Assange’s Life is at the Mercy of the Media ~ Jude Fleming
I came across an interview of lawyer / author / activist Dr. Juan Branco which describes the power imbalance between revolutionaries and “causes” and power structures / media. It is translated from French. Below is an excerpt.
Note: I do not know the date of this article but it appears to be prior to Feb. 2020 extradition trial in London, UK at Woolwich Court (Belmarsh).
I agree with much of what Dr. Juan Branco says and have tweeted similar ideas over the past 12 or so years. I will add my comments to the end of the copied/pasted excerpt.
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Demirkin Coker, reporter for The Politic: “What’s next for Mr. Assange, now that he has been arrested and indicted?”
Dr. Juan Branco: The next step is in late February when he’ll have an audition for extradition. Here we touch on the limits of law. When you are integrated political systems like the U.S. and the UK are, law is a tool until certain limits, then it becomes not a tool for individuals but a tool for power structures. As lawyers, we’ve tried to do our best in order for law not to be used by our enemies as an excuse. What we have been fighting for, and it’s a very exhausting fight, in the last years is to avoid an instrumentalization of law against us. Therefore, we have fought very hard to dismantle all the legal fictions that they had to tried to create over Julian. There has been successively a lot of them; the last one has been the espionage charges that you know about.
And what we have attained from that is just a relief from the huge pressure that he is suffering. But we know that it is not the solution and that the solution can only be political. It’s a question of political bargaining and the political balance of powers. Law has always been an excuse and will always be an excuse in this case, because legally speaking, they have nothing against Julian unless they want to start a trial against the New York Times, the Washington Post and all other outlets to the extent they revealed these documents in partnership with him at the exact same moment. Because the whole process is theoretically — and here is another fiction — only about Cablegate, we really have to remember that every time. That is the reason they are formally trying to extradite him.
One example of how the law has been used just to achieve a political objective in this case is the following. I don’t know if you remember, but before all the charges on Julian were revealed, they had only made public the piracy charges which were supposed to amount to five years maximum, enough for an extradition judge in the UK to say, “Oh, it’s not that bad. Though it could be politically motivated etc., in the worst case, the risk is not that high, so I will authorize the extradition.” It took them a month and our efforts to reveal the actual extent of the charges and the fact he was also charged for espionage and so forth, and that he would potentially serve a life sentence if he was extradited to the U.S.
This is a micro example, but for seven years we have been trying to reveal the actual extent of the persecution, always fighting against pseudo-naïve interlocutors who pretended that we were delusional. A year ago, I was still asked about the fact that he was persecuted by the US; people would say, “No, come on, you are inventing this; he is just there because of the Swedish case; there are no charges; you’re making this up,” and so forth. And I’m talking about high level interlocutors, at the state level or from the best press outlets. So you have to imagine the level of exhaustion of having to demonstrate what you know in the future everyone will accept as plainly evident, but that in the present finds a lot of individuals ready to pretend it isn’t. Of course, all this is completely clear for anyone that has a minimal political sense, no? Of course, it’s political revenge: they want to destroy him because he humiliated U.S. elites.
But elites have this amazing belief in their mastery of reasoning, which can be used against them. You just need to feed journalists, for example, the Swedish case, and then you create the debate. So, of course, the immediate reaction is “Okay, this is bullshit, no? This is just a set-up.” But you just need to feed some rational elements on the procedure etc., and, because there is this unconscious deference to the apparatus of power and a natural skepticism to whoever would oppose it too roughly, you create a debate that never ends. Then people start believing the actual narrative that he might be a rapist, and that he might have become a rapist the week after he had revealed Cablegate. Suddenly, people, because they are paid to think, paid to comment and paid to get into these crazy loopholes — and because they are in structures that are actually way closer, more dependent and useful to the apparatus of power than they’ll ever admit — lose completely the big picture. They become actual accomplices of the structures of power who are provoking this, and they become so without realizing it, either because they buy everything that comes to them — those are the less dangerous because they are often identified as being servile or propagandist by the public — or because it doesn’t come to them directly, and they find themselves manipulated.
This latter group is way more dangerous, as their capacity to appear “neutral” on most of the subjects makes them paradoxically capable of provoking way more damage in the public sphere when they fall in a trap. It’s not like in totalitarian states in which you have direct propaganda. It comes filtered through independent media, which are supposed to be a filter, but show themselves to be particularly vulnerable to manipulation in certain circumstances, the latest Iraq War being this century’s worst occurrence. When it comes to a “democratic” power, journalists have a natural tendency to reduce their filters and preventions, and to serve as relays. When you are in a position as Assange, in which you radically oppose what most journalists still consider “legitimate” institutions, you very quickly find yourself in an asymmetric 1984-esque struggle just to establish super simple evidence. In front of you, you have not only a strong apparatus of power, but you also have dormant accomplices that do not even realize they are being grossly manipulated and will have hard time admitting it.
When I said WikiLeaks was the point of no turning back, I mean I have seen what it was to fight against the world just to state the truth again. And I saw how all these powers, apparently innocuous, friendly and committed to the truth and progressive values, like the Democratic Party and the New York Times etc., could very easily be manipulated — mainly because they don’t think enough, but also because they find it in their interest to avoid that — and just be used to crush people and crush causes. I don’t want to do stupid comparisons, but I think Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years because of that. Today everyone thinks he’s a hero and that it was self-explanatory that he hadn’t done anything wrong since the beginning. But he stayed in prison because for 27 years because a debate was allowed and fueled by apparatus of power about the actual nature of his fight, his personality, his sincerity and so on — who remembers that it was actually “legitimate” to discuss his “terrorist” nature?
People forget easily how strongly propaganda can be deployed in in liberal democracies in order for apparatus of power to “gain time” and effectively crush just causes, and how effective this technique is in actually eliminating opponents from the public sphere and forbidding them to push for their legitimate ideas in a fair way. Very few resist the violence of these techniques, and Julian has this very sensical word on the matter: “I don’t want to be a hero. A hero is the expression of the dysfunction of a society. There should be no heroes”. The manipulation of the public space allows for destroying human lives and causes to protect private interest and the apparatus of power, and the role “free press” plays in these games is way too underestimated. Because you end up hoping for a miracle, and it’s a miracle that someone like Julian Assange has survived. Everyone will agree at some point, “Of course he was not a rapist; of course, it was good what he did,” etc. By then, our lives will have passed, and we’ll be left with asking: “Okay, thank you, guys, but where were you for the last 30 years?” You were just following the general trend, one that was set by the apparatus of power.
I understand the fact that the weight given to the voice of the apparatus of power is more important than any guy that just appears from somewhere. Because in an ideal system, which is perfectly democratic, it is of course normal to give preeminence to an apparatus of power that is dominated by those that have been elected by the people and are meant to represent their interests. It’s normal that you give added weight to these people. But our systems and our democracies are very violently dysfunctional; the apparatus of power is far from being pure, and so this asymmetry actually is too often used against the interests of the people.
My comments (Jude Fleming)
Many years ago I wrote a one line poem:
To waste another’s life is the worst larceny. ~ Jude Fleming
I was thinking about Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning at the time. I was on my way to a demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in London, UK to mark 1,000 days of pretrial detention of Pvt. Manning. I would now add (cf. my first blog post Sept. 2018)…
To waste another’s life, legacy, purpose for life and any hope of correcting history is the worst larceny. ~Jude Fleming, June 26, 2021
Dr. Juan Branco expressed this idea well in the excerpted interview above.