The Media Is Complicit in Julian Assange’s Torture

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Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment during panel " The death penalty and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment at a 34th Session of the Human Rights Council. 1 March 2017. Photo credit: Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

While it is rare that publishers themselves make headlines, reports about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at this point probably outnumber articles based on the information he published. This is the extent to which the man behind some of the most shocking revelations about U.S. war crimes has come under public scrutiny. Despite the profound journalistic importance of the work Assange and whistleblower Chelsea Manning have done, the two have been smeared, persecuted and imprisoned in an effort to “shoot the messenger” that effectively distracts from their revelations and works to undermine their credibility.

The mass media has played into this character assassination while both Manning and Assange are in jail, and instead of refusing to treat this as one of the most egregious assaults on press freedom,  they have largely turned their back on the victims. Now, the media’s reporting has been revealed to have done something even more damaging than destroy Assange’s reputation---it has served to torture him. 

That is the conclusion that Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and two medical experts that examined the WikiLeaks founder came to, according to a recent piece by Melzer published on Medium titled “Demasking the Torture of Julian Assange.” While initially hesitant to meet with Assange after he was detained in the United Kingdom where he had been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy for several years, Melzer ultimately decided to do so, despite having formed negative opinions about Assange based on widespread media coverage of the man. 

“Basically, I didn’t take [the request to examine Assange] seriously,” Melzer tells Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer on the latest installment of his podcast “Scheer Intelligence.” “It took a second attempt to kind of shake me a little bit and say, [I] need to look at this. Once I opened the book and started looking at the actual evidence and facts for all these nametags that are being circulated in the press, I was shocked to see that there was very little substance that actually supported these qualifications.”

The Truthdig Editor in Chief, who has been a vocal critic of media and government treatment of Assange, highlights how even those who have come to the WikiLeak founder’s defense have been at times misled by the media’s portrayal of him. 

“I generally side with whistleblowers,” Scheer tells Melzer, “[and as] I was following this case, as with most people, [I thought I was] on guard against distortion. But until I read your article, I didn’t realize how grotesque this case is. 

“To my mind, it was like Emile Zola in J'Accuse…!, in the Alfred Dreyfus case 120 years ago,” he adds. 

Throughout the interview, Scheer breaks down the tenets of Melzer’s arguments about Assange into several basic points. The first two relate to the allegations about his sexual misconduct in Sweden, the next is regarding his hacking abilities or actions, and the final point has to do with the global media’s role in the conditions that led to Melzer and his colleagues deeming the WikiLeaks founder a victim of torture. 

“With a relatively high degree of certainty, [my colleagues and I] were able to identify the causes and effects [of Assange’s torture],” the UN Special Rapporteur explains. “What I saw is that he has been exposed to a concerted and kind of sustained campaign of mobbing [which is] where you shame and insult someone, you intimidate people. But it’s always the collective turning against an isolated individual … It can cause people to commit suicide, even in this isolated environment. Now, in Assange’s case, basically the whole world ganged up against him.” 

The hypocrisy behind the media’s part in this mobbing is glaringly apparent, as Scheer has repeatedly pointed out, given how internationally renowned publications such as the New York Times and The Guardian worked with Assange and benefitted from the information he received through his whistleblower platform from Chelsea Manning.

Now, it turns out, these same news organizations are to some extent digging their own graves as the charges the U.S. government is using to persecute Assange attack the heart of journalism. Moreover, in a shocking move that shows the breadth of the corporate media's betrayal of Assange, Melzer, who is not only a widely respected international lawyer and human rights expert, but an academic who has published several books on international legal frameworks, writes in his Medium piece that he approached several publications, including the New York Times and The Guardian, and “None responded positively.”

Listen to Scheer and Melzer discuss the details of Julian Assange’s torture and how several Western democracies, widely-circualated and reputable publications, and even many of average people have contributed to the mobbing and dehumanization of the WikiLeaks founder. 



Joshua Scheer