Category Archives: Julian Assange

Saving Julian Assange is Saving Ourselves

The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner issued a statement based on special-rapporteur-on-torture Nils Melzer’s fact-finding mission into the incarceration of WikiLeaks founder and publisher Julian Assange. The facts were a scathing indictment of those nations behind the targeting of Assange.

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

The more immediate concern, as Assange’s father made known, is his fear for the life of his son. Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson iterated the concern for her client’s life on Friday (15 November).

If all sentient life is sacred, then surely Assange’s life must be saved. Assange works from the principle that the people have the right to know what their governments are doing. Thus Assange is working on behalf of the wider humanity. As such, it is incumbent upon the peoples of the world to protect Assange, if not out of concern for his well-being and regard for the sacrifice he has performed for humanity — then because doing so is in people’s own self-interest.

Recently, RT devoted a portion of a news video to the “power of protest.”

Is there a power of protest? Or is this too simplistic? For a protest to have power, it must have the overwhelming support of the masses, and it must be sustainable — not a one-off.

In 2003, as the US-UK invasion of Iraq was approaching, an estimated two million people took to the streets of London to protest launching a war. United States president George W. Bush was dismissive of the protestors, likening them to a “focus group.” The massive anti-war protests fizzled out, and the illegal attack on Iraq began. The then United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan stated the US-led invasion violated the UN Charter.

The devastation received scrutiny. A John Hopkins University epidemiological study estimated as many as 654,965 excess mortalities in Iraq. Particularly incriminating for the invading nations was the release of the “Collateral Murder” video by WikiLeaks. The video depicts a US Apache helicopter gunning down people in a Baghdad street and also those who came to the victims’ aid.

WikiLeaks put a spotlight on the war crimes committed by the US in Iraq. For the act of informing on the war crimes, Assange has found himself languishing many years in some form of incarceration, lately under extremely grueling conditions in Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh.1

In an earlier article, I adumbrated four avenues to bring about the release of Assange (to which I add one more avenue):

1. The fourth estate, especially the western state/corporate media needs to do what it exists to do: to use the power and influence of its wide reach to advocate and frame political issues for the good of society. This, however, in the case of the western state/corporate media is equivalent to beating a dead dog.2

2. The second suggestion has already passed by, as the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to award the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize to Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmedmay. Ahmedmay is an otherwise seemingly deserving choice, and he has done much to promote peace in his region. However, Ahmedmay walks around freely. He does not suffer in a prison. Making Assange a Nobel Peace Prize laureate would have gone far to thwart his extradition to a rogue superpower. In addition, awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to a publisher who exposed the malignancy of war might have thrown a wrench into future warmongering by the US (as Syria, Iran, Palestine, Yemen, and North Korea among others still find themselves in the American crosshairs). In other words, the Nobel Peace Prize would arguably have better served Alfred Nobel’s intended purpose: to end war and promote peace.

3. Invoke the political machinery of the UN. The UN has demonstrated negligible power of persuasion over recalcitrant nation states to abide by the UN Charter, the Declaration of Human Rights, or other international laws. The UN’s Security Council, which is charged with primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, is often hamstrung by the inegalitarian allotment of vetoes to its permanent five members. So egregious can the UN’s role be that lawyers Abdul Haq Al-Ani and Tarik al-Ani strongly argued the UN is complicit in a genocide committed in Iraq.3

4. That leaves people power. The force to challenge the might of the military-governmental-industrial structure is people power — the power of the masses.

In Brazil many people held vigils for former president Lula Da Silva who recently was released from lock-up. Dozens rally for freeing Assange now. There was a larger rally for Assange in London earlier this month. There is support elsewhere in the world, including in his country of birth, Australia.

5. One could add the power and influence of government as a fifth structure, but it is well known that the US government is a bought institution.4 Among progressives running to be the next presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, Tulsi Gabbard has been at the forefront in advocating justice for Assange; Bernie Sanders has also been acceptable in his more cautious approach to Assange. The faux progressive Elizabeth Warren has been a disappointment.

It should be mentioned that a glimmer of hope has appeared in some political latecomers who are organizing for Assange in Australia.

Some might say that the so-called justice system should be cited as an avenue to achieve justice for Assange, but the entire process from Sweden to Britain and the US reveals such a hope to be farcical.

People Power and China

Assange cannot expect much support coming from the world’s most populous country. His case is not widely reported in China, and he has not made himself popular with some comments regarding Chinese censorship.

Assange said, “Journalism and writing is capable of achieving change which is why Chinese authorities are so scared of it.”

In an interview with the New Statesman, he said:

China has aggressive and sophisticated interception technology that places itself between every reader inside China and every information source outside China. We’ve been fighting a running battle to make sure we can get information through, and there are now all sorts of ways Chinese readers can get on to our site.

Yet WikiLeaks revelations on CIA spying caused China to denounce US hacking.

Surely, Assange must be aware of US machinations against China: hacking, funding rebels, disinformation, etc.5 I am all for the free access to information, but one must differentiate between information that upholds the people’s right-to-know and disinformation that is used for deception and other ulterior purposes. A country has a right to combat disinformation.6 The Chinese state does go beyond censoring disinformation, as it attempts to control some veracious information and deserves criticism in this regard.

