Category Archives: Courts and Judges

Peter Dutton’s Defamation Defeat

The occasions when an activist, writer or commentator triumph over defamation lawsuits launched by a thin-skinned politician are rare in Australia.  When it comes to matters regarding the law of reputation, Australia remains a place where parliamentarians, as a species, thrive in the knowledge they can use favourable provisions to protect their hurt feelings and soiled reputations.

The country, in also lacking a bill of rights protecting free speech and the press, has further emboldened politicians.  At best, the Australian High Court has only left an anaemic implied right “to protect freedom of communication on political subjects”, which should really be read as a restraint on executive and legislative power, never to be personally exercised.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton, ever the nasty enforcer of the Morrison government, was one who had every reason to feel confident when he took refugee activist Shane Bazzi to court in April last year.  In February 2021, Bazzi published a six-word tweet: “Peter Dutton is a rape apologist.”

The tweet was made some hours after Dutton had told a press conference that he had not been furnished with the finer details of a rape allegation made by former Coalition staffer Britney Higgins.  The context here was also important.  Dutton had, when Home Affairs Minister, characterised refugee women being held on Nauru, one of Australia’s carceral domains, as “trying it on” to get access to the Australian mainland for medical treatment.

The following month, this sadist-in-chief promised that he would start to “pick out some” individuals who were “trending on Twitter or have the anonymity of different Twitter accounts” posting “all these statements and tweets that are frankly defamatory.” It was an informal declaration of war against critics.

In instigating proceedings against Bazzi, Dutton claimed in the trial that he was “deeply offended” by the contents of the tweet.  He accepted that, “As a minister for immigration or home affairs … people make comments that are false or untrue, offensive, profane, but that’s part of the rough and tumble.”  But Bazzi had gone one step too far.   “It was somebody that held himself out as an authority or a journalist.”  His remarks “went beyond” the tolerably bruising nature of politics. “And it went against who I am, my beliefs … I thought it was hurtful.”

In finding for Dutton in November and awarding $35,000 in damages, Justice Richard White ruled that the tweet had been defamatory, and that Bazzi could not resort to the defence of honest opinion.  Dutton failed to gain damages in three of the four imputations, while also troubling the judge with his hunger in pursuing the defendant for the full legal bill.  But in his remarks on Bazzi’s claim of honest opinion, White was dismissive.  “Bazzi may have used the word ‘apologist’ without an understanding of the meaning he was, in fact conveying.”  If this had been the case, “it would follow that he did not hold the opinion actually conveyed by the words.”

On May 17, Bazzi found that he had convinced the Full Court of the Federal Court that the reasoning behind the six-word tweet, and the purportedly defamatory imputations it conveyed, was flawed.  Justices Steven Rares and Darryl Rangiah, in a joint judgment, found that Justice White had erred in not explaining “how the reader would understand the whole (or any part) of the tweet to convey the imputation.”  They also noted that Justice White had found the meaning of the word “apologist” was not that of an excuser but of a defender.  “When the material is read with Mr Bazzi’s six words, the reader would conclude that the tweet was suggesting that Mr Dutton was sceptical about claims of rape and in that way was an apologist.”  It was “very different from imputing that he excuses rape itself.”

The judges put much stock in the context of the tweet, and the need to read it alongside Dutton’s previous remarks on the women held on Nauru as recorded in The Guardian.  “The reader would perceive that the message in the tweet consisted of both parts, Mr Bazzi’s six word statement and The Guardian material, read together.”  When read together, the reader “would understand that the point that the tweet was conveying was that a ‘rape apologist’ behaves in the way Mr Dutton had in expressing scepticism about the claims of rape.  That is a far cry from conveying the meaning that he excuses rape itself.”

Justice Michael Wigney also found that the primary judge had erred in finding the tweet defamatory and “substantially agreed” with the two other justices.  It was “tolerably clear” that Bazzi’s statement “was about, or responsive to, the extract from The Guardian article.”  The primary judge had erred in how the ordinary reasonable Twitter user would have read the tweet, downplaying, for instance, the significance of the link to the article.

Accordingly, “It was wrong for the primary judge, in analysing whether Mr Bazzi’s tweet conveyed the alleged imputation, to dissect and segregate the tweet in the way he did.”  While the tweet did convey “an impression that is derogatory and critical of [Dutton’s] attitude to rape or rape allegations,” it did “not go so far as to convey the impression that [Dutton] is a person who excuses rape”.

Dutton’s litigious boldness was much in keeping with the Morrison government’s general hostility to social media outlets and the internet, in general.  Prime Minister Scott Morrison has shown a willingness to do battle with social media and making the platforms assume greater responsibility for material hosted on their sites.  Taking advantage of the killings in Christchurch in March 2019, he exploited the chance to pursue a global agenda of online censorship.  “We urge online platforms to step up the ambition and pace of their efforts to prevent terrorist and VECT (violent extremism conducive to terrorism) content being streamed, uploaded, or re-uploaded.”

In the latter part of last year, the government announced that it was drafting laws that would make social media companies gather user details and permit courts to force the divulging of user identities in defamation proceedings.  While a re-elected Morrison government will be a dark day for internet freedoms and expression, Dutton’s defeat is a cause for genuine celebration.  It also heralds the need to water down the persistently draconian nature of laws that do all too much in protecting that strange animal known as the offended politician.

The post Peter Dutton’s Defamation Defeat first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The persecution of Julian Assange

The British home secretary, Priti Patel, will decide this month whether Julian Assange is to be extradited to the United States, where he faces a sentence of up to 175 years – served most likely in strict, 24-hour isolation in a US super-max jail.

He has already spent three years in similarly harsh conditions in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison.

The 18 charges laid against Assange in the US relate to the publication by WikiLeaks in 2010 of leaked official documents, many of them showing that the US and UK were responsible for war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. No one has been brought to justice for those crimes.

Instead, the US has defined Assange’s journalism as espionage – and by implication asserted a right to seize any journalist in the world who takes on the US national security state – and in a series of extradition hearings, the British courts have given their blessing.

The lengthy proceedings against Assange have been carried out in courtrooms with tightly restricted access and in circumstances that have repeatedly denied journalists the ability to cover the case properly.

Despite the grave implications for a free press and democratic accountability, however, Assange’s plight has provoked little more than a flicker of concern from much of the western media.

Few observers appear to be in any doubt that Patel will sign off on the US extradition order – least of all Nils Melzer, a law professor, and a United Nations’ special rapporteur.

In his role as the UN’s expert on torture, Melzer has made it his job since 2019 to scrutinise not only Assange’s treatment during his 12 years of increasing confinement – overseen by the UK courts – but also the extent to which due process and the rule of law have been followed in pursuing the WikiLeaks founder.

Melzer has distilled his detailed research into a new book, The Trial of Julian Assange, that provides a shocking account of rampant lawlessness by the main states involved – Britain, Sweden, the US, and Ecuador. It also documents a sophisticated campaign of misinformation and character assassination to obscure those misdeeds.

The result, Melzer concludes, has been a relentless assault not only on Assange’s fundamental rights but his physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing that Melzer classifies as psychological torture.

The UN rapporteur argues that the UK has invested far too much money and muscle in securing Assange’s prosecution on behalf of the US, and has too pressing a need itself to deter others from following Assange’s path in exposing western crimes, to risk letting Assange walk free.

It has instead participated in a wide-ranging legal charade to obscure the political nature of Assange’s incarceration. And in doing so, it has systematically ridden roughshod over the rule of law.

Melzer believes Assange’s case is so important because it sets a precedent to erode the most basic liberties the rest of us take for granted. He opens the book with a quote from Otto Gritschneder, a German lawyer who observed up close the rise of the Nazis, “those who sleep in a democracy will wake up in a dictatorship”.

Back to the wall

Melzer has raised his voice because he believes that in the Assange case any residual institutional checks and balances on state power, especially those of the US, have been subdued.

He points out that even the prominent human rights group Amnesty International has avoided characterising Assange as a “prisoner of conscience”, despite his meeting all the criteria, with the group apparently fearful of a backlash from funders (p. 81).

He notes too that, aside from the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, comprising expert law professors, the UN itself has largely ignored the abuses of Assange’s rights (p. 3). In large part, that is because even states like Russia and China are reluctant to turn Assange’s political persecution into a stick with which to beat the West – as might otherwise have been expected.

The reason, Melzer observes, is that WikiLeaks’ model of journalism demands greater accountability and transparency from all states. With Ecuador’s belated abandonment of Assange, he appears to be utterly at the mercy of the world’s main superpower.

Instead, Melzer argues, Britain and the US have cleared the way to vilify Assange and incrementally disappear him under the pretense of a series of legal proceedings. That has been made possible only because of complicity from prosecutors and the judiciary, who are pursuing the path of least resistance in silencing Assange and the cause he represents.

It is what Melzer terms an official “policy of small compromises” – with dramatic consequences (pp. 250-1).

His 330-page book is so packed with examples of abuses of due process – at the legal, prosecutorial, and judicial levels – that it is impossible to summarise even a tiny fraction of them.

However, the UN rapporteur refuses to label this as a conspiracy – if only because to do so would be to indict himself as part of it. He admits that when Assange’s lawyers first contacted him for help in 2018, arguing that the conditions of Assange’s incarceration amounted to torture, he ignored their pleas.

As he now recognises, he too had been influenced by the demonisation of Assange, despite his long professional and academic training to recognise techniques of perception management and political persecution.

“To me, like most people around the world, he was just a rapist, hacker, spy, and narcissist,” he says (p. 10).

It was only later when Melzer finally agreed to examine the effects of Assange’s long-term confinement on his health – and found the British authorities obstructing his investigation at every turn and openly deceiving him – that he probed deeper. When he started to pick at the legal narratives around Assange, the threads quickly unravelled.

He points to the risks of speaking up – a price he has experienced firsthand – that have kept others silent.

“With my uncompromising stance, I put not only my credibility at risk, but also my career and, potentially, even my personal safety… Now, I suddenly found myself with my back to the wall, defending human rights and the rule of law against the very democracies which I had always considered to be my closest allies in the fight against torture. It was a steep and painful learning curve” (p. 97).

He adds regretfully: “I had inadvertently become a dissident within the system itself” (p. 269).

Subversion of law

The web of complex cases that have ensnared the WikiLeaks founder – and kept him incarcerated – have included an entirely unproductive, decade-long sexual assault investigation by Sweden; an extended detention over a bail infraction that occurred after Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador from political extradition to the US; and the secret convening of a grand jury in the US, followed by endless hearings and appeals in the UK to extradite him as part of the very political persecution he warned of.

The goal throughout, says Melzer, has not been to expedite Assange’s prosecution – that would have risked exposing the absence of evidence against him in both the Swedish and US cases. Rather it has been to trap Assange in an interminable process of non-prosecution while he is imprisoned in ever-more draconian conditions and the public turned against him.

What appeared – at least to onlookers – to be the upholding of the law in Sweden, Britain and the US was the exact reverse: its repeated subversion. The failure to follow basic legal procedures was so consistent, argues Melzer, that it cannot be viewed as simply a series of unfortunate mistakes.

It aims at the “systematic persecution, silencing and destruction of an inconvenient political dissident” (p. 93).

Assange, in Melzer’s view, is not just a political prisoner. He is one whose life is being put in severe danger from relentless abuses that accord with the definition of psychological torture.

Such torture depends on its victim being intimidated, isolated, humiliated, and subjected to arbitrary decisions (p. 74). Melzer clarifies that the consequences of such torture not only break down the mental and emotional coping mechanisms of victims but over time have very tangible physical consequences too.

