Category Archives: Justice

“Public Justice” – Standing Forty Years Against Brutish Corporate Power

It is not often that one speech urging the creation of a national public interest law firm, driven by seasoned trial lawyers, would move from words to deeds, from oratory to action.

That is just what happened following my address in June 1980 to the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association. I spoke of a gap in trial practice which needed to be filled. There was a pressing need to bring cases against the many corporate abuses, which included non-enforcement of regulatory laws. Without the prospect of a contingent fee after a successful outcome, trial lawyers were unlikely to take on these uncertain cases or structural reform cases on behalf of tenants, farm workers, or cruel prison conditions.

I noted the assault of corporations on “the biosphere, personal injury law from trauma to toxics.” The corporate lobby was blocking legislative proposals to strengthen consumer class action rights, digging deeper for unconscionable corporate welfare payments and funding corporatist politicians. To challenge these damaging corporate power plays, I suggested a full-time core of public interest attorneys supported by a sabbatical program for trial lawyers who wanted to take a year off from their regular practice and come to Washington, D.C. to advance justice and refresh themselves.

It turned out that there were some leading trial lawyers – Scottie Baldwin, J.D. Lee, Bill Colson and Dean Robb – who were dissatisfied with the slow pace of the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA), then controlled by a small clique of smug members. They took this proposal to the ATLA convention and convened a meeting of like-minded attorneys. With the determined assistance of Joan B. Claybrook, who was with Public Citizen, the nonprofit Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ) was born.

In the ensuing forty years, TLPJ renamed Public Justice (PJ) in 2007 has shown that there are opportunities for widespread justice successes so long as the peoples’ advocates are on the field of action.

Public Justice has taken on a wide range of cases from going up against mountain-top removal and the coal industry’s poisoning of fresh water in West Virginia, to industrial agricultures’ toxic contaminations, to making sure Title IX is enforced to open wide the doors for women participating in intercollegiate athletics.

Today, led by Paul Bland, Public Justice is celebrating its fortieth anniversary. The firm has a $7 million annual budget (which is about three and a half weeks’ pay for the miserly Tim Cook, CEO of Apple), 23 staff on its legal team and a total staff size of 46.

Look at Public Justice’s docket of lawsuits. They have challenged court secrecy, fought compulsory arbitration and federal pre-emption of good state laws and the weakening of class actions. Students subjected to harassment and discrimination have found a champion in Public Justice, as have consumers cheated in so many ways by devious commercial thieves.

Special is Public Justice’s stand against what it calls the “Debtor’s Prison Project.” Here governments try to cash in by imposing fees on charged defendants trapping them in cycles of poverty, with PJ arguing that “no one should lose their freedom because they lack the means to pay a fine.”

A large vacuum is filled by Public Justice in its Worker Justice Project. Giant agri-business, Public Justice asserts with abundant evidence, “has always capitalized on the exploitation of workers, since its origins in plantation agriculture that relied on the forced labor of enslaved Africans. Today, meatpacking workers are subject to some of the most brutal working conditions in the labor market.”

When Covid-19 viruses came to America, Public Justice went to the defense of food-system workers who were not given protection and care and therefore their industry facilities “quickly became epicenters of outbreaks.”

Paul Bland and his colleagues teamed up with other public interest groups on some cases, including Toward Justice and the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom.

Within today’s right-wing, corporatist judicial system, Public Justice still wins cases, deters wrongdoing because companies know it is on watch, and even raises the visibility of issues when they lose.

Like any forty-year-old institution, it must remain alert to becoming too settled, too risk-averse and instead continue to be a pioneering organization and break new ground with bold causes of action as if there is no tomorrow. Hear that younger attorneys? Your burden is to keep your unique law firm as fresh as a cool mountain breeze caressing a gushing mountain brook. For more information visit the Public Justice website.

The post “Public Justice” – Standing Forty Years Against Brutish Corporate Power first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Julian Assange is Not above the Law, but He Shouldn’t be Beneath Justice

Hewn in to human rights legislation borne of fascism’s decline in the mid twentieth century is a pool of glorious protections of civil liberties and press freedoms. It is deep, but it is not entirely immune from attack. Political opportunists undermine it in regular waves, repressing dissidence in their states and satellite states, even and especially in the West. Victims pile up, the criminalisation of journalism gathering steam, the propaganda to justify this awful retrenchment of civil liberties rising in the background. This is fascism resurgent.

Glasnost translates to ‘transparency’, and it was assumed to be a core value of western government when Gorbachev’s administration began to dismantle socialism in Russia in the 1990s. The liberal democratic system prevalent in the world today is in theory buoyed by open, transparent government, and in every area where it is practised as the predominant form of government, gives rise to the rule of civil liberties said to be inalienable, universal, and non-negotiable. Being as old as democracy itself, they’re deeply rooted in history, representing progress and democratic status. Insofar as it remains worth defending, there remains no better way to adhere to “civilised” culture than to defend civil liberty and constitutional freedoms. While it may be a world away from the current zeitgeist among western leaders for criminalising dissent, journalism, and whistleblowing, reaching its zenith in the prosecution of Julian Assange, it’s nonetheless only a few fights away from restoration.

All around the world are corrupt governments torturing and oppressing citizens critical of the regimes that rule, not serve, them. True to Orientalist stereotypes, this type of place is reflexively assumed by the privileged commentariat to be an anomaly, in some remote region of the East, where the rule of law is alien and everybody’s neighbour knows someone in the gulag. Taking the American tradition of world policing to new heights, however, the most advanced superpower in the advanced industrial west will supply everything you could want if you were seeking examples of archetypal tyranny, and its satellites are all too happy to turn this practice from an isolated infraction to standard, common practice. Being emboldened in power, the US jurisdiction, and those under its spell, practice extraterritorial prosecutions, extraordinary renditions, in which foreign citizens are either extradited to the empire state for trial and punishment bordering on and oft crossing the rubicon into illegal torture, or have it enforced upon them in US bases overseas.

