Category Archives: Incarceration

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.

Those Who Violated the Geneva Conventions at Guantánamo Are Free, While the Man who Helped Expose Their Crimes Languishes in Prison

Ahmed Rabbani (Pakistan), Untitled (Grape Arbor), 2016. Rabbani endured 545 days of torture at the hands of the CIA before he was transferred to Guantánamo in 2004. He has been in the prison without charge since then.

Ahmed Rabbani (Pakistan), Untitled (Grape Arbor), 2016. Rabbani endured 545 days of torture at the hands of the CIA before he was transferred to Guantánamo in 2004. He has been in the prison without charge since then.

Twenty years ago, on 11 January 2002, the United States government brought its first ‘detainees’ abducted during the so-called War on Terror to its military prison in Guantánamo Bay. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, ‘We do plan to, for the most part, treat them in a manner that is reasonably consistent with the Geneva Conventions’. For the most part. Evidence began to emerge almost immediately – including from the International Committee of the Red Cross – that the Geneva Conventions were being violated and that many of the prisoners were being tortured. By December 2002, the US media began to report that ‘many held at Guantánamo [were] not likely terrorists’.

Nearly 780 known ‘detainees’ have been caged in the prison over these past two decades; currently 39 men remain, most of whom have never been charged. While US President Joe Biden has said that he wants to close the detention camp, he has, in fact, authorised plans to expand it. The Biden administration is spending $4 million to build a new secret courtroom in the facility, which will be closed to the public. Whether the remaining prisoners will now be granted trials and have their fates decided upon is yet to be seen. On 10 January 2022, independent experts of the United Nations Human Rights Council found that ‘Guantánamo Bay is a site of unparalleled notoriety, defined by the systematic use of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against hundreds of men brought to the site and deprived of their most fundamental rights’.

Ibrahim El-Salahi (Sudan), Vision of the Tomb, 1965.

Ibrahim El-Salahi (Sudan), Vision of the Tomb, 1965.

One of these men, Sami al-Hajj, was picked up by Pakistani troops on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border on 15 December 2001 and then handed over to the US on 6 January 2002. Al-Hajj was then transferred to Guantánamo on 14 June 2002, where he remained until his release to Doha, Qatar on 31 May 2008. The US government accused al-Hajj of being a member of al-Qaeda as well as part of the leadership of both the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood. He was also accused of providing weapons and funds to groups in Chechnya via the Saudi charity al-Haramain.

We know these details about al-Hajj thanks to the Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs) leaked to the media via WikiLeaks in April 2011. These Gitmo Files are remarkable because each of the DABs show us the misinformation at the base of the War on Terror. A close reading of al-Hajj’s DAB shows that he was not a leader of any of these organisations; he was actually a journalist with Al Jazeera. Al-Hajj began working for Al Jazeera in early 2000 and was sent to Afghanistan in October 2001 to work with his colleagues Yusuf al-Sholy and Saddah Abdul Haq. There was no evidence that al-Hajj was a member of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the DAB, he was brought to Guantánamo to give information about Al Jazeera’s training programme as well as various charity groups that operated in Azerbaijan, Kosovo, and Macedonia.

In 2007, al-Hajj’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, wrote that his client had ‘been on hunger strike for more than 230 days, more than three times as long as the IRA strikers in 1980’. When al-Hajj arrived in Doha, he said that he had been interrogated 130 times, ‘mostly related to his work with Al Jazeera’.

The DABs helped lawyers such as Stafford Smith find out who was behind the fence at Guantánamo and what lies were being told about them. Thanks to WikiLeaks, this information was made public. No one responsible for the crimes at Guantánamo has been tried for the ‘systematic use of torture’, as human rights experts have noted. Yet the co-founder and publisher of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, sits in Belmarsh Prison, Britain’s Guantánamo. The US seeks to extradite him to face charges of espionage. Who is Julian Assange and why is the US so desperate for his extradition? Along with the International Peoples’ Assembly, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research has produced the following Red Alert no. 13, Free Julian Assange.

Who is Julian Assange and what is WikiLeaks?

Julian Assange is an Australian journalist and publisher who co-founded WikiLeaks in 2006. WikiLeaks is a website that was designed to publish documents leaked to it anonymously by officials from governments and corporations. The project was inspired by Daniel Ellsberg’s 1971 release of the Pentagon Papers, a US government internal document that showed the extent of its deceit in prosecuting the war in Vietnam. Between 2006 and 2009, WikiLeaks published a series of important documents that contained revelations such as the membership list of the fascist British National Party (2008), the Petrogate oil scandal in Peru (2009), and a report on the US-Israeli cyber-attack on Iranian nuclear energy facilities (2009). In 2013, the International Federation of Journalists called WikiLeaks a ‘new breed of media organisation based on the public’s right to know’.

In 2010, while based in Iraq, US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning downloaded hundreds of thousands of documents, including videos, from US government servers. She sent them to WikiLeaks with a note, saying, ‘This is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare’. In November 2010, WikiLeaks partnered with major newspapers (Der Spiegel, El Pais, The Guardian, Le Monde, The New York Times) to publish the diplomatic cables (CableGate) that came from Manning’s tranche of documents. WikiLeaks also published the Iraq War Logs and the Afghan War Diaries, which contained materials that suggested that US forces had committed war crimes in both countries. Amongst these documents was a classified video from 2007 showing US forces killing civilians, including employees of the news organisation Reuters. This video, released by WikiLeaks as Collateral Murder, had an enormous impact on public opinion about the nature of US warfare.

In November 2010, US Attorney General Eric Holder said that his office had opened ‘an active, ongoing criminal investigation’ against WikiLeaks.

Why is Julian Assange in Belmarsh Prison (London, UK)?

