Category Archives: Europe

no war with Iran: protests taking place across the country

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The following statement from Stop the War Coalition was recieved today:

The assassination of Qasem Soleimani last week has made the world a more dangerous place. That is the only conclusion we can draw from the further threats by Donald Trump to attack Iranian sites, including cultural ones, and now the retaliation by Iran with missile strikes on US bases. We do not know what further escalation there may be but we do know that any war in the Middle East will have a deadly impact on the ordinary people there.

Trump’s behaviour has frightened even many of those close to him, but it is clear from the response of Boris Johnson that the British government is also terrified of offending Trump. We can therefore expect Johnson to follow the line, as when he justified keeping British troops in Iraq.

The demonstration in London on Saturday, which is co-organised by CND, and those taking place across the country are vital in rejecting our government’s policy and in asserting opposition to yet another disastrous intervention in the Middle East

We must do everything we can to oppose war with Iran and attacks on Iraq. This begins with a public meeting tonight (8th Jan) in London and a demonstration on Saturday.

On Saturday, we are marching from the BBC (Portland Place) to Trafalgar Square where the demonstration will be addressed by a wide range of speakers including Stop the War President Brian Eno and Joe Glenton from Veterans for Peace alongside Iranian and Iraqi speakers as well as notable Labour Party figures including Diane Abbott. Please do everything you can to get along to the demonstration and spread the word amongst family, friends and colleagues.

We also need volunteers to help out with stewarding and facilitating the demo. If you can help please email office@stopwar.org.uk as soon as possible.

Here is a list of protests and events taking place across the UK:
·  08 Jan | Cardiff | No War with Iran!
·  09 Jan | Birmingham | No War With Iran, US/UK Troops Out Of Iraq – Protest
·  09 Jan | Edinburgh | No to War on Iran Vigil
·  11 Jan | Chesterfield | No War on Iran
·  11 Jan | Manchester | No War with Iran
·  11 Jan | Newcastle | Don’t Attack Iran Rally
·  11 Jan | Liverpool | Don’t Attack Iran
·  11 Jan |Bristol | Don’t Attack Iran: Protest at Donald Trump’s Act of War
·  11 Jan | Sheffield | No War With Iran
·  12 Jan | Bradford | No War with Iran – Demonstration
·  18 Jan | Swansea | Don’t Attack Iran: Protest at Donald Trump’s Act of War
·  18 Jan | Canterbury | No War on Iran
·  19 Jan | Warrington | No War With Iran

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Update:

We are pleased to announce that our former Chair and leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, will be speaking at the ‘No War on Iran’ demonstration taking place this Saturday in Central London. He has been steadfast in his condemnation of Donald Trump’s assassination of Qasem Soleimani and US aggression towards Iran more widely, as he has been for the past decade and more.

The demonstration in London on Saturday, which is co-organised by CND, and those taking place across the country are vital in rejecting our government’s policy and in asserting opposition to yet another disastrous intervention in the Middle East. Please do everything you can to get along to the demonstration and spread the word amongst family, friends and colleagues.

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Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at London’s ‘No War on Iran’ rally:

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Craig Murray on why the assassination of Soleimani was “act of state terrorism by the USA, pure and simple”

In one of the series of blatant lies the USA has told to justify the assassination of Soleimani, Mike Pompeo said that Soleimani was killed because he was planning “Imminent attacks” on US citizens. It is a careful choice of word. Pompeo is specifically referring to the Bethlehem Doctrine of Pre-Emptive Self Defence.

Developed by Daniel Bethlehem when Legal Adviser to first Netanyahu’s government and then Blair’s, the Bethlehem Doctrine is that states have a right of “pre-emptive self-defence” against “imminent” attack. That is something most people, and most international law experts and judges, would accept. Including me.

What very few people, and almost no international lawyers, accept is the key to the Bethlehem Doctrine – that here “Imminent” – the word used so carefully by Pompeo – does not need to have its normal meanings of either “soon” or “about to happen”. An attack may be deemed “imminent”, according to the Bethlehem Doctrine, even if you know no details of it or when it might occur. So you may be assassinated by a drone or bomb strike – and the doctrine was specifically developed to justify such strikes – because of “intelligence” you are engaged in a plot, when that intelligence neither says what the plot is nor when it might occur. Or even more tenuous, because there is intelligence you have engaged in a plot before, so it is reasonable to kill you in case you do so again.

I am not inventing the Bethlehem Doctrine. It has been the formal legal justification for drone strikes and targeted assassinations by the Israeli, US and UK governments for a decade. Here it is in academic paper form, published by Bethlehem after he left government service (the form in which it is adopted by the US, UK and Israeli Governments is classified information).

So when Pompeo says attacks by Soleimani were “imminent” he is not using the word in the normal sense in the English language. It is no use asking him what, where or when these “imminent” attacks were planned to be. He is referencing the Bethlehem Doctrine under which you can kill people on the basis of a feeling that they may have been about to do something.

The idea that killing an individual who you have received information is going to attack you, but you do not know when, where or how, can be justified as self-defence, has not gained widespread acceptance – or indeed virtually any acceptance – in legal circles outside the ranks of the most extreme devoted neo-conservatives and zionists. Daniel Bethlehem became the FCO’s Chief Legal Adviser, brought in by Jack Straw, precisely because every single one of the FCO’s existing Legal Advisers believed the Iraq War to be illegal. In 2004, when the House of Commons was considering the legality of the war on Iraq, Bethlehem produced a remarkable paper for consideration which said that it was legal because the courts and existing law were wrong, a defence which has seldom succeeded in court.

(b)
following this line, I am also of the view that the wider principles of the law on self-defence also require closer scrutiny. I am not persuaded that the approach of doctrinal purity reflected in the Judgments of the International Court of Justice in this area provide a helpful edifice on which a coherent legal regime, able to address the exigencies of contemporary international life and discourage resort to unilateral action, is easily crafted;

The key was that the concept of “imminent” was to change:

The concept of what constitutes an “imminent” armed attack will develop to meet new circumstances and new threats

In the absence of a respectable international lawyer willing to argue this kind of tosh, Blair brought in Bethlehem as Chief Legal Adviser, the man who advised Netanyahu on Israel’s security wall and who was willing to say that attacking Iraq was legal on the basis of Saddam’s “imminent threat” to the UK, which proved to be non-existent. It says everything about Bethlehem’s eagerness for killing that the formulation of the Bethlehem Doctrine on extrajudicial execution by drone came after the Iraq War, and he still gave not one second’s thought to the fact that the intelligence on the “imminent threat” can be wrong. Assassinating people on the basis of faulty intelligence is not addressed by Bethlehem in setting out his doctrine. The bloodlust is strong in this one.

There are literally scores of academic articles, in every respected journal of international law, taking down the Bethlehem Doctrine for its obvious absurdities and revolting special pleading. My favourite is this one by Bethlehem’s predecessor as the FCO Chief Legal Adviser, Sir Michael Wood and his ex-Deputy Elizabeth Wilmshurst.

I addressed the Bethlehem Doctrine as part of my contribution to a book reflecting on Chomsky‘s essay “On the Responsibility of Intellectuals”

In the UK recently, the Attorney General gave a speech in defence of the UK’s drone policy, the assassination of people – including British nationals – abroad. This execution without a hearing is based on several criteria, he reassured us. His speech was repeated slavishly in the British media. In fact, the Guardian newspaper simply republished the government press release absolutely verbatim, and stuck a reporter’s byline at the top.

The media have no interest in a critical appraisal of the process by which the British government regularly executes without trial. Yet in fact it is extremely interesting. The genesis of the policy lay in the appointment of Daniel Bethlehem as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Chief Legal Adviser. Jack Straw made the appointment, and for the first time ever it was external, and not from the Foreign Office’s own large team of world-renowned international lawyers. The reason for that is not in dispute. Every single one of the FCO’s legal advisers had advised that the invasion of Iraq was illegal, and Straw wished to find a new head of the department more in tune with the neo-conservative world view.

Straw went to extremes. He appointed Daniel Bethlehem, the legal ‘expert’ who provided the legal advice to Benjamin Netanyahu on the ‘legality’ of building the great wall hemming in the Palestinians away from their land and water resources. Bethlehem was an enthusiastic proponent of the invasion of Iraq. He was also the most enthusiastic proponent in the world of drone strikes.

Bethlehem provided an opinion on the legality of drone strikes which is, to say the least, controversial. To give one example, Bethlehem accepts that established principles of international law dictate that lethal force may be used only to prevent an attack which is ‘imminent’.

Bethlehem argues that for an attack to be ‘imminent’ does not require it to be ‘soon’. Indeed you can kill to avert an ‘imminent attack’ even if you have no information on when and where it will be. You can instead rely on your target’s ‘pattern of behaviour’; that is, if he has attacked before, it is reasonable to assume he will attack again and that such an attack is
‘imminent’.

There is a much deeper problem: that the evidence against the target is often extremely dubious. Yet even allowing the evidence to be perfect, it is beyond me that the state can kill in such circumstances without it being considered a death penalty imposed without trial for past crimes, rather than to frustrate another ‘imminent’ one.

You would think that background would make an interesting story. Yet the entire ‘serious’ British media published the government line, without a single journalist, not one, writing about the fact that Bethlehem’s proposed definition of ‘imminent’ has been widely rejected by the international law community. The public knows none of this. They just ‘know’ that drone strikes are keeping us safe from deadly attack by terrorists, because the government says so, and nobody has attempted to give them other information

Remember, this is not just academic argument, the Bethlehem Doctrine is the formal policy position on assassination of Israel, the US and UK governments. So that is lie one. When Pompeo says Soleimani was planning “imminent” attacks, he is using the Bethlehem definition under which “imminent” is a “concept” which means neither “soon” nor “definitely going to happen”. To twist a word that far from its normal English usage is to lie. To do so to justify killing people is obscene. That is why, if I finish up in the bottom-most pit of hell, the worst thing about the experience will be the company of Daniel Bethlehem.

Let us now move on to the next lie, which is being widely repeated, this time originated by Donald Trump, that Soleimani was responsible for the “deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans”. This lie has been parroted by everybody, Republicans and Democrats alike.

Really? Who were they? When and where? While the Bethlehem Doctrine allows you to kill somebody because they might be going to attack someone, sometime, but you don’t know who or when, there is a reasonable expectation that if you are claiming people have already been killed you should be able to say who and when.

The truth of the matter is that if you take every American killed including and since 9/11, in the resultant Middle East related wars, conflicts and terrorist acts, well over 90% of them have been killed by Sunni Muslims financed and supported out of Saudi Arabia and its gulf satellites, and less than 10% of those Americans have been killed by Shia Muslims tied to Iran.

This is a horribly inconvenient fact for US administrations which, regardless of party, are beholden to Saudi Arabia and its money. It is, the USA affirms, the Sunnis who are the allies and the Shias who are the enemy. Yet every journalist or aid worker hostage who has been horribly beheaded or otherwise executed has been murdered by a Sunni, every jihadist terrorist attack in the USA itself, including 9/11, has been exclusively Sunni, the Benghazi attack was by Sunnis, Isil are Sunni, Al Nusra are Sunni, the Taliban are Sunni and the vast majority of US troops killed in the region are killed by Sunnis.

Precisely which are these hundreds of deaths for which the Shia forces of Soleimani were responsible? Is there a list? It is of course a simple lie. Its tenuous connection with truth relates to the Pentagon’s estimate – suspiciously upped repeatedly since Iran became the designated enemy – that back during the invasion of Iraq itself, 83% of US troop deaths were at the hands of Sunni resistance and 17% of of US troop deaths were at the hands of Shia resistance, that is 603 troops. All the latter are now lain at the door of Soleimani, remarkably.

Those were US troops killed in combat during an invasion. The Iraqi Shia militias – whether Iran backed or not – had every legal right to fight the US invasion. The idea that the killing of invading American troops was somehow illegal or illegitimate is risible. Plainly the US propaganda that Soleimani was “responsible for hundreds of American deaths” is intended, as part of the justification for his murder, to give the impression he was involved in terrorism, not legitimate combat against invading forces. The idea that the US has the right to execute those who fight it when it invades is an absolutely stinking abnegation of the laws of war.

As I understand it, there is very little evidence that Soleimani had active operational command of Shia militias during the invasion, and in any case to credit him personally with every American soldier killed is plainly a nonsense. But even if Soleimani had personally supervised every combat success, these were legitimate acts of war. You cannot simply assassinate opposing generals who fought you, years after you invade.

The final, and perhaps silliest lie, is Vice President Mike Pence’s attempt to link Soleimani to 9/11. There is absolutely no link between Soleimani and 9/11, and the most strenuous efforts by the Bush regime to find evidence that would link either Iran or Iraq to 9/11 (and thus take the heat off their pals the al-Saud who were actually responsible) failed. Yes, it is true that some of the hijackers at one point transited Iran to Afghanistan. But there is zero evidence, as the 9/11 report specifically stated, that the Iranians knew what they were planning, or that Soleimani personally was involved. This is total bullshit. 9/11 was Sunni and Saudi led, nothing to do with Iran.

Soleimani actually was involved in intelligence and logistical cooperation with the United States in Afghanistan post 9/11 (the Taliban were his enemies too, the shia Tajiks being a key part of the US aligned Northern Alliance). He was in Iraq to fight ISIL.

