‘No One is Above the Law’ (Except the U.S.A.)

Julian Assange’s Australian lawyer and a European human rights attorney argue that the conduct of the U.S. regarding the WikiLeaks publisher blatantly disregards numerous laws.

By Greg Barns and Lisanne Adam
Special to Consortium News

On 11 April 2019, UK Prime Minister Theresa May informed that nation’s Parliament about the arrest of Julian Assange and thanked the Ecuadorian government and Metropolitan Police for their actions and collaboration contributing to the WikiLeaks publisher’s arrest and subsequent detention. In her statement, May said: “This goes to show that, in the United Kingdom, no one is above the Law.” By making this statement, May was referring to Assange’s actions relating to breaching bail and his arrest that day by the UK authorities, after Ecuador withdrew Assange’s asylum claim.

However, May’s statement can be construed in a broader sense, in it that refers to the Law as a whole, including the fundamental rights that the UK must honor in accordance with international human rights standards. May’s statement is accurate and true, no government or person should be above these laws.

Keeping May’s statement in mind, think about the fact that in her own backyard, on May 20 we had the extraordinary spectacle of U.S. law enforcement agencies being invited by Ecuador to walk into its Embassy and steal Assange’s belongings. Four days later, the U.S. loaded up the indictment it had filed against Assange by adding seventeen additional U.S. charges including; espionage, criminal conspiracy and computer hacking.

It was to be expected that Assange’s prosecution, extradition requests and other legal matters would be extraordinary. However, the cavalier disregard by the U.S., aided and abetted by Ecuador and the UK in the past month, is setting a truly dangerous precedent.

Globally, there are fundamental rights, embedded in the 1945 United Nations Charter and the 1954 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and designed to protect individuals against mistreatment by governments and non-state actors. Fundamental rights are there to protect any individual irrespective of who they are, or where they are.

Careful consideration was given to the formulation of these fundamental rights in international treaties and, these days, these important rights have been enshrined in international and domestic legislation. The overarching and universal principle of fairness is what underpins respect for these rights. Hence, fundamental fairness has been enshrined in domestic-and international laws in the UK, the U.S. and other nations which purport to subscribe to the rule of Law.

Stripped of His Rights

But in Assange’s case, fairness is an endangered species if not, completely extinct.

The Ecuadorian government completely ignored Assange’s fundamental rights in facilitating the confiscation of Assange’s personal property. Personal property including confidential documents, his legal defense strategy, medical records and electronic equipment. Assange’s seized property was subsequently handed over to the U.S.

The disregard for fairness shown by the U.S. towards Assange means materials, unlawfully seized by prosecutors and law enforcement, will be used to inform the case against him. If Assange is extradited to the U.S. and faces a trial there, there will be no respect to procedural equality of arms as Assange will have no reasonable opportunity of presenting his case under conditions that do not disadvantage him as against other parties to the proceedings.

The shredding of fairness in Assange’s case must be resisted and stopped. If the UK decides to proceed with his extradition to the U.S., Assange faces life imprisonment based upon proceedings that have been tainted with fundamental breaches of fairness and prosecutorial misconduct. A fair trial in the U.S. is simply not possible.

Moreover, the conduct relating to the proceedings against Assange are anything but legal; it is a political witch-hunt without merit. The gathering of evidence in such an unlawful way indicates the desperation of the U.S. prosecutor to build a case against Assange. A case that has nothing to do with the Law, Assange is supposed to serve as an example; a precedent and a warning that no whistle-blower, organization or person should disclose information about U.S. intelligence, no matter how gruesome this information may be.

Worse still, the high human cost of this biased and tunnel vision persecution is ignored by the UK, the U.S. and let’s face it the country of which he is a citizen, Australia. Assange is suffering prolonged exposure to psychological torture and his condition is worsening by the day. Professor Nils Melzer, the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, reported last week that Assange has no prospect of a fair trial in the U.S.

One can wonder, why do fundamental rights exist if we allow certain countries to ignore and breach them when it suits them? Theresa May was right: no one should be above the Law. Let’s be clear: ‘No one’ should include the U.S. ’ government.

Greg Barns is a barrister in Australia and Adviser to the Australian Assange campaign and Lisanne Adam is a consultant on EU human rights law based in Melbourne Australia.




UN Torture Report: ‘Demonized’ Assange Has Faced ‘Psychological Torture’

The UN special rapporteur on torture has blasted four nations for imposing psychological torture on Julian Assange.

‘A Relentless and Unrestrained Campaign of
Public Mobbing, Intimidation and Defamation’

Warns of ‘Criminalization of Journalism’

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

The UN special rapporteur on torture has issued a stinging rebuke to the United States, Great Britain, Sweden and Ecuador for “deliberately” exposing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to years of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” which can only be described as “psychological torture.”

“In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law,” Nils Melzer said in a statement published on the UN High Commissioner for Human Right’s website on Friday. “The collective persecution of Julian Assange must end here and now!”

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

Melzer went on:

“In the course of the past nine years, Mr. Assange has been exposed to persistent, progressively severe abuse ranging from systematic judicial persecution and arbitrary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, to his oppressive isolation, harassment and surveillance inside the embassy, and from deliberate collective ridicule, insults and humiliation, to open instigation of violence and even repeated calls for his assassination.”

Melzer visited Assange at Belmarsh prison in London on May 9 with two doctors, expert in recognizing potential torture victims, who examined the WikiLeaks founder. Melzer’s statement makes no mention of Assange having been hospitalized in the prison after he was unable to converse with his Swedish lawyer.

