[Former British Member of Parliamentn (MP) George Galloway was, by anyone’s account, among the most fierce and outspoken opponents of recent U.S.-British wars in the Middle East. His powerful and elegant diatribes against the last Iraq war won him many friends in the antiwar community, and scores of enemies within British Parliament and the U.S. Congress. Galloway told the U.S. Senate in May of 2005, that he had “met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him.” But while “Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns”, “[I] met him to try to bring about an end to sanctions, suffering and war.” Galloway was dubbed by his fellow MP’s as the “MP for Baghdad North.”
In the following interview, Galloway stands up strongly in defense of his “personal friend”, Julian Assange. Galloway says in the following interview that he was informed and inspired by the expansive releases of key secret documentary evidence by WikiLeaks—evidence that exposed the lies of these deadly wars and inspired the former MP’s work as a leading member of the British anti-war movement. “It was precisely as one of the members of the anti-war movement here in Britain that I came into contact with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange in the first place. He rendered a signal service to the international community by revealing war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Dennis Bernstein and Randy Credico spoke with George Galloway on June 19th at the Studios of KPFA Berkeley, California, as a part of their continuing multi-year series, Julian Assange: Countdown to Freedom. On the eve of Julian’s birthday, July 3rd, we are happy to bring you this interview. –Editors]
Dennis Bernstein: Welcome George Galloway. It is good to talk to you again. I wonder if you could give us your response to what WikiLeaks is and the criminalization of Julian Assange.
George Galloway: I have the honor of counting Julian Assange as a personal friend of mine. I have believed in him from the very beginning. I knew him well when he was young and pink-faced, lovely and free. So the sight of him being carried out bodily from the Ecuadorian embassy in London was a very painful one indeed. Julian had endured in the embassy—particularly badly in current years under the president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno—cruel and unusual punishment. He had effectively been tortured. Even at the best of times he had been locked up in an airless room with no sunlight and no opportunity to properly exercise. He was always restricted in the social intercourse that he could have with fellows and family and that got progressively worse. By the end, he was even being deprived of essential medical assistance, of proper legal representation. The restrictions on him became positively nightmarish.
Now, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, he is behind the grim prison walls of the Belmarsh maximum-security prison in England. His cellmates and fellow prisoners include the very worst people in the world. I am talking about mass murderers and terrorists. People who cut people’s throats on London bridges in the name of fanatical religious beliefs. It is crushing a butterfly on a wheel, to put such a man into such a place. And for what? For telling truth to power. No one is saying he made anything up, no one is saying he told any lies. Everyone acknowledges that that which he revealed was the truth about what was being done by those in power. You might say that is an ABC for any person who calls himself a journalist.
But the insult that has been added to the considerable injury suffered by Julian Assange is the contempt of so many of his fellow journalists and publishers, including those who fed on the dripping roast of revelations WikiLeaks made available to them, and which they themselves published. They are not waiting on a plane for the United States and 170 years in a federal penitentiary, mostly in solitary confinement, I have no doubt. They are still sitting with their families, having published in their newspapers the very news that Julian revealed and for which he is now being punished.
Dennis Bernstein: You were a strong opponent of the US/British war in Iraq. It now appears that one of the most significant actions that WikiLeaks took had to do with its revelation of the so-called “collateral murder” video. Could you talk about the significance of that and why that was so important in terms of trying to bring about world peace?
George Galloway: It was precisely as one of the members of the anti-war movement here in Britain that I came into contact with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange in the first place. He rendered a signal service to the international community by revealing war crimes and crimes against humanity carried out principally by your government and mine. Again, I make this point: Nobody is saying that a helicopter gunship didn’t shoot down civilians, including children and journalists. What they are saying is that Julian Assange committed a crime by revealing it! Most ordinary people can see the perversity of those who committed war crimes being off somewhere counting their ill-gotten gains and the man who revealed these war crimes in Belmarsh Prison facing a death sentence. There is something profoundly morally wrong with that. The war criminals got off scot-free and the man who revealed the war crimes is being disproportionately punished.
Randy Credico: George, you have been a supporter of Julian Assange for a long time now. One of Julian’s friends, a journalist out of London, sent me this message when she heard that George was going to be on today’s show: “George Galloway has been an outspoken defender of Julian Assange for years and years, andat a time when it was very, very difficult to do so publicly in the UK. It was virtually suicide because of mobbing attacks by the Guardian. George stuck to his guns and risked everything just to support Julian Assange on his radio shows, in parliament and at the Oxford Union.”
George, the definition of insanity to me is to watch the BBC over and over and to expect different results. They have not been there on behalf of Assange. Who controls that network? Can you talk about the Information Research Department and their influence over mass media in Great Britain?
