Category Archives: Torture

Administrative Torture: Free Heba al-Labadi, a Jordanian Citizen in Israeli Prison

On August 20, Heba Ahmed al-Labadi fell into the dark hole of the Israeli legal system, joining 413 Palestinian prisoners who are currently held in so-called administrative detention.

On September 26, Heba and seven other prisoners declared a hunger strike to protest their unlawful detention and horrific conditions in Israeli prisons. Among the prisoners is Ahmed Ghannam, 42, from the village of Dura, near Hebron, who launched his hunger strike on July 14.

Administrative detention is Israel’s go-to legal proceeding when it simply wants to mute the voices of Palestinian political activists, but lacks any concrete evidence that can be presented in an open, military court.

Not that Israel’s military courts are an example of fairness and transparency. Indeed, when it comes to Palestinians, the entire Israeli judicial system is skewed. But administrative detention is a whole new level of injustice.

The current practice of administrative detention dates back to the 1945 Defense (Emergency) Regulations issued by the colonial British authorities in Palestine to quell Palestinian political dissent. Israel amended the regulations in 1979, renaming them to the Israeli Law on Authority in States of Emergency. The revised law was used to indefinitely incarcerate thousands of Palestinian political activists during the Palestinian Uprising of 1987. On any given day, there are hundreds of Palestinians who are held under the unlawful practice.

The procedure denies the detainees any due process, and fails to produce an iota of evidence to as why the prisoner – who is often subjected to severe and relentless torture – is being held in the first place.

Heba, a Jordanian citizen, was detained at the al-Karameh crossing (Allenby Bridge) on her way from Jordan to the West Bank to attend a wedding in the Palestinian city of Nablus.

According to the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network Samidoun, Heba was first held at the Israeli intelligence detention center in Petah Tikva, where she was physically abused and tortured.

Torture in Israel was permissible for many years. In 1999, the Israeli Supreme Court banned torture. However, in 2019, the court explicitly clarified that “interrogational torture is lawful in certain circumstances in Israel’s legal system”. Either way, little has changed in practice before or after the Israeli court’s “clarification”.

Of the dozens of Palestinian and Arab prisoners I interviewed in recent months for a soon-to-be published volume on the history of the Palestinian prison experience, every single one of them underwent a prolonged process of torture during the initial interrogation, that often extended for months. If their experiences differed, it was only in the extent and duration of the torture. This applies to administrative detainees as much as it applies to so-called “security prisoners”.

Wafa Samir Ibrahim al-Bis, a Palestinian woman from Jablaiya refugee camp in Gaza, told me about the years she was held in Israeli jails. “I was tortured for years inside the Ramleh prison’s infamous ‘cell nine’, a torture chamber they designated for people like me,” she said.

“I was hanged from the ceiling and beaten. They put a black bag on my head as they beat and interrogated me for many hours and days. They released dogs and mice in my cell. I couldn’t sleep for days at a time. They stripped me naked and left me like that for days on end. They didn’t allow me to meet with a lawyer or even receive visits from the Red Cross.”

Heba is now lost in that very system, one that has no remorse and faces no accountability, neither in Israel itself, nor to international institutions whose duty is to challenge this kind of flagrant violation of humanitarian laws.

While Israel’s mistreatment of all Palestinian prisoners applies equally regardless of faction, ideology or age, the gender of the prisoner matters insofar as the type of torture or humiliation used. Many of the female prisoners I spoke with explained how the type of mistreatment they experienced in Israeli prisons seemed often to involve sexual degradation and abuse. One involves having female prisoners strip naked before Israeli male interrogators and remaining in that position during the entire duration of the torturous interrogation, that may last hours.

Khadija Khweis, from the town of Al-Tour, adjacent to the Old City of Occupied East Jerusalem, was imprisoned by Israel 18 times, for a period ranging from several days to several weeks. She told me that “on the first day of my arrival at prison, the guards stripped me completely naked”.

“They searched me in ways so degrading, I cannot even write them down. All I can say is that they intentionally tried to deprive me of the slightest degree of human dignity. This practice, of stripping and of degrading body searches, would be repeated every time I was taken out of my cell and brought back.”

Heba and all Palestinian prisoners experience humiliation and abuse on a daily basis. Their stories should not be reduced to an occasional news item or a social media post, but should become the raison d’être of all solidarity efforts aimed at exposing Israel, its fraudulent judicial system and Kangaroo courts.

The struggle of Palestinian prisoners epitomizes the struggle of all Palestinians. Their imprisonment is a stark representation of the collective imprisonment of the Palestinian people – those living under occupation and apartheid in the West Bank and those under occupation and siege in Gaza.

Israel should be held accountable for all of this. Rights groups and the international community should pressure Israel to release Heba al-Labadi and all of her comrades, unlawfully held in Israeli prisons.

Racist Ideology and Practice Rooted in Speciesism

When perceived authorities like President Trump designate immigrants “animals,” they authorize abuse of those officially disparaged people.  Conscience-challenged people predictably seek to enhance their status by carrying out apparent or explicit wishes of adored “leaders.”  Trump probably has not personally killed or rounded up anyone.  Neither have many other authoritarian despots whose policies and rhetoric destroy others’ lives.

It is undeniably urgent and important to repair harm done to people of color under the white boot through the centuries and to ensure equal treatment now and in the future.  But collectively we have known that for a very long time.  Every time victories over racism are achieved, they are declared to be greater than they are, and their intended fruits are not permitted to ripen.  White-supremacist factions of the counterrevolution mobilize to undermine whatever progress has been made, and today the Internet intensifies and accelerates their power and influence.

From thirty years as a full-time animal advocate and long study of connections between abuse of nonhuman animals and human misery, I think there is a root cause of racism that must be addressed, and it isn’t just inveterate racists perpetuating hatred and invidious distinctions.  Rather, the Animal-Abuse Revolution1, animal-abuse culture, and speciesist ideologies generated to rationalize them preceded and laid the mental groundwork for racism.

All human eliminationist campaigns I have explored – Armenia, Cambodia, Germany, Rwanda, and others – use words like “animals,” “cockroaches,” “swine,” “vermin,” “rats,” “snakes,” and “insects” to rally the populace against targeted human beings.  It’s easier to get people to attack fellow humans if you can get them to perceive them as less than human, inherently despised, better dead than alive.  In 1963, Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Paul Johnson (he won) repeatedly joked that NAACP stood for “Niggers, Alligators, Apes, Coons, and Possums.”2  Are we supposed to think he was not complicit in attacks on civil-rights activists or murdered, raped, and lynched black people in all walks of life?

Since Trump’s defamatory rhetoric appeals to people who hear Trump as broadly agreeing with their white-supremacist views, we should hear Trump as triggering attacks on Jews and others perceived as “mud people” by some of his most ardent followers.  It is not surprising that hate crimes are way up under Trump3 despite Trump’s not telling anyone to attack – though he did promise to cover legal fees of anyone who might beat up hecklers at his campaign rallies.

In addition to citizen attacks, we should expect Trump’s invoking nonhuman animals to lower human groups’ status in popular perception to result in extremes of inhumane abuse by government employees with custody of demonized people, and complacency about abuses in the general public.  Intensive confinement in harsh conditions, minimizing health care, and separating children from parents, for example, are routine in industries that practice eugenics and enslavement of nonhuman animals – cattle, chickens, dogs, pigs, turkeys, and others.  I’m not the only one who considers government treatment of many immigrants today crimes against humanity.  And although some protest is taking place, the news industry by and large is not saturating its pages, airwaves, and screens so that we respond collectively to the kind of thing that undermines the American Revolution, our democratic principles, and our innate human morality.

The solution is not merely to target racism, racist rhetoric, right-wing hate groups, or guns.  Those must be done, of course.  But it won’t be enough, as it has not been enough in the past – because it addresses symptoms, ignoring their root causes.

Words matter, as the expression goes.  And no defamation is more dangerous to humans than equating them with nonhuman animals, the targets of by far the longest and largest holocaust.  Speciesism doesn’t just perpetuate abuse of nonhuman animals; it is the foundation of racism and all ideologies that hold some humans less than others.

The Animal-Abuse Revolution dates back many tens of thousands of years to when humans started organizing to kill their natural predators with manufactured weapons.  Since that time, ever more kinds of animal have been victimized for instigators’ and perpetrators’ status, power, and wealth.  Animal abuse continues increasing under persistent speciesist ideology.  It has never diminished.  Consumer-capitalism’s most familiar adage advises that if you invent a better mouse trap, the [human] world will beat a path to your door.

What few people grasp, since civilization and its institutions indoctrinate all of us into speciesism and human supremacy from birth, is that no being is inherently unworthy of life.  Nature doesn’t generate inferior and superior beings, just an infinitely vast and complex web of life.  All beings are genetically interrelated, so when we defame, disparage, target, kill, and persecute other animals, we do those things to our relatives, however distant.  The most distantly related humans share 99.5 percent of each other’s genes, but mosquitos share 50 percent of our genes, bonobos and chimpanzees more than 98 percent, and all of the amazing fish, birds, mammals, and cephalopods a portion in between.

