just wanted to start out by thanking Ryan and Cornel for showing up. Because when I met Gabriel, and John, on their first leg on their trip in DC, there was a lack of interest of the media. In what I think is the trial of the century. And look at this room. I mean, I feel like Robert Byrd, why is this chamber empty? Where’s the press? I mean, look at the remarkable people on stage. Where’s the press? Why is it up to us? Where’s the press now that the case is totally falling apart? When it’s been revealed that the US government was basically rehabilitating a child molester diagnosed sociopath and a liar to put together a failed case? Where was the press? When files, text messages, emails came tumbling out of a Spanish court showing that CIA assets from UC global had plotted to poison Julian Assange, while the press was reporting on Nalvany in Russia. It was up to us at the Grayzone to report on that incredible story. It should have been on the front page of the New York Times that CIA assets had stalked the partner of Julian Assange, that they had tried to steal the diaper of his child to prove it was his child, that they had robbed his legal counsels office. That they had broken into the cameras in the embassy, that they had subverted the Ecuadorian security services to do so that they had actually hacked into the devices of the Washington Post’s national security correspondent, Ellen Nakashima. And she said nothing. Anthony Lowell Bergman. His devices were hacked in from NPR when he visited Assange, he said nothing. No one said anything.
So I guess my question for Gabriel, and John is on your ability to get any interest from the legacy press, in this incredible case at a very momentous time when it’s clearly falling apart. And Cornel as well, I mean, you’ve been on Anderson Cooper a lot recently in the last year. I mean, Have there been any request to talk about this? And, and for Ryan, I mean, you’re here. You’re putting yourself out there. But Kevin Gostzola said that the Intercept rejected his request to cover the trial in London of Julian Assange. And I don’t believe the Intercept assigned anyone. I mean, you’re the Washington bureau chief, it’s not necessarily your fault. But the Intercept seems to have strayed from its original mission to take on the national security state in so many ways. So my question for you is what is the Intercept planning to do to focus more on this crime? This this fact huge violation of international law, but also this huge violation of press freedom? Because you have a platform that we don’t have at the Grayzone, you have resources that we don’t have. So what are you all planning to?
GABRIEL SHIPTON: Yeah, big thanks to you, Max. I mean, without a lot of your coverage, no one would know. Thank you. Independent media led the way, they’ve been the tip of the spear. With all these dominoes that just keep dropping, from the arbitrary detention decision in 2015, to the two Nils Melzer torture decisions, to the Swedish allegation just evaporating, to the embassy spying, to the extradition rejection, at each stage of the way independent media really led the way in the coverage. I think what we’re seeing now is that it’s having an effect. The independent media is seeping into the mainstream media. It’s this sort of shame effect, like Julian did with the revelations through WikiLeaks, they could not not report on it. I think that’s what we’re seeing now, the independent media is growing so much stronger, and the mainstream media are going to have to figure out how they’re going to catch up, basically.
RYAN GRIM: It’s a really good question. Kevin, I’m a fan of his journalism. He’s appeared on our podcast to talk about his coverage of the trial. We did assign somebody to it who ran into some serious health difficulties. That led to a lot of internal delays in the coverage, which did eventually run, but I would have liked to see us doing daily dispatches, treating it as a trial of the century type of event. This is a trial of the century. Everything, everything rests on this. I’ve done a lot of questioning why it is that exactly, here we are in the National Press Club, why are there not free Assange signs? Why isn’t there a drumbeat from the American press or around this, and I have not been able to get beyond basic pathologizing, the kind of armchair psychoanalysis.
Assange was such a dominant journalistic presence for the last generation really. The number of stories that Wikileaks broke that impacted the world that we’ve all we’ve all forgotten about, outnumber the number of consequential scoops that some of the best journalists will have in their entire careers. It’s just a staggering record of achievement. So there may be some professional jealousy there and some wish to solve that by saying, well I didn’t get beaten, because that’s not actually journalism. I don’t know what exactly it is, but it’s something else. Because if it’s journalism, then I’ve been getting my hat handed to me by this weirdo Australian out here with this website. So it can’t be that, that just doesn’t comport with my worldview and my understanding of myself. So then you start inventing rationalizations for that that allow you to then separate him from your field, because you don’t want him in your field. There might also be some thought of a winning favor, with sources who are hostile to him by not speaking up or losing favor by speaking up.
