Category Archives: United Kingdom

Keir Starmer has returned western imperialism to the core of Labour policy

The local authority election results earlier this month in the UK were as bleak as expected for Boris Johnson’s government, with the electorate ready to punish the ruling party both for its glaring corruption and rocketing high-street prices.

A few weeks earlier, the police fined Johnson – the first of several such penalties he is expected to receive – for attending a series of parties that broke the very lockdown rules his own government set. And the election took place as news broke that the UK would soon face recession and the highest inflation rate for decades.

In the circumstances, one might have assumed the opposition Labour Party under Keir Starmer would romp home, riding a wave of popular anger. But in reality, Starmer’s party fared little better than Johnson’s. Outside London, Labour was described as “treading water” across much of England.

Starmer is now two years into his leadership and has yet to make a significant mark politically. Labour staff are cheered that in opinion polls the party is finally ahead – if marginally – of Johnson’s Tories. Nonetheless, the public remains adamant that Starmer does not look like a prime minister in waiting.

That may be in large part because he rarely tries to land a blow against a government publicly floundering in its own corruption.

When Johnson came close to being brought down at the start of the year, as the so-called “partygate scandal” erupted with full force, it was not through Labour’s efforts. It was because of relentless leaks presumed to be from Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former adviser turned nemesis.

Starmer has been equally incapable of cashing in on the current mutinous rumblings against Johnson from within his own Tory ranks.

Self-inflicted wounds

Starmer’s ineffectualness seems entirely self-inflicted.

In part, that is because his ambitions are so low. He has been crafting policies to look more like a Tory-lite party that focuses on “the flag, veterans [and] dressing smartly”, as an internal Labour review recommended last year.

But equally significantly, he has made it obvious he sees his first duty not to battle for control of the national political terrain against Johnson’s government, but to expend his energies on waging what is becoming a permanent internal war on sections of his own party.

That has required gutting Labour of large parts of the membership that were attracted by his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, a democratic socialist who spent his career emphasising the politics of anti-racism and anti-imperialism.

To distance himself from Corbyn, Starmer has insisted on the polar opposites. He has been allying ever more closely with Israel, just as a new consensus has emerged in the human rights community that Israel is a racist, apartheid state.

And he has demanded unquestioning loyalty to Nato, just as the western military alliance pours weapons into Ukraine, in what looks to be rapidly becoming a cynical proxy war, dissuading both sides from seeking a peace agreement and contributing to a surge in the stock price of the West’s military industries.

Broken promises

Starmer’s direction of travel flies in the face of promises he made during the 2020 leadership election that he would heal the internal divisions that beset his predecessor’s tenure.

Corbyn, who was the choice of the party’s largely left-wing members in 2015, immediately found himself in a head-on collision with the dominant faction of right-wing MPs in the Labour parliamentary caucus as well as the permanent staff at head office.

Once leader, Starmer lost no time in stripping Corbyn of his position as a Labour MP. He cited as justification Corbyn’s refusal to accept evidence-free allegations of antisemitism against the party under his leadership that had been loudly amplified by an openly hostile media.

Corbyn had suffered from a years-long campaign, led by pro-Israel lobby groups and the media, suggesting his criticisms of Israel for oppressing the Palestinian people were tantamount to hatred of Jews. A new definition of antisemitism focusing on Israel was imposed on the party to breathe life into such allegations.

But the damage was caused not just by Labour’s enemies. Corbyn was actively undermined from within. A leaked internal report highlighted emails demonstrating that party staff had constantly plotted against him and even worked to throw the 2017 election, when Corbyn was just a few thousand votes short of winning.

With Brexit thrown into the mix at the 2019 election – stoking a strong nativist mood in the UK – Corbyn suffered a decisive defeat at Johnson’s hands.

But as leader, Starmer did not use the leaked report as an opportunity to reinforce party democracy, as many members expected. In fact, he reinstated some of the central protagonists exposed in the report, even apparently contemplating one of them for the position of Labour general secretary.

He also brought in advisers closely associated with former leader Tony Blair, who turned Labour decisively rightwards through the late 1990s and launched with the US an illegal war on Iraq in 2003.

Instead, Starmer went after the left-wing membership, finding any pretext – and any means, however draconian – to finish the job begun by the saboteurs.

He has rarely taken a break from hounding the left-wing membership, even if a permanent turf war has detracted from the more pressing need to concentrate on the Tory government’s obvious failings.

Flooded with arms

Starmer’s flame-war against the left has become so extreme that, as some critics have pointed out, both Pope Francis and Amnesty International would face expulsion from Starmer’s Labour Party were they members.

The pope is among a growing number of observers expressing doubts about the ever-more explicit intervention by the US and its Nato allies in Ukraine that seems designed to drag out the war, and raise the death toll, rather than advance peace talks.

In fact, recent views expressed by officials in Washington risk giving credence to the original claims made by Russian President Vladimir Putin justifying his illegal invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Before that invasion, Moscow officials had characterised Nato’s aggressive expansion across Eastern Europe following the fall of the Soviet Union, and its cosying up to Ukraine, as an “existential threat”. Russia even warned that it might use nuclear weapons if they were seen as necessary for its defence.

The Kremlin’s reasons for concern cannot be entirely discounted. Two Minsk peace accords intended to defuse a bloody eight-year civil war between Ukrainian ultra-nationalists and ethnic Russian communities in eastern Ukraine, on Russia’s border, have gone nowhere.

Instead, Ukraine’s government pushed for closer integration into Nato to the point where Putin warned of retaliation if Nato stationed missiles, potentially armed with nuclear warheads, on Russia’s doorstep. They would be able to strike Moscow in minutes, undermining the premise of mutually assured destruction that long served as the basis of a Cold War detente.

In response to Russia’s invasion, Nato has flooded Ukraine with weapons while the US has been moving to transfer a whopping $40bn in military aid to Kyiv – all while deprioritising pressure on Moscow and Kyiv to revisit the Minsk accords.

Nato weapons were initially supplied on the basis that they would help Ukraine defend itself from Russia. But that principle appears to have been quickly jettisoned by Washington.

Last month, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin declared that the aim was instead to “see Russia weakened” – a position echoed by Nato former Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The New York Times has reported that Washington is involved in a “classified” intelligence operation to help Ukraine kill senior Russian generals.

US officials now barely conceal the fact that they view Ukraine as a proxy war – one that sounds increasingly like the scenario Putin laid out when justifying his invasion as pre-emptive: that Washington intends to sap Russia of its military strength, push Nato’s weapons and potentially its troops right up against Russia’s borders, and batter Moscow economically through sanctions and an insistence that Europe forgo Russian gas.

The existential threat Putin feared has become explicit US policy, it seems.

Fealty to Nato

These are the reasons the pope speculated last week that, while Russia’s actions could not be justified, the “barking of Nato at the door of Russia” might, in practice, have “facilitated” the invasion. He also questioned the supply of weapons to Ukraine in the context of profiteering from the war: “Wars are fought for this: to test the arms we have made.”

Pope Francis, bound by formal Vatican rules of political neutrality, has to be cautious in what he says. And yet Starmer has deemed similar observations made by activists in the Labour party as grounds for expulsion.

The Labour leader has clashed head-on with the Stop the War Coalition, which Corbyn helped found in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The group played a central role in mobilising opposition to Britain’s participation, under Blair, in the 2003 illegal invasion of Iraq.

Stop the War, which is seen as close to the Labour left, has long been sceptical of Nato, a creature of the Cold War that proved impervious to the collapse of the Soviet Union and has gradually taken on the appearance of a permanent lobby for the West’s military industries.

Stop the War has spoken out against both Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the decades-long expansion by Nato across Eastern Europe that Moscow cites as justification for its war of aggression. Starmer, however, has scorned that position as what he calls “false equivalence”.

In a commentary published in the Guardian newspaper, he denied that Stop the War were “benign voices for peace” or “progressive”. He termed Nato “a defensive alliance that has never provoked conflict”, foreclosing the very debate anti-war activists – and Pope Francis – seek to begin.

Starmer also threatened 11 Labour MPs with losing the whip – like Corbyn – if they did not immediately remove their names from a Stop the War statement that called for stepping up moves towards a diplomatic solution. More recently, he has warned MPs that they will face unspecified action from the party if they do not voice “unshakeable support for Nato”.

Starmer has demanded “a post 9/11” style surge in arms expenditure in response to the war in Ukraine, insisting that Nato must be “strengthened”.

He has shut down the Twitter account of Labour’s youth wing for its criticisms of Nato.

In late March he proscribed three small leftist groups – Labour Left Alliance, Socialist Labour Network, and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty – adding them to four other left-wing groups that he banned last year. Stop the War could soon be next.

