An extended interview with Julian Assange’s father John Shipton, who condemns the US, UK, and Australian governments for their “11 years of ceaseless psychological torture” of the WikiLeaks publisher.
By Denis Rogatyuk
DENIS ROGATYUK: The fight 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 have been the primary actions that you and the campaign have undertaken since then?
JOHN SHIPTON: Well we fight against the United Kingdom, Sweden, the United States, and to a certain extent Australia. They have marshaled all of their forces and broken every law in human rights and due process in order to send Julian to the United States and destroy him.
Before our eyes, we have watched the gradual murder of Julian through psychological torture, through ceaseless breaking of procedures and due process. So that is what we fight against.
During the latest hearing, the judge Barrett asked Julian to prove that he was unwell, that he didn’t come onto the video. So again, we see a process that we witness over and over again, blaming the victim.
In the case of Australia, the Australians say that they’ve offered consular assistance. When I say the Australians, DFAT (the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade), and the prime minister, and the foreign minister, Marise Payne, say that they have consular assistance over and over again. Their consular assistance consists offering last week’s newspaper and to see if he’s still alive. That’s about the extent of it.
So consular assistance, I think they maintain, DFAT maintains that they’ve made 100 offers. Well this is a profound testimony to failure.
It’s now 11 years; Julian has been arbitrarily detained 11 years. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that Julian was arbitrarily detained, and should be compensated and freed straightaway.
The latest of their reports was February 2018. It is now 2020 and Julian is still in maximum security Belmarsh prison under lockdown 23 hours a day.
DENIS ROGATYUK: And how would you describe the relationship between the current campaign for his release and the Wikileaks organisation?
JOHN SHIPTON: Well WikiLeaks continues its work and continues to hold the most extraordinary library of the American, United States diplomacy since 1970. It’s an extraordinary artifact that any journalist or any historian, any of us can look up the names of those who have been involved in diplomacy with the United States, in their own countries or with the United States. This is a great resource. It continues to be maintained.
Just the week before last, WikiLeaks released another set of files, so WikiLeaks continues its work.
The people who defend Julian include Wikileaks, but include 100,000 people all around the world who are working constantly to bring about Julian’s freedom and stop this oppression of the free press, of publication, of publishers, and of journalists. We work constantly to do that.
There are about 80 websites around the world that publish and agitate for Julian’s freedom. And about 86 Facebook pages devoted to Julian. So there are many of us. And the upswelling of support continues, despite Covid. Covid slowed us down a little bit. Now that Covid-19 is withdrawing, the upswelling continues.
And it will do so until the Australian Government and the United Kingdom recognise that this is the crime, the oppression of Julian, is the great crime of the 21st century.
DENIS ROGATYUK: The latest superseding indictment of Julian regarding the alleged conspiracy with unnamed “anonymous” hackers appears to be another attempt to fast-track his extradition. Do you believe this is a symptom of desperation on the part of the Department of Justice of the United States?
JOHN SHIPTON: No I don’t. The people who work in the Department of Justice get paid, whether this succeeds or not. Whether Julian is extradited they get paid; if he’s not extradited they still get paid. They still go home, and have a glass of wine, take the kids to the movies, and then come to work the next day, and think up another instrument of torture for Julian. This is their job.
So I don’t know why, but I could speculate or guess, if you like, that the Department of Justice would like to see the trial delayed, the hearing delayed, until after the American election (in November 2020). So there will be appeals by the lawyers in court that they haven’t had time to accommodate and that the judge, they asked the judge to move the hearing date. That’s what I imagine.
But I don’t think it’s an act of desperation at all. If anything it is giving us who defend Julian more things to worry about, so that our energies are not focused singularly upon getting Julian out. So the conversation drifts over to this further indictment and about who is included in it.
It is Siggi and Sabu, both of whom are not credible witnesses. Siggi (Sigurdur Thordarson, or Siggi hakkari) is a convicted sex offender, a con man, who stole $50,000 from Wikileaks and so on. There are not credible witnesses (to these allegations). I guess that it is either to delay the hearing and or to cause the conversation to drift away from what is important.
DENIS ROGATYUK: I wish to move to the second part of our interview now, exploring Julian’s life.
