Category Archives: Courts and Judges

A Doubtful Proposition

Voices activists Brian Terrell, Kathy Kelly and Sarah Ball outside the Brunswick Courthouse (Photo by Kings Bay Plowshares 7)

“Whether nuclear weapons are actually illegal under international or domestic law (a doubtful proposition) is not relevant or an appropriate issue to litigate in this case,” so ruled Judge Lisa Godbey Wood of the US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, late on Friday October 18. This last-minute order, restricting the defense of seven antinuclear activists at a trial that began Monday morning the 21st, made a short trial a foregone conclusion. It also, more than any evidence that the yet to be impaneled jury would eventually hear, made their convictions all but certain.

On trial were seven Catholics, who on April 4, 2018 — the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination — cut through a fence and entered the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia, home port for six Trident nuclear submarines, wherein an act of symbolic disarmament, they poured bottles of their own blood onto military plaques and hammered statues of nuclear missiles. In a previous August 26 ruling on the activists claim that their actions were protected under the Restoration of Religious Freedom Act (RFRA) Judge Wood agreed that the “Defendants’ actions at Kings Bay were exercises of their sincerely held religious beliefs that they should take action in opposition to the presence of nuclear weapons at Kings Bay,” and that their actions were “‘religious exercises’ within the meaning of RFRA.”

“The laws at issue put ‘significant pressure’ on Defendants to not exercise their religion as they did at Kings Bay” Judge Wood continued. She also noted they “were substantially burdened by the laws at issue.” Judge Wood nevertheless decided that the government has a “compelling interest” to have nuclear weapons which overshadows any other consideration.

At trial, activists were allowed to explain to the jury “their subjective beliefs about religion and the immorality and illegality of nuclear weapons,” but, she warned, too much “testimony and argument on these topics creates the danger of unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” In effect, the defendants were allowed to give evidence of their own subjective beliefs that nuclear weapons are illegal but not allowed to explain the facts that inform those beliefs.

One of the expert witnesses that Judge Wood decided would confuse and mislead the jury was Professor Francis Boyle of the University of Illinois who had submitted an extensive legal declaration in defense of the activists, noting that US treaties, including the Geneva Conventions banning weapons of mass destruction and the condemnation of nuclear weapons by the International Court of Justice among many others, are part of international law to which the US government and its citizens are bound to obey.

Also disqualified as a witness was Professor Jeannine Hill Fletcher, a theologian from Fordham University. She was not allowed to testify that the activists’ actions were based on sincerely held religious beliefs in the context of their Catholic faith. The jury was allowed to hear only about the defendants’ subjective beliefs about their Church’s teachings on war and nuclear weapons, but what those teachings actually are or whether the defendants’ subjective beliefs are well informed, was deemed irrelevant.

At trial, the jurors had no knowledge of Judge Wood’s order but they were clearly confused by its bearing on the testimony they heard, as shown by the notes that they passed to the judge for clarification. “Is it true that there are nuclear missiles kept at Kings Bay?” one juror wanted to know, a question that went unanswered as irrelevant.

The fact that the defendants left this and other decisive questions up in the air and unanswered could easily have given the impression to the jury that they simply did not know what they were talking about, that they were not acting on known facts about Kings Bay and the danger of nuclear weapons, but on rumor, conjecture or propaganda by our country’s enemies, if not paranoid delusion. Defendant Carmen Trotta could tell the jury, “One-fourth of the US nuclear arsenal is deployed out of Kings Bay, the single most sophisticated weapon on our planet. If used, they will destroy all life on the planet. They can’t be legal,” but he was not allowed to say why he believed this to be true.

Martha Hennessy was able to speak of the Catholic social teaching she learned from her grandmother, Dorothy Day, and her belief that “We, our country, many countries, replace God with these weapons. We don’t put our trust in God. We need to study Christian teachings; it is idolatry to trust these weapons,” but the jury was not allowed the context to discern whether her belief, however “sincerely held,” proceeded from established and systematic teachings of her Church, or her own personal and possibly misguided conviction.

The government prosecutors took advantage of the gag order that limited the defendants’ testimony. At times they seemed to goad them up to the line of what was allowed, only to have something to object to. One prosecutor badgered Clare Grady in an attempt to make her look arrogant, suggesting that she set herself above the law, claiming the right to run red lights if she felt like it, arrogating herself “the power to overrule 320,000,000 who have elected Congress to make laws.” “You think that your personal opinion is the supreme law of the land!” he challenged her While the prosecutor spoke freely about the supreme law of the land, Clare and other witnesses for the defense could not. Had he been allowed to testify, Professor Boyle could have explained to the jury that the term “supreme law of the land” is not an abstract or malleable notion and that the supreme law of the land that Clare was acting in obedience to was not her own personal whim of the moment, but is something clearly defined in article VI of the US Constitution, “all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

In less than 90 minutes, the jury convicted all seven on four felony counts each. They are facing up to 25 years in prison.

Judge Wood’s determination regarding irrelevant testimony is concerning enough, but her parenthetical judgment that the illegality of nuclear weapons is “a doubtful proposition,” shows an irrational and dangerous bias that, by itself, should have disqualified her from hearing this case, at least. The illegality of making, maintaining and threatening to use nuclear weapons is firmly and unequivocally established as the “supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

Three months before I was in the courtroom in Brunswick, Georgia, where this miscarriage of justice occurred, I was in Europe, camping outside (and occasionally making an unauthorized visit inside) a German Air Force Base at Buechel. There, 20 B61 nuclear bombs are maintained by a US Air Force squadron, ready to be loaded on German fighter bombers upon orders from both the US and German governments.

Both the US and Germany are signers of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), where the US is prohibited from sharing nuclear weapons with any country and Germany is committed:”… not to receive the transfer from any transferer whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly … or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices …”.

The US maintains that the prohibitions of the NPT and the other disarmament treaties and agreements only count in peace time. The logic is that, if there is a nuclear war, the NPT by that point will have failed to keep the peace and so is null and void. In the meantime, the nuclear weapons stored at Buechel and on bases in five other NATO countries are in the possession of the US.

It seems absurd on its face — disarmament agreements in force only in peace time is like being a vegetarian between meals. On the other hand, it is true that if (when?) the order is given to load these US nuclear bombs onto German planes to be dropped on predetermined targets, by that time any notion of law, of agreements and cooperation between nations, of human kindness and simple decency, is done and over. No one will be protected and no one held responsible for the chaos and destruction to follow. There will be no Nuremburg trials after World War III.

Clare Grady testified in court in Georgia that “we used the word ‘omnicide,’” describing a banner she helped hang at Kings Bay. Omnicide, she explained, is “a word that didn’t exist before the nuclear age—the death of all living things. We put up crime scene tape because Trident is the biggest crime we know.” Judge Wood’s doubt over the illegality of nuclear weapons, her suggestion that the means of the destruction of all living things is legal and to be protected, shows, at best, a culpable ignorance of the law, if not outright contempt for it. If, on the other hand she is right and the killing of everything is legal and actions to avert omnicide are criminal, is the institution of law any good at all? If Judge Wood is correct and objection to the destruction of the whole of creation and the killing of everyone is the irrelevant and subjective belief of some Christians, and not a constitutive and essential obligation of our faith, than of what use is Christianity?

These are among the crucial, but hopefully not the final, questions that Lisa Godbey Wood raised for us in the courtroom in Brunswick. I pray that she, and all of us, attend to them with the diligence and courage shown by the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 on April 4, 2018.

