Category Archives: Extradiction

Don’t Extradite Assange

Last Friday’s decision by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel to authorise the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States is both deeply shameful and unsurprising. Her action paves the way for Assange to be tried under the 1917 Espionage Act, introduced by the US government shortly after entering World War I, with a sentence of 175 years if found guilty. In essence, the US wishes to set a legal precedent for the prosecution of any publisher or journalist, anywhere in the world, who reports the truth about the US.

Despite all the warnings from human rights groups, advocates of press freedom, Nils Melzer (then UN Special Rapporteur on Torture), doctors, lawyers and many other people around the world, it has long been clear that Washington is determined to punish Assange and make an example of him as a warning to others. As always, US allies will go along with what the Mafia Godfather wants.

US political journalist Glenn Greenwald noted that Patel’s act ‘further highlights the utter sham of American and British sermons about freedom, democracy and a free press.’ Assange is being persecuted relentlessly because he and WikiLeaks have arguably done more than anyone else to expose the vast extent of the crimes of US empire.

Greenwald added:

Free speech and press freedoms do not exist in reality in the U.S. or the UK. They are merely rhetorical instruments to propagandize their domestic population and justify and ennoble the various wars and other forms of subversion they constantly wage in other countries in the name of upholding values they themselves do not support. The Julian Assange persecution is a great personal tragedy, a political travesty and a grave danger to basic civic freedoms. But it is also a bright and enduring monument to the fraud and deceit that lies at the heart of these two governments’ depictions of who and what they are.

Dissident Australian journalist Caitlin Johnstone made a similar point, that Assange’s ‘refusal to bow down and submit’ has:

exposed the lie that the so-called free democracies of the western world support the free press and defend human rights. The US, UK and Australia are colluding to extradite a journalist for exposing the truth even as they claim to oppose tyranny and autocracy, even as they claim to support world press freedoms, and even as they loudly decry the dangers of government-sponsored disinformation.

Peter Oborne, an all-too-rare example of a journalist speaking out on behalf of Assange, called Patel’s decision a ‘catastrophic blow’ to press freedom. But, he said, it was a blow that had been carried out with:

the silent assent of much of the mainstream press. Too many British newspapers and broadcasters have treated the Assange case as a dirty family secret. They have failed to grasp that the Assange hearing leading up to the Patel decision is the most important case involving free speech this century.

Not only was there ‘silent assent’, but much of the media actually cheered and applauded Assange’s arrest in the Ecuadorian Embassy in April 2019 ‘with undisguised glee’, as Alan MacLeod wrote at the time:

The Daily Mail’s front-page headline (4/12/19) read, “That’ll Wipe the Smile Off His Face,” and devoted four pages to the “downfall of a narcissist” who was removed from “inside his fetid lair” to finally “face justice.” The Daily Mirror (4/11/19) described him as “an unwanted guest who abused his hospitality,” while the Times of London (4/12/19) claimed “no one should feel sorry” for the “overdue eviction.”

The Mirror (4/13/19) also published an opinion piece from Labour member of Parliament Jess Phillips that began by stating, “Finally Julian Assange, everyone’s least favourite squatter, has been kicked out of the Ecuadorian embassy.” She described the 47-year-old Australian as a “grumpy, stroppy teenager.”

Oborne also noted that Patel’s decision:

turns investigative journalism into a criminal act, and licenses the United States to mercilessly hunt down offenders wherever they can be found, bring them to justice and punish them with maximum severity.

Andrew Neil, the right-wing journalist and broadcaster, reflexively listed Assange’s supposed faults (‘reckless’, ‘stupid’, ‘narcissist’) in a Daily Mail opinion piece. But he still made clear his opposition to Assange’s extradition:

It is thanks to Assange that we know many appalling things that America would prefer we didn’t know. He does not deserve to spend the rest of his life in some high-tech American hellhole for doing what should come naturally to all good journalists — exposing what powerful people don’t want to be exposed.

The BBC’s John Simpson and Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens have also been supportive of Assange.

