War Crimes and the Lie of American Innocence
The branding of Vladimir Putin as a war criminal by Joe Biden, who lobbied for the Iraq war and staunchly supported the 20 years of carnage in the Middle East, is one more example of the hypocritical moral posturing sweeping across the United States. It is unclear how anyone would try Putin for war crimes since Russia, like the United States, does not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. But justice is not the point. Politicians like Biden, who do not accept responsibility for our well-documented war crimes, bolster their moral credentials by demonizing their adversaries. They know the chance of Putin facing justice is zero. And they know their chance of facing justice is the same.
We know who our most recent war criminals are, among others: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, General Ricardo Sanchez, former CIA Director George Tenet, former Asst. Atty. Gen. Jay Bybee, former Dep. Asst. Atty. Gen. John Yoo, who set up the legal framework to authorize torture; the helicopter pilots who gunned down civilians, including two Reuters journalists, in the "Collateral Murder" video released by WikiLeaks. We have evidence of the crimes they committed.
But, like Putin's Russia, those who expose these crimes are silenced and persecuted. Julian Assange, even though he is not a US citizen and his WikiLeaks site is not a US-based publication, is charged under the US Espionage Act for making public numerous US war crimes. Assange, currently housed in a high security prison in London, is fighting a losing battle in the British courts to block his extradition to the United States, where he faces 175 years in prison. One set of rules for Russia, another set of rules for the United States. Weeping crocodile tears for the Russian media, which is being heavily censored by Putin, while ignoring the plight of the most important publisher of our generation speaks volumes about how much the ruling class cares about press freedom and truth.
If we demand justice for Ukrainians, as we should, we must also demand justice for the one million people killed—400,000 of whom were noncombatants—by our invasions, occupations and aerial assaults in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan. We must demand justice for those who were wounded, became sick or died because we destroyed hospitals and infrastructure. We must demand justice for the thousands of soldiers and marines who were killed, and many more who were wounded and are living with lifelong disabilities, in wars launched and sustained on lies. We must demand justice for the 38 million people who have been displaced or become refugees in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya, and Syria, a number that exceeds the total of all those displaced in all wars since 1900, apart from World War II, according to the Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs at Brown University. Tens of millions of people, who had no connection with the attacks of 9/11, were killed, wounded, lost their homes, and saw their lives and their families destroyed because of our war crimes. Who will cry out for them?
Every effort to hold our war criminals accountable has been rebuffed by Congress, by the courts, by the media and by the two ruling political parties. The Center for Constitutional Rights, blocked from bringing cases in US courts against the architects of these preemptive wars, which are defined by post-Nuremberg laws as "criminal wars of aggression," filed motions in German courts to hold US leaders to account for gross violations of the Geneva Convention, including the sanctioning of torture in black sites such as Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib.
Those who have the power to enforce the rule of law, to hold our war criminals to account, to atone for our war crimes, direct their moral outrage exclusively at Putin's Russia. "Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime," Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said, condemning Russia for attacking civilian sites, including a hospital, three schools and a boarding school for visually impaired children in the Luhansk region of Ukraine. "These incidents join a long list of attacks on civilian, not military locations, across Ukraine," he said. Beth Van Schaack, an ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice, will direct the effort at the State Department, Blinken said, to "help international efforts to investigate war crimes and hold those responsible accountable."
This collective hypocrisy, based on the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves, is accompanied by massive arms shipments to Ukraine. Fueling proxy wars was a specialty of the Cold War. We have returned to the script. If Ukrainians are heroic resistance fighters, what about Iraqis and Afghans, who fought as valiantly and as doggedly against a foreign power that was every bit as savage as Russia? Why weren't they lionized? Why weren't sanctions imposed on the United States? Why weren't those who defended their countries from foreign invasion in the Middle East, including Palestinians under Israeli occupation, also provided with thousands of anti-tank weapons, anti-armor weapons, anti-aircraft weapons, helicopters, Switchblade or "Kamikaze" drones, hundreds of Stinger anti-aircraft systems, Javelin anti-tank missiles, machine guns and millions of rounds of ammunition? Why didn't Congress rush through a $13.6 billion package to provide military and humanitarian assistance, on top of the $1.2 billion already provided to the Ukrainian military, for them?
