WikiLeaks is a rare truth-teller. Smearing Julian Assange is shameful

WikiLeaks is a rare example of a newsgathering organisation that exposes the truth. Julian Assange is by no means alone.

Last December, I stood with supporters of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange in the bitter cold outside the Ecuadorean embassy in London. Candles were lit; the faces were young and old and from all over the world. They were there to demonstrate their human solidarity with someone whose guts they admired. They were in no doubt about the importance of what Assange had revealed and achieved, and the grave dangers he now faced. Absent entirely were the lies, spite, jealousy, opportunism and pathetic animus of a few who claim the right to guard the limits of informed public debate.

These public displays of warmth for Assange are common and seldom reported. Several thousand people packed Sydney Town Hall, with hundreds spilling into the street. In New York recently, Assange was given the Yoko Ono Lennon Courage Award. In the audience was Daniel Ellsberg, who risked all to leak the truth about the barbarism of the Vietnam war.

Like Jemima Khan, the investigative journalist Phillip Knightley, the acclaimed film director Ken Loach and others lost bail money in standing up for Assange. “The US is out to crush someone who has revealed its dirty secrets,” Loach wrote to me. “Extradition via Sweden is more than likely . . . is it difficult to choose whom to support?”

No, it is not difficult.

In the NS last week, Jemima Khan ended her support for an epic struggle for justice, truth and freedom with an article on Wiki­Leaks’s founder. To Khan, the Ellsbergs and Yoko Onos, the Loaches and Knightleys, and the countless people they represent, have all been duped. We are all “blinkered”. We are all mindlessly “devoted”. We are all “cultists”. In the final words of her j’accuse, she describes Assange as “an Australian L Ron Hubbard”. She must have known this would make a gratuitous headline, as indeed it did across the press in Australia.

I respect Jemima Khan for backing humanitarian causes, such as the Palestinians. She supports the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, of which I am a judge, and my own film-making. But her attack on Assange is specious and plays to a familiar gallery whose courage is tweeted from a smartphone.

Khan complains that Assange refused to appear in the film about WikiLeaks by the American director Alex Gibney, which she “executive produced”. Assange knew the film would be neither “nuanced” nor “fair” and “represent the truth”, as Khan wrote, and that its very title, We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, was a gift to the fabricators of a bogus criminal indictment that could doom him to one of America’s hellholes. Having interviewed axe-grinders and turncoats, Gibney abuses Assange as paranoid. DreamWorks is also making a film about the “paranoid” Assange. Oscars all round.

The sum of Khan’s and Gibney’s attacks is that Ecuador granted him asylum without evidence. The evidence is voluminous. Assange has been declared an official “enemy” of a torturing, assassinating, rapacious state. This is clear in official files, obtained under Freedom of Information, that betray Washington’s “unprecedented” pursuit of him, together with the Australian government’s abandonment of its citizen: a legal basis for granting asylum.

Khan refers to a “long list” of Assange’s “alienated and disaffected allies”. Almost none was ever an ally. What is striking about most of these “allies” and Assange’s haters is that they exhibit the very symptoms of arrested development they attribute to a man whose resilience and good humour under extreme pressure are evident to those he trusts.

Another on the “long list” is the lawyer Mark Stephens, who charged him almost half a million pounds in fees and costs. This bill was paid from an advance on a book whose unauthorised manuscript was published by another “ally” without Assange’s knowledge or permission. When Assange moved his legal defence to Gareth Peirce, Britain’s leading human rights lawyer, he found a true ally. Khan makes no mention of the damning, irrefutable evidence that Peirce presented to the Australian government, warning how the US deliberately “synchronised” its extradition demands with pending cases and that her client faced a grave miscarriage of justice and personal danger. Peirce told the Australian consul in London in person that she had known few cases as shocking as this.

It is a red herring whether Britain or Sweden holds the greatest danger of delivering Assange to the US. The Swedes have refused all requests for guarantees that he will not be despatched under a secret arrangement with Washington; and it is the political executive in Stockholm, with its close ties to the extreme right in America, not the courts, that will make this decision.