CORNEL WEST: The consequences of living in a decadent Empire is that the virus of cowardliness and hypocrisy is manifest in every sphere, including the professional managerial classes, including journalism, including the Academy. I won’t go into that right now. I was blessed to break bread with ___. He was writing his book on Socrates. We talked week after week. I love my brother. And he told me he said journalism is experiencing his way back 30 years ago and experiencing the captivity of the right-wing politicians and the neoliberal emerging politicians. The cronyism at the top of journalism is now accommodating itself to those politicians, which means that the patrons will choose that brother Ryan is talking about they’re not interested in doesn’t generate money, then generate revenue generate profit. So who does accrue? Well, sometimes a dose of vulgar Marxism is useful. Sometimes a dose of understanding class dynamics is very useful and doesn’t matter what color they are. They could be careers, they can be opportunities, they can be cronyism they can be nepotistic. That’s part of it. So that the relative paucity of the courage, which is manifest in Julian Assange, is more and more rare thing. The willingness to take a risk manifest in Assange and Chelsea and others, more and more rare thing is, so I think that’s part of it. That’s not the definitive explanation. But I do think that’s part of it. And I think that’s something that we have to acknowledge that sooner or later these truths will be manifest.
My brother Randy Credico always reminds me when the abolitionists came to Washington, DC in the 1840s. How many journalists showed up? For Theodore Parker, Lydia, Maria Chow, Frederick Douglass, how many showed up? It was a paucity but they were talking about the possibility of a civil war if you don’t come to terms with this catastrophe called white supremacist slavery. They said, Oh, these journalists don’t know what they talking about. 15 years later, you got a whole different situation only because we’re talking about something as real. We’re talking about suffering of human beings. We’re talking about structures and institutions that are deteriorating, and therefore don’t want to come to terms with the kind of questions you’re asking my brother. And so we shouldn’t be discouraged. I’m not discouraged, not at all. When I look in the sparkling eyes of a precious child, we go fight for you. That’s who Julian is also fighting for, the preciousness of this little one, so they live in a world in which liberty and democracy can flourish, and people don’t have to sacrifice,
JOURNALIST QUESTION: Belmarsh is a dungeon. I visited Winston Silcock there 30 years ago. It’s a terrible place. Can you talk please about the conditions of Julian’s confinement? And how much contact does he have with, with outsiders? I mean, in person, is he allowed to get visits? And, just how’s he doing, you know, like, in himself personally.
GABRIEL SHIPTON: I’m not sure if you’re aware that Julian won his extradition case on 4 January this year. The US DOJ immediately signaled they would appeal. And then a couple days later, Julian’s bail was rejected. So he’s now in his third year of prison in Belmarsh as a remand prisoner. Belmarsh is full of the most violent criminals in the UK. It’s not a nice place. The last time I saw him was in October last year. After I saw him, they shut down visits, and he wasn’t able to get a visit for eight months. So he has had no contact, no contact whatsoever with his family, lawyers, or friends or loved ones, no physical contact for eight months. Luckily, last week, he had his first visit with his family after eight months. We are very happy about that. But he is suffering in there. It’s been years. He is strong, he is very strong, a very courageous person. But after years of attacks, spending 23 hours a day in a small cell, by yourself, it has an effect on someone. And seeing him over the years, you can really see the change in him, which is quite frightening to me.
JOHN SHIPTON: Thank you. There’s a bitter irony that Julian few months ago got permission to have a visit. The jail was in lockdown, and then it was sort of lifted. They allowed a family visit. They cut down the time, so it was about 40 minutes with the children. The instructions from the guard were this: that should the children embrace you, (Julian was in full PPE by the way), should the children embrace you, you will have to spend two weeks in isolation. Should Stella embrace you, you have to spend two weeks in isolation. That’s a bit mad isn’t it? He’s already 23 hours a day in isolation. But Nils Melzer who went there, he’s brave and brainy, he’s characterizes this as before our eyes, a slow motion murder. I use those dramatic turns to make the point so that it is not reduced to the ordinariness. These people deliberately, consciously, constantly, continuously, think of ways.
So when they visited last week, the guard attempted to stick his finger in the little boy’s mouth, tracking for drugs or something, a little boys mouth of just over two years of age. Of course, the boy went into meltdown, his father has to sit there in the chair, or otherwise be brought low and the visits finished. What I mean by brought low is they bundle on. If you go against the rules, they bundle on, six of them, push you down, put the handcuffs on, throw you through the door. He has to sit there, watch his child go into meltdown as a guards tries to stick his finger in his mouth, in the little boy, in the little boy’s mouth. That’s the circumstance. I won’t make it easy for you. That would be a pleasure and an end. For the crown prosecuting serves the Department of Justice and certain disgruntled, miserable elements of the State Department. And certain, probably vicious members of the CIA who hate it when the finality of their authority is evaded. It upsets their guts, because they exercise the power of life and death over many people every day. So that’s the circumstances Forgive me. I can’t make it easy for you. They would be delighted if his end came now.
JOURNALIST QUESTION: I feel like it’s one of the most important aspects of the case that isn’t talked about enough. Randy did on one of the episodes of Assange Countdown to Freedom when talking to Ben Wizner about the global precedents that this case sets with having a non US citizen charged with breaking US law. Why is there not more focus on that? What if China says, this US journalist broke our laws, send them over? Are we going to do that? I just wish there were more talk about that, I would think that may get through to some people that are still hung up on the 2016 election.
