All posts by Jonathan Cook

If the Media can probe Shireen Abu Akleh’s Death, Why Not the Murder of Other Palestinians?

The New York Times published this week the conclusion of its investigation into the killing of the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

It was the fourth major US news organisation to look in detail at what happened to Abu Akleh during an Israeli army raid into the Palestinian city of Jenin last month.

The New York Times found a high probability she had been killed by an Israeli sniper, confirming the findings of earlier investigations by the Associated Press, CNN and the Washington Post. Like the other publications, the Times based its findings on video footage, witness testimonies and acoustic analysis.

“The bullet that killed Ms Abu Akleh was fired from the approximate location of the Israeli military convoy [in Jenin], most likely by a soldier from an elite unit,” the Times concluded. A total of 16 shots were fired at the group of journalists that included Abu Akleh.

Last month, CNN said the evidence it unearthed suggested the veteran Al Jazeera journalist had been killed in a “targeted attack by Israeli forces”. Similar conclusions have been reached by human rights groups that have studied the evidence, including Israel’s respected occupation watchdog, B’Tselem.

A major blow

These probes are a major blow to Israel, coming from reputed media organisations that are usually seen as highly sympathetic to Israel rather than the Palestinians.

They have kept the killing of the journalist in the headlines when Israel had hoped interest would quickly wane – as is the case with the overwhelming majority of Palestinian deaths.

The investigations have made it much harder for Israel to obscure both its responsibility for Abu Akleh’s killing and the intention behind it. The bullet that killed her was fired with the apparent goal of executing her, hitting a narrow, exposed area of flesh between her helmet and a flak jacket marked “Press”.

And the various probes have highlighted once again how unwilling Israel is to hold its soldiers to account for committing crimes if the victim is Palestinian.

Instead, Israel has had to twist and turn in defending its failure to identify the culprit. It initially refused to investigate, claiming a Palestinian gunman, not one of its soldiers, shot Abu Akleh during the military raid.

All the media investigations show that to be untrue.

Then Israel suggested that she might have been hit by the crossfire from an Israeli soldier being fired on by Palestinian gunmen. But all the investigations have shown that Palestinian fighters were nowhere near Abu Akleh when she was shot. She was, however, clearly visible to a unit of Israeli soldiers.

More recently, Israel has tried to shift the blame onto the Palestinian Authority, saying it has not cooperated by handing over the bullet that killed Abu Akleh or by agreeing to hold a joint investigation. As ever, Israel behaves as if the party accused of the crime should be the one to oversee the investigation.

The Palestinian Authority rightly refuses requests for cooperation, arguing that they are being made in bad faith. Israel would exploit any joint investigation to concoct “a new lie, a new narrative”, the PA observes.

A meaningful question

In reality, Israel already knows exactly which of its snipers pulled the trigger. The only meaningful question at this stage is, why? Was the shooting committed by a hot-headed soldier, or was it an execution carried out on orders from above? Was the intention to target Abu Akleh specifically, or did it not matter which of the group of journalists she was among was hit?

Israel, however, isn’t the only party discomfited by the media’s repeated investigations.

They have also served to embarrass Joe Biden’s administration. Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, has called for an “independent, credible investigation”, while his department has underscored the need for a “thorough and independent investigation”.

The New York Times and the other major media outlets have all proved that just such an investigation can be carried out. And yet the silence from the US administration at their shared findings is deafening.

There are two further, possibly less obvious conclusions the rest of us should draw from these efforts to identify who was responsible for killing Abu Akleh.

The first relates to the exceptional nature of the investigations conducted by the US media. Concern at the killing of a Palestinian is far from the norm. In this case, it appears to have been prompted by an unusual coincidence of facts: that Abu Akleh was a high-profile, internationally respected journalist and that she had US citizenship.

In other words, she was seen not just as any ordinary Palestinian, or even as a Palestinian journalist, but as one of the western media’s own.

Total impunity

In murdering Abu Akleh, Israel reminded journalists at the New York Times, AP, CNN and the Washington Post that the lives of their correspondents covering Israel and Palestine are in more danger than they possibly appreciate. In killing her, Israel crossed a red line for the western media – one premised on self-interest and self-preservation.

There are parallels with the media’s special treatment of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi – and for similar reasons. Khashoggi, who was working for the Washington Post, was murdered and his body dismembered during a visit to the Saudi embassy in Turkey.

As with Israel, Saudi Arabia‘s leadership has an appalling human rights record and is not hesitant to jail and kill its opponents. But Khashoggi’s murder provoked unprecedented outrage from the media – outrage that Saudi Arabia’s many other victims have never warranted.

The fact is the US media could have conducted similar investigations into any number of Palestinian deaths at the hands of the Israeli security services, not just Abu Akleh’s, and they would have reached similar conclusions. But they have consistently avoided doing so.

There is a danger inherent in focusing exclusively on Abu Akleh’s killing, just as there was with focusing exclusively on Khashoggi’s. Each has the effect of making it look as though their deaths are exceptional events requiring exceptional investigation – when they are each an example of a longstanding pattern of regime lawlessness and human rights abuses.

The special focus subtly reinforces too the impression that Palestinian accounts of Israeli abuses, even when the supporting evidence is overwhelming, cannot be trusted.

The veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has run a weekly column, the Twilight Zone, in the Haaretz newspaper for years in which he investigates the killing or serious wounding of Palestinians – often people whose names have never appeared in the western media.

Invariably he finds that Israel’s military lies – sometimes flagrantly – about the circumstances in which Palestinians have been killed, or it initiates an inconclusive, stone-walling investigation.

The lies are needed because the truth would show something consistently ugly about Israel’s decades of military occupation: that Israeli soldiers often kill unarmed Palestinians in cold blood; or that they recklessly shoot Palestinian bystanders; or that they execute armed Palestinian fighters when no one’s life is in danger.

The common thread in Levy’s reports is the complete impunity of Israeli soldiers, whatever their actions.

Pilloried in public

But there is a further conclusion to be drawn. Blinken and the Biden administration keep insisting on a thorough, independent, credible and transparent investigation, and say it is important to “follow the facts, wherever they lead”.

But who do they expect to carry out such an investigation?

The White House, of course, reflexively discounts the findings of the Palestinian Authority’s investigation that Abu Akleh was deliberately shot by Israeli soldiers. It acts as if the investigations conducted by these four large media organisations do not qualify. Meanwhile, the administration itself shows precisely zero interest in conducting an investigation, despite pressure from Congress to involve the FBI.

Would Blinken prefer that the United Nations take on the task? Presumably not, given how the US and Israel responded to the last major independent investigation by the UN, one into Israel’s month-long attack on Gaza at the end of 2008. Israel refused to cooperate.

Richard Goldstone, a distinguished South African jurist, led a panel of experts who concluded that Israel had committed a series of war crimes during its attack, known as Cast Lead, as had Palestinian militias.

The UN panel’s report found that Israel had adopted a policy that intentionally targeted Palestinian civilians, the vast majority of the 1,400 Palestinians killed in Cast Lead.

Both the US and Israel worked strenuously to bury the report. Goldstone, who is Jewish, found himself publicly shamed and isolated by Jewish communities in the US and South Africa. He was even barred from attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah. Eventually, he appeared to succumb to the pressure campaign, expressing regret over the report.

No one in Washington came to Goldstone’s defence over the UN’s thorough, independent, credible and transparent investigation. Quite the reverse: he was publicly pilloried. The US administration thereby sent a message to other experts that investigating “independently” and “credibly” is certain only to bring ignominy on their heads if it exposes Israel’s war crimes.

Israel’s hands ‘tied’

Or maybe Blinken would prefer that the International Criminal Court at the Hague investigate.

And yet the US demonstrated the degree to which it appreciates full, independent, credible and transparent investigations by that body two years ago, when the ICC tried to turn the spotlight on to US war crimes in Afghanistan and Israel’s in the occupied Palestinian territories.

In response, Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, imposed sanctions on the court, denying staff entry to the US and threatening to seize its assets. The threat extended to anyone offering “material support” to the court – language more normally used in the context of terrorism.

The reality, as all parties understand, is that only an investigation overseen by Israel could ever count as “thorough, independent, credible and transparent” to the US.

The subtext is that an investigation cannot hope to reach the bar of “credible, independent and transparent”, as far as Washington is concerned, until the Palestinian Authority agrees to hold a joint inquiry with Israel.