Starmer’s relentless attacks on anti-war activism in Labour fly in the face of his 10 pledges, the platform that helped him to get elected. They included a commitment – reminiscent of Pope Francis – to “put human rights at the heart of foreign policy. Review all UK arms sales and make us a force for international peace and justice”.

But once elected, Starmer has effectively erased any space for an anti-war movement in mainstream British politics, one that wishes to question whether Nato is still a genuinely defensive alliance or closer to a lobby serving western arms industries that prosper from permanent war.

In effect, Starmer has demanded that the left out-compete the Tory government for fealty to Nato’s militarism. The war in Ukraine has become the pretext to force underground not only anti-imperialist politics but even Vatican-style calls for diplomacy.

Apartheid forever

But Starmer is imposing on Labour members an even more specific loyalty test rooted in Britain’s imperial role: support for Israel as a state that oppresses Palestinians.

Starmer’s decision to distance himself and Labour as far as possible from Corbyn’s support for Palestinian rights initially seemed to be tactical, premised on a desire to avoid the antisemitism smears that plagued his predecessor.

But that view has become progressively harder to sustain.

Starmer has turned a deaf ear to a motion passed last year by Labour delegates calling for UK sanctions against Israel as an apartheid state. References to it have even been erased from the party’s YouTube channel. Similarly, he refused last month to countenance Israel’s recent designation as an apartheid state by Amnesty and a raft of other human rights groups.

Last November, Starmer delivered a fawningly pro-Israel speech alongside Israel’s ultra-nationalist ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, in which he repeatedly conflated criticism of Israel with antisemitism.

He has singled out anti-Zionist Jewish members of Labour – more so than non-Jewish members – apparently because they are the most confident and voluble critics of Israel in the party.

And now, in the run-up to this month’s local elections, he has flaunted his party’s renewal of ties with the Israeli Labor party, which severed relations during Corbyn’s tenure.

Senior officials from the Israeli party joined him and his deputy, Angela Rayner, in what was described as a “charm offensive”, as they pounded London streets campaigning for the local elections. It was hard not to interpret this as a slap in the face to swaths of the Labour membership.

The Israeli Labor party founded Israel by engineering a mass ethnic cleansing campaign, as documents unearthed by Israeli historians have confirmed, that saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians expelled from their homeland.

Israel’s Labor party has continued to play a key role both in entrenching illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories to displace Palestinians, and in formulating legal distinctions between Jewish and Palestinian citizenship that have cemented the new consensus among groups such as Amnesty International that Israel qualifies as an apartheid state.

The Israeli Labor party is part of the current settler-led government that secured court approval last week to evict many hundreds of Palestinians from eight historic Palestinian villages near Hebron – while allowing settlers to remain close by – on the pretext that the land is needed for a firing zone.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper concluded of the ruling: “Occupation is temporary by definition; apartheid is liable to persist forever. The High Court approved it.”

Labour’s ugly face

The ugly new face of Labour politics under Starmer is becoming ever harder to conceal. Under cover of rooting out the remnants of Corbynism, Starmer is not only proving himself an outright authoritarian, intent on crushing the last vestiges of democratic socialism in Labour.

He is also reviving the worst legacies of a Labour tradition that cheerleads western imperialism and cosies up to racist states – as long as they are allies of Washington and ready to buy British arms.

Starmer’s war on the Labour left is not – as widely assumed – a pragmatic response to the Corbyn years, designed to distance the party from policies that exposed it to the relentless campaign of antisemitism smears that undermined Corbyn.

Rather, Starmer is continuing and widening that very campaign of smears. He has picked up the baton on behalf of those Labour officials who, the leaked internal report showed, preferred to sabotage the Labour Party if it meant stopping the left from gaining power.

His task is not just to ensnare those who wish to show solidarity with the Palestinians after decades of oppression supported by the West. It is to crush all activism against western imperialism and the state of permanent war it has helped to engineer.

Britain now has no visible political home for the kind of anti-war movements that once brought millions out onto Britain’s streets in an effort to halt the war on Iraq. And for that, the British establishment and their war industries have Sir Keir Starmer to thank.

First published in Middle East Eye

The post Keir Starmer has returned western imperialism to the core of Labour policy first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The British Art of Black Propaganda

Never underestimate the potency, and deceptive malice, of the British political mind.  In responding to the threat posed by Imperial Germany during the First World War, the British propaganda campaign made much of the atrocity tale, the nun raping German and the baby bayoneting Hun.  The effectiveness of the campaign was so impressive it sowed doubt amongst a generation about the reliability of war crimes accounts.

In its efforts to try to win US support for its cause against Hitler in World War II, the train of British propaganda again operated with a concerted effect, demonising isolationists and denigrating supporters and members of the America First Committee.  The great hope there was that Britain would fight the Germans to the last American.  It led to one of the largest covert operations in UK history conducted under the auspices of an agency known as “British Security Coordination”.  During the course of its operations, BSC subject matter entered the American political bloodstream, aided by the injecting activities of Walter Winchell, Drew Pearson, a radio station (WRUL) and the Overseas News Agency (ONA).

During the Cold War, the black propagandists were again in high demand.  In 2021, the Observer revealed that the Information Research Department (IRD) had done its bit to egg on the massacres of communists and sympathisers in Indonesia in 1965.  Pamphlets supposedly authored by seething Indonesian patriots but cooked up by the dark musings of the IRD, called for the elimination of the Indonesian communist party, the PKI.  The deaths that followed numbered in the hundreds of thousands.

The IRD, which had, at its height in the mid-1960s, a staff of 360, had a primary purpose: to counter Soviet propaganda and its effects in Britain.  It had its origins in the opening shots of the Cold War, established in 1948 but found itself behind the efforts of various sections of Whitehall already dedicated to the anti-Soviet effort.

Its program was more engaged and more ambitious than previously thought.  “It’s very clear now,” Rory Cormac, an authority on subversion and intelligence history, explained to the Guardian, “that the UK engaged in more black propaganda than historians assume and these efforts were more systemic, ambitious and offensive.  Despite official denials, [this] went far beyond merely exposing Soviet disinformation.”

The effects of propaganda can be perversely insidious.  Allies or friendly nations can be used and abused if the aim is to advance the security of the propagandist.  As Howard Becker laconically puts it in describing the consequences of black propaganda, “truth or falsity, as determined by any standard, is not raised.  Propaganda which achieves its end may be entirely true, it may be entirely false; expedient rationality alone governs the choice of means.”

The IRD shows that, while it was more modest in scale to its US, Soviet and East European counterparts, it could hold its own in terms of inventiveness.  It specialised in creating fake news sources and false statements designed to stir pots of racial tension, create instability, and foster social and political chaos.

A feature of the black propaganda campaign was the forging of statements by official Soviet bodies and entities.  The Soviet-run news agency Novosti was something of a favourite, given the release of 11 fake statements supposedly authored by the body between 1965 and 1972.

In the wake of Israel’s lightning victory during the Six-Day War of 1967, the outfit drafted a number of documents claiming to be authored by disgruntled Muslim organisations sore at defeat and seeking answers.  One did not have to look far for the culprit of godless Communism.  “Why is the Arab nation at this time afflicted by so much sorry and disaster?” asks a statement purportedly issued from the League of Believers, a fictional Islamist organisation.  “Why were the brave forces defeated in the jihad by the evil heathen Zionists?”  The reason: that “we are departing from the right path, we are following the course chosen for us by the communist-atheists for whom religion is a form of social disease.”

Other material focused on existing and influential organisations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.  One pamphlet from the IRD, supposedly issued by the group, takes issue with the quality of Soviet weaponry.  As for the Soviets themselves, they were “filthy-tongued atheists” who had little time for Egyptians, mere “peasants who lived all their lives nursing reactionary superstitions”.

In Africa, propaganda efforts were made to malign the activities of Soviet front organisations such as the World Federation of Democratic Youth.  Nationalist, revolutionary figures were also targeted.  A statement from early 1963, forged by the IRD, has the WFDY falsely accusing Africans of being morally feeble, uncivilised, and “primitive”.  The theme is repeated in another forged statement three years later, and in a fake release by Novosti noting the poor quality of African students enrolled at an international university in Moscow.

These recent revelations do have a certain flavour of told-you-so obviousness, but serve as reminders that the news, however official, reeks when consulted between the lines (and lies).  Cormac reminds us that the current UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss, has her own “government information cell”, a distant echo of the IRD.  It pays to look behind the merits of the next news bulletin, if only to be disillusioned.

The post The British Art of Black Propaganda 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.