Building an Effective People Power Movement

Unless the people power protests are of enormous size and sustained, it will only be a resistance blip on the radar. Depending on how much people value their right-to-know; how much they are opposed to the killing of people living far away (or near) who have never lifted a finger against them, their family, their neighbors, their countrymen and women; how much they are dedicated to justice for all humans; and whether they will engage in further sacrifice: for example, participate in a general strike. This will hurt corporations and send a signal to politicians who fear losing political prestige and influence. As an additional measure, people should consider abandoning reader- and viewer-ship of monopoly media, hurting their bottom line and spooking their investors.

This is a fight people must not lose. The protection and liberation of Assange would be a victory for all those who are unjustly incarcerated everywhere; a victory for the people’s right-to-know and the empowerment of the people (knowledge, they say, is power); a victory for the anti-war crowd; a victory for freedom of the press; and, of course, a victory-of-sorts for Assange and WikiLeaks. It is one victory, but a journey of a 1000 miles begins with one step.

Most importantly, it would be a victory for humanity.7

Closing Words

Assange’s life is imperiled. Chelsea Manning is being fined $500 for the first 30 days in custody and $1,000 for every day in custody after 60 days — and that was back in Mid-May. Where are the people now? In 2013, cyber-activist Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to 10 years jail time for providing 5 million emails to WikiLeaks on “the often very questionable activities” of a government contractor.

Whistleblowers, courageous publishers, and selfless hackers throw light on the criminal activities committed by our governments. They do all of us a great service, and they must be protected.

The fate of Julian Assange and others will stand as a testimony to the moral turpitude of people and their power or stand as an indictment to the bystanders among us. The extradition of Assange would not be just a failure to save Assange (and and throw a wrench into the works to gain the release of others unjustly incarcerated); it would be a failure to save ourselves.

  1. Julian Assange is one among others who put themselves in danger of recriminations from empire. Chelsea Manning and other whistleblowers and activists have also been persecuted for their courage in exposing the crimes of state.
  2. Whistleblower Edward Snowden recently criticized the mass media for failing its audience.
  3. See Genocide in Iraq: The Case against the UN Security Council and Member States (Clarity Press, 2013).
  4. Greg Palast, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (2002).
  5. Not to imply such actions are a one-way street, but using fire is often cited as the best way to fight fire.
  6. Following four days of detailed information on the method and operation of disinformation, as well as relevant international law and conventions on propaganda, the Halifax International Symposium on Media and Disinformation participants unanimously found, “Disinformation—its creation and propagation—is a crime against humanity and a crime against peace.”
  7. I wrote some articles addressing what our responsibility is regarding people of conscience who sacrificed themselves for the wider humanity and then found themselves abused by the establishment. See Kim Petersen, “Protecting Julian Assange: A Must for People of Conscience,” Global Research, 5 April 2019; “What Should “We” Do About Julian Assange?Global Research, 24 July 2019.

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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your sincerely,

Heather Stroud
Email: moc.loanull@rehtaehduorts

Assange in Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ecuador: The fight against Moreno and the IMF is far from over

In Ecuador, the fight against IMF austerity measures is far from over. Just a few hours after my article was published on Sunday, 13 October, Ecuador and the IMF’s Killing Spree, President Lenin Moreno declared the infamous Decree 883 was canceled; i.e., the astronomical price increases for fuel were reversed, the (police) state of emergency and curfew were called off. He wanted to put an end to the 11 days of protests with police and military-induced violence.

The police, supported by the army, carried out repression during the protests, like they have not been seen in Ecuador’s recent history, claiming at least 7 deaths, about 1,340 injured, and more than 1,100 arrested. The streets of Quito were an absolute chaos; destruction, fire, tear gas, smoke.

Austerity measures, other than an exorbitant hike in fuel prices, included shrinking government spending, laying off 23,000 state employees, privatization of social services and infrastructure, and more, all linked to the IMF loan of US$ 4.2 billion. These measures were apparently also “canceled”. At least, so it looked and sounded at the outset.

This seeming victory was achieved largely thanks to the indigenous movement, the Conaie (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador), an umbrella organization of indigenous groups across Ecuador. They have relentlessly fought for their rights and against the ferocious abrogation of all the social benefits they acquired – finally – during the ten years of Rafael Correa’s socialist government which served, and still serves, as an example for much of Latin America.

Not the indigenous groups, or anybody else of the Ecuadorian people were consulted about the IMF loan. The basic IMF deal was already brokered in January 2019, when Lenin Moreno met Madame Lagarde, at that time still head of the IMF, at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. There were just some “minor issues” that Moreno had to resolve before he could sign this horrendous debt onto Ecuador’s books.

One of the “issues” was a request by the US via its extended arm, the IMF was to expel Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, to bring him closer to extradition to the US, where he may face the death penalty, or Guantanamo, for having said and published the truth about the atrocious war crimes committed by the United States. And neo-Nazi, Moreno, complied. Julian Assange is now slowly degenerating by torture and disease in a UK maximum security prison. And the world says nothing. Not even our “Peace Loving’ UN system. All is quiet. Not to molest the Chief-in-Tyrant, sitting on his cardboard throne in Washington.

Just a few days after British police dragged Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, the 4.2-billion-dollar loan / debt deal was signed. No coincidence. Assange was holed-up by self-imposed asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, for almost seven years, for justified fear of being “renditioned” to the US or another torturing US ally.

