Slow Murder, Done On Your Dime


By Scott Ross

Or pence, if you’re British.

The hearing two weeks ago at Westminster Magistrate’s Court, distressing on several levels, revealed to anyone paying attention — and, rather frighteningly, there don’t appear to be many of us — the naked corruption involved in the process the world’s greatest bully indulges in to persecute (not prosecute) a single publisher.

It’s a dispiriting spectacle in which one allegedly sovereign nation lowers its head, raises its hindquarters and presents itself to another, on command. Those who witnessed this grotesque, Kafkaesque exercise in judicial abuse came forth shaken, and not merely by the blatant (I would say, openly defiant) contempt for legalities exhibited by the presiding magistrate; far worse for these witnesses was the condition of the… well, what shall we call him? Defendant? He’s been charged with nothing, save a flagrantly false conspiracy accusation for having allegedly violated a century-old espionage law by, not even Great Britain herself but another nation entirely, although behind that lies the near certainty that, if extradited to the United States, he will certainly be charged with worse. “Accused,” perhaps? The accusation that began this absurd and dangerous saga was a minor one: Failure to appear in court. It was, of course, what, again, lay behind that minor issue — what in fact convinced Assange to seek asylum of Ecuador — that is the nub of the problem. Had he appeared in that court at that time, he’d have been indicted on allegations of rape we now know were utterly false but which would have carried with them his extradition to Sweden and almost certain subsequent forced “rendition” to The Land of the Free. It was that particular sphere of criminality, carefully chosen to outrage tender identity sensibilities, as much as his revelations about Hillary Clinton, that turned so many liberals (especially women) from defending Assange, indeed feting and fawning over him, to chortling gleefully when, clearly ill, he was dragged from his sanctuary and placed in 23-hour per day solitary confinement in a prison filled with the most dangerous types of (unlike himself) convicted felons.

And if Assange is not yet broken, he is as close to breaking as makes no difference.


In her WiseUpAction essay Claudia M. Cuartas, who was in the Magistrate’s Court to watch as a certifiable lapdog to the American Permanent Government ruled in favor of keeping Assange in Belmarsh despite his having completed his mandatory (and, again, minor) bail-breach sentence, described Assnage’s physical deterioration thus: “I could clearly see how exhausted and emaciated he was, his back was bent, he was hunchbacked, his head practically sinking between his shoulders… he looked like a very old and tired man…” Cuartas also, she writes, “realised how judge [she is not a judge] Baraitser was visibly attentive with the US prosecution team, while showing apathetic gestures towards Julian and his defense team.” The historian and former diplomat Craig Murray’s account of the proceedings agrees with that of Cuartas: “Since his arrest, [Assange] has lost over 15 kg [roughly 33 pounds] in weight.”

Tellingly, Murray goes on to note that, while he has been (inexplicably, to my mind) “quietly skeptical of those who claimed that Julian’s treatment amounted to torture – even of Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – and skeptical of those who suggested he may be subject to debilitating drug treatments. But having attended the trials in Uzbekistan of several victims of extreme torture, and having worked with survivors from Sierra Leone and elsewhere, I can tell you that yesterday changed my mind entirely and Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness.” I do not quite know how it was possible for Murray, who claims to be a friend, not to see the signs before now when the rest of us, who don’t know Assange and have never been in his presence, have been able to for months, based on the descriptions of such those of his friends as have been allowed to see him. Each of his surreptitious photographs and fast public appearances (as brief as the British paid thugs surrounding him can make them) since this past spring have shown a man in the process of deterioration.

“Everybody in that court yesterday,” Murray goes on, “saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable. Yet the agents of the state, particularly the callous magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, were not just prepared but eager to be a part of this bloodsport. She actually told him that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later. The question of why a man who, by the very charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, had been reduced by the state to somebody incapable of following court proceedings, gave her not a millisecond of concern.” But then, why should it? She knows on which side of her scone the butter lies.

“The charge against Julian,” Murray then notes, getting to the heart of the matter, “is very specific; conspiring with Chelsea Manning to publish the Iraq War logs, the Afghanistan war logs and the State Department cables. The charges are nothing to do with Sweden, nothing to do with sex, and nothing to do with the 2016 US election; a simple clarification the mainstream media appears incapable of understanding.” Sadly, one suspects that the bosses at least in corporate media understand the distinction very well indeed.

“The purpose of yesterday’s hearing,” Murray continues, “was case management; to determine the timetable for the extradition proceedings. The key points at issue were that Julian’s defense was requesting more time to prepare their evidence; and arguing that political offenses were specifically excluded from the extradition treaty [emphasis mine]. There should, they argued, therefore be a preliminary hearing to determine whether the extradition treaty applied at all.” Below, the Article in question, provided by Murray:


Article 4.1 is the salient clause: Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense. Murray: “On the face of it, what Assange is accused of is the very definition of a political offense — if this is not, then what is? It is not covered by any of the exceptions from that listed. There is every reason to consider whether this charge is excluded by the extradition treaty, and to do so before the long and very costly process of considering all the evidence should the treaty apply. But Baraitser simply dismissed the argument out of hand.”