But the few editorials that appeared in the British ‘mainstream’, while meekly and belatedly opposing extradition, were much less damning in their comments. According to our searches of the Lexis-Nexis newspaper database, the first edition of the Independent’s editorial was titled, ‘It’s time to release Assange – he has suffered enough’. By the time the editorial appeared online, the title had been watered down to:

Justice for Julian Assange should be tempered with mercy

And an extra line had been added:

The WikiLeaks founder is no hero but nor should he be a martyr

The paper’s praise for the vital work of Assange and Wikileaks was begrudging and limited, with the usual ‘mainstream’ caveats and distortions mixed in (see Johnstone’s powerful demolition of the multiple smears against Assange):

We were resolutely unsympathetic to Mr Assange’s claim to have been unfairly treated by the British and Swedish criminal justice systems. We urged him to face justice over the allegations of rape in Sweden, and considered his self-imprisonment in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to be a form of punishment for his refusal to do so.

The Guardian, which had benefited enormously from Assange’s ground-breaking work – with many of its journalists publishing numerous snide articles and disparaging remarks about him – described Patel’s decision, with pathetic understatement, as ‘a bad day for journalism’. Of course, there was no mention in the editorial of the Guardian’s own shameful role in helping to create the conditions for Assange’s persecution; not least their fake front-page ‘news’ story in November 2018 claiming that Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, supposedly held secret talks with Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

‘How Far Have We Sunk?’

As Nils Melzer packed up and moved on from his term as the UN Special Prosecutor on Torture, on the day that Patel announced Assange’s extradition, he said:

How far have we sunk if we prosecute people who expose war crimes for exposing war crimes?

How far have we sunk when we no longer prosecute our own war criminals because we identify more with them than we identify with the people that actually exposed these crimes?

What does that tell about us and about our governments?

How far have we sunk when telling the truth becomes a crime?

The questions were left hanging in the air. But anyone with basic standards of ethics and wisdom knows that a society which has sunk this low is being governed by so-called ‘leaders’ who:

  • are lacking in ethics and wisdom;
  • are driven by concerns shaped by power and profit;
  • will attempt to crush anyone who dares to expose their crimes;
  • spout deceptive rhetoric – faithfully amplified and propagated by state-corporate media – proclaiming the West’s supposed virtues and respect for ‘freedom’, ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’.

The persecution of Julian Assange has brought all this to the fore.

Yes, there are tiny windows in the ‘MSM’ for eloquent expressions of the truth; such as Peter Oborne’s Guardian opinion piece cited above. But the general drift of the ‘Overton Window’ – the ‘acceptable’, tightly limited range of news and debate – has shifted towards the hard right, with journalists and commentators squeezed out for being deemed ‘toxic’, ‘radioactive’ or otherwise ‘dangerous’.

Thus, in 2018, John Pilger, one of the finest journalists who has ever appeared in the British media, observed that:

My written journalism is no longer welcome in the Guardian which, three years ago, got rid of people like me in pretty much a purge of those who really were saying what the Guardian no longer says any more.’

The Guardian is a prime stoker of revitalised Cold War rhetoric about the ‘threat’ of Russia and China, mirroring what is prevalent across the whole ‘spectrum’ of ‘mainstream’ news. Indeed, as revealed by Declassified UK, an independent investigative news website, the UK’s leading liberal newspaper has essentially been ‘neutralised’ by the UK security services. Mark Curtis, editor and co-founder of Declassified UK, observed that the paper’s:

limited coverage of British foreign and security policies gives a misleading picture of what the UK does in the world. The paper is in reality a defender of Anglo-American power and a key ideological pillar of the British establishment.

Selective Moral Outrage

In a recent interview, David Barsamian asked Noam Chomsky:

In the media, and among the political class in the United States, and probably in Europe, there’s much moral outrage about Russian barbarity, war crimes, and atrocities. No doubt they are occurring as they do in every war. Don’t you find that moral outrage a bit selective though?

Chomsky responded:

The moral outrage is quite in place. There should be moral outrage. But you go to the Global South, they just can’t believe what they’re seeing. They condemn the war, of course. It’s a deplorable crime of aggression. Then they look at the West and say: What are you guys talking about? This is what you do to us all the time.’

So, when the long-suffering people of the Global South encounter western news reports about Putin being the worst war criminal since Hitler:

They don’t know whether to crack up in laughter or ridicule. We have war criminals walking all over Washington. Actually, we know how to deal with our war criminals. In fact, it happened on the twentieth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. Remember, this was an entirely unprovoked invasion, strongly opposed by world opinion. There was an interview with the perpetrator, George W. Bush, who then went on to invade Iraq, a major war criminal, in the style section of the Washington Post — an interview with, as they described it, this lovable goofy grandpa who was playing with his grandchildren, making jokes, showing off the portraits he painted of famous people he’d met. Just a beautiful, friendly environment.’

