Politicians love dissidents and whistleblowers who are promoting democracy, transparency and the fight against corruption.
As long as the dissidents live in foreign countries.
Problems here? – What’s your ulterior motives for saying that?
When dissidents and whistleblowers turn a critical eye on our own democracies’ failings, politicians tend to question the dissidents’ motives, focus on the dissidents’ personal antics and while ignoring the message, trying to shoot the messengers.
The message from whistleblowers and dissidents is not that surprising: Our society has faults and shortcomings.
Every society have.
That’s a message the press in their traditional role as the fourth estate should be happy to support in order to ensure and improve a democratic society.
Unfortunately, this is seldom the case if the criticism goes to the heart of our society and reveals some truly dark sides.
The ugly truth
Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are two dissidents who have exposed some of the inner workings of our democracies that look truly ugly when exposed to the light of transparency.
Mass surveillance of innocent citizens, high level bribery, war crimes, kidnapping to torture and other serious issues that the powers that be would prefer is not known and not discussed by the general public.
My God, there’s a risk an enlightened public who know what is actually happening behind closed doors would demand changes.
Therefore, ministers have to lie about these things and the media should be kept in check by all means, so they don’t report them. Refering to the “security of the state” is always a way to persuade media organisations to not report on the inconvenient truths.
Failing that, you must resort to smear the messenger. This has two purposes:
1. Divert attention from the real issue(s)
2. Undermine trust in the messenger and subsequently in the evidence. If somebody are still paying attention to the real issue, the messenger’s arguments and evidence can more easily be dismissed. “They don’t know what they are talking about!” or “He’s a lying rapist, don’t believe him!”
A Lying Foreign Secretary (I can prove it; it’s not a smear:-)
Friday 5th of February we experienced how the latest inconvenient truth was damage controlled in the United Kingdom by lying politicians and a complacent media.
It all happened when the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, had been arbitrarily detained by United Kingdom and Sweden since 7. December 2010.
“I reject the decision of this working group. It is a group made up of lay people and not lawyers and their conclusion is flawed in law“, was the reply from UK’s foreign secretary Philip Hammond.
This is a lie.
Just check the CV’s of the working group’s members.
For good measure, Mr. Hammond added that the Working Group’s conclusion “was ridiculous”.
He did not substantiate that claim.
The British media could have used the 10 seconds it takes to find out that Mr. Hammond was lying about the Working Group.
The British media could have challenged Mr. Hammond’s asserton that the conclusion “was flawed in law” and “ridiculous”.
Instead they regurgitated the lie and followed up with other attempts to shoot the messenger. So the public was left with the impression that the UN Working Group “don’t know what they are talking about”.
If you can’t win with facts…
The very day the Working Group published their report, the UK media started what appeared as an orchestrated smear campaign. A truly bizarre example of the ad hominem attacks was an article in The Times Friday 5th February. A bit more than half the article is devoted to undermine the authority of the Working Group’s members. Despite Mr. Hammond’s claim, there is nothing about the members’ legal expertise that can be questioned, so the journalist tries to find some other personal shortcomings. You can almost sense how the journalist is grasping for straws:
One panel member, professor Roland Adjovi, “get mad when you don’t know things” and “he cared more about whether I was learning than grades” according to student reviews of the professor’s teaching. Maybe the journalist was subconsciously aware that the good professor Adjovi would be mad at the journalist for that poorly attempt at writing a hit piece.
Another panel member “glamourises cannabis” and “campaigns for an end to the prohibition of drugs in Latin America.”
What this has to do with José Guevara’s expertise in international law and arbitrary detention is not clear. Maybe the reader is supposed to envision the panel member sitting with a big joint while pondering the Assange case?
To imprint that visual image in the reader, the journalist resorts to write about how José Guevara’s has retweetet a tweet by a celebrity who apparently endorses cannabis. Again, how a retweet of a celebrity’s view on cannabis can say anything about José Guevara’s legal expertise is not clear at all.
And so it goes on.
UK in company with Iran and North Korea
At the very end of the piece is a quote from the Norwegian Mads Andenæs, the former chair of the group, and a well reputed Professor in Law with an impressive legal background. He states that Sweden and UK “have to comply with the ruling, that’s what international law requires.”
“Neither Sweden nor Britain would want to be seen as the sort of nations that have ignored these rulings, such as North Korea, Venezuela and Iran.”
Now it’s getting interesting, but then the article ends with a remark, that the Foreign Office and Metropolitan Police will still detain and extradite Mr. Assange if he leaves the Embassy.