Unluckily, the CIA oversee these cases and will bend over backwards to accommodate torture, and to offend the constitution. Set in the context of the Patriot Act (an unconstitutional abomination of law rafted through congress during the hysteria after 9/11) they have unlimited powers to break non-refoulement law in the human rights convention. The principle of non-refoulement forms the crux of many internationally binding contracts in which signatory states agree to uphold and abide by the practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution.

Despite power’s collective disgrace of the law by breaking the principles enshrined in non-refoulement law, missing the irony, the Tory government has said the arrest of Julian Assange is just and serves to show he is not above the law. Likewise the official line from Ecuador that Assange’s work constitutes “cyber-terrorism.” Such talk from the government evidences not the culpability of Assange for any crime, but precisely the establishment’s desire to invert the real narrative: ironically, Assange has been arrested for exposing corruption that posits powerful organisations and politicians above the law, and for so doing he is now deemed beneath justice.

Assange had previously said it was not the prospect of answering to British or Swedish justice that worried him and put forward a robust case for the proximity of a British or Swedish trial to a US extradition during the debate about the moral ambiguity of his self-imposed exile, in which he credibly suggested he feared a kangaroo court in the US which would punish him to life, or gruesome death, for abiding by first amendment ethics, a claim that many thought was paranoid but has been vindicated.

Like all young people looking out to the world today, I am acutely conscious we are growing up in a times of extreme volatility and complex global politics marred by violence, war and corruption, one yet borne aloft by revolutionary dreams of a better world that have come to fruition in hopeful global rebellions, which I cheered on as a socially conscientious teenager.

Perhaps the defining note of optimism for me is that I am emboldened by hope in the face of an insurgency of brave truth telling, of righteous civil disobedience against corrupt and ossified power, but at once, the defining note of pessimism for me is that I am equally as worried by the way insurgent bearers of truth are being treated like mice in the maze of a Goliath American state, one that treats the whole world order as if it were its sole domain, its entire extraterritorial jurisdiction, a caliphate, whose subjects are treated with increasingly wanton whim at the behest of the senate, military and intelligence agencies in the empire state.

Notorious names — Schwartz, Assange, Lauri, Manning, Winner — correspond to notorious cases. While the case specifics encompass a varied range of actions and activities associated with subversion of US imperial strategy, they encompass and are united by concerted efforts to subvert imperial activism of the US state decidedly through electronic means — whistle blowing, data dumping, hacking — activity which, rendered through the realpolitik filter with which hawk politicians have been conditioned in the corridors of Yale and The Pentagon, is tantamount to treason. Thinking logically it is obvious treason is an untenable accusation against those who — with the exception of Manning, Schwartz, Winner — have never been American citizens. Indeed such charges sullying the names of these renegades seems designed to inculcate fear and obedience to American objectives not just within but beyond domestic spheres of influence. Silencing dissent, then, can be seen as core imperial strategy, and one with terrifying, unprecedented extraterritorial reach.

Hard working, principled journalists — who’d be legends and treasures in a long lost era of good press ethics in society — and their sources are paying a high price out of their human rights under the aegis of a craven new age of US imperialism. Most modern states bar the integration of legitimate journalistic activity with the penal code, like those currently being deployed to get Julian Assange. But in the data age, with less developed laws around the link between technology and sources, criminalisation is being embraced, or at least is being seized upon in the moment before laws and regulation are clarified and tightened up to get Assange.

But it stinks. For one evidence cited in attempts to justify his arrest and pursuit under the law are at best dubious, at worst slanderous. Moreover in a zeitgeist defined by Brexit negotiations steeped deep in the rhetoric of protecting parliamentary sovereignty it ought to worry us British courts are willing to yield to the whims of US courts who are willing to put Assange away for life, or kill him, for the crime of doing journalism.

It’s time that the establishment drops pretences and stops using the phrase “no man is above the law” as if the mantra is still meaningful. Either justice is a right or its not. For so many, conspicuously all in the business of exposing corruption, they don’t get it. It’s time to reform society’s treatment of whistleblowers and remove all legal obstructions to their freedoms.

In theory, we are equal under the law. In practice, some are beneath justice. Equality under the law — from which the maxim “no one above the law” — is a bastion of liberal democracy. It is oft cited in defence of the moral superiority of the western way of life over other systems that have preceded it or stand in opposition. A fair legal system is seen to be the sign of an ethically mature democracy. Yet it is precisely because the law is administered to prosecute whistleblowers on elite crimes and reward elite corruption that this truism about our equivalence in the contemporary justice system is an anachronism with a diluted meaning. In war, justice is always the biggest casualty.

The post Julian Assange is Not above the Law, but He Shouldn’t be Beneath Justice first appeared on Dissident Voice.

No Corporate Law and Power Questions for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

In over twenty hours of grueling confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Jackson’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, Republican Senators (Cruz, Cotton, Hawley, Blackburn, and Graham) found much time to disgrace themselves, using the Judge as a prop for their despicable political ambitions. Meanwhile the Democratic (and Republican) Senators found no time to tap into Judge Jackson’s knowledge and analysis of the grave issues regarding the nexus of the power of giant corporations and the Constitution.

Senators, who should have known better, declined to raise the important questions about corporate personhood, or the provision of equal rights for corporations with human beings in a Constitution that never mentions “corporations” or “companies.” The Constitution is all about “We the People.”

Ignoring the immense power of global corporations over the rule of law, the immunities and privileges these companies use to escape the law and harm people with impunity, and the power of corporations under the 2011 Citizens United case to spend unlimited amounts of money to independently support or oppose candidates for public office were taboo subjects.

These are critical questions that leading citizen groups like Public Citizen and Common Cause would have wanted raised. The hearings, before a large television and radio audience, could have provided a rare educational moment for the public!