Assange’s team, we are told, “had very limited access to their client in jail and had not been permitted to hand him any documents about the case until one week ago. He had also only just been given limited computer access, and all his relevant records and materials had been seized from the Ecuadorean embassy by the US government; he had no access to his own materials for the purpose of preparing his defense.” Even more damning, Assange’s defense team argued that “they were in touch with the Spanish courts about a very important and relevant legal case in Madrid which would provide vital evidence. It showed that the CIA had been directly ordering spying on Julian in the Embassy through a Spanish company, UC Global, contracted to provide security there. Crucially this included spying on privileged conversations between Assange and his lawyers discussing his defense against these extradition proceedings, which had been in train in the USA since 2010. In any normal process, that fact would in itself be sufficient to have the extradition proceedings dismissed. The evidence to the Spanish court also included a CIA plot to kidnap Assange, which went to the US authorities’ attitude to lawfulness in his case and the treatment he might expect in the United States.” [Emphases mine.]

During the second phase of the hearings, Murray and others have reported, “There were five representatives of the US government present… seated at desks behind the lawyers in court.” It was to these that Baraitser repeatedly gave her attention and solicitude, reserving her contempt only for the man in the dock. “The US government was dictating its instructions to [QC] Lewis, who was relaying those instructions to Baraitser, who was ruling them as her legal decision. The charade might as well have been cut and the US government simply sat on the bench to control the whole process.”

Give them time, Craig. Give them time.

Baraister then decreed that the February hearing on extradition will be held, says Murray, “not at the comparatively open and accessible Westminster Magistrates Court where we were, but at Belmarsh Magistrates Court, the grim high security facility used for preliminary legal processing of terrorists, attached to the maximum security prison where Assange is being held. There are only six seats for the public in even the largest court at Belmarsh, and the object is plainly to evade public scrutiny and make sure that Baraitser is not exposed in public again to a genuine account of her proceedings…” There are those who would compare what is being done to Assange to the Soviet show trials of the 1930s, but the comparison won’t hold water; they were conducted in public. As for this one, the corporate media — very much including the BBC — in the filmmaker and activist John Pilger’s phrase, “blacked it out.”

Pilger, who was also there, writes elsewhere of Baraitser, “Her face was a progression of sneers and imperious indifference; she addressed Julian with an arrogance that reminded me of a magistrate presiding over apartheid South Africa’s Race Classification Board. When Julian struggled to speak, he couldn’t get words out, even stumbling over his name and date of birth. When he spoke truth and when his barrister spoke, Baraister contrived boredom; when the prosecuting barrister spoke, she was attentive. She had nothing to do; it was demonstrably preordained. As Pilger later told Afshin Rattansi on a recent Going Underground appearance, “[Baraister’s] bias was incandescent.”

The British MP Chris Williamson — who has himself twice been subjected to ludicrous and blatantly unlawful suspension from the Labour Party — attempted to table a motion condemning the treatment of Assange and was informed that it was sub judice, ergo not permitted without the express permission of the Speaker of Parliament. Yet even after repeated public screwings of him by his party, Williamson still maintains it is salvageable.

I admire Mr. Williamson’s principles, but believe he is deluding himself that Labour as it is currently constituted can be changed, just as people like Sanders and Gabbard in America are deluding themselves that the Democrats can be made to stop embracing  corporatism, war, neoliberalism and election rigging. Why can’t such impassioned people see reality, and consider forming new parties that could, because their concerns intersect with those of so many citizens across the political spectrum, become not only important but potentially vastly popular? What is the fear that governs them? If it is a fear of failure, they are already failing now — their respective parties will never change, and never allow them to lead. And anyway, matters are too crucial in both countries, and indeed the world, to go along with the entrenched, right-wing leadership of Labour or the Democrats.

Even Jeremy Corbyn, the best of a bad bunch and himself the repeated victim of coordinated smears and utterly risible allegations of that all-too-convenient new bogey anti-Semitism, has expressed merely a modicum of displeasure at the treatment of Assange. No calls for his release, no excoriating the British and American systems for his torture at their hands. No outrage that the very concept of a free press, without which no society, however flawed, can hope to call itself a democracy, is being destroyed before our incredulous eyes. Just a mild sniff. An “I say, this is unsporting, what?” And barely that.

Public discontent with both the ruling duopolies and the banks and corporations that control them to our detriment has, quite rightly, reached a pitch comparable to that of the early 1930s, and for similar reasons. The choice, it seems to me, is either peaceful revolution now, or violent revolution ere long.

And if you think I’m joking, consider this: If the Democrats actually manage to achieve their three-year dream and remove Donald J. Trump from office on a spurious charge because he upset them by winning the last election, they may well, in addition to elevating the odious — and truly dangerous — Mike Pence to the presidency, unleash civil war in this country.