A New Kind of Tyranny: The Global State’s War on Those Who Speak Truth to Power

What happens to Julian Assange and to Chelsea Manning is meant to intimidate us, to frighten us into silence. By defending Julian Assange, we defend our most sacred rights. Speak up now or wake up one morning to the silence of a new kind of tyranny. The choice is ours.

— John Pilger, investigative journalist

All of us are in danger.

In an age of prosecutions for thought crimes, pre-crime deterrence programs, and government agencies that operate like organized crime syndicates, there is a new kind of tyranny being imposed on those who dare to expose the crimes of the Deep State, whose reach has gone global.

The Deep State has embarked on a ruthless, take-no-prisoners, all-out assault on truth-tellers.

Activists, journalists and whistleblowers alike are being terrorized, traumatized, tortured and subjected to the fear-inducing, mind-altering, soul-destroying, smash-your-face-in tactics employed by the superpowers-that-be.

Take Julian Assange, for example.

Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks—a website that published secret information, news leaks, and classified media from anonymous sources—was arrested on April 11, 2019, on charges of helping U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning access and leak more than 700,000 classified military documents that portray the U.S. government and its military as reckless, irresponsible and responsible for thousands of civilian deaths.

Included among the leaked Manning material were the Collateral Murder video (April 2010), the Afghanistan war logs (July 2010), the Iraq war logs (October 2010), a quarter of a million diplomatic cables (November 2010), and the Guantánamo files (April 2011).

The Collateral Murder leak included gunsight video footage from two U.S. AH-64 Apache helicopters engaged in a series of air-to-ground attacks while air crew laughed at some of the casualties. Among the casualties were two Reuters correspondents who were gunned down after their cameras were mistaken for weapons and a driver who stopped to help one of the journalists. The driver’s two children, who happened to be in the van at the time it was fired upon by U.S. forces, suffered serious injuries.

This is morally wrong.

It shouldn’t matter which nation is responsible for these atrocities: there is no defense for such evil perpetrated in the name of profit margins and war profiteering.

In true Orwellian fashion, however, the government would have us believe that it is Assange and Manning who are the real criminals for daring to expose the war machine’s seedy underbelly.

Since his April 2019 arrest, Assange has been locked up in a maximum-security British prison—in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day—pending extradition to the U.S., where if convicted, he could be sentenced to 175 years in prison.

Whatever is being done to Assange behind those prison walls—psychological torture, forced drugging, prolonged isolation, intimidation, surveillance—it’s wearing him down.

In court appearances, the 48-year-old Assange appears disoriented, haggard and zombie-like.

“In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law,” declared Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture.

It’s not just Assange who is being made to suffer, however.

Manning, who was jailed for seven years from 2010 to 2017 for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks, was arrested in March 2019 for refusing to testify before a grand jury about Assange, placed in solitary confinement for almost a month, and then sentenced to remain in jail either until she agrees to testify or until the grand jury’s 18-month term expires.

Federal judge Anthony J. Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia also fined Manning $500 for every day she remained in custody after 30 days, and $1,000 for every day she remains in custody after 60 days, a chilling—and financially crippling—example of the government’s heavy-handed efforts to weaponize fines and jail terms as a means of forcing dissidents to fall in line.

This is how the police state deals with those who challenge its choke-hold on power.

Make no mistake: the government is waging war on journalists and whistleblowers for disclosing information relating to government misconduct that is within the public’s right to know.

Yet while this targeted campaign—aided, abetted and advanced by the Deep State’s international alliances—is unfolding during President Trump’s watch, it began with the Obama Administration’s decision to revive the antiquated, hundred-year-old Espionage Act, which was intended to punish government spies, and instead use it to prosecute government whistleblowers.

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has not merely continued the Obama Administration’s attack on whistleblowers. It has injected this war on truth-tellers and truth-seekers with steroids and let it loose on the First Amendment.

In May 2019, Trump’s Justice Department issued a sweeping new “superseding” secret indictment of Assange—hinged on the Espionage Act—that empowers the government to determine what counts as legitimate journalism and criminalize the rest, not to mention giving “the government license to criminally punish journalists it does not like, based on antipathy, vague standards, and subjective judgments.”

Noting that the indictment signaled grave dangers for freedom of the press in general, media lawyer Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., warned:

The indictment would criminalize the encouragement of leaks of newsworthy classified information, criminalize the acceptance of such information, and criminalize publication of it.

Boutrous continues:

[I]t doesn’t matter whether you think Assange is a journalist, or whether WikiLeaks is a news organization. The theory that animates the indictment targets the very essence of journalistic activity: the gathering and dissemination of information that the government wants to keep secret. You don’t have to like Assange or endorse what he and WikiLeaks have done over the years to recognize that this indictment sets an ominous precedent and threatens basic First Amendment values…. With only modest tweaking, the very same theory could be invoked to prosecute journalists for the very same crimes being alleged against Assange, simply for doing their jobs of scrutinizing the government and reporting the news to the American people.

We desperately need greater scrutiny and transparency, not less.

Indeed, transparency is one of those things the shadow government fears the most. Why? Because it might arouse the distracted American populace to actually exercise their rights and resist the tyranny that is inexorably asphyxiating their freedoms.

This need to shed light on government actions—to make the obscure, least transparent reaches of government accessible and accountable—was a common theme for Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who famously coined the phrase, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Writing in January 1884, Brandeis explained:

Light is the only thing that can sweeten our political atmosphere—light thrown upon every detail of administration in the departments; light diffused through every policy; light blazed full upon every feature of legislation; light that can penetrate every recess or corner in which any intrigue might hide; light that will open up to view the innermost chambers of government, drive away all darkness from the treasury vaults; illuminate foreign correspondence; explore national dockyards; search out the obscurities of Indian affairs; display the workings of justice; exhibit the management of the army; play upon the sails of the navy; and follow the distribution of the mails.

Of course, transparency is futile without a populace that is informed, engaged and prepared to hold the government accountable to abiding by the rule of law.

For this reason, it is vital that citizens have the right to criticize the government without fear.

After all, we’re citizens, not subjects. For those who don’t fully understand the distinction between the two and why transparency is so vital to a healthy constitutional government, Manning explains it well:

When freedom of information and transparency are stifled, then bad decisions are often made and heartbreaking tragedies occur – too often on a breathtaking scale that can leave societies wondering: how did this happen? … I believe that when the public lacks even the most fundamental access to what its governments and militaries are doing in their names, then they cease to be involved in the act of citizenship. There is a bright distinction between citizens, who have rights and privileges protected by the state, and subjects, who are under the complete control and authority of the state.

Manning goes on to suggest that the U.S. “needs legislation to protect the public’s right to free speech and a free press, to protect it from the actions of the executive branch and to promote the integrity and transparency of the US government.”

Technically, we’ve already got such legislation on the books: the First Amendment.

The First Amendment gives the citizenry the right to speak freely, protest peacefully, expose government wrongdoing, and criticize the government without fear of arrest, isolation or any of the other punishments that have been meted out to whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden, Assange and Manning.

The challenge is holding the government accountable to obeying the law.

Almost 50 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in United States v. Washington Post Co. to block the Nixon Administration’s attempts to use claims of national security to prevent The Washington Post and The New York Times from publishing secret Pentagon papers on how America went to war in Vietnam.

As Justice William O. Douglas remarked on the ruling:

The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.

Almost 50 years later, with Assange being cast as the poster boy for treason, we’re witnessing yet another showdown, which pits the people’s right to know about government misconduct against the might of the military industrial complex.