In numerous nomination hearings for Associate Justices of the High Court, we have submitted questions to presumably receptive Democratic Senators about corporations and the law. They were never asked. Our requests that Senators submit questions on corporate power to the nominee for written responses were also regularly denied.

Since my testimony with Dr. Sidney Wolfe during Justice Stephen Breyer’s confirmation hearings in 1994, outside civic witnesses have largely been prohibited from testifying at these tightly choreographed spectacles. Congress has added this exclusion to their overall closure movement against the civic community.

We are left with submitting testimony for the record, which rarely sees the light of the Judiciary Committee’s day. On the last day of the hearings with the nominees, the two Parties each select their own panel of rubber-stamp witnesses (often law professors). Both the media and senatorial attendance declines.

The Committee’s arrogance is such that distinguished people asking to testify do not even get the courtesy of a written acknowledgement. They’re just treated as nonpersons, instead of valuable contributors to the nomination process.

During the nomination in 2006 of the most right-wing corporatist, unitary-presidency ideologue, Samuel A. Alito, Jr., I wrote that the Senators did not “pose questions relating to access-to-justice, as provided by tort law, nor to the generic constitutional questions relating to NAFTA and the World Trade Organization (WTO) and their dubious authority to side-step the sovereignty of our three branches of government with their mandatory decisions” affecting workers, consumers, and the environment.

When the most powerful institutions in our country escape scrutiny at these times of peak interest in the rule of law (constitutional and statutory), the charge that Congress refuses to confront corporatism and the supremacy of these out-of-control corporate behemoths comes full circle.

Call them above the law, beyond the law, or the creators of the law, giant and powerful corporations are a major domestic threat to our democracy. They are corrupting elections, dominating the media, blocking union formation, obstructing judicial justice for wrongfully injured people, and destroying our consumer freedom of contract – while strategically planning the future of human beings, down to their genetic inheritance.

Asking Judge Jackson her thoughts about the legal rights of robots, the engagement in military activities by corporate contractors, and the corporate patenting of life forms would have increased public awareness about important legal issues. Even if she artfully avoided judgmental replies, just asking what she knows about the settled law in these and other areas would have educated lawmakers and the public.

To get a sense of the immensity of this overlooked corporate phenomenon, please visit our website nader.org for the list of my previous questions and see the excellent article by the great journalist Morton Mintz in the November 1, 2005 issue of The Nation titled “Serious Questions for Samuel A. Alito Jr.”

Readers, remember Congress is misusing the powers that you have granted it under the Constitution, but you still hold the sovereign power and duty to safeguard and improve our democracy.

The post No Corporate Law and Power Questions for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Hypocrisy and Immorality of Sanctions

“I friggin’ hate war,” stammered Nicole, clenching her fists.

“Doesn’t everyone hate war?” asked Hiro.

He meant it as a rhetorical question. But Nicole retorted, “No. Lockheed, Boeing, Raytheon and other weapon manufacturers like, er … looove war. Wall Street loves war. Blackwater, or whatever they are called now, love war. And so do the mercenaries.”

Hiro hadn’t meant “everyone” to literally mean “everyone.” But he knew his wording was imprecise.

“But one thing should come out of the Russia-Ukraine war… er” Nicole caught herself and reformulated her statement: “At least, one really good thing that is.”

Hiro stroked the three-day stubble on his chin and pondered what his clever blonde friend sitting at the opposite end of the fading chesterfield had stated.

“Hmm, okay, I give. What is the one really good thing?”

“It is as simple as what is good for the goose is good for the gander.”

Hiro tilted his head slightly to the right. “Not sure what you mean. If the Russians can invade another country, then everyone else can, too? But that’s not a good thing. Besides, the US already invades whichever country they want as long as that country can’t really fight back.”

“No. That’s not it. Look, if the world, ah …, I mean the US, Europe, and Japan are going to sanction Russia for warring, then by all rights, any country that attacks another country without UN Security Council approval should also be sanctioned.”

“Fat chance of that happening,” said Hiro. “That would mean Ukraine should have been sanctioned for shelling Donbass. The US and Turkey should be sanctioned for invading Syria. Israel would be in a permanent state of being sanctioned.”

“Exactly,” responded Nicole. “The world, er, US, EU, UK, and Japan will expose themselves as massive hypocrites if they continue to war.”

“But they already are hypocrites based on their actions against Russia and lack of action against other countries doing the same thing,” said Hiro, rubbing his chin again. “And the US only plays by its own rules. The ICC is for the US to ignore. The World Court is the same. The Rule of Law means law for the others, not for the US.”

“True,” nodded Nicole, brushing back with her hand a shock of hair that had cascaded over one eye.

“And the western media will twist the meanings and omit whatever info it so chooses,” added Hiro.

“True again, but people are starting to clue in. More and more people know the corporate media lies. Independent media is expanding. And hardly anyone watches friggin’ CNN these days. Joe Rogan blows them all out of the water.”

“And just see what happened to Joe,” grumbled Hiro.

“Hiroyuki, it doesn’t matter much because people are listening to Joe and not his cancel culture critics.”

Hiro flinched imperceptibly. He preferred the shortened form of his name. It sounded to him more heroic.

“But isn’t this all whataboutism?”

“Maybe so,” said Nicole. “But more so, it is about the equality of nations, and the UN says this is the foundation of the Rule of Law.”

“Anyway, sanctions unless approved by the Security Council are illegal. So all the countries sanctioning Russia now are breaking international law,” said Hiro pushing his glasses back on his nose bridge.

“Right again.”

“And didn’t Madeleine Albright say it was okay to kill half-a-million Iraqi kids with sanctions?” asked Hiro.

“Yes, she did. What a scandalous moment of truth it was.”

“And doesn’t Foreign Affairs magazine call them sanctions-of-mass-destruction, the deadliest WMD?”