By early December 2010, senior US politicians called upon the US government to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act (1917). Sexual assault allegations in Sweden drew Assange into a legal net. While willing to return to Sweden to face the allegations, he wanted an undertaking that Sweden would not extradite him to the US, where he faced life imprisonment on potential espionage charges. Sweden, in close contact with the US, refused to provide this undertaking. In 2012, Assange received asylum at Ecuador’s embassy in London. In April 2019, Ecuador’s government – in exchange for what it considered a favourable deal with the International Monetary Fund – handed Assange over to British authorities. Assange was taken to Belmarsh prison to await hearings for extradition not to Sweden, which had dropped its investigation, but to the United States.

The US government indicted Assange on 18 charges related to the obtaining and publishing of classified documents, which could result in a sentence of up to 175 years in prison. However, 17 of these charges were only levied after Assange entered British custody. Initially, Assange was only charged with conspiring with Manning to crack a password and hack into the Pentagon’s computer system, which on its own carries a short prison term of up to 5 years. The problem here, it appears, is that the US government has no evidence that Assange colluded with Manning to break into US servers; Manning says that she acted alone in acquiring and delivering the documents to WikiLeaks.

Thus, the US government seeks to bring Assange to the US to be tried under the Espionage Act for soliciting, obtaining, and then publishing classified information – in other words, precisely the work of an investigative journalist. It is journalism, therefore, that Assange is being prosecuted for.

What can you do to free Julian Assange from prison?

Mobilise. Take to the streets on 25 February 2022. Protest outside the embassies and consulates of the United Kingdom and the United States. Demand that these governments respect international law and Julian Assange’s fundamental rights.

Send a letter. Sign this letter drafted by the International Peoples’ Assembly and send it to your local British embassy or consulate telling them to respect their legal responsibilities.

Participate. Follow the International Peoples’ Assembly on social media to learn more about Assange’s case and his contributions to the anti-imperialist struggle today. Share our materials with your communities and movements. Help us get the word out about why we must #FreeAssangeNOW! Register online to participate in the Belmarsh Tribunal to free Julian Assange.

In 2020, Roger Waters spoke at a rally for Julian Assange in London. In his closing remarks, he shared a story about his mother:

As a young supply schoolteacher in the North of England before the war, she saw the children of mill workers walking barefoot to school through snow in the depths winter. In that moment, my mother’s light went on, and it stayed on, burning bright for the rest of her life. One day, when I was thirteen or fourteen, she said to me, ‘As you go through life, Roger, you will encounter difficult times and difficult questions that you will need to ponder. It won’t always be easy, so here is my advice to you for those times: seek the truth, look at the question from all sides; by all means, listen to other opinions, try to remain objective. When you’ve come to the end of your deliberations, the hard work is over; now comes the easy bit. Do the right thing’.

Do the right thing: free Julian Assange and shut down Guantánamo.

The post Those Who Violated the Geneva Conventions at Guantánamo Are Free, While the Man who Helped Expose Their Crimes Languishes in Prison first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Why Wouldn’t Biden Grant Clemency to Leonard Peltier?

Last Friday, it became known that the 77-year-old native American political prisoner Leonard Peltier was sick with COVID-19. Peltier has been in prison for over 46 years, which makes him the oldest political prisoner in the United States.

This fact has brought attention to his case, but the truth is that his freedom has been a permanent demand of a movement since the first day of his unfair incarceration.

For decades, American and foreign activists along with renowned personalities like the Dalai Lama, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Senator Patrick Leahy, and even Pope Francis have demanded justice to be done in his case. However, former presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama all turned a blind eye to the issue, neglecting their role of correcting a penal system that is cruel and dysfunctional at best, as is so vividly demonstrated in the case of Peltier.

Since President Joe Biden got the White House, several petitions have been presented to him but they all remain unanswered. Among those demanding Biden to grant executive clemency to the Native American civil rights activist is former prosecutor James Reynolds, who helped send Peltier off to prison in 1977 and took part in two out of three appeals filed by Peltier’s defense. In his letter to the president, Reynolds acknowledged he was part of rigged trials to send Peltier behind bars with no evidence of guilt.

But why should Biden grant executive pardon to an Indigene who allegedly killed two FBI agents? Recognizing the injustice might be the first reason to do it since there is plenty of evidence supporting Peltier’s long-standing innocence.

Taking into account Reynolds’ statements and all the evidence gathered throughout these 4 decades, it is clear that the court system sided with the government agencies, namely the FBI, to find Peltier guilty of a double homicide, even when there was overwhelming evidence  supporting his innocence. The FBI threatened and intimidated witnesses to get prejudiced testimonies, and hid ballistic tests assuring that Peltier’s rifle had not shot the bullets that killed the two FBI agents.

The trial was such a fake that after the prosecutors actually admitted they did not know who really killed the agents, Peltier was found guilty of aiding and abetting the murders and sentenced to two life terms in prisons. It is also suspicious that the other two people who were initially indicted together with Peltier were found innocent due to the lack of consistent evidence. At one point Peltier was the only suspect left and someone had to pay for the death of those two agents.

Another aspect of the case is that it is sadly another example of COINTELPRO’s work since, at the time of his arrest Peltier was under FBI surveillance for his activities in defense of Indigenous people’s rights. The government wanted to make an example of him to others about what could happen to them for standing up for justice for their own people.

Another reason why Biden should grant clemency is that Peltier fulfills the criteria for commutation. It was perfectly described by the head of the Senate Committee that oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Senator Brian Schatz. He wrote a letter to the president saying that Peltier is old and suffers from critical illnesses; he has already served enough time in prison; and lastly, the unavailability of other remedies in prison.

Leonard Peltier suffers from diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and high blood pressure. For an aging man in his condition, getting COVID-19 amidst these circumstances is nothing less than a death sentence. Peltier had complained before that the authorities at the high security federal prison in Coleman Florida have refused to give him a Covid booster shot. Peltier has described the prison as a “torture chamber” since the pandemic began.