In the UK, the war criminal Tony Blair – another key player in the post-9/11 ‘War on Terror’ that led to at least 1.3 million deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – was recently “honoured’ by the Queen. He became ‘a member of the Order of the Garter, the most senior royal order of chivalry’. This archaic nonsense is yet another symptom of the deeply-embedded, medieval stratification of British society, and the baubles that are handed out to preserve ‘order’ and ‘tradition’. This is revealing of the sickness at the heart of our society.

Chomsky gave another example of how the West’s war criminals are lauded:

Take probably the major war criminal of the modern period, Henry Kissinger. We deal with him not only politely, but with great admiration. This is the man after all who transmitted the order to the Air Force, saying that there should be massive bombing of Cambodia — “anything that flies on anything that moves” was his phrase. I don’t know of a comparable example in the archival record of a call for mass genocide. And it was implemented with very intensive bombing of Cambodia.

The ‘justification’ for the extreme violence meted out by the West towards the Middle East and the Global South is always couched in propaganda terms proclaiming the protection of ‘human rights’, ‘democracy’ and ‘global security’. But, noted Chomsky:

The security of the population is simply not a concern for policymakers. Security for the privileged, the rich, the corporate sector, arms manufacturers, yes, but not the rest of us. This doublethink is constant, sometimes conscious, sometimes not. It’s just what Orwell described, hyper-totalitarianism in a free society.

Chomsky concluded:

Meanwhile, we pour taxpayer funds into the pockets of the fossil-fuel producers so that they can continue to destroy the world as quickly as possible. That’s what we’re witnessing with the vast expansion of both fossil-fuel production and military expenditures. There are people who are happy about this. Go to the executive offices of Lockheed Martin, ExxonMobil, they’re ecstatic. It’s a bonanza for them. They’re even being given credit for it. Now, they’re being lauded for saving civilization by destroying the possibility for life on Earth. Forget the Global South. If you imagine some extraterrestrials, if they existed, they’d think we were all totally insane. And they’d be right.

The appalling treatment of Julian Assange, especially set beside the ‘honouring’ and eulogising of the West’s war criminals, is symptomatic of this insanity.

In a brave and eloquent interview, Stella Assange, Julian’s wife and mother of their two young children, declared that:

We’re going to fight.

An appeal to Britain’s High Court will be lodged within 14 days of Patel’s decision by Assange’s lawyers. As Stella Assange noted, one of the many unjust aspects of the US case against her husband is that, under the Trump administration, the CIA had plotted to assassinate Assange:

Extradition to the country that has plotted his assassination is just – I have no words. Obviously, this shouldn’t be happening. It can never happen.

She continued:

That is just the tip of the iceberg of the criminal activity that has gone on, on behalf of those putting Julian in prison. For example, inside the [Ecuadorian] Embassy his legal meetings – his confidential privileged legal conversations with his lawyers – were being recorded and shipped to the United States.

All these elements have come out since Julian’s arrest and incarceration. And we now know so much about the abuse and outright criminality that has been going on against Julian. There’s no chance of a fair trial.

She added:

‘And then you have the actual case. He’s charged under the Espionage Act. He faces 175 years. There is no public interest defence under the Espionage Act. It’s the first time it’s being repurposed; it’s being used against a publisher. It’s an Act that’s been repurposed in order to criminalise journalism, basically. And, of course, if you say that publishing information is a crime, then Julian’s guilty. He published information and he faces a lifetime in prison for it.

In conclusion, she said:

The case is a complete aberration. That’s why you have all these major press freedom organisations and human rights organisations saying that this has to be dropped.

We can take a significant step towards a saner society by shouting loudly for Julian Assange to be freed immediately. A good start would be to share widely this video from Double Down News in which Stella Assange describes the importance of the case and how we can all help.

Please also visit the Don’t Extradite Assange website to see what actions you can take now.

The post Don’t Extradite Assange first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Predictable Monstrosities: Priti Patel Approves Assange’s Extradition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Brooms, Old Stories: The Australian Labor Party and Julian Assange

After having a few lunches with Australia’s then opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, John Shipton felt reason to be confident.  Albanese had promised Assange’s father that he would do whatever he could, should he win office, to bring the matter to a close.

In December 2019, before a gathering at the Chifley Research Centre, Albanese also referred to Assange.  “You don’t prosecute journalists for doing their job.”  In December 2021, he also expressed the view that the “ongoing pursuit of Mr Assange” served no evident “purpose” – “enough is enough”.