“Yep,” agreed Nicole, “And then there is the argument that sanctions are a declaration of war. Most definitely it is economic warfare.”

“So because the US has been sanctioning Russia since before the invasion of Ukraine, it has been at war with Russia the whole time, not to mention with China, Iran, North Korea, and so on.”

Nicole rolled her eyes. “Don’t forget Cuba. Sixty years of friggin’ sanctions. And why doesn’t the media tell us about all that?”

It was a rhetorical question, but Hiro answered anyway: “Because we are not part of that mainstream.”

The post The Hypocrisy and Immorality of Sanctions first appeared on Dissident Voice.

What Red Book Will You Read This Year on Red Books Day (21 February)?

On 16 February 2015, Govind and Uma Pansare went for a morning walk near their home in Kolhapur, in the western state of Maharashtra, India. Two men on a motorcycle stopped them and asked for directions, but the Pansares could not help them. One of the men laughed, pulled out a gun, and shot the two Pansares. Uma Pansare was hit but survived the attack. Her husband, Govind Pansare, died in a hospital shortly thereafter on 20 February at age 82.

Raised in poverty, Govind Pansare was fortunate to go to school, where he encountered Marxist ideas. In 1952, at the age of 19, Pansare joined the Communist Party of India (CPI). While in college in Kolhapur, Pansare could often be found at the Republic Book Stall, where he devoured Marxist classics and Soviet novels that came to India through the CPI’s People’s Publishing House. When he became a lawyer, Pansare worked with trade unions and organisations rooted in poor neighbourhoods. He read avidly, researching the history of Maharashtra to better understand how to get rid of wretched customs such as the caste system and religious fundamentalism.

Out of his world of struggle and his world of books emerged Pansare’s commitment to culture and to intellectual liberation. Along with his comrades, he set up the Shramik Pratishthan (Workers’ Trust), which not only published books but also held seminars and lectures. One of the most popular programmes organised by the Trust was the annual literary festival in honour of the Marathi writer Annabhau Sathe. In 1987, Pansare wrote a book called Shivaji Kon Hota? (Who Was Shivaji? in the LeftWord Books English edition). He freed the 17th-century warrior Shivaji from the manipulations of the far right in India, which had falsely portrayed him in their books as a Hindu warrior who battled Muslims. In fact, Shivaji was reported to have been benevolent to Muslims, which is why Pansare rescued him from their clutches.

Pansare’s assassination is one among many left-wing writers and political figures. No country is immune to this, with left bookstores being attacked and left publishers being threatened across the world. As Héctor Béjar, the former foreign minister of Peru told us in our most recent dossier, right-wing intellectuals simply do not have the intellectual weight to debate the key issues of our time. They do not have the facts or the theory to make a coherent argument for bigotry or for climate destruction, for social inequality or for their interpretation of history. Intellectuals of the right instead promote obscurantist and irrational thought alongside their other weapons: open intimidation and violence. The rise of neo-fascistic politicians and parties provides a veneer of respectability to the scum who take up guns and rods to attack and kill people like Pansare.

Justice for people such as Govind Pansare is elusive, just as it is for Chokri Belaïd (Tunisia), Chris Hani (South Africa), Gauri Lankesh (India), Marielle Franco (Brazil), Nahed Hattar (Jordan), and far too many others. These were all sensitive people who took the dangerous step to fight for something greater than our present world.

Pansare’s daughter-in-law, Dr. Megha Pansare, sent a message to Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research: ‘The space for free expression is shrinking in our country. There have been regular attacks on journalists and artists, intellectuals and farmers. We have been compelled to fight to expand the public sphere. It is extremely worrying to see the state patronise religious fundamentalist forces. We must raise our voices to stop the silencing of our voices by guns’.

The International Union of Left Publishers released a strong statement calling for justice for Govind Pansare: ‘Seven years have gone by and yet the police have not gathered hard facts’, they write. ‘The entire world is witness to the rising trend of hate crimes in India and crimes against Indian culture (including the murder of writers). We, the International Union of Left Publishers, stand in solidarity with the families of the victims and we raise our voice in defense of the progressive and humane values of secularism, social progress, and social justice’.

A few years after the murder of Govind Pansare, LeftWord Books in New Delhi began to float the idea of Red Books Day. This would be a celebration of radical books and the people and institutions that make them. Knowing Pansare, he would have been aware that the day after his death was a significant anniversary. On 21 February 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published The Communist Manifesto just months before revolutions swept across Europe, which would later be called the Springtime of the Peoples (Printemps des peuples). The manifesto is not only one of the most read books in our time, but in 2013, the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) adopted this book in its Memory of the World Programme. This initiative by UNESCO is intended to preserve humanity’s heritage against the ‘ravages of time’ and ‘collective amnesia’. So, LeftWord Books – along with the Indian Society of Left Publishers – decided to issue a global call for Red Books Day to be held each year on 21 February.

When the first Red Books Day was held on 21 February 2020, thirty thousand people from South Korea to Venezuela joined the public reading of the manifesto. It turns out that the United Nations had also designated 21 February as International Mother Language Day. The manifesto was read in the language of the people who were reading it – in Korean when the day began and in Spanish when the day ended. Without question, the largest number of readers of the manifesto on that day were in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where the publishing house Bharathi Puthakalayam and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) included ten thousand people in the festivities. The readings began under the Triumph of Labour statue, erected in 1959 on Chennai’s Marina Beach at the precise spot where May Day was first celebrated in India in 1923. The book was read aloud in the fields by communist peasant organisers in Nepal and in the Landless Workers’ Movement’s (MST) occupied settlements in Brazil; it was read in study circles in Havana (Cuba) and read out aloud for the first time in Sesotho (one of South Africa’s eleven official languages). It was read in Gaelic at Connolly Books (Dublin, Ireland) and in Arabic in a café in Beirut (Lebanon). Bharathi Puthakalayam published a new translation into Tamil by M. Sivalingam for the occasion, while Prajasakti and Nava Telangana published a new translation into Telugu by A. Gandhi.