Melzer explains the so-called “Mandela Rules” – named after the long-jailed black resistance leader Nelson Mandela, who helped bring down South African apartheid – that limit the use of extreme forms of solitary confinement.

In Assange’s case, however, “this form of ill-treatment very quickly became the status quo” in Belmarsh, even though Assange was a “non-violent inmate posing no threat to anyone”. As his health deteriorated, prison authorities isolated him further, professedly for his own safety. As a result, Melzer concludes, Assange’s “silencing and abuse could be perpetuated indefinitely, all under the guise of concern for his health” (pp. 88-9).

The rapporteur observes that he would not be fulfilling his UN mandate if he failed to protest not only Assange’s torture but the fact that he is being tortured to protect those who committed torture and other war crimes exposed in the Iraq and Afghanistan logs published by WikiLeaks. They continue to escape justice with the active connivance of the same state authorities seeking to destroy Assange (p. 95).

With his long experience of handling torture cases around the world, Melzer suggests that Assange has great reserves of inner strength that have kept him alive, if increasingly frail and physically ill. Assange has lost a great deal of weight, is regularly confused and disorientated, and has suffered a minor stroke in Belmarsh.

Many of the rest of us, the reader is left to infer, might well have succumbed by now to a lethal heart attack or stroke, or have committed suicide.

A further troubling implication hangs over the book: that this is the ultimate ambition of those persecuting him. The current extradition hearings can be spun out indefinitely, with appeals right up to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, keeping Assange out of view all that time, further damaging his health, and providing a stronger deterrent effect on whistleblowers and other journalists.

This is a win-win, notes Melzer. If Assange’s mental health breaks down entirely, he can be locked away in a psychiatric institution. And if he dies, that would finally solve the inconvenience of sustaining the legal charade that has been needed to keep him silenced and out of view for so long (p. 322).

Sweden’s charade

Melzer spends much of the book reconstructing the 2010 accusations of sexual assault against Assange in Sweden. He does this not to discredit the two women involved – in fact, he argues that the Swedish legal system failed them as much as it did Assange – but because that case set the stage for the campaign to paint Assange as a rapist, narcissist, and fugitive from justice.

The US might never have been able to launch its overtly political persecution of Assange had he not already been turned into a popular hate figure over the Sweden case. His demonisation was needed – as well as his disappearance from view – to smooth the path to redefining national security journalism as espionage.

Melzer’s meticulous examination of the case – assisted by his fluency in Swedish – reveals something that the mainstream media coverage has ignored: Swedish prosecutors never had the semblance of a case against Assange, and apparently never the slightest intention to move the investigation beyond the initial taking of witness statements.

Nonetheless, as Melzer observes, it became “the longest ‘preliminary investigation’ in Swedish history” (p. 103).

The first prosecutor to examine the case, in 2010, immediately dropped the investigation, saying, “there is no suspicion of a crime” (p. 133).

When the case was finally wrapped up in 2019, many months before the statute of limitations was reached, a third prosecutor observed simply that “it cannot be assumed that further inquiries will change the evidential situation in any significant manner” (p. 261).

Couched in lawyerly language, that was an admission that interviewing Assange would not lead to any charges. The preceding nine years had been a legal charade.

But in those intervening years, the illusion of a credible case was so well sustained that major newspapers, including Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, repeatedly referred to “rape charges” against Assange, even though he had never been charged with anything.

More significantly, as Melzer keeps pointing out, the allegations against Assange were so clearly unsustainable that the Swedish authorities never sought to seriously investigate them. To do so would have instantly exposed their futility.

Instead, Assange was trapped. For the seven years that he was given asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy, Swedish prosecutors refused to follow normal procedures and interview him where he was, in person or via computer, to resolve the case. But the same prosecutors also refused to issue standard reassurances that he would not be extradited onwards to the US, which would have made his asylum in the embassy unnecessary.

In this way, Melzer argues “the rape suspect narrative could be perpetuated indefinitely without ever coming before a court. Publicly, this deliberately manufactured outcome could conveniently be blamed on Assange, by accusing him of having evaded justice” (p. 254).

Neutrality dropped

Ultimately, the success of the Swedish case in vilifying Assange derived from the fact that it was driven by a narrative almost impossible to question without appearing to belittle the two women at its centre.

But the rape narrative was not the women’s. It was effectively imposed on the case – and on them – by elements within the Swedish establishment, echoed by the Swedish media. Melzer hazards a guess as to why the chance to discredit Assange was seized on so aggressively.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Swedish leaders dropped the country’s historic position of neutrality and threw their hand in with the US and the global “war on terror”. Stockholm was quickly integrated into the western security and intelligence community (p. 102).

All of that was put in jeopardy as Assange began eyeing Sweden as a new base for WikiLeaks, attracted by its constitutional protections for publishers.

In fact, he was in Sweden for precisely that reason in the run-up to WikiLeaks’ publication of the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs. It must have been only too obvious to the Swedish establishment that any move to headquarter WikiLeaks there risked setting Stockholm on a collision course with Washington (p. 159).

This, Melzer argues, is the context that helps to explain an astonishingly hasty decision by the police to notify the public prosecutor of a rape investigation against Assange minutes after a woman referred to only as “S” first spoke to a police officer in a central Stockholm station.

In fact, S and another woman, “A”, had not intended to make any allegation against Assange. After learning he had had sex with them in quick succession, they wanted him to take an HIV test. They thought approaching the police would force his hand (p. 115). The police had other ideas.

The irregularities in the handling of the case are so numerous, Melzer spends the best part of 100 pages documenting them. The women’s testimonies were not recorded, transcribed verbatim, or witnessed by a second officer. They were summarised.

The same, deeply flawed procedure – one that made it impossible to tell whether leading questions influenced their testimony or whether significant information was excluded – was employed during the interviews of witnesses friendly to the women. Assange’s interview and those of his allies, by contrast, were recorded and transcribed verbatim (p. 132).

The reason for the women making their statements – the desire to get an HIV test from Assange – was not mentioned in the police summaries.

In the case of S, her testimony was later altered without her knowledge, in highly dubious circumstances that have never been explained (pp. 139-41). The original text is redacted so it is impossible to know what was altered.

Stranger still, a criminal report of rape was logged against Assange on the police computer system at 4.11pm, 11 minutes after the initial meeting with S and 10 minutes before a senior officer had begun interviewing S – and two and half hours before that interview would finish (pp. 119-20).

In another sign of the astounding speed of developments, Sweden’s public prosecutor had received two criminal reports against Assange from the police by 5pm, long before the interview with S had been completed. The prosecutor then immediately issued an arrest warrant against Assange before the police summary was written and without taking into account that S did not agree to sign it (p. 121).

Almost immediately, the information was leaked to the Swedish media, and within an hour of receiving the criminal reports the public prosecutor had broken protocol by confirming the details to the Swedish media (p. 126).

Secret amendments

The constant lack of transparency in the treatment of Assange by Swedish, British, US, and Ecuadorian authorities becomes a theme in Melzer’s book. Evidence is not made available under freedom of information laws, or, if it is, it is heavily redacted or only some parts are released – presumably those that do not risk undermining the official narrative.

For four years, Assange’s lawyers were denied any copies of the text messages the two Swedish women sent – on the grounds they were “classified”. The messages were also denied to the Swedish courts, even when they were deliberating on whether to extend an arrest warrant for Assange (p. 124).

It was not until nine years later those messages were made public, though Melzer notes that the index numbers show many continue to be withheld. Most notably, 12 messages sent by S from the police station – when she is known to have been unhappy at the police narrative being imposed on her – are missing. They would likely have been crucial to Assange’s defence (p. 125).

Similarly, much of the later correspondence between British and Swedish prosecutors that kept Assange trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy for years was destroyed – even while the Swedish preliminary investigation was supposedly still being pursued (p. 106).

The text messages from the women that have been released, however, suggest strongly that they felt they were being railroaded into a version of events they had not agreed to.

Slowly they relented, the texts suggest, as the juggernaut of the official narrative bore down on them, with the implied threat that if they disputed it they risked prosecution themselves for providing false testimony (p. 130).

Moments after S entered the police station, she texted a friend to say that “the police officer appears to like the idea of getting him [Assange]” (p. 117).

In a later message, she writes that it was “the police who made up the charges” (p. 129). And when the state assigns her a high-profile lawyer, she observes only that she hopes he will get her “out of this shit” (p. 136).

In a further text, she says: “I didn’t want to be part of it [the case against Assange], but now I have no choice” (p. 137).

It was on the basis of the secret amendments made to S’s testimony by the police that the first prosecutor’s decision to drop the case against Assange was overturned, and the investigation reopened (p. 141). As Melzer notes, the faint hope of launching a prosecution of Assange essentially rested on one word: whether S was “asleep”, “half-asleep” or “sleepy” when they had sex.

Melzer write that “as long as the Swedish authorities are allowed to hide behind the convenient veil of secrecy, the truth about this dubious episode may never come to light” (p. 141).

No ordinary extradition’

These and many, many other glaring irregularities in the Swedish preliminary investigation documented by Melzer are vital to decoding what comes next. Or as Melzer concludes “the authorities were not pursuing justice in this case but a completely different, purely political agenda” (p. 147).

With the investigation hanging over his head, Assange struggled to build on the momentum of the Iraq and Afghanistan logs revealing systematic war crimes committed by the US and UK.

“The involved governments had successfully snatched the spotlight directed at them by WikiLeaks, turned it around, and pointed it at Assange,” Melzer observes.

They have been doing the same ever since.

Assange was given permission to leave Sweden after the new prosecutor assigned to the case repeatedly declined to interview him a second time (pp. 153-4).

But as soon as Assange departed for London, an Interpol Red Notice was issued, another extraordinary development given its use for serious international crimes, setting the stage for the fugitive-from-justice narrative (p. 167).

A European Arrest Warrant was approved by the UK courts soon afterwards – but, again exceptionally, after the judges had reversed the express will of the British parliament that such warrants could only be issued by a “judicial authority” in the country seeking extradition not the police or a prosecutor (pp. 177- 9).

A law was passed shortly after the ruling to close that loophole and make sure no one else would suffer Assange’s fate (p. 180).

As the noose tightened around the neck not only of Assange but WikiLeaks too – the group was denied server capacity, its bank accounts were blocked, credit companies refused to process payments (p. 172) – Assange had little choice but to accept that the US was the moving force behind the scenes.

He hurried into the Ecuadorean embassy after being offered political asylum. A new chapter of the same story was about to begin.

British officials in the Crown Prosecution Service, as the few surviving emails show, were the ones bullying their Swedish counterparts to keep going with the case as Swedish interest flagged. The UK, supposedly a disinterested party, insisted behind the scenes that Assange must be required to leave the embassy – and his asylum – to be interviewed in Stockholm (p. 174).

A CPS lawyer told Swedish counterparts “don’t you dare get cold feet!” (p. 186).

As Christmas neared, the Swedish prosecutor joked about Assange being a present, “I am OK without… In fact, it would be a shock to get that one!” (p. 187).

When she discussed with the CPS Swedish doubts about continuing the case, she apologised for “ruining your weekend” (p. 188).

In yet another email, a British CPS lawyer advised “please do not think that the case is being dealt with as just another extradition request” (p. 176).

Embassy spying operation

That may explain why William Hague, the UK’s foreign secretary at the time, risked a major diplomatic incident by threatening to violate Ecuadorean sovereignty and invade the embassy to arrest Assange (p. 184).

