Sep 202020
 

No, I’m not done yet. And the extradition hearing isn’t over. Its outcome is crucial not only for Assange, but for us all.

For many people, the Trump period has been a watershed, a scales-falling-from-the-eyes event. For others, the turning point came much earlier, with Wikileaks, which is why the US authorities hate Assange so vehemently. Moreover, many honest US American citizens have clung at length to the hope that the Iraq war and Bush had merely been aberrations, so defence of Julian Asange has therefore not been deafening in the USA, a country where brave men and women are willing to risk their lives in the great “Black Lives Matter” battle, and where many firefighters are loosing their lives in the fight against climate devastation. There is no lack of bravery in the USA, just a lack of information. Julian Assange attempted to provide some of the missing information. He was not thanked.

Daniel Ellsberg‘s Pentagon Papers in 1971 were also a scales-falling-from-the-eyes event from which we have unfortunately not learned enough. I recommend listening to Daniel Ellsberg’s explaining why he is a witness for the defence of Julian Assange. What he says applies specifically to the prosecution’s hypocritical charges that Assange put people’s lives at risk with Cablegate.

European authorities, fearing US backlashes, appear to be discouraging the media from highlighting the ignoble (i.e. illegal ) conditions of Julian Asange’s lengthy captivity and the parody of the legal proceedings against him. In any civilised court, illegally obtained evidence would not be acccepted. Not so, in this case, it seems; see example of illegal surveillance of Julian Assange.

I have just discovered, that there is a small newspaper in my own small country, that has been granted access to the preposterous extradition hearing and is diligently covering it. I expect it has been granted access because it is not widely read.

Saturday’s issue includes an article about a US torture victim who had just witnessed for Assange. If I have understood correctly – after all, I wasn’t there – the US tried and eventually succeeded in blocking the witness’s appearance. In the end, however, his written statement was read to the court. The witness stated that diplomatic notes among Wikileaks’s “Cablegate” were instrumental as evidence in his own legal battle for justice (in Europe, that is, not in the USA).

Since I’m sure you may be as ignorant as I was about the legal battle in question, I would like to direct your attention to the Wikipedia article that covers it. However, since there is a risk that the article will be tampered with in the wake of the Assange hearing, I think I had better just paste a quote from Wikipedia as at 20/09/2020 (without the reference numbers).

Khaled El-Masri … ,[born] 1963, is a German and Lebanese citizen who was mistakenly abducted by the Macedonian police in 2003, and handed over to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). While in CIA custody, he was flown to Afghanistan, where he was held at a black site and routinely interrogated, beaten, strip-searched, sodomized, and subjected to other cruel forms of inhumane and degrading treatment and torture. After El-Masri held hunger strikes, and was detained for four months in the “Salt Pit”, the CIA finally admitted his arrest and torture were a mistake and released him. He is believed to be among an estimated 3,000 detainees whom the CIA abducted from 2001–2005.

In May 2004, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Daniel R. Coats, convinced the German interior minister, Otto Schily, not to press charges or to reveal the program. El-Masri filed suit against the CIA for his arrest, extraordinary rendition and torture. In 2006, his suit El Masri v. Tenet, in which he was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), was dismissed by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, based on the U.S. government’s claiming the state secrets privilege. The ACLU said the Bush administration attempted to shield its abuses by invoking this privilege. The case was also dismissed by the Appeals Court for the Fourth Circuit, and in December 2007, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

On 13 December 2012, El-Masri won an Article 34 case at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The court determined he had been tortured while held by CIA agents and ruled that Macedonia was responsible for abusing him while in the country, and knowingly transferring him to the CIA when torture was a possibility. It awarded him compensation. This marked the first time that CIA activities against detainees was legally declared as torture. The European Court condemned nations for collaborating with the United States in these secret programs.

The Julian Assange case (not to mention the El Masri case before him) is critical for all Europeans, not to mention US nationals. It is a demonstration of the bullying our governments submit to from the USA. Our European governments are accessories to US government-sponsored outrageous acts of every conceivable flavour. The extradition case is also an example of how due process is being eroded in the UK.

Sep 182020
 

In country after country, critical press coverage is becoming risky. Very risky. It has always been risky in countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, China… If Julian Assange, an Australian national living in Europe, is extradited to the US, freedom of the press will have become a figment of the imagination also in Western Europe and the USA. I use the cliché to indicate that many of us will not even know that we no longer enjoy freedom of the press, if indeed we ever really did.

In my country, the national broadcasting company now basically tells us what our government wants it to, which is mostly just to observe social distancing, to distrust the Russians and hate the Chinese, and to have fun.

Still, as far as I know, progressive or environmentalist media outlets are not being hobbled here. Not yet. But they don’t have the economic clout to send reporters all over the world to pick up and analyse news outside our borders, to challenge mainstream press and to expose financial and political overlords.

There is one news outlet that has the necessary clout and dedication to do just that: Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera is no more progressive or environmentalist than your Aunt Julia, but it has a freer rein than most other news outlets and its reporters are extremely competent.

