Category Archives: Julian Assange

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russian collusion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assassination plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Swirling vortex’

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

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

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

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

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

Fabricated story

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

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

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

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

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

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

Effort to deplatform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clandestine ‘clusters’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Putin infosphere’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First published in Mint Press

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

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.

Julian Assange in Ithaka

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is where you’re destined for.
— C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems (Princeton University Press, 1975), trans. Edmund Keeley

John Shipton, despite his size, glides with insect-like grace across surfaces.  He moves with a hovering sense, a holy man with message and meaning.  As Julian Assange’s father, he has found himself a bearer of messages and meaning, attempting to convince those in power that good sense and justice should prevail over brute stupidity and callousness.  His one object: release Julian.

At the now defunct Druids Café on Swanston Street in Melbourne, he materialised out of the shadows, seeking candidates to stump for the incipient WikiLeaks Party over a decade ago.  The intention was to run candidates in the 2013 Senate elections in Australia, providing a platform for the publisher, then confined in the less than commodious surrounds of the Ecuadorian embassy in London.  Soft, a voice of reed and bird song, Shipton urged activists and citizens to join the fray, to save his son, to battle for a cause imperishably golden and pure.  From this summit, power would be held accountable, institutions would function with sublime transparency, and citizens could be assured that their privacy would be protected.

In the documentary Ithaka, directed by Ben Lawrence, we see Shipton, Assange’s partner, Stella, the two children, the cat, glimpses of brother Gabriel, all pointing to the common cause that rises to the summit of purpose.  The central figure, who only ever manifests in spectral form – on screen via phone or fleeting footage – is one of moral reminder, the purpose that supplies blood for all these figures.  Assange is being held at Belmarsh, Britain’s most secure and infamous of prisons, denied bail, and being crushed by judicial procedure.  But in these supporters, he has some vestigial reminders of a life outside.

The film’s promotion site describes the subject as, “The world’s most famous political prisoner, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange” a figure who has “become an emblem of an international arm wrestle over freedom of journalism, government corruption and unpunished war crimes.”  But it takes such a moment as Stella’s remarks in Geneva reflecting on the freshly erected statue of her husband to give a sense of breath, flesh and blood.  “I am here to remind you that Julian isn’t a name, he isn’t a symbol, he’s a man and he’s suffering.”

And suffer he shall, if the UK Home Secretary Priti Patel decides to agree to the wishes of the US Department of Justice.  The DOJ insists that their man face 17 charges framed, disgracefully and archaically, from a US law passed during the First World War and inimical to free press protections.  (The eighteenth, predictably, deals with computer intrusion.)  The Espionage Act of 1917 has become the crutch and support for prosecutors who see, in Assange, less a journalist than an opportunistic hacker who outed informants and betrayed confidences.  Seductively, he gathered a following and persuaded many that the US imperium was not flaxen of hair and noble of heart.  Beneath the impostor lay the bodies of Collateral Murder, war crimes and torture.  The emperor not only lacked clothes but was a sanctimonious murderer to boot.

Material for Lawrence comes readily enough, largely because of a flat he shared with Shipton during filming in England.  The notable pauses over bread and a glass of wine, pregnant with meaning, the careful digestion of questions before the snappy response, and the throwaway line of resigned wisdom, are all repeated signatures.  In the background are the crashes and waves of the US imperium, menacing comfort and ravaging peace.  All of this is a reminder that individual humanity is the best antidote to rapacious power.

Through the film, the exhausting sense of media, that estate ever present but not always listening, comes through.  This point is significant enough; the media – at least in terms of the traditional fourth estate – put huge stock in the release of material from WikiLeaks in 2010, hailing the effort and praising the man behind it.  But relations soured, and tabloid nastiness set in.  The Left found tell-all information and tales of Hillary Clinton too much to handle while the Right, having initially revelled in the revelations of WikiLeaks in 2016, took to demonising the herald.  Perversely, in the United States, accord was reached across a good number of political denizens: Assange had to go, and to go, he had to be prosecuted in the United Kingdom and extradited to the United States.