In the aftermath of Red Books Day, a group of publishers – invited by the Indian Society of Left Publishers – began to form the International Union of Left Publishers (IULP). Over the course of the past two years, the IULP has produced four joint books: Lenin 150, Mariátegui, Che, and Paris Commune 150. To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune, twenty-seven publishing houses released a book on the same day, 28 May 2021, in almost as many languages – an unparalleled feat in the history of publishing. This year, the IULP will publish two more books which collect key texts of Alexandra Kollontai (May) and Ruth First (August). The Union is meanwhile developing its principles of exchanging books between publishers and standing together against the attacks against authors, publishers, printers, and bookshops.

Red Books Day is an initiative of the IULP, but we hope that it will become part of the broader global calendar of annual cultural activities. The Red Books Day website allows anyone to post information about their activities for the day this year and includes an art exhibit of Red Books Day posters from around the world organised by Young Socialist Artists. Rather than insist that everyone read the same book, the idea this year is for people to read any red book in public or online. For example, in Tamil Nadu this year’s reading will be Engels’ Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1880). Others will read the manifesto or poetry about the human spirit in search of emancipation.

Up in the Sierra Maestra, Fidel Castro and his comrades spent long periods in the evenings reading whatever they could find. When they boarded the Granma from Mexico, they brought guns, food, and medicine, but not many books. They had to circulate what they had: Curzio Malaparte’s The Skin (1949) about the Nazi occupation of Naples and Émile Zola’s terrifying thriller, The Beast Within (1890). They even had a copy of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776), which was almost the cause of Che Guevara being killed during an air raid.

One of the guerrillas, Salustiano de la Cruz Enríquez (also known as Crucito), composed ballads in the old Cuban guajira style. He would sit by the campfire and sing his poems as he played the guitar. ‘This magnificent comrade had written the whole history of the Revolution in ballads which he composed at every rest stop as he puffed on his pipe’, wrote Che Guevara in his Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War (1968). ‘Since there was very little paper in the Sierra, he composed the ballads in his head, so none of them remained when a bullet put an end to his life in the battle of Pino del Agua’ in September 1957. Crucito called himself el Ruiseñor de la Sierra Maestra – ‘the nightingale of the Sierra Maestra’. This Red Books Day, I am going to imagine his ballads and hum his forgotten tune in honour of people like Crucito and Govind Pansare, who keep trying to make the world a better place for humans and for nature.

Warmly,

Vijay.

PS: my red book to read this year is Võ Nguyên Giáp’s Unforgettable Days (Hanoi: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1975).

The post What Red Book Will You Read This Year on Red Books Day (21 February)? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Why Wouldn’t Biden Grant Clemency to Leonard Peltier?

Last Friday, it became known that the 77-year-old native American political prisoner Leonard Peltier was sick with COVID-19. Peltier has been in prison for over 46 years, which makes him the oldest political prisoner in the United States.

This fact has brought attention to his case, but the truth is that his freedom has been a permanent demand of a movement since the first day of his unfair incarceration.

For decades, American and foreign activists along with renowned personalities like the Dalai Lama, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Senator Patrick Leahy, and even Pope Francis have demanded justice to be done in his case. However, former presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama all turned a blind eye to the issue, neglecting their role of correcting a penal system that is cruel and dysfunctional at best, as is so vividly demonstrated in the case of Peltier.

Since President Joe Biden got the White House, several petitions have been presented to him but they all remain unanswered. Among those demanding Biden to grant executive clemency to the Native American civil rights activist is former prosecutor James Reynolds, who helped send Peltier off to prison in 1977 and took part in two out of three appeals filed by Peltier’s defense. In his letter to the president, Reynolds acknowledged he was part of rigged trials to send Peltier behind bars with no evidence of guilt.

But why should Biden grant executive pardon to an Indigene who allegedly killed two FBI agents? Recognizing the injustice might be the first reason to do it since there is plenty of evidence supporting Peltier’s long-standing innocence.

Taking into account Reynolds’ statements and all the evidence gathered throughout these 4 decades, it is clear that the court system sided with the government agencies, namely the FBI, to find Peltier guilty of a double homicide, even when there was overwhelming evidence  supporting his innocence. The FBI threatened and intimidated witnesses to get prejudiced testimonies, and hid ballistic tests assuring that Peltier’s rifle had not shot the bullets that killed the two FBI agents.

The trial was such a fake that after the prosecutors actually admitted they did not know who really killed the agents, Peltier was found guilty of aiding and abetting the murders and sentenced to two life terms in prisons. It is also suspicious that the other two people who were initially indicted together with Peltier were found innocent due to the lack of consistent evidence. At one point Peltier was the only suspect left and someone had to pay for the death of those two agents.

Another aspect of the case is that it is sadly another example of COINTELPRO’s work since, at the time of his arrest Peltier was under FBI surveillance for his activities in defense of Indigenous people’s rights. The government wanted to make an example of him to others about what could happen to them for standing up for justice for their own people.

Another reason why Biden should grant clemency is that Peltier fulfills the criteria for commutation. It was perfectly described by the head of the Senate Committee that oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Senator Brian Schatz. He wrote a letter to the president saying that Peltier is old and suffers from critical illnesses; he has already served enough time in prison; and lastly, the unavailability of other remedies in prison.

Leonard Peltier suffers from diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and high blood pressure. For an aging man in his condition, getting COVID-19 amidst these circumstances is nothing less than a death sentence. Peltier had complained before that the authorities at the high security federal prison in Coleman Florida have refused to give him a Covid booster shot. Peltier has described the prison as a “torture chamber” since the pandemic began.