But both Israel and the US know full well that the Palestinian leadership will never agree to such “cooperation” – because Israel’s role would not be to arrive at the truth but to engineer a cover-up.

The demand for a “credible, independent and transparent” investigation is the US administration’s code for an investigation that will never take place. It is the diplomatic equivalent of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

But more importantly, it is the kind of impossible investigation that, conveniently for the US and Israel, they can blame the PA for obstructing. As long as the Palestinians refuse to “cooperate”, Israel’s hands are supposedly tied.

Abu Akleh’s murder has not just revealed the fact that Israeli soldiers kill Palestinians, any Palestinian, with impunity.

It has revealed too that the Biden administration is not troubled by the killing, or by the impunity of the soldier who executed her. All that bothers the White House is the irritant of having to create the impression it cares about the truth and the impression that Israel is doing its best to investigate.

Until the matter can be swept aside, it will be a little harder for each to get on with business as usual: for the US to give Israel full-throated financial, diplomatic and military support; and for Israel to continue its incremental, decades-long work of seizing control of the Palestinians’ entire, historic homeland.

But at least for each of them, with Abu Akleh gone, there is one less fearless witness to expose quite how hollow their moral posturing is.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post If the Media can probe Shireen Abu Akleh’s Death, Why Not the Murder of Other Palestinians? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

British “watchdog” journalists unmasked as lap dogs for the security state

Events of the past few days suggest British journalism – the so-called Fourth Estate – is not what it purports to be: a watchdog monitoring the centers of state power. It is quite the opposite.

The pretensions of the establishment media took a severe battering this month as the defamation trial of Guardian columnist Carole Cadwalladr reached its conclusion and the hacked emails of Paul Mason, a long-time stalwart of the BBC, Channel 4 and the Guardian, were published online.

Both of these celebrated journalists have found themselves outed as recruits – in their differing ways – to a covert information war being waged by Western intelligence agencies.

Had they been honest about it, that collusion might not matter so much. After all, few journalists are as neutral or as dispassionate as the profession likes to pretend. But along with many of their colleagues, Cadwalladr and Mason have broken what should be a core principle of journalism: transparency.

The role of serious journalists is to bring matters of import into the public space for debate and scrutiny. Journalists thinking critically aspire to hold those who wield power – primarily state agencies – to account on the principle that, without scrutiny, power quickly corrupts.

The purpose of real journalism – as opposed to the gossip, entertainment and national-security stenography that usually passes for journalism – is to hit up, not down.

And yet, both of these journalists, we now know, were actively colluding, or seeking to collude, with state actors who prefer to operate in the shadows, out of sight. Both journalists were coopted to advance the aims of the intelligence services.

And worse, each of them either sought to become a conduit for, or actively assist in, covert smear campaigns run by Western intelligence services against other journalists.

What they were doing – along with so many other establishment journalists – is the very antithesis of journalism. They were helping to conceal the operation of power to make it harder to scrutinize. And not only that. In the process, they were trying to weaken already marginalized journalists fighting to hold state power to account.

Russian collusion?

Cadwalladr’s cooperation with the intelligence services has been highlighted only because of a court case. She was sued for defamation by Arron Banks, a businessman and major donor to the successful Brexit campaign for Britain to leave the European Union.

In a kind of transatlantic extension of the Russiagate hysteria in the United States following Donald Trump’s election as president in 2016, Cadwalladr accused Banks of lying about his ties to the Russian state. According to the court, she also suggested he broke election funding laws by receiving Russian money in the run-up to the Brexit vote, also in 2016.

That year serves as a kind of ground zero for liberals fearful about the future of “Western democracy” – supposedly under threat from modern “barbarians at the gate,” such as Russia and China – and about the ability of Western states to defend their primacy through neo-colonial wars of aggression around the globe.

The implication is Russia masterminded a double subversion in 2016: on one side of the Atlantic, Trump was elected US president; and, on the other, Britons were gulled into shooting themselves in the foot – and undermining Europe – by voting to leave the EU.

Faced with the court case, Cadwalladr could not support her allegations against Banks as true. Nonetheless, the judge ruled against Banks’ libel action, on the basis that the claims had not sufficiently harmed his reputation.

The judge also decided, perversely in a British defamation action, that Cadwalladr had “reasonable grounds” to publish claims that Banks received “sweetheart deals” from Russia, even though “she had seen no evidence he had entered into any such deals.” An investigation by the National Crime Agency ultimately found no evidence either.

So given those circumstances, what was the basis for her accusations against Banks?

Cadwalladr’s journalistic modus operandi, in her long-running efforts to suggest widespread Russian meddling in British politics, is highlighted in her witness statement to the court.

In it, she refers to another of her Russiagate-style stories: one from 2017 that tried to connect the Kremlin with Nigel Farage, a former pro-Brexit politician with the UKIP Party and close associate of Banks, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been a political prisoner in the UK for more than a decade.

At that time, Assange was confined to a single room in the Ecuadorian Embassy after its government offered him political asylum. He had sought sanctuary there, fearing he would be extradited to the US following publication by WikiLeaks of revelations that the US and UK had committed war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

WikiLeaks had also deeply embarrassed the CIA by following up with the publication of leaked documents, known as Vault 7, exposing the agency’s own crimes.

Last week the UK’s Home Secretary, Priti Patel, approved the very extradition to the US that Assange feared and that drove him into the Ecuadorian embassy. Once in the US, he faces up to 175 years in complete isolation in a supermax jail.

Assassination plot

We now know, courtesy of a Yahoo News investigation, that through 2017 the CIA hatched various schemes either to assassinate Assange or to kidnap him in one of its illegal “extraordinary rendition” operations, so he could be permanently locked up in the US, out of public view.

We can surmise that the CIA also believed it needed to prepare the ground for such a rogue operation by bringing the public on board. According to Yahoo’s investigation, the CIA believed Assange’s seizure might require a gun battle on the streets of London.

It was at this point, it seems, that Cadwalladr and the Guardian were encouraged to add their own weight to the cause of further turning public opinion against Assange.

According to her witness statement, “a confidential source in [the] US” suggested – at the very time the CIA was mulling over these various plots – that she write about a supposed visit by Farage to Assange in the embassy. The story ran in the Guardian under the headline “When Nigel Farage met Julian Assange.”

In the article, Cadwalladr offers a strong hint as to who had been treating her as a confidant: the one source mentioned in the piece is “a highly placed contact with links to US intelligence”. In other words, the CIA almost certainly fed her the agency’s angle on the story.

In the piece, Cadwalladr threads together her and the CIA’s claims of “a political alignment between WikiLeaks’ ideology, UKIP’s ideology and Trump’s ideology”. Behind the scenes, she suggests, was the hidden hand of the Kremlin, guiding them all in a malign plot to fatally undermine British democracy.

She quotes her “highly placed contact” claiming that Farage and Assange’s alleged face-to-face meeting was necessary to pass information of their nefarious plot “in ways and places that cannot be monitored”.

Except of course, as her “highly placed contact” knew – and as we now know, thanks to exposes by the Grayzone website – that was a lie. In tandem with its plot to kill or kidnap Assange, the CIA illegally installed cameras inside, as well as outside, the embassy. His every move in the embassy was monitored – even in the toilet block.

The reality was that the CIA was bugging and videoing Assange’s every conversation in the embassy, even the face-to-face ones. If the CIA actually had a recording of Assange and Farage meeting and discussing a Kremlin-inspired plot, it would have found a way to make it public by now.

Far more plausible is what Farage and WikiLeaks say: that such a meeting never happened. Farage visited the embassy to try to interview Assange for his LBC radio show but was denied access. That can be easily confirmed because by then the Ecuadorian embassy was allying with the US and refusing Assange any contact with visitors apart from his lawyers.

Nonetheless, Cadwalladr concludes:In the perfect storm of fake news, disinformation and social media in which we now live, WikiLeaks is, in many ways, the swirling vortex at the centre of everything.”

‘Swirling vortex’

The Farage-Assange meeting story shows how the CIA and Cadwalladr’s agendas perfectly coincided in their very own “swirling vortex” of fake news and disinformation.

She wanted to tie the Brexit campaign to Russia and suggest that anyone who wished to challenge the liberal pieties that provide cover for the crimes committed by Western states must necessarily belong to a network of conspirators, on the left and the right, masterminded from Moscow.

The CIA and other Western intelligence agencies, meanwhile, wanted to deepen the public’s impression that Assange was a Kremlin agent – and that WikiLeaks’ exposure of the crimes committed by those same agencies was not in the public interest but actually an assault on Western democracy.