The documentary covers the usual highlights without overly pressing the viewer.   A decent run-up is given to the Ecuadorian stint lasting 7 years, with Assange’s bundling out, and the Old Bailey proceedings covering extradition.  But Shipton and Stella Moris are the ones who provide the balancing acts in this mission to aid the man they both love.

Shipton, at points, seems tired and disgusted, his face abstracted in pain.  He is dedicated, because the mission of a father is to be such.  His son is in, as he puts it, “the shit”, and he is going to damn well shovel him out of it.  But there is nothing blindingly optimistic about the endeavour.

The film has faced, as with its subject, the usual problems of distribution and discussion. When Assange is mentioned, the dull minded exit for fear of reputation, and the hysterical pronounce and pounce.  In Gabriel Shipton’s words, “All of the negative propaganda and character assassination is so pervasive that many people in the sector and the traditional distribution outlets don’t want to be seen as engaging in advocacy for Julian.”

Where Assange goes, the power monopolies recoil.  Distribution and the review of a documentary such as Ithaka is bound to face problems in the face of such a compromised, potted media terrain.  Assange is a reminder of plague in the patient of democracy, pox on the body politic.

Despite these efforts, Shipton and Assange’s new wife are wandering minds, filled with experiences of hurt and hope. Shipton, in particular, gives off a smell of resignation before the execution.  It’s not in the sense of Candide, where Panglossian glory occupies the mind and we accept that the lot delved out is the best possible of all possible worlds.  Shipton offers something else: things can only get worse, but he would still do it again.  As we all should, when finding our way to Ithaka.

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A Spanish Court Calls: Mike Pompeo, We Want You

On June 3, Judge Santiago Pedraz of Spain’s national court, the Audienca Nacional, issued a summons for former CIA director and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to testify in an ongoing investigation into the conduct of private security firm UC Global and its founder, David Morales.

The security firm is said to have been hired by US intelligence operatives to monitor Julian Assange and his associates during his time in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.  In all likelihood, if we are to take the evidence of UC Global’s former head of operations, Michel Wallemacq, seriously, Ecuador’s intelligence services were also involved.

The allegations were given a very dramatic airing in the initial extradition trial of Assange at the Old Bailey in London, when two former UC Global employees were called to testify for the defence.  One of the two gave testimony on the rather seedy task of pilfering “a nappy of a baby which according to the company’s security personnel deployed at the embassy, regularly visited Mr Assange”.

The witness also revealed that Assange’s seemingly interminable stay had, by December 2017, caused nerves to fray.  The “Americans … had even suggested that more extreme measures should be deployed against the ‘guest’ to put an end to the situation”.  This might involve staging an “accident” that “would allow persons to enter from outside the embassy and kidnap the asylee”.

The move against Pompeo comes as part of a petition filed by Aitor Martínez, one of the lawyers representing Assange in the proceedings against UC Global.  In addition to summoning Pompeo, Judge Pedraz is also seeking to question William Evanina, a former US counterintelligence official who is said to have confessed to viewing security camera footage and audio recordings from inside the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Pompeo has had a rather fickle relationship with WikiLeaks, an addling mixture of opportunistic appreciation and loathing.  As House Representative from Kansas, he drew much upon the organisation’s published emails as evidence of the DNC’s rigging proclivities in selecting candidates for the 2016 election.  “Need further proof that the fix was from Pres. Obama on down?  BUSTED: 19,252 Emails from DNC Leaked by WikiLeaks,” tweeted Pompeo in July 2016.

When questioned about the tweet during his confirmation hearings for the post of CIA Director, selective amnesia gripped.  Asked by Maine Senator Angus King whether he felt that WikiLeaks was “a reliable source of information”, Pompeo replied in the negative, adding that he had “never believed” the publishing entity to be “a credible source of information”.  He had a “deep understanding of WikiLeaks” (evidence of that knowledge was not forthcoming) and had never seen it as having credible information “for the United States or for anyone else.”

