Category Archives: Incarceration

Short of Time: Julian Assange at the Westminster Magistrates Court

LONDON — Another slot of judicial history, another notch to be added to the woeful record of legal proceedings being undertaken against Julian Assange. The ailing WikiLeaks founder was coping as well as he could, showing the resourcefulness of the desperate at his Monday hearing. At the Westminster Magistrates Court, Assange faced a 12-minute process, an ordinary affair in which he was asked to confirm his name, an ongoing ludicrous state of affairs, and seek clarification about an aspect of the proceedings.

Of immediate concern to the lawyers, specifically seasoned human rights advocate Gareth Peirce, was the issue that prison officers at Belmarsh have been obstructing and preventing the legal team from spending sufficient time with their client, despite the availability of empty rooms. “We have pushed Belmarsh in every way – it is a breach of a defendant’s rights.” Three substantial sets of documents and evidence required signing off by Assange before being submitted to the prosecution, a state of affairs distinctly impossible given the time constraints.

A compounding problem was also cited by Peirce: the shift from moving the hearing a day forward resulted in a loss of time. “This slippage in the timetable is extremely worrying.” Whether this shows indifference to protocol or malice on the part of prosecuting authorities is hard to say, but either way, justice is being given a good flaying.

The argument carried sufficient weight with District Judge Vanessa Baraitser to result in an adjournment till 2 pm in the afternoon, but this had more to do with logistics than any broader principle of conviction. As Baraitser reasoned, 47 people were currently in custody at court; a mere eight rooms were available for interviewing, leaving an additional hour to the day. In her view, if Assange was sinned against, so was everybody else, given that others in custody should not be prevented from access to counsel. (This judge has a nose for justice, albeit using it selectively.)

As things stand, Peirce is aiming to finalise the exhibits for submission to the prosecution by January 18. The government deadline for responding to those documents will be February 7. The case proceeding itself was adjourned till January 23, and Assange will have the choice, limited as it is, of having the hearing at the Westminster Magistrates Court or Belmarsh.

Supporters outside the court were also of same mind regarding the paltry amount of time awarded Assange. The rapper M.I.A, showing how support for the publisher can at times be sketchy, managed to have a dig at the state while also acknowledging thanks from it. (An announcement had just been made that she would be receiving an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.) “I think it is important to follow this case. I am off to get a medal at Buckingham Palace tomorrow and I think today is just as important. To give somebody an hour to put their case together is not quite right.” Assange supporters would agree with her view that, for “a case of this scale, having only access to two hours to prepare, is illegal in itself.”

The atmosphere around the proceedings has thickened of late, and the WikiLeaks argument here about CIA interference and surveillance conducted by the Spanish firm Undercover Global S.L. while Assange was in the Ecuadorean embassy in London is biting. Prior to Christmas he gave testimony to Spanish judge Jose de la Mata claiming he was not aware that cameras installed by the company in the Ecuadorean embassy were also capturing audio details.

Leaving aside the broader issues of free speech, an argument has been made that CIA meddling might well be the fly in the ointment that impairs the prosecution’s case. This might be wishful thinking, but this is a line of inquiry worth pursuing. The WikiLeaks legal team is keen to press the matter in February during the extradition hearing.

In the well-considered view of James C. Goodale, former Vice Chairman and General Counsel for The New York Times, “After reading El Pais’s series, you would have to be a dunce not to believe the CIA didn’t monitor Assange’s every move at the Ecuadorean embassy, including trips to the bathroom.”

Goodale cites the Pentagon Papers case as an example that the defence may well draw upon. Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked classified Pentagon reports to The Washington Post and The New York Times, had the office of his psychiatrist broken into by President Richard Nixon’s notorious “plumbers”, led by former CIA agent E. Howard Hunt. The conscience stricken analyst was also facing charges under the Espionage Act of 1917. When it came to the trial judge’s attention that government misconduct, including the FBI’s interception of Ellsberg’s telephone conversations with a government official had characterised the entire effort against the whistleblower, the case was dismissed with prejudice. Ellsberg’s treatment had “offended a sense of justice” and “incurably infected the prosecution”.

