Category Archives: Ecuador

How Monopoly Media Abets the Persecutors of Assange

On 11 April 2019 Julian Assange was carried by UK police from the sovereign territory of Ecuador’s London embassy. He was then conveyed to Westminster magistrates court, which convicted him of absconding within fifteen minutes.

The event was captured in iconic images displaying his untrimmed beard, which is significant for two overlooked reasons. One is that visual documentation would be lacking if not for the presence of vigilant supporters. The other is that Ecuador progressively deprived their asylee of everything he needed, including shaving equipment cancelled months before the last vestige of asylum.

Disinformation and Machination

A Newsweek headline from 2018 still reads ‘Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange Tells Russia-Aligned Media the FBI Is Spying on Him’. But he only addressed a court in Ecuador. Telesur was among those covering his testimony, yet simply mentioned “a video conference” without making the legal context explicit. As this outlet is known for resisting US narrative, it may be unsurprising that Newsweek conjured an exclusive release from Assange to enemy propagandists.

He said Ecuador was engaging in espionage against him, relaying data to the US and precipitating a health crisis to remove him from the embassy by way of death or a medical excuse for handing him over to the UK. Following suit with Newsweek, most coverage of this was dismissive and misleading.

The Guardian also persists with a slanderous report that Assange met with Paul Manafort, Trump’s later campaign chairman. The article alleges three meetings on different days and mentions clothing details like “sandy-coloured chinos” as if to notify police. Yet none of the 24/7 security footage emerged to reveal Manafort’s person or pants, meticulous records are devoid of him and the consul in the embassy at the time, Fidel Navarez, specifically debunks the story. Originally on the byline was a reporter previously convicted by Ecuador of a false and defamatory claim, Fernando Villavicencio, whom it also accused — with metadata evidence — of fabricating a document regarding their oil drilling.

Since its initial, perception-conditioning splash, the media has backpedalled from the article. The Guardian itself was no exception to this, despite leaving it online after an edit with some hedging terms. Perhaps that was an effort to save face, though it only seemed to increase ignominy.

Manafort nonetheless had business with Ecuador and not in London. He went to the equatorial nation to meet its newly elected President, Lenin Moreno and it was widely reported that they discussed debt relief, in exchange for US possession of Assange, like trading oil or bananas.

Changes brought by Moreno include removing Assange from their London embassy, beginning with harsh measures like cutting his internet, restricting visitors and issuing a list of tripwire demands. The latter were part of a document which threatened the end of his asylum, in terms replete with defamatory insinuations. Such were predictably seized upon by the media as warranting claims that happened to be false, about medical bills and his cat among other things.

Assange responded to Ecuador with a lawsuit occasioning the testimony noted above. This was referred to its Constitutional Court, which had all judges replaced under Moreno after being shut down for the relevant months.

Lawyers accordingly drew Ecuador’s neglect of his asylum to the attention of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, which emphasised that it must not be terminated. The IACH stopped short of issuing a formal precautionary measure on this point, to its embarrassment, as within a month Ecuador invited British police to carry Assange away.

The reason they violated due process in terminating asylum is simply that there was no way to do it legally. Yet as always, the press was ready to ignore such technicalities and portray the eviction in terms of smears. Moreno even obliged them with lurid claims about faeces on walls. The evidence which inspired this appears to be one image capturing a discoloration on the bathroom light switch. Perhaps something was then imagined in relation to having deprived Assange of toiletries.

Eve of the Deed

Assange’s kidnapping correlated with publication of the fact that he had been spied on in the embassy. Wikileaks actually held a press conference which broke that news one day prior to him being hauled away.

They mentioned at the time that sensitive communication with his legal counsel was among data suspected of having been routed to the US. Testimony given by former security contractors working at the embassy subsequently confirmed that arrangement.

Privileged legal defence — against reprisals for publishing leaked evidence of war crimes — had been exfiltrated for US prosecutors.

Yet questions from the press at this meeting were loaded to imply an equivalence of these two very different instances of exposure, as if Wikileaks must concede some pivotal irony which serves it right.

Given the specific relevance of this attitude to state lawlessness, civil and military, it is seems hard to conceive of a more sinister fallacy propagated on behalf of either one.

Yet it was seriously invoked by the press, which thereby turned its critical spotlight away from abusers of power — to abet them and betray all else — by directing it against a publisher for informing the public of such abuses.

To be sure, they were relentless in this line of “questioning” and would not yield an inch to being disabused of their errors by thoroughly cogent answers.

Instead of giving the story its due at the time, they worked to trivialise it. Nor did they do anything else to stop bragging conspirators abducting him on the next day, as might have been the case if they had made serious enquiries and prompted a defensive position.

It accordingly takes ignorance to imagine the press as innocent in this grisly bit of history. Indeed, if it had not fostered the conditions for Assange’s vilification and kidnapping, none of his decade of documented torture would have transpired as it did.

The Role of the Media

What should all this mean to journalists who reflect on a publisher being extradited?

It seems the high calling of the press has been answered with ultimate self-sacrifice, as they zealously worked for this very precedent to be set.

Assange was characterised as bringing all troubles on himself. Writers apparently wondered why he refused to open his eyes to their liberating truths, when he could have just walked out the embassy door to be burnt at the stake, as the initial offering to flames they prepared for themselves.

Whether this fire be lit for revelations of DNC abuses or US war crimes appears of no concern to many of them. It seems everything is to be torched in their view, including the essence of Western freedom, justice and accuracy, so long as the primary object is to punish or topple somebody cast as an enemy of such values.

Assange was “an accused rapist,” as opposed to presumed innocent of rape accusations made by certain prosecutors, lawyers and other defamers in contradiction of statements from the listed complainant. He also published authentic information that reflected poorly on a presidential candidate whom many considered the lesser evil.

So never mind the spirit of international law, its plainly written covenants or their legally binding ratification by countries such as the US, UK, Ecuador and Australia, because Assange looked ripe for decomposition under the pile of refuse dumped on him.

Thanks to moral blinkers and conflicts of interest, establishment media and the intellectual milieu it draws upon can err grotesquely. This toxic culture is the crux of the everything to do with the struggle of Wikileaks. The necessity to overcome it is what gave birth the project. Then, when it came of age, an alliance was made, which ended in treachery on par with murder.

Along with profound psychological impacts listed by an eminent psychiatrist in court, Assange’s health has been decimated to the extent of losing 10 lean kilos. In his shoes a less exceptionally resilient person would probably dead by now, yet nothing is done to stop a ratcheting up of his hardship. Repeated calls from organised doctors and lawyers to get him to an adequate hospital have been increasingly ignored by the media, despite the fact that he is only in prison on remand and for publishing what another country is rightly embarrassed by.

This is plainly how the world dysfunctions and why little else can presently improve. Like most of what it professes to hold to account, journalism is increasingly a racket.

The post How Monopoly Media Abets the Persecutors of Assange first appeared on Dissident Voice.

How Monopoly Media Abets the Persecutors of Assange

On 11 April 2019 Julian Assange was carried by UK police from the sovereign territory of Ecuador’s London embassy. He was then conveyed to Westminster magistrates court, which convicted him of absconding within fifteen minutes.

The event was captured in iconic images displaying his untrimmed beard, which is significant for two overlooked reasons. One is that visual documentation would be lacking if not for the presence of vigilant supporters. The other is that Ecuador progressively deprived their asylee of everything he needed, including shaving equipment cancelled months before the last vestige of asylum.

Disinformation and Machination

A Newsweek headline from 2018 still reads ‘Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange Tells Russia-Aligned Media the FBI Is Spying on Him’. But he only addressed a court in Ecuador. Telesur was among those covering his testimony, yet simply mentioned “a video conference” without making the legal context explicit. As this outlet is known for resisting US narrative, it may be unsurprising that Newsweek conjured an exclusive release from Assange to enemy propagandists.

He said Ecuador was engaging in espionage against him, relaying data to the US and precipitating a health crisis to remove him from the embassy by way of death or a medical excuse for handing him over to the UK. Following suit with Newsweek, most coverage of this was dismissive and misleading.

The Guardian also persists with a slanderous report that Assange met with Paul Manafort, Trump’s later campaign chairman. The article alleges three meetings on different days and mentions clothing details like “sandy-coloured chinos” as if to notify police. Yet none of the 24/7 security footage emerged to reveal Manafort’s person or pants, meticulous records are devoid of him and the consul in the embassy at the time, Fidel Navarez, specifically debunks the story. Originally on the byline was a reporter previously convicted by Ecuador of a false and defamatory claim, Fernando Villavicencio, whom it also accused — with metadata evidence — of fabricating a document regarding their oil drilling.

Since its initial, perception-conditioning splash, the media has backpedalled from the article. The Guardian itself was no exception to this, despite leaving it online after an edit with some hedging terms. Perhaps that was an effort to save face, though it only seemed to increase ignominy.

Manafort nonetheless had business with Ecuador and not in London. He went to the equatorial nation to meet its newly elected President, Lenin Moreno and it was widely reported that they discussed debt relief, in exchange for US possession of Assange, like trading oil or bananas.

Changes brought by Moreno include removing Assange from their London embassy, beginning with harsh measures like cutting his internet, restricting visitors and issuing a list of tripwire demands. The latter were part of a document which threatened the end of his asylum, in terms replete with defamatory insinuations. Such were predictably seized upon by the media as warranting claims that happened to be false, about medical bills and his cat among other things.

Assange responded to Ecuador with a lawsuit occasioning the testimony noted above. This was referred to its Constitutional Court, which had all judges replaced under Moreno after being shut down for the relevant months.

Lawyers accordingly drew Ecuador’s neglect of his asylum to the attention of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, which emphasised that it must not be terminated. The IACH stopped short of issuing a formal precautionary measure on this point, to its embarrassment, as within a month Ecuador invited British police to carry Assange away.

The reason they violated due process in terminating asylum is simply that there was no way to do it legally. Yet as always, the press was ready to ignore such technicalities and portray the eviction in terms of smears. Moreno even obliged them with lurid claims about faeces on walls. The evidence which inspired this appears to be one image capturing a discoloration on the bathroom light switch. Perhaps something was then imagined in relation to having deprived Assange of toiletries.

Eve of the Deed

Assange’s kidnapping correlated with publication of the fact that he had been spied on in the embassy. Wikileaks actually held a press conference which broke that news one day prior to him being hauled away.

They mentioned at the time that sensitive communication with his legal counsel was among data suspected of having been routed to the US. Testimony given by former security contractors working at the embassy subsequently confirmed that arrangement.

Privileged legal defence — against reprisals for publishing leaked evidence of war crimes — had been exfiltrated for US prosecutors.

Yet questions from the press at this meeting were loaded to imply an equivalence of these two very different instances of exposure, as if Wikileaks must concede some pivotal irony which serves it right.

Given the specific relevance of this attitude to state lawlessness, civil and military, it is seems hard to conceive of a more sinister fallacy propagated on behalf of either one.

Yet it was seriously invoked by the press, which thereby turned its critical spotlight away from abusers of power — to abet them and betray all else — by directing it against a publisher for informing the public of such abuses.