Treating nonhuman animals as evil, dispensable, not entitled to their natural homes, ecosystems, or fulfillment, subject to eugenics, enslavement, confinement, slaughter, mass killing, and cruelty hasn’t benefited human beings, as widely believed: It’s given us nearly all of our infectious and noncommunicable disease epidemics, pollution, climate breakdown, intensifying droughts, floods, and hurricanes, devastated landscapes, ocean dead zones, and other disasters.  A paradoxical consequence is ever more rationalization of animal abuse.  We must make it all appear good so the harm to ourselves, each other, and quadrillions of nonhuman victims is obscured.  How could we live with ourselves otherwise?

So all of us who would like to hold President Trump accountable for his violence-promoting rhetoric and eliminate racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia, and other invidious distinctions among humans must undermine speciesism.  FDR said that after World War II, “Third Reich” would have to be eradicated from the German mind.  To fulfill the promise of the American Revolution and our Constitution, restore the living world, and establish peace and justice, we must eradicate animal-abuse policy and culture and the rhetoric and ideology that sustain them.

  1. I coined the term “Animal-Abuse Revolution” in my December 2014 Dissident Voice article “Let’s Use the Brains Our Species Was Born With
  2. Bruce Watson, Freedom Summer: The Savage Season of 1964 That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy.  New York: Viking, 2010.
  3. Yanqi Xu, “Explaining the Numbers Behind the Rise in Reported Hate Crimes,” Politifact, April 3, 2019.

Several Reasons why West Papua should get its Freedom: Immediately!

More than ten years ago, in Nadi, Fiji, during a UN conference, I was approached by the Minister of Education of Papua New Guinea (PNG).

He was deeply shaken, troubled, his eyes full of tears: “Please help our children,” he kept repeating:

Indonesian army, TNI, is kidnapping our little girls in the villages, raping them, and then… in the most sadistic way cutting off their nipples and clitorises. And if they speak, entire villages get burned down in retribution. Many already have been. Some children managed to escape; to cross the border, from West Papua to PNG. Now they are staying in our refugee camps, but our country is poor; we are hardly coping. Please come to Papua, and we will take you to the border region… please tell the story to the world…

What followed, I described in detail in my book, Oceania. In brief, I managed to scramble some money for my trip from Samoa back to PNG, I found the Minister of Education, but he refused to take me to the camps. I contacted his subordinates as well as local journalists, and was told the same thing:

Nothing has changed; nothing improved; but the Minister was bribed and intimidated by the omnipresent Indonesian embassy.

*****

Now even the mainstream media in Java, including the generally pro-regime English-language daily The Jakarta Post, has had to react to the terrible events which are taking place on the occupied territory of West Papua. On August 19, 2019, Evi Mariani, wrote:

Papuans are said to have endured racial discrimination from the majority Javanese. A political activist from Papua, Filep Karma, wrote in 2014 in his book, Seakan Kitorang Setengah Binatang: Rasialisme Indonesia di Tanah Papua (As If We Are Half Animal: Indonesia’s Racism in Papua Land), that he experienced racism when he studied in a state university in Surakarta, Central Java. He often heard his friends calling Papuans “monkeys”, he said in the book.

The book speaks volumes of the crimes against humanity facing Papuans on their own land.

But what really is happening in West Papua? Of course, foreign journalists are banned from entering and reporting freely from there. Only official Indonesian journalists, basically lackeys of the regime, are regularly flown to the most devastated and oppressed areas. Their lies and twisted ‘reporting’ are the only things that the world is ‘allowed to see’.

Working for years in South Pacific (Oceania), I visited on several occasions, both Papua New Guinea (PNG), and Vanuatu, where the West Papuan resistance has been regrouping. I also have some 25 years of experience, of working in Indonesia itself. And I used to cooperate with a late professor from Sydney University, Peter King, a man who basically dedicated his life to the plight of West Papua. I spoke at Sydney University, side by side with him, recalling my experience from East Timor; from the Indonesian occupation, where 30-40% of the population lost their life, and where I, myself, was savagely tortured in 1996, for trying to expose the systematic gang rapes committed by the Indonesian military, TNI.

While living in Oceania, I spent days discussing the occupation with the West Papuan refugees, who resided outside Port Moresby, the capital of PNG.

I managed to enter West Papua only once, illegally, in 1999, as a ‘side-trip’ while covering the horrific sectarian conflict in Ambon.

From the information and testimonies that I amassed so far, I can clearly see that the occupation of West Papua is, together with the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which is being plundered by both Rwanda and Uganda on behalf of Western corporations and governments and where approximately 8 million people already lost their lives, perhaps the most horrendous genocide taking place on our planet.

But in the region of the Great Lakes of Africa I managed to make my big documentary film, Rwanda Gambit. While in West Papua, I would never be allowed to film, photograph or even openly talk to people. I would never be allowed to enter those monstrous mines controlled by Freeport and other corporations; mines that are being ‘protected’ by the corrupt and murderous Indonesian military.

Prof. Peter King and Prof. John Wing wrote in the Executive Summary to their report “Genocide in West Papua?” (Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, The University of Sydney, 2005):

The report details a series of concerns which, if not acted upon, may pose serious threats to the survival of the indigenous people of the Indonesian province of Papua. It covers the threats posed by the Indonesian military to the province’s stability, the recent increase in large scale military campaigns which are decimating highland tribal communities, the HIV/AIDS explosion and persistent Papuan underdevelopment in the face of a rapid and threatening demographic transition in which the Papuans face becoming a minority in their own land.

A “culture of impunity” exists in Indonesia which sees its highest manifestation currently in Papua and Aceh. Military operations have led to thousands of deaths in Papua and continue to costs lives, yet the Republic’s armed forces act as a law unto themselves with no real accountability for crimes against the Papuan population. The report discusses a number of areas of Indonesian security forces involvement, including: illegal logging and corrupt infrastructure and construction work; destabilization and manipulation of local politics, and orchestration of attacks blamed on pro-Papuan independence groups; the introduction of illegal arms and militia training and recruitment; and prostitution and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The report concludes with a number of urgent recommendations to the Indonesian and Australian governments, the United Nations and other involved parties.

Since 2005, not much has improved. Actually, things have deteriorated even further.

Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson reported on August 31, 2017 in their essay “West Papua’s Silent Genocide“:

The occupation of West Papua receives little attention in the UK. This is, in no small part, due to Indonesia’s ban on foreign journalists and its outlawing of West Papuan social movements who try to speak out internationally. However, West Papua has not been forgotten by international corporations, including companies from the UK. For them, Indonesia’s brutal occupation of West Papua provides lucrative opportunities for profit. 

Mining companies exploit the country’s vast wealth of minerals, with security for their operations provided by the Indonesian military. International arms companies profit from selling Indonesia the weapons it needs to maintain the occupation. The UK government, which gives financial support and training to Indonesian police forces, is also complicit in the repression in West Papua.

West Papuans have called on people in the UK to help stop what they describe as the silent genocide in West Papua.

The Free West Papua Campaign states:

Over 500,000 civilians have been killed in a genocide against the indigenous population. Thousands more have been raped, tortured, imprisoned or ‘disappeared’ after being detained. Basic human rights such as freedom of speech are denied and Papuans live in a constant state of fear and intimidation.

In a series of the official reports, fingers were being pointed at Indonesia and its genocidal behavior in the occupied West Papua. From the United Nations to human rights organizations, a gruesome picture has been emerging.

As mentioned by the “Free West Papua Campaign”:

Sexual assault and rape have been repeatedly used as a weapon by the Indonesian military and police.

In a public report to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in 1999, the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women concluded that the Indonesian security forces used rape “as an instrument of torture and intimidation” in West Papua, and “torture of women detained by the Indonesian security forces was widespread”.

The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Centre for Human Rights prepared a full report on “Rape and Other Human Rights Abuses by the Indonesian Military in Irian Jaya (West Papua), Indonesia”.

Even the otherwise ‘timid’ Amnesty International (timid when it comes to the West’s allies), admits that torture, killings and other grave human rights abuses, are regularly taking place in the Indonesia-controlled territory, in its reports on West Papua.

Information about sexual assaults and rapes highlighted in the above-mentioned U.N. report, is consistent with the behavior of the Indonesian military during and after the 1965-66 military coup, and later, during the occupation and genocide committed in East Timor.

It is important to point out that the Indonesian military and police are enjoying unprecedented impunity. After presiding over the murder of approximately 2 million Communists, intellectuals, teachers and members of the Chinese minority in 1965-66, no culprit has ever been sent to prison. Acts of killing are still being celebrated, publicly. Generals and officers who openly participated in the East Timor genocide, as well as in the on-going genocide in West Papua, have been holding high positions in the Indonesian governments, including the present one.

