Category Archives: United Kingdom

The Plot to Keep Corbyn out of Power

In the latest of the interminable media “furores” about Jeremy Corbyn’s supposed unfitness to lead the Labour party – let alone become prime minister – it is easy to forget where we were shortly before he won the support of an overwhelming majority of Labour members to head the party.

In the preceding two years, it was hard to avoid on TV the figure of Russell Brand, a comedian and minor film star who had reinvented himself, after years of battling addiction, as a spiritual guru-cum-political revolutionary.

Brand’s fast-talking, plain-speaking criticism of the existing political order, calling it discredited, unaccountable and unrepresentative, was greeted with smirking condescension from the political and media establishment. Nonetheless, in an era before Donald Trump had become president of the United States, the British media were happy to indulge Brand for a while, seemingly believing he or his ideas might prove a ratings winner with younger audiences.

But then Brand started to look rather more impressive than anyone could have imagined. He took on supposed media heavyweights like the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman and Channel 4’s Jon Snow and charmed and shamed them into submission – both with his compassion and his thoughtful radicalism. Even in the gladiatorial-style battle of wits so beloved of modern TV, he made these titans of the political interview look mediocre, shallow and out of touch. Videos of these head-to-heads went viral, and Brand won hundreds of thousands of new followers.

Then he overstepped the mark.

Democracy as charade

Instead of simply criticising the political system, Brand argued that it was, in fact, so rigged by the powerful, by corporate interests, that western democracy had become a charade. Elections were pointless. Our votes were simply a fig-leaf, concealing the fact that our political leaders were there to represent not us but the interests of globe-spanning corporations. Political and media elites had been captured by unshored corporate money. Our voices had become irrelevant.

Brand didn’t just talk the talk. He went out and started committing to direct action. He shamed our do-nothing politicians and corporate media (the devastating Grenfell Tower fire had yet to happen) by helping gain attention for a group of poor tenants in London who were taking on the might of a corporation that had become their landlord and wanted to evict them to develop their homes for a much richer clientele. Brand’s revolutionary words had turned into revolutionary action.

But just as Brand’s rejection of the old politics began to articulate a wider mood, it was stopped in its tracks. When Corbyn was unexpectedly elected Labour leader, offering for the first time in living memory a politics that listened to people before money, Brand’s style of rejectionism seemed a little too cynical, or at least premature.

But while Corbyn’s victory marked a sea-change, it is worth recalling that it occurred only because of a mistake. Or perhaps two.

The Corbyn accident

First, a handful of Labour MPs agreed to nominate Corbyn for the leadership contest, scraping him past the threshold needed to get on the ballot paper. Most backed him only because they wanted to make the election look fair and open. After his victory, some loudly regretted having assisted him. None had thought a representative of the tiny and besieged left wing of the parliamentary party stood a chance of winning – not after Tony Blair and his acolytes had spent more than two decades remaking Labour, using their own version of entryism to eradicate any vestiges of socialism in the party. These “New Labour” MPs were there, just as Brand had noted, to represent the interests of a corporate class, not ordinary people.

Corbyn had very different ideas from most of his colleagues. Over the years he had broken with the consensus of the dominant Blairite faction time and again in parliamentary votes, consistently taking a minority view that later proved to be on the right side of history. He alone among the leadership contenders spoke unequivocally against austerity, regarding it as a way to leech away more public money to enrich the corporations and banks that had already pocketed vast sums from the public coffers – so much so that by 2008 they had nearly bankrupted the entire western economic system.

And second, Corbyn won because of a recent change in the party’s rulebook – one now much regretted by party managers. A new internal balloting system gave more weight to the votes of ordinary members than the parliamentary party. The members, unlike the party machine, wanted Corbyn.

Corbyn’s success didn’t really prove Brand wrong. Even the best designed systems have flaws, especially when the maintenance of the system’s image as benevolent is considered vitally important. It wasn’t that Corbyn’s election had demonstrated that Britain’s political system was representative and accountable. It was simply evidence that corporate power had made itself vulnerable to a potential accident by preferring to work out of sight, in the shadows, to maintain the illusion of democracy. Corbyn was that accident.

Brainwashing under freedom’

Corbyn’s success also wasn’t evidence that the power structure he challenged had weakened. The system was still in place and it still had a chokehold on the political and media establishments that exist to uphold its interests. Which is why it has been mobilising these forces endlessly to damage Corbyn and avert the risk of a further, even more disastrous “accident”, such as his becoming prime minister.

Listing the ways the state-corporate media have sought to undermine Corbyn would sound preposterous to anyone not deeply immersed in these media-constructed narratives. But almost all of us have been exposed to this kind of “brainwashing under freedom” since birth.

The initial attacks on Corbyn were for being poorly dressed, sexist, unstatesmanlike, a national security threat, a Communist spy – relentless, unsubstantiated smears the like of which no other party leader had ever faced. But over time the allegations became even more outrageously propagandistic as the campaign to undermine him not only failed but backfired – not least, because Labour membership rocketed under Corbyn to make the party the largest in Europe. As the establishment’s need to keep him away from power has grown more urgent and desperate so has the nature of the attacks.

Redefining anti-semitism

Corbyn was extremely unusual in many ways as the leader of a western party within sight of power. Personally he was self-effacing and lived modestly. Ideologically he was resolutely against the thrust of four decades of a turbo-charged neoliberal capitalism unleashed by Thatcher and Reagan in the early 1980s; and he opposed foreign wars for empire, fashionable “humanitarian interventions” whose real goal was to attack other sovereign states either to control their resources, usually oil, or line the pockets of the military-industrial complex.

It was difficult to attack Corbyn directly for these positions. There was the danger that they might prove popular with voters. But Corbyn was seen to have an Achilles’ heel. He was a life-long anti-racism activist and well known for his support for the rights of the long-suffering Palestinians. The political and media establishments soon learnt that they could recharacterise his support for the Palestinians and criticism of Israel as anti-semitism. He was soon being presented as a leader happy to preside over an “institutionally” anti-semitic party.

Under pressure of these attacks, Labour was forced to adopt a new and highly controversial definition of anti-semitism – one rejected by leading jurists and later repudiated by the lawyer who devised it – that expressly conflates criticism of Israel, and anti-Zionism, with Jew hatred. One by one Corbyn’s few ideological allies in the party – those outside the Blairite consensus – have been picked off as anti-semites. They have either fallen foul of this conflation or, as with Labour MP Chris Williamson, they have been tarred and feathered for trying to defend Labour’s record against the accusations of a supposed endemic anti-semitism in its ranks.

The bad faith of the anti-semitism smears were particularly clear in relation to Williamson. The comment that plunged him into so much trouble – leading twice to his suspension – was videoed. In it he can be heard calling anti-semitism a “scourge” that must be confronted. But also, in line with all evidence, Williamson denied that Labour had any particular anti-semitism problem. In part he blamed the party for being too ready to concede unwarranted ground to critics, further stoking the attacks and smears. He noted that Labour had been “demonised as a racist, bigoted party”, adding: “Our party’s response has been partly responsible for that because in my opinion … we’ve backed off far too much, we have given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic.”

The Guardian has been typical in mischaracterising Williamson’s remarks not once but each time it has covered developments in his case. Every Guardian report has stated, against the audible evidence, that Williamson said Labour was “too apologetic about anti-semitism”. In short, the Guardian and the rest of the media have insinuated that Williamson approves of anti-semitism. But what he actually said was that Labour was “too apologetic” when dealing with unfair or unreasonable allegations of anti-semitism, that it had too willingly accepted the unfounded premise of its critics that the party condoned racism.

Like the Salem witch-hunts

The McCarthyite nature of this process of misrepresentation and guilt by association was underscored when Jewish Voice for Labour, a group of Jewish party members who have defended Corbyn against the anti-semitism smears, voiced their support for Williamson. Jon Lansman, a founder of the Momentum group originally close to Corbyn, turned on the JVL calling them “part of the problem and not part of the solution to antisemitism in the Labour Party”. In an additional, ugly but increasingly normalised remark, he added: “Neither the vast majority of individual members of JVL nor the organisation itself can really be said to be part of the Jewish community.”

In this febrile atmosphere, Corbyn’s allies have been required to admit the party’s institutionalised anti-semitism, to distance themselves from Corbyn and often to submit to anti-semitism training. To do otherwise, to deny the accusation is, as in the Salem witch-hunts, treated as proof of guilt.

The anti-semitism claims have been regurgitated almost daily across the narrow corporate media “spectrum”, even though they are unsupported by any actual evidence of an anti-semitism problem in Labour beyond a marginal one representative of wider British society. The allegations have reached such fever-pitch, stoked into a hysteria by the media, that the party is now under investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission – the only party apart from the neo-Nazi British National Party ever to face such an investigation.

These attacks have transformed the whole discursive landscape on Israel, the Palestinians, Zionism and anti-semitism in ways unimaginable 20 years ago, when I first started reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Then the claim that anti-Zionism – opposition to Israel as a state privileging Jews over non-Jews – was the same as anti-semitism sounded patently ridiculous. It was an idea promoted only by the most unhinged apologists for Israel.

Now, however, we have leading liberal commentators such as the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland claiming not only that Israel is integral to their Jewish identity but that they speak for all other Jews in making such an identification. To criticise Israel is to attack them as Jews, and by implication to attack all Jews. And therefore any Jew dissenting from this consensus, any Jew identifying as anti-Zionist, any Jew in Labour who supports Corbyn – and there are many, even if they are largely ignored – are denounced, as by Lansman, as the “wrong kind of Jews”. It may be absurd logic, but such ideas are now so commonplace as to be unremarkable.

In fact, the weaponisation of anti-semitism against Corbyn has become so normal that, even while I was writing this post, a new nadir was reached. Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary who hopes to defeat Boris Johnson in the upcoming Tory leadership race, as good as accused Corbyn of being a new Hitler, a man who as prime minister might allow Jews to be exterminated as happened in the Nazi death camps.

Too ‘frail’ to be PM

Although anti-semitism has become the favoured stick with which to beat Corbyn, other forms of attack regularly surface. The latest is a comment by an unnamed “senior civil servant” reported in the Times alleging that Corbyn is too physically frail and mentally ill-equipped to grasp the details necessary to serve as prime minister. It barely matters whether the comment was actually made by a senior official or simply concocted by the Times. It is yet further evidence of the political and media establishments’ anti-democratic efforts to discredit Corbyn as a general election looms.