To be sure, they were relentless in this line of “questioning” and would not yield an inch to being disabused of their errors by thoroughly cogent answers.

Instead of giving the story its due at the time, they worked to trivialise it. Nor did they do anything else to stop bragging conspirators abducting him on the next day, as might have been the case if they had made serious enquiries and prompted a defensive position.

It accordingly takes ignorance to imagine the press as innocent in this grisly bit of history. Indeed, if it had not fostered the conditions for Assange’s vilification and kidnapping, none of his decade of documented torture would have transpired as it did.

The Role of the Media

What should all this mean to journalists who reflect on a publisher being extradited?

It seems the high calling of the press has been answered with ultimate self-sacrifice, as they zealously worked for this very precedent to be set.

Assange was characterised as bringing all troubles on himself. Writers apparently wondered why he refused to open his eyes to their liberating truths, when he could have just walked out the embassy door to be burnt at the stake, as the initial offering to flames they prepared for themselves.

Whether this fire be lit for revelations of DNC abuses or US war crimes appears of no concern to many of them. It seems everything is to be torched in their view, including the essence of Western freedom, justice and accuracy, so long as the primary object is to punish or topple somebody cast as an enemy of such values.

Assange was “an accused rapist,” as opposed to presumed innocent of rape accusations made by certain prosecutors, lawyers and other defamers in contradiction of statements from the listed complainant. He also published authentic information that reflected poorly on a presidential candidate whom many considered the lesser evil.

So never mind the spirit of international law, its plainly written covenants or their legally binding ratification by countries such as the US, UK, Ecuador and Australia, because Assange looked ripe for decomposition under the pile of refuse dumped on him.

Thanks to moral blinkers and conflicts of interest, establishment media and the intellectual milieu it draws upon can err grotesquely. This toxic culture is the crux of the everything to do with the struggle of Wikileaks. The necessity to overcome it is what gave birth the project. Then, when it came of age, an alliance was made, which ended in treachery on par with murder.

Along with profound psychological impacts listed by an eminent psychiatrist in court, Assange’s health has been decimated to the extent of losing 10 lean kilos. In his shoes a less exceptionally resilient person would probably dead by now, yet nothing is done to stop a ratcheting up of his hardship. Repeated calls from organised doctors and lawyers to get him to an adequate hospital have been increasingly ignored by the media, despite the fact that he is only in prison on remand and for publishing what another country is rightly embarrassed by.

This is plainly how the world dysfunctions and why little else can presently improve. Like most of what it professes to hold to account, journalism is increasingly a racket.

The post How Monopoly Media Abets the Persecutors of Assange first appeared on Dissident Voice.

US Role Behind the Defeat of Ecuador’s Leftist Presidential Candidate

The US role in the defeat of leftist Andrés Arauz in Ecuador’s presidential contest on April 11 was not overt because it did not need to be, according to a high-ranking Latin American diplomat. We met with the diplomat and others on an official election observation delegation with CODEPINK. Names of some sources remain anonymous due to a hostile political environment towards progressives.

This setback for the Citizens Revolution movement, founded by Rafael Correa, will have profound implications for Ecuador and beyond, fortifying the US-allied reactionary bloc in Latin America.

Former President Correa left office with a 60% approval rating. He had been twice elected president on the first round; unprecedented for Ecuador, which had a turnover of seven presidents in the previous decade. His Alianza País party had won fourteen elections, reflecting the popularity of their wealth redistributive programs, including reducing extreme poverty in half.

His chosen successor, Lenín Moreno, will exit on May 24 with a single-digit approval rating. Much happened in the ensuing four years. Correa went from being the most popular democratically elected president in the country’s history to having his party rejected by an electoral majority.

¿Qué pasó? – What happened?

In 2017, Correa had campaigned for his former vice president to carry on their Citizens Revolution. However, once in office, sitting President Moreno turned sharply right against his former colleagues, employing lawfare to decapitate the leadership of the Citizens Revolution. His own vice-president, Jorge Glas, is now in prison and other top officials have been forced to flee Ecuador. Correa, accused of using “psychic influence,” was convicted in absentia in an evidence-weak corruption trial that prevented him from returning to Ecuador.

According to Correa’s attorney, Fausto Jarrín, Moreno was assisted by the US in this legal dismantling of his own party. Casting pretenses aside, Moreno was in Washington on the day of the first round of the Ecuadorian presidential elections. Just before the second round, Moreno and his top officials flew to the Galapagos to meet with the US ambassador.

Moreno handed the shop over to the US.  He revoked Julian Assange’s Ecuadorian citizenship, allowing Assange to be arrested in the UK. He recognized Juan Guaidó’s bogus claim to the presidency of Venezuela. After US Vice President Pence visited Ecuador, the FBI was welcomed back. Even a US military base in the Galapagos (part of Ecuador) was gifted to Washington.

Moreno expelled the Cuban doctors and withdrew from key regional alliances: UNASUR, CELAC, and ALBA. At a time of COVID, these actions had lethal consequences. Had Ecuador instead maintained its membership in the regional organizations, their collective power could have been used to obtain vaccines and other resources to fight the pandemic.

Moreno imposed an IMF austerity package on Ecuador, only to be partly withdrawn in the face of a massive indigenous-led protest in October 2019. Then under the cover of the presidential election campaign and pandemic, Moreno reinstated the unpopular measures.

The turncoat Moreno adopted a full-throated neoliberal program and is scrambling to enact additional “economic reforms” before his term is over to prevent the next administration from “putting the toothpaste back in the tube.” But he needn’t worry. Incoming President Guillermo Lasso not only shares the same neoliberal program, but members of Lasso’s right wing political party collaborated with Moreno in the National Assembly.

This has been a brilliant strategy for the right. Ecuador is in economic crisis with the impacts of austerity measures exacerbated by the pandemic. By putting in place a full neoliberal program before leaving office, Moreno spares Lasso the onus of the unpopular measures while serving international finance represented by Lasso and the US.

Lawfare used to rig the electoral playing field

Ecuador’s electoral authority, the CNE, did not recognize the Arauz campaign until December for a February 7 first-round election. Arauz, who was sick with COVID in December, had spent the last four months battling for party certification while the other campaigns were gaining momentum.

Unlike their rich banker opponent, the Arauz campaign was strapped for funds to build an on-the-ground campaign infrastructure. More importantly, lawfare measures prevented them from even using their party’s name, forcing them to cobble together UNES as their new party.

Further, Correa with his considerable name recognition and popularity was banned from running as Arauz’s vice president. Worse, the party was prohibited from using Correa’s image, name, or voice in their campaign materials. Yet other parties could invoke Correa to smear the Arauz campaign by falsely accusing Correa of corruption and associating Arauz with Correa as also corrupt.

Despite all these hurdles, Arauz won the first-round election with a 32% vote, giving him a 13-point lead over second-place Lasso, but short of the 40% or more needed to avoid a second-round contest. Arauz also was leading in the polls, but that was to change with a massive disinformation campaign.

Right-wing propaganda campaign

The right-wing mobilized its near monopoly of mass media to spin sworn enemies Moreno and the Citizens Revolution as allied, in what an Arauz campaign leader characterized as the “TikTok and meme-ification” of political discourse.

Arauz, an energetic 36-year-old economic wiz, was portrayed as stupid and lethargic. In contrast, the 65-year-old conservative Lasso put on a pair of red shoes and was marketed as hip.

A four-year rightist media campaign portrayed Correa and associates as corrupt.  A Citizens Revolution militant explained, “if you repeat a lie ten times, it becomes a truth.” The “NGO left,” funded by the US and its European allies, contributed to this inversion of reality.

Struggle ahead in Ecuador

Guillermo Lasso, owner of the second largest bank in Ecuador, won with a 5-point lead. Arauz said in his concession speech: “This is an electoral setback but by no means a political or moral defeat.”

With 49 out of 137 seats in the National Assembly, his party remains the single largest bloc. The task of the Citizens Revolution politicians, according to party leaders, will be to maintain unity within their own ranks while forging coalitions with potential allies.

Meanwhile, they will have to fend off continued lawfare attacks and repression from the right. Some militants have already left the country.

The second largest bloc in the assembly with 27 seats is the ideologically diverse and indigenous Pachakutik. The Citizens Revolution’s relationships with the leadership of some indigenous organizations and, for that matter, certain labor unions have at times been contentious.

Correa opposed the clientelism of the past and shunned “selling” ministries and other positions to politically influential leaders in return for their support. Correa concentrated instead on serving the interests of their constituents with infrastructure projects for underserved indigenous regions, granting water rights, and promoting multi-cultural education and health policies. Likewise, workers got wage gains.

In retrospect, the Citizens Revolution is now openly self-critical about running roughshod over some indigenous and labor leaders. Amends will have to be made, according to a former Correa minister.

“Promoting democracy” in service of the US empire

Ruling elites hold elections to legitimize their rule, not because they believe in democracy. By the time of the 2021 presidential election in Ecuador, the playing field had been rendered so precipitously unlevel that the US had little need to overtly intervene as it did in Bolivia in 2019.

But that did not mean that the US was not actively intervening. The websites of USAID, NED, NDI, and IRI make no secret of the imperial hubris of pretending to “promote democracy” in Ecuador. The US laid the groundwork, according to a high-level diplomat, to unify the right and rig the contest against the left.

As William Blum revealed, US intelligence had prior to Correa and likely since, “infiltrated, often at the highest levels, almost all political organizations of significance, from the far left to the far right…In virtually every department of the Ecuadorian government could be found men occupying positions high and low who collaborated with the CIA for money.”

Commenting on the new Biden administration, Correa’s former Ambassador Ricardo Ulcuango observed that US foreign policy is the same with Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats, he added, are more dangerous because they are better at speaking about cooperation when they are, in fact, intervening.

The post US Role Behind the Defeat of Ecuador’s Leftist Presidential Candidate first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Dirty Campaign Underlying Ecuador’s “Free and Fair” Election

A spoiled ballot in Ecuador’s elections. Photo by @AlinaDuarte

Ecuador’s April 11 election that led to a 5-point victory by conservative banker Guillermo Lasso over progressive candidate Andrés Arauz was not what it appeared to be.  On the surface, it was a surprisingly clean and professional election, as our CODEPINK official observer delegation witnessed. But a fraud-free process for casting and counting ballots does not mean that the election was free and fair. Behind the scenes was a monumentally unequal playing field and dirty campaign designed to quash an Arauz win.

For starters, Arauz—a 36-year-old follower of the political leanings of former president Rafael Correa and his Citizens Revolution—barely even got on the ballot. The political party he tried to run under was banned by the National Electoral Council (CNE). He and his supporters formed a new political party and that, too, was banned. Eventually they found a small party that let them borrow their slot, but by then it was late December and the first round of elections was on February 7. The other campaigns had a four or five month head start.

Arauz, who was virtually unknown, wanted to have Rafael Correa as his vice president, but the CNE banned Correa from being on the ticket. Even more astounding, the electoral authorities actually prohibited the Arauz campaign from even using Correa’s voice or image. But in a show of blatant bias, they didn’t banish Correa’s image from being used in a negative way by his opponents.