Assange’s character assassination had already been largely achieved with the American public in the Russiagate campaign in the US. The intelligence services, along with the Democratic Party leadership, had crafted a narrative designed to obscure WikiLeaks’ revelations of election-fixing by Hillary Clinton’s camp in 2016 to prevent Bernie Sanders from winning the party’s presidential nomination. Instead they refocused the public’s attention on evidence-free claims that Russia had “hacked” the emails.

For Cadwalladr and the CIA, the fake-news story of Farage meeting Assange could be spun as further proof that both the “far left” and “far right” were colluding with Russia. Their message was clear: only centrists – and the national security state – could be trusted to defend democracy.

Fabricated story

Cadwalladr’s smearing of Assange is entirely of a piece with the vilification campaign of WikiLeaks led by liberal media outlets to which she belongs. Her paper, the Guardian, has had Assange in its sights since its falling out with him over their joint publication of the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs in 2010.

A year after Cadwalladr’s smear piece, the Guardian would continue its cooperation with the intelligence services’ demonization of Assange by running an equally fabricated story – this time about a senior aide of Trump’s, Paul Manafort, and various unidentified “Russians” secretly meeting Assange in the embassy.

The story was so improbable it was ridiculed even at the time of publication. Again, the CIA’s illegal spying operation inside and outside the embassy meant there was no way Manafort or any “Russians” could have secretly visited Assange without those meetings being recorded. Nonetheless, the Guardian has never retracted the smear.

One of the authors of the article, Luke Harding, has been at the forefront of both the Guardian’s Russiagate claims and its efforts to defame Assange. In doing so, he appears to have relied heavily on Western intelligence services for his stories and has proven incapable of defending them when challenged.

Harding, like the Guardian, has an added investment in discrediting Assange. He and a Guardian colleague, David Leigh, published a Guardian-imprint book that included a secret password to a WikiLeaks’ cache of leaked documents, thereby providing security services around the world with access to the material.

The CIA’s claim that the release of those documents endangered its informants – a claim that even US officials have been forced to concede is not true – has been laid at Assange’s door to vilify him and justify his imprisonment. But if anyone is to blame, it is not Assange but Harding, Leigh and the Guardian.

Effort to deplatform

The case of Paul Mason, who worked for many years as a senior BBC journalist, is even more revealing. Emails passed to the Grayzone website show the veteran, self-described “left-wing” journalist secretly conspiring with figures aligned with British intelligence services to build a network of journalists and academics to smear and censor independent media outlets that challenge the narratives of the Western intelligence agencies.

Mason’s concerns about left-wing influence on public opinion have intensified the more he has faced criticism from the left over his demands for fervent, uncritical support of NATO and as he has lobbied for greater Western interference in Ukraine. Both are aims he shares with Western intelligence services.

Along with the establishment media, Mason has called for sending advanced weaponry to Kyiv, likely to raise the death toll on both sides of the war and risk a nuclear confrontation between the West and Russia.

In the published emails, Mason suggests the harming and “relentless deplatforming” of independent investigative media sites – such as the Grayzone, Consortium News and Mint Press – that host non-establishment journalists. He and his correspondents also debate whether to include Declassified UK and OpenDemocracy. One of his co-conspirators suggests a “full nuclear legal to squeeze them financially.”

Mason himself proposes starving these websites of income by secretly pressuring Paypal to stop readers from being able to make donations to support their work.

It should be noted that, in the wake of Mason’s correspondence,  PayPal did indeed launch just such a crackdown, including against Consortium News and MintPress, after earlier targeting WikiLeaks.

Mason’s email correspondents include two figures intimately tied to British intelligence: Amil Khan is described by the Grayzone as “a shadowy intelligence contractor” with ties to the UK’s National Security Council. He founded Valent Projects, establishing his credentials in a dirty propaganda war in support of head-chopping jihadist groups trying to bring down the Russian-supported Syrian government.

Clandestine ‘clusters’

The other intelligence operative is someone Mason refers to as a “friend”: Andy Pryce, the head of the Foreign Office’s shadowy Counter Disinformation and Media Development (CDMD) unit, founded in 2016 to “counter-strike against Russian propaganda”. Mason and Pryce spend much of their correspondence discussing when to meet up in London pubs for a drink, according to the Grayzone.

The Foreign Office managed to keep the CDMD unit’s existence secret for two years. The UK government has refused to disclose basic information about the CDMD on grounds of national security, although it is now known that it is overseen by the National Security Council.

The CDMD’s existence came to light because of leaks about another covert information warfare operation, the Integrity Initiative.

Notably, the Integrity Initiative was run on the basis of clandestine “clusters,” in North America and Europe, of journalists, academics, politicians and security officials advancing narratives shared with Western intelligence agencies to discredit Russia, China, Julian Assange, and Jeremy Corbyn, the former, left-wing leader of the Labor Party.

Cadwalladr was named in the British cluster, along with other prominent journalists: David Aaronovitch and Dominic Kennedy of the Times; the Guardian’s Natalie Nougayrede and Paul Canning; Jonathan Marcus of the BBC; the Financial Times’ Neil Buckley; the Economist’s Edward Lucas; and Sky News’ Deborah Haynes.

In his emails, Mason appears to want to renew this type of work but to direct its energies more specifically at damaging independent, dissident media – with his number one target the Grayzone, which played a critical role in exposing the Integrity Initiative.

Mason’s “friend” – the CDMD’s head, Andy Pryce – “featured prominently” in documents relating to the Integrity Initiative, the Grayzone observes.

This background is not lost on Mason. He notes in his correspondence the danger that his plot to “deplatform” independent media could “end up with the same problem as Statecraft” – a reference to the Institute of Statecraft, the Integrity Initiative’s parent charity, which the Grayzone and others exposed. He cautions: “The opposition are not stupid, they can spot an info op – so the more this is designed to be organic the better.”

Pryce and Mason discuss creating an astroturf civil-society organization that would lead their “information war” as part of an operation they brand the “International Information Brigade”.

Mason suggests the suspension of the libel laws for what he calls “foreign agents” – presumably meaning that the Information Brigade would be able to defame independent journalists as Russian agents, echoing the establishment media’s treatment of Assange, without fear of legal action that would show these were evidence-free smears.

‘Putin infosphere’

Another correspondent, Emma Briant, an academic who claims to specialize in Russian disinformation, offers an insight into how she defines the presumed enemy within: those “close to WikiLeaks,” anyone “trolling Carole [Cadwalladr],” and outlets “discouraging people from reading the Guardian.”

Mason himself produces an eye-popping, self-drawn, spider’s web chart of the supposedly “pro-Putin infosphere” in the UK, embracing much of the left, including Corbyn, the Stop the War movement, as well as the Black and Muslim communities. Several media sites are mentioned, including Mint Press and Novara Media, an independent British website sympathetic to Corbyn.

Khan and Mason consider how they can help trigger a British government investigation of independent outlets so that they can be labeled as “Russian-state affiliated media” to further remove them from visibility on social media.

Mason states that the goal is to prevent the emergence of a “left anti-imperialist identity,” which, he fears, “will be attractive because liberalism doesn’t know how to counter it” – a telling admission that he believes genuine left-wing critiques of Western foreign policy cannot be dealt with through public refutation but only through secret disinformation campaigns.

He urges efforts to crack down not only on independent media and “rogue” academics but on left-wing political activism. He identifies as a particular threat Corbyn, who was earlier harmed through a series of disinformation campaigns, including entirely evidence-free claims that the Labour Party during his tenure became a hotbed of antisemitism.

Mason fears Corbyn might set up a new, independent left-wing party. It is important, Mason notes, to “quarantine” and “stigmatize” any such ideology.

In short, rather than use journalism to win the argument and the battle for public opinion, Mason wishes to use the dark arts of the security state to damage independent media, as well as dissident academics and left-wing political activism. He wants no influences on the public that are not tightly aligned with the core foreign policy goals of the national security state.

Mason’s correspondence hints at the reality behind Cadwalladr’s claim that Assange was the “swirling vortex at the centre of everything.”

Assange symbolizes that “swirling vortex” to intelligence-aligned establishment journalists only because WikiLeaks has published plenty of insider information that exposes Western claims to global moral leadership as a complete charade – and the journalists who amplify those claims as utter charlatans.

