By Chris Hedges / Original to ScheerPost
LONDON — I am standing at the gates of HM Prison Belmarsh, a high security penitentiary in southeast London, with Craig Murray, British Ambassador to Uzbekistan until he was fired for exposing CIA black sites and torture centers in that country. Inside the prison, Julian Assange and Stella Moris are being married. Craig and I were on the list of the six guests invited to the wedding, but prison authorities, in an example of the institutional sadism that characterizes all prisons, denied us entry. Craig, who was to have been one of two witnesses, was informed that he could not enter because he would “endanger the security of the prison.”
Craig came down from Edinburgh by train. I flew over from New York. We would at least be at the entrance of the prison with 150 Assange supporters. Craig, dressed in full Scottish regalia —and a kilt he admitted to expanding every few years to accommodate his broadening girth — made a fashion statement and perhaps a point about Scottish independence.- He was outdone by Stella, who wore a flowing ice lilac A-line bridal gown, corset with plastic stays so she could pass through the four metal detectors, and veil designed and donated by fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler.
“It’s a part of the ongoing mental torture that even on his happiest day they will at the last moment strike off guests on his guest list just to mess him about, just to try and make things as unpleasant as they can possibly make them,” Craig laments. “We shouldn’t be surprised. It’s a piece of the unnecessary cruelty with which he has been kept from the start. Why on earth is he even in a maximum security prison built to house terrorists? I’m quite amused by the explanation that I endanger the security of the prison. I feel quite flattered by this. I couldn’t understand it all until today when, of course, it occurred to me that I look incredibly sexy in my kilt and they thought a prison riot might ensue.”
The day is bittersweet. Julian may never be able to live with his wife and family. Yet it is an affirmation of love and commitment and hope carried out in a small side room with folding chairs and a laminate table.The prison authorities denied Julian and Stella use of the chapel. The ceremony was witnessed by six family members, including Julian and Stella’s two young sons, one of whom fell asleep and the other of whom was preoccupied with a paper plane and tried to turn on one of the alarms. Two guards were stationed in the room.
There was no reception. There was no cake. The prison denied Julian and Stella’s request for a photographer. A guard took a few pictures, but prison authorities told Julian and Stella they could not be posted on social media or shared with the public. They were allowed to kiss. This prompted the older boy, Gabriel, to say, the family told me, “Oh, that’s a sloppy one.” Afterwards, the Catholic chaplain, who had the foresight to bring a white tablecloth and candles, gave them his blessing. Julian and Stella were given half an hour together in a crowded visitors hall. And then Julian, prisoner A 9379AY, was escorted back to his cell to the applause of the prisoners on his tier.
“It was an act of defiance,” Stella tells me later of the wedding. “You can tell by how much they fear it.”
The campaign to dehumanize Julian, who honored his Scottish roots wearing a purple and beige kilt, along with a purple tie and waistcoat, also donated and designed by Westwood and Kronthaler, extends to his wedding day. No doubt one of the reasons Craig, whose coverage of the court proceedings for Julian have been dogged and brilliant, and I were not at the wedding is because the prison authorities did not want us to write about the wedding, which they should have known we would do whether we were in the prison or not.
“They have viciousness,” Craig says. “They have the ability to employ the violence of the state. They have arbitrary power they can use to take cruel and nasty decisions for the sake of it, just to show that they can, but we, on our side, have peace and love and truth. Those values, at the end of the day, are far more important.”
Julian is targeted because his organization WikiLeaks released the Iraq War Logs in October 2010, which documented numerous US war crimes—including images seen in the Collateral Murder video — of gunning down two Reuters journalists and 10 other unarmed civilians.
He is targeted because he made public the killing of nearly 700 civilians that had approached too closely to US checkpoints.
He is targeted because he exposed the hacking tools used by the CIA known as Vault 7, exposing that the CIA is able to compromise cars, smart TVs, web browsers and the operating systems of most smart phones, as well as operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, macOS and Linux.
He is targeted because he exposed the more than 15,000 unreported deaths of Iraqi civilians, the torture and abuse of some 800 men and boys, aged between 14 to and 89, at Guantánamo.
He is targeted because he showed us that Hillary Clinton in 2009 ordered US diplomats to spy on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other U.N. representatives from China, France, Russia, and the UK, spying that included obtaining DNA, iris scans, fingerprints, and personal passwords, part of the long pattern of illegal surveillance that included the eavesdropping on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the weeks before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
He is targeted because he exposed that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the CIA orchestrated the June 2009 military coup in Honduras that overthrew the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya, replacing it with a murderous and corrupt military regime. He is targeted because he released documents that revealed that the United States secretly launched missile, bomb, and drone attacks on Yemen, killing scores of civilians.
He is targeted because he made public the $657,000 paid to Hillary Clinton by Goldman Sachs to give talks and her private assurances to corporate leaders that she would do their bidding while promising the public financial regulation and reform. He is targeted because he revealed the internal campaign to discredit and destroy British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn by members of his own party.
For these truths alone he is guilty.
The Biden administration is determined to extradite Julian and charge him with 17 counts of the Espionage Act, which would send him to prison for 170 years. I sat through some of the court proceedings in London. It was a judicial farce, especially since the Spanish security firm UC Global at the Ecuadorian Embassy, where Julian had taken refuge for seven years, recorded all of Julian’s conversations with his attorneys and turned them over to the CIA. That fact alone should invalidate the trial. But there is also the bald fact that Julian never committed a crime.