One of the ironies is that media critics of Corbyn regularly accuse him of failing to make any political capital from the shambolic disarray of the ruling Conservative party, which is eating itself alive over the terms of Brexit, Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union. But it is the corporate media – which serves both as society’s main forum of debate and as a supposed watchdog on power – that is starkly failing to hold the Tories to account. While the media obsess about Corbyn’s supposed mental deficiencies, they have smoothed the path of Boris Johnson, a man who personifies the word “buffoon” like no one else in political life, to become the new leader of the Conservative party and therefore by default – and without an election – the next prime minister.

An indication of how the relentless character assassination of Corbyn is being coordinated was hinted at early on in comments – also reported by The Times, and also made anonymously – by a British military general immediately after Corbyn’s election in 2015. He told the paper there would be “direct action”, what he termed a “mutiny”, by the armed forces should Corbyn ever get in sight of power. The generals, he said, regarded Corbyn as a national security threat and would use any means “fair or foul” to prevent him implementing his political programme.

Running the gauntlet

But this campaign of domestic attacks on Corbyn needs to be understood in a still wider framework, which relates to Britain’s abiding Transatlantic “special relationship”, one that in reality means that the UK serves as Robin to the United States’ Batman, or as a very junior partner to the global hegemon.

Last month a private conversation concerning Corbyn between the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the heads of a handful of rightwing American Jewish organisations was leaked. Contrary to the refrain of the UK corporate media that Corbyn is so absurd a figure that he could never win an election, the fear expressed on both sides of that Washington conversation was that the Labour leader might soon become Britain’s prime minister.

Framing Corbyn yet again as an anti-semite, a US Jewish leader could be heard asking Pompeo if he would be “willing to work with us to take on actions if life becomes very difficult for Jews in the UK”. Pompeo responded that it was possible “Mr Corbyn manages to run the gauntlet and get elected” – a telling phrase that attracted remarkably little attention, as did the story itself, given that it revealed one of the most senior Trump administration officials explicitly talking about meddling directly in the outcome of a UK election.

Here is the dictionary definition of “run the gauntlet”: to take part in a form of corporal punishment in which the party judged guilty is forced to run between two rows of soldiers, who strike out and attack him.

So Pompeo was suggesting that there already is a gauntlet – systematic and organised blows and strikes against Corbyn – that he is being made to run through. In fact, “running the gauntlet” precisely describes the experience Corbyn has faced since he was elected Labour leader – from the corporate media, from the dominant Blairite faction of his own party, from rightwing, pro-Israel Jewish organisations like the Board of Deputies, and from anonymous generals and senior civil servants.

‘We cheated, we stole’

Pompeo continued: “You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. We will do our level best. It’s too risky and too important and too hard once it’s already happened.”

So, Washington’s view is that action must be taken before Corbyn reaches a position of power. To avoid any danger he might become the UK’s next prime minister, the US will do its “level best” to “push back”. Assuming that this hasn’t suddenly become the US administration’s priority, how much time does the US think it has before Corbyn might win power? How close is a UK election?

As everyone in Washington is only too keenly aware, a UK election has been a distinct possibility since the Conservatives set up a minority government two years ago with the help of fickle, hardline Ulster loyalists. Elections have been looming ever since, as the UK ruling party has torn itself apart over Brexit, its MPs regularly defeating their own leader, prime minister Theresa May, in parliamentary votes.

So if Pompeo is saying, as he appears to be, that the US will do whatever it can to make sure Corbyn doesn’t win an election well before that election takes place, it means the US is already deeply mired in anti-Corbyn activity. Pompeo is not only saying that the US is ready to meddle in the UK’s election, which is bad enough; he is hinting that it is already meddling in UK politics to make sure the will of the British people does not bring to power the wrong leader.

Remember Pompeo, a former CIA director, once effectively America’s spy chief, was unusually frank about what his agency got up to when he was in charge. He observed: “I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. It’s – it was like – we had entire training courses.”

One would have to be remarkably naive to think that Pompeo changed the CIA’s culture during his short tenure. He simply became the figurehead of the world’s most powerful spying outfit, one that had spent decades developing the principles of US exceptionalism, that had lied its way to recent wars in Iraq and Libya, as it had done earlier in Vietnam and in justifying the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, and much more. Black ops and psyops were not invented by Pompeo. They have long been a mainstay of US foreign policy.

An eroding consensus

It takes a determined refusal to join the dots not to see a clear pattern here.

Brand was right that the system is rigged, that our political and media elites are captured, and that the power structure of our societies will defend itself by all means possible, “fair or foul”. Corbyn is far from alone in this treatment. The system is similarly rigged to stop a democratic socialist like Bernie Sanders – though not a rich businessman like Donald Trump – winning the nomination for the US presidential race. It is also rigged to silence real journalists like Julian Assange who are trying to overturn the access journalism prized by the corporate media – with its reliance on official sources and insiders for stories – to divulge the secrets of the national security states we live in.

There is a conspiracy at work here, though it is not of the kind lampooned by critics: a small cabal of the rich secretly pulling the strings of our societies. The conspiracy operates at an institutional level, one that has evolved over time to create structures and refine and entrench values that keep power and wealth in the hands of the few. In that sense we are all part of the conspiracy. It is a conspiracy that embraces us every time we unquestioningly accept the “consensual” narratives laid out for us by our education systems, politicians and media. Our minds have been occupied with myths, fears and narratives that turned us into the turkeys that keep voting for Christmas.

That system is not impregnable, however. The consensus so carefully constructed over many decades is rapidly breaking down as the power structure that underpins it is forced to grapple with real-world problems it is entirely unsuited to resolve, such as the gradual collapse of western economies premised on infinite growth and a climate that is fighting back against our insatiable appetite for the planet’s resources.

When we colluded in the manufactured consensus of western societies, the system operated without challenge or meaningful dissent. A deeply ideological system destroying the planet was treated as though it was natural, immutable, the summit of human progress, the end of history. Those times are over. Accidents like Corbyn will happen more frequently, as will extreme climate events and economic crises. The power structures in place to prevent such accidents will by necessity grow more ham-fisted, more belligerent, less concealed to get their way. And we might finally understand that a system designed to pacify us while a few grow rich at the expense of our own and our children’s future does not have to continue. That we can raise our voices and loudly say: “No!”

Africa and Palestine: A Noble Legacy That Must Never Be Betrayed

Europe’s “Scramble for Africa” began in earnest in 1881, but never ended. The attempt at dominating the continent using old and new strategies continues to define western relationship with this rich continent.

This reality was further validated when I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya on June 23. Although my objective was to address various Kenyan audiences at universities, public forums and the media, I also came here to learn. Kenya, like the rest of Africa, is a source of inspiration for all anti-colonial, liberation movements around the world. We, Palestinians, can learn a great deal from the Kenyan struggle.

Although African countries have fought valiant battles for their freedom against their western colonizers, neocolonialism now defines the relationship between many independent African countries and their former occupiers. Political meddling, economic control and, at times, military interventions, as in the recent cases of Libya and Mali, point to the unfortunate reality that Africa remains, in myriad ways, hostage to western priorities, interests and dictates.

In the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884, western colonial regimes attempted to mediate among the various powers that were competing over Africa’s largesse. It assigned each with a share of the African continent, as if Africa was the property of the west and its white colonists. Millions of Africans died in that protracted, bloody episode unleashed by the west which, shamelessly, promoted its genocidal oppression as a civilizational project.

Like most colonized countries in the Southern hemisphere, Africans fought disproportionate battles to gain their precious freedom. Here in Kenya, which became an official British colony in the 1920s, Kenya’s freedom fighters rose in rebellion against the brutality of their oppressors. Most notable among the various resistance campaigns, the “Mau Mau” rebellion of the 1950s remains a stark example of the courage of Kenyans and the cruelty of colonial Britain. Thousands of people were killed, wounded, disappeared or were imprisoned under the harshest of conditions.

Palestine fell under Brtish occupation, the so-called British Mandate, around the period that Kenya also became a British colony. Palestinians, too, fought and fell in their thousands as they employed various methods of collective resistance, including the legendary strike and rebellion of 1936.

The same British killing machine that operated in Palestine and Kenya around that time, also operated, with the same degree of senseless violence, against numerous other nations around the world.

While Palestine was handed over to the Zionist Movement to establish the State of Israel in May 1948, Kenya achieved its indepedence in December 1963.

At one of my recent talks in Nairobi, I was asked by a young participant about “Palestinian terrorism”. I told her that Palestinian fighters of today are Kenya’s “Mau Mau” rebels of yesteryear. That, if we allow western and Israeli propaganda to define the discourse of national liberation on Palestine, then we condemn all national liberation movements throughout the Southern hemisphere, including Kenya’s own freedom fighters.

We, Palestinians, however, must shoulder part of the blame of why our narrative as an oppressed, colonized and resisting nation is now misunderstood in parts of Africa

When the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) committed its historical blunder by signing off Palestinian rights in Oslo in 1993, it abandoned a decades-long Palestinian discourse of resistance and liberation. Instead, it subscribed to a whole new discourse, riddled with carefully-worded language sanctioned by Washington and its European allies. Whenever Palestinians dared to deviate from their assigned role, they were decreed by the west to return to the negotiating table,” as the latter became a metaphor of obedience and submission.

Throughout these years, Palestinians mostly abandoned their far more meaningful alliances in Africa. Instead, they endlessly appealed to the goodwill of the west, hoping that the very colonial powers that have primarily created, sustained and armed Israel, would miraculously become more balanced and humane.

However, Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, etc., remained committed to Israel and, despite occasional polite criticism of the Israeli government, continued to channel their weapons, warplanes and submarines to every Israeli government that has ruled over Palestinians for the last seven decades.

Alas, while Palestinians were learning their painful lesson, betrayed repeatedly by those who avowed to respect democracy and human rights, many African nations began seeing in Israel a possible ally. Kenya is, sadly, one of those countries.

Understanding the significance of Africa in terms of its economic and political potential (support for Israel at the UN General Assembly), right wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has launched his own “Scramble for Africa”. Netanyahu’s diplomatic conquests on the continent have been celebrated by Israeli media as “historic”, while the Palestinian leadership remained oblivious to the rapidly changing political landscape.

Kenya is one of Israel’s success stories. In November 2017, Netanyahu attended the inauguration of Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, who supposedly received an astonishing 98% of votes in the last elections. While Kenyans rose in rebellion against their corrupt ruling classes, Netanyahu was seen embracing Kenyatta as a dear friend and ally.

Netanyahu’s strategy in Kenya – and the rest of Africa – has been based on the same logic, where Israel would use its security technology to support corrupt and undemocratic regimes, in exchange for their political support.