In part two, we will examine why journalists like Mason and Cadwalladr prosper in the establishment media; the long history of collusion between Western intelligence agencies and the establishment media; and how that mutually beneficial collusion is becoming ever more important to each of them.

First published in Mint Press

The post British “watchdog” journalists unmasked as lap dogs for the security state first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Russia-Ukraine war: George Bush’s admission of his crimes in Iraq was no “gaffe”

It was apparently a “gaffe” of the kind we had forgotten since George W Bush stepped down from the US presidency in early 2009. During a speech in Dallas last week, he momentarily confused Russian President Vladimir Putin’s current war of aggression against Ukraine and his own war of aggression against Iraq in 2003.

Bush observed that a lack of checks and balances in Russia had allowed “one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq… I mean, Ukraine. Iraq too. Anyway… I’m 75.”

It sounded like another “Bushism” – a verbal slip-up – for which the 43rd president was famous. Just like the time he boasted that people “misunderestimated” him, or when he warned that America’s enemies “never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people – and neither do we”.

Maybe that explains why his audience laughed. Or maybe not, given how uncomfortable the laughter sounded.

Bush certainly wanted his mistake to be seen as yet another slip-up, which is why he hurriedly blamed it on his age. The senility defence doubtless sounds a lot more plausible at a time when the incumbent president, Joe Biden, regularly loses track of what he is saying and even where he is.

The western media, in so far as it has bothered to report Bush’s speech, has laughed along nervously too. It has milked the incident largely for comic effect: “Look, we can laugh at ourselves – unlike that narcissist Russian monster, Putin.”

The BBC accorded Bush’s comment status as a down-page brief news item. Those that gave it more attention preferred to term it a “gaffe” or an amusing “Freudian slip”.

‘Putin apologists’

But the focus on the humour of the moment is actually part of the media’s continuing war on our understanding of recent history. It is intended to deflect us, the audience, from thinking about the real significance of Bush’s “gaffe”.

The only reason the media is now so belatedly connecting – if very indirectly – “a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion” of Ukraine and what happened in Iraq is because of Bush’s mistake.

Had it not happened, the establishment media would have continued to ignore any such comparison. And those trying to raise it would continue to be dismissed as conspiracy theorists or as apologists for Putin.

The implication of what Bush said – even for those mockingly characterising it in Freudian terms – is that he and his co-conspirator, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, are war criminals and that they should be on trial at the Hague for invading and occupying Iraq.

Everything the current US administration is saying against Putin, and every punishment meted out on Russia and ordinary Russians, can be turned around and directed at the United States and Britain.

Should the US not be under severe economic sanctions from the “civilised world” for what it did to Iraq? Should its sportspeople not be banned from international events? Should its billionaires not be hunted down and stripped of their assets? And should the works of its long-dead writers, artists and composers not be shunned by polite society?

And yet, the western establishment media are proposing none of the above. They are not calling for Blair and Bush to be tried for war crimes. Meanwhile, they echo western leaders in labelling what Russia is doing in Ukraine as genocide and labelling Putin as an evil madman.

The western media are as uncomfortable taking Bush’s speech at face value as his audience was. And for good reason.

That is because the media are equally implicated in US and UK crimes in Iraq. They never seriously questioned the ludicrous “weapons of mass destruction” justification for the invasion. They never debated whether the “Shock and Awe” bombing campaign of Baghdad was genocidal.

And, of course, they never described either Bush or Blair as madmen and megalomaniacs and never accused them of waging a war of imperialism – or one for oil – in invading Iraq. In fact, both continue to be treated by the media as respected elder statesmen.

During Trump’s presidency, leading journalists waxed nostalgic for the days of Bush, apparently unconcerned that he had used his own presidency to launch a war of aggression – the “supreme international crime”.

And Blair continues to be sought out by the British and US media for his opinions on domestic and world affairs. He is even listened to deferentially when he opines on Ukraine.

Pre-emption excuse

But this is not simply about a failure to acknowledge the recent historical record. Bush’s invasion of Iraq is deeply tied to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And for that reason, if no other, the western media ought to have been driving home from the outset the parallels between the two – as Bush has now done in error.

That would have provided the geopolitical context for understanding – without necessarily justifying – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the West’s role in provoking it. Which is precisely why the media have worked so hard to ignore those parallels.

In invading Iraq, Bush and Blair created a precedent that powerful states could redefine their attack on another state as “pre-emptive” – as defensive rather than aggressive – and thereby justify the military invasion in violation of the laws of war.

Bush and Blair falsely claimed both that Iraq threatened the West with weapons of mass destruction and that its secular leader, Saddam Hussein, had cultivated ties with the extreme Islamists of al-Qaeda that carried out the 9/11 attacks on the US. These pretexts ranged from the entirely unsubstantiated to the downright preposterous.

Putin has argued – more plausibly – that Russia had to take pre-emptive action against covert efforts by a US-led Nato to expand its military sphere of influence right up to Russia’s borders. Russia feared that, left unchecked, the US and Nato were preparing to absorb Ukraine by stealth.

But how does that qualify Russia’s invasion as defensive? The Kremlin’s fears were chiefly twofold.

First, it could have paved the way for Nato stationing missiles minutes away from Moscow, eroding any principle of mutual deterrence.

And second, Nato’s incorporation of Ukraine would have drawn the western military alliance directly into Ukraine’s civil war in the eastern Donbass region. That is where Ukrainian forces, including neo-Nazi elements like the Azov Brigade, have been pitted in a bloody fight against ethnic Russian communities.

In this view, absent a Russian invasion, Nato could have become an active participant in propping up Ukrainian ultra-nationalists killing ethnic Russians – as the West is now effectively doing through its arming of Ukraine to the tune of more than $40bn.

Even if one discounts Russia’s concerns, Moscow clearly has a greater strategic interest invested in what its neighbour Ukraine is doing on their shared border than Washington ever had in Iraq, many thousands of miles away.

Proxy wars

Even more relevant, given the West’s failure to acknowledge, let alone address, Bush and Blair’s crimes committed in Iraq, is Russia’s suspicion that US foreign policy is unchanged two decades on. On what basis would Moscow believe that Washington is any less aggressive or power-hungry than it was when it launched its invasion of Iraq?

The western media continue to refer to the US attack on Iraq, and the subsequent bloody years of occupation, as variously a “mistake”, a “misadventure” and a “blunder”. But surely it does not look that way to Moscow, all the more so given that Washington followed its invasion of Iraq with a series of proxy wars against other Middle Eastern and North African states such as Libya, Syria and Yemen.

To Russia, the attack on Iraq looks more like a stepping stone in a continuum of wars the US has waged over decades for “full-spectrum dominance” and to eradicate competitors for control of the planet’s resources.

With that as the context, Moscow might have reasonably imagined that the US and its Nato allies were eager for yet another proxy war, this time using Ukraine as the battlefield. Recent comments from Biden administration officials, such as Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, noting that Washington’s tens of billions of dollars in military aid to Kyiv is intended to “weaken Russia”, can only accentuate such fears.

Back in March, Leon Panetta, a former US secretary of defence and the CIA director under Barack Obama, who is in a position to speak more freely than serving officials, observed that Washington was waging “a proxy war with Russia, whether we say so or not”.

He predicted where US policy would head next, noting that the aim would be “to provide as much military aid as necessary”. Diplomacy has been a glaringly low priority for Washington.

Barely concealed from public view is a desire in the US and its allies for another regime change operation – this time in Russia – rather than end the war and the suffering of Ukrainians.

Butcher versus blunderer

Last week, the New York Times very belatedly turned down the war rhetoric a notch and called on the Biden administration to advance negotiations. Even so, its assessment of where the blame lay for Ukraine’s destruction was unambiguous: “Mr Putin will go down in history as a butcher.”

But have Bush or Blair gone down in history as butchers? They most certainly haven’t. And the reason is that the western media have been complicit in rehabilitating their images, presenting them as statesmen who “blundered” – with the implication that good people blunder when they fail to take account of how entrenched the evil of everyone else in the world is.

A butcher versus a pair of blunderers.

This false distinction means western leaders and western publics continue to evade responsibility for western crimes in Iraq and elsewhere.

That was why in late February – in reference to Ukraine – a TV journalist could suggest to Condoleezza Rice, who was one of the architects of the illegal war of aggression on Iraq as Bush’s national security adviser: “When you invade a sovereign nation, that is a war crime.” The journalist apparently did not consider for a moment that it was not just Putin who was a war criminal but the very woman she was sitting opposite.