The final aggravating factor in the Soleimani murder is that he was an accredited combatant general of a foreign state which the world – including the USA – recognises. The Bethlehem Doctrine specifically applies to “non-state actors”. Unlike all of the foregoing, this next is speculation, but I suspect that the legal argument in the Pentagon ran that Soleimani is a non-state actor when in Iraq, where the Shia militias have a semi-official status.

But that does not wash. Soleimani is a high official in Iran who was present in Iraq as a guest of the Iraqi government, to which the US government is allied. This greatly exacerbates the illegality of his assassination still further.

The political world in the UK is so cowed by the power of the neo-conservative Establishment and media, that the assassination of Soleimani is not being called out for the act of blatant illegality that it is. It was an act of state terrorism by the USA, pure and simple.

Click here to read the same post entitled “Lies, the Bethlehem Doctrine, and the Illegal Murder of Soleimani” published yesterday on Craig Murray’s website.

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Additional:

Yesterday’s The Jimmy Dore Show welcomed independent journalist Max Blumenthal to discuss the illegality of America’s drone assassination of Qassam Soleimani and the “laughably horrible” news coverage [warning: strong language throughout]:

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no war with Iran: call for action from Stop the War Coalition

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Stop the War is asking all its members and supporters to step up organising now against the threat of war on Iran.

As Lindsey German’s statement says, the drone attack that killed Qassem Soleimani is an act of war by Donald Trump which risks creating a cycle of violence.  Both Iran and Iraq are likely to retaliate and it will draw in other players across the region and beyond.

The anti-war movement needs to respond strongly and quickly. In London we have called a protest outside Downing Street at 2-3pm tomorrow (Saturday).

We are asking our groups, members and supporters to help in the following ways:

– Organise protest where you are.
– Use the statement signed by Jeremy Corbyn as the basis for a petition in your workplace, university and community.
– Pass resolutions against war with Iran in your union branch, Labour Party or student union.
– Organise a public meeting locally or invite a Stop the War speaker to your union, campaign group of Labour Party branch.

Don’t hesitate to e-mail us or phone if you need advice or help.
Phone 020 7561 4830 office hours or 07930 536 519 otherwise.
Email office@stopwar.org.uk

The statement is here:

The US assassination of Qasem Soleimani is an extremely serious and dangerous escalation of conflict with global significance. The UK government should urge restraint on the part of both Iran and the US, and stand up to the belligerent actions and rhetoric coming from the US.

Jeremy Corbyn MP

Update:

We must do everything we can to oppose war with Iran and attacks on Iraq.

This begins with a public meeting in London on Wednesday and a demonstration on Saturday.

Other protests and events will be taking place across the country and you can stay notified of them on our events page here.

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evaluating Corbyn’s defeat after a long week in politics: Labour supporters speak to mistakes over Brexit and the unprecedented level of media bias

Introduction: my own reflections

On January 15th, I wrote to my constituency MP and Shadow Minister for Exiting the European Union, Paul Blomfield, expressing my deep concerns over Labour’s repositioning on Brexit:

[T]he danger facing Labour is that so many of its traditional voters, in the North especially, will feel betrayed if the referendum vote is not respected. Unknown numbers will be recruited by the far right. Indeed, I fear that Labour may lose so much of its traditional support that it could easily enter into the wilderness once again.

In March I wrote to him again:

[A] second referendum with ‘remain’ on the ballot breaches Labour’s election manifesto pledge, which is less than two years old and which you reiterated, that you accept and will respect the result of the first referendum. This will cause untold damage to Jeremy Corbyn’s reputation for authenticity, believability and honesty. It will also reinvigorate Ukip [Brexit Party was yet to be formed], and provide ammunition to far right extremist Tommy Robinson. Like many people inside the party and outside, I believe that such a U-turn will very likely ruin Labour’s electoral chances for decades to come.

The exchange of letters between us ended in May. The full sequence is appended to an earlier post entitled “Brexasperation! or why I cannot campaign for Labour but I will cast my vote again for  Jeremy Corbyn” This was my final remark to Paul Blomfield:

I regard this change in policy [Labour’s commitment to back a second referendum] as entirely dishonourable, but worse than that, it will be electorally disastrous.

Last Thursday night’s election results came as a shattering blow to all Labour supporters. Tormented by the drip, drip, drip of miserable news, I’d waited up well into the small hours feeling little more than a mix of dismay and anger as the dim forecast determined by the exit poll refused to budge. We had sacrificed the Left’s best chance of instituting real and lasting reform under the most principled Labour leader in my lifetime and all in a failed bid to stop Brexit. Defeat was both predictable and avoidable, but the victory instead went both to the Tories and to the Blairites who had forced the issue of a second referendum quite deliberately to box Corbyn in.

Today, Brexit is almost behind us. Not in actuality, of course, but in terms of how we might influence it and how its once overwhelming presence seems already to have waned. Britain is destined to leave the EU, and in the manner that now will be determined solely by Johnson, the Conservatives and their corporate backers. This is extremely bad news and yet for many (Labour supporters and remainers included) it also feels like a painful boil has been lanced at long last: in fact a sense of relief that the nation will not have to tear itself apart all over again throughout the weeks and months of a second referendum is palpable.

Indeed, a political row that had engulfed all of us suddenly is confined within the constituency of the Labour Party itself, where civil war has yet again begun to rage between old enemies. Seizing upon this exquisite moment of vulnerability, the Blairites’ strategy is to wreak as much havoc as they possibly can; their intention, as always, is to sink the Corbyn project once and for all.

But I can also sense an awakening, and while the establishment media continues to do its utmost to blame Corbyn, the real debate on the Left (away from the headlines), disengages from scapegoating and is impelled more by regret and self-reproach for its own mistakes in shaping Labour’s Brexit policy. While the other central issue is the decisive role played by the media and most specifically the BBC; its thin veil of neutrality cheaply abandoned and perhaps unrecoverable. The analysis and opinions that follow are very much in this vein, and, amongst those on the Left, I would say representative of the prevailing mood in Britain at this uncertain time.

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Owen Jones

Those who read this blog regularly will know that I have very little time for political analyst and Guardian columnist Owen Jones. However, in his latest opinion piece entitled “Brexit and self-inflicted errors buried Labour in this election” published yesterday, he does correctly acknowledge that Labour’s U-turn on Brexit with its call for a second referendum (a policy shift that he had previously endorsed) was the main reason for the collapse of the Labour vote:

The decisive failure – yes, with hindsight – was that the Labour leadership did not use the political capital of the 2017 election to make a principled case for a Norway-style soft Brexit, and definitively rule out any future referendum. If that message had been held with stubborn discipline, a perception of weakness and dithering would have never set in. Whether it was truly politically feasible – and whether Labour’s membership could have worn it – is another question. The failure to move swiftly created space for the fantasy that the 2016 result could simply be reversed – and leading remain campaigners relished the opportunity to bully the Labour leadership and insult leave voters as gullible bigots.

The left needs to own its failure in this election, but those who spent two years claiming Labour shifting to remain was a cost-free exercise, blocked only by Corbyn’s stubborn Euroscepticism, might consider entering their own period of introspection. Brexit is now settled: Labour must decisively rule out the prospect of rejoining the EU in its current form ever again.

Click here to read the full article published in yesterday’s Guardian.

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Craig Gent

Craig Gent is head of articles at Novara Media and lives in West Yorkshire. The following extract is from an article entitled “Learning the Lessons of Labour’s Northern Nightmare Will Take Longer Than a Weekend” published on Dec 17th by Novara Media. I encourage readers to follow the link and to read the article in full.

In moments like this, everyone has to have a take. The unrelenting tempo of social media feeds won’t allow otherwise.

Of course, people are more than entitled to air their reflections and opinions about what went wrong, how we got here, and how the disparity between hope and reality got so wide. But it is galling to see people who were sideswiped by the result – who had largely written off the crumbling of Labour’s ‘red wall’ as a myth – now speaking in authoritative tones about how shit really went down, as explained by this one handy graph.

The bare facts are these: Labour’s election campaign did not look the same across northern towns as it did on left Twitter. Swathes of towns that said they wanted Brexit in 2016 still want Brexit. Those towns by and large felt patronised by the offer of a second referendum, a policy whose public support has always been inflated by the gaseous outpourings of its most ardent supporters. And two years on from 2017, the novelty of Corbynmania had thoroughly worn off, with his increasingly stage-managed media appearances beginning to rub people up the wrong way.

Naturally, people are now rushing to say why the result confirms their long-held suspicions that X needs to happen. Chief among delusionists within this deluge are the centrists whose core contribution over the last two years was the very policy that proved Labour’s undoing. I am not a habitual lexiter, but the idea that the second referendum offer had nothing to do with the result is completely detached from reality. More still is the idea that Labour could have won by backing an outright remain position sooner. To understand this election, context is everything, and I’m afraid those who conveniently point to data sets comparing 2017 and 2019 as proof that they were right all along are lacking it in spades. […]

Rightly or wrongly, Brexit offered enough people an antidote to years of feeling defeated and defeatist – the experience of finally winning something. Labour’s prevarication since the 2017 election left many people feeling ‘let down by Labour’ – a sentiment which propelled a number of independents and right-wingers into local councils, and which propelled the Brexit party to first place in the European elections.

Let’s be real – these signals were written off as a protest vote, or likely to be statistically insignificant come a general election. Doing so was a failure to recognise the political journey many former Labour voters were on. While the Conservatives and Brexit party fanned the confidence delivered by winning the referendum for their own cynical purposes, Labour became the party of ‘steady on’, asking leave voters to gamble their sacred victory in order to appease a bunch of hard remainers who never accepted that they lost, and worse yet, appeared to think their votes ought to have been worth more than the votes of leavers.

Click here to read the article in full at Novara Media.

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Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a British political activist and founder member of the Stop the War Coalition serving as National Officer and Deputy Chair of the Stop the War Coalition in the UK. He served under Jeremy Corbyn from 2011 to 2015. On December 14th he shared his views with Douglas Lain for the youtube channel Zero Books.

If you want to know what I think the absolutely central issue is for election and the fundamental reason why Labour did so badly – and it was a terrible result really for Labour – I think it’s Brexit.

I think it’s the fact that Labour went from a position in 2017 of saying that they were going to respect the referendum result, which was to leave, and that there was going to be an attempt to negotiate a Brexit which benefitted working people, which tackled inequality, which was good for the majority and not for the few. That was line in 2017, which by-the-by meant that Brexit wasn’t really an issue in that election.

Fast-forward to now. Or to this election just gone. You have a situation where Labour – the Corbyn leadership – has been forced into a position of saying they are going to have a second referendum: that they were perceived to be essentially supporting a ‘remain’ position, trying to overturn the previous result. And the Johnson Tory Party could pitch itself as being insurgent against the liberal elites. And also, amazingly, Johnson could pitch himself as being a defender of democracy, because that was the way the referendum went in 2016 and he was going to respect that.

So that was a really massive turnaround and I think it became totemic – the Brexit issue – because what it said to people is that, whereas in 2017, Corbyn was beginning to establish himself as someone who was breaking from the consensus, breaking from the Westminster elite, breaking from neoliberalism. Honest, democratic, listening to ordinary people. Not out of touch like the rest of the politicians. Suddenly that narrative no longer looked plausible.

Now we were in a position where the Labour leadership was turning its back on the referendum result, was – I mean to all intents and purposes – taking the ‘remain’ position (however much Jeremy Corbyn himself tried to resist that) and therefore looking more and more like the other politicians.

There’s such a deep sense in British society, particularly amongst those parts of the working class that have been most attacked and most under pressure, that the political class don’t give a shit. That Westminster is another world from most people’s reality. That it took an awful lot to begin to overcome that and those gains that were made in 2017, I think were lost over the last two years, because of mainly – there are other factors – but mainly because of the change of line on the Brexit question. [from 8:25 min]

The transcript above is my own.

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Jonathan Cook

The following is a short extract dealing with media bias and specifically the role played by the BBC from an excellent piece of analysis entitled “Corbyn’s Defeat has Slain the Left’s Last Illusion” written by independent journalist Jonathan Cook published in Counterpunch on Dec 17th. I encourage readers to follow the link and to read the article in full.

The real revelation of this election, however, has been the BBC, the most well concealed of all those illusion-generating machines. The BBC is a state broadcaster that has long used its entertainment division – from costume dramas to wildlife documentaries – to charm us and ensure the vast majority of the public are only too happy to invite it into their homes. The BBC’s lack of adverts, the apparent absence of a grubby, commercial imperative, has been important in persuading us of the myth that the British Broadcasting Corporation is driven by a higher purpose, that it is a national treasure, that it is on our side.

But the BBC always was the propaganda arm of the state, of the British establishment. Once, briefly, in the more politically divided times of my youth, the state’s interests were contested. There were intermittent Labour governments trying to represent workers’ interests and powerful trade unions that the British establishment dared not alienate too strongly. Then, countervailing popular interests could not be discounted entirely. The BBC did its best to look as if it was being even-handed, even if it wasn’t really. It played by the rules for fear of the backlash if it did not.

All that has changed, as this election exposed more starkly than ever before.