As with Assange, the footprint of the CIA in Ellsberg’s case was far from negligible. It assisted in the muddled break-in. It penned a clumsy psychiatric profile of Ellsberg and assembled a full identification ensemble for the plumbers: Social Security cards, disguises, drivers’ licenses, speech alternation devices. As Goodale rhetorically poses, “Can anything be more offensive to a ‘sense of justice’ than an unlimited surveillance, particularly of lawyer-client conversations, livestreamed to the opposing party in a criminal case?” It remains for the British courts to consider whether that degree of offensiveness has been achieved in this case.

Medical Opinion, Torture and Julian Assange

On November 27 this year, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, delivered an address to the German Bundestag outlining his approach to understanding the mental health of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. These comprised two parts, the initial stage covering his diplomatic asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy, the second dealing with his formal detention in the United Kingdom at the hands of the UK legal and judicial system. The conclusion was a recapitulation of previous findings: that Assange has been subjected to a prolonged, state-sponsored effort in torture, nothing less than a targeting of his being.

Melzer’s address is an expansive portrait of incremental inter-state torment that led to Assange’s confinement “in a highly controlled environment within the Ecuadorean embassy for more than six years.” There was the eventually justified fear that he would be sought by the United States in extradition proceedings. The Swedish authorities threw in their muddled lot between 2010 and 2019, attempting to nab Assange for rape claims despite “not being able to produce enough evidence for an indictment, and which now, after almost a decade, has been silently closed for the third time based on precisely that recognition.”

Then came the British contribution, consisting of encouragement to the Swedes by the Crown Prosecution Service that the investigation should not be closed, inspiring them not to get “cold feet”. (The cold feet eventually came.) The Ecuadorean contribution completed the four-piece set, with the coming to power of a pro-Washington Lenín Moreno. Embassy personnel in London were encouraged to make conditions that less pleasant; surveillance operations were conducted on Assange’s guests and meetings.

Melzer, along with a medical team, attended to Assange on May 9, 2019 in Belmarsh, finding a man with “all the symptoms that are typical of persons having been exposed to psychological torture for a prolonged period of time.” There was little doubt, in Melzer’s mind, that symptoms “already measurable physically, neurologically and cognitively”, had been shown.

These calls went unheeded. Melzer, in early November, accused the UK authorities of showing “outright contempt for Mr Assange’s rights and integrity.” Despite warnings issued by the rapporteur, “the UK has not undertaken any measures of investigation, prevention and redress required under international law.” Melzer’s prognosis was bleak. “Unless the UK urgently changes course and alleviates his inhumane situation, Mr Assange’s continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life.”

This point has been restated by Dr. Stephen Frost, a chief figure of the dedicated outfit calling itself Doctors for Assange. “We repeat that it is impossible to assess adequately let alone treat Mr Assange in Belmarsh prison and that he must as a matter of urgency be moved to a university teaching hospital. When will the UK government listen to us?”

The medical degrading of Assange has assumed ever greater importance, suggesting unwavering state complicity. On November 22, over 65 notable medical doctors sent the UK Home Secretary a note based on Melzer’s November 1 findings and Assange’s state at the October 21 case management hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court. “It is our opinion that Mr Assange requires urgent expert medical assessment of both his physical and psychological state of health. Any medical treatment indicated should be administered in a properly equipped and expertly staffed university teaching hospital (tertiary care).”

In a second open letter to the UK Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice dated December 4, the Doctors for Assange collective warned that the UK’s “refusal to take the required measures to protect Mr Assange’s rights, health and dignity appears [to] be reckless at best and deliberate at worst and, in both cases, unlawfully and unnecessarily exposes Mr Assange to potentially irreversible risks.”

The same grounds were reiterated in a December 16 letter to Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, with a curt reminder that she had “an undeniable legal obligation to protect your citizen against the abuse of his fundamental rights, stemming from US efforts to extradite Mr Assange for journalism and publishing that exposed US war crimes.” In the event that Payne took no action on the matter, “people would want to know what you […] did to prevent his death.”

In the addendum to the open letter, further to reiterating the precarious state of Assange’s health and medical status as a torture victim, the doctors elaborate on the circular cruelty facing the publisher. An individual deemed “a victim of psychological torture cannot be adequately medically treated while continuing to be held under the very conditions constituting psychological torture, as is currently the case for Julian Assange.” Appropriate medical treatment was hardly possible through a prison hospital ward.

A lesson in understanding mental torture is also proffered. “Contrary to popular misconception, the injuries caused by psychological torture are real and extremely serious. The term psychological torture is not a synonym for mere hardship, suffering or distress.”