And why Sir Alan Duncan, a UK government minister, made regular entries in his diary, later published as a book, on how he was working aggressively behind the scenes to get Assange out of the embassy (pp. 200, 209, 273, 313).

And why the British police were ready to spend £16 million of public money besieging the embassy for seven years to enforce an extradition Swedish prosecutors seemed entirely uninterested in advancing (p. 188).

Ecuador, the only country ready to offer Assange sanctuary, rapidly changed course once its popular left-wing president Rafael Correa stepped down in 2017. His successor, Lenin Moreno, came under enormous diplomatic pressure from Washington and was offered significant financial incentives to give up Assange (p. 212).

At first, this appears to have chiefly involved depriving Assange of almost all contact with the outside world, including access to the internet, and telephone and launching a media demonisation campaign that portrayed him as abusing his cat and smearing faeces on the wall (pp. 207-9).

At the same time, the CIA worked with the embassy’s security firm to launch a sophisticated, covert spying operation of Assange and all his visitors, including his doctors and lawyers (p. 200). We now know that the CIA was also considering plans to kidnap or assassinate Assange (p. 218).

Finally in April 2019, having stripped Assange of his citizenship and asylum – in flagrant violation of international and Ecuadorean law – Quito let the British police seize him (p. 213).

He was dragged into the daylight, his first public appearance in many months, looking unshaven and unkempt – a “demented looking gnome“, as a long-time Guardian columnist called him.

In fact, Assange’s image had been carefully managed to alienate the watching world. Embassy staff had confiscated his shaving and grooming kit months earlier.

Meanwhile, Assange’s personal belongings, his computer, and documents were seized and transferred not to his family or lawyers, or even the British authorities, but to the US – the real author of this drama (p. 214).

That move, and the fact that the CIA had spied on Assange’s conversations with his lawyers inside the embassy, should have sufficiently polluted any legal proceedings against Assange to require that he walk free.

But the rule of law, as Melzer keeps noting, has never seemed to matter in Assange’s case.

Quite the reverse, in fact. Assange was immediately taken to a London police station where a new arrest warrant was issued for his extradition to the US.

The same afternoon Assange appeared before a court for half an hour, with no time to prepare a defence, to be tried for a seven-year-old bail violation over his being granted asylum in the embassy (p. 48).

He was sentenced to 50 weeks – almost the maximum possible – in Belmarsh high-security prison, where he has been ever since.

Apparently, it occurred neither to the British courts nor to the media that the reason Assange had violated his bail conditions was precisely to avoid the political extradition to the US he was faced with as soon as he was forced out of the embassy.

‘Living in a tyranny’

Much of the rest of Melzer’s book documents in disturbing detail what he calls the current “Anglo-American show trial”: the endless procedural abuses Assange has faced over the past three years as British judges have failed to prevent what Melzer argues should be seen as not just one but a raft of glaring miscarriages of justice.

Not least, extradition on political grounds is expressly forbidden under Britain’s extradition treaty with the US (pp. 178-80, 294-5). But yet again the law counts for nothing when it applies to Assange.

The decision on extradition now rests with Patel, the hawkish home secretary who previously had to resign from the government for secret dealings with a foreign power, Israel, and is behind the government’s current draconian plan to ship asylum seekers to Rwanda, almost certainly in violation of the UN Refugee Convention.

Melzer has repeatedly complained to the UK, the US, Sweden, and Ecuador about the many procedural abuses in Assange’s case, as well as the psychological torture he has been subjected to. All four, the UN rapporteur points out, have either stonewalled or treated his inquiries with open contempt (pp. 235-44).

Assange can never hope to get a fair trial in the US, Melzer notes. First, politicians from across the spectrum, including the last two US presidents, have publicly damned Assange as a spy, terrorist, or traitor and many have suggested he deserves death (p. 216-7).

And, second, because he would be tried in the notorious “espionage court” in Alexandria, Virginia, located in the heart of the US intelligence and security establishment, without public or press access (pp. 220-2).

No jury there would be sympathetic to what Assange did in exposing their community’s crimes. Or as Melzer observes: “Assange would get a secret state-security trial very similar to those conducted in dictatorships” (p. 223).

And once in the US, Assange would likely never be seen again, under “special administrative measures” (SAMs) that would keep him in total isolation 24-hours-a-day (pp. 227-9). Melzer calls SAMs “another fraudulent label for torture”.

Melzer’s book is not just a documentation of the persecution of one dissident. He notes that Washington has been meting out abuses on all dissidents, including most famously the whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.

Assange’s case is so important, Melzer argues, because it marks the moment when western states not only target those working within the system who blow the whistle that breaks their confidentiality contracts, but those outside it too – those like journalists and publishers whose very role in a democratic society is to act as a watchdog on power.

If we do nothing, Melzer’s book warns, we will wake up to find the world transformed. Or as he concludes: “Once telling the truth has become a crime, we will all be living in a tyranny” (p. 331).

The Trial of Julian Assange by Nils Melzer is published by Verso.

First published by Middle East Eye

The post The persecution of Julian Assange first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Noise Matters: Wind Farms, Nuisance and the Law

For years, the Australian wind farm has been reviled as ugly, noisy and unendearing by a certain number of prominent figures.  Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott pathologized them, calling wind turbines the “dark satanic mills of the modern era”, being not merely aesthetically problematic but damaging to health.

The latter view has been rejected by the National Health and Medical Research Council, which found “no consistent evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects in humans” though it accepted at the time “that further high quality research on the possible health effects of wind farms is required.”  Literature examining the nature of wind farm complaints also notes “large historical and geographical differences in the distribution of complainants in Australia.”

Current Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is another figure who never misses a chance to question the broader use of wind power.  In New South Wales, where his electorate is based, he has warned the NSW government to “be careful” about using more turbines.  “It’s not a bowl of cherries in this space,” observed the Nationals leader in characteristically gnomic fashion, “and that’s why you’ve got to keep your base load power going.”

This has placed him at odds with the State government and its renewable energy agenda.  Criticism of the New England renewable energy zone as turning his electorate “into a sea of wind farms” did not impress NSW agriculture minister Adam Marshall in December 2020.  In The Land newspaper, Marshall, who is also a member of the Nationals, regarded such criticism as “banal and binary and prehistoric”.

On March 25, the Victorian Supreme Court gave private citizens some cause for joy, and policy makers and corporations a potential cause for concern, in challenging the way such farms operate.  The judgment found that the noise from the Bald Hills Wind Farm based at Tarwin Lower in South Gippsland, “caused substantial interference with both plaintiffs’ enjoyment of their land – specifically, their ability to sleep undisturbed at night, in their own beds in their own homes.”

There had been a sufficient nuisance to warrant the awarding of damages and an injunction on the company from continuing to cause the noise at night, Bald Hills having failed to establish “that the sound received at either [the plaintiffs’ houses] complied with noise conditions in the permit at any time.”  While the relevant Minister for Planning might “initiate enforcement action”, it was up to the court or tribunal to determine whether compliance had taken place.

The two individuals in question – John Zakula and Noel Uren – sued the wind farm in 2021 claiming the infliction of “roaring” noise by the wind turbines.  It transpires that Bald Hills had form of the most condescending sort.  Since commencing operations in 2015, it had received “many complaints from neighbouring residents and landowners about noise from wind turbines.”  In 2015 alone, the Bald Hill complaints register recorded 50 complaints, some from Uren and Zakula, and all about noise disruption.

The company’s behaviour in responding to the complaints did not impress the court.  Justice Melinda Richards decided that awarding aggravated damages was entirely appropriate.  “The manner in which Bald Hills dealt with the plaintiffs’ reasonable and legitimate complaints of noise, over many years, at least doubled the impact of the loss of amenity each of them suffered at their homes.”  The judge decided that Uren should receive $46,000 in aggravated damages, with Zakula to pocket $84,000.

Justice Richards was not amiss to the implications of such a decision.  Unlike the Australian Deputy Prime Minister, she showed no signs of pre-historic tendencies in her reasoning.  Wind power generation, she accepted, was “a socially beneficial activity”.  There was no reason, however, why it was not “possible to achieve both a good night’s sleep and power generation at the same time.”  The evidence presented to the court “did not suggest […] that there is a binary choice to be made between the generation of clean energy by the wind farm, and a good night’s sleep for its neighbours.”  The company could well have responded to the complaints of Uren and Zakula adequately “while continuing to generate renewable energy.”

When seen in its more specific context, the decision furnishes the renewable energy sector with a critical lesson.  Even when engaged in socially responsible activities – in this case, renewable energy production – companies must be mindful of the implications of their behaviour to neighbouring residents.  Being green and environmentally sound are noble ventures, but hardly enough when it comes to inflicting a nightmare upon residents.

Dominica Tannock, representing both plaintiffs, suggested after her clients’ victory that, “The implications are corporate Australia will have to be very careful about complaints.”  It was incumbent on the company to behave reasonably, fairly and “protect people’s sleep and if they don’t there is a precedent [now that] they can be shut down.”

The owner of the Bald Hills Wind Farm, Infrastructure Capital Group, said little in a statement response to the ruling, merely that it was “currently absorbing the judgment and its implications”.  They will not be the only ones.

The post Noise Matters: Wind Farms, Nuisance and the Law first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Bernard Collaery’s War Against Secret Trials

In terms of labyrinthine callousness and indifference to justice, the treatment of lawyer Bernard Collaery by the Australian government must be slotted alongside that of another noted Australian currently being held in the maximum-security facility of Belmarsh, London.  While Collaery has not suffered the same deprivations of liberty as publisher extraordinaire Julian Assange, both share the target status accorded them by the national security state.  They are both to be punished for dealing with, and revealing, national security information compromising to the state in question.

Assange’s case is notorious and grotesque enough: held in Belmarsh for three years without charge; facing extradition to the United States for a dubiously cobbled indictment bolted to the Espionage Act of 1917 – a US statute that is being extra-territorially expanded to target non-US nationals who publish classified information overseas.

Collaery’s is less internationally known, though it should banish any suggestions that Assange would necessarily face much fairer treatment in the Australian justice system.  The barrister is being prosecuted under section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act 2001 (Cth) for conspiracy to reveal classified information.  He was consulted by now convicted former intelligence officer Witness K, who was responsible for leading a 2004 spying operation conducted by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) that led to the bugging of cabinet offices used by the East Timorese government.

The operation was instigated in the predatory spirit of corporate greed: Australia was involved in treaty negotiations with Timor-Leste regarding access to oil and gas reserves at the time and wished to privilege its own resource companies through spying on their counterparts.  Former attorney general of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Collaery came onto the scene after Witness K, on being involved in a workplace dispute in 2008, revealed that he had directed the bugging operation.  After going to the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, the ethically agitated Witness K consulted the ASIS-approved lawyer.

The bureaucrats of secrecy were hoping that things might have been contained.  Instead, a juggernaut of information began to leave the terminus of secrecy.  Collaery considered the spying operation a violation of ACT law.  In 2013, both men made themselves available for the East Timorese cause in testifying at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague.  Australia’s illegal operation, and bad faith to a neighbour and purported friend, was being given an unwanted airing.  The case being made against Canberra was that the treaty, because of the bugging, had been rendered void.

An unimpressed Commonwealth responded by raiding the Canberra premises of the two individuals.  Nothing, however, was done till 2018, when the new and zealous Attorney General Christopher Porter commenced prosecutions against the pair.  The Kafkaesque clincher in the whole affair was the effort by Porter to make most of the trial proceedings inaccessible to the public. Porter also imposed a national security order without precedent, preventing the parties from divulging details of the prosecution to the public or press.

