Category Archives: UK Hypocrisy

Predictable Monstrosities: Priti Patel Approves Assange’s Extradition

The only shock about the UK Home Secretary’s decision regarding Julian Assange was that it did not come sooner.  In April, Chief Magistrate Senior District Judge Paul Goldspring expressed the view that he was “duty-bound” to send the case to Priti Patel to decide on whether to extradite the WikiLeaks founder to the United States to face 18 charges, 17 grafted from the US Espionage Act of 1917.

Patel, for her part, was never exercised by the more sordid details of the case.  Her approach to matters of justice is one of premature adjudication: the guilty are everywhere, and only multiply.  When it came to WikiLeaks, such fine points of law and fact as a shaky indictment based on fabricated evidence, meditations on assassination, and a genuine, diagnosed risk of self-harm, were piffling distractions.  The US Department of Justice would not be denied.

“Under the Extradition Act 2003,” a nameless spokesman for the Home Office stated, “the Secretary of State must sign an extradition order if there are no grounds to prohibit the order being made.  Extradition requests are only sent to the Home Secretary once a judge decides it can proceed after considering various aspects of the case.”

Evidently, overt politicisation, bad faith, and flimsy reassurances from the US Department of Justice on how Assange will be detained, do not constitute sufficient grounds.  But the cue came from the courts themselves, which have done a fabulous job of covering the US justice system with tinsel in actually believing assurances that Assange would not be facing special administrative detention measures (SAMs) or permanent captivity in the ADX Florence supermax in Colorado.  “In this case, the UK courts have not found that it would be oppressive, unjust or an abuse of process to extradite Mr Assange.”

In such a scatterbrained, and amoral cosmos that marks decision making in the Home Office, no mention has been made of the surveillance operation against the publisher in the Ecuadorian embassy, orchestrated at the behest of the Central Intelligence Agency.  None, either, of contemplated abduction or assassination, or the frail mental health Assange finds himself.

As late as June 10, a letter from the group Doctors for Assange, comprising 300 doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, noted that the Home Secretary’s “denial of the cruel, inhuman treatment inflicted by upon Assange was then, and is even more so now, irreconcilable with the reality of the situation”.

In April, an umbrella grouping of nineteen organisations dedicated to press freedom and free speech urged Patel, in reviewing the case, to appreciate that Assange would “highly likely” face isolation or solitary confinement US conditions “despite the US government’s assurances, which would severely exacerbate the risk of suicide”.

The co-chairs of the Courage Foundation’s Assange Defense Committee, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg and Alice Walker, reflected on the depravity of the order in a statement.  “It is a sad day for western democracy.  The UK’s decision to extradite Julian Assange to the nation that plotted to assassinate him – the nation that wants to imprison him for 175 years for publishing truthful information in the public interest – is an abomination.”  As for the UK, it had “shown its complicity in this farce, by agreeing to extradite a foreigner based on politically motivated charges that collapse under the slightest scrutiny.”

Similar views were expressed by Amnesty International (“a chilling message to journalists the world over”) and Reporters Without Borders (“another failure by the UK to protect journalism and press freedom”).  There was even concern from Conservative MP David Davis, who expressed his belief that Assange would not “get a fair trial.”  The extradition law was, as matters stood, lopsided in favour of US citizens.

All this is consistent with Patel, who seems to relish the prospect of sending individuals to a place where human rights are marginal jottings on a policy paper.  The UK-Rwanda Migration and Economic Partnership, as it is euphemistically termed, is her pride and joy, albeit one currently facing strenuous legal opposition.

Under the arrangement, individuals crossing the channel will receive one-way tickets to Rwanda to have their claims processed without a prospect of settling in the UK.  The Rwandan government, hostile to contrarians, the rule of law and refugees, will be subsidised for their pain and labours.

To this sadistic streak can be added her admiration for the Espionage Act being used to prosecute Assange.  This fact should have disqualified her in any country operating under the rule of law.  Even as Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a Conservative no-confidence vote this month, Patel’s National Security Bill passed its second reading in Parliament.  The bill articulates an offence of “obtaining or disclosing protected information” that includes “any information… which either is, or could reasonably be expected to be, subject to any type of restrictions of access for protecting the safety and interests of the UK.”

In a polite nod of deference to US law, the proposed law states that an offence is committed when a person “obtains, copies, records or retains protected information, or discloses or provides access to protected information” for a purpose “that they know, or ought reasonably to know, is prejudicial to the safety or interests of the United Kingdom” and if “the foreign power condition is met”.  The requirement there is that the act is “carried out for or on behalf of a foreign power”, including instances where “an indirect relationship” exists.

Assange has 14 days to appeal this insidious rubber stamping of judicially sanctioned brutality.  His legal team are hoping to use the High Court as the route to highlight the political dimension of the case and draw attention back to the way the extradition law was read.

If the defence fail, Assange will be sent across the Atlantic, entrusted to officials, some of whom considered murdering him, to be made an example of.  It will be the clarion call to regimes across the world that punishing a publisher is something supposed liberal democracies can do as well, and as deviously, as anybody else.

The post Predictable Monstrosities: Priti Patel Approves Assange’s Extradition first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The persecution of Julian Assange

The British home secretary, Priti Patel, will decide this month whether Julian Assange is to be extradited to the United States, where he faces a sentence of up to 175 years – served most likely in strict, 24-hour isolation in a US super-max jail.

He has already spent three years in similarly harsh conditions in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison.

The 18 charges laid against Assange in the US relate to the publication by WikiLeaks in 2010 of leaked official documents, many of them showing that the US and UK were responsible for war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. No one has been brought to justice for those crimes.

Instead, the US has defined Assange’s journalism as espionage – and by implication asserted a right to seize any journalist in the world who takes on the US national security state – and in a series of extradition hearings, the British courts have given their blessing.

The lengthy proceedings against Assange have been carried out in courtrooms with tightly restricted access and in circumstances that have repeatedly denied journalists the ability to cover the case properly.

Despite the grave implications for a free press and democratic accountability, however, Assange’s plight has provoked little more than a flicker of concern from much of the western media.

Few observers appear to be in any doubt that Patel will sign off on the US extradition order – least of all Nils Melzer, a law professor, and a United Nations’ special rapporteur.

In his role as the UN’s expert on torture, Melzer has made it his job since 2019 to scrutinise not only Assange’s treatment during his 12 years of increasing confinement – overseen by the UK courts – but also the extent to which due process and the rule of law have been followed in pursuing the WikiLeaks founder.

Melzer has distilled his detailed research into a new book, The Trial of Julian Assange, that provides a shocking account of rampant lawlessness by the main states involved – Britain, Sweden, the US, and Ecuador. It also documents a sophisticated campaign of misinformation and character assassination to obscure those misdeeds.

The result, Melzer concludes, has been a relentless assault not only on Assange’s fundamental rights but his physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing that Melzer classifies as psychological torture.

The UN rapporteur argues that the UK has invested far too much money and muscle in securing Assange’s prosecution on behalf of the US, and has too pressing a need itself to deter others from following Assange’s path in exposing western crimes, to risk letting Assange walk free.

It has instead participated in a wide-ranging legal charade to obscure the political nature of Assange’s incarceration. And in doing so, it has systematically ridden roughshod over the rule of law.

Melzer believes Assange’s case is so important because it sets a precedent to erode the most basic liberties the rest of us take for granted. He opens the book with a quote from Otto Gritschneder, a German lawyer who observed up close the rise of the Nazis, “those who sleep in a democracy will wake up in a dictatorship”.

Back to the wall

Melzer has raised his voice because he believes that in the Assange case any residual institutional checks and balances on state power, especially those of the US, have been subdued.

He points out that even the prominent human rights group Amnesty International has avoided characterising Assange as a “prisoner of conscience”, despite his meeting all the criteria, with the group apparently fearful of a backlash from funders (p. 81).

He notes too that, aside from the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, comprising expert law professors, the UN itself has largely ignored the abuses of Assange’s rights (p. 3). In large part, that is because even states like Russia and China are reluctant to turn Assange’s political persecution into a stick with which to beat the West – as might otherwise have been expected.

The reason, Melzer observes, is that WikiLeaks’ model of journalism demands greater accountability and transparency from all states. With Ecuador’s belated abandonment of Assange, he appears to be utterly at the mercy of the world’s main superpower.

Instead, Melzer argues, Britain and the US have cleared the way to vilify Assange and incrementally disappear him under the pretense of a series of legal proceedings. That has been made possible only because of complicity from prosecutors and the judiciary, who are pursuing the path of least resistance in silencing Assange and the cause he represents.

It is what Melzer terms an official “policy of small compromises” – with dramatic consequences (pp. 250-1).

His 330-page book is so packed with examples of abuses of due process – at the legal, prosecutorial, and judicial levels – that it is impossible to summarise even a tiny fraction of them.

However, the UN rapporteur refuses to label this as a conspiracy – if only because to do so would be to indict himself as part of it. He admits that when Assange’s lawyers first contacted him for help in 2018, arguing that the conditions of Assange’s incarceration amounted to torture, he ignored their pleas.

As he now recognises, he too had been influenced by the demonisation of Assange, despite his long professional and academic training to recognise techniques of perception management and political persecution.

“To me, like most people around the world, he was just a rapist, hacker, spy, and narcissist,” he says (p. 10).

It was only later when Melzer finally agreed to examine the effects of Assange’s long-term confinement on his health – and found the British authorities obstructing his investigation at every turn and openly deceiving him – that he probed deeper. When he started to pick at the legal narratives around Assange, the threads quickly unravelled.

He points to the risks of speaking up – a price he has experienced firsthand – that have kept others silent.

“With my uncompromising stance, I put not only my credibility at risk, but also my career and, potentially, even my personal safety… Now, I suddenly found myself with my back to the wall, defending human rights and the rule of law against the very democracies which I had always considered to be my closest allies in the fight against torture. It was a steep and painful learning curve” (p. 97).

He adds regretfully: “I had inadvertently become a dissident within the system itself” (p. 269).

Subversion of law

The web of complex cases that have ensnared the WikiLeaks founder – and kept him incarcerated – have included an entirely unproductive, decade-long sexual assault investigation by Sweden; an extended detention over a bail infraction that occurred after Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador from political extradition to the US; and the secret convening of a grand jury in the US, followed by endless hearings and appeals in the UK to extradite him as part of the very political persecution he warned of.

The goal throughout, says Melzer, has not been to expedite Assange’s prosecution – that would have risked exposing the absence of evidence against him in both the Swedish and US cases. Rather it has been to trap Assange in an interminable process of non-prosecution while he is imprisoned in ever-more draconian conditions and the public turned against him.

What appeared – at least to onlookers – to be the upholding of the law in Sweden, Britain and the US was the exact reverse: its repeated subversion. The failure to follow basic legal procedures was so consistent, argues Melzer, that it cannot be viewed as simply a series of unfortunate mistakes.

It aims at the “systematic persecution, silencing and destruction of an inconvenient political dissident” (p. 93).

Assange, in Melzer’s view, is not just a political prisoner. He is one whose life is being put in severe danger from relentless abuses that accord with the definition of psychological torture.

Such torture depends on its victim being intimidated, isolated, humiliated, and subjected to arbitrary decisions (p. 74). Melzer clarifies that the consequences of such torture not only break down the mental and emotional coping mechanisms of victims but over time have very tangible physical consequences too.

Melzer explains the so-called “Mandela Rules” – named after the long-jailed black resistance leader Nelson Mandela, who helped bring down South African apartheid – that limit the use of extreme forms of solitary confinement.

In Assange’s case, however, “this form of ill-treatment very quickly became the status quo” in Belmarsh, even though Assange was a “non-violent inmate posing no threat to anyone”. As his health deteriorated, prison authorities isolated him further, professedly for his own safety. As a result, Melzer concludes, Assange’s “silencing and abuse could be perpetuated indefinitely, all under the guise of concern for his health” (pp. 88-9).

The rapporteur observes that he would not be fulfilling his UN mandate if he failed to protest not only Assange’s torture but the fact that he is being tortured to protect those who committed torture and other war crimes exposed in the Iraq and Afghanistan logs published by WikiLeaks. They continue to escape justice with the active connivance of the same state authorities seeking to destroy Assange (p. 95).