Melzer said: 

“It was obvious that Mr. Assange’s health has been seriously affected by the extremely hostile and arbitrary environment he has been exposed to for many years. Most importantly, in addition to physical ailments, Mr. Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma.”

Fears Possible Torture in U.S. 

The UN rapporteur said Assange’s human rights could be further threatened with extradition to the United States to face 18 charges, including 17 under the Espionage Act. 

“My most urgent concern is that, in the United States, Mr. Assange would be exposed to a real risk of serious violations of his human rights, including his freedom of expression, his right to a fair trial and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” said Melzer.

He said he was “particularly alarmed” by the Espionage Act charges. “This may well result in a life sentence without parole, or possibly even the death penalty, if further charges were to be added in the future,” said Melzer.

The rapporteur expressed deep concern that the Trump administration is criminalizing journalism.

“Since 2010, when Wikileaks started publishing evidence of war crimes and torture committed by US forces, we have seen a sustained and concerted effort by several States towards getting Mr. Assange extradited to the United States for prosecution, raising serious concern over the criminalisation of investigative journalism in violation of both the US Constitution and international human rights law,” the rapporteur said.

Herald Gets Confidential Report

The Sydney Morning Herald, quoting from the confidential report that Melzer sent to the British government on Monday as well as from an interview with the rapporteur, reported :

“[Assange] is really something I’ve never seen in 20 years,” Melzer said. “I’ve seen atrocities in war areas that were physically more horrible but I’ve never seen a single person pursued so relentlessly and with so little foundation.

“[When I saw him] I immediately compared him to some of the graver cases in interrogation prisons in terms of his psychological reaction patterns. That’s what alarmed me so much.” He said Assange’s treatment was “very close to the intentional, purposeful infliction of coercive measures to try to break him”.

He appeared “extremely agitated and preoccupied,” Melzer said. “He asked a lot of questions and he would jump around, he was so preoccupied with everything he can’t even compute my answers any more.

“There were episodes of this, then he was part of the conversation as normal, then again he would enter into this agitated state. I have seen with other victims of psychological torture that would happen.”

Melzer also blasted the government of Assange’s native Australia. He told the newspaper, “Australia is a glaring absence in this case. They’re just not around, as if Assange was not an Australian citizen. That is not the correct way of dealing with that.”

A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the Herald: “We reject any suggestion by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture that the Australian Government is complicit in psychological torture or has shown a lack of consular support for Mr Assange.”

Britain’s foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, condemned Melzer for his report. Hunt said it was “wrong” for the UN rapporteur to interfere with British justice by uttering “inflammatory accusations.” 

Melzer replied to Hunt:

 

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

 

 




Assange Espionage Act Indictment: Watch 31st Vigil

Watch the replay of a webcast discussion about Julian Assange’s indictment under the Espionage Act and the grave implications for the future of American journalism.

See John Kiriakou,  Chris Hedges, Margaret Kimberely, Peter B. Collins, and George Samzuely with hosts Elizabeth Vos and Joe Lauria. .




For the Latest News on WikiLeaks Watch the 30th Online Vigil

Host Elizabeth Vos led a discussion with author George Szamuely on Chelsea Manning returning to prison; Sweden reopening its case against Assange and the other big headlines of the week.




Dear Social Media Judges: Don’t Forget the Fundamentals of a Fair Trial

Julian Assange’s Australian lawyer and his EU advisor say the publisher should not be tried in social media and must be given a fair hearing in court. 

 

By Greg Barns and Lisanne Adam
Special to Consortium News

On Thursday this week WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will face a London court. This hearing relates to the request by the United States to extradite Assange to that country to face a computer hacking charge carrying a maximum penalty of five years. No doubt social media will be alive with commentary, support, abuse and everything in between concerning Assange’s plight.

When, after almost seven years, on April 11, 2019, Assange was arrested on Ecuadorian soil and taken into custody by U.K. police, social media exploded with the pro- and anti-Assange forces countering each other, and there has been a deluge of commentary about WikiLeaks and Assange the man. But much of what passes for comment about Assange on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook ignores some fundamental issues and facts about this extraordinary case. It is important to restate them in the hope, vain though it may be, that social media comment about Assange and WikiLeaks is at least well informed and deals with what is actually at stake in his case.

There is firstly the issue of Assange’s breaching bail in 2012 and seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. This was never a case of an individual seeking to flee from justice. To see Assange’s actions in this light is to ignore the fundamental right every person has to seek asylum if they have a well-founded fear of persecution based on political opinion. In his case the fear was Sweden would detain him and then hand him over to the United States. Sweden refused to assure him it would not.  We must also remember that Assange did not “hide” in the embassy, like a fugitive. He was detained because he had no choice — leave and be arrested was not a viable option.

Please Make a Donation to Our
Spring Fundraising Drive Today!

It is also essential that Assange’s right to a fair trial be respected. The opinions on his arrests, his alleged (mis-)conduct and his persona has essentially involved many on social media engaging in the classic “trial by media.”  The ongoing discussions about this on media platforms got divided in two camps: Assange is either a villain who deserves what he got or a hero who disclosed information that the public had a right to know.

Trial by Twitter

Assange’s case has, and is being decided upon by millions of social media judges around the world who are finding him guilty of hacking, espionage and sexual misconduct. And many of these same social media judges are deliberating on Assange’s extradition fight and the role of Sweden and the United States. Moreover, his trial on social media leads inevitably to the persecution by non-state actors in the form of harassment to WikiLeaks, Assange and to those close to him.

