BY STEFANIA MAURIZI  (Pluto Press) Reviewed in the Morning Star

Assange—Freedom v authoritarianism

HELEN MERCER recommends a book that explains the ruthless official manipulation of the case against Julian Assange 

THE “secret power” that Stefania Maurizi refers to in this book is the “highest level of power, where secret services, armies and diplomats operate.” 

Maurizi does not view “secret power” as a conspiracy, but as a description of the way that powerful groups pursue their interests through the various corridors of power. 

She is not specific what those interests are, but they emerge as the military-industrial complex along with financial interests, global corporations and data firms like Palantir. 

The “secret power” jealously guards its privacy. It follows that journalists who challenge the secrecy also challenge powerful interests. And it follows again that the same “secret power” will seek to silence those journalists. 

Maurizi’s story follows the secrets that Wikileaks exposed, the fury of people like Hillary Clinton and Mike Pompeo and the pursuit and torture of Julian Assange. 

As a committed investigative journalist, she was a participant in that story and gives a comprehensive account of it from the moment her interest was first sparked in 2007. That year Wikileaks published the infamous manual Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedures, detailing what amounted to methods of psychological torture in use at the Guantanamo base.
Maurizi systematically covers clearly the various Wikileaks releases from then on: the files containing the collateral murder video, the Afghan and Iraq war logs, the 281,287 cables from and to US diplo- mats — known as Cablegate and Vault 7.
“It takes a thick skin to read the Iraq war logs with their endlessly described horrors,” she comments. 

While Assange was under house arrest in December 2010, Maurizi was invited to “a cottage in the English countryside” and given access to the 4,189 cables on Italy and the Vatican in order to verify and publish articles exposing the details. She writes that “the Italy unveiled by the cables was a democracy on a very short leash,” and subjected between 2001 and 2010 to enormous pressure by the US to become, for instance, a launching pad for US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Maurizi’s unique and outstanding contribution to the Assange story is the dogged pursuit from 2015 to the present day of freedom of information files across US, British, Swedish and Ecuadorean authorities to explain why the Swedish investigation into the rape allegations against Assange had stalled and Assange seemingly endlessly arbitrarily detained in the Ecuadorean embassy. 

She had to sue the British Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for the few documents she has and found that a tranche of emails was destroyed, apparently against the CPS guidelines on record retention. 

Nevertheless, based on Swedish files, she confidently concludes that “it was the British authorities with the CPS who had advised the Swedes against the only legal strategy that could have brought the case to a rapid conclusion, namely questioning Julian Assange in London, rather than insisting on his extradition.” 

The CPS was headed by Keir Starmer from November 1 2008 to October 31 2013 during the crucial years that Assange’s case could have been brought to a speedy conclusion. 

Each time that the Swedish authorities might have dropped the case the CPS lawyer involved, Paul Close, warned them not to get “cold feet.” 

In refusing permission for Assange to leave the Ecuadorean embassy for medical treatment, the CPS wrote to the Swedish prosecutor about Assange’s weight loss and said: “There are many people of my acquaintance (obviously not just women) who would always welcome this.” 

The “humour” is that of a concentration camp guard. That a senior British civil servant should express such sentiments in official correspondence raises serious questions about the dominant culture in Keir Starmer’s CPS. 

The actions of the CPS in this period lead inexorably in 2019 to Assange’s arrest and imprisonment in Belmarsh. 

As a powerful account this book is vital reading. I could have wished for more detail about the FOI queries for there is enough material in that story alone for a separate book. 

Maurizi writes with a journalist’s verve and a campaigner’s passion and this book is a major contribution to the campaign to free Julian Assange. 


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