John Pilger, 82, is one of the world’s most iconic journalists. Having covered multiple wars from across the world from a young age, this London-based Australian is an unstoppable critic of imperialist foreign policies of the West and its grand military strategies. His documentaries over the decades, from Vietnam in 1970 (The Quiet Mutiny) to the secret plan to destroy the UK’s publicly funded health system in 2019, have all been first drafts of history that offered us a peek into the future. The Dirty War on the National Health Service, released in late 2019, predicted the chaos that later played out before us during the Covid crisis. As an author and a geopolitical commentator, Pilger’s influence among the journalist community and others has been nothing short of phenomenal. The award-winning writer, who is often looked up to for views on global developments, including the war in Ukraine, spoke to Open about the plight of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and his persecution by powerful people for exposing war crimes.
In your long and highly productive decades in journalism, have you come across similar attacks on journalists as Julian Assange had to face for telling the truth? How is his case different from those of the others you know who were also persecuted for their journalism?
There have been many great mavericks in journalism. Julian Assange is the most famous. The intensity of the attacks on these ‘honourable exceptions’ is a sure indicator of the importance of their work. For example, in the United States, the journalist Gary Webb published an investigation called ‘Dark Alliance’ which revealed the involvement of the CIA with cocaine trafficking. This had profound political implications, and Webb was smeared and persecuted in much the way Julian Assange has been, especially by the mainstream media. Webb took his own life.
How do you describe the response of Western mainstream media to how a democracy treated Julian Assange? What does the way it treated him reveal about the UK?
It reveals that both the democratic and judicial systems in the land of Magna Carta are corrupt—that is to say: behind its democratic facades, society is ruled by powerful undemocratic interests that are ruthless in getting their way. Julian’s suffering tells us this truth loud and clear—we should, we must learn from it. The people of India know this ruthlessness only too well.
You seem to state through your tweets that the new Australian government is not an ally of Julian Assange as it was earlier expected to be. What do you think are the compulsions of the current Australian government?
It was a Labor Party government that first turned against Julian, its own citizen, in order to collude with the United States. The compulsions of the present government, whatever it calls itself, are based on its neo-liberal beliefs—and neoliberalism is the modern extremism parodied as socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest. Understand this and you begin to understand the turmoil from Ukraine to the Middle East. Of course, governments present themselves as very different and depend on the media to promote myths about democracy.
What do you think are the crucial facts that the British courts and the UK home secretary have not examined about the Julian trial case? Have they looked into the big question: why does he need to be extradited to the US to stand trial there?
Almost every known ‘crucial fact’ destroys this case. In a proper due process, the case would have been thrown out of court long ago. The CIA spied on Julian, his lawyers, his doctors, his family; its principal witness is a convicted crook who has renounced his fake evidence; and much more. None of this has made any difference, because the US wants to drop Julian Assange, truth-teller, in a penal hellhole for life so that the truth-telling he inspired all over the world is deterred. The Mafia would appreciate this.
Will Boris Johnson’s exit as Prime Minister change things for Julian Assange whom the UK government wants to extradite to the US where the 50-year-old publisher has been charged under the US Espionage Act (and faces up to 175 years in jail if found guilty)? What will Johnson’s departure mean for the UK?
The answer to the first part of the question is ‘no’. The answer to the second part is: a brief relief … but only brief before another Tory acolyte is made prime minister.