One issue is of particular concern. It is particularly troubling that many on social media are misleading others into thinking that there are legal proceedings afoot in Sweden today. This assertion is simply wrong. Assange has never been charged in Sweden, the investigation into the alleged sexual misconduct was closed, twice. There are only two live issues before the courts, leaving aside the sentencing for breach of bail. They are, the extradition request and the accompanying charges brought by the U.S. in respect of which there is a real possibility that once on U.S. soil, Assange will face an inhumane and degrading treatment, torture and an unfair trial. It is to be expected Assange will receive a similar treatment as his collaborator, Chelsea Manning, who is currently detained due to her unwillingness to testify to a grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks.

We simply say this to social media participants. Don’t judge Assange’s case on its presentation in the political arena, in the news or in the analysis of others on social media. Moreover, don’t let the procedure in Assange’s trial set a dangerous precedent for future, similar cases. The legal proceedings involving him must be decided by an impartial judge respecting and following the rule of law.  His case has to be judged fairly on the merits and on actual evidence rather than on conspiracy theories or political games. The right to a fair trial entails the right to defend oneself, access to a lawyer, a hearing with an impartial judge and the respect to all the procedural requirements to minimize the risk on other potential breaches of fundamental rights. There is no exception to these fundamental rights in Assange’s case. Respecting Assange’s fair trial and the rule of law, will benefit justice.

Greg Barns is a barrister in Australia and Australian legal adviser to Julian Assange. Lisanne Adam is a consultant on EU human rights law based in Melbourne, Australia.

Please Make a Donation to Our
Spring Fundraising Drive Today!




Assange’s Imprisonment Arguably Reveals Even More Corruption Than WikiLeaks Did

By locking up Assange, the U.S, its allies and corporate media have inadvertently exposed themselves for what they are, and we’re now able to point that out for everyone to see, writes Caitlin Johnstone. 

By Caitlin Johnstone
CaitlinJohnstone.com

Consortium News has launched a new series titled “The Revelations of WikiLeaks”, geared toward helping readers come to a full appreciation of just how much useful information the outlet has made available to the world with its publications. Which is good, because there’s a whole lot of it. Understanding everything that WikiLeaks has done to shine light in areas that powerful people wish to keep dark makes it abundantly clear why powerful people would want to dedicate immense amounts of energy toward sabotaging it.

What’s even more interesting to me right now, though, is that if you think about it, the completely fraudulent arrest and imprisonment of Julian Assange arguably exposes more malfeasance by government and media powers than than what has been revealed in all WikiLeaks publications combined since its inception. And we can use that as a weapon in waking the world up to the dystopian manipulations of the powerful, in the same way we can use WikiLeaks publications.

Really, think about it. Thanks to WikiLeaks we know about a military cultural environment in the Iraq war that was toxic enough to give rise to U.S. servicemen merrily gunning down civilians, including two Reuters war correspondents, while whooping and exchanging verbal high-fives. We know that the CIA cultivated a massive cyber-arsenal which enables them to spy through smartphones and smart TVs, remotely hijack vehicles, and forge digital fingerprints on cyber-intrusions to make it look to forensic investigators as though hackers from another nation was responsible, and that they lost control of this arsenal.

 We know about the DNC’s agenda to undermine Bernie Sanders during the primary in violation of its charter, that Hillary Clinton told a group of Goldman Sachs executives that she understood the need to have “a public position and a private position,” and that Obama’s cabinet was basically selected for him by a Citigroup executive. We know that and a whole lot more, information which mainstream and alternative media reports use to this very day when constructing analyses of what’s going on in the world.

All of these things are of course hugely significant. But are they anywhere near as significant as the earth-shakingly scandalous revelation that the U.S. government and its allies conspired to imprison a journalist for reporting facts about the powerful? That the governments of America, Ecuador, the UK and Australia all worked in concert to arrange a series of bureaucratic technicalities which all aligned perfectly to create a situation that just so happens to look exactly the same as imprisoning a journalist for telling the truth?

The only thing which keeps this scandalous revelation from registering in the minds of the greater public with the magnitude it deserves is the fact that the mass media doesn’t treat it like the scandal that it so clearly is. If, for example, the mass media were treating this open act of tyranny with the same enthusiasm they treated the Democratic Party emails as they were published drop by drop in the lead-up to the presidential election, or the same enthusiasm they regarded the diplomatic cables or the “Collateral Murder” video, everyone would be up in arms at the fact that their government was acting in a way that is functionally indistinguishable from what’s done to journalists by the most totalitarian dictatorships in the world.

And that refusal of the mainstream media to run virtually anything but smear pieces is, in and of itself, a part of why this scandal is so breathtaking in its audacity. The legal precedent that they are attempting to set with the extradition, persecution and prosecution of Julian Assange for everyday acts of journalism will affect every journalist on the planet, working or retired, professional or citizen. This literally endangers the lives and freedom of every single person working in every single one of those outlets, and they are all either ignorantly cheering it on, or too scared to care. The CIA and Pentagon have weaponized public opinion by using the most advanced psychological weapons known to man, and although the main barrier to fighting his persecution is simply the social shame of going against the tribe, it’s effectively turned the press upon itself. The free press is gaslighting itself into total and absolute submission.

And we can see that this is happening. And we can point to it.