The monstrous brutality is well documented (even some mainstream media outlets like Al-Jazeera are regularly releasing footage of torture committed by the Indonesian troops), but Indonesia is never dragged through the international courts of justice. It is because Jakarta is a well-tested and greatly reliable ally of Western companies and governments. For instance, it allows many local and Western mining companies to plunder West Papua. The Indonesian President, “Jokowi”, actually flies around the world, asking for “more investment”, promising tax holidays, ‘reforms’ of already pathetic labor laws, and other pro-big-business concessions.

All this is brilliantly exposed in an Australian short (2:39 minute) satire film “Honest Government Ad/Visit West Papua”.

But the world prefers to stay idle. As least for now. No mass-protest movements, like those in support of the Palestinian cause, or even the Kurdish cause.

Why is all this happening?

My close friend, the renown Australian historian, Geoffrey Gunn, Professor Emeritus at Nagasaki University, wrote for this essay:

The crimes committed by the Indonesian military in Papua today appear very similar to East Timor under Indonesian military occupation between 1975-1999 and with some of the same Indonesian officials involved. That would include General Wiranto the butcher of East Timor in 1999 who, far from being brought before an international tribunal Rwanda-style, enjoys cabinet-level appointment in the Jokowi government. But even when Suharto-era crimes could no longer be covered up in East Timor thanks to the courage of crusading journalists and others, so incredulously does the avowedly democratic regime in Jakarta today disallow the entry of humanitarian workers much less foreign media into Papua. If the Western-backed cover up of crimes committed in East Timor was itself a crime of complicity then Western – especially Australian – silence over the agony of the Papuan people over an even longer time frame is a crime of a special order, and with mining company, oil company interests in the fore as if this was the heart of Africa under Leopold II of Belgium.

We saw the same chilling indifference, when 30% to 40% of East Timorese were slaughtered by Indonesia. Again, and again, I was managing to illegally penetrate that then Indonesian colony, which was screaming in pain, shedding thousands and thousands of people every month. And again, and again, my stories were being rejected; no interest whatsoever shown by the mass media outlets.

Then and now. East Timor and West Papua.

And in Indonesia itself, chilling, horrifying defiance. Silence. Almost no activism, and hardly any awareness. The country lives in total denial. Like in the case of 1965-66, like in the case of East Timor; total rejection of the truth. There is near zero chance that the barbarity will stop because of the pressure ‘from within’. Indonesia has proven, again and again, that after being conditioned by decades of extreme fascist ideology, fundamentalist religions, and grotesque individualism, it has no mercy, and no sympathy for its own victims. After mass killings and consistent conditioning, it is now in a serious mental, pathological state.

The government of President Jokowi is nowhere near being deep in thought, considering a referendum on independence for West Papuans. To the contrary: it is ‘investing in infrastructure’ in order to bring even more ‘investment’ from abroad, and to extract even more natural resources.

According to investigation conducted by Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson:

The Indonesian occupation of West Papua is directly related to corporate interests. US company Freeport-McMoRan operates the Grasberg mine in Papua – the largest gold mine and the third largest copper mine in the world. Freeport’s third largest shareholder, Carl Icahn, happens to be a Special Advisor to Donald Trump.

According to the Free West Papua Campaign:

‘Freeport is Indonesia’s biggest taxpayer, making billions of dollars for the Indonesian government every year. Freeport reportedly pays the Indonesian military around US $3 million every year in ‘protection money’, ensuring that local West Papuans are kept out of the area.”

TIME states that “In 2015 alone, Freeport mined some $3.1 billion worth of gold and copper here. In addition, Papua boasts timber resources worth an estimated $78 billion.”

Amos explained the history behind Freeport’s mining in West Papua: “A contract was signed for Freeport to operate in West Papua before we were even part of Indonesia.” With the help of Henry Kissinger, Freeport was awarded the rights to pillage West Papua. Kissinger later became a Freeport board member.

Australian-British corporation Rio Tinto holds an interest in Freeport’s Grasberg mine, which entitles it to 40% of production, over specified levels until 2021, and 40% of all production after 2021. 

Meanwhile, British company BP continues to profit from the occupation through its massive liquified natural gas fields in Tangguh. Kugi told us: “BP’s biggest operation in Southeast Asia is in West Papua, and Papuan communities are also being pushed from their land for palm oil.” According to CorpWatch, an indigenous community in West Papua filed a complaint against Sri Lankan company Goodhope Asia for taking over their land to create a palm plantation.”

In the meantime, the government of Indonesia has been turning the pristine waters of Papuan Raja Ampat into a luxury diving destination, charging horrendous airfares and lodging prices, and making the mainly Western tourist live in a bubble.

And Westerners are now coming, indifferent to the fact that they are actually funding genocide, legitimizing occupation. A boycotting Raja Ampat campaign is unheard of.

Now the Papuan people are rising. Their Morning Star flag, the symbol of resistance, is waving again, all over the island.

The world should support the Papuan people. They have been suffering for decades. Their nation lost hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. Torture, rape and humiliation have been widespread ever since the beginning of the occupation. Religion has been brutally forced down the throats of the robbed people, in many areas of West Papua: ‘You either embrace Islam, or you will starve to death, after we have looted you of all that you used to possess’.

Here, Java and its Western handlers have managed to re-define colonialism, bringing it to a monstrous extreme.

It is a “Freedom or Death” situation, now. Either freedom, or, the total destruction of the nation. The Indonesian President Jokowi is on a selling spree. He is flying all over the world, offering what is left of both Indonesia, and its ‘dependencies’, to the multi-national corporations, for an extremely low price and often, tax free. Papua is not his, and he is well aware of the fact that it may soon find a way to break free from the torture chamber and the horror of Indonesian occupation. That is why he is accelerating his business activities: trying to trade as quickly as possible with what is not his to touch.

* First Published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook – a journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Venezuela: “Landowners Persecute and Murder the Yukpa with Impunity”

The French journalist Angèle Savino lived in Venezuela for thirteen years, during which time she followed closely the conflict between the Yukpa and the major landowners. “After Chavez decided to hand over the land to the Yukpa, the assassinations ensued” – she confides. Convinced that in Venezuela, the indigenous struggle for land is also that of the peasants, Angèle Savino has long developed the idea of making a documentary that pays tribute to these men and women murdered with impunity. This documentary is called “Hau Yuru”. She tells us more in this interview.

*****

Alex Anfruns: To make your film, you have chosen the Sierra de Perijá — on the Colombian-Venezuelan border — and the indigenous community of the Yukpa who have always lived there. What is your relationship with this geography and its inhabitants?

Angèle Savino: It is almost a love story with this Yukpa community, from Chaktapa in the Sierra de Perijá. I met them exactly ten years ago on a trip I made with students from the Bolivarian University in that region. I was a radio journalist, I only had a small audio recorder and a camera, and I wanted to understand a little bit about the complexity of the conflict in the region. I had worked a lot as a press correspondent during Hugo Chavez’s mediation to achieve peace in Colombia. As a result, I wanted to understand more deeply the Colombian conflict and its indirect effects on the border. I had been working for several years with the indigenous people, first in Chile with the Mapuches, then with the indigenous people of Mexico in Oaxaca who had a community radio project and who were then imprisoned… To try to obtain their release, I accompanied some activists to the European Parliament in Brussels, for instance. I was already very much involved in the struggle of the indigenous people for their territory and their rights.

So I went with a group to the Sierra de Perijá region, after being deeply influenced by a conference at the Bolivarian University; the title of the conference was “The conflict as told by women”. At that moment I was greatly impressed by the testimony of Sabino Romero’s wife, his daughter, other women leaders in this community… and I decided to make that trip.

There I met them, and something magical happened: my last name is Savino and I discovered that there was an indigenous rebel leader named Sabino. Something very powerful happened at that moment. I accompanied them in their militant activity until the imprisonment of Sabino Romero. I had done a report for Radio France Internationale because I was working there at that time.

Angela Savino had a “magical” meeting with the rebel leader Yukpa Sabino Romero in 2009, in the Sierra de Perijá.

AA: It is known that in 1999 the Venezuelan Constitution granted rights to indigenous communities for the first time. Based on your experience with the Yukpa, would you say they are respected?

AS: In trying to understand this issue, I realized that in Venezuela there was a lot of talk about recognized indigenous rights; Chavez had been a voice for the recognition of indigenous rights, which helped to give them visibility… but I had the impression that everything was not so simple. I had previously been to the Pemones region and I realized that the issue of demarcating indigenous lands was a complex one.