After all, as Democrats themselves are so fond of noting, many Trump supporters are not only angry… they’re armed.

And don’t be shocked if some on the progressive left, whatever their pacifism, begin considering the purchase of a rifle or two.

Yeats - The Second Coming

Design by Scott Ross

I no longer use the terms “Deep State” or “Shadow Government” to describe the Beast Oliver Stone alluded to in Nixon that treats each successive occupant of the Oval Office as a temporary employee, because I have come to believe they are inadequate to the enormity of the monster that, for all but the first two years of my life (1961-1962) has been making my country a de facto banana republic, if not indeed an outright Fascist state, and in so doing rendering much of the rest of the earth miserable. I think of this Beast now as The Permanent Government, for no matter who resides in the White House, the NSA, CIA, FBI and DOD go on and on.

It is, therefore, sickening beyond my capability to describe the nausea to see so many liberals, deranged by the endless 2016 Presidential campaign, so fully and completely embrace The Beast. It is as if they have finally been granted the opportunity they have so long privately desired: To be exactly as fascistic as they tell us conservatives are. I would remind them that, as was the case in the 1950s, in order for McCarthyism to work both liberals and conservatives must be in accord. Without that precedent, the House Committee on Un-American Activities could never have succeeded in getting so many Americans to bear witness, true or false, against their friends, nor could so many dissenters, in both senses of the word, have been blacklisted.*

“The campaign of demonization and dehumanization against Julian,” as Craig Murray writes in the conclusion of his piece, “based on government and media lie after government and media lie, has led to a situation where he can be slowly killed in public sight [emphasis mine], and arraigned on a charge of publishing the truth about government wrongdoing, while receiving no assistance from ‘liberal’ society.”

Ben Swann, meanwhile, says this as preface to his recent interview with John Kiriakou, the man who exposed the torture program: “It is clearly not enough for this government that Manning and [Jeremy] Hammond have already spent nearly a decade each in a cell… for having revealed crimes committed by big corporations and government. No, it seems the goal is to keep them punished.” In the discussion that follows, Swann and his guest discuss the parallel cases of Manning and Hammond, the Anonymous hacker who is, like Manning, being mauled by the CIA-controlled Federal court in Virginia, punitively re-sentenced and fined for refusing to testify against Assange, all of it just as he was about to receive his release. This is iniquitous. It is extra-legal. It is worthy of Torquemada. Of Manning and that rigged court, Kiriakou says, “She refused to testify, and that took real guts.” Those who don’t get this about Manning are laboring under a misapprehension about which almost any gay man or Lesbian, or transgendered person, could quickly and easily disabuse you: When one has spent nearly the entirety of his or her life fighting against bigotry in all its forms — mental, emotional, verbal, oral, legislative and physical — and come out the other side more or less intact on the basis solely of their own inner strength, do you really believe you can break them that easily?

I’m hardly suggesting this genuinely iniquitous, and criminal, legal harassment of Manning is a breeze for her. The confinement she is being made subject to is affecting her physical as well as her mental and emotional health and indeed she is, along with Assange, being slowly and quietly and deliberately murdered by my government. But imagine: As a young man, in the U.S. military, she identified as gay — and this before the odious “compromise” of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” was, finally and belatedly, lifted — then, once imprisoned, as transgendered. Do you think, somehow, that was easy, and this is hard?

They don’t know with whom they’re dealing. They think she’s just a faggot. pussy. A chick, to quote the unfortunate Jon Stewart, with a dick. They can’t imagine a young woman of principle who will stand up to them, and refuse to accept their jurisdiction over her, or their ability to make her testify.  And that, I submit, goes some way toward explaining the hellishly punitive and unconstitutional fines they are currently levying against her and which, if allowed to stand — they could be slightly less than a half-million dollars if she is let out of jail next year — will almost certainly allow them to send her back to prison for non-payment.

As Kiriakou notes, “the goal is to frighten others by your example.”

And no liberal voice is raised in her defense, or Hammond’s. They don’t necessarily speak against either of them. They don’t need to. All they need do is maintain a discrete, and telling, silence.

The estimable Caitlin Johnstone, writes of the recent Assange hearing, “It is obvious that the US government is destroying Assange to signal to journalists the consequences of publishing information. It is therefore also obvious that any journalist who fails to use whatever platform they have to speak out against Assange’s persecution has no intention of ever publishing anything that the US government doesn’t want published. Their silence on or support for what is being done to this man can and should be taken as an admission that they are nothing other than state propagandists. State propagandists, sycophants, and cowards… exactly how much torture is appropriate because your preferred candidate wasn’t the one who was elected?”

As I have often said, and as I have had occasion to say with even greater frequency these last several years, “Scratch a liberal, find a fascist.” Don’t believe me? Below, the results of a FOX poll (as re-Tweeted by Glenn Greenwald) asking Americans which organizations and people they trust. Granting the unreliability of polls, and admitting too the way they are skewed now to older respondents with land-lines, note the figures from Democrats when asked how much confidence they have in the CIA. Note, too, the numbers for Clinton correspondents.