Now, when all the austerity measures were to be cancelled by nullifying Decree 883, why did Moreno assemble a team of advisers to work out a new decree? Who are these advisers? People from the IMF, from the US Treasury, or simply “Fifth Columnists”, trained and funded by NED (National Endowment for Democracy)? Why isn’t the decree and with it all IMF-imposed austerity simply canceled? Full stop?

In any case, Sunday night, Conaie reported that a “commission” was set up to “draft the decree that replaces it 883 – that this does not end until the agreement is fully implemented”.

Who is part of this commission and what exactly is the commission drafting? Will the commission prepare a new decree with new conditions? None of this is clear at this point. Is Conaie prepared to make conditions that in the long-rung could be disastrous? Does Conaie know that the empire never gives up; i.e., the IMF, as long as they have their dirty fingers in Ecuador with 4.2 billion dollars? No compromise, please, Conaie!

If anything, the new “decree” should include a clause requesting full cancellation of the IMF loan. Otherwise, the IMF will not let go, will come back in one form or another to grab Ecuador’s resources. That is the US doctrine — never depart from a goal, and it is extended through the IMF, the World Bank and through other financial institutions over which the US Treasury has control. This is modern warfare through a financial handle on a country, stealing accumulated social capital and natural resources by strictly enforced austerity programs causing famine, disease, desperation, and death. See recent examples — Greece, Ukraine, Argentina.

Of course, it takes two to tango, and without a corrupt government on the other side, the IMF can do nothing.

What will happen to the protest leaders? Is this being covered by the new decree? The front men and women of a revolution that shook the country for eleven days? Many of the leaders, and others, are incarcerated as political prisoners and should be freed.

A new decree to replace the old one, Decree 883, smells like a rat; like a new deception is being prepared and the apparent “victory” is just a make-believe for the moment to reinstate order in Quito and the country. Instead of crushing Ecuadorians with a bulldozer; i.e., the Decree 883 that attempted to shove all the IMF austerity measures down the throat of the Ecuadorians at once, it may come piecemeal, little by little, so the immediate impact will be less noticeable and eventually the sour bites are sliding better down the throat of Ecuadorians so Moreno may expect. This would not be the first time that a Government weasels its way out of protests: Stop the “killer measures” for now, and reintroduce them later, slowly in a different format.

Conaie’s leaders are concerned about this. They have said so. They would like to know what the new decree contains, and want to have a say in its drafting, before they definitely call off their protests. What they really want is the resignation of Lenin Moreno. That’s what they should aim for, because this man has already proven several times in only two years of presidency that he is a liar, cannot be trusted, and sells the people and their natural resources for the benefit of a small Ecuadorian elite and their foreign partners, mostly US oil corporations. Even if he were to cave in now, Moreno will come back, if allowed to stay in power, to neoliberalize the country. That’s his compact. That’s the premise under which he has been made president.

And, what nobody talked about, nor are there any reports in either mainstream or progressive news, is what will happen with the US$ 4.2 billion IMF loan?  Why is it not cancelled? Is the cancellation of this loan going to be part of the new decree? Ecuador doesn’t need the loan. With a debt – GDP ratio of 40%, there is definitely no need whatsoever to call for IMF’s “help”. As proportion of GDP, Ecuador’s debt is only two thirds of that of Germany.

Instead of foreign loans, Ecuador’s Government could call in the outstanding debt of about US$ 4.5 billion from fines, unpaid interests and other overdue fees from corporations and Ecuadorian oligarchs so the government could recapitalize her treasury with own, interest free money. But instead, Moreno “forgave” the debt of the oligarchs, when contracting the IMF loan. That, in itself, is telling a lot. President Moreno, who used to be Correa’s Vice President, running on the same Platform, the center-left PAIS Alliance, turned tables less than a year into his presidency, destroyed the PAIS Alliance and betrayed his compatriots miserably.

Canceling an IMF loan is relatively easy. There is no law that would prevent Ecuador from withdrawing from the IMF deal, at no penalty. This has happened many times before. All that’s needed are politicians with a people-oriented mentality – a people’s friendly attitude – and the country would be rid of this debt and rid of the dictate of the IMF.

Conaie may consider insisting on two objectives before calling off the protests and moving back to their lands: One, canceling the IMF loan of US$ 4.2 billion, and two, suspending the Parliament and President Moreno of his functions; calling-in a caretaker government and planning new elections within 3 months; elections in which Rafael Correa might again run for President.

A Coalition of Support: Parliamentarians for Julian Assange

Australian politicians, and the consular staff of the country, are rarely that engaged on the subject of protecting their citizens.  In a couple of notorious cases, Australian authorities demonstrated not only an indifference, but a consciously venal approach to its citizens in overseas theatres.

Mamdouh Ahmed Habib, a dual Australian-Egyptian national, was detained in Pakistan in October 2001 and subsequently sent to Guantánamo Bay via Bagram in Afghanistan and Egypt.  His subsequent detention till 2005 in a chapter of that sinisterly framed Global War on Terror was without charge and heavy with speculation.  In April 2002, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation formed the view that Habib had not been involved in the planning of future terrorist attacks, a point deemed insufficient in securing his early release.  On his release, he initiated federal court proceedings against the Australian government over their complicity in the matter.  The case was settled in 2010.