Khan is rightly concerned about a “resolution” of the allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden. Putting aside the tissue of falsehoods demonstrated in the evidence in this case, both women had consensual sex with Assange and neither claimed otherwise; and the Stockholm prosecutor Eva Finne all but dismissed the case.

As Katrin Axelsson and Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape wrote in the Guardian in August 2012, “. . . the allegations against [Assange] are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks for having audaciously revealed to the public their secret planning of wars and occupations with their attendant rape, murder and destruction . . .

“The authorities care so little about violence against women that they manipulate rape allegations at will . . . [Assange] has made it clear he is available for questioning by the Swedish authorities, in Britain or via Skype. Why are they refusing this essential step to their investigation? What are they afraid of?”

Editor's note: The full title of the film about Wikileaks "We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks" has now been included in this article.

Julian Assange. Photo: Zed Nelson/INSTITUTE

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 18 February 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq: ten years on

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On Tinder pictures, and why we’re all using historical artefacts to get laid

Or: why do so many people think a “smiling next to art about genocide” picture is a good idea?

The sexual frustration in the Natural History Museum this evening is palpable. I’m at one of the “lates” events, where the museum stays open after hours and you’re allowed get drunk with the fossils. There’s a very post-watershed atmosphere and a lingering sense that the main hall diplodocus, now free from hordes of school kids, is going to unleash a string of obscenities.

“This is Tinder pic central,” says a friend, before handing me her phone and asking me to get a shot of her next to a model of a gargantuan extinct bird. It soon occurs to me that nearly everyone here is in their twenties and, almost neurotically, insisting on being photographed next to stuff. I have little doubt that the majority of these pictures will make their way onto dating profiles within the hour.

The hum – and it really is a hum – of people trying to make themselves seem both sexy and well rounded, by pouting next to taxidermy, grows louder and louder.

In all fairness, places like the Natural History Museum have “meet cute” written all over them.

“Our eyes met over a stuffed sloth and the rest is history. Natural history!” I imagine someone utterly unbearable saying.

Now that the meet cute has been digitised, most of the world’s places of interest have been turned into mating props.

“Look how fun and cultured I am,” insists a photo – a Tinder classic – of a woman beaming like a psycho outside the Louvre.

The Holocaust memorial in Berlin, believe it or not, is another favourite. I think a “smiling next to art about genocide” picture is supposed to say, “Ah, Berlin. Great city. Yeah, I go from time to time. No! I’m not cool. I’m actually a complete dork.”

What it actually says is, “I have never read a whole chapter of a book.”

Seriously though, there is nothing more gutting for the vaguely socially aware Tinder user than scrolling through a hot person’s pictures, only to discover a “YAY HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL #YOLO” one. Using historical artefacts to get laid: slightly crass but we all do it. Genocide peacocking: here be a human toilet.

Then there are the more innocuous (almost too innocuous…) Platform 9¾-type Tinder pics. Ones taken at the novelty Harry Potter-themed section of King’s Cross as an ostentatious display of whimsy. Enforced quirkiness has become such an intrinsic part of dating apps that I could easily believe, without it, the entire multi-billion dollar industry would crumble like a pissed-on pavlova. A good number of dating profiles need to appear like Manic Pixie Dream Girl job applications, or the human race will wither. Or something.

“Do you want a picture next to the massive sloth?” my friend asks, presumably wanting to return the favour for the extremely flattering “next to a big bird” photo.

“I don’t know,” I say.

And I don’t. I don’t know what to do with my face while standing next to an animal skeleton. I don’t know where to put my arms. Why, when I’m being photographed, do my arms feel like pool noodles? I wasn’t made for this “pictures next to everything to further your sex life” world. I start to panic. Do I need more pictures of myself next to things? What if I just don’t look good next to things? I so rarely have chemistry with things I stand next to, and it shows. To be honest, I’m starting to resent things in general.

“Just get a picture of me alone and grimacing,” I want to say, “no props, just full, horrible disclosure.”

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.