Confidence - Greenwald

Congratulations, Boomers! You have officially become your parents.

And Millennials… you’ve just become your grandparents.

These are the same people whose heads, or the heads of those they knew or went to school with, were smashed by police batons in Chicago and Century City; whose blood was wantonly shed by the National Guard in Ohio and Mississippi and Florida; who watched helplessly as CIA and FBI agents conspired against and murdered their president, a beloved civil rights leader, a Black Muslim activist, a Senator and a peaceful Black Panther and Christ alone knows how many more, and, pace Hollywood, assisted the killers of three young men in Mississippi to evade justice, just as they would later plan, egg on and otherwise abet the daylight murders of mostly black Communists and industrial workers by Nazis and the Klan in Greensboro; whose affiliations were questioned and whose groups were infiltrated by these agents of chaos, these servants of The Beast. And now they say they love the CIA. They trust the FBI.

And even as Julian Assange stands in a British courtroom and is barely able to speak, or recall his own name or birth date, liberals are suggesting he is “faking it” to secure a medical release.

All because their fucking awful candidate lost.

And they have the almighty gall now to tell us they’re “the adults in the room.”

After three years of “Russia, Russia, Russia!” and Donald Trump being pilloried for many of the same things the “Resistance” slept through during the Obama Administration, here at last is one case we can actually, fully and fairly (for once) pin exclusively to Trump. It is his Administration that is carrying this miscarriage of justice forward after even Obama, the whistle-blower’s prosecutor-in-chief, declined to go after anyone in the press under the century-old Espionage Act. Donald (“I Love WikiLeaks!”) Trump, apparently, has no such compunctions.

Yet the “Resistance” says nothing about it.

Because Assange exposed Clinton. And they hate him for it.

And here one wonders. For while the persecution — not prosecution, which we, and he, will likely never live to see — of Assange is certainly motivated chiefly by the American Permanent Government’s desire to squash all dissent, and all inconvenient truth, yet might we not be forgiven if we suspect, just a little, that dismantling what shards remain of the U.S. free press doesn’t suit Trump personally? The irony, of course, is that he is a man entirely made by press releases — often either in his own hand or by his own mouth (cf, Pete Hamill, News is a Verb.) Yet the press that helped make him turned, like Dr. Frankenstein, against its own Monster in 2016… after giving him billions in free advertising. And why?

The primary reason: He doesn’t know how to be subtle. Trump says aloud what our duly selected leaders are supposed only to hint at, or to cover with phrases, the kind we traditionally (if not habitually) go to war on. The secondary reason: That for the first time since 1963 the chief resident of the White House seems to think he’s actually the President of the United States. That hubris, that sin against the Permanent Government, dwarfs the other. Six ways to Sunday, as our Senate Minority Leader so memorably, and with such contented approval, once mooed. Not standing in the way of the Assange execution — for that is what is taking place, after all, a slow execution — may just be Trump’s attempt at mending fences a little.

If so, it won’t work. They’ll continue to hate him. All of them: Liberals, the FBI, CIA, Justice, the military, the corporate press.

And for this a man has to die?

In the Afterword to his informative and  impeccably researched and rendered book The Management of Savagery: How America’s National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump (Verso, 2019) Max Blumenthal writes of the insane drive by so-called liberal Democrats to head backwards into a 1954-style confrontation with Russia, and doing so moreover utilizing the same “homo = bad” iconography we’re used to seeing on the Right but now note coming at us with increasing speed from the alleged left:

“By uniting against a foreign evil that supposedly controlled the White House, liberals had unwittingly become infected with the same tendency exhibited by right-wing Tea Party activists, who had sought to cast Obama as a crypto-Muslim with no American birth certificate. Almost overnight, hun­dreds of thousands of liberals were showing up at postelection rallies with placards depicting Trump in Russian garb and sur­rounded by Soviet hammer-and-sickle symbols. Typical of the phantasmagoria of the liberal “resistance” was a giant projection above the Apple Store near the Manhattan gay mecca of Chelsea that portrayed a shirtless Putin lovingly embracing a pregnant, effeminate Trump. Complimented with the hashtag #LoveThroughHate, the image conveyed the sense that Putin and Trump were gay together, and that Trump was the bottom in the relationship. [Emphasis mine] For the first time in history, a majority of registered Democrats told pollsters that they believed Americans should fight and die to defend NATO members like Latvia from a hypothetical Russian invasion. With the strange and sudden transformation of the Democrats into a paranoid war party, a quiet neoconservative campaign set into motion over a decade before was being realized.”

While one can certainly quibble with his use of the word “unwittingly” (Remember: Scratch a liberal, find a fascist) what Blumenthal gets at above is with what rapture liberals have let themselves be gulled and co-opted by what should, if they were not en masse a cadre of blithering phonies, be their natural enemies. Worse, as above, many  either cannot even see how contemptuous they are, or are reveling in it. Even gay liberals now laugh at their own debasement.