Covert Warfare: How NATO’s Defense Contractors Assisted Ukraine in War

British special forces were training Ukrainian troops in Kyiv since early this month, Ukrainian commanders told The Times in mid-April. Captain Yuriy Myronenko, whose battalion is stationed in Obolon on the northern outskirts of Kyiv, told the news outlet that military trainers had come to instruct new and returning military recruits to use NLAWs, British-supplied anti-tank missiles that were delivered in February as the invasion was beginning.

Former British soldiers, marines and special forces commandos are also in Ukraine working as training contractors and volunteers, but the Ukrainian officers were adamant that their training this month was carried out by serving British soldiers.

“The elite SAS special forces units [a British army special forces unit] have been present in Ukraine since the start of the war, as have the American Deltas [a US special forces unit],” Georges Malbrunot, a reporter for French Le Figaro newspaper, citing a French intelligence source, tweeted on April 9. The reporter spilled the secret the same day when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made his surprise visit to Kyiv. The British leader was reportedly surrounded by guards from the elite SAS force.

The veteran French journalist who returned from Ukraine after arriving with volunteer fighters told broadcaster CNews that Americans were directly “in charge” of the war on the ground. “I had the surprise, and so did they, to discover that to be able to enter the Ukrainian army, well it’s the Americans who are in charge,” said Malbrunot.

Adding that he and the volunteers “almost got arrested” by the Americans, who asserted they were in charge, the journalist then revealed that they were forced to sign a contract until the end of the war. “And who is in charge? It’s the Americans, I saw it with my own eyes,” said the French reporter, adding, “I thought I was with the international brigades, and I found myself facing the Pentagon.”

In addition to British SAS units and United States special forces and covert CIA operatives, approximately 6,824 “foreign mercenaries” from 63 countries came to Ukraine to fight for the Zelensky government, the Russian Defense Ministry revealed last week. Of these, 1,035 have been “eliminated,” while several thousand remain. Four hundred foreign fighters are holed up in Mariupol, where ultra-nationalist forces, including the neo-Nazi fighters, have refused to surrender.

The most numerous group of foreign fighters, numbering 1,717, arrived from Poland, while around 1,500 came from the US, Canada and Romania. Up to 300 people each came from the UK and Georgia, while 193 arrived from the Turkish-controlled areas of Syria.

These figures were announced on April 17 by Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov. According to the general, 1,035 “foreign mercenaries” had been killed by Russian forces and 912 fled Ukraine, leaving 4,877 active in the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Nikolaev and Mariupol.

The largest undercover force the world has ever known is the one created by the Pentagon over the past decade. Some 60,000 people now belong to this secret army, many working under masked identities and in low profile, all part of a broad program called “signature reduction,” and a substantial number of these defense contractors have been assisting Ukraine’s security forces and allied neo-Nazi militias for over eight years in the proxy war against Russia since the Maidan coup toppling Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.

The force, more than ten times the size of the clandestine elements of the CIA, carries out domestic and foreign assignments, both in military uniforms and under civilian cover, Newsweek reported last May.

The unprecedented shift has placed an ever greater number of soldiers, civilians, and contractors working under false identities, partly as a natural result in the growth of secret special forces but also as an intentional response to the challenges of traveling and operating in an increasingly transparent world.

The covert warfare operations mounted by the Pentagon’s “secret army” in conflict zones across the world is not just a little-known sector of the American military, but also a completely unregulated practice. No one knows the program’s total size, and the explosion of signature reduction has never been examined for its impact on military policies and culture. Congress has never held a hearing on the subject. And yet the military developing this gigantic clandestine force challenges US laws, the Geneva Conventions, the code of military conduct and basic accountability.

The signature reduction effort engages some 130 private companies to administer the new clandestine world. Dozens of little known and secret government organizations support the program, doling out classified contracts and overseeing publicly unacknowledged operations. Altogether the companies pull in over $900 million annually to service the clandestine force.

Special operations forces constitute over half the entire signature reduction force, the shadow warriors who pursue terrorists in war zones from Pakistan to West Africa but also increasingly work in unacknowledged hot spots, including behind enemy lines in places like North Korea, Ukraine and Iran. Military intelligence specialists—collectors, counter-intelligence agents, even linguists—make up the second largest element: thousands deployed at any one time with some degree of “cover” to protect their true identities.

Since the harrowing Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad in 2007, the Blackwater private military contractor, renamed as Academi in 2011 and becoming a subsidiary of Constellis Group following a merger with Triple Canopy in 2014, has built quite a business empire for itself. In 2013, Academi subsidiary International Development Solutions received an approximately $92 million contract for State Department security guards.

After selling Blackwater to a group of investors in 2010, Erik Prince, a former US Navy Seals officer and the swashbuckling founder of Blackwater, has founded another security company Frontier Services Group, registered at Hong Kong Stock Exchange, that advises and provides aviation and logistical solutions to Chinese oligarchs for the security of their lucrative business projects in Africa.

Furthermore, besides advising and assisting the UAE’s petro-monarchy in strengthening the police state, Erik Prince also reportedly provided weapons and modified aircraft to eastern Libya’s warlord and former CIA asset Khalifa Haftar, backed by Egypt and UAE, in his thwarted military campaign against the Tripoli government lasting from April 2019 to June 2020.

Using the good offices of his sister Betsy Devos, who worked as Trump’s secretary of education, Erik Prince even made an offer to Trump for outsourcing of the Afghanistan war to private military contractors advising and assisting Afghan security forces following the withdrawal of US troops. But Trump reached a peace agreement with the Taliban in Feb. 2020 and then lost the re-election bid before he could consider the bizarre proposal.

Although the Pentagon’s military contractors have known to be training and advising several brigades of neo-Nazis backed by Ukraine’s security forces in the Donbas region since 2014, Erik Prince, alongside top executives of leading private security firms providing military contractors to the US Department of Defense, personally visited Kyiv in early February following the Russian troop build-up and met with security officials of the Zelensky government, according to informed sources.

Before embarking on the clandestine Kyiv visit, Erik Prince consulted with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Director National Intelligence Avril Haines, with whom his relationship goes a long way back to early nineties after she purchased a bar in Fell’s Point, Baltimore, which had been seized in a drug raid. She turned the location into an exotic bookstore and café, offering “erotica readings,” among other licentious pastimes.

In his meetings with the high-ups in the US national security agencies, Erik Prince reportedly obtained a “gentleman’s promise,” though without any documentary assurances due to secretive nature of the Faustian pact, that he and his associates would not be held legally liable for the dirty work they do in Ukraine’s proxy war.

In fact, private military contractors in close co-ordination and consultation with covert operators from the CIA, special forces and Western intelligence agencies are not only training Ukraine’s largely conscript security forces and allied neo-Nazi militias in the use of over 60,000 anti-tank weapons and 25,000 anti-aircraft weapons collectively provided as military assistance to Ukraine by NATO countries but are also directing the whole defense strategy of Ukraine by taking active part in combat operations in some of the most hard fought battles against Russia’s security forces at Mariupol, Kharkiv and Donbas region in east Ukraine.

In a bombshell scoop, The Times reported on March 4 that defense contractors were recruiting former military veterans for covert operations in Ukraine for a whopping $2,000 a day: “The job is not without risk but, at almost $60,000 a month, the pay is good. Applicants must have at least five years of military experience in Eastern Europe, be skilled in reconnaissance, be able to conduct rescue operations with little to no support and know their way around Soviet-era weaponry.”

Russian media alleged last month that the United States security agencies had launched a large-scale recruitment program to send private military contractors to Ukraine, including professionally trained mercenaries of Academi, formerly Blackwater, Cubic and Dyn Corporation.

Russia’s Defense Ministry’s spokesman Igor Konashenkov warned that foreign mercenaries in Ukraine would not be considered prisoners of war if detained in line with international humanitarian law, rather they could expect criminal prosecution at best.

Speaking to CNN’s Dana Bash on April 3, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that “NATO allies have supported Ukraine for many, many years,” adding that military aid has been “stepped up over the last weeks since the invasion.” The official clarified that “NATO allies like the United States, but also the United Kingdom and Canada and some others, have trained Ukrainian troops for years.”

According to Stoltenberg’s estimates, “tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops” had received such training, and were now “at the front fighting against invading Russian forces.” The secretary general went on to credit the Brussels-based alliance with the fact that the “Ukrainian armed forces are much bigger, much better equipped, much better trained and much better led now than ever before.”

In addition to a longstanding CIA program aimed at cultivating an anti-Russian insurgency in Ukraine, Canada’s Department of National Defense revealed on January 26, two days following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that the Canadian Armed Forces trained “nearly 33,000 Ukrainian military and security personnel in a range of tactical and advanced military skills.” While The United Kingdom, via Operation Orbital, trained 22,000 Ukrainian fighters, as noted by NATO’s informed secretary general.