George Galloway: The BBC is our state broadcaster, although it doesn’t like to be called that. By any measure it clearly is. The government appoints the people who run it and the public are forced to pay on pain of imprisonment an annual poll tax which is entirely regressive. Even if you never watch or listen to the BBC, you will literally go to prison if you don’t pay $150 per year. Because it is the state broadcaster, it sits snugly right in the middle of what Samuel Johnson called “the grimmest dictatorship of them all, the dictatorship of the prevailing orthodoxy.” So, when Julian was falsely accused of sexual crimes, they moved as one to demonize, marginalize and then criminalize this brave whistleblower. Assange ought to be getting prizes from the international community for blowing whistles that needed to be blown. The BBC has been at the center of the disinformation war against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.
But that is what we expect from the BBC. Far harder to bear, sharper than a serpent’s tooth is the passivity of the so-called liberal media. The Guardianis anti-Assange daily. It published on its front page an absolute lie, that Paul Manafort had made two visits to Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy. They probably knew it was a lie when they published it, they definitely know now that it’s a lie, but they have never corrected or withdrawn it. This story went around the world before the truth had even got its boots on. Manafort never crossed the threshold of the Ecuadorian embassy, never met Julian Assange. It was a crude, desperate attempt to inveigle Julian in the Mueller enquiry and to make things even worse for Julian than they already are. That is harder to bear, because people who write for the Guardian and many of its readers regard themselves as right-on liberal, progressive people.
You mentioned the Information Research Department (IRD) and the growth of open psychological operations. The 77th Brigade, literally a brigade of the UK armed forces, is a propaganda brigade which has the task—and lots of money with which to achieve it—of spreading disinformation about people hostile to the British state’s crimes around the world and proselytizing for those crimes. And the white helmets, the so-called humanitarians in Syria, who are in fact the ambulance brigade of ISIS and al-Qaeda, have been sanctified with British state money operating undercover. It certainly came as an eye-opener that the British taxpayer was having to give money to secret organizations so that they could muddy the waters and spread disinformation about people like Julian Assange.
Randy Credico: George, would you give us your thoughts about the way Julian is being treated for basically jumping bail, compared to the way Augusto Pinochet was treated after committing war crimes, crimes against humanity. He was being held awaiting extradition to Spain. Talk about the difference between Pinochet and Assange.
George Galloway: Pinochet had murdered thousands of people. There was a valid extradition request for him from Spain. He was put up in a luxurious villa in the nicest part of London. Whereas Julian is in Belmarsh Prison for skipping bail. He is serving a fifty-week sentence! Nobody in the whole history of penal servitude has ever been sent to a maximum-security prison for skipping bail! And don’t forget that we have already paid upwards of 20 million pounds for the police presence outside the Ecuadorian embassy all these years. Talk about a sledgehammer to crack a nut! Given the state of Julian’s health, when he was carried out of the Ecuadorian embassy, he should have been taken straight to hospital, not to a dungeon, a kind of Guantanamo Bay in the southeast of London, where only the damned enter and few ever leave.
Dennis Bernstein: Some people like to say Assange is just a criminal hacker, that WikiLeaks is not really a publisher. Of course, I keep thinking about the New York Times and the Guardian who depended on material from WikiLeaks and won prizes based on that material. How would you characterize Julian Assange? Would you say that he is a significant publisher?
George Galloway: He is the most important publisher in the world today and over the last decade. Not a single story WikiLeaks has ever published has turned out to be wrong and had to be retracted or significantly corrected. That is a record that neither the New York Times nor the London Times or any other mainstream publisher could ever dream of claiming. I think that the publishing activities of WikiLeaks have changed the world, certainly the world of journalism. Assange is not charged with hacking; he is not a hacker. He is a post box where whistleblowers can bring material which is then investigated so thoroughly that they have never got a single story wrong. Then they publish it. Then the New York Times puts it on their front page and the Guardian puts it on theirs. Talk about hypocrisy! These people won prizes for running stories given to them by Julian Assange! And yet they have virtually danced on what they imagine to be his grave. That is what is difficult to take. WikiLeaks’ model of publishing was revolutionary and that is why they are in trouble.
In the end, the New York Times can be controlled. A word from on high can skew and even silence a story. Julian Assange’s biggest problem was that he was not for sale or for rent to anyone. He has been absolutely nondiscriminatory in the crimes and malfeasance that he was revealed. This is a day when I am remembering Jamal Khashoggi, who was a friend of mine. The UN has just reported that there is compelling forensic evidence that the criminal regime in Saudi Arabia murdered Jamal Khashoggi and then cut him up with a bone saw. These are the kinds of regimes that WikiLeaks has been exposed as the criminals that they are. And the American and British government and business interests that wallow in the money of the regime in Saudi Arabia don’t want that kind of journalism, because it shines a light on the darkest, dankest corners of their activities.
That is why, despite all the vicissitudes—especially at the time of the Swedish allegations against Julian—it never even crossed my mind that I could leave his side. I have stood by him; everyone should stand by him. He is someone who should be receiving the Nobel Prize, not someone who should be in Belmarsh Prison.