Instead of making an issue of this, Senator King felt less than combative, appreciating the “candour” shown by Pompeo, with a recommendation that he “speak truth to the highest level of power in this country”.  King merely hoped “that you will hold onto the commitment that you made today, because it’s not going to be easy.”

On becoming director, WikiLeaks became an object of mania for Pompeo, suggesting that his views on the outfit’s credibility had been rather short on candour.  Their publishing feats, in other words, were simply too credible.  The disruptive role played by the publishing organisation in the 2016 election through publishing leaked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign was filed away to gather dust.  “It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is,” he told an audience at the Center for Strategic and international Studies (CSIS) on April 13, 2017, “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”

This was aided, in no small part, by the release by WikiLeaks of the CIA’s own crown jewels – or at the very least a good smattering of them.  The publication of the Vault 7 files, detailing hacking tools developed by the intelligence organisation, unleashed a storm within the organisation.  “This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code,” WikiLeaks declared in a press release, “gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA.”

According to the report from Yahoo!News last September, a former Trump national security official claimed that the administration saw “blood” in the aftermath of the release.  Ideas and plans were exchanged among various officials to abduct Assange, and even, given the chance, assassinate him.

Pompeo, again showing himself to be a man of brimming candour, refused to confirm the veracity of the details in the report.  “I can’t say much about this other than whoever those 30 people who allegedly spoke to one of these [Yahoo News] reporters – they should all be prosecuted for speaking about classified activity inside the Central Intelligence Agency.”

Neither Pompeo nor Evanina are at risk of facing any charges in Spain, however richly deserved. Judge Pedraz has made it clear that the Spanish courts have no jurisdiction to try them.  At the very least, these summonses have caused a flutter, mocking the politicised process that has characterised the vengeful, Kafkaesque effort against Assange.

The post A Spanish Court Calls: Mike Pompeo, We Want You 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.

To the Home Office We Go: The Extradition of Julian Assange

It was a dastardly formality.  On April 20, at a hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court, Julian Assange, beamed in via video link from Belmarsh Prison, his carceral home for three years, is to be extradited to the United States to face 18 charges, 17 based on the US Espionage Act of 1917.

The final arbiter will be the UK Secretary of the Home Office, the security hardened Priti Patel who is unlikely to buck the trend.  She has shown an all too unhealthy enthusiasm for an expansion of the Official Secrets Act which would target leakers, recipients of leaked material, and secondary publishers.  The proposals seek to purposely conflate investigatory journalism and espionage activities conducted by foreign states, while increasing prison penalties from two years to 14 years.

Chief Magistrate Senior District Judge Paul Goldspring was never going to rock the judicial boat.  He was “duty-bound” to send the case to the home secretary, though he did inform Assange that an appeal to the High Court could be made in the event of approved extradition prior to the issuing of the order.

It seemed a cruel turn for the books, given the ruling by District Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser on January 4, 2021 that Assange would be at serious risk of suicide given the risk posed by Special Administrative Measures and the possibility that he spend the rest of his life in the ADX Florence supermax facility.  Assange would be essentially killed off by a penal system renowned for its brutality.  Accordingly, it was found that extraditing him would be oppressive within the meaning of the US-UK Extradition Treaty.

The US Department of Justice, ever eager to get their man, appealed to the High Court of England and Wales.  They attacked the judge for her carelessness in not seeking reassurances about Assange’s welfare the prosecutors never asked for.  They sought to reassure the British judges that diplomatic assurances had been given.  Assange would be spared the legal asphyxiations caused by SAMs, or the dystopia of the supermax facility.  Besides, his time in US detention would be medically catered for, thereby minimising the suicide risk.  There would be no reason for him to take his own life, given the more pleasant surroundings and guarantees for his welfare.