That said, prior to winning office, the Labor opposition was hardly making disruptive ripples on the subject.  “As an Australian, he is entitled to consular assistance,” came the anaemic remark from Senator Penny Wong and opposition spokesperson for foreign affairs in April.  “We also expect the government to keep seeking assurances from both the UK and US that he’s treated fairly and humanely … Consular matters are regularly raised with counterparts, they are regularly raised and this one would be no different.”

The problem with these assurances is precisely why such a stance is woefully, even disgracefully, inadequate.  These have no weight or bearing in law and can be ignored.  Power lies, and absolute power lies absolutely.  Such a crucial point was blithely ignored by Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Ian Burnett, and Lord Justice Timothy Holroyde, in their December 2021 decision.  In reversing the lower court decision, the justices thought little of questioning the bad faith of Washington’s guarantees that Assange would not spend time in the ADX Florence supermax, or face special administrative measures (SAMs), were he to be extradited. These might have been made at the initial trial, but the prosecutors decided, after the fact, to change their tune on appeal.

Within the new government, there are Labor members who insist that Assange be freed.  Julian Hill MP is one, convinced that Albanese, as Australia’s new Labor Prime Minister, would be a “man of integrity” and be true to his “values”.  Within his own party, there were members “who have had an active involvement in the Assange group based on these critical principles – press freedom and fighting against the chilling effect on the media that this persecution would have – and would hope that our government could achieve an outcome.”

A number of voices outside politics have also urged the new government to make urgent representations to Washington to change the prosecutorial, and persecuting tone, against the WikiLeaks founder.  Guy Rundle insists on “some form of official representation” to the US to end extradition efforts which would see Assange charged under the Espionage Act of 1917.  “It should also make representation to the UK government to refuse extradition immediately, and release Assange.”

Rundle is also correct to note that Labor’s form on Assange is pure in its rottenness.  Given the chance – as in 2018 and 2019 –  it has generously exploited security leaks used by journalist Annika Smethurst to attack the proposed expansion of surveillance powers.

Stuart Rees, founder of the Sydney Peace Foundation, senses a new form of politics “in the air.”  Citing Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s remarks that there could be no future without generosity and forgiveness, he sees any intervention to free Assange as “a next step towards recovery of national self-respect.”  The only thing for Albanese to do: get on the phone to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to cancel the extradition.

Despite the changing of the guard in Canberra, it should not be forgotten that it was a Labor government, led by the country’s first female prime minister, Julia Gilliard, who accused Assange of illegality in publishing US State Department cables in 2010.  Gillard, impetuously and inaccurately, tried to impress her US counterparts in tarring and feathering WikiLeaks.  “Let’s not try and put any glosses over this,” she stated in December that year. “It would not happen, information would not be on WikiLeaks if there had not been an illegal act undertaken.”

All zealous and afire with premature purpose, Gillard sent in the Australian Federal Police to investigate the matter, hoping that it would “provide the government with some advice about potential criminal conduct of the individual involved.”  The priority here was identifying any Australian laws that might have been broken, since she did not feel up to the task.  And there was, she claimed perversely, “the common sense test about the gross irresponsibility of this conduct.”  Not a fan of exposing state illegality, notably by the US, was Julia.

Such conduct, at the time, did more than raise eyebrows.  Opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis failed to identify any relevant law that might have been breached, either Australian or US.  Liberty Victoria president Spencer Zifcak was “astonished” that a lawyer of presumed competence could have made such remarks.  “There is no charge, there is no trial, there is no properly constituted court, and yet the Prime Minister deems it appropriate to say that Mr Assange has committed a criminal offence.”

Within less than a fortnight, the AFP, in concluding its investigation, informed Attorney-General Robert McClelland that “given the documents published to date are classified by the United States, the primary jurisdiction for any further investigation into the matter remains the United States.”  After evaluating the material concerned, the federal police had failed to establish “the existence of any criminal offences where Australia would have jurisdiction”.

How the publisher’s fate is handled will be revealing of the new government’s attitude to traditional alliances.  Albanese, when asked this week how he would approach the Assange case, had removed the hat of candour.  “My position is that not all foreign affairs is best done with the loudhailer.”  Now more embedded than ever in the US security framework, crowned by the AUKUS alliance, the length Australian politicians and officials will go to rock the boat of cordial understanding on the issue of Assange is unlikely to be extensive.  Even if Albanese prefers to put the loudhailer aside, the prospects of seeming supine and looking ineffectual are brutally real.