In an explosive scoop, Zach Dorfman reported for the Yahoo News on March 16: “As part of the Ukraine-based training program, CIA paramilitaries taught their Ukrainian counterparts sniper techniques; how to operate U.S.-supplied Javelin anti-tank missiles and other equipment; how to evade digital tracking the Russians used to pinpoint the location of Ukrainian troops, which had left them vulnerable to attacks by artillery; how to use covert communications tools; and how to remain undetected in the war zone while also drawing out Russian and insurgent forces from their positions, among other skills, according to former officials.

“When CIA paramilitaries first traveled to eastern Ukraine in the aftermath of Russia’s initial 2014 incursion, their brief was twofold. First, they were ordered to determine how the agency could best help train Ukrainian special operations personnel fight the Russian military forces, and their separatist allies, waging a grinding war against Ukrainian troops in the Donbas region. But the second part of the mission was to test the mettle of the Ukrainians themselves, according to former officials.”

Besides the CIA’s clandestine program for training Ukraine’s largely conscript military and allied neo-Nazi militias in east Ukraine and the US Special Forces program for training Ukraine’s security forces at Yavoriv Combat Training Center in the western part of the country bordering Poland that was hit by a barrage of 30 cruise missiles killing at least 35 militants on March 13, Dorfman claims in a separate January report that the CIA also ran a covert program for training Ukraine’s special forces at an undisclosed facility in the southern United States.

“The CIA is overseeing a secret intensive training program in the U.S. for elite Ukrainian special operations forces and other intelligence personnel, according to five former intelligence and national security officials familiar with the initiative. The program, which started in 2015, is based at an undisclosed facility in the Southern U.S., according to some of those officials.

“While the covert program, run by paramilitaries working for the CIA’s Ground Branch — now officially known as Ground Department — was established by the Obama administration after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014, and expanded under the Trump administration, the Biden administration has further augmented it.”

By 2015, as part of this expanded anti-Russia effort, CIA Ground Branch paramilitaries also “started traveling to the front in eastern Ukraine” to advise and assist Ukraine’s security forces and allied neo-Nazi militias there. The multiweek, US-based CIA program included “training in firearms, camouflage techniques, land navigation, tactics like cover and move, intelligence and other areas.”

One person familiar with the program put it more bluntly. “The United States is training an insurgency,” said a former CIA official, adding that the program has taught the Ukrainians how “to kill Russians.” Going back decades, the CIA had provided limited training to Ukrainian intelligence units to try and shore up a US-allied Kyiv and undermine Russian influence, but cooperation ramped up after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 following the Maidan coup toppling Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a former CIA executive confided to Dorfman.

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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.

Obscene Outsourcing: The UK-Rwandan Refugee Deal

This month, the government of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined an ignominious collective in announcing a refugee deal with Rwanda, seedily entitled the UK-Rwanda Migration Partnership.  The fact that such terms are used – a partnership or deal connotes contract and transaction – suggests how inhumane policies towards those seeking sanctuary and a better life have become.

In no small measure, the agreement between London and Kigali emulates the “Pacific Solution”, a venal response formulated by the Australian government to deter asylum seekers arriving by boat and create a two-tiered approach to assessing asylum claims.  The centrepiece of the 2001 policy was the transfer of such arrivals to Pacific outposts in Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and Nauru, where they would have no guarantee of being settled in Australia.  Despite being scrapped by the Labor Rudd government at the end of 2007, the policy was reinstated by a politically panicked Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2012 under what was billed the Pacific Solution Mark II.

The victory of the conservative Liberal-National Party coalition in the 2013 elections led to its most cruel manifestation.  Operation Sovereign Borders, as the policy came to be known, cast a shroud of military secrecy over intercepting boats and initiating towaways.  The crude, if simple slogan, popularised by the Abbott government, was “Stop the Boats”.  Such sadistic policies were justified as honourable ones: preventing drownings at sea; disrupting the “people smuggler model”.  In truth, the approach merely redirected the pathways of arrival while doing little by way of discouraging the smugglers.

More measures followed: the creation of a specifically dedicated border force kitted out for violence; the passage of legislation criminalising whistleblowers for revealing squalid, torturous camp conditions featuring self-harm, suicide and sexual abuse.

Inspired by such a punitive example despite its gross failings and astronomical cost (the Australian policy saw a single asylum seeker’s detention bill come to $AU3.4 million) , the Johnson government has been parroting the same themes in what the UK Home Office called, misleadingly, a “world first partnership” to combat the “global migration crisis”.  The partnership sought to “address” the “shared international challenge of illegal migration and break the business model of smuggling gangs.”  Not once did it refer to the right to asylum which exists irrespective of the mode of travel or arrival.

Johnson also reiterated the theme of targeting those “vile people smugglers” who have turned the ocean into a “watery graveyard”, failing to mention that such individuals serve to also advance the right of seeking asylum.  More on point was his remark that compassion might be “infinite but our capacity to help people is not.”

If one is to believe the Home Office, sending individuals to Rwanda or, as it puts it, “migrants who make dangerous or illegal journeys” is a measure of some generosity.  Successful applicants “will then be supported to build a new and prosperous life in one of the fastest-growing economies, recognised globally for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants.”

Rwanda is certainly going to benefit with a generous bribe of £120 million, slated for “economic development and growth”, while it will also receive funding for “asylum operations, accommodation and integration similar to the costs incurred in the UK for these services.”

The country will also take some pride in sidestepping its own less than savoury human rights records, which boasts a résumé of extrajudicial killings, torture, unlawful or arbitrary detention, suspicious deaths in custody and an aggressive approach to dissidents.  In 2018, Rwanda security forces were responsible for killing at least 12 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo.  They had been protesting a cut to their food rations.  Various survivors were then arrested and prosecuted for charges ranging from rebellion to “spreading false information with intent to create a hostile international opinion against the Rwandan state.”

The UK-Rwandan partnership also perpetuates old libels in discrediting cross-Channel crossers as purely economic migrants who somehow forfeit their right to fair assessment.  Emilie McDonnell of Human Rights Watch UK dispels this myth, noting Home Office data and information gathered via freedom of information laws that 61% of migrants who travel by boat are likely to remain in the UK after claiming asylum.  The Refugee Council, in an analysis of Channel crossings and asylum outcomes between January 2020 and June 2021, noted that 91% of those making the journey came from 10 countries where human rights abuses are acknowledged as extensive.

Refugees and asylum seekers are the stuff of political value, rising and falling like stocks depending on the government of the day.  For Johnson, the agreement with Rwanda was also a chance to preoccupy the newspaper columns and an irate blogosphere with another talking point.  “Sending refugees to Rwanda,” claimed The Mirror, “is the political equivalent of a distraction burglary, only less subtle and infinitely more criminal.”

The event in question supposedly warranting that hideous distraction was serious enough.  Johnson, along with his wife Carrie and UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak, were all found to have breached government COVID-19 emergency laws and fined by the police.  In the history books, this is already being written up as the “partygate affair”, which featured a number of socialising events conducted by staff as the rest of the country endured severe lockdown restrictions.  Those same history books will also note that the prime minister and chancellor are both pioneers in facing police-mandated penalties.

Johnson’s own blotting took place on June 19, 2020, when he held a birthday gathering in the Cabinet Room of 10 Downing Street.  “In all frankness, at that time,” he reasoned, “it did not occur to me that this might have been a breach of the rules”.  With such a perspective on legality and breaches, the Rwanda deal seems a logical fit, heedless of human rights, a violation of dignity, a potential risk to life and a violation of international refugee law.

The post Obscene Outsourcing: The UK-Rwandan Refugee Deal first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Ukraine is not just a U.S. “proxy” war

Prologue: On September 18, 1947, right after the “Good War,” the U.S. War Department was renamed the Department of Defense [sic].