A lot has been researched and published about Julian’s life and early days in the 1990s. I would like to discuss the aspects of his life that have given him the resilience and the strength to withstand the challenges that he faces now.
Julian is incredibly committed to telling the truth in his interviews. He is very articulate and he is very careful about communicating and choosing the exact words to describe things. Is this something that his family taught him or is it something special about Julian?
JOHN SHIPTON: I don’t really know, you know, it is sort of a gift that I would like to have myself. So I don’t know where it came from. I guess you would have to ask the gods, maybe they know the answer.
The path he has forged is distinct and distinctly his. I admire and am proud of him for his capacity to adapt, and his capacity to continue fighting, despite 11 years of ceaseless psychological torture. That doesn’t come without cost. It cost him a lot.
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.
Oh actually I don’t like the word, if I may withdraw that sentence, I don’t like the word hope. Hope sort of makes a really nice breakfast, and a bad dinner. So we will prevail in this fight is what I would say.
DENIS ROGATYUK: Julian displayed incredible physical and mental resilience these past 9 years, particularly nearly 8 years he spent in the Ecuadorian embassy and this past year in the Belmarsh prison. Where do you think this strength is coming from – his moral and political convictions or something he developed in his early life in Australia?
JOHN SHIPTON: I think it’s a gift that he has, that he will continue to fight for what he believes. And if there are elements of truth in what he is fighting for, well then he never surrenders. It’s an aspect of character.
I don’t mind in fact myself, but I am invigorated by fighting for Julian. And each insult or offence against Julian increases my determination to prevail, and the determination of Julian’s supporters to prevail. Each insult increases our strength.
And so you can see, when the second a lot of indictments were brought down week before last, supporters around the world raised their voices in disbelief, and began again to raise awareness of Julian’s situation.
So it’s really interesting, the Department of Justice might think one thing that it causes us to fracture, but what actually happens is the upswelling of support continues unabated.
DENIS ROGATYUK: John, I wish to ask you a more personal question. How does it feel to be the father of a man like Julian, and to see his son son go through all this hardship and slander, and to keep traveling and fighting for his liberation across the world?
I’m surprised, but you know I ignore it. For myself I take not the slightest bit of notice. I’m surprised that people put their energies into calling Julian names, and they’ve never met him, never even set eyes on him, some people, and yet they find the time and energy to write scurrilous things.
I think maybe they don’t have anybody to go out with, or there’s no friends at home, or something like that, or their their wife can’t stand them, so they go down the backyard with their laptops and write scurrilous things about Julian or whatever, or their neighbor’s dog.
I’m very surprised that people put the energy into that sort of thing.
DENIS ROGATYUK: But how does it feel to keep this campaign for a liberation going? Because you have done a lot of travel around the world; you have been advocating for his release everywhere you go. So what has that journey been like for you, personally?
JOHN SHIPTON: Uh Denis, I don’t count the costs, not even for a minute. I do what I’m here today with you, I do what comes before me, and then I go on to the next thing. But I never, ever count costs.
DENIS ROGATYUK: And for the last part of our interview I wanted to actually discuss your thoughts and your opinions on some of the more important and more prominent issues of our day.
Ever since the extradition hearings began, against Julian, 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?
JOHN SHIPTON: Well first of all, Mike Pompeo, dear oh dear, I mean a failed secretary of state and a failed CIA director, declares war on WikiLeaks in order to get the CIA support for his future ambitions to run for president. And he moves now from secretary of state to the Senate for Kansas.
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. So Pompeo in that address on the (13th) of April 2017 that you just quoted, he just wants to get all of his workers to support him in his bid for presidency.
And also to oppress and intimidate journalists all over the world, and publishers and publications — his sole aim is to ruin your capacity to bring to the public ideas and information, and our capacity as members of the public to talk amongst ourselves and sort out things through conversation with each other, on what we ought to do and how we ought to go about life.
They just want to have it all their own way, declare war on whomever, murder another million people, destroy Yemen, destroy Libya, destroy Iraq, destroy Afghanistan, the list goes on — destroy Syria, millions of people refugees, flooding the world, and moving into Europe; the Maghreb in turmoil, the Levant in turmoil, Palestinians murdered — this is their aim.