The post New Brooms, Old Stories: The Australian Labor Party and Julian Assange 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.

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.

Julian Assange: A Thousand Days in Belmarsh

Julian Assange has now been in the maximum-security facilities of Belmarsh prison for over 1,000 days.  On the occasion of his 1,000th day of imprisonment, campaigners, supporters and kindred spirits gathered to show their support, indignation and solidarity at this political detention most foul.

Alison Mason of the Julian Assange Defence Committee reiterated those observations long made about the imprisonment at a gathering outside the Australian High Commission in London on that day.  The WikiLeaks founder was wrongfully confined “for publishing the war crimes of the US military leaked to him by whistleblower Chelsea Manning.”  She, along with supporters, had gathered before the High Commission “because Julian’s country could save him with a simple phone call.”   Mason’s admirably simple reasoning: that Australia had “a bargaining chip with AUKUS and trade deals.”  If only that were true.

The continued detention of Assange in Belmarsh remains a scandal of kaleidoscopic cruelty.  It continues to imperil his frail health, further impaired by a stroke suffered in October last year and the ongoing risks associated with COVID-19.  It maintains a state of indefinite incarceration without bail, deputising the United Kingdom as committed gaolers for US interests. “Julian,” stated his fiancée Stella Moris, “is simply held at the request of the US government while they continue to abuse the US-UK extradition treaty for political ends.”

A report drawn from unannounced visits to Belmarsh by the Chief Inspector of Prisons last July and August did not shine glorious light upon the institution.  “The prison has not paid sufficient attention to the growing levels of self-harm and there was not enough oversight or care taken of prisoners of risk of suicide.  Urgent action needed to be taken in this area to make sure that these prisoners were kept safe.”

The next gruelling stage of Assange’s confinement is being marked by an appeal against the High Court’s unfathomable, and even gullible overturning of the lower court decision against his extradition to the United States.  The US Department of Justice (DoJ) continues to seek the extradition of the WikiLeaks founder to face 18 charges, 17 based on that relic of state paranoia and vengeance, the US Espionage Act of 1917.  A successful prosecution could see him face a 175-year sentence.

The original decision, shoddy as it was for the cause of journalism, accepted that the extradition would be oppressive within the meaning of the US-UK Extradition Act.  District Court Justice Vanessa Baraitser accepted the defence contention that such oppression arose from Assange’s “mental condition”.  Despite relentless prosecution attacks on the neuropsychiatric evidence adduced by the defence, the judge accepted that Assange was autistic and would be at serious risk of suiciding in the US prison system. The prosecutors also failed in convincing the court that Special Administrative Measures would not be applied that would restrict his access to legal counsel and family, and ensure solitary confinement. They also failed to show that he would not, on being convicted, serve his time in the vicious supermax prison, Colorado’s ADX Florence.

The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Ian Burnett, and Lord Justice Timothy Holroyde, were having none of that.  In their December ruling, the High Court accepted the prosecution appeal that the US could easily make assurances for keeping Assange in better conditions despite not doing so at the original trial.  The Lord Justices also proved crotchety at the fact that Baraitser had not gone out of her way to seek those assurances in the first place.  Besides, Britain could trust the good diplomatic undertakings of the United States.

So it came to pass that muddle headed judicial reasoning prevailed on the bench.  There was no mention of the fabricated evidence being relied upon by the prosecution, or the discomforting fact that operatives in the US Central Intelligence Agency had contemplated kidnapping and poisoning Assange.  Nothing, either, about the US-sanctioned surveillance operation conducted by the Spanish security firm, UC Global, during his time in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Work on the appeal began immediately.  Solicitors Birnberg Peirce, in a statement, outlined the importance of the application.  “We believe serious and important issues of law and wider public importance are being raised in this application.  They arise from the court’s judgment and its receipt and reliance on US assurances regarding the prison regimes and treatment of Mr Assange is likely to face if extradited.”

The wider public importance of the case is hard to measure.  Authoritarian governments and sham democracies the world over are gleefully taking notes.  Liberal democratic states with increasingly autocratic approaches to media outlets are also going to see promise in the way the United States is using extradition law to nab a publisher.  Black letter lawyers will err in assuming that this matter is narrow and specific to the wording of a treaty between two countries.