When Sabino Romero came out of prison, Chávez realized that he too had his hands somewhat tied in relation to this land problem because there is a lot of interest in mining resources in this region, especially coal. Chávez, who was already sick in 2011, decided to hand over the land to the Yukpa. It was from that moment that the murders began. Sabino Romero was the first to be attacked, of course. In April 2012, he had escaped an assassination attempt, then he came to Caracas and I interviewed him there. I decided to make a film about him. He agreed.

At the end of 2012 there was another event: after Chávez’s re-election, the transfer of land had not progressed. Chavez may have ordered it, but there were alliances between the former minister of indigenous peoples and bureaucrats linked to the power of landowners and multinational mining companies, which blocked the transfer.

Sabino Romero went back to Caracas, accompanied by about fifty Yukpas. They tried to stop them from speaking, but all the social movements mobilized and it was finally broadcast on national television on November 9, 2012. He was received by William Castillo, the journalist who was president of VTV at the time. He expressed the contradictions of the Revolution but also his support for Chávez and his willpower. He said this phrase that I remember perfectly: “I am here to revolutionize the country and myself”. He insisted that he was a revolutionary and also a Chavista, but that he wanted to denounce absolutely the manipulations, the false officials, instrumentalised by certain branches of power, including some soldiers, bureaucrats, landowners, not to mention the complexity of the border with Colombia and paramilitaries.

AA: Can you tell us about the event you referred to earlier?

AS: Yes, it was Chavez’s speech known as the “golpe de timón “, with the slogan “communa o nada”, on October 20, 2012. During his fourteen years in power, Chavez spoke a lot about indigenous issues, but during this self-criticism he addressed them again. His speech took place just after a confrontation between the landowners and the Yukpa, on a piece of land that was to be handed over to them. Zenaida, Sabino’s daughter, had been injured.

After that, Chávez’s illness gave Sabino’s murderers an unimaginable opportunity to act with ease, since he had received protection from the state, but at the same time many decisions were focused on Chávez. When Sabino was on television, after years of censorship, perhaps he felt that with that media coverage he had finally been heard and that he had less need to protect himself.

He was assassinated shortly after, during the election of the new chief officers. He opposed the election of one of those caucuses, which was linked to the landowners to defend their interests. It was March 3, 2013, two days before Chávez’s death (emotion temporarily interrupts this conversation, NdR).

AA: We understand that this disappearance was what pushed you to follow the documentation of this conflict?

AS: Exactly. After that difficult moment, I decided to return there. Then something very important happened: I realised that the women who had always accompanied me were the protagonists of this silence. They had always been present. Since Sabino would no longer be able to speak, I addressed the women. I went to the Sierra, did some interviews in May 2013 and little by little I came up with the idea of making a film to tell the story of the journey of the Yukpa women, who would recall the key moments of their lives.

“Sabino lives, his struggle continues,” says Angèle Savino’s t-shirt, which still accompanies the Yukpa women’s struggle, ten years after the meeting.

This journey began in the Sierra de Perijá, where Lucía Romero, Sabino Romero’s wife, was born. It was also a return to the roots, but if the film started there, it was also because those mountains are not the place where the Yukpa originally lived, but where they were pushed by the landowners who seized the fertile lands.

The woman would tell of her childhood, her encounter with Sabino, her love story and then the descent to the lowlands. She would travel there with four other women: Anita, Sabino Romero’s cousin, who also fought hard for Yukpa rights. She is the chieftain of another community; Kuse. Four of his sons were murdered, one of them before the death of Sabino, who had been in prison with him. There is also Ana Maria, who is Anita’s daughter. And then Guillermina, the daughter of Sabino Romero, witness to the murder of his grandfather in 2008, Atancha José Manuel Romero. And one last character that was recently added, Marys, who is also Anita’s daughter. Initially, she was not in the script and then she prevailed, as she was the victim of a kidnapping in November 2018. She was tortured for a week and saved from death in extremis.

AA: Are you saying that the persecution of this community is still going on?

AS: Yes, the current situation related to the economic crisis has led to an increase in cattle trafficking to Colombia. It is a place of passage and the conflict is still very strong. This makes the situation quite complex if we want to understand what happened more recently…

AA: Mining companies are present in this border region, both in Colombia and Venezuela. Can you elaborate on their impact in the region?

AS: The Sierra de Perijá is a geographical area located at the end of the Colombian Cerrejón, which is the largest open-pit coal mine in Latin America and one of the largest in the world. This area contains high quality coal, which is being sold at a higher price, but there is not only coal. As Sabino explained, there is also gold, uranium, lime and oil, of course. Obviously, there are many interests at stake.

It is said that Chávez was born of the “Caracazo”. Well, Sabino Romero was born out of an encounter with an environmental activist named Lusbi Portillo who founded the NGO Homo et Natura, which was criminalized by the government for years. She was accused of being a cover for the CIA, etc. That was nonsense. This encounter between Sabino and Portillo was a very important moment, Portillo was a professor at the university and helped in the fight against coal mining, which had begun with the Wayuu people of the northern Sierra de Perijá. In the area near the Guajira there are two open-pit coal mines that have completely destroyed the area and the Wayuu have been decimated. There have been many illnesses related to coal mining, with the displacement of populations, of course. This left a mark on Sabino Romero, who said to himself: “I don’t want this to happen to my community”. This is also a story of awareness of the indigenous people and in particular of Sabino Romero, which was an outstanding case.

What is certain is that it is a region very rich in mineral resources and, in addition, it is part of the IIRSA (Infrastructure for the Integration of Latin America) axis. It is a huge project of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, which plans to build highways and river highways throughout Latin America. This is one of the reasons for the TIPNIS (Indian Territory and Isiboro-Secure National Park in Spanish, NdR) conflict in Bolivia. Chávez himself signed this convention in 2000 in Canada. He had just been elected president, he could not do anything else because it was something so big that he could not afford to oppose it, and he was not supported by other presidents, ALBA did not exist! This IIRSA axis affects both Colombia and Venezuela.

AA: And precisely what is the relationship between these companies and the Venezuelan state?

AS: When I discovered this conflict in 2009, there was something very special about it. The indigenous people had managed to reach an agreement with the landowners. The Cattlemen’s Association said: “It’s okay that they keep part of their land, but we need them to pay compensation: for years we’ve been producing on this land, etc.”. So this harmed the government in some way.

I even asked Chávez: “Can the demarcation of the land and the payment of compensation resolve the conflict in the Sierra de Perijá? And he replied quite rightly: “If we have to pay compensation, we will do so in some cases, but we must not forget that the owners have to leave, because they are the only ones who have appropriated the indigenous lands, it is not us”. It sounds good in words, but, in fact. it is more complicated. Chávez always said “Indians first”. The second is the state and the third is those who came after: the cattle ranchers, the displaced peasants from Colombia, the Wayuu too … So it is a complex situation.

One of the possibilities to demarcate the indigenous land and hence avoid future exploitation of mineral resources was to pay compensation to the farmers in the context of land demarcation. This is where the conflict occurred. There was already a “revolutionary bourgeoisie”, which unfortunately is increasingly visible at this time in Venezuela. The Minister of Agriculture himself uses this term, and enrages the peasants who are being evicted from their lands by the landowners in complicity with certain governors. Because the conflict between indigenous people and peasants is the same. A few days ago, the anniversary of the admirable Peasant March of 2018 was celebrated, and the situation is unchanged or worse: 25 peasants were killed in one year and more than 300 since 2001.

Two months after the murder of Sabino Romero, the state finally paid compensation for the lands of Chaktapa. But Kuse’s lands have not yet been demarcated. The landowners see themselves as the legitimate owners of these lands, and persecute and murder the Yukpa with impunity. On the issue of mineral resources, there is complicity between certain members of the government, the military, the landowners and the paramilitaries, of course. It is a zone of no rights. Natural resources are extremely attractive.

To return to the subject of this conflict and especially the case of Marys, she was kidnapped and tortured by a landowner who wanted to recover her land. In 2008, her mother received a loan from Chávez to raise cows and make cheese. The landowner hired Yukpas to create a conflict within this ethnic group, as well as guerrillas. After her kidnapping, Marys was received by the country’s deputy prosecutor, the Ministry of Education, the Minister of Communes, former vice-president Elias Jaua also received her… She was strongly supported by the institutions of the Revolution that want impunity to end; but the most urgent issue today is to establish a peace dialogue among the Yukpa themselves. Those who benefit from this conflict are the landowners, and they like to see them kill each other. And the Yukpa are Caribs, they are warriors, they are very combative. This negotiating table must be established, as in the case of the war in Colombia, and there must be a demarcation of indigenous lands so that natural resources cannot be exploited. It depends on the good will of President Nicolás Maduro.

AA: Since July 30, 2017, there is a Constituent Assembly, whose objective is to improve the 1999 Constitution. There is also a Minister of People’s Power for Indigenous Peoples, Aloha Nuñez. What is your impression of the debates taking place in this constituent process?