Tel Aviv had hoped that the first-ever Israel-Africa summit in Togo would usher in a complete paradigm shift in Israeli-African relations. However, the October 2017 conference never actualized, due to pressure by various African countries, including South Africa. There is still enough support for Palestine on the continent to defeat Israeli stratagem. But that could change soon in favor of Israel, if Palestinians and their allies do not wake up to the alarming reality.

The Palestinian leadership, intellectuals, artists and civil society ambassadors must shift their attention back to the Southern hemisphere – Africa, in particular – rediscovering the untapped wealth of true, unconditional human solidarity that is provided by the peoples of this ever-generous continent.

The legendary Tanzanian freedom fighter, Mwalimu Nyerere – who is also celebrated in Kenya – knew too well where his solidarity lay. “We have never hesitated in our support for the right of the people of Palestine to have their own land,” he once said, a sentiment that was repeated by the iconic late South African leader, Nelson Mandela, and many other African liberation leaders.

This generation of African leaders should not deviate from that noble legacy. If they betray it, they betray themselves, along with the righteous struggles of their own peoples.

Life Expectancy Falters in the UK

A special report in the Observer newspaper in the UK on 23 June 2019 asked the question: Why is life expectancy faltering? The piece noted that for the first time in 100 years, Britons are dying earlier. The UK now has the worst health trends in Western Europe.

Aside from the figures for the elderly and the deprived, there has also been a worrying change in infant mortality rates. Since 2014, the rate has increased every year: the figure for 2017 is significantly higher than the one in 2014. To explain this increase in infant mortality, certain experts blame it on ‘austerity’, fewer midwives, an overstrained ambulance service, general deterioration of hospitals, greater poverty among pregnant women and cuts that mean there are fewer health visitors for patients in need.

While all these explanations may be valid, according to environmental campaigner Dr Rosemary Mason, there is something the mainstream narrative is avoiding. She says:

We are being poisoned by weedkiller and other pesticides in our food and weedkiller sprayed indiscriminately on our communities. The media remain silent.

The poisoning of the UK public by the agrochemical industry is the focus of her new report: Why is life expectancy faltering: The British Government has worked with Monsanto and Bayer since 1949.

What follows are edited highlights of the text in which she cites many official sources and reports as well as numerous peer-reviewed studies in support of her arguments. Readers can access the report here.

Toxic history of Monsanto in the UK

Mason begins by offering a brief history of Monsanto in the UK. In 1949, that company set up a chemical factory in Newport, Wales, where it manufactured PCBs until 1977 and a number of other dangerous chemicals. Monsanto was eventually found to be dumping toxic waste in the River Severn, public waterways and sewerage. It then paid a contractor which illegally dumped thousands of tons of cancer-causing chemicals, including PCBs, dioxins and Agent Orange derivatives, at two quarries in Wales – Brofiscin (80,000 tonnes) and Maendy (42,000 tonnes) – between 1965 and 1972.

Monsanto stopped making PCBs in Anniston US in 1971 because of various scandals. However, the British government agreed to ramp up production at the Monsanto plant in Newport. In 2003, when toxic effluent from the quarry started leaking into people’s streams in Grosfaen, just outside Cardiff, the Environment Agency – a government agency concerned with flooding and pollution – was hired to clean up the site in 2005.

Mason notes that the agency repeatedly failed to hold Monsanto accountable for its role in the pollution (a role that Monsanto denied from the outset) and consistently downplayed the dangers of the chemicals themselves.

In a report prepared for the agency and the local authority in 2005 but never made public, the sites contain at least 67 toxic chemicals. Seven PCBs have been identified, along with vinyl chlorides and naphthalene. The unlined quarry is still leaking, the report says:

Pollution of water has been occurring since the 1970s, the waste and groundwater has been shown to contain significant quantities of poisonous, noxious and polluting material, pollution of… waters will continue to occur.

The duplicity continues

Apart from these events in Wales, Mason outlines the overall toxic nature of Monsanto in the UK. For instance, she discusses the shockingly high levels of weedkiller in packaged cereals. Samples of four oat-based breakfast cereals marketed for children in the UK were recently sent to the Health Research Institute, Fairfield, Iowa, an accredited laboratory for glyphosate testing. Dr Fagan, the director of the centre, says of the results:

These results are consistently concerning. The levels consumed in a single daily helping of any one of these cereals, even the one with the lowest level of contamination, is sufficient to put the person’s glyphosate levels above the levels that cause fatty liver disease in rats (and likely in people).

According to Mason, the European Food Safety Authority and the European Commission colluded with the European Glyphosate Task Force and allowed it to write the re-assessment of glyphosate. She lists key peer-reviewed studies, which the Glyphosate Task Force conveniently omitted from its review, from South America where GM crops are grown. In fact, many papers come from Latin American countries where they grow almost exclusively GM Roundup Ready Crops.

Mason cites one study that references many papers from around the world that confirm glyphosate-based herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup are damaging to the development of the foetal brain and that repeated exposure is toxic to the adult human brain and may result in alterations in locomotor activity, feelings of anxiety and memory impairment.

Another study notes neurotransmitter changes in rat brain regions following glyphosate exposure. The highlights from that study indicate that glyphosate oral exposure caused neurotoxicity in rats; that brain regions were susceptible to changes in CNS monoamine levels; that glyphosate reduced 5-HT, DA, NE levels in a brain regional- and dose-related manner; and that glyphosate altered the serotoninergic, dopaminergic and noradrenergic systems.

Little wonder, Mason concludes, that we see various degenerative conditions on the rise. She turns her attention to children, the most vulnerable section of the population, and refers to the UN expert on toxicity Baskut Tuncak. He wrote a scathing piece in the Guardian on 06/11/2017 on the effects of agrotoxins on children’s health:

Our children are growing up exposed to a toxic cocktail of weedkillers, insecticides, and fungicides. It’s on their food and in their water, and it’s even doused over their parks and playgrounds. Many governments insist that our standards of protection from these pesticides are strong enough. But as a scientist and a lawyer who specialises in chemicals and their potential impact on people’s fundamental rights, I beg to differ. Last month it was revealed that in recommending that glyphosate – the world’s most widely-used pesticide – was safe, the EU’s food safety watchdog copied and pasted pages of a report directly from Monsanto, the pesticide’s manufacturer. Revelations like these are simply shocking.

… Exposure in pregnancy and childhood is linked to birth defects, diabetes, and cancer. Because a child’s developing body is more sensitive to exposure than adults and takes in more of everything – relative to their size, children eat, breathe, and drink much more than adults – they are particularly vulnerable to these toxic chemicals. Increasing evidence shows that even at “low” doses of childhood exposure, irreversible health impacts can result.

… In light of revelations such as the copy-and-paste scandal, a careful re-examination of the performance of states is required. The overwhelming reliance of regulators on industry-funded studies, the exclusion of independent science from assessments, and the confidentiality of studies relied upon by authorities must change.

Warnings ignored

It is a travesty that Theo Colborn’s crucial research in the early 1990s into the chemicals that were changing humans and the environment was ignored. Mason discusses his work into endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), man-made chemicals that became widespread in the environment after WW II.

In a book published in 1996, The Pesticide Conspiracy, Colborn, Dumanoski and Peters revealed the full horror of what was happening to the world as a result of contamination with EDCs.

At the time, there was emerging scientific research about how a wide range of man-made chemicals disrupt delicate hormone systems in humans. These systems play a critical role in processes ranging from human sexual development to behaviour, intelligence, and the functioning of the immune system.

At that stage, PCBs, DDT, chlordane, lindane, aldrin, dieldrin, endrin, toxaphene, heptachlor, dioxin, atrazine+ and dacthal were shown to be EDCs. Many of these residues are found in humans in the UK.

Colborn illustrated the problem by constructing a diagram of the journey of a PCB molecule from a factory in Alabama into a polar bear in the Arctic. He stated:

The concentration of persistent chemicals can be magnified millions of times as they travel to the ends of the earth… Many chemicals that threaten the next generation have found their way into our bodies. There is no safe, uncontaminated place.

Mason describes how EDCs interfere with delicate hormone systems in sexual development. Glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor and a nervous system disruptor. She ponders whether Colborn foresaw the outcome whereby humans become confused about their gender or sex.

She then discusses the widespread contamination of people in the UK. One study conducted at the start of this century concluded that every person tested was contaminated by a cocktail of known highly toxic chemicals that were banned from use in the UK during the 1970s and which continue to pose unknown health risks: the highest number of chemicals found in any one person was 49 – nearly two thirds (63 per cent) of the chemicals looked for.

Corruption exposed

Mason discusses corporate duplicity and the institutionalised corruption that allows agrochemicals to get to the commercial market. She notes the catastrophic impacts of these substances on health and the NHS and the environment.

Of course, the chickens are now coming home to roost for Bayer, which bought Monsanto. Mason refers to attorneys revealing Monsanto’s criminal strategy for keeping Roundup on the market and the company being hit with $2 billion verdict in the third ‘Roundup trial’.

Attorney Brent Wisner has argued that Monsanto spent decades suppressing science linking its glyphosate-based weedkiller product to cancer by ghost-writing academic articles and feeding the EPA “bad science”. He asked the jury to ‘punish’ Monsanto with a $1 billion punitive damages award. On Monday 13 May, the jury found Monsanto liable for failure to warn claims, design defect claims, negligence claims and negligent failure to warn claims.

Robert F Kennedy Jr., another attorney fighting Bayer in the courts, says Roundup causes a constellation of other injuries apart from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma:

Perhaps more ominously for Bayer, Monsanto also faces cascading scientific evidence linking glyphosate to a constellation of other injuries that have become prevalent since its introduction, including obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease, brain, breast and prostate cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and declining sperm counts. Strong science suggests glyphosate is the culprit in the exploding epidemics of celiac disease, colitis, gluten sensitivities, diabetes and non-alcoholic liver cancer which, for the first time, is attacking children as young as 10.

In finishing, Mason notes the disturbing willingness of the current UK government to usher in GM Roundup Ready crops in the wake of Brexit. Where pesticides are concerned, the EU’s precautionary principle could be ditched in favour of a US-style risk-based approach, allowing faster authorisation.

Rosemary Mason shows that the health of the UK populations already lags behind other countries in Western Europe. She links this to the increasing amounts of agrochemicals being applied to crops. If the UK does a post-Brexit deal with the US, we can only expect a gutting of environmental standards at the behest of the US and its corporations and much worse to follow for the environment and public health.