The squalid affair is worth nothing for the essential connivance of Australian officials in the ongoing detention of Habib.  Even intelligence assessments within the intelligence fraternity pointing to his innocence were dismissed.  In a joint media statement from the Attorney-General and the Minister for Foreign Affairs on January 11, 2005, the standard line was reiterated: “it remained the strong view of the United States that, based on information available to it, Mr Habib had prior knowledge of the terrorist attacks on or before 11 September 2001.”  What the US suspected, went.

In a wordy and not particularly illuminating report on the case by the Australian Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, it was “found that communication to the Habib family in respect of Mr Habib’s welfare was not adequate and recommends that an apology be made.”  Stress was made that Australian intelligence officials were not directly involved in his rendering to Guantánamo Bay, though it was noted that “ASIO should have made active enquiries about how Mr Habib would be treated in Egypt before providing information which may have been used in his questioning in Egypt.”

An even more notable case of crude, dismissive abandonment can be found in the plight of David Hicks, another Australian who found himself facing an array of charges brought forth by the “war” on terror.  His role in US legal history in fighting that dubious category of “unlawful combatant” and military commissions is assured, but what stood out in the case was an abject refusal on the part of Prime Minister John Howard and his foreign minister Alexander Downer to engage in anything resembling assistance.

In May 2003, with rumours thick that some detainees from Guantánamo Bay were being released, Downer was quick to scratch Hicks from the list.  “After all, remember David Hicks was somebody who was allegedly involved with both al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Taliban being the political articulation of the view of al-Qaeda.”

When pressed by ABC Radio on Australian contributory negligence, Downer merely swatted the allegation, insisting on cryptic and inchoate legal categories.  “He’s being held though, let me just make this clear, he’s being held as an unlawful combatant, as somebody who was detained initially by the Northern Alliance and subsequently by the United States”.

Amnesty secretary general Irene Khan, in an open letter to Australian prime minister John Howard, made the case that Hicks had been abandoned.  Even after the finding by the US Supreme Court that specifically established military commissions were unconstitutional, the Australian government remained approving of that most curious of aberrations.  “They have not taken any effort to ensure that he gets a fair trial.”

In every sense, the Australian response to Julian Assange’s detention, both during his time in the Ecuadorean embassy and in Belmarsh, betrays an unhealthy tendency to regard the controversial citizen as a menace best distanced.  Let another country deal with him, and if that country be the United States, all the better.

In recent days, a sense of momentum is gathering suggesting that Australia’s political classes might be tiring of this view.  Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce has been shooting off his mouth for reasons more constructive than usual.  “Whether you like a person or not, they should be afforded the proper rights and protections and the process of justice, as determined by an Australian parliament, not another nation’s parliament.”

Grounds for extradition to the United States from the UK, argued Joyce, had not been made out. “If a person is residing in Australia and commits a crime in another country, I don’t believe that is a position for extradition.”

Independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie is also mucking in, hoping to cobble together a coalition of supporters in the Australian parliament to support Assange’s return to Australia.  “The only party I’m having to work extra hard on getting members of the group is Labor.”

The more traditional front, however, is being maintained by the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg. “He [Assange] ultimately will face the justice for what he’s been alleged to have done, but that is a legal process that will run its course.”  Rather weakly, Frydenberg made a lukewarm concession: that “we will continue, as a government, to provide him with the appropriate consular services.”

If there was a time to fight legal eccentricity and viciousness, it is now.  Just as Hicks and Habib faced complicity and a range of stretched and flexible legal categories, Assange faces that most elastic of instruments designed to stifle publishing and whistleblowing: the US Espionage Act of 1917.  Should he be extradited from the United Kingdom and face the imperial goon squad in Washington, we will be spectators to that most depraved of state acts: the criminalisation of publishing.  Australia’s parliamentarians, never the sharpest tools in the political box, are starting to stir with that realisation.

Dangerous Detentions: Julian Assange and Remaining in Belmarsh

Much ink has been spilled in textbooks describing situations where autocratic states can behave badly. They abuse rights; they ignore international law and they ride roughshod over conventions. Liberal democracies may boast that they follow matters to the letter of the law, and make sure that citizens are given their fair and just cause in putting forth their cases. The practice suggests all too glaringly that the opposite is true.

The English legal tradition, with its historically brutal punishments, adoration of the fetish known as the rule of law, and a particular tendency towards a miscarriage of justice, has found a rich target in Julian Assange. Behind the stiffness of procedure and the propriety of convention, cruelties are being justified with grinding regularity.

On September 22, Assange would have been released from HMP Belmarsh, a maximum security centre whose reputation betrays much in the way the authorities wish to handle the publisher. The 50-week jail term imposed for skipping bail was a mild matter relative to others serving life sentences in the prison, but a statement had to be made both to those wishing to emulate Assange and Britain’s cousins across the Atlantic. But that term of imprisonment was never meant to be genuinely observed in the scheme of things; its termination merely being a point in a broader scheme of ongoing detention. It was a mere hiccup in a conversation which involves US power. The Washington security establishment is salivating for its quarry, and Britain is playing minder.

This means keeping him in indefinite detention, or at least till US authorities make their case, however unconvincing. At the Westminster Magistrates court hearing on September 13, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser was short and sharp. “You have been produced today because your sentence of imprisonment is about to come to an end. When that happens your remand status changes from serving prisoner to a person facing extradition.”