Well, we know why. Our war crimes don't count, and neither do the victims of our war crimes. And this hypocrisy makes a rules-based world, one that abides by international law, impossible.
This hypocrisy is not new. There is no moral difference between the saturation bombing the US carried out on civilian populations since World War II, including in Vietnam and Iraq, and the targeting of urban centers by Russia in Ukraine or the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Mass death and fireballs on a city skyline are the calling cards we have left across the globe for decades. Our adversaries do the same.
The deliberate targeting of civilians, whether in Baghdad, Kyiv, Gaza, or New York City, are all war crimes. The killing of at least 112 Ukrainian children, as of March 19, is an atrocity, but so is the killing of 551 Palestinian children during Israel's 2014 military assault on Gaza. So is the killing of 230,000 people over the past seven years in Yemen from Saudi bombing campaigns and blockades that have resulted in mass starvation and cholera epidemics. Where were the calls for a no-fly zone over Gaza and Yemen? Imagine how many lives could have been saved.
War crimes demand the same moral judgment and accountability. But they don't get them. And they don't get them because we have one set of standards for white Europeans, and another for non-white people around the globe. The western media has turned European and American volunteers flocking to fight in Ukraine into heroes, while Muslims in the west who join resistance groups battling foreign occupiers in the Middle East are criminalized as terrorists. Putin has been ruthless with the press. But so has our ally the de facto Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman, who ordered the murder and dismemberment of my friend and colleague Jamal Khashoggi, and who this month oversaw a mass execution of 81 people convicted of criminal offenses. The coverage of Ukraine, especially after spending seven years reporting on Israel's murderous assaults against the Palestinians, is another example of the racist divide that defines most of the western media.
World War II began with an understanding, at least by the allies, that employing industrial weapons against civilian populations was a war crime. But within 18 months of the start of the war, the Germans, Americans and British were relentlessly bombing cities. By the end of the war, one-fifth of German homes had been destroyed. One million German civilians were killed or wounded in bombing raids. Seven-and-a-half million Germans were made homeless. The tactic of saturation bombing, or area bombing, which included the firebombing of Dresden, Hamburg and Tokyo, which killed more than 90,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo and left a million people homeless, and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which took the lives of between 129,000 and 226,000 people, most of whom were civilians, had the sole purpose of breaking the morale of the population through mass death and terror. Cities such as Leningrad, Stalingrad, Warsaw, Coventry, Royan, Nanjing and Rotterdam were obliterated.
It turned the architects of modern war, all of them, into war criminals.
Civilians in every war since have been considered legitimate targets. In the summer of 1965, then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara called the bombing raids north of Saigon that left hundreds of thousands of dead an effective means of communication with the government in Hanoi. McNamara, six years before he died, unlike most war criminals, had the capacity for self-reflection. Interviewed in the documentary, "The Fog of War," he was repentant, not only about targeting Vietnamese civilians but about the aerial targeting of civilians in Japan in World War II, overseen by Air Force General Curtis LeMay.
"LeMay said if we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals," McNamara said in the film. "And I think he's right…LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose, and not immoral if you win?"
LeMay, later head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, would go on to drop tons of napalm and firebombs on civilian targets in Korea which, by his own estimate, killed 20 percent of the population over a three-year period.
Industrial killing defines modern warfare. It is impersonal mass slaughter. It is administered by vast bureaucratic structures that perpetuate the killing over months and years. It is sustained by heavy industry that produces a steady flow of weapons, munitions, tanks, planes, helicopters, battleships, submarines, missiles, and mass-produced supplies, along with mechanized transports that ferry troops and armaments by rail, ship, cargo planes and trucks to the battlefield. It mobilizes industrial, governmental and organization structures for total war. It centralizes systems of information and internal control. It is rationalized for the public by specialists and experts, drawn from the military establishment, along with pliant academics and the media.