And so for us, we depend upon you to bring us truthful information, so that we can have fair opinions of how the world is moving around us.
What Pompeo wants is for what he says to be believed. Well you can see his history. They say it may be up to 5 million people since 1991 died as a result of the United States and its allies moving on Iraq in an illegal war.
You can watch Collateral Murder and you can see a good samaritan dragging a wounded man into his car to take him to the hospital, taking his children on the way to school, murdered before your eyes. The pilots of the helicopter begging for instructions to be able to shoot a wounded man, two kids, and two good samaritans, begging for instructions from their controller.
So they don’t want us to see that. However we depend upon you journalists, publishers, publications to bring to us the crimes that governments commit so that we are energized, so that we place our shoulders to preventing these murders with all of the determination and energy we can muster, to prevent the murder and destruction of an entire country.
If I may remind you, in Melbourne, there were a million people marched against the Iraq War. All over the world I think a total of 10 million people. We don’t want war. They lie to us in order to have wars, for whatever satisfaction, I can’t make out myself.
Who would want to see and hear the lamentation of widows, the cries of children, the groans of men? Who would want that? It’s monstrous.
And so we need the information in order to say no.
DENIS ROGATYUK: The new cold war between the United States and the European Union on one side and China and Russia on the other, threatens to pull the ordinary people of the world into another confrontation on behalf of these 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 in this new conflict that seems to be developing?
JOHN SHIPTON: I think the best way is to talk to your friends and discuss things, gathering friends and discussing things, becoming aware outside of what the mass communication outlets want us to see and hear.
So just face-to-face conversations and then conversations over social media is sufficient. Each day you will see, the last two weeks, Facebook and YouTube and Twitter removing, as platforms of discussion, certain subjects, and certain YouTube channels. They remove them because we are succeeding, not because nobody watches them, nobody goes there. It’s because we are succeeding to educate ourselves as to what governments do in our name.
To bring peace between or fair relationships between the members of the European Union and Australia and China and Russia, ordinary people — the Sochi World Cup, soccer world cup, was the greatest success, 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 matters of importance, not depending upon CNN or any other talking head for how you should feel about this or that subject. Just talk to friends, talk to groups of people, talk amongst each other, exchange ideas, exchange where to get good information, and things will change.
I have an undying belief in the capacity and goodness of general humanity. And I am proved right every time, because 10 million people marched against the Iraq War, but a few hundred manipulated the nations by blowing up railway stations, what they called terrorism, just a few hundred manipulated those nations into destroying Iraq.
Ordinary people don’t want war; we want to be able to just talk to our friends, look after our families, that’s all.
DENIS ROGATYUK: And one final question, John. The Covid-19 pandemic has not only revealed the inadequacies of the neoliberal economic order, but it has also revealed its increasing instability and desperation to maintain itself.
This is also true with regards to prominent right-wing governments — the United States, Brazil, and Bolivia — seeking to silence journalists and reports regarding their mismanagement of the pandemic.
We are seeing independent journalism under attack around the world, through censorship, intimidation threats, and assassinations.
What do you think should be the best way of fighting back against them?
JOHN SHIPTON: These governments, they 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.
It’s just, if it wasn’t so tragic, it would be just amusing, you would read about it just to get a laugh every morning.
Of course they oppress the journalists; of course they oppress publications; of course the warrants that allow you to broadcast on a certain spectrum are removed; platforms are removed. Because we continue to understand and expose their shortcomings.
The shortcomings are criminal. They actually consider the phrase “herd immunity” to be something scientific. They actually contemplate allowing hundreds of thousands of old people or older people to die. And they use phrases like, “Oh well, they had comorbidities.” Everybody over 60 has a comorbidity. You don’t get older and get weller; you get older and get a little bit sick, or a little bit not so strong.
The actual contemplation of doing away with the steadying part of a society — older people steady the young; the young are full of vigor, and the old are full of caution; this is a fair balance in society — allowing them to die off, for whatever reason we can’t discern. We cannot discern; it doesn’t cost any more money to look after a section of society and prevent Covid. You don’t lose anything from it; you actually gain access to the experience and judgment of the older section of your society.
So it is incomprehensible, like neoliberalism itself, nobody quite understands why we’ve got, it but it’s there.