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Fifth Estate: A Review

I blogged on Tuesday about the current situation with Assange and while I was researching some of that it brought back to my memory the film hollywood decided to make on wikileaks and Assange last year. I happened to find it on Netflix and figured I’d finally watch it now that it wouldn’t directly result in more money for the makers.

fifth estate I won’t deny there was a small part of me that hoped Hollywood had done a good job of making this film and capturing the Australian behind Wikileaks in some kind of fair way, while rising above all the swirling propaganda and hate the US politicians were spouting because it was their secret crimes Wikileaks exposed, but I was quite quickly disappointed. Hollywood has bowed to the pressure and created a story so far gone I almost despaired and gave up watching.

The film’s plot is a bit like a bromance gone wrong. Daniel Domscheit-Berg quite quickly meets Assange, sticks him up on some Messiah-like pedestal and then gets pissed off when he falls off it, like any human probably would (because believe it or not we’re not gods and perfect) and betrays him.

Fifth Estate duoThe film is pretty much from the point of view of Daniel, and rarely focuses on the actual work of Wikileaks, which Assange has dedicated a large number of years to. The few times it does mention the leaks it shows the possible negatives of the information getting out into other people’s hands, including the US government scrambling to save sources in middle-eastern countries because their cover had been blown and not entirely succeeding (despite the fact that the pentagon declared that no lives had been put at risk by those cables in the real world). Very occasionally it showed some of the positive results of the leaks, but it mostly glossed over them and always had them on the back of the negatives as if it was a sort of after thought.

fifth estate Cumberbatch AssangeAbout half way through watching I found I had to grab my laptop and take a look at why Benedict Cumberbatch took this role. He’s an actor I have a lot of respect for, I love his Sherlock and many other characters, but this isn’t a performance I can respect him for. I soon found that he’d said this.

“I wanted to create a three-dimensional portrait of a man far more maligned in the tabloid press than he is in our film to remind people that he is not just the weird, white haired Australian dude wanted in Sweden, hiding in an embassy behind Harrods.”

The trouble is the film’s scenes didn’t allow Cumberbatch anything but making Assange look like the weird white haired Australian dude wanted in Sweden. About the only thing they got right was his looks. But the also obsessed over some really really stupid details.

Julian Assange August 2014Several times during the film, Assange’s character stopped ranting about something releveant to mention why his hair went white. This was done several times to Daniel with a different explanation each time. It reminded me of the joker played by Heath Ledger and how he explains the scars on his face several different ways. Right at the end of the film Daniel happens to tell a British reporter, who is also pissed off at Assange, that Assange dies his hair white, like this is some all important massive revelation on his character and life goals.

Who gives a rat’s ass why Assange has white hair? Why would you spend so much of a film’s time fixating on the colour of someone’s hair? Also, really? You want to tell me that the man is so completely fixated on his personal image of having white hair that in the photo to the right and up he’s dyed his hair and beard but not his moustache? I don’t know about any of you but the photo makes it look very much like the guy has just gone white (and in a very graceful and suave way, I might add) and his facial hair is still catching up a bit. You also only need to do a google images search on Assange to quickly notice that all the photos of him looking younger have a brown/sandy coloured hair and only the more recent ones have his stylish white, so it’s definitely not something he’s been doing since he was a teenager.

fifth estate assangeThis brings me to the very end of the film. I actually thought the film might redeem itself a little at the end. It had Cumberbatch facing the camera as if he was being interviewed and talking about all sorts of different things. After making a few odd comments about films about him and generally being a bit strange he started to make a speech that was actually quite good.

“If you want the truth, no one is going to tell you the truth, they’re going to tell you their version. So if you want the truth, you have to seek it out for yourself. In fact that’s where power lies, in your willingness to look beyond this story, any story. And as long as you keep searching, you are dangerous to them. That’s what they’re afraid of: you. It’s all about you.”

The bit above is awesome, it’s true and it’s wonderful, but then it’s ruined by seven little words they tag right after.

“And a little bit about me too.” Honestly! There are so many things wrong with this. Firstly, from a sotrytelling point of view, it’s unrealistic. No matter if someone might think this, they’ve never say it in a serious interview if they had a brain, and I think it’s clear Assange does. Secondly, it smacks of agenda, as a writer there’s no way I’d ruin the speech above with these words unless I really didn’t want you to believe them but actually hate the guy who said it. and thirdly, even if someone was this egotistical in actions, in real life people just don’t tend to think like that. For Assange to be doing what he’s doing with Wikileaks I’m sure he must have a strong conviction that he’s right about needing to get these secrets out there and protect people from the lies their governments are telling them. Someone like that doesn’t think these things, let alone say them. Even in the off chance that they act that arrogantly, it’s never a conscious thought.