Mark Field and the Danger of Getting Sidetracked

I really do not wish to write about Mark Field, the British government minister who assaulted a climate change activist this week, grabbing her by the neck and violently marching her out of a City of London dinner while all the hundreds of other wealthy diners watched either impassively or approvingly. But whatever my wishes, it seems I must.

I don’t wish to write about Mark Field, because the media have constructed a debate that is limited to one matter only, even if there are apparently innumerable variations of that one issue to be raised.

Did Field behave like a gentleman or a knave? Is it reasonable that he believed the woman posed a danger? Is his apology enough? Were the climate change activists trespassing and, if they were, did that justify Field’s actions? Has he broken the ministerial code of conduct? Would we still be outraged if the activist were a man? Should he resign? Is his outburst evidence he is a wife beater? And so on.

When we engage in these debates, they seem important. As if we are fighting for the health of our societies; or upholding key values, or at the very least the rule of law. As if it shows we care. As if it can make things a little better.

Which is exactly why I don’t want to write about Mark Field. Because the reality is that things won’t get better while we allow ourselves to be manipulated into these kind of ring-fenced debates.

There is a reason why the corporate media quickly escalate simple stories like Mark Field’s into such apparently elaborate and polarising public discussions. And the reason is to stop other kinds of debates, much more vital ones, from taking place that these stories would naturally provoke if we had a truly free media. We are being offered the modern version of bread and circuses.

Strip away the narrow, sectarian party politics in play here, and there is nothing debatable about Mark Field’s actions. He is caught on camera – his face full of rage, not fear – violently grabbing an activist who clearly poses no threat to him and who is, in fact, simply walking behind his chair. Field pushes her up against a wall, then seizes her by the back of the neck and frogmarches her out of the dining hall. If you feel it necessary, you can also factor in that the activist is a woman and the government minister a man.

Either way, what is shown in the video is an entirely unjustified attack on a peaceful protester. Had the roles been reversed, the activist (whether a man or woman) would have been immediately arrested for assaulting a government minister. The activist would now be in jail with lawyers arguing over whether bail should be allowed. So why isn’t Mark Field now in the same predicament?

The point is that anyone who wishes to make the argument any more complex than the one I just outlined is doing so either in bad faith or because they have listened too credulously to others who have spoken in bad faith. Which includes the entire spectrum of the state-corporate media, including its supposedly liberal components like the BBC and Guardian.

What the story about Mark Field really illustrates is how effective the corporate media is in derailing meaningful debates about the state of our societies. The media offer us a placebo – a public arena for largely empty arguments that we are encouraged to become deeply invested in emotionally. We are offered two easy options and must choose to rally to the cause of one of those tribes – left or right. And through righteous anger, for or against, we feel temporarily cured of a deeper dissastisfaction or sense of foreboding.

The reality is that these public debates are simply gladiatorial contests offering instant – and hollow – gratification. They have as much concrete meaning in terms of changing the substance of our societies, of addressing the injustice and unsustainability of our political and economic systems, as does cheering a football team.

That is not to argue that denouncing an assault on a peaceful protester is wasted energy, or that rationalising it – as so many people on the right are currently doing – is not deeply ugly. The treatment of protesters by the state and its agents, or of women by men, are important matters for public discussion. But that is not why the media are so willingly fuelling the row about Mark Field’s actions.

The debate is not being used as an opportunity to clarify how our society should view acceptable behaviour; it is being actively promoted by a ruling class to deflect our attention from the deeper contextual issues the Mark Field episode highlights.

Allowing two sides in a debate about whether he behaved appropriately is already to have conceded the progressive argument. It is to accept that there is room for discussion, that the video evidence is not conclusive in itself.

This is a contest where the stakes are so immaterial to the corporate media that each outlet can afford to take either side of the debate and know it will make no meaningful difference. They can berate Mark Field or sympathise with him, and it will make no odds to anyone or anything but Field and possibly the victim of his assault.

And the very cynical fuelling of this debate by the state-corporate media, one that may last days or even weeks, can then be cited as seemingly persuasive evidence that the media truly is a pluralistic forum for public discussion, where all sides are represented, where everyone is given a voice. Contrived debates like this one will be used as ammunition to shunt media critics like myself further into sidings, showing how vigoruous, relevant and on the side of the underdog the “mainstream” media really is.

This is the primary purpose of the state-corporate media. To draw our energies away from real issues hiding in plain sight towards obvious ones of only specific or marginal significance, and then persuade us that we are, in fact, engaged with the most vital issues of the day.

This is precisely why the media are obsessed with individuals and personalities – celebs, sporting heroes, royal family members, actors, politicians, world leaders – not the actual power structures that dictate the patterns of our lives, that determine the chances of us gaining redress or justice, that offer the key to extricating ourselves from the economic and environmental ruin we are hurtling towards.

If necessary, Mark Field can be sacrificed by the power structures that dominate our lives (though usually only temporarily – think of other government ministers who have found themselves briefly ousted from power and then quickly rehabilitated, such as Boris Johnson or Liam Fox) because the mechanisms that protect these power structures are far more important than the punishment or humiliation or any lone individual.

Consider two much deeper issues desperately struggling to gain any traction as they are smothered by the media’s gleeful furore over the Mark Field story.

One concerns the event Mark Field attended. It was an annual dinner at Mansion House, the official residence of the mayor of the City of London. The City of London is not the Mary Poppins’ way of saying “London”. It is a tiny, secretive enclave within Britain, a state within a state located in the heart of London. Seen another way, it is a kind of British Vatican, though one that worships money alone.

It abides by its own rules, financial and criminal, creating effectively a tax-haven within the UK that cannot be policed by any of the usual watchdogs. The City of London has managed to continue unreformed from its medieval origins into the modern era for one reason alone: it is the perfect way for a wealthy elite to maintain their power and privilege by bypassing the imperfect democratic system operating outside its concrete shores, in the rest of the UK. The City of London is a deeply corrupt fiefdom inside a slightly less corrupt Britain. If the mafia were given the chance to make themselves look legit, they might create in Italy something very much like the City of London.

Those attending the dinner are drawn from either Britain’s wealth elite, or those who serve them and aspire to join them. Figures like Field, a minister in the Foreign Office, and Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, who addressed the dinner, oil some of the wheels of this exclusive club partially out in the open, through UK politics. But they oil other wheels in the shadows, through their activities in the City of London. What precisely they get up to in the City is difficult to know given the secrecy, and all the harder to now learn about after Field’s ruling party has worked so assiduously to hobble Julian Assange and the Wikileaks platform that was established to help whistleblowers expose the more shadowy activities of our rulers.

The City of London is the biggest weapon in the armoury of the ruling elite’s class war against the British – and global – public. It is a vacuum sucking up public finances to further enrich the wealthy and leave the masses reeling from austerity policies, while using the media to bolster the impression that it is a hub of wealth creation.

That’s why you almost never hear anything about the City of London. Our supposed representatives, politicians and corporate media alike, are happy to keep the veil mostly drawn across this pocket of power. It is not just that they do not want to take it on, they are already very much part of the power structures it has designed both to preserve itself and shield itself from meaningful criticism.

As long as we are talking about Mark Field’s attitude to women, we are not talking about his and his government’s active collusion with the most regressive, secretive, unaccountable rotten borough in the UK – a city-state located geographically inside Britain, but operating outside its strictures.

Mark Field’s attack could have provided an opportunity to examine this powerful relic of medieval Britain, to consider who the City of London really serves, and to wonder why the political class are cosying up to it rather than trying to eradicate it as a dangerous behemoth of Britain’s surviving feudal order. The City of London is integral to a system of ever-accelerating wealth hording by a global elite that is economically unsustainable. But in response, the media willingly amplify a loud culture war and simplistic identity politics precisely so no other kind of debate stands a chance of being audible.

The other, even more obvious issue the activists were trying to draw attention to was the threat posed to the environment, to other species and to our own future by the preposterous, self-serving premise – espoused by the City of London and its politician and media cronies – of endless economic growth based on the exploitation of the planet’s finite resources.

We are now facing a climate emergency – or rather some of us are finally and very belatedly waking up to a climate emergency that has been many decades in the making. We have come to it so late because the wealth elite represented at the City of London dinner have used the key power structures at their disposal – the political and media establishments – to deceive us, to keep us sleepwalking towards oblivion as they have carried on plundering the planet, destroying the biosphere, and stashing away their inordinate wealth.

The state-corporate media has not only downplayed climate change but is still doing so, as credibly as it can manage given the relentless scientific evidence that human society is hurtling towards an abyss.

In fact, many of the journalists responding to Mark Field’s attack have lost no time in using it as a way to further alienate the public from climate change activism. They have presented those prepared not simply to wait quietly for us all to be driven over the cliff-edge as a nasty, uncouth, potentially violent rabble. They have done this even as the video footage shows the women who protested at the Mansion House dinner were dressed in evening gowns and remained entirely peaceful as they sought to gain attention for the most urgent and catastrophic issue of our time.

There should be no debate that they are right, that we live in a rotten and rotting system of power that has blindly invested all its energies in perpetuating a feudal system of wealth creation for a ruling class, even as the futures of our chldren – all our children – hang in the balance.

Yes, Mark Field, his face red with indignation, looked like a man who had lost the plot, who was filled with an overwhelming sense of his own entitlement, and who was deeply threatened – not by violence from the protesters but by arguments he simply has no way of addressing rationally.

The real debate we need urgently to engage with is not whether Mark Field is a wife-beater or misogynist. It is how we deal with the power structure he represents, the system he is a loyal servant of. For that psychopathic system is ready to beat us all, men and women alike, into the dust, to keep extracting the last ounce of wealth from a dying corpse, to obliterate our futures.

Nigel Farage’s Grand Tour of Sabotage: The Paypal of the People Rides High

He is all about being the romantic saboteur.  He is destructive, hates the business of a steady vocation, and the idea of being desk bound.  Little details trouble him; an indignant bigger picture is enthralling.  Bomb throwers tend to be of such ilk, taking shots at the establishment, courting potential voters over a pint, and railing against non-representative elements in politics.  But Nigel Farage and his recently arrived Brexit Party can unimpeachably claim to be vote getters.

Along with others, some of whom have been resurrected in the stagnant pools of Brexit – take the near-dead and now very revived former conservative MP, Ann Widdecombe –  he has animated the corpse people and zombie faithful keen to attack the satanic heart of the EU.  Last month, in Peterborough, he told some 1,500 Brexiters about the broader mission at hand.  “This fight now is far more than just leaving the European Union.  This is a full-on battle against the establishment.”  This battle has also struck a Trumpist note, with Farage reserving special salvos for the BBC.