How it is possible that despite Peltier’s pleas to get a booster dose, he had been denied by prison authorities? The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) argues that they have not been able to vaccinate, even elder prisoners, with the booster dose. Notwithstanding, in the outside world, the government issues vaccine mandates. So the problem is not the lack of vaccines and resources but the will to treat prisoners as human beings.

However, Peltier is just an example of the treatment that political prisoners get in the US. As we mentioned in a related article titled “Political Prisoners in Cuba and in the United States; Facts and Fiction, Part 2,” other political prisoners like Sundiata Acoli or Mumia Abu-Jamal also got COVID last year and are also suffering critical illnesses, and their lives are still at high risk. The judicial – penal system seems committed to indifference to prisoners in general and in particular political prisoners and are content to just allow them to die as was the case of Russell Maroon Shoats, who was released in critical health condition and died just 51 days later.

Political Prisoners are the most visible cases, but the problem affects the entire in-jail population, accounting for 2.3 million people. One in 4 incarcerated people in the world are in the US; a country that makes up less than 4% of the world’s population. It is twisted that the United States does not care about them. Why? Because the great majority are Latinos, black and poor people? Where is the respect for Human Rights? Where is the empathy and social conscience? This is something that American society needs to look at in earnest.

Most of those people might be guilty of some crimes but remain victims of a social and political system that marginalizes them and takes away any chances of any decent developmental training or reintegration back into society. In other cases, the only crime they might be guilty of is being loyal to their ideals and fighting for a more equitable and fairer country, as is the case of Leonard Peltier. Based on that alone everybody who loves justice and fair causes should stand with Peltier and demand Biden to save an innocent life.

“In and out of lockdown last year at least meant a shower every third day and a meal beyond a sandwich wet with some peanut butter, but now with COVID as an excuse, nothing. No phone, no window, no fresh air, no humans to gather with, no loved ones’ voice, no relief,” as Peltier described his current situation in Coleman. There is no better description of the inhumane conditions of the United States prison network, which is the biggest and most crowded in the world.

Today these terrible conditions became even more exacerbated when the entire 120 federal US prisons in the US went into complete lockdown after 2 inmates were murdered in the federal prison in Beaumont Texas, a notorious prison where Cuban political prisoner Ramon Labanino of the Cuban 5 spent many years for monitoring the activity of Cuban terrorists operating in the US against his country.

It is evident that Peltier’s life is in grave danger making Biden’s executive pardon  a life-or-death decision. The buck stops with the president who with a stroke of a pen could free him.

The US government is not known for making decisions based on a moral obligation but Biden could take the opportunity to do just that. The life of Leonard Peltier, the courageous Indigenous fighter for justice, is in his hands. And the critical question remains, what reason could Biden have not to free him?

The post Why Wouldn’t Biden Grant Clemency to Leonard Peltier? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

We Are Human, but in the Dark We Wish for Light

Carelle Homsy (Egypt), Liberté Egypte, 2009.

For over a decade, Alaa Abd el-Fattah has been in and out of Egypt’s prisons, never free of the harassment of the military state apparatus. In 2011, during the high point of the revolution, Alaa emerged as an important voice of his generation and since then has been a steady moral compass despite his country’s attempts to suffocate his voice. On 25 January 2014, to commemorate the third anniversary of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s government, Alaa and the poet Ahmed Douma wrote a moving epistle from their dungeon in Tora Prison, Cairo. This prison, which houses Alaa and other political prisoners, is not far from the beautiful Nile and – depending on Cairo’s traffic – not too far from the Garden City office of Mada Masr, where the epistle was published. In cities such as Cairo, the prisons where political prisoners are tortured are often located in quite ordinary neighbourhoods.

‘Who said we were unequalled? Or that we’re an enchanted generation?’ wrote Douma and Alaa, reflecting on the idea that the 2011 uprising was somehow exceptional. ‘We’re human’, they wrote, ‘but in the dark we wish for light’. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information estimates that there have been 65,000 political prisoners in Egypt since the 2013 takeover of the state by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Alaa is being held on a number of charges, but most of them stem from a frivolous and malicious accusation that he organised a protest that lasted for about fifteen minutes; for those fifteen minutes he has been imprisoned for much of the past decade.

Khaled Hafez (Egypt), Forward by Day 1, 2013.

How many sensitive people across the world are being held in prisons, charged with ridiculous indictments? The reports that swim across the internet – many of them from human rights groups based in the West – are not completely credible since they ignore or downplay the record of Western governments and pro-Western regimes. The United States government, for example, denies that it holds any political prisoners despite the fact that there are international campaigns to free people such as Alvaro Luna Hernandez (La Raza), the Holy Land Five, Leonard Peltier (American Indian Movement), Marius Manson (Earth Liberation Front), Mumia Abu-Jamal (MOVE), and Mutulu Shakur (Black Liberation Army). ‘These people are held without just cause, often because they peacefully exercised their human rights – like freedom of expression – or defended the rights of others. They may have organised an opposition party. Reported on abuse and corruption. Taken part in a peaceful protest’. These are the words of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken from 7 December 2021. In a stroke of irony, his words apply to dissidents inside the United States as well as to dissidents from US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Colombia.

On 20 December 2021, less than two weeks after Blinken made these remarks, Egypt’s State Security Court sentenced Alaa to another five years in prison along with Mohamed al-Baqer and Mohamed ‘Oxygen’ Ibrahim, who were sentenced to four years each. At that time, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in his weekly remarks that the US was ‘disappointed’ by these verdicts. A few weeks later, Ahmed Hafez, spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry responded by saying, ‘It is inappropriate to comment or touch on Egyptian court rulings’. That was the end of that. Each year, the US government provides Egypt with $1.4 billion in aid, most of it for the military; each year, the US makes a big fuss of withholding a little more than $100 million of this money on the grounds of defending human rights, although the money is later released to Egypt on the basis of ‘national security’. There is a lot of huff and puff about ‘human rights’, but no real concern for the throttling of democratic processes within the country. ‘In the dark’, Douma and Alaa write, ‘we wish for light’. But in the dark, arms deals and ‘national security’ set aside considerations of democracy and human rights.