The District Judge explained how she had given Assange’s lawyer “an opportunity to make an application for bail on your behalf and she has declined to do so, perhaps not surprising in light of your history of absconding in these proceedings.” In that explanation, a cosmos of meaning can be discerned. Any application for bail would have been futile in any case, given that the judge had made up her mind. “In my view I have substantial ground for believing if I release you, you will abscond again.”

The judge was also being more than a touch disingenuous. The hearing could not, in any genuine way, be described as a bail hearing, despite being represented as such. It was, in fact, a technical hearing, meaning that the magistrate had effectively refused bail even before a formal request by the defence. Such tendencies towards premature adjudication do not do the legal profession proud.

The curious reference to “these proceedings” suggested a continuum of prosecution against Assange conflating both Swedish and US attempts to extradite him. His punishment for skipping bail was not connected to the current US case, at least directly, but avoiding the extradition to Sweden in an attempt to question him over allegations of sexual assault.

To the judicial officer, it was all the same picture of reason, the same cheek shown in avoiding the inevitable. Never mind that Assange exercised his rights to asylum, that the reason he fled to the Ecuadorean embassy in 2012 was based on a genuine, and now proven fear, that he could be extradited to the United States to face charges with a cumulative prison time of 175 years. Best bang him up in the cells as a warmer for the US effort, which is set to gather steam for a February extradition hearing.

While Britain continues its immolating ritual in how it leaves the European Union, there are murmurings of protest keeping the matter of Assange’s fate alive. On Saturday, a modest protest took place outside Belmarsh, sporting the staple banners: “Don’t shoot the messenger”; “Free, free Julian Assange”; “Hands off Assange”.

Labour MP Chris Williamson was on hand to address those gathered. “Here we have a situation where someone who we should be celebrating is facing solitary confinement, which is tantamount to torture taking place on British soil. This cannot be allowed to stand.”

Williamson’s rationale is based on a traditional suspicion of the overreach of US power, and not a view shared by the mainstream plodders in British politics. “We have a moral duty to fight for Julian Assange, whose only crime is to expose war crimes by the US and the abuse of state powers.”

Williamson has also made the observation that his country has become rather slapdash with its application of legal principle, despite taking some historical pride in defending human rights. “Britain is increasingly behaving like a tin-pot dictatorship in its dealing with him.” While Assange suffers, British politicians, notably those in Camp Brexit, see only one dictatorship: the EU. Their idea of the Sceptred Isle remains pure.

There are accounts about Assange’s failing health that jab and trigger the occasional splash of publicity. Assange’s father, John Shipton, has described how, during a visit in August, his son looked “a bit shaky, and is suffering from anxiety. He has lost a lot of weight. It is very distressing, and the intensity of his treatment has increased over the past year.”

The UN Special Rapporteur, Nils Melzer, has also issued stirring assessments of Assange’s detention, with its compounding cruelties. “In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political prosecution, I have never seen a group of democratic states gang 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. The collective punishment of Julian Assange must end here and now.” Sadly, and depressingly for publishers, the process continues, wearingly and destructively.

Stockholm Syndrome: Julian Assange And The Limits Of Guardian Dissent

Nothing happened on September 2 in central London. Roger Waters, co-founder of Pink Floyd, did not initiate a protest outside the Home Office. He did not sing and play the Floyd classic ‘Wish You Were Here’, or say:

Julian Assange, we are with you. Free Julian Assange!

The renowned journalist and film-maker John Pilger did not say:

The behaviour of the British government towards Julian Assange is a disgrace – a profanity on the very notion of human rights.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the persecution of Julian Assange is the way dictatorships treat a political prisoner.

None of this happened for any major UK or US newspaper, which made no mention of these events at all. Readers of Prensa Latina, Havana, were more fortunate with two articles before and after the event, as were readers of Asian News International in New Delhi. Coverage was also provided by Ireland’s Irish Examiner (circulation 25,419) in Cork, which published a Press Association piece that was available to the innumerable other outlets that all chose to ignore it.

Four months after he was dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy, Assange is still locked up in solitary confinement for 21 hours a day or more. He is still being denied the basic tools to prepare his case against a demand for extradition to the United States where he faces incarceration and torture. He is not allowed to call his US lawyers, is not allowed access to vital documents, or even a computer. He is confined to a single cell in the hospital wing, where he is isolated from other people. Pilger commented at the protest:

There is one reason for this. Julian and WikiLeaks have performed an historic public service by giving millions of people facts on why and how their governments deceive them, secretly and often illegally: why they invade countries, why they spy on us.

Julian is singled out for special treatment for one reason only: he is a truth-teller. His case is meant to send a warning to every journalist and every publisher, the kind of warning that has no place in a democracy.

On the Sydney Criminal Lawyers website, journalist Paul Gregoire discussed Assange’s declining health with his father, John Shipton, who said:

His health is not good. He’s lost about 15 kilos in weight now – five since I last saw him. And he’s in solitary confinement for 22 hours a day, in the hospital ward of the gaol.

Gregoire responded:

‘As you’ve just explained, Julian is being held in quite extreme conditions. He’s isolated from other inmates. And as well, his visits are restricted and so are his communications with his legal representation. Yet, he’s only being held for breach of bail, which is a rather minor charge.’