The reality is that the corporate class – the 0.001% – has been in control of our political life uninterrupted for 40 years. As in the United States, the corporations captured our political and economic systems so successfully that for most of that time we ended up with a choice between two parties of capital: the Conservative party and New Labour.

Hollowed-out society

The corporations used that unbroken rule to shore up their power. Public utilities were sold off, the building societies became corporate banks, the financial industries were deregulated to make profit the only measure of value, and the NHS was slowly cannibalised. The BBC too was affected. Successive governments more openly threatened its income from the licence fee. Union representation, as elsewhere, was eroded and layoffs became much easier as new technology was introduced. The BBC’s managers were drawn ever more narrowly from the world of big business. And its news editors were increasingly interchangeable with the news editors of the billionaire-owned print media.

To take one of many current examples, Sarah Sands, editor of the key Radio 4 Today programme, spent her earlier career at the Boris Johnson-cheerleading Mail and Telegraph newspapers.

In this election, the BBC cast off its public-service skin to reveal the corporate Terminator-style automaton below. It was shocking to behold even for a veteran media critic like myself. This restyled BBC, carefully constructed over the past four decades, shows how the patrician British establishment of my youth – bad as it was – has gone.

Now the BBC is a mirror of what our hollowed-out society looks like. It is no longer there to hold together British society, to forge shared values, to find common ground between the business community and the trade unions, to create a sense – even if falsely – of mutual interest between the rich and the workers. No, it is there to ringfence turbo-charged neoliberal capitalism, it is there to cannibalise what’s left of British society, and ultimately, as we may soon find out, it is there to generate civil war.

Click here to read the full article on Counterpunch.

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John Pilger

Yesterday’s episode of RT’s ‘Going Underground’ was dedicated to an extended interview with award-winning journalist John Pilger. In the first half they discussed Pilger’s latest documentary film “The Dirty War on the NHS” which was broadcast yesterday on ITV (available on ITV hub). In the second half, discussion moves on to last week’s General Election calamity; the reason why Brexit has been taken over by the extreme right since 2016; anti-Semitism allegations against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party; and allegations of BBC bias against the Labour Party in the election.

Asked by host Afshin Rattansi, why so many working class voters throughout the Labour heartlands switched to vote for the Conservatives, John Pilger replies:

“I can’t explain that. But I can say that there was a democratic referendum in this country in 2016, and it was won by those wishing to leave the European Union. And also from a minute after that election, there was a massive campaign to deny the legitimacy of that democratic referendum, and the whole issue of Brexit then fell into, bizarrely, but very significantly, into the hands of the extreme right in Britain of which the Prime Minister is one.

“I can only guess that people who voted to leave the European Union for all kinds of reasons felt that their voice had been treated with contempt, as indeed it was. In many ways, there was a class war. And why, as somebody said to me the other day, the poor should vote for more poverty, the sick should vote for more sickness, I can’t answer that question, but that’s certainly happened.” [from 16:50 min]

The upload embedded below is cued to start at the point when their discussion moves on to the General Election.

Regarding allegations of institutional antisemitism within the Labour Party, Pilger says:

“The story you get from the BBC is not to be believed. And there’s plenty of evidence why it should not be believed. However, there’s no question that the whole question of antisemitism [inside the Labour Party], by and large is a bogus issue, an utterly bogus issue: accusing somebody like Jeremy Corbyn of being antisemitic – or even others of being antisemitic – that he, perhaps unwisely, allowed to be expelled from the Labour Party. It was just absurd that it became an issue.

“Perhaps it says something about today that we’re consumed by this thing [the media and social media] that [puts out] propaganda – whatever you want to call it (fake or whatever) – that was the most brilliantly successful piece of propaganda aimed at one political group. And I don’t think the Labour Party fought it.” [from 18:35 min]

And on the implications for the Bernie Sanders campaign, which is suddenly dealing with similarly bogus allegations of antisemitism; claims that are all the more ludicrous for the fact that Sanders is the Jewish son of Holocaust survivors:

“What should they learn? They have to stand up and oppose it. They have to resist. They have to understand that there are powerful political forces that do not want them to take power democratically.” [from 20:05 min]

More specifically on subject of BBC bias and Laura Kuenssberg’s flouting of election laws, he says:

“[Laura Kuenssberg] is only part of the system. She wouldn’t be in that system, as Noam Chomsky once famously said, unless she did that. So there is nothing extraordinary about what she has done particularly. But the whole system… and then for [Director-General Lord Tony] Hall to come and point at the easy [target] social media, when the BBC is probably the most powerful, refined propaganda system in the world, [with] nothing like it.

“Now whether it swayed [the result]… you know we have to be careful listing all the excuses. The Labour Party sure contributed to their own electoral demise. There’s no question about that. But the fact that one side in the election campaign had powerful establishment forces – especially the media arranged against them – is extremely important to understand.” [from 20:05 min]

Continuing:

“The fact that Andrew Neil is considered some kind of BBC icon is amazing. Those of us who remember him as Murdoch’s editor at The Sunday Times, and [yet] there he is, he’s on the state broadcaster, as… [and] you must be interviewed by him if you’re running for Prime Minister. That, almost in itself, tells us all we really know about bias within the BBC.” [from 22:35 min]

Afshin Rattansi then asks about the NHS leaked documents and the immediate allegations that they may have been released by Russia. John Pilger replies:

“Well my breakfast emanated from Russia. The sky emanated from Russia. Rain emanated from Russia. I joke but it is a rather grotesque joke now. And I’ve read some of those documents. What they say is devastating. I wish Jeremy Corbyn and others had made much more of that.

“You have a Department of International Trade official, obviously a senior official, not a junior official, as they tried later to say, and a US trade representative talking to each other. And the British official is – and I paraphrase, I hope accurately – saying ‘Look just be patient, all sorts of promises have to be made now – brackets: (in the election campaign) – but later on there shouldn’t be a problem.’ Absolute duplicity. Duplicity, that’s how power works. And that’s why Julian Assange and wikileaks have been targeted, because they have revealed that underside of power.” [from 23:30 min]

Finally, he shares his thoughts about how people should interpret Johnson’s new “people’s government”, saying:

“Well, you see in propaganda terms – you go back to Edward Bernays, the father of modern public relations, who invented the term ‘public relations’, the respectable word for propaganda, and even [back to] Goebbels, but the British were much better at it than Goebbels – using good words such as ‘people’s’, ‘democracy’, ‘reform’. You look at all the corporate words that are [used as] propaganda now, drained of their meaning [such as] the word ‘reform’. That used to be a very positive word; it’s no longer a positive word… I’m just making this wider point because there is a task for people now to try and decode the propaganda that they’re getting. Because [Johnson’s new “people’s government”] that’s propaganda. ” […]

“Unknown to most of the public, around the Houses of Parliament, are the offices of so-called ‘think tanks’, lobbyists and professional propagandists. All of them with one target: the National Health Service.

“They are actually clustered around the Department of Health. And there’s a revolving door between them and parliament and the Department of Health. But their vocabulary is a deceitful one. They use words like ‘reform’ [and] ‘partnership’. None of these positive terms have any real meaning any more. What they mean by ‘reform’ is privatising and destroying.

“They would deny that but they have created this extraordinary vocabulary, as they have created their own persona, they hope, of legitimacy, because they have so many people within parliament, and so many people from the private healthcare industry within the Department of Health, they feel they can get away with this. Broadening it out, this is modern corporatism. It’s how it works. Its greatest and least understood weapon is propaganda.” [from 25:20 mins]

The transcriptions above are my own.

Click here to watch John Pilger’s film The Dirty War on the NHS on ITV Hub.

And here to watch the same interview on RT’s official website.

*

Neil Clark

Neil Clark is an independent journalist, political writer, broadcaster and blogger. He tweets on politics and world affairs @NeilClark66. His award winning blog can be found at www.neilclark66.blogspot.com. The following extract is taken from an op-ed entitled “Destroyed by appeasing his enemies: The Shakespearean tragedy of Jeremy Corbyn published by RT on Dec 14th. Again, I encourage readers to follow the link and to read the article in full.

Jeremy Corbyn was never in a stronger position than on the morning of the day after the general election of June 2017. Against all the odds and punditocracy predictions, he had taken Labour to the brink of a stunning victory. The 40 percent of the vote Labour attained in that election represented the biggest increase in the share of the popular vote the party had achieved in over 70 years. But fatally, Corbyn didn’t take the tide at the flood. He should have used the moment to move swiftly and decisively against his ‘centrist’ enemies in the party who had done so much to undermine him. Instead, he held out an olive branch to them. They repaid his magnanimity by plotting the downfall which came to a head so spectacularly this week.

Phase One of the plan was to get Labour to sign up to an electorally suicidal shift on Brexit. Labour did so well in 2017 largely because it gave a clear manifesto commitment to respect the result of the 2016 referendum. But great pressure was exerted on Corbyn to agree to a change in policy and pledge Labour to support a second referendum. Years earlier, Corbyn had, quite rightly, attacked the EU for making the Irish vote again after they had rejected the Lisbon Treaty. But asking Labour Leavers to vote again on whether to leave the EU is precisely what Corbyn was doing in the 2019 general election. It’s true that others were constructing his political coffin, but it’s also true that Corbyn handed them the nails.

Phase Two of the plan to ‘Get Corbyn’ was to promote a narrative that Labour under his leadership was absolutely awash with anti-Semitism. Corbyn’s enemies wanted us to believe that Labour, a party which always prided itself on its anti-racist credentials, and which had a Jewish leader as recently as 2015, was in fact a racist party. Incredibly, this audacious campaign succeeded because Corbyn failed to call it out. The level of actual anti-Semitism in Labour was tiny, but the Labour leader accepted the narrative that there was a big problem to deal with. The result of his continually going on the back-foot was that he and his party were denounced as ‘anti-Semitic’ on an almost hourly basis. Chris Williamson, a loyal Corbyn ally, was thrown under the bus on trumped-up charges. But this appeasement only led to the campaign being ratcheted up still further.

Corbyn paid a very heavy price for the mistakes he made in the period 2017-19. The party’s backtracking on Brexit saw them haemorrhage support in their traditional pro-Leave Northern heartlands and lose working-class seats in the election that they had held for generations. Labour lost Blyth Valley for the first time ever. Wrexham in North Wales went Conservative for the first time ever. Great Grimsby was lost by Labour for the first time in 74 years. 71 percent of voters there had voted Leave in 2016. Yet Labour was asking them to vote again, next year. How absurd.

Click here to read the full article by Neil Clark published by RT.

*

Additional:

Last Thursday former trade union leader, Ian Lavery, was returned as the Member of Parliament for Wansbeck in Northumberland, but he watched as the so-called “Red Wall” of traditional Labour constituencies running from Wales to the North-East had collapsed around him. On Tuesday [Dec 17th] he joined Michael Walker and Ash Sarkar in another episode of #TyskySour to discuss the cost of a Second Referendum, and what next for Labour:

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, John Pilger

yesterday’s election was a (predictable) horror show for Labour, so what next?

If you really want to understand how Labour lost yesterday’s election so badly I strongly recommend watching this. It covers all of the deeper reasons without fear or prejudice:

Jeremy Corbyn was by no means fully responsible for yesterday’s disaster and John McDonnell is greatly more to blame. As Patrick Henningsen summed up on Friday’s UK Column News (embedded above – the remarks are about 14 mins in) after Corbyn had been softened up with relentless body blows in coordinated efforts to weaken him – the nonsensical smears that tarred him as antisemitic combined with establishment lies that made him out to be a Kremlin dupe and a security threat – then, having been backed into a corner, he was browbeaten to reverse the party’s stance on Brexit with the manifesto pledge of a second referendum. This would be the coup de grâce.

Had Corbyn instead been allowed to honour the referendum result (as Labour did in 2017), and had Labour’s manifesto offered the deal previously secured when they had talks with May (a plan that Stephen Kinnock proposed and backed), or even to renegotiate a deal with Brussels, then the election horror show would certainly have been avoided. Indeed, it is not at all inconceivable that fighting the election on his otherwise very popular anti-austerity, pro-nationalisation, “for the many” platform, Corbyn could have beaten Johnson and secured an overall majority. After all, what did Johnson bring to the table except for his vague, unreliable, but extremely jingoistic, populist pledge to “Get Brexit Done”.

Some commentators on the left continue to suggest that Corbyn might have done better to campaign for remain whereas the likelihood is that Labour would have tanked as badly or worse (just ask Jo Swinson). Such an alternative strategy would also have lost the Labour heartlands. In fact, drawing any equivalence between leave and remain positions in this regard is really just the last vestige of wishful thinking from diehard remainers to whom I make this modest proposal: please wake up and take the ideological blinkers off.

Moreover, everyone who pushed for Corbyn and Labour to frustrate Brexit in the months prior with the overarching aim of forcing a second referendum (a vote that would have settled nothing in any case) inadvertently (or not in the case of some Blairites) helped Boris Johnson sweep to victory. Sorry, but that’s the truth folks and I take no pleasure in saying it.

What now? We are about to enter an historically dangerous period. The forces of unrestrained neoliberalism are ready to be unleashed. They will deeply harm millions of the very people who voted to put Johnson into power. In response there will be growing numbers amongst the poorest strata of our society becoming radicalised to turn harder to the right. This lurch rightward is now much harder to stop because although Johnson will certainly betray them, they will feel still more embittered by Labour’s betrayal over Brexit. These are desperate and dark days.

