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Kiriakou writes: "Federal authorities in the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA) last week issued a superseding indictment and charged WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange with 17 counts of espionage. Along with a charge of conspiring to gain access to a government computer, he faces 175 years in prison. Julian's current plight is well-known."

John Kiriakou. (photo: The Washington Post)
John Kiriakou. (photo: The Washington Post)

Julian Assange: Prisoner of Conscience

By John Kiriakou, Reader Supported News

01 June 19


ederal authorities in the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA) last week issued a superseding indictment and charged Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange with 17 counts of espionage. Along with a charge of conspiring to gain access to a government computer, he faces 175 years in prison. Julian’s current plight is well-known. He’s serving a 50-week sentence for bail-jumping in London’s maximum-security Belmarsh Prison, awaiting extradition to the United States. Swedish authorities have reopened a sexual assault investigation against him. And in the meantime, his attorneys are challenging any extradition to the United States, all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, if necessary.

I want to get a couple of points out of the way before I get into the substance of this column. I believe unreservedly that Julian Assange is a journalist, a publisher, a whistleblower, and a prisoner of conscience. His revelations of US war crimes were examples of exactly what a journalist and publisher should be doing. His actions meet the legal definition of whistleblowing: Bringing to light any evidence of waste, fraud, abuse, illegality, or threats to the public health or public safety. And he is clearly a prisoner of conscience, incarcerated for his belief in transparency and that all governments should be held accountable for their actions.

Somebody should mention this to Amnesty International (AI). The global “human rights” organization has turned its back on Julian, just as it did to Chelsea Manning, CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling, and me.

In a letter to the Julian Assange Defense Committee (JADC) dated May 17, 2019, Amnesty International UK said curtly, “Julian Assange's case is a case we're monitoring closely but not actively working on. Amnesty International does not consider Julian Assange to be a Prisoner of Conscience.” There’s a pattern here, too. AI said unequivocally in 2012 that Chelsea Manning also was “not a prisoner of conscience.” And AI said the same thing about me.

Here’s how AI defines a prisoner of conscience: A Prisoner of Conscience is “someone who has not used or advocated violence but is imprisoned because of who they are (sexual orientation, ethnic, national or social origin, language, birth, color, sex or economic status) or what they believe (religious, political or other conscientiously held beliefs).”

Following my arrest in 2012 for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program, I contacted AI to ask for a simple statement of support. Surely, I thought, an organization so clearly committed to human rights would want to say something about the person just arrested for exposing an official torture program. But they didn’t even bother to respond to me. I then asked a contact of mine, a senior person in Amnesty International USA, to weigh in for me with his bosses in London. “Sorry,” was the response. “They just don’t believe that you’re a whistleblower or a prisoner of conscience.”

(Ironically, Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei, arguably the most famous and important living artist in the world, believes that Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and I are all whistleblowers and “prisoners of conscience.” He created portraits of us out of Legos for a show at Alcatraz on prisoners of conscience and then sold the entire installation to the Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum.)

I used to be a regular donor to Amnesty International. No more. I guess I never realized how much in the pocket of the State Department the organization is. First, it simply doesn’t recognize the fact that an American can be a prisoner of conscience. Sure, every once in a while, AI will issue a statement about somebody who has been arrested for opposing nuclear weapons or something like that. But it pains them to have to criticize the US. We’re the “land of the free,” after all. Right?

AI does not publish a list of prisoners of conscience. But a Google search indicates that almost all of the prisoners AI has campaigned for in the past several years come from Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, and the former Soviet Republics. There are no prisoners of conscience from the US, UK, or even France, where journalists are being threatened with arrest for their criticism of the French military’s involvement in the war in Yemen. Go figure.

And lest you think that this is just John Kiriakou venting (which I tend to do), AI was involved in something of an ideological scandal in 2010 that cuts to the heart of what kind of organization it is.

In 2010, AI suspended and then fired Gita Sahgal, the head of its gender unit, after she complained that the organization had embraced Moazzem Begg, a Briton of Pakistani origin, who headed a group called Cageprisoners, purporting to represent men held in prisons extrajudicially. Sahgal maintained that Begg was a terrorist sympathizer and Muslim extremist and that AI was weakening its brand by associating itself with him, while legitimizing him politically.

That’s being kind. I captured Moazzem Begg in Pakistan in February 2002. I targeted him because he was Osama bin Laden’s computer expert. I put him on a plane for Guantanamo but, because he was a British citizen, he was quickly released. And what did he do? He went right back to Afghanistan and rejoined the fight. The CIA caught him again, and again went through the same rigmarole. Begg was exceptionally intelligent. He was able to recast himself as an innocent man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, was kidnapped by the CIA, abused at Guantanamo and finally released because he was innocent of any crime. That’s nonsense.

AI, though, never bothered to investigate who, exactly, it was associating with. And when a senior-level employee blew the whistle, AI attacked the whistleblower in favor of the terrorist.

AI was wrong on Moazzem Begg and it’s wrong on Julian Assange. There’s still time to do the right thing, if not for Chelsea Manning, then at least for Julian. There’s still time for AI to stand up and say that Julian Assange is a prisoner of conscience. Julian Assange is a fighter for transparency and human rights. That ought to be right in AI’s wheelhouse. As Donald Trump is fond of saying, “Let’s see what happens.”

