John Shipton has been at the forefront of defending his son, Julian Assange, from political persecution, false charges, harassment and slander by political figures, the corporate media and the US government.
He shares with his thoughts and feelings about the struggle to bring his son home.
Denis Rogatyuk: The struggle to bring Julian home has been a monumental challenge since his unjust conviction, but it has certainly become much more difficult since his expulsion from the Ecuadorian Embassy in March 2019. What are the main actions you and the campaign have undertaken since then?
John Shipton: Julian is a historical artefact. Never has a journalist, editor or publication faced an onslaught of this intensity. He was hit by the United Kingdom, Sweden, the United States and Australia, with all the forces they could muster.
They violated every human rights law and due process by trying to send Julian to the United States and destroying him [as a human being]. We have witnessed the gradual killing of Julian through psychological torture, relentless disruption of proceedings, and due process right before our eyes. This is what we are fighting against.
During the last hearing, Judge Baraitser asked Julian to prove that he was unwell because he did not appear on the video. This demonstrates a process that we witnessed over and over again, which is blaming the victim. In the case of Australia, they say they have offered consular assistance, which consists of offering last week’s newspaper and seeing if you are still alive and that is about the extent of it. DFAT maintains they have made 100 offers [in consular assistance]. Well, this is a profound testimony to failure.
It has now been eleven years. Julian has been arbitrarily detained for eleven years.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated that Julian was arbitrarily detained and that he should be compensated and released immediately. The last report was in February 2018. It is now 2020 and Julian remains in Belmarsh maximum security prison under 24-hour lockdown.
DR: How would you describe the relationship between the current campaign for his release and the Wikileaks organisation?
JS: WikiLeaks continues its work and maintains the most extraordinary library of American diplomacy since 1970. It is an extraordinary artefact for any journalist or historian, any one of us can search for the names of those who have been involved in U.S. diplomacy in their own countries or with the United States. This is a great resource which continues to be maintained.
WikiLeaks released another set of files, so WikiLeaks continues its work. The people who defend Julian and WikiLeaks include one hundred thousand people around the world who are constantly working to achieve Julian’s freedom and stop this oppression of the free press, of publishing, of editors and journalists. We are constantly working to do that. There are about 80 websites around the world that publish and agitate for Julian’s freedom and about 86 Facebook pages dedicated to Julian. So there are many of us and the increase in support will continue until the Australian and UK governments recognize that this is the crime, Julian’s oppression is the great crime of the 21st century.
DR: The latest accusation against Julian is regarding the alleged conspiracy with unidentified “anonymous” hackers, which appears to be another attempt to expedite his extradition. Do you think this is a symptom of desperation on the part of the Justice Department?
JS: No, I don’t (…) People who work at the Justice Department get paid whether they succeed or not, if Julian is extradited they get paid, if he is not extradited they still get paid. They still go home, have a glass of wine, take the kids to the movies and then come to work the next day and think of another instrument of torture for Julian. This is their job.
The Justice Department would like to see the trial delayed until after the US elections. So, the court’s lawyers will appeal the fact that they have not had time and try to get the judge to change the hearing date. That is what I imagine. But I don’t think it’s an act of desperation at all.
If anything, they are giving those of us who defend Julian more to worry about, so that our energies are not singularly focused on getting Julian out, while the conversation turns to this new charge and who is included in it. It is Siggy and Sabu who are not credible witnesses. Siggy is a famous sex offender or con man who stole $50,000 from Wikileaks, etc. There are no credible witnesses [to these allegations]. I guess it’s to delay the hearing or to make the conversation go away from what’s important.
DR: A lot has been researched and published about Julian’s life and early days as a hacker in the 1990s. I would like to discuss the aspects of his life that have given him the resilience and strength to resist the challenges he faces now. Julian is incredibly committed to telling the truth in his interviews, is very articulate and very careful to communicate and choose the exact words to describe things. Is this something your family taught him or is it something special about Julian?
JS: You know it’s a gift that I would like to have myself. So I don’t know where it came from. I guess you’d have to ask the gods.
Julian is his own man entirely and the path he has forged is different and clearly his own. I admire him and am proud of him for his ability to adapt and his ability to continue to fight despite eleven years of relentless psychological torture, which doesn’t come without cost.
However, we believe that we will prevail and Julian will be able to come home to Australia, and maybe live in Mullumbimby for a little bit, or in Melbourne; he used to live here down the corner.
DR: Julian displayed incredible physical and mental resilience over the past 9 years, particularly in the nearly 8 years he spent in the Ecuadorian Embassy and last year in Belmarsh Prison. Where do you think this strength comes from: his moral and political convictions or something he developed in his early life in Australia?
JS: I think it’s another gift he has. That he will continue to fight for what he believes in. And if there are elements of truth in what he is fighting for, well, then he never gives up. It’s an aspect of character.
I don’t mind a fight myself, but I am invigorated by fighting for Julian and each insult or offense against Julian increases my determination to prevail and the determination of Julian’s supporters to prevail. Each insult increases our strength. As when the second lot of indictments were brought down the week before last, his supporters around the world raised their voices in disbelief and began to raise awareness of Julian’s situation. So it’s really interesting, the Department of Justice might think one thing causes us to fracture, but what actually happens is that the upwelling of support continues unabated.
DR: John, I wish to ask you a personal question. How does it feel to be the father of a man like Julian, to see his son go through all this hardship and slander, and continue to travel and fight for his liberation all over the world?
