Category Archives: Courts and Judges

Improper Purposes: Boris Johnson’s Suspension of Parliament

There was something richly amusing in the move: three judges, sitting in Scotland’s highest court of appeal, had little time for the notion that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension, or proroguing, of parliament till October 14, had been lawful.  Some 78 parliamentarians had taken issue with the Conservative leader’s limitation on Parliamentary activity, designed to prevent any hiccups prior to October 31, the day Britain is slated to leave the European Union.

It did take two efforts.  The initial action in Edinburgh’s Outer House of the Court of Session was unsuccessful for the petitioners.  Conventional wisdom then was that such issues were, as a matter of high policy, political and therefore non-justiciable.  Legal standards, in other words, could not be applied to the decision.  (British judges tend to be rather reserved when it comes to treading on matters that might be seen as the staple of political judgment.)

All three First Division judges thought otherwise, taking the high road that this was exceptional.  Lord Carloway, the Lord President, accepted in principle that advice by the Prime Minister to the Queen would not normally be reviewable by courts.  Such a realm was customarily one above and beyond the judicial wigs.  That said, as a summary of the judgement records, “it would nevertheless be unlawful if its purpose was to stymie parliamentary scrutiny of the executive, which was a central pillar of the good governance principle enshrined in the constitution”.  That principle was drawn, by implication, from the “principles of democracy and the rule of law.”  Feeling emboldened, Lord Carloway, on examining the documents supplied by Johnson and his team, felt that improper reasons could be discerned.

Lord Brodie similarly noted the singular nature of the circumstances. Under normal circumstances prorogation advice would not be reviewable, but if it constituted a tactic designed to frustrate Parliament, it could well be deemed unlawful.  In this case, Johnson’s move was “an egregious case of a clear failure to comply with generally accepted standards of behaviour of public authorities.”  It could be inferred on the evidence that “the principal reasons for the prorogation were to prevent or impede Parliament holding the executive to account and legislating with regard to Brexit, and to allow the executive to pursue a policy of a no deal Brexit without further Parliamentary inference.”  Bold stuff, indeed, and hard to fault.

The third judge, Lord Drummond Young, was bolder still.  No need to be nimble footed here: the entire scope of such powers, relevant to prorogation or otherwise, could be legally tested.  The onus was on the UK government to show a valid reason for the prorogation “having regard to the fundamental constitutional importance of parliamentary scrutiny or executive action.”  The clues of evident impropriety in Johnson’s action lay in the length of the suspension and the general circumstances suggesting a prevention of scrutiny.  There could be no other inference that the move showed a wish “to restrict Parliament.”

The full bench, accordingly, made an order “declaring that the prime minister’s advice to HM the Queen and the prorogation which followed thereon was unlawful and thus null and of no effect.”  Few more damning statements have ever issued against a prime minister of the realm.

In an effort to remove some egg on the faces of government officials, a spokesman for Number 10 claimed to be disappointed by the decision, insisting that Johnson needed “to bring forward a strong domestic legislative agenda.  Proroguing Parliament is the legal and necessary way of delivering this.”  This was a somewhat milder version from those offered by other sources close to the Prime Minister, claiming political bias on the Scottish bench.  “We note that last week the High Court in London did not rule that prorogation was unlawful.  The legal activists choose the Scottish courts for a reason.”  The cheek of it all!

As for certain conservative outlets, accepting the judgment of the Court of Session was, well, unacceptable.  The Supreme Court, it was hoped by the likes of Richard Ekins, would clean up the mess made by their northern brethren with clear heads.  The Scottish decision had been “a startling – and misconceived – judgment.”

Which brings us to the second front opened up by petitioners in England, itself.  A High Court challenge, with an appeal now expected to be heard in the Supreme Court next week, initially failed to yield any movement.  But Johnson had little reason, or time, to gloat.  The government is now reverting to a stalling game, refusing to act on the Scottish decision till the English equivalent is handed down.  Not all business, however, will be suspended: the work of select committees, for instance, will continue.  The government also finds itself in the trenches, facing a Parliament intent on extending the Brexit date in order to achieve a deal.

The publication of the full, previously leaked doomsday document, the Yellowhammer contingency plan, anticipating measures if a no deal Brexit takes place, has also done its bit to pockmark Johnson’s efforts to maintain a steady ship.  The prime minister, said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accusingly, “is prepared to punish those who can least afford it.”

The government’s hope is that the Supreme Court case will move at its usual snail’s pace, thereby making any point ventured by Johnson’s detractors a moot point.  Richard Dickman of Pinsent Masons has observed that such appeals “take months sometimes years, but the court can move quickly in urgent cases like this one.”  The occasion promises to be quite a judicial party: 11 of the 12 law lords will be sitting.

Testing the judicial weather, Dickman suggested that there might “be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision from the court with a more detailed judgment to follow.”  Another chapter in the annals of British law and parliamentary farce is being written.  In the meantime, the sentiment of the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, reverberates through Europe. “We do not have reasons to be optimistic.”

Plowshares’ Motions Denied: Trial Set for October 21, 2019

Dear Friends,

Thank you for supporting the Kings Bay Plowshares 7.  Yesterday, 509 days after their arrest, a federal judge denied all the pre-trial motions by our friends. Today, the judge set their trial date: Monday, October 21, 2019 with jury selection beginning at 9 a.m.

The Plowshares had urged U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood to dismiss their charges for numerous legal reasons as well as the fact that the hundreds of first strike nuclear weapons on the submarines based at Kings Bay Naval Base are illegal and immoral.

The judge found the Plowshares did establish a prima facie case under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because they were sincerely religiously motivated to challenge the nuclear weapons at the Naval Base. Wood also found that the government’s actions substantially burdened their right to exercise their religious beliefs. However, the judge went on to rule that the government had a compelling interest in keeping unauthorized people out of the base and the prosecution of the Plowshares activists was the least restrictive means of protecting the safety of the base.

The Plowshares argued that the government bringing multiple duplicative charges threatening 25 years is far from the least restrictive option to keep unauthorized people out of the base. On April 4, 2018 the seven activists entered the naval base in St. Mary’s, GA. They undertook various nonviolent actions such as pouring blood, hammering on a statue of a Trident II D5 missile, and placing crime scene tape in front of the entrance to a headquarters building.

“We took these actions to say the violence stops here, the perpetual war stops here – at Kings Bay, and all the despair it represents,” said Clare Grady, one of the Kings Bay activists. “We took these actions grounded in faith and the belief that Jesus meant what He said when He said, ‘Love your enemies,’ and in so doing offers us our only option for hope.”

The judge’s 19-page opinion denying the motions will be posted at www.kingsbayplowshares7.org.

We encourage everyone to come to Georgia and show their support! We will have more information in the coming days.

As we approach a year and half of support for our friends, expenses of this volunteer-run effort continue to grow. Please help us to raise an additional $25,000 as we seek to make the most of the prophetic witness and sacrifice our friends have offered the world. You can give online or mail checks payable to Plowshares at PO Box 3087, Washington, DC 20010.

In blessing and gratitude,

The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 Support Team

ASK YOUR FRIENDS TO SIGN OUR PETITION: Encourage everyone you know to sign our global petition.

You are also welcome at the monthly vigil at the Kings Bay submarine base on the third Saturday of the month, usually from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

•  See also: Federal Judge Hears Kings Bay Plowshares Motion to Dismiss Charges Under RFRA

Will Mississippi Supreme Court Allow Privately-Operated Charter Schools to Keep Seizing Public Funds from Public Schools?

A high-level court case is currently underway in Mississippi to decide if privately-operated charter schools can keep siphoning local property taxes from public schools.

Presently, Mississippi’s charter school law unconstitutionally diverts millions of dollars in local property tax money (ad valorem taxes) away from local public school districts to privately-operated charter schools.

Defenders of public schools and the public interest rightly note that privately-operated charter schools are harming public schools by draining money away from them and that opening more charter schools will only make things worse. They say that if privately-run charter schools are going to operate in Mississippi, they should find another source of funding.