At Assange’s case management hearing on December 19, restrictions on medical opinion were again implemented; psychiatrist Marco Chiesa and psychologist David Morgan were prevented from attending. Both had been signatories to the spray of open letters. According to Morgan, he had hoped to “provide some observations about Julian Assange’s health, psychologically, and with my colleagues, physically.” Instead, it transpired that access was denied, according to psychologist Lissa Johnson, “despite members of the public offering to give up seats for them.”

Cold-shouldering expert opinion can be counted as one of the weapons of the state in punishing whistleblowers and publishers. The State has always made it a bureaucratic imperative to sift the undesirable evidence from the apologetic message. Accepting Assange’s condition would be tantamount to admission on the part of UK authorities, urged on by the United States, that intolerable, potentially martyring treatment, has been meted out to a publisher.

An Australian Tourist, a Bulgarian Prison, and a Recording Session

Bulgaria, it appears, is a captured state.  I’ll get to that in a minute.  I first heard about Jock Palfreeman, an Australian serving a lengthy prison sentence in Bulgaria, through a fellow Australian.  The context was a message from my friend Kamala that was straightforward, to the effect of, “would you write a song about Jock?”

I’m never entirely sure what the answer is going to be to a question like that, because it always depends on whether I can come up with something worth singing, rather than whether the subject material is worth a song.  No one suggests subjects that aren’t worth writing about.  But the phrasing of her question was of the sort to light a fire under one’s ass — this was not a passive request, like, “have you ever thought about writing a song about Jock?”  This was active.  And although I’d known this women’s doctor and Socialist Alliance organizer for well over a decade quite well, she had never asked me to write a song before.

A quick exploration on the web made me wonder how I hadn’t heard of this case much earlier — but then, the world is so full of big and small stories of injustice, it all easily becomes a blur, even if the name of Jock Palfreeman may have graced the screen of my laptop in an anarchist news update at some point in the past twelve years.

It was twelve years ago this month, in December, 2007, when Jock made the fateful decision to involve himself in a confrontation between a group of football hooligans of the drunk and far right variety, and two Roma men outside of a metro station in Sofia, Bulgaria.  When Jock awoke, he was chained to a wall in a police station.  Later he learned that one of the football hooligans had died in the course of whatever happened in front of the Metro station in the early hours of that morning.

What followed was a baldly outrageous travesty of any semblance of justice.  Police testimony that backed up Jock’s recollections was ignored.  Video evidence was lost, found, and then lost again.  Jock was a streetwise traveler in a place that he knew could be dangerous, and he did have a knife on him.  But the stab wound Andrei Monov died from was made by a double-bladed knife, unlike the one Jock had, according to Bulgarian forensics experts, also ignored by the judge.

Monov came from a prominent family in Bulgaria, which at least in this instance has meant an innocent man being railroaded into a life sentence.  It’s impossible not to come to this conclusion, if you have any familiarity with what has gone on in this case.

That has been true since the trial in 2008, and it continued to be true throughout the many years of imprisonment in Bulgaria that followed for Jock Palfreeman, who became a widely respected advocate for prisoners’ rights during his time behind bars.  And it was still true last summer, when I wrote the song.

Since then, however, Jock’s case has gotten significantly more bizarre.  What was already a travesty of justice has become downright comedic.  In October, Jock was released on parole, after serving nearly twelve years in prison.  This kind of thing is normal in most cases, when it comes to parole.  What then followed wasn’t.  Jock’s parole is being reviewed.  There is no legal process for this review, it’s just being invented as they go.  Politically-driven, election season improvisation.  Jock is being used as a political football, to use a technical term.

I have no illusions about the power of my songs to influence a judge in Bulgaria.  But it happens to be the case that several of the songs my musical colleagues and I have been arranging, rehearsing and recording for my latest album are about people who are currently in prison, or being threatened with imprisonment.  When you’re recording a song about someone, regardless of how large or small your potential audience is, it behooves you to have some idea about what’s going on with their case.

Reality Winner was in prison when I wrote the song about her that appears on the album, and she’s still there.  Scott Walker in Arizona was facing a potential twenty-year sentence when I wrote the song, and he’s been acquitted since we recorded it.  That’s the title track.  The Rotherham 12, in England, were facing lengthy prison sentences, and they were acquitted before I wrote the song.  They’re still acquitted.  The children separated from their parents and imprisoned in camps at the US-Mexico border that we sing about in “So This Is What It’s Like” and “The Time To Act” are still separated from their parents, still imprisoned.