Witness K, after pleading guilty, received a three-month suspended sentence and was placed on a 12-month good behaviour bond.  Collaery has been left to counter five charges alleging that he communicated information to various ABC journalists prepared by or on behalf of ASIS and allegedly conspired with Witness K to communicate that same information to the Government of Timor-Leste.

In assessing the ongoing prosecution against him, Collaery observed in an interview with Sydney Criminal Lawyers, that he had been charged with conspiracy for giving “frank and fearless advice”.  The charge against Witness K meant that it was “a crime to report a crime.  Think about it.  That’s Australia at present.”

Since then, Collaery has waged a relentless campaign against efforts by the Australian government to muzzle proceedings to conceal both embarrassment and blatant criminality.  In June 2020, he had a stumble before the first judge, who made orders under the National Security Information (Criminal and Proceedings) Act 2004 (Cth) to prohibit the disclosure of compromising evidence that might be adduced by Collaery during the trial.  The court found that Collaery’s right to a fair hearing would not be compromised by the nondisclosure orders, and that the need to protect national security outweighed the desirability of conducting proceedings in public.

In October, ACT appeals court reversed the decision, finding that six “identified matters” in the Commonwealth case against him should be made publicly available.  The court found that the risk of damage to public confidence in the justice system was outweighed by any risk posed to national security.  The open hearings of criminal trials “deterred political prosecutions” and permitted “the public to scrutinise the actions of prosecutors, and permitted the public to properly assess the conduct of the accused person.”

While a summary of the decision was made available, the full reasons for the decision have not.  The current Attorney General, the otherwise invisible Michaelia Cash, has attempted to suppress the full publication of the judgment.  The ploy being used here is a particularly insidious one: that the case involves “court-only” evidence which Collaery and his defence team are not entitled to see.  The ploy, dressed up as an effort to update the evidence, is an attempt to introduce new material via the backdoor.  The Commonwealth, in its desperation, is running out of ideas.

In March, ACT Supreme Court Justice David Mossop found that the court could receive such evidence through the office of an appointed special counsel who might be able to access the documents.  The appointee would be able to advocate for Collaery thereby reducing “the disadvantage to the defendant arising from the non-disclosure of the material”.

This month, federal Solicitor-General Stephen Donoghue argued in the High Court that this modest compromise would not do.  Not even a special counsel should cast eyes over such evidence in the name of protecting national security.  “If this isn’t stopped, the (earlier ACT) judgment could be released without the redactions we need.”

The three High Court justices hearing the case did not conceal their puzzlement.  Justice Michelle Gordon observed with some tartness that this was “a fragmentation of proceedings at its worst”.  Justice James Edelman was bemused. “What you say is the error is that the [ACT] Chief Justice didn’t make the orders you wanted.”  Donoghue’s feeble reason: that publishing the full ACT judgment should be delayed till the dispute on “court-only” evidence could be resolved.

This charade now continues its ghastly way back to the ACT Supreme Court.  Even now, dates of the actual trial, times and so forth, have yet to be set.  This will no doubt give prosecutors further time to cook up something.  All rather galling coming from a government which has the temerity to complain about the way secret trials are conducted in other countries against its citizens.

The post Bernard Collaery’s War Against Secret Trials first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Jackboots Policing: No-Knock Raids Rip a Hole in the Fourth Amendment

We’re all potential victims.

— Peter Christ, retired police officer

It’s the middle of the night.

Your neighborhood is in darkness. Your household is asleep.

Suddenly, you’re awakened by a loud noise.

Someone or an army of someones has crashed through your front door.

The intruders are in your home.

Your heart begins racing. Your stomach is tied in knots. The adrenaline is pumping through you.

You’re not just afraid. You’re terrified.

Desperate to protect yourself and your loved ones from whatever threat has invaded your home, you scramble to lay hold of something—anything—that you might use in self-defense. It might be a flashlight, a baseball bat, or that licensed and registered gun you thought you’d never need.

You brace for the confrontation.

Shadowy figures appear at the doorway, screaming orders, threatening violence.

Chaos reigns.

You stand frozen, your hands gripping whatever means of self-defense you could find.

Just that simple act—of standing frozen in fear and self-defense—is enough to spell your doom.

The assailants open fire, sending a hail of bullets in your direction.

You die without ever raising a weapon or firing a gun in self-defense.

In your final moments, you get a good look at your assassins: it’s the police.

Brace yourself, because this hair-raising, heart-pounding, jarring account of a no-knock, no-announce SWAT team raid is what passes for court-sanctioned policing in America today, and it could happen to any one of us.

Nationwide, SWAT teams routinely invade homes, break down doors, kill family pets (they always shoot the dogs first), damage furnishings, terrorize families, and wound or kill those unlucky enough to be present during a raid.

No longer reserved exclusively for deadly situations, SWAT teams are now increasingly being deployed for relatively routine police matters such as serving a search warrant, with some SWAT teams being sent out as much as five times a day.

SWAT teams have been employed to address an astonishingly trivial array of so-called criminal activity or mere community nuisances: angry dogs, domestic disputes, improper paperwork filed by an orchid farmer, and misdemeanor marijuana possession, to give a brief sampling. In some instances, SWAT teams are even employed, in full armament, to perform routine patrols.

These raids, which might be more aptly referred to as “knock-and-shoot” policing, have become a thinly veiled, court-sanctioned means of giving heavily armed police the green light to crash through doors in the middle of the night.

No-knock raids, a subset of the violent, terror-inducing raids carried out by police SWAT teams on unsuspecting households, differ in one significant respect: they are carried out without police having to announce and identify themselves as police.

It’s a chilling difference: to the homeowner targeted for one of these no-knock raids. It appears as if they are being set upon by villains mounting a home invasion.

Never mind that the unsuspecting homeowner, woken from sleep by the sounds of a violent entry, has no way of distinguishing between a home invasion by criminals as opposed to a police mob. In many instances, there is little real difference.

According to an in-depth investigative report by The Washington Post, “police carry out tens of thousands of no-knock raids every year nationwide.”

While the Fourth Amendment requires that police obtain a warrant based on probable cause before they can enter one’s home, search and seize one’s property, or violate one’s privacy, SWAT teams are granted “no-knock” warrants at high rates such that the warrants themselves are rendered practically meaningless.

If these aggressive, excessive police tactics have also become troublingly commonplace, it is in large part due to judges who largely rubberstamp the warrant requests based only on the word of police; police who have been known to lie or fabricate the facts in order to justify their claims of “reasonable suspicion” (as opposed to the higher standard of probable cause, which is required by the Constitution before any government official can search an individual or his property); and software that allows judges to remotely approve requests using computers, cellphones or tablets.

This sorry state of affairs is made even worse by U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have essentially done away with the need for a “no-knock” warrant altogether, giving the police authority to disregard the protections afforded American citizens by the Fourth Amendment.

In addition to the terror brought on by these raids, general incompetence, collateral damage (fatalities, property damage, etc.) and botched raids are also characteristic of these SWAT team raids. In some cases, officers misread the address on the warrant. In others, they simply barge into the wrong house or even the wrong building. In another subset of cases, police conduct a search of a building where the suspect no longer resides.

SWAT teams have even on occasion conducted multiple, sequential raids on wrong addresses or executed search warrants despite the fact that the suspect is already in police custody. Police have also raided homes on the basis of mistaking the presence or scent of legal substances for drugs. Incredibly, these substances have included tomatoes, sunflowers, fish, elderberry bushes, kenaf plants, hibiscus, and ragweed.

All too often, botched SWAT team raids have resulted in one tragedy after another for the residents with little consequences for law enforcement.

The horror stories have become legion in which homeowners are injured or killed simply because they mistook a SWAT team raid by police for a home invasion by criminals. Too often, the destruction of life and property wrought by the police is no less horrifying than that carried out by criminal invaders.

As one might expect, judges tend to afford extreme levels of deference to police officers who have mistakenly killed innocent civilians but do not afford similar leniency to civilians who have injured police officers in acts of self-defense. Indeed, homeowners who mistake officers for robbers can be sentenced for assault or murder if they take defensive actions resulting in harm to police.

Yet the shock-and-awe tactics utilized by many SWAT teams only increases the likelihood that someone will get hurt.

That’s exactly what happened to Jose Guerena, the young ex-Marine who was killed after a SWAT team kicked open the door of his Arizona home during a drug raid and opened fire. According to news reports, Guerena, 26 years old and the father of two young children, grabbed a gun in response to the forced invasion but never fired. In fact, the safety was still on his gun when he was killed. Police officers were not as restrained. The young Iraqi war veteran was allegedly fired upon 71 times. Guerena had no prior criminal record, and the police found nothing illegal in his home.

Aiyana Jones is dead because of a SWAT raid gone awry. The 7-year-old was killed after a Detroit SWAT team—searching for a suspect—launched a flash-bang grenade into her family’s apartment, broke through the door and opened fire, hitting the little girl who was asleep on the living room couch. The cops weren’t even in the right apartment.

Exhibiting a similar lack of basic concern for public safety, a Georgia SWAT team launched a flash-bang grenade into the house in which Baby Bou Bou, his three sisters and his parents were staying. The grenade landed in the 2-year-old’s crib, burning a hole in his chest and leaving him with scarring that a lifetime of surgeries will not be able to easily undo.

Payton, a 7-year-old black Labrador retriever, and 4-year-old Chase, also a black Lab, were shot and killed after a SWAT team mistakenly raided the mayor’s home while searching for drugs. Police shot Payton four times. Chase was shot twice, once from behind as he ran away. “My government blew through my doors and killed my dogs. They thought we were drug dealers, and we were treated as such. I don’t think they really ever considered that we weren’t,” recalls Mayor Cheye Calvo, who described being handcuffed and interrogated for hours—wearing only underwear and socks—surrounded by the dogs’ carcasses and pools of the dogs’ blood.

If these violent SWAT team raids have become tragically widespread, you can chalk it up to the “make-work” principle that has been used to justify the transfer of sophisticated military equipment, weaponry and training to local police departments, which in turn has helped to transform police into extensions of the military—a standing army on American soil.

The problem, as one reporter rightly concluded, is “not that life has gotten that much more dangerous, it’s that authorities have chosen to respond to even innocent situations as if they were in a warzone.”

A study by a political scientist at Princeton University concludes that militarizing police and SWAT teams “provide no detectable benefits in terms of officer safety or violent crime reduction.” The study, the first systematic analysis on the use and consequences of militarized force, reveals that “police militarization neither reduces rates of violent crime nor changes the number of officers assaulted or killed.”

SWAT teams, designed to defuse dangerous situations such as those involving hostages, were never meant to be used for routine police work targeting nonviolent suspects, yet they have become intrinsic parts of federal and local law enforcement operations.

There are few communities without a SWAT team today.

In 1980, there were roughly 3,000 SWAT team-style raids in the US.

Incredibly, that number has since grown to more than 80,000 SWAT team raids per year.

Where this becomes a problem of life and death for Americans is when these militarized SWAT teams are assigned to carry out routine law enforcement tasks.

In the state of Maryland alone, 92 percent of 8200 SWAT missions were used to execute search or arrest warrants.

Police in both Baltimore and Dallas have used SWAT teams to bust up poker games.

A Connecticut SWAT team swarmed a bar suspected of serving alcohol to underage individuals.

In Arizona, a SWAT team was used to break up an alleged cockfighting ring.