‘Yes, very minor.’

‘How are the UK authorities justifying the restrictions around his imprisonment seeing he’s being incarcerated on such a minor offence?’

‘I don’t know if they feel the necessity to justify these decisions. Their decisions are arbitrary.’

‘So, they’re giving no explanation as to his treatment.’

‘No.’

It does seem extraordinary, in fact, medieval, for such brutal treatment to be meted out to someone for merely breaching bail, with almost zero ‘mainstream’ political or media protest. This is only one reason, of course, why the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, penned an article titled, ‘Demasking the Torture of Julian Assange’. Melzer commented:

What may look like mere mudslinging in public debate, quickly becomes “mobbing” when used against the defenseless, and even “persecution” once the State is involved. Now just add purposefulness and severe suffering, and what you get is full-fledged psychological torture.

Investigative journalist Peter Oborne courageously challenged conventional wisdom on Assange this month in a British Journalism Review piece titled, ‘He is a hero, not a villain’. Oborne described how, in July, the Mail on Sunday had published a front-page story revealing the contents of diplomatic telegrams – ‘DipTels’ – sent to London by the British ambassador to the US. The memos described President Trump’s administration as ‘inept’ and Trump himself as ‘uniquely dysfunctional’.

All hell broke loose. The May government announced an official leak inquiry. The Metropolitan Police launched a criminal investigation. The intelligence services got involved.

The Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Neil Basu warned the press not to publish any further documents as this could “constitute a criminal offence”. The Mail on Sunday paid no attention. It published further leaks and other papers came to its support. So did politicians. Tory leadership candidates Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt were among those who criticised Basu’s comments.

Hunt, who was then foreign secretary, said: “I defend to the hilt the right of the press to publish those leaks if they receive them and judge them to be in the public interest…

Meanwhile, that leaker-in-chief Julian Assange continued to languish in Belmarsh prison, where he is serving 50 weeks for skipping bail…

Julian Assange is a controversial figure, to be sure. Many of those who have dealt with him have found him difficult. But I find myself wondering what exactly the difference is between his alleged crime of publishing leaked US diplomatic cables and the Mail on Sunday’s offence of publishing leaked Foreign Office cables.

Why is Assange treated by the bulk of the British media as a pariah? And the Mail on Sunday as a doughty defender of press freedom? After all, Julian Assange is responsible for breaking more stories than all the rest of us put together.

Oborne commented:

This looks to me like a monstrous case of double standards, even by the ocean-going standards of Britain’s media/political class.

Focusing on Other Issues

Assange was offered rare ‘mainstream’ support on September 12 when Guardian columnist George Monbiot tweeted:

Never forget: #JulianAssange is still in Belmarsh prison, facing the prospect of extradition and life imprisonment in the US, for the “crime” of releasing information that governments have withheld from us. This is not justice.

Tweeter jaraparilla was quick to spot what happened next:

George Monbiot just posted this tweet supporting Julian Assange then deleted it within minutes (before I could respond).

We asked Monbiot what had happened. He replied:

I realised that the US extradition issue was tangled up with the Swedish one, and that I don’t yet know enough about Assange’s legal situation, exactly what he is awaiting and why. I will read up and return to the issue.

In response, we recommended Melzer’s superb work in challenging the establishment smear campaign. Monbiot replied:

Thank you. Has he written a paper on the subject? I find it much easier to absorb information in writing.

We answered:

Amazed you need to ask, have you really not been following his interviews and written pieces? Mind you, according to ProQuest, @NilsMelzer has been mentioned twice in the Guardian this year – so maybe it’s not so strange. See here, for example

Monbiot tweeted: No, I’ve been focusing on other issues.

We commented again:

True enough. According to the ProQuest newspaper database, you’ve never mentioned Assange in your Guardian column. Is that right?

Monbiot confirmed: Yes, that is correct.

It was curious that Monbiot felt the need to ‘read up and return to the issue’. After all, as jaraparilla noted, Monbiot has tweeted about Assange and WikiLeaks dozens of times. Many of these comments make for grim reading. For example:

Moral line on #Assange is crystal clear: we shld support qu-ning on rape charges & oppose any extrad attempt by US. #wikileaks

In his latest piece on Assange, Oborne discussed this egregious error:

His critics attach special weight to rape charges laid against Assange in Sweden. But it’s important to remember there have never been any “charges” in Sweden.

This is a myth reported literally hundreds of times. There has only ever been a “preliminary investigation” in Sweden looking into allegations of rape.

In 2011, Monbiot tweeted:

To me Assange looks unaccountable, paranoid, controlling and prone to blame others for his mistakes. #wikileaks

As we now know, Assange’s ‘paranoia’ was actually astute awareness that ‘they’ really were out to get him.

And: ‘Why does Assange still have so much uncritical support? Seems to me he’s acting like a tinpot dictator.’

And: ‘#JulianAssange takes Kremlin’s dollar, reversing all he claimed to stand for: bit.ly/wT4PoO Love #wikileaks, not Assange’

To his credit, Monbiot subsequently tweeted the deleted tweet defending Assange a second time.