According to the Department of Defense [sic], as of April 14, 2022, U.S. taxpayer-funded security assistance committed to Ukraine includes:

  • Over 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems
  • Over 5,500 Javelin anti-armor systems
  • Over 14,000 other anti-armor systems
  • Over 700 Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems
  • 18 155mm Howitzers and 40,000 155mm artillery rounds
  • 16 Mi-17 helicopters
  • Hundreds of Armored High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles
  • 200 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers
  • Over 7,000 small arms
  • Over 50,000,000 rounds of ammunition
  • 75,000 sets of body armor and helmets
  • Laser-guided rocket systems
  • Puma Unmanned Aerial Systems
  • Unmanned Coastal Defense Vessels
  • 14 counter-artillery radars
  • Four counter-mortar radars
  • Two air surveillance radars
  • M18A1 Claymore anti-personnel munitions
  • C-4 explosives and demolition equipment for obstacle clearing
  • Tactical secure communications systems
  • Night vision devices, thermal imagery systems, optics, and laser rangefinders
  • Commercial satellite imagery services
  • Explosive ordnance disposal protective gear
  • Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear protective equipment
  • Medical supplies to include first aid kits

Here’s an image of U.S. Defense [sic] Secretary Lloyd Austin revealing in a tweet that Ukrainian soldiers were being trained in Biloxi, Mississippi:

What the Department of Defense [sic] neglected to mention is a little something reported here by a French journalist named Georges Malbrunot, on the ground in Ukraine. “I had the surprise to discover that to be able to enter the Ukrainian army, it’s the Americans who are in charge,” said Malbrunot. “I saw it with my own eyes. I thought I was with the international brigades, and I found myself facing the Pentagon.”

Citing a French intelligence source, Malbrunot also tweeted that British SAS units “have been present in Ukraine since the beginning of the war, as were the American Deltas.”

You don’t have to be pro-Putin to point out how much The Land of the Free™ has orchestrated this “war” as part of its new Cold War. Consider how less than a decade ago, the U.S. tried to run a natural gas pipeline from Qatar to Turkey — via Syria, no less! This effort was designed to destroy the Russian economy and it led to a devastating military conflict in Syria, a wave of refugees, and the creation of ISIS.

The post Ukraine is not just a U.S. “proxy” war first appeared on Dissident Voice.

NATO’s “Weapons for Peace” Program and Russia’s Diplomatic Demarche

Karen DeYoung reported for the Washington Post Thursday that Russia sent a formal diplomatic note to the United States on Tuesday, accusing Washington and its NATO clients of insidiously subverting peace process with Ukraine initiated at the Istanbul talks on March 29, and the subsequent withdrawal of Russian forces from the outskirts of Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy, thus ending the month-long offensive in Ukraine.

The document, titled “On Russia’s concerns in the context of massive supplies of weapons and military equipment to the Kiev regime,” was forwarded to the State Department by the Russian Embassy in Washington, in which Russia accused NATO of trying to “pressure Ukraine to abandon peace negotiations with Russia in order to continue the bloodshed.”

Moscow also warned Washington that US and NATO shipments of the “most sensitive” weapons systems to Ukraine were “adding fuel” to the conflict and could bring “unpredictable consequences.” Russia experts suggested Moscow, which had labeled weapons convoys coming into the country as legitimate military targets but had not thus far attacked them, might be preparing to do so.

“They have targeted supply depots in Ukraine itself, where some of these supplies have been stored,” George Beebe, former director of Russia analysis at the CIA and Russia adviser to former vice president Dick Cheney, told the news outlet. “The real question is do they go beyond attempting to target the weapons on Ukrainian territory, try to hit the supply convoys themselves and perhaps the NATO countries on the Ukrainian periphery” that serve as transfer points for the US supplies.

If Russian forces stumble in the next phase of the war as they did in the first, “then I think the chances that Russia targets NATO supplies on NATO territory go up considerably,” Beebe said. “There has been an assumption on the part of a lot of us in the West that we could supply the Ukrainians really without limits and not bear significant risk of retaliation from Russia,” he said. “I think the Russians want to send a message here that that’s not true.”

Among the items Russia identified as “most sensitive” were “multiple-launch rocket systems,” such as Slovakia’s illicit deal with NATO for transferring its Soviet-era S-300 air defense system to Ukraine in return for the transatlantic military alliance delivering four Patriot missile systems to Slovakia, and the Soviet-era Strela-10, SA-8, SA-10, SA-12, SA-13 and SA-14 mobile air defense systems, with range higher than Stingers and having capability to hit cruise missiles, and myriads of other advanced multiple rocket launchers, that NATO covertly provided to Ukraine.

The Czech Republic had delivered tanks, multiple rocket launchers, howitzers and infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine among military shipments that had reached hundreds of millions of dollars and would continue, two Czech defense sources confided to Reuters.

Defense sources confirmed a shipment of five T-72 tanks and five BVP-1, or BMP-1, infantry fighting vehicles seen on rail cars in photographs on Twitter and video footage last week. “For several weeks, we have been supplying heavy ground equipment – I am saying it generally but by definition it is clear that this includes tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, howitzers and multiple rocket launchers,” a senior defense official said.

“What has gone from the Czech Republic is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.” The senior defense official said the Czechs were also supplying “a range of anti-aircraft weaponry.” Independent defense analyst Lukas Visingr said “short-range air-defense systems Strela-10, or SA-13 Gopher in NATO terminology, had been spotted on a train apparently bound for Ukraine.”

Russia accused the Western powers of violating “rigorous principles” governing the transfer of weapons to conflict zones, and of being oblivious to “the threat of high-precision weapons falling into the hands of radical nationalists, extremists and bandit forces in Ukraine.”

Washington, the diplomatic demarche said, was pressuring other countries to stop any military and technical cooperation with Russia, and those with Soviet-era weapons to transfer them to Ukraine. “We call on the United States and its allies to stop the irresponsible militarization of Ukraine, which implies unpredictable consequences for regional and international security,” the note added.

Russia’s “paranoid attitude” accusing Washington and its NATO clients of scuttling peace process with Ukraine and orchestrating a proxy war on Russia’s vulnerable western flank by funding, training, arming and internationally legitimizing Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist militias in order to destabilize and provoke Russia aside, in the spirit of apparent “reconciliation and multilateralism” defining the Biden administration’s approach to conducting international diplomacy, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken handed over the “power of attorney” to the Ukrainian leadership to reach a negotiated settlement with Russia without any pressure, whatsoever, from Washington to escalate hostilities with its arch-rival.

On April 3, confirming in an NBC News interview that Ukrainian President Zelensky had Washington’s full confidence to reach a peaceful settlement with Russia, Blinken, while assuming the air of “magnanimity and rapprochement,” revealed that President Joe Biden’s administration would support whatever the Ukrainian people wanted to do to bring the war to an end.

“We’ll be looking to see what Ukraine is doing and what it wants to do,” Blinken said. “And if it concludes that it can bring this war to an end, stop the death and destruction and continue to assert its independence and its sovereignty – and ultimately that requires the lifting of sanctions – of course, we will allow that.”

Blinken argued with overtones of diplomatic sophistry that although Putin had allegedly “failed to accomplish his objectives” in Ukraine – “subjugating Kyiv, demonstrating Russia’s military prowess and dividing NATO members” – he said it still made sense to pursue a negotiated settlement.

“Even though he’s been set back, even though I believe this is already a strategic defeat for Vladimir Putin, the death and destruction that he’s wreaking every single day in Ukraine … are terrible, and so there’s also a strong interest in bringing those to an end.”

Lending credence to ostensible “American neutrality” and “hands-off approach” to the Ukraine conflict, the Wall Street Journal published a misleading report on April 1 that German chancellor Olaf Scholz had offered Volodymyr Zelensky a chance for peace days before the launch of the Russian military offensive, but the Ukrainian president turned it down.

The newly elected German chancellor told Zelensky in Munich on February 19 “that Ukraine should renounce its NATO aspirations and declare neutrality as part of a wider European security deal between the West and Russia,” the Journal revealed. The newspaper also claimed that “the pact would be signed by Mr. Putin and Mr. Biden, who would jointly guarantee Ukraine’s security.”

However, Zelensky rejected the offer to make the concession and avoid confrontation, saying that “Russian President Vladimir Putin couldn’t be trusted to uphold such an agreement and that most Ukrainians wanted to join NATO.”

While making the preposterous allegation that the hapless Ukrainian leadership vetoed NATO’s “flexible and conciliatory approach” to peacefully settle the dispute in order to absolve the transatlantic military alliance for its confrontational approach to Russia since the inception in 1949, the Journal report conveniently overlooked the crucial fact that last November, the US and Ukraine signed a Charter on Strategic Partnership.

The agreement unequivocally confirmed “Ukraine’s aspirations for joining NATO” and “rejected the Crimean decision to re-unify with Russia” following the 2014 Maidan coup. Then in December, Russia, in the last-ditch effort to peacefully resolve the dispute, proposed a peace treaty with the US and NATO.

The central Russian proposal was a written agreement assuring that Ukraine would not join the NATO military alliance and, in return, Russia would drawdown its troop buildup along Ukraine’s borders. When the proposed treaty was contemptuously rebuffed by Washington, it appeared the die was cast for Russia’s inevitable invasion of Ukraine.