What must Labour do? Stand firm. The media is already trying to rewrite the narrative. They will be determined as far as possible to shift the blame from Labour’s Brexit shambles and on to Corbyn and his very progressive reshaping of Labour’s policies. Hopefully Labour members will not be fooled. Neither must we be hoodwinked into believing a centrist like Jess Phillips or Kier Starmer (both immediately touted to be Corbyn’s successor) or, more feasibly, a compromise candidate such as Emily Thornberry or Barry Gardiner, might help to realign the party to make it electable. In the event Labour will continue to atrophy, shedding more and more of its working class base who more than ever will feel disenfranchised by mainstream politics. Tommy Robinson is still waiting in the wings.

I have written these words in haste and with a certain agitation constantly driving my thoughts. For the sake of timeliness I will forgo the usual attempts at editing it into better shape. It is not my intention to rile those who broadly share my own politics but to speak plainly about the situation we suddenly find ourselves in so that we can hold firm in pursuit of a kinder, fairer and more just future for all.

*

Update:

On BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show [Sunday 15th] John McDonnell cited Labour’s muddled policy on Brexit as the foremost reason for Labour’s defeat. He also put the blame squarely on four-years of relentless mainstream media bias saying:

Let’s have the debate about the nature of our politics, the nature of the reportage of our politics, and I think the way they treat individuals. Because it wasn’t just Jeremy, they did the same to Ed Miliband, they did the same to Neil Kinnock.

Andrew Marr interrupts: So you don’t think it’s anything to do with the actual characters at the top of the Labour Party?

McDonnell replies: I think it’s anyone who challenges the establishment will be portrayed in this way. Why? The establishment own the media in this country. [from 5:40 mins]

Click here to watch the same interview on BBC iplayer.

On Monday evening [Dec 16th] Novara Media straightforwardly asked the question “What went wrong?” The discussion between host Michael Walker; NM co-founder, Aaron Bastani; and Huda Elmi, a Constituency Labour Party representative on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) and a regional board member of West Midland’s Labour; was a little bit of a slow burner and so we have to wait about 15 mins for the other shoe to drop. I have embedded the video to start around the time when they more candidly speak about the real causes of Labour’s electoral failure:

Huda Elmi: This election essentially was a de facto second referendum in my view. [17:05 min]

Aaron Bastani: “My one regret is I caved on a second referendum basically after the European elections. I should have stuck to my guns and said ‘It’s a f–king daft idea.’

Why? Two-thirds of Labour seats were ‘leave’ voting. Two-thirds of Labour target seats voted ‘leave’. So of course, 65 percent of the Labour vote voted ‘remain’, but we know because of the way first-past-the-post works 400 seats voted ‘leave’. You don’t want to be in a situation like Hillary Clinton, where you win the popular vote but it’s all concentrated in certain areas. And so there’s where I think Brexit was the major issue.

Look that shouldn’t be controversial. There’s I think about 100 new Tory MPs. There’s an article on Conservative Home listing them. Go, read that article, get their names, put those names into Facebook, look at the Facebook pages for their campaigns: all of them – their final video before the General Election was ‘Vote for me. Let’s get Brexit done. Let’s turn to really important things like the NHS.’

No mention of Corbyn. It’s about Brexit and not in the formulation we saw previously, but actually as a way of attending to erosion of public services, austerity, etc. And Get Brexit Done!’ Action verb. What does that remind you of? Take back control!

And we were so stupid to fall into the precise trap that Dominic Cummings and the Tory’s high command wanted. The exact same trap to the extent where they used a three-part word – Get Brexit Done – Take back control – It was the mirror image. So anybody saying that it wasn’t the major factor I think is being silly.”  [from 18:20 min]

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain

The Great NHS Heist

“Once judged as the finest, most cost efficient health service in the world, the NHS is now in mortal danger – due to ruthless government privatisation plans. Are the British people fully aware of this? Or have they been sidetracked by the propaganda of so-called austerity. A group of doctors and health care professionals are dedicated to getting the truth out. Please support this film.” — John Pilger

THE GREAT NHS HEIST is an independent production designed to expose the covert destruction of the English National Health Service. Post-war Atlee’s government implemented Aneurin Bevan’s ambition of an NHS in July 1948. It meant everyone in Britain could get free medical care and this successful revolutionary social advance was copied across the world.

From the beginning there was strong political opposition and from the British Medical Association. Throughout Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, forces determined to replace the NHS with an American style, profit making, private insurance-based system gathered momentum.

In Britain’s Biggest Enterprise (1988) Oliver Letwin MP outlined the plan which required stealth, complexity, deception and co-operation of consecutive governments to avoid a public backlash. We witnessed the new corporate managerialism and marketisation of healthcare, shrinkage of the NHS bed capacity, and transfer of assets into the private sector using Private Finance Initiative and NHS land sales. Private operators expanding their grip on the NHS, securing contracts for the provision of ancillary and then clinical services, rapidly accelerated by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act.

The privatisation lobby crafted effective cover stories and carefully managed the national debate to maintain public ignorance and remained largely unchallenged by a compliant mainstream media. Successive reforms were presented as essential improvements while disguising the reality of creeping privatisation. The stage was set for the heist of NHS land, patient medical data, and the £120 billion annual tax-funded budget for US corporate raiders.

Screenshot from the documentary ‘The Great NHS Heist’

The American medical-industrial complex is expensive, dysfunctional and endemically fraudulent yet it is the model being replicated in England. Over thirty million Americans have no medical insurance or government funded care, millions more also financially ruined by medical bills despite having insurance. Hospital providers over investigate and over treat to increase profits by defrauding and potentially harming the sick – while insurers try to avoid seriously ill and expensive people and deny payments when policyholders become too costly. In America, life expectancy, infant and maternal mortality measures are much worse than in other countries where expenditure on healthcare is vastly lower.

Nevertheless health policy in England has accelerated in the wrong direction under the cover of austerity. Chief Executive of NHS England, Mr Simon Stevens, former head of global expansion for US health insurance giant UnitedHealth Group, has progressed the insurance industry designed changes in the NHS, introducing their personnel, IT systems and business methods. The final legal changes to create American Health Maintenance Organisation models, called Integrated Care Systems, are underway. Aligning financial incentives for providers with those of insurers to increase profits by the denial of care to the sick.

In the documentary, patients, health professionals, campaigners and experts from England and America including former Labour Health Secretary Frank Dobson, filmmaker Ken Loach, Anthropologist David Graeber and economists Yanis Varoufakis and Steve Keen deliver a comprehensive exposé of the three-decade long heist of our nation’s proudest achievement, as summed up in this warning from former US insurance industry executive turned whistleblower, Wendell Potter:

“In this country we scare people by saying we don’t want to go down the slippery slope to socialised medicine. Well I tell you something, (what) scares me even worse is going down the slippery slope to the American healthcare system.”

The notes above are adapted from those available on the official website for the documentary.

The full documentary is now uploaded on youtube and embedded below:

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Filed under Britain, did you see?, neo-liberalism

What do those leaked documents actually say about our NHS?

The following article was produced and published on Tues 3rd by the campaign group We Own It, which is committed to the renationalisation of public services in the UK.

On 27th November 2019, Jeremy Corbyn revealed unredacted documents from secret talks about a US-UK trade deal following Brexit.

If you’re confused or uncertain about what the 451 pages of leaked US-UK trade documents mean, and whether it actually shows that our NHS is ‘on the table’, this summary from the Keep Our NHS Public sub-group on trade deals, with the help of a briefing from Global Justice Now* should help.

Whose papers have been leaked?

The papers report on a series of meetings held by the UK-US Trade and Investment Working Group (TIWG).  These talks, essentially scoping exercises, appear to represent the first stage of ‘conversations’ about a deal. They took place between July 2017 and November 2018.

Participants included staff from the UK’s Department for International Trade, the British Embassy in Washington, and the United States Trade Representative (USTR) (the body responsible for developing international trade and overseeing trade negotiations).

What progress has been made?

The talks are described as well advanced in some areas (such as services, intellectual property and agriculture). In some sectors, such as pharmaceuticals, they have reached a point that might usually be expected after one year of formal negations.

What do the leaked papers show?

  1. The United States expects a trade deal very much on its own terms.
  1. The US dominates the talks at every level, dictating what is discussed, what they want included and how the deal should be done.
  2. The US sees there is “all to play for in a No Deal situation” and is using the talks to push the UK government towards as hard a Brexit as possible.
  3. Preliminary economic modelling suggests the trade deal may offer little value to UK consumers, or to UK businesses in terms of market access. Gains are greater for the US.
  4. A UK-US deal of this nature would be good for Trump’s re-election.
  1. The US wants a ‘total market access’ approach, which puts the NHS and other public services at risk

There are two ways of defining what is included in a trade deal. In a positive list approach, the types of goods and services for inclusion must be specifically listed (or ‘put on the table’). In a negative list approach, everything is on the table, unless explicitly named and excluded.

The US wants a form of negative listing, making total access to UK markets the baseline for trade negotiations. The UK appears open to this approach.

As the NHS has already been turned into a market, NHS services are vulnerable to being included in the deal, unless they are clearly and comprehensively excluded. In previous EU trade negotiations using a negative list approach, the UK government chose not to adopt this option. In the US-UK discussions, there is no evidence so far that the UK wants to ring-fence the NHS and keep it out of trade discussions.

The US wants to lock in both existing market access plus any future opening up of markets, so that access cannot be reversed. This would prevent the re-nationalisation of the NHS.

Documents from meetings in March/April 2018 show that the US side has been asking about the NHS in talks specifically focusing on ‘state owned enterprises’. In comments for the eyes of the UK side only, there is reference to a query by the US team about health insurance. This query was seen by the UK side as ‘likely a fishing expedition to check the tone of our response”, but it was also noted that the UK team will in future need to go into more detail about the functioning of the NHS and, for example, whether it is engaged in commercial activities (p.53).

  1. Medicine prices for the NHS are already ‘on the table’  

The reports show that discussions on medicine prices are relatively advanced. There have also been meetings with lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry. Preliminary negotiations have reached a point at which the two sides are now ready to begin agreeing the text for the final deal.

Proposals include the strengthening of intellectual property over new drugs and extending monopoly protection for big pharmaceutical companies (particularly for new ‘biologic’ medicines used to treat cancers and autoimmune diseases). This could mean massive increases in the cost of medicines for the NHS, delays in patients’ access to cheaper alternatives, and bigger profits for drug companies.

  1. The papers point to the inclusion of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS)

ISDS is an investment protection measure that allows foreign corporations to sue governments in corporate courts, rather than through a state’s legal system. The US wants to include a form of ISDS in a US/UK trade deal that is particularly pro-business and has a high success rate for claimants.

ISDS would allow US corporations to sue the UK government on a wide range of issues if they consider government actions have reduced company profits (or the profits companies had anticipated receiving). The compensation awarded by these ad hoc tribunals can be massive and even the threat of such a case can cast a chill on policy making, including on policies aimed at improving the public’s health.

  1. Reduction in standards and regulations

The US wants the UK to adopt US standards and regulations to enable US corporations to move easily into the UK market: this requires the UK to break with the EU’s (higher) standards.

In addition, the US wants the UK to stop using the ‘precautionary approach’ (where products need to be proved safe before released on the market) and to adopt the US system (where products are assumed to be safe until proved otherwise).

The US has a preference for voluntary standards, created by corporations rather than government regulation.  In the US this has allowed practices such as industrial–scale farming where conditions are atrocious and animals are pumped with steroids, other hormones and antibiotics. The US is against warning labels on tobacco and alcohol and wants less nutritional labelling on food.

A shift to less rigorous assessments of safety, voluntary regulation, and a lack of public information are bound to have an impact on the public’s health.

  1. The US has banned any mention of climate change in a US-UK trade deal. 

The UK inquired about including reference to climate change in a future agreement but was told that Congress has banned the USTR from mentioning greenhouse gas emissions. This is despite the way trade deals can increase trade in dirty fossil fuels or block climate action.

What does this mean for the NHS?

  1. Because of the requirement for ‘negative listing’ (as in 2 above), NHS services are at risk of being included by default in a US-UK trade deal.
  2. If the NHS were unambiguously a publicly provided service it might be safe. However,  the legal complexity around how a public service is currently defined, and how it might be redefined in a deal with the US, makes it vulnerable to inclusion in a US-UK trade deal.
  3. If the US succeeds in its aim to ‘lock in’ existing market access and have guaranteed access to future services (as in 2 above), any attempt to return the NHS to real public ownership would appear to be impossible.
  4. Returning the NHS to public ownership would be challenged via the ISDS’s corporate courts (as in 4 above), because re-nationalising the NHS would interfere with health corporations’ profits.
  5. The price we pay for medicine is already on the table, and talks are at an advanced stage (as described in 3 above). The NHS can’t afford to pay US prices for drugs.
  6. If the US deal means lower UK standards and deregulation (as in 5 above), this will affect the NHS, its users and staff in a range of ways. It could mean, for example, poorer environmental, food and safety standards impacting on wider public health; reduced employment rights for staff; and loss of patient privacy due to a US right of access to personal medical information and research data.