How it is possible that despite Peltier’s pleas to get a booster dose, he had been denied by prison authorities? The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) argues that they have not been able to vaccinate, even elder prisoners, with the booster dose. Notwithstanding, in the outside world, the government issues vaccine mandates. So the problem is not the lack of vaccines and resources but the will to treat prisoners as human beings.

However, Peltier is just an example of the treatment that political prisoners get in the US. As we mentioned in a related article titled “Political Prisoners in Cuba and in the United States; Facts and Fiction, Part 2,” other political prisoners like Sundiata Acoli or Mumia Abu-Jamal also got COVID last year and are also suffering critical illnesses, and their lives are still at high risk. The judicial – penal system seems committed to indifference to prisoners in general and in particular political prisoners and are content to just allow them to die as was the case of Russell Maroon Shoats, who was released in critical health condition and died just 51 days later.

Political Prisoners are the most visible cases, but the problem affects the entire in-jail population, accounting for 2.3 million people. One in 4 incarcerated people in the world are in the US; a country that makes up less than 4% of the world’s population. It is twisted that the United States does not care about them. Why? Because the great majority are Latinos, black and poor people? Where is the respect for Human Rights? Where is the empathy and social conscience? This is something that American society needs to look at in earnest.

Most of those people might be guilty of some crimes but remain victims of a social and political system that marginalizes them and takes away any chances of any decent developmental training or reintegration back into society. In other cases, the only crime they might be guilty of is being loyal to their ideals and fighting for a more equitable and fairer country, as is the case of Leonard Peltier. Based on that alone everybody who loves justice and fair causes should stand with Peltier and demand Biden to save an innocent life.

“In and out of lockdown last year at least meant a shower every third day and a meal beyond a sandwich wet with some peanut butter, but now with COVID as an excuse, nothing. No phone, no window, no fresh air, no humans to gather with, no loved ones’ voice, no relief,” as Peltier described his current situation in Coleman. There is no better description of the inhumane conditions of the United States prison network, which is the biggest and most crowded in the world.

Today these terrible conditions became even more exacerbated when the entire 120 federal US prisons in the US went into complete lockdown after 2 inmates were murdered in the federal prison in Beaumont Texas, a notorious prison where Cuban political prisoner Ramon Labanino of the Cuban 5 spent many years for monitoring the activity of Cuban terrorists operating in the US against his country.

It is evident that Peltier’s life is in grave danger making Biden’s executive pardon  a life-or-death decision. The buck stops with the president who with a stroke of a pen could free him.

The US government is not known for making decisions based on a moral obligation but Biden could take the opportunity to do just that. The life of Leonard Peltier, the courageous Indigenous fighter for justice, is in his hands. And the critical question remains, what reason could Biden have not to free him?

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The Insufferable Hypocrisy of Western Governments Hell-bent on Destroying Julian Assange

Much of the independent media have provided coverage of the horrendous plight suffered by WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange. Some corporate media have even pointed out how five purported democracies conspired to entrap Julian Assange and, with the acquiescence of most of the western monopoly media, are complicit in the slow-motion assassination of the brave journalist.

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The hounding of Julian Assange leaves honest journalism with no refuge

It is no accident that Julian Assange, the digital transparency activist and journalist who founded Wikileaks to help whistleblowers tell us what western governments are really up to in the shadows, has spent 10 years being progressively disappeared into those very same shadows.

His treatment is a crime similar to those Wikileaks exposed when it published just over a decade ago hundreds of thousands of leaked materials – documents we were never supposed to see – detailing war crimes committed by the United States and Britain in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These two western countries killed non-combatants and carried out torture not, as they claimed, in the pursuit of self-defence or in the promotion of democracy, but to impose control over a strategic, resource-rich region.

It is the ultimate, ugly paradox that Assange’s legal and physical fate rests in the hands of two states that have the most to lose by allowing him to regain his freedom and publish more of the truths they want to keep concealed. By redefining his journalism as “espionage” – the basis for the US extradition claim – they are determined to keep the genie stuffed in the bottle.

Eyes off the ball

Last week, in overturning a lower court decision that should have allowed Assange to walk free, the English High Court consented to effectively keep Assange locked up indefinitely.  He is a remand prisoner – found guilty of no crime – and yet he will continue rotting in solitary confinement for the foreseeable future, barely seeing daylight or other human beings, in Belmarsh high-security prison alongside Britain’s most dangerous criminals.

The High Court decision forces our eyes off the ball once again. Assange and his supposed “crime” of seeking transparency and accountability has become the story rather than the crimes he exposed that were carried out by the US to lay waste to whole regions and devastate the lives of millions.

The goal is to stop the public conducting the debate Assange wanted to initiate through his journalism: about western state crimes. Instead the public is being deflected into a debate his persecutors want: whether Assange can ever safely be allowed out of his cell.

Assange’s lawyers are being diverted from the real issues too. They will now be tied up for years fighting endless rearguard actions, caught up in the search for legal technicalities, battling to win a hearing in any court they can, to prevent his extradition to the United States to stand trial.

The process itself has taken over. And while the legal minutiae are endlessly raked over, the substance of the case – that it is US and British officials who ought to be held responsible for committing war crimes – will be glossed over.

Permanently silenced

But it is worse than the legal injustice of Assange’s case. There may be no hack-saws needed this time, but this is as visceral a crime against journalism as the dismemberment of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi officials back in 2018.

And the outcome for Assange is only slightly less preordained than it was for Khashoggi when he entered the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. The goal for US officials has always been about permanently disappearing Assange. They are indifferent about how that is achieved.

If the legal avenue is a success, he will eventually head to the US where he can be locked away for up to 175 years in severe solitary confinement in a super-max jail – that is, till long past his death from natural causes. But there is every chance he will not survive that long. Last January, a British judge rejected extraditing Julian Assange to the US over his “suicide risk“, and medical experts have warned that it will be only a matter of time before he succeeds.