Yet this isn’t merely about whether whistleblowers and journalists are part of a protected class under the Constitution. It’s a debate over how long “we the people” will remain a protected class under the Constitution.

Following the current downward trajectory, it won’t be long before anyone who believes in holding the government accountable is  labeled an “extremist,” is relegated to an underclass that doesn’t fit in, must be watched all the time, and is rounded up when the government deems it necessary.

Eventually, we will all be potential suspects, terrorists and lawbreakers in the eyes of the government.

Partisan politics have no place in this debate: Americans of all stripes would do well to remember that those who question the motives of government provide a necessary counterpoint to those who would blindly follow where politicians choose to lead.

We don’t have to agree with every criticism of the government, but we must defend the rights of all individuals to speak freely without fear of punishment or threat of banishment.

Never forget: what the architects of the police state want are submissive, compliant, cooperative, obedient, meek citizens who don’t talk back, don’t challenge government authority, don’t speak out against government misconduct, and don’t step out of line.

What the First Amendment protects—and a healthy constitutional republic requires—are citizens who routinely exercise their right to speak truth to power.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the right to speak out against government wrongdoing is the quintessential freedom.

Be warned: this quintessential freedom won’t be much good to anyone if the government makes good on its promise to make an example of Assange as a warning to other journalists intent on helping whistleblowers disclose government corruption.

Once again, we find ourselves reliving George Orwell’s 1984, which portrayed in chilling detail how totalitarian governments employ the power of language to manipulate the masses.

In Orwell’s dystopian vision of the future, Big Brother does away with all undesirable and unnecessary words and meanings, even going so far as to routinely rewrite history and punish “thought crimes.”

Much like today’s social media censors and pre-crime police departments, Orwell’s Thought Police serve as the eyes and ears of Big Brother, while the other government agencies peddle in economic affairs (rationing and starvation), law and order (torture and brainwashing), and news, entertainment, education and art (propaganda).

Orwell’s Big Brother relies on Newspeak to eliminate undesirable words, strip such words as remained of unorthodox meanings and make independent, non-government-approved thought altogether unnecessary.

Where we stand now is at the juncture of OldSpeak (where words have meanings, and ideas can be dangerous) and Newspeak (where only that which is “safe” and “accepted” by the majority is permitted). The power elite has made their intentions clear: they will pursue and prosecute any and all words, thoughts and expressions that challenge their authority.

This is the final link in the police state chain.

Having been reduced to a cowering citizenry—mute in the face of elected officials who refuse to represent us, helpless in the face of police brutality, powerless in the face of militarized tactics and technology that treat us like enemy combatants on a battlefield, and naked in the face of government surveillance that sees and hears all—our backs are to the walls.

From this point on, we have only two options: go down fighting, or capitulate and betray our loved ones, our friends and ourselves by insisting that, as a brainwashed Winston Smith does at the end of Orwell’s 1984, yes, 2+2 does equal 5.

As George Orwell recognized, “In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Trident Is the Crime

On October 24, following a three-day trial in Brunswick, GA, seven Catholic Workers who acted to disarm a nuclear submarine base were convicted on three felony counts and one misdemeanor. The defendants face 20 years in prison, yet they emerged from their trial seeming quite ready for next steps in their ongoing witness. Steve Kelly, a Jesuit priest who has already spent ten years in prison for protesting nuclear weapons, returned, in shackles, to the local jail. Because of an outstanding warrant, Steve has been locked up for over eighteen months, since the day of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 action.

On that day, April 4, 2018, the group had entered a U.S. Navy Submarine base which is a home port for the Trident nuclear missile fleet. Just one of those nuclear missiles, if launched, would cause 1,825 times more damage than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The Plowshares activists aimed to expose illegal and immoral weapons that threaten all life on earth.

They had spent two years in prayerful preparation for their action. Two of them, Mark Colville and Liz McAlister, spent most of the months before their trial began in the Glynn County jail. Three others, Martha Hennessy, Carmen Trotta and Clare Grady wore “ankle monitors” and were subject to strict curfews for many months while they engaged in outreach and prepared for trial. Because federal law requires 60 – 90 days before sentencing, to allow for background checks, the seven probably won’t be sentenced before late December.

My colleague Brian Terrell, who attended all of the trial, described the chief prosecutor as a bully. In a series of accusations, this prosecutor claimed that Clare Grady and her co-defendants believed themselves to be “a law unto themselves.” Clare calmly pointed out that “the egregious use of weapons is bullying, not the painted peace messages.”

Emerging from the courthouse, the defendants and their lawyers earnestly thanked  the numerous supporters who had filled the courtroom, the overflow court room and the sidewalks outside the court. Bill Quigley, the main lawyer for the defense, thanked the defendants for their efforts to save “all of our lives,” noting the jury was not allowed to hear about weapons with enough power to destroy life on earth as we know it. Liz Mc Alister, who with Phil Berrigan had helped found the Plowshares movement, turned 79 years old while in jail. She thanked supporters but also urged people to be active in opposing nuclear weapons and the abuses of the U.S. prison system.

When I learned of the jury’s verdict, I had just signed a post card to Steve Kelly. The Glynn County jail only allows correspondence crammed into one side of a pre-stamped 3 x 5 post card. In tiny cursive, I told him about events in Kashmir where the Muslim majority has engaged in 80 days of civil resistance to the Indian government’s abrogation of  two articles of the Indian constitution which allowed Kashmiris a measure of autonomy. India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed states, have twice gone to war over control of Kashmir. It’s a deeply disconcerting flashpoint representing the possibility of nuclear armed states triggering an exchange of bombs which could cause a nuclear winter, mass starvation and widespread, long-lasting environmental destruction.

Some years ago, Steve and I had participated in a delegation to visit human rights advocates in Pakistan, and I recall marveling at Steve’s grasp of the nuclear threat manifested in conflict between India and Pakistan. Yet he and his companions have clearly asserted that U.S. possession of nuclear weapons already robs the poorest people on the planet of resources needed for food, shelter and housing.

After learning the verdict I wrote a second card, telling Steve that we who love him long for his release, but know we must also be guided by his choice to remain silent in the court. Steve believes the U.S. nuclear weapon arsenal should be tried in the court of public opinion. He says the U.S. legal system protects those who maintain and build the criminal, deadly arsenal of nuclear weapons. Inside the court, people didn’t hear Steve’s strong, clear voice. His friends can’t help but imagine the sound of shackles hitting the floor of the Glynn County jail, followed by heavy doors clanging as Steve and other prisoners are ordered into their cells

In 1897, from England’s Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde wrote a letter, entitled “De Profundis.” He was serving the final four months of a two-year sentence to hard labor. One of his main jailers was certain he would never survive the harsh conditions. Wilde found himself transformed during the prison time, and he developed a profound understanding of human suffering. “Where there is sorrow,” Wilde wrote, “there is holy ground.”

The U.S. nuclear weapon arsenal creates anguish, fear and futility worldwide. Yet “holy ground” exists as activists work toward abolition of nuclear weapons.

Open Letter to PM Boris Johnson, Priti Patel, Sajid Javid, and Kevin Hollinrake

Dear Boris Johnson, Priti Patel, Sajid Javid and Kevin Hollinrake,

I feel compelled to write to you over my extreme concern regarding the health and well-being of Julian Assange.

Please see the link below regarding the psychological torture that Julian Assange has been subjected to, both before leaving the Ecuadorean Embassy and since during his illegal detainment in Her Majesty’s Prison; Belmarsh. To witness a man of such high intellect, integrity and courage brought to this state of confusion where he could barely confirm his own name, should send a shudder through anyone who believes that democracy, free speech, and writing/publishing the truth relating to serious war crimes has any value.