What I’m getting at with all this is that it’s important to keep in mind that the U.S.-centralized empire has given us information that can be used against it in devastating fashion if we’re clever. Even while Assange is locked behind bars, even while whistleblowers are being intimidated away from whistleblowing and journalists are being intimidated away from publishing leaks, we are being given information that we can circulate and attack the propaganda machine that’s keeping humanity docile and enslaved.

By locking up Assange, they’ve inadvertently exposed themselves for what they are, and we are now able to point at it for everyone to see. They reached too far out into the light and exposed their true face.

Never stop using this information to attack the promulgators and beneficiaries of disinformation. Never stop referring to the U.S. and UK as “a government which imprisons journalists for publishing inconvenient facts”. Never stop calling out the hypocrisy when westerners criticize other governments for locking up journalists. Never stop reminding people who pretend to care about the free press when Trump makes mean tweets about a CNN reporter that they are willfully ignoring a threat to the free press that is infinitely greater in this administration’s prosecution of Assange. This is what they are. If anyone denies it, engage them in debate and show everyone why they’re wrong.

We are still very much in this fight. Whenever they reach into the light to silence the truth, the light shines upon their face and burns them. They reach their arms into the light of truth, and their arms turn to dust. Whenever they try to fight truth head-on, they cannot help but show the world what they really are.

Never, ever stop reminding everyone of what has undeniably been revealed in the imprisonment of Julian Assange.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Follow her work on Facebook, Twitter, or her website. She has a podcast and a new book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers.” This article was re-published with permission.

 Honor the Legacy of Bob Parry with a
Donation
to Our Spring Fund Drive.




From Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, a Talk on Assange

Consortium News Editor Joe Lauria on Sunday delivered this talk about the Assange case to a group of activists who are living inside the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington to stop the illegitimate government of Venezuela from taking it over. 

Video by Ford Fischer of News2Share.




How Ecuador’s President Gave Up Assange

Lenin Moreno was desperate to ingratiate his government with Washington and distract the public from his mounting scandals, writes the Grayzone’s Denis Rogatyuk.

By Denis Rogatyuk
Grayzone

The images of six Metropolitan police officers dragging Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London have enraged citizens around the world. Many have warned that if he is extradited to the U.S. for trial on conspiracy charges – and possibly much more if federal prosecutors have their way – it will lead to the criminalization of many standard journalistic practices. These scenes were only possible thanks to the transformation of Ecuador’s government under the watch of President Lenin Moreno.

Since at least December 2018, Moreno has been working towards expelling the Wikileaks publisher from the embassy. The Ecuadorian president’s behavior represents a stunning reversal of the policies of his predecessor, Rafael Correa, the defiantly progressive leader who authorized Assange’s asylum back in 2012, and who now lives in exile.

While Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Jose Valencia blamed his government’s expulsion of Assange on the Australian journalist’s “rudeness,” the sellout is clearly a byproduct of Moreno’s right-leaning agenda.

Political instability has swept across Ecuador since revelations of widespread corruption in Moreno’s inner circle emerged. The scandal coincided with Moreno’s turn towards neoliberal economic reforms, from implementing a massive IMF loan package to the gradual and total embrace and support for U.S. foreign policy in the region. In his bid to satisfy Washington and deflect from his own problems, Moreno was all too eager to sacrifice Assange.

INA Papers Scandal

WikiLeaks’s decision to re-publish the details of Moreno’s use of off-shore bank accounts in Panama, titled “INA Papers” after the name of the shell corporation at the center of the scandal (INA Investment Corporation), appear to be the main cause for the president’s decision to expel Assange from the embassy.

Ecuadorian Communications Minister Andrés Michelena went as far as claiming that the INA Papers were a conspiracy plot between Julian Assange,  the former President Rafael Correa and the current Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

The INA Papers scandal has cast a long shadow on Moreno’s regime and shattered its pledge to fight against institutional corruption. The scandal reveals that a close associate of Moreno, Xavier Macias, lobbied for the contract of the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric power plant (valued at $2.8 billion) as well as the ZAMORA 3000 MW plant to be awarded Sinohydro, a Chinese state-owned construction company.

The financial trail from the Chinese corporation passed through bank accounts in Panama belonging to INA Investment Corporation — a shell company originally founded in Belize, a notable tax haven, by Edwin Moreno Garcés, the brother of the current president. The most crucial pieces of evidence indicate that the INA Investment funds were used to purchase a large apartment in Alicante, Spain, and a number of luxury items for Moreno and his family in Geneva, during his time as a special envoy on disability rights for the United Nations.

As the pressure mounted on Moreno, the attorney general of Ecuador issued a statement on March 19th, indicating that it had commenced an investigation into the INA Papers scandal involving the president and his family. Next, on March 27th, the National Assembly of Ecuador approved a vote in favor of investigating Moreno’s alleged off-shore bank dealings in Panama. According to Ecuador Inmediato, 153 public service officials, along with all members of the National Assembly, were also included in the initial public hearing scheduled for April 1st.

The corruption scandal came amid a number of other prominent crises disrupting both the Moreno administration and the Ecuadorian economy. The local and regional elections of March 24th, as well as the election to the Council of Citizens’ Participation and Social Control (CPCCS) on March 24th, have been riddled with a series of controversies and irregularities with regards to vote counts and allegations of fraud, including the attempts to invalidate null votes, disqualify and smear the candidates endorsed by ex-President Rafael Correa. The stunning lack of transparency and legitimacy was highlighted by a report of the mission of electoral observers of the Organisation of American States.