So to sum up. The film sucks and I’m glad I never paid for it. but the one good thing I’ll quote again for emphasis.

“If you want the truth, no one is going to tell you the truth, they’re going to tell you their version. So if you want the truth, you have to seek it out for yourself. In fact that’s where power lies, in your willingness to look beyond this story, any story. And as long as you keep searching, you are dangerous to them. That’s what they’re afraid of: you. It’s all about you.”

An update on Assange: One room in an Embassy

It’s been several years since Julian Assange took up residence in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and during that time he’s had to live in one room, an office that’s had a small bed, kitchenette and shower added. There’s no window so no natural light and no where to particularly do anything like exercise. In short it’s actually worse than a prison.

On top of this the UK government has spent well over £10 million on police to make sure he stays there. Something that seems to be a complete waste of time given that he’s only wanted for questioning regarding allegations of sexual abuse and rape, and the prosecutor could fly to him and conduct the interview right where Assange is, or alternatively give him the reassurance that if he comes to Sweden they won’t just hand him over to the US, but they won’t do that either. It just seems odd to me that this prosecutor has been so stubborn given that 44 other cases of possible extradition have resulted in swedish prosecutors or equivalent officials coming to the UK to interview people here rather than extradite them. If they can do it for the other 44 why can’t they for Assange?

Something also seems to be incredibly wrong about this whole scenario given that 3 of the 4 allegations are now impossible to bring to court because of the statute of limitations. In plain speak, laws governing the length of time that a crime can be tried for after the event, has led to the bulk of the charges expiring completely. Whether Assange is guilty or not, this is no form of justice for anyone involved, and all it would take for this awkward stalemate to end is for the prosecutor to come visit Assange.

The final allegation of rape has a statute of limitations that runs out in 2020, twice as long as the previous three, and I find myself wondering if this is going to string out that long. If Assange is innocent of the alleged crimes, then this is wrong on every level, but even if he is guilty (although we’re meant to assume innocence until proven otherwise), this is no justice for the victim’s either.

It’s costing the UK a ridiculous amount of money and gaining no one anything. I personally feel like it’s getting time to send the bill to the swedish prosecutor and asking her to either finish what she has started or cough up our expenses for the mess she’s made.


Justice, the European Arrest Warrant, and Assange

What do these three have in common? It would seem, absolutely nothing!

In late 2010 it came to light that Sweden wanted to question Julian Assange over a possible case against him for what might be considered rape in swedish laws (as far as I can gather it’s consensual sex but not consensual un-protected sex that’s causing the issues), and I want to stress that they only wish to question him, not to actually charge him.

Assange obviously appealed. He has no wish to be jailed in Sweden just because the prosecutor wishes to question him, surely she can do that via the British police or a video conference. It’s not like he’s going anywhere. He’s been under house arrest for 550 days as of the date of this post.

On top of that there has also been a leek from Stratfor’s internal email system confirming that the US have a sealed indictment to extradite Assange to the US which was granted by a secret grand jury. At any point this could be opened and then they would call for his extradition. Sweden has a slightly different agreement with the US on extradition than many other european countries do. The most notable being the clause for ‘temporary’ surrender of any of their prisoners to the US to face any possible US charges. ie it’s easier from Sweden than any other European country. There’s more info on that here about a third of the way down the page. I’d also like to being attention to the fact that this clause hasn’t been challenged by Sweden since 2000 so there chances of protecting Assange and not letting him be extradited on are very slim.

I seriously doubt Assange wants to be extradited to the US to face possible charges of treason/espionage act, both of which have the death penalty if found guilty, especially considering how a secret grand jury works. The grand jury is a randomly selected bunch of people who sit in a room where no one is present for the defendant unless witnesses are called forward, no lawyers for any witnesses or the defendant are present and the prosecutor has to convince the jury to press charges. Yup you heard that right, no one defends at all and a jury has to decide based on that, so of course there’s an indictment against Assange.

Here’s where I think things have gone wrong.