Charter schools are not public schools in the proper sense of the word, therefore they have no valid or legitimate claim to public funds. Privately-operated charter schools differ legally, philosophically, organizationally, and operationally from public schools. To treat both types of schools as public and entitled to public funds is erroneous, misleading, and dishonest.

In Mississippi and other states, only public schools under local control by publicly elected individuals can receive local tax dollars raised by residents of the district. Charter schools are run by unelected bodies that are not answerable to the community. Charter schools do not operate under a local school district and are not under the control of the residents of public school districts, which means residents have no say over the charter schools that are siphoning their money. It is a form of taxation without representation.

Putting aside the poor academic performance of thousands of nonprofit and for-profit charter schools across the country, why should the public tax dollars of residents go to charter schools that are privately-governed, do not follow many public laws, and are not accountable to the community? Why should local property tax dollars go to schools exempt from local supervision? Why should a school district be required to share its maintenance tax levy with other school districts, let alone privately-operated charter schools?

In Mississippi, privately-operated charter schools receive public funding even though they are exempt from the oversight of the state Board of Education, the Mississippi Department of Education, and local boards of education. Low accountability and scant transparency have plagued the segregated and deunionized charter school sector for more than 27 years.

It is also important to stress that local public funds, as well as state and federal public funds, belong to schools, not students per se. The public funding of public schools is an issue that goes well beyond individual students. Public funds do not simply fund isolated free-floating individual students; they fund schools, their infrastructure, their employees, their programs, their future, the community, and more. Individual students are not the only ones benefiting from local property taxes.

Charter school advocates in Mississippi are trying desperately to arbitrarily change the meaning of many words to maintain their illegitimate ability to siphon millions of public dollars every year from public schools. They are eager to change the legal definition, identity, and relations that have long shaped and governed public schools in America. This may be one of the most under-reported and unexamined coups of the public by wealthy private interests in a while.

Mississippi passed its charter school law in 2013 and currently has only a handful of privately-operated charter schools.

Mississippi Supreme Court justices are expected to issue a ruling in the three-year-old case “in due course.” Given the current neoliberal context, more courts are abandoning the public interest and ruling on the basis of neoliberal ideology. Thus, there is a good chance that the Mississippi Supreme court will rule to allow millions of public dollars to keep flowing to privately-operated charter schools.

Abuses Show Assange Case was Never About Law

It is astonishing how often one still hears well-informed, otherwise reasonable people say about Julian Assange: “But he ran away from Swedish rape charges by hiding in Ecuador’s embassy in London.”

That short sentence includes at least three factual errors. In fact, to repeat it, as so many people do, you would need to have been hiding under a rock for the past decade – or, amounting to much the same thing, been relying on the corporate media for your information about Assange, including from supposedly liberal outlets such as the Guardian and the BBC.

At the weekend, a Guardian editorial – the paper’s official voice and probably the segment most scrutinised by senior staff – made just such a false claim:

Then there is the rape charge that Mr Assange faced in Sweden and which led him to seek refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in the first place.

The fact that the Guardian, supposedly the British media’s chief defender of liberal values, can make this error-strewn statement after nearly a decade of Assange-related coverage is simply astounding. And that it can make such a statement days after the US finally admitted that it wants to lock up Assange for 175 years on bogus “espionage” charges – a hand anyone who wasn’t being wilfully blind always knew the US was preparing to play – is still more shocking.

Assange faces no charges in Sweden yet, let alone “rape charges”. As former UK ambassador Craig Murray recently explained, the Guardian has been misleading readers by falsely claiming that an attempt by a Swedish prosecutor to extradite Assange – even though the move has not received the Swedish judiciary’s approval – is the same as his arrest on rape charges. It isn’t.

Also, Assange did not seek sanctuary in the embassay to evade the Swedish investigation. No state in the world gives a non-citizen political asylum to avoid a rape trial. The asylum was granted on political grounds. Ecuador rightly accepted Assange’s concerns that the US would seek his extradition and lock him out of sight for the rest of his life.

Assange, of course, has been proven – yet again – decisively right by recent developments.

Trapped in herd-think

The fact that so many ordinary people keep making these basic errors has a very obvious explanation. It is because the corporate media keep making these errors.

These are is not the kind of mistakes that can be explained away as an example of what one journalist has termed the problem of “churnalism”: the fact that journalists, chasing breaking news in offices depleted of staff by budget cuts, are too overworked to cover stories properly.

British journalists have had many years to get the facts straight. In an era of social media, journalists at the Guardian and the BBC have been bombarded by readers and activists with messages telling them how they are getting basic facts wrong in the Assange case. But the journalists keep doing it anyway. They are trapped in a herd-think entirely divorced from reality.

Rather than listen to experts, or common sense, these “journalists” keep regurgitating the talking points of the British security state, which are as good as identical to the talking points of the US security state.

What is so striking in the Assange coverage is the sheer number of legal anomalies in his case – and these have been accumulating relentlessly from the very start. Almost nothing in his case has gone according to the normal rules of legal procedure. And yet that very revealing fact is never noticed or commented on by the corporate media. You need to have a blind spot the size of Langley, Virginia, not to notice it.

If Assange wasn’t the head of Wikileaks, if he hadn’t embarrassed the most important western states and their leaders by divulging their secrets and crimes, if he hadn’t created a platform that allows whistleblowers to reveal the outrages committed by the western power establishment, if he hadn’t undermined that establishment’s control over information dissemination, none of the last 10 years would have followed the course it did.

If Assange had not provided us with an information revolution that undermines the narrative matrix created to serve the US security state, two Swedish women – unhappy with Assange’s sexual etiquette – would have gotten exactly what they said in their witness statements they wanted: pressure from the Swedish authorities to make him take an HIV test to give them peace of mind.

He would have been allowed back to the UK (as he, in fact, was allowed to do by the Swedish prosecutor) and would have gotten on with developing and refining the Wikileaks project. That would have helped all of us to become more critically aware of how we are being manipulated – not only by our security services but also by the corporate media that so often act as their mouthpiece.

Which is precisely why that did not happen and why Assange has been under some form of detention since 2010. Since then, his ability to perform his role as exposer of serial high-level state crimes has been ever more impeded – to the point now that he may never be able to oversee and direct Wikileaks ever again.

His current situation – locked up in Belmarsh high-security prison, in solitary confinement and deprived of access to a computer and all meaningful contact with the outside world – is so far based solely on the fact that he committed a minor infraction, breaching his police bail. Such a violation, committed by anyone else, almost never incurs prosecution, let alone a lengthy jail sentence.

So here is a far from complete list – aided by the research of John Pilger, Craig Murray and Caitlin Johnstone, and the original investigative work of Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi – of some of the most glaring anomalies in Assange’s legal troubles. There are 17 of them below. Each might conceivably have been possible in isolation. But taken together they are overwhelming evidence that this was never about enforcing the law. From the start, Assange faced political persecution.

No judicial authority

* In late summer 2010, neither of the two Swedish women alleged Assange had raped them when they made police statements. They went together to the police station after finding out that Assange had slept with them both only a matter of days apart and wanted him to be forced to take an HIV test. One of the women, SW, refused to sign the police statement when she understood the police were seeking an indictment for rape. The investigation relating to the second woman, AA, was for a sexual assault specific to Sweden. A condom produced by AA that she says Assange tore during sex was found to have neither her nor Assange’s DNA on it, undermining her credibility.

* Sweden’s strict laws protecting suspects during preliminary investigations were violated by the Swedish media to smear Assange as a rapist. In response, the Stockholm chief prosecutor, Eva Finne, took charge and quickly cancelled the investigation: “I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape.” She later concluded: “There is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever.”

* The case was revived by another prosecutor, Marianne Ny, although she never questioned Assange. He spent more than a month in Sweden waiting for developments in the case, but was then told by prosecutors he was free to leave for the UK, suggesting that suspicions against him were not considered serious enough to detain him in Sweden. Nonetheless, shortly afterwards, Interpol issued a Red Notice for Assange, usually reserved for terrorists and dangerous criminals.