Another intense obstacle was the role of the media. The corporate media dominate all the airwaves in Ecuador, and they were clearly in the Lasso camp. The media led a dirty campaign spreading fake news about Arauz, Correa and their supporters. They scared people by claiming that Arauz was going to de-dollarize the economy. Ecuador has been using the dollar as its currency since 2000, after a financial crisis saw the collapse of its former currency, the sucre. An economist, Arauz was well aware that dollarization had stabilized Ecuador’s economy and he never even suggested going back to the sucre.

A particularly absurd accusation came from Colombia, where the country’s right-wing attorney general claimed that the National Liberation Army, an armed insurgent group that has been operating in Colombia for decades, made an $80,000 loan to Arauz’s campaign based on a doctored video that was proven to be false. . This accusation nevertheless continued to circulate throughout the press to sully Arauz’s character.

A concerted smear campaign also attacked the legacy of Rafael Correa to scare people away from voting for Arauz. During his time in power from 2007 to 2017, Correa brought economic and political stability to a country that had had seven presidents in ten years. Correa, who has a Ph.D. in economics, completely transformed Ecuador into a modern democracy with a vibrant middle class. He also brought tremendous gains to the poor, reducing poverty from 37 percent to 22 percent, and built critical infrastructure, including highways, hospitals and schools. But the portrayal in the media made Correa out to be a corrupt authoritarian who was a threat to democracy, creating a dilemma for the Arauz campaign about how much to align itself with Correa’s legacy.

The media smear campaign went hand-in-hand with attacks on the left that had been going on for the past four years under the presidency of Lenin Moreno. Ironically, Moreno had been Rafael Correa’s vice president and ran on the ticket of Correa’s Citizens Revolution. But once in power, he orchestrated a kind of “silent coup,” betraying Correa, the Citizens Revolution and the progressive policies they stood for. Making common cause with the elites, including Guillermo Lasso, he imposed austerity policies and signed a terrible deal with the IMF that focused on budget cuts, deregulation and reducing workers’ rights. In October 2019, there was an uprising against the elimination of a fuel subsidy that would have raised prices on everything from transportation to food. It was put down violently by Moreno’s government and many of the protest leaders remain in prison today.

Lasso supported Moreno’s austerity measures, the deal with the IMF and the violent crackdown on protesters, yet his campaign successfully managed to create distance between him and Moreno. The narrative spun in the media was that Arauz would continue in the footsteps of Moreno and Correa, as if Moreno had not betrayed the movement.

Moreno viciously lashed out at the left through the misuse of the legal system for political purposes, a tactic known as lawfare. Jorge Glas, Moreno’s vice president, who spoke out against his betrayal of the Citizens Movement, was accused of corruption, convicted and put in jail, where he remains under dire conditions. Moreno’s government attacked Correa himself, who went into exile in Belgium to avoid being thrown into prison. There are about 30 charges pending against Correa, including a farcical accusation that he had psychic influence over people that led them to become corrupt.

Other top party leaders were hounded and are now either jailed, under house arrest, or forced into exile. The decapitation of the Citizens Revolution meant that Arauz’s campaign was significantly weaker than it would have been with their help.

Given all the strikes against Arauz, it is remarkable he did so well. Had it not been for lawfare, a biased CNE and a dirty campaign, he would have won. However, another major factor was the rift between the Citizens Revolution and the indigenous movement that happened under Correa’s tenure, which led to calls for a “null vote.”

The post The Dirty Campaign Underlying Ecuador’s “Free and Fair” Election first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Are We Not All in Search of Tomorrow

Oswaldo Terreros (Ecuador), Mural para la Universidad Superior de las Artes (‘Mural for the University of the Arts’), 2012.

Oswaldo Terreros (Ecuador), Mural para la Universidad Superior de las Artes (‘Mural for the University of the Arts’), 2012.

In 2019, 613 million Indians voted to appoint their representatives to the Indian parliament (Lok Sabha). During the election campaign, the political parties spent Rs. 60,000 crores (around US $8 billion), 45% of which was spent by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the governing party; the BJP won 37% of the vote, which translated into 303 of the 545 seats in the Lok Sabha. A year later, a massive $14 billion was spent on the US presidential and congressional elections, with the winning Democrat Party dominating the spending. These are massive amounts of money, whose grip on the democratic process is quite clear by now. Is it possible to talk about ‘democracy’ without being candid about the erosion of the democratic spirit by this avalanche of money?

Money floods the system, eats into the loyalties of politicians, corrupts the institutions of civil society, and shapes the narratives of the media. It matters that the dominant classes in our world own the main communications outlets and that these outlets shape the way people decipher the world around us. Although the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression’ (Article 19), the plain fact is that the concentration of the media in the hands of a few corporate entities circumscribes the freedom to ‘impart information and ideas through any media’. For this reason, Reporters Without Borders has an ongoing Media Ownership Monitor that traces the consolidation of the media held by corporate power, which in turn drives a political agenda within existing systems of government.

Paul Guiragossian (Lebanon), La Lutte de l’Existence (‘The Struggle of Existence’), 1988

Paul Guiragossian (Lebanon), La Lutte de l’Existence (‘The Struggle of Existence’), 1988

Aijaz Ahmad, Senior Fellow at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, argues that extreme right political projects find it possible to drive their agenda through democratic institutions, since the political structures in these countries – from the United States to India – have seen a considerable erosion of their democratic content. As Ahmad explains, the extreme right in countries such as the United States and India does not challenge the constitutional, liberal democratic form, but garrottes formal institutions by transforming society ‘in all domains of culture, religion, and civilisation’.

In Latin America, the extreme right has used every weapon to delegitimise its adversaries, including using perfectly good laws against corruption in a malicious way to target leaders of the left. This is a strategy called ‘lawfare’, where the law is used – often without evidence – to oust democratically-elected leaders of the left or to prevent them from running for office. Lawfare was used to remove Honduran president José Manuel Zelaya in 2009, Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo in 2012, and Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff in 2016; these leaders were all victims of judicial coup d’états. Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was denied the right to run for the presidency in 2018 by a lawsuit of no merit whatsoever amidst predictions in all polls that he would win. Argentina’s former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner faced a series of cases beginning in 2016, all of which prevented her from running again in 2019 (she is now the vice president, a testament to her popularity in the country).

Emiliano di Cavalcanti (Brazil), Sonhos do carnaval (‘Dreams of Carnaval’), 1955.

Emiliano di Cavalcanti (Brazil), Sonhos do carnaval (‘Dreams of Carnaval’), 1955.

In Ecuador, the oligarchy used the techniques of the guerra jurídica (‘legal war’) to delegitimise the entire left, especially former president Rafael Correa (2007-2017). Correa was accused of bribery – with the bizarre notion of ‘psychic influence’ (influjo psíquico) at the root of the case. He was handed down an eight-year sentence which prevented him from running for office in Ecuador.

Why was Correa anathema to both Ecuador’s dominant class and to the United States? The Citizens’ Revolution that Correa led passed a progressive constitution in 2008, which put the principle of ‘good living’ (buen vivir in Spanish and sumak kawsay in Quechua) at its heart. Government investment to strengthen social and economic rights came alongside a crackdown on corporate (including multinational) corruption. Oil revenue was not parked in foreign banks, but used to invest in educationhealth careroads, and other basic infrastructure. From Ecuador’s population of 17 million, nearly 2 million people were lifted out of poverty in the Correa years.

Correa’s government was an aberration to the multinational firms – such as the US-based oil company Chevron – and to the Ecuadorian oligarchy. Chevron’s dangerous case for compensation against Ecuador, brought forward before Correa took office, was nonetheless fiercely resisted by Correa’s government. The Dirty Hand (Mano Negra) campaign put enormous international pressure against Chevron, which worked closely with the US embassy in Quito and the US government to undermine Correa and his campaign against the oil giant.


Legendary musician Roger Waters talks to me about Chevron’s mischief in Ecuador

Not only did they want Correa out, but they wanted all the leftists – called Correistas by shorthand – out as well. Lenín Moreno, who was once close to Correa, ascended to the presidency in 2017, switched sides, became the main instrument for fragmenting the Ecuadorian left, and delivered Ecuador back to its elites and to the United States. Moreno’s government gutted the public sector by defunding education and health care, withdrawing labour and housing rights, attempting to sell off Ecuador’s refinery, and deregulating parts of the financial system. Collapsed oil prices that led to cuts in oil subsidies, a hefty loan from the International Monetary Fund at the cost of austerity measures, and mismanagement of the pandemic battered Moreno’s legitimacy. A consequence of these policies has been Ecuador’s appalling response to the pandemic, which includes accusations of the deliberate undercounting of as many as 20,000 COVID-19 deaths.

Firoz Mahmud (Bangladesh), Ouponibeshik/Porouponibeshik (‘Colonial/Postcolonial’), 2017.

Firoz Mahmud (Bangladesh), Ouponibeshik/Porouponibeshik (‘Colonial/Postcolonial’), 2017.

To ingratiate himself to the United States, Moreno ejected WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from Ecuador’s London embassy, arrested computer programmer and privacy activist Ola Bini on a concocted case, and launched a frontal attack against the Correistas. The political organisation of the Correistas was broken up, its leaders arrested, and any attempt to regroup for elections denied. Once such as example is the Social Compromise Force or Fuerza Compromiso Social platform, which the Correistas used  to run for local elections in 2019; this platform was then banned in 2020. A February 2018 referendum was barrelled through the country, allowing the government to destroy the democratic structures of the National Electoral Council (CNE), the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the Judiciary Council, the attorney general, the comptroller general, and others. Democracy was hollowed out.

A month before the 7 February 2021 presidential election, it appeared clear that in a fair election the candidate of the left, Andrés Arauz Galarza, would prevail. A range of pollsters suggested that Arauz would win in the first round with over the threshold of 40%. Arauz (age 35) is an attractive candidate with not a whiff of corruption or incompetence around him for his decade of service in the Central Bank and as a minister in the last two turbulent years of Correa’s government. When Correa left office, Arauz went to Mexico to pursue a PhD at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). The oligarchy has used every means to block his victory.

Gulnara Kasmalieva and Murat Djumaliev (Kyrgyzstan), Shadows, 1999.

Gulnara Kasmalieva and Murat Djumaliev (Kyrgyzstan), Shadows, 1999.

On 14 January, the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) provided Ecuador with a loan of $2.8 billion to be used to pay off Ecuador’s debt to China and to ensure that Ecuador pledge to break commercial ties with China. Knowing that Arauz might win, the US and the oligarchy of Ecuador decided to tie the Andean country to an arrangement that could suffocate any progressive government. Formed in 2018, the DFC developed a project called América Crece or ‘Growth in the Americas’, whose entire policy framework aims to edge out Chinese business from the American hemisphere. Quito has since signed up for Washington’s ‘Clean Network’, a US State Department project to force countries to build telecommunications networks without a Chinese telecom provider involved in them. This particularly applies to the high-speed fifth generation (5G) networks. Ecuador joined the Clean Network in November 2020, which opened the door for the DFC loan.