An Atlanta SWAT team raided a music studio, allegedly out of a concern that it might have been involved in illegal music piracy.

A Minnesota SWAT team raided the wrong house in the middle of the night, handcuffed the three young children, held the mother on the floor at gunpoint, shot the family dog, and then “forced the handcuffed children to sit next to the carcass of their dead pet and bloody pet for more than an hour” while they searched the home.

A California SWAT team drove an armored Lenco Bearcat into Roger Serrato’s yard, surrounded his home with paramilitary troops wearing face masks, threw a fire-starting flashbang grenade into the house in order, then when Serrato appeared at a window, unarmed and wearing only his shorts, held him at bay with rifles. Serrato died of asphyxiation from being trapped in the flame-filled house. Incredibly, the father of four had done nothing wrong. The SWAT team had misidentified him as someone involved in a shooting.

And then there was the police officer who tripped and “accidentally” shot and killed Eurie Stamps, an unarmed grandfather of 12, who had been forced to lie face-down on the floor of his home at gunpoint while a SWAT team attempted to execute a search warrant against his stepson.

Equally outrageous was the four-hour SWAT team raid on a California high school, where students were locked down in classrooms, forced to urinate in overturned desks and generally terrorized by heavily armed, masked gunmen searching for possible weapons that were never found.

These incidents underscore a dangerous mindset in which the citizenry (often unarmed and defenseless) not only have less rights than militarized police, but also one in which the safety of the citizenry is treated as a lower priority than the safety of their police counterparts (who are armed to the hilt with an array of lethal and nonlethal weapons).

Likewise, our privacy, property and security are no longer safe from government intrusion.

Yet it wasn’t always this way.

There was a time in America when a person’s home was a sanctuary, safe and secure from the threat of invasion by government agents, who were held at bay by the dictates of the Fourth Amendment, which protects American citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Fourth Amendment, in turn, was added to the U.S. Constitution by colonists still smarting from the abuses they had been forced to endure while under British rule, among these home invasions by the military under the guise of “writs of assistance.” These writs gave British soldiers blanket authority to raid homes, damage property and wreak havoc for any reason whatsoever, without any expectation of probable cause.

To our detriment, we have come full circle to a time before the American Revolution when government agents—with the blessing of the courts—could force their way into a citizen’s home, with seemingly little concern for lives lost and property damaged in the process.

Rubber-stamped, court-issued warrants for no-knock SWAT team raids have become the modern-day equivalent of colonial-era writs of assistance.

Then again, we may be worse off today when one considers the extent to which courts have sanctioned the use of no-knock raids by police SWAT teams (occurring at a rate of more than 80,000 a year and growing); the arsenal of lethal weapons available to local police agencies; the ease with which courts now dispense search warrants based often on little more than a suspicion of wrongdoing; and the inability of police to distinguish between reasonable suspicion and the higher standard of probable cause.

This is exactly what we can expect more of as a result of President Biden’s commitment to expand law enforcement and so-called crime prevention at taxpayer expense.

Yet as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, no matter what the politicians insist to the contrary, militarized police armed with weapons of war who are empowered to carry out pre-dawn raids on our homes, shoot our pets, and terrorize our families are not making America any safer or freer.

The post Jackboots Policing: No-Knock Raids Rip a Hole in the Fourth Amendment first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Imprisoned Venezuelan Diplomat Contests Extraterritorial Judicial Abuse

Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab’s case took a dramatic turn as his legal defense team denounced the US government’s flagrant failure to respect long-standing diplomatic immunity conventions. Saab’s lawyer, David Rivkin, called the US government’s arguments before the 11th Circuit Court in Miami “utterly dangerous.” “The implication,” he added is that “because you are a disfavored regime, because you’re Venezuela under Maduro…we’re going to treat you as somehow you lost the Westphalian entitlement to sovereignty.” And with that, Rivkin pretty much summed up the US imperial view of the world.

At issue at the April 6 hearing was Saab’s claim to diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomat Relations. This international law, to which the US is a signatory, affords accredited diplomats absolute protection from arrest and prosecution even in time of war. Referring to the war in Ukraine, Saab’s attorney reminded the court that the principle at stake is “vital to the effective functioning of diplomacy for all states…[which] is all the more imperative these days.”

Charges against Alex Saab

Alex Saab, who was appointed as a special envoy by Venezuela in 2018, was initially detained on orders of the US on June 12, 2020. He was en route from Caracas to Tehran when his plane made a fueling stop in Cabo Verde. Saab had in his possession his diplomatic passport and other documents (see them on online) commensurate with his diplomatic mission.

Saab had been on a mission to procure humanitarian supplies of basic food, fuel, and medicine for Venezuela from Iran in legal international trade but in circumvention of the illegal US sanctions and blockade of Venezuela. The US had identified Saab as a key player in the resistance to the US’s economic war against Venezuela.

After being held in tortuous conditions in Cabo Verde for nearly 500 days, the US kidnapped Saab a second time and has imprisoned him in Miami since October 16, 2021. Washington did not have an extradition treaty with Cabo Verde and did not inform Saab’s lawyers or family before flying him to the US.

The US government dropped its initial seven counts of money laundering and retained only one count of “conspiracy” to money launder, to which Saab pleaded not guilty in US District Court last November. That charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment. In this instance of extraterritorial judicial overreach by Washington, the defense has noted that Saab is neither a US citizen nor was the alleged crime committed in the US.

Functional denial of immunity

A half a year from now, Saab is scheduled to go on trial in the 8th District Court on the single conspiracy charge. His appearance this April 6 at the 11th Circuit Court was on appeal on the grounds that, like any other diplomat, he is protected by the Vienna Convention, which affords him absolute immunity from prosecution.

Saab’s attorney, Rivkin, argued before the appellate court that “every day Mr. Saab is in prison is a grave breach. It’s almost a First Amendment type situation. It’s irreparable harm to him. It’s irreparable harm to the sovereign state whose diplomatic agent he is.”

The US government attorney on April 6 maintained in court that Saab’s “claim of special envoy status is simply a ruse made up by a rogue nation to allow a defendant to escape criminal charges in the US.” On this basis, US prosecutor Jeremy Sanders argued that Saab should just wait however many more years behind bars it takes until after the conspiracy charge is adjudicated in the lower court. Then, if found guilty, he could try to contest his denial of diplomatic immunity.

Even Circuit Court Judge Jordan challenged the US government attorney, using the hypothetical example of a state court criminally charging a US president. The judge quipped that rather than wait for the lower count trial to proceed, “you’d be up at the appellate court in a heartbeat, arguing that that issue had to be resolved immediately. Right?”

Judge Luck, also on the three-judge panel, added that “the failure to rule on it [diplomatic immunity] is itself a decision to bring someone in, to haul someone into court when they are not otherwise required or entitled to be in court;” that is, a “functional denial of immunity” in Judge Jordan’s words.

The court “will take the matter under advisement,” which is legalese to say they will mull it over as Saab continues to languish in prison.

International support for Alex Saab

Meanwhile, outside the courthouse, William Camacaro, head of the US #FreeAlexSaab Campaign, along with its honorary chair, Puerto Rican liberation hero, Oscar López Rivera, led a demonstration in support of Saab. Similar support rallies were held elsewhere in North America and internationally.

The Venezuelan National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution condemning what its president, Jorge Rodríguez, called an “act of immeasurable hypocrisy” by the US.

The National Lawyers Guild called for Saab’s immediate release, commenting that the case reflects on “the extent to which the US government will go in order to enforce its unilateral coercive measures and economic sanctions against Venezuela, Iran and other targeted nations.”

This is a politically motivated case, not a legal one, and is “really about the international order and viability of diplomacy,” according to counsel Femi Falana. Falana was Saab’s lead attorney before the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice, which twice ordered Saab to be liberated when he was held in Cabo Verde.

Venezuela’s successful resistance to US economic warfare

The Biden administration, which had continued Trump’s “maximum pressure” blockade of Venezuela, is showing signs of needing to make amends with its Latin American neighbor. An already inflationary US economy has been rendered yet more volatile with Washington’s sanctions on Moscow causing increased prices at the gas pump. This led to a visit that would have been unthinkable for Washington a few months earlier.

A high-level US delegation visited Caracas in early March to meet with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, presumably to negotiate an oil trade deal. While there has been no official confirmation of such a deal, the visit implicitly recognized the legitimacy of the elected president of Venezuela, handing Maduro a major victory. Meanwhile, the hapless Juan Guaidó, recognized as the “interim president” of Venezuela only by the US and a few of its most sycophantic allies, may soon be history.

According to the UN, the US sanctions initially reduced Venezuelan government revenues by an extraordinary 99% and fueled astronomic hyperinflation. Venezuela’s successful resistance, aided by Saab and many others, has foiled the US attempt to foment regime change through imposition of what the UN calls “unilateral coercive measures,” a form of collective punishment and economic warfare. Rather, Venezuela’s once devastated economy is rejuvenating.

In the last month, Venezuela’s inflation slowed down to 1.4%, which is lower than before Obama first imposed sanctions in 2015. The national consumer price index has been below 10% for the last seven months. The investment bank Credit Suisse projects a remarkable 20% GDP growth in 2022 and 8% more in 2023 for Venezuela. According to political analyst Ben Norton, “the worst of this US-fueled economic crisis has passed.”

Alex Saab was instrumental in the economic turnaround. Venezuelan National Assembly President Rodríguez credited Saab with helping to “overcome the most brutal attack the country suffered,” which is precisely why the US has persecuted him. And the Venezuelan government has made clear that they will not abandon, in the words of President Maduro, their “kidnapped” diplomat.

The post Imprisoned Venezuelan Diplomat Contests Extraterritorial Judicial Abuse first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Everyday is Domestic Violence Awareness Day: Not Just a Week in October

It is the large crime of multiple dimensions. Spousal abuse. Hundreds of millions of women trapped. Trapped not of their own doing, though every sort of flippant or fierce man, and some women, will turn blue on their room temperature IQ faces stating, drum roll:

  • how can a woman stay in that sort of relationship?
  • she could have left anytime
  • didn’t see the red flags before committing?
  • how can this go on for one, three, five, ten years . . . something is wrong with that woman
  • it takes TWO to tango . . .
  • women expect too much from men . . . yelling back and forth is not abuse
  • leave this up to the courts and cops . . . if they can’t charge a man with DV, then leave it alone
  • something is broken in this woman . . . she attracts that sort of relationship . . .

Oh, the stories go on and on. Even judges throughout this rot-gut land, blaming the victim, of course, in open court. Rape victims in their late teens, told they CAUSED the sexual assault by the way they dressed, where they went for drinks and for the drinks they drank.