In April 2019, Monbiot won huge applause for using harsh language and calling for the overthrow of capitalism. He insisted that, to save the planet, we need to forget ‘pathetic, micro-consumerist bollocks’:

We have to overthrow this system which is eating the planet with perpetual growth…. We can’t do it by just pissing around at the margins of the problem; we’ve got to go straight to the heart of capitalism and overthrow it.

And yet, as Oborne noted, Assange is ‘responsible for breaking more stories than all the rest of us put together’, ‘each and every one in the public interest’, ‘which any self-respecting reporter would sell his or her grandmother to obtain’. One could hardly think of a more powerful example of someone not ‘pissing around at the margins of the problem’.

Monbiot is hardly alone in ‘focusing on other issues’, year after year, while Assange rots. Fellow Guardian great white leftist hope, Owen Jones, last mentioned Assange in his Guardian column in 2014. In fact, this was his only ever mention in the paper, a single comment in passing focused on then Respect MP George Galloway:

his past praise for dictators and appalling comments about rape following allegations against Julian Assange have left him largely isolated.

Like Monbiot, Paul Mason – a former BBC and Channel 4 broadcaster who has somehow reinvented himself as a war-supporting, NATO-loving, Trident-renewing ‘man of the people’ (with 618,000 followers on Twitter) – has never mentioned Assange in the Guardian.

It seems likely that Guardian columnists have felt under increasing pressure to back off from supporting Assange over the last five years. As Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis reported this month:

The Guardian has lost many of its top investigative reporters who had covered national security issues… The few journalists who were replaced were succeeded by less experienced reporters with apparently less commitment to exposing the security state. The current defence and security editor, Dan Sabbagh, started at The Guardian as head of media and technology and has no history of covering national security.

‘It seems they’ve got rid of everyone who seemed to cover the security services and military in an adversarial way,” one current Guardian journalist told us.

Kennard and Curtis concluded:

The Guardian had gone in six short years from being the natural outlet to place stories exposing wrongdoing by the security state to a platform trusted by the security state to amplify its information operations. A once relatively independent media platform has been largely neutralised by UK security services fearful of being exposed further.

Venezuela, Gaza and Yemen

This pattern of sparse, or non-existent commentary extends to other issues. In 2018, Monbiot tweeted of the Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro:

Just because Maduro claims to be on the left does not mean we should support him. There are far better ways of breaking the power of the old elites. #Venezuela

Monbiot thus simply wrote off the democratically elected President of Venezuela who had won entirely credible elections after the death of Hugo Chavez. Because Monbiot is respected by many readers as an honest, principled progressive, this will have looked to many like the final nail in the coffin of Maduro’s credibility. Many doubtless assumed that Monbiot knows and cares a great deal about Venezuela, that he has strongly supported the Bolivarian revolution. And in 2015, Monbiot did write this in the Guardian:

Between 1989 and 1991 I worked with movements representing landless rural workers in Brazil. As they sought to reclaim their land, thousands were arrested; many were tortured; some were killed…

In Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, Uruguay and Chile, similar movements transformed political life. They have evicted governments opposed to their interests and held to account those who claim to represent them. Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain have been inspired, directly or indirectly, by the Latin American experience.

Many readers will have hailed these comments as evidence that Monbiot is an outspoken leftist. After all, in 2003 he had written in the Guardian:

While younger activists are eager to absorb the experience of people like Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Lula, Victor Chavez, Michael Albert and Arundhati Roy, all of whom are speaking in Porto Alegre [the World Social Forum], our movement is, as yet, more eager than wise, fired by passions we have yet to master. (Our emphasis)

But according to the ProQuest media database, the single sentence from 2015 contains Monbiot’s only mention of Venezuela in his Guardian column in the last ten years. Monbiot has mentioned Hugo Chavez’s name exactly twice, in passing, in two articles. He has mentioned Maduro – who is facing relentless internal and external state-corporate attempts at regime change, not least by means of US sanctions – once, in passing, in July 2019. Monbiot has said not a word to challenge the military, economic and propaganda campaign to overthrow Maduro.

According to ProQuest, Owen Jones has never mentioned the Venezuelan President in his Guardian column. Paul Mason’s only mention of Maduro in the Guardian damned Maduro’s use of the ‘repertoire of autocratic rule’ in his supposed ‘crackdown’, being ‘clearly engaged in a rapid, purposive and common project to hollow out democracy’.

Ironically, corporate dissidents like Monbiot, Jones and Mason benefit enormously from the fact that they are published by tyrannical, monopolistic, unaccountable, power-friendly media that filter ‘all the news fit to print’. How so?

It is precisely because these systems of power function as such forensic, long-armed Thought Police that even tiny crumbs of compromised dissent – a single sentence on ‘landless rural workers’ here, a four-letter word on the need for revolution there – elicit pitiful shrieks of delight and admiration from corporately incarcerated consumers who need to believe that ‘mainstream’ media are not that bad, not that destructive. In other words, public awareness is heavily skewed by a version of ‘Stockholm syndrome’.

Consider Gaza as a further example. Again, we can find this dissenting comment from Monbiot in the Guardian in 2006:

I agree that Hizbullah fired the first shots. But out of the blue? Israel’s earlier occupation of southern Lebanon; its continued occupation of the Golan Heights; its occupation and partial settlement of the West Bank and gradual clearance of Jerusalem; its shelling of civilians, power plants, bridges and pipelines in Gaza; its beating and shooting of children; its imprisonment or assassination of Palestinian political leaders; its bulldozing of homes; its humiliating and often lethal checkpoints: all these are, in Bush’s mind, either fictional or carry no political consequences.