Slimen El Kamel (Tunisia), Wolves, 2016.

The Arab Spring – whose centre was the stone slab in Tahrir Square – lies in ruins. Tunisia, where the entire process began, struggles with a government that has suspended its democratic institutions in the hope of tackling the social crisis that predates the COVID-19 pandemic but has been exacerbated by it. On 14 January, the anniversary of the overthrow of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, the Workers’ Party of Tunisia led a march from Tunis’ Republic Square to the Central Bank with the slogan ‘No populism, no fundamentalism, no reactionaries. They opposed the old regime of Ben Ali, the Islamists, and now the ‘populist’ presidency of Kais Saied. The Workers’ Party made the point that the economic crisis, which was exacerbated by the International Monetary Fund and that provoked the 2011 revolution, remains unaddressed. The United Nations has also expressed its concern about the use of internal security forces in Tunisia to crack down on basic political rights.

In Morocco, the situation is dire. The political regime centred around King Mohamed VI is called the Makhzen (a term that means ‘warehouse’, referring to the place where the king’s subordinates would be paid). The king is worth between $2.1 billion and $8 billion in a country where nearly one in five people live below the poverty line and where social distress has increased during the pandemic. In 2015, after the 20 February movement had shaken up society in 2011, I visited the Rabat office of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights and heard a realistic briefing about the lack of basic political freedoms in the country. Like brave human rights advocates in other countries, the Moroccans I met listed the names of people who had been unjustly arrested and laid out a picture of the difficulty of building ‘a state of truth and law’ in the country.

Mohamed Melehi (Morocco), Pink Flame, 1972.

At the time, I heard about the case of Naâma Asfari, who had been detained in 2010 and was serving a thirty-year sentence for his activism over the occupation of Western Sahara. His case and that of Khatri Dadda, a young Sahrawi journalist arrested in 2019 and sentenced to twenty years, caught the eye of Mary Lawlor, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. In July 2021, Lawlor said, ‘Not only do human rights defenders working on issues related to human rights in Morocco and Western Sahara continue to be wrongfully criminalised for their legitimate activities, they receive disproportionately long prison sentences and whilst imprisoned, they are subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture’. Pictures of these two men and countless others are often found in the offices of human rights organisations and lawyers who work tirelessly on their behalf. These are people like Alaa and their comrades in similar struggles as far away as Colombia and India.

During the past few years, the Makhzen has tried to strangle Morocco’s main party of the left, the Democratic Way. It has repressed and defamed Democratic Way activists who try to organise in public, and it is preventing the party from using public premises to hold its 5th Congress this year. Despite the obstacles, Democratic Way activists have started the new year by calling for a united struggle of popular forces and has demanded that freedoms and human rights be respected and that political prisoners be released, including members of the Rif Movement, which has mobilised hundreds of thousands of people to demand social rights and justice after a fish vendor was killed by a city trash compactor in 2016. The Democratic Way also opposes the repressive Makhzen and supports the self-determination of the Sahrawi people.

Since 1975, the Moroccan state has annexed Western Sahara, but it has little legal basis for this occupation. In August 2020, the US government inked the Abraham Accords, which meant that Morocco and the United Arab Emirates recognised Israel (and effectively the permanent occupation of Palestine) in exchange for arms deals and US recognition of Morocco’s seizure of Western Sahara. The Polisario Front (the Sahrawi people’s liberation movement) opposed these accords as tensions grew along the Morocco-Algeria border. The Democratic Way also took a courageous stand against the accords that earned it increased repression from the Makhzen.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Morocco as 136 out of the 180 countries on its 2021 World Press Freedom Index. One of the reasons for this poor measure is the violation of the freedom of expression of Moroccan journalists and writers like Omar Radi, Maati Monjib, Hicham Mansouri, and Abdel-Samad Ait Ayyash. Fatima al-Afriqi wrote powerfully about the threats that she faced: ‘The message received, O guards with your machine guns behind sandbags of memories and dreams of my skull … I understood you who inspect my weaknesses and possible mistakes. I raise the white flag and declare by defeat, and I will withdraw from the battlefield’. She continues her brave vigil.

Omar Radi, like Alaa, sits in his cell in Oukacha Prison in Casablanca. He sends us a message: ‘Tyranny is not destiny; freedom has to be achieved, even if it takes a long time. Besides, if my time has come to pay the price on behalf of this wretched new generation, which was born before the Old and the so-called New Regime, then I am ready to pay it with all courage, and I will go to my fate with a calm, smiling heart with a relaxed conscience’.

Omar, Alaa, Fatima, Ahmed, and other political prisoners around the world will not go to their fate. We will stand up beside them. We are here. As long as we are alive, we will stand.

The post We Are Human, but in the Dark We Wish for Light first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Aafia Siddiqui, Political Prisoner

The media coverage of the hostage-taking at a synagogue in Texas has been predictably hysterical, Islamophobic and inaccurate about Aafia Siddiqui, the apparent political cause of the hostage-taker Malik Faisad Akram.  According to his family in England he has “mental health issues.”  He was “said to have” weapons and explosives.  He was “said to have” threatened the four hostages but everyone seems to agree no one was harmed. He wanted Siddiqui free from the near-by maximum security Carswell Prison; he wanted to speak to her.   Under heavy criticism the FBI has said that his hostage-taking had nothing to do with their being Jews, “not his issue.”  But to the press, Siddiqui “has a history of anti-semitism,” hence the universal media criticism. To the police, FBI, government, killing Akram represented a successful outcome to the crisis.  Siddiqui’s lawyer and family distanced themselves from Akram’s actions, but to say they remain completely frustrated by their thwarted attempts to free a very ill, frail, and innocent Aafia Siddiqui, after repeated pleas to the US government and unfulfilled promises by the Pakistani government, would be to vastly understate the case.