Having already done untold damage to the cause of publishing national security information that exposes atrocities and violations of law domestic and international, the US is making the claim that the Extradition Act, in all its nastiness, has tentacled global reach.  A phone call from Australia’s insipid Prime Minister Scott Morrison will hardly matter to this.  He, and other members of Washington’s unofficial imperial court, will do as they are told.

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Voices of Concern: Aussies for Assange’s Return

With Julian Assange now fighting the next stage of efforts to extradite him to the United States to face 18 charges, 17 of which are based on the brutal, archaic Espionage Act, some Australian politicians have found their voice.  It might be said that a few have even found their conscience.

Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was sufficiently exercised by the High Court judgment overturning the lower court ruling against extradition to demand an end to the matter.  In his opinion piece for the Nine newspaper group on December 14, he argued that rights were “not created in some legal sonic boom at one undefined point of our existence nor switched off like the power to a fridge because of a fear or a confusion as to the worth of their contents.”

The deputy PM proved mature enough to admit that “whether you like him or despite him”, the importance of the case transcended his situation.  “So we must hope for the British courts to do so, and we will judge its society accordingly.” (They have not and, accordingly, should be judged.)

The Nationals leader has little time for the role of whistleblowing or disclosing egregious misconduct by a State; less time for Assange as the publisher in history, the exposer of crimes by a great power.  “They are a separate matter to the key issue: where was this individual when he was allegedly breaking US law for which the US is now seeking his extradition from London?”

Joyce’s reasoning, while jejune on the historical contributions of WikiLeaks, has the merit of unusual clarity.  He argues that the UK “should try him there for any crime he is alleged to have committed on British soil or send him back to Australia, where he is a citizen.”  Assange never pilfered any US secret files; did not breach Australian laws and was not in the US when “the event being deliberated in the court now in London occurred.”  To extradite him to the US would not only be unjust but bizarre.  “If he insulted the Koran, would he be extradited to Saudi Arabia?”

The move by the Nationals leader also brought a few voices of support from the woodwork.  Liberal backbenchers Jason Falinski and Bridget Archer are encouraging diplomatic intervention.  Falinski suggested that the Morrison government “do what it can to get an Australian citizen back to Australia as quickly as possible” though he refused to entertain “a public spat with America”.  Archer believed that “he should be released and returned to Australia”.

The announcement that Caroline Kennedy would be heading Down Under as the new US ambassador to Australia was also seen as an opportunity.  Former Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr suggested to that Prime Minister Scott Morrison take the chance to discuss the Assange case with Kennedy.  (This, from a man who once claimed that Assange “has had more consular support in a comparable time than any other Australian” while admitting that he did not “know whether this is the case.”)

Morrison might, suggests Carr, point out that Australia had its own challenges in facing war crimes allegations, notably “war crimes trials pending for Australian troops in Afghanistan who might have done the very things Assange exposed in Iraq.”  Washington’s treatment of the publisher could well “turn this guy into a martyr.”

Carr sees such advice as part of the capital of trust between allies.  It was a “small transaction under the architecture of what each sees as a mutually beneficial relationship.”  It might even show that Australia was capable of behaving “like a sovereign nation” in “one tiny corner of our alliance partnership”. If Canberra were unable to “take up the cause of an Australian passport holder, what scope for any independent action do we allow ourselves?”

The former foreign minister shows, at stages, flashes of ignorance about aspects of the proceedings (the US prosecution, for instance, made a special point in not mentioning the Collateral Murder video in its proceedings), he is at least cognisant of the monstrous defects in the case, not least the fact that a good deal of the indictment is based on falsified accounts from former WikiLeaks volunteer, Sigurdur “Siggi” Thordarson.

The latest stirring of principled awareness in Australia should be treated warily.  Australian governments tend to protect their citizens with a begrudging reluctance, except in the rarest of cases.  They are notorious in playing the game of surrender and capitulation.  In the context of the US-Australian alliance, one given an even more solid filling with the AUKUS security pact, the hope that Australia would ever be able to exercise sovereign choices on any issue that affects US security is almost inconceivable.

The lamentable behaviour from Canberra regarding Assange’s welfare has also been brought to light by the tireless exploits of lawyer Kellie Tranter.  Using Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, Tranter developed a timeline revealing how Australian officials were updated on Assange’s condition (legal and physical) yet did little in the way of addressing it.  Kit Klarenberg, making use of Tranter’s findings, also discusses the extent Australian officials knew about Assange’s plight.