That was why the district court blocked extradition – on humanitarian grounds. Those grounds were overturned by the High Court last week only because the US offered “assurances” that measures would be in place to ensure Assange did not commit suicide. But Assange’s lawyers pointed out: those assurances “were not enough to address concerns about his fragile mental health and high risk of suicide”. These concerns should have been apparent to the High Court justices.

Further, dozens of former officials in the Central Intelligence Agency and the previous US administration have confirmed that the agency planned to execute Assange in an extrajudicial operation in 2017. That was shortly before the US was forced by circumstance to switch to the current, formal extradition route. The arguments now made for his welfare by the same officials and institutions that came close to killing him should never have been accepted as made in good faith.

In fact, there is no need to speculate about the Americans’ bad faith. It is only too apparent in the myriad get-out clauses in the “assurances” they provided. Those assurances can be dropped, for example, if US officials decide Assange is not being cooperative. The promises can and will be disregarded the moment they become an encumbrance on Washington’s ability to keep Assange permanently silenced.

‘Trapped in a cage’

But if losing the extradition battle is high stakes, so is the legal process itself. That could finish Assange off long before a decision is reached, as his fiancee Stella Moris indicated at the weekend. She confirmed that Assange suffered a small stroke during a hearing in October in the endless extradition proceedings. There are indications he suffered neurological damage, and is now on anti-stroke medication to try to stop a recurrence.

Assange and his friends believe the stroke was brought on by the constant double strain of his solitary confinement in Belmarsh and a legal process being conducted over his head, in which he is barely allowed to participate.

Nils Melzer, the United Nations expert on torture, has repeatedly warned that Assange has been subjected to prolonged psychological torture in the nine years since he fled into Ecuador’s embassy in London seeking asylum from US efforts to persecute him.

That form of torture, Melzer has pointed out, was refined by the Nazis because it was found to be far more effective at breaking people than physical torture. Moris told the Daily Mail: “[The stroke] compounds our fears about [Assange’s] ability to survive the longer this long legal battle goes on. … Look at animals trapped in cages in a zoo. It cuts their life short. That’s what’s happening to Julian.”

And that indeed looks to be the prize for US officials that wanted him assassinated anyway. Whatever happens to Assange, the lawless US security state wins: it either gets him behind bars forever, or it kills him quietly and quite lawfully, while everyone is distracted, arguing about who Assange is rather what he exposed.

Political prisoner

In fact, with each twist and turn of the proceedings against Assange we move further from the realities at the heart of the case towards narrative distractions.

Who remembers now the first extradition hearings, nearly two years ago, at which the court was reminded that the very treaty signed by Britain and the US that is the basis for Assange’s extradition explicitly excludes political cases of the kind being pursued by the US against Assange?

It is a victory for state criminality that the discussion has devolved to Assange’s mental health rather than a substantive discussion of the treaty’s misapplication to serve political ends.

And similarly the focus on US assurances regarding Assange’s wellbeing is intended to obscure the fact that a journalist’s work is being criminalised as “espionage” for the first time under a hurriedly drafted, draconian and discredited piece of First World War legislation, the 1917 Espionage Act. Because Assange is a political prisoner suffering political persecution, legal arguments are apparently powerless to save him. It is only a political campaign that can keep underscoring the sham nature of the charges he faces.

The lies of power

What Assange bequeathed us through Wikileaks was a harsh light capable of cutting through the lies of power and power of lies. He showed that western governments claiming the moral high ground were actually committing crimes in our name out of sight in far-off lands. He tore the mask off their hypocrisy.

He showed that the many millions who took to the streets in cities around the world in 2003 because they knew the US and UK would commit war crimes in Iraq were right to march. But he also confirmed something worse: that their opposition to the war was treated with utter contempt.

The US and UK did not operate more carefully, they were not more respectful of human rights, they did not tread more lightly in Iraq because of those marches, because of the criticism beforehand. The western war machine carried on regardless, crushing the lives of anyone who got caught up in its maw.

Now with Assange locked up and silenced, western foreign policy can return comfortably to the era of zero accountability that existed before Assange shook up the whole system with his revelations. No journalist will dare to repeat what Assange did – not unless they are ready to spend the rest of their days behind bars.

The message his abuse sends to others could not be clearer or more chilling: what happened to Assange could happen to you too.

The truth is journalism is already reeling from the combined assaults against Khashoggi and Assange. But the hounding of Assange strikes the bigger blow. It leaves honest journalism with no refuge, no sanctuary anywhere in the world.

• First published in Middle East Eye

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Women’s Tennis Association and the West Will Make a Mess of Peng Shuai’s Disappearance


You can choose to like or not China’s millennial system of justice and redress, nonetheless this is what you need to know about tennis star Peng Shuai and why she disappeared.

Peng Shuai is a world ranked tennis player in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), with Wimbledon (2013) and French Open (2014) doubles championship trophies to her name. She is a household name in China and revered as the first national to achieve international tennis stardom.

On 2 November 2021, she posted a 1,600-word open letter on her Chinese Weibo account (like Twitter), for China’s 1.4 billion citizens to read. In it, she accused a retired Chinese official, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of raping her around three years ago, meaning 2018.

Seventy-five-year-old Zhang is very high-level, having served in the most powerful leadership group, the Politburo Standing Committee, 2012-2017, this being President Xi Jinping’s first term in office, whereupon Zhang retired in 2018.

Her letter was removed by Baba Beijing (my name for China’s leadership/government) and her 500,000-follower Weibo account then shut down. She has since been absent from public view, the WTA is threatening to sever ties with China (a $1 billion market for them) unless Peng is accounted for, while the West’s bloviating Big Lie Propaganda Machine (BLPM) and talking heads are starting to pontificate and make demands.