* The UK supreme court approved an extradition to Sweden based on a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) in 2010, despite the fact that it was not signed by a “judicial authority”, only by the Swedish prosecutor. The terms of the EAW agreement were amended by the UK government shortly after the Assange ruling to make sure such an abuse of legal procedure never occurred again.

* The UK supreme court also approved Assange’s extradition even though Swedish authorities refused to offer an assurance that he would not be extradited onwards to the US, where a grand jury was already formulating draconian charges in secret against him under the Espionage Act. The US similarly refused to give an assurance they would not seek his extradition.

* In these circumstances, Assange fled to Ecuador’s embassy in London in summer 2012, seeking political asylum. That was after the Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, blocked Assange’s chance to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

* Australia not only refused Assange, a citizen, any help during his long ordeal, but prime minister Julia Gillard even threatened to strip Assange of his citizenship, until it was pointed out that it would be illegal for Australia to do so.

* Britain, meanwhile, not only surrounded the embassy with a large police force at great public expense, but William Hague, the foreign secretary, threatened to tear up the Vienna Convention, violating Ecuador’s diplomatic territory by sending UK police into the embassy to arrest Assange.

Six years of heel-dragging

* Although Assange was still formally under investigation, Ny refused to come to London to interview him, despite similar interviews having been conducted by Swedish prosecutors 44 times in the UK in the period Assange was denied that right.

* In 2016, international legal experts in the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which adjudicates on whether governments have complied with human rights obligations, ruled that Assange was being detained unlawfully by Britain and Sweden. Although both countries participated in the UN investigation, and had given the tribunal vocal support when other countries were found guilty of human rights violations, they steadfastly ignored its ruling in favour of Assange. UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond flat-out lied in claiming the UN panel was “made up of lay people and not lawyers”. The tribunal comprises leading experts in international law, as is clear from their CVs. Nonetheless, the lie became Britain’s official response to the UN ruling. The British media performed no better. A Guardian editorial dismissed the verdict as nothing more than a “publicity stunt”.

* Ny finally relented on Assange being interviewed in November 2016, with a Swedish prosecutor sent to London after six years of heel-dragging. However, Assange’s Swedish lawyer was barred from being present. Ny was due to be questioned about the interview by a Stockholm judge in May 2017 but closed the investigation against Assange the very same day.

* In fact, correspondence that was later revealed under a Freedom of Information request – pursued by Italian investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi – shows that the British prosecution service, the CPS, pressured the Swedish prosecutor not to come to the London to interview Assange through 2010 and 2011, thereby creating the embassy standoff.

* Also, the CPS destroyed most of the incriminating correspondence to circumvent the FoI requests. The emails that surfaced did so only because some copies were accidentally overlooked in the destruction spree. Those emails were bad enough. They show that in 2013 Sweden had wanted to drop the case against Assange but had come under strong British pressure to continue the pretence of seeking his extradition. There are emails from the CPS stating, “Don’t you dare” drop the case, and most revealing of all: “Please do not think this case is being dealt with as just another extradition.”

* It also emerged that Marianne Ny had deleted an email she received from the FBI.

* Despite his interview with a Swedish prosecutor taking place in late 2016, Assange was not subseqently charged in absentia – an option Sweden could have pursued if it had thought the evidence was strong enough.

* After Sweden dropped the investigation against Assange, his lawyers sought last year to get the British arrest warrant for his bail breach dropped. They had good grounds, both because the allegations over which he’d been bailed had been dropped by Sweden and because he had justifiable cause to seek asylum given the apparent US interest in extraditing him and locking him up for life for political crimes. His lawyers could also argue convincingly that the time he had spent in confinement, first under house arrest and then in the embassy, was more than equivalent to time, if any, that needed to be served for the bail infringement. However, the judge, Emma Arbuthnot, rejected the Assange team’s strong legal arguments. She was hardly a dispassionate observer. In fact, in a properly ordered world she should have recused herself, given that she is the wife of a government whip, who was also a business partner of a former head of MI6, Britain’s version of the CIA.

* Assange’s legal rights were again flagrantly violated last week, with the collusion of Ecuador and the UK, when US prosecutors were allowed to seize Assange’s personal items from the embassy while his lawyers and UN officials were denied the right to be present.

Information dark ages

Even now, as the US prepares its case to lock Assange away for the rest of his life, most are still refusing to join the dots. Chelsea Manning has been repeatedly jailed, and is now facing ruinous fines for every day she refuses to testify against Assange as the US desperately seeks to prop up its bogus espionage claims. In Medieval times, the authorities were more honest: they simply put people on the rack.

Back in 2017, when the rest of the media were still pretending this was all about Assange fleeing Swedish “justice”, John Pilger noted:

In 2008, a secret Pentagon document prepared by the “Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch” foretold a detailed plan to discredit WikiLeaks and smear Assange personally. The “mission” was to destroy the “trust” that was WikiLeaks’ “centre of gravity”. This would be achieved with threats of “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”. Silencing and criminalising such an unpredictable source of truth-telling was the aim.” …

According to Australian diplomatic cables, Washington’s bid to get Assange is “unprecedented in scale and nature”. …

The US Justice Department has contrived charges of “espionage”, “conspiracy to commit espionage”, “conversion” (theft of government property), “computer fraud and abuse” (computer hacking) and general “conspiracy”. The favoured Espionage Act, which was meant to deter pacifists and conscientious objectors during World War One, has provisions for life imprisonment and the death penalty. …

In 2015, a federal court in Washington blocked the release of all information about the “national security” investigation against WikiLeaks, because it was “active and ongoing” and would harm the “pending prosecution” of Assange. The judge, Barbara J. Rothstein, said it was necessary to show “appropriate deference to the executive in matters of national security”. This is a kangaroo court.

All of this information was available to any journalist or newspaper  that cared to search it out and wished to publicise it. And yet not one corporate media outlet – apart from Stefania Maurizi – has done so over the past nine years. Instead they have shored up a series of preposterous US and UK state narratives designed to keep Assange behind bars and propel the rest of us back into the information dark ages.

The UN Torture Report On Assange Is An Indictment Of Our Entire Society

On the eighth of April, shortly before London police forcibly carried WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorian embassy, a doctor named Sondra S Crosby wrote a letter to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights requesting that the office look into Assange’s case. Today, following a scorching rebuke of multiple governments by UN Special Rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer, mass media outlets around the world are reporting that Julian Assange has been found to be the victim of brutal psychological torture.

Melzer, who by his own admission began his investigation as someone who had “been affected by the same misguided smear campaign as everybody else” regarding Assange, speaks of Assange’s plight with the fresh-eyed ferocity of a man who has not been immersed in a soul-corroding career in establishment politics or mass media. A man has not been indoctrinated into accepting as normal the relentless, malicious character assassinations of the western political/media class against a publisher of inconvenient facts about the powerful. A man who, when looking deeply and objectively into the facts with uncorrupted vision, was able to see clearly just how unforgivably abusive Assange’s treatment has been.

“In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law,” Melzer said. “The collective persecution of Julian Assange must end here and now!”

Melzer condemned attempts to extradite Assange to the US under the Espionage Act, as well as what he called “a relentless and unrestrained campaign of public mobbing, intimidation and defamation against Mr. Assange, not only in the United States, but also in the United Kingdom, Sweden and, more recently, Ecuador.”

“According to the expert, this included an endless stream of humiliating, debasing and threatening statements in the press and on social media, but also by senior political figures, and even by judicial magistrates involved in proceedings against Assange,” the OHCHR statement reads.

“In the course of the past nine years, Mr. Assange has been exposed to persistent, progressively severe abuse ranging from systematic judicial persecution and arbitrary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, to his oppressive isolation, harassment and surveillance inside the embassy, and from deliberate collective ridicule, insults and humiliation, to open instigation of violence and even repeated calls for his assassination,” Melzer said.

“It was obvious that Mr. Assange’s health has been seriously affected by the extremely hostile and arbitrary environment he has been exposed to for many years,” said Melzer. “Most importantly, in addition to physical ailments, Mr. Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma.”