I had naively believed that if someone wasn’t competent to stand trial they would not be forced to do so. I had also believed that the UK would not consider extradition under circumstances where it was clearly known that the defendant was wanted for his political action (i.e. publishing truthful information about a war crime plus other confirmed truths). Do we now also extradite people to countries where we have good reason to believe that they will not receive a fair trial and that they are likely to be subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment? (Well, maybe we do if it’s a country that we regard as being of strategic and economic importance.)

The only ‘crime’ so far as I can see that Julian Assange committed was skipping bail when he sought asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy. For that he has already been punished. Although, seriously, what sane person wouldn’t ‘skip bail’ in those circumstances when it was so evident that all of these offences related to the US powers having been exposed in wrong doing and wanting to extract revenge.

This travesty of justice and subjugation to US power brings such a deep shame on the UK that I barely recognise it as the country that I grew up in. Is there any sovereignty left within the UK., I seriously wonder?

I ask you to immediately release Julian Assange. I ask you to look to your humanity, and to look into yourself to find the strength and integrity to challenge the US powers in order to protect a man who has shone a light for all of us to follow in upholding truth, justice and courage. I ask this not only for Julian Assange, but for all writers, publishers, truth tellers, for all of us within the UK and for the many good people within the US and beyond.

https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2019/10/assange-in-court/

Your sincerely,

Heather Stroud
Email: moc.loanull@rehtaehduorts

Assange in Court

I was deeply shaken while witnessing Monday’s events in Westminster Magistrates Court. Every decision was railroaded through over the scarcely heard arguments and objections of Assange’s legal team, by a magistrate who barely pretended to be listening.

Before I get on to the blatant lack of fair process, the first thing I must note was Julian’s condition. I was badly shocked by just how much weight my friend has lost, by the speed his hair has receded and by the appearance of premature and vastly accelerated ageing. He has a pronounced limp I have never seen before. Since his arrest he has lost over 15 kg in weight.

But his physical appearance was not as shocking as his mental deterioration. When asked to give his name and date of birth, he struggled visibly over several seconds to recall both. I will come to the important content of his statement at the end of proceedings in due course, but his difficulty in making it was very evident; it was a real struggle for him to articulate the words and focus his train of thought.

Until yesterday I had always been quietly sceptical of those who claimed that Julian’s treatment amounted to torture – even of Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – and sceptical of those who suggested he may be subject to debilitating drug treatments. But having attended the trials in Uzbekistan of several victims of extreme torture, and having worked with survivors from Sierra Leone and elsewhere, I can tell you that yesterday changed my mind entirely and Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness.

I had been even more sceptical of those who claimed, as a senior member of his legal team did to me on Sunday night, that they were worried that Julian might not live to the end of the extradition process. I now find myself not only believing it, but haunted by the thought. Everybody in that court yesterday saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable. Yet the agents of the state, particularly the callous magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, were not just prepared but eager to be a part of this bloodsport. She actually told him that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later. The question of why a man who, by the very charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, had been reduced by the state to somebody incapable of following court proceedings, gave her not a millisecond of concern.

The charge against Julian is very specific; conspiring with Chelsea Manning to publish the Iraq War logs, the Afghanistan war logs and the State Department cables. The charges are nothing to do with Sweden, nothing to do with sex, and nothing to do with the 2016 US election; a simple clarification the mainstream media appears incapable of understanding.

The purpose of yesterday’s hearing was case management; to determine the timetable for the extradition proceedings. The key points at issue were that Julian’s defence was requesting more time to prepare their evidence; and arguing that political offences were specifically excluded from the extradition treaty. There should, they argued, therefore be a preliminary hearing to determine whether the extradition treaty applied at all.

The reasons given by Assange’s defence team for more time to prepare were both compelling and startling. They had very limited access to their client in jail and had not been permitted to hand him any documents about the case until one week ago. He had also only just been given limited computer access, and all his relevant records and materials had been seized from the Ecuadorean Embassy by the US Government; he had no access to his own materials for the purpose of preparing his defence.

Furthermore, the defence argued, they were in touch with the Spanish courts about a very important and relevant legal case in Madrid which would provide vital evidence. It showed that the CIA had been directly ordering spying on Julian in the Embassy through a Spanish company, UC Global, contracted to provide security there. Crucially this included spying on privileged conversations between Assange and his lawyers discussing his defence against these extradition proceedings, which had been in train in the USA since 2010. In any normal process, that fact would in itself be sufficient to have the extradition proceedings dismissed. Incidentally I learnt on Sunday that the Spanish material produced in court, which had been commissioned by the CIA, specifically includes high resolution video coverage of Julian and I discussing various matters.

The evidence to the Spanish court also included a CIA plot to kidnap Assange, which went to the US authorities’ attitude to lawfulness in his case and the treatment he might expect in the United States. Julian’s team explained that the Spanish legal process was happening now and the evidence from it would be extremely important, but it might not be finished and thus the evidence not fully validated and available in time for the current proposed timetable for the Assange extradition hearings.

For the prosecution, James Lewis QC stated that the government strongly opposed any delay being given for the defence to prepare, and strongly opposed any separate consideration of the question of whether the charge was a political offence excluded by the extradition treaty. Baraitser took her cue from Lewis and stated categorically that the date for the extradition hearing, 25 February, could not be changed. She was open to changes in dates for submission of evidence and responses before this, and called a ten minute recess for the prosecution and defence to agree these steps.

What happened next was very instructive. There were five representatives of the US government present (initially three, and two more arrived in the course of the hearing), seated at desks behind the lawyers in court. The prosecution lawyers immediately went into huddle with the US representatives, then went outside the courtroom with them, to decide how to respond on the dates.

After the recess the defence team stated they could not, in their professional opinion, adequately prepare if the hearing date were kept to February, but within Baraitser’s instruction to do so they nevertheless outlined a proposed timetable on delivery of evidence. In responding to this, Lewis’ junior counsel scurried to the back of the court to consult the Americans again while Lewis actually told the judge he was “taking instructions from those behind”. It is important to note that as he said this, it was not the UK Attorney-General’s office who were being consulted but the US Embassy. Lewis received his American instructions and agreed that the defence might have two months to prepare their evidence (they had said they needed an absolute minimum of three) but the February hearing date may not be moved. Baraitser gave a ruling agreeing with everything Lewis had said.

At this stage it was unclear why we were sitting through this farce. The US government was dictating its instructions to Lewis, who was relaying those instructions to Baraitser, who was ruling them as her legal decision. The charade might as well have been cut and the US government simply sat on the bench to control the whole process. Nobody could sit there and believe they were in any part of a genuine legal process or that Baraitser was giving a moment’s consideration to the arguments of the defence. Her facial expressions on the few occasions she looked at the defence ranged from contempt through boredom to sarcasm. When she looked at Lewis she was attentive, open and warm.

The extradition is plainly being rushed through in accordance with a Washington dictated timetable. Apart from a desire to pre-empt the Spanish court providing evidence on CIA activity in sabotaging the defence, what makes the February date so important to the USA? I would welcome any thoughts.

Baraitser dismissed the defence’s request for a separate prior hearing to consider whether the extradition treaty applied at all, without bothering to give any reason why (possibly she had not properly memorised what Lewis had been instructing her to agree with). Yet this is Article 4 of the UK/US Extradition Treaty 2007 in full:

On the face of it, what Assange is accused of is the very definition of a political offence – if this is not, then what is? It is not covered by any of the exceptions from that listed. There is every reason to consider whether this charge is excluded by the extradition treaty, and to do so before the long and very costly process of considering all the evidence should the treaty apply. But Baraitser simply dismissed the argument out of hand.

