Monday, February 19, 2018

A Nazi flag hangs outside a store in downtown Los Angeles in 1936

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The UK’s Hidden Hand in Julian Assange’s Detention

It now emerges that the last four years of Julian Assange’s effective imprisonment in the Ecuadorean embassy in London have been entirely unnecessary. In fact, they depended on a legal charade.

Behind the scenes, Sweden wanted to drop the extradition case against Assange back in 2013. Why was this not made public? Because Britain persuaded Sweden to pretend that they still wished to pursue the case.
In other words, for more than four years Assange has been holed up in a tiny room, policed at great cost to British taxpayers, not because of any allegations in Sweden but because the British authorities wanted him to remain there. On what possible grounds could that be, one has to wonder? Might it have something to do with his work as the head of Wikileaks, publishing information from whistleblowers that has severely embarrassed the United States and the UK.

In fact, Assange should have walked free years ago if this was really about an investigation – a sham one at that – into an alleged sexual assault in Sweden. Instead, as Assange has long warned, there is a very different agenda at work: efforts to extradite him onwards to the US, where he could be locked away for good. That was why UN experts argued two years ago that he was being “arbitrarily detained” – for political crimes – not unlike the situation of dissidents in other parts of the world that win the support of western liberals and leftists.

According to a new, limited release of emails between officials, the Swedish director of public prosecutions, Marianne Ny, wrote to Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service on 18 October 2013, warning that Swedish law would not allow the case for extradition to be continued. This was, remember, after Sweden had repeatedly failed to take up an offer from Assange to interview him in London, as had happened in 44 other extradition cases between Sweden and Britain.

Ny wrote to the CPS: “We have found us to be obliged to lift the detention order … and to withdraw the European arrest warrant. If so this should be done in a couple of weeks. This would affect not only us but you too in a significant way.”

Three days later, suggesting that legal concerns were far from anyone’s mind, she emailed the CPS again: “I am sorry this came as a [bad] surprise… I hope I didn’t ruin your weekend.”

In a similar vein, proving that this was about politics, not the law, the chief CPS lawyer handling the case in the UK, had earlier written to the Swedish prosecutors: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!”

In December 2013, the unnamed CPS lawyer wrote again to Ny: “I do not consider costs are a relevant factor in this matter.” This was at a time when it had been revealed that the policing of Assange’s detention in the embassy had at that point cost Britain £3.8 million. In another email from the CPS, it was noted: “Please do not think this case is being dealt with as just another extradition.”

These are only fragments of the email correspondence, after most of it was destroyed by the CPS against its own protocols. The deletions appear to have been carried out to avoid releasing the electronic files to a tribunal that has been considering a freedom of information request.
Other surviving emails, according to a Guardian report last year, have shown that the CPS “advised the Swedes in 2010 or 2011 not to visit London to interview Assange. An interview at that time could have prevented the long-running embassy standoff.”

Assange is still holed up in the embassy, at great risk to his physical and mental health, even though last year Sweden formally dropped an investigation that in reality it had not actually been pursuing for more than four years.

Now the UK (read US) authorities have a new, even less credible pretext for continuing to hold Assange: because he “skipped bail”. Apparently the price he should pay for this relatively minor infraction is more than five years of confinement.

London magistrates are due to consider on Tuesday the arguments of Assange’s lawyers that he should be freed and that after so many years the continuing enforcement of the arrest warrant is disproportionate. Given the blurring of legal and political considerations in this case, don’t hold your breath that Assange will finally get a fair hearing.

Remember too that, according to the UK Foreign Office, Ecuador recently notified it that Assange had received diplomatic status following his successful application for Ecuadorean citizenship.

As former British ambassador Craig Murray has explained, the UK has no choice but to accept Assange’s diplomatic immunity. The most it can do is insist that he leave the country – something that Assange and Ecuador presumably each desire. And yet the UK continues to ignore its obligation to allow Assange his freedom to leave. So far there has been zero debate in the British corporate media about this fundamental violation of his rights.
One has to wonder at what point will most people realise that this is – and always was – political persecution masquerading as law enforcement.

Did the judge who refused to withdraw Julian Assange’s arrest warrant labour under a gigantic conflict of interest?

Yanis Varoufakis

“I find arrest is a proportionate response.” That was the judgement delivered in court last Tuesday by Judge Emma Arbuthnot, presiding over the case brought to court by Julian Assange’s lawyers. Their argument had been that the warrant for his arrest ought to be withdrawn because arresting him (after the extradition request from Sweden had been rescinded)  “was no longer proportionate or in the public interest“.

The elephant in the room is, of course, the fact that the whole affair was always about the thinly veiled US plan to apprehend Julian, throw him into the type of unfathomable cell in which Chelsea Manning was incarcerated for 18 months, and deny him any opportunity to defend himself from ludicrous spying charges. Given that both sides of US politics have confirmed that this is indeed their intention (a rare occasion when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have agreed), it was quite interesting to read Judge Arbuthnot’s response:

“I accept that Mr. Assange had expressed fears of being returned to the United States from a very early stage in the Swedish extradition proceedings but, absent any evidence from Mr. Assange on oath, I do not find that Mr. Assange’s fears were reasonable.” 

As remarkably circular statements come, this is truly extraordinary: Judge Arbuthnot is dismissing as unreasonable Julian’s fears that if he were to exit the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to be arrested by police he would be extradited to the US before being thrown into the US supermax, Guantanamo-like, system. And why did she dismiss his fears? Because Julian did not step out of the Ecuadorian Embassy and into her court to express them!

Now, of course, I am no lawyer and most certainly have no expertise, or right, to pass judgement on the good judge – except to state my puzzlement at the logicality – or otherwise – of her verdict. However, there is a serious matter on which all of us, who were observing with interest this case, have a duty to bring to the fore. It is a matter that concerns a potentially mind boggling conflict of interest afflicting Judge Arbuthnot.

If my sources are correct (and I do stress this if), Judge Arbuthnot is the wife of Lord Arbuthnot, former minister of defence, until recently former chairman of the defence committee, director of an outfit known as SC Strategy (owned by the former head of MI6 and co-directed by another head of MI6) and, last but not least, on the advisory board of Thales – one of the largest arms manufacturers and dealers and, crucially, a company associated with corrupt deals whose role has often been exposed by WikiLeaks.

The point here is simplicity personified: If the above is correct, a gigantic conflict of interest arises that should have compelled Judge Arbuthnot to have recused herself from this hearing. The fact that she did not (assuming that the above information is correct), is a blot on British justice and a setback for the notion of English fair play. An explanation from the judge herself and the courts would be very welcome.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Marx for the 21st Century with David Harvey