Helen Razer On The Ugly, Messy Truth About Julian Assange And Why You Should Care


Over the past few days, there has been increased activity around the Ecuadorian embassy in London, sparking fears Julian Assange faces imminent detention by British authorities. Helen Razer weighs in on truth, on Assange, and why you should care about both.

Stubborn as a mule. Me? No. When I commit to tell a truth rarely told, a mammal has nothing on me. For five years now, I’ve been stubborn as a stone. The truth as I tell it and see it is this: Julian Assange must be free. He has committed no crime. But the man who is no criminal is observed today with what may be even greater state scrutiny, per this account from Consortium News.

Truth. I have told it so often about the ‘charges’ made against Assange in Sweden. The truth is: there were never any charges. None. Charges were not made. Julian Assange was not charged with rape, nor was he charged with any other Swedish crime, including that which is usually translated as ‘sex by surprise’.   The hard truth is that truth doesn’t matter. Not if you are convinced by the lie that Assange is a dirty deceiver.

I could tell you other truths. Like the truth that WikiLeaks is the only major Western publication without cause to ever publish a retraction. The truth of its every authenticated published leak.

Julian Assange, pictured in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2016. (IMAGE: Cancillería del Ecuador, Flickr)

There’s the truth that the claim “WikiLeaks brought harm to the people whose details it released” is entirely false. It is speculation by outlets that often publish private details irresponsibly. Although, it may appear to be truly true for the very first time in coming days. Wait to see what harm Julian Assange will be proved to have caused after a weekend in which the doors of Ecuador’s embassy were somehow left unlocked.

The truth is that WikiLeaks has never imperilled a source. The truth is the ABC head of investigative news gave clues to Australian agencies about its source for those”cabinet files” the ABC head chose not to publish. To publish government documents would be, writes head, to “do a WikiLeaks”.  And there’s nothing worse to do than that. We all agree that WikiLeaks does the worst.

To leave a source high on the Five Eyes radar, to fail to publish the materials the source provided and to offer these to ASIO. This is all fine, so long as no-one did a WikiLeaks.

It’s not just fine, but proper, grown-up journalism. Save our ABC so it can publish nothing, then say dumb shit about the nothing that it published before showing ASIO through the door. Let Julian Assange rot! WikiLeaks is amateur hour. Even if it seems important to someone, it is all made up by that weirdo they charged with surprising sex. Look. The details are unimportant. The truth is very important: Assange and his Wiki-whatever are not worth a single damn.

The truth is that WikiLeaks has continued to publish truth for as long as Assange has been detained. Like Vault 7. I say: this proof of worldwide surveillance is a terrifying, crucial scoop. I say: news that your Smart TV can make a record of life and send it to the NSA is the big sort of news.

You say: big whoop, I knew that they were watching and we can trust them, but we cannot trust Assange. We can trust the ABC, a fine organisation that knows just when to protect us from truth, which is always.

You say you don’t trust Assange because he has avoided questions. I tell you again he did answer questions, if it’s Sweden that you’re on about. I tell you he agreed many times to answer more. This is the truth, a matter of record. One set down in correspondence, in journalism and the notes of lawyer Amal Clooney, among others.

Still. You are “disappointed”. You think WikiLeaks “used to be good”. Which is safer than looking at WikiLeaks, which you might find has been consistently good. Which might give you cause to wonder if it were not WikiLeaks but you who “used to be good”. These days, perhaps, you are a little bit shit.

You won’t believe this bad truth about yourself and you won’t believe there could be any good ones about Assange. Not before it’s all too late. Which it will be, rather soon.

In the hours before you learn what Cassandra means, take one WikiLeaks truth from the recent past. Here it is, for the faithless: without Assange, we would have never seen an historic truth for Haiti set in print. WikiLeaks revealed that the US subjects Haiti to the same torture today it has since 1805; since courageous Black slaves declared themselves freemen, the big ‘free’ nation-state has done all it could to keep this little one enslaved.

Truth. Not much use. I could show some of that solid Haiti truth I got from WikiLeaks. In fact, I did, but I threw it in the bin.

Why?  Couple of reasons. First, the truth I wrote down about Haiti doesn’t show Secretary Clinton in a very good light. This can provoke an “I’m With Her” response and I know by now how some readers scream it louder with every unflattering truth they hear told about the Her they’re with. They say, “Well she’s better than Trump”, as though someone suggested she weren’t, as though the death ordered by a Clinton is the more forgivable death, as though the choice a US voter had between Shit and Stinking Shitter is a moral choice that must now be made by all.

A screengrab from an ABC Four Corners interview with failed US presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Then, when I refuse to cast my vote in your imaginary election, you stop reading. Please don’t. Because the truth that WikiLeaks taught me is one you might like to learn. And it’s not just the important truth that the most important truth is always the messiest kind.