Industrial war destroys existing value systems that protect and nurture life, replacing them with fear, hatred, and a dehumanization of those who we are made to believe deserve to be exterminated. It is driven by emotions, not truth or fact. It obliterates nuance, replacing it with an infantile binary universe of us and them. It drives competing narratives, ideas and values underground and vilifies all who do not speak in the national cant that replaces civil discourse and debate. It is touted as an example of the inevitable march of human progress, when in fact it brings us closer and closer to mass obliteration in a nuclear holocaust. It mocks the concept of individual heroism, despite the feverish efforts of the military and the mass media to sell this myth to naïve young recruits and a gullible public. It is the Frankenstein of industrialized societies. War, as Alfred Kazin warned, is "the ultimate purpose of technological society." Our real enemy is within.
Historically, those who are prosecuted for war crimes, whether the Nazi hierarchy at Nuremberg or the leaders of Liberia, Chad, Serbia, and Bosnia, are prosecuted because they lost the war and because they are adversaries of the United States.
There will be no prosecution of Saudi Arabian rulers for the war crimes committed in Yemen or for the US military and political leadership for the war crimes they carried out in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya, or a generation earlier in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The atrocities we commit, such as My Lai, where 500 unarmed Vietnamese civilians were gunned down by US soldiers, which are made public, are dealt with by finding a scapegoat, usually a low-ranking officer who is given a symbolic sentence. Lt. William Calley served three years under house arrest for the killings at My Lai. Eleven US soldiers, none of whom were officers, were convicted of torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But the architects and overlords of our industrial slaughter, including Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Gen. Curtis LeMay, Harry S. Truman, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Lyndon Johnson, Gen. William Westmoreland, George W. Bush, Gen. David Petraeus, Barack Obama and Joe Biden are never held to account. They leave power to become venerated elder statesmen.
The mass slaughter of industrial warfare, the failure to hold ourselves to account, to see our own face in the war criminals we condemn, will have ominous consequences. Author and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi understood that the annihilation of the humanity of others is prerequisite for their physical annihilation. We have become captives to our machines of industrial death. Politicians and generals wield their destructive fury as if they were toys. Those who decry the madness, who demand the rule of law, are attacked and condemned. These industrial weapons systems are our modern idols. We worship their deadly prowess. But all idols, the Bible tells us, begin by demanding the sacrifice of others and end in apocalyptic self-sacrifice.
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of show The Chris Hedges Report.
Join Women Against Military Madness, Assange Defense Milwaukee and others to Free Assange!
Women Against Military Madness, whose motto is ‘Never a meeting without an action’ is sponsoring a call-in to President Joe Biden to urge the White House to halt the extradition, drop all charges, and guarantee safe passage for Julian Assange.
The White House comment line has limited hours. You can only leave a message on Tuesdays from 11am to 3pm Eastern Standard Time. The phone number is 1-202-456-1111. Please remember respectful communication is most effective.
Below is a list of suggested comments. You may also have your own reasons to free Julian. Please speak from your heart:
Julian Assange has done us a public service of publishing the truth about crimes of murder, torture, corruption, and environmental havoc wreaked by the powerful. He should be freed immediately.
Julian Assange is charged under the Espionage Act, but he is not a spy. He provided information of public interest to the whole world, especially regarding lies fed to us about war so as to enlist our compliance.
The prosecution of Julian Assange is a threat to press freedom everywhere. He has won journalistic awards around the world including the Walkley Award, Martha Gellhorn Prize and more than a dozen others. His cause is supported by press freedom organizations around the world including the ACLU, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, PEN International, Freedom of the Press Foundation, the Committee to Protect Journalists and many others.
The Obama Administration recognized the threat to press freedom, and declined to prosecute Assange citing what it called a “NY Times problem”. Instead of following Obama’s lead, the Biden administration has taken up the mantle of the Trump Administration which unsealed an indictment and requested Assange’s extradition the very day (April 11, 2019) he was unlawfully expelled from Ecuador’s Embassy in London.
The wrong party is on trial. Julian Assange exposed US war crimes and torture. Instead of prosecuting the criminals, the US government is vindictively pursuing the messenger.
The case against Julian Assange has collapsed. A key Icelandic witness has recanted his suborned testimony and himself is now in prison, his immunity against prosecution having been revoked. Prosecutorial misconduct has been egregious, as the U.N. Special Rapporteur Nils Melzer documented. The CIA spied on Assange, including meetings with his doctors and lawyers. In 2017, the CIA plotted to kidnap or assassinate him.