As of news reports in Australian media from this week, Jock Palfreeman may be returned to prison any day now, from the immigration detention center where he has been awaiting deportation to Australia since being paroled two months ago.  I’m still looking forward to changing the introduction to the song to “this is about a former political prisoner” — whether this happens sooner, or later.

Visiting Britain’s Political Prisoner

I set out at dawn. Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh is in the flat hinterland of south east London, a ribbon of walls and wire with no horizon. At what is called the visitors centre, I surrendered my passport, wallet, credit cards, medical cards, money, phone, keys, comb, pen, paper.

I need two pairs of glasses. I had to choose which pair stayed behind. I left my reading glasses. From here on, I couldn’t read, just as Julian couldn’t read for the first few weeks of his incarceration. His glasses were sent to him, but inexplicably took months to arrive.

There are large TV screens in the visitors centre. The TV is always on, it seems, and the volume turned up. Game shows, commercials for cars and pizzas and funeral packages, even TED talks, they seem perfect for a prison: like visual valium.

I joined a queue of sad, anxious people, mostly poor women and children, and grandmothers. At the first desk, I was fingerprinted, if that is still the word for biometric testing.

“Both hands, press down!” I was told. A file on me appeared on the screen.

I could now cross to the main gate, which is set in the walls of the prison. The last time I was at Belmarsh to see Julian, it was raining hard. My umbrella wasn’t allowed beyond the visitors centre. I had the choice of getting drenched, or running like hell. Grandmothers have the same choice.

At the second desk, an official behind the wire, said, “What’s that?”

“My watch,” I replied guiltily.

“Take it back,” she said.

So I ran back through the rain, returning just in time to be biometrically tested again. This was followed by a full body scan and a full body search. Soles of feet; mouth open.

At each stop, our silent, obedient group shuffled into what is known as a sealed space, squeezed behind a yellow line. Pity the claustrophobic; one woman squeezed her eyes shut.

We were then ordered into another holding area, again with iron doors shutting loudly in front of us and behind us.

“Stand behind the yellow line!” said a disembodied voice.

Another electronic door slid partly open; we hesitated wisely. It shuddered and shut and opened again. Another holding area, another desk, another chorus of, “Show your finger!”

Then we were in a long room with squares on the floor where we were told to stand, one at a time. Two men with sniffer dogs arrived and worked us, front and back.

The dogs sniffed our arses and slobbered on my hand. Then more doors opened, with a new order to “hold out your wrist!”

A laser branding was our ticket into a large room, where the prisoners sat waiting in silence, opposite empty chairs. On the far side of the room was Julian, wearing a yellow arm band over his prison clothes.

As a remand prisoner he is entitled to wear his own clothes, but when the thugs dragged him out of the Ecuadorean embassy last April, they prevented him bringing a small bag of belongings. His clothes would follow, they said, but like his reading glasses, they were mysteriously lost.

For 22 hours a day, Julian is confined in “healthcare”. It’s not really a prison hospital, but a place where he can be isolated, medicated and spied on. They spy on him every 30 minutes: eyes through the door. They would call this “suicide watch”.

In the adjoining cells are convicted murderers, and further along is a mentally ill man who screams through the night. “This is my One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” he said. “Therapy” is an occasional game of Monopoly. His one assured social gathering is the weekly service in the chapel. The priest, a kind man, has become a friend. The other day, a prisoner was attacked in the chapel; a fist smashed his head from behind while hymns were being sung.

When we greet each other, I can feel his ribs. His arm has no muscle. He has lost perhaps 10 to 15 kilos since April. When I first saw him here in May, what was most shocking was how much older he looked.

“I think I’m going out of my mind,” he said then.

I said to him, “No you’re not. Look how you frighten them, how powerful you are.” Julian’s intellect, resilience and wicked sense of humor – all unknown to the low life who defame him — are, I believe, protecting him. He is wounded badly, but he is not going out of his mind.

We chat with his hand over his mouth so as not to be overheard. There are cameras above us. In the Ecuadorean embassy, we used to chat by writing notes to each other and shielding them from the cameras above us. Wherever Big Brother is, he is clearly frightened.

On the walls are happy-clappy slogans exhorting the prisoners to “keep on keeping on” and “be happy, be hopeful and laugh often”.