Dennis Bernstein: We recently spoke with Daniel Ellsberg, perhaps the most famous whistleblower in the United States, who released the Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War. He said that if the US government is successful in having Assange extradited and put in prison, that will be the end of journalism as we know it. In the United States, we’ve seen reporters’ homes broken into. In Australia we’ve seen it happen, in France. Your thoughts about this opening of a Pandora’s box here?
George Galloway: Julian Assange’s father said to us in London that if Julian goes down, we all go down. That’s what we’re talking about here in a nutshell. Every truth teller, every truth seeker goes down if Julian Assange goes down. If in the future there are any journalists left, and the dream of revealing uncomfortable truths about the actions of the powerful and the wealthy, the example of what happened to Julian Assange would be sufficient to chill any enthusiasm they might otherwise had had for publishing such stories. And who is the loser from that? Of course, the journalistic profession but much more importantly the public. They will not know that which it was their right to know and they need to know if we are going to live in a democratic society. As Francis Bacon said, “Self-censorship is the arrow that flies in the night. You don’t see it but it hits its target with full force.” Journalists and publishers will henceforth self-censor so that they never have any possibility of meeting the fate of Julian Assange.
Randy Credico: George, your show is back on the air. It’s called “The Mother of All Talk Shows.” I do read your Twitter feed and you had a few comments today that I particularly liked. One was about Tony Blair. One person profiting off the vile regime in Saudi Arabia is Tony Blair. What do you think about Blair taking 9 million pounds a year to do the dirty work for this regime?
George Galloway: It is almost impossible to believe and yet it’s true. A former Labor British prime minister is currently receiving 9 million pounds sterling a year from the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to advise him on modernization! This is a regime that has just cut into pieces a Washington Post columnist, that has on its death row teenagers who are facing beheading and crucifixion! Tony Blair, a war criminal who begat ISIS, who gave al-Qaeda its biggest shot in the arm, who destroyed Iraq and killed a million souls is now being paid $11 million a year by the Saudi regime!
Randy Credico: He should be the one in Belmarsh. Craig Murray is very close with Julian Assange. Why did the FCO get rid of Craig Murray?
George Galloway: My relationship with Craig Murray is extremely close. He is the greatest living Scotsman, in my opinion. He was a whistleblower and that is why he was drawn to the orbit of Julian Assange. In the absence of Assange, former ambassador Murray has continued forensically and without resource to ferret and research and reveal truths that have made the British state squirm whenever they log on to his blog.
Most people are good people. The evil ones that walk among us are few in number. Our task is to rally the good against the evil.
Dennis Bernstein: One of the things that has been happening here in the United States is what we call the Russiagate frenzy. WikiLeaks is accused of being a collaborator with the Russians, the US’s number-one enemy, as we move back into the Cold War. Do you see Julian Assange as a Russian collaborator? How do you respond to that?
George Galloway: I am in a position to know that that is definitively untrue. Julian has published plenty of material that casts an unfavorable light on the government and the president of Russia. He would do the same thing with any country, as long as the information was true. This Russiagate frenzy is based on the inability of the Democratic party to accept that they picked the only candidate in the United States who could possibility have lost to Donald Trump. They rigged the entire process so that that outcome could be achieved. They spent $1 billion on Clinton’s election campaign. Those who gave that kind of money must have felt pretty sore when they didn’t get the outcome they had paid for. I am also in a position to tell you that the material from the DNC published by WikiLeaks was not the result of a hack but of a leak. I happen to know that for certain. Everything he published about the DNC was true. The biggest scoop in the twenty-first century in British journalism was the revelation that hundreds and hundreds of British members of parliament were systematically stealing tens of thousands of pounds a year from the British public with fraudulent expense plans. The only reason we know that is that someone leaked it to the Daily Telegraph. They won prizes for it and rightly so, because it was in the public’s interest. The public interest defense trumps any minor crime committed. Maybe Chelsea Manning did commit a crime in transmitting that information to WikiLeaks. But it exposed an infinitely bigger crime. That is what journalism at its best does. It reveals crimes against humanity, against the Geneva Convention and against the rules of war. These revelations will live forever in the history of mankind. And yet Chelsea Manning, like Julian Assange, is behind bars as we speak.
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About the Author
Dennis J. Bernstein is an award-winning investigative reporter and member of the CovertAction Magazine (CAM) Board of Advisors. Bernstein is a veteran writer for CAM (see issues # 28, 29, 64, 73). He is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, an award-winning front-line investigative news magazine focusing on human, civil and workers’ rights, issues of war and peace, global warming, racism and poverty. Dennis also writes for Consortium News, The Progressive, and Truthout.
Randolph A. Credico is a comedian, radio host, and activist, and the former director of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice. Credico currently hosts LIve On The Fly and Assange: Countdown to Freedom.