* “Leaked papers from the US-UK trade talks: A guide to the revelations.” Global Justice Now, November 2019

https://www.globaljustice.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/news_article/gjn_leakedusuktradedocsbriefing_nov2019.pdf

Additional:

The notes below are taken from an email received today from We Own It.

Will your next MP be committed to defending our NHS?

With less than a week to go, and the polls tightening, it’s more important than ever to find out which election candidates are on the side of the NHS. We want the new Parliament to be full of MPs who are willing to stand up for our NHS against Trump’s trade deal.

Check here to see if the candidate you’re voting for has signed the pledge to protect the NHS from trade deals by ending privatisation.

If they haven’t:

Ask them to sign it now.

In this election, candidates can choose to stand up for our NHS, or bow down to Donald Trump. Which side are your candidates on? If they haven’t signed this pledge, they’re not on the side of the NHS.

Over 500 candidates have signed so far, from all over the country.

  • Labour candidates are currently in the lead, closely followed by Greens.
  • The SNP and Plaid are backing the pledge, and a fair few of their candidates have signed.
  • The Lib Dem leadership has not endorse our pledge, but despite this, a few Lib Dem candidates have signed up.
  • Conservatives have been instructed not to sign at all – but two have broken ranks!

Are you voting for someone who has signed the pledge?

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, campaigns & events

Visiting Assange, Britain’s Political Prisoner | John Pilger

The following article was originally published by Counterpunch on Mon 2nd.

I set out at dawn. Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh is in the flat hinterland of south east London, a ribbon of walls and wire with no horizon. At what is called the visitors centre, I surrendered my passport, wallet, credit cards, medical cards, money, phone, keys, comb, pen, paper.

I need two pairs of glasses. I had to choose which pair stayed behind. I left my reading glasses. From here on, I couldn’t read, just as Julian couldn’t read for the first few weeks of his incarceration. His glasses were sent to him, but inexplicably took months to arrive.

There are large TV screens in the visitors centre. The TV is always on, it seems, and the volume turned up. Game shows, commercials for cars and pizzas and funeral packages, even TED talks, they seem perfect for a prison: like visual valium.

I joined a queue of sad, anxious people, mostly poor women and children, and grandmothers. At the first desk, I was fingerprinted, if that is still the word for biometric testing.

“Both hands, press down!” I was told. A file on me appeared on the screen.

I could now cross to the main gate, which is set in the walls of the prison. The last time I was at Belmarsh to see Julian, it was raining hard. My umbrella wasn’t allowed beyond the visitors centre. I had the choice of getting drenched, or running like hell. Grandmothers have the same choice.

At the second desk, an official behind the wire, said, “What’s that?”

“My watch,” I replied guiltily.

“Take it back,” she said.

So I ran back through the rain, returning just in time to be biometrically tested again. This was followed by a full body scan and a full body search. Soles of feet; mouth open.

At each stop, our silent, obedient group shuffled into what is known as a sealed space, squeezed behind a yellow line. Pity the claustrophobic; one woman squeezed her eyes shut.

We were then ordered into another holding area, again with iron doors shutting loudly in front of us and behind us.

“Stand behind the yellow line!” said a disembodied voice.

Another electronic door slid partly open; we hesitated wisely. It shuddered and shut and opened again. Another holding area, another desk, another chorus of, “Show your finger!”

Then we were in a long room with squares on the floor where we were told to stand, one at a time. Two men with sniffer dogs arrived and worked us, front and back.

The dogs sniffed our arses and slobbered on my hand. Then more doors opened, with a new order to “hold out your wrist!”

A laser branding was our ticket into a large room, where the prisoners sat waiting in silence, opposite empty chairs. On the far side of the room was Julian, wearing a yellow arm band over his prison clothes.

As a remand prisoner he is entitled to wear his own clothes, but when the thugs dragged him out of the Ecuadorean embassy last April, they prevented him bringing a small bag of belongings. His clothes would follow, they said, but like his reading glasses, they were mysteriously lost.

For 22 hours a day, Julian is confined in “healthcare”. It’s not really a prison hospital, but a place where he can be isolated, medicated and spied on. They spy on him every 30 minutes: eyes through the door. They would call this “suicide watch”.

In the adjoining cells are convicted murderers, and further along is a mentally ill man who screams through the night. “This is my One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” he said. “Therapy” is an occasional game of Monopoly. His one assured social gathering is the weekly service in the chapel. The priest, a kind man, has become a friend. The other day, a prisoner was attacked in the chapel; a fist smashed his head from behind while hymns were being sung.

When we greet each other, I can feel his ribs. His arm has no muscle. He has lost perhaps 10 to 15 kilos since April. When I first saw him here in May, what was most shocking was how much older he looked.

“I think I’m going out of my mind,” he said then.

I said to him, “No you’re not. Look how you frighten them, how powerful you are.” Julian’s intellect, resilience and wicked sense of humor – all unknown to the low life who defame him — are, I believe, protecting him.  He is wounded badly, but he is not going out of his mind.

We chat with his hand over his mouth so as not to be overheard. There are cameras above us. In the Ecuadorean embassy, we used to chat by writing notes to each other and shielding them from the cameras above us. Wherever Big Brother is, he is clearly frightened.

On the walls are happy-clappy slogans exhorting the prisoners to “keep on keeping on” and “be happy, be hopeful and laugh often”.

The only exercise he has is on a small bitumen patch, overlooked by high walls with more happy-clappy advice to enjoy ‘the blades of grass beneath your feet’. There is no grass.

He is still denied a laptop and software with which to prepare his case against extradition. He still cannot call his American lawyer, or his family in Australia.

The incessant pettiness of Belmarsh sticks to you like sweat. If you lean too close to the prisoner, a guard tells you to sit back. If you take the lid off your coffee cup, a guard orders you to replace it. You are allowed to bring in £10 to spend at a small café run by volunteers. “I’d like something healthy,” said Julian, who devoured a sandwich.

Across the room, a prisoner and a woman visiting him were having a row: what might be called a ‘domestic’. A guard intervened and the prisoner told him to “fuck off”.

This was the signal for a posse of guards, mostly large, overweight men and women eager to pounce on him and hold him to the floor, then frog march him out.  A sense of violent satisfaction hung in the stale air.

Now the guards shouted at the rest of us that it was time to go. With the women and children and grandmothers, I began the long journey through the maze of sealed areas and yellow lines and biometric stops to the main gate. As I left the visitor’s room, I looked back, as I always do. Julian sat alone, his fist clenched and held high.

Click here to read the same article in Counterpunch.

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Filed under Britain, John Pilger, police state

colour revolution or not: with protests in Catalonia, Chile, Ecuador, France, Haiti and Hong Kong, what are the tests of authenticity?

When the Ukrainians gathered in the square in 2014, the stage had been set for a bloody coup. Today ‘the Maidan’ or ‘Euromaidan’ is seldom if ever mentioned and a false impression is often given that the subsequent Ukrainian civil war was sparked by a Russian invasion of Donbass and its annexation of Crimea. However, at the time of the Maidan, western media featured the Ukraine’s fascist-led colour revolution on a nightly basis: the use of catapaults to launch rocks at the police then applauded by BBC and C4 correspondents alike, as more judiciously were the Molotov cocktails laced with polystyrene for extra adhesion.

Even as it became abundantly clear that leading perpetrators of the violent disorder were neo-Nazi brown-shirts Svoboda and their paramilitary comrades Pravyi Sektor (Right Sector), who were engaged in arson attacks on union buildings and ultimately shooting live ammunition into the square, our media maintained the official charade that this was all part of a ‘pro-democracy demonstration’.

In Venezuela we have been presented with a different fictional account by the same media outlets as once again the US ramped up its repeated efforts to overthrow the elected President, Nicolás Maduro; on this occasion, manoeuvring to replace him with the hand-picked puppet Juan Guaidó. Thus, during another ‘popular uprising’ horrifically violent acts by anti-government thugs that included the burning of opponents alive, went unreported as the corporate media once again parroted the official line that consistently portrayed the perpetrators of these crimes as ‘pro-democracy demonstrators’ fighting against ‘a regime’ and ‘a dictator’.

Today we have the so-called ‘pro-democracy demonstrators’ in Hong Kong who are again lauded for their commitment, courage and ingenuity; even when it comes to smashing up buildings, and hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at police lines. And when considering the authenticity of any uprising, our media’s characterisation of rioting as ‘protesting’ must always be considered a red flag. But besides the one-sided media coverage that quickly prioritises and magnifies the events on the ground (numbers, or rather the perception of numbers matters greatly) and makes this its nightly headline, there are further clues we can look for that help with spotting colour revolutions and distinguishing them from authentic uprisings.

By definition, colour revolutions are driven and directed by outside interests that steer the movement both by means of financial support and by way of official legitimisation (hence the unduly favourable media coverage). And whenever the US State Department issues statements that acknowledge its backing of any protest movement – but especially protests that destabilise states labelled hostile or ‘rogue’ – it is more than likely meddling directly in events on the ground.

In former decades it was left to the CIA to foment uprisings to topple unwanted governments or otherwise unfavourable ‘regimes’, but that role has today been passed over to its soft power agencies USAID and the GONGOs – government-organised non-governmental organisations. Amongst today’s prime movers we find the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) which describes itself as “a private, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world” and that, in turn, funds think tanks and private NGOs. In their 2012 report, NED indicated that it spent more than $3 million on programmes in the Ukraine alone. It had previously spent millions more in US attempts to destabilise Chevez in Venezuela. As author and historian William Blum writes:

How many Americans could identify the National Endowment for Democracy? An organization which often does exactly the opposite of what its name implies. The NED was set up in the early 1980s under President Reagan in the wake of all the negative revelations about the CIA in the second half of the 1970s. The latter was a remarkable period. Spurred by Watergate – the Church committee of the Senate, the Pike committee of the House, and the Rockefeller Commission, created by the president, were all busy investigating the CIA. Seemingly every other day there was a new headline about the discovery of some awful thing, even criminal conduct, the CIA had been mixed up in for years. The Agency was getting an exceedingly bad name, and it was causing the powers-that-be much embarrassment.

Something had to be done. What was done was not to stop doing these awful things. Of course not. What was done was to shift many of these awful things to a new organization, with a nice sounding name – The National Endowment for Democracy. The idea was that the NED would do somewhat overtly what the CIA had been doing covertly for decades, and thus, hopefully, eliminate the stigma associated with CIA covert activities.

It was a masterpiece. Of politics, of public relations, and of cynicism.1

Click here to read the full piece which provides details of NED’s meddling in elections across the world on William Blum’s official website.

Alongside the dirty hands of in-house agencies USAID and NED there is also the closely aligned and US government-funded NGO Freedom House which claims to be “an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world” and “a catalyst for greater political rights and civil liberties”. Habitually too, we will find the involvement of similarly deceptive ‘independent’ ‘pro-democracy’ organisations more than likely funded by or closely associated with billionaire George Soros.

As the Guardian’s Ian Traynor wrote at the time of America’s first soft coup in Ukraine, the so-called Orange Revolution of 2004, in an article entitled “US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev”:

Funded and organised by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organisations, the campaign was first used in Europe in Belgrade in 2000 to beat Slobodan Milosevic at the ballot box.

Richard Miles, the US ambassador in Belgrade, played a key role. And by last year, as US ambassador in Tbilisi, he repeated the trick in Georgia, coaching Mikhail Saakashvili in how to bring down Eduard Shevardnadze.

Ten months after the success in Belgrade, the US ambassador in Minsk, Michael Kozak, a veteran of similar operations in central America, notably in Nicaragua, organised a near identical campaign to try to defeat the Belarus hardman, Alexander Lukashenko.

That one failed. “There will be no Kostunica in Belarus,” the Belarus president declared, referring to the victory in Belgrade.

But experience gained in Serbia, Georgia and Belarus has been invaluable in plotting to beat the regime of Leonid Kuchma in Kiev.

The operation – engineering democracy through the ballot box and civil disobedience – is now so slick that the methods have matured into a template for winning other people’s elections.

He continues:

In Ukraine, the equivalent is a ticking clock, also signalling that the Kuchma regime’s days are numbered.

Stickers, spray paint and websites are the young activists’ weapons. Irony and street comedy mocking the regime have been hugely successful in puncturing public fear and enraging the powerful.

Last year, before becoming president in Georgia, the US-educated Mr Saakashvili travelled from Tbilisi to Belgrade to be coached in the techniques of mass defiance. In Belarus, the US embassy organised the dispatch of young opposition leaders to the Baltic, where they met up with Serbs travelling from Belgrade. In Serbia’s case, given the hostile environment in Belgrade, the Americans organised the overthrow from neighbouring Hungary – Budapest and Szeged.

In recent weeks, several Serbs travelled to the Ukraine. Indeed, one of the leaders from Belgrade, Aleksandar Maric, was turned away at the border.

The Democratic party’s National Democratic Institute, the Republican party’s International Republican Institute, the US state department and USAid are the main agencies involved in these grassroots campaigns as well as the Freedom House NGO and billionaire George Soros’s open society institute. 2

Click here to read Ian Traynor’s full article.