AS: It’s quite complicated. Aloha Núñez has received Marys Fernández, the latest victim of this conflict. But the institutions are not present on the ground. The message does not reach its destination. When Sabino Romero’s son and his mother return to the Governorate of Maracaibo, they are ignored. The activists in Caracas have a network of support in the institutions to welcome these women organized in the association Oripanto Oayapo Tuonde (women for the defense of the territory) and it is in this context that they manage to be received. Last time, she came with all the witnesses of her kidnapping to testify in front of the Public Ministry, in Caracas, because the Machiques prosecutor’s office is completely corrupted by the landowners who have real power in this region. Those connections also exist in Maracaibo. It is complicated, you have to constantly be moving to achieve justice.

What we are asking Aloha Nuñez today is to facilitate this dialogue. Because today there are divisions among the Yukpa. And these divisions are linked to the fact that the landowners have formed their own indigenous groups that defend their oppressors.

AA: To make the story of your film, you let yourself be guided by these Yukpa women. In your opinion, the transmission of a collective and feminine voice is capable of bringing something that has not been seen or heard until now?

AS: That’s right, that’s exactly what it is. Lucía is an incredible woman, she is a fighter. The film could be about her, but I chose a women’s collective because I think she’s not the only woman fighting. Despite being Sabino’s wife, Lucía has never been behind him, she is a woman with a very strong character, who certainly doesn’t speak very good Spanish. In my filming I will ask her to tell her story in Yukpa, because it is obvious that it is not the usual way to tell it. Women’s voices are essential: they have a different way of describing conflict, because as women with children, they carry life within them. It is also their children who will be able to continue Sabino Romero’s struggle.

Furthermore, if we speak in the more general context of the Bolivarian Revolution, where white, black, Indian, peasant and working women have appropriated power… I think they have learned how to say to themselves: “We can also speak, we can also fight for our land”. It is true that Lucía, Anita and Carmen are women brimming with a force that leaves us breathless. Four of their children have been murdered and they are still standing! They have a special feminine perspective: they are mothers, daughters, widows. Guillermina is a woman who lost two murdered husbands, Ana María had three murdered brothers. They are the ones who continue, because there are no more men in these lands. Their words are really important.

Assange’s Persecution Rides on Feeble Lies

Remember when it was obligatory to call Julian Assange paranoid?

That changed in March when the first of 18 US indictments confirmed designs to get him. All charges pertain to Wikileaks data that made him famous in 2010. Hard proof that hounding ensued from those initial releases accordingly forced the punditry to reconsider at least one of its armchair diagnoses of Assange.

Though most are unaware of the details, such hostile pursuit has concerned more than a few countries and institutions. UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, recently stated that 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, demonize and abuse a single individual for such a long time.”

This follows upon the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s finding in 2015, reiterated in 2018, that Assange had been continuously arbitrarily detained in one from or another since 2010.

The official US reaction to Melzer’s report has naturally been to decry the content. It starts upon this with a certain fable of righteousness, which implies that a dog snarling into the hole of a rabbit does not confine it there:

Mr Assange voluntarily stayed in the embassy to avoid facing lawful criminal charges pending against him. As such his time in the embassy did not constitute confinement and was in no way arbitrary.

Like the term ‘confinement,’ the word ‘arbitrary’ is a weasel in this particular fable. It does not function in human rights law to imply any lack of rationale, but to identify the rationale of some authority as crucially unprincipled. Where such a fault applies it is likely to be ignored, misrepresented and/or distracted from by the culpable authority. Hence, as in the quote above, they tend to assert some righteous motive, real or fictional, as centrally vindicating.

It is common and wrong for those reprimanded to respond this way, since their place is to respect the findings of UN appointees and if necessary, reasonably correspond with them. The entire point of international law is that countries are legally held to account. In terms of the presently relevant human rights covenants, this involves a regime of independent assessment as to whether they are complying with the covenants they ratified. No brute enforcement applies here and the system should work perfectly well without it, if only the signatories abide by it in good faith.

In this primary and neglected context, the account that the US has given of itself has been a spectacular self-incrimination. The two sentences quoted above happen to assert the main premise of Assange and appointees from the UN who saw fit to defend him. For it is plainly implied in the quote that staying in the embassy was the logical means he appropriated to avoid negative repercussions intentionally prepared for him by the US in response his publishing.

The US is accordingly reduced to pretending that, as claimed above, the charges are internationally and nationally lawful. There is nothing to back this up other than legal paragraphs that have been long shunned, relentless obfuscation and a bully’s glare. The charges have been nigh universally denounced as an unprecedented threat to democracy which contradicts the letter and spirit of the US first amendment.

The response to Melzer from the US accordingly backfires and largely because its position from the outset has been foreign to reason. Its officials were obliged to reply to Melzer and apparently felt they managed to do this without committing to an abortive position. If so, they were deeply mistaken for reasons above, and also below.

The letter took exception to any notion that narratives about Assange, or indeed “commentary” in general, could be “cruel, inhuman or degrading…as defined by the Convention on Torture.”

Exclusion of the linguistic modes of relevant abuse is, however, clearly tendentious and searching the terms reveals that, contra the claim, they are nowhere defined or otherwise relevantly qualified in that convention.

This apparent chicanery culminates in the charge that, in virtue of finding fault with injurious disinformation, Melzer’s report has “dangerous implications for freedom of expression.” There is one clear sense in which that is true. An emerging sport of persecuting publishers could become endangered if human rights law had a chilling effect upon smearing them.

These positions taken by the US are in reaction to Melzer specifying concerted defamation as contributing to the debilitating and life-threatening persecution of Assange over a decade.

Without that malicious campaign, none of the gross injustice that he has endured, or which still looms, could have gained a foothold. Complicity of the press is therefore at the heart of this story.

Much has been said of the leading role taken by the Guardian here, but consider this deceptively bland token from the Washington Post which featured in its report on Melzer’s earlier statements:

Assange regularly complained about how Ecuador treated him while he took refuge in a corner room of its red-brick embassy. He unsuccessfully sued the Foreign Ministry last year over demands that he pay for his medical bills and clean up after his cat — among other conditions he said were intended to force him from the embassy. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also dismissed his complaints.

The first critical omission here is the reason his mentioned suit did not succeed. It was mindfully passed by an Ecuadorian judge into a fenced pit, previously known as Ecuador’s Constitutional Court. This had been shut down two months before Assange’s suit and was rebooted another three months later, with all-new, US-partial judges and a backlog of 13,000 cases.

So Assange’s team approached the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, which did not dismiss his complaints, as misreported above by the Post. Rather, it admonished Ecuador not to violate his rights by breaking asylum law with an act of expulsion, as starkly threatened in its foisted “protocol.” The IACHR refused nothing to Assange besides precautionary measures to prevent this expulsion, which transpired a month later, to their natural embarrassment. These points only further establish Melzer’s finding of illegal abuse by Ecuador and decimate the tales from the Post.

Also unmentioned were Ecuador’s included prohibition on his free expression and a crackdown on privacy of his visitors. Instead, Assange was portrayed as whining about such things as medical bills and pet care. Yet Ecuador never paid a health bill for him and nobody ever thought to ask them to. Nor did Assange or his legal team ever protest any stipulation about his cat, except as a baseless insinuation of neglect on his part, which was strategic and virally effective.

Fidel Narvaez, consul at the embassy for the first six years of Assange’s stay, witnessed the beginning of his persecution under the new President Moreno. Narvaez describes Assange a friend whose relations with permanent staff were always respectful and abidingly positive. The media chorus that “he wore out his welcome” thus evinces horrendous incompetence or worse. He was unwelcome only to political enemies in Ecuador, and that from the day he sought asylum. Moreno revealed his position here by speaking of Assange as “stone in the shoe” and “inherited problem,” while former President Correa remains outspoken in defence of Assange and denounces Moreno for betraying his party and country upon taking power.

The informed side of this controversy is not the orthodox one and Melzer has called the bluff of a lie-infused Western establishment. Hence all that is required to win this debate is to force it. That is why he speaks up, with hard and documented facts, and why we must follow suit.

The Murdering of Julia Assange

Julian Assange is being slowly murdered by “Her Majesty’s Prison Service” at Belmarsh prison in the south-east of London. The prison is notorious for holding people who have never been charged with a crime indefinitely. It is also called the British version of Guantanamo, and, typically used to detain so-called terrorists, thus called by the British police and secret service and aped by the British MSM and establishment. Terrorists that become terrorists by continuous and repeated accusations, by media propaganda, but not necessarily by fact. Remember, if a lie is repeated often enough it becomes the truth in the minds of the braindead listeners. It’s indoctrination of the public to demonize somebody or a group of people, or a country, who could become dangerous for the empire’s vicious and criminal endeavors. That’s what they are doing with Julian Assange. Exactly the same principal is applied, though on a different scale, against President Putin and against Russia and China. And it seems to work in a brainwashed-to-the-core, western society, ran by their spineless European US-vassalic leadership.