With his long experience of handling torture cases around the world, Melzer suggests that Assange has great reserves of inner strength that have kept him alive, if increasingly frail and physically ill. Assange has lost a great deal of weight, is regularly confused and disorientated, and has suffered a minor stroke in Belmarsh.

Many of the rest of us, the reader is left to infer, might well have succumbed by now to a lethal heart attack or stroke, or have committed suicide.

A further troubling implication hangs over the book: that this is the ultimate ambition of those persecuting him. The current extradition hearings can be spun out indefinitely, with appeals right up to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, keeping Assange out of view all that time, further damaging his health, and providing a stronger deterrent effect on whistleblowers and other journalists.

This is a win-win, notes Melzer. If Assange’s mental health breaks down entirely, he can be locked away in a psychiatric institution. And if he dies, that would finally solve the inconvenience of sustaining the legal charade that has been needed to keep him silenced and out of view for so long (p. 322).

Sweden’s charade

Melzer spends much of the book reconstructing the 2010 accusations of sexual assault against Assange in Sweden. He does this not to discredit the two women involved – in fact, he argues that the Swedish legal system failed them as much as it did Assange – but because that case set the stage for the campaign to paint Assange as a rapist, narcissist, and fugitive from justice.

The US might never have been able to launch its overtly political persecution of Assange had he not already been turned into a popular hate figure over the Sweden case. His demonisation was needed – as well as his disappearance from view – to smooth the path to redefining national security journalism as espionage.

Melzer’s meticulous examination of the case – assisted by his fluency in Swedish – reveals something that the mainstream media coverage has ignored: Swedish prosecutors never had the semblance of a case against Assange, and apparently never the slightest intention to move the investigation beyond the initial taking of witness statements.

Nonetheless, as Melzer observes, it became “the longest ‘preliminary investigation’ in Swedish history” (p. 103).

The first prosecutor to examine the case, in 2010, immediately dropped the investigation, saying, “there is no suspicion of a crime” (p. 133).

When the case was finally wrapped up in 2019, many months before the statute of limitations was reached, a third prosecutor observed simply that “it cannot be assumed that further inquiries will change the evidential situation in any significant manner” (p. 261).

Couched in lawyerly language, that was an admission that interviewing Assange would not lead to any charges. The preceding nine years had been a legal charade.

But in those intervening years, the illusion of a credible case was so well sustained that major newspapers, including Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, repeatedly referred to “rape charges” against Assange, even though he had never been charged with anything.

More significantly, as Melzer keeps pointing out, the allegations against Assange were so clearly unsustainable that the Swedish authorities never sought to seriously investigate them. To do so would have instantly exposed their futility.

Instead, Assange was trapped. For the seven years that he was given asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy, Swedish prosecutors refused to follow normal procedures and interview him where he was, in person or via computer, to resolve the case. But the same prosecutors also refused to issue standard reassurances that he would not be extradited onwards to the US, which would have made his asylum in the embassy unnecessary.

In this way, Melzer argues “the rape suspect narrative could be perpetuated indefinitely without ever coming before a court. Publicly, this deliberately manufactured outcome could conveniently be blamed on Assange, by accusing him of having evaded justice” (p. 254).

Neutrality dropped

Ultimately, the success of the Swedish case in vilifying Assange derived from the fact that it was driven by a narrative almost impossible to question without appearing to belittle the two women at its centre.

But the rape narrative was not the women’s. It was effectively imposed on the case – and on them – by elements within the Swedish establishment, echoed by the Swedish media. Melzer hazards a guess as to why the chance to discredit Assange was seized on so aggressively.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Swedish leaders dropped the country’s historic position of neutrality and threw their hand in with the US and the global “war on terror”. Stockholm was quickly integrated into the western security and intelligence community (p. 102).

All of that was put in jeopardy as Assange began eyeing Sweden as a new base for WikiLeaks, attracted by its constitutional protections for publishers.

In fact, he was in Sweden for precisely that reason in the run-up to WikiLeaks’ publication of the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs. It must have been only too obvious to the Swedish establishment that any move to headquarter WikiLeaks there risked setting Stockholm on a collision course with Washington (p. 159).

This, Melzer argues, is the context that helps to explain an astonishingly hasty decision by the police to notify the public prosecutor of a rape investigation against Assange minutes after a woman referred to only as “S” first spoke to a police officer in a central Stockholm station.

In fact, S and another woman, “A”, had not intended to make any allegation against Assange. After learning he had had sex with them in quick succession, they wanted him to take an HIV test. They thought approaching the police would force his hand (p. 115). The police had other ideas.

The irregularities in the handling of the case are so numerous, Melzer spends the best part of 100 pages documenting them. The women’s testimonies were not recorded, transcribed verbatim, or witnessed by a second officer. They were summarised.

The same, deeply flawed procedure – one that made it impossible to tell whether leading questions influenced their testimony or whether significant information was excluded – was employed during the interviews of witnesses friendly to the women. Assange’s interview and those of his allies, by contrast, were recorded and transcribed verbatim (p. 132).

The reason for the women making their statements – the desire to get an HIV test from Assange – was not mentioned in the police summaries.

In the case of S, her testimony was later altered without her knowledge, in highly dubious circumstances that have never been explained (pp. 139-41). The original text is redacted so it is impossible to know what was altered.

Stranger still, a criminal report of rape was logged against Assange on the police computer system at 4.11pm, 11 minutes after the initial meeting with S and 10 minutes before a senior officer had begun interviewing S – and two and half hours before that interview would finish (pp. 119-20).

In another sign of the astounding speed of developments, Sweden’s public prosecutor had received two criminal reports against Assange from the police by 5pm, long before the interview with S had been completed. The prosecutor then immediately issued an arrest warrant against Assange before the police summary was written and without taking into account that S did not agree to sign it (p. 121).

Almost immediately, the information was leaked to the Swedish media, and within an hour of receiving the criminal reports the public prosecutor had broken protocol by confirming the details to the Swedish media (p. 126).

Secret amendments

The constant lack of transparency in the treatment of Assange by Swedish, British, US, and Ecuadorian authorities becomes a theme in Melzer’s book. Evidence is not made available under freedom of information laws, or, if it is, it is heavily redacted or only some parts are released – presumably those that do not risk undermining the official narrative.

For four years, Assange’s lawyers were denied any copies of the text messages the two Swedish women sent – on the grounds they were “classified”. The messages were also denied to the Swedish courts, even when they were deliberating on whether to extend an arrest warrant for Assange (p. 124).

It was not until nine years later those messages were made public, though Melzer notes that the index numbers show many continue to be withheld. Most notably, 12 messages sent by S from the police station – when she is known to have been unhappy at the police narrative being imposed on her – are missing. They would likely have been crucial to Assange’s defence (p. 125).

Similarly, much of the later correspondence between British and Swedish prosecutors that kept Assange trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy for years was destroyed – even while the Swedish preliminary investigation was supposedly still being pursued (p. 106).

The text messages from the women that have been released, however, suggest strongly that they felt they were being railroaded into a version of events they had not agreed to.

Slowly they relented, the texts suggest, as the juggernaut of the official narrative bore down on them, with the implied threat that if they disputed it they risked prosecution themselves for providing false testimony (p. 130).

Moments after S entered the police station, she texted a friend to say that “the police officer appears to like the idea of getting him [Assange]” (p. 117).

In a later message, she writes that it was “the police who made up the charges” (p. 129). And when the state assigns her a high-profile lawyer, she observes only that she hopes he will get her “out of this shit” (p. 136).

In a further text, she says: “I didn’t want to be part of it [the case against Assange], but now I have no choice” (p. 137).

It was on the basis of the secret amendments made to S’s testimony by the police that the first prosecutor’s decision to drop the case against Assange was overturned, and the investigation reopened (p. 141). As Melzer notes, the faint hope of launching a prosecution of Assange essentially rested on one word: whether S was “asleep”, “half-asleep” or “sleepy” when they had sex.

Melzer write that “as long as the Swedish authorities are allowed to hide behind the convenient veil of secrecy, the truth about this dubious episode may never come to light” (p. 141).

No ordinary extradition’

These and many, many other glaring irregularities in the Swedish preliminary investigation documented by Melzer are vital to decoding what comes next. Or as Melzer concludes “the authorities were not pursuing justice in this case but a completely different, purely political agenda” (p. 147).

With the investigation hanging over his head, Assange struggled to build on the momentum of the Iraq and Afghanistan logs revealing systematic war crimes committed by the US and UK.

“The involved governments had successfully snatched the spotlight directed at them by WikiLeaks, turned it around, and pointed it at Assange,” Melzer observes.

They have been doing the same ever since.

Assange was given permission to leave Sweden after the new prosecutor assigned to the case repeatedly declined to interview him a second time (pp. 153-4).

But as soon as Assange departed for London, an Interpol Red Notice was issued, another extraordinary development given its use for serious international crimes, setting the stage for the fugitive-from-justice narrative (p. 167).

A European Arrest Warrant was approved by the UK courts soon afterwards – but, again exceptionally, after the judges had reversed the express will of the British parliament that such warrants could only be issued by a “judicial authority” in the country seeking extradition not the police or a prosecutor (pp. 177- 9).

A law was passed shortly after the ruling to close that loophole and make sure no one else would suffer Assange’s fate (p. 180).

As the noose tightened around the neck not only of Assange but WikiLeaks too – the group was denied server capacity, its bank accounts were blocked, credit companies refused to process payments (p. 172) – Assange had little choice but to accept that the US was the moving force behind the scenes.

He hurried into the Ecuadorean embassy after being offered political asylum. A new chapter of the same story was about to begin.

British officials in the Crown Prosecution Service, as the few surviving emails show, were the ones bullying their Swedish counterparts to keep going with the case as Swedish interest flagged. The UK, supposedly a disinterested party, insisted behind the scenes that Assange must be required to leave the embassy – and his asylum – to be interviewed in Stockholm (p. 174).

A CPS lawyer told Swedish counterparts “don’t you dare get cold feet!” (p. 186).

As Christmas neared, the Swedish prosecutor joked about Assange being a present, “I am OK without… In fact, it would be a shock to get that one!” (p. 187).

When she discussed with the CPS Swedish doubts about continuing the case, she apologised for “ruining your weekend” (p. 188).

In yet another email, a British CPS lawyer advised “please do not think that the case is being dealt with as just another extradition request” (p. 176).

Embassy spying operation

That may explain why William Hague, the UK’s foreign secretary at the time, risked a major diplomatic incident by threatening to violate Ecuadorean sovereignty and invade the embassy to arrest Assange (p. 184).

And why Sir Alan Duncan, a UK government minister, made regular entries in his diary, later published as a book, on how he was working aggressively behind the scenes to get Assange out of the embassy (pp. 200, 209, 273, 313).

And why the British police were ready to spend £16 million of public money besieging the embassy for seven years to enforce an extradition Swedish prosecutors seemed entirely uninterested in advancing (p. 188).

Ecuador, the only country ready to offer Assange sanctuary, rapidly changed course once its popular left-wing president Rafael Correa stepped down in 2017. His successor, Lenin Moreno, came under enormous diplomatic pressure from Washington and was offered significant financial incentives to give up Assange (p. 212).

At first, this appears to have chiefly involved depriving Assange of almost all contact with the outside world, including access to the internet, and telephone and launching a media demonisation campaign that portrayed him as abusing his cat and smearing faeces on the wall (pp. 207-9).

At the same time, the CIA worked with the embassy’s security firm to launch a sophisticated, covert spying operation of Assange and all his visitors, including his doctors and lawyers (p. 200). We now know that the CIA was also considering plans to kidnap or assassinate Assange (p. 218).

Finally in April 2019, having stripped Assange of his citizenship and asylum – in flagrant violation of international and Ecuadorean law – Quito let the British police seize him (p. 213).

He was dragged into the daylight, his first public appearance in many months, looking unshaven and unkempt – a “demented looking gnome“, as a long-time Guardian columnist called him.

In fact, Assange’s image had been carefully managed to alienate the watching world. Embassy staff had confiscated his shaving and grooming kit months earlier.

Meanwhile, Assange’s personal belongings, his computer, and documents were seized and transferred not to his family or lawyers, or even the British authorities, but to the US – the real author of this drama (p. 214).

That move, and the fact that the CIA had spied on Assange’s conversations with his lawyers inside the embassy, should have sufficiently polluted any legal proceedings against Assange to require that he walk free.