Pakistani-born Boston graduate student Aafia Siddiqui’s crime was to be caught in America’s post 9/11 anti-Muslim hysteria.  She had come to America in 1990 to study, earning a biology degree and then a Ph.D in neuroscience from MIT.  Her colleagues called her quiet and religious (but not a fundamentalist).  Her marriage to Mohammed Amjad Khan ended in divorce when he proved to be violent and more fundamentalist than Siddiqui.  She was mistakenly accused of anti-American Muslim activism initially (partially because of mistaken identity), but the accusations ballooned. In the early War On Terror days, “associations” became much more significant and damning.  Siddiqui ended up on Attorney General John Ashcroft’s “Watchlist.” As the Big Lies of government grew, soon the New York Post was calling her “Lady Al Queda.”

Once the government labeled her a “terrorist,” she had no chance of escaping the Empire’s punishment. When her true story began to emerge, it was necessary to take action.  While visiting in Pakistan, helped by Pakistani American operatives, she was “disappeared.”  Her youngest child was killed when she was taken, and her other two children imprisoned separately for years. She was beaten, raped, tortured and kept in solitary in black site prisons of the American Empire, particularly in Afghanistan. Other prisoners have testified that they saw her at Bagram, a prison from which the Obama administration prevented prisoners’ court appearances because they might talk about the conditions of their imprisonment. Eventually Aafia Siddiqui would be set up for final punishment and disposal.

From my book Women Politicals in America:

At the trial—in January 2010—the soldiers said that Aafia Siddiqui, accused would-be assassin and presumed Al Qaeda terrorist, did, in fact, get hold of an unsecured M-4 automatic rifle and open fire on US soldiers and FBI agents in Ghazni, Afghanistan.  The day before, she had been picked up by local policemen as a “possible suicide bomber” because she had been “loitering” in a public square with a young boy [whose identity is not clear].  She carried instructions to create biological weapons, descriptions of US “military assets,” numerous jars containing “chemical substances,” and documents containing words like “Empire State Building” and “Brooklyn Bridge.”  The soldiers said that the day after her discovery and arrest, an American army captain, a warrant officer, two army interpreters and two FBI agents came to question Siddiqui at Ghazni police headquarters.  The soldiers said that none of those men were “aware that Siddiqui was being held, unsecured, behind [a] curtain.”  Oddly, no one looked behind it.  And also oddly, the American warrant officer placed his M-4 rifle next to the curtain.  What happened next, said the soldiers, was that Siddiqui pulled the rifle to her, unlatched the safety, pointed the gun  at the captain, and while one of the interpreters grabbed for the gun, Siddiqui fired the gun twice.  The soldiers agreed she had said, “Get the fuck out of here!”  She hit no one.

The soldiers said the interpreter knocked her to the ground and the warrant officer fired “approximately two rounds” into Siddiqui’s stomach.  She collapsed, unconscious.  FBI special Agent Eric Negron testified at her trial that he saw the rifle raised (although he could not see her face behind the curtain).  Negron said that after she was shot he helped restrain the struggling Siddiqui.  “I had to strike her several times with a closed fist across the face.”  Finally she “either fainted or faked that she had fainted” and was handcuffed.  The soldiers had successfully restrained the suspected terrorist Siddiqui.  Although her prints were not on the rifle, the holes in the police station wall put there by the rifle Siddiqui allegedly fired were proved to have been there before the July 2008 incident, and since, if she had tried to kill the soldiers, she missed and was herself grievously shot in the abdomen, her sentence seemed disproportionate.  Aafia Siddiqui was given 86 years in prison.  She had been labeled a terrorist enemy of the Empire and its soldiers, and her case was disposed of accordingly.

Siddiqui had been extradited for the offense of attempting to kill soldiers, but she was tried, completely illegally, as a notorious female terrorist. She was not allowed to speak of her torture or the killing of her baby.  The trial—then as now—of a “terrorist, as with Julian Assange, allows for only the government/prosecutorial side.  The defendant cannot win.  Siddiqui was also in very bad shape, physically and mentally during her trial, with a badly dressed stomach wound that the judge had to intervene to have treated.  She was forced to undergo strip searches every day and was forced to testify.  When she mentioned being in a secret prison, with her children tortured in front of her, the testimony was stricken from the record.  She also, and this is arguably something the hostage-taker Malik Faisad Akram was aware of, did not want “Zionists” chosen as jurors and said her guilty verdict came from Israel, not America.  Some said she was irrational which was entirely possible, but with the anti-Muslim elements of her trial, perhaps not so irrational.

She has been in prison since 2010 and has, according to her family, suffered unjust punishments within the prison, and her medical problems are not treated.  For much of the last 11 years, she has also not been able to communicate with her family.  According to the Free Aafia website, maintained by her family and friends, she was attacked last July and suffered serious injuries.  After a number of years, she and her family are still waiting for Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to follow through on promises to help free her from the Empire’s prison.  For the press to continue to call her a hardened terrorist and to overlook the treatment, the torture she has endured at American hands, echoes the ignorant liberal sentiment that Afghanistan is so much worse off without the American government there to torture and kill.  I would like to end this with a 2012 statement from Moazzam Begg, prisoner at US Air Force Base,  Bagram, Afghanistan:

Of all the abuses [prisoner Abu Yahya al-Libi] describes in his account, the presence of a woman and her humiliation and degradation were the most inflammatory to all the prisoners [at Bagram]—they would never forget it.  He describes how she was regularly stripped naked and manhandled by guards, and how she used to scream incessantly in isolation for two years.  He said prisoners protested her treatment, going on hunger strike, feeling ashamed they could do nothing to help.  He described her in detail:  a Pakistani mother—torn away from her children—in her mid-thirties, who had begun to lose her mind.  Her number, he said, was 650.