“The evidence is overwhelming and clear,” Melzer said. “Mr. Assange has been deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture.”

“I condemn, in the strongest terms, the deliberate, concerted and sustained nature of the abuse inflicted on Mr. Assange and seriously deplore the consistent failure of all involved governments to take measures for the protection of his most fundamental human rights and dignity,” Melzer added.

It is hugely significant that a UN expert has included the massive anti-Assange smear campaign in his assessment of psychological abuse. For far too long this devastating psychological weapon of the powerful has gone fully normalized and unacknowledged for the damage and suffering it causes, and now an authoritative voice has pointed it out and called it into public consciousness for the depraved manipulation that it is. It’s a very interesting development to see western governments and their media stenographers condemned in this way for their participation in such savagery.

Responses to Melzer’s findings have been explosive. Virtually every major media outlet in the English-speaking world has been carrying headlines about this story, from the New York Times to the Washington Post to Fox News to CNN to the Guardian to the BBC to the Herald Sun. An attempt to regain control of the narrative by the accused governments, therefore, was, of course, quick to follow.

“This is wrong,” tweeted Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in response to the story. “Assange chose to hide in the embassy and was always free to leave and face justice. The UN Special Rapporteur should allow British courts to make their judgements without his interference or inflammatory accusations.”

Abusers always demand the right to conduct their abuse in private.

Hunt, who’d just returned from hanging out with the Trump administration’s warmongering psychopath John Bolton, received a direct response from Melzer himself.

“With all due respect, Sir: Mr Assange was about as ‘free to leave’ as a someone sitting on a rubber boat in a shark pool,” Melzer tweeted. “As detailed in my formal letter to you, so far, UK courts have not shown the impartiality and objectivity required by the rule of law.”

We reject any suggestion by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture that the Australian Government is complicit in psychological torture or has shown a lack of consular support for Mr Assange,” reads a statement by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. “The Special Rapporteur has not been in contact with the Australian Government to raise these concerns directly. The Australian Government is a staunch defender of human rights and a strong advocate for humane treatment in the course of judicial processes. We are confident that Mr Assange is being treated appropriately in Belmarsh Prison.

Assange has, in fact, grown so ill in Belmarsh Prison that he is reportedly unable to carry out a lucid conversation, and has been losing a drastic amount of weight. His failing health has been an established fact for a year and a half, with doctors warning at the beginning of last year that conditions in the Ecuadorian embassy are placing his physical well being in serious danger, and has the entire time been pathetically ignored by the government of Assange’s home country.

Menzer’s report is an indictment on our entire society. It’s an indictment of the US-centralized western power alliance. It’s an indictment of the politicians, opaque government agencies and plutocrats who lead that alliance. It’s an indictment of the mass media who regurgitate whatever their government tells them to into the minds of a credulous populace. It’s an indictment of everyone who has ever helped spread the smear campaign against Assange, wherever they may have spread it; every remark, every social media comment, every share and retweet. The entire abusive construct has been outed as exactly what it is, from top to bottom.

So things have been severely shaken up. A massive smear campaign spanning all western nations across all political sectors has been pulled into the spotlight of public consciousness, mass media outlets who’ve devoted huge amounts of resources to assassinating Assange’s character have been forced to report a major revelation coming directly from the United Nations, Assange supporters can now officially say with full authority that his persecutors have literally tortured him, and establishment narrative managers are fighting on the back foot.

And right now all I can feel is gratitude. Gratitude toward Dr Crosby for writing to the UN after examining Assange, gratitude toward Nils Melzer for going to visit him in Belmarsh with an open mind and a compassionate heart, and, most importantly, gratitude toward Julian Assange. Gratitude to him for never giving up this fight.

I mean, think about it. Imagine if Assange had just gone to Sweden when he was told to? He would have surely been extradited to the United States years ago, wrongfully prosecuted in an Eastern District of Virginia court proceeding impossibly rigged against him, and by now the world would have all but forgotten him. He could have laid down, he could have given up, he could have died in that embassy in any number of ways. He had so many off-ramps he could have taken from the psychological torture that he has been subjected to since exposing US war crimes in 2010, but he chose to stand and fight instead. He decided that if they wanted his head, they were going to have to work for it.

Because of that decision, because Julian Assange decided to stand his ground and trade blows toe-to-toe with the most powerful empire in the history of human civilization, he forced them to expose themselves. He forced the oppression machine to reveal its true face, by coordinating across national borders to drag him bodily out of the embassy, locking him in a cage, waging a war upon the free press with outrageous espionage charges, and finally being found guilty of torturing a journalist for publishing factual documents about the powerful.

We have all that information now. It can’t be unseen. Because Assange chose to fight, we now have that evidence and we can use it to help wake people up to the true face behind the smiling mask of “liberal democracy” we’ve all been told to believe in since grade school. Even while imprisoned, sick, and barely even able to speak, Julian Assange is still exposing these bastards for what they are.

Don’t let his example go to waste.

• First published at Caitlin Johnstone.com

Abuses show Assange Case was Never About Law

It is astonishing how often one still hears well-informed, otherwise reasonable people say about Julian Assange: “But he ran away from Swedish rape charges by hiding in Ecuador’s embassy in London.”

That short sentence includes at least three factual errors. In fact, to repeat it, as so many people do, you would need to have been hiding under a rock for the past decade – or, amounting to much the same thing, been relying on the corporate media for your information about Assange, including from supposedly liberal outlets such as the Guardian and the BBC.

At the weekend, a Guardian editorial – the paper’s official voice and probably the segment most scrutinised by senior staff – made just such a false claim:

Then there is the rape charge that Mr Assange faced in Sweden and which led him to seek refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in the first place.

The fact that the Guardian, supposedly the British media’s chief defender of liberal values, can make this error-strewn statement after nearly a decade of Assange-related coverage is simply astounding. And that it can make such a statement days after the US finally admitted that it wants to lock up Assange for 175 years on bogus “espionage” charges – a hand anyone who wasn’t being wilfully blind already knew the US was preparing to play – is still more shocking.

Assange faces no charges in Sweden yet, let alone “rape charges”. As former UK ambassador Craig Murray recently explained, the Guardian has been misleading readers by falsely claiming that an attempt by a Swedish prosecutor to extradite Assange – even though the move has not received the Swedish judiciary’s approval – is the same as his arrest on rape charges. It isn’t.

Also, Assange did not seek sanctuary in the embassay to evade the Swedish investigation. No state in the world gives a non-citizen political asylum to avoid a rape trial. The asylum was granted on political grounds. Ecuador rightly accepted Assange’s concerns that the US would seek his extradition and lock him out of sight for the rest of his life.

Assange, of course, has been proven – yet again – decisively right by recent developments.

Trapped in herd-think

The fact that so many ordinary people keep making these basic errors has a very obvious explanation. It is because the corporate media keep making these errors.

These are not the kind of mistakes that can be explained away as an example of what one journalist has termed the problem of “churnalism”: the fact that journalists, chasing breaking news in offices depleted of staff by budget cuts, are too overworked to cover stories properly.

British journalists have had many years to get the facts straight. In an era of social media, journalists at the Guardian and the BBC have been bombarded by readers and activists with messages telling them how they are getting basic facts wrong in the Assange case. But the journalists keep doing it anyway. They are trapped in a herd-think entirely divorced from reality.

Rather than listen to experts, or common sense, these “journalists” keep regurgitating the talking points of the British security state, which are as good as identical to the talking points of the US security state.

What is so striking in the Assange coverage is the sheer number of legal anomalies in his case – and these have been accumulating relentlessly from the very start. Almost nothing in his case has gone according to the normal rules of legal procedure. And yet that very revealing fact is never noticed or commented on by the corporate media. You need to have a blind spot the size of Langley, Virginia, not to notice it.