But the rule of law, as Melzer keeps noting, has never seemed to matter in Assange’s case.

Quite the reverse, in fact. Assange was immediately taken to a London police station where a new arrest warrant was issued for his extradition to the US.

The same afternoon Assange appeared before a court for half an hour, with no time to prepare a defence, to be tried for a seven-year-old bail violation over his being granted asylum in the embassy (p. 48).

He was sentenced to 50 weeks – almost the maximum possible – in Belmarsh high-security prison, where he has been ever since.

Apparently, it occurred neither to the British courts nor to the media that the reason Assange had violated his bail conditions was precisely to avoid the political extradition to the US he was faced with as soon as he was forced out of the embassy.

‘Living in a tyranny’

Much of the rest of Melzer’s book documents in disturbing detail what he calls the current “Anglo-American show trial”: the endless procedural abuses Assange has faced over the past three years as British judges have failed to prevent what Melzer argues should be seen as not just one but a raft of glaring miscarriages of justice.

Not least, extradition on political grounds is expressly forbidden under Britain’s extradition treaty with the US (pp. 178-80, 294-5). But yet again the law counts for nothing when it applies to Assange.

The decision on extradition now rests with Patel, the hawkish home secretary who previously had to resign from the government for secret dealings with a foreign power, Israel, and is behind the government’s current draconian plan to ship asylum seekers to Rwanda, almost certainly in violation of the UN Refugee Convention.

Melzer has repeatedly complained to the UK, the US, Sweden, and Ecuador about the many procedural abuses in Assange’s case, as well as the psychological torture he has been subjected to. All four, the UN rapporteur points out, have either stonewalled or treated his inquiries with open contempt (pp. 235-44).

Assange can never hope to get a fair trial in the US, Melzer notes. First, politicians from across the spectrum, including the last two US presidents, have publicly damned Assange as a spy, terrorist, or traitor and many have suggested he deserves death (p. 216-7).

And, second, because he would be tried in the notorious “espionage court” in Alexandria, Virginia, located in the heart of the US intelligence and security establishment, without public or press access (pp. 220-2).

No jury there would be sympathetic to what Assange did in exposing their community’s crimes. Or as Melzer observes: “Assange would get a secret state-security trial very similar to those conducted in dictatorships” (p. 223).

And once in the US, Assange would likely never be seen again, under “special administrative measures” (SAMs) that would keep him in total isolation 24-hours-a-day (pp. 227-9). Melzer calls SAMs “another fraudulent label for torture”.

Melzer’s book is not just a documentation of the persecution of one dissident. He notes that Washington has been meting out abuses on all dissidents, including most famously the whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.

Assange’s case is so important, Melzer argues, because it marks the moment when western states not only target those working within the system who blow the whistle that breaks their confidentiality contracts, but those outside it too – those like journalists and publishers whose very role in a democratic society is to act as a watchdog on power.

If we do nothing, Melzer’s book warns, we will wake up to find the world transformed. Or as he concludes: “Once telling the truth has become a crime, we will all be living in a tyranny” (p. 331).

The Trial of Julian Assange by Nils Melzer is published by Verso.

First published by Middle East Eye

The post The persecution of Julian Assange first appeared on Dissident Voice.

To the Home Office We Go: The Extradition of Julian Assange

It was a dastardly formality.  On April 20, at a hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court, Julian Assange, beamed in via video link from Belmarsh Prison, his carceral home for three years, is to be extradited to the United States to face 18 charges, 17 based on the US Espionage Act of 1917.

The final arbiter will be the UK Secretary of the Home Office, the security hardened Priti Patel who is unlikely to buck the trend.  She has shown an all too unhealthy enthusiasm for an expansion of the Official Secrets Act which would target leakers, recipients of leaked material, and secondary publishers.  The proposals seek to purposely conflate investigatory journalism and espionage activities conducted by foreign states, while increasing prison penalties from two years to 14 years.

Chief Magistrate Senior District Judge Paul Goldspring was never going to rock the judicial boat.  He was “duty-bound” to send the case to the home secretary, though he did inform Assange that an appeal to the High Court could be made in the event of approved extradition prior to the issuing of the order.

It seemed a cruel turn for the books, given the ruling by District Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser on January 4, 2021 that Assange would be at serious risk of suicide given the risk posed by Special Administrative Measures and the possibility that he spend the rest of his life in the ADX Florence supermax facility.  Assange would be essentially killed off by a penal system renowned for its brutality.  Accordingly, it was found that extraditing him would be oppressive within the meaning of the US-UK Extradition Treaty.

The US Department of Justice, ever eager to get their man, appealed to the High Court of England and Wales.  They attacked the judge for her carelessness in not seeking reassurances about Assange’s welfare the prosecutors never asked for.  They sought to reassure the British judges that diplomatic assurances had been given.  Assange would be spared the legal asphyxiations caused by SAMs, or the dystopia of the supermax facility.  Besides, his time in US detention would be medically catered for, thereby minimising the suicide risk.  There would be no reason for him to take his own life, given the more pleasant surroundings and guarantees for his welfare.

A fatuous additional assurance was also thrown in: the Australian national would have the chance to apply to serve the post-trial and post-appeal phase of his sentence in the country of his birth.  All such undertakings would naturally be subject to adjustment and modification by US authorities as they deemed fit.  None were binding.

All this glaring nonsense was based on the vital presumption that such undertakings would be honoured by a government whose officials have debated, at stages, the publisher’s possible poisoning and abduction.  Such talk of assassination was also accompanied by a relentless surveillance operation of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, directed by US intelligence operatives through the auspices of a Spanish security company, UC Global.  Along the way, US prosecutors even had time to use fabricated evidence in drafting their indictment.

The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Ian Burnett, and Lord Justice Timothy Holroyde, in their December 2021 decision, saw no reason to doubt the good faith of the prosecutors.  Assange’s suicide risk would, given the assurances, be minimised – he had, the judges reasoned, nothing to fear, given the promise that he would be exempted from the application of SAMs or the privations of ADX Florence.  In this most political of trials, the judicial bench seemed unmoved by implications, state power, and the desperation of the US imperium in targeting the publishing of compromising classified information.

On appeal to the UK Supreme Court, the grounds of appeal were scandalously whittled away, with no mention of public interest, press freedom, thoughts of assassination, surveillance, or fabrication of evidence.  The sole issue preoccupying the bench: “In what circumstances can an appellate court receive assurances from a requesting state which were not before the court at first instance in extradition proceedings”.

On March 14, the Supreme Court comprising Lord Reed, Lord Hodge and Lord Briggs, delivered the skimpiest of answers, without a sliver of reasoning.  In the words of the Deputy Support Registrar, “The Court ordered that permission to appeal be refused because the application does not raise an arguable point of law.”

While chief magistrate Goldspring felt duty bound to relay the extradition decision to Patel,

Mark Summers QC, presenting Assange, also felt duty bound to make submissions against it.  “It is not open to me to raise fresh evidence and issues, even though there are fresh developments in the case.”  The defence team have till May 18 to make what they describe as “serious submissions” to the Home Secretary regarding US sentencing practices and other salient issues.

Various options may present themselves.  In addition to challenging the Home Secretary’s order, the defence may choose to return to the original decision of Baraitser, notably on her shabby treatment of press freedom.  Assange’s activities, she witheringly claimed, lacked journalistic qualities.

Outside the channel of the Home Office, another phase in the campaign to free Assange has now opened.  Activist groups, press organisations and supporters are already readying themselves for the next month.  Political figures such as former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn have urged Patel “to stand up for journalism and democracy, or sentence a man for life for exposing the truth about the War on Terror.”

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard has also fired another salvo in favour of Assange, noting that the United Kingdom “has an obligation not to send any person to a place where their life or safety is at risk and the Government must now abdicate that responsibility.”

The prospect of enlivening extraterritorial jurisdiction to target journalism and the publication of national security information, is graver than ever.  It signals the power of an international rogue indifferent to due process and fearful of being caught out.  But even before this momentous realisation is one irrefutable fact.  The plea from Assange’s wife, Stella, sharpens the point: don’t extradite a man “to a country that conspired to murder him.”

The post To the Home Office We Go: The Extradition of Julian Assange first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Didn’t those enraged at Boris Johnson’s ‘smears’ of Starmer defame Corbyn at every turn?

“Why is Boris Johnson making false claims about Starmer and Savile?” runs a headline in the news pages of the Guardian. It is just one of a barrage of indignant recent stories in the British media, rushing to the defence of the opposition leader, Sir Keir Starmer.

The reason? Last week the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, blamed Starmer, now the Labour party leader, for failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile, a TV presenter and serial child abuser, when his case came under police review in 2009. Between 2008 and 2013, Starmer was head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Savile died in 2011 before he could face justice.

Johnson accused Starmer, who at the time was Director of Public Prosecutions, of wasting “his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile”.

The sudden chorus of outrage at Johnson impugning Starmer’s reputation is strange in many different ways. It is not as though Johnson has a record of good behaviour. His whole political persona is built on the idea of his being a rascal, a clown, a chancer.

He is also a well-documented liar. Few, least of all in the media, cared much about his pattern of lying until now. Indeed, most observers have long pointed out that his popularity was based on his mischief-making and his populist guise as an anti-establishment politician. No one, apart from his political opponents, seemed too bothered.

And it is also not as though there are not lots of other, more critically important things relating to Johnson to be far more enraged about, even before we consider his catastrophic handling of the pandemic, and his raiding of the public coffers to enrich his crony friends and party donors.

Jumping ship

Johnson is currently embroiled in the so-called “partygate” scandal. He  attended – and his closest officials appear to have organised – several gatherings at his residence in Downing Street in 2020 and 2021 at a time when the rest of the country was under strict lockdown. For the first time the public mood has shifted against Johnson.

But it was Johnson’s criticisms of Starmer, not partygate, that led several of his senior advisers last week to resign their posts. One can at least suspect that in their case – given how quickly the Johnson brand is sinking, and the repercussions they may face from a police investigation into the partygate scandal – that finding an honorable pretext for jumping ship may have been the wisest move.

But there is something deeply strange about Johnson’s own Conservative MPs and the British media lining up to express their indignation at Johnson’s attack on Starmer, a not particularly liked or likable opposition leader, and then turning it into the reason to bring down a prime minister whose other flaws are only too visible.

What makes the situation even weirder is that Johnson’s so-called “smears” of Starmer may not actually be smears at all. They look like rare examples of Johnson alluding to – admittedly in his own clumsy and self-interested way – genuinely problematic behaviour by Starmer.

One would never know this from the coverage, of course.

Here is the Guardian supposedly fact-checking Johnson’s attack on Starmer under the apparently neutral question: “Is there any evidence that Starmer was involved in any decision not to prosecute Savile?”

The Guardian’s answer is decisive:

No. The CPS has confirmed that there is no reference to any involvement from Starmer in the decision-making within an official report examining the case.

Surrey police consulted the CPS for advice about the allegations after interviewing Savile’s victims, according to a 2013 CPS statement made by Starmer as DPP.

The official report, written by Alison Levitt QC, found that in October 2009 the CPS lawyer responsible for the cases – who was not Starmer – advised that no prosecution could be brought on the grounds that none of the complainants were ‘prepared to support any police action’.

That’s a pretty definite “No”, then. Not “No, according to Starmer”. Or “No, according to the CPS”. Or “No, according to an official report” – and doubtless a determinedly face-saving one at that – into the Savile scandal.

Just “No”.

Here is the Guardian’s political correspondent Peter Walker echoing how cut and dried the corporate media’s assessment is: “[Starmer] had no connection to decisions over the case, and the idea he did emerged later in conspiracy theories mainly shared among the far right.”

So it’s just a far-right conspiracy theory. Case against Starmer closed.

But not so fast.

Given Savile’s tight ties to the establishment – from royalty and prime ministers down – and the establishment’s role in providing, however inadvertently, cover for Savile’s paedophilia for decades, it should hardly surprise us that the blame for the failure to prosecute him has been placed squarely on the shoulders of a low-level lawyer in the Crown Prosecution Service. How it could be otherwise? If we started unpicking the thorny Savile knot, who knows how the threads might unravel?

