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There are moments in life from which one longs to wake up as if from a nightmare. This is how I felt when I got increasingly involved in the case of Julian Assange, layer by layer, delving deeper and deeper into a dark world I would never have thought possible. As UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, I am mandated to investigate suspected cases of torture and to demand accountability from the involved states. In the case of Julian Assange, however, I had to be approached twice before I reacted. I thought to myself: A suspected rapist, hacker, and Russian spy evading justice in the Ecuadorian embassy claims to be a victim of torture? After initial scepticism, however, I was to discover an entirely different truth.
From fighter for transparency to outcast
If Julian Assange’s beliefs were to be reduced to a slogan, it would probably be: “Privacy for citizens – but transparency for governments!” Through his Wikileaks platform, he has published hundreds of thousands of secret documents, leaked to him by others, about misconduct by states and corporations. The revelations have gone around the world: They concerned torture in Guantanamo, civilian victims in Afghanistan, and war crimes in Iraq, gruesomely culminating in a video entitled “Collateral Murder”. We can observe US soldiers massacring more than a dozen people from a helicopter in Baghdad, among them two Reuters journalists. When a minibus stops to rescue the injured, the rescuer, too, is deliberately murdered. His two children survive, badly injured. The soldiers cheer each other on, making flippant remarks as if the whole thing were a video game. The war crime is seamlessly documented, including its premeditation, but none of those responsible has ever been held to account. The US military claims to have found no wrongdoing. An odyssey begins for Julian Assange.
In the Assange case, the more puzzle pieces one assembles, the harder it becomes to escape the impression of a gangster-like conspiracy. Assange’s uncompromising dissemination of unpleasant truths soon antagonized virtually the entire establishment worldwide, and provoked efforts at silencing him. In 2012, Wikileaks published an internal email exchange from Stratfor, a private US security company which has been described as the “shadow CIA”.1 Today, this correspondence reads like the script for what has been going before…