Applying these criteria, it is possible to test the ongoing protests around the world to ascertain the likelihood and scale of outside interference. In the following sections I provide a brief overview region by region. In summary, those pursuing anti-austerity objectives are almost certainly the least susceptible to external manipulation; these include the mass uprisings in Chile, Ecuador, France and Haiti. The unrest in Catalonia is a consequence of a different form of state repression with historical roots and the mainly peaceful protests are the spontaneous response of a mostly genuine pro-democracy grassroots movement. The situation in Hong Kong is more complicated and compelling evidence of western interference is presented below.

Update:

Press TV compares western media coverage of the protests in Hong Kong, the Gilets Jaunes in France, and the Great March of Return in Gaza:

*

Hong Kong

As the initially peaceful protests and mass demonstrations rapidly turned into riots and highly coordinated pockets of violent resistance, it also became increasingly clear that contrary to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo’s, and US government denials, the unrest had indeed been actively fomented by agencies acting on behalf of American foreign policy agenda. The following extended extract is taken from an assiduously referenced investigative piece written by geopolitical researcher and writer Tony Cartalucci:

US policymakers have all but admitted that the US is funnelling millions of dollars into Hong Kong specifically to support “programs” there. The Hudson Institute in an article titled, “China Tries to Blame US for Hong Kong Protests,” would admit:

A Chinese state-run newspaper’s claim that the United States is helping pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong is only partially inaccurate, a top foreign policy expert said Monday. 

Michael Pillsbury, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told Fox News National Security Analyst KT McFarland the U.S. holds some influence over political matters in the region.

The article would then quote Pillsbury as saying:

We have a large consulate there that’s in charge of taking care of the Hong Kong Policy Act passed by Congress to insure democracy in Hong Kong, and we have also funded millions of dollars of programs through the National Endowment for Democracy [NED] … so in that sense the Chinese accusation is not totally false.

A visit to the NED’s website reveals an entire section of declared funding for Hong Kong specifically. The wording for program titles and their descriptions is intentionally ambiguous to give those like US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plausible deniability.

However, deeper research reveals NED recipients are literally leading the protests.

The South China Morning Post in its article, “Hong Kong protests: heavy jail sentences for rioting will not solve city’s political crisis, former Civil Human Rights Front convenor says,” would report:

Johnson Yeung Ching-yin, from the Civil Human Rights Front, was among 49 people arrested during Sunday’s protest – deemed illegal as it had not received police approval – in Central and Western district on Hong Kong Island.

The article would omit mention of Johnson Yeung Ching-yin’s status as an NED fellow. His profile is – at the time of this writing – still accessible on the NED’s official website, and the supposed NGO he works for in turn works hand-in-hand with US and UK-based fronts involved in supporting Hong Kong’s current unrest and a much wider anti-Beijing political agenda.

Johnson Yeung Ching-yin also co-authored an op-ed in the Washington Post with Joshua Wong titled, “As you read this, Hong Kong has locked one of us away.”

Wong has travelled to Washington DC multiple times, including to receive “honors” from NED-subsidiary Freedom House for his role in leading unrest in 2014 and to meet with serial regime-change advocate Senator Marco Rubio.

It should also be noted that the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum also sits on the NED board of directors.

This evidence, along with extensively documented ties between the United States government and other prominent leaders of the Hong Kong unrest reveals US denial of involvement in Hong Kong as yet another wilful lie told upon the international stage – a lie told even as the remnants of other victims of US interference and intervention smolder in the background.

The direct ties and extreme conflicts of interest found under virtually every rock overturned when critically examining the leadership of Hong Kong’s ongoing unrest all lead to Washington. They also once again reveal the Western media as involved in a coordinated campaign of disinformation – where proper investigative journalism is purposefully side-stepped and narratives shamelessly spun instead to frame Hong Kong’s ongoing conflict in whatever light best suits US interests.

What’s worse is big-tech giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Google purging thousands of accounts attempting to reveal the truth behind Hong Kong’s unrest and the true nature of those leading it. If this is the level of lying, censorship, and authoritarianism Washington is willing to resort to in order for Hong Kong’s opposition to succeed, it begs one to wonder what this so-called opposition is even fighting for. Certainly not “democracy” or “freedom.” 3

Click here to read Tony Cartalucci’s full article.

Here to read a follow up piece in which Cartalucci explains how Twitter “not only has taken no action to expose and stop US interference in Hong Kong, but is actively aiding and abetting it” by “target[ing] accounts within China itself to disrupt any effort to expose and confront this US-backed unrest unfolding in Hong Kong.”

And here to read an earlier post which provides further background to the current uprising in Hong Kong.

Note that: on Wednesday 23rd, HK’s security chief John Lee announced that the bill that had triggered the initial demonstrations by allowing for the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China – legislation that protesters feared Beijing may use to target dissidents – was officially withdrawn. In response, several opposition lawmakers tried to heckle Lee’s speech, demanding his resignation:

*

Haiti

Mass demonstrations demanding the resignation of the president of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, began in July 2018 following disclosure of the embezzlement of $2 billion in Venezuelan oil loans when “former Presidents René Préval and Michel Martelly, declared states of emergency, allowing their respective prime ministers — Jean-Max Bellerive and Laurent Lamothe —to approve projects using PetroCaribe funds”:

Prior to the earthquake, Haiti had accumulated more than $396 million in debt to Venezuela, which the South American nation forgave. But in the last seven years, it has wracked up [sic] almost $2 billion in new debt as Martelly’s government ministers traveled the globe promoting a new image of a post-quake Haiti while reconstruction projects languished and tens of thousands continued to live in camps. As of October, more than 37,000 Haitians still lived in 27 camps, the International Organization for Migration said. 4

Click here to read the full report published in the Miami Herald.

Although it was the PetroCaribe scandal that sparked the initial unrest, there are many related concerns about government corruption that continue to fuel the protests:

But the anger isn’t just over squandered money. It’s also directed at Haitian politicians and their privileges in a country where two out of three people live on less than $2 a day and concerns are increasing over the potential for more social unrest.

During recent political mudslinging, the president of the Haitian Senate and an opposition senator accused each other of corruption. Sen. Ricard Pierre said Haiti’s cash-strapped government was paying $115,500 to rent a residence for the head of the body, Sen. Joseph Lambert. Lambert in turn accused Pierre of stealing the chamber’s generator.

Pierre denied the accusation. Lambert announced that the Senate would cancel the lease and curtail lawmakers’ privileges. The damage, however, was already done.

“They were not even ashamed,” K-Lib, 37, [whose real name is Valckensy Dessin] said, adding that it’s time for Haitians to stop accepting “corruption and impunity” as normal.

“After the last events that happened to Haiti, the Haitian population understands the necessity for them right now to take part in everything that is happening in the country,” he said. “What’s happening is a movement of massive collective consciousness.” 5

Click here to read the full report published in the Miami Herald.

On Valentine’s Day Al Jazeera reported the deaths of “at least” nine people and “dozens of others injured”. 6 The deaths received very little coverage in either the corporate or alternative media.

Here is a report uploaded by The Real News Network on October 22nd, featuring political economist Keston Perry, who says the Trump administration is propping up the Haitian regime:

*

France

Many thousands of Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) anti-austerity protesters will once again peacefully take to the streets in Paris and other cities across France tomorrow for the fiftieth consecutive weekend.

Last weekend’s ‘Acte 49’ protests took place in Clermont-Ferrand, Lyon, Toulouse, Lille and Bordeaux and looked like this:

And like this – met by a very heavy-handed police response which includes the deployment of water-canon, flash grenades and tremendous quantities of teargas (some dropped from helicopters), while the corporate media generally ignores these protests altogether:

One of the first political commentators to understand the significance of the Gilets Jaunes movement was American author Diana Johnstone, who is based in Paris and wrote in early December:

Initial government responses showed that they weren’t listening. They dipped into their pool of clichés to denigrate something they didn’t want to bother to understand.

President Macron’s first reaction was to guilt-trip the protesters by invoking the globalists’ most powerful argument for imposing unpopular measures: global warming. Whatever small complaints people may have, he indicated, that is nothing compared to the future of the planet.

This did not impress people who, yes, have heard all about climate change and care as much as anyone for the environment, but who are obliged to retort: “I’m more worried about the end of the month than about the end of the world.”

After the second Yellow Vest Saturday, November 25, which saw more demonstrators and more tear gas, the Minister in charge of the budget, Gérard Darmanin, declared that what had demonstrated on the Champs-Elysée was “la peste brune”, the brown plague, meaning fascists. (For those who enjoy excoriating the French as racist, it should be noted that Darmanin is of Algerian working class origins). This remark caused an uproar of indignation that revealed just how great is public sympathy for the movement – over 70% approval by latest polls, even after uncontrolled vandalism. Macron’s Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, was obliged to declare that government communication had been badly managed. Of course, that is the familiar technocratic excuse: we are always right, but it is all a matter of our “communication”, not of the facts on the ground.

Maybe I have missed something, but of the many interviews I have listened to, I have not heard one word that would fall into the categories of “far right”, much less “fascism” – or even that indicated any particular preference in regard to political parties. These people are wholly concerned with concrete practical issues. Not a whiff of ideology – remarkable in Paris! 7

Click here to read Johnstone’s full article entitled “Yellow Vests Rise Against Neo-Liberal ‘King’ Macron”.

And here to read my own assessment of the Gilets Jaunes movement from an article published on March 25th entitled “Gilets Jaunes, Avaaz, Macron & Facebook (or when grassroots ‘populism’ meets controlled opposition”.

It is difficult to find up-to-date figures of casualties for the full year of Gilets Jaunes protests but as of July, Spiked online magazine was reporting:

The gilets jaunes have been protesting in France – week in, week out – for over six months. They have had to run the gauntlet of tear gas, police batons and rubber bullets every weekend. And yet there has been barely any coverage of the police’s actions – let alone condemnation.

As of this week, the French police stand accused of causing 861 serious injuries to yellow-vest protesters: one woman has been killed, 314 have suffered head injuries, 24 have been permanently blinded, and five have had their hands blown off. Police have attacked disabled people and the elderly. 8

Click here to read the full report published by Spiked online.

On February 23rd, French lawyer and former gendarme, Georgia Pouliquen, produced and uploaded an impassioned video testifying to the brutal treatment meted out against Yellow Vest protestors by President Macron’s French government. In May, Pouliquen travelled to England for the first time in order to help spread the truth about Macron’s assault on the French people. The following upload begins with her original video and afterwards features an extended interview she gave to Brian Gerrish of UK Column News:

Update:

Images from Gilets Jaunes Acte 50 on Saturday Oct 26th:

On the same day, Afshin Rattansi interviewed Priscillia Ludosky, one of the founders of the Gilets Jaunes movement, on RT’s ‘Going Underground’. They discussed the French police’s use of flash-ball riot control guns against protesters, the massive amount of injuries recorded among the Gilets Jaunes protesters, as well as the European Commission’s role in permitting state repression:

*

Ecuador

In common with the Gilets Jaunes protests in France, it was the raising of fuel prices that ultimately sparked the ongoing crisis in Ecuador, in this case following President Lenín Moreno’s announcement that his government was intending remove subsidies on petrol. However, the underlying reason for the protests traces back to just a few days earlier when on October 1st, Moreno was quick to capitulate to IMF demands for the imposition of severe austerity measures and a raft of neo-liberal conditionalities following the acceptance of a $4 million loan:

Protests began on October 3 when President Lenin Moreno cut petrol subsidies that had been in place in the country for 40 years. The cuts saw the price of diesel more than double and petrol increase by 30 percent, overnight.

The government also released a series of labour and tax reforms as part of its belt-tightening measures it was forced to undertake when it agreed to a $4.2bn loan with the IMF.

Some of the more controversial reforms include a 20 percent cut in wages for new contracts in public sector jobs, a requirement that public sector workers donate one day’s worth of wages to the government each month, and a decrease in vacation days from 30 to 15 days a year. 9

Click here to read the full report published by Al Jazeera.

At the height of the protests, Moreno decided to relocate his government to the coastal city of Guayaquil before sending armoured cars onto the streets of the capital Quito in desperate attempts to quell the disturbances:

Tens of thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands, of people participated.

They were massively disruptive, and the government response was fierce. Security forces killed at least seven people, arrested about 1,000, and injured a similar number. Moreno had declared a “state of exception,” a curfew beginning at 8 pm, and yet still had to flee the capital—temporarily moving it from Quito to the port city of Guayaquil.

writes Mark Weisbrot in The Nation magazine, adding:

Amnesty International had demanded “an immediate end to the heavy-handed repression of demonstrations, including mass detentions, and…swift, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force, torture and other ill-treatment.” The level of police repression shocked many in a country where security forces are not known for the use of excessive force.

The government also raided homes to arrest political allies of former president Rafael Correa, including Paola Pabón, the governor of the province where the capital, Quito, is located. This continues a disturbing crackdown, which has included trumped-up charges against Correa himself and a number of former officials and the abuse of pretrial detention to force them into exile. On Monday, the Mexican embassy in Quito offered protection to a number of pro-Correa political dissidents, including legislators. 10

Click here to read Mark Weisbrot’s full report entitled “Ecuador Reaches a Deal – but Unrest May Return” published in The Nation magazine.