Do the Gulag Google search — “judge blames girl for dress for rape”

Here ya go:

  • Judge accused of victim-blaming in comments on rape case…
    Mar 10, 2017 — Campaigners say Lindsey Kushner QC’s sentencing remarks were ‘the kind of thing that deters women from reporting assaults’.
  • Here Are 9 Times Clothing Was Blamed for Sexual Assault – Mich
    Apr 27, 2016 — A judge in 2006: “They made their intentions publicly known that they wanted to party.” · A police officer in 2011: “Women should avoid dressing …
  • Jury blames woman’s clothing in rape case – UPI …
    Oct 5, 1989 — Broward County Circuit Judge Mark Speiser had the woman picked up by deputies after she failed to respond to subpoeanes for court appearances.
  • Manitoba judge criticized for saying victim’s clothing, attitude …
    Feb 24, 2011 — A legal expert says a Manitoba judge’s comment during a rape sentencing that “sex was in the air” is a troubling legal throwback.
  • Peru judge throws out rape case as woman was wearing red …
  • Nov 4, 2020 — A Peruvian court has declared that a woman who wore red underwear to a party could not have been raped because the garment signalled she …
  • Judge Tosses Teen’s Sexual Assault Conviction, Drawing …
    Jan 13, 2022 — Clinton’s conviction was “a clean and clear example of victim blaming.” By highlighting the girl’s clothing and chastising the hosts of the …
  • Canadian Judge Robin Camp to woman in rape case – CNN
    Sep 13, 2016 — He blamed it on his “non-existent” knowledge of Canadian criminal law.
  • Rape victim ‘inviting,’ so no jail: Judge rules woman’s clothes …
    It should be noted that the supposition that the judge is blaming the victim is … To say that a judge let a rapist off BECAUSE of the woman’s dress, …

Now, Google this — “domestic abuse blame the victim in USA”

  • The Psychology of Victim Blaming – The Atlantic
    Oct 5, 2016 — After the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in New York banned a performer in the wake of several women accusing him of sexual assault and abuse, …
  • Why We Blame Victims for Domestic Violence
    Aug 23, 2017 — At its core, says Elise Lopez, a researcher in sexual and domestic violence prevention and response at the University of Arizona, victim-blaming …
  • Rape Culture, Victim Blaming, And The Facts
    What is Rape Culture? Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence is normalized and excused in the media and …
  • Victim blaming – Wikipedia
    Secondary victimization of sexual and other assault victims — In efforts to discredit alleged sexual assault victims in court, a defense attorney may delve into an …
  • Helping Survivors Can Be as Simple as Changing the Way …Dec 9, 2020 — In relation to domestic violence, victim blaming places the responsibility for the abuse on the survivor instead of the abuser. Blaming domestic …
  • Victim Blaming: Why is it that some victims and survivors of violent crime get blamed for what has happened to them through no fault of their own? Crime victims are often …
    4 Reasons Why Victims Blame Themselves For Domestic …Jul 20, 2020 — As an experienced Fort Lauderdale domestic violence attorney, Vanessa L. Prieto can help you take the steps needed to protect yourself.
  • Victim Blaming in Abuse and Relationships: In the arena of domestic violence, victim blaming is applied with a vengeance against survivors who stay with a primary aggressor beyond the first obviously …
    Why does everyone blame the victim in domestic violence …
  • Abusers only abuse intimate partners behind closed doors. They are very charming and nice to the partner in front of others. Abusers are very manipulative and …
  • Gaslighting & Abuse – House Of Ruth:
    Abuse may be physical, sexual, emotional, or financial. Learn the behaviors to be aware of. Domestic abuse comes in many forms. Understand emotional, verbal, physical & abuse signs.

Yes, there are a million graphics and reports and ways to frame this epidemic in the world:

But, when it comes to your door or your circle of life, you will deal with all manner of what happened and how to help a woman extract herself from the abuse. And, you will find that many communities do NOT have great domestic violence “resources,” and that shelters are few and far between. When a woman is single, has a big dog, and has no car, no bank account, no one in a new community where she and her spouse have ended up, the amount of emotional and psychic turmoil is magnified.

This one person just three days ago reached out via email to ask me for help. I barely knew her, having met her at a hardware store. And, also, I did briefly meet the woman and the construction guy at the house just up the way: amazing house, a dream, the ocean, and, well, I didn’t spend time with the woman and her husband, so the red flags or tremors of an abusive dude never hit me.

But, the email, then the phone call, then meeting the person away from the almost-completed-house, and then some plan of action. It turns out that the person is legally married, but she is working on a green card. She’s from the UK. She was in New Mexico, before the couple ended up here of all places, to build the dream home. They were working on a green card. They had flown out to NM, last Friday, and the dude, a massive alcoholic, started gulping down airline shots. A bender. And, then, the Albuquerque mother of this guy, well, she was beat down too, as a wife of this guy’s dad, who ended up flying bombers in the USA Air Force, and giving shots to the my friend’s husband and his younger brother when they were 9 and 7 respectively.

The Brit gets her Social Security card, but there are no photos of the married couple together. More than five years married, and he manipulated that. Five years now, and the house and land are in his name. One vehicle, that too in his name. He held all the money from a sale of a house from Santa Fe, which he took as cash up here. The green card is now precarious, an unknown, a probable “no.”

Now, the story really is of the woman, whose parents have heard the cry wolf story many times. Her friends, they too, although this woman, Vicky, has kept some friends in the dark about this guy’s consistent behavior. That’s typical — embarrassment, recrimination, fear, and shame.

We are talking about a 38-year-old woman. She speaks three languages. She had a restaurant in Spain. She’s traveled the world. But that fateful day in 2017, she tied the knot. And he has been a constant up and down freak show, emotionally abusive, and many times, physically abusive. She says she always thought she could fix him. This last time there was no hitting or punching. She has on her phone a video of him attempting to throw her out of the car with the dog. He says it all: “You own nothing. You are nothing without me signing over the Green Card paperwork. You are worthless and can’t do anything without me. I have all the cards. If you cross me, I’ll kill you.”

That, under the state of Oregon, is not an arrestable offense, and while it should be, don’t expect much in this rot-gut of a patriarchal killer society.

No vehicle, no savings, and thus, people like me had to fall into action, because, a, it takes a village/community to do something about this shit, and, b, the idea of a death or a beating on my watch is horrendous for a radical writer.

I found the place for her to stay, some 30 miles away, in the woods, with an amazing woman, aged 83, with her horses and dogs and chickens and trees and garden. The lady, Alice, told Vicky that she has a safe place for a few weeks. She also related how her second husband, a lawyer, fought for three years her attempt to divorce. There were two children involved, and this Alice’s original farm (as she calls it) was in this guy’s sights (he was a lawyer).

My sister is a social worker coordinator in Arizona. She came to the rescue since she also ran domestice violence shelters. She knows Arizona and New Mexico. She’s connected. She has helped this woman get some sort of stability. She’s talked to her, counseled her, and directed her to some resources once she hits NM.

This woman is now on the road, as the New Mexico mother-in-law is helping out with rental car and cash for gas.  Flights to NM were prohibitive. Just for the big dog, $775 one way, and that’s without the costs of a final vaccination and the big kennel bitive. The rental car was a huge hassle since they do not take debit cards, and they want the owner of a credit card to be there, in person. The mother-in-law is in New Mexico, an RN in her sixties.

This mother-in-law is warning Vicky “to get away from my son forever.” This mother-in-law was abused by her sons’ father big time. The kids were beaten by the father. And, even after she divorced this fascist pilot, the guy’s second wife had enough of the raging and hitting and so she shot him square between the eyes. Later days for an abuser. A week later, that second wife turned the gun on herself.

“I have lost myself. I can’t believe this has gone on and on. I used to be independent, gutsy. Heck, I set up my own restaurant in Basque country. I did that for six years. That’s where I met him.”

Yes, this entire society — male, female, LGBTQA+, young, old — gets into victim blaming as a common reaction to any sort of violence or assault on women in a domestic relationship.

Victim-blaming attitudes marginalize the victim/survivor and make it harder to come forward and report the abuse. If the victim/survivor knows that you or society blames survivors for abuse, they will not feel safe or comfortable coming forward and talking to you.

Victim-blaming attitudes also reinforce the manipulative tactics that abusers use to control their partner; abusers tell survivors that it is their fault this is happening. Committing violence is always the choice of the person who is abusing. It is NOT the victim/survivor’s fault or responsibility to fix the violence that an abuser is committing against them. By engaging in victim-blaming attitudes, society allows abusive people to perpetrate relationship abuse or sexual assault while avoiding accountability for those actions.

Victim-blaming attitudes prevent society from acknowledging and changing toxic masculinity and rape culture.

In order to stop victim-blaming, it is helpful to understand why it occurs in the first place. One reason that people blame a victim/survivor is to distance themselves from an unpleasant occurrence. This gives a false sense that this could not happen to them. By labeling or accusing the victim/survivor, others can see the victim/survivor as different from themselves. People use the Just World theory, Invulnerability theory, and Assumptive World theory in an attempt to feel like they have control over situations where they do not have control. People reassure themselves by thinking, “Because I am not like the victim/survivor, because I do not do XYZ, this would never happen to me.” We need to help people understand that a survivor’s actions do not contribute to a perpetrator’s decision to commit relationship abuse and sexual violence. It is our responsibility as members of society to support survivors and hold abusers accountable. (source)

Again, we are not in any enlightened moment. It’s 2022, but story after story shows the courts, the cops, the citizens, the collective we blame victims. We blame women when they come forward to accuse the rich and famous. Just look at the women accusing Weinstein or Trump or Biden. This is how these guys and their male and female handlers work the system. Having a standing president, Clinton, coerce Monica for sex, well, how many have said — “She was 22 and knew perfectly well what she was doing.”

Think about all the feminists and apologists defending that Clinton. Imagine, as a school teacher, if I coerced a student in my college class to have oral sex with me for benefit of her grade or in Monica’s case, advancement. These millions of men are criminals, sure, but worse. I’ve been lucky to take a bat to the heads of several rapists, when I was a senior in High School, and a few times in my 20s. Not now, Cancel Me Joe McCarthy!

And then, all the affairs this guy had as governor. And his “fun” with the royals, legals, governmentals, rich creeps who went to Epstein’s pedophilia island. Imagine that, a society that lets this just pass. And, then the Genocidal Joe, and his lies and his accusers:

A NEW PIECE of evidence has emerged buttressing the credibility of Tara Reade’s claim that she told her mother about allegations of sexual harassment and assault related to her former boss, then-Sen. Joe Biden. Biden, through a spokesperson, has denied the allegations. Reade has claimed to various media outlets, including The Intercept, that she told her mother, a close friend, and her brother about both the harassment and, to varying degrees of detail, the assault at the time. Her brother, Collin Moulton, and her friend, who has asked to remain anonymous, both confirmed that they heard about the allegations from Reade at the time. Reade’s mother died in 2016, but both her brother and friend also confirmed Reade had told her mother, and that her mother, a longtime feminist and activist, urged her to go to the police.

In interviews with The Intercept, Reade also mentioned that her mother had made a phone call to “Larry King Live” on CNN, during which she made reference to her daughter’s experience on Capitol Hill. Reade told The Intercept that her mother called in asking for advice after Reade, then in her 20s, left Biden’s office. “I remember it being an anonymous call and her saying my daughter was sexually harassed and retaliated against and fired, where can she go for help? I was mortified,” Reade told me. (source)

I only make these asides because, a, the society is sick. The media are sick. The people behind powerful figures are sick. But, even the dirt-poor or the deplorables or the mid-level folk, if men, accused of date rape, acquaintence rape, assault on a wife, beating a spouse, they are entitled on many levels since toxic masculinity is a face, and that we are in a rape culture. Forget about the Matt Taibbi types, or any of them, questioning the accusers of any number of thousands of powerful and in-the-news folk. They think the #MeToo movement is fake, on all accords.

Remember, here on these pages and elsewhere, I have written about my clients as a social services dude: homeless veterans and homeless folk. All my clients who were female were RAPED by their own soldiers, in this country, and some out of this country. Nah, not a rape culture, right?