Correa drew in $5 billion from Chinese banks to enhance Ecuador’s infrastructure (particularly for the construction of hydroelectric dams); Ecuador’s total external debt is $52 billion. Moreno and the United States have painted the Chinese funds as a ‘debt trap’, although there is no evidence that the Chinese banks have been anything but accommodating. Over the last six months of 2020, Chinese banks have been willing to put loan payments on hold until 2022 (this includes a delay on the repayment of the $474 million loan to the Export-Import Bank of China and the $417 million loan to the China Development Bank). Ecuador’s Finance Ministry says that, for now, the plan is for repayment to start in March 2022 and to end by 2029. Moreno took to Twitter to announce these two delays. There were no aggressive measures taken by these two banks nor from any other Chinese financial entity.

Essentially, the DFC loan attempts to sabotage an Arauz presidency. This US-imposed conflict against China in Latin America is part of a broader assault. On 30 January, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research held a seminar alongside Instituto Simón Bolívar, ALBA Social Movimientos, and the No Cold War platform to reflect on the Latin American battlefield of this hybrid war.


The speakers included Alicia Castro (Argentina), Eduardo Regaldo Florido (Cuba), João Pedro Stedile (Brazil), Ricardo Menéndez (Venezuela), Monica Bruckmann (Peru/Brazil), Ambassador Li Baorong (China), and Fernando Haddad (Brazil).

Despite the hollowing out of democracy, elections remain one front in the political contest, and in that contest, the left fights to summon a democratic spirit. Perhaps poetry is the best way to articulate the texture of this conflict. Out of Ecuador’s rich tradition of emancipatory thinking came the writer and communist Jorge Enrique Adoum. Here’s a part of his powerful poem, Fugaz retorno (‘Fleeting Return’):

And we ran, like two runaways,
to the hard shore where stars
came apart. Fishermen told us
of successive victories in nearby provinces.
And our feet got wet with a spray of dawn,
full of roots that were ours and the world’s.

‘When is happiness?’, the poet asks. Tomorrow. Are we not all in search of tomorrow?

The post Are We Not All in Search of Tomorrow first appeared on Dissident Voice.

2020 Latin America and the Caribbean in Review: The Pink Tide May Rise Again

The balance between the US drive to dominate Latin America and the Caribbean and its counterpart, the Bolivarian cause of regional independence and integration, tipped portside by year end 2020 with major popular victories, including reversal of the coup in Bolivia and the constitutional referendum in Chile. Central has been the persistence of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution against the asphyxiating US blockade, along with the defiance by Cuba and Nicaragua of US regime-change measures.

The grand struggle played out against the backdrop of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, impacting countries differently depending on their political economies.  As of this writing, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba had COVID death rates per million population of 35, 25, and 12, respectively. In comparison, the death rates in right-leaning neoliberal states of Peru, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Panama, Honduras, and Guatemala were respectively 1123, 888, 849, 805, 843, 306, and 263. The manifestly lower rates on the left reflected, in large part, better developed public health systems and social welfare practices.

Andean Nations

Venezuela’s continued resistance to the US “maximum pressure” hybrid warfare campaign is a triumph in itself. Hybrid warfare – a diplomatic, propaganda, and financial offensive along with a crippling illegal blockade and attack on the Venezuelan currency – kills as effectively as open warfare.  “It bleeds the country slowly and is much more devastating than direct bombardment,” observes Vijay Prashad of the Tricontinental Institute.

Venezuela featured prominently in the campaign speeches of Trump and Biden, with both promoting regime change, as they vied for the votes of the right-leaning Venezuelan émigré community in Florida, the second largest Latinx group in that critical swing state. US-anointed fake President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, received a standing ovation at Trump’s State of the Union address in February – about the only thing the Democrats and Republicans agreed on – but received a far less friendly reception back home.

In March, the US falsely charged Venezuela of narco-terrorism, placing multi-million-dollar bounties on the heads of Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro and other officials. A naval armada was sent off the coast of Venezuela under the pretext of interdicting drugs. US government data, however, show the source of the drugs and the countries through which the illicit substances transit to the US are precisely the US client regimes in the region such as Colombia and Honduras.

In May, mercenaries launched an attack from Colombia but were captured, including two US ex-Green Berets. Initially, some Iranian oil tankers evaded the US blockade to bring critically needed fuel to Venezuela, where refining capacity has been impacted by the US sanctions. But later the US seized tankers in international waters, like pirates of yore, having a devastating impact on transport, agriculture, water treatment, and electricity generation in Venezuela.

In another victory in June, federal charges were dropped against the final four embassy protectors, who had defended the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington last year from being usurped by the illegal Guaidó forces. Kevin Zeese, one of the four and a revered progressive movement leader in the US, tragically and unexpectedly died in his sleep in September.

In October, Venezuela adopted controversial anti-blockade measures aimed at facilitating private investment and circumventing the US blockade. The unrelenting US regime-change campaign has had a corrosive effect on Venezuela’s attempt to build socialism. With the economy de facto dollarized, among those hardest hit are government workers, the informal sector, and those without access to dollar remittances from abroad who continue to be paid in the bolivar, now ever more grossly inflated.

Prior to calling the US presidential elections a fraud, Trump made the same accusation regarding the elections for the Venezuelan National Assembly and for the same reason; his preferred candidates would not win. The opposition to the leftist government in Venezuela was divided between an extremist Guaidó faction, which heeded the US directive to boycott the election, and a more moderate grouping opposed to the US blockade, open to dialogue with the Maduro administration, and in favor of US recognition of  the Maduro government. Although turnout was low for the December 6 election, the ruling Socialist Party enjoyed a landslide victory giving them a mandate.

Guaidó, who has become an embarrassment, may be dropped by the new US administration. Biden, however, is expected to “keep using [the] US sanctions weapon but with sharper aim,” as reported by Reuters.

Colombia is the chief regional US client state, distinguished by being the largest recipient of US military aid in the hemisphere and the largest world source of illicit cocaine. With at least seven US military bases, Colombia is a principal staging point for paramilitary attacks on Venezuela. President Iván Duque continues to disregard the 2016 peace agreement with the guerrilla FARC as Colombia endures a pandemic of right-wing violence. In October, the largely indigenous Minga mobilization converged on the capital of Bogotá to protest rampant killings. A national strike followed, called by a broad coalition led by the teachers’ union FECODE. Colombia is the most dangerous country to be a social activist with a leader murdered every other day. The approaching 2022 presidential election could portend a sea change for the popular movement.

Ecuador achieved international notoriety with the streets of Guayaquil littered with dead bodies attributed to mismanagement of the pandemic by President Lenín Moreno. A vice president under leftist Rafael Correa, Moreno turned sharp right after his presidential election in 2017, reversing the anti-imperialist stance of his predecessor. Moreno is prosecuting his former allies and privatizing the state-owned electric and oil companies, while poverty has worsened. Moreno’s popularity rating plummeted to an abysmal 8%, and his administration has been wracked with corruption scandals and popular, anti-neoliberal revolt. Polls for the presidential election, scheduled for this coming February 7, give progressive Andrés Arauz a lead as the Pink Tide may again rise in Ecuador.

Peru. The crises in Peru last year, which saw a succession of corrupt presidents replacing former ones with some sent to prison, were repeated this year. President Martín Vízcarra was dismissed in December, followed by the Manuel Merino presidency of less than a week, followed by the appointment of President Francisco Sagasti. COVID raged in a country, where investment in public health is half that recommended by the World Health Organization, while the youth took to the streets in protest, some demanding a new constitution. A left current is building in Peru as seen with the promising candidacy of Verónika Mendoza in the upcoming April 2021 presidential contest.

Bolivia. Evo Morales returned to Bolivia less than a year after a US-backed coup forced him to escape. Morales had won his reelection bid in October 2019, but the Organization of American States (OAS) conspired with the US and the domestic ultra-right to allege that his victory was fraudulent. Although his reelection was proven fair, the intervention of the OAS gave a patina of legitimacy to the ensuing putsch. Right-wing Senator Jeanine Añez was installed as “interim-president” after Morales was forced to resign by the military and police hierarchy. She presided over two massacres and a campaign of repression against the majority indigenous population and activists of Morales’s party, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS). A heroic resistance based on strong grassroots organizing by social movements, unions, and the MAS, forced Añez to call a new presidential election, after she had postponed it three times.

On October 18, MAS presidential candidate Luis Arce won with a landslide 55%. The new government has returned to ALBA, CELAC, and UNASUR – regional bodies founded by Hugo Chávez – but is saddled with a $300M loan from the IMF, made by Añez though not authorized by the Senate. The year closed with the Constitution Court propitiously overruling a domestic law that banned same-sex union as inconsistent with international law, permitting the first legal same-sex marriage in Bolivia.

The Southern Cone

Brazil. Jair Bolsonaro’s second year in office was like the first: dismantling social welfare measures and rewarding multinational corporations, while the Amazon burned and the popular sectors protested. His unscientific belief in coronavirus herd immunity contributed to excessive deaths in Brazil, especially impacting indigenous peoples.

Chile has been in turmoil for most of the year with protests against their corrupt President Sebastian Piñera, incidentally the richest person in the country. Finally, on October 23, the right-wing politicians were forced to allow a plebiscite, which passed with a resounding 78% to replace the constitution imposed on the country by the dictator Pinochet. The vote was preceded by a week of massive demonstrations commemorating the first anniversary of the popular struggle against the neoliberal order. Elections for Constituent Assembly members are scheduled for April and presidential elections are scheduled for November, with Communist Eduardo Artés now leading in the polls.

Argentina. The new President Alberto Fernández and VP Cristina Fernández are slowly recovering Argentina after four years of right-wing governance. On October 17, crowds celebrated Peronist loyalty day in support of the center-left government.  Emilio Pérsico said their movement is revolutionary because “it gave power to those who had no power and incorporated the workers into politics.”

Caribbean

Cuba’s Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for its medical missions combatting the pandemic across the world. Cuba is also producing COVID-19 vaccines and is in the process of distributing them to needy countries, all the while suffering under an intensified US blockade. While decrying foreign interference in US internal affairs, the Trump administration has funded some 54 regime-change groups in Cuba through the USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy. The economy has been severely impacted by the pandemic and tightening of US sanctions, forcing Cuba to take pragmatic economic adjustments.

Puerto Rico, a spoil that the US empire gained in the first war of imperialism, the Spanish-American War of 1898, is today one of the few outright remaining colonies in the world. Emblematic of the neglect of Puerto Rico was the physical collapse on December 1 of the Arecibo Observatory’s giant radio telescope, once the largest in the world and source of pride. Nearly 60% of the island’s children live in poverty.

Haiti has been in nearly continuous popular revolt against US-backed President Jovenal Moïse, who has ruled by decree after cancelling elections. Government repression has been violent and intense, which is ignored in the western press.

Central America and Mexico

Central America was battered by not only the pandemic but two devastating hurricanes that hit just ten days apart in October. As conditions further deteriorate, migrants, especially from the US client states of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, continue to flee to the US. Migrants and asylum seekers, who were then deported back from the US, have been killed, raped, or tortured when they were forced to return, according to human rights groups.