The prosecution of Julian Assange diminishes the stature of the United States. While Secretary of State Antony Blinken proselytizes about U.S. support for independent journalism, it is simultaneously seeking to imprison the most high profile journalist of the 21st century for 175 years.
Julian Assange did not “put lives at risk.” A 2013 Pentagon study could not identify a single instance of anyone killed as a result of being named in the WikiLeaks trove.
Julian Assange wanted the documents published responsibly. As revealed by testimony at his trial, Julian worked for months with traditional news outlets to redact the documents and save lives. It was only when two Guardian journalists, Luke Harding and David Leigh, recklessly published an encryption code that unredacted documents spilled into the public realm.
Special Rapporteur Melzer also called Julian's treatment at the hands of the State parties responsible for his detention - and the media - 'a public mobbing.' An investigation by United Nations Special Rapporteur Nils Melzer found the entire period of Assange’s detention, including that spent in the Ecuadorian Embassy, to be arbitrary - as did the U.N. Committee on Arbitrary Detention, which twice ordered that Julian be released immediately and compensated.
Julian's continued imprisonment is a threat to his very life. Over the course of more than ten years of arbitrary detention, Julian has suffered greatly. His physical and mental health have deteriorated to the point that he has trouble concentrating and cannot properly participate in his own defense. He suffered a small stroke on October 27th during a remote court hearing. He must be released immediately or the U.S. will very likely be responsible for killing a journalist.
Julian Assange's extradition will make American journalists subject to extradition by other countries such as China and Saudi Arabia. He is not an American citizen, nor was he on American soil when he and WikiLeaks exposed the truth.
- Prosecution of Assange is criminalizing journalism. Possession of classified information by a journalist and publishing classified information are crimes according to this prosecution. How will any investigative reporter expose 'fraud, waste and abuse' by the government without fearing his own prosecution, given what has already happened to Assange?
If you belong to an organization that would like to be a co-sponsor of this effort, please contact Mike Madden at <[email protected]>.
Women Against Military Madness
Boston Area Assange Defense
Assange Defense Committee
NYC Free Assange
Stand With Assange NY
Veterans For Peace – NYC Chapter 34
MN Anti-War Committee
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Veterans For Peace - Twin Cities Chapter 27
Assange Defense Milwaukee
Assange Countdown to Freedom - Randy Credico
Rise Up Times
Progressive Democrats of America Town Hall: The Case of Julian Assange
Videos by Milwaukee musician James Oldenburg speaking about Julian Assange.
This is his channel. Check out how all his speaking videos since October end with a capture of "Why should I care about Julian Assange?"
The Assange Defense Committee
ON CONTACT: ASSANGE CAN APPEAL UK SUPREME COURT
Chris Hedges discusses the implications of the latest British High Court of England and Wales ruling and its implications for Julian Assange’s case with documentary filmmaker and journalist John Pilger.
The British High Court of England and Wales on Monday said it would allow the imprisoned publisher of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, to, in essence, appeal a ruling that would have seen him extradited to the United States where he faces a possible 175 years in prison for the publication of classified documents and videos.
The High Court technically refused to allow an appeal to the Supreme Court, but, in a legal loophole, it left it up to that court to determine whether it will grant permission to consider one legal issue.
“We certify a single point of law … in what circumstances can an appellate court receive assurances from a requesting state which were not before the court of first instance in extradition proceedings,” the High Court said in an appearance that lasted less than a minute.
This single point of law refers to whether the United States was legally permitted to provide assurances to the High Court of Assange’s humane treatment in the United States after it had failed to do so during the initial hearing that blocked the extradition. During a Dec. 10 hearing, which vacated the ruling by District Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser in January 2021, the high court accepted the appeal by the US to approve the extradition. Baraitser had ruled that Assange could not be extradited because of inhumane conditions in US prisons that would make Assange, who suffers from physical and mental health issues, a suicide risk. The United States, in its appeal of her ruling, gave assurances that Assange would receive adequate medical and psychological care and would not be subject to measures commonly used in high-profile cases such as prolonged isolation and Special Administrative Measures, known as SAMs, which impose draconian rules limited any communication and allows the government to monitor meetings with attorneys in violation of attorney-client privilege.