A fatuous additional assurance was also thrown in: the Australian national would have the chance to apply to serve the post-trial and post-appeal phase of his sentence in the country of his birth.  All such undertakings would naturally be subject to adjustment and modification by US authorities as they deemed fit.  None were binding.

All this glaring nonsense was based on the vital presumption that such undertakings would be honoured by a government whose officials have debated, at stages, the publisher’s possible poisoning and abduction.  Such talk of assassination was also accompanied by a relentless surveillance operation of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, directed by US intelligence operatives through the auspices of a Spanish security company, UC Global.  Along the way, US prosecutors even had time to use fabricated evidence in drafting their indictment.

The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Ian Burnett, and Lord Justice Timothy Holroyde, in their December 2021 decision, saw no reason to doubt the good faith of the prosecutors.  Assange’s suicide risk would, given the assurances, be minimised – he had, the judges reasoned, nothing to fear, given the promise that he would be exempted from the application of SAMs or the privations of ADX Florence.  In this most political of trials, the judicial bench seemed unmoved by implications, state power, and the desperation of the US imperium in targeting the publishing of compromising classified information.

On appeal to the UK Supreme Court, the grounds of appeal were scandalously whittled away, with no mention of public interest, press freedom, thoughts of assassination, surveillance, or fabrication of evidence.  The sole issue preoccupying the bench: “In what circumstances can an appellate court receive assurances from a requesting state which were not before the court at first instance in extradition proceedings”.

On March 14, the Supreme Court comprising Lord Reed, Lord Hodge and Lord Briggs, delivered the skimpiest of answers, without a sliver of reasoning.  In the words of the Deputy Support Registrar, “The Court ordered that permission to appeal be refused because the application does not raise an arguable point of law.”

While chief magistrate Goldspring felt duty bound to relay the extradition decision to Patel,

Mark Summers QC, presenting Assange, also felt duty bound to make submissions against it.  “It is not open to me to raise fresh evidence and issues, even though there are fresh developments in the case.”  The defence team have till May 18 to make what they describe as “serious submissions” to the Home Secretary regarding US sentencing practices and other salient issues.

Various options may present themselves.  In addition to challenging the Home Secretary’s order, the defence may choose to return to the original decision of Baraitser, notably on her shabby treatment of press freedom.  Assange’s activities, she witheringly claimed, lacked journalistic qualities.

Outside the channel of the Home Office, another phase in the campaign to free Assange has now opened.  Activist groups, press organisations and supporters are already readying themselves for the next month.  Political figures such as former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn have urged Patel “to stand up for journalism and democracy, or sentence a man for life for exposing the truth about the War on Terror.”

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard has also fired another salvo in favour of Assange, noting that the United Kingdom “has an obligation not to send any person to a place where their life or safety is at risk and the Government must now abdicate that responsibility.”

The prospect of enlivening extraterritorial jurisdiction to target journalism and the publication of national security information, is graver than ever.  It signals the power of an international rogue indifferent to due process and fearful of being caught out.  But even before this momentous realisation is one irrefutable fact.  The plea from Assange’s wife, Stella, sharpens the point: don’t extradite a man “to a country that conspired to murder him.”

The post To the Home Office We Go: The Extradition of Julian Assange first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Julian Assange is Not above the Law, but He Shouldn’t be Beneath Justice

Hewn in to human rights legislation borne of fascism’s decline in the mid twentieth century is a pool of glorious protections of civil liberties and press freedoms. It is deep, but it is not entirely immune from attack. Political opportunists undermine it in regular waves, repressing dissidence in their states and satellite states, even and especially in the West. Victims pile up, the criminalisation of journalism gathering steam, the propaganda to justify this awful retrenchment of civil liberties rising in the background. This is fascism resurgent.