In an unusual twist, the U.S. ambassador, Todd Chapman, was spotted visiting the headquarters of Ecuador’s National Electoral Council during the March 24th elections and allegedly participated as an official electoral observer in the elections. This display of interference was widely condemned on social media as illegal under the current electoral rules, which forbid foreign powers from playing any active role in the electoral process. But in Moreno’s Ecuador, it was a perfect symbol of the new status quo.

 IMF Deal

During the recent meeting of the executive board of the IMF, the financial body approved a loan package of $4.2 billion to the government of Lenin Moreno for what it called a “more dynamic, sustainable, and inclusive economy for the benefit of all Ecuadorians.” The agreement coincided with layoffs of over 10,000 public sector workers, in addition to the ongoing policy of slashing in public and social spending, a decrease in the minimum wage and the removal of secure work protections that marked the sharp neoliberal turn of the Ecuadorian government under Moreno.

The IMF deal coincided with the intensifying attempts by the Ecuadorian government to proceed with the expulsion of Julian Assange from its London embassy. His arrest therefore stands as a sign that Moreno is willing to give up any part of his country’s sovereignty – political, diplomatic, or economic – to comply with the demands of international finance.

The same pattern has been seen in Moreno’s increasing level of collaboration with the Trump administration and its foreign policy in Latin America. From holding private meetings with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, to publicly hosting Vice President Mike Pence in the Ecuadorian presidential palace, to authorizing the opening of a new Security Cooperation Office in place of the old U.S. military base in Manta, Moreno’s embrace of Trump’s “Monroeist” policy towards Latin America has become all too apparent.

At the same time, Moreno has gone to great lengths to undo the progress of Latin American unity and integration initiated by his predecessor and other progressive leaders in the region.

On March 13th, Moreno announced that Ecuador would leave the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), founded in 2008 by leaders of South America’s so-called pink tide: Nestor Kirchner of Argentina, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Lula Da Silva of Brazil. The project was inspired by the long-standing vision of Simon Bolivar who envisaged South America as a federation of republics. UNASUR was meant to consolidate the growing economic and political integration among the increasingly progressive governments across the region, ultimately emulating the current structure of the European Union.

Moreno complained in his press release that UNASUR has been compromised by the lack of participation of the right-leaning governments in the region, as well as what he called, “irresponsible actions of certain leaders that replicated the worst vices of socialism of the 21st Century.”

In a manner similar to Francisco Santander and the project of Gran Colombia during the 1820s, Moreno has opted for a pro-U.S. foreign policy and commercial relations based on free trade and economic liberalization. He has also followed the path of other right-wing leaders in the region such as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Argentina’s Mauricio Macri in officially recognizing Juan Guaidó as the president of Venezuela. Moreno was even among the attendees of the founding summit of Prosur, a newly convened regional bloc of U.S.-aligned neoliberal governments.

Moreno’s decision to silence Julian Assange and expel him enabled the president to gain the trust of the Trump administration while distracting the Ecuadorian public and international media from his mounting crises at home. From corrupt dealing in off-shore bank accounts, the fraudulent elections of March 24th and his mishandling of the Ecuadorian economy, Moreno is in a world of trouble.

This has not escaped the notice of Correa, Ecuador’s former president. After having his page blocked on Facebook, Correa stated that “In his hatred, because Wikileaks published corruption of INA papers, Moreno wanted to destroy Assange’s life. He probably did it, but he has also done a huge damage to the country. Who will trust in ECUADOR again?”

Overall, Ecuador has come to resemble the neoliberal regimes of the 1990s across the continent, with IMF-sanctioned austerity, increasingly unstable state institutions and an almost complete obedience to the U.S. foreign policy in the region becoming the new policy standard. Handing Assange over for possible extradition to the U.S. was the inevitable result of Moreno’s turn to the right, but it is hardly the end of his sell out.

Denis Rogatyuk is a Russian-Australian freelance writer, journalist and researcher. His articles, interviews and analysis have been published in a variety of media sources around the world including Jacobin, Le Vent Se Léve, Sputnik, Green Left Weekly, Links International Journal, Alborada and others.




Julian Assange’s Nightmarish Future

The WikiLeaks publisher is in a maximum-security prison that has been called the UK’s Guantanamo Bay, Elizabeth Vos reports.

By Elizabeth Vos
Special to Consortium News

While Julian Assange waits for what comes next — sentencing on skipping bail in England and a U.S. extradition request — he is being held in a maximum-security prison in London that has been called the “UK’s Guantanamo Bay” and has been used to detain alleged terrorists, sometimes indefinitely

The reputation of HM Prison Belmarsh raises natural concerns about the wellbeing of the WikiLeaks publisher there.

“While many prisoners at Belmarsh say it’s difficult to see a doctor or a nurse, these services are available at the facility,” reports Bloomberg News, regarding the possibility of Assange receiving overdue medical attention. 

Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh had been used to detain high-profile national security prisoners indefinitely without charge under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001, passed six weeks after 9/11, until the House of Lords ruled it violated the British Human Rights Act.

Assange was found guilty on Thursday of skipping bail. On May 2 he is scheduled to participate in a court hearing via video link on the U.S. extradition request.

Assange’s name now tops the alphabetical roster of notables who have done time at Belmarsh or who are still there. The list includes notorious gangsters, serial killers and drug traffickers. Ronnie Biggs of the 1963 Great Train Robbery was imprisoned there.  Others are subjects of high-profile scandal, such as Richard Tomlinson, imprisoned for six months in 1997 after he gave a synopsis of a proposed book detailing his career with MI6 to an Australian publisher. Andy Coulson, a former press secretary to Prime Minister David Cameron, was imprisoned for a few months for the phone hacking scandal that engulfed News of the World while he was editor there. 