It is now up to the British Supreme Court, if it accepts the appeal, to decide this one issue – could the US offer assurances after Judge Baraitser had ruled against extradition. Assange has 14 days to apply to the British Supreme Court to hear his case.
The US effort to extradite Assange, who is not a US citizen, has been widely condemned by human rights and press groups including Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, PEN International, and Reporters Without Borders, which call the persecution of Assange an existential threat to press freedom.
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Talk World Radio: Julian Assange Warned Us What Was Coming
Julian Assange – Can Exposure Bring Justice?
January 2, 2022, 11 AM, CT,
Forum at the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee
Fidel Narvaez was Consul at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for six years while Julian Assange had political asylum there.
John Kiriakou is the U.S. torture program whistleblower and former CIA chief of counterterrorism operations in Pakistan, who was tried and sentenced for his revelations in the Eastern District of Virginia.
Fidel Narvaez and John Kiriakou will use their intimate knowledge of Assange and due process in the Eastern District of Virginia to discuss how injustice has affected the public perception of Julian Assange and the trajectory of his judicial proceedings.
Our guests will detail the lack of justice at every turn in the treatment of Julian Assange, a publisher who provided evidence to the public of official corruption, murder, pedophilia, and war crimes. The fact that the American people have been kept in the dark about these injustices suggests that their exposure could reverse this trajectory, return this heroic publisher to his family, and rescue press freedom.
Unbeknownst to most Americans, the US case imploded (as described on DemocracyNow! and on The Hill’s Rising) when convicted pedophile and embezzler, Siggi Thordarson, recently recanted testimony suborned by the FBI back in 2011 with the promise of prosecutorial immunity. Siggi’s interview by the Icelandic outlet Stundin followed Julian’s 2020 Kafkaesque trial at the Old Bailey (also not covered by US media) and Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s verdict of “no extradition.” As of this writing, Assange remains confined in the UK’s maximum-security prison as the US argues Assange would not be subjected to the draconian special administrative measures to which the judge objected unless Assange prompted that response by some unspecified action, a catch-22 pointed out by Julia Hall of Amnesty International. Julian’s fiance’ Stella Moris says,
“Democracy Now! Attorney: U.S. Case Against Julian Assange Falls Apart, as Key Witness Says He Lied to Get Immunity,” Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman, June 28, 2021. https://www.democracynow.org/2021/6/28/julian_assange_extradition_case
“Ryan Grim: The TRUTH behind the Julian Assange Case,” by Ryan Grim, The Hill. https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=ufRpvfeUkak
“Key Witness Admits to Lies in Julian Assange Case by Bjartmar Oddur Þeyr Alexandersson
“Julia Hall, Amnesty International expert on National security: ‘Assange should be released’ “ by Stephania Maurizi, Il Fatto Quotidiano, July 24, 2021.” https://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/in-edicola/articoli/2021/07/24/julia-hall-amnesty-international-expert-on-national-security-assange-should-be-released/6272346/
“Julian Assange’s High Court fight against extradition,” by Stella Moris, updated August 6, 2021, https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/assangeappeal/
Julian Assange’s Extradition to the United States Would Result in Serious Human Rights Violations
The US government is begging the British High Court to allow Julian Assange to be extradited to the United States. Doing so would be a human rights disaster, given that American prisons violate the most basic human rights of political prisoners like Assange.
For two days, British prosecutors, acting on behalf of their US counterparts, urged the UK High Court to overturn a judge’s decision blocking Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States. Although the United States’ indictment against Assange is a textbook example of a political offense, which are traditionally immune from extradition, the judge rejected Assange’s press freedom claims. Instead, she found that given the conditions of US prisons and Assange’s mental state, his extradition would place the journalist at risk of suicide.
In seeking to rebut this ruling, the US and UK prosecutors’ sadism was on full display. British prosecutors engaged in character assassination of an eminent psychiatrist who they themselves have used as an expert and implied Assange could not be suicidal or severely mentally ill as he regularly watched television in the afternoon. The proceedings also turned on the validity of US assurances that Assange would receive humane treatment in US prisons. Not only are these assurances filed with troubling holes, but even the highest standard of treatment as outlined by the United States for Assange would likely amount to torture.