JS: Well, some of it is hard to believe, what people say about Julian. Like those American politicians saying they’ll shoot him, the UC Global employees in Spain who were supposed to look after the security of the Ecuadorian embassy who speculated on how to poison Julian at the behest of the CIA, the Mossad or Sheldon Adelson.
You know, I ignore it, I don’t take the slightest notice of it. I’m surprised that people put their energies into calling Julian names and they’ve never met him. They’ve never seen him and yet some people find the time and energy to write scurrilous things.
I am very surprised that people put their energies into that kind of thing but I don’t count the cost even for a minute. I do what I’m doing here with you today, I do what comes before me and then I move on to the next thing, but I never count costs.
DR: Ever since the extradition hearings began, the US government, particularly Trump, Mike Pence, and Mike Pompeo, have been doubling down on their attacks against Julian and WikiLeaks. Pompeo even called it “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” The US establishment appears to be dead set against them, and both major parties are playing along. So what do you think ought to be the strategy of activists and journalists in the US to challenge this?
JS: Well, first of all, Mike Pompeo is a failed Secretary of State, a failed CIA director, who declared war on WikiLeaks to get CIA support for his future ambitions to run for president.
The secretary of state is an important position. However, Mike Pompeo doesn’t strike me as being a historically significant personality. The US establishment must fall in line with what the CIA wants and thinks.
In that address on April 23, 2017, Pompeo wanted to get to all his workers to support him in his bid for the presidency and also to intimidate journalists, editors and publications around the world. His sole aim is to ruin your capacity to bring ideas and information to the public, and our ability as members of the public to talk to each other and sort things out by talking to each other about what we should do and how we should live life. They just want to have it their way, declare war on anyone, kill another million people, destroy Yemen, destroy Libya, destroy Iraq, destroy Afghanistan, destroy Syria, the list goes on. Millions of refugees are flooding the world and moving to Europe.
The Maghreb in turmoil. The Levant in turmoil. Palestinians killed. This is their objective. So, for us, we depend on you to give us accurate information so that we can have fair opinions about how the world is moving around us. What Pompeo wants is for what he says to be believed.
You can see their story, they say there may be as many as five million people since 1991 who died as a result of the United States and its allies invading Iraq in an illegal war. You can watch Collateral Murder and you can see a good samaritan dragging a wounded man to his car to take him to the hospital, driving his children to school. Murdered before your eyes. The helicopter pilots asked for instructions so they could shoot a wounded man: two children and two good samaritans. However, we depend on you, journalists, publishers, publications, to bring us the crimes committed by the government, so that we have the energy to place our shoulders to preventing these murders with all the determination and energy we can muster to prevent the murder and destruction of an entire country.
If I may remind you, in Melbourne a million people marched against the war in Iraq. I think a total of 10 million people in the world. We don’t want war. They lie to us to have wars, for whatever satisfaction. Who would want to see and hear the lamentation of the widows, the screams of the children. It is monstrous. And so we need the information to say no.
DR: The new Cold War between the United States (and the EU) on the one hand and China (and Russia) on the other threatens to pull the ordinary people of the world into another confrontation on behalf of the political and economic elites among these countries. From your experience of seeking international support for Julian, what are the best ways of forging solidarity across borders?
JS: I think the best way is to talk to your friends and discuss these things to become aware outside of what the mass media wants us to see and hear.
So, just face-to-face conversations and then conversations on social networks are sufficient. In the last two weeks Facebook, YouTube and Twitter as platforms removed certain discussion topics and certain channels. They are being removed because we are succeeding, not because nobody is watching them.
The Sochi World Cup was a great example of this, a fabulous success. Everybody who went to Russia came back full of admiration for Russia and Russian hospitality. Well, this is what is needed, just ordinary people getting to know each other and discussing important issues, without depending on CNN or anyone else talking about how they should feel about this or that topic. Just talk to friends, talk to groups of people, talk, exchange ideas, exchange where to get good information and things will change. I have an unwavering belief in the capacity and goodness of humanity in general, and I am proved right every time because ten million people marched against the war in Iraq, but a few hundred manipulated nations to destroy Iraq. Ordinary people don’t want war. We want to be able to talk to our friends and take care of our families.
DR: The COVID-19 pandemic has not only revealed the inadequacies of the neoliberal economic order, but also its growing instability and desperation to sustain itself. This is also true of the prominent right-wing governments of the United States, Brazil and Bolivia that seek to silence journalists and reports regarding the mismanagement of the pandemic. We are seeing independent journalism under attack around the world, through censorship, intimidation, threats and assassinations. What should be the best way of fighting back against them?
JS: These governments can’t even look after their own populations, let alone order the world in a decent way. And their ambitions are to order the world while they can’t even look after the people of Seattle (…) Of course they oppress journalists. Of course they oppress publications. Of course they remove the warrants to allow you to broadcast on a certain spectrum. The platforms are eliminated because we continue to understand and expose their criminal shortcomings.
In fact, they actually consider the phrase herd immunity to be something scientific, they actually contemplate allowing hundreds of thousands of elderly people to die.
You don’t get older and get better, you get older and you get a little sicker. The very contemplation of removing the steadying part of a society alters people’s stability — the young are full of vigour and the old full of caution, this is a fair balance in society — allowing them to die, for whatever reason we cannot discern. It no longer costs money to care for one section of society. You don’t lose anything from it, in fact you gain access to the experience and judgment of the older section of your society. So it’s incomprehensible, like neoliberalism itself, nobody understands why we’ve got it, but it’s there.
Denis Rogatyuk is a journalist at El Ciudadano, a writer, contributor, and researcher with a number of publications including Jacobin, Tribune, Le Vent Se Leve, Senso Comune, and others.