One mainstay of the inmate population are convicted terrorists. Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Egyptian cleric, was at Belmarsh until his  extradition to the United States where he is serving life in prison on 11 counts of terrorism. Rams Mohammed, Muktar Said Ibrahim and Yasin Hassan Omar were were all incarcerated there for their roles in the 2005 attempted bombings of the London underground. Anjou Choudhry completed his sentence at Belmarsh for promoting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale are identified as Islamic terrorists convicted of the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in London.  

There is legitimate concern about how Assange will fare inside Belmarsh. A 2018 survey by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons found that “91 percent of men said they had problems when they arrived at Belmarsh, which was higher than at other local prisons and more than at our last inspection,” Business Insider reported.

In 2009, the same prison authority had found extremely high amount of force used to control inmates at the prison.

Detainees were “unable to see the intelligence evidence against them and are confined to their cells for up to 22 hours a day. Their solicitors say they have been ‘entombed in concrete,’ BBC reported in 2004. 

The 2018 chief inspector’s report said the prison contains a “High Security Unit (HSU) within the already-high-security premises, which the report described as a ‘prison within a prison.’” The report went on to state that:

“The role of the high security unit (HSU) remained unclear. We were told it was for high risk category A prisoners, but such men are held in main locations in other high security prisons and we did not understand why the approach was different at Belmarsh. We noted that two of the men held were only standard risk category A prisoners and that in December 2017 two men from the main prison had been held in the HSU segregation unit. The conditions and the regime in the HSU provided prisoners with an intense custodial experience in which they could exercise little self-determination, and we were concerned that prisoners could be located there without any oversight process or redress.”

Describing the use of solitary confinement, the chief inspector’s report found: “Conditions in the unit were reasonable, but some prisoners could not have a shower or exercise every day. Those who could only be unlocked in the presence of several officers were most affected.” The report repeatedly described concerns that arose due to staff shortages, and added in a separate section: “We remained concerned about this use of designated cells, where men were held in prolonged solitary confinement on an impoverished regime.”

Individual accounts from former Belmarsh inmates published by CAGE, an advocacy group against human rights abuses that occurred as a result of the “war on Terror,” described their experiences. An anonymous prisoner who was later acquitted said: “The prison system is run in such a way as to humiliate and degrade the inmate as much as possible. The process of dehumanisation starts immediately.” In the wake of Assange’s imprisonment, CAGE published a statement, saying in part: “The UK is doing the U.S.’s dirty work by persecuting a man who exposed war crimes.”

Vigils and protests in support of Assange were held outside the prison on April 14 and April 15.

The last time Assange was held in a British prison, in 2010, he says that he was given food containing metal objects that severely damaged a tooth. This was at London’s HM Prison WandsworthThe incident caused serious injury and he did not receive proper medical treatment during the six and a half years of  his confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy. A medical report published by WikiLeaks in 2015 describes Assange’s version of the event:

‘This is Unlawful, I’m Not Leaving’

Uniformed British police officers, aided by what appeared to be plain-clothes secret police, had entered the embassy on Thursday morning when the Ecuadorian ambassador “indicated he was preparing to serve upon Mr Assange documentation revoking his asylum,” attorney James Hines, Queens Counsel, who represented the U.S. government, told the court during Assange’s bail-skipping hearing.  The Guardian quoted Hines as later telling the court that day: 

 “Officers tried to introduce themselves to him in order to execute the arrest warrant before he barged past them, attempting to return to his private room.

“He was eventually arrested at 10.15 am. He resisted that arrest, claiming ‘this is unlawful’ and he had to be restrained.

“Officers were struggling to handcuff him. They received assistance from other officers outside and he was handcuffed saying, ‘this is unlawful, I’m not leaving’.

“He was in fact lifted into the police van outside the embassy and taken to West End Central police station.”

Assange was likely referring to the 1951 Convention on Refugees that forbids a nation that has granted someone asylum from returning that person to a country where the asylee is likely to be persecuted.

Police were then filmed forcibly dragging the handcuffed, physically ill Assange from the steps of the embassy. During the arrest, Assange was seen holding a copy of Gore Vidal’s “The History of the National Security State,” as he shouted: “The UK must resist this….the UK must resist.”

Fears of U.S. Mistreatment 

In view of then CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s comparison of WikiLeaks (46:00 minutes into the above video) with Al Qaeda, while calling it a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” concerns are mounting in Assange’s camp about the harsh treatment he may face by British, and if he’s extradited, U.S.  authorities.

In the hours following the arrest, Reuters reported: “Lawyers for Assange said he may risk torture and his life would be in danger if he were to be extradited to the United States.”

On the same day, human-rights organizations and press-freedom advocates argued against the prosecution of the WikiLeaks founder. These groups included the ACLU, The Freedom of the Press Foundation, the Center for Investigative Journalism, Amnesty Ireland, Committee To Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Union of Journalists, the The Knight First Amendment Institute and Digital Rights Watch.

The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald was quick to note the widespread mischaracterization of the charge against Assange as one of “hacking,” writing that the charging document and related materials indicate Assange may have attempted to help Chelsea Manning, a U.S. Army whistleblower then known as Bradley Manning, use a different username to access classified material she was legally allowed to access at the time. In other words, Greenwald says Assange is charged with helping a source preserve anonymity, a common practice by investigative reporters.