Blumenthal too is hated by these types, if not perhaps with the full-throated vigor they reserve for Assange. At the launch of The Management of Savagery, Politics and Prose, the venerable, and venerated, bookstore that serves as the unofficial flagship for D.C.-based independent booksellers, was besieged by calls and Tweets smearing its author with claims that he was “as Assad supporter” (hmm… where have we heard that one before?), and a “genocide denier,” and demanding the store cancel his scheduled appearance. Blumenthal is loathed by the Permanent Government for his critical reporting, and they’re making it pretty clear these days that they’ll do almost anything to stop him… reporting. Up to and including an arrest on ludicrous charges, served by six officers who performed a SWAT-style assault on his home.

Following his eventual release Blumenthal Tweeted: “I spent 2 days in jail, was shackled for extended periods & was denied my right to call a lawyer.” And do the mighty members of the self-styled “Resistance” say a bloomin’ word about this fascist police-state treatment of a journalist? No. Do journalists? Of course not. Why? In the case of the former, because they don’t care about free speech (other than their own) and in the case of the latter, because they a) are in the pockets of the Permanent State, ever prepared to smear anyone who makes a case against it; and b) resent Blumental for being everything they are not: A genuine, painstaking investigative reporter doing solid, unassailable journalism.

The deafening silence of and even cheers by most of the Fourth Estate (now largely a Fifth Column) anent Blumenthal’s arrest and illegal detention are revealing. You may not like Max Blumenthal personally — the extremely irritating, vocal-fried Matt Taibbi finds him “annoying, in every way” — and you may find fault with his presentation, his findings, his analysis; you may quarrel with his perspective; you may even think he’s a bad man and a lousy reporter. That does not matter, any more than it mattered about Julian Assange. Or Chelsea Manning. Or John Kiriakou. Or Jeremy Hammond. Or Alex Jones. What matters is that a journalist was cited months ago on a phony charge of which he was given no notice or the opportunity to present himself and his dwelling surrounded by macho self-styled commandos, that he was taken from his home in his pajamas, thrown into a series of paddy-wagons, denied access to a legal representative, and held for days in a cage because he opposes American hegemony in foreign nations, and reports on his nation’s abuses of others.

Julian Assange is not being held hostage in a maximum security prison because he upset Hillary Clinton. He is being detained in these barbaric conditions because he reported on American military personnel massacring journalists and civilians. Chelsea Manning is being persecuted with all the force of the Permanent Government’s might for the same reason, and Jeremy Hammond for similar. And, like Manning, Hammond (who had expected shortly to be released) is not only being held hostage by our alleged criminal “justice” system but having his sentence extended, and being made subject to ruinous fines, for the heinous legal sin of refusing to testify against Assange.

And we tell ourselves we don’t live in a fascist state.

What are we to call a state which jails journalists on trumped-up (pun definitely intended) charges, throws whistle-blowers — the non-sanctioned kind, that is — into prison (Kiriakou, Manning, Hammond) or forces them to emigrate (Edward Snowden) for the “crime” of revealing to the public, which has every right to know, what its government, elected and permanent, is doing to and against it, other than fascist?

But wait! Perhaps Max Blumenthal is not a journalist. What is the criteria for being a journalist? Well, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) will tell you. Or, he’ll make sure the Permanent Government tells you.

Mark Joyella writes, in Forbes: “Blumenthal’s proposed Journalist Protection Act would make assaulting a member of the working press or making threats with the intent to intimidate journalists from doing their jobs a crime carrying a sentence of three to six years in federal prison.” Yet nowhere in Joyella’s entirely un-critical report does he tell you that a) this bill was invoked as a response to the president’s usual eye-rollingly dopey “critiques” of the corporate press, which it interprets as “bullying” and b) that under its provisions, someone will get to define what a journalist is. And that someone will not be Edward R. Murrow or I.F. Stone or Aaron Maté, folks. That someone will be a bureaucrat, with an FBI or CIA agent looking over his or her shoulder. Don’t like Maté’s commentary? Poof! He’s no longer a journalist. Hate Blumenthal’s criticism of U.S. interventionist policies in South America and the Middle East? Ping! He’s not a journalist. Got your knickers in a twist over Abbie Martin, or Elizabeth Lea Vos, or Ben Swann? Poof! Ping! No longer journalists. No longer a problem. Close their social media accounts, shut down their You-Tube channels. Done, and done.

Leave it up to the government to determine who qualifies as a journalist, and even what little journalistic independence is left will be gone.

But then, most of you won’t raise a peep of protest, will you? Just as most of you haven’t raised your voices in support of Manning, Hammond or Assange. Just as you were silent when the big guns came for John Kirakou, Ed Snowden and Bill Binney.

Just as your neighbors will be silent when they come for you.