Sacrificial victim

Former ambassador Craig Murray has made an interesting observation about Johnson’s remark on Starmer. Murray, let us remember, has been a first-hand observer and chronicler of the dark arts of the establishment in protecting itself from exposure, after he himself was made a sacrificial victim for revealing the British government’s illegal involvement in torture and extraordinary rendition.

As Murray notes:

Of course the Director of Public Prosecutions does not handle the individual cases, which are assigned to lawyers under them. But the Director most certainly is then consulted on the decisions in the high profile and important cases.

That is why they are there. It is unthinkable that Starmer was not consulted on the decision to shelve the Savile case – what do they expect us to believe his role was, as head of the office, ordering the paperclips?

And of the official inquiry into Starmer’s role that cleared him of any wrongdoing, the one that so impresses the Guardian and everyone else, Murray adds:

When the public outcry reached a peak in 2012, Starmer played the go-to trick in the Establishment book. He commissioned an “independent” lawyer he knew to write a report exonerating him. Mistakes have been made at lower levels, lessons will be learnt… you know what it says. Mishcon de Reya, money launderers to the oligarchs, provided the lawyer to do the whitewash. Once he retired from the post of DPP, Starmer went to work at, umm,…

Yes, Mischon de Reya.

Starmer and Assange

Murray also notes that MPs and the British media have resolutely focused attention on Starmer’s alleged non-role in the Savile decision – where an “official report” provides them with cover – rather than an additional, and far more embarrassing, point made by Johnson about Starmer’s behaviour as Director of Public Prosecutions.

The prime minister mentioned Starmer using his time to “prosecute journalists”. Johnson and the media have no interest in clarifying that reference. Anyway, Johnson only made it for effect: as a contrast to the way Starmer treated Savile, as a way to highlight that, when he chose to, Starmer was quite capable of advancing a prosecution.

But this second point is potentially far more revealing both of Starmer’s misconduct as Director of Public Prosecutions and about the services he rendered to the establishment – the likely reason why he was knighted at a relatively young age, becoming “Sir” Keir.

The journalist referenced by Johnson was presumably Julian Assange, currently locked up in Belmarsh high-security prison in London as lawyers try to get him extradited to the United States for his exposure of US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At an early stage of Assange’s persecution, the Crown Prosecution Service under Starmer worked overtime – despite Britain’s official position of neutrality in the case – to ensure he was extradited to Sweden. Assange sought political asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy in London in 2012, when Starmer was still head of the Crown Prosecution Service. Assange did so because he got wind of efforts by the Americans to extradite him onwards from Sweden to the US. He feared the UK would collude in that process.

Assange, it turns out, was not wrong. With the Swedish investigation dropped long ago, the British courts are now, nearly a decade on, close to agreeing to the Biden administration’s demand that Assange be extradited to the US – both to silence him and to intimidate any other journalists who might try to throw a light on US war crimes.

The Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi has been pursuing a lengthy legal battle to have the CPS emails from Starmer’s time released under a Freedom of Information request. She has been opposed by the British establishment every step of the way. We know that many of the email chains relating to Assange were destroyed by the Crown Prosecution Service – apparently illegally. Those would doubtless have shone a much clearer light on Starmer’s role in the case – possibly the reason they were destroyed.

The small number of emails that have been retrieved show that the Crown Prosecution Service under Starmer micro-managed the Swedish investigation of Assange, even bullying Swedish prosecutors to pursue the case when they had started to lose interest for lack of evidence. In one email from 2012, a CPS lawyer warned his Swedish counterpart: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!”. In another from 2011, the CPS lawyer writes: “Please do not think this case is being dealt with as just another extradition.”

Prosecutors arm-twisted

Again, the idea that Starmer was not intimately involved in the decision to arm-twist Swedish prosecutors into persecuting a journalist – a case that the UK should formally have had no direct interest in, unless it was covertly advancing US interests to silence Assange – beggars belief.

Despite the media’s lack of interest in Assange’s plight, the energy expended by the US to get Assange behind bars in the US and redefine national security journalism as espionage shows how politically and diplomatically important this case has always been to the US – and by extension, the British establishment. There is absolutely no way the deliberations were handled by a single lawyer. Starmer would have closely overseen his staff’s dealings with Swedish prosecutors and authorised what was in practice a political decision, not legal one, to persecute Assange – or as United Nations experts defined it, “arbitrarily detain” him.

Neither Murray nor I have unique, Sherlock-type powers of deduction that allow us to join the dots in ways no one else can manage. All of this information is in the public realm, and all of it is known to the editors of the British media. They are not only choosing to avoid mentioning it in the context of the current row, but they are actively fulminating against Boris Johnson for having done so.

The prime minister’s crime isn’t that he has “smeared” Starmer. It is that – out of desperate self-preservation – he has exposed the dark underbelly of the establishment. He has broken the elite’s omerta, its vow of silence. He has made the unpardonable sin of grassing up the establishment to which he belongs. He has potentially given ammunition to the great unwashed to expose the establishment’s misdeeds, to blow apart its cover story. That is why the anger is far more palpable and decisive about Johnson smearing Starmer than it ever was when Johnson smeared the rest of us by partying on through the lockdowns.

Scorched-earth tactic?

Look at this headline on Jonathan Freedland’s latest column for the Guardian, visibly aquiver with anger at the way Johnson has defamed Starmer: “Johnson’s Savile smear was the scorched-earth tactic of a desperate, dangerous man”.

A prime minister attacking the opposition leader – something we would normally think of as a largely unexceptional turn of political events, and all the more so under Johnson – has been transformed by Freedland into a dangerous, scorched-earth tactic.

Quite how preposterous, and hypocritical, this claim is should not need underscoring. Who really needs to be reminded of how Freedland and the rest of media class – but especially Freedland – treated Stramer’s predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn? That really was a scorched-earth approach. There was barely a day in his five years leading the Labour party when the media did not fabricate the most outrageous lies about Corbyn and his party. He was shabby and unstatesmanlike (unlike the smartly attired Johnson!), sexist, a traitor, a threat to national security, an anti-semite, and much more.

Anyone like Freedland who actively participated in the five-year campaign of demonisation of Corbyn has no credibility whatsoever either complaining about the supposed mistreatment of Starmer (a pale shadow of what Corbyn suffered) or decrying Johnson’s lowering of standards in public life.

We have the right-wing populist Johnson in power precisely because Freedland and the rest of the media relentlessly smeared the democratic socialist alternative. In the 2017 election, let us recall, Corbyn was only 2,000 votes from winning. The concerted campaign of smears from across the entire corporate media – and the resulting manipulation of the public mood – was the difference between Corbyn winning and the Tories holding on to power.

Corbyn was destroyed – had to be destroyed – because he threatened establishment interests. He challenged the interests of the rich, of the corporations, of the war industries, of the Israel lobby. That was why an anonymous military general warned in the pages of the establishment’s newspaper, The Times, that there would be a mutiny if Corbyn ever reached 10 Downing Street. That was why soldiers were filmed using an image of Corbyn as target practice on a firing range in Afghanistan.

Johnson’s desperate “smears” aside, none of this will ever happen to Starmer. There will be no threats of mutiny and his image will never used for target practice by the army. Sir Keir won’t be defamed by the billionaire-owned media. Rather, they have demonstrated that they have his back. They will even promote him over an alumnus of the Bullingdon Club, when the blokey toff’s shine starts to wear off.

And that, it should hardly need pointing out, is because Sir Keir Starmer is there to protect not the public’s interests but the interests of the establishment, just as he did so conscientiously when he was Director of Public Prosecutions.

The post Didn’t those enraged at Boris Johnson’s ‘smears’ of Starmer defame Corbyn at every turn? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Day in the Death of British Justice

The pursuit of Julian Assange for revealing secrets and lies of governments, especially the crimes of America, has entered its final stage as the British judiciary – upholders of ‘British justice’ – merge their deliberations with the undeterred power of Washington.

I sat in Court 4 in the Royal Courts of Justice in London with Stella Morris, Julian Assange’s partner. I have known Stella for as long as I have known Julian. She, too, is a voice of freedom, coming from a family that fought the fascism of Apartheid. Today, her name was uttered in court by a barrister and a judge, forgettable people were it not for the power of their endowed privilege.

The barrister, Clair Dobbin, is in the pay of the regime in Washington, first Trump’s then Biden’s. She is America’s hired gun, or “silk”, as she would prefer. Her target is Julian Assange, who has committed no crime and has performed a historic public service by exposing the criminal actions and secrets on which governments, especially those claiming to be democracies, base their authority.

For those who may have forgotten, WikiLeaks, of which Assange is founder and publisher, exposed the secrets and lies that led to the invasion of Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the murderous role of the Pentagon in dozens of countries, the blueprint for the 20-year catastrophe in Afghanistan, the attempts by Washington to overthrow elected governments, such as Venezuela’s, the collusion between nominal political opponents (Bush and Obama) to stifle a torture investigation and the CIA’s Vault 7 campaign that turned your mobile phone, even your TV set, into a spy in your midst.

WikiLeaks released almost a million documents from Russia which allowed Russian citizens to stand up for their rights. It revealed the Australian government had colluded with the US against its own citizen, Assange. It named those Australian politicians who have “informed” for the US. It made the connection between the Clinton Foundation and the rise of jihadism in American-armed states in the Gulf.

There is more: WikiLeaks disclosed the US campaign to suppress wages in sweatshop countries like Haiti, India’s campaign of torture in Kashmir, the British government’s secret agreement to shield “US interests” in its official Iraq inquiry and the British Foreign Office’s plan to create a fake “marine protection zone” in the Indian Ocean to cheat the Chagos islanders out of their right of return.

In other words, WikiLeaks has given us real news about those who govern us and take us to war, not the preordained, repetitive spin that fills newspapers and television screens. This is real journalism; and for the crime of real journalism, Assange has spent most of the past decade in one form of incarceration or another, including Belmarsh prison, a horrific place.

Diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, he is a gentle, intellectual visionary driven by his belief that a democracy is not a democracy unless it is transparent, and accountable.

Yesterday, the United States sought the approval of Britain’s High Court to extend the terms of its appeal against a decision by a district judge, Vanessa Baraitser, in January to bar Assange’s extradition.  Baraitser accepted the deeply disturbing evidence of a number of experts that Assange would be at great risk if he were incarcerated in the US’s infamous prison system.

Professor Michael Kopelman, a world authority on neuropsychiatry, had said Assange would find a way to take his own life – the direct result of what Professor Nils Melzer, the United Nations Rapporteur on Torture, described as the craven “mobbing” of Assange by governments – and their media echoes.

Those of us who were in the Old Bailey last September to hear Kopelman’s evidence were shocked and moved. I sat with Julian’s father, John Shipton, whose head was in his hands. The court was also told about the discovery of a razor blade in Julian’s Belmarsh cell and that he had made desperate calls to the Samaritans and written notes and much else that filled us with more than sadness.

Watching the lead barrister acting for Washington, James Lewis – a man from a military background who deploys a cringingly theatrical “aha!” formula with defence witnesses – reduce these facts to “malingering” and smearing witnesses, especially Kopelman, we were heartened by Kopelman’s revealing response that Lewis’s abuse was “a bit rich” as Lewis himself had sought to hire Kopelman’s  expertise in another case.

Lewis’s sidekick is Clair Dobbin, and the 11th of August was her day. Completing the smearing of Professor Kopelman was down to her. An American with some authority sat behind her in court.

Dobbin said Kopelman had “misled” Judge Baraister in September because he had not disclosed that Julian Assange and Stella Morris were partners, and their two young children, Gabriel and Max, were conceived during the period Assange had taken refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

The implication was that this somehow lessened Kopelman’s medical diagnosis: that Julian, locked up in solitary in Belmarsh prison and facing extradition to the US on bogus “espionage” charges, had suffered severe psychotic depression and had planned, if he had not already attempted, to take his own life.

For her part, Judge Baraitser saw no contradiction. The full nature of the relationship between Stella and Julian had been explained to her in March 2020, and Professor Kopelman had made full reference to it in his report in August 2020. So the judge and the court knew all about it before the main extradition hearing last September. In her Judgment in January, Baraitser said this:

[Professor Kopelman] assessed Mr. Assange during the period May to December 2019 and was best placed to consider at first-hand his symptoms. He has taken great care to provide an informed account of Mr. Assange background and psychiatric history. He has given close attention to the prison medical notes and provided a detailed summary annexed to his December report. He is an experienced clinician and he was well aware of the possibility of exaggeration and malingering. I had no reason to doubt his clinical opinion.