Yes, what is happening to Julian Assange could happen to any journalist who reveals the inconvenient truth about the empire and its minions’ criminal machinations, any journalist – or non-journalist, whistleblower, for that matter – anyone who dares standing up to the AngloZionist atrocities may end up in Guantanamo or Belmarsh which is considered a Type A prison for adult men, meaning, a “serious” prison, where “dangerous” detainees are held for as long as Her Majesty’s Prison Service considers necessary, and prisoners’ treatments are held secret and include torture.

Julian Assange’s case goes even farther than breaking all the rules of “democratic” free speech. The way he is treated is a serious infraction on Human Rights. The US and British governments intend to silence and punish a champion of free speech, torturing him for the world to see, and especially as a deterrent for would-be whistleblowers and other free-speech advocates.

Julian Assange has been condemned to a ‘temporary’ prison sentence of 50 weeks for jumping bail, when he sought and was granted refuge in 2012 in the Ecuadorian Embassy. And why did he jump bail? Because he was about to be extradited to neofascist Sweden, who acting in the name of Washington, accused him with phony rape and sexual misconduct charges, from where he would have most likely been extradited to the US where he might have faced a kangaroo court and a fake trial with a possible death sentence, or indefinite incarceration at Guantanamo.

That’s why he jumped bail and why he escaped to the Ecuadorian Embassy, because western injustice was already then played out with false propaganda, for everyone, but the blind and indoctrinated, to see. Rafael Correa, then President of Ecuador, saw the truth behind it all and granted Julian asylum, and later gave him Ecuadorian citizenship – which in 2018 was revoked by Correa’s traitor and fascist successor, US-implant, Lenin Moreno, who, as a reward, it is said, got an IMF loan of US$ 4.2 billion to help the government carry out its neoliberal economic reform program, meaning undoing much of the social programs of improving economic equality for the Ecuadorian population, implemented during the Correa presidency.

Well, how sick can that be?  Unfortunately, acting pathologically or even psychopathically in today’s world is fully accepted. It’s the new normal. This means we are living in an almost-terminally ill, corrupt and utterly brainwashed society – to be precise, western society. “Almost-terminally” means that there is only dim hope of healing for the utter lack of conscientiousness of western society. Hope of western people’s awakening is fading, as it is sliding ever deeper into a bottomless abyss.

Julian Assange was first accused by Washington of fake charges of computer hacking and conspiring to defraud the United States. In fact, what this is all about is the 2010 publication by Wikileaks of the infamous video that circulated the world a million times, depicting the purposeful, malicious ‘collateral killing’ of harmless civilians by the crew of a US Army helicopter – and of other data of atrocious acts of the US military revealed by Chelsea Manning, and published by Wikileaks. Chelsea Manning has been and is herself serving prison sentences.

Despite the fact that this little video has been seen around the world probably by more than a billion people, nobody went on the barricades – on an endless mass-demonstration – to stop the rogue-state and killing machine United States of America from committing its daily and deadly crimes. Nobody. And the killing goes on. And Washington is doing its utmost to silence every future revealing of their atrocities, by silencing Julian Assange, and intimidating any potential future truth-revealer.

They have now 50 weeks, while he is hidden away in a British Guantanamo-like prison, to slowly kill him on behalf of and as a little favor to Washington, so he doesn’t have to be extradited and the US is spared being exposed to the kangaroo trial that Julian would otherwise receive. If he dies a “natural” death in a British prison, Trump may wash his bloody hands in innocence, and those in Congress who want to send a CIA squadron to murder Assange – I kid you not they are not ashamed to openly say so – will also be able to whitewash their criminal and bloody minds. Nobody will ever know what really happened behind Her Majesty’s prison walls.  There will be some flareups in the media – and then all quiets down. As usual. The Wikileaks founder will be gone and all potential whistleblowers and truth-seeking journalists will be on their guard. Objective achieved.

In the meantime and to reach that objective, Julian is most likely being tortured, possibly physically and psychologically. Julian Assange has suffered “prolonged exposure to psychological torture”, the UN’s torture expert, Nils Melzer, said in a BBC interview, and urged Britain not to extradite Assange to Washington. According to retired USAF lieutenant colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, he may have been doped with psychotropic drugs, like 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate, known as BZ that produces hallucinations, mental confusion and memory loss. This may have been the reason, why he was unable to speak clearly, and to participate in a Swedish Court hearing and had to be transferred to the hospital wing of Her Majesty’s Belmarsh prison. One of the few pictures that emerged at the time of his transfer to the hospital was one of a zombie.

Let’s just hope that I‘m totally wrong with this scenario – and that people’s pressure (at this point it would be a miracle) will pry Julian loose from the lethal fangs of the empire and its minions.

The Western world keeps looking on. Worse, they even support Her Majesty’s Prison Service, to which Julian Assange is subjected. They largely applauded the brutal British arrest of Julian Assange, when the police dragged him out of the Ecuadorian Embassy into a van and off to preventive custody, and hours later he was convicted to 50 weeks on a phony charge for jumping bail.

What can be said – is not better said than by Paul Craig Roberts, “If the world stands for the US / UK / Swedish judicial murder of an innocent man, the world does not deserve to exist another second.” Amen.

Findings of Torture: The UN Rapporteur and Julian Assange

Another crude and sad chapter, yet more evidence of a system’s vengeance against its challengers.  Julian Assange, like they dying Roman emperor Vespasian, may be transforming into a god of sorts, but the suffering of his mortal physical is finding its mark.  While some in the cynical, narcissistic press corps still find little to commend his case, the movement to highlight his fate, and the extra-territorial vengeance of the United States, grows.

Often reviled and dismissed as ineffectual if not irrelevant, the United Nations has offered Assange some measure of protection through its articulations and findings.  Ironically enough, powers happy to regard the UN as a mere bauble of international relations in not protecting human rights have dismissed it when action does take place.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, for instance, found in 2016 that the publisher’s conditions of confinement in the Ecuadorean embassy amounted to arbitrary detention.  “The Working Group considered that Mr Assange has been subjected to different forms of deprivation of liberty: initial detention in Wandsworth prison which was followed by house arrest and his confinement at the Ecuadorean embassy.”

The Working Group took the long view: to suggest that he had a choice in leaving the embassy at any point was farfetched and myopic.  Specific reference to the shoddy Swedish prosecution effort against Assange (“lack of diligence… in its investigations”) was also made, as it compounded the element of arbitrariness.  Any request to question him in Sweden could hardly be seen as “benign”.  How right they were.

Notwithstanding that, a resounding sneer from the British authorities, a bevy of black letter lawyers, and newspapers followed.  “He is not being detained arbitrarily,” The Guardian editorialised with its usual fair-friend weathered disposition.  The Working Group’s finding, according to international law authority Philippe Sands, was “poorly reasoned and unpersuasive”. Assange best give up the ghost and face the music.

This week, Professor Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, came to a conclusion as unsurprising as it was necessary.  After visiting Assange at the maximum security facility at Belmarsh on May 9, the UN official found that the publisher had been subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.  This was all part of him becoming the cause célèbre of “a relentless campaign of public mobbing, intimidation and defamation […] not only in the United States, but also in the United Kingdom, Sweden and, more recently, Ecuador.”  These governments had, be it through “an attitude of complacency at best, and of complicity at worst […] created an atmosphere of impunity encouraging Mr Assange’s uninhibited vilification and abuse.”

The fresh list of charges from US prosecutors – 17 additions to spice those centred on computer intrusion and conspiracy – alarmed Melzer.  “My most urgent concern is that, in the United States, Mr Assange would be exposed to a real risk of serious violations of his human rights, including his freedom of expression, his right to a fair trial and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The cumulative and crushing effect of the charges – potentially 175 years imprisonment – astonished Melzer.  “This may well result in a life sentence without parole, or possibly even the death penalty, if further charges are added in the future.”  To this can be added a nine-year period of systematic judicial abuse, arbitrary confinement, oppressive isolation, harassment, embassy surveillance by Ecuador and the “deliberative collective ridicule, insults and humiliation, to open instigation of violence and even repeated calls for his assassination.”

While the conditions in Belmarsh do not currently make the grade of solitary confinement, they have been severe and inhospitable enough to cause concern.  Visits by Assange’s legal team are limited and sporadic; access to necessary case files and documents has been curbed, impairing chances of adequately preparing his legal defence.

Melzer also has a dig against the broader effort to attack journalism, with Assange as figurehead. “Since 2010, when WikiLeaks started publishing evidence of war crimes and torture committed by US forces, we have seen a sustained and concerted effort by several States towards getting Mr Assange extradited to the United States by prosecution, raising serious concern over the criminalisation of investigative journalism in violation of both the US constitution and international human rights law.”