El Salvador. In a flagrant overreach of executive prerogative, President Nayib Bukele sent the military on February 9 into the Legislative Assembly to influence a vote on his proposed security program. Bukele, formerly associated with the left FMLN party, has now turned right, militarizing the border between El Salvador and Honduras to enforce the “safe third country agreements” and joining the pro-US interventionist Lima Group.

Guatemala. Angry citizens burned down Guatemala’s congress building on November 21, after a record high budget passed giving the legislators substantial raises and rewarding multinational corporations but cutting social welfare. A national strike followed demanding the resignation of rightist President Alejandro Giammattei, a former director of the Guatemalan penitentiary system.

Honduras. Eleven years since the US-backed coup overthrew the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, the country has devolved into a state where current President Juan Orlando Hernández is an unindicted drug smuggler, the intellectual authors who ordered the assassination of indigenous environmental leader Berta Cáceres run free, Afro-descendent people and women are murdered with impunity, gang violence is widespread, and state protection from pandemic and hurricanes is grossly deficient.

Costa Rica. Workers staged a week-long national strike in October against the neoliberal policies of President Carlos Alvarado, who then ignored the people and resumed negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), sparking more popular demonstrations. Despite intervention by the Catholic Church to diffuse the protests, the rebellion against destructive tax increases, cuts to public services, and privatizations “has changed the political dynamics in a country which was formerly seen as ‘the Switzerland of Central America,’” according to journalist Rob Lyons.

Nicaragua. Under the Sandinista government of President Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua enjoys: “reduction of poverty and extreme poverty, eradication of illiteracy, the highest economic growth in the region for a decade, free quality education, change of the energy matrix to 77% renewable energy, [and] from 90th place to number 5 worldwide…in reducing the gender inequality gap.”

Given this “threat of a good example,” US efforts to isolate Nicaragua economically to achieve regime change continued. Reports by the PBS NewsHour, the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal, and the Oakland Institute of alleged abuses to the indigenous and Afro-descendent communities provided evidence in support of boycotting the import of “conflict beef,” which would have had a major impact on the Nicaraguan economy. After the allegations were exposed as unsubstantiated, the accusers hypocritically claimed their actions resulted in the Nicaraguan government correcting itself.

The US State Department has already called the Nicaraguan presidential election a fraud even though it is not scheduled until November 2021. After Venezuela and Cuba, Nicaragua is the hardest hit country in Latin America by US sanctions.

Mexico is the second largest economy in Latin America, the eleventh in the world, and the US’s top trade partner. After decades of right-wing rule, left-of-center Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and his new MORENA party have been in office for two years.

A little over a year ago, Mexico flew then President Evo Morales out of Bolivia, when his life was threatened by a rightwing coup, and gave asylum in the Mexican Embassy in La Paz to other deposed Bolivian officials. Mexico has also defied the US blockade of Venezuela, and AMLO has called for the release of whistleblower Julian Assange.

Last spring, AMLO closed factories in response to the pandemic except for those supplying essential services. Workers went on strike when some factory owners defied the government closures. The US intervened forcing border maquiladoras that produce goods for the US military to open.

With high COVID infection rates, AMLO has been criticized for what some characterize as a lax and delayed handling of the health crisis. He was also confronted by protests from the extreme right nationalist coalition FRENA, demanding that the “Bolivarian Dictator” must resign, while a rightist plan called Project BOA outlined a strategy for ousting him from office.

In July, AMLO made an official state visit to Washington. “Under Trump, Mexico has had to navigate abrupt demands to stem illegal migration or face trade tariffs.” As the nineteenth century Mexican President Porfirio Díaz famously lamented: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.”

Campaign for 2021

UN Secretary General Guterres’s plea for a “global ceasefire,” ever more necessitated by “the fury of the virus,” has been ignored by the US. Meanwhile, some 30 nations worldwide, including Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, are suffering under suffocating US sanctions, which are a form of hybrid warfare. These unilateral, coercive measures, impacting a third of humanity, are illegal under the UN Charter. As the “liberator” Simón Bolívar presciently observed in 1829: “The US appears to be destined by providence to plague the Americas with misery in the name of freedom.”

The post 2020 Latin America and the Caribbean in Review: The Pink Tide May Rise Again first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Slow-motion Assassination of Julian Assange

Lifesize bronze sculpture featuring (L-R) former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and former US soldier Chelsea Manning convicted of violations of the Espionage Act, on May 1, 2015 at Alexanderplatz square in Berlin. (AFP Photo / Tobias Schwarz) © AFP

Another Iranian nuclear scientist has been assassinated. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed by an elaborately planned and executed ambush. The complexity of the attack and the resources required to carry it out strongly indicate a state actor. Fingers of blame quickly pointed at a likely assassin: Israel. The United States was probably in some form of collaboration since it is widely considered that before Israel carries out such killings it informs the US.

Assassinations are nothing new to Israel or the US. The US admitted to the assassination of Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani earlier in 2020.

At the time of this writing, no one has admitted to the extra-judicial killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Usually targeted killings are carried out in the dark.

Currently, there is an attempt using the machinery of the state to try and beat down a man in the darkness of Belmarsh prison and a British kangaroo court in London. Big media, however, has marginalized coverage of the Assange case even though the outcome is bound to have an enormous impact on journalism.

Despite whatever charges Julian Assange may be accused of, it is well known that the WikiLeaks publisher was targeted for exposing the war crimes of the US government. In an upside-down Bizarro World, the screws are being ever so gradually tightened on Assange by the war criminals and their criminal accomplices. It is, in fact, a slow-motion assassination being played out before the open and closed eyes of the world.

Following the geopolitically coordinated undertaking to abrogate Assange’s asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Assange was arrested and imprisoned in Belmarsh maximum security prison for the relatively minor charge of skipping bail.1 He continues to be held pending an extradition request from the US for violating its 1917 Espionage Act for “unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to the national defense.”

Incarceration has been woeful for Assange in Belmarsh. The UN special rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Nils Melzer, has been highly critical of the treatment of Assange, describing it as “psychological torture.”

Since 2010, when Wikileaks started publishing evidence of war crimes and torture committed by US forces, we have seen a sustained and concerted effort by several States towards getting Mr. Assange extradited to the United States for prosecution, raising serious concern over the criminalisation of investigative journalism in violation of both the US Constitution and international human rights law.

Since then, there has been a relentless and unrestrained campaign of public mobbing, intimidation and defamation against Mr. Assange, not only in the United States, but also in the United Kingdom, Sweden and, more recently, Ecuador.

Melzer has called for the “collective persecution” to end.

The medical profession has also spoken out against the mistreatment of Assange. A top medical journal, The Lancet, carried the message of 117 physicians in its headline: “End torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange.”

The US extradition case against Assange was pursued during the Trump administration, but one should not expect clemency for Assange from president-elect Joe Biden. Biden has argued that Assange is “closer to being a high-tech terrorist than the Pentagon Papers.”

One brave Democrat, though, has bucked her party’s mainstream. The Hawaiian congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard introduced H.R. 8452, the Protect Brave Whistleblowers Act. Gabbard also called for the immediate dismissal of charges against Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.

Recently, circumstances have become bleaker for Assange because of a reported COVID-19 outbreak where “at least 56 people in his house block in Belmarsh prison, including staff and inmates, were found to have been infected.”

Wikileaks earlier reported that Assange, along with almost 200 other inmates of his house block, have been under lockdown since November 18.

Australia has done nothing for its citizen Assange. Australia is said to function at the behest of the US. This is so much so that Australia has put itself in a precarious economic situation with its largest trade partner, China. Furthermore, Australia has a long history of its own war criminality that it ignores.

What should people of conscience do? People opposed to war crimes; warring in general; persecution of publishers, journalists, and whistleblowers; and people who support freedom of the media and the right of the public to be informed should be doing what they can to bring about pardons for Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and other politically targeted prisoners of conscience.

Assange’s greatest “crime” was to reveal the US military establishment’s insouciance for innocent human life by releasing the video Collateral Murder.

What about those of us who claim to stand for social justice and peace? Do we not have a responsibility to do what we can to stymie the stealthy assassination of a man by the military-industrial-governmental complex for exposing its murderous nature? Bystanding is immoral and cowardly. Do something; there are simple things that anyone can do. Write letters. Sign petitions. Speak out. Saving Assange, Manning, Snowden, and others persecuted by governments is saving our humanity; it is saving ourselves.

  1. For events preceding Assange’s stay in the Ecuadorian embassy see the timeline.

The post The Slow-motion Assassination of Julian Assange first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Assange’s Seventeenth Day at the Old Bailey: Embassy Espionage, Contemplated Poisoning and Proposed Kidnapping

September 30.  Central Criminal Court, London.

Today will be remembered as a grand expose.  It was a direct, pointed accusation at the intentions of the US imperium which long for the scalp of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.  For WikiLeaks, it was a smouldering triumph, showing that the entire mission against Assange, from the start, has been a political one.  The Australian publisher faces the incalculably dangerous prospect of 17 charges under the US Espionage Act and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.  Stripped to its elements, the indictment is merely violence kitted out in the vestment of sham legality.  The rest is politics.

Witness statements were read from a veritable who’s who of courageous investigative journalism (Patrick Cockburn, Andy Worthington, Stefania Maurizi and Ian Cobain) and an assortment of legal freight from Guy Goodwin-Gill, professor of law at the University of New South Wales, Robert Boyle, well versed in the dark practices of grand juries and Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

These statements, pointing to the value of the WikiLeaks publications, the care taken in releasing them, and the terrifying prospects for press freedom, deserve separate treatment.  But Wednesday’s grand show was stolen by two anonymous witnesses, occasioned by a change of plans.  Originally scheduled for Thursday, testimony of the witnesses from the Spanish security firm UC Global S.L. were moved a day forward.  Both speak to the aims and ambitions of the company’ owner and director, David Morales, who passed information on Assange and his meetings with allies and associates to the US intelligence service while the Australian was resident in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.  Judge Vanessa Baraitser had relented on the issue of keeping their anonymity: to have not observed the convention would have been a mark of disrespect for the Spanish court.

Their material is part of a current investigation into Morales being conducted by a magistrate of the Audiencia Nacional court. That process was instigated at the behest of Assange’s legal team, whose filed criminal complaint alleges breaches of privacy and the violation of attorney-client privilege, amongst other charges.

Illegal agreements are born

Witness #1 informed the court of a man determined: Morales “showed at times a real obsession in relation to monitoring and recording the lawyers who met with the ‘guest’ (Julian Assange) because ‘our American friends’ were requesting it.”

The first witness added stitching to the account linking the UC Global with US intelligence.  In July 2016, with UC Global already contracted and providing security services to the Ecuadorean embassy, Morales “travelled to a security sector trade fair in Las Vegas, which I wished to accompany him”.  This would not be.  Morales “insisted he had to travel alone.  On this trip, Mr Morales showcased the company UC Global in the Las Vegas security sector trade fair.”

What followed was UC Global obtaining “a flashy contract, personally managed by David Morales, with the company Las Vegas Sands, which was owned by the tycoon Sheldon Adelson, whose proximity to Donald Trump is public knowledge (at the time Trump was the presidential candidate).”  Morales’s point of contact at Las Vegas Sands was its chief of security, Zohar Lahav.  Lahav is also the subject of interest for the Audiencia Nacional, which has asked the US Department of Justice to seek a statement from him.  The investigating judge, José de la Mata, is keen to examine details of the Morales-Lahav association and whether their meetings involved discussing information illegally obtained from Assange.