She added that she had “not been misled” by the exclusion in Kopelman’s first report of the Stella-Julian relationship and that she understood that Kopelman was protecting the privacy of Stella and her two young children.

In fact, as I know well, the family’s safety was under constant threat to the point when an embassy security guard confessed he had been told to steal one of the baby’s nappies so that a CIA-contracted company could analyse its DNA. There has been a stream of unpublicised threats against Stella and her children.

For the US and its legal hirelings in London, damaging the credibility of a renowned expert by suggesting he withheld this information was a way, they no doubt reckoned, to rescue their crumbling case against Assange. In June, the Icelandic newspaper Stundin reported that a key prosecution witness against Assange has admitted fabricating his evidence. The one “hacking” charge the Americans hoped to bring against Assange if they could get their hands on him depended on this source and witness, Sigurdur Thordarson, an FBI informant.

Thordarson had worked as a volunteer for WikiLeaks in Iceland between 2010 and 2011. In 2011, as several criminal charges were brought against him, he contacted the FBI and offered to become an informant in return for immunity from all prosecution. It emerged that he was a convicted fraudster who embezzled $55,000 from WikiLeaks, and served two years in prison. In 2015, he was sentenced to three years for sex offenses against teenage boys. The Washington Post described Thordarson’s credibility as the “core” of the case against Assange.

In the High Court, Lord Chief Justice Holroyde made no mention of this witness. His concern was that it was “arguable” that Judge Baraitser had attached too much weight to the evidence of Professor Kopelman, a man revered in his field. He said it was “very unusual” for an appeal court to have to reconsider evidence from an expert accepted by a lower court, but he agreed with Ms. Dobbin it was “misleading” even though he accepted Kopelman’s “understandable human response” to protect the privacy of Stella and the children.

If you can unravel the arcane logic of this, you have a better grasp than I who have sat through this case from the beginning. It is clear Kopelman misled nobody. Judge Baraitser – whose hostility to Assange personally was a presence in her court – said that she was not misled; it was not an issue; it did not matter. So why had Lord Chief Chief Justice Holroyde spun the language with its weasel legalise and sent Julian back to his cell and its nightmares? There, he now waits for the High Court’s final decision in October – for Julian Assange, a life or death decision.

And why did Holroyde send Stella from the court trembling with anguish? Why is this case “unusual”? Why did he throw the gang of prosecutor-thugs at the Department of Justice in Washington – who got their big chance under Trump, having been rejected by Obama – a life raft as their rotting, corrupt case against a principled journalist sunk as surely as Titantic?

This does not necessarily mean that in October the full bench of the High Court will order Julian to be extradited. In the upper reaches of the masonry that is the British judiciary there are, I understand, still those who believe in real law and real justice from which the term “British justice” takes its sanctified reputation in the land of the Magna Carta. It now rests on their ermined shoulders whether that history lives on or dies.

I sat with Stella in the court’s colonnade while she drafted words to say to the crowd of media and well-wishers outside in the sunshine. Clip-clopping along came Clair Dobbin, spruced, ponytail swinging, bearing her carton of files: a figure of certainty: she who said Julian Assange was “not so ill” that he would consider suicide. How does she know?

Has Ms. Dobbin worked her way through the medieval maze at Belmarsh to sit with Julian in his yellow arm band, as Professors Koppelman and Melzer have done, and Stella has done, and I have done? Never mind. The Americans have now “promised” not to put him in a hellhole, just as they “promised” not to torture Chelsea Manning.

And has she read the WikiLeaks’ leak of a Pentagon document dated 15 March, 2009? I recommend this document, for it foretells much of what has happened. US intelligence, it says, intended to destroy WikiLeaks’ and Julian Assange’s “centre of gravity” with threats and “criminal prosecution”. Read all 32 pages and you are left in no doubt that silencing and criminalising independent journalism was the aim, smear the method.

I tried to catch Ms Dobbin’s gaze, but she was on her way: job done.

Outside, Stella struggled to contain her emotion. This is one brave woman, as indeed her man is an exemplar of courage. “What has not been discussed today,” said Stella, “is why I feared for my safety and the safety of our children and for Julian’s life. The constant threats and intimidation we endured for years, which has been terrorising us and has been terrorising Julian for 10 years. We have a right to live, we have a right to exist and we have a right for this nightmare to come to an end once and for all.”

The post A Day in the Death of British Justice first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Journalism, Assange and Reversal in the High Court

British justice is advertised by its proponents as upright, historically different to the savages upon which it sought to civilise, and apparently fair.  Such outrages as the unjust convictions of the Guilford Four and Maguire Seven, both having served time in prison for terrorist offences they did not commit, are treated as blemishes.

In recent memory, fewer blemishes can be more profound and disturbing to a legal system than the treatment of Australian citizen and WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.  The British legal system has been so conspicuously outsourced to the wishes of the US Department of Justice and the military-industrial complex Assange did so much to expose.  The decision of the UK High Court, handed down on December 10, will go down in the annals of law as a particularly disgraceful instance of this.

From the outset, extradition proceedings utilising a First World War US statute – the Espionage Act of 1917 – should have sent legal eagles in the UK swooping with alarm.  17 of the 18 charges Assange is accused of have been drawn from it.  It criminalises the receipt, dissemination and publication of national security information.  It attacks the very foundations of the Fourth Estate’s pursuit of accountability and subverts the protections of the First Amendment in the US constitution.  It invalidates motive and purpose.  And, were this to be successful – and here, the British justices seem willing to ensure that it is – the United States will be able to globally target any publisher of its dirty trove of classified material using an archaic, barbaric law.

It should also have occurred to the good members of the English legal profession that these lamentable proceedings have always been political.  Extraditions are generally not awarded on such grounds.  But this entire affair reeks of it.  The US security establishment wants their man, desperately.   With the coming to power of President Donald Trump, one counterintelligence officer, reflecting on Assange’s plight, made the pertinent observation that, “Nobody in that crew was going to be too broken up about the First Amendment issues.”

The original decision by District Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser was hardly grand.  It was chastising and vicious to journalism, cruel to those revealing information that might expose state abuses and an offense to the sensibility of democratic minded persons.  The point was made that security and intelligence experts, however morally inclined or principled, were best suited to assessing the merits of releasing classified information.  Journalists should never be involved in publishing such material.  Besides, thought the Judge, Assange was not a true journalist.  Such people did not purposely go out to disclose the identities of informants or propagandise their cause.

The only thing going for that otherwise woeful judgment was its acceptance that Assange would well perish in the US legal system.  Noting such cases as Laurie Love, Baraitser accepted that the prosecution had failed to show that Assange would not be placed in a position where he could be prevented from taking his own life.  Should he be sent across the Atlantic, he would face Special Administrative Measures and conclude his life in the wretched cul-de-sac of the ADX Florence supermax.  Any extradition to such conditions of sheer baroque cruelty would be “oppressive” given “his mental condition”.

The prosecution had no qualms trying to appeal and broaden the arguments, citing several propositions.  Contemptibly, these focused on Assange the pretender (suicidal autistics cannot give conference plenaries or host television programs), expert witnesses as deceivers (neuropsychiatrist Michael Kopelman, for initially “concealing” evidence from the court of Assange’s relationship with Stella Moris and their children), and the merits of the US prison system: matronly, saintly, and filled with soft beds and tender shrinks.  Why, scolded the prosecutor James Lewis QC in October, had the good judge not asked the US Department of Justice for reassurances?  Assange would not face the brutal end of special administrative measures.  He would not be sent to decline and moulder in ADX Florence.  He could also serve his sentence in Australia, provided, of course, the Department of Justice approved.

In reversing the decision to discharge Assange, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Ian Burnett, and Lord Justice Timothy Holroyde were persuaded by two of the five grounds submitted by the prosecutors.  Sounding astonishingly naïve (or possibly disingenuous) at points, the justices accepted the prosecution’s argument that undertakings or assurances could be made at a later stage, even during an appeal.  Delays by a requesting state to make such assurances might be tactical and stem from bad faith, but not entertaining such assurances, even if made later, might also result in “a windfall to an alleged or convicted criminal, which would defeat the public interest in extradition.”

Judge Baraitser should have also been mindful of seeking the assurances in the first place, given how vital the issue of Assange’s suicide risk and future treatment in US prisons was in making her decision against extradition.

It followed that the justices did “not accept that the USA refrained for tactical reasons from offering assurances at an earlier stage, or acted in bad faith in choosing only to offer them at the appeal stage.”  Diplomatic Note no. 74 contained “solemn undertakings, offered by one government to another, which will bind all officials and prosecutors who will deal with the relevant aspects of Mr Assange’s case now and in the future.”

This meant that Assange would not be subjected to SAMs, or sent to ADX Florence, and that he would receive appropriate medical treatment to mitigate the risk of suicide.  (The justices erred in not understanding that the assurance to not detain Assange ADX “pre-trial” was irrelevant as ADX is a post-conviction establishment.)  He could also serve his post-trial and post-appeal sentence in Australia, though that would be at the mercy of DOJ approval.  All undertakings were naturally provisional on the conduct of the accused.

As the original judgment was premised upon Assange being subjected to the “harshest SAMs regime”, and given the significance of the evidence submitted by Kopelman and Dr Quinton Deeley on Assange’s suicide risk in “being held under such harsh conditions of isolation”, the justices were “unable to accept the submission that the judge’s conclusion would have been the same if she had not found a real risk of detention in those conditions.”

Such narrow reasoning served to ignore the ample evidence that such diplomatic assurances are unreliable, mutable and without legal standing.  In terms of solitary confinement, the US legal system is filled with euphemistic designations that all amount to aspects of the same thing.  If it is not SAMs, it is certainly something amounting to it, such as Administrative Segregation.

Previous diplomatic assurances given by US authorities have also been found wanting.  The fate of Spanish drug trafficker David Mendoza Herrarte stands out.  In that case, a Spanish court was given an assurance that Mendoza, if extradited to the US to face trial, could serve any subsequent prison sentence in Spain.  When the application to the US Department of Justice was made to make good that undertaking, the transfer application was refused.  The pledge only applied, it was claimed, to allow Mendoza to apply for a transfer; it never meant that the DOJ had to agree to it.  A diplomatic wrangle between Madrid and Washington ensued for six years before the decision was altered.

And just to make such undertakings all the more implausible, the “solemn assurances” were coming from, as Craig Murray pointedly remarked, “a state whose war crimes and murder of civilians were exposed by Julian Assange.”

The justices also failed to consider the murderous elephant in the room, one that had been submitted by the defence at both the extradition hearing and the appeal: that US government officials had contemplated abducting and assassinating the very individual whose extradition they were seeking.  This was a view that held sway with former US Secretary of State and CIA chief Mike Pompeo.

In the United States, talking heads expressed their satisfaction about the glories of the US justice and prison system.  Former Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill told MSNBC that, “This was really a guy who just violated the law”.  Concerns by Assange’s defence team that his “safety in [US] prison” would be compromised showed that “they really don’t have perspective on this”.

It is fittingly monstrous that this decision should be handed down the same day the Nobel Peace Prize was being awarded to two journalists, Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov.  Or that it should happen on Human Rights Day, which saw US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s boast that “we will continue to promote accountability for human rights violators.”  Except one’s own.

Inevitably, these cruel, gradually lethal proceedings move to the next stage: an appeal to the Supreme Court.  As the paperwork is gathered, Assange will muse, grimly, that the entire period of his discharge never saw him leave Belmarsh Prison.

The post Journalism, Assange and Reversal in the High Court first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Christmas Tale: The Downing Street Party, Laughter And Bigger State Crimes

Huge media coverage has been devoted to allegations, and now serious evidence, that a Christmas party was held at 10 Downing Street on 18 December 2020. London was then in a strict lockdown with social events banned, including parties.

In leaked footage obtained by ITV News, senior Downing Street staff are shown four days later, laughing and joking about the party being a ‘business meeting’ with ‘cheese and wine’. Allegra Stratton, then Boris Johnson’s press secretary, was leading a mock televised press briefing and, through laughter, said there had been ‘definitely no social distancing.’