Just in case anybody was left in any doubt as to what was happening here, Lewis then stood up and suggested that the defence should not be allowed to waste the court’s time with a lot of arguments. All arguments for the substantive hearing should be given in writing in advance and a “guillotine should be applied” (his exact words) to arguments and witnesses in court, perhaps of five hours for the defence. The defence had suggested they would need more than the scheduled five days to present their case. Lewis countered that the entire hearing should be over in two days. Baraitser said this was not procedurally the correct moment to agree to this but she will consider it once she had received the evidence bundles.

(SPOILER: Baraitser is going to do as Lewis instructs and cut the substantive hearing short).

Baraitser then capped it all by saying the February hearing will be held, not at the comparatively open and accessible Westminster Magistrates Court where we were, but at Belmarsh Magistrates Court, the grim high security facility used for preliminary legal processing of terrorists, attached to the maximum security prison where Assange is being held. There are only six seats for the public in even the largest court at Belmarsh, and the object is plainly to evade public scrutiny and make sure that Baraitser is not exposed in public again to a genuine account of her proceedings, like this one you are reading. I will probably be unable to get in to the substantive hearing at Belmarsh.

Plainly the authorities were disconcerted by the hundreds of good people who had turned up to support Julian. They hope that far fewer will get to the much less accessible Belmarsh. I am fairly certain (and recall I had a long career as a diplomat) that the two extra American government officials who arrived halfway through proceedings were armed security personnel, brought in because of alarm at the number of protestors around a hearing in which were present senior US officials. The move to Belmarsh may be an American initiative.

Assange’s defence team objected strenuously to the move to Belmarsh, in particular on the grounds that there are no conference rooms available there to consult with their client and they have very inadequate access to him in the jail. Baraitser dismissed their objection offhand and with a very definite smirk.

Finally, Baraitser turned to Julian and ordered him to stand, and asked him if he had understood the proceedings. He replied in the negative, said that he could not think, and gave every appearance of disorientation. Then he seemed to find an inner strength, drew himself up a little, and said:

I do not understand how this process is equitable. This superpower had 10 years to prepare for this case and I can’t even access my writings. It is very difficult, where I am, to do anything. These people have unlimited resources.

The effort then seemed to become too much, his voice dropped and he became increasingly confused and incoherent. He spoke of whistleblowers and publishers being labeled enemies of the people, then spoke about his children’s DNA being stolen and of being spied on in his meetings with his psychologist. I am not suggesting at all that Julian was wrong about these points, but he could not properly frame nor articulate them. He was plainly not himself, very ill and it was just horribly painful to watch. Baraitser showed neither sympathy nor the least concern. She tartly observed that if he could not understand what had happened, his lawyers could explain it to him, and she swept out of court.

The whole experience was profoundly upsetting. It was very plain that there was no genuine process of legal consideration happening here. What we had was a naked demonstration of the power of the state, and a naked dictation of proceedings by the Americans. Julian was in a box behind bulletproof glass, and I and the thirty odd other members of the public who had squeezed in were in a different box behind more bulletproof glass. I do not know if he could see me or his other friends in the court, or if he was capable of recognising anybody. He gave no indication that he did.

In Belmarsh he is kept in complete isolation for 23 hours a day. He is permitted 45 minutes exercise. If he has to be moved, they clear the corridors before he walks down them and they lock all cell doors to ensure he has no contact with any other prisoner outside the short and strictly supervised exercise period. There is no possible justification for this inhuman regime, used on major terrorists, being imposed on a publisher who is a remand prisoner.

I have been both cataloguing and protesting for years the increasingly authoritarian powers of the UK state, but that the most gross abuse could be so open and undisguised is still a shock. The campaign of demonisation and dehumanisation against Julian, based on government and media lie after government and media lie, has led to a situation where he can be slowly killed in public sight, and arraigned on a charge of publishing the truth about government wrongdoing, while receiving no assistance from “liberal” society.

Unless Julian is released shortly he will be destroyed. If the state can do this, then who is next?

“A 1950s show trial”: John Pilger describes ‘disgraceful’ courtroom treatment of Julian Assange by UK judge

‘A 1950s show trial’: John Pilger describes ‘disgraceful’ courtroom treatment of Julian Assange by UK judge

Next Phase Of The Battle For Net Neutrality and People’s Control Of The Internet

Protesters outside building where Ajit Pai was giving a speech in Washington, DC, December 2017 (From Free Press)

Last week, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals finally issued a decision on a challenge to the Trump administration’s “Open Internet” rule, which ended Net Neutrality protections in 2017. While the court reversed and remanded important parts of the rule, it upheld the reversal of Net Neutrality regulations.

This decision opens the next phase of the struggle in the battle for the Internet — a battle between control of the Internet by a handful of big corporations versus an Internet that serves the people. The Internet freedom movement enters this conflict in a strong position as there is a public consensus that the Internet should be open and neutral, i.e. people should be able to go to websites without Internet Service Providers (ISPs) restricting their access. Millions of people have shown they will take action on behalf of a people’s Internet.

The movement won Net Neutrality in 2015 during the Obama administration even though the Obama-FCC, chaired by Tom Wheeler, initially opposed it. Net Neutrality supporters occupied the FCC, protested for months in DC and around the country, disrupted FCC hearings and even blocked the FCC Chair’s driveway to win strong Internet rules that included Net Neutrality. In 2017, the movement also protested Trump-Chair Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, including at his house, at public events and at the FCC. In both cases, record numbers of public comments were filed supporting Net Neutrality. Following the 2017 FCC decision to repeal Net Neutrality, the movement continued to mobilize millions in the streets and at the House of RepresentativesSenate, state legislatures and in the courts. This is a movement that will not give up and that politicians do not want opposing them.

Net Neutrality protest in Baltimore. One of more than 700 held on December 7, 2017 the Internet day of action.

Court Decision Opens the Door to Building a National Movement

On October 1, 2019, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued its decision in Mozilla Corporation vs Federal Communications Commission. It was a mixed result for the movement. The court begrudgingly upheld the central part of the FCC rule, which ended Net Neutrality.  The judges wrote they are “deeply concerned that the result is unhinged from the realities of modern broadband service.” This occurred because the reality of administrative law is that courts defer to the administrative agency as the experts.

In Mozilla, the court said the Commission “barely survives arbitrary and capricious review,” and the FCC “failed to provide any meaningful analysis” regarding how existing law will protect consumers without the agency’s Net Neutrality protections. A future FCC can reconsider the Trump FCC’s decision, but the reality is new laws are needed to develop a twenty-first-century internet. It is the movement’s job to build national consensus for the Internet we want to see.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn (L), Chairman Tom Wheeler (2L), Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel (2R) and Commissioner Michael ORielly (R) watch as protesters are removed from the dais during a hearing at the Federal Communication Commission(FCC) on December 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. The protesters were advocating for net neutrality (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

States Can Become Engines of Change for the Internet

The most important positive part of the court decision was the ruling that the FCC could not stop states from putting in place Net Neutrality rules. This opens up tremendous opportunities for the movement. Nine states have already put in place rules to protect Net Neutrality. Four states passed laws – California, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington – and 27 states have considered legislation. In six states, governors have signed executive orders requiring Net Neutrality – Hawaii, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The potential for rapidly expanding Net Neutrality at the state level is demonstrated by 125 city mayors signing a Net Neutrality pledge promising not to do business with any ISP that violates the open-internet standard.