UC Global was hired to provide security services to Queen Miri, the luxury vessel owned by Adelson.  “The contract did not make sense,” claimed the witness.  Morales seemed to be overegging the pudding.  “The most striking thing about it was that the boat had its own security, which consisted of a sophisticated security detail, and that the contract consisted in adding an additional person, in this case David Morales, for a very short period of time, through which David Morales would receive an elevated sum.”

Thrilled at getting the contract, Morales was in celebratory mood, gathering employees in the Jerez company office to say that “we have moved up and from now on we will be playing in the big league”.  What did “big league” mean?  Morales, replying to the query from the first witness, claimed that “he had switched over to ‘the dark side’ referring to cooperating with US authorities, and as a result of that collaboration, ‘the Americans will get us contracts all over the world’.”  In 2017, Morales asked for a secure phone and encrypted computer to communicate with his American contacts.

Along with news of the contract came an uncomfortable revelation: “that we had entered into illegal agreements with US authorities to supply them with sensitive information about Mr Assange and [Ecuadorean President] Rafael Correa, given that UC Global was responsible for the embassy security where Mr Assange was located.”  As a result of this parallel agreement, “reports would also be sent to ‘the dark side’.” Morales made regular trips to the US to facilitate this, “principally to New York but also Chicago and Washington” where he would “talk with ‘our American friends’.”  The first witness pressed Morales at points who these “‘American friends’ were”.  “US intelligence,” came the reply.

When confronted by the first witness that UC Global should not be engaged in such activities,   Morales huffed.  He would open his shirt in defiance, and claim with brio that he was “a mercenary, through and through”.

The first witness also testified that Morales’s trips to see his “American friends” increased with frequency in 2017.  Trump’s victory seemed to be the catalyst.  By June or July 2017, “Morales began to develop a sophisticated information collection system outside the embassy.” He asked employees “physically inside the embassy to intensify and deepen their information collection.”  The internal and external cameras of the embassy were to be changed.  Morales, according to the first witness, had also “instructed a team to travel regularly to London to collect the camera recordings.”

Tasks forces and surveillance

Witness #2, an IT expert, told the Old Bailey how he was asked to “form a task force of workers at our headquarters in Jerez” between June and July 2017.   “The purpose of this unit was to execute, from a technical perspective, the capture, systematization and processing of information collected at the embassy that David Morales requested.”  Witness #2 was responsible for “executing David Morales’s orders, with technical means that existed in the embassy and additional measures that were installed by order of Morales, in addition to the information gathered in the embassy by the UC Global employees who were physically present in the diplomatic mission.”

The second witness sensed inconsistencies.  Morales told the task force that the contract with Ecuador necessitated the replacement of the embassy’s cameras every three years.  “This made no sense because the contract had been in force for longer than three years and the clause had not been fulfilled to date.”  While he was unaware of the clause, the second witness considered that the circuit operating CCTV security cameras at the time “were sufficient to provide physical security against intrusion inside the building.”

But Morales was adamant.  Security cameras with concealed audio recording capabilities were to be acquired and installed.  “Because of this, and in accordance with the orders of David Morales, who claimed that all of this was necessary to fulfil the contract, I sought providers for these types of cameras, insisting in, to the extent possible, concealing audio-recording capabilities.”

The extent of Morales’s zeal alarmed the second witness.  “Around June 2017, while I was sourcing providers for the new camera equipment, David Morales instructed that the cameras should allow streaming capabilities so that ‘our friends’ in the United States’, as Morales explicitly put it, would be able to gain access to the interior of the embassy in real time.  This request alarmed me greatly, and in order to impede the request, I claimed that remote access via streaming via the camera circuit was not technically achievable.”  The witness did not “want to collaborate in an illegal act of this magnitude.”  He noted Morales’s wish to have the entire embassy bugged and suggested that the purpose of installing microphones had been “per the request of the United States” to target Assange’s defence team.

Stunned by its illegality, the second witness tried to dissuade Morales by suggesting that Assange would detect the recording facilities.  But in early December 2017, the cameras, enabled with audio-recording means, were installed.  When asked by Assange and the Political Counselor Maria Eugenia whether the new devices recorded sound, the second witness had his orders: to not “share information about the system and to deny that the cameras were recording audio.”  Once in place, “the cameras began to record sound regularly so every meeting that the asylee held was captured.”

The second witness was also heavy on detail in various specific operations designed to frustrate Assange’s own countering efforts.  He had been asked by Morales in January 2018 to place rigid stickers on the external embassy windows at the top left hand corner.  It transpired that this seemingly idiosyncratic exercise had one express purpose: to neutralise the disruptions to recording conversations caused by Assange’s white noise machine, which “produced a vibration in the window that stopped the sound being extracted via the laser microphone, which US intelligence had installed outside.”  The stickers served to eliminate the vibration, enabling the laser microphones to “extract conversations.”

Morales had also impressed upon the IT specialist that he install a microphone in the PVC folder of the fire extinguisher in the embassy meeting room used by Assange.   The same was done for “the toilet at the end of the embassy” as it had become a venue of “strategic” importance: Assange “who suspected that he was the subject of espionage, maintained many of his meetings there in order to preserve confidentiality.”

While a whole range of targets were of interest, the Spanish former judge and member of Assange’s legal team, Balthasar Garzón, was particularly important.  “The security guards at the embassy were requested to search for evidence of travels to Argentina and Russia in Garzón’s passport pages, which were photographed.”

Nappies, contemplated kidnappings and proposed poisonings

Such behaviour at the embassy conformed to a consistent pattern of instructions that verged on the comic and grotesque.  On one occasion, recalled Witness #2, Morales had asked him to “steal a nappy of a baby which according to the company’s security personnel deployed at the embassy, regularly visited Mr Assange.” The pilfering of the nappy was for reasons of identifying whether the baby was, in fact “a child of the asylee.”  It was “the Americans”, Morales claimed, “who wanted to establish paternity.”

Not content merely with establishing paternity, Morales’s “American friends” were also suffering from states of desperation, keen to bring Assange’s stay in the embassy to an end.  According to the second witness, “the Americans were desperate [in December 2017] and that they had even suggested that more extreme measures should be employed against the ‘guest’ to put an end to the situation of Assange’s permanence in the embassy.”  Suggestions were made to Morales by his US contacts: the door of the embassy would be left open; an “accident” could be claimed for covering an operation “which would allow persons to enter from outside the embassy and kidnap the asylee”.  Another option was put on the table: “the possibility of poisoning Mr Assange”.  Such suggestions, Witness #2 claimed, “shocked” the employees, who “commented amongst ourselves that the course that Morales had embarked on was beginning to become dangerous.”

The eviction and arrest of Assange followed.  Witness #1 informed Assange’s legal team that Morales had “betrayed both the terms of the contract and the trust that had been given to him by the Government of Ecuador, by systematically handing over information to US intelligence agencies.”  He came to realise that information on the security of the embassy and Rafael Correa had been sold to “the enemy, the United States, which is the reason I put an end to my professional relationship with him.”

These revelations excited Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, having already etched his name into legal history at these proceedings with supporting testimony.  In his optimistic view, such evidence of surveillance by the CIA of Assange’s conversations with his legal team “and everyone else” in the embassy, along with suggestions of poisoning and kidnapping, might mean him walking free. “That’s essentially the same information that ended my case and confronted [President Richard] Nixon with impeachment, leading to his resignation!” Convincing to Ellsberg it may be, but will it sway the icy temperament of Judge Vanessa Baraitser?

The post Assange’s Seventeenth Day at the Old Bailey: Embassy Espionage, Contemplated Poisoning and Proposed Kidnapping first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Assange’s Tenth Day at the Old Bailey: Bolting Horses, Death Penalties and Plots of Eviction

September 21.  Central Criminal Court, London.

Today was one of reiteration and expansion.  Computer scientist Christian Grothoff of the Bern University of Applied Sciences supplied the relevant chronology on what led to the publication of unredacted US State Department cables, the subject of such concern for the prosecution.  This proved a mild taster of what was to come: the alleged deal brokered by Richard Grenell, when US ambassador to Germany, with the Ecuadorean government for the arrest and eviction of Julian Assange from the London embassy in April 2019.

Grothoff, publication and chronology

With three of the 18 counts against Assange trained on the issue of publishing unredacted cables, Grothoff’s testimony served to recapitulate the importance of timing.  By the time the organisation had published the archive, others had done so.  The horse, having bolted, would not be returning.  While WikiLeaks had taken steps to encrypt the relevant file with the documents, things went awry with its sharing with David Leigh of The Guardian in the summer of 2010.  Uploaded to a temporary website, it had a strong, decrypting passphrase.  Assange had committed only part of that passphrase to paper.

November 2010 arrived.  WikiLeaks and its media partners began releasing redacted cables.  “The embassy cables will be released in stages over the next year,” promised WikiLeaks.  “The subject matter of these cables is of such importance, and the geographical spread so broad, that to do so otherwise would not do this material justice.”

The organisation’s website then became the target of Distributed Denial of Server attacks.  Assange put the word out to supporters: replicate site data on various servers; create mirror sites.  In February 2011, Leigh and fellow Guardian colleague Luke Harding published their account working with Assange and WikiLeaks.  It was a hurried, and, it transpired, sloppy effort.  The full, decrypting passphrase had found its way into one chapter title.  Der Freitag caught the scent in August, supplying a few breadcrumbs to the enterprising, not least the sense that the password to the file was rather easy to locate.  Der Spiegel, one of the media partners, gave confirmation of the account.  Nigel Parry, self-described as “the first person out of the loop and in the wild to have unzipped the unreduced Cablegate cables,” merely sealed the matter.

Assange and Sarah Harrison, also of WikiLeaks, scrambled.  The US State Department was warned that the unredacted files were ready to course their way through cyberspace.  The US-based leaking outfit Cryptome gave the push along, publishing the archive.  By September 2, 2011, the deed for WikiLeaks was done: the archive was released on its site.  As Grothoff told the court, “[The password] was actually available on the internet in a way that would be virtually impossible to stop.”

In writing about the train of events, political commentator and former civil rights litigator Glenn Greenwald thought the security measures taken by WikiLeaks poor and insufficient.  But “one point should be made absolutely clear: there was nothing intentional about WikiLeaks’ publication of the cables in unredacted form.  They ultimately had no choice.”  Releasing the cables in full was the reasonable, “safest course” of action, “so that not only the world’s intelligence agencies but everyone had them, so that steps could be taken to protect the sources and so that the information in them was equally available.”

Under questioning from the prosecution, Grothoff batted away suggestions that the publishing organisation had shared the entire archive with all 50 media partners involved with Cablegate.  “On the very specific technical point where you say WikiLeaks published those cables you are wrong, and you didn’t properly do your homework to find who first published those cables.”  WikiLeaks could not be considered the “primary publisher of the unredacted cables”.