If Assange wasn’t the head of Wikileaks, if he hadn’t embarrassed the most important western states and their leaders by divulging their secrets and crimes, if he hadn’t created a platform that allows whistleblowers to reveal the outrages committed by the western power establishment, if he hadn’t undermined that establishment’s control over information dissemination, none of the last 10 years would have followed the course it did.

If Assange had not provided us with an information revolution that undermines the narrative matrix created to serve the US security state, two Swedish women – unhappy with Assange’s sexual etiquette – would have gotten exactly what they said in their witness statements they wanted: pressure from the Swedish authorities to make him take an HIV test to give them peace of mind.

He would have been allowed back to the UK (as he, in fact, was allowed to do by the Swedish prosecutor) and would have gotten back to developing and refining the Wikileaks project. That would have helped all of us to become more critically aware of how we are being manipulated – not only by our security services but also by the corporate media that so often act as their mouthpiece.

Which is precisely why that did not happen and why Assange has been under some form of detention since 2010. Since then, his ability to perform his role as exposer of serial high-level state crimes has been ever more impeded – to the point now that he may never be able to oversee and direct Wikileaks ever again.

His current situation – locked up in Belmarsh high-security prison, in solitary confinement and deprived of access to a computer and all meaningful contact with the outside world – is so far based solely on the fact that he committed a minor infraction, breaching his police bail. Such a violation, committed by anyone else, almost never incurs prosecution, let alone a lengthy jail sentence.

So here is a far from complete list – aided by the research of John Pilger, Craig Murray and Caitlin Johnstone – of some of the most glaring anomalies in Assange’s legal troubles. There are 17 of them below. Each might conceivably have been possible in isolation. But taken together they are overwhelming evidence that this was never about enforcing the law. From the start, Assange faced political persecution.

No judicial authority

* In late summer 2010, neither of the two Swedish women alleged Assange had raped them when they made police statements. They went together to the police station after finding out that Assange had slept with them both only a matter of days apart and wanted him to be forced to take an HIV test. One of the women, SW, refused to sign the police statement when she understood the police were seeking an indictment for rape. The investigation relating to the second woman, AA, was for a sexual assault specific to Sweden. A condom produced by AA that she says Assange tore during sex was found to have neither her nor Assange’s DNA on it, undermining her credibility.

* Sweden’s strict laws protecting suspects during preliminary investigations were violated by the Swedish media to smear Assange as a rapist. In response, the Stockholm chief prosecutor, Eva Finne, took charge and quickly cancelled the investigation: “I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape.” She later concluded: “There is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever.”

* The case was revived by another prosecutor, Marianne Ny, during which time Assange was questioned and spent more than a month in Sweden waiting for developments in the case. He was then told by prosecutors that he was free to leave for the UK, suggesting that any offence they believed he had committed was not considered serious enough to detain him in Sweden. Nonetheless, shortly afterwards, Interpol issued a Red Notice for Assange, usually reserved for terrorists and dangerous criminals.

* The UK supreme court approved an extradition to Sweden based on a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) in 2010, despite the fact that it was not signed by a “judicial authority”, only by the Swedish prosecutor. The terms of the EAW agreement were amended by the UK government shortly after the Assange ruling to make sure such an abuse of legal procedure never occurred again.

* The UK supreme court also approved Assange’s extradition even though Swedish authorities refused to offer an assurance that he would not be extradited onwards to the US, where a grand jury was already formulating draconian charges in secret against him under the Espionage Act. The US similarly refused to give an assurance they would not seek his extradition.

* In these circumstances, Assange fled to Ecuador’s embassy in London in summer 2012, seeking political asylum. That was after the Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, blocked Assange’s chance to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

* Australia not only refused Assange, a citizen, any help during his long ordeal, but prime minister Julia Gillard even threatened to strip Assange of his citizenship, until it was pointed out that it would be illegal for Australia to do so.

* Britain, meanwhile, not only surrounded the embassy with a large police force at great public expense, but William Hague, the foreign secretary, threatened to tear up the Vienna Convention, violating Ecuador’s diplomatic territory by sending UK police into the embassy to arrest Assange.

Six years of heel-dragging

* Although Assange was still formally under investigation, Ny refused to come to London to interview him, despite similar interviews having been conducted by Swedish prosecutors 44 times in the UK in the period Assange was denied that right.

* In 2016, international legal experts in the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which adjudicates on whether governments have complied with human rights obligations, ruled that Assange was being detained unlawfully by Britain and Sweden. Although both countries participated in the UN investigation, and had given the tribunal vocal support when other countries were found guilty of human rights violations, they steadfastly ignored its ruling in favour of Assange. UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond, flat-out lied in claiming the UN panel was “made up of lay people and not lawyers”. The tribunal comprises leading experts in international law, as is clear from their CVs. Nonetheless, the lie became Britain’s official response to the UN ruling. The British media performed no better. A Guardian editorial dismissed the verdict as nothing more than a “publicity stunt”.

* Ny finally relented on interviewing Assange in November 2016, coming to London after six years of heel-dragging. However, she barred Assange’s lawyer from being present. That was a gross irregularity that Ny was due to be questioned about in May 2017 by a Stockholm judge. Apparently rather than face those questions, Ny decided to close the investigation against Assange the very same day.

* In fact, correspondence that was later revealed under a Freedom of Information request shows that the British prosecution service, the CPS, pressured the Swedish prosecutor not to come to the London to interview Assange through 2010 and 2011, thereby creating the embassy standoff.

* Also, the CPS destroyed most of the incriminating correspondence to circumvent the FoI requests. The emails that surfaced did so only because some copies were accidentally overlooked in the destruction spree. Those emails were bad enough. They show that in 2013 Sweden had wanted to drop the case against Assange but had come under strong British pressure to continue the pretence of seeking his extradition. There are emails from the CPS stating, “Don’t you dare” drop the case, and most revealing of all: “Please do not think this case is being dealt with as just another extradition.”

* It also emerged that Marianne Ny had deleted an email she received from the FBI.

* Despite his interview with Ny taking place in late 2016, Assange was not subsequently charged in absentia – an option Sweden could have pursued if it had thought the evidence was strong enough.

* After Sweden dropped the investigation against Assange, his lawyers sought last year to get the British arrest warrant for his bail breach dropped. They had good grounds, both because the allegations over which he’d been bailed had been dropped by Sweden and because he had justifiable cause to seek asylum given the apparent US interest in extraditing him and locking him up for life for political crimes. His lawyers could also argue convincingly that the time he had spent in confinement, first under house arrest and then in the embassy, was more than equivalent to time, if any, that needed to be served for the bail infringement. However, the judge, Emma Arbuthnot, rejected the Assange team’s strong legal arguments. She was hardly a dispassionate observer. In fact, in a properly ordered world she should have recused herself, given that she is the wife of a government whip, who was also a business partner of a former head of MI6, Britain’s version of the CIA.

* Assange’s legal rights were again flagrantly violated last week, with the collusion of Ecuador and the UK, when US prosecutors were allowed to seize Assange’s personal items from the embassy while his lawyers and UN officials were denied the right to be present.

Information dark ages

Even now, as the US prepares its case to lock Assange away for the rest of his life, most are still refusing to join the dots. Chelsea Manning has been repeatedly jailed, and is now facing ruinous fines for every day she refuses to testify against Assange as the US desperately seeks to prop up its bogus espionage claims. In Medieval times, the authorities were more honest: they simply put people on the rack.

Back in 2017, when the rest of the media were still pretending this was all about Assange fleeing Swedish “justice”, John Pilger noted:

In 2008, a secret Pentagon document prepared by the “Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch” foretold a detailed plan to discredit WikiLeaks and smear Assange personally. The “mission” was to destroy the “trust” that was WikiLeaks’ “centre of gravity”. This would be achieved with threats of “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”. Silencing and criminalising such an unpredictable source of truth-telling was the aim.” …

According to Australian diplomatic cables, Washington’s bid to get Assange is “unprecedented in scale and nature”. …

The US Justice Department has contrived charges of “espionage”, “conspiracy to commit espionage”, “conversion” (theft of government property), “computer fraud and abuse” (computer hacking) and general “conspiracy”. The favoured Espionage Act, which was meant to deter pacifists and conscientious objectors during World War One, has provisions for life imprisonment and the death penalty. …

In 2015, a federal court in Washington blocked the release of all information about the “national security” investigation against WikiLeaks, because it was “active and ongoing” and would harm the “pending prosecution” of Assange. The judge, Barbara J. Rothstein, said it was necessary to show “appropriate deference to the executive in matters of national security”. This is a kangaroo court.