It was also why Rice could nod solemnly and agree with a straight face that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was “against every principle of international law and international order – and that’s why throwing the book at them [Russia] now in terms of economic sanctions and punishments is a part of it”.

But a West that has refused to come to terms with its role in committing the “supreme international crime” of invading Iraq, and has been supporting systematic crimes against the sovereignty of other states such as Yemen, Libya and Syria, cannot sit in judgment on Russia. And further, it should not be trying to take the high ground by meddling in the war in Ukraine.

If we took the implications of Bush’s comment seriously, rather than treating it as a “gaffe” and viewing the Iraq invasion as a “blunder”, we might be in a position to speak with moral authority instead of flaunting – once again – our hypocrisy.

First published in Middle East Eye

The post Russia-Ukraine war: George Bush’s admission of his crimes in Iraq was no “gaffe” first appeared on Dissident Voice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-inflicted wounds

Starmer’s ineffectualness seems entirely self-inflicted.

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

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

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

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

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

Broken promises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flooded with arms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fealty to Nato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apartheid forever

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

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

But that view has become progressively harder to sustain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labour’s ugly face

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

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

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

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

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

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

First published in Middle East Eye

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

Shireen Abu Akleh was executed to send a message to Palestinians

The execution of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by an Israeli soldier in the Palestinian city of Jenin, along with Israel‘s immediate efforts to muddy the waters about who was responsible and the feeble expressions of concern from western capitals, brought memories flooding back from 20 years of reporting from the region.

Unlike Abu Akleh, I found myself far less often on the front lines in the occupied territories. I was not a war correspondent, and when I ended up close to the action it was invariably by accident – such as when, also in Jenin, my Palestinian taxi turned into a street only to find ourselves staring down the barrel of an Israeli tank. Judging by the speed and skill with which my driver navigated in reverse, it was not his first time dealing with that kind of roadblock.

Abu Akleh reported on far too many killings of Palestinians not to have known the risks she faced as a journalist every time she donned a flak jacket. It was a kind of nerve I did not share.

According to a recent report by Reporters Without Borders, at least 144 Palestinian journalists have been wounded by Israeli forces in the occupied territories since 2018. Three, including Abu Akleh, have been killed in the same period.

I spent part of my time in the region visiting the scenes of Palestinian deaths, trying to pick through the conflicting Palestinian and Israeli narratives to get a clearer understanding of what had actually happened. Abu Akleh’s killing, and Israel’s response, fit a pattern consistent with what I discovered when carrying out those investigations.

It was no surprise, then, to hear Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett immediately blame Palestinians for her death. There was, he said, “a considerable chance that armed Palestinians, who fired wildly, were the ones who brought about the journalist’s unfortunate death”.

Settling scores

Abu Akleh was a face familiar not only to the Arab world that devours news from Palestine, but to most of the Israeli combat soldiers who “raid” – a euphemism for attack – Palestinian communities such as Jenin.

The soldiers who shot at her and the group of Palestinian journalists she was with knew they were firing at members of the media. But there also appears to be evidence suggesting one or more of the soldiers identified her specifically as a target.

Palestinians are rightly suspicious that the bullet hole just below the edge of her metal helmet was not a one-in-a-million chance event. It looked like a precision shot intended to kill her – the reason why Palestinian officials are calling her death “deliberate”.

For as long as I can remember, Israel has been trying to find pretexts to shut down Al Jazeera’s coverage, often by banning its reporters or denying them press passes. Infamously, last May, it bombed a tower block in Gaza that housed the station’s offices.

Indeed, Abu Akleh was most likely shot precisely because she was a high-profile Al Jazeera reporter, known for her fearless reporting of Israeli crimes. Both the army and its soldiers bear grudges, and they have lethal weapons with which to settle scores.

‘Friendly fire’

Israel’s suggestion that she was targeted by, or was collateral damage from, Palestinian gunfire should be treated with the disdain it deserves. At least with the advantage of modern GPS and satellite imagery, this kind of standard-issue dissembling is becoming easier to rebut.

The “friendly fire” defence is straight out of the playbook Israel uses whenever it cannot resort to its preferred retrospective rationalisation for killing Palestinians: that they were armed and “posed an immediate danger to soldiers”.

That was a lesson I learned in my first months in the region. I arrived in 2001 to investigate events during the first days of the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, when Israeli police killed 13 protesters. Those killings, unlike parallel events taking place in the occupied territories, targeted members of a large Palestinian minority that lives inside Israel and has a very inferior citizenship.

At the outbreak of the Intifada in late 2000, Palestinian citizens had taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers to protest the Israeli army’s killing of their compatriots in the occupied territories.

They were enraged, in particular, by footage from Gaza captured by France 2 TV. It showed a father desperately trying to shield his 12-year-old son, Muhammad al-Durrah, as they were trapped by Israeli gunfire at a road intersection. Muhammad was killed and his father, Jamal, seriously wounded.

On that occasion too, Israel tried its best to cloud what had happened – and carried on doing so for many years. It variously blamed Palestinians for killing Durrah, claimed the scene had been staged, or suggested the boy was actually alive and unharmed. It did so even over the protests of the French TV crew.

Palestinian children were being killed elsewhere in the occupied territories, but those deaths were rarely captured so viscerally on film. And when they were, it was usually on the primitive personal digital cameras of the time. Israel and its apologists casually dismissed such grainy footage as “Pallywood” – a conflation of Palestinian and Hollywood – to suggest it was faked.

Shot from behind

The Israeli deceptions over al-Durrah’s death echoed what was happening inside Israel. Police there were also shooting recklessly at the large demonstrations erupting, even though protesters were unarmed and had Israeli citizenship. Not only were 13 Palestinians killed, but hundreds more were wounded, with some horrifically maimed.

In one incident, Israeli Jews from Upper Nazareth – some of them armed, off-duty police officers – marched on the neighbouring Palestinian city of Nazareth, where I was based. Mosque loudspeakers called on Nazareth’s residents to come out and protect their homes. There followed a long, tense stand-off between the two sides at a road junction between the communities.

Police stood alongside the invaders, watched over by Israeli snipers positioned atop a tall building in Upper Nazareth, facing Nazareth residents massed below.

The police insisted that the Palestinians leave first. Faced with so many weapons, the crowds from Nazareth eventually relented and headed back home. At that point, police snipers opened fire, shooting several men in the back. Two, who were hit in the head, were killed instantly.

Those executions were witnessed by the hundreds of Palestinians there, as well as by police and by all those who had tried to invade Nazareth. And yet, the official police story ignored the sequence of events. Police said the fact that the two Palestinian men had been shot in the back of the head was proof they had been killed by other Palestinians, not police snipers.

Commanders claimed, without producing any evidence or conducting a forensic investigation, that Palestinian gunmen had been hiding behind the men and shot them by mistake while aiming for police. It was a blatant lie, but one that the authorities held to through a subsequent judicial-led inquiry.

Balance of power

As was the case with Abu Akleh, those two men’s deaths were not – as Israel would like us to believe – an unfortunate incident, with innocents caught in the crossfire.

Like Abu Akleh, those Nazareth men were executed in cold blood by Israel. It was intended as a stark message to all Palestinians about where the balance of power resides, and as a warning to submit, to keep quiet, to know their place.

The people of Nazareth defied those strictures in coming out to protect their city. Abu Akleh did the same by turning up day after day for more than two decades to report on the injustices, crimes and horrors of living under Israeli occupation. Both were acts of peaceful resistance to oppression, and both were viewed by Israel as equivalent to terrorism.

We will never be able to conclude whether Abu Akleh or those two men died because of the actions of a hot-headed Israeli soldier, or because the shooter was given an instruction by senior officers to use an execution as a teaching moment for other Palestinians.

But we do not need to know which it is. Because it keeps on happening, and because Israel keeps on doing nothing to stop it, or to identify and punish those responsible.

Because killing Palestinians – unpredictably, even randomly – fits perfectly with the goals of an occupying power intent on eroding any sense of safety or normality for Palestinians, an occupier determined to terrorise them into departure, bit by bit, from their homeland.

Taught a lesson

Abu Akleh was one of a small number of Palestinians from the occupied territories who have American citizenship. That, and her fame in the Arab world, are two reasons why officials in Washington felt duty-bound to express sadness at her killing and issue a formulaic call for a “thorough investigation”.