In April 2019, for instance, the lawyer Gareth Pierce, acting for Assange, wrote to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) warning that the publisher’s possessions were being held by the Ecuadorian authorities.  These included a stash of privileged legal documents.  DFAT, while claiming it would chase the matter up, concluded in May 2019 that Assange’s possessions were “under the authority and jurisdiction of the Judicial System of the Republic of Ecuador”.  Australian diplomats, it followed, were unable to intervene.  The result: Assange’s documents, held by the Ecuadorians, were seized by the FBI.

As extradition proceedings were taking place, Peirce wrote to the Australian High Commission that consular representatives would have “undoubtedly noted what was clear for everyone present in court to observe” – that the publisher was “in shockingly poor condition … struggling not only to cope but to articulate what he wishes to articulate.” DFAT’s report of those proceedings, intentionally or otherwise, was stonily silent on the issue.

Throughout, DFAT maintained that Assange had refused consular assistance or support.  This was a point the publisher took up in a meeting at Belmarsh prison with consular officials on November 1, 2019, claiming that to be misguided nonsense.  He also noted concerns by the prison doctor about his state, being “so bad that his mind was shutting down”, the appalling state of isolation which made it impossible for him “to think or to prepare his defence.”

Little then, can be expected from the compliant minions in Canberra desperately keen not to soil or sour relations with Washington.  But it is at least mildly heartening that a few members of the Morrison government have woken up to the fact that this grotesque act of persecution against a publisher should end.

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The hounding of Julian Assange leaves honest journalism with no refuge

It is no accident that Julian Assange, the digital transparency activist and journalist who founded Wikileaks to help whistleblowers tell us what western governments are really up to in the shadows, has spent 10 years being progressively disappeared into those very same shadows.

His treatment is a crime similar to those Wikileaks exposed when it published just over a decade ago hundreds of thousands of leaked materials – documents we were never supposed to see – detailing war crimes committed by the United States and Britain in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These two western countries killed non-combatants and carried out torture not, as they claimed, in the pursuit of self-defence or in the promotion of democracy, but to impose control over a strategic, resource-rich region.

It is the ultimate, ugly paradox that Assange’s legal and physical fate rests in the hands of two states that have the most to lose by allowing him to regain his freedom and publish more of the truths they want to keep concealed. By redefining his journalism as “espionage” – the basis for the US extradition claim – they are determined to keep the genie stuffed in the bottle.

Eyes off the ball

Last week, in overturning a lower court decision that should have allowed Assange to walk free, the English High Court consented to effectively keep Assange locked up indefinitely.  He is a remand prisoner – found guilty of no crime – and yet he will continue rotting in solitary confinement for the foreseeable future, barely seeing daylight or other human beings, in Belmarsh high-security prison alongside Britain’s most dangerous criminals.

The High Court decision forces our eyes off the ball once again. Assange and his supposed “crime” of seeking transparency and accountability has become the story rather than the crimes he exposed that were carried out by the US to lay waste to whole regions and devastate the lives of millions.

The goal is to stop the public conducting the debate Assange wanted to initiate through his journalism: about western state crimes. Instead the public is being deflected into a debate his persecutors want: whether Assange can ever safely be allowed out of his cell.

Assange’s lawyers are being diverted from the real issues too. They will now be tied up for years fighting endless rearguard actions, caught up in the search for legal technicalities, battling to win a hearing in any court they can, to prevent his extradition to the United States to stand trial.

The process itself has taken over. And while the legal minutiae are endlessly raked over, the substance of the case – that it is US and British officials who ought to be held responsible for committing war crimes – will be glossed over.

Permanently silenced

But it is worse than the legal injustice of Assange’s case. There may be no hack-saws needed this time, but this is as visceral a crime against journalism as the dismemberment of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi officials back in 2018.

And the outcome for Assange is only slightly less preordained than it was for Khashoggi when he entered the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. The goal for US officials has always been about permanently disappearing Assange. They are indifferent about how that is achieved.

If the legal avenue is a success, he will eventually head to the US where he can be locked away for up to 175 years in severe solitary confinement in a super-max jail – that is, till long past his death from natural causes. But there is every chance he will not survive that long. Last January, a British judge rejected extraditing Julian Assange to the US over his “suicide risk“, and medical experts have warned that it will be only a matter of time before he succeeds.

That was why the district court blocked extradition – on humanitarian grounds. Those grounds were overturned by the High Court last week only because the US offered “assurances” that measures would be in place to ensure Assange did not commit suicide. But Assange’s lawyers pointed out: those assurances “were not enough to address concerns about his fragile mental health and high risk of suicide”. These concerns should have been apparent to the High Court justices.