The only exercise he has is on a small bitumen patch, overlooked by high walls with more happy-clappy advice to enjoy ‘the blades of grass beneath your feet’. There is no grass.

He is still denied a laptop and software with which to prepare his case against extradition. He still cannot call his American lawyer, or his family in Australia.

The incessant pettiness of Belmarsh sticks to you like sweat. If you lean too close to the prisoner, a guard tells you to sit back. If you take the lid off your coffee cup, a guard orders you to replace it. You are allowed to bring in £10 to spend at a small café run by volunteers. “I’d like something healthy,” said Julian, who devoured a sandwich.

Across the room, a prisoner and a woman visiting him were having a row: what might be called a ‘domestic’. A guard intervened and the prisoner told him to “fuck off”.

This was the signal for a posse of guards, mostly large, overweight men and women eager to pounce on him and hold him to the floor, then frog march him out. A sense of violent satisfaction hung in the stale air.

Now the guards shouted at the rest of us that it was time to go. With the women and children and grandmothers, I began the long journey through the maze of sealed areas and yellow lines and biometric stops to the main gate. As I left the visitor’s room, I looked back, as I always do. Julian sat alone, his fist clenched and held high.

  • First published at Information Clearing House.
  • A New Kind of Tyranny: The Global State’s War on Those Who Speak Truth to Power

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

    — John Pilger, investigative journalist

    All of us are in danger.

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

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

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

    Take Julian Assange, for example.

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

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

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

    This is morally wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Boutrous continues:

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

    We desperately need greater scrutiny and transparency, not less.

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

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

    Writing in January 1884, Brandeis explained:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    As Justice William O. Douglas remarked on the ruling:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    This is the final link in the police state chain.

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

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

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

    Camp Bucca, Abu Ghraib and the Rise of Extremism in Iraq

    Yesterday morning, President Trump announced the death of Abu Bakr Al- Baghdadi and three of his children.

    President Trump said Al-Baghdadi, the founder of ISIS, was fleeing U.S. military forces, in a tunnel, and then killed himself by detonating a suicide vest he wore.

    In 2004, Al-Baghdadi had been captured by U.S. forces and, for ten months, imprisoned in both Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca.

    I visited Camp Bucca in January, 2004 when, still under construction, the Camp was a network of tents, south of Basra, in an isolated, miserable area of Iraq.

    Before our three-person Voices delegation entered Iraq, that month, we waited for  visas in Amman, Jordan. While there, two young Palestinian men visited us and described their experiences during six months of imprisonment in Camp Bucca. Recalling the horrible experience, they remembered how fearful they felt, sleeping in sand infested with desert scorpions; they were paraded naked, for showers, in front of U.S. military women and told to bark like a dog or say “I love George Bush”  before their empty bowls would be filled with food. Unable to communicate with anyone outside the prison, they could only hope for release when their turn finally came to appear before a three-person Tribunal.

    Five of their friends were still in the prison. They begged us to visit these friends and plead for their release. All of them were Palestinians studying for professional degrees in Baghdad. Reluctant to lose their chances of eventually graduating, they took a risk and remained in Baghdad throughout the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing. U.S. marines arrived at their dormitory on Baghdad’s Haifa Street and systematically rounded up students with foreign IDs. They were tagged as TCNs, “Third Country Nationals,” and herded off to various prisons.

    In Baghdad, our friends in the Christian Peacemaker Teams had already developed a data base of names and prison numbers to help Iraqis discover the whereabouts of missing relatives. They found the prison numbers for two of the young men we were asked to visit and advised us to ask for Major Garrity, a U.S. military officer who was in charge of Camp Bucca.

    We traveled to the southernmost town in Iraq, Umm Qasr, and sat on a weathered picnic table outside of Camp Bucca, awaiting Major Garrity’s decision. Prospects were bleak since we learned, upon arrival, that we’d come after visiting hours and the next day to visit was three days later. There was no shade, the sand was coated with black grease, and we constantly spat small black flies out of our mouths. Camp Bucca was one of the most hellish spots I’ve ever encountered. Yet we felt quite grateful when word arrived that Major Garrity had approved our visit.