Glasnost translates to ‘transparency’, and it was assumed to be a core value of western government when Gorbachev’s administration began to dismantle socialism in Russia in the 1990s. The liberal democratic system prevalent in the world today is in theory buoyed by open, transparent government, and in every area where it is practised as the predominant form of government, gives rise to the rule of civil liberties said to be inalienable, universal, and non-negotiable. Being as old as democracy itself, they’re deeply rooted in history, representing progress and democratic status. Insofar as it remains worth defending, there remains no better way to adhere to “civilised” culture than to defend civil liberty and constitutional freedoms. While it may be a world away from the current zeitgeist among western leaders for criminalising dissent, journalism, and whistleblowing, reaching its zenith in the prosecution of Julian Assange, it’s nonetheless only a few fights away from restoration.

All around the world are corrupt governments torturing and oppressing citizens critical of the regimes that rule, not serve, them. True to Orientalist stereotypes, this type of place is reflexively assumed by the privileged commentariat to be an anomaly, in some remote region of the East, where the rule of law is alien and everybody’s neighbour knows someone in the gulag. Taking the American tradition of world policing to new heights, however, the most advanced superpower in the advanced industrial west will supply everything you could want if you were seeking examples of archetypal tyranny, and its satellites are all too happy to turn this practice from an isolated infraction to standard, common practice. Being emboldened in power, the US jurisdiction, and those under its spell, practice extraterritorial prosecutions, extraordinary renditions, in which foreign citizens are either extradited to the empire state for trial and punishment bordering on and oft crossing the rubicon into illegal torture, or have it enforced upon them in US bases overseas.

Unluckily, the CIA oversee these cases and will bend over backwards to accommodate torture, and to offend the constitution. Set in the context of the Patriot Act (an unconstitutional abomination of law rafted through congress during the hysteria after 9/11) they have unlimited powers to break non-refoulement law in the human rights convention. The principle of non-refoulement forms the crux of many internationally binding contracts in which signatory states agree to uphold and abide by the practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution.

Despite power’s collective disgrace of the law by breaking the principles enshrined in non-refoulement law, missing the irony, the Tory government has said the arrest of Julian Assange is just and serves to show he is not above the law. Likewise the official line from Ecuador that Assange’s work constitutes “cyber-terrorism.” Such talk from the government evidences not the culpability of Assange for any crime, but precisely the establishment’s desire to invert the real narrative: ironically, Assange has been arrested for exposing corruption that posits powerful organisations and politicians above the law, and for so doing he is now deemed beneath justice.

Assange had previously said it was not the prospect of answering to British or Swedish justice that worried him and put forward a robust case for the proximity of a British or Swedish trial to a US extradition during the debate about the moral ambiguity of his self-imposed exile, in which he credibly suggested he feared a kangaroo court in the US which would punish him to life, or gruesome death, for abiding by first amendment ethics, a claim that many thought was paranoid but has been vindicated.

Like all young people looking out to the world today, I am acutely conscious we are growing up in a times of extreme volatility and complex global politics marred by violence, war and corruption, one yet borne aloft by revolutionary dreams of a better world that have come to fruition in hopeful global rebellions, which I cheered on as a socially conscientious teenager.

Perhaps the defining note of optimism for me is that I am emboldened by hope in the face of an insurgency of brave truth telling, of righteous civil disobedience against corrupt and ossified power, but at once, the defining note of pessimism for me is that I am equally as worried by the way insurgent bearers of truth are being treated like mice in the maze of a Goliath American state, one that treats the whole world order as if it were its sole domain, its entire extraterritorial jurisdiction, a caliphate, whose subjects are treated with increasingly wanton whim at the behest of the senate, military and intelligence agencies in the empire state.

