Which Law Is Assange Above?

By Alison Broinowski

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Julian Assange 50ed4

‘No-one is above the law’ Julian Assange has repeatedly been told in British courts. What that means in effect is, ‘You think you are above the law and we have run out of things to charge you with, so we are going to make an example of you for that’.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also told the media that ‘no-one is above the law’ so he, like his predecessors in both major parties, will not intervene with his British counterpart on Assange’s behalf. Gratuitously, he added a sexist crack about Assange’s friend and supporter Pamela Anderson, a Baywatch star. But he did not explain – and wasn’t asked – which law Assange thought he was above. He has broken no Australian law, Sweden has dropped its rape case, he has served his sentence for breach of bail in the UK, and the US has not yet extradited him on charges of espionage and treason. But he’s still locked up.

Belatedly, a growing number of Australian supporters of Assange are boldly going where Ministers fear to tread. They are speaking out for several reasons, apart from the obvious injustice of the case against Assange. They realize he is clearly in poor mental and physical health; that President Trump who once loved WikiLeaks has turned out to want the indictment as much as Hillary Clinton did; and that any hope that British justice will prevail is looking increasingly faint. In mid-November PEN International packed large venues in Melbourne and Sydney with people wanting to hear and question Assange’s London lawyer, Jennifer Robinson. Public demonstrations supporting him are spreading, and that news ‘makes him smile’ Robinson said.

Both Assange and Robinson have received death threats. His father says Assange has been strip-searched and placed in a ‘hotbox’, from which he emerged ‘very disturbed’ and couldn’t remember his date of birth in court. Used in some military prisons, the hotbox is said to induce dehydration and confusion. Imagine what else can happen to him.

In October four prominent Australians joined in calls for intervention on Assange’s behalf – businessman Dick Smith, Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce, Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, and Bob Carr, former Foreign Minister and Premier of NSW. Carr said the UK and US should expect a backlash from Australia unless the extradition case is dropped and Assange’s prison conditions do not immediately improve. Wilkie has formed a multi-party Parliamentary Friendship Group, ‘Bring Assange Home’. It was this kind of political and public pressure that eventually forced Prime Minister John Howard in 2007 to intervene for the release from Guantanamo prison of accused terrorist collaborator David Hicks, long after the UK and Canada had got their nationals out in 2003.

But Australian politicians with a vested interest in seeing an example made of Assange continue, for now, to ignore such appeals. They do so for three reasons: successive government and media narratives are so heavily invested in the manufactured perception about Assange that they would have trouble explaining it away; they won’t go out on a limb for a man whose revelations have embarrassed Australia and its allies; and they prefer to hide behind the pretence of allowing British and American justice to take its course. Yet they have been eager to intervene in the cases of Australians detained in China, Indonesia, Egypt, Thailand, and Bulgaria.

British justice has not appeared in its best light in the Assange saga. UK prosecutors unsuccessfully pressed their Swedish counterparts not to drop the rape case, and later demanded they reinstate it, also without success. British police entered the Embassy of Ecuador to remove Assange, in apparent breach of the Vienna Convention. He was immediately charged with breaking bail and jailed in the high security Belmarsh Prison, in isolation. He has been admitted to the hospital facility for what the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture says are life-threatening results of psychological mistreatment, in England.

One judge, Vanessa Baraitser, who reimposed imprisonment on Assange after his bail term expired, saying he was likely to abscond, got a significant detail wrong. When she surprisingly said he was ‘charged by Sweden’, Assange corrected her, but his intervention did not appear in the court transcript. Another more senior judge, the chief magistrate who sent him to Belmarsh in the first place, Emma Arbuthnot, told him no-one is above the law.