It turns out that Vicky’s husband was a big shot at the University of New Mexico. Big shot in the fraternity. Big shot lording over women. Doing the old Ted Bundy soft shoe, but deep down hating women. He had many female friends — he’s tall, well built, a charmer, and, an amazingly open misogynist. Hates his mother. Uses the word “cunt” all the time, and bitch. Is he a product of a father with toxic military masculinity? A product of a military father who killed “the enemy” and bragged about it? A product of a death society enamored of military and macho and might? Is her 35-year-old husband worthless as a man? Full of sociopathic tendancies? Broken at a young age? Destroyed by booze? Determined to be all he can be as a sexist and shitty pig because he has no role models other than violent, piggish, misanthropes? The pigs and military, two of the highest rates of domestic violence of all sub-groups of baboon homo sapiens males. He is a product of that! TV, movies, sports, and toxic rape culture trapped in the DNA of men,

So, this person, Vicky, is out of here. She will have to withdraw from the toxicity. She’ll have to rewire her brain. Right now, she’s 800 miles away from the guy, but she had the shakes this morning, sweating, sick to her stomach. It’s the weight off of her soul, and it feels, well, discombobulating. Serotonin, dopamine, all the hormones in the fight or flight discharge. Cortisol loads. It’s an ugly reality that getting out of a toxic violent relationship is like getting off booze, coke, heroin. Or pills.

The body does rewire under strain and pressure and living in hell. It does create holes in mind processing. The body reacts to the hormones, the adrenal gland, all of that, including the gut and entire systems that keep a person from failing over with a heart attack at age 38.

Here, one of thousands of offending “judges”:

After the judge in her Wisconsin divorce case ruled that her ex-husband — a man who had sought treatment for anger and alcohol issues — would get legal custody of and equal time with their four children, Julie Valadez vowed to fight back.

But in every key ruling that followed, the Waukesha County Circuit Court judge overseeing her case, Michael J. Aprahamian, found Valadez’s concerns about her ex-husband not credible and her actions unacceptable. Aprahamian took away her ability to co-parent her children. He held her in contempt four times. And after Aprahamian ordered her arrest, she braced herself for jail.

Valadez, whose accusations of domestic abuse had led to her husband’s arrest, ran through a string of attorneys and represented herself at times. Eventually she found a Milwaukee civil rights attorney to represent her, along with a public defender, and enlisted the help of a Washington, D.C., legal service for domestic violence survivors. (source)

Yes, the court system — For Domestic Violence Survivors, Courts Can Be Another Abuse. They are living hells. There is no ethics in the law, and the rule of law, it is stacked against, well, fill in the blank_______________________________!  The Court System Is Stacked Against Survivors Of Sexual Violence!

The systems for Vicky are stacked against her. She’s been married to this felon (he has two DUI’s and an assault from his drunkenness) who has managed to not get any couple photos taken. She is at his whim. She is about to be in another state to work on counseling. DV services. Getting support for herself and her dog. A shelter? Can this punk track her down? She will need help with a divorce. She deserves half of whatever this house is worth — $350,000. He’s managed to beat her, and there is a hospital report of broken ribs and concussion with the words “assaulted by husband” on the report. That was 1.5 years ago. She never filed charges.

The healing process will take time. Funny thing, the lady who owns the rent-a-car outfit in Corvallis is a survivor, too. Ten years, no kids, and she said she hit the bottle when she got out of that hellhole. She now owns her own business.

And so there we go. It takes more than a village. It takes proactive and empathetic people to help lead a way or pathway out of people’s hell’s. Most people I know will not get involved, but their sick minds are putting those UkiNazi blue and yellow stripes up on their Facebook. They’ll give a dollar of their Big Mac order for guns for more UkiNazi’s in Ukraine, but they say — “Man, don’t get involved with her. Domestic Violence. If he finds out who’s helping her, man, he’ll come after you.”

That is the jelly consistency of most Americans’ spines. Except for the lady at the rent-a-car place. And my friend Alice in the mountains with her goats and dogs and fruit trees. She even gave Vicky a $100 for the road. This Vicky, mind you, is a new friend to both of us. No one I knew except for a 45-minute conversation in that hardware store parking lot a month ago.

Now, she is connected to me, to my friend, Alice, to my sister, to that car rental lady, to many many more folk. That’s how you help a person. It’s a team effort. And while the guy deserves a bat to the head, I am 65, with a spouse who is not into that sort of justice (she is, but not for the consequences of me going to jail). I have no problem with that sort of justice, but again, missiles and cluster bombs and napalm for UkiNazi’s, but not a finger lifted for a fellow human right in their community.

Note: Names, demographic and biographic stuff changed to protect the heroes and the victim. But the story is absolutely true crime, right from this writer’s horse’s mouth. I just got a text from her on the road. She’s in LA now, listening to Steve Miller, and the dog’s head is sticking out the window, and Vicky is moving on, south, a million mental miles away from a very bad relationship that would have ended in, well, a broken neck, or her death.

More, here: Battered Woman Syndrome

The post Everyday is Domestic Violence Awareness Day: Not Just a Week in October first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Normal Butcheries:  Saudi Arabia’s Latest Mass Execution

Great reformers are not normally found in theocratic monarchies.  Despite assertions to the contrary, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remains archaic in the way it deals with its opponents.  In its penal system, executions remain standard fare.  With liberal democratic countries fixated with the Ukraine conflict and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, it was prudent for Saudi authorities to capitalise.

On March 12, the Saudi Ministry of the Interior announced the execution of 81 Saudi and non-Saudi nationals, bringing the total of those put to death by Riyadh in 2022 to 92.  The last grand bout of killing was in 2019, when 37 people, including 33 Shi’a men, were put to death after being convicted by customarily dubious trials.

Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, claimed that this orgy of state killing was “all the more chilling in light of Saudi Arabia’s deeply flawed justice system, which metes out death sentences following trials that are grossly and blatantly unfair, including basing verdicts on ‘confessions’ extracted under torture or other ill-treatment.”

Another sordid feature of the system described by Maalouf is the tendency of authorities to underreport the number of trials that result in death sentences being meted out.  Death row, in other words, is a burgeoning feature of the Kingdom’s repertoire.

The executed victims were convicted of a whole miscellany of charges.  According to Human Rights Watch, 41 of the men, as has become a standard practice, were of the Shi’a group. The crimes ranged from murder, links to foreign terrorist groups and the vaguely worded offence of “monitoring and targeting officials and expatriates”.  Other offences included planting landmines, the attempted killing of police officers, the targeting of “vital economic sites” and weapons smuggling “to destabilize security, sow discord and unrest, and cause riots and chaos”.

Mohammad al-Shakhouri, sentenced to death on February 21 last year, was accused of violent acts while participating in anti-government protests.  Through the course of detention and interrogation, he lacked legal representation.  His family were not permitted to see him till eight months after his arrest.

The judge of the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) overseeing his trial took only qualified interest in the evidence submitted by the accused that he had been tortured.  He had also lost most of his teeth due to the handiwork of security officers.  Al-Shakouri’s withdrawal of the worthless confession extracted under such pressure meant that he was given a discretionary death sentence.

In addition to al-Shakouri, Human Rights Watch also noted that in four other cases – Aqeel al-Faraj, Morada al-Musa, Yasin al-Brahim and Asad al-Shibr – due process violations were rife.  All spoke of torture and ill-treatment under interrogations; all claimed that their confessions had been extracted under duress.

These state killing sprees are not out of the ordinary in Saudi Arabia.  On January 2, 2016, 47 people were executed, the largest since 1980.  A prominent figure in the death list was Shi’a cleric Nimr al-Nimr, a critic of the House of Saud.  He died along with other members of the Shiite community and captives accused of terrorist related charges after, in the words of the Interior Ministry, much “reason, moderation and dialogue”.

The governing formula for Saudi Arabia’s rulers has been to maintain an iron hand over protest and dissent while fashioning Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a visionary reformer.  In 2020, the same petulant figure behind the brutal murder of the journalist and Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi, gave signals that a generous resort to the death penalty would be stopped.  Islamic scripture would guide the future use of capital punishment.

This was hardly reassuring.  The legal reforms announced on February 8, 2021, which include the first written penal code for discretionary crimes – those under Islamic law not defined in writing and not carrying pre-determined penalties – is being undertaken without civil society involvement.  This promises to be a very top-down affair.

The calendar events of state inflicted death may well cause outrage, but governments and companies continue to deal with the Kingdom with business-minded confidence.  Unlike the treatment now handed out to Russia, there has never been a mass cancellation of its officials from public appearances for its butcheries, be they legally sanctioned at home, or in such theatres in Yemen. Anger and disapproval, if expressed, are only done so in moderation.  Debates about the death penalty remain confined to such theatres as the UN General Assembly.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with typically bad timing, also showed why Riyadh has nothing to be worried about when it comes to its treatment of dissidents and convicts.  The UK continues to find the Saudis appreciative of made-in-Britain weapons, which are used readily in the war against the Houthis in Yemen.

The priority now is less reforming barbaric legal measures than finding alternative energy suppliers.  Johnson hopes to wean Britain and Western countries off their “addiction” to Russia’s hydrocarbons.  “We need to talk to other producers around the world about how we can move away from that dependency.”

This entailed a visit to the Kingdom, which Johnson gave no indication of calling off.  Mark Almond, director of the Crisis Research Institute, is very much in support of this morally bankrupt calculus.  “The realpolitik of this situation is that to free ourselves from our dependence on Russian fossil fuels, we will have to turn a blind eye to other evils in other regimes.”

The trip proved fruitless.  The Prime Minister failed to secure an agreement to increase oil production, a point brushed aside in Downing Street by a spokesman’s platitudes.  “Both the Crown Prince of the UAE and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia agreed to work closely with us to maintain stability in the energy market and continue the transition to renewable and clean technology.”

So cocky has Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince become, he even refused to take the call of US President Joe Biden on opening negotiations on the rising oil prices. And he can point out that allied countries such as the United States still maintain capital punishment in their chest of judicial weapons against the errant and deviant.  Things have never looked better for the murderous schemer.

The post Normal Butcheries:  Saudi Arabia’s Latest Mass Execution first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Dystopia Disguised as Democracy: All the Ways in Which Freedom Is an Illusion

The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it’s profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater.

— Frank Zappa, Interview with Jim Ladd, “Zappa On Air,” April 1977.

We are no longer free.

We are living in a world carefully crafted to resemble a representative democracy, but it’s an illusion.

We think we have the freedom to elect our leaders, but we’re only allowed to participate in the reassurance ritual of voting. There can be no true electoral choice or real representation when we’re limited in our options to one of two candidates culled from two parties that both march in lockstep with the Deep State and answer to an oligarchic elite.

We think we have freedom of speech, but we’re only as free to speak as the government and its corporate partners allow.

We think we have the right to freely exercise our religious beliefs, but those rights are quickly overruled if and when they conflict with the government’s priorities, whether it’s COVID-19 mandates or societal values about gender equality, sex and marriage.

We think we have the freedom to go where we want and move about freely, but at every turn, we’re hemmed in by laws, fines and penalties that regulate and restrict our autonomy, and surveillance cameras that monitor our movements. Punitive programs strip citizens of their passports and right to travel over unpaid taxes.

We think we have property interests in our homes and our bodies, but there can be no such freedom when the government can seize your property, raid your home, and dictate what you do with your bodies.

We think we have the freedom to defend ourselves against outside threats, but there is no right to self-defense against militarized police who are authorized to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, and granted immunity from accountability with the general blessing of the courts. Certainly, there can be no right to gun ownership in the face of red flag gun laws which allow the police to remove guns from people merely suspected of being threats.