Medical experts who accompanied Melzer on his visit also expressed opinions on Assange’s health, finding that his health had been “seriously affected by the extremely hostile and arbitrary environment he has been exposed to for many years.”  Physical ailments were found alongside the “symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma.”

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, taking a dog-eared leaf out of the book of excuses used against the Working Group, dismissed Melzer’s findings.  Assange always had an unimpaired, free choice (that word again).  “Assange chose to hide in the embassy and was always free to leave and face justice. The UN Special Rapporteur should allow British courts to make their judgments without his interference or inflammatory accusations.”

The BBC also noted the views of a justice ministry spokesperson, keen to disabuse sceptics that the British justice system might be suffering from judicial wear and tear.  The UK did not, it was asserted, participate in torture; its judges were independent and rights to appeal could be exercised.

The response to Hunt from the good professor was sharp: Assange “was about as ‘free to leave’ as a [sic] someone sitting on a rubberboat in a sharkpool.”  In his view, “UK courts have not shown the impartiality and objectivity required by the rule of law.”

Melzer’s words suffice as a damningly grim biography on the treatment levelled at Assange and the broader enterprise of publishing.  For two decades, having worked with “victims of war, violence and political persecution,” the rapporteur had “never seen a group of democratic States gang up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law.”

The UN Torture Report On Assange Is An Indictment Of Our Entire Society

On the eighth of April, shortly before London police forcibly carried WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorian embassy, a doctor named Sondra S Crosby wrote a letter to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights requesting that the office look into Assange’s case. Today, following a scorching rebuke of multiple governments by UN Special Rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer, mass media outlets around the world are reporting that Julian Assange has been found to be the victim of brutal psychological torture.

Melzer, who by his own admission began his investigation as someone who had “been affected by the same misguided smear campaign as everybody else” regarding Assange, speaks of Assange’s plight with the fresh-eyed ferocity of a man who has not been immersed in a soul-corroding career in establishment politics or mass media. A man has not been indoctrinated into accepting as normal the relentless, malicious character assassinations of the western political/media class against a publisher of inconvenient facts about the powerful. A man who, when looking deeply and objectively into the facts with uncorrupted vision, was able to see clearly just how unforgivably abusive Assange’s treatment has been.

“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,” Melzer said. “The collective persecution of Julian Assange must end here and now!”

Melzer condemned attempts to extradite Assange to the US under the Espionage Act, as well as what he called “a relentless and unrestrained campaign of public mobbing, intimidation and defamation against Mr. Assange, not only in the United States, but also in the United Kingdom, Sweden and, more recently, Ecuador.”

“According to the expert, this included an endless stream of humiliating, debasing and threatening statements in the press and on social media, but also by senior political figures, and even by judicial magistrates involved in proceedings against Assange,” the OHCHR statement reads.

“In the course of the past nine years, Mr. Assange has been exposed to persistent, progressively severe abuse ranging from systematic judicial persecution and arbitrary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, to his oppressive isolation, harassment and surveillance inside the embassy, and from deliberate collective ridicule, insults and humiliation, to open instigation of violence and even repeated calls for his assassination,” Melzer said.

“It was obvious that Mr. Assange’s health has been seriously affected by the extremely hostile and arbitrary environment he has been exposed to for many years,” said Melzer. “Most importantly, in addition to physical ailments, Mr. Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma.”

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

“I condemn, in the strongest terms, the deliberate, concerted and sustained nature of the abuse inflicted on Mr. Assange and seriously deplore the consistent failure of all involved governments to take measures for the protection of his most fundamental human rights and dignity,” Melzer added.

It is hugely significant that a UN expert has included the massive anti-Assange smear campaign in his assessment of psychological abuse. For far too long this devastating psychological weapon of the powerful has gone fully normalized and unacknowledged for the damage and suffering it causes, and now an authoritative voice has pointed it out and called it into public consciousness for the depraved manipulation that it is. It’s a very interesting development to see western governments and their media stenographers condemned in this way for their participation in such savagery.

Responses to Melzer’s findings have been explosive. Virtually every major media outlet in the English-speaking world has been carrying headlines about this story, from the New York Times to the Washington Post to Fox News to CNN to the Guardian to the BBC to the Herald Sun. An attempt to regain control of the narrative by the accused governments, therefore, was, of course, quick to follow.

“This is wrong,” tweeted Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in response to the story. “Assange chose to hide in the embassy and was always free to leave and face justice. The UN Special Rapporteur should allow British courts to make their judgements without his interference or inflammatory accusations.”

Abusers always demand the right to conduct their abuse in private.

Hunt, who’d just returned from hanging out with the Trump administration’s warmongering psychopath John Bolton, received a direct response from Melzer himself.

“With all due respect, Sir: Mr Assange was about as ‘free to leave’ as a someone sitting on a rubber boat in a shark pool,” Melzer tweeted. “As detailed in my formal letter to you, so far, UK courts have not shown the impartiality and objectivity required by the rule of law.”

We reject any suggestion by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture that the Australian Government is complicit in psychological torture or has shown a lack of consular support for Mr Assange,” reads a statement by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. “The Special Rapporteur has not been in contact with the Australian Government to raise these concerns directly. The Australian Government is a staunch defender of human rights and a strong advocate for humane treatment in the course of judicial processes. We are confident that Mr Assange is being treated appropriately in Belmarsh Prison.

Assange has, in fact, grown so ill in Belmarsh Prison that he is reportedly unable to carry out a lucid conversation, and has been losing a drastic amount of weight. His failing health has been an established fact for a year and a half, with doctors warning at the beginning of last year that conditions in the Ecuadorian embassy are placing his physical well being in serious danger, and has the entire time been pathetically ignored by the government of Assange’s home country.

Menzer’s report is an indictment on our entire society. It’s an indictment of the US-centralized western power alliance. It’s an indictment of the politicians, opaque government agencies and plutocrats who lead that alliance. It’s an indictment of the mass media who regurgitate whatever their government tells them to into the minds of a credulous populace. It’s an indictment of everyone who has ever helped spread the smear campaign against Assange, wherever they may have spread it; every remark, every social media comment, every share and retweet. The entire abusive construct has been outed as exactly what it is, from top to bottom.

So things have been severely shaken up. A massive smear campaign spanning all western nations across all political sectors has been pulled into the spotlight of public consciousness, mass media outlets who’ve devoted huge amounts of resources to assassinating Assange’s character have been forced to report a major revelation coming directly from the United Nations, Assange supporters can now officially say with full authority that his persecutors have literally tortured him, and establishment narrative managers are fighting on the back foot.

And right now all I can feel is gratitude. Gratitude toward Dr Crosby for writing to the UN after examining Assange, gratitude toward Nils Melzer for going to visit him in Belmarsh with an open mind and a compassionate heart, and, most importantly, gratitude toward Julian Assange. Gratitude to him for never giving up this fight.

I mean, think about it. Imagine if Assange had just gone to Sweden when he was told to? He would have surely been extradited to the United States years ago, wrongfully prosecuted in an Eastern District of Virginia court proceeding impossibly rigged against him, and by now the world would have all but forgotten him. He could have laid down, he could have given up, he could have died in that embassy in any number of ways. He had so many off-ramps he could have taken from the psychological torture that he has been subjected to since exposing US war crimes in 2010, but he chose to stand and fight instead. He decided that if they wanted his head, they were going to have to work for it.

Because of that decision, because Julian Assange decided to stand his ground and trade blows toe-to-toe with the most powerful empire in the history of human civilization, he forced them to expose themselves. He forced the oppression machine to reveal its true face, by coordinating across national borders to drag him bodily out of the embassy, locking him in a cage, waging a war upon the free press with outrageous espionage charges, and finally being found guilty of torturing a journalist for publishing factual documents about the powerful.

We have all that information now. It can’t be unseen. Because Assange chose to fight, we now have that evidence and we can use it to help wake people up to the true face behind the smiling mask of “liberal democracy” we’ve all been told to believe in since grade school. Even while imprisoned, sick, and barely even able to speak, Julian Assange is still exposing these bastards for what they are.

Don’t let his example go to waste.

• First published at Caitlin Johnstone.com

Russia warns Bolton: “Monroe Doctrine” Remarks are Insulting to Latin America

What is the ‘Monroe Doctrine’? In brief, it is a document which defines the entire Western Hemisphere as a ‘backyard’ of the United States. It ‘philosophically’ justifies Washington’s neo-colonialism, and the most barbaric coups it has been triggering, as well as covered and open interventions in the Caribbean, and in Central and South America.

And now, National Security Advisor John Bolton, is using this term in connection with Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, outraging those who are opposing the US foreign policy in the region. What he means is clear, although it is never pronounced as bluntly as that: Countries in the Western Hemisphere should never be allowed to go socialist, and they should be prevented from disobeying Western dictates.