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John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act – a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration's torture program.

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+5 # xenonman 2019-06-01 10:40
When and if Assange's extradition flight ever touches ground in the US, people (preferably some with arms) should gather en masse at the gate to CIA Hdqrs. in Langley, and attempt to force entry.
+9 # xenonman 2019-06-01 10:43
AI has generally manifested extreme cowardice when it comes to espionage allegations. They generally take the easy cop-out of stating that all governments have the right to run spies.
+16 # coberly 2019-06-01 10:58
Kiriakou presents me with a problem. What can I do about this? The answer appears to be "nothing." The American government believes that "espionage" means revealing the secrets of the government's illegal behavior, or behavior reprehensible to the conscience of all human beings not otherwise under the sway of loyalty to their own party (not necessarily their own nation).
Like rulers throughout history they easily convince themselves that people who seriously disagree with them are traitors to the holy Order of the Universe and deserve death.

I assume I am too small for them to come after me. But that may change. As regimes learn that they can get away with it they become more and more paranoid and search out the least of us to punish as an example to others who might harbor disloyal thoughts.

And we thought America was better than that.
+2 # xenonman 2019-06-01 15:55
In East Germany, the people finally rose against their government in 1989, and raided the headquarters of its hated intelligence service.
At least the East Germans could be fairly certain that, given their homogeneous demography, their armed services wouldn't fire on their own people. We in the US have no such assurance.
+7 # 2019-06-01 11:41
Thank you. Very important to know. Maybe this h_ll will help change their mind:

Chemical Torture

I hope this is not true but source is very reliable, ex-military -- everyone should call, mail, protest, boycott -- Australia doing nothing, Brits -- Royals and Legislature allowing this, US involvement referenced - illegal, unconstitutiona l, demand inquiry and proof of Assange health status. Horrid -- We have begun that steep and treacherous descent ...
+2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-06-01 18:53
o.c. -- I think it is true. Craig Murray, a former British ambassador and friend of Assange, has been writing to tell of what he is hearing. He has connection inside the British courts and prison. He reported that Assange has been taken to the hospital for "psychotic episodes." He's acting out of his mind. He's hearing voices, seeing things that are not there, talking incoherently, paranoid, and disoriented. As the article you link to, these are all the symptoms of the drug BZ which the CIA uses in interrogation of terrorist suspects. It induces psychosis. It makes people totally crazy and sometimes the effects are permanent.

Assange's father is aware of all this. He's been calling everyone he can. No one seems to care. Everyone acts as if the decision about Assange has already been made. The CIA and Pentagon have him and they will tear him to pieces.

Read the report of the UN Special Rappateur on Torture. He says he's never seen a worse case of someone destroyed by psychological torture. He visited Assange and was shocked. He's demanding Assange be released immediately. If not, he will surely die.

The CIA has done this to millions of people since the 1950s. To them, this is just one more human to totally destroy. These are the people who run our nation. Trump is their puppet.
+3 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-06-01 12:43
Amnesty International USED to be a very good organization. In the past they would have supported Assange full bore. But then AI began taking money from George Soros. Part of Soros' requirement is that he gets to name certain people to the Board. So AI gradually changed. Now, as John says, it is mostly a wing of the US state department. It helps run black propaganda against Russia, China, Iran, and all the proclaimed enemies of the US. But it does not hold the US or its friends accountable.

The same thing happened to Human Rights Watch. The whole "civil society" movement has been corrupted by money coming from people like Soros or Israeli linked foundations. They use these as propaganda fronts.

This is very sad. AI had a good reputation and many people still trust it. Kiriakou teaches us a valuable lesson.
+2 # Caliban 2019-06-02 13:19
#RR -- Are you suggesting that George Soros is a secret Republican and a closet Trump supporter?
+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-06-05 06:50
Caliban -- no, no. Soros does not support Trump because he is a nationalist. Soros is the world's most radical globalist. He does not think there should be nation states any longer. Or their role should be dramatically minimized. The world should be run by global institutions like trade agreements, multi-national banks and corporations, and think tanks like the Open Society Foundation.

Soros sees national governments as backward, ethnocentric, and too restrictive on the rights of capitalism to flourish and make the world that it desires.
+5 # Wally Jasper 2019-06-01 15:00
John, we all owe you and the other whistleblowers, and all the current and erstwhile prisoners of conscience, including Julian Assange, an immense debt of gratitude for your service to humanity. Thank you.
+4 # PABLO DIABLO 2019-06-01 15:31
Prosecute General Petraeus. He gave top secrets to his mistress (one of the oldest spy tricks). While you're at it, lock up John Bolton, Elliot Abrams, and Mike Pompeo for lies (and War crimes).Then move on to Dick Cheney, George W.Bush, and wouldn't be bad for Kissinger to die in prison. Wishful thinking. Assange and Manning are heroes.
+7 # elizabethblock 2019-06-01 17:21
At a demo today, in Toronto: A sign saying (I'm quoting from memory) "They came for Julian Assange and I said nothing, because I'm not a journalist."
Freedom of speech is for people you DON'T LIKE, who say things you DON'T LIKE. Otherwise it is meaningless.

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