The Net Neutrality movement has the opportunity to build its national base as states pursue Net Neutrality legislation. If over the next few years a dozen or more states pass Net Neutrality laws, the movement will be in a strong position to insist that the FCC re-institute Net Neutrality. It is unsustainable to have a ‘patchwork’ of different state laws to regulate the Internet because that will require ISPs to change their practices depending on the state. The FCC will need to develop a national policy.

Other positive aspects of the decision are that the court directed the FCC to reconsider the impact of its order on public safety, the ISPs’ use of public rights of way (such as for installing infrastructure) and the federal Lifeline broadband-discount program. The Lifeline program makes the Internet available to low-income communities. The court showed that the FCC decision had serious negative impacts in the real world and must be reconsidered.

The Federal Communications Commission reports that 21.3 million Americans don’t have access to high-speed broadband. This is because the Internet is not affordable for many people in underserved rural and low-income urban communities. Access to the Internet has become essential for functioning in today’s world. Internet access must become a public good.

The next FCC will be able to investigate and report on the outright fraud by corporate lobbyists during the Trump-FCC rule-making proceeding. A few days after the court decision, Buzz Feed News reported right-wing groups supporting the corporate interests of Internet Service Providers filed millions of fraudulent public comments. This undermined the public comment process and ensured the FCC did not get a true representation of public views. This will provide further justification for reconsidering the Trump rule and the next FCC can put in place safeguards to ensure a reliable public comment period, which is essential to democratic rule-making.

This is the fourth time in just the last few months that Trump-FCC decisions have been reversed in court. This series of decisions show an FCC that makes judgments based on predetermined outcomes rather than reasoned consideration of the facts and the law.

Occupation of the FCC in May 2014 kicked off a successful Net Neutrality Campaign (DC Media Group)

Creating an Internet for the 21st Century that Serves the People

Support for Net Neutrality comes from across the political spectrum. poll conducted by the University of Maryland in April 2018 found 86 percent of voters opposed the FCC’s repeal of Net Neutrality, including huge majorities of Republicans (82 percent), Independents (85 percent) and Democrats (90 percent).  We must build on these extremely high levels of support.

Net Neutrality is a winning issue for elected representatives to support and a risky one for politicians to oppose.  As a result of the popularity of Net Neutrality, there is already strong political support in Congress. Before the last election, the House passed the Save the Internet Act, which would have put the open-internet rules back in place. A bipartisan majority of the U.S. Senate approved a Congressional Review Act resolution to reinstate the FCC’s 2015 Net Neutrality protections.  Neither of these efforts has made it to the President’s desk yet.

During the 2020 election season, the movement has an opportunity to demand that the next president commits to supporting strong Net Neutrality rules and broadband protections. Already, some presidential candidates are calling for Net Neutrality and putting forward their vision of the future of the Internet. The most thorough plan comes from Howie Hawkins, a Green Party candidate, who published the statement “Time for the Internet to be Controlled by the Public, Not Corporate Interests,” which not only called for Net Neutrality but also for a series of laws and policies including replacing corporate control of the Internet with a democratically-controlled Internet.

Senator Bernie Sanders, who has been a long-time proponent of net neutrality, quickly blasted the court’s decision, saying it gave more “power” to “unaccountable” internet service providers. Sanders wrote, “We must fight to keep the internet free and open—not dominated by corporations. This struggle is essential to free speech and democracy.” Senator Warren, also a long-time supporter of Net Neutrality, was an early critic of the Trump FCC rule. She added we need to”fix a corrupt system that lets giant companies like Facebook engage in illegal anti-competitive practices, stomp on consumer privacy rights, and repeatedly fumble their responsibility to protect our democracy.”

Senator Ed Markey has been the senate leader on Net Neutrality. Markey immediately said the Mozilla decision “increases the urgency of Congress to pass the Save the Internet Act and make net neutrality the law of the land once and for all.” Markey noted the power of the Internet movement saying, “Democrats and Republicans agree that we need Net Neutrality laws on the books and after today’s decision, we will undoubtedly see activists and organizers across the country push their states to enact strong Net Neutrality rules.”

It is time to insist that future FCC Commissioners represent the people’s interests and not corporate interests and to end an FCC that is corporate-occupied territory. We must urge all candidates for president and Congress to call for the restoration of the 2015 Open Internet Order in their first 100 days in office as a first step to creating an internet for the 21st Century.

The movement for Net Neutrality and a free and open Internet includes millions of people, public interest groups, civil rights organizations, and many others who have shown the Internet is an important issue for them. Successful battles against bills like SOPA and PIPA demonstrate the power of this movement.

It is time for the public to take control of the Internet. Internet technology was created with public dollars. It should serve the people’s interests and be under public control. Popular Resistance calls for the Internet to be controlled democratically by the people and not by for-profit corporations. The Internet would serve people better if it were a public utility.

To get involved in this vibrant movement, visit the Popular Resistance Internet campaign site, Protect Our Internet, and the movement’s coalition site Battle for the Net. For more information, listen to our interview with Craig Aaron of Free Press this week on Clearing the FOG.

Politicians Agree: “Any White Cop Can Kill a Black Man”

In 2017 Dissident Voice ran my article, “Any White Cop Can Kill a Black Man at Any Time,” which told how St. Louis cop Jason Stockley killed a 24-year-old black man, Anthony Lamar Smith.  Though Stockley claimed he had fired in self defense when Smith pulled a gun on him, evidence showed that he had planted the gun after the killing.  When Stockley was found “not guilty” protests by thousands in St. Louis lasted for months, just as in 2014 when another white cop Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown in neighboring Ferguson.

Crises of cops indiscriminately killing black men keep intensifying throughout the area.  In 2018, Stockley sued the City of St. Louis for putting him on trial in a case that could have created a precedent for cops being able to kill without ever being held accountable.  Then, on September 20, 2019, news broke that in 2012, soon after the killing, the Missouri Attorney General’s office had suppressed evidence regarding Stockley’s DNA being found on the gun he claimed belonged to his victim.  This is after months of the St. Louis Police Officers Association (SLPOA) harassing the City’s first black female Circuit Attorney for attempting to defend citizens from racist attacks.

We cannot limit ourselves to looking at only actions by white cops because those killings are interwoven into a pattern which includes rampant police violence, political cover-ups, political scandals, courtroom injustice, orchestrated suppression of demonstrations, and attacks on any effort to challenge the status quo.  Post-Michael Brown racism in St. Louis reflects a coordinated effort by multiple right wing forces for an all-out attack on civil liberties.

Let’s back up to get a better picture of how the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith fits into the big picture.  When Jason Stockley pumped 5-7 shots into Smith in 2011, the cop claimed that he had to defend himself from a heroin dealer.  Local press briefly covered it as a drug deal gone bad.

But it turned out to be much more than that.  Kirkwin Taylor reported that he and his 5-year-old son had been riding with Smith before going to a fast-food restaurant.  Taylor disputed the claim that Smith had drugs and a gun.  “I wouldn’t have had my son in there if there was a gun.

When Stockley first approached Smith’s car, he carried his own unauthorized AK-47as well as his police gun.  It is very possible that Smith sped away because he was terrified of the gun-toting cop.  Stockley got a 30 day suspension for the AK-47 and resigned from the police force in 2013.  He left to Houston TX where he took a lucrative management job.