Grothoff also faced questions about his partiality from Joel Smith QC.  Had he not appended his name to a 2017 letter to US President Donald Trump urging him not to charge Assange or other members of WikiLeaks?  “You are biased, you are partial?”  The professor could not recall adding his name, but saw Assange as a “sympathetic character” in exposing “war crimes”.  “No, I believe that looking at the indictment put forward, you’re confusing actions WikiLeaks took to hide and obscure the documents with them publishing it.”

Fairbanks, deals and evictions

Assange’s defence team then readied the dynamite: a statement from activist and Trump supporter Cassandra Fairbanks, dated June 7, 2020, describing communications with Republican donor Arthur Schwartz.  Schwartz, with close links to Trump, was charged with running Grenell’s communications.  Fairbanks shared membership with a direct message group on Twitter comprising “multiple people who either worked for President Trump or were close to him in other ways.”  Both Grenell and Schwartz were also members.

On October 30, 2018, Fairbanks shared an interview with Assange’s mother, Christine Assange, on the forum “hoping that someone would see it and be moved to help”.  The plea did not go down well with Schwartz, who called Fairbanks to berate her for such strident advocacy.  Stop it, he insisted, as “a pardon isn’t going to fucking happen.” What instead followed were details about what was in store for Assange: charges were imminent over his connection with Chelsea Manning, not other publications (the Democratic National Committee correspondence; the Central Intelligence Agency’s Vault 7 publication). “He also told me they would be going after Chelsea Manning. I also recollect being told, I believe, that it would not be before Christmas.  Both of these predictions came true just months later.”

Fairbanks also disclosed the intention to finally deal with the issue of Assange’s political asylum.  Schwartz “also told me that the US government would be going into the Embassy to get Assange.”  This troubled her.  “I responded that entering the embassy of a sovereign nation and kidnapping a political refugee would be an act of war, and he responded: ‘not if they let us.’”  Unbeknownst to Fairbanks at the time, Grenell had, in October 2018 “worked out a deal for Assange’s arrest with the Ecuadorean government.”

The exchange upset Fairbanks.  The waterworks commenced.  Schwartz softened on the phone on hearing Fairbanks sobbing, though was hardly reassuring about what awaited the WikiLeaks publisher: Assange would “probably” only serve the rest of life in prison.

From that point on, the worm began to turn.  A visit to Assange on January 7, 2019 followed.  Fairbanks was keen to impress upon him what she knew.  Assange was concerned about surveillance.  “I know he was concerned about being overheard or spied upon and he had a little radio to cover up the conversation.”  Both she and Assange took “steps to communicate with each other to try to not be within the sight or hearing of surveillance cameras or microphones, by turning up a background of white noise and writing notes.”  Fairbanks had also paid a visit to Manning, speaking of fears “that they might come after her again.”

Within two months, embassy hospitality had chilled.  Fairbanks recalls being shocked at the treatment afforded her and Assange on that visit.  It was an encounter she wrote about, noting a progressively worsening atmosphere.  She was made to spend an hour in a cold meeting room; Assange was given harsh preliminary treatment, “subjected to a full body scan with metal detector before” being allowed into the room.  Her statement continues: “I described it at the time as ‘eerily similar to visits I have made to inmates at federal penitentiaries in the US.’ I considered at the time ‘it seemed our government was getting what they wanted from Ecuador, as a former State Department official told Buzzfeed in January.  ‘As far as we’re concerned, he’s in jail.’  I noted ‘in an interview with El Pais in July, President Moreno said his ‘ideal solution’ is that Assange may ‘enjoy’ being ‘extradited’ if the UK promises that the US will not kill him.”

The act of bringing a radio into the meeting room to frustrate audio surveillance was a cause of consternation.  “Only eight minutes of our two hour scheduled visit were in the end available because of the conflict with security staff at the Embassy.  We were told if we wanted to talk it must be done in the conference room and only two minutes were left.”

Fairbanks recalls the row in her March 2019 piece: how Assange had told embassy staff how “undignified” it was to be subjected to the body scan; why the staff were “afraid” of his meeting with Fairbanks.  “Is this a prison?” he inquired.  “It’s not,” came the reply. “You know it’s not.”

On March 29, 2019, Fairbanks contacted Schwartz, pressing him on what he knew about rumours of an imminent eviction from the embassy.  Schwartz called to say that he knew that Fairbanks had been less than cautious in revealing what he had told her.  He could no longer treat her as a reliable recipient.  The explanation was clear.  For Schwartz to have known, the conversations in the embassy had to have been recorded and relayed.  “It was obvious,” claimed Fairbanks, “that the US had been involved, including the State Department, and that Schwartz had been made a party to this information.”

The die was cast.  On April 11, 2019, Assange was evicted.  On April 15, ABC News ran a piece noting how the wheels for this action had begun in March 2018, “when the Ecuadoreans made their first request to the UK: a letter asking for written assurances that the UK would not extradite Assange to a country where he could face the death penalty”.  Six months followed.  The US was then approached via the offices of Ecuador’s ambassador to Germany, Manuel Mejía Dalmau, who sought “a private ‘emergency meeting’ in Berlin with the US Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, viewed as one of President Donald Trump’s closest envoys in Europe”.  During the course of one meeting, Dalmau, according to an unnamed “senior US official”, “asked whether the US would commit to not putting Assange to death”.  Grenell ran the query to the US Justice Department.  “According to the senior US official, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein consented.”  A verbal pledge followed.

Fairbanks duly tweeted the ABC story.  Ambassador Grenell was exercised.  Fairbanks’ boss was messaged: delete the tweet.  Fairbanks refused, though eventually relenting.  Grenell also had another suggestion: sack Fairbanks.  In this miasma of panic, Schwartz rang.  “This time he was frantic,” Fairbanks recalled.  “He was ranting and raving that he could go to jail and that I was tweeting classified information.”  She was informed “that in coordinating for Assange to be removed from the Embassy, Ambassador Grenell had done so on direct ‘orders from the president.’  I believed this connected President Trump to those who have been reported as having secured the deal to arrest Assange.”  She believed the veracity of Schwartz’s comment, given his known close ties to Trump and Grenell.

Schwartz had also suffered an attack of blood lust.  Several messages to Fairbanks in the aftermath of the ABC news report focused on “how everyone involved with WikiLeaks deserved the death penalty.”  This was troubling to Fairbanks, as only an oral, not written agreement, had been secured protecting Assange from any death penalty.  “Schwartz’s response to this was to send me a shrug emoji and he continued his tirade about how Assange deserved to die.”

Fairbanks also imputed to Schwartz an extensive network of influence, being a regular visitor to the White House, a “fixer” for Donald Trump, Jr., a radiantly significant figure in the Trump cosmos including “Richard Grenell, Sheldon Adelson and others.” Mention of Adelson is telling: his Las Vegas Sands company, the world’s largest casino operator, is alleged to have provided cover with the security consulting firm UC Global for surveillance operations against Assange during his embassy stay.  These were sanctioned by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The UC Global CEO, David Morales, was subsequently charged by a Spanish High Court in October 2019 for violating Assange’s privacy, breaching lawyer-client privilege, money laundering and bribery.  The UC Global files, as Max Blumenthal has noted in The Grayzone, “detail an elaborate and apparently illegal US surveillance operation in which the security firm spied on Assange, his legal team, his American friends, US journalists, and an American member of Congress who had been allegedly dispatched to the Ecuadorean embassy by President Donald Trump.  Even the Ecuadorean diplomats whom UC Global was hired to protect were targeted in the spy ring.”

Joel Smith QC, representing the prosecution, would not stomach the claims being made by Fairbanks: “the truth of what Ms Fairbanks was told by Arthur Schwartz was not in her knowledge.”  Tactics deployed previously would be done again: Fairbanks was considered a biased witness for acknowledging her support for WikiLeaks.  For the defence, Edward Fitzgerald QC put it plainly: “We say what Schwartz told [Fairbanks] is a good indication of the government at the highest level.”

The approach of the defence will have to remain one of patient, constant reminder to the court: that the case against Assange is rancid with politics, trailing its way into the backlines of the Trump administration.

The post Assange’s Tenth Day at the Old Bailey: Bolting Horses, Death Penalties and Plots of Eviction first appeared on Dissident Voice.

For Years, Journalists cheered Assange’s Abuse: Now They’ve Paved his Path to a US Gulag

Court hearings in Britain over the US administration’s extradition case against Julian Assange begin in earnest next week. The decade-long saga that brought us to this point should appall anyone who cares about our increasingly fragile freedoms.

A journalist and publisher has been deprived of his liberty for 10 years. According to UN experts, he has been arbitrarily detained and tortured for much of that time through intense physical confinement and endless psychological pressure. He has been bugged and spied on by the CIA during his time in political asylum, in Ecuador’s London embassy, in ways that violated his most fundamental legal rights. The judge overseeing his hearings has a serious conflict of interest – with her family embedded in the UK security services – that she did not declare and which should have required her to recuse herself from the case.

 

All indicators are that Assange will be extradited to the US to face a rigged grand jury trial meant to ensure he sees out his days in a maximum-security prison, serving a sentence of up to 175 years.

None of this happened in some Third-World, tinpot dictatorship. It happened right under our noses, in a major western capital, and in a state that claims to protect the rights of a free press. It happened not in the blink of an eye but in slow motion – day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.

And once we strip out a sophisticated campaign of character assassination against Assange by western governments and a compliant media, the sole justification for this relentless attack on press freedom is that a 49-year-old man published documents exposing US war crimes. That is the reason – and the only reason – that the US is seeking his extradition and why he has been languishing in what amounts to solitary confinement in Belmarsh high-security prison during the Covid-19 pandemic. His lawyers’ appeals for bail have been refused.

Severed head on a pike

While the press corps abandoned Assange a decade ago, echoing official talking points that pilloried him over toilet hygiene and his treatment of his cat, Assange is today exactly where he originally predicted he would be if western governments got their way. What awaits him is rendition to the US so he can be locked out of sight for the rest of his life.

There were two goals the US and UK set out to achieve through the visible persecution, confinement and torture of Assange.

First, he and Wikileaks, the transparency organisation he co-founded, needed to be disabled. Engaging with Wikileaks had to be made too risky to contemplate for potential whistleblowers. That is why Chelsea Manning – the US soldier who passed on documents relating to US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan for which Assange now faces extradition – was similarly subjected to harsh imprisonment. She later faced punitive daily fines while in jail to pressure her into testifying against Assange.

The aim has been to discredit Wikileaks and similar organisations and stop them from being able to publish more revelatory documents – of the kind that show western governments are not the “good guys” managing world affairs for the benefit of mankind, but are, in fact, highly militarised, global bullies advancing the same ruthless colonial policies of war, destruction and pillage they always pursued.

And second, Assange had to be made to suffer horribly and in public – to be made an example of – to deter other journalists from ever considering following in his footsteps. He is the modern equivalent of a severed head on a pike displayed at the city gates.

The very obvious fact – confirmed by the media coverage of his case – is that this strategy, advanced chiefly by the US and UK (with Sweden playing a lesser role), has been wildly successful. Most corporate media journalists are still enthusiastically colluding in the vilification of Assange – mainly at this stage by ignoring his awful plight.