So far, the attack mounted by the collective that is the Brexit Party has worked; with a four-month old entity, Farage forged ahead in elections held by the very same entity he despises.  In doing so, he also convinced many from the UK Independence Party, the right wing anti-immigration party he used to lead, to join in. In the European elections last month, the Brexit Party won a stonking 29 seats against the Liberal Democrats with 16, Labour 10, the Greens seven, the Tories four, the SNP three, and Plaid Cymru and the DUP with one each.

Farage put the successes down to an elementary theme: “With a big, simple message – which is we’ve been badly let down by two parties who have broken their promises – we have topped the poll in a fairly dramatic style. The two-party system now serves nothing but itself.”  Despite doing well, Farage was careful to avoid drawing attention to another result: 40 percent of the UK European vote went to parties who are against Brexit, with 35 percent favouring it.

The reading from Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable was bound to be at odds with Brexiter enthusiasts.  For Cable the result showed that there was “a majority of people in the country who don’t want to leave the European now”.

As William Davis notes pointedly, “The Brexit Party is a mixture of business startup and social movement; it serves as a pressure valve, releasing pent-up frustration with traditional politics into the electoral system.”  In contrast to the more ramshackle, rough outfit of Ukip, which had a lower ceiling of appeal, the Brexit Party has been described by the Financial Times as “slick, with a mix of celebrities”.

It thrives in an environmental of pure factionalism, and simplifies, accordingly, the complex array of requirements and processes required to achieve their goals.  Farage cares little, nor is even aware of the actual issues concerning an effective divorce deal with the EU.  Any claim that a no-deal Brexit is bound to work with splendid effect is precarious, placing Britain at the bottom of the trade negotiating table.  There is no freedom to trade as a rule, and World Trade Organisation system must be navigated.  But these are technical sticking points that find no platform, let alone voice, in the Brexit Party’s world.

The business startup reference by Davis is apt.  Farage had been shadowed by events after 2016. The wrecker had done his job in seeking Brexit, only to retreat to the margins in sullen contemplation.  His UK Independence party disintegrated even as its former leader started to milk the lecture circuit and cosy up to US President Donald Trump.  But the continual delays and prevarications on leaving the EU stirred the saboteur into a return.

The Brexit Party has attempted to adopt the language of cool and chic marketing.  For one, it is winning the social media battle.  London-based online content and social media consultancy 89up revealed last month that Facebook posts linking to the Brexit Party website had been bountiful in the sharing department, exceeding those of every other party combined.  A survey of 1.5 million public Facebook pages by the consultancy found a staggering gulf between the portion of shares generated by the Brexit Party (125,035) and the Conservatives, with 26,400.  UKIP, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party came in with a limping figure of 6,000 shares.

As with anything to do with Farage, its best to look past the plumage and shine.  The Brexit Party image comes equipped with rumours on how it is receiving its funding.  This can hardly surprise: Farage has been known to be rather liberal with his finances, happy to attack the EU as he receives its funds, and shy about declaring how he has used them.  Budgets have never been his thing.

Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is one sensing an Achilles heel in the Brexit Party, suggesting that the party has been the recipient of “undeclared, untraceable payments”.  At an event in Glasgow last month, Brown suggested that democracy was “ill served, and trust in democracy will continue to be undermined, if we have no answers as to where the money is coming from.”

The UK Electoral Commission feels there is enough to go on, demanding that the party “review all payments, including those of £500 or below, it has received to date.”  This comes after the Electoral Commission’s conclusion that the “fundraising structure adopted by the party leaves it open to a high and ongoing risk of receiving and accepting impermissible donations.”

The views of Brown have had little traction with Farage supporters and the broader Brexit milieu, a point evidenced by the good showing in the European elections.  Efforts by critics and opponents to refashion the Brexit Party as a financial surrogate for the corporate interests of one man rather than citizen values is not something that has worked.  Brown has tried, rather bravely claiming that Farage was “not going to be remembered as he wants, as the man of the people – he’s going to remembered as the man of the Paypal.”

Political realities are often different from financial ones.  As former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg admitted, “It was obvious there was a strong English, anti-European anti-immigrant movement waiting for someone to articulate it.”  Farage may well be the man of the Paypal, shoddy with party finances but he remains an identifiable voice, with anti-EU cadences that continue finding agreeable listeners across Europe, from Marine Le Pen in France to Matteo Salvini in Italy.

The Shaving Kit: Manufacturing The Julian Assange Witch-Hunt

Last week, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid signed the US extradition request to hand over Julian Assange, who is charged with 18 counts of violating the US Espionage Act. Assange’s immediate fate now lies in the hands of the British justice system.

Javid ‘consistently voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas’, including war on Afghanistan, Syria and the catastrophic 2011 assault on Libya. In other words, he is a key figure in precisely the US-UK Republican-Democratic-Conservative-Labour war machine exposed by WikiLeaks.

John Pilger described Assange’s extradition hearing last week to The Real News Network:

I don’t think these initial extradition hearings will be fair at all, no… He’s not allowed to defend himself. He’s not given access to a computer so that he can access the documents and files that he needs.

I think where it will change is if the lower court – the magistrate’s court that is dealing with it now and will deal with it over the next almost nine, ten months – if they decide to extradite Julian Assange, his lawyers will appeal. And it will go up to the High Court. And I think it’s there in the High Court where he may well – I say “may” – get justice. That’s a cautiously optimistic view. But I think he’s most likely to get it there. He certainly won’t get it the United States. There’s no indication of that.

As we noted in a media alert last week, the groundwork for the persecution of Assange has been laid by a demonising state-corporate propaganda campaign. Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, who is also Professor of International Law at the University of Glasgow, has turned the accepted ‘mainstream’ view of Assange completely on its head:

First of all, we have to realize that we have all been deliberately misled about Mr Assange. The predominant image of the shady “hacker”, “sex offender” and selfish “narcissist” has been carefully constructed, disseminated and recycled in order to divert attention from the extremely powerful truths he exposed, including serious crimes and corruption on the part of multiple governments and corporations.

By making Mr Assange “unlikeable” and ridiculous in public opinion, an environment was created in which no one would feel empathy with him, very similar to the historic witch-hunts, or to modern situations of mobbing at the workplace or in school. (Our emphasis)

These are very significant, credible comments and, as we will discuss below, Melzer recently provided a stunning example on Twitter of how this ‘carefully constructed, disseminated and recycled’ image of Assange has been faked.

Melzer’s revelation concerns Assange’s long, dishevelled beard, which was a source of much ‘mainstream’ hilarity when Assange was arrested and dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy on April 11. First, let’s remind ourselves of some of the grim highlights of this media coverage. In the Daily Mail, Amanda Platell wrote:

How humiliating that as the alleged sexual predator Julian Assange emerged from Ecuador’s embassy, flourishing a wild beard, Australian scientists revealed a primordial link between “flamboyant accoutrements such as beards” and titchy testicles.

In the New Statesman, the Guardian‘s Suzanne Moore celebrated:

O frabjous day! We are all bored out of our minds with Brexit when a demented looking gnome is pulled out of the Ecuadorian embassy by the secret police of the deep state. Or “the met” as normal people call them.

In the Evening Standard, William Moore commented:

Julian Assange… looked like a sort of mad Lord of the Rings extra as he was hauled away from the Ecuadorian embassy last week.

Charlotte Edwardes wrote in the Evening Standard:

Julian Assange’s removal from the Ecuadorian embassy brought his straggly beard into the light. The Beard Liberation Front gets in touch to say he will not be considered for its annual shortlist of the best facial hair. “It is impossible to unequivocally state that his beard presents a positive public image,” it says.1

David Aaronovitch of The Times tweeted:

I see Tolstoy has just been arrested in central London.

Like so many journalists, Derek Momodu, the Daily Mirror‘s Associate Picture Editor, made a joke about a bearded character from the BBC comedy series ‘Only Fools And Horses’:

Unconfirmed reports that Wikileaks boss Julian Assange tried to pass as Uncle Albert to avoid arrest – but no-one was fooled.

The Daily Star devoted an entire article to the mockery:

Bearded Julian Assange compared to Uncle Albert as Twitter reacts to arrest

Pamela Anderson’s favourite fella has got a surprising new look.

Embedded in the piece was a Daily Star reader survey that attracted 234 votes:

Would you describe Julian Assange as…

A hero [36%]

A weirdo’ [64%]

Unsurprising results, given the context and the wider political-media campaign.

The Daily Express also devoted an article to comedy takes of this kind:

Hilarious Julian Assange memes have swept Twitter in the wake of the Wikileaks founder’s arrest including one he tried to pass himself off as Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses – here are the best ones.

In The Times, Ben Macintyre wrote a piece titled, ‘Julian Assange belongs with crackpots and despots’, observing that Assange had been ‘hauled out of the Ecuadorian embassy, wearing the same beard and outraged expression as Saddam Hussein on removal from his foxhole’. The caption accompanying the photos said it all:

Julian Assange revelled in holding court at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Right, the Panamanian [dictator] General Manuel Noriega took refuge in the Vatican embassy in 1989

There are clear Stalinist and Big Brother echoes when one of the most important political dissidents of our time generates this headline (subsequently edited) in the Daily Mail:

A soaring ego. Vile personal habits. And after years in his squalid den, hardly a friend left: DOWNFALL OF A NARCISSIST

The title of a Guardian press review also headlined completely fake, Ecuadorian government claims that Assange had smeared the walls of the embassy with his own excrement as highlighted in The Sun:

“Whiffyleaks”: what the papers say about Julian Assange’s arrest

The assumption behind all these comments, of course, was that Assange’s beard was further confirmation that he was ‘a definite creep, a probable rapist, a conspiracist whackjob’, as ‘leftist’ media favourite Ash Sarkar of Novara Media tweeted. Or, as the Guardian‘s George Monbiot wrote in opposing Assange’s extradition:

Whether or not you like Assange’s politics (I don’t), or his character (ditto)…

As discussed, Nils Melzer argues that Assange has become ‘”unlikeable” and ridiculous in public opinion’, not because of who he is, but because of a state-sponsored propaganda campaign – the journalists listed above are either complicit or dupes. This media charade was exposed with great clarity by Melzer’s revelation on Twitter:

How public humiliation works: On 11 April, Julian Assange was mocked for his beard throughout the world. During my visit, he explained to us that his shaving kit had been deliberately taken away three months earlier.