The truth I feared and the one five years of watching and reporting on Wikileaks gave me is this: the power great enough to resist so many human struggles is the power great enough to end our own human struggle for the truth.

The US has pursued the same statecraft, the same domestic policy and the same service to enormous, powerful wealth since World War II. But we refuse to see the shape of its power and we miss the fact that the US people could elect a toilet as its President, and the US hegemon would still go on with the business of years.

One could say the US did elect a toilet President, and the US hegemon continues its business of years. The tradition of corporate gift-giving continues with Trump’s tax cuts as it started with Obama’s Recovery Act, written by Wall Street’s bankers. Trump continues to deport those “illegals” whom President Obama knew as “undocumented”, even as Obama’s deportation record stands above the combined record of every US President of the 20th century, and is unlikely to be beaten by Trump. As for Russia. Well. A trillion more dollars in developing weapons to contain it, and more US and NATO troops…..

Zzz. Again. The messy truth. Vote in my election. Stand with Hillary Clinton, or stand for some very fake news.

Better to believe that Assange is a Dirty Bad Man than ever own up to what history demands that we know. Better to say that the US is the world’s power, and jolly well deserves to be, and all it needs is a nicer, less vulgar leader than Trump to keep its truth and the truth of liberal democracy intact.

Argh. There I go again, and I don’t want you to stop reading. Please, stay with me for a bit of the truth I learned in five unfriendly years. Not just the truth about WikiLeaks and the truth WikiLeaks has published. I learned the truth about truth. It’s a fucking mess.

So, that’s another reason to throw this Haitian truth in bins: it’s messy and it’s boring. It’s true, this brutal record of US intervention in Haiti. It’s true that WikiLeaks published this true account. But this truth takes a long time to analyse and a longer time to tell. Why bother. It’s more gratifying to get angry with Trump for allegedly calling Haiti a “shithole” than it is to get angry with Hillary Clinton for making Haiti a shithole.

We nod off when the truth goes on too long. Even truth of torture, rape and monstrous exploitation. We hope for truth to be neat. We want to believe in truth. We want to be With Her, or with someone. Anyone. Someone just a little bit “true”.

The truth is, I don’t want to be ‘with’ Assange and I don’t think of Assange as ‘truth’. I didn’t turn part of myself into stone for a man, and I need another white hero like I need another cease-and-desist. What I need most  is my partner, a very reasonable person, but one whose “Well, you love Julian more than me” goodnight joke tells me, again, that this truth I am telling makes nothing but a mess.

I want bed. I want to forget the name of Julian fucking Assange. I want my head to lose all its truth of arrest warrants, Swedish prosecutors, Grand Juries and so on. I even hope to forget the true name of Assange’s cat, which is Bruce. Do not believe reports that refer to Bruce the Cat as James the Cat— absurd, Bruce is clearly the better name.

Another truth: I spent a day finding out how Julian Assange treats this Cat called Bruce to counter the ‘Assange does not change his kitty litter’ message. This is the message you get and the thing you believe if you need your neat fix of truth. Assange is a Dirty Deceitful Man who Deserves Detention is a belief, made in part from messy truth, but in greater part by lies.

Julian Assange, pictured in the Equadorian embassy in 2014, with Ricardo Patiño, Ecuador’s then Foreign Minister. (IMAGE: David G Silvers, Cancillería del Ecuador, Flickr)

The truth: Bruce is living well and better than many among London’s indoor cat population, one disposed to hold this embassy cat in high regard. Not a truth, obviously. Cats hold no being in regard any higher than the tips of their own little ears.

Assange holds Bruce in high regard, notwithstanding. I report here that he treats his most constant companion with kindness. He treats Bruce as you might the only friend who shows up for you each day: with the tender respect sufficient to satisfy even Ms Pamela Anderson, advocate for animals first, and for Mr Assange, second.

My neat truth: Assange looks after Bruce. Everything else is a mess but this, and the much bigger ‘human interest’ story about the Assange that doesn’t look after his cat.

This lie about Assange is the ‘truth’ that comes before the end. This is the laugh you have about a life to help you to forget it. Because laughter needs trauma, and punchlines need tension and tension feeds… you swallowed that bullshit when Hannah Gadsby fed it to you, so why not suck on it now.

The joke or the laugh is not the point. The paint-by-numbers US propaganda really is: demean the enemy, make the enemy appear evil and potent, but also ridiculous and small. You must manufacture consent for your crimes—and do read that old Chomsky, please.

Sure, I get that there are more delightful ways to fill your day than a lesson in how US power makes a violent desert and calls it peace once more. But, there are far better ways for you to spend this life than believing its biggest power is what it ain’t.

You may say: she is telling me I’m stupid, too stupid to see the truth. I say: No. You’re not stupid. I don’t believe in this at all. If I did, I’d be in bed with my partner, not here attempting to explain what WikiLeaks explains: truth is the thing we are tempted by great power not to see.