Greenwald also points out that this action has been on public record since 2011, but that U.S. authorities under the Obama administration refused to use it as a basis of prosecution due to the chill it could put on press freedom.

Honor Bob Parry’s legacy by donating  to our Spring Fund Drive.

UN Visitor

The UN independent expert on the right to privacy, Joe Cannataci, issued a statement following Assange’s arrest.  “This will not stop my efforts to assess Mr. Assange’s claims that his privacy has been violated,” he was quoted by the United Nations’ news service.  “All it means is that, instead of visiting Mr. Assange and speaking to him at the Embassy. I intend to visit him and speak to him wherever he may be detained.” 

Shortly before Assange’s expulsion, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer expressed alarm at reports that an arrest was imminent. If extradited, Melzer said Assange could be exposed to “a real risk of serious violations of his human rights, including his freedom of expression, his right to a fair trial, and the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Assange’s supporters likewise fear for his treatment in Belmarsh. 

Matthew Hoh, a senior fellow with the Center for International Policy and a former Marine, visited Assange at the embassyHe worries about the mistreatment Assange might face in custody. He believes, “When they get their hands on him, they will do things that will be criminal, it will be immoral, it will be torture,” he said during an online Unity4J vigil held days before Assange’s expulsion. 

The online Assange vigils are co-hosted by Consortium News and have been held for over a year, to maintain public awareness about Assange after Ecuador withdrew his internet access.  

Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, during a Unity4J panel,  offered his fear of what he believes will happen to Assange if he is extradited to the United States :

“He will have a hood over his head, he will be shackled and chained, he’ll be put on a black flight, he will be taken to the U.S., put into solitary confinement — which is a form of torture, it is how people break, and often break very quickly. He will be relentlessly interrogated, there will be all sorts of psychological techniques — it will be very hot in his cell and then very cold. They will constantly wake him every few hours so he will be sleep deprived. They will maybe even put him into a dry cell, where there is no water, so he will have to ask for water to go to the bathroom or wash his hands.”

Hedges continued:

“Everyone has a breaking point, and they will attempt to psychologically destroy him, and we have seen with Guantanamo that several of these detainees, most of whom were just sold to the U.S. by warlords in Afghanistan or Pakistan, are emotionally crippled for life. It will be scientific torture. I used to cover the Stasi state in East Germany, and the joke in the Stasi state was that the Gestapo broke bones and the Stasi break minds, and that’s what they’ll do. That’s what will happen. I’ve seen it with Muslims who have been entrapped in the U.S. in so-called terrorism plots, and by the time they shuffle into court, they are a zombie.”

Hedges added: “There will be a veneer of legality:  it will be the figment of law. But he will be treated like all of the people who have been disappeared into that system from around the world.”

Micol Savia, representative of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers at the United Nations, drew on Chelsea Manning’s experience of torture in U.S. custody when raising concern that Assange may be likewise abused, writing via Twitter: 

“#Assange’s eventual extradition to the US would expose him to a substantive risk of human rights violations. The likely treatment he would receive can easily be inferred from the unjust trial and detention of [Chelsea Manning] @xychelsea, who faced life in prison and was subjected to torture.”

Elizabeth Vos is a freelance reporter and regular contributor to Consortium News. She co-hosts the #Unity4J online vigil.

If you value this original article, please consider making a donation to Consortium News during our Spring Fund Drive so we can bring you more stories like this one.




CHRIS HEDGES: The Martyrdom of Julian Assange

Assange and WikiLeaks allowed us to see the inner workings of empire — the most important role of a press — and for this they became empire’s prey, writes Chris Hedges of Truthdig.

By Chris Hedges
Truthdig

The arrest Thursday of Julian Assange eviscerates all pretense of the rule of law and the rights of a free press. The illegalities, embraced by the Ecuadorian, British and U.S. governments, in the seizure of Assange are ominous. They presage a world where the internal workings, abuses, corruption, lies and crimes, especially war crimes, carried out by corporate states and the global ruling elite will be masked from the public. They presage a world where those with the courage and integrity to expose the misuse of power will be hunted down, tortured, subjected to sham trials and given lifetime prison terms in solitary confinement. They presage an Orwellian dystopia where news is replaced with propaganda, trivia and entertainment. The arrest of Assange, I fear, marks the official beginning of the corporate totalitarianism that will define our lives.

Under what law did Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno capriciously terminate Julian Assange’s rights of asylum as a political refugee? Under what law did Moreno authorize British police to enter the Ecuadorian Embassy — diplomatically sanctioned sovereign territory — to arrest a naturalized citizen of Ecuador? Under what law did Prime Minister Theresa May order the British police to grab Assange, who has never committed a crime? Under what law did President Donald Trump demand the extradition of Assange, who is not a U.S. citizen and whose news organization is not based in the United States?

I am sure government attorneys are skillfully doing what has become de rigueur for the corporate state, using specious legal arguments to eviscerate enshrined rights by judicial fiat. This is how we have the right to privacy with no privacy. This is how we have “free” elections funded by corporate money, covered by a compliant corporate media and under iron corporate control. This is how we have a legislative process in which corporate lobbyists write the legislation and corporate-indentured politicians vote it into law. This is how we have the right to due process with no due process. This is how we have a government — whose fundamental responsibility is to protect citizens — that orders and carries out the assassination of its own citizens such as the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son. This is how we have a press legally permitted to publish classified information and a publisher sitting in jail in Britain awaiting extradition to the United States and a whistleblower, Chelsea Manning, in a jail cell in the United States.