It had simply never occurred to the great herd of journalists – which understood that Assange was someone to be smeared, mocked and abused – that his appearance might have something to do with Ecuador’s brutal treatment cutting off his communications, his visitors and even his medical care. Fidel Narvaez, former consul at the Ecuadorian embassy from the first day Assange arrived, on 19 June 2012, until 15 July 2018, said the Ecuadorian regime under president Lenin Moreno had tried to make life ‘unbearable’ for Assange.

As part of a Swedish project in support of Assange, a message containing an offer from Melzer to be interviewed was emailed to around 500 individuals, primarily Swedish journalists. Recipients were able to reply with a single click on an embedded link in the message. Not a single journalist did so. In an email copied to Media Lens, Melzer commented:

My impression is that, after my initial press release, most of the mainstream media have gone into something like a shock paralysis leaving them unable to process the enormous contradiction between their own misguided portraits of Assange and the terrifying truth of what has been going on in reality. The problem, of course, is that mainstream media bear a significant share of the responsibility for enabling this disgraceful witch-hunt and now have to muster up the strength to face their tragic failure to objectively inform and empower the people in this case.

One of my own nationalities being Swedish, I am quite familiar with what a certain obsession with political correctness can do to one’s capacity for critical thinking. But the fact that, of more than 500 solicited Swedish journalists, not a single one was interested in an in-depth interview with a Swiss-Swedish UN expert publicly accusing Sweden of judicial persecution and psychological torture, speaks to a level of denial and self-censorship that can hardly be reconciled with objective and informative reporting.2

It is indeed a dramatic example of denial and self-censorship. But, alas, there is no ‘shock paralysis’, for corporate media have been treating the best-informed, most courageous and most honest truth-tellers this way for years and decades.

When Denis Halliday, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, resigned in protest in September 1998, describing the UN sanctions regime he had set up and run as ‘genocidal’, his comments were mentioned in passing then forgotten. The same treatment was afforded his successor as UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Hans von Sponeck, who resigned in protest at the sanctions in February 2000. Since its publication in 2006, von Sponeck’s forensic, deeply rational and deeply damning account of his experiences, A Different Kind Of War – The UN Sanctions Regime In Iraq, (Berghahn Books, 2006), has been mentioned once across the entire US-UK press, in a single paragraph of 139 words in an article by Robert Fisk in the Independent, and never reviewed.3

At a time of maximum global media coverage of Iraq, Halliday was mentioned in 2 of the 12,366 Guardian and Observer articles mentioning Iraq in 2003; von Sponeck was mentioned 5 times. Halliday was mentioned in 2 of the 8,827 articles mentioning Iraq in 2004; von Sponeck was mentioned 5 times.

In 2002, Scott Ritter, former UN chief weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991-1998 declared that Iraq had been ‘fundamentally disarmed’ of 90-95% of its weapons of mass destruction by December 1998, signifying that the case for war was an audacious fraud.4  In the 12,366 articles mentioning Iraq in 2003, the Guardian and Observer mentioned Ritter a total of 17 times.

In February, we described how Alfred de Zayas, the first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years, had commented that US sanctions were illegal and could amount to ‘crimes against humanity’ under international law. Our ProQuest UK media database search for the last six months for corporate newspaper articles containing:

‘de Zayas’ and ‘Venezuela’ = 2 hits

One of these, bitterly critical, in The Times, was titled:

Radical Chic – The UN’s system of human rights reporting is a politicised travesty

There have been a couple of other mentions in the Independent online, but, once again, we find ourselves reaching for the same comment from Noam Chomsky that sums it up so well:

The basic principle, rarely violated, is that what conflicts with the requirements of power and privilege does not exist.5

  1. Edwardes, ‘Julian Assange’s removal’, Evening Standard, 12 April 2019.
  2. Melzer, email, 13 June 2019.
  3. Fisk, ‘Fear climate change, not our enemies’, The Independent, 20 Jan 2007.
  4. Ritter and William Rivers Pitt, War On Iraq, Profile Books, 2002, p. 23.
  5. Chomsky, ‘Deterring Democracy’, Hill and Wang, 1992, p. 79.

Buried In Broad Daylight: The “Free Press” And The Leaked OPCW Report On Douma

A defining feature of the propaganda system is that facts supporting the agenda of Western power are pushed to the forefront of the ‘mainstream’ media, while inconvenient facts are buried. A prime example is the shameful media silence in response to a devastating document leaked from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), discussed in a recent media alert. The document, an engineering assessment of two chlorine cylinders found at two separate locations after an attack on the Damascus suburb of Douma on April 7, 2018, casts serious doubt on the official narrative that Syrian government forces had dropped them from helicopters. The claim that Assad had used chemical weapons ‘against his own civilians’ was used by the US, UK and France to ‘justify’ missile strikes on ‘chemical weapons facilities’ on April 14, 2018.

One of the cylinders was found on top of a four-storey building with its front end lodged in a hole in the roof. The other cylinder was found lying on a bed in the top-floor room of an apartment with a crater-like opening in the roof. Engineering analysis – based on measurements, photographs and computer modelling – were conducted on the two cylinders and the scenes where they were found. The aim was to ‘evaluate the possible means by which these two cylinders arrived at their respective locations as observed.’ The leaked report, signed by Ian Henderson, a senior OPCW engineer with many years’ experience, concluded:

In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft. [Our emphasis.]

But this dissenting engineering analysis was excluded from the final OPCW Fact-Finding Mission report presented to the UN Security Council on March 1, 2019.

Theodore Postol, professor of science, technology, and international security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose main expertise is in ballistic missiles, gave an initial assessment of the leaked OPCW report on May 21, and agreed with its conclusion. He summarised:

Observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft.

In short:

Two analyzed chlorine cylinder attacks were staged in April 2018 in Douma. [Our emphasis.]

On June 4, Postol released a more in-depth assessment which completely rejected the propaganda claim that the cylinders could only have been dropped from Syrian government helicopters. This strengthens the conclusion that the April 2018 Douma attacks were indeed staged, presumably by Syrian rebels attempting to provoke a Western military response against Assad (and perhaps even with Western connivance).

Postol noted the glaring discrepancies between the OPWC report that was submitted to the UN (minus the dissenting analysis of the leaked document) and the facts on the ground:

The calculations produced as proof for the conclusions bear no relationship to what was observed at the scene and both the observed data from the scene and the calculations bear no relationship to the reported findings.

Postol expanded:

An important characteristic of concrete is that it is brittle. By definition, such a material is not flexible but will develop cracks and fail catastrophically when subjected to stresses that are sufficiently large. Concrete can be substantially strengthened [as in this case] by embedding reinforcing steel rebar or other strong but flexible materials within it. The rebar performs the function of maintaining the strength of the material when it is flexed rather than failing catastrophically as is the case with the surrounding brittle material.

He added:

A very important additional phenomenon associated with the impact of an object can be the creation of a hole due to a process that is generally referred to as “tunneling.” Because the breach created by the penetrating object results in the crushing and pushing of brittle concrete as the object moves forward, the diameter of the hole produced by the impact of the object will be very close to that of the penetrating object. This means that a hole created by a 40 cm diameter chlorine cylinder should be close to 40 cm in diameter…

But this was not the case:

The diameter of the hole is nearly twice that of the cylinder and the steel rebar that was supposed to stop the cylinder from penetrating through the roof is instead completely shattered and bent away from the forward direction by more than 60°… This photograph shows that the crater was produced by an explosion on the roof which had nothing to do with the impact of a chlorine cylinder. These discrepancies simply mean that the cylinder was placed on the roof after the hole was produced by the explosion of a mortar shell or artillery rocket.

Postol provided much more detail, but this was his summary:

There is absolutely no doubt that the OPCW finding that the chlorine cylinder found at what it identifies as Location 2 did not produce the hole in the roof that allegedly led to the killing of more than 30 people that the OPCW claims were trapped and poisoned in the building. The OPCW’s own science-based technical analysis does not come close to matching what was observed at Location 2.

The only possible conclusion is that ‘chemical weapons attacks’ at the two sites where the cylinders were found must have been staged.

Postol praised the high-quality analysis presented in the leaked OPCW document. But he was damning about senior OPCW management who had disregarded the dissenting engineering assessment and instead presented a deeply biased and misleading final report to the UN:

The OPCW has been compromised in terms of the content they are providing. The deception of the OPCW is quite blatant. Perhaps they are not used to people who are knowledgeable on these issues scrutinizing their material.

On June 3, Labour MP Chris Williamson submitted a parliamentary question:

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, with reference to investigations suggesting that reports of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Government in Douma in April 2018 were staged and with reference to reports that OPCW expert advice was redacted from its final report, whether he has made a reassessment of the decision to bomb targets in Syria in 2018.

In an interview with Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground, Williamson rightly pointed to the insidious part played by the ‘mainstream’ media:

The hysterical mainstream media at the time a year ago who seemed to be clamouring for military airstrikes have been incredibly silent about this [leaked OPCW report]. I remember having a very rough interview on Channel 4 about the whole issue. And yet they seem to, as far as I’m aware, have failed to follow up now with this quite damning revelation which has been brought to light by a whistle-blower.

He added:

What is very regrettable today is the tradition that we used to take for granted, that investigative journalists – serious journalists like John Pilger – seem to be sadly lacking these days.

Williamson also cited Robert Fisk – ‘a very unusual animal these days’ – who reported from Douma last April, after interviewing civilians in the vicinity of the alleged chemical weapon attacks. A senior Syrian doctor, Dr Assim Rahaibani, told him that the ‘gas’ video that had so horrified the world showed patients who had been overcome, not by gas, but by oxygen starvation:

I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.

BBC Syria producer Riam Dalati said earlier this year via Twitter that:

After almost six months of investigation, I can prove without a doubt that the Douma hospital scene was staged.

He subsequently set his Twitter status to ‘private’. Moreover, in a now deleted tweet, he stated two days after the Douma attack:

Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption. Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative.

As far as we know, BBC News has never given proper coverage to the serious doubts surrounding the alleged ‘chemical weapons’ attack on Douma, other than to ascribe such doubts to Syrian and Russian government claims of ‘fabrication’. As we saw with Iraq and Saddam’s ‘denials of WMD’, a powerful propaganda technique to dismiss facts, evidence and truth is to make them come out the mouths of Official Enemies.

The BBC Goes Quiet

That the OPCW may be so compromised as to present a misleading report to the UN Security Council that could be used as post-facto ‘justification’ for a Western military attack is, to say the least, an extremely grave matter. Indeed, it casts doubt on the whole integrity of an important international organisation. Ted Postol said in an interview with Sharmini Piries of The Real News Network that he believes the official OPCW report into an alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun on April 4, 2017 – almost exactly one year before the Douma attack – may also have been ‘severely compromised’.

