Sure, I was aware of Stefania Maurizi. I had seen her at a number of online webinars on Julian Assange and Wikileaks. She was the lady who made all the Freedom of Information requests on the subject. Many had been refused and most of what she did get was heavily redacted. But she is an investigative journalist and joined up what dots she could. She was committed and paid for much of this out of her own pocket.
So what was there not to admire. But how, in Gods name, did she make a book out of such apparently slender material. I was intrigued. I had pursued my own local and family histories in the past. I was aware of how much information could be gleaned from apparently incidental material in sparse sources. So I ordered the book.
When I opened it, it blew my mind. Stefania was not just poking from the outside she was a major player. She had worked alongside Julian and been the Italian correspondent in sifting through the files, not just for material to publish, but in the delicate task of redacting the material so that people would not be put in danger by its release. And this was a process that Wikileaks engaged in intensively. The organisation had been unfortunate to have suffered betrayal in this, in part, through the defection/dismissal of an employee and the subsequent disgraceful unprofessional behaviour of two Guardian journalists.
And what I had before me, in this wonderful book by this magnificent woman, was all you ever wanted to know about Wikileaks but never dared to ask. The breadth and depth of the material is stunning and it's all wrapped up in some great storytelling.
Apart from writing this excellent book about Wikileaks and participating in its work from the Italian end, Stefania had herself made a significant and contribution to the saga with her own revelations gleaned from her carefully modulated pursuit of Freedom of Information requests.
Just to recap the background here. Julian had had sex with two women during a stay in Sweden. They eventually approached the police for advice on how go get him to take a HIV test as some of the sex was unprotected. The police seized on this, egged on the women who were reluctant to collaborate, and quickly turned it into a rape case.
There were no charges, just an investigation and Julian had signalled his willingness to cooperate to the Swedish authorities. Then there was a sudden European arrest warrant, of dubious legality, issued by the Swedes while he was in London.
He was arrested and released under house arrest. The next logical step would have been for the Swedish prosecuter to question Julian. She insisted that this be done in Sweden but Julian resisted, fearing if the Swedes now get their hands on him they would hand him over to the Americans who would promptly lock him up for life for exposing their secret war crimes. The Swedes then wanted formally to extradite Julian. He appealed this up to the UK Supreme Court which found against him. He then, not surprisingly, broke bail and took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Stefania's big revelation, from her FOI requests, was that the British Crown Prosecution Service was seriously pressuring the Swedish prosecuters not to drop the case under any circumstances, and, at the same time, not to come to London to question Julian. She also compared Swedish and UK FOI replies to her requests for correspondence between these two offices. From these she determined that there was a huge gap in the amount of correspondence acknowledged by the British compared with their Swedish counterparts. When she queried this she was told that when the particular officer concerned left the job his correspondence had been destroyed. The CPS attempted to pass this off as normal, which it certainly was not. Her work here revealed serious corruption at the CPS with implications for the rest of the British "justice system.
Keir Starmer was heading up the Crown Prosecution Service for much of this time. Given the high profile of this case and the risks being taken by the CPS, it is my own firm view that he was fully kept up to speed on what was going on. The only alternative would be willful ignorance which is every bit as bad.
You can read further about how the Americans resorted to their Espionage Act to attempt to extradite Julian. The UK/US extradition treaty forbids extradition on political grounds but this was purposely ignored by the British courts. Julian is a publisher/journalist and not a hacker (in this case) and the use of the Espionage Act here is both chilling for journalism worldwide and an abuse of the Act which dates from WWI and was enacted to deal with spies and material handed over to the enemy. That's why there is no public interest defence allowed, as there is now in whistleblowing and other related legislation.
What emerges in the course of the book is the degree to which the UK has surrendered its sovereignty and effectively become a vassal state of the US, at least in its security and legal system. This includes its judicial system where judges have rendered perverse judgments in deference to their "neighbour" across the pond with whom their country has a "special relationship". Baraitser, in dealing with the US extradition request happily accepted the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the US Espionage Act and equally, by implication, its applicability to political cases despite this being forbidden by the US/UK Treaty. She said however that Julian was not fit healthwise to be extradited, which while welcome in itself, did nothing to vindicate UK sovereignty in relation to the Act. She then accepted subsequent US assurances that Julian would not be subject to their appalling maximum security "Special Admistrative Measures" (SAM) system, unless they decided otherwise when they got hold of him. Abject.
What also emerges is the complete unaccountability of security forces, particularly the US CIA who appear to be able to do what they like where and when they like. A plus for the Italian judicial system was that they tried some of these guys for involvement in a kidnapping, for special rendition elsewhere, in the heart of Italy. By then the guys had gone and the US would not give them up. Nor were Italian politicians prepared to force the matter further.
My original plan was to end by just touching on a further few aspects of the book that resonated with me. Cleary every reader will have their own selection of these. But is hasn't worked out like that.
When I finished the book and went back over my notes, there were just too many items I wanted to include so you'll just have to read the book. Take it from me you won't be sorry. You will end up with a deeper understanding of what the Assange saga is all about. You will be inspired by the courage of those who stand up in defence of free speech and for justice for dissidents. You will see why the criminals who have betrayed their people and murdered masses, in the name of so called freedom, must be brought to justice. This last category are escaping scot free while the just suffer and society continues to be undermined.
So, instead I will quote Stefania on what she stands for and why she wrote the book.
I have invested so much because I want to use my journalistic work to help unmask how the iron fist in the velvet glove operates, so that the public can be aware of it and learn to recognize it.Read the book.
I want to live in a society where it is possible to reveal war crimes and torture without ending up in prison and on the brink of suicide three times, as happened to Chelsea Manning. Without being forced to live in exile, like Edward Snowden. Without losing my freedom for over ten years and risking suicide, like Julian Assange. I want to live in a society where secret power is accountable to the law and the the public for its atrocities. Where those who go to jail are the war criminals, not those who have the conscience and courage to expose them, and the journalists who reveal their crimes.
Today such an authentically democratic society does not exist. And no one is going to create it for us. It is up to us to fight for it. For those who are with us, for those who are not and even for those who are against us.