Following the announcement of drawdown of Russian forces in Ukraine, specifically scaling back Russian offensive north of the capital, by the Russian delegation at the Istanbul peace initiative on March 29, the Ukrainian delegation, among other provisions, demanded “security guarantees in terms similar to Article 5 of the NATO charter,” the collective defense clause of the transatlantic military alliance.

CNN reported on April 1 that Western officials were taken aback by “the surprising Ukrainian proposal.” “We are in constant discussion with Ukrainians about ways that we can help ensure that they are sovereign and secure,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said. “But there is nothing specific about security guarantees that I can speak to at this time.”

“Ukraine is not a NATO member,” Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told the BBC when asked whether the UK is prepared to become a guarantor of Ukrainian independence. “We’re not going to engage Russia in direct military confrontation,” he added.

While noting that Russian peace negotiations were “nothing more than a smokescreen,” Western diplomats contended that an Article 5-type commitment to Ukraine was unlikely given that the US and many of its allies, including the UK, were not willing to put their troops in direct confrontation with Russian forces. The theory that Russia would not attack Ukraine if it had Western security guarantees appears to still be a bigger risk than the US and its allies are willing to take.

As a way for Russia to “save face in the negotiations,” the Ukrainians even went to the extent of suggesting that any such security guarantees would not apply to the separatist territories in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. However, a number of US and Western officials have taken a skeptical approach to potential security guarantees, with many saying it is still premature to discuss any contingencies as the negotiations proceed.

Contradicting the misleading reports hailing Ukraine’s political and military leadership as purported “masters of their own destinies,” President Joe Biden told the EU leaders at a summit last month in Brussels that “any notion that we are going to be out of this in a month is wrong”, and that the EU and NATO needed to prepare for “a long-term pressure campaign against Russia.”

US and European officials voiced skepticism over Russia’s “sincerity and commitment” towards the peace talks, underlining that only a full ceasefire, troop withdrawal and return of captured territory to Ukraine would be enough to trigger discussions over lifting sanctions on Russia’s economy.

“The notion that you would reward Putin for occupying territory doesn’t make sense … it would be very, very difficult to countenance” a senior EU official told the Financial Times. “There’s a disconnect between these negotiations, what really happens on the ground, and the total cynicism of Russia. I think we need to give them a reality check,” the official added.

Western countries were discussing both “enforcement of existing sanctions” and drawing up “potential additional measures” to increase pressure on Russian president Vladimir Putin, senior EU and US officials told the British newspaper. They were not discussing a possible timeframe for easing sanctions, they said.

Advising Ukrainians to hold out instead of rushing for securing peace deal with Russia, the Sunday Times reported, senior British officials were urging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to instruct his negotiators to refuse to make concessions during peace negotiations with Russian counterparts.

A senior government source said there were concerns that allies were “over-eager” to secure an early peace deal, adding that a settlement should be reached only when Ukraine is in the strongest possible position.

In a phone call and subsequently during a surprise visit to Kyiv, Boris Johnson warned President Zelensky that President Putin was a “liar and a bully” who would use talks to “wear you down and force you to make concessions.” The British prime minister also told MPs it was “certainly inconceivable that any sanctions could be taken off simply because there is a ceasefire.” London was making sure there was “no backsliding on sanctions by any of our friends and partners around the world,” he added.

Considering the backdrop of the Russo-Ukraine War that was deliberately orchestrated by NATO powers to insidiously destabilize and internationally isolate Russia, it stretches credulity that the powerless Ukrainian leadership “wields veto power” over NATO’s policy to reach a negotiated settlement with Russia.

Are readers gullible enough to assume the Ukrainian proposals for a peace treaty with Russia were put forth without prior consultation with NATO patrons and the latter cannot exercise enough leverage to compellingly persuade the impervious Ukrainian leadership to reach a peaceful settlement with Russia?

In conclusion, it’s obvious the credulous Ukrainian leadership’s insistence on seeking the EU membership amidst the war and demanding security guarantees in terms similar to Article 5 of the NATO charter instead of imploring for immediate ceasefire to save Ukrainian lives were clearly the deal-breaker stipulations that were deliberately inserted in the draft of Ukrainian proposals by perfidious NATO advisers to the naïve Ukrainian politicians in order to sabotage the peace negotiations with Russia.

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AUKUS in the Hypersonic Missile Wonderland

If further clues were needed as to why AUKUS, the security pact comprising the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, was created, the latest announcement on weapons would have given the game away.   Australia, just as it became real estate to park British nuclear weapons experiments, is now looking promising as a site for hypersonic missile testing, development, and manufacture.

In a joint statement from US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a commitment was made “to commence new trilateral cooperation on hypersonics and counter-hypersonics, and electronic warfare capabilities, as well as to expand information sharing and to deepen cooperation on defence innovation.”

To this can be added February efforts of officials from all three countries to, according to the ABC, scour Australia for sites best suited for the nascent nuclear-powered submarine program that seems all but pie in the sky.  To date, the country has no infrastructure to speak of in this field, no skills that merit mention for the development of any such fleet, and a lack of clarity as to when the vessels might make it to sea.  Nor is there any clear sign what model of submarine – UK or US – will be preferred.

Last October, the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, did his bit to stir the pot of paranoia by suggesting that Beijing had stolen ahead with their hypersonic capabilities.  He took particular interest in a test of a “hypersonic weapon system” described as a “very significant event” and one of deep concern.

Russia has also staked its claim to fame in the hypersonic race.  The Russian military claims that its Avangard system, which entered into service in December 2019, is capable of flying 27 times faster than the speed of sound with dizzying manoeuvrability.  Last month, Moscow announced that its new Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic missile was used to target a Ukrainian fuel depot in Kostiantynivka near the Black Sea port of Mykolaiv.

Citizens have not been asked, let alone consulted, about this dotty plan to feed another arms race.  Democracy is treated as a cranky relative who only figures in passing.  In a rather sleazy way, the hypersonic missile venture is being marketed to the Australian public as a wonderful opportunity to show independence, not subservience.

The Morrison government, and various officials, are publicly very appreciative of the latest developments, showing empires past and present what it takes to be a real wallah.  Instead of feeling a sense of shame (are we always doomed to merely serve the drinks?), there was merriment that Australia could be oh so useful to the power projects of others.

Hoping that no one would notice, an emphasis on danger has been made.  The Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce justifies the acceleration of the hypersonic weapons program by claiming that Australia faces an “existential threat” from them.  It would only take “about 14 minutes” for such devices to reach Australia, “so we have to make sure that we are right at the top of our game.”

Presumably, this means doing everything to make Australia attractive, in an existentially doomed way, to other powers in the region.  China’s UN ambassador Zhang Jun has already warned against the provocation of such military arrangements.  “As the Chinese saying goes: if you do not like it, do not impose it against others.”

The Morrison government is trying to leave the impression that this will eventually realise the dream of self-sufficiency, a notion repeatedly fed by such think tanks as the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.  It describes this as “a major step in delivering a $1 billion Sovereign Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise, officially announcing strategic partners Raytheon Australia and Lockheed Martin Australia.”  The Prime Minister also sees such weapons as part of a broader Australia “strategic vision” dealing with long-range strike capabilities.

This is all an eye-poking contradiction in terms, given the role played by US weapons-making giants.  But the Defence Minister Peter Dutton tries to be reassuring about Australia’s chances of being weaned off the teat of empire.  “We know we need to work closely with our partners to bolster our self-reliance and this is another major step in delivering that sovereign capability here in Australia.”

Dutton eyes must be going starry at this point.  “This is an incredibly complex undertaking that will see this new manufacturing capability built from the ground up.”  Irritating references follow.  To make the point that some genuine effort will be made by Australians, the Minister speaks of the hypersonic weapons venture as being “a whole-of-nation endeavour.”  Unspecified “opportunities” for Australian companies and workers are mentioned across a number of areas: manufacturing, maintenance, infrastructure, research and development and test and evaluation.  Presumably someone needs to make the tea and coffee.

As this idiotic, servile venture proceeds, Australian territory, sites and facilities will become ever more attractive for assault in the fullness of time.  That may well be quite a way off and, judging by any military ventures in Australia of this kind, we can hope that this will be more a case of decades rather than years.

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Palestine is a Loud Echo of Britain’s Colonial Past and a Warning of the Future

[This is the transcript of a talk I gave to Bath Friends of Palestine on 25 February 2022.]

Since I arrived with my family in the UK last summer, I have been repeatedly asked: “Why choose Bristol as your new home?”

Well, it certainly wasn’t for the weather. Now more than ever I miss Nazareth’s warmth and sunshine.