As Tim Hayward, a member of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM), the group of independent scholars and researchers that originally published the leaked OPWC document, noted:

While Western politicians and news media echo tropes about obstructive Russia & outlaw Syria, States of Non-Aligned Movement and China share their concerns about politicisation and polarising of OPCW.

Hayward added:

Suppressed OPCW document undermines the claimed justification for Western missile strikes on Syria in April 2018, and it reveals an organisation in need of radical reform.

Regardless of the findings of the official and leaked OPCW reports, the leaders of the US, UK and France, including Prime Minister Theresa May, were guilty of launching an unprovoked military attack on another country in violation of the UN Charter; the ‘supreme international crime’, in the words of the post-WW2 Nuremberg judgment. These are issues that would, in a sane media system, be extensively reported and debated.

However, as we wrote over three weeks ago in our earlier media alert, other than the small-circulation, left-wing Morning Star, the damning leaked document has been mentioned in just two articles in the national press: one by Peter Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday and one in the Independent by Robert Fisk. Remarkably, but unsurprisingly, this remains the case at the time of writing. Nor is there a single mention of it anywhere on the BBC News website. Hitchens has also submitted questions direct to the OPCW which appear to have been ignored by the body.

Our repeated challenges to senior BBC journalists, including Kamal Ahmed, the BBC’s head of news, have met with a stony silence, with one exception. Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s chief international correspondent, replied via Twitter on May 24:

Thanks for your message. I am in Geneva today, in Sarajevo and Riga last week, and heading to Gulf next week. It’s an important story. Will make sure programmes know about it. As you know, UK outlets focused on May & Brexit last few days. [Our emphasis.]

Let us set aside the implausible argument that ‘UK outlets focused on May & Brexit’ should preclude any coverage of a vital reappraisal of the West’s ‘justification’ of an attack on Syria; or the notion that senior editors at the BBC, with its vast monitoring resources, would have to be informed by Doucet of the leaked document. But, if we were to take Doucet’s words at face value, she would surely be happy to respond to our follow-up query, asking for an update. Seemingly not. She has now retreated behind the wider, blanketing BBC silence.

And yet, last week, evidence emerged that the BBC is well aware of the leaked document. In a live-streamed panel debate at the annual meeting of GLOBSEC, a global security thinktank, on June 6, the BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner asked OPCW director-general Fernando Arias about the Independent report ‘by someone called Robert Fisk’. Was this an example of fake news? In his evasive reply, Arias stated that:

All the information given by any inspectors is considered but sometimes it is not fit to the conclusion. [Our emphasis.]

This remarkable admission that serious evidence and analysis were disregarded because it does ‘not fit the conclusion’ went unchallenged by the BBC’s Gardner and everyone else in the room. It echoed the infamous statement in the 2002 Downing Street memo on plans to invade Iraq that ‘the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.’ The focus of Arias’s concern was to defend the OPCW and to identify the whistle-blower, stating that:

‘”actions had to be taken” following the leak…” I stand by the impartial and professional conclusions” of the full OPCW report.’

On June 12, Peter Hitchens, mentioned earlier for his excellent reporting on Syria, challenged Gardner on whether he had reported his exchange with the OPCW director-general. Later that day, Hitchens tweeted:

BBC this afternoon stated that @FrankRGardner has *not* reported on the exchange, indeed BBC as a whole, despite vast resources paid for by licence holders, has yet to report at all on this major development.

The only response to the leaked OPCW report by a Guardian journalist so far appears to have been this remarkable outburst from George Monbiot on Twitter:

The Assad apologists are out in force again, and baying for blood. It’s chilling to see how they latch onto one person’s contentious account of a single atrocity, while ignoring the vast weight of evidence for chemical weapons use and conventional massacres by the govt. #Syria

Monbiot added:

They seek to exonerate one of the bloodiest mass murderers on the planet, denying his crimes and whitewashing his record. In doing so, they share some of the blame for his ongoing mass killing of Syrian people.

As we, and many other people, pointed out, this was an inexplicably irrational response to an obviously important, indisputably authentic, highly credible, leaked document that was not at all ‘one person’s… account’. The leaked material simply has to be taken seriously and investigated, not dismissed out of hand. We are, after all, talking about possible war crimes under Trump, the famously dangerous, fascist US President every liberal journalist is supposed to be determined to excoriate at every possible turn. Why should we not, then, describe Monbiot as a ‘Trump apologist’?

Last year, during an exchange about Syria, Hitchens told Monbiot what we had already concluded about him:

This is important. I have until now regarded you as a fundamentally decent and honest person (and defended you against those who have argued otherwise). But your behaviour in this matter is causing me to reconsider this opinion. Please argue honestly.

The near-total ‘mainstream’ media blanking of the leaked OPCW document is a genuinely disturbing sign of growing corporate media conformity and totalitarian-style mendacity. In the age of social media – with netizens repeatedly challenging the likes of the BBC’s Lyse Doucet and the Guardian‘s George Monbiot – the stonewalling, and the denial of newsworthiness, is happening in plain sight. Corporate journalists know that it is important, they know that we know that it is important, they know that we are asking why they are ignoring it, and they are ignoring us anyway, with the whole act of censorship swathed in silence. As the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko once said:

When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.

Julian Assange and the Scales of Justice: Exceptions, Extraditions and Politics

The Home Secretary of the United Kingdom did his thing, which was little in the way of disagreement.  The superpower has issued a request; the retainer would comply.  This week, the US Department Justice Department formally sought the extradition of Julian Assange.  The process was certified by Sajid Javid, a man rather distracted of late.  He is, after all, seeking to win the hearts of the Conservatives and replace Theresa May as Prime Minster.  Boris Johnson, not Wikileaks and press freedom, is on his mind.

The WikiLeaks front man had failed to satisfy Javid that there were exceptions warranting the refusal to sign off on the request.  A spokesman explained the matter in dull terms.  “The Home Secretary must certify a valid request for extradition… unless certain narrow exceptions to section 70 of the Extradition Act 2003 apply.”  Robotic compliance was almost expected.

The exceptions outlined in the section note that the Secretary may refuse to issue a certificate in circumstances where it may be deferred; where the person being extradited is recorded as a refugee within the meaning of the Refugee Convention; or where, having been granted leave to enter or remain in the UK, Articles 2 or 3 of the Human Rights Convention would be breached if removal of the person to the extraditing territory would take place.

The European Convention on Human Rights expressly prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, with Article 3 also prohibiting the extradition of a person to a foreign state if they are likely to be subjected to torture.

Massimo Moratti, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe, is certain that the Wikileaks publisher will suffer grave mistreatment if extradited to the United States.  “The British government must not accede to the US extradition request for Julian Assange as he faces a real risk of serious human right violations if sent there.”  This will further add substance to the potential breach of Article 3 of the Human Rights Convention, a point reiterated by Agnes Callamard, Special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions.  Ecuador, she argues, permitted Assange to be expelled and arrested by the UK, taking him a step closer to extradition to the US which would expose him to “serious human rights violations.”  The UK had “arbitrary [sic] detained Mr Assange possibly endangering his life for the last 7 years.”

On May 31, Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on torture, concluded after visiting Assange in detention that the publisher’s isolation and repeated belittling constituted “progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture.”

The issue of Assange’s failing health is critical.  An important feature of his legal team’s argument is the role played by the UK authorities in ensuring his decline in physical and mental terms.  The argument in rebuttal, disingenuous as it was, never deviated: you will get treatment as long as you step out of the Ecuadorean embassy.

There is also another dimension which the distracted Javid failed to articulate: the sheer political character of the offences Assange is being accused of.  Espionage is a political offence par excellence, and the UK-US extradition treaty, for all its faults, retains under Article 4 the prohibition against extraditing someone accused of political offences, including espionage, sedition, and treason.  As John T. Nelson notes in Just Security, “Each of Assange’s possible defences are strengthened by the 17 counts of espionage”.

The prosecutors heading the effort against Assange were not content with keeping matters confined to the single count of conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.  Had they done so, the narrow scope would have made the challenge from Assange’s legal team more difficult.  Hacking is an artificial fault line in the world of publishing and revealing classified material; such individuals have been quarantined and treated as standard middle-of-the-road vigilantes who fiddle computer systems.

Assange, as he has done so often, blurred the lines: the youthful hacker as political activist; the more mature warrior of information transparency.  The Justice Department’s efforts, at least initially, involved divorcing Assange the publisher from Assange the hacker.  According to Steve Vladeck, a legal boffin versed in national security law, “the more the US is able to sell the British government, sell British courts the idea that [the CFAA charge] is the heart of the matter, I think the more of a slam dunk it will be for extradition.”

Assange’s legal team were ready for the Home Secretary’s decision, but their case has been hampered.  Supporters such as the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei have been perturbed by the way Assange has been hamstrung in case preparations.  “The big problem there is that Julian has no access to the means to prepare his case.  And his case, I think, has another two months before its full hearing.  He needs more access to the means to prepare his defence against this terrible extradition order.”

The enormity of the case against the Assange team, prosecuted by an assemblage of security machinery wonks and a sociopathic establishment, has presented WikiLeaks with its greatest challenge.  In the information war environment, it has thrived; in the legal warfare environment, the circumstances are upended. But the legal grounds are there to defeat the case; the question, more to the point, is where Britain’s scales of justice, rather unbalanced on the issue of dealing with classified information, will be tipped.

Abuses Show Assange Case was Never About Law

It is astonishing how often one still hears well-informed, otherwise reasonable people say about Julian Assange: “But he ran away from Swedish rape charges by hiding in Ecuador’s embassy in London.”

That short sentence includes at least three factual errors. In fact, to repeat it, as so many people do, you would need to have been hiding under a rock for the past decade – or, amounting to much the same thing, been relying on the corporate media for your information about Assange, including from supposedly liberal outlets such as the Guardian and the BBC.

At the weekend, a Guardian editorial – the paper’s official voice and probably the segment most scrutinised by senior staff – made just such a false claim:

Then there is the rape charge that Mr Assange faced in Sweden and which led him to seek refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in the first place.

The fact that the Guardian, supposedly the British media’s chief defender of liberal values, can make this error-strewn statement after nearly a decade of Assange-related coverage is simply astounding. And that it can make such a statement days after the US finally admitted that it wants to lock up Assange for 175 years on bogus “espionage” charges – a hand anyone who wasn’t being wilfully blind always knew the US was preparing to play – is still more shocking.