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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.

Human Rights are for Everyone!

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people …

The General Assembly,

Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples …

— preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

A few days back, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was angered by ambassadors from ten western countries — US, Germany, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden — who called for the release of Osman Kavala. Originally, Erdogan declared, “These 10 ambassadors must be declared persona non grata at once.” Eventually, Erdoğan would backtrack.

Kavala, often described as a philanthropist in western media, was arrested on 1 November 2017 and charged with “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “attempting to overthrow the government” in connection with the Gezi Park protests. Afterwards, Kavala was imprisoned in the maximum-security facility Silivri near Istanbul.

He was acquitted in February 2020, but soon after charged with involvement in the 15 June 2016 coup attempt. Kavala was also cleared of this accusation, but he was kept in jail on the charge of “political or military espionage.”

The incarceration of Kavala bears similarities with that of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange. However, a glaring difference stands out.

No western governments have spoken out for the human rights of Assange, including his native country, Australia.

However, the United Nations Human Rights Commission did have something to say. Its expert on torture, Nils Melzer, said,

The evidence is overwhelming and clear, Mr. Assange has been deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture.

But western governments have been unmoved by such damning news. One might well surmise a tacit condonation among them for torture when carried out by western countries.

Assange is a philanthropist! His sacrifice through WikiLeaks, to inform people of the machinations of their governments (and without error), has thoroughly demonstrated this. Among the files published by WikiLeaks was revealing the CIA hacking tools and extremely notoriously, for the United States and its military, the video Collateral Murder.

The US is out to get Assange for exposing its crimes.


If you don’t understand German turn on the subtitles.

The British court, though, blocked his extradition to the US over concerns for Assange’s mental health and his risk of suicide. Nonetheless, the US appealed. Britain, for some inexplicable reason that defines logic and morality, returned a man who their judge deemed was at mental risk back to — what the UN torture expert said were conditions of “psychological torture” — the high-security Belmarsh Prison.

*****
Of course, justice and human rights must be for all. Kavala must receive justice. Assange must receive justice.

Currently, the US is awaiting a decision from Britain’s High Court on its appeal against the denial of Assange’s extradition by a lower court. The US is pressing ahead with the appeal despite the revelation subsequent to the lower court’s decision that the CIA informer, Sigurdur Thordarson, is a clinically diagnosed sociopath with a history of criminal activity who admitted to lying against Assange.

Human rights are for everyone. It is not just an obligation of governments to abide by their signature on the UNHDR; it is the duty of people of conscience to hold their governments to account, to do what they can to protect Julian Assange and any other wrongfully imprisoned or oppressed people.

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Our Future vs. Neoliberalism

(Photo:  Tom Pennington)

In country after country around the world, people are rising up to challenge entrenched, failing neoliberal political and economic systems, with mixed but sometimes promising results.

Progressive leaders in the U.S. Congress are refusing to back down on the Democrats’ promises to American voters to reduce poverty, expand rights to healthcare, education and clean energy, and repair a shredded social safety net. After decades of tax cuts for the rich, they are also committed to raising taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations to pay for this popular agenda.

Germany has elected a ruling coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats that excludes the conservative Christian Democrats for the first time since 2000. The new government promises a $14 minimum wage, solar panels on all suitable roof space, 2% of land for wind farms and the closure of Germany’s last coal-fired power plants by 2030.

Iraqis voted in an election that was called in response to a popular protest movement launched in October 2019 to challenge the endemic corruption of the post-2003 political class and its subservience to U.S. and Iranian interests. The protest movement was split between taking part in the election and boycotting it, but its candidates still won about 35 seats and will have a voice in parliament. The party of long-time Iraqi nationalist leader Muqtada al-Sadr won 73 seats, the largest of any single party, while Iranian-backed parties whose armed militias killed hundreds of protesters in 2019 lost popular support and many of their seats.

Chile’s billionaire president, Sebastian Piñera, is being impeached after the Pandora Papers revealed details of bribery and tax evasion in his sale of a mining company, and he could face up to 5 years in prison. Mass street protests in 2019 forced Piñera to agree to a new constitution to replace the one written under the Pinochet military dictatorship, and a convention that includes representatives of indigenous and other marginalized communities has been elected to draft the constitution. Progressive parties and candidates are expected to do well in the general election in November.

Maybe the greatest success of people power has come in Bolivia. In 2020, only a year after a U.S.-backed right-wing military coup, a mass mobilization of mostly indigenous working people forced a new election, and the socialist MAS Party of Evo Morales was returned to power. Since then it has already introduced a new wealth tax and welfare payments to four million people to help eliminate hunger in Bolivia.

The Ideological Context

Since the 1970s, Western political and corporate leaders have peddled a quasi-religious belief in the power of “free” markets and unbridled capitalism to solve all the world’s problems. This new “neoliberal” orthodoxy is a thinly disguised reversion to the systematic injustice of 19th century laissez-faire capitalism, which led to gross inequality and poverty even in wealthy countries, famines that killed tens of millions of people in India and China, and horrific exploitation of the poor and vulnerable worldwide.

For most of the 20th century, Western countries gradually responded to the excesses and injustices of capitalism by using the power of government to redistribute wealth through progressive taxation and a growing public sector, and ensure broad access to public goods like education and healthcare. This led to a gradual expansion of broadly shared prosperity in the United States and Western Europe through a strong public sector that balanced the power of private corporations and their owners.