We think we have the right to an assumption of innocence until we are proven guilty, but that burden of proof has been turned on its head by a surveillance state that renders us all suspects and over-criminalization which renders us all lawbreakers. Police-run facial recognition software that mistakenly labels law-abiding citizens as criminals. A social credit system (similar to China’s) that rewards behavior deemed “acceptable” and punishes behavior the government and its corporate allies find offensive, illegal or inappropriate.

We think we have the right to due process, but that assurance of justice has been stripped of its power by a judicial system hardwired to act as judge, jury and jailer, leaving us with little recourse for appeal. A perfect example of this rush to judgment can be found in the proliferation of profit-driven speed and red light cameras that do little for safety while padding the pockets of government agencies.

We have been saddled with a government that pays lip service to the nation’s freedom principles while working overtime to shred the Constitution.

By gradually whittling away at our freedoms—free speech, assembly, due process, privacy, etc.—the government has, in effect, liberated itself from its contractual agreement to respect the constitutional rights of the citizenry while resetting the calendar back to a time when we had no Bill of Rights to protect us from the long arm of the government.

Aided and abetted by the legislatures, the courts and Corporate America, the government has been busily rewriting the contract (a.k.a. the Constitution) that establishes the citizenry as the masters and agents of the government as the servants.

We are now only as good as we are useful, and our usefulness is calculated on an economic scale by how much we are worth—in terms of profit and resale value—to our “owners.”

Under the new terms of this revised, one-sided agreement, the government and its many operatives have all the privileges and rights and “we the people” have none.

Only in our case, sold on the idea that safety, security and material comforts are preferable to freedom, we’ve allowed the government to pave over the Constitution in order to erect a concentration camp.

The problem with these devil’s bargains, however, is that there is always a catch, always a price to pay for whatever it is we valued so highly as to barter away our most precious possessions.

We’ve bartered away our right to self-governance, self-defense, privacy, autonomy and that most important right of all: the right to tell the government to “leave me the hell alone.” In exchange for the promise of safe streets, safe schools, blight-free neighborhoods, lower taxes, lower crime rates, and readily accessible technology, health care, water, food and power, we’ve opened the door to militarized police, government surveillance, asset forfeiture, school zero tolerance policies, license plate readers, red light cameras, SWAT team raids, health care mandates, over-criminalization and government corruption.

In the end, such bargains always turn sour.

We asked our lawmakers to be tough on crime, and we’ve been saddled with an abundance of laws that criminalize almost every aspect of our lives. So far, we’re up to 4500 criminal laws and 300,000 criminal regulations that result in average Americans unknowingly engaging in criminal acts at least three times a day. For instance, the family of an 11-year-old girl was issued a $535 fine for violating the Federal Migratory Bird Act after the young girl rescued a baby woodpecker from predatory cats.

We wanted criminals taken off the streets, and we didn’t want to have to pay for their incarceration. What we’ve gotten is a nation that boasts the highest incarceration rate in the world, with more than 2.3 million people locked up, many of them doing time for relatively minor, nonviolent crimes, and a private prison industry fueling the drive for more inmates, who are forced to provide corporations with cheap labor.

We wanted law enforcement agencies to have the necessary resources to fight the nation’s wars on terror, crime and drugs. What we got instead were militarized police decked out with M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers, battle tanks and hollow point bullets—gear designed for the battlefield, more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year (many for routine police tasks, resulting in losses of life and property), and profit-driven schemes that add to the government’s largesse such as asset forfeiture, where police seize property from “suspected criminals.”

We fell for the government’s promise of safer roads, only to find ourselves caught in a tangle of profit-driven red-light cameras, which ticket unsuspecting drivers in the so-called name of road safety while ostensibly fattening the coffers of local and state governments. Despite widespread public opposition, corruption and systemic malfunctions, these cameras are particularly popular with municipalities, which look to them as an easy means of extra cash. Building on the profit-incentive schemes, the cameras’ manufacturers are also pushing speed cameras and school bus cameras, both of which result in hefty fines for violators who speed or try to go around school buses.

We’re being subjected to the oldest con game in the books, the magician’s sleight of hand that keeps you focused on the shell game in front of you while your wallet is being picked clean by ruffians in your midst.

This is how tyranny rises and freedom falls.

With every new law enacted by federal and state legislatures, every new ruling handed down by government courts, and every new military weapon, invasive tactic and egregious protocol employed by government agents, “we the people” are being reminded that we possess no rights except for that which the government grants on an as-needed basis.

Indeed, there are chilling parallels between the authoritarian prison that is life in the American police state and The Prisoner, a dystopian television series that first broadcast in Great Britain more than 50 years ago.

The series centers around a British secret agent (played by Patrick McGoohan) who finds himself imprisoned, monitored by militarized drones, and interrogated in a mysterious, self-contained, cosmopolitan, seemingly idyllic retirement community known only as The Village. While luxurious and resort-like, the Village is a virtual prison disguised as a seaside paradise: its inhabitants have no true freedom, they cannot leave the Village, they are under constant surveillance, their movements are tracked by surveillance drones, and they are stripped of their individuality and identified only by numbers.

Much like the American Police State, The Prisoner’s Village gives the illusion of freedom while functioning all the while like a prison: controlled, watchful, inflexible, punitive, deadly and inescapable.

Described as “an allegory of the individual, aiming to find peace and freedom in a dystopia masquerading as a utopia,” The Prisoner is a chilling lesson about how difficult it is to gain one’s freedom in a society in which prison walls are disguised within the trappings of technological and scientific progress, national security and so-called democracy.

Perhaps the best visual debate ever on individuality and freedom, The Prisoner confronted societal themes that are still relevant today: the rise of a police state, the freedom of the individual, round-the-clock surveillance, the corruption of government, totalitarianism, weaponization, group think, mass marketing, and the tendency of mankind to meekly accept his lot in life as a prisoner in a prison of his own making.

The Prisoner is an operations manual for how you condition a populace to life as prisoners in a police state: by brainwashing them into believing they are free so that they will march in lockstep with the state and be incapable of recognizing the prison walls that surround them.

We can no longer maintain the illusion of freedom.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, “we the people” have become “we the prisoners.”

 

The post Dystopia Disguised as Democracy: All the Ways in Which Freedom Is an Illusion first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Morality Cannot Be Divided: How Netanyahu’s Corruption has Exposed Israel’s ‘Democracy’

Former Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his prosecutors are reportedly finalizing the details of a plea deal that would practically water down, shelve, or drop altogether all three major corruption cases that have led to his high-profile trial in May 2020. If such news actualizes, Israel would officially sink to a new low in terms of political nepotism and corruption.

News of the possible deal has, once more, placed the controversial Israeli politician back at the center stage of media coverage. Many questions are being asked about the details of the agreement, the timing and the long-term impact on Netanyahu’s political future.

It is a well-known fact that Netanyahu is already Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. Whether his ousting by his former pupil, now enemy,  Naftali Bennett, is the end of the right-wing ideologue’s time in the corridors of power is yet to be determined. Bennett, an extremist politician in his own right, had cobbled up a government coalition in June 2021, ending Netanyahu’s long and uninterrupted reign.

Netanyahu’s detractors seem to be split: Some are pleased to see him, however symbolically, disgraced; others are disappointed that the former prime minister will only pay a small price – mere community service – for three corruption cases: Case 1000, Case 2000 and Case 4000.

Case 1000, pertaining to charges of fraud and breach of trust, is the only one that Netanyahu will be convicted for, if the plea deal is confirmed. Unlike the other cases, however, this particular case, in which Netanyahu is being accused of receiving expensive gifts from various overseas businessmen, is the least significant. The other two cases are of high-level corruption, involving the country’s largest telecommunications company, Bezeq, and hundreds of millions of dollars of funds resulting from Netanyahu’s advancing legal, political and regulatory benefits to his backers in exchange for favorable media coverage.

The nature of Netanyahu’s corruption tells a story that is bigger than the man himself. The tentacles of Netanyahu, his family, his political entourage, his business networks and his media outreach point to a growing and rooted corruption in Israeli society, at all levels.

While other Israeli officials have been charged, tried and sentenced before for far less significant crimes, Netanyahu could potentially walk free, despite the fact that during his years in power, his illegal practices have turned corruption in Israel from a normal phenomenon into an endemic.

It seems that Israelis have become so familiar with corruption among their own political circles that the main question left to ponder is simply whether Netanyahu will be allowed back in politics or will the 72-year-old politician be banned for a fixed number of years. The answer will largely depend on the duration and the language of Netanyahu’s indictment, per the plea deal.

According to Israeli law, if Netanyahu’s community service is shorter than three months, and he faces the final verdict as a private citizen, not as an elected member of the Knesset (parliament), then the prosecutors will not slap him with a label of moral turpitude. In such a case, Netanyahu would be allowed to return to politics.

However, if the former prime minister’s sentence is more than three months, he would be branded with the kind of legal language which would bar him from politics for a certain number of years – estimated at seven years. Some analysts suggest that even if he is not branded, Israel’s Central Elections Committee can still bar him from participating in future elections.

These issues are most likely to be clarified before January 31, the last day of Israel’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit’s term in office. It was the latter who issued the indictments against Netanyahu and, according to Israeli media, is the one keen on finalizing the case before the end of his mandate. The next attorney general will be assigned by Netanyahu’s arch-enemy, Bennett, who is more interested in prolonging Netanyahu’s ordeal than giving him a new lease on political life.

Citing Israeli analysts, CNN reported that, since Netanyahu has served as “the glue that has bound” Bennet’s “hodgepodge” coalition together, Netanyahu, as the head of the opposition, continues to serve an important role. “But if he were to exit the stage, it could provide an opening for a new coalition, made-up entirely of right-wing and religious parties, that could topple the current unity government,” CNN reported.

While Netanyahu’s political career remains the main topic of discussion among Israel’s ruling class, little discussion and subsequent media coverage are given to the subject of corruption in the Israeli government and business sector.

Netanyahu is not the first elected Israeli official to be charged with corruption. In December 2015, former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, was charged for far less consequential misconduct, including bribes estimated at 60,000 shekel ($15,500). The charges were mostly linked to the time when Olmert served as the Mayor of Jerusalem. Though some of the charges were eventually dropped, Olmert was initially sentenced to six years in prison, of which he served 18 months. The last images that Israelis had of Olmert is that of a disgraced politician being dragged back and forth from his prison cell to an Israeli court and back.

It seems that the days when Israel has successfully managed to create near-perfect separation between its political and judicial systems are long gone. Thanks to Netanyahu, ideological and political polarization in Israeli society no longer allows for such division of authorities.

Even the language that is associated with corrupt Israeli officials has itself changed. Netanyahu often accused his enemies of an ‘attempted coup’ and the court system of a ‘witch hunt’. Many in Israel believe him and find his language perfectly suited for Israel’s current state of affairs.

Historically, Israel has also managed to balance two separate and contradicting realities. One that is based on abuse of human rights and violation of international law; it is through this moral blindness that Israelis convinced themselves that their military occupation of Palestine, racial segregation and discrimination against Palestinian Arabs is fully justifiable. The other is based on a model of fraudulent democracy that catered to Israel’s Jewish citizens at the expense of Palestinians. As far as Israeli Jews were concerned, their democracy seemed largely unblemished.

Things are changing, however, as Israel’s moral corruption in Palestine has slowly but irreversibly afflicted the Israeli Jewish body politic, as well. Israel’s long-standing claim of being a Jewish and democratic state at the same time is quickly faltering. The country’s endemic corruption is proof of this assertion. It turns out that morality cannot be divided based on geography, class, religion or race. It might be time for ordinary Israelis to accept this unavoidable truism.

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