  1. He’s not actually being charged. He’s only wanted for questioning and the case has already been closed and re-opened since it was first brought to light in I think April 2010.
  2. It’s normal for questioning to happen without the defendant having to leave their home country. They just get the country’s police to act as go betweens or set up video conferencing to do the questioning. For some reason they’re not doing this here.
  3. Sweden’s papers have been slandering Assange, printing things which aren’t true, and even the PM has spoken out about Assange being a rapist, so the vast majority of Swedish people, including the PM, have decided he’s guilty, before he’s even been charged, let alone tried. There’s now no way he can be assured a fair trial in Sweden.
  4. The person who asked for arrest in the UK has to be seperate from the prosecutor and part of the court system (a judge) instead to ensure no conflict of interest and impartiality. This isn’t the case with Assange’s arrest warrant. It’s a prosecutor who has asked for his arrest, someone with a conflict of interests. This is what was argued in the Supreme Court.
  5. I’m not 100% sure but do believe that the charges being investigated are that he had consensual sex without the use of protection, and the issue was the lack of protection. I don’t think this is actually a prosecutable offence in the UK. Now leaving out whether it should be or not (I actually think it should) that’s a problem.
  6. The Supreme Court have a motion of 5-2 to extradite Assange, where two of the 5 based their answer on something not even brought up or agued about during the court hearings and for the first time ever in the history of the supreme court are allowing the defendant to appeal for the court itself to reopen the case and talk about that point. If you watch the video they even seemed to expect this. They seem to be having trouble making up their minds. I’ve also mentioned some more of what they have to say in the bottom paragraph.
  7. The Uk courts are not allowed to look at the evidence for the possible charge before deciding whether to extradite Assange or not and Assange hasn’t even been given everything.

Leaving aside whether Assange is guilty or not and how the possible victims must feel, there’s a lot wrong with this case.

But even going into the guilt or not guilt there’s issues. For starters even if you assume Assange is guilty (which isn’t how we’re meant to think, innocent until proven guilty remember), the case has been handled badly and technically there is the possibility they’ve not even got enough actual evidence to charge him. It’s a far cry from wanting to question to wanting to charge and if they closed the case once for lack of evidence, what makes you think they have more evidence now when they’ve still not actually charged him.

On top of that, even if he’s guilty there’s a significanct chance he’ll be found guilty in Sweden regardless. The Swedish PM himself called him a rapist in front of the public. Last I checked he’d not been charged. Again that, innocent until proven guilty, thing. There’s a significant chance he’s going to be decided as guilty in Sweden regardlessly and theoretically it’s his human right to be protected from that kind of prejudice. Admittedly this creates other problems. With his trial so public is there now any way to ensure him a fair trial? and what about the victims? if he is guilty they need justice, but is it even possible for them to get justice anymore? I don’t know the answers to these questions but a fair trial is important.

Going back to the assumption he’s innocent then there are even more problems. He’s facing prison in Sweden from a biased trial and possibly even extradition to the US all because of something he may well have not done. In the mean time he’s had to spend 550 days under house arrest and yes that may well be in a mansion but, seriously, is that any reason to fight less for his rights to freedom because he essentially has a nicer prison than most people do (I did actually have someone say this to me. ‘It’s ok, his house arrest is in a mansion.’ A cage is a cage no matter how nice the curtains)?

This whole fiasco could be prevented by the prosecutor aggreeing to either, question him via a video conference, and/or sign an official agreement with the UK courts that Assange, under no circumstances will be handed over to the US at any point during the proceedings. Assange is much more likely to go to Sweden to be questioned if he knows he’s not going to be extraded to the US as soon as he gets there. Alternatively rather than having the costs of him going over to Sweden to be questioned, he could just be questioned here and held under house arrest for the next 48 hours so they can decide to charge, because if I remember right in UK law, someone not charged but suspected of a crime, like Assange is, can only be held for questioning for 48 hours before they have to be released, unless enough evidence is gathered to press charges (which has already been deemed not possible once). So Assange has been in prison 548 days longer than that all because he wants to be questioned here rather than there. Am I the only person who can see how messed in the head that is! Just question him here already people!

Whether he did it or not surely justice would be better served by just asking the guy the questions now, rather than dragging it out for whichever side is the actual victim here.

On top of the sillyness. Why can’t the UK courts look at the evidence already gathered and see for themselves if the whole case is rediculous or not! That way all the time being wasted on whether the arrest warrant is even valid would be moot. If there’s not enough evidence to charge him then they don’t get to extradite him, simple as that.

Finally for another set of plain stupidity, this time by our own judges in the Supreme court there’s a great blog here which goes over a few snippets from the SC’s document and current view on things. There’s one lord who’s basically said he views International cooperation of a higher importance than ensuring that the judicial authority is impartial. Ie as long as our allies our happy who gives a stuff if a citizen gets a fair trial or not. Another of the judges then goes on to say that the french word used in the initial agreement allows for the prosecutor to be a valid judicial authority, so is going with what the french think, despite it not matching with the English definition of the word. Last I checked the Judge was in the UK courts and a Uk citizen but he seems to have confused our country with France!

