FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Assassination of Julian Assange

I have just watched We Steal Secrets, Alex Gibney’s documentary about Wikileaks and Julian Assange. One useful thing I learnt is the difference between a hatchet job and character assassination. Gibney is too clever for a hatchet job, and his propaganda is all the more effective for it.

The film’s contention is that Assange is a natural-born egotist and, however noble his initial project, Wikileaks ended up not only feeding his vanity but also accentuating in him the very qualities — secretiveness, manipulativeness, dishonesty and a hunger for power — he so despises in the global forces he has taken on.

This could have made for an intriguing, and possibly plausible, thesis had Gibney approached the subject-matter more honestly and fairly. But two major flaws discredit the whole enterprise.

The first is that he grievously misrepresents the facts in the Swedish case against Assange of rape and sexual molestation to the point that his motives in making the film are brought into question.

To shore up his central argument about Assange’s moral failings, he needs to make a persuasive case that these defects are not only discernible in Assange’s public work but in his private life too.

We thus get an extremely partial account of what occurred in Sweden, mostly through the eyes of A, one of his two accusers. She is interviewed in heavy disguise.

Gibney avoids referring to significant aspects of the case that would have cast doubt in the audience’s mind about A and her testimony. He does not, for example, mention that A refused on Assange’s behalf offers made by her friends at a dinner party to put up the Wikileaks leader in their home — a short time after she says the sexual assault took place.

The film also ignores the prior close relationship between A and the police interviewer and its possible bearing on the fact that the other complainant, S, refused to sign her police statement, suggesting that she did not believe it represented her view of what had happened.

But the most damning evidence against Gibney is his focus on a torn condom submitted by A to the police, unquestioningly accepting its significance as proof of the assault. The film repeatedly shows a black and white image of the damaged prophylactic.

Gibney even allows a theory establishing a central personality flaw in Assange to be built around the condom. According to this view, Assange tore it because, imprisoned in his digital world, he wanted to spawn flesh-and-blood babies to give his life more concrete and permanent meaning.

The problem is that investigators have admitted that no DNA from Assange was found on the condom. In fact, A’s DNA was not found on it either. The condom, far from making A a more credible witness, suggests that she may have planted evidence to bolster a case so weak that the original prosecutors dropped it.

There is no way Gibney could not have known these well-publicised concerns about the condom. So the question is why would he choose to mislead the audience?

Without A, the film’s case against Assange relates solely to his struggle through Wikileaks to release secrets from the inner sanctums of the US security state. And this is where the film’s second major flaw reveals itself.

Gibney is careful to bring up most of the major issues concerning Assange and Wikileaks, making it harder to accuse him of distorting the record. Outside the rape allegations, however, his dishonesty relates not to an avoidance of facts and evidence but to his choice of emphasis.

The job of a good documentarist is to weigh the available material and then present as honest a record of what it reveals as is possible. Anything less is at best polemic, if it sides with those who are silenced and weak, and at worst propaganda, if it sides with those who wield power.

Gibney’s film treats Assange as if he and the US corporate-military behemoth were engaged in a simple game of cat and mouse, two players trying to outsmart each other. He offers little sense of the vast forces ranged against Assange and Wikileaks.

The Swedish allegations are viewed only in so far as they question Assange’s moral character. No serious effort is made to highlight the enormous resources the US security state has been marshalling to shape public opinion, most notably through the media. The hate campaign against Assange, and the Swedish affair’s role in stoking it, are ignored.

None of this is too surprising. Were Gibney to have highlighted Washington’s efforts to demonise Assange it might have hinted to us, his audience, Gibney’s own place in supporting this matrix of misinformation.

This is a shame because there is probably a good case to make that anyone who takes on the might of the modern surveillance and security empire the US has become must to some degree mirror its moral failings.

How is it possible to remain transparent, open, honest — even sane — when every electronic device you possess is probably bugged, when your every move is recorded, when your loved ones are under threat, when the best legal minds are plotting your downfall, when your words are distorted and spun by the media to turn you into an official enemy?

Assange is not alone in this plight. Bradley Manning, the source of Wikileaks’ most important disclosures, necessarily lied to his superiors in the military and used subterfuge to get hold of the secret documents that revealed to us the horrors being unleashed in Iraq and Afghanistan in our names.

Since he was caught, he has faced torture in jail and is currently in the midst of a show trial.

Another of the great whistleblowers of the age, Edward Snowden, was no more honest with his employers, contractors for the US surveillance state, as he accumulated more and more incriminating evidence of the illegal spying operations undertaken by the National Security Agency and others.

Now he is holed up in a Russian airport trying to find an escape from permanent incarceration or death. Should he succeed, as he did earlier in fleeing Hong Kong, it will probably be because of secrecy and deceit.

This documentary could have been a fascinating study of the moral quandaries faced by whistleblowers in the age of the surveillance super-state. Instead Gibney chose the easy course and made a film that sides with the problem rather than the solution.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books).  His new website is www.jonathan-cook.net.

More articles by:

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jonathan-cook.net/

January 23, 2019
Charles McKelvey
Popular Democracy in Cuba
Kenn Orphan
The Smile of Class Privilege
Leonard Peltier
The History Behind Nate Phillips’ Song
Kenneth Surin
Stalled Brexit Goings On
Jeff Cohen
The System’s Falling Apart: Were the Dogmatic Marxists Right After All?
Cira Pascual Marquina
Chavez and the Continent of Politics: a Conversation with Chris Gilbert
George Ochenski
Turning Federal Lands Over to the States and Other Rightwing Fantasies
George Wuerthner
Forest Service Ignores Science to Justify Logging
Raouf Halaby
In the Fray: Responses to Covington Catholic High
Kim C. Domenico
No Saviors But Ourselves; No Disobedience Without Deeper Loyalty
Ted Rall
Jury Trial? You Have No Right!
Michael Doliner
The Pros and Cons of Near Term Human Extinction
Lee Ballinger
Musical Unity
Elliot Sperber
The Ark Builders
January 22, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
On the Brink of Brexit: the Only Thing Most People Outside Westminster Know About Brexit is That It’s a Mess
Raouf Halaby
The Little Brett Kavanaughs from Covington Catholic High
Dean Baker
The Trump Tax Cut is Even Worse Than They Say
Stanley L. Cohen
The Brazen Detention of Marzieh Hashemi, America’s Newest Political Prisoner
Karl Grossman
Darth Trump: From Space Force to Star Wars
Glenn Sacks
Teachers Strike Dispatch #8: New Independent Study Confirms LAUSD Has the Money to Meet UTLA’s Demands
Haydar Khan
The Double Bind of Human Senescence
Alvaro Huerta
Mr. President, We Don’t Need Your Stinking Wall
Howard Lisnoff
Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali
Nicole Patrice Hill – Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Scarlet “I”: Climate Change, “Invasive” Plants and Our Culture of Domination
Jonah Raskin
Disposable Man Gets His Balls Back
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail