Category Archives: Justice

Britain’s War on Truth and Dissent

A man is confined for seven years of his life to a diplomatic compound, fearing arrest for exposing some of the worst war crimes and financial misdoings of the past two decades, only to be stripped of his asylum status in a blatant mockery of international law before being locked away in a high security prison to await extradition and a possible life sentence. The press has obediently mounted a campaign to discredit the man, accusing him of every imaginable cardinal sin, and everyone who speaks out is accused of treachery.

To most of us, this sounds like a horror story from behind the Iron Curtain, some cartoonish portrayal of the Evil Empire whose citizens live a lie and where dissidents disappear without trace.

But this isn’t the Evil Empire, not according to Reagan at least. This is twenty-first century Britain, whose ancient democratic institutions lie at the heart of her national identity.

The man, needless to say, is Julian Assange who today pays the price for defying the institutional rot at the heart of Western governments; a rot we pretend does not exist.

Documents showing the medieval depravity that is Guantanamo Bay, details of a dirty multi-million dollar scheme to snatch up mining rights in the Central African Republic and, of course, Collateral Murder, the haunting video which shows Iraqi civilians being shot from an American helicopter while the pilots maniacally laugh at ‘these dead bastards’. Assange and Wikileaks revealed this and much more.

Those embarrassed by the revelations have chosen to defame him. They claim that Ecuador’s decision to revoke Assange’s asylum status had something to do with how he behaved in the embassy. They would have us believe that the British police spent £12.6 million to bring him to justice for – extremely dubious and now dismissed – allegations of rape in a country where sexual assault claims are routinely ignored by the authorities. They would accuse him of serving Russian interests, of being a spy and conspiring to hack into a government computer, even though Assange did nothing that would not have been done by any other investigative journalist.

His trial was inherently unfair from the outset with Assange deprived of vital legal documents and communications with his legal team apparently spied on by Spanish contractors for the CIA. The judge, Emma Arbuthnot, had a clear conflict of interest as her husband has previously been exposed by Wikileaks.

Since his incarceration at HM Prison Belmarsh he has reportedly lost 15 kilograms and shown signs of ‘full-fledged psychological torture’. His family fears that he will die in jail.

Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture who visited Assange at Belmarsh, went as far as saying, ‘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.’ Yet even esteemed jurists like Melzer have faced torrents of abuse and intimidation for merely stating the obvious: speaking the truth to power – that is Assange’s crime.

If the extradition goes ahead it will violate current provisions that exempt political prisoners from being extradited. It will also create fundamental legal obstacles to investigative journalism, silencing those who expose the most abhorrent acts of government cruelty and greed.

Two years ago, the British Government narcissistically took the high ground over the apparent involvement of the Russian state in the attempted poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. It bears restating that Skripal was an ex-GRU agent who turned to work for the MI6 and blew the cover of 300 former comrades-in-arms. He was no dissident and no hero. And he certainly did serve foreign interests.

The event triggered among the largest expulsions of foreign diplomats in history and became a symbol of Russian authoritarianism and intolerance of dissent. The Russian government denied involvement and responded by expelling Western diplomats.

Yet today Britain conducts a show trial designed to crush a man who exposed atrocities and corrupt financial dealings, and to set an example for others. It does not even need to resort to covert measures – the public and the press don’t care.

Assange will be locked away and silenced for the rest of his life, while our governments continue to sow chaos and suffering across the world in our name.

88 Days of Hell for the Family Jewell

By the late-90s we must have sensed that the shit was hitting the fan. The fire at Waco. The Unabomber envelopes. The downing of Flight 800. The World Trade Center bombing. Blowjobs in the White House. Oklahoma City. Tokyo’s subway sarin attack. The Khobar Towers bombing blamed on bin Laden. The ascent of Atlanta’s radio jockstrap Sean Hannity to national status on Roger Ailes’ newly established Fox News Network. OJ taking off the gloves. Rodney King wondering if we could all just get along. Cruise missiles on Bosnia on the eve of Clinton’s impeachment for blowjobs. Distracted from distraction by distraction, as T.S. Eliot famously put it, years before Karl Rove’s prosaic promise to fuck with reality-based thinking in the wake of 9/11.

As if America didn’t have enough problems, a foot soldier in the Army of God was afoot in the wee hours of July 27, 1996 at Centennial Park in Atlanta, where the Olympics were winding up for the night. Eric Rudolph, formerly of the Army of Exceptionalism — he’d been a special ops soldier in the Airborne 101 — was strolling near some benches behind the park, wearing a green backpack. There were dozens of people milling about. Rudolph sat on a bench and surreptitiously opened his backpack and set a timer on a huge bomb and placed the pack under the bench, then walked away hurriedly. No one saw him.

Rudolph rushed to a phone bank outside a Days Inn a couple of blocks away from the park and called in the bomb threat to 911. He used a plastic device to disguise his voice, and then, according to Kent Alexander’s account in the recently released book, The Suspect, the following took place: Rudolph said, “‘We defy the order of the militia …’ Click. The line went dead. The 911 operator had disconnected him.” Disconcerted at not being taken seriously, Rudolph called back, disguising his voice by pinching his nose, and said: “‘There is a bomb in Centennial Park. You have thirty minutes.’ He hung up. The call lasted thirteen seconds.” Confusion followed, with the 911 operator unable to find the Olympic Park address. Transcripts show insufficient urgency followed:

Dispatcher:  Zone 5.

911 Operator:  You know the address to Centennial Park?

Dispatcher:  Girl, don’t ask me to lie to you.

911 Operator:  I tried to call ACC, but ain’t nobody answering the phone … but I just got this man called talking about there’s a bomb set to go off in thirty minutes in Centennial Park.

Dispatcher:  Oh Lord, child. Uh, OK, wait a minute. Centennial Park, you put it in and it won’t go in?

911 Operator:  No, unless I’m spelling Centennial wrong. How are we spelling Centennial?

Dispatcher:  C-E-N-T-E-N-N-I—how do you spell Centennial?

911 Operator:  I’m spelling it right, it ain’t taking.

Valuable time expired, and the bomb squad, when they were finally called to the scene, had insufficient time to properly clear the area before the bomb went off.

At the start of Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Richard Jewell, the title character is followed by the director as he makes his rounds as an AT&T security guard outside a busy Centennial Park. Goofy and overstuffed, he is immediately seen as an oddball. Offering water to a pregnant woman in such a way that, though thanking him for it, she eyeballs him suspiciously. He confronts a group of drinking teens who diss him. On his way to get help, he sees the bomb under the bench. He asks passersby if the pack belongs to them. Alarmed, he alerts the assigned police crew, urging them to take action immediately, seemingly certain the pack is loaded. Bystanders are pushed to safety by Jewell, and others, when the bomb booms.

Paul Walter Hauser plays the complex character of Jewell, who’s not as dumb as he looks (or sometimes acts), and who gets caught up in a media frenzy that is fuelled by the wild speculation of a misinformed newspaper reporter, played by Olivia Wilde, and the entrapping tactics of the FBI — John Hamm playing the principle scofflaw fed. As the world comes at Jewell like a viral contagion, annihilating his privacy and reputation, he is buoyed up by his mother, played by Kathy Bates (in an Oscar-nominated supporting role) and Sam Rockwell as Watson Bryant, his lawyer and friend.

There’s been considerable controversy over the film’s depiction of the newspaper reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), Kathy Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde. Eastwood has taken heat for her depiction, but he didn’t write the screenplay. The script is based upon Marie Brenner’s Vanity Fair article, “American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell,” and The Suspect, Alexander and Selwen’s account of the bombing and its aftermath — including police investigations and news reporting.  Only the latter sets up the scene where Scruggs allegedly received the confirmation from police that Richard Jewell was the primary suspect.

In The Suspect, Scruggs meets up with her source (unrevealed) at a bar — “someone she had known over the years. The source was about as plugged in as it got. She got down to business.” She was seated across from her source, and there was no hanky-panky:

The meeting was strictly off the record—that was understood. They ordered drinks, made small talk. After a few minutes, Scruggs asked the question. Are there any new suspects? Yes, the reply came back. One. “It’s Richard Jewell.” Scruggs’s heart pounded. Bingo. Jewell, the hero. Until now.”

To this day, this source is unknown, although Alexander and Selwen drop a couple of insinuating names in a couple of places.

Compare the Suspect scene above with the screenplay version (45-6) written by Billy Ray.  In Ray’s account, Scruggs comes across as an eager beaver, who’ll do anything to get the scoop. Here’s how she’s depicted in the film:

Kathy:

I wouldn’t run it unless I had independent corroboration from a second source. That would put us in a different zone, as you know. (her hand drifting) Tom. You’re about to burst.

She leans in — that open blouse. He’s hard as an anvil.

Shaw:

First time in my life I ever wished I was gay.

Kathy smiles… then Shaw gives it up:

Shaw:

The Bureau’s looking at the security guard. Jewell.

WHOA. Kathy freezes. Did I hear that wrong? Nope.  Trying to calm herself, she takes out her notepad.

The scene’s sexual banter is significantly longer in the film. There’s no question that it makes Scruggs look sleazy.  But it’s also a condensed, slightly spiced up sum of all parts which Alexander and Selwel suggest throughout The Suspect. Is it Eastwood’s role to change a script for fairness to perceived reality?  While Richard Jewell is based on actual events, Eastwood never pretends that his movie is “journalistic,” the way Katherine Bigelow did for Zero Dark Thirty. Did Scruggs sleep with cops to get information? The film says Yes, and The Suspect says Maybe (with a wink).

But Marie Brenner, in her Vanity Fair piece, “American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell,” draws attention to a far more damaging assault on Scruggs’ reputation — the question of attribution in her story on Jewell and her reliance on ‘Voice of God’ journalism.  Her lede reads:

The security guard who first alerted police to the pipe bomb that exploded in Centennial Olympic Park is the focus of the federal investigation into the incident that resulted in two deaths and injured more than 100.

Well, says who? Further defamatory sentences follow (here is the article) — without any attribution at all. It’s the Voice of God at work. Ironically, VOG was AJC’s rule: they’d “essentially banned” the expression “sources said” because readers might believe a quote was “fabricated.”

Brenner opens up the possibility that there was no source, per se, at all. And this line is taken further by Alexander and Selwen when they allude to the 1984 LA Olympics Turkish Bus bomb — planted by the ‘heroic’ officer who found the bomb. It may be, The Suspect suggests, that Scruggs had been given the hero-bomb anecdote and ran with it, in her passion to be the one who broke the story. Alexander and Selwen cite previous admonishments: “She was so eager to run with what trusted sources disclosed to her that editors often had to slow her down until she got more corroborating details.” Maybe there was no secondary corroboration.

The worst thing of all is that Jewell didn’t find out that he was a suspect until the AJC piece broke and went wild across the local and national airwaves. Overnight he went from a profile in courage to the profile of a loser — and, if he was imitating the LA ‘bomb hero, not particularly original either. None of it makes Scruggs look good as a reporter. But the AJC, believes the film has gone too far in portraying her as a quid pro quo “floozy,” and in “The Ballad of Kathy Scruggs,” Jennifer Brett complains that the harsh appraisal of Scruggs’ journalism is not balanced. She cites Scruggs’s brother, Lewis, who recalls, “… She was proud the FBI called her about Jewell. She was proud of the way she reported it to begin with.” But she shouldn’t have been proud.

The FBI did a disgraceful job handling the bombing, starting with director Louis Freeh, who micromanaged the investigation, and may have pushed the notion that Jewell be regarded as the prime suspect to his underlings in Atlanta — suspicions drawn from false profiling. It continued with the leak to Scruggs. But the most despicable thing they did was their attempt to entrap Jewell in a fake interview during which they hoped to extract information that ‘only the bomber could know.’ Jewell caught on, called a lawyer, and sought solace and protection behind his forceful and articulate mother, Bobi (played by Kathy Bates). Eventually the FBI conducted an internal investigation of their handling of Jewell, although the FBI later admitted, “We never went after the leak.”

Ultimately, it may be that it was FBI director Louis Freeh’s actions that were under-scrutinized in the half-assed investigation that followed. In The Suspect, Alexander and Selwen make clear that Freeh was calling the shots from Washington, and that he may have pushed the ‘bomb hero’ scenario on the Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) of the agency, forcing them to push out a false profile — without independently gathered evidence. Scruggs used their “lone bomber” profile, even though she should have known that Jewell couldn’t have been at the scene and making phone calls up the road — at the same time. He would have needed an accomplice, negating the “lone bomber” theory.

Richard Jewell might have perished emotionally or even have ended up imprisoned for the bombing, if not for his mother’s courage and ability to sway the media, as well as Watson Bryant, his lawyer, who is there when Jewell needs him, yanking back the naive and over-talkative suspect from FBI entrapment. Everyone seemed to be coming at him in his 88 day ordeal, before he was cleared. Not only was there the usual swarming rush to judgement, stoked by the sensationalist media, but he was viciously turned on, suddenly going from hero to goat. NBC Late Show host Jay Leno, was particularly horrid, referring to Jewell as “Una-doofus,” while he was a suspect, and calling him later, after he was cleared, “white trash.”

In the end, as we all know now, Eric Rudolph was arrested almost seven years later, for bombing a gay bar and two abortion clinics. In a plea bargain deal, he also copped to the Olympic Park bombing. Rudolph, an ex 101st Airborne special ops soldier, was a survivalist who went on the lam for five years after the Centennial bombing. He claimed that he was motivated in his bombings by hatred of gays, abortion, and general government over-reach. He fit the profile of a “lone bomber”.

Back in Jennifer Brett’s recent AJC piece, “The Ballad of Kathy Scruggs,” which seeks to correct the image presented of the reporter in the Clint Eastwood film, a friend, Tony Kiss, defends Scruggs, “She was never at peace or at rest with this story. It haunted her until her last breath,” Kiss said. “It crushed her like a junebug on the sidewalk.”

It’s ironic that both Jewell and Scruggs had a thing for cops — and in both cases they were let down, at great cost to their lives and reputations. The event produced a convergence of ill-will and evil rarely seen:  media manipulations, police corruption, political and social reactionaries, insensitive Late Show jokes, a Christian terrorist who likes to blow people to Kingdom Come, frenzy and sensationalism.

Neither ever recovered. Jewell died aged 44; Scruggs died at 43.

Police Violence: the Tip of an Iceberg

It could be that the ongoing gratuitous murders by police across America are not mistakes but part of a program of terror and fear to control, to maintain unjust apportionment of power, resources, money, in the hands of a few. As the need rises, more people of color are cut in to positions of power to control others. But as the presidency of Barrack Obama suggests, buying off minorities with models of success is not a solution. simply a broadening of the power base of unjust controls.

These are controls which have historically furthered white supremacy at the expense of non-whites. From the perspective of genocide prevention, at what point does the society’s service to white power slip into an attempt to eradicate non-white communities? At what point does life for non-whites become unbearable? At what point do random police murders of black people become a program indicating the risk of genocide?

One indication of when the majority group in a society crosses the line to subjugate, oppress, enslave, destroy a minority group is available in awareness of the society’s political prisoners. These reflect the system’s targeted groups. When any prisoner is imprisoned for political reasons on false charges, the prisoner becomes a political prisoner, and the system acts criminally. At what point will a country’s law betray itself in order to keep its power elite in power?

What happened to George Floyd and Eric Garner and Michael Brown, weren’t isolated cases but representative of thousands of people the country’s middle classes haven’t heard of but who form a norm of expectation for minorities throughout the country. Whatever color, the victims are usually poor people.

They often have disabilities. Law enforcement seems unable to cope with mental disabilities or people with medical conditions, appropriately.

Poor white people are not spared police violence unless they are part of the right wing, inevitably racist law enforcement infra-structure.

Any death caused by police is unnecessary. U.S. Police are not trained to wound rather than kill, if under threat. They are trained or programmed to kill as part of a psychological control of the people by fear.

This could be noted as state terrorism. Police violence simply acts out the controls of society. Their acts are metaphors for the functioning of society, for job markets, for chances of advancement at work, for the prevailing ethic in law enforcement or how the military is used. Police murders as an aspect of nation-wide training programs are simply naked assertions of injustice applied to people who have committed crimes or haven’t. The murdered represent the visible tip of an iceberg, raw facts, in policies of law enforcement. Question: if the man on the street is vulnerable to being murdered by rank and file police officers, what’s in store for community leaders protecting their people?

Under COINTELPRO of last century’s 50s through 70s, extremes of injustice were applied to Black community leaders in particular, who then became political prisoners. In 2020 some are still in prison. Due to state programs which targeted them for prosecution and disappearance, it would be hard to prove they are not innocent. The Black Panthers was a community support group. Panther leaders tried to protect their communities from ignorance, poverty and drugs. Protesting racist injustice they were the object of government warfare.

The murder of George Floyd is representative of the justice dealt even leaders of the U.S. Black community historically. These aren’t simply the murders of high profile people such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcom X, or the rank and file murders of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, but the “night and fog” operations against men and women who have been hidden away in the U.S. prison system for life.

Among these the case of Imam Jamil Al-Amin whom the reader might know as the former H. Rap Brown, has seemed the most hopeless, because it is so clearly a result of the system’s oppression, corrupt law enforcement, and the convenience of the FBI. Local law enforcement was collaborative, and the prosecution and judiciary assumed a stance of naivete with regards to Federal attempts to take Al-Amin out of commission. Al Amin’s targeting by the FBI’s COINTELPRO was very much part of the case but entirely ignored in court papers. It is likely he was under surveillance for most of his adult life. The multi-racial (and probably Christian) jury that convicted him was not introduced to the government crimes of COINTELPRO. In court It would repeatedly watch Al-Amin not rise, as required by his religion, when the judge entered. He was a Muslim. It was six months after the World Trade Center’s destruction. After conviction he was moved to a supermax prison far from home, visits and affect on his Georgia community, and he was placed in solitary. The extra-judicial punishment was applied why ? For being intellectually a revolutionary? An anti-drug community leader? A convert to Islam? For his strong faith and eloquence? For not being white?

I first noted Imam Jamil Al-Amin‘s conviction and imprisonment in 2004. He was convicted on March 9, 2002. Time has only made his innocence and the mechanism of his false conviction, more clear. Finally a video is available of Otis Jackson’s confession to the murder of one policeman and wounding of an other, the principle crimes Imam Jamil was convicted of: “The Confession – My Name Is James Santos aka Otis Jackson (We Demand A Retrial For Imam Jamil)” (May 1, 2020). The video must be viewed- Jackson’s description fits fairly closely the description of the killer provided by witnesses to the killing, Imam Al-Amin’s does not. Request for a re-trial was refused. Recently a mechanism to explore cases where there have been possible miscarriages of justice has commenced in Fulton County, and through it the Imam’s support group has renewed hope he’ll be freed. He is one of many U.S. political prisoners who has contracted cancer in prison. I recommend a short video of Al-Amin’s address to the International Islamic Unity Conference in 1996. “Stop the Violence – Imam Jamil el-Amin, Imam of Community Masjid of Atlanta,” which starts, I seek refuge in the law from misleading and from being misled, from betraying and from being betrayed into ignorance by others. I ask Allah to guide my heart and to guide my tongue…

They took his normal life away with his freedom. To extend our understanding of parallel murders by police we are faced with instance after instance of unjustifiable homicide against a U.S. racial minority: George Floyd, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Matiana Jefferson, Aura Rosser, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Jamar Clark, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor, Michelle Cusseaux, Janisha Fonville, Akai Gurley, Gabriella Nevarez, Tanisha Anderson, and others represent some of the Black victims. This is a specific listing of a practice by southern police which did not end with the 1964 Mississippi murders of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney. Mapping Police Violence points out that from 2013 through 2019 police killed 7,666 people in the U.S.. 28% were ‘Black people,’ who were three times as likely to be victims of police murder.

However, a great many people killed by police were not Black people. I’ve found no statistical comparisons available to compare the number of police murders of Black people to police murders of poor whites, Asians or Hispanics, but at a terrible cost to the black community the essential point is now made.

Returning to a concern with the Convention on Genocide, the ongoing long standing risk to America’s Black community is multiplied by the risk to the Hispanic community, Asian community, Arab community, Muslim community, Jewish community, LGBT community, radical left community, in other words the risk to any discernible U.S. minority whether recognized by the Convention on Genocide or not. The Convention offers individual groups a tool to fight and prosecute State oppression, domestically but given the reluctance of North American lawyers to address the government under the Convention, internationally as well.

The poor are at risk, whatever ethnic racial or religious group they are part of. The enemy of the poor is much greater than the police who are simply telegraphing society’s intentions. As each group counters the system’s aggression in the future, the mutual support of each other group by all groups is necessary. The divisions by any prejudice or bias between groups can destroy humanity.

Why is Surrogacy Illegal in Most of the World?

The longing, desire and biological drive of many human beings to fulfill the imperative to be fruitful, to procreate and to become parents, is real and painful when unachievable.  This has led to an increase of assisted reproductive technology (ART) and surrogacy, despite ethical and legal concerns.

Preface

The infertility and surrogacy multi-billion-dollar industries, those who benefit from it, and others, too often attempt to out-shout any criticism of surrogacy by conflating surrogacy with LGBTQ+ rights and labeling all opposition to surrogacy as homophobic.

Yet, the LGBTQ+ community includes those who are opposed to surrogacy and anonymous designer contract conception, aka assisted reproductive technology (ART).

Opposition to surrogacy has nothing to do with the sexual preference, sexual orientation, gender identification or marital status of those who use anonymous gamete and/or hire a surrogate.

It is contractual anonymous conception and surrogacy which is at question, regardless of who contracts for such services.

Anderson Cooper is the latest celebrity to have a child via surrogacy. He joins 35 gay, straight, married and single celebs such as Tyra Banks, Michael Jackson, Mariska Hargitay, Elton John, Andy Cohen, Katy Segal as well as Kim Kardashian and Kanye West who had two of their four children born via surrogate, and Sarah Jessica Parker who has surrogate twins.

Hollywood and the public marvel at each new arrival often with no mention of how the child came to be.  While some have made grand public announcements and a few celebs have openly expressed gratitude to the surrogate, there seems to be an unspoken “don’t ask” etiquette in interviews about the new baby, leaving an almost unnatural silence in place of usual chatter such as: “Who does the baby look like, his mother or father?”

Traditional surrogacy, prior to the Baby M Case involved inseminating a woman with sperm – often, but not always – of the contractual father-to-be. Since 1986 when Mary Beth Whitehead battled for custody of her daughter Sarah (known as Baby M), the mega-billion-dollar fertility industry devised a way to avoid mothers fighting for custody of “their” child by creating “gestational surrogacy”- the current norm – that involves a carrier being implanted with a third-party’s fertilized egg, and incubating the unrelated fetus. The child is thus unrelated to the gestational carrier, greatly limiting custody claims.

For many, perhaps most, choosing to have a child by any means is a cause for celebration. Touting reproductive choice, freedom, and justice proponents argue any child who is wanted and loved is a thing of joy and everyone choosing to be a parent should be admired and supported, regardless of how parenthood is achieved, including the use of anonymous gamete and surrogacy as a reproductive “right.”

A Right?

Clearly all have a right to access to reproductive care and services. However, the fact is that no “right” or entitlement to have a child or be a parent exists. And certainly, there is no right to buy sperm or eggs or the use of a woman’s womb.

Feminists are divided on surrogacy, as they have long been with prostitution, with some arguing for women’s autonomy, legalization and regulation, and others concerned about exploitation and commodification. Yet, many woman’s organizations, intellectuals, pro-life groups, politicians, scientists and citizens from different cultural backgrounds and countries call for the universal elimination of surrogacy, paid or unpaid.

Feminists do not take an opposing position on surrogacy easily, inasmuch as many women – alone or with a partner – are consumers of surrogacy services.  It is thus all the more notable that women’s rights scholars such as Phyllis Chesler and Gloria Steinem opposed a NY bill (which passed in May, 2020) to legalize paid surrogacy saying it “turns women’s bodies into commodities and is coercive to poor women given the sizable payments it can bring.”

Gary Powell, a UK conservative political activist and longstanding advocate for gay and lesbian equality, writes,

As gay people, we cannot insist on the right to carry out practices that harm the rights of others. Rather than being an LGBT rights issue, surrogacy is a women’s rights issue and a children’s rights issue; and like the sale of human organs, it is not an activity that should be promoted or indeed permitted.

A Choice?

Defenders of surrogacy see it as a reproductive choice from a vast array of menu items ranging from IVF to adoption. However, these options are not available equally to all, but only to those who can afford them.

There are also legal restrictions as to what methodologies of obtaining a child are acceptable or not and even punishable. An “anything goes” ideology for becoming a parent does not include kidnapping, for instance, even if the child is loved and well-cared for, such as in cases like that of Carlina White and Kamiyah Mobley each of whom was kidnapped as an infant and raised as the child of their abductor for two decades.

And let us be clear: The word “donation” in regard to egg, sperm and womb is a euphemism intended to illicit a more altruistic tone to these purchases. Gametes –  egg and sperm are commodities being bought and sold most often via a third-party broker. While it is argued that payment is for services not the commodity itself, such “services” are seldom given without compensation. It is coercion and exploitation of the poor that prevents the sale of human organs and yet laws in all locals have not yet included a similar ban on gametes and wombs.

Anna Kerr, founder and Principal Solicitor of Feminist Legal Clinic Inc., Sydney, AU addresses the heart of the issue in regard to how much a of choice surrogacy is for the surrogates:

 … how often are these ‘choices’ being made under financial duress or in a context of social coercion?  …  Can we assume that women are truly acting of their own volition when in many cases their lives are so susceptible to the control of others? Or should we be skeptical of claims of ‘free choice’ and ‘consent’ in contexts that so clearly  … smack of abuse and shameless exploitation?

Desire, Love and Affluence

There is a belief that those who are eager to add to their families in a very intentional manner do so out of love and will be good parents. We also need to question the premise that being able to provide a child more material “advantages” – music or tennis lessons, private schools – makes for a happier, more well-adjusted child than those raised by less affluent biological parent or parents.

More importantly, the vetting of prospective adopters has missed adopters who physically, emotionally and sexually abuse, abandon, and even kill, children they sought out, paid high fees for, and were entrusted with.  Those who contract for surrogate births undergo no home studies. They are screened only by their ability to pay. At least one surrogate baby was placed with a man convicted of a sex crime.

Another common American ethos is that people “deserve” or are entitled to that which they can afford, a dangerous argument that would justify – even condone? – wealthy deviants who partake in sex tourism to countries with legalized prostitution and unknowingly purchase services trafficked of sex workers as young as twelve.

Payment

Those in favor of surrogacy point out that women voluntarily “choose” to be surrogates and are paid. However, compensation for time and labor does not necessarily make a transaction free of exploitation.

India, once the  go-to epicenter for commercial surrogate births, was forced to ban international surrogacy in 2018 as a result of a multiple concerns, according to the website Surrogate.com, including:

…unethical treatment, poor living conditions and exploitation. To keep up with demand from international intended parents, Indian surrogacy agencies effectively ran ‘baby factories,’ where Indian women were forced to live until they gave birth to the intended parents’ babies — with usually no assistance for the family they had left behind while pregnant.

In addition, the surrogates in India only received a fraction of the expenses that intended parents paid the surrogacy agency — only $4,000 to $5,000 for compensation. With agencies charging more than double that in total, surrogates were commonly exploited . . .

Drawn into surrogacy by poverty and lack of education, many  stayed as a result of being shunned within their communities and because one round of surrogacy is not a sustainable income “effectively became ‘baby-making machines’ year after year.”

Domestically, the exploitation is more covert and insidious. Surrogate websites, such as West Coast Surrogacy, paint this rosy picture to solicit surrogates using another euphemism, “gift” though gifts are not paid for by recipients:

It takes a special person to become a surrogate mother. The gift that surrogates provide is both remarkable and generous …

It goes on to speak of “the feeling of joy you experience as a surrogate …”

Those who become a surrogate mother (also known as a gestational carrier) provide a gift of unparalleled compassion for couples and individuals experiencing infertility or who are LGBT.

Most surrogates say their motivation is altruistic to help individuals or couples who want desperately to be parents and can’t, but they also report needing the money and universally agree that the financial “compensation” was a major factor. According to Surrogate.com the average “base pay” for surrogacy is $25,000 with additional payments for expenses such as medical, clothing and travel. At West Coast Surrogacy “experienced” surrogates can be compensated as much as $60,000, in part because California’s liberal surrogacy laws attract clients from all over the world.

Exploitation

Surrogacy is an extension of a long history of low-paid female service workers such as housekeepers, nannies and nursery school aids who toil for the more well-to-do.

With the exception of a family member or close friend choosing to carry child for another, all surrogacy contracts involve payment to entice women in need of cash. It is the poor, or those in temporary need, who agree to rent their bodies and sell the end human “product” to those who can afford to buy a human infant. Charis M. Thompson, London School of Economics, writes:

The level of social, political, and economic disenfranchisement of the reproductive labourer is taken to be an indicator of the level of exploitation involved.

Surrogacy involves a contract prepared by the surrogacy businesses or the paying client, known as “intended parent(s).”  Because doctors implant multiple embryos to ensure a higher success, surrogacy often produces twins, triplets, and even four or five babies. The contracts thus include stipulations such as “selective reduction” of multiples and termination if it appears the child may not meet the requirements of those paying for it.  Such draconian terms led attorney Harold Cassidy to argue that surrogate contracts are “unconscionable” with the terms that are “manifestly unfair or oppressive.”

Surrogates who find themselves unable to comply with such contractual agreements have led to multiple protracted lawsuits and appeals such as the case of Melissa Cook, a 47-year-old California surrogate who became pregnant with triplets. Cook sued the commissioning father – a single 50-year-old Georgia postal worker, who is deaf, mute, and lives with his elderly parents – because he wanted her to abort one of the fetuses. The triplets have remained in the custody of the father as the case has wound through courts and appeals, despite the father’s sister’s claim he is ‘abusing’ the children.

Risks

Gestational surrogacy involves the dehumanization of a woman’s body to become a womb for hire – a handmaid. As human incubators they risk ovarian hyper stimulation syndrome (OHSS), ovarian torsion, ovarian cysts, chronic pelvic pain, premature menopause, loss of fertility, reproductive cancers, blood clots, kidney disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, hyperemesis gravidaru (severe persistent nausea and vomiting), loss of the ability to have future full-term pregnancies, postpartum depression, and, in some cases, death.

In addition, women who are paid to produce and sell their eggs, undergo months of hormone injections prior to the surgical retrieval. Risks include bleeding, infection, ovarian hyperstimulation and damage to the bowel or bladder.

Risks to babies born of anonymous assisted reproductive technologies employed in surrogacy, include: preterm birth, stillbirth, low birth weight, fetal anomalies, and higher blood pressure. Additionally, commercial surrogates agree to detach and dissociate themselves emotionally from any and all maternal hormonal feelings toward the being growing inside them, stoically overriding these natural instincts in order to consider the child they are carrying to be “not theirs.” This detachment causes stress which releases cortisol into the fetal growing brain.

Surrogate-born babies suffer additional emotional trauma resulting from separation at birth, also known as primal wound. Myron A. Hofer, B. Perry et al., Allan N. Schore, James Fallon and others have reported the lifelong neurological damage that results from traumatic depravation of maternal-infant attachment formed in the womb as a biological function. The unborn fetus shows a preferential response to maternal scents and sounds that the newborn expects to continue after birth, preferring the sound and smell of experiences in utero. Using MRI’s, neurologist Schore found that early separation from the gestational caregiver to be the genesis of adult personality disorders involving a person’s ability to trust, bond, learn, and emotionally attach.

Legal/Illegal: Where and Why?

In addition to being exploitative, most countries recognize surrogacy as baby-selling or human trafficking, which is universally illegal.

The US is one of only nine countries that legalizes surrogate pre-birth contracts. It was the first country in the world to recognize parentage created by payment and contract. Since 1985, the United States has become the preferred surrogacy destination for international parents such as British citizens Elton John and David Furnish as well as others from Australia, Canada, Spain, and Germany.

As of April 1, 2020, British taxpayers will be forced to “pay clinical negligence claimants six-figure sums to pursue commercial surrogacy abroad, which is forbidden under UK criminal law.” Additionally, lack of international regulation, can create citizens born to surrogates who are parentlessness and/or statelessness.

Within the U.S. the laws vary state-to-state, however, with some states allowing only unpaid, altruistic or in-family surrogacy while other states ban all surrogacy contracts. Some states ban and penalize the practice and some regulate it one manner or another.  It is important to recognize why the vast majority of countries — and many US states — restrict, prohibit or strictly regulate surrogacy or criminalize the practice.

Harold Cassidy who represented Mary Beth Whitehead, mother of Baby M, argued in the case of Melissa Cook that surrogacy reduces women to a “breeding animal or incubator,” and that pretending the surrogate “has absolutely no interest in what happens to the child is a cruel notion to both the mother and the child.”

The Children

Surrogacy intentionally creates motherless children despite society’s “best interest of the child” policies that guide all other aspects of family law. Yet the children produced — who are the entire reason and end goal of surrogacy — are not party to the contractual agreement.

There is nothing socially redeeming about surrogacy as there is with adoption, which purports to “rescue” orphans. It is purely a self-serving act based on a desire to parent and feelings of entitlement to a child. In fact, those who choose surrogacy are choosing not to adopt. Surrogacy is chosen over adoption so as not to have birth parents to deal with and because of the desire to have a child that is genetically connected them (biogenetic bias). Yet,  ironically, the child is often denied knowing half of his genetics and blood kin.

The legal necessity for the contracting parents to adopt the surrogate birthed child produces a falsified birth certificate, as do all adoptions (including step-parent adoption) that obliterates all or half of the child’s genetic heritage and lists the paying contactors as the only parents, as if the child were naturally conceived and born to just one person, two men, two women, or the heterosexual couple paying for the transaction.  Many posit that the denial of the right to true identity is one of the reasons the US is the only nation that has not ratified the UNCRC – Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Many of the issues children of surrogacy face, such as loss of one or more genetic forebearers, have been well documented by adoptees and designer contract offspring (aka “donor” offspring).  For generations, many have searched for their true genetic heritage, medical history and kin, which is understandable given the fact that genealogy is the “second most popular hobby in the U.S. after gardening, and the second most visited category of websites, after pornography” according to ABC News.

In addition to the natural desire to know one’s roots, children created from anonymous gamete deal with unknown familial medical history and the very real dread of unknowingly meeting, dating, even marrying a sibling or other blood kin.

The human products of these contractual, anonymous conceptions are at risk for genealogical bewilderment and will inevitably ask some form of: “Where do babies come from?”  Those raised by one or two mothers will undoubtedly question who their father is while those raised by a single dad or two dads will ask: “Who is my mother?” This question could be quite complicated, as noted by Molly Sheahan, graduate student at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family:

… [in] the most routine of surrogate pregnancies or donor conceptions, a child can have as many as six parents: the genetic father, the genetic mother, the surrogate mother, her spouse, and the intended parents.

Abbie Goldberg, Professor of Psychology, Clark University is one of many adoption professionals who now strongly recommend  full, honest disclosure of a child’s origin story by the time they reach adolescence.  Children born via surrogacy or other anonymous reproductive techniques who are told the truth have to deal with the anonymity and the monetary factors of their conception.  Others who are raised by heterosexual married couples, and may or may not be related to their social father, are often not told.

One young man, conceived via traditional surrogacy, expresses very poignantly how he feels about it:

How do you think we feel about being created specifically to be given away? … I don’t care why my parents or my mother did this. It looks to me like I was bought and sold. You can dress it up with as many pretty words as you want. You can wrap it up in a silk freaking scarf. You can pretend these are not your children. You can say it is a gift or you donated your egg to the IM. But the fact is that someone has contracted you to make a child, give up your parental rights and hand over your flesh and blood child. I don’t care if you think I am not your child, what about what I think!  . . . When you exchange something for money it is called a commodity. Babies are not commodities. Babies are human beings. How do you think this makes us feel to know that there was money exchanged for us?

Reproductive businesses flourish while these ethical questions are still being debated:

  • Do all reproductive choices equally protect the rights of the human being conceived or the women being utilized for eggs or womb?
  • Do the alleged “rights” of would-be parents override the rights of the human being created as they grow into adults?
  • Where is the line between third-party anonymous designer contractual conceptions and eugenics when egg and/or sperm sales are contingent on the physical and intellectual attributes of the “donor”/seller with college campuses and medical schools specifically targeted for sperm and egg “donors?”
  • Is it fair to continue to intentionally, and some might say selfishly, creating motherless children?
  • Why do we bemoan fatherlessness among minorities and in inner-cities and applaud the creation of motherless babies by the wealthy?

Kerr very accurately foresees surrogacy and other reproductive technologies creating “an Atwoodian dystopia that should provide the basis for litigation well into the future.  … international human rights provisions, do not adequately recognise and protect the natural and fundamental bond between a mother and the child she carries and must urgently be strengthened to prevent further development of a culture in which women’s reproductive capacities are commandeered and their offspring traded as mere commodities by wealthy men [and women].”1

  1. For additional information see:

    Surrogacy as the Sale of Children
    Surrogacy and the Politics of Commodification
    Surrogacy: Ethical and Legal Issues
    The ethics of surrogacy
    Surrogacy: Why the world needs rules for ‘selling’ babies
    Fundamental and legal problems for surrogate motherhood
    Global Perspective, All surrogacy is exploitation – the world should follow Sweden’s ban
    Inputs on gestational surrogacy for the OHCHR Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children
    Handmaids for Hire: Should Commercial Surrogacy be Legalized In NYS? Surrogacy Has Now Become A Way of Slicing and Dicing Biological Motherhood into Three Parts.
    Surrogacy: Why the world needs rules for ‘selling’ babies
    Eggsploitation, documentary
    The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network (CBC)
    All Ways of Family Building are NOT Equal and do Not Protect Child’s Rights.
    Designer Conception: Interview with Zave Fors, a product of designer conception discussing his feelings about it

Will the ICC Investigation Bring Justice for Palestine?

In the past, there have been many attempts at holding accused Israeli war criminals accountable. Particularly memorable is the case of the late Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, (known, among other nicknames, as the ‘Butcher of Sabra and Shatila’) whose victims attempted to try him in a Belgian Court in 2002.

Like all other efforts, the Belgian case was dropped under American pressure. History seems to be repeating itself.

On December 20, the International Court of Justice (ICC) Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, resolved that she had sufficient evidence to investigate alleged war crimes committed in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. The ICC’s unprecedented decision concluded that there were “no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice”.

As soon as Bensouda made her decision, although after much delay, the US administration swiftly moved to block the Court’s attempt at holding Israeli officials accountable. On June 11, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order slapping sanctions on members of the global judicial body, citing the ICC’s investigations of US war crimes in Afghanistan and Israeli war crimes in Palestine.

Will the US succeed, once more, in blocking another international investigation?

On June 19, we spoke to Dr. Triestino Mariniello, a member of the legal team representing the Gaza victims before the ICC. Mariniello is also a Senior Lecturer at the John Moore University in Liverpool, UK.

There has been much doubt about whether the ICC was serious, willing or capable of pushing this case forward. Later, technical questions arose regarding the ICC’s jurisdiction over occupied Palestine. Have we moved beyond these doubts?

Last December, the Prosecutor decided to ask the Pre-Trial Chamber the following question: “Does the ICC have jurisdiction, that is to say, is Palestine a State under the Rome Statute — not, in general, under international law, but at least under the founding Statute of the ICC? And, if yes, what is the territorial jurisdiction of the Court?”

The Prosecutor argued that the Court has jurisdiction over crimes committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza. This request to the Pre-Trial Chamber was not necessary, for a very simple reason: because the situation is being referred by the State of Palestine. So, when a State party refers a situation to the Prosecutor, the Prosecutor does not need authorization by the Pre-Trial Chamber. But let us analyze things within a wider context.

The formal engagement of the State of Palestine with the ICC began in 2009, following the Gaza war (“Operation Cast Lead”). At the time, Palestine had already accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC. It took more than two years for the former Prosecutor to decide whether Palestine was a State or not. After three years, he said: We don’t know if Palestine is a State, so we don’t know if we can accept the jurisdiction of the ICC. Thereafter, this question was raised before the UN General Assembly and the Assembly of State Parties. In other words, they delegated the answer to political bodies, and not to the Pre-Trial Chamber.

That investigation was never conducted and we never had justice for the victims of that war.

In 2015, Palestine accepted the jurisdiction of the Court, and it also became a State Party. Still, the Pre-Trial Chamber decided to involve a number of states, civil society organizations, NGOs, scholars and experts to ask them the question: Is Palestine a State under the Rome Statute? The response was, The Pre-Trial Chamber will decide on this, after it receives the views of the victims, of states, of civil society organizations … and it will decide in the next few weeks or months.

Aside from the Trump Administration, other Western countries, such as Germany and Australia, are lobbying at the ICC to drop the investigation altogether. Will they succeed?

There are at least eight countries that are openly against an investigation of the Palestinian situation. Germany is one. Some of the others came as a surprise, to be honest, for at least four other countries, Uganda, Brazil, Czech Republic, and Hungary had explicitly recognized that Palestine is a State under international law, yet are now submitting statements before the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber saying that this is not true anymore.

Of course, the issue is a little bit more complex, but the substance is, these countries are raising political arguments before the ICC which have no legal basis. It is surprising that these states, on the one hand, claim to be supportive of an independent International Criminal Court, but on the other hand, are trying to exercise political pressure (on that very legal body).

On June 11, Trump signed an executive order in which he imposed sanctions on individuals associated with the ICC. Can the US and its allies block the ICC investigation?

The answer is “no”. Trump’s administration is putting pressure on the ICC. By pressure, we mainly refer to the Afghanistan situation, and also to the Israeli-Palestinian situation. So, every time there is a statement by Trump or Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo in relation to the ICC, they never forget to mention the Afghanistan case.

In fact, the Prosecutor is also investigating alleged war crimes committed by CIA members and US soldiers. So far, this pressure has not been particularly effective. In the case of Afghanistan, the Appeal Chamber has directly authorized the Prosecutor to start an investigation, amending a decision taken by the Pre-Trial Chamber.

Successive US administrations have never been very supportive of the ICC, and the major problem in Rome when the Statute was drafted in 1998 was specifically regarding the role of the Prosecutor. The US opposed, from the beginning, an independent role of the Prosecutor, where the Prosecutor could start an investigation without the authorization of the UN Security Council. This opposition goes back to the Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations.

Now, though, we are witnessing an unprecedented situation, with the US administration willing to issue economic sanctions and visa restrictions to individuals associated with the ICC and, perhaps, to other organizations as well.

Article 5 of the Rome Statute – the founding document of the ICC – has an extended definition of what constitutes ‘serious crimes’, that being the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. It could be argued, then, that Israel should be held accountable for all of these ‘serious crimes’. Yet, the ICC opted for what is known as the ‘narrow scope’, thus the investigation will only be looking at the single component of war crimes. Why is that?

If we look at the request by the Prosecutor to the Pre-Trial Chamber, particularly paragraph 94, surprisingly, the scope of the investigation is quite narrow, and the victims know that. It only includes (as part of its investigation into war crimes) some incidents related to the Gaza war of 2014, crimes committed within the context of the ‘Great March of Return’, and the (illegal) Jewish settlements.

It is surprising not to see any reference to the alleged committing of ‘crimes against humanity’, which, as victims say, is widely documented. There is no reference to the systematic attacks put in place by Israeli authorities against the civilian population in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem or in Gaza. The ‘narrow scope’, which excludes crimes against humanity, is something the Prosecutor should look back into. The overall situation in Gaza is largely ignored; there is no reference to the 14-year long siege; there is no reference to the overall victims of the Gaza war in 2014.

That said, the scope of the investigation is not binding for the future. The Prosecutor can decide, at any moment, to include other crimes. We hope it will happen because, otherwise, many victims will never get justice.

But why is Gaza being excluded? Is it because of the way that the Palestinians presented the case or the way the ICC has interpreted the Palestinian case?

I do not think that the blame should be placed on the Palestinians, because the Palestinian organizations submitted (a massive amount of) evidence. I think it is a prosecutorial strategy at this stage, and we hope this will change in the future, particularly with reference to the situation in Gaza, where even the overall number of victims has been overlooked. More than 1,600 civilians were killed, including women and children.

In my personal opinion, there are several references to the concept of conflict itself. The word ‘conflict’ relies on the presumption that there are two parties that are fighting each other on the same level and there is not enough attention given to the Israeli occupation itself.

Additionally, all the crimes committed against Palestinian prisoners have not been included, such as torture and inhumane and degrading treatment. Also not included is Apartheid as a crime against humanity. Again, there is massive evidence that these crimes are committed against Palestinians. We hope that there will be a different approach in the future.

Walk us through the various scenarios and timelines that could result from the ICC investigation. What should we expect?

I think if we look at the possible scenarios from the perspective of the Rome Statute, of the law which is binding, I do not think that the judges have any other option but to confirm to the Prosecutor that Palestine is a State under the Rome Statute and that the territorial jurisdiction includes the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

I would find it very surprising if the judges reach any other conclusion. The Palestinian State was ratified in 2015, so you cannot go back to the Palestinians and say: No, you are not a member anymore. Meanwhile, Palestine has taken part in the Assembly of State Parties, is a member of the Supervisory Committee of the ICC, and has participated in important decisions.

The likelihood is that the Prosecutor will receive a green light by the Pre-Trial Chamber. If this does not happen, the Prosecutor can (still) move forward with the investigation.

Other possible scenarios can only be negative ones because they would prevent the victims from getting any justice. The reason that the case is at the ICC is because these victims have never received any justice before domestic courts: the State of Palestine is unable to try Israeli nationals, while Israeli authorities are unwilling to try individuals who have committed international crimes.

If the ICC judges decide not to accept the jurisdiction over war crimes committed in Palestine, this would prevent victims from having access to the only possibility of getting justice.

A particularly dangerous scenario would be the decision by the judges to confirm the ICC jurisdiction over some parts of the Palestinian territory while excluding others, which has no legal ground under international law. It would be very dangerous, because it would give international legitimacy to all the unlawful measures that Israeli authorities — and now even the Trump Administration – are putting in place, including the (illegal) annexation plan.

The MH17 Show Trial Destroys What Remains of Dutch Credibility

On 17 July 2014 a Malaysian airlines flight MH 17 was shot down while transiting Ukrainian airspace, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 passengers and crew on board were killed. The Netherlands had the largest number of casualties, followed by Australia, Malaysia, and a small smattering of other nationalities.

In 2020 a criminal trial began in the Netherlands. The four accused were three Russian citizens and one Ukrainian. None of the four defendants have been present at the trial, although one of the accused, a Russian national, has been legally represented. That lawyer, whose career history suggests minimal exposure to criminal law and certainly nothing of this magnitude, has sought to present her client’s case within the limits imposed by the trial procedure.

To describe this trial as a farce and a disgrace to the legal history of the Netherlands would not be an overstatement. The Australian citizen and Moscow resident John Helmer has been diligently following the trial and reporting on the proceedings on his blog site Dances With Bears. For those interested in following what can only be described as the bizarre proceedings they are urged to read Mr Helmer’s website. The purpose of this brief note is to comment on several features of the trial that appear to the objective observer to be a total farce that violates several fundamental principles of judicial procedure, especially as they are applied in the context of a criminal trial.

The first oddity is that the investigation and evidence gathering appears to have been the prerogative of the Ukrainian Secret Service. To describe this as a basic conflict of interest in the circumstances of this trial would be an understatement.

At the time of the tragedy, the Ukrainian government, which came to power in an American inspired and financed coup d’état earlier in 2014 was, to put it mildly, far from a disinterested party. At the time of the tragedy Kiev was engaged in a civil war (that continues to this day) against the predominantly Russian speaking eastern region of Donbas. The province of Crimea had seceded from Ukraine and voted overwhelmingly to re-join Russia, which it had been an integral part of since the 18th century.

It had never been part of what today is called Ukraine. Crimea was also the site of a Russian naval base that the United States coveted, and had the Kiev regime succeeded in re-taking Crimea there is little doubt that Crimea would have become another United States naval base aimed at Russia. To call that result intolerable would be an accurate description.

One of the bizarre features of the rampant political posturing at that time was the vow by the then Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to assist the Ukrainians in re-taking Crimea by force. That this could have involved Australia in a war with Russia appears not to have featured in his mindset. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed

The allegation that the plane had been brought down by a missile fired by Russian troops from Ukrainian territory was always an allegation that lacked any rational basis. That it also lacked actual physical evidence was also a fact, but one which has been consistently ignored by the Dutch prosecuting authorities.

It is in fact even worse than that. As is well known, Ukraine was once part of the USSR, a political entity that dissolved in 1991. Prior to that dissolution, Russia had provided the bulk of the weaponry within the armoury of the member states of the USSR. This included the BUK missile allegedly used to shoot down MH 17.

The Ukrainian investigators had provided some limited information to support their allegation that the plane was shot down by “Russia”. They exhibited what was claimed to be two pieces of debris from the remains of the missile said to have a shot down MH17. That this “evidence” fundamentally violated basic principles of evidence such as a record of location, preservation and identification was one of the many violations of criminal investigation procedure. This lack of basic procedure is one of the more troubling features of the trial of the four accused and why the term “farce” is not an overstatement.

Worse was to come for the Dutch prosecutors however. On 17 September 2018 (nearly 2 years ago it should be noted) the Russian authorities made a significant announcement that also is conspicuous by its absence from western reporting. The Russians announced that they had identified the missile from the numbers that were part of the two exhibited remnants. The missile to which those numbers were a part had been given to the Ukraine authorities back in USSR days of 1986. The missile had remained in Ukrainian custody ever since.

In any criminal trial worthy of the description of proper procedure in accordance with long established principles of evidence, that should have meant the collapse of the prosecution case. The fact that this evidence has essentially been disregarded by the Dutch prosecution confirms beyond reasonable doubt that the trial proceedings are an utter sham.

That is not the only fatal flaw in the prosecution case, the entire detailing are which is beyond the scope of this brief comment.

Multiple eyewitnesses have come forward to give their account of what they observed in the sky over Donbass that day. Those witnesses are unknown to each other, have no known affiliation with any separatist or anti-government forces, and no determinable reason to lie. They all say they saw the same thing: that they both saw and heard Ukrainian fighter jets in the vicinity at the relevant time.

That evidence is not conclusive of any major point of itself. There may have been an innocent explanation for their presence. That innocent option however, is fatally undermined by two points. The first is that there was no logical reason for the Ukrainian authorities to lie about the fact that they had military aircraft in the air at that time and in that place. If there was an innocent explanation, why not say so?

The second point however, is also fatal to the prosecution case. The evidence of the structural damage to the aircraft is unmistakably evidence of bullet damage that could only have come from a fighter aircraft, and given the location on the civilian aircraft of the bullet damage, came most probably from two aircraft firing from different directions.

Again, there is no innocent explanation for this evidence. MH 17 was brought down by aircraft fire directed at the pilot’s location in the aircraft cockpit. Further indirect evidence of this point is that the bodies of the crew were examined medically, but they were neither shown to family members nor were the results of the autopsies released.

The final brief point that evokes scepticism about the bona fides of accusers of alleged Russian malpractice is the satellite data. The United States Secretary of State John Kerry boasted at the time that because of their overhead satellites the Americans knew exactly what had happened. Again, the appropriate course of action is blindingly obvious: release the satellite data and resolve the contentious issue of what exactly shot down MH17. The Americans have refused to do so.

Again, given the likely definitive nature of such evidence there is no good reason to withhold the data unless it fails in fact to support the anti-Russian allegations. Neutral observers will again draw a negative inference from the Americans refusal and would be justified in doing so.

There is much else about this trial that reveals it to be a total legal farce. Apart from the aforementioned website of Mr Helmer, the actual evidence has been painstakingly gathered by the Dutch academic Kees van der Pijl (2018). To one’s total lack of surprise the results of these independent investigators have been censored from the western mainstream media.

It is this censorship of independent evidence that is perhaps the final telling blow to the credibility of the official inquiry. The trial currently underway in Amsterdam is a sham and a disgrace to the memory of nearly 300 victims of Western power politics. They deserve a better epitaph than this shoddy mockery of western justice.

The System Is Rigged: Qualified Immunity Is How the Police State Stays in Power

The system is rigged.

The system is rigged, the government is corrupt, and “we the people” continue to waste our strength by fighting each other rather than standing against the tyrant in our midst.

Because the system is rigged, because the government is corrupt, and because “we the people” remain polarized and divided, the police state will keep winning and “we the people” will keep losing.

Because the system is rigged and the U.S. Supreme Court—the so-called “people’s court”—has exchanged its appointed role as a gatekeeper of justice for its new role as maintainer of the status quo, there will be little if no consequences for the cops who brutalize and no justice for the victims of police brutality.

This is how unarmed Americans keep dying at the hands of militarized police.

By refusing to accept any of the eight or so qualified immunity cases before it this term that strove to hold police accountable for official misconduct, the Supreme Court delivered a chilling reminder that in the American police state, ‘we the people’ are at the mercy of law enforcement officers who have almost absolute discretion to decide who is a threat, what constitutes resistance, and how harshly they can deal with the citizens they were appointed to ‘serve and protect.”

This is how qualified immunity keeps the police state in power.

Lawyers tend to offer a lot of complicated, convoluted explanations for the doctrine of qualified immunity, which was intended to insulate government officials from frivolous lawsuits, but the real purpose of qualified immunity is to rig the system, ensuring that abusive agents of the government almost always win and the victims of government abuse almost always lose.

How else do you explain a doctrine that requires victims of police violence to prove that their abusers knew their behavior was illegal because it had been deemed so in a nearly identical case at some prior time: it’s a setup for failure.

Do you know how many different ways a cop can kill, maim, torture and abuse someone without being held liable?

The cops know: in large part due to training classes that drill them on the art of sidestepping the Fourth Amendment, which protects us from being bullied, badgered, beaten, broken and spied on by government agents.

This is how “we the people” keep losing.

The courts have given the police and other government agents a green light to shoot first and ask questions later, as well as to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance

Whether it’s police officers breaking through people’s front doors and shooting them dead in their homes or strip searching motorists on the side of the road, these instances of abuse are continually validated by a judicial system that kowtows to virtually every police demand, no matter how unjust, no matter how in opposition to the Constitution.

Make no mistake about it: this is what constitutes “law and order” in the American police state.

A review of critical court rulings over the past several decades, including rulings affirming qualified immunity protections for government agents by the U.S. Supreme Court, reveals a startling and steady trend towards pro-police state rulings by an institution concerned more with establishing order, protecting the ruling class, and insulating government agents from charges of wrongdoing than with upholding the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Indeed, as Reuters reports, qualified immunity “has become a nearly failsafe tool to let police brutality go unpunished and deny victims their constitutional rights.” Worse, as Reuters concluded, “the Supreme Court has built qualified immunity into an often insurmountable police defense by intervening in cases mostly to favor the police.”

The system is rigged.

Police can claim qualified immunity for warrantless searches.

Police can claim qualified immunity for warrantless arrests based on mere suspicion.

Police can claim qualified immunity for using excessive force against protesters.

Police can claim qualified immunity for shooting a fleeing suspect in the back.

Police can claim qualified immunity for shooting a mentally impaired person.

Police officers can use lethal force in car chases without fear of lawsuits.

Police can stop, arrest and search citizens without reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

Police officers can stop cars based on “anonymous” tips or for “suspicious” behavior such as having a reclined car seat or driving too carefully.

Police can forcibly take your DNA, whether or not you’ve been convicted of a crime.

Police can use the “fear for my life” rationale as an excuse for shooting unarmed individuals.

Police have free reign to use drug-sniffing dogs as “search warrants on leashes.”

Not only are police largely protected by qualified immunity, but police dogs are also off the hook for wrongdoing.

Police can subject Americans to strip searches, no matter the “offense.”

Police can break into homes without a warrant, even if it’s the wrong home.

Police can use knock-and-talk tactics as a means of sidestepping the Fourth Amendment.

Police can carry out no-knock raids if they believe announcing themselves would be dangerous.

Police can recklessly open fire on anyone that might be “armed.”

Police can destroy a home during a SWAT raid, even if the owner gives their consent to enter and search it.

Police can suffocate someone, deliberately or inadvertently, in the process of subduing them.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we are dealing with a nationwide epidemic of court-sanctioned police violence carried out with impunity against individuals posing little or no real threat.

Police reform is necessary and unavoidable if we are to have any hope of living in an America in which freedom means something more than the right to stay alive, but how we reform the system is just as important as getting it done.

We don’t need to wait for nine members of a ruling aristocracy who primarily come from privileged backgrounds and who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo to fix what’s broken in America.

Nor do we need to wait for 535 highly paid politicians to do something about these injustices only when it suits their political ambitions.

And we certainly don’t need to wait for a president with a taste for totalitarian tactics to throw a few crumbs our way.

This is as much a local problem as it is a national one.

Be fair. Be nonviolent. Be relentless in your pursuit of justice for all.