Also in 2013 Missouri Assistant Attorney General Dana Tucker filed a summary report on the case that said “the currently available evidence raises serious questions as to whether the shooting occurred as stated.”  The year before, investigators found Stockley’s DNA on the gun he claimed he took from Smith’s car after killing him.  Smith’s DNA was not on the gun.  Additionally, Stockley’s DNA appeared on a screw in the gun, indicating that the cop had handled it considerably.

Gun that Stockley was accused of planting on Anthony Lamar Smith

On Saturday, September 21, 2019, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Missouri Attorney General’s office had “concealed that information from lawyers, city officials and reporters“.  The facts surrounding Smith’s death were not available to his family in 2013 when they settled a wrongful death suit for $900,000.

The DNA evidence was made available in 2016 when Stockley went to trial for murder.  At the trial, it was brought out that a police car device recorded Stockley telling his partner, “I’m gonna kill that ******!” as they chased Smith at over 80 miles per hour through city streets.  A video documented that after Stockley killed Smith, he went back to the police car, grabbed an object and placed it by the victim.

Pointing out that it would make no sense for an officer who had killed a suspect to handle evidence, the prosecuting attorney charged that Stockley had planted the .38-caliber revolver so he could claim “self-defense.”  Stockley decided to not request a jury trial, leaving his fate to a single judge.  Of 83 cops charged with killing civilians during the previous 12 years none has ever been convicted in a “bench trial.”

As St. Louis waited for the verdict, media reviewed possible sentences of death or life imprisonment or conviction of second degree murder.  The corporate press almost skipped over a theoretical option of “not guilty.”  But in the days leading up to revelation of the judge’s decision, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens and St. Louis City politicians urged “calm,” as if they knew a storm was about to break.

During the wait for the verdict, St. Louis civil rights activists remembered that on the first anniversary of Michael Brown’s death, several police in Columbia MO announced they were having “Darren Wilson Day” in order to celebrate that cop’s killing the unarmed Michael Brown.  Two days before the judge’s decision was made public, Richard Geisenheyner, of Liberty Plaza MO, hung a sign by his confederate flag saying “SLAVES 4 SALE.”  He explained that he was “tired of the government telling him what to think.”

On September 15, 2017, the St. Louis community was stunned to learn that Jason Stockley would not get the death penalty, not life imprisonment, and not even one day in jail.  The judge decreed that Stockley was innocent and set him free.  Free to become a cause célèbre of the Ku Klux Klan.

Within minutes of the news hitting the air, Zaki Baruti, leader of the Universal African Peoples Organization and Green Party candidate for governor in 2000, had pulled together nine people to protest by the courthouse.  The crowd of demonstrators soon mushroomed to hundreds.

September 15, 2017 protest of Stockley acquittal

The meaning of the verdict was clear:  If Jason Stockley could not be convicted of any crime, the judge’s decision said that no white cop should ever be convicted of killing a black man, regardless of the evidence against him.

St. Louis police were pulled from many regular duties and announced that they were unable to provide security for weekend events which were canceled across the city.  Investors moaned the loss of revenue from cancellation of concerts.  Dozens of schools let students out early that day.

By Monday, students had walked out of class in at least 3 high schools and 2 universities.  In addition to street demonstrations, hundreds marched through shopping malls.  There have been so many spontaneous marches that no one knows for sure how many people have participated – several thousand for certain by Wednesday, September 20.

Demonstrations spread across St. Louis City and County and Governor Greitens re-appeared with National Guard tanks announcing his willingness to do whatever necessary to maintain order.  Area cops had a field day attacking and pepper spraying demonstrators after boxing them in or when they were trying to disperse.

The Riverfront Times reported that at 7:30 pm on September 17, a cop  “driving an unmarked patrol car put the blue Impala in reverse and shot through an approaching crowd, narrowly missing protesters.”  Everyone was acutely aware of the murder less than a month before of anti-racist Heather Heyer by a white supremacist racing his car into a crowd in Charlottesville VA.

The Green Party of St. Louis had intense internal discussions regarding how to respond to both the 2014 killing of Michael Brown and the 2017 acquittal of Stockley.  Several Greens had led demands for body cameras and civilian oversight boards for the police.  But many felt that these did not get to the heart of the matter, which was that killer cops walk free regardless of the evidence against them.

What cops need more than cultural sensitivity training is an understanding that they can and will go to jail for their own criminal behavior.  With the idea in mind that the best therapy for a racist cop is witnessing another cop doing hard time behind bars, in 2014 St. Louis Greens had multiple signs printed advocating consequences for the killer of Michael Brown: “Jail Darren Wilson for Life!”  In 2017, the Party recycled these signs by taping the name “Jason Stockley” over that of Wilson.

Green Party recycles sign to imprison Darren Wilson

The months of protesting the freeing of Stockley was barely over when a new scandal shook Missouri.  The same Governor Eric Greitens who had urged calm while putting the National Guard on alter announced during his January 11, 2018 “State of the State” address that he had had an affair and that he and his wife had come to terms with it.

That admission left out details of bondage and sexual blackmail that made it the center of news stories for months. The woman in the affair had been Greiten’s hair stylist in 2015, when he asked her to his home.  After she arrived he invited her to his basement for a “real thrill.”  There, he allegedly taped her wrists to exercise equipment and blindfolded and began undressing her.

In a report from her husband, who secretly taped her confession, she had not objected to anything at that point.  But she became terrified when seeing a camera flash from edges of the tape covering her eyes and heard the threat “You’re never going to mention my name, otherwise this picture will be everywhere.”

As details of the scandal unfolded, Missouri Republicans became increasingly uneasy about their wonder boy in the governor’s mansion.  They easily overlooked his being a former Democrat who campaigned for Obama.  Greitens won them over during his 2016 run for governor when TV ads featured his holding an automatic weapon.  Once in office, he got the Missouri legislature to undermine unions by promoting laws on “right-to-work” and prohibiting cities from having a minimum wage above the state level.

Oozing self-confidence, he had reserved a “Greitens for President” website.  Most Missouri Republicans would not come out against Greitens, instead having a wait-and-see attitude.  If he could escape prosecution for terrorizing a woman, he might just be the gun-toting, union-busting guy to be their man in the White House.

Yet, this was not to be.  Greitens lived in St. Louis, which allowed Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner to bring charges against him in January, 2018.  The first black woman to hold that post, she pursued the case and kept the scandal in the public eye until he resigned in June 2018.  Zaki Baruti clearly remembers Greitens’ vowing to “destroy her reputation” as he left office.  Indignant that a black woman could bring down such a promising and handsome white man, Missouri Republicans have been seething ever since.

They soon found allies in their anti-Gardner crusade.  The Circuit Attorney wants to develop a “diversion program” to keep first-time offenders out of prison by developing community supports.  This is a direct affront to the “lock ’em up” mentality which seeks to punish and hurt whoever cannot afford to hire an expensive lawyer.

Even more upsetting to some, Gardner made a list of several dozen cops who should not be trusted as witnesses in court due to making racist remarks online or otherwise indicating that their testimony would be suspect.  The St. Louis Police Officers Association became outraged and demanded that Gardner recant.

Instead of taking any action to reduce cop violence SLPOA is going along with members who repeatedly file lawsuits against the City of St. Louis when attempts are made to discipline them.  Thus, a city scrapped for money is forced to pay for both civil judgments resulting from police wrongdoing and suits brought by cops themselves.

Jason Stockley’s lawsuit charging “defamation and malicious prosecution” was the epitome of cops’ thumbing their noses at any efforts to make them abide by the same standards of human decency that the rest of us are held to.  When it was thrown out of court on February 14, 2019, Kim Gardner called it a “tremendous victory” and condemned such “baseless lawsuits” and “shameful behavior” of the SLPOA.