RYAN GRIM: I’m pessimistic that it could break through. What on earth is going on with an Australian being accused of treason in the United States? And what precedent does that set around the world? Am I right now breaking laws in Azerbaijan or, or China or, or Peru by what I’m reporting and can I then be extradited to one of one of those countries? —which is not an idle concern when the global regime for extradition, Interpol, is controlled by the United Arab Emirates. I think UAE owns like half of the Interpol foundation or invests in half the Interpol foundation, so what if the UAE says I violated some of their journalism laws, which I no doubt have? So the next time that I fly through a country where somebody from Interpol pick me up and send me to the UAE to face charges for a crime that they say I committed in their country, even though I was not even in their country, it’s true that he released the evidence of the war crime right in this room, but otherwise, he has spent very little time in the United States. Am I right, Gabriel?
GABRIEL SHIPTON: He hasn’t spent much time here at all.
RYAN GRIM: This isn’t an American citizen. This wasn’t a crime that happened on American soil. And it’s not a crime period. What have your attorneys said about that part of this case?
JOHN SHIPTON: William Barr, under the first Bush administration had the nickname “the snatcher” because of his capacity to manipulate extradition treaties for the judicial abduction into the United States, of those people that the United States determined were necessary to come here for whatever reason. Over the last 10 years, the treaties between the United States and whomever was willing have been rewritten to the advantage of the United States, in particular, my country has less restrictions on extradition to the United States than the United Kingdom. United Kingdom at least has ‘not for political purposes,’ and ‘not if a death penalty is involved.’
So it’s a policy of Washington to be able to judicially abduct whomever it wants to bring to the United States. Ola Bini, an AI expert; the CEO of Huawei is under threat of extradition into the United States from Canada. There are many, many, many, I can’t remember them all. Somebody the other day, I met in Minneapolis had a list of them. Extraordinary list. There’s one just happened last week, the man was on an airplane, the airplane was diverted, upon request of the United States in an extradition order to lodge in a third country. He is dying of cancer in a jail in a third country, not his country, the plane was diverted. It’s a technique or tool of policy.
JOURNALIST QUESTION: John, you mentioned I believe that the Biden administration gave you a message or someone told you that they wanted you to wait until after the inauguration to begin pressure campaign. I hope that you could elaborate a little on who told you that and what they told you and what kind of communication you may still have.
JOHN SHIPTON: Our communication was through the Human Rights Division. At that time, in January, the inauguration hadn’t happened. So it was with the potential team. After that, we changed our tact and rather than move, I found that approaching politicians with Julian’s matter, they will take a position which fits in with the current, what they imagined policies or what the current atmosphere of government is, and then it’s very hard work to change their mind. So the best thing, we evaluated, Gabriel and myself, was to approach staffers and to approach people. Get the assistance of people to approach staffers and continue to approach staffers, because the staffers are the people who formulate and draw in the ideas to put to their political masters. We came to the view that we were building something, and that approaching the administration saying, “Well, what about Julian” was a falsity.
First you had to come here and build support, and then come again and build support. And finally, you might be able to do something, also taking advantage of the unfolding of time, because the world is in a parlous state at the moment, there’s a lot of tensions around. And as we saw last week, with new revelations, changes are coming quite rapidly. So being able to skate or utilize those changes was very, very important. And then another thing is that Merrick Garland is manifesting an interest in changing the perception and actions of the DoJ, the Department of Justice. He had a meeting with the executives of The Washington Post and the New York Times over the four journalists that were under investigation by the Department. Also, USA Today had a subpoena against it for the IP addresses of those people who had gone online to USA today and looked at a particular video, that subpoena has been withdrawn.
The Supreme Court over the Computer Fraud act made a decision that the interpretation of the Act was far too broad, which assists us because part one of the cooked up charges against Julian, was a broad interpretation. So the nature of things are changing. And consequently, we want to be able to make the decisions very quickly appropriate to the unfolding of information, as the times produce new ideas and new elements constantly. As you see with the Biden Putin meeting, everybody was relieved that this strategic stability was discussed. And then now there’s 30 ships in the Black Sea on an exercise which is reintroduce tension. So we have to be adroit.
CORNEL WEST: I just wanted to say that we have just been so blessed and graced by the presence of brother Gabriel and brother John, on behalf of our dear brother Julian, to come to the United States, and to bear witness with such integrity, such quality, such eloquence. And we want you to know that there’s fellow citizens in the midst of this empire, that fellow human beings in this country are in solidarity with you, with your son and your brother, and that no matter what you see at the top, there’s a whole wave of us who will be resilient, who will be resisting and who will fight in the name of principle. You need to know that as you make your way back and we bid you a safe trip, farewell, but no goodbyes, because we are in this struggle together all the way down.
RYAN GRIM: Thank you, Gabriel. Thank you. Thank you, John. Thank you for I know what you’re doing is for Julian but thank you too, for what you’re doing for the press. And thank you all for coming out here today, and go to AssangeDefense.org to find out more.