The steadily growing shared prosperity of the post-WWII years in the West was derailed by a  combination of factors, including the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, Nixon’s freeze on prices and wages, runaway inflation caused by dropping the gold standard, and then a second oil crisis after the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Right-wing politicians led by Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in the U.K. blamed the power of organized labor and the public sector for the economic crisis. They launched a “neoliberal” counter-revolution to bust unions, shrink and privatize the public sector, cut taxes, deregulate industries and supposedly unleash “the magic of the market.” Then they took credit for a return to economic growth that really owed more to the end of the oil crises.

The United States and United Kingdom used their economic, military and media power to spread their neoliberal gospel across the world. Chile’s experiment in neoliberalism under Pinochet’s military dictatorship became a model for U.S. efforts to roll back the “pink tide” in Latin America. When the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe opened to the West at the end of the Cold War, it was the extreme, neoliberal brand of capitalism that Western economists imposed as “shock therapy” to privatize state-owned enterprises and open countries to Western corporations.

In the United States, the mass media shy away from the word “neoliberalism” to describe the changes in society since the 1980s. They describe its effects in less systemic terms, as globalization, privatization, deregulation, consumerism and so on, without calling attention to their common ideological roots. This allows them to treat its impacts as separate, unconnected problems: poverty and inequality, mass incarceration, environmental degradation, ballooning debt, money in politics, disinvestment in public services, declines in public health, permanent war, and record military spending.

After a generation of systematic neoliberal control, it is now obvious to people all over the world that neoliberalism has utterly failed to solve the world’s problems. As many predicted all along, it has just enabled the rich to get much, much richer, while structural and even existential problems remain unsolved.

Even once people have grasped the self-serving, predatory nature of this system that has overtaken their political and economic life, many still fall victim to the demoralization and powerlessness that are among its most insidious products, as they are brainwashed to see themselves only as individuals and consumers, instead of as active and collectively powerful citizens.

In effect, confronting neoliberalism—whether as individuals, groups, communities or countries—requires a two-step process. First, we must understand the nature of the beast that has us and the world in its grip, whatever we choose to call it. Second, we must overcome our own demoralization and powerlessness, and rekindle our collective power as political and economic actors to build the better world we know is possible.

We will see that collective power in the streets and the suites at COP26 in Glasgow, when the world’s leaders will gather to confront the reality that neoliberalism has allowed corporate profits to trump a rational response to the devastating impact of fossil fuels on the Earth’s climate. Extinction Rebellion and other groups will be in the streets in Glasgow, demanding the long-delayed action that is required to solve the problem, including an end to net carbon emissions by 2025.

While scientists warned us for decades what the result would be, political and business leaders have peddled their neoliberal snake oil to keep filling their coffers at the expense of the future of life on Earth. If we fail to stop them now, living conditions will keep deteriorating for people everywhere, as the natural world our lives depend on is washed out from under our feet, goes up in smoke and, species by species, dies and disappears forever.

The Covid pandemic is another real world case study on the impact of neoliberalism. As the official death toll reaches 5 million and many more deaths go unreported, rich countries are still hoarding vaccines, drug companies are reaping a bonanza of profits from vaccines and new drugs, and the lethal, devastating injustice of the entire neoliberal “market” system is laid bare for the whole world to see. Calls for a “people’s vaccine” and “vaccine justice” have been challenging what has now been termed “vaccine apartheid.”

Conclusion

In the 1980s, U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher often told the world, “There is no alternative” to the neoliberal order she and President Reagan were unleashing. After only one or two generations, the self-serving insanity they prescribed and the crises it has caused have made it a question of survival for humanity to find alternatives.

Around the world, ordinary people are rising up to demand real change. The people of Iraq, Chile and Bolivia have overcome the incredible traumas inflicted on them to take to the streets in the thousands and demand better government. Americans should likewise demand that our government stop wasting trillions of dollars to militarize the world and destroy countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, and start solving our real problems, here and abroad.

People around the world understand the nature of the problems we face better than we did a generation or even a decade ago. Now we must overcome demoralization and powerlessness in order to act. It helps to understand that the demoralization and powerlessness we may feel are themselves products of this neoliberal system, and that simply overcoming them is a victory in itself.

As we reject the inevitability of neoliberalism and Thatcher’s lie that there is no alternative, we must also reject the lie that we are just passive, powerless consumers. As human beings, we have the same collective power that human beings have always had to build a better world for ourselves and our children – and now is the time to harness that power.

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Free Indigenous Political Prisoner Leonard Peltier

In this special Indigenous Peoples’ Day episode of Rattling the Bars, TRNN Executive Producer Eddie Conway speaks with author and activist Ward Churchill about the wrongful imprisonment and deteriorating health of Indigenous political prisoner Leonard Peltier. A member of the American Indian Movement who was sent to prison in 1977 after a dubious trial sentenced him to two consecutive life sentences, Peltier’s continued imprisonment remains a stain on our “criminal justice” system.

The post Free Indigenous Political Prisoner Leonard Peltier first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Forbes Reveals Why the US Government Is Trying to Extradite Venezuelan Diplomat Alex Saab

Alex Saab is “the key that unlocks the Venezuelan monetary mystery—that is, how a country facing sanctions from the US, the UK and the European Union—is still able to export things like gold and oil…and really the only man who can actually explain how the country [Venezuela] survives today,” according to Forbes.

The US would far prefer to just quietly extradite Saab to Miami, use whatever means necessary to extract sensitive information from him, and then warehouse him in the world’s largest prison system. Forbes uses the euphemism “under pressure” by US prison authorities as the means to force Saab to “shed light on Venezuela’s post-sanction economic network.” Saab already reports that his surrogate captors in Cabo Verde, described below, have unsuccessfully employed torture to try to break his will and induce him to betray Venezuela.