Let’s get it done.

The US and Israel Hope to Scare the Hague War Crimes Court off from Helping Palestine

In the near-two decades since the International Criminal Court was set up to try the worst violations of international human rights law, it has faced harsh criticism for its highly selective approach to the question of who should be put on trial.

Created in 2002, the court, it was imagined, would act as a deterrent against the erosion of an international order designed to prevent a repetition of the atrocities of the Second World War.

Such hopes did not survive long.

The court, which sits in The Hague in the Netherlands, almost immediately faced a difficult test: whether it dared to confront the world’s leading superpower, the United States, as it launched a “war on terror”.

The ICC’s prosecutors refused to grasp the nettle posed by the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead, they chose the easiest targets: for too long, it looked as though war crimes were only ever committed by Africans.

Now, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, looks poised finally to give the court some teeth. She is threatening to investigate two states – the US and Israel – whose actions have been particularly damaging to international law in the modern era.

The court is considering examining widespread human rights abuses perpetrated by US soldiers in Afghanistan, and crimes committed by Israeli soldiers in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially Gaza, as well as the officials responsible for Israel’s illegal settlement programme.

An investigation of both is critically important: the US has crafted for itself a role as global policeman, while Israel’s flagrant violations of international law have been ongoing for more than half a century.

The US is the most powerful offender, and Israel the most persistent.

Both states have long dreaded this moment – the reason they refused to ratify the Rome Statute that established the ICC.

Last week Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, stepped up US attacks on the court, saying its administration was “determined to prevent having Americans and our friends and allies in Israel and elsewhere hauled in by this corrupt ICC”.

A large, bipartisan majority of US Senators sent a letter to Pompeo last month urging him to ensure “vigorous support” for Israel against the Hague court.

Israel and the US have each tried to claim an exemption from international law on the grounds that they did not sign up to the court.

But this only underscores the problem. International law is there to protect the weak from abuses committed by the strong. The victim from the bully.

A criminal suspect does not get to decide whether their victim can make a complaint, or whether the legal system should investigate. The same must apply in international law if it is to have any meaningful application.

Even under Bensouda, the process has dragged out interminably. It has taken years for her office to conduct a preliminary investigation and to determine, as she did in late April, that Palestine falls under the ICC’s jurisdiction because it qualifies as a state.

The delay made little sense, given that the State of Palestine is recognised by the United Nations, and it was able to ratify the Rome Statute five years ago.

The Israeli argument is that Palestine lacks the normal features of a sovereign state. However, as the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem recently noted, this is precisely because Israel has occupied the Palestinians’ territory and illegally transferred settlers onto their land.

Israel is claiming an exemption by citing the very crimes that need investigating.

Bensouda has asked the court’s judges to rule on her view that the ICC’s jurisdiction extends to Palestine. It is not clear how soon they will issue a verdict.

Pompeo’s threats last week – he said the US will soon make clear how it will retaliate – are intended to intimidate the court.

Bensouda has warned that her office is being subjected to “misinformation and smear campaigns”. In January, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the court of being “antisemitic”.

In the past, Washington has denied Bensouda a travel visa, and threatened to confiscate her and the ICC judges’ assets and put them on trial. The US has also vowed to use force to liberate any Americans put in the dock.

There are indications the judges may now be searching for a bolt hole. They have asked Israel and the Palestinian Authority to respond urgently to questions about whether the temporary Oslo accords, signed more than 25 years ago, are still legally binding.

Israel has argued that the lack of resolution to the Oslo process precludes the Palestinians from claiming statehood. That would leave Israel, not the ICC, with jurisdiction over the territories.

Bensouda has suggested the issue is a red herring.

Last Thursday Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, told the ICC that in any case the PA considers itself exempt from its Oslo obligations, given that Israel has announced imminent plans to annex swaths of Palestinian territory in the West Bank.

Annexation was given a green light under President Trump’s “peace plan” unveiled earlier in the year.

Bensouda’s term as prosecutor finishes next year. Israel may hope to continue stonewalling until she is gone. Elyakim Rubinstein, a former Israeli Supreme Court judge, called last month for a campaign to ensure that her successor is more sympathetic to Israel.

But if Bensouda does get the go-ahead, Netanyahu and an array of former generals, including his Defence Minister Benny Gantz, would likely be summoned for questioning. If they refuse, an international arrest warrant could be issued, theoretically enforceable in the 123 countries that ratified the court.

Neither Israel nor the US is willing to let things reach that point.

They have recruited major allies to the fight, including Australia, Canada, Brazil and several European states. Germany, the court’s second largest donor, has threatened to revoke its contributions if the ICC proceeds.

Maurice Hirsch, a former legal adviser to the Israeli army, wrote a column last month in Israel Hayom, a newspaper widely seen as Netanyahu’s mouthpiece, accusing Bensouda of being a “hapless pawn of Palestinian terrorists”.

He suggested that other states threaten to pull their contributions, deny ICC staff the travel visas necessary for their investigations and even quit the court.

That would destroy any possibility of enforcing international law – an outcome that would delight both Israel and the US.

It would render ICC little more than a dead letter, just as Israel, backed by the US, prepares to press ahead with the West Bank’s annexation.

• First published at The National

From George Floyd Back to the Structural Violence of Capitalism

Third degree murder for 3/5 for a devalued life
Knee in throat air gone, gasping dying under the color of law!
George Floyd had no chance! The gang of state sponsored assassins had already signed his death warrant!
They think we should be grateful for watered down justice that has not and will never be color blind!
Cry out! Resist! Don’t make excuses or apologies for race-based killings!
Don’t attack those who dare to put their lives on the line to declare: George Floyd’s life mattered. Black Lives Matter—a just demand! 

— Jaribu Hill, Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights and Black Alliance for Peace Coordinating Committee

Across the country—in city after city—the people have erupted in righteous indignation to George Floyd’s recorded lynching. His extrajudicial murder set off a rebellion that had been primed by the highly publicized white-vigilante murder of Ahmaud Arbery and the botched, “no-knock” police raid that killed Breonna Taylor in her bed.

The call in all of these cases is for something called justice, which the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) sees as an impossibility. We say this because the U.S. state’s repressive DNA is rooted in the non-recognition of Indigenous people’s humanity and the exploitation of kidnapped and enslaved Africans. These two interconnected experiences produced the racialized policing that is an integral part of the U.S. state.

BAP was born in 2017 out of the recognition that the ongoing and deepening economic, social and political crisis of capitalism—sharpened by the 2008-09 economic collapse—would inevitably require the state to rely on the use of violence and force, both domestically and abroad.

That prediction was correct. However, BAP also identified structural violence as an inherent characteristic of advanced capitalism. The COVID-19 pandemic, more than anything in decades, has revealed the endemic violence of neoliberal capitalism, whereby the state’s inadequate response to a virus has killed hundreds of African/Black people on a daily basis.

However, that systemic violence has been marginalized by the acute attention placed on the highly individualized case of George Floyd and the issue of police violence. But police violence is only a mechanism used to fulfill capitalism’s main mandate to contain and control the working class—in particular the Black and Brown colonized working-class communities—and to protect private property.

For BAP, the narrow definition of “justice” as the prosecution and conviction of police involved in the Floyd murder is a conservative and even diversionary position. It takes attention away from the ongoing structural contradictions of the colonial/capitalist system that will continue to produce the deadly consequences of structural violence after 40 million newly unemployed people joined the ranks of the over 30 million people who lack any kind of basic health protection; high African/Black infant and maternal mortality rates; upper-respiratory illnesses caused by environmental pollution in African/Black communities; and hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes generated by the stresses of white-supremacist, capitalist oppression.

So, we say: Justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland; for our political prisoners; for the super-exploited Black and Brown working class; for oppressed Indigenous nations; and for the millions subjected to U.S. warmongering, sanctions and criminality. We say this to shift the focus from the individualization of this week’s rebellion back to the objective structures of white supremacist, global colonial/capitalist domination.

To do otherwise plays right into the hands of the reformist liberal ideologues who want to engage us in pie-in-the-sky reformism that perpetuates the myth that  justice will be served by merely tweaking the current system. We have seen the first iteration of such a call in the bourgeois New York Times calling for police reform.

BAP will not fall for that ideological trick bag. We say, “No Compromise, No Retreat: Defeat the War Against African/Black People in the U.S. and Abroad.”