Further, dozens of former officials in the Central Intelligence Agency and the previous US administration have confirmed that the agency planned to execute Assange in an extrajudicial operation in 2017. That was shortly before the US was forced by circumstance to switch to the current, formal extradition route. The arguments now made for his welfare by the same officials and institutions that came close to killing him should never have been accepted as made in good faith.

In fact, there is no need to speculate about the Americans’ bad faith. It is only too apparent in the myriad get-out clauses in the “assurances” they provided. Those assurances can be dropped, for example, if US officials decide Assange is not being cooperative. The promises can and will be disregarded the moment they become an encumbrance on Washington’s ability to keep Assange permanently silenced.

‘Trapped in a cage’

But if losing the extradition battle is high stakes, so is the legal process itself. That could finish Assange off long before a decision is reached, as his fiancee Stella Moris indicated at the weekend. She confirmed that Assange suffered a small stroke during a hearing in October in the endless extradition proceedings. There are indications he suffered neurological damage, and is now on anti-stroke medication to try to stop a recurrence.

Assange and his friends believe the stroke was brought on by the constant double strain of his solitary confinement in Belmarsh and a legal process being conducted over his head, in which he is barely allowed to participate.

Nils Melzer, the United Nations expert on torture, has repeatedly warned that Assange has been subjected to prolonged psychological torture in the nine years since he fled into Ecuador’s embassy in London seeking asylum from US efforts to persecute him.

That form of torture, Melzer has pointed out, was refined by the Nazis because it was found to be far more effective at breaking people than physical torture. Moris told the Daily Mail: “[The stroke] compounds our fears about [Assange’s] ability to survive the longer this long legal battle goes on. … Look at animals trapped in cages in a zoo. It cuts their life short. That’s what’s happening to Julian.”

And that indeed looks to be the prize for US officials that wanted him assassinated anyway. Whatever happens to Assange, the lawless US security state wins: it either gets him behind bars forever, or it kills him quietly and quite lawfully, while everyone is distracted, arguing about who Assange is rather what he exposed.

Political prisoner

In fact, with each twist and turn of the proceedings against Assange we move further from the realities at the heart of the case towards narrative distractions.

Who remembers now the first extradition hearings, nearly two years ago, at which the court was reminded that the very treaty signed by Britain and the US that is the basis for Assange’s extradition explicitly excludes political cases of the kind being pursued by the US against Assange?

It is a victory for state criminality that the discussion has devolved to Assange’s mental health rather than a substantive discussion of the treaty’s misapplication to serve political ends.

And similarly the focus on US assurances regarding Assange’s wellbeing is intended to obscure the fact that a journalist’s work is being criminalised as “espionage” for the first time under a hurriedly drafted, draconian and discredited piece of First World War legislation, the 1917 Espionage Act. Because Assange is a political prisoner suffering political persecution, legal arguments are apparently powerless to save him. It is only a political campaign that can keep underscoring the sham nature of the charges he faces.

The lies of power

What Assange bequeathed us through Wikileaks was a harsh light capable of cutting through the lies of power and power of lies. He showed that western governments claiming the moral high ground were actually committing crimes in our name out of sight in far-off lands. He tore the mask off their hypocrisy.

He showed that the many millions who took to the streets in cities around the world in 2003 because they knew the US and UK would commit war crimes in Iraq were right to march. But he also confirmed something worse: that their opposition to the war was treated with utter contempt.

The US and UK did not operate more carefully, they were not more respectful of human rights, they did not tread more lightly in Iraq because of those marches, because of the criticism beforehand. The western war machine carried on regardless, crushing the lives of anyone who got caught up in its maw.

Now with Assange locked up and silenced, western foreign policy can return comfortably to the era of zero accountability that existed before Assange shook up the whole system with his revelations. No journalist will dare to repeat what Assange did – not unless they are ready to spend the rest of their days behind bars.

The message his abuse sends to others could not be clearer or more chilling: what happened to Assange could happen to you too.

The truth is journalism is already reeling from the combined assaults against Khashoggi and Assange. But the hounding of Assange strikes the bigger blow. It leaves honest journalism with no refuge, no sanctuary anywhere in the world.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post The hounding of Julian Assange leaves honest journalism with no refuge first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Day in the Death of British Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Journalism, Assange and Reversal in the High Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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