Obviously, a much respected and fearless outlet will have many enemies. I would like to direct your attention to a post on this site written back in June 2017: The Rat is out of the Hole. (A related post, also written in June 2017, discusses the disconcerting relationship between the Trump administration and the Arabian peninsula. ) You will particularly notice the UAE statement (as quoted by the Guardian):

We do not claim to have press freedom. We do not promote the idea of press freedom. What we talk about is responsibility in speech.

Beautiful, that, no? If all autocrats could be as frank, we’d be spared a lot of claptrap.

Now the UAE has finally succeeded in partially hobbling Al Jazeera. From CNN’s rendition of the matter, you will see that US authorities are not very fond of Al Jazeera, which according to a letter from the Justice Department obtained by CNN aims “to influence audience attitudes with its reporting” with, CNN adds, “policies such as calling the Israeli Defense Forces the Israeli army instead of the IDF and not using the words terrorist or terrorism.”)

Meanwhile my own country’s national broadcasting company has not yet mentioned the bridle put on Al Jazeera. Nor does it appear to care much about the outcome of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing in London.

However, I find in El Pais a letter to that paper’s readers dated 3 March 2020 from no lesser a personage than the famous judge Baltasar Garzón, who humbled Dictator Pinochet and who directed the world’s attention to the shameful post-dictatorial silence (about mass graves, stolen babies etc.) in Spain. The title of the letter: Assange, la prensa en peligro. If you understand Spanish, read it! If you don’t understand Spanish, learn the language.

Sep 062020
 

My dog’s health is declining. I won’t go into detail, but the latest development is that she has started to limp, on alternating paws. One of these days, I shall have to take her to the vet’s for the final solution. She has had 12 good years and will have a painless death. I will be heartbroken.

Not everybody dies painlessly. People in concentration camps, for instance… In Finland there was a terrible civil war in 1918. All I knew about it, until I read Kjell Westö’s novel The Wednesday Club, was that the “Whites” beat the “Reds” and saved the country (for the Germans, except that the Germans lost everything after WWI). Frankly, my ignorance was more due to lack of interest than to anything else. I mean, who cares about Finland? (Until I read the Wednesday Club, that is.)

But before I continue about the Wednesday Club, I would like to draw your attention once again to Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Don’t read about the book, just go get it. I mean, what are pandemics for if not for enlightenment?

In Finland, after the 1918 civil war, there appear to have been concentration camps in which thousands of people died, not from wounds but from maltreatment.

Kjell Westö’s novel is not about the concentration camps as such, but about how the winners of the war told their story. He describes the crippling shame felt, still in 1938, by women who had been raped in concentration camps in 1919. The author seems to be suggesting that since, in 1938, Finnish society had not yet started to understand what crimes had been committed by the winners in 1918, they were already busy excusing Nazi crimes, endorsing fascism and overlooking the ghastly moral consequences of easy fixes. I find the narrative very compelling, because I recognise it. I recognise the pattern.

My personal history links me to South America and to Palestine, where so much injustice has been inflicted and endured that I am almost in favour of endorsing euthanasia for entire populations to spare the victims more misery. After all, to quote Jane Fonda, “they shoot horses, don’t they?”

Your personal history might link you to Algeria or Egypt; or Iran; or India. At the moment, everything seems to indicate that in Russia, murdering Putin’s political opponents is just a cup of tea. Navalnyj, whatever else he might be, is nothing if not astoundingly brave, a hero and a martyr. In the West, we also have martyrs, Julian Assange, for instance.

But what about the rest of us? How did our governments react to Operation Condor and the vicious and systematic slaughter of anyone vaguely “leftist” in most of Latin America (not least in Central America). How did we react here, for that matter, to the emergence of Nazi Germany in the 1930-s and the pogroms and subsequent extermination of Jews? How did our governments react to the Vietnam war? In retrospect, have Bush Jr. or Tony Blair or José Aznar expressed any shame about the war on Iraq and its aftermath? On the contrary, it would seem that the US and the UK are hell-bent on preventing crimes committed by the state from being exposed, cf. the Julian Assange case, which in reality is about defence of a free press. I quote the N.Y. Times:

From the start, the charges against Mr. Assange have raised profound First Amendment issues because his actions are difficult to distinguish in a legally meaningful way from those of traditional news organizations. It would be unprecedented in American law for such activity to result in criminal convictions, so press freedom advocates have denounced the charges against him and have been watching the case closely.

The winner is always the one to tell the story. But even after a winner has had to leave the scene, he or she will rarely express shame. Shame is felt primarily by a perpretrator’s victims, who have often had to do things they, the victims, feel are indefensible.

The Latin American dictators and their henchmen (and their far from innocent wives) have shown no regret, no shame when questioned by the press or by judges. Not a jot of it. On the other hand, those who survived torture and many years’ imprisonment …, well, you can imagine.

On this cheerful note, I can recommend a whole stack of very good novels. Tonight I particularly wish to direct your attention to José Saramago. Any of his novels will probably astound you. I love his elegant irony and humour, as well as his penetrating insight. I believe the man must have been extraordinarily intelligent. His most important work may have been Blindness (Ensaio sobre a Cegueira). I would also recommend, for the sake of the reader’s sanity, the somewhat more cheerful follow-up Seeing (Ensaio sobre a Lucidez). If you cannot read them in Portuguese, read them in Spanish, if you can, because most of them were beautifully translated by his Spanish wife.