* And no, Virginia, Senator McCarthy did not target Hollywood. That was HUAC. “McCarthyism” is merely the convenient banner for that era’s shameless political persecution… of which today’s liberals, like yesterday’s, heartily approve.

Text copyright 2019 by Scott Ross


The Politics of Pique


By Scott Ross

May 3rd marked the observation of something called “World Press Freedom Day,” first proclaimed by the United Nations in 1993. There is much irony inherent in this, the first especial instance of which was the passage three years following that initial proclamation of a bill, engineered by Bill (and Hillary?) Clinton and rammed through Congress at his (their?) insistence: The Telecommunications Act of 1996. This blatantly fascistic law has in the years since effectively reduced media control in the United States from 50 corporations to a mere six and jettisoned what I would argue is the single most important component of a free society, without which democracy is impossible: An unfettered press.

There is irony as well in the reactionary and repressive governments —Saudi Arabia springs to mind, as it will — the United States, in foolish contravention of George Washington’s warning,* habitually supports and in which the press is strictly controlled by a state which, further, goes out of its way and across continents to punish with torture and death. I would include in that charming group the current government of Israel, whose military snipers target not only Palestinian men, women and children but clearly delineated medics and journalists. And indeed, the U.S. itself, as evidenced by the appalling video the almost infinitely courageous Chelsea Manning released to WikiLeaks of American military personnel massacring civilians, including journalists, from a helicopter in Baghdad, and laughing as they did so.

The more immediate ironies, which went unnoted save by the progressive left, were that “World Press Freedom Day” was commemorated this year during a period when the Western press generally, and the U.S. corporate media specifically, is (to use their new favorite word) colluding with the Trump Administration and its shadow masters to demonize and depose a legally-elected government in Venezuela. At the same time, the three most egregious examples of free-speech suppression by the West had so recently occurred, and (in the first case) been roundly celebrated by nearly all the ladies and gentlemen of the corporate media and (in the second two) utterly ignored:

  • The expulsion (following the promise of a massive American bribe) from the Ecuadoran Embassy and subsequent immediate arrest, on a flagrantly specious charge, of Julian Assange, now in a prison reserved for hardened and violent criminals and soon quite possibly to be turned over to the U.S. and extradited (on equally spurious charges), there presumably to be tortured, placed before a kangaroo installation called the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (known here as “The Espionage Court”), tried without legal defense counsel and sentenced for life — in not indeed to death — to the accompaniment of lusty cheers from the American press;
  • The harassment and, lately, arrest of legal and invited protectors of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, in contravention of established world norms for protocol, a violation of international law and the inviolability of embassies throughout the world and which, its unalloyed totalitarianism to one side, will almost certainly generate dangerous blowback elsewhere;
  • And the re-imprisonment, largely in solitary confinement, of Manning, her release and her re-re-imprisonment last week, with the added financial burden it will eventually entail, in daily fines of $500 to $1000, in addition to the physical and psychological effects on a woman who has already been charged, sentenced, imprisoned and released for the identical “crime” and which are clearly, and cruelly if not indeed with evil intent, designed to break, or kill, her. Either would, presumably, be acceptable outcomes.

What is being done to Manning makes me so angry, and so frustrated, I can scarcely speak about it without choking. It is iniquitous. It is stunningly vindictive. It is in fact fascist. I am livid, not merely at the court that has imposed this deliberate torture on her, but the overwhelming lot of so-called journalists throughout America who are utterly silent on the subject…. when not actively sneering at and deriding her.

And it this last bulleted item that is most directly related to the main topic of this essay. For, setting aside for the moment that WikiLeaks (indeed, a free press generally) is the bane, not merely of the National Security State but of the corporate class, whose investments in the former are, however obliquely, threatened by exposure of the misdeeds of our military/industrial rulers, much of what now governs the reaction (or lack thereof) of corporate media, and its main consumers, can be boiled down to a simple concept. And the word that best defines this attitude is pique.

As long as Julian Assange, via WikiLeaks, was exposing the misdeeds of the hatred Bush Administration, liberals were more than delighted to receive the news — they were euphoric. Assange was all but nominated for a form of living canonization, feted and fussed over and interviewed at length. It was only when he, and figures like Manning and Edward Snowden, shone lights on the unsavory acts of the Obama regime (to use the favorite word of the mainstream media to describe any foreign government it does not care for) that Assange became suspect. This is due in part to party politics; how dare he — how dare anyone — rip the carefully constructed veil of respectability and moral rectitude off that universal symbol of hope, change and transparency? Revealing the lies and misdeeds of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz was one thing. Holding Obama to the same standards? Outrageous! But even that was as nothing compared to the greatest crime Assange committed: Drawing the curtain on the seedy backstage wherein Hillary Clinton exhibited her “private face” for her true public — her Wall Street owners.