Story hiding in plain sight

When he hurried into Ecuador’s embassy back in 2012, seeking political asylum, journalists from every corporate media outlet ridiculed his claim – now, of course, fully vindicated – that he was evading US efforts to extradite him and lock him away for good. The media continued with their mockery even as evidence mounted that a grand jury had been secretly convened to draw up espionage charges against him and that it was located in the eastern district of Virginia, where the major US security and intelligence services are headquartered. Any jury there is dominated by US security personnel and their families. His hope of a fair trial was non-existent.

Instead we have endured eight years of misdirection by the corporate media and its willing complicity in his character assassination, which has laid the ground for the current public indifference to Assange’s extradition and widespread ignorance of its horrendous implications.

Corporate journalists have accepted, entirely at face value, a series of rationalisations for why the interests of justice have been served by locking Assange away indefinitely – even before his extradition – and trampling his most basic legal rights. The other side of the story – Assange’s, the story hiding in plain sight – has invariably been missing from the coverage, whether it has been CNN, the New York Times, the BBC or the Guardian.

From Sweden to Clinton

First, it was claimed that Assange had fled questioning over sexual assault allegations in Sweden, even though it was the Swedish authorities who allowed him to leave; even though the original Swedish prosecutor, Eva Finne, dismissed the investigation against him, saying “There is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever”, before it was picked up by a different prosecutor for barely concealed, politicised reasons; and even though Assange later invited Swedish prosectors to question him where he was (in the embassy), an option they regularly agreed to in other cases but resolutely refused in his.

It was not just that none of these points was ever provided as context for the Sweden story by the corporate media. Or that much else in Assange’s favour was simply ignored, such as tampered evidence in the case of one of the two women who alleged sexual assault and the refusal of the other to sign the rape statement drawn up for her by police.

The story was also grossly and continuously misreported as relating to “rape charges” when Assange was wanted simply for questioning. No charges were ever laid against him because the second Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny – and her British counterparts, including Sir Keir Starmer, then head of the prosecution service and now leader of the Labour party – seemingly wished to avoid testing the credibility of their allegations by actually questioning Assange. Leaving him to rot in a small room in the embassy served their purposes much better.

When the Sweden case fizzled out – when it became clear that the original prosecutor had been right to conclude that there was no evidence to justify further questioning, let alone charges – the political and media class shifted tack.

Suddenly Assange’s confinement was implicitly justified for entirely different, political reasons – because he had supposedly aided Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign in 2016 by publishing emails, allegedly “hacked” by Russia, from the Democratic party’s servers. The content of those emails, obscured in the coverage at the time and largely forgotten now, revealed corruption by Hillary Clinton’s camp and efforts to sabotage the party’s primaries to undermine her rival for the presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders.

Guardian fabricates a smear

Those on the authoritarian right have shown little concern over Assange’s lengthy confinement in the embassy, and later jailing in Belmarsh, for his exposure of US war crimes, which is why little effort has been expended on winning them over. The demonisation campaign against Assange has focused instead on issues that are likely to trigger liberals and the left, who might otherwise have qualms about jettisoning the First Amendment and locking people up for doing journalism.

Just as the Swedish allegations, despite their non-investigation, tapped into the worst kind of kneejerk identity politics on the left, the “hacked” emails story was designed to alienate the Democratic party base. Extraordinarily, the claim of Russian hacking persists even though years later – and after a major “Russiagate” inquiry by Robert Mueller – it still cannot be stood up with any actual evidence. In fact, some of those closest to the matter, such as former UK ambassador Craig Murray, have insisted all along that the emails were not hacked by Russia but were leaked by a disenchanted Democratic party insider.

An even more important point, however, is that a transparency organisation like Wikileaks had no choice, after it was handed those documents, but to expose abuses by the Democratic party – whoever was the source.

The reason that Assange and Wikileaks became entwined in the Russiagate fiasco – which wasted the energies of Democratic party supporters on a campaign against Trump that actually strengthened rather than weakened him – was because of the credulous coverage, once again, of the issue by almost the entire corporate media. Liberal outlets like the Guardian newspaper even went so far as to openly fabricate a story – in which it falsely reported that a Trump aide, Paul Manafort, and unnamed “Russians” secretly visited Assange in the embassy – without repercussion or retraction.

Assange’s torture ignored

All of this made possible what has happened since. After the Swedish case evaporated and there were no reasonable grounds left for not letting Assange walk free from the embassy, the media suddenly decided in chorus that a technical bail violation was grounds enough for his continuing confinement in the embassy – or, better still, his arrest and jailing. That breach of bail, of course, related to Assange’s decision to seek asylum in the embassy, based on a correct assessment that the US planned to demand his extradition and imprisonment.

None of these well-paid journalists seemed to remember that, in British law, failure to meet bail conditions is permitted if there is “reasonable cause” – and fleeing political persecution is very obviously just such a reasonable cause.

 

Similarly, the media wilfully ignored the conclusions of a report by Nils Melzer, a Swiss scholar of international law and the United Nations’ expert on torture, that the UK, US and Sweden had not only denied Assange his basic legal rights but had colluded in subjecting him to years of psychological torture – a form of torture, Melzer has pointed out, that was refined by the Nazis because it was found to be crueller and more effective at breaking victims than physical torture.

Assange has been blighted by deteriorating health and cognitive decline as a result, and has lost significant weight. None of that has been deemed worthy by the corporate media of more than a passing mention – specifically when Assange’s poor health made him incapable of attending a court hearing. Instead Melzer’s repeated warnings about Assange’s abusive treatment and its effects on him have fallen on deaf ears. The media has simply ignored Melzer’s findings, as though they were never published, that Assange has been, and is being, tortured. We need only pause and imagine how much coverage Melzer’s report would have received had it concerned the treatment of a dissident in an official enemy state like Russia or China.

 

A power-worshipping media

Last year British police, in coordination with an Ecuador now led by a president, Lenin Moreno, who craved closer ties with Washington, stormed the embassy to drag Assange out and lock him up in Belmarsh prison. In their coverage of these events, journalists again played dumb.

They had spent years first professing the need to “believe women” in the Assange case, even if it meant ignoring evidence, and then proclaiming the sanctity of bail conditions, even if they were used simply as a pretext for political persecution. Now that was all swept aside in an instant. Suddenly Assange’s nine years of confinement over a non-existent sexual assault investigation and a minor bail infraction were narratively replaced by an espionage case. And the media lined up against him once again.

A decade ago the idea that Assange could be extradited to the US and locked up for the rest of his life, his journalism recast as “espionage”, was mocked as so improbable, so outrageously unlawful that no “mainstream” journalist was prepared to countenance it as the genuine reason for his seeking asylum in the embassy. It was derided as a figment of the fevered, paranoid imaginations of Assange and his supporters, and as a self-serving cover for him to avoid facing the investigation in Sweden.

But when British police invaded the embassy in April last year and arrested him for extradition to the US on precisely the espionage charges Assange had always warned were going to be used against him, journalists reported these developments as though they were oblivious to this backstory. The media erased this context not least because it would have made them look like willing dupes of US propaganda, like apologists for US exceptionalism, and because it would have proved Assange right once more. It would have demonstrated that he is the real journalist, in contrast to their pacified, complacent, power-worshipping corporate journalism.

The death of journalism 

Right now every journalist in the world ought to be up in arms, protesting at the abuses Assange is suffering, and has suffered, and the fate he will endure if extradition is approved. They should be protesting on front pages and in TV news shows the endless and blatant abuses of legal process at Assange’s hearings in the British courts, including the gross conflict of interest of Lady Emma Arbuthnot, the judge presiding over his case.

They should be in uproar at the surveillance the CIA illegally arranged inside the Ecuadorian embassy while Assange was confined there, nullifying the already dishonest US case against him by violating his client-lawyer privilege. They should be expressing outrage at Washington’s manoeuvres, accorded a thin veneer of due process by the British courts, designed to extradite him on espionage charges for doing work that lies at the very heart of what journalism claims to be – holding the powerful to account.

Journalists do not need to care about Assange or like him. They have to speak out in protest because approval of his extradition will mark the official death of journalism. It will mean that any journalist in the world who unearths embarrassing truths about the US, who discovers its darkest secrets, will need to keep quiet or risk being jailed for the rest of their lives.

That ought to terrify every journalist. But it has had no such effect.

Careers and status, not truth

The vast majority of western journalists, of course, never uncover one significant secret from the centres of power in their entire professional careers – even those ostensibly monitoring those power centres. These journalists repackage press releases and lobby briefings, they tap sources inside government who use them as a conduit to the large audiences they command, and they relay gossip and sniping from inside the corridors of power.

That is the reality of access journalism that constitutes 99 per cent of what we call political news.

Nonetheless, Assange’s abandonment by journalists – the complete lack of solidarity as one of their number is persecuted as flagrantly as dissidents once sent to the gulags – should depress us. It means not only that journalists have abandoned any pretence that they do real journalism, but that they have also renounced the aspiration that it be done by anyone at all.

It means that corporate journalists are ready to be viewed with even greater disdain by their audiences than is already the case. Because through their complicity and silence, they have sided with governments to ensure that anyone who truly holds power to account, like Assange, will end up behind bars. Their own freedom brands them as a captured elite – irrefutable evidence that they serve power, they do not confront it.

The only conclusion to be drawn is that corporate journalists care less about the truth than they do about their careers, their salaries, their status, and their access to the rich and powerful. As Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky explained long ago in their book Manufacturing Consent, journalists join a media class after lengthy education and training processes designed to weed out those not reliably in sympathy with the ideological interests of their corporate employers.

A sacrificial offering

Briefly, Assange raised the stakes for all journalists by renouncing their god – “access” – and their modus operandi of revealing occasional glimpses of very partial truths offered up by “friendly”, and invariably anonymous, sources who use the media to settle scores with rivals in the centres of power.

Instead, through whistleblowers, Assange rooted out the unguarded, unvarnished, full-spectrum truth whose exposure helped no one in power – only us, the public, as we tried to understand what was being done, and had been done, in our names. For the first time, we could see just how ugly, and often criminal, the behaviour of our leaders was.

Assange did not just expose the political class, he exposed the media class too – for their feebleness, for their hypocrisy, for their dependence on the centres of power, for their inability to criticise a corporate system in which they were embedded.

Few of them can forgive Assange that crime. Which is why they will be there cheering on his extradition, if only through their silence.  A few liberal writers will wait till it is too late for Assange, till he has been packaged up for rendition, to voice half-hearted, mealy-mouthed or agonised columns arguing that, unpleasant as Assange supposedly is, he did not deserve the treatment the US has in store for him.

But that will be far too little, far too late. Assange needed solidarity from journalists and their media organisations long ago, as well as full-throated denunciations of his oppressors. He and Wikileaks were on the front line of a war to remake journalism, to rebuild it as a true check on the runaway power of our governments. Journalists had a chance to join him in that struggle. Instead they fled the battlefield, leaving him as a sacrificial offering to their corporate masters.

The post For Years, Journalists cheered Assange’s Abuse: Now They’ve Paved his Path to a US Gulag first appeared on Dissident Voice.