But Abu Akleh’s US passport was no more able to save her from Israeli retribution than that of Rachel Corrie, murdered in 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer driver as she tried to protect Palestinian homes in Gaza. Similarly, Tom Hurndall’s British passport did not stop him from being shot in the head as he tried to protect Palestinian children in Gaza from Israeli gunfire. Nor did filmmaker James Miller’s British passport prevent an Israeli soldier from executing him in 2003 in Gaza, as he documented Israel’s assault on the tiny, overcrowded enclave.

All were seen as having taken a side by acting as witnesses and by refusing to remain quiet as Palestinians suffered – and for that reason, they and those who thought like them had to be taught a lesson.

It worked. Soon, the contingent of foreign volunteers – those who had come to Palestine to record Israel’s atrocities and serve, when necessary, as human shields to protect Palestinians from a trigger-happy Israeli army – were gone. Israel denounced the International Solidarity Movement for supporting terrorism, and given the clear threat to their lives, the pool of volunteers gradually dried up.

The executions – whether committed by hot-headed soldiers or approved by the army – served their purpose once again.

Error of judgment

I was the only journalist to investigate the first in this spate of executions of foreigners early in the Second Intifada. Iain Hook, a Briton working for UNRWA, the United Nations refugee agency, was shot dead in late 2002 by an Israeli sniper in Jenin – the same northern West Bank city where Abu Akleh would be executed 20 years later.

Just as with Abu Akleh, the official Israeli story was designed to turn the focus away from what was clearly an Israeli execution to shift the blame to Palestinians.

During yet another of Israel’s “raids” into Jenin, Hook and his staff, along with Palestinian children attending an UNRWA school, had taken shelter inside the sealed compound.

Israel’s story was a concoction of lies that could be easily disproven, though no foreign journalist apart from me ever bothered to go to the site to check. And with more limited opportunities in those days, I struggled to find an outlet willing to publish my investigation.

Israel claimed its sniper, overlooking the compound from a third-floor window, had seen Palestinians break into the compound. According to this version, the sniper mistook the distinctive, tall, pale, red-headed, 54-year-old Hook for a Palestinian gunman, even though the sniper had been watching the UN official through telescopic sights for more than an hour.

To bolster its preposterous story, Israel also claimed the sniper had mistaken Hook’s mobile phone for a hand grenade, and was worried he was about to throw it out of the compound towards the Israeli soldiers on the street outside.

Except, as the sniper would have known, that was impossible. The compound was sealed, with a high concrete wall, a petrol station forecourt-style awning as a roof, and thick chicken wire covering the space between. Had Hook thrown his phone-grenade at the street outside, it would have bounced right back at him. If it were really a grenade, he would have blown himself up.

The truth was that Hook had made an error of judgment. Surrounded by Israeli troops and Palestinian fighters hidden in alleyways nearby, and exasperated by Israel’s refusal to allow his staff and the children safe passage out, he opened the gate and tried to plead with the soldiers outside.

As he did so, a Palestinian gunman emerged from an alley close by and fired towards an Israeli armoured vehicle. No one was hurt. Hook fled back into the compound and sealed it again.

But the Israeli soldiers outside now had a grudge against the UN official. One of them decided to use a bullet to Hook’s head to settle the score.

Bad faith

The UN was obliged to carry out a detailed investigation into Hook’s killing. Abu Akleh’s loved ones will be unlikely to have the same advantage. In fact, Israeli police made a point of “raiding” her home in occupied East Jerusalem to disrupt the family’s mourning, demanding that a Palestinian flag be taken down. Another message sent.

Israel is already insisting on access to the forensic evidence – as though a murderer has a right to be the one to investigate his own crime.

But in fact, even in Hook’s case, the UN investigation was quietly shelved. Accusing Israel of executing a UN official would have forced the international body into a dangerous confrontation both with Israel and with the United States. Hook’s killing was hushed up, and no one was brought to book.

Nothing better can be expected for Abu Akleh. There will be noises about an investigation. Israel will blame the Palestinian Authority for not cooperating, as it is already doing. Washington will express tepid concern but do nothing. Behind the scenes, the US will help Israel block any meaningful investigation.

For the US and Europe, routine statements of “sadness” and calls for investigation are not intended to make sure light is shed on what happened. That could only embarrass a strategic ally needed to project western power into the oil-rich Middle East.

No, these half-hearted declarations from western capitals are meant to defuse and confuse. They are intended to take the wind out any backlash; indicate western impartiality, and save the blushes of complicit Arab regimes; suggest there is a legal process that Israel adheres to; and subvert efforts by Palestinians and the human rights community to refer these war crimes to international bodies, such as the Hague court.

The truth is that a decades-long occupation can only survive through wanton – sometimes random, sometimes carefully calibrated – acts of terror to keep the subject population fearful and subdued. When the occupation is sponsored by the main global superpower, there is absolute impunity for those who oversee that reign of terror.

Abu Akleh is the latest victim. But these executions will continue so long as Israel and its soldiers are shielded from accountability.

First published in Middle East Eye

The post Shireen Abu Akleh was executed to send a message to Palestinians first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The persecution of Julian Assange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subversion of law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweden’s charade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neutrality dropped

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret amendments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No ordinary extradition’

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

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

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

They have been doing the same ever since.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embassy spying operation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Living in a tyranny’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First published by Middle East Eye

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

Israel is stoking a Civil War Against its Palestinian Citizens

Three separate, deadly Palestinian attacks in Israeli cities in a week have elicited a predictable response. The Israeli army has drafted large numbers of extra soldiers into the West Bank and around Gaza, Palestinian territories already under decades of brutal military occupation.

But the fact that, unusually, two of the attacks were carried out by Israeli citizens – members of a large Palestinian minority whose rights are severely circumscribed and inferior to those of the Jewish majority – has raised the stakes considerably for the Israeli right.

A total of 11 Israelis died in the attacks a few days apart in the cities of Beersheba, Hadera and Bnei Brak, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Trigger-happy Israeli forces killed three Palestinians in separate incidents on Thursday, in the immediate wake of the attacks.

The lethal attacks were an opportunity for Naftali Bennett, the far-right leader who snatched the Israeli premiership from Benjamin Netanyahu last summer, to prove his credentials to his party’s main constituency: Jewish settlers determined to drive Palestinians off their lands and reclaim a supposed biblical birthright.

In a video statement, Bennett told “whoever has a gun licence” – meaning overwhelmingly Jewish citizens – “this is the time to carry a gun”. And if that wasn’t enough, he went on to announce that the government was considering “a larger framework to involve civilian volunteers who want to help and be of assistance”.

Street violence

What that means in practice is not hard to decipher. Nearly a year ago, the intensification of long-running moves to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem became one of the triggers for the worst inter-communal violence in Israel in at least a generation.

Palestinian citizens who staged angry demonstrations found themselves not just facing the expected crackdown from Israel’s paramilitary police, but street violence from far-right Jewish mobs that appeared to be operating in tandem with Israeli security forces.

For the first time it looked as though the Israeli leadership was moving a key feature of the occupation inside the Green Line.

In the occupied territories, armed settlers operate effectively as militias, terrorising nearby Palestinian communities, watched impassively, or sometimes assisted, by the Israeli army. They act as the long arm of the Israeli state – offering plausible deniability for Israeli officials as they exploit the settlers’ violence.

The aim of both the settlers and the Israeli state is the same: to drive Palestinians from their homes so Jewish settlers can take over the vacated land.

Last spring, the use of that same model inside Israel became harder to disguise. The Israeli government appeared to be contracting out parts of its domestic security to the same fanatical and violent settlers, allowing them to be bussed into Palestinian communities inside Israel unhindered. There they acted as vigilantes.

They smashed Palestinian shops, chanted “Death to the Arabs“, and beat up Palestinian citizens who crossed their path. At the same time, Israeli politicians from across the spectrum incited against the Palestinian minority.

Now Bennett gives every appearance of hoping to exploit the three attacks to put this earlier arrangement on a more formal footing.

Notably, a “Barel Rangers” militia has already been formed in the Negev region, in Israel’s south, where one of the attacks occurred. The founder, a former police officer, set out its purpose in a social media post: “When your life is under threat, it’s only you and the terrorist. You are the policeman, the judge and the executioner.”

Another militia has recently been established in Lod, a city near Tel Aviv, that saw the worst violence last May.

Playing with fire

Bennett’s call for “civilian volunteers” to defend the Jewish state was presumably intended to echo Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who has urged Ukrainian civilians to fight the invading Russian army. Bennett may hope that in the current international climate there will be little criticism of Jewish militias acting similarly.

