Woolwich Magistrates Court on the edge of London, 2011. A drab place filled to bursting that day with the world’s media because the latest hearing of Julian Assange’s extradition case had been transferred there. The spectators’ gallery looked like the green room for Celebrity Big Brother auditions, 2014: Bianca Jagger chatted earnestly with Tony Benn etc.
One attendee was Jemima Khan (nee Goldsmith), ex-wife of Imran, who posted part of the bail for Assange, that allowed him to fight extradition from outside a cell. The celebs there behaved, well, pretty much like celebs, setting up an impromptu VIP room. After lunch Bianca Jagger jumped the queue, prompting mutterings that this wasn’t Studio 54 and she ain’t on no white horse now. It was all sickly and self-regarding, but they were stumping up money for a bloke everyone believed would — and many thought had a right to — jump bail if necessary, so props.
Except apparently she didn’t think that. In a piece for the New Statesman, which begins with some blather about LA and goes through a Sundance screening of the new WikiLeaks film We Steal Secrets, Kahn denounces Assange as the leader of a “cult-like” group, who demands absolute obedience. She was shocked by Assange’s flight into the Ecuadorian embassy when his appeals against extradition had run out, and said she posted bail only so he could fight for justice from outside a cell. He should, she believes, go and face the music in the frozen north:
“I don’t regret putting up bail money for Assange but I did it so that he would be released while awaiting trial, not so that he could avoid answering to the allegations.”
This is nonsense of course. Assange was fighting extradition, not defending the case itself. If Khan thought that he should face the allegations, she should have simply urged him to go to Sweden direct. Perhaps she wasn’t listening when Assange and his several legal teams argued that extradition to Sweden was politically motivated and would result in his extradition/rendition to the US.
With such an addled account of her original motives, you can’t help but wonder if La Khan is another disappointed female in the Assange train. She wasn’t the only woman in the gallery to be obviously besotted with the bogan with a modem — indeed watching women fall for Assange is like some demented eternal repetition of high school. “He’s just a devil-may-care rebel who lives by his own rules,” gaak gaak. Also, tall.
Khan is not unintelligent, but the daughter from a German-Jewish financier family, has a tendency to enthusiasm and buyer’s remorse, as witnessed in her conversion and immersion in Islam when she went from being London flotsam to marrying the famous cricketer in the 1990s. The religious enthusiasm didn’t last much beyond the marriage, though the cool surname persists.
Khan appears to have been offended that Assange refused to respond to a long, intermittently accurate article by a New Statesman legal blogger about the Swedish case. Instead Assange allegedly asked her to come for a photo shoot at the Ecuadorian embassy. Maybe true, maybe not. In the process, she appears to have taken on many of the criticisms made by WikiLeaks opponents, many of them disgruntled supporters, from Guardianista Nick Davies through would-be Assange biographer Heather Brooke and beyond (my own dissection of the profound misconstruction of the Assange case by The Guardian and others is now back online at The Monthly). Khan’s caveat emptor on Assange ends up being unintentionally hilarious:
“I have also seen how instantaneous rock-star status has the power to make even the most clear-headed idealist feel that they are above the law and exempt from criticism.”
Cue Casablanca reference: “I am shocked to see that the man who leaked a quarter million classified diplomatic cables would … break the law.” That is doubly funny because Khan herself jumped borders once, in 1999, when she was accused of smuggling out antique tiles from Pakistan, a charge she said was fabricated to embarrass Imran. To give Pakistan every chance to avoid its own embarrassment she left the country, only returning after Imran’s enemies were removed by the Musharraf coup, and the charges were mysteriously dropped.
“There are signs of a renewed open-season on Assange in London.”
But how did Khan manage to get such a detailed and personal piece of revisionism into The New Statesman? By, uh, being an associate editor of it. Having socialised, pottered about with charities, and completed a master’s, Khan was appointed to the post after a guest editorship in which the mag was filled out with celeb interviews (including one with Assange) got through her contacts.
Thus does the London media hire: you turn to the person sitting next to you at Annabel’s (the elite Mayfair disco named after Jemima’s mother) and say “d’y’know, fancy editing The Staggers for a bit?” This helps explain why, columns by John Pilger and John Gray aside, the magazine feels desperately boring, out-of-touch and has cratering newstand sales, perhaps as low as 8000 or less.
The movie that’s occasioned Khan’s charge is Alex Gibney’s new work We Steal Secrets. Gibney is the maker of Taxi to the Dark Side among other works, and is generally on the same side as WL. But according to WikiLeaks legal advisor Jennifer Robinson the movie constructs Assange as overly suspicious and paranoid by failing to mention an in-session grand jury, from which espionage charges against Assange may spring (under an administration whose Vice President Joe Biden has called Assange “a high-tech terrorist”). But perhaps Khan would have turned even if she hadn’t seen the film.
There are signs of a renewed open-season on Assange in London. The DreamWorks movie The Fifth Estate, is currently in production, and is, according to a leaked script, a farrago of fact and fiction in high style. Assange appeared by video link at an Oxford Union debate to denounce the film inter alia, and gained the by-now-standard slanted Guardian report, in which a long response became a “verbose” one, and a refusal to discuss the Swedish accusations — at a presentation event for the Sam Adams award, set up by ex-CIA officers to celebrate whistleblowers — became a “refusal to be gracious”. It might have been a refusal to let a ceremony about global politics become another salacious inquiry, but since the reporter Amelia Hill failed to mention the exact nature of the event, there was no way for the reader to consider that.
A few days later, The Guardian had to publish a letter by nine of Assange’s prominent supporters who had attended the event, correcting the report’s assertion that he had no supporters present. Hill had previously worked very closely with Nick Davies — the first Guardian reporter to turn against Assange. Indeed she and Davies wrote the now-notorious Milly Dowler story, in which News of the World reporters were accused of hacking a missing, presumed murdered, teenage girl’s mobile phone, based on the disappearance of voice messages on the phone.
The accusation was false; there was no way to tell if the phone automatically wiped the messages or not. Why was this senior “special investigations reporter” sent to cover a video appearance by a Guardian nemesis in snowy Oxford? Pure coincidence, doubtless, doubtless. The former ambassador and later whistleblower Craig Murray posted a video of the event to show the absurdity of Hill’s characterisation. It’s hard not to conclude The Guardian simply goes a little bit crazy whenever the topic of Assange reappears on the horizon.
It is all set to get worse this year, as the Swedes renew their insistence on Assange being extradited, and the Brits increase their pressure on Ecuador — which is heading towards elections on February 17 with a run-off in April. Rafael Correa, Assange’s protector, is overwhelmingly likely to win, leaving Sweden with the next move.
Unless Assange, through biohacking, grows to eighty metres tall, smashes black helicopters in his hands and walks to Quito. Three years on this beat, and nothing will surprise me …