    A military pick-up truck drove us across an expanse of sand, and soon we were witnessing a tearful, tender embrace between one of the prisoners and his brother, a dentist from Baghdad, who had accompanied us. With no prompting, the prisoners, all in their twenties, corroborated the grievances their previously released friends expressed. They spoke of loneliness, monotony, humiliation and the fearful uncertainty prisoners face when held without charge by a hostile power with no evident plans to release them. They were, however, relieved to know we could tell their relatives we had met with them. Later, Major Garrity said the outlook for them being released wasn’t very positive. “Be glad they’re here with us and not in Baghdad,” she said, giving us a knowing look. “We give them food, clothes and shelter here. Be glad that they’re not in Baghdad.” Later, in May of 2004, CNN released pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison. We began to understand what she meant.

    The November 3, 2005 issue of the New York Review of Books quoted three officers, two of them non-commissioned, stationed with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Mercury in Iraq.

    Speaking on condition of anonymity, they described in multiple interviews with Human Rights Watch how their battalion in 2003-2004 routinely used physical and mental torture as a means of intelligence gathering and for stress relief… Detainees in Iraq were consistently referred to as PUCs. The torture of detainees reportedly was so widespread and accepted that it became a means of stress relief, where soldiers would go to the PUC tent on their off-hours to “f**k a PUC” or “smoke a PUC.” “F**king a PUC” referred to beating a detainee, while “smoking a PUC” referred to forced physical exertion sometimes to the point of unconsciousness.

    “Smoking” was not limited to stress relief but was central to the interrogation system employed by the 82nd Airborne Division at FOB Mercury. Officers and NCOs from the Military Intelligence unit would direct guards to “smoke” the detainees prior to an interrogation, and would direct that certain detainees were not to receive sleep, water, or food beyond crackers. Directed “smoking” would last for the twelve to twenty-four hours prior to an interrogation. As one soldier put it: “[The military intelligence officer] said he wanted the PUCs so fatigued, so smoked, so demoralized that they want to cooperate.

    A sergeant told Human Rights Watch: “If he’s a good guy, you know, now he’s a bad guy because of the way we treated him.”

    The violence that brought the Islamic State into being has a long history.

    In numerous trips to Iraq from 1996 to 2003, our Voices delegation members grew to understand the unbearable weariness and suffering of Iraqi families eking out an uncertain existence under punishing economic sanctions. Between the wars, the death toll in children’s lives alone, from externally imposed economic collapse and from the blockade of food, medicine, water purification supplies and other essentials of survival, was estimated by the U.N. at 5,000 children a month, an estimate accepted without question by U.S. officials.

    U.S. assaults, from Desert Storm (1991) to Shock and Awe (2003) — achieved through aerial bombings, children’s forced starvation, use of depleted uranium and white phosphorous, through bullet fire, night raids, blockaded medicines, emptied reservoirs and downed power lines, through abandoned state industries and cities left to dissolve in paroxysms of ethnic cleansing — have all been one continuous war. Along with the abuses of prisoners in places like Camp Bucca, FOB Mercury, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo, U.S. warfare predictably led to the buildup of ISIS and Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s commitment to “an eye for an eye.”

    Asked, in 2016, to talk about his favorite passage in the Bible, President Trump said “eye for an eye.” He didn’t seem to realize that Jesus rejected this teaching.

    “But I say unto you,” Jesus said, “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.”

    Rather than urge retaliation, Jesus spoke of dignified non-resistance through winning over the opponent.

    We need not choose blindness, or the hatred that lets us be herded in fear. We can instead seek to pay reparations for suffering caused through our wars. We can work to abolish war, mourn the deaths of Al-Baghdadi’s children and question how conditions inside U.S. military camps in Iraq led to the extremism of Al-Baghdadi and his ISIS followers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Your sincerely,

    Heather Stroud
    Email: moc.loanull@rehtaehduorts

    Assange in Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    She Deserves Our Support: Betty McCollum Wants US to Stop Subsidizing Torture of Palestinian Children

    In December 2018, 17-year-old Palestinian teen, Ayham Sabah, was sentenced by an Israeli military court to 35 years in prison for his alleged role in a stabbing attack targeting an Israeli soldier in an illegal Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

    Sabah was only 14 years old when the alleged attack took place.

    Another alleged attacker, Omar al-Rimawi, also 14, was reportedly shot by undercover Israeli forces in the Shufat refugee camp, in occupied East Jerusalem. He later succumbed to his wounds.

    Although the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a “child” as “every human being below the age of eighteen years”, Israel chooses not to abide by that definition. In Israel, there are two kinds of children: Israeli children who are 18 years old or younger, and Palestinians children, 16 years and younger.