But whereas Zelensky has called on Ukrainians to fight foreign invaders, Bennett is rallying militias to attack his country’s own citizens, based on their ethnicity. He is playing with fire, stoking a mood of civil war in which one side, Jewish Israelis, have the weapons and state resources, while the other – the Palestinian minority – is largely defenceless.

Notably, after the second recent attack in the Jewish city of Hadera on Tuesday – by two Palestinian citizens – a mob formed chanting “Death to the Arabs”.

Where this might lead was underscored by a retired army general, Uzi Dayan, now a member of the Israeli parliament for Netanyahu’s Likud party. He warned all of Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinian citizens to “be careful”. They faced, he said, another Nakba, or Catastrophe – the mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their homeland by Israeli militias and the army in 1948.

“If we reach a civil war situation, things will end in one word and a situation you know, which is Nakba,” he said. “This is what will happen in the end.” He added: “We are stronger. We are holding back on a lot of things.” The ethnic cleansing associated with the Nakba “was not completed”, he noted.

That is not a situation Palestinian citizens will be able to avoid if Israeli leaders will it. Many in the minority have been afraid to leave their homes, go to work or venture into Jewish areas – which is most of the country – for fear of reprisals.  And that is precisely because Bennett and Dayan represent a vast swathe of opinion in Israel that views Palestinians – even Palestinian citizens – as the enemy.

The measures being “held back”, as Dayan phrased it, could include not only more state-backed violence but efforts to strip the Palestinian minority of even their degraded citizenship status.

For nearly two decades, leaders of the far-right such as Avigdor Lieberman have been calling for loyalty pledges and transfer policies to undermine the rights of Palestinian citizens. The controversial nation-state law of 2018 chipped away further at those rights. The stage has already been set for a renewed assault on citizenship.

Racist laws

Lethal attacks carried out by members of Israel’s Palestinian minority, like the two that occurred in quick succession, are rare. They are invariably carried out by what Israel terms “lone wolves”, deeply disillusioned and alienated individuals, rather than organised by Palestinian movements inside Israel.

The Palestinian minority has preferred to deal with the systematic discrimination and oppression of living as a non-Jewish population in a self-declared Jewish state using the limited legal and political tools at its disposal.

Dozens of explicitly racist laws have been challenged in the courts, even if with minimal success. The minority has increasingly lobbied the international community for help, calls that have embarrassed Israel.

Over the past year, more and more human rights and legal groups have come forward declaring that Israel is an apartheid state, both in the occupied territories and inside Israel itself. The structural discrimination exposed by the Palestinian minority has played a crucial part in helping these organisations reach such a severe conclusion.

Leaders like Bennett, therefore, have every reason to try to exaggerate the significance posed by these attacks, suggesting as he did this week that they are part of a new “terror wave“. He has vowed to expand the scope of draconian administration detention orders – imprisonment without charge or evidence made public – to deal with this supposed wave.

Making the case more plausible for him, the three Palestinian citizens involved in the two attacks – in Beersheba and Hadera – had loose affiliations with the Islamic State (IS) group.

Grain of salt

But in reality, while the three perpetrators appear to have had ideological sympathy with IS – one even tried unsuccessfully to reach a training camp in Syria in 2016 – the group has no meaningful presence in the Palestinian population, either in the occupied territories or in Israel.

Identification with IS among a tiny section of the Palestinian public peaked five years ago, when the group looked like it might be offering a successful model for unseating the region’s corrupt and sclerotic Arab tyrants. IS’s failures and its brutality soon eroded even that small pool of support.

Assessments are that, despite its intensive spying and surveillance of Palestinians on social media, Israel has been able to identify only a few dozen IS supporters, who are in its prisons. Even in those cases, most have been detained because of ideological sympathy with the group, not because of tangible ties.

And in any case, IS has never expressed any pressing interest in attacks on Israel. A statement in 2016 made clear that the group prioritised struggle against Muslim governments that had, in its view, broken with the central tenets of Islam.

By contrast, Islamist Palestinian factions are committed to liberating the Palestinian homeland, not trying to reinvent a mythic golden era of unified Islamic rule across the Middle East. They are Palestinian national liberation movements, not jihadists.

For that reason alone, the claim by IS of responsibility for the two attacks needs to be taken with a large grain of salt. The group has an incentive to suggest involvement in the attacks because they coincided with the arrival in Israel last week of leaders of four Arab states – Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco – for a summit.

These Arab states – and others waiting in the wings – wish to make Israel the linchpin of a new shared regional security and intelligence pact designed to prevent threats to their rule, including a revival of the Arab Spring.

For IS supporters, the move is yet another humiliation, and proof of the illegitimacy of the region’s Arab autocracies.

Double whammy

These attacks were carried out by lone wolves – and in one case, a pair of lone wolves – who have become increasingly desperate, angry and vengeful after decades of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, and the complicity and betrayal by western and Arab governments.

The attackers’ surge of rage coincided with one part of the agenda of IS. But in their case, the roots penetrate much deeper.

The Palestinian perpetrators from Israel did not need indoctrination by the foreign leadership of IS to carry out their attacks. They had plenty of homegrown reasons to want to strike out – no different from the “lone-wolf” Palestinian from the West Bank who carried out a third attack near Tel Aviv but had no ties to IS.

Decades of brutal military rule in the occupied territories and systematic discrimination and oppression inside Israel were the real causes.

One cannot overlook either the double whammy from Israel against the more devout section of Israel’s Palestinian minority.

First, the best organised and most politically astute religious party in Israel, the Northern Islamic Movement under Sheikh Raed Salah, was outlawed in 2015. Israeli critics, even within the security establishment, warned at the time that the move would drive some Islamic protest underground and encourage greater extremism.

And second, the rival Southern Islamic Movement, under Mansour Abbas, threw its hand in with Bennett last summer to oust Netanyahu from power. Abbas’s party became the first to join an Israeli government, in return for a few crumbs from the far right.

Both developments have left devout Muslims who oppose Israel’s occupation and the crushing of Palestinian rights with no serious, legitimate channel for protest. They have been disempowered and humiliated – ready conditions to provoke a fringe into staging violent attacks of the kind seen in the past few days.

And to add insult to injury, Abbas’ party is supporting a government that this week allowed a virulently anti-Palestinian legislator, Itamar Ben Gvir, to tour the sacred Muslim holy site of al-Aqsa in Jerusalem under heavily armed protection. Ben Gvir wants the mosque plaza under Jewish sovereignty.

Wrong lesson

There is a lesson here that Israel willfully ignores, just as the western states who serve as its patron do too.

If you treat populations with structural violence, if you strip them of rights, if you demean and humiliate them, and if you deny them a voice in their future, you cannot be surprised – even less maintain a self-righteousness – when some lash out with their own forms of violence against you.

The wrong, self-serving lesson Israel will learn – as it has for decades – is that the correct response must be greater violence, greater humiliation, and an intensified demand for submission. The oppression will continue, as will the resistance.

The West’s unlimited support for Israel, and the Arab autocracies that are now openly cosying up to Israel, has a cost. Dismissing it as simply the savagery of IS may offer reassurance. But it will not stop the pressure from building – or the explosion to come.

First published in Middle East Eye

The post Israel is stoking a Civil War Against its Palestinian Citizens first appeared on Dissident Voice.

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t for the food either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toppled statue

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

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

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

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

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

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

I ended up writing about both events from Nazareth.

Blind to history

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

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

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

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

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

Troubling clues

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

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

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

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

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

Shroud of silence

Most of us in Britain do something very similar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divine plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perverse ideology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trade in bodies

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

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

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

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

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

Elimination strategies

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

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

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

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

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

Apartheid named

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colonial mentality

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

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

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

Being ‘offensive’

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

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

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

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

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

Into the fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russia-Ukraine War: A Different Invasion, the West’s Same ‘Madman’ Script

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How convenient for western leaders that every time another country defies the West’s projection of power, the western media can agree on one thing: that the foreign government in question is led by a madman, a psychopath or a megalomaniac.

At a drop of a hat, western leaders are absolved of guilt or even responsibility for the terrible events that unfold. The West remains virtuous, simply a victim of the world’s madmen. Nothing the West did was a provocation. Nothing they could have done would have averted the disaster.

The US may be the most powerful state on the planet by far, but its hands are apparently always tied by a deranged, implacable foe like Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Putin, we are told, is not advancing any rational – from his perspective – geopolitical or strategic interest by invading his neighbor, Ukraine. And so no concession could or should have been made because none would have prevented him from acting as he has.