All of this information was available to any journalist or newspaper that cared to search it out and wished to publicise it. And yet not one corporate media outlet has done so over the past nine years. Instead they have shored up a series of preposterous US and UK state narratives designed to keep Assange behind bars and propel the rest of us back into the information dark ages.

Protection Of Venezuelan Embassy Continues, Opposition To US Coup Builds

While the final four inside members of the Embassy Protection Collective were arrested on May 16, 2019 (and released the next day), the Collective’s efforts to protect the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, DC and to end the US coup continue.

From left to right: Kevin Zeese, Margaret Flowers, David Paul and Adrienne Pine at windows of the Venezuelan Embassy. Signs below them call for a mutual Protecting Power Agreement.

A Mutual Protecting Power Agreement Still Needed For US and Venezuelan Embassies

Tell the State Department to recognize Turkey as the Venezuelan Embassy’s Protecting Power in Washington, DC.

We have consistently sought a mutual Protecting Power Agreement between the US and Venezuela so the US Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela can be protected by Switzerland and the Venezuelan Embassy in DC can be protected by Turkey. This is still the legal pathway to end the embassy crisis.

Protecting Power Agreements have existed since the time of Genghis Khan and have been embedded in international law since the 1870s. Currently they are enshrined in Article 45 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. They are used when diplomatic relations have been broken in order to protect foreign embassies. Twenty-nine Protecting Power Agreements are currently in place around the world.

When the United States government illegally invaded the Venezuelan Embassy to arrest and evict us, it violated the Vienna Convention and put all embassies around the world at risk. Federal agents assaulted the embassy with a battering ram and more than 100 officers, many armed with para-military gear even though we said we would not resist arrest or barricade ourselves in the embassy. This was after the US had illegally turned off electricity and water to the embassy and allowed a mob of coup supporters to assault the embassy and Embassy Protectors.

The violation of the Vienna Convention, a precedent set by the Trump administration, puts US embassy personnel and embassies at risk around the world. The Trump administration added to that violation of international law on May 24 when it allowed the fictional ambassador, Carlos Vecchio, of a failed US coup, to enter the embassy. This complicates negotiations for a mutual Protecting Power Agreement as the members of the coup will have to be removed from the embassy, but we still must urge the US to follow international law rather than be a rogue state.

Activists used light projection on the embassy to tell the truth about Vecchio as a fake ambassador who cannot do anything official such as issuing visas or passports but who will use the embassy as a coup-plotting center, further escalating US violations of international law.

Alex Rubinstein

✔ @RealAlexRubi

Anti-coup protesters @JasonRCharter and @backboneprog project messages onto the former Venezuelan embassy which was illegally seized by US authorities.

“D.C.’s newest coup plotting center

This is not an embassy

Vecchio can’t issue visas”@carlosvecchio

Take Action Now: Join us in telling the State Department to recognize Turkey as the Venezuelan Embassy Protecting Power

The Venezuelan Embassy with signs on it urging peace with Venezuela, end of the US coup and an end to sanctions.

Court Proceedings Against Protectors Continue While The Movement Organizes Against US Coups And Militarism

The Embassy Protectors arrested inside and outside will continue to defend themselves in court. The next hearing of the four inside Embassy Protectors has been moved to this Friday, May 31 at 9:30 am before the chief judge of the US District Court in Washington, DC, Judge Beryl A. Howell.  Ironically, as we were serving as interim embassy protectors with the permission of the democratically-elected Venezuelan government, the four were charged with violation of 18 U.S. Code §”118. “Interference with certain protective functions.” Anyone who followed the activities during the Embassy Protection Collective’s actions can see the State Department was failing to protect the embassy as it allowed pro-coup advocates to break windows and doors, break and enter into the building, deface the building and assault people outside the building while threatening those inside the building.

Other Embassy Protectors arrested outside for trying to get food and supplies into the embassy are also facing charges, including “hurling missiles at a building” (bread and cucumbers) and assault, even though they were the ones assaulted. There are currently four outside Embassy Protectors facing charges. One, an older man bringing toothbrushes, has already had the charges dropped.

In addition to these actions, we are escalating our efforts to stop the US coup and protect the embassy. We are working with other peace and justice advocates to organized national and international days of action to protect the embassies, stop the US coup attempt and end the illegal unilateral coercive measures (misnamed sanctions) and threats of military attacks on Venezuela. If you live in a country that recognizes the coup leader, Juan Guaido, we urge you to take action to protect the Venezuelan Embassy in your country and to pressure your government to recognize the democratically-elected President Nicolas Maduro.

We will be posting these actions called by Popular Resistance and other organizations on our website. Sign up for our daily digest (on the front page of PopularResisance.org) to be sure to receive the information quickly.

Popular Resistance and other organizers will tie the US actions against Venezuela to the threats of war and ongoing unilateral coercive measures against Iran and other countries as well as the never-ending war in Afghanistan and the Middle East and threats to countries like Nicaragua and Cuba. In the next decade, as US empire crumbles, this coup attempt against Venezuela and the actions of US citizens against the US coup will be seen as one of the events that led to the demise of US military domination.

We along with numerous other organizations are organizing toward a national mass mobilization in New York City on September 21 when the United Nations General Assembly is meeting. We are calling it “The People’s Mobilization to Stop the US War Machine.” It will bring tens of thousands of people together to call for the end of the US coup against Venezuela and stop regime change operations anywhere in the world. It will also oppose unilateral coercive mentions (sanctions), which the US is using against many countries and that violate the UN Charter and other international laws.

Alex Rubinstein

✔ @RealAlexRubi

Embassy protectors @KBZeese and @MFlowers8 talk about organizing a “national mass mobilization in New York City on September 21st when the United Nations General Assembly is meeting.”

They’re calling it “The People’s Mobilization to Stop the US War Machine.”

224 people are talking about this

Mark your calendar now for the national mass mobilization in New York City on September 21, the International Day of Peace, when the United Nations General Assembly is meeting.

The mass mobilization is challenging the “US War Machine” because the machine is more than just war and regime change, it has escalated militarism at home creating violence and death in black and brown communities at the hands of militarized police. US militarism is also a major cause of the climate crisis as the Pentagon is a major source for climate gases and fights wars for oil when we need to break our addiction to oil. And the war machine robs the United States of necessary funds for health, education, housing, and other necessities of the people as well as the funds needed to put in place an eco-socialist Green New Deal that confronts the climate crisis with a rapid transition to 100% clean, renewable energy within the next decade. Challenging the US war machine links many issues and causes.

If people are organized and mobilized, we can make these issues central to the political narrative in the United States and ensure that in the upcoming election cycle no legitimate candidate can support the US coup in Venezuela and must put forward plans to end US militarism.

Monsanto, Scientific Deception and Cancer

Money may not be able to buy the purest love, but it can buy the best, life-ending cancer.  For Monsanto, giant of rule and misrule in matters of genetically modified crops, known for bullying practices towards farmers, things have not been so rosy of late.  Ever the self-promoter of saving the world an agricultural headache (biotech crops being the earth’s touted nutritional salvation), the company has run into a set of legal snags that have raided its funds and risk sinking it, along with Bayer AG, the company that bought it last year for $63 billion.

A spate of legal cases have begun entering the folklore of resistance to the company.  Central to it is the use of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used weedkiller marketed since 1974 as Roundup, and a core chemical in the agrochemical industry. In 2015, it was deemed by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) “probably carcinogenic to humans” in addition to being genotoxic and clearly carcinogenic to animals.