In the midst of Moreno’s state of emergency crackdown on October 11th, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued an official statement that begins:

“The United States supports President Moreno and the Government of Ecuador’s efforts to institutionalize democratic practices and implement needed economic reforms.” 11

On October 10th, The Real News Network spoke to representatives of two of the largest indigenous organizations CONAIE and CONFENAIE:

*

Chile

Protest in Chile erupted a fortnight ago, again in response to unsustainable increases in the cost of living but also with charges of government corruption hovering in the background. In response last Friday [Oct 18th], President Sebastián Piñera announced a state of emergency, and began sending in troops to disperse the demonstrations. As in Ecuador, a curfew was soon put in place. CBS News has since confirmed “at least 18 dead and thousands arrested”:

Approximately 20,000 soldiers are patrolling the streets. Nearly 200 people have been injured, and some 5,000 have been arrested.

Human rights groups expressed concerns about how security forces have handled the protests after the government ordered a military curfew. It was the first such curfew — other than for natural disasters — imposed since Chile returned to democracy in 1990 following a bloody 17-year dictatorship.

“We’re worried,” José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press. “The images that we’ve received from credible sources, trustworthy sources, show that there has been an excess of force both by police as well as some soldiers.” 12

Click here to read yesterday’s full report published by CBS News.

Al Jazeera‘s Manuel Rapalo reported from Santiago on October 23rd:

And this is footage of protests that took place yesterday:

Update:

Scenes from Chile’s capital Santiago on Friday [Oct 25th] with police firing tear gas and water cannon at demonstrators:

*

Catalonia

On October 6th, author, political activist and commentator Chris Bambery, published an extended piece that put into historical context the rise of the Catalan independence movement and the likelihood of heightened protests in the coming weeks. His piece begins:

Catalonia awaits the verdict in the trial at the Spanish Supreme Court of 12 political and civic leaders charged with ‘rebellion’ and ‘sedition’ for their part in the 1 October 2017 referendum on Catalan independence. That verdict will be delivered before 17 October, the judges say. Brace yourself for a wave of non-violent direct action in response across Catalonia.

Continuing:

In Catalonia hundreds of mayors and councillors face trial for crimes such as keeping council buildings open on Spanish holidays or not flying the Spanish flag on those days, while others face trial for ripping up pictures of the King.

However offensive or outrageous you find such things it is hard to imagine them reaching the courts in Germany, France, the UK or other Western European states. The UK is no paragon of liberty and its democracy is flawed but its handling of the Northern Ireland peace process stands out well in comparison to Spain’s dealings with ETA and the offer of peace. Why are things different in Spain? 13

Click here to read Chris Bambery’s full article.

A few days later the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and EuroMed Rights issued a joint report accusing Spain’s Supreme Court of “serious irregularities” in the trial of the Catalan independentists:

The two organizations alleged that judges didn’t do enough to ensure that lawyers could shed light on the alleged facts—for instance, when they prevented defense teams from contrasting the testimony of some witnesses with actual footage from the scenes they were describing.

Observers from the two organizations, who attended the Supreme Court hearings in person, said that prosecutors called witnesses whose testimonies offered “stereotypical” narratives and didn’t guarantee the right to defense. 14

Click here to read the full report in Catalan News.

In light of the Supreme Court verdict and the imprisonment of nine independentist leaders, protesters then took to the streets of Barcelona:

By late afternoon, thousands of protesters had answered a call from the Tsunami Democràtic movement designed to bring the airport to a standstill.

Thousands set off by car, train and metro. When police closed the station, even more made the three-and-a-half hour journey on foot. Several people were injured as police baton-charged protesters on the concourse of Terminal 1, the main international terminal. Foam bullets were reported to have been fired and video emerged of national and the regional Catalan police beating demonstrators and attacking journalists.

Thirteen people received medical attention and more than 60 flights were cancelled. 15

Click here to read the full Guardian report.

However, the real struggle for independence in Catalonia had already reached its crisis point two years ago on October 1st 2017 when, as eyewitness reporter Kevin Buckland testified:

[A]ll across Catalunya ballot boxes were ripped from people’s hands by masked police and a dangerous violence was unleashed, at random, upon some of the 2,262,424 people who stood in long lines to cast their vote. The repression dealt by the Spanish State to prohibit the Catalan Referendum, in every bloodied baton and ever rubber bullet, transformed the day from a question of independence to a question of democracy. People were voting for the right to vote. 16

Click here to read more from my October 4th post entitled “reflections on October 1st 2017: the day when tyranny returned to Catalonia”.

As a friend living in Barcelona reported on the eve of the Catalan elections just a few weeks later:

Things are rather complicated at the moment. We’ve had a “coup d’etat” by the Spanish state (government and lawcourts working together; no independent judiciary here), although of course from their point of view, it is the Catalan side that have staged one of those.

Whichever way, I don’t think the Catalan leaders deserve to be in custody (this could mean up to four years before trial), and even less go to prison for up to thirty years if found guilty (which they might well be). To me this means that anybody, not just them, can be put in prison for their political ideas, whether they’re peacefully demonstrating, or striking, or whatever. Anything can be judged as “sedition” these days.

Something else that has happened is that Catalan self-government, which is in fact older the Spanish constitution, has been suspended, and we may not get it back after the election. The Spanish government have made it clear that it all depends on whether the “wrong” side win or not. Rigging is definitely on the cards.

In the meantime, freedom of expression is being curtailed, sometimes in bizarre ways: for example, yellow lights in public fountains have been banned, because they evoke the yellow ribbons that independentists wear as a protest against the arrests. And school teachers who dared hold debates in class about the police violence on October 1st have been taken to court for it. What gets to me is that many people refuse to see how worrying these things are. I suppose normalizing it all is a survival strategy, since the alternative, i.e. being aware of what’s going on, makes one anxious and afraid.

Click here to read more of my original post “notes from Catalonia on the eve of tomorrow’s elections” published on December 20th, 2017.

But the struggle over Catalonian independence cannot be understood without considering the broader historical context including concessions made following the death of Franco in 1975 and Spain’s transition to democracy. As Chris Bambery explains:

The European Union is very proud of Spain’s Transition and held it up as a model, for instance in the former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe. That in part explains its silence on what Spain has done in Catalonia, even its moves to stop three Catalan prisoners and exiles being able to take their seats in the European Parliament after they were elected this year.

When Franco died in 1975 a mass movement of anti-fascist resistance had grown up, strongest in the Basque Country, Catalonia and Madrid. The May events of 1968 had set in motion a chain of events where the left seemed to be in the ascendant.

In ruling circles in Bonn, Paris, London and Washington there was concern that Franco’s death might unleash a mass movement moving in a revolutionary direction. Many on the revolutionary left confidently predicted that the regime could not be reformed but must be toppled.

In Portugal that is precisely what had happened.

Bambery concludes as follows:

It is very clear that the limits imposed on Spanish democracy during the Transition of the late 1970s need to be addressed. But that is something which is near impossible in the current atmosphere in Spain. A conviction for the Catalan 12 will only increase the alienation of that nation from the Spanish state. 17

Moreover, one of the side-effects of the 2008 financial crisis was that it opened up old wounds.

Back in October 2012, I reposted an article by journalist and pro-independentist Esther Vivas entitled “When will we see tanks in Barcelona”. She begins:

“Independent Catalonia? Over my dead body and those of many other soldiers”. It was with these words that on August 31, retired infantry lieutenant-colonel Francisco Alaman Castro referred to the possibility of an independent Catalonia.

Continuing with tremendous prescience:

The current crisis is not only an economic and social crisis, but really an unprecedented regime crisis that calls into question the state model that came out of the Transition, its “pacts of silence” and the very shaky democratic system that we have today.

In the middle of this mess, we must support all democratic demands that come up against the monarchical corset of the Transition, starting with the right of the Catalan people to decide its own future. Who is afraid of such a referendum in Catalonia? Those who are not willing to accept its result.

And concluding:

Infantry lieutenant-colonel Francisco Alaman Castro said that “the current situation resembles that of 1936”. That is quite a declaration of intent. Today, as then, our democracy, our rights and our future are threatened. What is at stake is important. When will we see tanks in the streets of Barcelona? It would not be the first time. But there is one thing I am sure of: the people will not remain silent.

Appended to Esther Vivas’ piece I added my own “words of caution” that begin:

The situation Esther Vivas describes is obviously a very troubling one and I fully appreciate that recent history makes the political situation in Spain more complex than in other luckier regions of our continent – Franco having died in 1975, and thus fascism in Spain lasting well within living memory. However, and in view of what is currently happening across Europe and the rest of the world, I feel it is important to also consider the issue of Catalan independence within a more global context.

The break-up of states into micro-states is a process that has long served as a means for maintaining imperialist control over colonised regions. This strategy is often called Balkanisation, although in general only by its opponents.

Click here to read to read all parts of the post entitled “on the struggle for an independent Catalonia”

In short, what is happening today in Catalonia is the almost inevitable consequence of multiple misguided actions by the Spanish state in its attempts to repress the independentist cause which has deep historical roots and was reignited by the austerity measures imposed during the 2008 debt crisis. The decision two years ago to crush a referendum on the spurious grounds that any vote on independence immediately violates the constitution and the draconian sentences issued to pro-independence leaders meant to quell support for the movement has instead emboldened opposition to Madrid and set in motion a potentially unstoppable revolt.

It is curious that some pro-independence sections of the Catalan protests have begun reaching out to pro-western Union Jack waving protesters in Hong Kong given how the colonial ties are in effect reversed, but the fact that tactics employed in Barcelona have copied those tried in HK does not mean the two movements share anything else in common. It is a mistake to confuse these movements.

Update:

Live feed of peaceful protests taking place on Saturday 26th in Barcelona calling for Catalan independence leaders to be freed:

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Final thoughts

There are mass demonstrations in two states that I have avoided discussing for quite different reasons: Palestine (specifically Gaza) and Lebanon.

In the case of Lebanon, where demonstrations began little more than a week ago, I am as yet disinclined to discuss the movement until I have a clearer understanding of its background and goals. Regarding Palestine, on the other hand, the case is absolutely open and shut and I have already posted many articles in support of the Palestinian struggle for recognition and full right to return to their land.

The Great March of Return protest that began in Gaza in March 2018 is the single longest running of all the uprisings in the world today. It is also the most dangerous and the most underreported. Dozens are wounded every single week and a great many of the victims are innocent bystanders and children, while our western governments remain impassive and the corporate media maintains an almost unbroken silence.

The Palestinian Center For Human Rights (PCHR) has documented 214 killings by Israel since the outbreak of the protests on 30 March 2018, including 46 children, 2 women, 9 persons with disabilities, 4 paramedics and 2 journalists. Additionally, 14,251 have been wounded, including 3,501 children, 380 women, 245 paramedics and 215 journalists – it also notes that many of those injured have sustained multiple injuries on separate occasions. 18

Today marks the 81st Friday of the mass demonstrations in Gaza. If we wish to hold up a standard against which all other popular uprisings might be gauged then it must surely be the Palestinian Great March of Return. If there is any flag to be waved today and any cause to stand firmly in solidarity with, it is for the freedom of the Palestinian people, and most especially those trapped within the open air prison of Gaza.

Update:

Palestinians gathered in the east of the blockaded Gaza Strip for the 80th consecutive Friday [Oct 25th] to demand the right of return to their ancestral homes. They also called for an end to the illegal Israeli blockade on the enclave, which according to the United Nations amounts to collective punishment:

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1 From an article entitled “Trojan Horses and Color Revolutions: The Role of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)” written by William Blum, published in Global Research on August 7, 2017. https://www.globalresearch.ca/trojan-horses-and-color-revolutions-the-role-of-the-national-endowment-for-democracy-ned/5515234

2 From an article entitled “US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev” written by Ian Traynor, published in the Guardian on November 26, 2004. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine.usa

3 From an article entitled “US is Behind Hong Kong Protests Says US Policymaker” written by Tony Cartalucci, published in New Eastern Outlook on September 9, 2019. https://journal-neo.org/2019/09/09/us-is-behind-hong-kong-protests-says-us-policymaker/ 

4 From an article entitled “Haiti owes Venezuela $2 billion – and much of it was embezzeled, Senate report says” written by Jacqueline Charles, published in the Miami Herald on November 15, 2017. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article184740783.html

5 From an article entitled “’Where did the money go?’ Haitians denounce corruption in social media campaign” written by Jacqueline Charles, published in the Miami Herald on August 23, 2018. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article217110220.html

6 “Death toll rises in Haiti protest crackdown” published by Al Jazeera on February 14, 2019. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/death-toll-rises-haiti-protest-crackdown-190214174428945.html

7 From an article entitled “Yellow Vests Rise Against Neo-Liberal ‘King’ Macron” written by Diana Johnstone, published in Consortium News on December 5, 2018. https://consortiumnews.com/2018/12/05/yellow-vests-rise-against-neo-liberal-king-macron/ 

8 From an article entitled “So now you care about France’s brutal treatment of protesters?” published by Spiked magazine on July 2, 2019. https://www.spiked-online.com/2019/07/02/so-now-you-care-about-frances-brutal-treatment-of-protesters/ 