Freedom of Speech, Creativity and Wikileaks

I really really think freedom is important. As a lot of people are already well aware I’m quite vocal about my dislike of the trafficking rise lately and the twenty seven million people who are slaves in the world at the moment.

Today I’d like to talk about another form of freedom; Freedom of Speech. I actually believe that freedom of speech and openness in opinions is important in any world trying not to be corrupt. I also think as a creative person that freedom of speech is important. If our ability to speak out against things is hampered then so is our art and that can begin the descent of a very slippery slope in which just for creating the wrong thing someone can be jailed.

As a creative it’s important to me to be able to write, draw or paint about anything I feel is in my heart to do so. I can’t stifle the opinions of a piece or I’m stifling my very core. By bringing these potentially contentious opinions out in the open it allows for discussion and progression, and I’m not the only one who thinks it’s more important to create without that kind of restraint, here’s a few quotes:

“The only real way to be creative is to create. Without attachment to outcome. Without attachment to sales figures or blog hits. Without caring about the ways in which your work is dissected, criticized or loved. But with a keen, overwhelming, burning, passionate focus on what it is you long to say more than anything in the world. That’s the thing. That’s the only thing.” – Patti Digh

“When it comes to fiction, the writer’s only responsibility is to look for the truth inside their own heart. It won’t always be the reader’s truth, or the critic’s truth, but as long as it’s the writer’s truth – as long as he or she doesn’t truckle, or hold out his or her hat to Fashion – all is well” –  Stephen King

Writing is a struggle against silence.  – Carlos Fuentes

Creating is important to creative people, we often feel like our lives wouldn’t be worth living if we couldn’t create and if we are bounded by other people’s opinions of what we should create about we’re stifled and stopped from creating.

I feel that this relates to things like Wikileaks. Wikileaks have spent the last few years exposing corruption in corporations and governments and anything else they get handed. They’ve said what a lot of people have expected all along and proved it. They are being brave and speaking out against people doing bad things. This should be a good thing and I think artistic people should be doing it too.

The problem has arisen in the response of the corrupt people. They’ve done everything they can to slander and ruin the people brave enough to speak out. The recent release from wikileaks is the start of 5.5 million emails from the private investigation company Stratfor and it’s customers, in a lot of cases US government officials or investigation bureaus.

These emails discuss the US wanting to bankrupt Assange and have him charged with something so they can extradite him to the US and charge him with espionage, all because he revealed their dirty secrets. Below is a quote from one of the emails here:

“I think it’s very difficult to indict him on anything though.
MAYBE espionage, but even those laws are still too old. I think
your FBI contact is right (sadly). the US can really only get the
person who did the leak, not who published it–George also pointed
this out over the weekend.

What would the sealed indictment be for?

(this is also why they will get him on some other charges in
another country….)”

This email is between what appears to be a group of people including Stratfor representatives, Fred Burton who is considered an expert on terrorism and security against them and possibly the FBI. The email discusses all sort of ways they might be able to get Assange arrested directly and remove him from the public sphere.

Another email chain released yesterday speculates on Bradley Manning who supposedly was the source for one of the major leaks (note he’s not been charged, just held in prison for almost two years in what amounts to torturous conditions) and what’s going to happen to him? It seem Stratfor thinks he’ll get the death penalty. That’s right folks, The US government is considering killing someone for sourcing files that show the world they were up to no good! Files which the pentagon say have put no one in any extra danger (despite some newspaper claims which were later redacted, although a Guardian reporter leaked the security code for over 250k unredacted files in an ebook)

There is also another set of emails written by Fred Burton, and others within Stratfor, full of vitriole and hatred towards Assange saying about ruining him before he’s arrested. Also they want to have him extradited to the US, where a secret Jury now meets, with no defense lawyers for Assange, working out whether he should be convicted for anything.

Basically looking at the emails currently released that mention Assange or Bradley Manning these Americans think that they’re taking down an egotistical maniac that has dared to threaten their country and everyone connected to him, in the hopes that they’ll be cutting the head off the hydra and it won’t grow more.

Simply put I don’t think we should stand for this. It affects anyone who wants to expose corruption and stand up for what they believe in! The US government is reacting badly to something they should be apologising for. The shouldn’t be trying to ruin the people who dared to question the use of their authority. So in light of that I’ll stand by the wikileaks folks and be counted. Assange may be at the top but a lot of people think their work is important, me included.

If you want to donate to wikileaks you can do so here and if you want to help go through all the published leaks and pull out relevant info to write articles you can also do that here

You can also sign up to the website here to become a friend of wikileaks and help band with them.