Britain will use as its legal cover for the arrest the extradition request from Washington based on conspiracy charges. This legal argument, in a functioning judiciary, would be thrown out of court. Unfortunately, we no longer have a functioning judiciary. We will soon know if Britain as well lacks one.

Refusing Safe Passage

Assange was granted asylum in the embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to answer questions about sexual offense allegations that were eventually dropped. Assange and his lawyers always argued that if he was put in Swedish custody he would be extradited to the United States. Once he was granted asylum and Ecuadorian citizenship the British government refused to grant Assange safe passage to the London airport, trapping him in the embassy for seven years as his health steadily deteriorated.

The Trump administration will seek to try Assange on charges that he conspired with Manning in 2010 to steal the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs obtained by WikiLeaks. The half a million internal documents leaked by Manning from the Pentagon and the State Department, along with the 2007 video of U.S. helicopter pilots nonchalantly gunning down Iraqi civilians, including children, and two Reuters journalists, provided copious evidence of the hypocrisy, indiscriminate violence, and routine use of torture, lies, bribery and crude tactics of intimidation by the U.S. government in its foreign relations and wars in the Middle East. Assange and WikiLeaks allowed us to see the inner workings of empire—the most important role of a press—and for this they became empire’s prey.

U.S. government lawyers will attempt to separate WikiLeaks and Assange from The New York Times and the British newspaper The Guardian, both of which also published the leaked material from Manning, by implicating Assange in the theft of the documents. Manning was repeatedly and often brutally pressured during her detention and trial to implicate Assange in the seizure of the material, something she steadfastly refused to do. She is currently in jail because of her refusal to testify, without her lawyer, in front of the grand jury assembled for the Assange case. President Barack Obama granted Manning, who was given a 35-year sentence, clemency after she served seven years in a military prison.

Once the documents and videos provided by Manning to Assange and WikiLeaks were published and disseminated by news organizations such as The New York Times and The Guardian, the press callously, and foolishly, turned on Assange. News organizations that had run WikiLeaks material over several days soon served as conduits in a black propaganda campaign to discredit Assange andWikiLeaks. This coordinated smear campaign was detailed in a leaked Pentagon document prepared by the Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch and dated March 8, 2008. The document called on the U.S. to eradicate the “feeling of trust” that is WikiLeaks’ “center of gravity” and destroy Assange’s reputation.

Democrats’ Ire

Assange, who with the Manning leaks had exposed the war crimes, lies and criminal manipulations of the George W. Bush administration, soon earned the ire of the Democratic Party establishment by publishing 70,000 hacked emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and senior Democratic officials. The emails were copied from the accounts of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. The Podesta emails exposed the donation of millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two of the major funders of Islamic State, to the Clinton Foundation. It exposed the $657,000 that Goldman Sachs paid to Hillary Clinton to give talks, a sum so large it can only be considered a bribe. It exposed Clinton’s repeated mendacity. She was caught in the emails, for example, telling the financial elites that she wanted “open trade and open borders” and believed Wall Street executives were best positioned to manage the economy, a statement that contradicted her campaign statements. It exposed the Clinton campaign’s efforts to influence the Republican primaries to ensure that Trump was the Republican nominee. It exposed Clinton’s advance knowledge of questions in a primary debate. It exposed Clinton as the primary architect of the war in Libya, a war she believed would burnish her credentials as a presidential candidate. Journalists can argue that this information, like the war logs, should have remained hidden, but they can’t then call themselves journalists.

The Democratic leadership, intent on blaming Russia for its election loss, charges that the Podesta emails were obtained by Russian government hackers, although James Comey, the former FBI director, has conceded that the emails were probably delivered to WikiLeaks by an intermediary. Assange has said the emails were not provided by “state actors.”

WikiLeaks has done more to expose the abuses of power and crimes of the American Empire than any other news organization. In addition to the war logs and the Podesta emails, it made public the hacking tools used by the CIA and the National Security Agency and their interference in foreign elections, including in the French elections. It disclosed the internal conspiracy against British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn by Labour members of Parliament. It intervened to save Edward Snowden, who made public the wholesale surveillance of the American public by our intelligence agencies, from extradition to the United States by helping him flee from Hong Kong to Moscow. The Snowden leaks also revealed that Assange was on a U.S. “manhunt target list.”

A haggard-looking Assange, as he was dragged out of the embassy by British police, shook his finger and shouted: “The U.K. must resist this attempt by the Trump administration. … The U.K. must resist!”

We all must resist. We must, in every way possible, put pressure on the British government to halt the judicial lynching of Assange. If Assange is extradited and tried, it will create a legal precedent that will terminate the ability of the press, which Trump repeatedly has called “the enemy of the people,” to hold power accountable. The crimes of war and finance, the persecution of dissidents, minorities and immigrants, the pillaging by corporations of the nation and the ecosystem and the ruthless impoverishment of working men and women to swell the bank accounts of the rich and consolidate the global oligarchs’ total grip on power will not only expand, but will no longer be part of public debate. First Assange. Then us.

This article was originally published on Truthdig and is republished with permission.

Chris Hedges is a Truthdig columnist, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a New York Times best-selling author, a professor in the college degree program offered to New Jersey state prisoners by Rutgers University, and an ordained Presbyterian minister. Read more about him here. This column first appeared in Truthdig.