Notorious names — Schwartz, Assange, Lauri, Manning, Winner — correspond to notorious cases. While the case specifics encompass a varied range of actions and activities associated with subversion of US imperial strategy, they encompass and are united by concerted efforts to subvert imperial activism of the US state decidedly through electronic means — whistle blowing, data dumping, hacking — activity which, rendered through the realpolitik filter with which hawk politicians have been conditioned in the corridors of Yale and The Pentagon, is tantamount to treason. Thinking logically it is obvious treason is an untenable accusation against those who — with the exception of Manning, Schwartz, Winner — have never been American citizens. Indeed such charges sullying the names of these renegades seems designed to inculcate fear and obedience to American objectives not just within but beyond domestic spheres of influence. Silencing dissent, then, can be seen as core imperial strategy, and one with terrifying, unprecedented extraterritorial reach.

Hard working, principled journalists — who’d be legends and treasures in a long lost era of good press ethics in society — and their sources are paying a high price out of their human rights under the aegis of a craven new age of US imperialism. Most modern states bar the integration of legitimate journalistic activity with the penal code, like those currently being deployed to get Julian Assange. But in the data age, with less developed laws around the link between technology and sources, criminalisation is being embraced, or at least is being seized upon in the moment before laws and regulation are clarified and tightened up to get Assange.

But it stinks. For one evidence cited in attempts to justify his arrest and pursuit under the law are at best dubious, at worst slanderous. Moreover in a zeitgeist defined by Brexit negotiations steeped deep in the rhetoric of protecting parliamentary sovereignty it ought to worry us British courts are willing to yield to the whims of US courts who are willing to put Assange away for life, or kill him, for the crime of doing journalism.

It’s time that the establishment drops pretences and stops using the phrase “no man is above the law” as if the mantra is still meaningful. Either justice is a right or its not. For so many, conspicuously all in the business of exposing corruption, they don’t get it. It’s time to reform society’s treatment of whistleblowers and remove all legal obstructions to their freedoms.

In theory, we are equal under the law. In practice, some are beneath justice. Equality under the law — from which the maxim “no one above the law” — is a bastion of liberal democracy. It is oft cited in defence of the moral superiority of the western way of life over other systems that have preceded it or stand in opposition. A fair legal system is seen to be the sign of an ethically mature democracy. Yet it is precisely because the law is administered to prosecute whistleblowers on elite crimes and reward elite corruption that this truism about our equivalence in the contemporary justice system is an anachronism with a diluted meaning. In war, justice is always the biggest casualty.

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A Comparison of Who the New York Times Deems Worthy and Unworthy of Propping up

The New York Times continues to selectively promote news that fits the Establishment narrative. The NYT portrays the nine-year sentence of the Russian “opposition leader” Aleksei Navalny to a high-security prison as a travesty of justice. Was it unjust? If so, justice must be demanded. What I can comment on is a factual inaccuracy by the NYT: Navalny is not the opposition leader. His party has zero seats in the State Duma. The opposition party is the Communist Party of the Russian Federation with 57 seats. Navalny’s party, Russia of the Future, has zero seats. Russia of the Future remains unregistered as a political party. This is an unassailable point for the NYT given that democracy in the US is such that the Communist Party and Communism has been outlawed since the days of president Dwight Eisenhower.

A clearcut travesty of justice is the case of the political prisoner Julian Assange. He is imprisoned for having carried out his job as a publisher at WikiLeaks: informing the public by publishing facts. WikiLeaks has a publication record which under normal circumstances would make the NYT green with envy: WikiLeaks is “perfect in document authentication and resistance to all censorship attempts.” But the NYT is not about accuracy in publication.

WikiLeak’s perfect publication record includes revealing the war crimes of the United States; for this, the US Establishment placed a target on Assange’s back.

NYT, which once collaborated with WikiLeaks to publish stories, notes that Navalny — who was tried and convicted — has been held in captivity for more than a year.

Assange — who has been tried and convicted of breach of bail stemming from fraudulent Swedish charges; since Sweden refused to guarantee non-extradition to the US, Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy, subsequent events have borne out Assange’s fear — has been under one form of incarceration or another since January 2011.