This is hardly surprising given how the United States has treated whistleblowers and others accused of giving information to the media in prison. Given the United States’ miserable track record in treating political prisoners like Assange and prisoners more generally, it’s clear that a successful extradition of Assange to the United States would result in grievous violations of his human rights.
Much of the United States’ assurances deal with the potential for Assange to be subject to Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) or be placed in the Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado (ADX Florence), a supermax prison, two prospects that alarmed a UK district judge so much that she blocked extradition. The Center for Constitutional Rights has described SAMs as the “darkest corner of the U.S. federal prison system, combining the brutality and isolation of maximum security units with additional restrictions that deny individuals almost any connection to the human world.” SAMs include both physical and social isolation.
Prisoners subjected to SAMs are already in solitary confinement. SAMs forbid prisoners from communicating at all with other prisoners. Only approved family members and lawyers may speak to someone under a SAM, and these calls are monitored by the FBI.
A successful extradition of Assange to the United States would result in grievous violations of his human rights.
The SAMs apply not only to the prisoner but impose gag orders on those that are approved to speak with them, including lawyers. Prisoners subject to SAMs are restricted in what information they can receive from the outside world, with prison officials being allowed to censor periodicals about current events.
SAMs are reserved for national security and terrorism cases. Assange has stated he thinks he may be subject to them: Joshua Schulte, the accused source for WikiLeaks Vault 7 revelations, has been subject to SAMs since October 2018. Schulte maintains he is not the Vault 7 source and told officials that whoever was should be “executed.” In March 2020, a jury failed to reach a verdict on the Espionage Act charges against him. The government is seeking to retry Schulte, and he remains in jail, subject to SAMs, in solitary confinement, and not allowed to go outside after over three years.
The United States has not guaranteed Assange will not be subject to SAMs. Instead, they’ve assured that Assange would only be subject to SAMs if, after he was extradited to the United States, he committed an action that warranted imposing them.
This is hardly reassuring. The discretion to impose SAMs rests with the attorney general, and the way attorneys general have imposed SAMs is arbitrary, without any due process. SAMs cut off not only defendants but their attorneys from communicating with the media — a longtime goal of the United States and others when it comes to Assange.
In blocking extradition, the district judge decided that if convicted, Assange would likely be sent to ADX Florence. In this prison, inmates are confined to their cells for twenty-three hours a day. In the eight-by-twelve-foot cells, everything, including the furniture, is made of concrete. Like with the SAMs, the United States has offered assurances about ADX Florence that are full of holes. The United States assures Assange would not be held there posttrial unless “after entry of this assurance, [Assange] was to commit any future act that then meant he met the test for such designation.”
While the assurances are hardly reassuring, what is equally troubling is Assange’s fate even if the assurances are kept. In a declaration to British courts, assistant US attorney Gordon Kromberg asserted that if Assange is brought to the United States and subjected to pretrial detention, he will most likely be held at the William G. Truesdale Alexandria Adult Detention Center in Alexandria, Virginia. Kromberg claimed there is no solitary confinement at the Alexandria Detention Center before he described in detail the jail’s protective custody and administrative segregation housing units. Inmates in protective custody are not allowed to interact with other inmates. Inmates in administrative segregation, according to Kromberg’s declaration, are kept in their cells twenty-two hours a day.
British prosecutors rejected the claims that holding a person by themselves in a cell for twenty-two hours a day constituted solitary confinement. To make this point, they drew on Kromberg’s statements that “inmates in administrative segregation are able to speak to one other through the doors and windows of their cells” and that inmates in administrative segregation can meet with lawyers.
The United States’ claims, as parroted by British prosecutors, that Assange would not face solitary confinement, are patently absurd. The United Nations (UN) Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the “Nelson Mandela Rules”) defines solitary confinement as “22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact.” Under the Mandela Rules, solitary confinement in excess of fifteen consecutive days constitutes prolonged solitary confinement. Two successive UN special rapporteurs on torture have stressed that prolonged solitary confinement violates international human rights law and can very likely amount to torture. This is especially the case when inflicted on prisoners like Assange with preexisting mental health problems.
JOHN PILGER: Justice for Assange Is Justice for All
In the land of Magna Carta this disgraceful case ought to have been hurled out of court long ago.
By John Pilger
Special to Consortium News
When I first saw Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison, in 2019, shortly after he had been dragged from his refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy, he said, “I think I am losing my mind.”