    In Sabah’s case, he was detained for years to ensure that he was tried as an “adult” per Israel’s skewed legal standards.

    According to research conducted by the Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, by the end of August 2019, 185 Palestinian children, including two younger than 14 years old were held in various Israeli prisons as “security detainees and prisoners.”

    Thousands of Palestinian children are constantly being rotated through the Israeli prison system, often accused of “security” offenses, which include taking part in anti-Israeli occupation protests and rallies in the West Bank. The Palestinian Prisoner’s Association estimates that at least 6,000 Palestinian children have been detained in Israeli prisons since 2015.

    In a statement issued last April, the Association, revealed that “98 percent of the children held had been subjected to psychological and/or physical abuse while in Israeli custody” and that many of them were detained “after first being shot and wounded by Israeli troops.”

    While Gazan children are the ones most likely to lose their lives or get shot by the Israeli army, the children of occupied East Jerusalem are “the most targeted” by Israeli troops in terms of detention or prolonged imprisonment.

    In 2016, the US and Israeli governments signed a 10-year Memorandum of Understanding, whereby, the US “pledges” to grant Israel $38 billion in military aid. The previous agreement, which concluded in 2018, gave Israel over $3 billion per year. Most of the money went to finance Israeli wars and security for illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank. A large portion of that money was, and still is, allocated to subsidize the Israeli prison system and military courts located in occupied Palestine – the kind that regularly detain and torture Palestinian children.

    Aside from the US government, which has blindly supported Israel’s ongoing violations of international law, many governments and rights groups around the world have constantly highlighted Israel’s criminally reprehensible treatment of Palestinian children.

    In a written submission by Human Rights Watch to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the State of Palestine last March, the group reported that “Palestinian children aged between 12 and 17 years from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, continue to be detained and arrested by Israeli forces.”

    “Israeli security forces routinely interrogate children without a guardian or lawyer present, use unnecessary force against children during arrest, which often takes place in the middle of the night, and physically abuse them in custody,” HRW reported.

    While the US government, lawmakers and media often turn a blind eye to such violations, Congresswoman Betty McCollum does not. The representative for Minnesota’s 4th congressional district has taken a stand against the prevailing norm in American politics, arguing that Israel must respect the rights of Palestinian children, and that the US government should not be funding Israel’s violations of human rights.

    On April 30, McCollum introduced House resolution H.R. 2407 – “Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act”.

    “I am introducing legislation to protect children from abuse, violence, psychological trauma, and torture,” she said in her statement to the Congress.

    “The legislation I am introducing is expressly intended to end U.S. support and funding for Israel’s systematic military detention, interrogation, abuse, torture, and prosecution of Palestinian children.”

    By introducing H.R. 2407, McCollum has broken several major taboos in the US government. She unapologetically characterizes Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights with all the correct terms – “torture”, “abuse”, and so on… Moreover, she calls for conditioning US military support for Israel on the latter’s respect for human rights.

    As of November 17, H.R. 2407 has acquired 22 co-sponsors, with Rep. Mark DeSaulnier being the last Congress member to join the list.

    This is not the first time that McCollum has taken such brave initiatives. In November 2017, she introduced the “Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act” (H.R. 4391). Then, she pushed the bill with the same vigor and moral clarity as today’s campaign.

    The 2017 bill was not enacted in the previous Congress. McCollum is hoping to change that this time around, and there are good reasons to believe that H.R. 2407 could succeed.

    One public opinion poll after another points to a shift in US perception of Israel, especially among Democrats and even US Jewish voters.

    Eager to exploit the political chasm, US President Donald Trump accused Jewish Democrats who don’t support Israel of being “disloyal”.

    “The Democrats have gone very far away from Israel,” Trump said last August. “In my opinion, you vote for a Democrat, you’re being very disloyal to Jewish people and very disloyal to Israel.”

    In fact, it seems that an increasing number of American voters are now linking their perception of Israel to their perception of their own polarizing President and his relationship with the equally polarizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    The above reality is now widening the margins of criticism of Israel, whether in the US Congress, media, or other facets of American life which have historically stood on the side of Israel despite the latter’s dismal human rights record.

    While one hopes that McCollum’s congressional bill pays dividends in the service of human rights in Palestine and Israel, one hopes equally that the current shift in American political perceptions continues unhindered.