In Doha, Qatar, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, expressed his outrage over Bolton’s evoking of the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ now, when the West is doing all in its power to overthrow the democratically elected left-wing government of Venezuela:

The theory and the practice of “backyards” is generally insulting…

Sergei Lavrov also added that:

Since 1945, when the UN was founded, the international law is being regulated by this universal and the most legitimate organization.

This is, obviously, not how the United States sees the world. Maybe it never even considered such an approach.

*****

But back to the ‘notorious’ Monroe Doctrine.

Surprisingly, it was not always intended to intimidate and brutalize independent and progressive Latin American nations.

According to the definition of the United States Department of State:

The Monroe Doctrine was a United States policy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas beginning in 1823. It stated that further efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.

So, in theory at least, this policy was supposed to be putting the brakes on European colonialist expansionism. This may sound almost unbelievable now.

How very unfortunate that it has evolved into one of the most unscrupulous tools of oppression in modern history!

Contradictory to its original meaning, the United States used the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ in order to overthrow basically all patriotic, progressive and left-wing governments in the Western Hemisphere; governments that resisted the selfish geo-political interests of Washington, or the interests of US corporations, including the infamous United Fruit Company which was notorious for treating virtually all Central American countries as if they were its private plantations.

Then during the Cold War, US foreign policy towards Latin America was built on the belief that the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ should be invoked in order to prevent the spread of Soviet-backed Communism in the region.

What followed is well known: massacres in Central America, brutal coups and fascist dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and elsewhere; tens of thousands of men, women and children ‘disappeared’. Death squads murdering, raping and torturing everywhere, from Guatemala and Salvador to Argentina and Chile.

The fight for US hegemony was basically and cynically named as a ‘fight for democracy’. Slavery was defined as ‘freedom’. The ‘Monroe Doctrine’ became synonymous with Plan Condor, with monstrous torture chambers and with people being thrown alive into the sea from helicopters.

*****

Now the Trump administration is re-deploying those old and fatal Cold War warriors, elevating them to high positions, the same people who were murdering, plotting and cheering assassins. The list reads like a “Wanted for Genocide” catalogue: Elliott Abrams, Michael Pompeo and yes: John Bolton.

These individuals are, of course, unapologetic.

Just recently, John Bolton declared:

In this administration we’re not afraid to use the phrase ‘Monroe Doctrine’. This is a country in our hemisphere and it’s been the objective of American presidents going back to Ronald Reagan to have a completely Democratic hemisphere.

He was talking about Venezuela, of course.

And so, the almost 200 year old ‘Monroe Doctrine’ has been revitalized; put to deadly work once again.

As reported by the Daily Star:

Mr. Bolton said the Donald Trump administration was “not afraid to use the phrase ‘Monroe Doctrine’,” when asked why it was targeting Venezuela while maintaining close alliances with tyrannies such as Saudi Arabia. The doctrine, dating back to the 1820s, denoted the Western hemisphere as a zone of US influence.

It is clear that this time, what Mr. Bolton envisions under the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ has nothing in common with the fight against European colonialism. It is a bellicose ‘modern-day’ interpretation of the doctrine: the justification for Western imperialism all over the Hemisphere. And perhaps all over the world.

Sergei Lavrov correctly defined Bolton’s remarks as ‘insulting’. They are also deadly. As they are indicative of what Western foreign policy may soon become, or has already become: an unapologetic and uncompromising return to the harshest form of expansionism.

What the US tried to avert (perhaps) some 200 years ago, it at some point joined, and then ‘perfected’. Now, it is trying to bring it to an absolute extreme.

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

Militarised Conservation: Paramilitary Rangers and the WWF

Think charity, think vulnerability and its endless well of opportunistic exploitation.  Over the years, international charity organisations have been found with employees keen to take advantage of their station.  That advantage has been sexual, financial and, in the case of allegations being made about the World Wild Life Fund for Nature, in the nature of inflicting torture on those accused of poaching.

BuzzFeed, via reporters Tom Warren and Katie J.M. Baker, began the fuss with an investigative report claiming instances of torture and gross violence on the part of rangers assisted by the charity to combat poaching.  It starts with a description of a dying man’s last days, one Shikharam Chaudhary, a farmer who was brutally beaten and tortured by forest rangers patrolling Chitwan National Park in Nepal.  Shikharam, it seems, had been singled out for burying a rhinoceros horn in his backyard.  The horn proved elusive, but not the unfortunate farmer, who was detained in prison.  After nine days, he was dead.

Three park officials including the chief warden were subsequently charged with murder.  WWF found itself in a spot, given its long standing role in sponsoring operations by the Chitwan forest rangers.  As the BuzzFeed report goes on to note, “WWF’s staff on the ground in Nepal leaped into action – not to demand justice, but to lobby for the charges to disappear.  When the Nepalese government dropped the case months later, the charity declared its victory in the fight against poaching.  Then WWF Nepal continued to work closely with the rangers and fund the park as if nothing had happened.”

The report does not hold back, insisting that the alleged murder of the unfortunate Shikharam in 2006 was no aberration.  “It was part of a pattern that persists to this day.  In national parks across Asia and Africa, the beloved non-profit with the cuddly panda logo funds, equips, and works directly with paramilitary forces that have been accused of beating, torturing, sexually assaulting, and murdering scores of people.”

The poach wars are a savage business, throwing up confected images of heroes and villains.  They do not merely involve the actions of protecting animals, but military-styled engagements where fatalities are not uncommon.  Anti-poaching has become a mission heralded by the romantically inclined as indispensable, its agents to be celebrated.  Desperate local conditions are conveniently scrubbed out in any descriptions: there are only the noble rangers battling animal murderers.

The Akashinga, for instance, are an anti-poaching enterprise of 39 women operating in Zimbabwe who featured with high praise in a report from the ABC in October last year.  Who are the victims, apart from the animals they protect?  There is little doubt in the minds of the reporters: the women themselves, victims of assault, many single mothers from Nyamakate.  Laud them, respect their mission.

It is clear that these women are feted warriors, armed and given appropriate training.  They “undergo military-style training in unarmed combat, camouflage and concealment, search and arrest, as well as leadership and conservation ethics.”  Their source of encouragement and support is Damien Mander, formerly a military sniper and founder of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation.

Mander’s own laundry list for being a “good anti-poaching ranger”, as featured in an interview to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre in 2015, is unvarnished: “A passion for nature, strong paramilitary base, and ability and willingness to work in hostile environments for extended periods of time as part of a team.”

The line between the mission of charity and its mutation into one of abuse is tooth fine.  In February 2018, The Times, assisted by information supplied by whistleblowers, sprung the lid off Oxfam GB workers in Haiti, suggesting that charity workers had received sexual favours for payment in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.  (Nothing like a crisis that breeds opportunity.)  It was duly revealed that the organisation had done its level best to conceal the fact.  The UK International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt’s statement to Parliament in February took most issue with the latter.  “In such circumstances we must be able to trust organisations not only to do all they can to prevent harm, but to report and follow up incidents of wrongdoing when they do occur.”

In the course of its conduct, Oxfam did not, according to Mordaunt, furnish the Charity Commission with a report on the incidents.  Nor did the donors receive one.  The protecting authorities were also left in the dark on the subject.

Defences have been mounted by those working in the aid sector.  Mike Aaronson, writing in August last year, pleaded the case that aid organisations were being unduly singled out, the scape goats of moral outrage and privileged ethics.  “Aid organisations carry a lot of risk, operating in chaotic and stressful environments where in trying to do good they can end up doing harm.”  In condemning them, it was easy to ignore the fact that they had “done most to address the issue”.

The WWF situation, which has moved the matter into the dimension of animal protection and conservation, has hallmarks that are similarly problematic with the humanitarian sector in general.  And the reaction of the organisation has also been fairly typical, laden with weasel-worded aspirations.  “At the heart of WWF’s work are places and people who live with them,” an organisation spokesman for WWF UK asserted in response to the allegations.  “Respect for human rights is at the core of our mission.”  There were “stringent policies” in place to safeguard “the rights and wellbeing of indigenous people and local communities in the places we work.”

Students of the broad field of humanitarian ventures suggest four instances where militarisation takes place.  Charities and relief organisations have become proxy extensions in armed conflict (consider Nicaragua and Afghanistan during the 1980s); creatures of embedment (the Red Cross in the World Wars); agents of “self-defence” – consider the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in the twelfth century; and engaged in direct conflict (the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War).

The WWF case suggests a direct connection between the mission of a charitable organisation and its captivation by a dangerous militancy.  It has become a sponsor, and concealer, of vigilante action, obviously unabashed in cracking a few skulls in the name of shielding protected species.  Along came the networks of informants, surveillance and exploiting local issues.  No longer can this be regarded a matter of altruistic engagement in the name of animal conservation; it is a full-fledged sponsorship of a paramilitary operation with all the incidental nastiness such an effort entails.