Julian is not a US citizen. WikiLeaks is not a US-based publication. And yet he is charged, under the US Espionage Act, with treason. It is judicial pantomime, a show trial where the rule of law is sabotaged by barristers in horsehair wigs and grand inquisitors such as Gordon Kromberg, the Assistant United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, who handles high profile terrorism and national security cases. Kromberg has open contempt for Muslims, Islam and anyone who defies the state. He has denounced what he calls “the Islamization of the American justice system.”
Kromberg oversaw the nine year persecution of the Palestinian activist and academic Dr. Sami Al-Arian and at one point refused his request to postpone a court date during the religious holiday of Ramadan. “They can kill each other during Ramadan, they can appear before the grand jury. All they can’t do is eat before sunset,” Kromberg said in a 2006 conversation, according to an affidavit filed by one of Arian’s attorneys, Jack Fernandez. Kromberg criticized Daniel Hale, the former Air Force analyst who was sentenced to 45 months in prison for leaking information about the indiscriminate killings of civilians by drones, saying Hale had not contributed to public debate but had “endanger[ed] the people doing the fight.” He ordered Chelsea Manning jailed after she refused to testify in front of a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. Manning attempted to commit suicide in March 2020 while being held in a Virginia jail.
The perversion of the law for all of us who follow Julian’s case is chilling. It presages the rise of a global corporate totalitarianism, one where the law is a tool not of justice but oppression.
The US successfully won an appeal of a lower British court ruling that denied the US request to extradite Assange because his psychological fragility makes him a suicide risk and the conditions under which he would be held in the American prison system awaiting trial are inhumane.
Julian appealed in an effort to reinstate the original ruling. His appeal was denied. Home Secretary Priti Patel will rule soon on whether he will be extradited. If she decides to extradite Julian, he can go back to the lower court to appeal the points on which he initially lost, including his argument that the case violates the right to freedom of expression, and that the Anglo-US extradition treaty prohibits extradition for political offenses. If the High Court rules in his favor, the US can appeal that decision to the Supreme Court. This legal dance will probably take a year. If the High Court rejects Julian’s appeal he could be extradited within weeks.
Julian has been observed pacing his cell obsessively, punching himself in the face, banging his head against the wall, repeatedly calling the Samaritan hotline because he was thinking about committing suicide “hundreds of times a day” and hallucinating. A razor was found under his socks. He told Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, who brought in UN doctors to examine Julian, that if he was extradited he would not survive. He suffered a stroke during his trial last October. He is on antidepressants, anti-stroke medication and the antipsychotic Quetiapine. He is gaunt, his posture is poor and his color ashen. He has spent months in the prison’s medical wing. Julian, as Melzer concluded in his UN report, is being methodically and systematically tortured. The goal of the US and UK governments is to turn Julian’s psychological and perhaps physical obliteration into a chilling warning to anyone who might also attempt to shine a light on the inner workings of power.
I like and admire Julian. He is intellectually curious, incredibly courageous, funny and, at least when I was with him in the Ecuadorian Embassy, charmingly boyish. He could have easily used his precocious computer skills to make a very comfortable life for himself working for high finance or national security agencies. He chose instead to use those skills for the public, in the service of truth. He provided the most important body of information of our generation about the war crimes, lies, corruption and cynicism that defines the ruling elites. This information ripped back the veil on the centers of power around the globe, sparking movements and popular protests from Tunisia to Haiti.
If Assange is extradited and found guilty of publishing classified material, it will set a legal precedent that will effectively end national security reporting, allowing the government to charge any reporter who possesses classified documents, and any whistleblower who leaks classified information, under the Espionage Act. The inner workings of power will be shrouded in darkness, with very ominous consequences for press freedom and democracy.
It is night. I am in Stella’s house with the wedding party, her mother, her brother, Julian’s father and Julian’s brother, as well as Julian and Stella’s two young boys.
“He has been disappeared,” Stella says softly. “The only pictures that have emerged of him since 2019 have been illegally taken in the courtroom, everything else has been court illustrations and pictures from the prison van from 2019.”
“Walking out was really jarring,” she adds.
Stella and Julian spent years trying to get married. They first asked the Ecuadorian Ambassador to marry them, but Julian was not an Ecuadorian citizen. Once Julian was granted Ecuadorian citizenship the new government in Quito had become hostile. Stella and Julian began to lobby the prison for the right to marry in 2020, but the prison authorities did not respond to their requests until they threatened a lawsuit.
Stella brings down her satin wedding dress with its three-quarter sleeves and her veil to let us examine it. On the inside flap of the dress Vivienne Westwood has written this: “To me, Vivienne, Julian is a pure soul and a freedom fighter. All my love to the family, Julian, Stella, Max and Gabriel. May the holy life force bless your marriage.” The veil has embroidered into it words chosen by Julian. Free Enduring Love. Ardent. Boundless. Joyous. Resilient. Incandescent. Wild. Valiant. Resolute. Tender. Stubborn. Tumultuous. Patient. Yearning. Fearless. Eternal.
“For their love to have grown and flourished in these dire circumstances of ceaseless persecution and psychological torture,” John Shipton, Julian’s father tells me. “Love transcends the circumstances.”
He turns towards his two young grandchildren.
“You can see it produced two lovely, joyful children,” he says.
It is late. Stella cuts her wedding cake on the wooden kitchen table. The top tier is lemon. The bottom is raspberry. We eat silently.
Pray for Julian. Pray for Stella. Pray for their children. Pray for us all.
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