That Hillary Clinton is not merely a practiced liar but, seemingly, a pathological one, should be news to no one not lost in the miasma of political team-sports. (As my friend Eliot M. Camarena has noted, we’ve already had one of those in the Oval Office; he was forced to resign.) But that WikiLeaks revealed the extent of her prevarication — that was too much. Of course, Clinton’s deceit goes deeper than assuring her billionaire donors with a wink that she has a public face and a private one so don’t worry, boys, I’ll always be true to you. It involves her takeover, and operation of, the DNC throughout the 2016 election; its subsequent cheating of Sanders and disenfranchising of his supporters and independent voters, the largest proven case of election racketeering in modern American history; her so-called “Pied Piper Strategy,” whereby she and Bill convinced their media assets to prop up Trump (and which, indeed, included that pair’s efforts in getting The Donald to run); and her determination to deflect voter concerns over her sale, as Secretary of State, of uranium ore to the Russian Federation as a means to directly benefit her husband and their phony Foundation, onto her opponent. No wonder she wanted Assange drone-bombed.

It was this unconscionable airing of Clinton’s soiled pantsuits by WikiLeaks that placed Assange officially beyond the pale. This is what I mean by pique. It is the same pique that found in any critical discussion of Hillary Clinton’s neoliberalism (if not indeed neoconservatism) the inevitable accusation leveled at the questioner and regardless of his or her gender, of “sexism.” It is pique that created the Pussyhat Brigade, fueled meaningless acts of protest that continue even now and which embrace such paragons of public virtue as James Clapper and Robert Mueller, and which suggests to them placards (“If Clinton was President I’d be having brunch now”) revealing far more than their carriers realize about their own essential complacence, and the extent of their personal pique. It’s the source of the virus that has engendered the entire so-called “Russiagate” hysteria, the gas that makes it run and which finds its apotheosis in the crazed Red-baiting of Rachel Maddow and that collection of deranged harpies on The View on the sillier end of the spectrum, and the seeming desire for nuclear war with Russia on the more dangerous, deadly, end. And it is Manning’s association with Assange, on a matter completely divorced from Assange’s revelation of the Podesta emails, which governs the lack of support for her and the reaction to her extra-legal imprisonment. She is seen as an expendable means to “getting” the source of their pique.

For pique it is which has seen to it that Trump cannot engage in a meaningful or productive conversation with Putin about anything. It is pique that has given him the greatest re-election gift imaginable. It is pique which demands that Democrats, and their media assets, not give an inch, or admit that the entire two-year investigation was a colossal waste of time, choler and treasure. And it is pique that will ultimately doom the campaign of whichever corporate tool they nominate as their party’s standard-bearer next summer.

But pique has other uses; it can extend the common madness far beyond reason, if not ad infinitum. For it is this same pique that encourages Neera Tanden to observe of the adherents of Twitter, “There are many cultists on this site, but the Assange cultists are the worst.  Assange was the agent of a proto fascist state, Russia, to undermine democracy.  That is fascist behavior.  Anyone on the left should abhor what he did.  Not celebrate it. [sic]” Note that Tanden, who “earned’ over $314K in 2016, is nonetheless a) not literate enough to understand basic tenets of the written word; b) feels compelled to waste two of her 140-character limit on unnecessary spaces between sentences; and c) apparently believes that, “Not celebrate it” is a sentence. (Yes, use of an abbreviated clause can herald an effective rhetorical flourish. But not in this case.) Her sub-literacy aside — the lack of a hyphen between “proto” and “fascist,” for example — Tanden, a Clinton stalwart to the end, thinks she is being clever by expressing a fascist sentiment while deflecting the accusation to those who not only might disagree with her but who know that there is not now, nor has there ever been, the slightest evidence to suggest that Assange, or WikiLeaks, is in any way aligned with, or subservient to, the Russian Federation. Like icon, like acolyte.

I will not accuse Tanden of the staggering ignorance her nasty little Tweet seems to illustrate, as I suspect she knows quite how deliberately she is misleading her hapless followers with that specious accusation, so let us assume that she is well aware that WikiLeaks has published thousands of pages of documentation critical of Russia. She may not know, as many do not, that Putin is no great admirer of Edward Snowden — nor, by extension, of Assange or Manning or John Kiriakou or Bill Binney — believing that the man his nation gave asylum to is guilty of a state crime. (See Oliver Stone’s The Putin Interviews.) Note too that the Tandens of the world, who without ever offering proof — or who offer self-serving official United States government excuses as proof — invariably state that the elected leader of Russia is, to use their favorite, CIA-directed, phrase, “a brutal dictator.” Yet they see nothing brutal or dictatorial about a band of uniformed “secret police” dragging an obviously ill Australian publisher into a waiting van.