In 2017, Navalny was found guilty at a retrial for embezzlement and given a five-year suspended prison sentence. He was later imprisoned for breaching the terms of his probation. In his latest trial, he was again found guilty of having embezzled people’s money. The NYT, however, paints the verdict as a move to extend Navalny’s time in prison.

Assange has only been found guilty of the relatively minor violation of breaching bail. Nonetheless, the period of his detention began with bogus charges of rape and sexual molestation cooked up by Swedish authorities. It is not difficult to join the dots and arrive at the logical conclusion that were it not for the initial fraudulent allegations against him, Assange would never have been placed into detention in the first place, and he would not be facing extradition to the US where he could sit in prison for as much as 175 years — for doing something for which he should be saluted by humanity: exposing war crimes.

Assange represents another nail in the coffin of the worthlessness of the Nobel Peace Prize, an award that has previously been conferred upon war criminals and other miscreants.

NYT is not focused on the miscarriage of justice against Assange even though the abuse of justice in Assange’s case puts its own “journalists” at risk of persecution should they reveal grave crimes of state.

Russia, the US-designated ennemi du jour, is an easy target for the NYT. Therefore, even though Navalny is a convicted criminal, he is deemed worthy of support by the NYT. Navalny is an enemy of an enemy, that plus his animus against Russian president Vladimir Putin makes him a friend for the US Establishment. Given this cozy arrangement, the NYT is free to cast aspersions on the Russian judge, Margarita Kotova, insinuating that her recent promotion is linked with the judicial finding against Navalny.

Emma Arbuthnot, who presided over Assange’s extradition case from late 2017 until mid-2019 was accused of a conflict of interest since her husband is “a former Conservative defense minister with extensive links to the British military and intelligence community exposed by WikiLeaks.” She did not recuse herself, and the legal Establishment in Britain did not have her removed from the case. In one ruling, Arbuthnot showed her true colors by dismissing a United Nations working group’s assessment that Assange was being arbitrarily detained.

Arbuthnot’s subordinate, judge Vanessa Baraitser, took over the Assange case and ruled that he should not be extradited for reasons of mental harm. However, she also stated that she believed Assange to be guilty, providing an opening for an American appeal, which the US won.

Assange’s appeal of that appeal was rejected. It seems that the appellate court accepted the Biden administration’s pledge not to confine Assange under the austerest conditions reserved for high-security prisoners and, should he be convicted, to allow him to serve his sentence in his native Australia.

Returning to Navalny, the NYT asserts there is “substantial evidence” that the Russian government was responsible for poisoning him in August 2020. And if one follows the link embedded for the “substantial evidence,” one comes to another NYT article wherein it is stated “Navalny’s revelations about his poisoning — not all of which have been independently verified.” The source of the “substantial evidence” is Navalny. In fact, there appears nothing at all that is compelling or substantial. But an investigation to determine the authenticity of Navalny’s claims would be in order.

On the other hand, there is verifiable evidence that the assassination and kidnapping of Assange was discussed at the highest levels of the CIA.

The NYT does not point out the discrediting of the rape allegations against Assange. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, destroyed the rape allegations against Assange and accused the authorities of psychological torture against the WikiLeaks publisher.

Expressing sympathy for Navalny, the NYT rued that he might be “moved to a higher-security prison farther from Moscow, making it harder for his lawyers and family to visit him.”

Meanwhile Assange, unaccused of any violent offense, is being held in the maximum security Belmarsh prison in England — about 15,000 km away from his birthplace in Australia.

The NYT mentions concerns for the life of Navalny. This concern is ostensibly missing for Assange’s incarceration in Belmarsh. Given that the British judge found imprisonment a mental health danger for Assange, it is a stark contradiction to keep him in prison where his mental health would remain at risk while awaiting the justice system’s outcome. It speaks clearly to the travesty of justice Assange has endured.