That an elite business magazine such as Forbes is featuring a diplomat from a country aspiring to become socialist is a testament to the growing international movement to free the imprisoned Alex Saab and an indication of the weakness of the US case against him.

The arrest of a diplomat

Saab is fighting what Canadian lawyer John Philpot, an expert on international law, calls “a flagrant attempt of extra-territorial judicial overreach by the US.”

In June 12, 2020, Saab was on a mission as a special envoy of the Venezuelan government to procure food, fuel, and medicines from Iran, when his plane from Caracas to Tehran was diverted to Cabo Verde for a fueling stop. Saab’s arrest and subsequent detention at the bidding of the US is arbitrary, illegal, and irregular. Further, Saab has been denied treatment for his cancer condition.

Saab, the deputy Venezuelan ambassador to the African Union, is fighting extradition to the US for the “crime” of trying to procure humanitarian supplies in violation of illegal US sanctions. To date, Saab’s legal appeals to Cabo Verdean authorities for freedom have been either denied, rejected, or ignored.

Under the Vienna Convention, a credentialed diplomat such as Saab has absolute immunity from arrest, even in the time of war. Saab appealed to the US 11th Circuit Court on the basis of his diplomatic status. In response, Washington filed an application for an extension to reply in a legal delaying tactic to allow Saab’s pending extradition without recognizing his diplomatic immunity. It is as if the US empire is claiming the authority to qualify who other countries may choose and receive as their ambassadors.

Consider, however, that the US government still does not recognize the democratically elected Nicolás Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela. In contradiction of the United Nations and almost every other country in the world, Joe Biden continues to claim that the Trump-anointed, US security asset Juan Guaidó is Venezuela’s “interim” head of state.

The US case against Alex Saab

The US alleges Saab culpable of fraud and money laundering to bilk the Venezuelan people who are, in fact, under siege by the US. Specifically, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control accuses Saab of “loot[ing] hundreds of millions of dollars from starving Venezuelans.” One would think that Saab would be given a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts, given that the US policy of promoting regime change in Venezuela is doing precisely the same thing as Saab is being accused.

The US and its sycophantic allies have imposed unilateral coercive measures on Venezuela that amount to a blockade through the use of secondary sanctions. The UN has repeatedly called such collective punishment illegal and has demanded their repeal. Some three dozen countries and one third of humanity are suffering under US sanctions.

Largely due to the sanctions, the Venezuelan economy has drastically contracted, especially after the targeting of its oil sector, which is its major source of foreign earnings. Attempts by the Venezuelan government to access its own gold reserves held abroad or to use its drawing rights from the International Monetary Fund to pay for COVID relief have been blocked at the behest of the US government. The Venezuelan oil company subsidiary in the US, CITGO, has been appropriated by Washington. Venezuela’s bank accounts abroad have been frozen and looted by the US and its allies. Western Union has suspended money transfers to Venezuela. And third-country ships carrying supplies to Venezuela have been seized by the US in blatant acts of piracy on international waters. The result has been widespread misery and even death in Venezuela.

The real reasons for the US extradition effort on Alex Saab

David Dawkins, the Forbes staff author of the article on Saab, uses the byline “I cover the work and wealth of Europe’s richest.” Because Forbes services the niche of corporate media that is read by elites and those who attend them, their reports are – as in this case – more factual than some of the more popularly oriented media outlets.

For example, Forbes discloses that Saab is believed to have “the means and know-how to help discreetly keep an entire economy moving under the eyes of a watching world.” The “world” that is “watching” is a reference to the US surveillance state. Because Saab has been instrumental in circumventing the illegal US blockade of Venezuela is exactly why the US has persecuted the diplomat and why Washington seeks to bring him to the US.

Indeed, Saab is understood to be, according to Forbes, “a key cog in Venezuela’s national money machine,” who “worked as a key fixer on the country’s housing and food programs, juggling contacts, companies and bank accounts around the world.”

Giving credit where it is due, Forbes notes: “Much to the annoyance of the Trump and Biden administrations, Saab, a creative and capable businessman, found a way to navigate Venezuelan trade in sectors like food, oil and gold between the cracks of US oversight.”

The US case against Saab is political, not legal. Femi Falana, Saab’s lead attorney at the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) court in Nigeria, maintains “the case against Alex Saab is indeed rooted in political expediency.” The real reason for the US extradition effort, as Forbes reveals, is that Saab is a “serious information asset for the US in understanding just how the country [Venezuela] does business.”

Underlining the importance of Saab to the US, the Navy cruiser San Jacinto was clandestinely deployed for a period off the coast of Cabo Verde, where Saab was imprisoned. The New York Times described the dispatch of the warship as a “secret mission aimed at helping deal a major blow to President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela.”

International effort to free Alex Saab

Forbes correctly reports: “But for many in Venezuela, this [Saab’s activities] is not criminal—Saab is a hero, and his efforts overseas are the actions of a man trying to feed and house the hungry and homeless.” The Venezuelan government recently appointed Saab as an official delegate to the talks in Mexico between them and the opposition United Platform group.

Internationally, Cabo Verde has received diplomatic letters protesting the Saab case from Iran, China, Russia, the United Nations, the African Union, and ECOWAS, based on the principles of immunity and inviolability of consular rights. Over 15,000 internationals have signed a petition to the US and Cape Verdean political leadership to free Alex Saab here.

Forbes says Saab’s extradition is imminent. Saab’s lawyer Femi Falana says, “the legal process is far from over, and His Excellency Alex Saab will not be going to the United States any time soon.” Regardless, Alex Saab says:

For those who dream that my speech or integrity will change if I am extradited, let me spoil that illusion. My integrity does not change with the [political] climate or the type of torture. Venezuela is sovereign.

The post Forbes Reveals Why the US Government Is Trying to Extradite Venezuelan Diplomat Alex Saab first appeared on Dissident Voice.