The original story was broken on 30 November by Pippa Crerar, the Daily Mirror political editor.  When pressed at Prime Minister’s Questions, Johnson refused to deny three times that a ‘boozy party’ had taken place at 10 Downing Street when such events were banned.

One source who was aware of the party in Downing Street told ITV News:

‘We all know someone who died from Covid and after seeing this all in the papers I couldn’t not say anything. I’m so angry about it all, the way it is being denied.’

Understandably, there is much public anger, though perhaps little surprise, that the Tory government under Johnson has once again been found to have broken rules and then attempted to deceive the public about it. That anger is felt most keenly by those who suffered the unimaginable pain and grief of not being allowed to be with loved ones who were dying of Covid.

Even BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, who has spent much of her latter career shielding Johnson, began her BBC News website piece on the latest revelations with condemnations from Tory MPs: ‘Indefensible’, ‘catastrophic’ and ‘astonishing’.

She added:

‘Expect to hear plenty of the charge of “one rule for us, one rule for them” in the next few days.

‘On the back of Downing Street’s attempt to change the rules on MPs’ behaviour after former minister Owen Paterson broke them, even some senior Conservatives are making that claim tonight.’

It is possible that this is yet another nail in the coffin for Johnson’s leadership of the Tory party. There will surely come a time, if it has not already, when the Conservatives will assess that he has become an electoral liability and that he must be replaced to ‘steady the ship’ in order to continue promoting elite interests. After all, financial capital and the establishment require a ‘respectable’ figure at the helm.

While public anger is justified and entirely understandable, with the ‘mainstream’ media judging that the scandal deserves laser-like focus and intensity, the bigger picture is that the government has committed much greater crimes that have not received the same level of scrutiny.

A Surreptitious Parade Of Parliamentary Bills

Just one example is the Health and Care Bill that was being passed while the furore over the Downing Street Christmas party was erupting. As John Pilger observed:

‘The US assault on the National Health Service, legislated by the Johnson govt, is now relentless – but always by “stealth”, as Thatcher planned.’

Pilger, whose 2019 documentary, The Dirty War on the NHS, is a must-watch, urged everyone to read ‘a rare explanatory piece’ on this assault, largely ignored by corporate media including the BBC. The article, by policy analyst Stewart Player and GP Bob Gill, warned that the ‘Health and Care Bill making its way through official channels simply reinforces’ the ‘penetration of the healthcare system’ by private interests; in particular, the giant U.S. insurer UnitedHealth.

Player and Gill explained that the bill’s centrepiece is a national scheme of Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) across all 42 health regions of England. This network of ICSs ‘is being effectively designed and fast-tracked by the private UnitedHealth’.

They continued:

‘The Health and Care Bill will essentially provide legislative lock-in for the changes already embedded throughout the NHS. Patients will be denied care to generate profits for the ICS, over which their family physician or hospital specialist will have no influence, while the growing unmet patient need will have to be serviced either through out-of-pocket payments, top-up private insurance, or not at all.’

Player and Gill warned:

‘The NHS will, in the immediate future, resemble “Medicare Advantage” or “Medicaid Managed Care”, a basic, publicly funded, privately controlled and delivered corporate cash cow repurposed to make profit, though in time the full range of the organizational options found in the U.S. will follow.

‘All this will increase the total cost of healthcare, deliver less, harm thousands, enrich foreign corporations and destroy what was once Britain’s national pride.’

Where is the in-depth scrutiny and across-the-board coverage of this scandal?

Likewise, where is the large-scale, non-stop ‘mainstream’ media outrage over the Tory government’s Nationality and Border Bill to be voted on this week? Home Secretary Priti Patel said the Bill would tackle ‘illegal’ immigration and the ‘underlying pull factors into the UK’s asylum system’.

However, as Labour activist Mish Rahman noted via Twitter:

‘While ppl are focused on the video of the govt laughing at us a year ago and a Downing Street Party – the government, with the minimum of media coverage are getting the Nationality & Borders bill passed which will allow them to strip ppl like me of my citizenship without notice’

A report by the New Statesman found that almost six million people from ethnic minority backgrounds in England and Wales could have their British citizenship in jeopardy. Al Jazeera noted that:

‘The bill also aims to rule as inadmissible asylum claims made by undocumented people as well as criminalise them and anyone taking part in refugee rescue missions in the English Channel.’

But, as Jonathan Cook, pointed out: ‘Britain helped create the refugees it now wants to keep out’, adding:

‘Those making perilous journeys for asylum in Europe have been displaced by wars and droughts, for which the West is largely to blame.’

The bill is being pushed through shortly after the appalling tragedy of 27 people losing their lives at sea while attempting a Channel crossing from France to England. Compounding the tragedy:

‘Barely noted by the media was the fact that the only two survivors separately said British and French coastguards ignored their phone calls for help as their boat began to sink.’

Cook summarised his analysis:

‘Europe is preparing to make its borders impregnable to the victims of its colonial interference, its wars and the climate crisis that its consumption-driven economies have generated.’

Meanwhile, yet another bill endangering life and liberty is being pushed by the government. Patel has just added an extra 18-page amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. George Monbiot warned:

‘It looks like a deliberate ploy to avoid effective parliamentary scrutiny. Yet in most of the media there’s a resounding silence.’

The bill seeks to add to the existing plethora of legislation, together with sinister undercover police and surveillance operations, that obstruct and criminalise protest and dissent. Monbiot noted that, if the bill passes, it will become:

‘a criminal offence to obstruct in any way major transport works from being carried out, again with a maximum sentence of 51 weeks. This looks like an attempt to end meaningful protest against road-building and airport expansion. Other amendments would greatly expand police stop and search powers.’

He added:

‘Protest is an essential corrective to the mistakes of government. Had it not been for the tactics Patel now seeks to ban, the pointless and destructive road-building programme the government began in the early 1990s would have continued: eventually John Major’s government conceded it was a mistake, and dropped it. Now governments are making the greatest mistake in human history – driving us towards systemic environmental collapse – and Boris Johnson’s administration is seeking to ensure that there is nothing we can do to stop it.’

Unscrutinised UK Foreign Policy

While corporate news coverage continues to delve into the 2020 Downing Street Christmas party, the humanitarian disaster in Yemen, fuelled in significant part by UK foreign policy, barely gets a mention. Cook rightly observed:

‘Britain and others have aided Saudi Arabia in its prolonged, near-genocidal bombing campaigns and blockade against Yemen. Recent reports have suggested that as many as 300 Yemeni children are dying each day as a result. And yet, after decades of waging economic warfare on these Middle Eastern countries, western states have the gall to decry those fleeing the collapse of their societies as “economic migrants”.’

We wrote in a recent media alert that Matt Kennard and Phil Miller of Declassified UK had investigated the largely-hidden role of a factory owned by arms exporter BAE Systems in the Lancashire village of Warton. The factory supplies military equipment to the Saudi Arabian regime, enabling it to continue its devastating attacks on Yemen.

Kennard and Miller reported that:

‘Boris Johnson recently visited Warton and claimed the BAE site was part of his “levelling up agenda”. No journalist covering the visit seems to have reported the factory’s role in a war.’

In fact, you could take just about any article published on the exemplary Declassified UK website and compare its quality journalism with the omission-ridden, power-friendly output of ‘respectable’ media. Here is a recent sample:

  • Anne Cadwallader on the UK government’s attempt to rewrite the history of British policy in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, the UK government is actually ‘censoring numerous files showing British army complicity in the deaths of civilians, depriving bereaved families of access to the truth.’ See also Michael Oswald’s documentary film, ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’, about Colin Wallace, an intelligence officer in Northern Ireland who became a whistleblower and was framed for murder, likely by UK intelligence. Declassified UK published a review of this important film, describing it as ‘essential viewing for anyone who seeks to hold power to account, who seeks to understand the dark links between state intelligence and the media apparatus.’
  • An article by Richard Norton-Taylor, the former Guardian security editor, titled, ‘Manchester bombing: What are the security agencies hiding?’. He wrote: ‘We need to know why MI5 and MI6 appear to have placed their involvement in power struggles in Libya, and Britain’s commercial interests there, above those of the safety of its own citizens.’
  • Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis reported that Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett, the judge that will soon decide Julian Assange’s fate, is a close personal friend of Sir Alan Duncan who once described Assange in Parliament as a ‘miserable little worm’. When Duncan was the UK foreign minister, he arranged Assange’s eviction from the Ecuadorian embassy.
  • Israeli historian Ilan Pappé wrote that ‘Britain is ensuring the death of a Palestinian state’. His piece explained that: ‘The UK claims to support a “two-state” solution in Israel-Palestine but the body of a Palestinian state has long been in the morgue, although nobody dares to have a funeral. As long as Britain and other states continue to superficially endorse a two-state solution, Israel will become entrenched as a full-blown apartheid state with international blessing.’

Any one of these topics, and many more on the Declassified UK website, would be a major item on ‘mainstream’ news if there was a functioning ‘Fourth Estate’ to scrutinise power and hold it to account. In particular, Israel is continually given a free pass by the ‘free press’.

Israeli journalist Gideon Levy – a rare example of a journalist who regularly reports and comments on Israel’s serious crimes – published a recent piece, ‘A Brief History of Killing Children’. He wrote:

‘Soldiers and pilots have killed 2,171 children and teenagers, and not one of these cases shocked anyone here, or sparked a real investigation or led to a trial. More than 2,000 children in 20 years – 100 children, three classrooms a year. And all of them, down to the last, were found guilty of their own death.’

Needless to say, these facts are hidden, or at best glossed over, by ‘responsible’ news outlets. As we pointed out last month on Twitter after Israel had dropped bombs on Syria’s capital Damascus – the fourth Israeli attack on Syria in three weeks:

‘Hello @BBCNews

‘Seen this? Of course you have. But most likely you’ll ignore Israel’s latest breaking of international law. Or, at best, you’ll mention it briefly at 3am on  @bbcworldservice

‘You are indeed the world’s most refined propaganda service, as @johnpilger says.’

The ‘mainstream’ media has almost entirely ignored major reports by two human rights groups – B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch – classing Israel as an apartheid state. Cook observed that, despite this, ‘the Labour and Tory parties are now competing to be its best friend’. Commenting on a ‘shameful speech’ by Labour leader Keir Starmer that uncritically supported Israel, Cook added:

‘Israel’s apartheid character, its vigorous lobby and support for a boycott are all off the table. But worse, Labour, like the Conservative party, is once again reluctant even to criticise the occupation.’

Near-silence also greeted human rights groups’ condemnation of the UK government’s announcement of a new 10-year trade and defence deal with Israel. The Morning Star was virtually alone in giving ample space to critical voices, such as Katie Fallon of Campaign Against the Arms Trade:

‘The evidence that Israeli spyware has been used against journalists, human rights defenders and lawyers in the UK continues to pile up. This agreement signals that the government prioritises trade deals to the degree that they are willing to jeopardise the security of people in the UK who are most at risk of illegal surveillance — totally at odds with their stated foreign policy priority to protect and support human rights defenders.’

War on War’s senior campaigner for militarism and security, Chi-Chi Shi said:

‘If the UK government observed its duty to uphold human rights and international law, it would end the UK-Israel arms trade.

‘Instead, it is actively enabling grave human rights abuses and Israel’s occupation and apartheid regime against the Palestinian people.’

But full, accurate and critical coverage of anything to do with Israel is essentially out of bounds for ‘mainstream’ news media.

So, too, is anything that truly exposes the role of corporate and financial power in driving humanity to the point of extinction: a vital point which we have repeatedly emphasised since Media Lens began in 2001.

Following the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, the esteemed climate scientist James Hansen summarised that ‘COP meetings are actually Conferences of the Pretenders’ 1.

He continued:

‘Political leaders make statements that they know – or should know – are blatant nonsense. COPs can produce numerous minor accomplishments, which is sufficient reason to continue with the meetings.’

In typically blunt fashion, Hansen stated:

‘Why is nobody telling young people the truth? “We preserved the chance at COP26 to keep global warming below 1.5°C.” What bullshit! “Solar panels are now cheaper than fossil fuels, so all we are missing is political will.” What horse manure! “If we would just agree to consume less, the climate problem could be solved.” More nonsense!’

‘Young people, I am sorry to say that – although the path to a bright future exists and is straightforward – it will not happen without your understanding and involvement in the political process.’