The legal train commenced last August, when a state court in San Francisco found for Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a 46-year-old former school groundskeeper, ordering $289 million in damages.  (The amount was subsequently reduced to $78 million.)  The jury had been satisfied that the use of the Roundup weedkiller, with its glyphosate constitution, had, in fact, been the cause of Johnson’s cancer.  They also found that the company had paid insufficient heed to warning the plaintiff of the impending dangers, also acting, in the process, with “malice or oppression”.

The picture that emerged in trial was of a beast keen to keep critics at bay and intimidate opponents.  Attorney Brent Wisner was keen to press the issue. “Monsanto has specifically gone out of its way to bully… and to fight independent researchers.” Wisner’s evidence – a selection of internal Monsanto emails – showed the steadfast rejection on its part of warnings critical and researched. “They fought science.”

Not so, came the rebutting if not so convincing argument from Monsanto lawyer George Lombardi. “The scientific evidence is overwhelming that glyphosate-based products do not cause cancer and did not cause Mr Johnson’s cancer.”

The message was very much in keeping with Monsanto’s program for colouring and fudging empirical data on the use of herbicides.  The 2015 IARC findings, despite being on some level qualified, infuriated the company. Christopher Wild, the director of the agency, was unequivocal in his interview with Le Monde: the company had gone rabid.  “We have been attacked in the past, we have faced smear campaigns, but this time we are the target of an orchestrated campaign of an unseen scale and duration.”  Monsanto dismissed the agency’s conclusions as “junk science”, the product of “cherry-picking” driven by a biased agenda.

The company duly harried the agency, using the law firm Hollingsworth to demand, “Drafts, comments, data tables… everything that has gone through the IARC system.”  In the event that the agency decline to do so, the firm requested and instructed the agency “to immediately take all reasonable steps in your power to preserve all such files intact pending formal discovery requests issued via a US court.”

What commenced was a concerted effort to cook the science and massage the results.  Monsanto chief scientist William Heydens proposed one method of doing so: ghost-writing papers under the thinly veiled cover of scientific legitimacy.  As Heydens noted in an email, “we would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit & sign their names so to speak.”  This was a practice not unknown to the company; a paper had been so authored in 2000, one conspicuously short on detail regarding the affiliation of Monsanto employees.

In the safety stakes, Monsanto was also careful to ensure that the Environmental Protection Agency was on board – at least when it came to terminating or frustrating investigations.  Jess Rowland, formerly a manager in the EPA’s pesticide division, is said to have boasted in an April 2015 conversation with a Monsanto regulatory affairs manager that, “If I can kill this I should get a medal.”  In October that year, the EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC), chaired by Rowland (miracle of miracles) produced an internal report claiming that glyphosate, contrary to the IARC findings, were “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

The Johnson case was significant for the court’s allowance of extensive scientific argument.  This flatfooted Mansanto (now Bayer’s) legal team.  It was an approach that would be repeated in subsequent trials.  In March this year, a unanimous jury verdict in the federal court in San Francisco ordered the company to fork out damages to the value of $80 million for failing to warn Edwin Hardeman, the plaintiff, of any cancer risks associated with the use of Roundup.

A trifecta was achieved this month when a jury of the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Alameda was willing to find that Roundup weedkiller caused the non-Hodgkin lymphoma of the plaintiffs Alberta and Alva Pillioid. It took 17 days of trial testimony leading to the decision to award the couple $1 billion each.

The order of punitive damages centred on the finding that Monsanto “engaged in conduct with malice, oppression, or fraud committed by one or more officers, directors or managing agents of Monsanto”.

The next case of interest against Monsanto is being pressed by Sharlean Gordon with an entire cohort of fellow litigants, set to take place in St. Louis County Circuit court on August 19.  The formula is tried and true, alleging that they were harmed as “a direct and proximate result of [Monsanto’s] negligent, wilful, and wrongful conduct in connection with the design, development, manufacture, testing, packaging, promoting, marketing, distribution, and/or sale of Roundup and/or other Monsanto glyphosate-containing products.”

Legal watchers, thousands of other litigants, and those in St. Louis County, will be curious to see whether the company finally gets some respite after its Californian hammerings.  It employs a considerable labour force in the area and has been very much in the charity game.  But the sympathy of local jurors should not detract from the St. Louis City Court’s reputation as one of the more favourable forums to seek mammoth verdicts against corporations.  Sympathies for Monsanto-Bayer might well have truly curdled by then.

Challenging Orthodoxies: Alabama’s Anti-Abortion Law

It seems like a grand ploy of massive distraction.  On the surface, the move by Alabama to place the most onerous restrictions on the granting of an abortion has become a lighting-rod of conviction for Democrat agitators.  And not just them.

The fear, and one with suggestive implication, is that various legislatures are paving the way to push Roe v Wade into the domain of a Supreme Court so conservative it is being touted as reactionary.  Colorado lawmakers, earlier this year, made a similar attempt to pass a bill banning elective abortions every bit as nasty as the Alabama version. The feeling is that the 1973 decision will be terminated in the name of foetus worship taking way the injunction against states from interfering in a woman’s right to an abortion within the first trimester.

Roe was never, in truth, such a radical innovation in the field of social reform.  It, for one, heavily circumscribes the way choice operates for a woman in terms of her relationship with the foetus.  Its celebration of a woman’s autonomy leaves the designation of how it is used, not in the hands of the carrier, but the Supreme Court.

What certain stone throwing conservatives have repeatedly disliked about it is that the decision was reformist at all. “Roe,” tut tuts Rich Lowry of the National Review, “is judicially wrought social legislation pretending to the status of constitutional law.”  It was a product of such judicial activism that produced the Miranda and Griswold cases, “as much a highhanded attempt to impose a settlement on a hotly contested political question as the abhorrent Dred Scott decision denying the rights of blacks.”

Lowry’s swipe belies the broader problem facing anti-abortion advocates, many of whom simply think that the legislators in that good red state have lost the plot.  The Alabama move is being seen on the part of some on the right as too extreme, painting advocates who favour limiting abortion into a narrow, extreme corner.  In the words of conservative pundit Jonathan V. Last, having such a law was the very counter-reproductive thing the movement feared, “the most damaging development to the pro-life movement in decades.”

HB314 is a heavy artillery shell for the anti-abortion movement, reclassifying abortion as a Class A felony. The implication of this is gruesome enough: those found guilty of falling foul of the law, notably those providing such services, may spend up to 99 years in prison.

Alabama governor, Kay Ivey, ennobled bill HB314 with words mindful of the great Sky God that continues to mark significant stretches of US political thought. (In Freedom’s Land, the unseen and unknowable have traditional anti-democratic tendencies.)  “To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.” HB314’s sponsor, Rep Terry Collins, was attempting to be more pragmatic in a political sense, claiming that HB314 was part of the grand plan to subvert and ultimately sink Roe v Wade.

The media presses in Alabama have been filled with pungent responses, many indignant, others glazing in their holy reflection.  A Guest Voices segment for AL.com, part of the Alabama Media Group, made rich reading.  Rene Washington of Birmingham refused to accept the anti-abortion rights law as one of protecting life. “The abysmal statistics on children’s health and welfare prove that.”  The ban was a traditional, based on old issues of control, be they “religious, patriarchal and cultural.”

Savannah Crabtree, keen to remind us of her age (23 years old), wrote of having a uterus and living in the state of Alabama. “And I am scared.”  A troubled Crabtree was puzzled that the governor had expressed no reservation, racing the bill into law. “I hoped that maybe, because she is a woman, she’d empathize with a 12-year-old rape victim seeking an abortion more so than the 25 men who voted on the bill in the Senate did.”

The worriers and activists have come out.  “This,” laments Democratic strategist Jess McIntosh, “is the endgame of many years chipping away at our freedoms.” For McIntosh, a tyrannical instinct is finally being played out in US jurisprudence – a play, as it were, to alter the court’s reformist agenda.  “They’ve waited for the moment they believed the courts would overturn precedent and go against the overwhelming will of the people.”