The rest of the press, including The Guardian who previously had been working together with Julian Assange in publishing stories based on leaked documents, followed up with ad hominem attacks and not much substance. An extreme example is Marina Hyde’s article. Here are statements like “…my sense is that the finest legal minds are not drawn to UN panels as a career path” and “Given the UN panel is made up entirely of academics, seemingly devoid of judicial experience, nor any in either public international law or asylum/refugee law, its institutional competence verges on the intriguing.” Marina is famous for her sarcastic wit and she can Hyde (Sorry, couldn’t resist) behind that, but contrast her statements with these from the Working Group members’ CV’s: “has extensive practical experience in the area of human rights and international criminal law.”, “On the human rights campaign front, he has been actively engaged in the advocacy activities, over the last 20 years”, “She has gained extensive experience in leading and working in field-based missions”, ” has an extensive practical experience in international criminal justice and is an expert in jurisprudence of the international criminal tribunals and courts”. Even a sarcastic opinion piece should have the basic facts right. It would have been brave – and real journalism – if Mrs. Hyde had exposed Mr. Hammond’s lies.
Working Group under pressure from US and UK
It would also had been more interesting if the media had followed up on the allegation that the Working Group was put under extreme pressure by the US and the UK government (yes, that is from The Guardian’s live blog, but that extraordinarily claim was never followed up) to reach a conclusion favouring the 2 countries. Noone to my knowledge did that.
I have and I will return to that in a future post..
“But, he’s a rapist!”
The thing is, these lies and misinformation that a complacent media is peddling is feeding the public with misconceptions. Many intelligent people who follows current news have the impression that Julian Asange is a rapist.
He is not.
He is not even charged with rape.
He is wanted for questioning about a case that involves a burst condom and two of his lovers, who felt betrayed(double-timed) by Julian Assange.
Not exactly the hardcore rapist that the media wants to portray him as; more a lousy lover…
The case was not surprisingly dismissed by the Swedish prosecutor, but when another prosecutor, Marianne Ny, stepped in, the ongoing farce started.
Please question me
Julian Assange had been questioned once about the case. When Marianne Ny restarted the case 1. Septembeer 2010, Julian Assange and his lawyers repeatedly asked to be interviewed again. This was refused many times by Marianne Ny.
See “Agreed Statement of Facts and Issues” below.
After repeatingly asking to be interviewed, Julian Assange asks in writing the 14. September 2010 if he can leave Sweden. He is informed the next day that he is free to leave Sweden.
On the 27. September Marianne Ny decides Julian Assange should be arrested. At this time Julian Assange is in England. Julian Assange suggests he can come to Sweden Sunday 10. October or any day in the week commencing 11. October. This is rejected by Marianne Ny.
During October and November, Julian Assange and his lawyers suggests many different ways to do carry out the questioning; phone, videolink, in London. All proposals declined by Marianne Ny.
On the 26. November Marianne Ny issues an European Arrest Warrant for Julian Assange.
What the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is saying is, that the Swedish prosecutor has been procrastrinating the investigation for more than five years. She has repeatedly refused to interview Julian Assange, both in Sweden, in England and over phone or videolink.There is no proportionality in the investigation method and treatment administered by the UK and Swedish and the potential crime. Read the Working Group’s analysis and conclusion of the case. The reason why Julian Assange refuses to leave the Ecuadorean embassy is that he fears he will be extradited to the US via Sweden.
A lying Danish Justice Minister and a forced landing of a Presidential plane
This is not a far-fetched paranoid fantasy. The very same day the Working Group’s conclusion was published, the Danish Justice Minister, Søren Pind, had to admit he had been lying to the Danish Parliament.
Denying that a Gulfstream plane, previously used to kidnap people, was waiting in Copenhagen Airport from 25. June 2013 at the time another messenger of inconvenient truths, Edward Snowden, was hunted all over the world. Edward Snowden leaked documents documenting the world wide mass surveillance and hacking by the NSA and GCHQ. The Danish Justice Minister had previously denied that Denmark was cooperating in the man hunt.
We also know that the Bolivian President’s plane in July 2013 was forced to land in Vienna because the European airspace was closed for the presidential plane as the Americans believed Snowden was onboard. Despite the anticipated huge diplomatic fallout, the Europeans and Americans deemed it worth to do it.
When I have used the term shoot the messenger I haven’t meant it literally. But there are plenty of people with power, who have suggested that Assange should be killed as the video below documents. By the way; Assange has not broken any American law.
So there are numerous reasons why Julian Assange should be cautious.
The media manipulation paid off
Given the media blitz where facts were scarce, but lies, misinformation and smear were dominant, it is not a surprise that a poll Wednesday 10 February showed that the majority of Brits supported Mr. Hammonds false assessment of the UN Working Group and it’s conclusion. The British people’s negative impression of Mr. Assange had also increased. Some years ago a similar media manipulation in the US managed to convince the american population that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). That media campaign was so efficient that even in 2006, 3 years after the invasion had led to zero evidence of WMD, half of the american population believed that Iraq actually had WMD’s. When you only see the headlines and hear the soundbites, you are easily manipulated. Especially when the media is not doing their job and just repeats the misinformation instead of challenging people with power and a hidden agenda.
We know now that the WMD used as an excuse for the Iraq War was a lie.
The consequences of Mr. Hammond’s lie is not as severe as the Iraq War lies, but nevertheles, it shapes the public opinion of an important matter.
The lies and misinformation in this case will also be exposed for what they are. It will just take some time, but the truth is already getting out that the Working Group’s conclusion is sober and based on law.