Tanden is, please recall, President of the so-called Center for American Progress (which despite its sunny, double-speak name is in fact a neoliberal corporate “think-tank”) and was, during the 2016 primaries, a close advisor of Hillary Clinton’s. And, as Jimmy Dore recently pointed out, once said — apropos of whether Libya, now a chaotic no-man’s land, owes America for its “liberation” — “We have a giant deficit. They have a lot of oil.” Could Donald J. Trump have advocated international resource theft any better? It should, however, be remembered that Assange also published some of Tanden’s damaging emails. There is more than a slight whiff of personal vengeance — not to say pique — in her words. Such is the duplicitous game these types play. Tanden’s reaction to Russia asking that Assange’s rights be respected? “Fascists take care of their own.” One is tempted to ape her immaturity and sneer, “Takes one to know one, lady.”

WikiLeaks Editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson reports that, not only was Assange being monitored by video and still camera at every moment of his life, including conferences with his Ecuadoran attorney, but that legal documents were stolen and copied, the whole of this illegal surveillance then turned over to blackmailers in Madrid. The Tandens of the so-called “left” say nothing, of course, about the (to use her own word, only properly hyphenated) proto-fascist treatment of Assange. And I would love to hear the smug, condescending British and American reporters who have grilled Hrafnsson and Assange’s Australian attorney Jennifer Robison if their own governments were spying on them in their homes, recording their personal communications, legal discussions, sex lives and bathroom visits.† They’d squeal like stuck pigs. Yet somehow Assange is “naive” for not assuming it’s been done to him — and, presumably, ungrateful for complaining about it. And they wonder that so much of the public, both in Britain and elsewhere, is thoroughly disgusted by the press?

No one has ever successfully challenged the veracity of a single WikiLeaks’ publication. And that, I submit, is the real reason Assange is so hated, both by the National Security State and the permanently piqued.

Irony abounds as well in the fawning treatment of reporters and commentators in the United States (and in Britain) who, out of their pique over Clinton as much as their loathing for Donald Trump, have opportunistically peddled two and a half years of evidence-free accusations concerning the President and his counterpart in the Russian Federation.

Take, for example, the case of Marcie Wheeler, the likes of whom Michael Tracey refers to as “journalist-adjacent types.” This woman did the one thing that Glenn Greenwald correctly maintains is the gravest sin a journalist can commit: Turning in a source to the government. Even now, a year after she did so, and with the Mueller Report released, Wheeler is still speaking as if her informing on a source was of the gravest importance to the investigation and so cannot reveal the circumstances. And the brigade that has made hay (and jack) on the counterfeit accusations against Trump and, by extension, Vladimir Putin, lauded her as a fearless exemplar of the journalistic profession. So we can see where we are now: If you expose a government’s international murders and militaristic duplicity you are beyond the pale; if you snitch on a source ​to ​that government, you’re a liberal icon.

Take as well the increasingly deranged, deliberately prevaricating and, I aver, fundamentally dangerous Rachel Maddow, dementedly Red-baiting not only a nation that has not been Red in decades, but anyone who debunks her infinitely debunkable, certifiably reactionary, assertions, not the least insipid of which is that the Kremlin will turn off your heat during record freezes. To the best of my admittedly limited knowledge only the U.S. has, through its secret HAARP program, that ability. But for $30,000 a day, a person like Maddow may, and will, say anything. And the unthinking Piqued cheer this madness on.

Those of us who grew up in the 1960s and ‘70s and who in our teens looked into the 1950s Red Scare could scarcely believe what we were reading. How, we wondered, could claiming Communist interference on everything, without the slightest scintilla of evidence, not have been looked upon with skepticism by, at least, the more intelligent and well-educated Americans?

We now know the answer.

In the early 1980s, the then-CIA chief William Casey made a statement to the newly-elected Ronald Reagan at their first meeting, which a principled man would have responded to in the only sane possible manner: By, if not calling in the White House guards to hold the maniac until he could be arrested and charged with conspiring against his country, at the very least demanding its speaker resign and his government entity be scrutinized in minute detail and re-aligned as a result of that investigation. Reagan, of course, did none of these things.

“We’ll know our disinformation program is complete,” Casey told him, “when everything the American public believes is false.”

One expects the National Security types to receive this information with nods of approval. One would like to imagine that others — particularly in the press — would express outrage. But those who believe Operation Mockingbird, the 1960s CIA campaign to influence and guide writers, reporters, editors and entire publications and publishing houses in the production of their news and analysis content, was ended merely because the Company told us it was also, presumably, maintain a conviction that the Easter Bunny leaves multicolored eggs in convenient baskets. Perhaps when the day dawns… and dawn it will, ere long… that these same writers, reporters and editors of publications find themselves in shackles, sharing a concrete wall with Julian Assange for the National Security crime of revealing truth to their viewers, readers and listeners, they will grasp the opportunity that fell into their laps to defend their own profession and which they deliberately eschewed in favor of the fast buck and the hosannas of the professionally piqued, and repeat to themselves a variation on the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller:

“First they came for Assange, and I did not speak out because I was not Assange…”

*“The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.” — George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796

†Always assuming — a dangerous occupation these days — these governments aren’t in fact doing just that, perhaps through our now ubiquitous electronic devices.

Copyright 2019 by Scott Ross