Noam Chomsky, who recently turned 93, concurs. Asked what is the greatest obstacle to solving the climate crisis, he responded:

‘There are two major obstacles. One is, of course, the fossil fuel companies. Second is the governments of the world, including Europe and the United States.’

Ending the climate crisis, says Chomsky, ‘has to come from mass popular action’, not politicians.

While corporate news media are content to expose the galling, but comparatively minor crime of holding a Christmas party at 10 Downing Street during lockdown, they remain essentially silent about much bigger state crimes.

  1. ‘A Realistic Path to a Bright Future’, newsletter [pdf], 3 December 2021
The post A Christmas Tale: The Downing Street Party, Laughter And Bigger State Crimes first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Britain’s Two Job Politicians

The role of the parliamentarian, historically, is one of service.  The desire to hold two jobs, or more, suggests that such service is severely qualified.  In the quotient of democracy and representation, the MP who is ready to tend to the affairs of others is unlikely to focus on the voter.  I represent you, but I also represent my client who so happens to be parking his cash in offshore tax havens.  I represent you, but I am moonlighting as an advisor for an armaments company.

This condition has become rather acute in the British political scene.  While a backbencher earns £81,932 annually plus expenses, they may pursue consultancies in the private sector as long as they do not engage in lobbying – a ridiculous fine line.  Astonishingly, there is no limit on the number of hours they may spend on these additional jobs.  Accordingly, members of parliament have shown marked confusion on how to separate their various jobs.  Every so often, business has tended to find its way into the member’s office.

A stunning feature of the British system is that there is no revolving door to speak of.  Politicians can seamlessly undertake contracts and perform services, irrespective of their parliamentary position.  The conditions and rules have a Gilbert and Sullivan absurdity to them.

One such figure exemplifies this.  Between October 2016 and February 2020, Conservative MP Owen Paterson received remuneration for lobbying efforts on behalf of two companies: the medical diagnostics company Randox, and meat processing entity Lynn’s Country Foods.  The report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone, conveyed to the Parliamentary Committee on Standards, was a thorough and scathing effort on Paterson’s exploits.

In his dealings with Randox, the Commissioner found that Paterson “sought to promote Randox products, including their ‘superior technology’ and thereby sought to confer benefits on Randox.” He “sought assistance with accreditation for Randox’s technology” and sought to promote “other, unrelated, Randox technologies”.  Then came the seedy connection: efforts to promote Randox testing by government agencies.

The smelly nature of Paterson’s advocacy for Lynn’s arose because of efforts made by the MP to approach the Food Standards Agency, at the request of the company, because of concerns dealing with the mislabelling of the food producer’s ham product and a product used by Lynn’s to cure bacon.  The Commissioner also noted Paterson’s initiated contact with the Minister of State (DfID) on the subject of laboratory calibration in developing countries.  All were held to be “in breach of the rules on paid advocacy.”

Paterson, for his part, has claimed that the investigation was uncalled for, unjust and pernicious, having allegedly caused his wife’s suicide in June 2020.  The Standards Committee did take this into account as a mitigating factor on the penalty, and noted Paterson’s “passion for and expertise in food and farming matters”.  For all that, the members found that the MP’s conduct had been “an egregious case of paid advocacy.”  He had “repeatedly failed to perceive his conflict of interest and used his privileged position as a Member of Parliament to secure benefits for two companies for whom he was a paid consultant”.  Bringing the House into disrepute, a penalty of suspension of 30 sitting days was warranted.

The response from the governing Tories was one abundant in viciousness.  In trying to save Paterson from the 30-day suspension, Conservative MPs put forth an amendment in an effort to dismantle the very watchdog that had found Paterson out.  A review of the investigation’s findings on Paterson’s conduct was also proposed.  As committee chair Chris Bryant rued, “The definition of injustice is you change the rules in the midst of the process.”

It logically fell upon the investigator to face the chop.  Stone was duly rounded on.  Her office was deluged with abusive messages.  The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, revealed after the vote that Stone had been called upon to consider her position.  It was, claimed Kwarteng on breakfast radio, “difficult to see what the future of the commissioner was”.  Within hours, she found out that her position would probably be safe, with Johnson’s government having executed yet another one of its famous U-turns of spectacular confusion.

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had a rather novel interpretation of the proceedings in approving an amendment that would essentially abolish the standards system – if one could even call it that.  “The issue in this case, which involved a serious family tragedy, is whether the member of this House had a fair opportunity to make representations in this case and whether, as a matter of national justice, our procedures in this House allow for proper appeal.”

Despite Johnson’s efforts to save Paterson, the MP quit on November 4.  And just to make matters worse, a raging fire had been lit, enveloping other members of the government.   Former Attorney General, Sir Geoffrey Cox, was the next figure to find himself burning brightly.  Cox had received some £6 million in addition to his MP salary for a retainer with the law firm Withers. This included an annual fee of £400,000, and an additional £156,916.08 for 140 hours of work undertaken between April and May 31, 2021.

To show the high regard he held for the voters of his electorate, Cox had also been in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) for a number of weeks, meaning that he was absent from his constituency while being an advisor on a corruption inquiry.

To the likes of Paterson and Cox can be added scores of Tory MPs, among them Johnson  himself, who is estimated to have received £4 million from second job income over the course of 14 years.

With typical, and in this case cringing understatement, International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan has suggested that it would be “wise” to review the rules around second jobs.  But she did not favour a total ban, suggesting that Parliament would somehow miss out if MPs could not perform such services as that of a doctor or nurse.

Such a view is also held by Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, who claimed it was vital that MPs “maintain connections to the world beyond so that we may draw the insight and expertise that this experience offers”.

In an effort to make some modification to the rules, Johnson has now proposed a measure that any outside role undertaken by parliamentarians, paid or otherwise, can be undertaken “within reasonable limits”.  Trevelyan has suggested that “reasonable”, in this context, is 15 hours.  Labour’s defeated proposal had been to place all second jobs, bar a select few, on the banned list.

The central question to this unfolding farce remains: If you are doing other jobs that are not directly connected to your function as a parliamentarian, are you really representing your constituency?  The likes of Cox, more brazen than ever, square the circle in thinking you do.

The post Britain’s Two Job Politicians first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The CIA, Empty Assurances and Assange’s Defence

The second day of appellate proceedings by the United States against Julian Assange saw the defence make their case against the overturning of District Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s January ruling.  Any extradition to the US, she concluded, would be so oppressive to the publisher as to render it unjust under UK extradition law.  Before the UK High Court, both Edward Fitzgerald QC and Mark Summers QC sought to preserve the status quo.

The morning session was focused on defending the action of the defence witness Michael Kopelman, whose initial psychiatric assessment of Assange’s wellbeing omitted reference to Stella Moris and the existence of their two children.  The prosecution had contended that this impaired Kopelman’s partiality before the court, notwithstanding his correction to the account in the final court submission.  The omission, Fitzgerald contended, was justified given fears of the surveillance operation in the Ecuadorian embassy mounted by the Central Intelligence Agency, and concerns about potential abduction and assassination.  This point had been confirmed in the now famous Yahoo! News report.

A day prior to the submission of the initial report, Kopelman had sought legal advice from the head of the solicitor’s firm acting for Assange, Gareth Peirce.  But as Peirce was facing an avalanche of documents to be served at the time – surveillance, allegations of kidnapping and poisoning, among other things – she was unable to furnish him with timely advice.  Baraitser duly found that Kopelman’s conduct, while misleading, was not that of a dishonest individual but “a very human response”.  The judge also knew about the identity of Moris prior to reading the initial report.

To bolster Kopelman before the attacks of the prosecution, the defence adduced the opinion of consultant forensic psychiatrist Keith Rix, a noted authority on the ethical duties of psychiatric experts.  Kopelman had, in Rix’s view “acted ‘professionally’; responsibly’ and he ‘exercised appropriate and reasonable caution’” in omitting reference to Moris and the children in his initial report.

The defence also suggested that the US government could not have been surprised by the relationship between Moris and Assange and their children.  Nigel Blackwood, one of prosecution’s doctors of choice, was informed of the children’s existence in March 2020.

Fitzgerald, mindful of addressing Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett, reminded him about the parallels between the Assange case and the hacktivist Lauri Love, whose extradition was overturned in 2018.  Love’s extradition to the US was initially approved by the Westminster Magistrate’s Court but was overturned in the High Court with Burnett presiding. Love had also been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a contributing factor to his suicide risk in a US prison facility.  The court there had accepted a “predictive function” so frowned upon by James Lewis QC, whose submission the previous day insisted that current medical valuations – and notably those of the prosecution – were the only ones that counted.

Burnett took issue with the characterisation.  “It’s a completely different case,” he interjected, citing the fact that the district judge in Love’s case had found that preventive measures were adequate and would prevent suicide.  District Judge Baraitser had found the opposite with regards to Assange.  Fitzgerald contended the mental disorders in question were the same in both cases and that these would have a role in depriving intelligent individuals of volition in being at risk of suicide.

The defence submission to the High Court also makes the point that District Judge Baraitser “found that the cause of both the urge to commit suicide and the determined circumvention of suicide measures would be Mr Assange’s mental disorder itself.”  This was based on the evidence from consultant neuropsychiatrist Quinton Deeley about the effects of Assange’s Autism Spectrum Disorder and Kopelman’s submission on the effects of Assange’s depression.

After lunch, Summers took aim at the prosecution’s package of “assurances” regarding Assange’s fate in the pre-trial and post-trial phase. These included an undertaking that Assange would not be subject to oppressive Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), face solitary confinement or even end up in the ADX Florence supermax prison facility if convicted.  They also include a promise that Assange would receive appropriate “clinical and psychological treatment” as “recommended” by the relevant prison clinician.  If convicted, the US government would permit him to apply for a prisoner transfer to serve his sentence in Australia subject, of course, to Australian approval.

In the view of the defence, the entire package was unreliable.  Even assuming they would be acted upon, they would be inadequate.  They were also oddly timed and untestable, being given only after Baraitser’s ruling.  They only addressed two of the seven grounds for finding that Assange faced a substantial risk of suicide, and even then, inadequately addressed those limited issues.  And how could you trust such pledges from a power whose officials had considered abducting and killing Assange?

The previous day, Lewis had argued that the onus was on the judge to seek those assurances on how Assange would be treated in the first place.  This rather odd interpretation was given a deserved shredding by Summers.  Through the extradition hearing, the discussion about SAMs, ADX Florence and solitary confinement was frequent.  The prosecution might well have taken these conditions off the table but as Baraitser herself observed, “Mr Kromberg acknowledged that their imposition is possible.”

Furthermore, these new “conditional assurances do not in fact remove the real risk of detention on SAMs or on ADX.  They certainly do not remove the very real risk of detention or administrative segregation.”  The US authorities still reserved, according to the filed submission, “the power to impose SAMs on Mr Assange ‘in the event that, after entry of this assurance, he was to commit any future act that met the test for the imposition of a SAM’.”  Even leaving the matter of SAMs and ADX Florence, Assange would still risk facing “other severely isolating prison regimes or other notorious prisons in the US about which the [District Judge] heard copious evidence.”

Lewis, for the prosecution, suggested that such regimes as Administrative Segregation (AdSeg) could not be equated to solitary confinement.  But the US prison system is replete with terminology designed to conceal what amounts to the same thing. “Prisons often hide behind these rhetorical labels [the hole, AdSeg, protective custody, SMU, SHU] to avoid scrutiny under legal sanctions that prohibit indefinite placement in solitary confinement and require due process for those who are sentenced,” claims the US-based human rights body, the National Immigrant Justice Center.

The defence’s High Court submission also notes the crude reality that, “One agency with power to recommend SAMs to the attorney general (on the basis of some unspecified ‘act’ they perceive Mr Assange to have committed) is the CIA – the very same agency whose criminal acts Mr Assange has sought to expose and who are under active investigation in Spain for plotting to kill him.”

Continuing the focus on the role of the CIA, Summers reminded the judges that this was the “first time the US had sought the assistance of a UK court in obtaining jurisdiction” over an individual a US government entity had considered poisoning or assassinating.  “That is worthy of an investigation in relation to the assurances.”  The CIA had shown an “obsession for vengeance”; there was “credible evidence of US government plans at some length to do serious harm to Mr Assange”.

