The Liberal Game of Silencing the Messenger

By Pilger, John | New Statesman (1996), March 14, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Liberal Game of Silencing the Messenger


Pilger, John, New Statesman (1996)


As the US and Britain look for an excuse to invade another oil-rich Arab country, the hypocrisy is familiar. While Colonel Gaddafi is "delusional" and "blood-drenched", the authors of an invasion that killed a million Iraqis, who have sanctioned kidnap and torture in our name, are entirely sane, never blood-drenched and once again the arbiters of "stability".

But something has changed. Reality is no longer what the powerful say it is. Of all the spectacular revolts across the world, the most exciting is the insurrection of knowledge sparked by WikiLeaks. This is not a new idea. In 1792, the revolutionary Tom Paine warned his readers in England that their government believed that "people must be hoodwinked and held in superstitious ignorance by some bugbear or other". Paine's The Rights of Man was considered such a threat to elite control that a secret grand jury was ordered to charge him with "a dangerous and treasonable conspiracy". Wisely, he sought refuge in France.

The ordeal and courage of Tom Paine were cited by the Sydney Peace Foundation, in its awarding of Australia's human rights gold medal to Julian Assange. Like Paine, Assange is a maverick who serves no system and is threatened by a secret grand jury, a malicious device long abandoned in England but not in America. If extradited to the US, he is likely to disappear into the Kafkaesque world that produced the Guantanamo Bay nightmare and now accuses Bradley Manning, the alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower, of a capital crime.

Black farce

Should Assange's appeal against extradition to Sweden fail, he will probably, once charged, be denied bail and held incommunicado until his trial in secret. The sexual assault case against him has already been dismissed by a senior prosecutor in Stockholm; it was given new life only when a right-wing politician, Claes Borgstrom, intervened and made public statements about Assange's "guilt". Borgstrom, a lawyer, now represents the two women involved. His law partner is Thomas Bodstrom, who, as Sweden's minister for justice in 2001, was implicated in the handover of two innocent Egyptian refugees to a CIA kidnap squad at a Stockholm airport. Sweden later awarded them damages for their torture.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

These facts were documented in an Australian parliamentary briefing in Canberra on 2 March. Outlining the epic miscarriage of justice threatening Assange, the inquiry heard expert evidence that, under international standards of justice, the behaviour of certain officials in Sweden would be considered "highly improper and reprehensible [and] preclude a fair trial". Tony Kevin, a former senior Australian diplomat, described the close ties between the Swedish prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, and the Republican right in the US. "Reinfeldt and [George W] Bush are friends," he said. Reinfeldt has attacked Assange publicly and hired Karl Rove, the former Bush crony, to advise him. …

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