The West, meaning foreign policy hawks in Washington, gets to decide when the timeline of events started, when the original sin occurred. The compliant western media give their blessing, and our hands are washed clean once again.

The subtext – always the subtext – is that something must be done to stop the “madman”. And because he is irrational and a megalomaniac, such action must never be framed in terms of concessions or compromise – that would be appeasement, after all. If every enemy is a new Hitler, no western leader will risk a comparison with Neville Chamberlain.

Instead, what is needed urgently, western politicians and media agree, is the projection – whether overtly or covertly – of yet more western power and force.

Unmitigated catastrophe

The US and British invasion of Iraq nearly two decades ago is a particularly pertinent and telling counterpoint to events in Ukraine.

Then, as now, the West was supposedly faced with a dangerous, irrational ruler who could not be made to see sense and was unwilling to compromise. Saddam Hussein, western leaders and their media insisted, had allied with his archenemies in al-Qaeda, the perpetrators of the Twin Towers attack of 9/11. He had weapons of mass destruction, and could launch them towards Europe in 45 minutes.

Except, none of that was true – not even the madman bit. Saddam was a hard, cold, calculating dictator who, like most dictators, kept himself in power through a reign of terror over his opponents.

Nonetheless, the western media faithfully amplified the tissue of evidence-free claims – and patent lies like that preposterous alliance with al-Qaeda – concocted in Washington and London to usher in the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq.

United Nations inspectors could find no trace of stockpiles of Iraq’s former biological and chemical weapons arsenal. One, Scott Ritter, went unheard as he warned that any possessed by Saddam would have turned to “harmless goo” after many years of sanctions and inspections.
The improbable 45-minute claim, meanwhile, was not based on any kind of intelligence. It was lifted straight from a student’s speculations in a doctoral dissertation. Iraq’s invasion by the US and Britain was not only illegal, of course. It had horrifying consequences. It led to the likely deaths of around a million Iraqis, and spawned a terrifying new kind of nihilistic Islamism that destabilized much of the region.

Those interests, of course, were largely concealed because they were so ignoble, flagrantly violating the so-called “rules-based order” Washington claims to uphold. But despite being an unmitigated catastrophe, the US-led invasion of Iraq was no more “irrational” than Putin’s current invasion of Ukraine. Washington’s neoconservatives advanced what they regarded as US geopolitical interests and a strategic vision for the Middle East.

What the neoconservatives wanted was variously to control Iraq’s oil, to eliminate regional pockets of resistance to its own and its client Israel’s hegemony in the Middle East, and to expand the region as an economic market for US goods and weapons.

Saddam fell into the trap set for him because he was equally motivated by his own narrowly defined “rational” self-interest. He refused to admit he had no meaningful weapons systems left after the western sanctions and inspections regimes because he did not dare to look weak, either to his own population or to hostile neighbors like Iran.

The western media’s refusal to consider the real motivations on either side – the neoconservatives’ in Washington or Saddam’s in Iraq – made the 2003 invasion and the suffering that followed all the more inevitable.

Spheres of influence

The same predilection for the simple-minded “madman” narrative has once again pushed us squarely into another international crisis. And once again, it has served as a way to avoid examining the real background to, and reasons for, what is happening in Ukraine and wider eastern Europe.

Putin’s actions – though potentially no less disastrous than the US-led invasion of Iraq, and certainly as illegal – are also rooted in his own “rational” assessment of Russian geopolitical interests.

But unlike Washington’s reasons for invading Iraq, Putin’s grounds for threatening and now invading Ukraine were not concealed. He has been quite open and consistent about the rationale for years, even if western leaders ignored his speeches, and western media rarely cited anything more than his most tub-thumping, jingoistic soundbites.

Russia has realistic objections to the behavior and bad faith of the US and NATO over the past three decades. NATO, we should remind ourselves, is primarily a creature of the Cold War, a vehicle for the West to project an aggressive military posture towards the former Soviet Union under the cover of a “defense” organization.

But following the USSR’s dissolution in 1991, the western military alliance was not disbanded. Quite the reverse. It grew to absorb almost all of the former east European states that had belonged to the Soviet bloc and it made a new bogeyman of Russia. Western military budgets climbed year by year.

Russia expects a so-called “sphere of influence“, in the same way that the US demands one. What’s been going on instead for the best part of 30 years is that the US, as the world’s sole superpower, has expanded its own sphere of influence right up to Russia’s doorstep. Like Washington, Putin has the nuclear arsenal to back up his demands. To ignore either his claim for a sphere of influence or Russia’s ability to impose it by force if necessary is either hypocrisy or foolishness.

That too paved the path to the current invasion.

Cold war mentality

But Putin has other reasons – from his perspective – to act. He also wants to show the US that there is a price to be paid for Washington’s repeated broken promises on security arrangements in Europe. Russia dissolved its own military alliance, the Warsaw Pact, after the fall of the Soviet Union in a sign both of its weakness and its willingness to reorder its relations with its neighbors.

The US and the European Union had a chance to welcome Russia into the fold, and make it a partner in Europe’s security. Instead the Cold War mentality persisted even more in western capitals than in Moscow. The West’s military bureaucracies that need war, or at least the threat of it to justify their jobs and budgets, lobbied to keep Russia at arm’s length.

Meanwhile, eastern Europe became a large, and profitable, new market for western arms makers. That paved the path to this crisis too.

And finally, Putin has every incentive to deal more decisively with the eight-year festering wound of a civil war between anti-Russian, Ukrainian nationalists and ethnic Russian fighters from the Donbas region, in Ukraine’s east. Even before the current invasion, many thousands had died.

Ukrainian nationalists want entry into NATO so it is sucked into the Donbas bloodbath on their side – fueling a war that could spiral out of control into a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia. Putin wants to show NATO and militant Ukrainians that will be no simple matter.

The invasion is intended as a shot across the bows to dissuade NATO from moving its high-wire act into Ukraine.

Western leaders were warned of all this by their own officials way back in 2008, as a leaked US diplomatic cable reveals: “Strategic policy considerations also underlie strong opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia. In Ukraine, these include fears that the issue could potentially split the country in two, leading to violence or even, some claim, civil war, which would force Russia to decide whether to intervene.”

But even now, the West is undeterred. It is losing no time in pouring yet more weapons into Ukraine, further fueling the fire.

Dangerous caricatures

None of this, of course, means Putin’s actions are virtuous, or even wise. But for some his invasion of Ukraine looks no more irrational or dangerous than NATO’s decades of provocative moves against a nuclear-armed Russia.

And here we get to the nub of the matter. The West alone defines what “rational” means – and on that basis, its enemies can always be dismissed as deranged and evil.

Western media propaganda only serves to deepen these trends in humanizing, or otherwise, those caught up in events.

As the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association observed at the weekend, much of the coverage has been blatantly racist, with western commentators noting with sympathy that those fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, unlike apparently those displaced by western invasions of the Middle East, are “like us”, “civilized” and don’t “look like refugees”.

Similarly, there is a stark contrast between the celebratory reporting of a Ukrainian “resistance” making improvised bombs against the advancing Russian army and the media’s routine denomination of Palestinians as “terrorists” for resisting Israel’s decades of occupation.

Equally, US global dominance means it dictates the military, political and diplomatic framework of international relations. Other countries, including potential rivals like Russia and China, have to operate within that framework.

That forces them to react more often than act. Which is why it is so critically important that the western media report on the events fully and honestly, not resort to easy tropes designed to turn foreign leaders into caricatures and their populations into heroes or villains.

If Putin is a madman, like Iraq’s Saddam, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders before him, then the only solution is the use of force to the bitter end.

In global power politics that potentially translates into a third European “World War”, the overthrow of Russia’s government, and Putin’s trial at The Hague or his execution. The “straitjacket” strategy. Which is precisely the catastrophic destination towards which western leaders, aided by the media, have been pushing the region over the past three decades.

There are far less dangerous ways of resolving international crises than that – but not so long as we keep peddling the myth of the “madman” enemy.

Reprinted with permission from Antiwar.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jumping ship

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian’s answer is decisive:

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

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

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

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

Just “No”.

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

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

But not so fast.

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

Sacrificial victim

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

As Murray notes:

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

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

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

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

Yes, Mischon de Reya.

Starmer and Assange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prosecutors arm-twisted

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

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

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

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

Scorched-earth tactic?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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