It wasn’t for the food either.

My family do have a minor connection to Bristol. My great-grandparents on my mother’s side (one from Cornwall, the other from South Wales) apparently met in Bristol – a coincidental stopping point on their separate journeys to London. They married and started a family whose line led to me.

But that distant link wasn’t the reason for coming to Bristol either.

In fact, it was only in Nazareth that Bristol began occupying a more prominent place in my family’s life.

When I was not doing journalism, I spent many years leading political tours of the Galilee, while my wife, Sally, hosted and fed many of the participants in her cultural café in Nazareth, called Liwan.

It was soon clear that a disproportionate number of our guests hailed from Bristol and the south-west. Some of you here tonight may have been among them.

But my world – like everyone else’s – started to shrink as the pandemic took hold in early 2020. As we lost visitors and the chance to directly engage with them about Palestine, Bristol began to reach out to me.

Toppled statue

It did so just as Sally and I were beginning discussions about whether it was time to leave Nazareth – 20 years after I had arrived – and head to the UK.

Even from thousands of miles away, a momentous event – the sound of Edward Colston’s statue being toppled – reverberated loudly with me.

Ordinary people had decided they were no longer willing to be forced to venerate a slave trader, one of the most conspicious criminals of Britain’s colonial past. Even if briefly, the people of Bristol took back control of their city’s public space for themselves, and for humanity.

In doing so, they firmly thrust Britain’s sordid past – the unexamined background to most of our lives – into the light of day. It is because of their defiance that buildings and institutions that for centuries bore Colston’s name as a badge of honour are finally being forced to confront that past and make amends.

Bath, of course, was built no less on the profits of the slave trade. When visitors come to Bath simply to admire its grand Georgian architecture, its Royal Crescent, we assent – if only through ignorance – to the crimes that paid for all that splendour.

Weeks after the Colston statue was toppled, Bristol made headlines again. Crowds protested efforts to transfer yet more powers to the police to curb our already savagely diminished right to protest – the most fundamental of all democratic rights. Bristol made more noise against that bill than possibly anywhere else in the UK.

I ended up writing about both events from Nazareth.

Blind to history

Since my arrival, old and new friends alike have started to educate me about Bristol. Early on I attended a slavery tour in the city centre – one that connected those historic crimes with the current troubles faced by asylum seekers in Bristol, even as Bristol lays claim to the title of “city of sanctuary”.

For once I was being guided rather than the guide, the pupil rather than the teacher – so long my role on those tours in and around Nazareth. And I could not but help notice, as we wandered through Bristol’s streets, echoes of my own tours.

Over the years I have taken many hundreds of groups around the ruins of Saffuriya, one of the largest of the Palestinian villages destroyed by Israel in its ethnic cleansing campaign of 1948, the Nakba or Catastrophe.

What disturbed me most in Saffuriya was how blind its new inhabitants were to the very recent history of the place they call home.

New Jewish immigrants were moved on to the lands of Saffuriya weeks after the Israeli army destroyed the village and chased out the native Palestinian population at gunpoint. A new community built in its place was given a similar Hebrew name, Tzipori. These events were repeated across historic Palestine. Hundreds of villages were razed, and 80 per cent of the Palestinian population were expelled from what became the new state of Israel.

Troubling clues

Even today, evidence of the crimes committed in the name of these newcomers is visible everywhere. The hillsides are littered with the rubble of the hundreds of Palestinian homes that were levelled by the new Israeli army to stop their residents from returning. And there are neglected grave-stones all around – pointers to the community that was disappeared.

And yet almost no one in Jewish Tzipori asks questions about the remnants of Palestinian Saffuriya, about these clues to a troubling past. Brainwashed by reassuring state narratives, they have averted their gaze for fear of what might become visible if they looked any closer.

Tzipori’s residents never ask why there are only Jews like themselves allowed in their community, when half of the population in the surrounding area of the Galilee are Palestinian by heritage.

Instead, the people of Tzipori misleadingly refer to their Palestinian neighbours – forced to live apart from them as second and third-class citizens of a self-declared Jewish state – as “Israeli Arabs”. The purpose is to obscure, both to themselves and the outside world, the connection of these so-called Arabs to the Palestinian people.

To acknowledge the crimes Tzipori has inflicted on Saffuriya would also be to acknowledge a bigger story: of the crimes inflicted by Israel on the Palestinian people as a whole.

Shroud of silence

Most of us in Britain do something very similar.

In young Israel, Jews still venerate the criminals of their recent past because they and their loved ones are so intimately and freshly implicated in the crimes.

In Britain, with its much longer colonial past, the same result is often achieved not, as in Israel, through open cheerleading and glorification – though there is some of that too – but chiefly through a complicit silence. Colston surveyed his city from up on his plinth. He stood above us, superior, paternal, authoritative. His crimes did not need denying because they had been effectively shrouded in silence.

Until Colston was toppled, slavery for most Britons was entirely absent from the narrative of Britain’s past – it was something to do with racist plantation owners in the United States’ Deep South more than a century ago. It was an issue we thought about only when Hollywood raised it.

After the Colston statue came down, he became an exhibit – flat on his back – in Bristol’s harbourside museum, the M Shed. His black robes had been smeared with red paint, and scuffed and grazed from being dragged through the streets. He became a relic of the past, and one denied his grandeur. We were able to observe him variously with curiousity, contempt or amusement.

Those are far better responses than reverence or silence. But they are not enough. Because Colston isn’t just a relic. He is a living, breathing reminder that we are still complicit in colonial crimes, even if now they are invariably better disguised.

Nowadays, we usually interfere in the name of fiscal responsibility or humanitarianism, rather than the white man’s burden.

We return to the countries we formerly colonised and asset-stripped, and drive them back into permanent debt slavery through western-controlled monetary agencies like the IMF.

Or in the case of those that refuse to submit, we more often than not invade or subvert them – countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Iran – tearing apart the colonial fabric we imposed on them, wrecking their societies in ways that invariably lead to mass death and the dispersion of the population.

We have supplied the bombs and planes to Saudi Arabia that are killing untold numbers of civilians in Yemen. We funded and trained the Islamic extremists who terrorise and behead civilians in Syria. The list is too long for me to recount here.

Right now, we see the consequences of the west’s neo-colonialism – and a predictable countervailing reaction, in the resurgence of a Russian nationalism that President Putin has harnessed to his own ends – in NATO’s relentless, decades-long expansion towards Russia’s borders.

And of course, we are still deeply invested in the settler colonial project of Israel, and the crimes it systematically inflicts on the Palestinian people.

Divine plan

Through the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Britain gave licence for the creation of a militarised ethnic, Jewish state in the Middle East. Later, we helped supply it with atomic material in the full knowledge that Israel would build nuclear bombs. We gave Israel diplomatic cover so that it could evade its obligations under the international treaty to stop nuclear proliferation and become the only nuclear power in the region. We have had Israel’s back through more than five decades of occupation and illegal settlement building.

And significantly, we have endlessly indulged Zionism as it has evolved from its sordid origins nearly two centuries ago, as an antisemitic movement among fundamentalist Christians. Those Christian Zonists – who at the time served as the power brokers in European governments like Britain’s – viewed Jews as mere instruments in a divine plan.

According to this plan, Jews were to be denied the chance to properly integrate into the countries to which they assumed they belonged.

Instead the Christian Zionists wanted to herd Jews into an imagined ancient, Biblical land of Israel, to speed up the arrival of the end times, when mankind would be judged and only good Christians would rise up to be with God.

Until Hitler took this western antisemitism to another level, few Jews subscribed to the idea that they were doomed forever to be a people apart, that their fate was inextricably tied to a small piece of territory in a far-off region they had never visited, and that their political allies should be millenarian racists.

But after the Holocaust, things changed. Christian Zionists looked like much kinder antisemites than the exterminationist Nazis. Christian Zionism won by default and was reborn as Jewish Zionism, claiming to be a national liberation movement rather than the dregs of a white European nationalism Hitler had intensified.

Today, we are presented with polls showing that most British Jews subscribe to the ugly ideas of Zionism – ideas their great-great-grandparents abhorred. Jews who dissent, who believe that we are all the same, that we all share a common fate as humans not as tribes, are ignored or dismissed as self-haters. In an inversion of reality these humanist Jews, rather than Jewish Zionists, are seen as the pawns of the antisemites.

Perverse ideology

Zionism as a political movement is so pampered, so embedded within European and American political establishments that those Jews who rally behind this ethnic nationalism no longer consider their beliefs to be abnormal or abhorrent – as their views would have been judged by most Jews only a few generations ago.