The Ripple Effect

The NYT’s shoddy journalism emerges again and again. Only recently it had to admit it had suppressed the story of what’s on the laptop of president Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. What was initially dismissed as Russian disinformation turned out to be Russiagate disinformation.

It shines a spotlight on who overwhelmingly provoked the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Grotesquely, the mother of all rogue nations, the US, led/cajoled its subservient Canadian, European, Japanese, South Korean, among other accomplices to sanction Russia (unilateral sanctions have been denounced by independent UN human rights experts who declared the right to development “an inalienable human right”) while the instigator goes unsanctioned.

Navalny deserves justice as much as any other person on the planet. If an injustice has been meted out to Navalny, then that must be corrected. The present thesis examines who the NYT deems worthy or unworthy of propping up. NYT’s “opposition leader” in Russia is without any party members in the Russian State Duma. Navalny compares in many respects to the hapless Juan Guaidó, a wannabe president of Venezuela, who the US backs and recognizes as president of Venezuela. To bring about a government amenable to American dictates in Venezuela, president Obama declared Venezuela a national security threat and sanctioned seven Venezuelan officials in 2015. Human rights expert Alfred de Zayas, who is highly critical of NYT coverage of Venezuela, estimated that at least 100,000 Venezuelans having died because of US sanctions. Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs contend that the US sanctions “fit the definition of collective punishment of the civilian population as described in both the Geneva and Hague international conventions, to which the US is a signatory.”

One victim who has not been found worthy of mention in the NYT is 16-year-old Palestinian Nader Rayan who was gunned down by Israeli border police troops. Israel’s Haaretz had the gumption to publish a piece describing the corpse of Nader Rayan:

strewn with deep, bleeding bullet wounds, his flesh is bare, his brain is spilling out, his head and face are perforated. Border Police troops shot him with pathological madness, in a rage, savagely, without restraint. His father counted 12 bullet wounds in his son’s body, all of them deep, large, oozing blood. Head, chest, stomach, back, legs and arms: There’s not a part of his son’s body without a large, gaping hole in it.

Nothing can justify this repeated shooting of a teenager who was running for his life, certainly not once he was hit and lay wounded on the road. Not even if the initial Border Police account, which for some reason was magically altered the following week – that the youth or his friend shot at the troops – is correct. Nothing can justify such unhinged shooting at a youth.

One can glean an understanding for NYT’s concern or lack of concern for humanity by comparing how it feted and eulogized genocidaire and former US secretary-of-state Madeleine Albright who blithely agreed with half a million Iraqi kids serving as sacrificial lambs for US policy objectives.

Russians, according to the NYT, have responded with insouciance to Navalny’s predicament.

Conversely, Julian Assange has garnered worldwide attention and support. Despite this, he is being subjected to a slow-motion assassination. As long as Assange draws air, there is still time for a tidal wave of humanity to drown out the injustice. It may seem unfair that one political prisoner, Julian Assange, has so much of progressivists’ attention focused on his release, but Assange is crucial in making known the crimes of state and revealing the plight of other people wrongfully imprisoned or unjustly targeted by the state.

How to stop the extradition of Assange? For instance, shutting down any airport that would seek to fly Assange to the US. Protestors in Hong Kong managed to shut down their airport, so it can be done. If enough people would surround Belmarsh prison preventing entry or exit, such a mass movement signal would be a signal. The trucker convoy with its supporters disrupted Ottawa and borders in Canada for weeks, and it had an effect because soon afterwards many provincial governments relented on the mandates. So it can be done. The protests caused the Canadian government to resort to an extremely draconian Emergencies Act and siphon people’s bank accounts. Forcing the state to turn to repressive measures is contradictorily a victory for protestors. The battle for justice will not and must not be over until Assange and all others falsely imprisoned are released. Conscience demands it.

The post A Comparison of Who the New York Times Deems Worthy and Unworthy of Propping up first appeared on Dissident Voice.