Drawing from the Yahoo! News report, Summers noted “discussions in the Oval Office about killing [Assange]” and “sketches drawn in the summer of 2017 as matters escalated to render him back to America from the UK.  But the UK refused to go along with this.”  The then CIA director Mike Pompeo was “on the record that some things are true and it’s under Congressional investigation.”

The assurance that Assange could be transferred to an Australian prison also deserved some measure of scorn.  “Mr Assange will most likely be dead before [this assurance] can have any purchase, if it ever could.”  Precedent also showed that the US could not be trusted to keep the undertaking.

The case of Spanish drug trafficker David Mendoza Herrarte was cited by Summers.  In that instance, a Spanish court was given an assurance that Mendoza, if extradited to the US to face trial, could serve any prison sentence in Spain.  The US Department of Justice had something else in mind, initially refusing the transfer application when it was made.  The pledge, it was subsequently claimed, had been to secure Mendoza the liberty to apply for a transfer; the DOJ retained the right to reject it.  It took six years of diplomatic tussling between Madrid and Washington, with the encouragement of the Spanish Supreme Court, to eventually secure the prisoner release.

In his rebuttal, Lewis, who omitted any reference to the role of the CIA, having previously dismissed such claims as “palpable nonsense”, made light of the tardiness of the US offer of assurances.  “It is proper to deal with assurances at any stage.  This is not a sea change.  Assurances are not evidence.  The fact is it is common sense that an assurance will be reactive in nature.”  Conditions might change. Even if a person was released, Lewis proposed, citing precedent, the extradition process might well be restarted on the basis of assurances given by the requesting state.  “We could start again with Assange.”  A promise of perennial legal purgatory.

This second and concluding day was illuminating in casting light on the barbarously defective nature of the entire effort against Assange.  The fact that it had reached the appeal stage is itself a grotesque reflection on British justice.  The fact that these proceedings could even assume that Assange might either get a fair trial or be treated fairly in a US prison after officials had chewed over the possibility of abducting or killing him can only be described as disturbed lunacy.  The US government, Fitzgerald remarked at one point, was happy to submit such declarations as those of Assistant US Attorney Gordon Kromberg, but not “subject themselves to cross-examination.  They cross-examine till the cows come home the defence experts.”

The High Court justices will now consider whether to continue this lamentable, sadistic enterprise.  The defence team are considering cross-appealing parts of the original decision on the grounds that it constitutes a grave threat to press liberties.  Whatever the outcome, an appeal to the Supreme Court is likely.  In the meantime, the torture of Assange by process will continue.

The post The CIA, Empty Assurances and Assange’s Defence first appeared on Dissident Voice.

After success against Corbyn, Israel lobby ousts UK scholar

Britain’s pro-Israel lobby gained another important scalp last week after a prolonged campaign of intimidation finally pushed a major UK university into firing one of its lecturers.

Bristol University dismissed David Miller, a political sociology professor, even though an official investigation had concluded that accusations of antisemitism against him were unfounded.

Research by Miller, a leading scholar on propaganda, had charted networks of influence in the UK in relation to Islamophobia that included the very pro-Israel lobby groups that worked to get him fired.

The decision is likely to prove a severe blow to academic freedoms in the UK that are already under growing threat from efforts to silence criticism of Israel in the wake of reports from Israeli and international human rights describing it as an apartheid state.

Bristol faced a similar campaign four years ago against another professor, Rebecca Gould, years after she wrote an article on how Israel used the memory of the Holocaust to “whitewash its crimes” against Palestinians. Despite demands that she be sacked, Gould survived, possibly in part because she is Jewish.

Lobby emboldened

But since that attack, an emboldened pro-Israel lobby has been increasingly successful in conflating criticism of Israel – and the activities of groups that seek to shield Israel from scrutiny – with antisemitism.

The lobby smelled blood with the success of its years-long campaign to vilify the previous leader of Britain’s opposition Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, an outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights. They argued that he had presided over a plague of antisemitism in Labour. Corbyn stepped down as leader last year.

The evidence-free claims of an “antisemitism crisis” under Corbyn were amplified by the billionaire-owned media and Labour’s own right-wing bureaucracy, both of which wanted the socialist Corbyn gone.

In a sign of the lobby’s continuing hold on political discourse in the UK about Israel and antisemitism, Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer, has been purging the party of Corbyn’s supporters, including Jews, smearing them as antisemites.

At Labour’s party conference last month, however, Starmer faced a backlash. Delegates voted in favor of a motion declaring Israel an apartheid state. The motion also demanded sanctions against Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land and an end to UK arms sale to Israel.

Islamophobia fomented

With Bristol’s sacking of Miller, the key battleground appears to be shifting to academia, where it is feared that the idea of Israel as an apartheid state may gain a foothold. The lobby has been noisily celebrating the professor’s dismissal, presumably in the hope that a clear message is sent to other academics to rein in their public criticisms of Israel.

The campaign against Miller started more than two years ago, after the professor published research on “five pillars of Islamophobia” in British society. One diagram illustrated the organizational ties between pro-Israel lobby groups in the UK and a set of what Israel terms “national institutions” in fomenting Islamophobia.

Miller was bringing to light the influence of this network of transnational institutions that in Israel’s view represent a global “Jewish nation” whose homeland is Israel.

(Paradoxically, the Zionist belief that Jews form a single people who need to organize globally through a complex network of transnational and local institutions to ward off antisemitism neatly mirrors antisemitic ideas of Jews being part of a global conspiracy.)

So-called “national institutions” such as the Jewish National Fund, the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency all enjoy quasi-state authority in Israel while establishing affiliated local organizations in most major western countries.

For example, the JNF oversees racist land allocation policies that privilege Jews over Palestinians on behalf of the Israeli state while also having active branches in Europe and North America. And the WZO, which has a dozen or so affiliated organizations operating around the world, runs arm’s length operations for the Israeli state settling Jews on Palestinian land in the occupied territory.

Miller’s work showed how these agencies, effectively acting as arms of the Israeli state, have deep institutional and funding ties to UK Zionist groups – the same groups that have pushed for the redefinition of antisemitism in ways designed to silence criticism of Israel and that led the campaign against Corbyn.

His research suggested that the lobby’s promotion of Islamophobia had played a part of those campaigns.

‘Civilisational divide’

Fear of Muslims and Islam has long bolstered a self-serving narrative that Israel stands with the Judeo-Christian west against a supposed Islamic barbarism and terrorism. Palestinians, despite the fact a significant proportion are Christian, have been presented as on the wrong side of that supposed civilizational divide.

Backed by establishment media, the Union of Jewish Students originally alleged that a lecture by Miller on Islamophobia had made two unnamed Bristol students “uncomfortable and intimidated”.

But far from representing all Jewish students, the UJS is an avowedly Zionist body, one affiliated through the World Union of Jewish Students to the World Zionist Organization, the “national institution” whose role includes directing Israel’s building of illegal Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

The UJS has also played a critical role in pushing for the adoption of a new definition of antisemitism at universities that, far from protecting Jewish students from hatred, is – as we shall see – designed to shield Israel from scrutiny.

Antisemitism redefined

Miller was cleared of the lobby’s initial allegations, but that served only to intensify the campaign against him. He was subjected to a follow-up investigation by Bristol University earlier this year.

In response, some 200 scholars, including prominent figures such as Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler, both of them Jewish, petitioned the university. Their letter noted the “unrelenting and concerted efforts to publicly vilify” Miller.

The professor, they added, was “known internationally for exposing the role that powerful actors and well-resourced, coordinated networks play in manipulating and stage-managing public debates, including on racism.”

Miller’s sacking follows the lobby’s success in pressuring major institutions, including Bristol university, into adopting a controversial new definition of antisemitism promoted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Of a set of 11 supposed examples of antisemitism posited by the IHRA, seven refer to Israel.

Even the lead author of the definition, a Jewish lawyer, Kenneth Stern, has urged public institutions against adopting it, warning that it has been “weaponized” to stop speech about Israel. His warnings have fallen on deaf ears.

The ruling Conservative party has joined the pressure campaign, celebrating last month the fact that the number of British universities adopting the IHRA definition had rocketed by 160 percent over the past year – from 30 to 80.

That may in part be explained by the fact that the government has threatened the funding of any universities that refuse to comply.

Paradoxically, at the same as Boris Johnson’s government has been seeking to silence criticism of Israel, it has also been demanding an end to what it calls “cancel culture” at universities – chiefly attempts by students to deny a platform to racist and transphobic speakers.

The campaign against Miller has won the backing of large numbers of politicians from all parties, even the sole Green legislator, Caroline Lucas. More than 100 members of parliament wrote to Bristol university in March, echoing the lobby groups’ claims that the professor was “inciting hatred against Jewish students”.

Cleared of antisemitism, fired anyway

Strangely, when Bristol launched its second investigation back in March, a government minister announced: “It is the responsibility of the University of Bristol to determine whether or not Prof Miller’s remarks constitute lawful free speech.”

In a statement on Miller’s dismissal last week, the university conceded that the senior lawyer it appointed had not found anything “unlawful” in Miller’s comments.

In fact, Miller told Mondoweiss, the university’s statement was itself misleading. Their lawyer’s report had, he said, “found that my comments were not antisemitic and that they did not in any way violate the Equality Act”.

Despite the lawyer finding in Miller’s favor, the university nonetheless sacked him. It said it had “a duty of care to all students and the wider University community” and that Miller had failed to “meet the standards of behaviour we expect from our staff”.

This appeared to be the university’s mealy-mouthed equivalent of “bringing the party into disrepute” – the UK Labour party’s justification for suspending and expelling members when it proved impossible to actually find evidence against them to support claims of antisemitism.

Miller has said he will appeal, either using the university’s own internal procedures or referring the case to an employment tribunal.

Bristol may have problems defending its actions. Its statement poses more questions than it answers.

Does the university not also have a duty of care to Miller himself, if nothing he did was found to be unlawful or antisemitic?

And as the university admits that “members of our community hold very different views from one another” on the issues at the heart of the investigation, does it not also have a duty of care to Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and left-wing students?

The university has sent a clear message to them that their concerns about Islamophobia, and how it is being promoted in the UK, are a very low priority – and that even academics who speak in solidarity with them risk losing their job.

And how is it possible to square the university’s claim that it is committed to preserving “the essential principles of academic freedom” when it has so flagrantly caved in to an unsubstantiated campaign of intimidation?

Miller’s sacking makes it all but impossible for any other academic to consider either research into Islamophobia or an examination of the role of an important UK lobby, leaving these fields effectively off-limits.

Causing offense

Miller’s research has proved to have predictive value – one of the yardsticks for measuring the plausibility of its thesis.

The very networks of influence he identified as seeking to silence criticism of Israel quickly got to work trumpeting their victory against Miller on social media, making sure that other academics would get the message.

ACT.IL, which if it were operating on behalf of Russia rather than Israel would be described as a troll factory, rallied its followers to denounce Miller online for “spouting antisemitism”.

The case has been similarly misrepresented in the British media, which has been leading the campaign against Miller, as it did against Corbyn.

A report in the supposedly liberal Guardian described Miller’s case as splitting “the campus between staff and students who accused him of spouting antisemitic tropes in lectures and online, and those who worried that sanctions would stifle sensitive research”.

The assumption in the Guardian and elsewhere was that Miller had indeed “spouted antisemitic tropes”, and that the only question was whether sacking him was too high a price – given the danger it might stifle research.

It never occurred to the Guardian or other media outlets that some staff and students – as well as the Queen’s Counsel investigating the case – did not actually believe Miller had “spouted antisemitic tropes”.

In truth, Miller’s research and his statements on the lobby and Islamophobia only appeared antisemitic in a new, highly politicized sense of the term – cultivated by the Israel lobby – that criticizing Israel and its lobbyists causes offense.

But that is inevitable when research challenges popular assumptions or questions systems of power. Universities either support academic research and where it leads, or they do not.

Miller noted that the lobby’s success would encourage it to “redouble it efforts” to campaign for other academics to be dismissed.

Despite its weasel statement, Bristol has shown it has absolutely no commitment to academic freedom. The danger now is that few other British universities will stand up for that principle either.

• First published in Mondoweiss

The post After success against Corbyn, Israel lobby ousts UK scholar first appeared on Dissident Voice.