This pattern of collaboration between cops who kill black men, courts who don’t charge them or let them off, politicians who cover up evidence, and police organizations that seek to undo any challenges to white supremacy could have repercussions throughout the US and other countries.  It forebodes coordinated efforts to protect cops from ever being arrested and tried not just for deadly racism, but also for homophobic killings, femicide and anti-labor and anti-environmental death squads.

Events in St. Louis are occurring in a context of a Trumpist cancer that is rampantly spreading throughout the global body.  This disease is clearest in the case of anti-immigrant hatred directed against Hispanics who are victims of US-inspired dictatorships and corporate-inspired climate change.  People throughout the world are increasingly fleeing from climate disasters as right-wing forces increase vitriolic intolerance of “outsiders.”

In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro watches the rainforest burn so indigenous peoples and earth defenders can be driven out as resource extraction increases.  In India, Prime Minister Modi declares war on dalits (“untouchables”), adivasi (native people) and Muslims of Kashmir.  Throughout Europe, neo-Nazi cliques are on the rise, blaming the troubles of capitalism on immigrants who flee their homes for the same reasons immigrants seek asylum in the US.

As climate catastrophe heightens, ruling classes are telling the more privileged to shut out the “other.”  Yet, tomorrow’s definition of “privileged” will be narrowed so that most of those on the inside today will themselves become the “other” in the future.

We cannot afford for our separate efforts for human rights to be apart from each other while anti-human rights forces are sharpening their strategies of exclusion.  It is an objective historic necessity to understand that barbarity against any group anywhere is a crime against all.  Though it has been said many, many times before, it is critical that campaigns for human liberation hang together or divergent struggles will hang separately.

Railroaded by the Judges: Boris Johnson fails in the UK Supreme Court

It delighted Labour supporters and party apparatchiks who had been falling over each other in murderous ceremony at the party conference in Brighton: Prime Minister Boris Johnson would come to the unwitting rescue with his own version of a grand cock-up.  This involved a now defeated attempt to circumvent parliamentary scrutiny and interference ahead of the Brexit date of October 31 through a prorogation of parliament.

Johnson still felt he was in with a chance, and with good reason.  The UK Constitution is a nebulous muddle of conventions, documents and interpretations, a body of constitutional law without a constitution.  It is a 350-year old absurdity that relies on good behaviour, toe-tipping judges and sensible MPs.  But as Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion argues, Britain faces “a Prime Minister with no respect for the rules and a downright contempt for the law.”

Some decisions had favoured the government.  On September 6, London’s Divisional Court held that the advice to the monarch to suspend parliament was distinctly a no-go area for judges, purely a matter for rowdy political assertion.  As Lord Bingham noted in 2005, “The more purely political (in a broad or narrow sense) a question is, the more appropriate it will be for political resolution and the less likely it is to be an appropriate matter for judicial decision.”  It was, however, accepted “that decisions of the Executive are not immune from judicial review merely because they were carried out pursuant to an exercise of the Royal Prerogative”.

In the case of Johnson’s prorogation, it was “impossible for the court to make a legal assessment of whether the duration of the prorogation was excessive by reference to any measure”.  The same decision was also reached in the Belfast High Court, which proved similarly hesitant to step on the toes of the Executive.

The Scottish Court of Session expressed no such reserve, with Lords Carloway, Brodie and Drummond Young unimpressed by a process seemingly designed to stymie parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive.  Tactics deployed in achieving such prorogation might well be considered by a court to be improper.  This, the judges claimed to be the case.

The UK Supreme Court seemed well irritated by the presumptuousness of the Prime Minister’s position.  Courts do not always take kindly to suggestions of incompetence, even in such a fields as political manoeuvring and skulduggery.  In a unanimous judgment, the eleven judges ruled that it was “impossible to conclude, on the evidence which has been put before us, that there had been any reason – let alone good reason – to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks”.

The judgment is littered with well-directed grenades of disapproval, starting with the poke that it arose “in circumstances which have never risen before and are unlikely ever to arise again.”  (Judicial optimists, evidently.)  The Prime Minister had a constitutional responsibility “to have regard to all relevant interests, including the interests of Parliament” in advising the monarch.  Nor could the mix between law and politics necessarily render judges incapable of intervening for, going back to 1611, “the King hath no prerogative, but that which the law of the land allows him”.

More juicily, the Supreme Court justices were clear on the point that prorogation, in its effect, prevented the application of ministerial responsibility during that period.  This had the effect of making the PM “unaccountable by Parliament until after a new session of Parliament had commenced”.  This could lead to the case of Parliament “closing the stable door after the horse had bolted.”  (A true equine beast is Brexit proving to be.)

What, then, of the standards in assessing such a prerogative power?  Other courts had been reluctant, claiming vagueness and impossibility.  It was not, in the classic idiosyncrasies of this sceptred isle, scripted.  No matter: “every prerogative power has its limits” to be determined by the court; and such a power had to be exercised in accordance with common law principles and the operation of Parliament itself.  Each branch of government, accordingly, had limits that required curial assessment; it was not for the courts to “shirk that responsibility merely on the ground that the question raised is political in tone or context.”

This led to an almost stirring defence of the court’s role in defending Parliamentary sovereignty, which has been threatened since the 17th century “time and time again” by undue exercises of prerogative powers.  In this case, Parliament’s exercise of legislative authority for the duration it pleased would be subverted by the Executive’s use of the prerogative.  “An unlimited power of prorogation would therefore be incompatible with the legal principles of Parliamentary sovereignty.”  Not could the Executive avoid its own responsibilities to parliament in being scrutinised.

At times, the judgment moves into a tone of discomfort and concern.  One point stands out: the prospects of long prorogation periods.  The longer the duration, the greater the likelihood of tyranny, “that responsible government may be replaced by unaccountable government”.

To the government’s argument that the prorogation was “a proceeding of Parliament” that could never be impugned or challenged by a court, the judges retorted that it was for them to decide, not parliament, how far such privileges extended.  Nor could the prorogation be sensibly termed a parliamentary proceeding, not being a decision of either House of Parliament.

All in all, it followed that Johnson’s advice to the Queen had been unlawful, having “the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of parliament to carry out its functions without reasonable justification”, thereby rendering the entire process behind prorogation void.

As is in keeping with such matters, disgruntled Tories felt that the irritations of law had intervened with the populist measures of Johnson’s agenda.  The “people” were being muzzled and mocked by the court’s aggrandized constitutional functions.  Jacob Rees-Mogg expressed a distinctly unconservative view in a cabinet call with the prime minister calling the decision a “constitutional coup”.  (He obviously had not read the part of the judgment that the court was performing its functions without offending the separation of powers.)  The Spectator fumed at this “constitutional outrage”.

Brexit Party MEP Belinda de Lucy was similarly snooty on the court’s power on the matter. “We believe the sovereignty lies with people” judicial swerving into matters political suggests a move into “dangerous territory”. (The point missed here is the court’s understanding that Parliament remains, in its form, the arbiter of that sovereignty and should, therefore, not be improperly restricted from its oversight.)

The result of the ruling means that Parliament will return to Westminster for a Wednesday reconvening.  While that institution has not impressed with its vacillations, confusions and periods of paralysis, it remains one worth defending before the demagogues and the shifty, something President Lady Hale and the rest of the judges were more than willing to do.  Should Brexit ever be realised, Parliament might well consider a little bit of constitutional codification.

Improper Purposes: Boris Johnson’s Suspension of Parliament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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