Again, leftists will have lapped up this rare supportive comment in a major UK newspaper. A search for further comments finds this sentence from Monbiot in November 2007:

In February 2001, according to the BBC, it [Israel] used chemical weapons in Gaza: 180 people were admitted to hospital with severe convulsions.

And a sentence from September 2013, when Monbiot wrote in passing of how Israel ‘refuses to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention’ having ‘used white phosphorus as a weapon in Gaza’. A further sentence appeared in September 2014:

In Gaza this year, 2,100 Palestinians were massacred: including people taking shelter in schools and hospitals.

Monbiot wrote again one month later:

Israeli military commanders described the massacre of 2,100 Palestinians, most of whom were civilians (including 500 children), in Gaza this summer as “mowing the lawn”.

But, remarkably, these are the only substantive comments Monbiot has made about one of the great crimes and tragedies of our time. The last quote above, his most recent, was published nearly five years ago, in October 2014.

While other progressives like Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Norman Finkelstein, Jonathan Cook and others have written whole books, made whole films, and written reams of articles about the catastrophe being inflicted on the people of Gaza, Monbiot has said virtually nothing.

According to ProQuest, Owen Jones’ sole, substantive article devoted to Israel’s assault on Gaza came in July 2014. Even this was a philosophical piece on the ‘moral corruption that comes with any occupation’, with few details about the suffering in Gaza. Stockholm syndrome ensured that the title alone, ‘How the occupation of Gaza corrupts the occupier’, persuaded many readers that here was a stellar example of a principled journalist who really cared about Gaza, who was shouting the truth from the rooftops. Jones’ last mention of Gaza in the Guardian was also five years ago, a mention in passing in August 2014.

Paul Mason’s last substantive mention of Gaza was, again, five years ago, in November 2014, an emotive reference to a harrowing report he made from Gaza while working for Channel 4 News, with little detail on conditions. Mason referenced the same Channel 4 coverage in August 2014.

Or consider Yemen – how much have Monbiot, Jones and Mason written about the blood-drenched, UK-backed Saudi Arabian war that began in 2015? Monbiot wrote in June 2017 of then Prime Minister Theresa May:

She won’t confront Saudi Arabia over terrorism or Yemen or anything else.

Ironic words, given that, according to ProQuest, this is Monbiot’s only meaningful comment on the Yemen war (in April 2019, he noted in passing that climate change ‘has contributed to civil war’ in Yemen). In the Morning Star, Ian Sinclair reported that the editor of the Interventions Watch website had conducted a search of Monbiot’s Twitter timeline in December 2017:

He found Monbiot had mentioned “Syria” in 91 tweets and “Yemen” in just three tweets.

To his credit, Owen Jones has written several substantial pieces focused on the war in Yemen here, here and here. In June 2017, Paul Mason wrote one substantial paragraph on the conflict:

Saudi Arabia is meanwhile prosecuting a war on Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen, using more than £3bn worth of British kit sold to it since the bombing campaign began. In return, it has lavished gifts on Theresa May’s ministers: Philip Hammond got a watch worth £1,950 when he visited in 2015. In turn, Tory advisers are picking up lucrative consultancy work with the Saudi government.

Again, we can celebrate an example of superficial dissent, or reflect on the fact that this is Mason’s only comment on the Yemen war in the Guardian.

It is important to remember that the most popular and revered British dissidents – including radical comedians like Russell Brand, Frankie Boyle and Eddie Izzard – were made famous by corporate media. The difference between a ‘cult’ following and national fame is often the difference between popular and ‘mainstream’ support. People willing to compromise from the start, to jump through the required corporate hoops to achieve fame, are (often unwittingly) stooges of a system that must allow glimpses of dissent, a semblance of free and open discussion.

The system needs an occasional honest paragraph on Gaza from a Monbiot, a comment on Yemen from a Mason, if it is to retain credibility. Nobody is fooled by total silence, by a complete lie – a half-lie is far more potent. We are complicit in this charade when we make dissident mountains out of molehills, loaves out of corporate crumbs, and keep buying the product.

John Pilger: We Are in a WAR SITUATION with China!

On this episode of Going Underground, we speak to legendary journalist and film-maker John Pilger on a round-up of all the latest issues. John describes the current state of global affairs as in a state of world war, warning that the ‘coming war on China’ he warned about…has now arrived, he also discusses the Hong Kong protests and why they have grown, along with US involvement in the unrest. He discusses the collapse of the global nuclear arms control framework with the end of the INF Treaty and the beginning of a new arms race with Russia, amid a situation where he describes it as Washington’s goal to break up the Russian Federation under Putin. He also warns of the increased risk of nuclear war as nuclear superpowers such as Pakistan and India are also entering major tensions between each other. John Pilger also discusses his concern with John Bolton being at the ear of Donald Trump, how Brexit has created mass-distraction in the UK from the most pressing of issues at home (such as austerity and the NHS) and abroad. He slams sanctions on Venezuela and Iran and also updates us on the condition of Wikileaks founder and publisher Julian Assange, after he visited him recently in Belmarsh prison.