He was gaunt and emaciated, his eyes hollow and the thinness of his arms was emphasized by a yellow identifying cloth tied around his left arm, an evocative symbol of institutional control.
For all but the two hours of my visit, he was confined to a solitary cell in a wing known as “healthcare,” an Orwellian name. In the cell next to him a deeply disturbed man screamed through the night. Another occupant suffered from terminal cancer. Another was seriously disabled.
“One day we were allowed to play Monopoly,” he said, “as therapy. That was our healthcare!”
“This is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” I said.
“Yes, only more insane.”
Julian’s black sense of humour has often rescued him, but no more. The insidious torture he has suffered in Belmarsh has had devastating effects. Read the reports of Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, and the clinical opinions of Michael Kopelman, emeritus professor of neuropsychiatry at King’s College London and Dr. Quentin Deeley, and reserve a contempt for America’s hired gun in court, James Lewis QC, who dismissed this as “malingering.”
“Julian’s black sense of humour has often rescued him, but no more. The insidious torture he has suffered in Belmarsh has had devastating effects.”
I was especially moved by the expert words of Dr. Kate Humphrey, a clinical neuropsychologist at Imperial College, London. She told the Old Bailey last year that Julian’s intellect had gone from “in the superior, or more likely very superior, range” to “significantly below” this optimal level, to the point where he was struggling to absorb information and “perform in the low to average range.”
At yet another court hearing in this shameful Kafkaesque drama, I watched him struggle to remember his name when asked by the judge to state it.
For most of his first year in Belmarsh, he was locked up. Denied proper exercise, he strode the length of his small cell, back and forth, back and forth, for “my own half-marathon,” he told me. This reeked of despair. A razor blade was found in his cell. He wrote “farewell letters.” He phoned the Samaritans repeatedly.
At first, he was denied his reading glasses, left behind in the brutality of his kidnapping from the embassy. When the glasses finally arrived at the prison, they were not delivered to him for days. His solicitor, Gareth Peirce, wrote letter after letter to the prison governor protesting the withholding of legal documents, access to the prison library, the use of a basic laptop with which to prepare his case. The prison would take weeks, even months, to answer. (The governor, Rob Davis, has been awarded an Order of the British Empire.)
Books sent to him by a friend, the journalist Charles Glass, himself a survivor of hostage-taking in Beirut, were returned. Julian could not call his American lawyers. From the start, he has been constantly medicated. Once, when I asked him what they were giving him, he couldn’t say.
Right to Appear in Court
At last week’s High Court hearing to decide finally whether or not Julian would be extradited to America, he appeared only briefly by video link on the first day. He looked unwell and unsettled. The court was told he had been “excused” because of his “medication.” But Julian had asked to attend the hearing and was refused, said his partner Stella Moris. Attendance in a court sitting in judgement on you is surely a right.
This intensely proud man also demands the right to appear strong and coherent in public, as he did at the Old Bailey last year. Then, he consulted constantly with his lawyers through the slit in his glass cage. He took copious notes. He stood and protested with eloquent anger at lies and abuses of process.
The damage done to him in his decade of incarceration and uncertainty, including more than two years in Belmarsh (whose brutal regime is celebrated in the latest Bond film) is beyond doubt.
But so, too, is his courage beyond doubt, and a quality of resistance and resilience that is heroism. It is this that may see him through the present Kafkaesque nightmare — if he is spared an American hellhole.
I have known Julian since he first came to Britain in 2009. In our first interview, he described the moral imperative behind WikiLeaks: that our right to the transparency of governments and the powerful was a basic democratic right. I have watched him cling to this principle when at times it has made his life even more precarious.
Almost none of this remarkable side to the man’s character has been reported in the so-called free press whose own future, it is said, is in jeopardy if Julian is extradited.
Of course, but there has never been a ”free press.” There have been extraordinary journalists who have occupied positions in the “mainstream” — spaces that have now closed, forcing independent journalism on to the internet.
There, it has become a “fifth estate,” a samizdat of dedicated, often unpaid work by those who were honourable exceptions in a media now reduced to an assembly line of platitudes. Words like “democracy,” “reform,” “human rights” are stripped of their dictionary meaning and censorship is by omission or exclusion.