Assange faces no charges in Sweden yet, let alone “rape charges”. As former UK ambassador Craig Murray recently explained, the Guardian has been misleading readers by falsely claiming that an attempt by a Swedish prosecutor to extradite Assange – even though the move has not received the Swedish judiciary’s approval – is the same as his arrest on rape charges. It isn’t.

Also, Assange did not seek sanctuary in the embassay to evade the Swedish investigation. No state in the world gives a non-citizen political asylum to avoid a rape trial. The asylum was granted on political grounds. Ecuador rightly accepted Assange’s concerns that the US would seek his extradition and lock him out of sight for the rest of his life.

Assange, of course, has been proven – yet again – decisively right by recent developments.

Trapped in herd-think

The fact that so many ordinary people keep making these basic errors has a very obvious explanation. It is because the corporate media keep making these errors.

These are is not the kind of mistakes that can be explained away as an example of what one journalist has termed the problem of “churnalism”: the fact that journalists, chasing breaking news in offices depleted of staff by budget cuts, are too overworked to cover stories properly.

British journalists have had many years to get the facts straight. In an era of social media, journalists at the Guardian and the BBC have been bombarded by readers and activists with messages telling them how they are getting basic facts wrong in the Assange case. But the journalists keep doing it anyway. They are trapped in a herd-think entirely divorced from reality.

Rather than listen to experts, or common sense, these “journalists” keep regurgitating the talking points of the British security state, which are as good as identical to the talking points of the US security state.

What is so striking in the Assange coverage is the sheer number of legal anomalies in his case – and these have been accumulating relentlessly from the very start. Almost nothing in his case has gone according to the normal rules of legal procedure. And yet that very revealing fact is never noticed or commented on by the corporate media. You need to have a blind spot the size of Langley, Virginia, not to notice it.

If Assange wasn’t the head of Wikileaks, if he hadn’t embarrassed the most important western states and their leaders by divulging their secrets and crimes, if he hadn’t created a platform that allows whistleblowers to reveal the outrages committed by the western power establishment, if he hadn’t undermined that establishment’s control over information dissemination, none of the last 10 years would have followed the course it did.

If Assange had not provided us with an information revolution that undermines the narrative matrix created to serve the US security state, two Swedish women – unhappy with Assange’s sexual etiquette – would have gotten exactly what they said in their witness statements they wanted: pressure from the Swedish authorities to make him take an HIV test to give them peace of mind.

He would have been allowed back to the UK (as he, in fact, was allowed to do by the Swedish prosecutor) and would have gotten on with developing and refining the Wikileaks project. That would have helped all of us to become more critically aware of how we are being manipulated – not only by our security services but also by the corporate media that so often act as their mouthpiece.

Which is precisely why that did not happen and why Assange has been under some form of detention since 2010. Since then, his ability to perform his role as exposer of serial high-level state crimes has been ever more impeded – to the point now that he may never be able to oversee and direct Wikileaks ever again.

His current situation – locked up in Belmarsh high-security prison, in solitary confinement and deprived of access to a computer and all meaningful contact with the outside world – is so far based solely on the fact that he committed a minor infraction, breaching his police bail. Such a violation, committed by anyone else, almost never incurs prosecution, let alone a lengthy jail sentence.

So here is a far from complete list – aided by the research of John Pilger, Craig Murray and Caitlin Johnstone, and the original investigative work of Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi – of some of the most glaring anomalies in Assange’s legal troubles. There are 17 of them below. Each might conceivably have been possible in isolation. But taken together they are overwhelming evidence that this was never about enforcing the law. From the start, Assange faced political persecution.

No judicial authority

* In late summer 2010, neither of the two Swedish women alleged Assange had raped them when they made police statements. They went together to the police station after finding out that Assange had slept with them both only a matter of days apart and wanted him to be forced to take an HIV test. One of the women, SW, refused to sign the police statement when she understood the police were seeking an indictment for rape. The investigation relating to the second woman, AA, was for a sexual assault specific to Sweden. A condom produced by AA that she says Assange tore during sex was found to have neither her nor Assange’s DNA on it, undermining her credibility.

* Sweden’s strict laws protecting suspects during preliminary investigations were violated by the Swedish media to smear Assange as a rapist. In response, the Stockholm chief prosecutor, Eva Finne, took charge and quickly cancelled the investigation: “I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape.” She later concluded: “There is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever.”

* The case was revived by another prosecutor, Marianne Ny, although she never questioned Assange. He spent more than a month in Sweden waiting for developments in the case, but was then told by prosecutors he was free to leave for the UK, suggesting that suspicions against him were not considered serious enough to detain him in Sweden. Nonetheless, shortly afterwards, Interpol issued a Red Notice for Assange, usually reserved for terrorists and dangerous criminals.

* The UK supreme court approved an extradition to Sweden based on a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) in 2010, despite the fact that it was not signed by a “judicial authority”, only by the Swedish prosecutor. The terms of the EAW agreement were amended by the UK government shortly after the Assange ruling to make sure such an abuse of legal procedure never occurred again.

* The UK supreme court also approved Assange’s extradition even though Swedish authorities refused to offer an assurance that he would not be extradited onwards to the US, where a grand jury was already formulating draconian charges in secret against him under the Espionage Act. The US similarly refused to give an assurance they would not seek his extradition.

* In these circumstances, Assange fled to Ecuador’s embassy in London in summer 2012, seeking political asylum. That was after the Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, blocked Assange’s chance to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

* Australia not only refused Assange, a citizen, any help during his long ordeal, but prime minister Julia Gillard even threatened to strip Assange of his citizenship, until it was pointed out that it would be illegal for Australia to do so.

* Britain, meanwhile, not only surrounded the embassy with a large police force at great public expense, but William Hague, the foreign secretary, threatened to tear up the Vienna Convention, violating Ecuador’s diplomatic territory by sending UK police into the embassy to arrest Assange.

Six years of heel-dragging

* Although Assange was still formally under investigation, Ny refused to come to London to interview him, despite similar interviews having been conducted by Swedish prosecutors 44 times in the UK in the period Assange was denied that right.

* In 2016, international legal experts in the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which adjudicates on whether governments have complied with human rights obligations, ruled that Assange was being detained unlawfully by Britain and Sweden. Although both countries participated in the UN investigation, and had given the tribunal vocal support when other countries were found guilty of human rights violations, they steadfastly ignored its ruling in favour of Assange. UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond flat-out lied in claiming the UN panel was “made up of lay people and not lawyers”. The tribunal comprises leading experts in international law, as is clear from their CVs. Nonetheless, the lie became Britain’s official response to the UN ruling. The British media performed no better. A Guardian editorial dismissed the verdict as nothing more than a “publicity stunt”.

* Ny finally relented on Assange being interviewed in November 2016, with a Swedish prosecutor sent to London after six years of heel-dragging. However, Assange’s Swedish lawyer was barred from being present. Ny was due to be questioned about the interview by a Stockholm judge in May 2017 but closed the investigation against Assange the very same day.

* In fact, correspondence that was later revealed under a Freedom of Information request – pursued by Italian investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi – shows that the British prosecution service, the CPS, pressured the Swedish prosecutor not to come to the London to interview Assange through 2010 and 2011, thereby creating the embassy standoff.

* Also, the CPS destroyed most of the incriminating correspondence to circumvent the FoI requests. The emails that surfaced did so only because some copies were accidentally overlooked in the destruction spree. Those emails were bad enough. They show that in 2013 Sweden had wanted to drop the case against Assange but had come under strong British pressure to continue the pretence of seeking his extradition. There are emails from the CPS stating, “Don’t you dare” drop the case, and most revealing of all: “Please do not think this case is being dealt with as just another extradition.”

* It also emerged that Marianne Ny had deleted an email she received from the FBI.

* Despite his interview with a Swedish prosecutor taking place in late 2016, Assange was not subseqently charged in absentia – an option Sweden could have pursued if it had thought the evidence was strong enough.

* After Sweden dropped the investigation against Assange, his lawyers sought last year to get the British arrest warrant for his bail breach dropped. They had good grounds, both because the allegations over which he’d been bailed had been dropped by Sweden and because he had justifiable cause to seek asylum given the apparent US interest in extraditing him and locking him up for life for political crimes. His lawyers could also argue convincingly that the time he had spent in confinement, first under house arrest and then in the embassy, was more than equivalent to time, if any, that needed to be served for the bail infringement. However, the judge, Emma Arbuthnot, rejected the Assange team’s strong legal arguments. She was hardly a dispassionate observer. In fact, in a properly ordered world she should have recused herself, given that she is the wife of a government whip, who was also a business partner of a former head of MI6, Britain’s version of the CIA.

* Assange’s legal rights were again flagrantly violated last week, with the collusion of Ecuador and the UK, when US prosecutors were allowed to seize Assange’s personal items from the embassy while his lawyers and UN officials were denied the right to be present.

Information dark ages

Even now, as the US prepares its case to lock Assange away for the rest of his life, most are still refusing to join the dots. Chelsea Manning has been repeatedly jailed, and is now facing ruinous fines for every day she refuses to testify against Assange as the US desperately seeks to prop up its bogus espionage claims. In Medieval times, the authorities were more honest: they simply put people on the rack.

Back in 2017, when the rest of the media were still pretending this was all about Assange fleeing Swedish “justice”, John Pilger noted:

In 2008, a secret Pentagon document prepared by the “Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch” foretold a detailed plan to discredit WikiLeaks and smear Assange personally. The “mission” was to destroy the “trust” that was WikiLeaks’ “centre of gravity”. This would be achieved with threats of “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”. Silencing and criminalising such an unpredictable source of truth-telling was the aim.” …

According to Australian diplomatic cables, Washington’s bid to get Assange is “unprecedented in scale and nature”. …

The US Justice Department has contrived charges of “espionage”, “conspiracy to commit espionage”, “conversion” (theft of government property), “computer fraud and abuse” (computer hacking) and general “conspiracy”. The favoured Espionage Act, which was meant to deter pacifists and conscientious objectors during World War One, has provisions for life imprisonment and the death penalty. …

In 2015, a federal court in Washington blocked the release of all information about the “national security” investigation against WikiLeaks, because it was “active and ongoing” and would harm the “pending prosecution” of Assange. The judge, Barbara J. Rothstein, said it was necessary to show “appropriate deference to the executive in matters of national security”. This is a kangaroo court.

All of this information was available to any journalist or newspaper  that cared to search it out and wished to publicise it. And yet not one corporate media outlet – apart from Stefania Maurizi – has done so over the past nine years. Instead they have shored up a series of preposterous US and UK state narratives designed to keep Assange behind bars and propel the rest of us back into the information dark ages.