9 From an article entitled “Ecuador unrest: What led to the mass protests?” written by Kimberley Brown, published in Al Jazeera on October 10, 2019. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/ecuador-unrest-led-mass-protests-191010193825529.html

10 From an article entitled “Ecuador Reaches a Deal – but Unrest May Return” written by Mark Weisbrot, published in The Nation magazine on October 16, 2019. https://www.thenation.com/article/ecuador-protests-imf/

11 https://www.state.gov/united-states-response-to-protests-in-ecuador/ 

12 From an article entitled “At least 18 dead and thousands arrested in Chile protests” published by CBS News on October 24, 2019. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/chile-news-santiago-at-least-18-dead-and-thousands-arrested-in-chile-protests-2019-10-24/ 

13 From an article entitled “Flawed transition: why the Spanish state is repressing the Catalan independence movement” written by Chris Bambery, published in Counterfire on October 6, 2019. https://www.counterfire.org/articles/history/20589-flawed-transition-why-the-spanish-state-is-repressing-the-catalan-independence-movement

14 From a report entitled “Human rights groups denounce ‘serious irregularities’ in Catalan trial” published by Catalan News on October 9, 2019. https://www.catalannews.com/catalan-trial/item/human-rights-groups-denounce-serious-irregularities-in-catalan-trial

15 From an article entitled “Violent clashes over Catalan separatist leaders’ prison terms” written by Sam Jones and Stephen Burgen, published in the Guardian on October 14, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/14/catalan-separatist-leaders-given-lengthy-prison-sentences

16 From an article entitled “Disobeying Spain: the Catalan Referendum for Independence” written by Kevin Buckland, published in Counterpunch on October 3, 2017. https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/10/03/disobeying-spain-the-catalan-referendum-for-independence/ 

17 From an article entitled “Flawed transition: why the Spanish state is repressing the Catalan independence movement” written by Chris Bambery, published in Counterfire on October 6, 2019. https://www.counterfire.org/articles/history/20589-flawed-transition-why-the-spanish-state-is-repressing-the-catalan-independence-movement

18 https://pchrgaza.org/en/?p=13019

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on the show trial of Julian Assange — Craig Murray, John Pilger and Chris Williamson speak out

The following post is based around a piece written by former UK ambassador Craig Murray that he published on Tuesday 22nd. It is interspersed with interviews of investigative journalist John Pilger and Chris Williamson MP that were featured on Wednesday’s episode of RT’s ‘Going Underground’.

I was deeply shaken while witnessing yesterday’s events in Westminster Magistrates Court. Every decision was railroaded through over the scarcely heard arguments and objections of Assange’s legal team, by a magistrate who barely pretended to be listening.

Before I get on to the blatant lack of fair process, the first thing I must note was Julian’s condition. I was badly shocked by just how much weight my friend has lost, by the speed his hair has receded and by the appearance of premature and vastly accelerated ageing. He has a pronounced limp I have never seen before. Since his arrest he has lost over 15 kg in weight.

But his physical appearance was not as shocking as his mental deterioration. When asked to give his name and date of birth, he struggled visibly over several seconds to recall both. I will come to the important content of his statement at the end of proceedings in due course, but his difficulty in making it was very evident; it was a real struggle for him to articulate the words and focus his train of thought.

Until yesterday I had always been quietly sceptical of those who claimed that Julian’s treatment amounted to torture – even of Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – and sceptical of those who suggested he may be subject to debilitating drug treatments. But having attended the trials in Uzbekistan of several victims of extreme torture, and having worked with survivors from Sierra Leone and elsewhere, I can tell you that yesterday changed my mind entirely and Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness.

I had been even more sceptical of those who claimed, as a senior member of his legal team did to me on Sunday night, that they were worried that Julian might not live to the end of the extradition process. I now find myself not only believing it, but haunted by the thought. Everybody in that court yesterday saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable. Yet the agents of the state, particularly the callous magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, were not just prepared but eager to be a part of this bloodsport. She actually told him that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later. The question of why a man who, by the very charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, had been reduced by the state to somebody incapable of following court proceedings, gave her not a millisecond of concern.

The charge against Julian is very specific; conspiring with Chelsea Manning to publish the Iraq War logs, the Afghanistan war logs and the State Department cables. The charges are nothing to do with Sweden, nothing to do with sex, and nothing to do with the 2016 US election; a simple clarification the mainstream media appears incapable of understanding.

The purpose of yesterday’s hearing was case management; to determine the timetable for the extradition proceedings. The key points at issue were that Julian’s defence was requesting more time to prepare their evidence; and arguing that political offences were specifically excluded from the extradition treaty. There should, they argued, therefore be a preliminary hearing to determine whether the extradition treaty applied at all.

The reasons given by Assange’s defence team for more time to prepare were both compelling and startling. They had very limited access to their client in jail and had not been permitted to hand him any documents about the case until one week ago. He had also only just been given limited computer access, and all his relevant records and materials had been seized from the Ecuadorean Embassy by the US Government; he had no access to his own materials for the purpose of preparing his defence.

Furthermore, the defence argued, they were in touch with the Spanish courts about a very important and relevant legal case in Madrid which would provide vital evidence. It showed that the CIA had been directly ordering spying on Julian in the Embassy through a Spanish company, UC Global, contracted to provide security there. Crucially this included spying on privileged conversations between Assange and his lawyers discussing his defence against these extradition proceedings, which had been in train in the USA since 2010. In any normal process, that fact would in itself be sufficient to have the extradition proceedings dismissed. Incidentally I learnt on Sunday that the Spanish material produced in court, which had been commissioned by the CIA, specifically includes high resolution video coverage of Julian and I discussing various matters.

The evidence to the Spanish court also included a CIA plot to kidnap Assange, which went to the US authorities’ attitude to lawfulness in his case and the treatment he might expect in the United States. Julian’s team explained that the Spanish legal process was happening now and the evidence from it would be extremely important, but it might not be finished and thus the evidence not fully validated and available in time for the current proposed timetable for the Assange extradition hearings.

For the prosecution, James Lewis QC stated that the government strongly opposed any delay being given for the defence to prepare, and strongly opposed any separate consideration of the question of whether the charge was a political offence excluded by the extradition treaty. Baraitser took her cue from Lewis and stated categorically that the date for the extradition hearing, 25 February, could not be changed. She was open to changes in dates for submission of evidence and responses before this, and called a ten minute recess for the prosecution and defence to agree these steps.

What happened next was very instructive. There were five representatives of the US government present (initially three, and two more arrived in the course of the hearing), seated at desks behind the lawyers in court. The prosecution lawyers immediately went into huddle with the US representatives, then went outside the courtroom with them, to decide how to respond on the dates.

After the recess the defence team stated they could not, in their professional opinion, adequately prepare if the hearing date were kept to February, but within Baraitser’s instruction to do so they nevertheless outlined a proposed timetable on delivery of evidence. In responding to this, Lewis’ junior counsel scurried to the back of the court to consult the Americans again while Lewis actually told the judge he was “taking instructions from those behind”. It is important to note that as he said this, it was not the UK Attorney-General’s office who were being consulted but the US Embassy. Lewis received his American instructions and agreed that the defence might have two months to prepare their evidence (they had said they needed an absolute minimum of three) but the February hearing date may not be moved. Baraitser gave a ruling agreeing everything Lewis had said.

At this stage it was unclear why we were sitting through this farce. The US government was dictating its instructions to Lewis, who was relaying those instructions to Baraitser, who was ruling them as her legal decision. The charade might as well have been cut and the US government simply sat on the bench to control the whole process. Nobody could sit there and believe they were in any part of a genuine legal process or that Baraitser was giving a moment’s consideration to the arguments of the defence. Her facial expressions on the few occasions she looked at the defence ranged from contempt through boredom to sarcasm. When she looked at Lewis she was attentive, open and warm.

The extradition is plainly being rushed through in accordance with a Washington dictated timetable. Apart from a desire to pre-empt the Spanish court providing evidence on CIA activity in sabotaging the defence, what makes the February date so important to the USA? I would welcome any thoughts.

Baraitser dismissed the defence’s request for a separate prior hearing to consider whether the extradition treaty applied at all, without bothering to give any reason why (possibly she had not properly memorised what Lewis had been instructing her to agree with). Yet this is Article 4 of the UK/US Extradition Treaty 2007 in full:

On the face of it, what Assange is accused of is the very definition of a political offence – if this is not, then what is? It is not covered by any of the exceptions from that listed. There is every reason to consider whether this charge is excluded by the extradition treaty, and to do so before the long and very costly process of considering all the evidence should the treaty apply. But Baraitser simply dismissed the argument out of hand.

Just in case anybody was left in any doubt as to what was happening here, Lewis then stood up and suggested that the defence should not be allowed to waste the court’s time with a lot of arguments. All arguments for the substantive hearing should be given in writing in advance and a “guillotine should be applied” (his exact words) to arguments and witnesses in court, perhaps of five hours for the defence. The defence had suggested they would need more than the scheduled five days to present their case. Lewis countered that the entire hearing should be over in two days. Baraitser said this was not procedurally the correct moment to agree this but she will consider it once she had received the evidence bundles.

(SPOILER: Baraitser is going to do as Lewis instructs and cut the substantive hearing short).

Baraitser then capped it all by saying the February hearing will be held, not at the comparatively open and accessible Westminster Magistrates Court where we were, but at Belmarsh Magistrates Court, the grim high security facility used for preliminary legal processing of terrorists, attached to the maximum security prison where Assange is being held. There are only six seats for the public in even the largest court at Belmarsh, and the object is plainly to evade public scrutiny and make sure that Baraitser is not exposed in public again to a genuine account of her proceedings, like this one you are reading. I will probably be unable to get in to the substantive hearing at Belmarsh.

Plainly the authorities were disconcerted by the hundreds of good people who had turned up to support Julian. They hope that far fewer will get to the much less accessible Belmarsh. I am fairly certain (and recall I had a long career as a diplomat) that the two extra American government officials who arrived halfway through proceedings were armed security personnel, brought in because of alarm at the number of protestors around a hearing in which were present senior US officials. The move to Belmarsh may be an American initiative.

Assange’s defence team objected strenuously to the move to Belmarsh, in particular on the grounds that there are no conference rooms available there to consult their client and they have very inadequate access to him in the jail. Baraitser dismissed their objection offhand and with a very definite smirk.

Finally, Baraitser turned to Julian and ordered him to stand, and asked him if he had understood the proceedings. He replied in the negative, said that he could not think, and gave every appearance of disorientation. Then he seemed to find an inner strength, drew himself up a little, and said:

I do not understand how this process is equitable. This superpower had 10 years to prepare for this case and I can’t even access my writings. It is very difficult, where I am, to do anything. These people have unlimited resources.

The effort then seemed to become too much, his voice dropped and he became increasingly confused and incoherent. He spoke of whistleblowers and publishers being labeled enemies of the people, then spoke about his children’s DNA being stolen and of being spied on in his meetings with his psychologist. I am not suggesting at all that Julian was wrong about these points, but he could not properly frame nor articulate them. He was plainly not himself, very ill and it was just horribly painful to watch. Baraitser showed neither sympathy nor the least concern. She tartly observed that if he could not understand what had happened, his lawyers could explain it to him, and she swept out of court.

The whole experience was profoundly upsetting. It was very plain that there was no genuine process of legal consideration happening here. What we had was a naked demonstration of the power of the state, and a naked dictation of proceedings by the Americans. Julian was in a box behind bulletproof glass, and I and the thirty odd other members of the public who had squeezed in were in a different box behind more bulletproof glass. I do not know if he could see me or his other friends in the court, or if he was capable of recognising anybody. He gave no indication that he did.

In Belmarsh he is kept in complete isolation for 23 hours a day. He is permitted 45 minutes exercise. If he has to be moved, they clear the corridors before he walks down them and they lock all cell doors to ensure he has no contact with any other prisoner outside the short and strictly supervised exercise period. There is no possible justification for this inhuman regime, used on major terrorists, being imposed on a publisher who is a remand prisoner.

I have been both cataloguing and protesting for years the increasingly authoritarian powers of the UK state, but that the most gross abuse could be so open and undisguised is still a shock. The campaign of demonisation and dehumanisation against Julian, based on government and media lie after government and media lie, has led to a situation where he can be slowly killed in public sight, and arraigned on a charge of publishing the truth about government wrongdoing, while receiving no assistance from “liberal” society.

Unless Julian is released shortly he will be destroyed. If the state can do this, then who is next?

UPDATE I have received scores of requests to republish and/or translate this article. It is absolutely free to use and reproduce and I should be delighted if everybody does; the world should know what is being done to Julian. So far, over 200,000 people have read it on this blogsite alone and it has already been reproduced on myriad other sites, some with much bigger readerships than my own. I have seen translations into German, Spanish and French and at least extracts in Catalan and Turkish. I only ask that you reproduce it complete or, if edits are made, plainly indicate them. Many thanks.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s piece on his official website.

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Update:

On Saturday 26th, Afshin Rattansi interviewed Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters on RT’s Going Underground about Julian Assange’s latest extradition hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court and why it makes him ashamed to be English. They also discussed the mass protests in Chile against the neoliberal US-backed President Sebastián Piñera and how the military crackdown is reminiscent of the Pinochet era:

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