For a strategist, McIntosh is far from sharp.  (She did work for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.)  The Alabama law, along with any aspiring facsimiles, risks falling at the first hurdle, given that an appellate court is bound to give defenders of the bill a good going over.  The issue of placing “undue burdens” on a woman’s access to abortion services would come into play.  As Kim Wehle explains, the Alabama law is “by any stretch” an “undue burden” because it entails no abortions except in instances where the “unborn child has a lethal anomaly” in order “to avoid serious risk to the unborn child’s mother” or in instances of “ectopic pregnancies” (where the fertilized egg finds itself implanted outside the uterus, often in fallopian tubes which might burst causing bleeding, infection and death to the mother).

Keeping the Democrats noisily busy is a Trump tactic, and he has kept markedly reticent on not wishing to push views on the Alabama move.  A tweet re-iterated his stance as being “strongly pro-life, with three exceptions – rape, incest and protecting the life of the mother.”  It was, he suggested, “the same position taken by Ronald Reagan.”  Similar exceptions can be found in thirty-three states and the District Colombia, which allow funding for the tripartite list of exceptions.  A range of superstitions dot the legislative provisions of other states: five, for instance, demand that women be counselled on a claimed link between abortion and breast cancer, one firmly lodged in the realm of fantasy.

Alabama’s HB314, however, in its crudely blanket application, leaves minimal room for exceptions.  It is savagely onerous, even for conservatives.  The wheels may well be in motion for certain brands of foetus defenders, but citizens with uteri can well be comforted that they will move in retarded fashion.

The Quiet Coup

Does William Barr appear to be easily manipulated?  Do you really think he lacks inner strength?  James Comey thinks so (James Comey: How Trump Co-opts Leaders Like Bill Barr).  How about Mike Pompeo and Stephen Miller?  Does Donald Trump have them acting out of character?  Do you think Lindsey Graham does his bidding out of fear?  Is Mike Pence really cowed into submission, or does Steve Bannon stroke Trump’s ego because he lacks intestinal fortitude?

All of the above have forceful personalities.  They didn’t arrive at their stations through lack of will or low self esteem. To suggest they’re being idealistically manipulated is nearsighted and dangerous.  William Barr, the others, and much of the Republican Congress appear sycophantic not out of fear or lack of self-control; they behave that way because they and Trump are kindred spirits.  They’re not just groveling; they like what Trump likes, they want what Trump wants, and they’re strong and willful enough to go after it, even if it requires a curtsy.

Have you heard about the coup?  There actually was one, but not the coup ballyhooed by Donald Trump.  The real “coup” started long ago in a barely noticed manner; it triggered the quiet rise of authoritarianism which now animates Trump’s presidency.  Amanda Taub laid it out in The Rise of American Authoritarianism.  The 2016 article (prior to Trump’s election) is both prescient and sobering.  It deserves a more thorough reading than what’s summed up in the following quick takeaways:

  • The authoritarian profile is characterized by the desire for order and a fear of outsiders.  It looks for a strong leader who promises necessary action to protect from outsiders and prevent feared changes.
  • Authoritarian personalities are drawn to the clearest and loudest authoritarian voice.
  • Covert authoritarian personalities (latent authoritarians) can be moved to overt authoritarian behavior.
  • The authoritarian personality increasingly sorts into the Republican Party (law and order and traditional values).
  • Authoritarians and latent authoritarians compose a large enough bloc to be politically powerful.
  • The authoritarian personality is not a new or Trump phenomenon; it will endure.

Religious institutions have authoritarian roots and thus provide low hanging fruit for aspiring autocrats (especially when spiritual morality has the depth of a bumper sticker).  Taub’s article provides inference of a religious component, but falls short of citing its paternalistic tradition and devotion to dogma and prophecy as instrumental in forging an authoritarian profile (ex. Why Trump Reigns as King Cyrus).  It does go far, though, in explaining and describing what’s seen in American politics today.  It also sheds light elsewhere.  There’s instability and much to fear around the globe: immigration, economic turmoil and disparity, religious/social upheaval, climate change, famine, and the ever present reality of violence and war.  It’s an opportune time for the rise of authoritarian and despotic leadership that we see arising throughout the world.

“The Rise of American Authoritarianism” article shows that authoritarian personalities have slowly sorted into the Republican Party over the last fifty years.  That bloc now seems to have reached a controlling influence: 55% of surveyed Republicans scored high or higher on the article’s authoritarian scale.  In blunt terms, half a century ago the party began the process of culturing authoritarian minded voters that now dominate the Republican electorate (and consequently, its primary elections).  More and more Republican representatives sent to Washington (or elsewhere) are apt to be sympathetic (or owing) to authoritarian values.  The profound result of all this is the election of a president who cultivates authoritarian passion.  Perhaps more ominous, though, is a contingent happening: court appointments.  Court nominations at all levels are ideally chosen as vectors of impartiality.  Everyone knows the opposite is true: candidates are chosen that appear most likely to express perceived bias in future judicial proceedings.  Trump and the Republican Party are shaping the judicial system accordingly: two appointments to the Supreme Court (a third is likely) and record setting confirmations of judges to federal appeals courts.  They won’t all, of course, perform as expected, but a general bias will take place beyond the expected conservative/liberal slant: with or without awareness, throughout the court systems, decisions will be made that reflect sympathy with authoritarian ideals.  The judges will be in place for decades and their decisions much longer.  Each one of those sympathetic decisions will pave the way for future authoritarian inroads.

It doesn’t take all that much representation to determine our country’s direction.  Somewhere between 50% and 60% of eligible voters cast ballots in presidential elections (about 40% for midterms).  Combining the two, perhaps roughly half of all eligible voters are shaping political destiny.  In 1992 Ross Perot, a third party candidate, received nearly 20% of the popular vote.  That was an anomaly; third party votes generally have significance only as spoilers in close races between the two major parties (Republican and Democrat).  Usually the winning presidential candidate receives roughly half of all votes cast.  Because nearly half the country takes a pass on Election Day, the winning candidate receives about half of a half (one quarter) of potential votes.  Within each party are factions vying for political influence.  To gain dominance, a faction need only appear to represent half (or even less) of perceived party supporters.  If that party wins, it means roughly half of a quarter (one eighth) of the eligible voting population may dominate in determining national direction.  That’s all it takes.  A president (and more) can be politically empowered by as little as an eighth (or less) of the voting population.  In the face of voter apathy, an energized eighth of the American electorate can democratically nudge the country down the slippery slope to authoritarianism.

If it’s contended that Trump has neither the time nor the tools to actually push the country into irrevocable authoritarianism, it’s sobering to view what’s transpired in a short amount of time.  To his political base and much of the Republican Party, Trump has quite successfully delegitimized the news media, the Department of Justice, political opposition, and judiciary constraints.  Through all the fiascos of his first two years, Trump still enjoys Republican popularity and support.  It’s not just how much he’s managed to do (or undo) in a short amount of time, but how little he’s had to do it with.  He’s not the most gifted politician, but what if he was?  Trump has demonstrated that an authoritarian base is here and ready to use.  A tainted judicial system is in place; it will progressively soften to autocratic appeals over the coming years.  What if one really gifted comes along: someone cunningly intelligent, someone with a coherent plan and political savvy, someone with charisma and charm?

Donald Trump didn’t create the wave, but he adeptly rides it.  Fifty some years ago the old Republican Party sought to seduce and control the authoritarian personality.  The seduction succeeded, but not the control; the old guard lost it.  The new Republican Party is now home and voice to American authoritarianism.  It won’t be silenced through an impeachment or a single presidential election cycle.  It’s here for the long haul.  Figure heads like James Comey and Morning Joe pundits portray Donald Trump as a larger than life puppet master, a maestro manipulating those around him into groveling postures of obsequiousness.  The conjecture provides nearsighted assurance that Trump has a unique presence and those around him are uniquely weak: all will be better when Trump is gone.  It’s dangerously complacent; it’s not seeing the forest for a tree.

They’re not at the gate.  The authoritarians are in the castle.  There’s no time left for wishful thinking or complacency.