“Almost none of this remarkable side to the man’s character has been reported in the so-called free press whose own future, it is said, is in jeopardy if Julian is extradited.”
Last week’s fateful hearing at the High Court was “disappeared” in the “free press.” Most people would not know that a court in the heart of London had sat in judgement on their right to know: their right to question and dissent.
Many Americans, if they know anything about the Assange case, believe a fantasy that Julian is a Russian agent who caused Hillary Clinton to lose the presidential election in 2016 to Donald Trump. This is strikingly similar to the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which justified the invasion of Iraq and the deaths of a million or more people.
They are unlikely to know that the main prosecution witness underpinning one of the concocted charges against Julian has recently admitted he lied and fabricated his “evidence.”
Neither will they have heard or read about the revelation that the CIA, under its former director, the Hermann Goering lookalike Mike Pompeo, had planned to assassinate Julian. And that was hardly new. Since I have known Julian, he has been under threat of harm and worse.
On his first night in the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012, dark figures swarmed over the front of the embassy and banged on the windows, trying to get in. In the U.S., public figures — including Hillary Clinton, fresh from her destruction of Libya — have long called for Julian’s assassination. The current President Joe Biden damned him as a “hi-tech terrorist.”
The former prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, was so eager to please what she called “our best mates” in Washington that she demanded Julian’s passport be taken from him — until it was pointed out to her that this would be against the law. The current prime minister, Scott Morrison, a PR man, when asked about Assange, said, “He should face the music.”
It has been open season on the WikiLeaks’ founder for more than a decade. In 2011, The Guardian exploited Julian’s work as if it was its own, collected journalism prizes and Hollywood deals, then turned on its source.
Years of vituperative assaults on the man who refused to join their club followed. He was accused of failing to redact documents of the names of those considered at risk. In a Guardian book by David Leigh and Luke Harding, Assange is quoted as saying during a dinner in a London restaurant that he didn’t care if informants named in the leaks were harmed.
Neither Harding nor Leigh was at the dinner. John Goetz, an investigations reporter with Der Spiegel, actually was at the dinner and testified that Assange said nothing of the kind.
The great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg told the Old Bailey last year that Assange had personally redacted 15,000 files. The New Zealand investigative journalist Nicky Hager, who worked with Assange on the Afghanistan and Iraq war leaks, described how Assange took “extraordinary precautions in redacting names of informants.”
In 2013, I asked the film-maker Mark Davis about this. A respected broadcaster for SBS Australia, Davis was an eyewitness, accompanying Assange during the preparation of the leaked files for publication in The Guardian and The New York Times. He told me, “Assange was the only one who worked day and night extracting 10,000 names of people who could be targeted by the revelations in the logs.”
Lecturing a group of City University students, David Leigh mocked the very idea that “Julian Assange will end up in an orange jumpsuit.” His fears were an exaggeration, he sneered. Edward Snowden later revealed that Assange was on a “manhunt timeline.”
Luke Harding, who co-authored with Leigh the Guardian book that disclosed the password to a trove of diplomatic cables that Julian had entrusted to the paper, was outside the Ecuadorian embassy on the evening Julian sought asylum. Standing with a line of police, he gloated on his blog, “Scotland Yard may well have the last laugh.”
The campaign was relentless. Guardian columnists scraped the depths. “He really is the most massive turd,” wrote Suzanne Moore of a man she had never met.
The editor who presided over this, Alan Rusbridger, has lately joined the chorus that “defending Assange protects the free press.” Having published the initial WikiLeaks revelations, Rusbridger must wonder if the Guardian’s subsequent excommunication of Assange will be enough to protect his own skin from the wrath of Washington.
The High Court judges are likely to announce their decision on the U.S. appeal in the new year. What they decide will determine whether or not the British judiciary has trashed the last vestiges of its vaunted reputation; in the land of Magna Carta this disgraceful case ought to have been hurled out of court long ago.
The missing imperative is not the impact on a collusive “free press.” It is justice for a man persecuted and willfully denied it.
Julian Assange is a truth-teller who has committed no crime but revealed government crimes and lies on a vast scale and so performed one of the great public services of my lifetime. Do we need to be reminded that justice for one is justice for all?
First published by Consortium News