For Westerners and the #MeToo movement, what Peng did was absolutely normal. Take it public, shout it out to the world. Create a media storm to garner attention.

Nevertheless, that is not how it is done in Chinese culture, going back thousands of years. If you want a really good explanation, read The China Trilogy, where during my many years in-country, on a number of occasions I was the accuser and the accused, so I’m speaking from feet-on-the-ground experience.

In China’s Confucian-Daoist-Buddhist society, keeping face and maintaining social stability and economic prosperity for the people takes precedence over individual needs and demands. Going to Tiananmen Square to hold up a sign saying Xi Jinping is a bad leader is not considered to constructive in Chinese culture. But, I can go to my local town hall, complain all I want and if many, many people do the same, Baba Beijing is going to take notice and ask what they are doing that is unsatisfactory to the public. As I have written much about, freedom of expression is very broad, from far left to far right, in local meetings, in groups and social media – not on street corners.

As well, justice is first expected to be gained at the local level, between the two conflicting parties and if that fails, within the community. If that fails, for millennia, Chinese citizens have had the right to go to their village/nearest government offices, state they want to talk to the judge and then are afforded the opportunity to make an official complaint for redress. If credible, investigations, interrogations, testimonies and evidence are assembled for a court trial in front of said judge. For serious crimes, if the judge ordered the death sentence and it was later discovered that the now-dead accused was in fact innocent, the judge was liable to be executed for the mistake.

What Peng Shuai did is 180 degrees against these longstanding civilizational traditions. She may very well be telling the truth, but she did it Western style, which means a huge loss of face for the Chinese Nation. She must have known that it would drag in sanctimonious, evangelical Eurangloland (NATO, Five Eyes, EU and Israel), preaching and pointing fingers – now at the whole country. Did she think her national and international celebrity would allow her to snub thousands of years of established mores and rituals?

Peng’s timing was also strangely maladroit. She posted her letter right as the country was getting ready to celebrate a big government meeting, enshrining President Xi as the latest great national leader, along with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. This brought added loss of face for the whole country and the people.

To be aligned with Chinese customs, and given her privileged status, Peng could have avoided the local level, hired lawyers or on her own made an official complaint straight to several key members of the 3,000-member National People’s Congress (NPC), or the 300-member executive branch Central Committee, which is where contested citizen complaints end up anyway. Given Xi Jinping’s and the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) zealous control of corruption, Zhang Gaoli would have probably had to face the music, come clean if guilty and paid the price. At the very worst, Peng’s complaint would not be addressed by these high-level bodies, yet as it stands now, proceedings will likely not happen, since Eurangloland is baying for blood and has already appointed itself as humanity’s global arbitrator, which Baba Beijing will not allow.

Zhang is not too powerful to get off the hook. During Xi’s presidency, other Politburo members, generals and many other big names have gone down in judicial flames, for corruption and other assorted crimes. Had Peng done it the Chinese way, she could have gotten the satisfaction of gaining justice in a trial and eventual conviction, both which would have likely been announced in the national media. The West’s arrogant, hubristic, greater-than-thou BLPM chest beating will surely keep this from happening.

Like Jack Ma, who also went into hiding after getting too big for his britches, Peng will resurface in the near future, whereupon Baba Beijing will do its best to maintain Confucian-Daoist-Buddhist social harmony and economic stability for the people. Same as it has been for thousands of years.

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Human Rights are for Everyone!

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people …

The General Assembly,

Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples …

— preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

A few days back, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was angered by ambassadors from ten western countries — US, Germany, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden — who called for the release of Osman Kavala. Originally, Erdogan declared, “These 10 ambassadors must be declared persona non grata at once.” Eventually, Erdoğan would backtrack.

Kavala, often described as a philanthropist in western media, was arrested on 1 November 2017 and charged with “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “attempting to overthrow the government” in connection with the Gezi Park protests. Afterwards, Kavala was imprisoned in the maximum-security facility Silivri near Istanbul.

He was acquitted in February 2020, but soon after charged with involvement in the 15 June 2016 coup attempt. Kavala was also cleared of this accusation, but he was kept in jail on the charge of “political or military espionage.”

The incarceration of Kavala bears similarities with that of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange. However, a glaring difference stands out.

No western governments have spoken out for the human rights of Assange, including his native country, Australia.

However, the United Nations Human Rights Commission did have something to say. Its expert on torture, Nils Melzer, said,

The evidence is overwhelming and clear, 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.

But western governments have been unmoved by such damning news. One might well surmise a tacit condonation among them for torture when carried out by western countries.

Assange is a philanthropist! His sacrifice through WikiLeaks, to inform people of the machinations of their governments (and without error), has thoroughly demonstrated this. Among the files published by WikiLeaks was revealing the CIA hacking tools and extremely notoriously, for the United States and its military, the video Collateral Murder.

The US is out to get Assange for exposing its crimes.


If you don’t understand German turn on the subtitles.

The British court, though, blocked his extradition to the US over concerns for Assange’s mental health and his risk of suicide. Nonetheless, the US appealed. Britain, for some inexplicable reason that defines logic and morality, returned a man who their judge deemed was at mental risk back to — what the UN torture expert said were conditions of “psychological torture” — the high-security Belmarsh Prison.

*****
Of course, justice and human rights must be for all. Kavala must receive justice. Assange must receive justice.

Currently, the US is awaiting a decision from Britain’s High Court on its appeal against the denial of Assange’s extradition by a lower court. The US is pressing ahead with the appeal despite the revelation subsequent to the lower court’s decision that the CIA informer, Sigurdur Thordarson, is a clinically diagnosed sociopath with a history of criminal activity who admitted to lying against Assange.

Human rights are for everyone. It is not just an obligation of governments to abide by their signature on the UNHDR; it is the duty of people of conscience to hold their governments to account, to do what they can to protect Julian Assange and any other wrongfully imprisoned or oppressed people.

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