No, today Jewish Zionists think of their views as so self-evident, so vitally important to Jewish self-preservation that anyone who opposes them must be either a self-hating Jew or an antisemite.

And because non-Jews so little understand their own culpability in fomenting this perverse ideology of Jewish Zionism, we join in the ritual defaming of those brave Jews who point out how far we have stepped through the looking glass.

As a result, we unthinkingly give our backing to the Zionists as they weaponise antisemitism against those – Jews and non-Jews alike – who stand in solidarity with the native Palestinian people so long oppressed by western colonialism.

Thoughtlessly, too many of us have drifted once again into a sympathy for the oppressor – this time, Zonism’s barely veiled anti-Palestinian racism.

Nonetheless, our attitudes towards modern Israel, given British history, can be complex. On the one hand, there are good reasons to avert our gaze. Israel’s crimes today are an echo and reminder of our own crimes yesterday. Western governments subsidise Israel’s crimes through trade agreements, they provide the weapons for Israel to commit those crimes, and they profit from the new arms and cyber-weapons Israel has developed by testing them out on Palestinians. Like the now-defunct apartheid South Africa, Israel is a central ally in the west’s neo-colonialism.

So, yes, Israel is tied to us by an umbilical cord. We are its parent. But at the same time it is also not exactly like us either – more a bastard progeny. And that difference, that distance can help us gain a little perspective on ourselves. It can make Israel a teaching aid. An eye-opener. A place that can bring clarity, elucidate not only what Israel is doing but what countries like Britain have done and are still doing to this day.

Trade in bodies

The difference between Britain and Israel is to be found in the distinction between a colonial and a settler-colonial state.

Britain is a classic example of the former. It sent the entitled sons of its elite private schools, men like Colston, to parts of the globe rich in resources in order to steal those resources and bring the wealth back to the motherland to further enrich the establishment. That was the purpose of the tea and sugar plantations.

But it was not just a trade in inanimate objects. Britain also traded in bodies – mostly black bodies. Labour and muscle were a resource as vital to the British empire as silk and saffron.

The trafficking in goods and people lasted more than four centuries until liberation movements among the native populations began to throw off – at least partially – the yoke of British and European colonialism. The story since the Second World War has been one of Europe and the United States’ efforts to reinvent colonialism, conducting their rape and pillage at a distance, through the hands of others.

This is the dissembling, modern brand of colonialism: a “humanitarian” neocolonialism we should by now be familiar with. Global corporations, monetary
agencies like the IMF and the military alliance of NATO have each played a key role in the reinvention of colonialism – as has Israel.

Elimination strategies

Israel inherited Britain’s colonial tradition, and permanently adopted many of its emergency orders for use against the Palestinians. Like traditional colonialism, settler colonialism is determined to appropriate the resources of the natives. But it does so in an even more conspicuous, uncompromising way. It does not just exploit the natives. It seeks to replace or eliminate them. That way, they can never be in a position to liberate themselves and their homeland.

There is nothing new about this approach. It was adopted by European colonists across much of the globe: in North America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as belatedly in the Middle East.

There are advantages and disadvantages to the settler colonial strategy, as Israel illustrates only too clearly. In their struggle to replace the natives, Israel’s settlers had to craft a narrative – a rationalisation – that they were the victims rather than the victimisers. They were, of course, fleeing persecution in Europe, but only to become persecutors themselves outside Europe. They were supposedly in a battle for survival against those they came to replace, the Palestinians. The natives were cast as irredeemably, and irrationally, hostile. God was invoked, more or less explicitly.

In the Zionist story, the ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinians – the Nakba – becomes a War of Independence, celebrated to this day. The Zionist colonisers thereby transformed themselves into another national liberation movement, like the ones in Africa that were fighting after the Second World War for independence. Israel claimed to be fighting oppressive British rule, as Africans were, rather than inheriting the colonisers’ mantle.

But there is a disadvantage for settler colonial projects too, especially in an era of better communications. In a time of more democratic media, as we are currently enjoying – even if briefly – the colonisers’ elimination strategies are much harder to veil or airbrush. The ugliness is on show. The reality of the oppression is more visceral, more obviously offensive.

Apartheid named

The settlers’ elimination strategies are limited in number, and difficult to conceal whichever is adopted. In the United States, elimination took the form of genocide – the simplest and neatest of settler-colonialism’s solutions.

In the post-war era of human rights, however, Israel was denied that route. It adopted settler colonialism’s fall-back position: mass expulsion, or ethnic cleansing. Some 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and outside the new borders of Israel in 1948.

But genocide and ethnic cleansing are invariably projects that cannot be completed. Some 90 per cent of Native Americans died from the violence and diseases brought by European incomers, but a small proportion survived. In South Africa, the white immigrants lacked the numbers and capacity either to eradicate the native population or to exploit such a vast territory.

Israel managed to expel only 80 per cent of the Palestinians living inside its new borders before the international community called time. And then Israel sabotaged its initial success in 1948 by seizing yet more Palestinian territory – and more Palestinians – in 1967.

When settler populations cannot eradicate the native population completely, they must impose harsh, visible segregation policies against those that remain.

Resources and rights are differentiated on the basis of race or ethnicity. Such regimes institute apartheid – or as Israel calls its version “hafrada” – to maintain the privileges of their own, superior or chosen population.

Colonial mentality

Many decades on, human rights groups have finally named Israel’s apartheid. Amnesty International got round to it only this month – 74 years after the Nakba and 55 years after the occupation began.

It has taken so long because even our understanding of human rights continues to be shaped by a European colonial mentality. Human rights groups have documented Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians – the “what” of their oppression – but refused to understand the “why” of that oppression. These watchdogs did not truly listen to Palestinians. They listened to, they excused, Israel even as they were criticising it. They indulged its endless security rationales for its crimes against Palestinians.

The reluctance to name Israeli apartheid derives in large part from a reluctance to face our part in its creation. To identify Israel’s apartheid is to recognise both our role in sustaining it, and Israel’s crucial place in the west’s reinvented neocolonialism.

Being ‘offensive’

The difficulty of facing up to what Israel is and what it represents is, of course, particularly stark for many Jews – not only in Israel but in countries like Britain. Through no choice of their own, Jews are more deeply implicated in Israel’s crimes because those crimes are carried out in the name of all Jews. As a result, for Zionist Jews, protecting the settler colonial project of Israel is identical to protecting their own sense of virtue.

In the zero-sum imaginings of the Zionist movement, the stakes are too high to doubt or to equivocate. As Zionists, their duty is to support, dissemble and propagandise on Israel’s behalf at all costs.

Nowadays Zionism has become such a normalised part of our western culture that those who call themselves Zionists are appalled at the idea anyone could dare to point out that their ideology is rooted in an ugly ethnic nationalism and in apartheid. Those who make them feel uncomfortable by highlighting the reality of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians – and their blindness to it – are accused of being “offensive”.

That supposed offensiveness is now conflated with antisemitism, as the treatment of Ken Loach, the respected film-maker of this parish, attests. Disgust at Israel’s racism towards Palestinians is malevolently confused with racism towards Jews. The truth is inverted.

This confusion has also become the basis for a new definition of antisemitism – one aggressively advanced by Israel and its apologists – designed to mislead casual onlookers. The more we, as anti-racists and opponents of colonialism, try to focus attention and opprobrium on Israel’s crimes, the more we are accused of covertly attacking Jews.

Into the fire

Arriving in the UK from Nazareth at this very moment is like stepping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Here the battle over Zionism – defining it, understanding it, confronting it, refusing to be silenced by it – is in full flood. The Labour party, under Jeremy Corbyn, was politically eviscerated by a redefined antisemitism. Now the party’s ranks are being purged by his successor, Sir Keir Starmer, on the same phony grounds.

Professors are being threatened and losing their jobs, as happened to David Miller at Bristol university, with the goal of intensifying pressure on the academy to keep silent about Israel and its lobbyists. Exhibitions are taken down, speakers cancelled.

And all the while, the current western obsession with redefining antisemitism – the latest cover story for apartheid Israel – moves us ever further from sensitivity to real racism, whether it be genuine prejudice against Jews or rampant Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism.

The fight for justice for Palestinians resonates with so many of us precisely because it is not simply a struggle to help Palestinians. It is a fight to end colonialism in all its forms, to end our inhumanity towards those we live alongside, to remember that we are all equally human and all equally entitled to respect and dignity.

The story of Palestine is a loud echo from our past. Maybe the loudest. If we cannot hear it, then we cannot learn – and we cannot take the first steps on the path towards real change.

The post Palestine is a Loud Echo of Britain’s Colonial Past and a Warning of the Future first appeared on Dissident Voice.