Now, the old Chomsky view is correct: there are propaganda techniques we can see. What we can’t see, and what is not controlled by any conscious power, is that other force in us. Our need to retain our faith in power.

To reveal a US truth is to be up to your neck in shit. Not the shit made by Bruce the Cat, but the Snowden kind. The kind of shit you get for being a nuisance, and the kind of shit that has so many believing: this is shit you got yourself in. This is shit that you deserve.

Snowden believed in the US. He believed in the US military. So did Chelsea Manning. They were faithful US people who both reached a point past faith.

When a person who has faithfully served the US with their body and their mind cracks and says, “We kill people and we lie about it” or “We spy on people and we lie about it” we must listen.  These are acts of faith in crisis. These faithful people didn’t have a choice but to live a life of shit. There was no choice but truth.

It’s not a choice you make to lose your faith in liberal democracy. It’s not a choice to speak the truth that lost it. It’s not a ruddy choice to see truth in the first place. We don’t have the choice to un-see truth. Might as well wait for your faith to be restored. And I have, but the crisis continues.

The depth of the truth about lost faith is difficult to describe, and probably not possible without me banging on forever like a wanker. I’d have to return to the release of Collateral Murder. I’d have to describe the truths that I didn’t want to see but have these past eight years.

With the record of US brutality, alleged to have been leaked by Chelsea Manning, many said “the US is telling lies again”. Fewer have described how it feels to live past the pain of this truth. To agree that they are always lying is one thing. To feel the power and the breadth of that lie is something else. It’s very fucking unpleasant to know the truth all the time about power. It is beyond my capacity to describe.

I’ll say that once see you see that un-see-able truth, you don’t have many friends left. The thing you see as intrinsically incapable of truth presents itself to others as fundamentally okay, just lacking at times in good and truthful leaders. The power you know to be complex and opaque is seen by others as simple and transparent. The lies told by power to maintain itself, whatever its personnel, are heard as inspiring truth by others. It don’t matter one jot how many drone strikes Obama ordered or how many millions of Black boys Bill Clinton put in for-profit US prisons. The only truth your former friends see is that one guy not telling it too well. They don’t see that the lie is intrinsic to such immense power. You see it all the time.

US president Donald Trump. (IMAGE: Gage Skidmore, Flickr)

So, thanks, WikiLeaks, for fucking me up real good. Thanks for your agonising truth and your guide to what truth is, and what it really isn’t. This great project of yours has halved my income and, often, the hours I sleep. Your lost cause is mine now, since the time that I lost the faith.

The veneer of truth you knocked off power leaves me with nothing but the scene of an abyss. To know that power has no truth is not also to learn the truth of what it is. Power is opaque, even to those who hold it. Smash a few of its privacy screens down and know only that nobody will ever know the half of it.

I’d read this view before. I believed it, and believed it absolutely.That history is always more dynamic than the people who make it and that power is a monster beyond human control is no big thing for me to know. But I wouldn’t have lived it in such discomfort were it not for the hospitality of one Julian Assange.

The US Attorney General is committed to Assange’s arrest. WikiLeaks is for this US administration as it was to the last: a “hostile intelligence service“. Any person or firm that reports its published leaks is a hostile agent, per Pompeo. So me, New Matilda and the New York Times could be legally subject to torture. I guess that could be true.

Is that a fact? Is that true, Miss Cherry-Picking Contrary Misogynist who writes long and messy things because she thinks she’s such an edgelord?

Could be.

Could be that in a few hours, Julian Assange will be detained by UK police. Could be that the US Department of Justice will finally get their guy. Who knows? All I know is that if I were a betting man, I’d lay a hundred down that Assange will be staring at the inside of another wall within the week. I’d lay more down if I had it that the intimidation of more ordinary reporters will follow. I’d lay the last down on you. If you don’t care one bit for the fate of Assange now, I bet high you won’t care one bit for these future detainees. You’ll say “journalism is not a crime” only when you’re pretty sure that everyone in power is already on your side. Which is usually when they’re calling a non-Western power corrupt. Calling a Western power corrupt is the thing that sends you to prison.

You’ll be happy. You’ll believe you know the truth about power and believe power when it tells you ‘truth’ about those newly dissident journalists. They are hostile, amateur, contrary misogynists who don’t seek truth, but trouble. And they have Western warrants for their arrest because all bad people do. Good people have warrants from corrupt non-Western powers. Bad people who hate the West so much they’ll tell a truth about it. Terrorists. Edgelords. Misfits. Criminals. Off with their lying heads.

Wash, rinse, repeat, motherfuckers. That dirty lie won’t set you free. But, you will be very happy.

I won’t. Free Julian Assange. He committed no crime. I’m not happy to know this truth. But I know it and it’s stubborn as a stone.

Helen Razer in an Australian writer, author and avowed Marxist. She is based in Melbourne and writes regularly for Crikey.com