Lady Arbuthnot’s husband James is a former Minister of Defence who retains close military connections. Until late last year Lord Arbuthnot was on the board of the IRM cyber-security consultancy. Their son Alexander is vice-president and cyber-security adviser of a private equity firm Vitruvian Partners. The company is a large investor in Darktrace, an operation founded by GCHQ and MI5, whose staff include colleagues from MI6, the Ministry of Defence, the US National Security Agency and the CIA – the very agencies which want Assange prosecuted for publishing their secrets.

Darktrace has 40 offices across the world, which seek to prevent leaks by insiders of the sorts of data that WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden published. Alexander Arbuthnot was previously head of global sales for Symantec, an American cyber-security and anti-data leak company, which sees the likes of Chelsea Manning as ‘malicious insiders’. His aim at Symantec was to ‘avoid a repeat of WikiLeaks’ (Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis, The Daily Maverick, 15 November 2019. Daily Maverick.co.za).

The CIA, which is ‘working to take down’ WikiLeaks, has audio and video recordings of Assange’s private meetings in the Embassy of Ecuador, including with his lawyers. Jennifer Robinson confirmed in Sydney that an employee of a Spanish security company had provided them, and Assange has taken legal action against the firm.

Over and above the question of whether a conflict of interest arises from the funding of some of Lady Arbuthnot’s travels, her objectivity as a judge in Assange’s case must be questionable on the basis of her husband’s and son’s past and current activities. Which does not mean that it will be questioned: as we have seen ever since Tony Blair, the British establishment on both sides of politics and in the media instinctively closes ranks to defend its friends, its interests, and those of the military/industrial/security establishment against outsiders who reveal embarrassing facts. Assange in the UK; Manning, Snowden, and Max Blumenthal in the US; and in Australia, Witness K, Bernard Collaery, David McKnight, and others are mere collateral damage.

The full extradition hearing is set for 25 February 2020. Even though the treaty between the UK and the US excludes extradition for political offences, that is clearly the intention of both governments. Silencing Assange for 175 years may do the same for the media.

Former British Ambassador to Syria: UK complicit in Trump’s Syria Oil Grab

By Peter Ford

Source

With the UK Parliament already on alert, how long will it be before Congress wakes up to this scandal-in-the-making?

The cat is out of the bag. The UK is potentially complicit in a war crime. With typical insouciance the U.S. military dropped this bombshell by tweet and apparently without realizing the implications for U.S. partners:

OIR Spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III

@OIRSpox

.@USArmy troops in 4-118th Infantry Regiment, @30thabct, @NCNationalGuard attached to the 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, @SCNationalGuard, load M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles to support the @CJTFOIR mission in Deir ez Zor, Syria.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

OIR Spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III

@OIRSpox

We are repositioning @CJTFOIR forces to Deir ez Zor to continue partnering w/ to defeat ISIS remnants, protect critical infrastructure, & deny ISIS access to revenue sources. Mechanized forces provide infantry, maneuver, and firepower.

OIR is Operation Inherent Resolve, which is the name behind which the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS cloaks its military activities. (Think NATO wearing a thobe.) CJTFOIR is the Combined Joint Task Force for Operation Inherent Resolve.

If, as per the spokesman’s statement, the forces being redeployed to Syria’s oil-producing areas are Inherent Resolve forces, it follows that those troops are doing so in the name and under the aegis of the Coalition. Simple. Ah yes, but awkward for the British government to admit – awkward for practical, political and legal reasons. 

In practice, if this is a Joint Task Force Operation as we are told by the U.S. spokesman, it would be next to impossible for the deployment in Deir Ez Zor province to be taking place without some input from the senior UK officers embedded with the U.S. military in the Coalition Joint Task Force headquarters (the Deputy Commander is a British general) and active in carrying out Operation Inherent Resolve.

Politically this matters because hitherto all the opprobrium leveled at President Trump for allegedly ‘looting’ Syria’s oil has spared other participants in Inherent Resolve, including the UK, France, and Germany. How awkward it might be for Boris Johnson, facing an election, to find himself tarred with yet another Trump brush to put alongside Trump’s alleged grab for the UK National Health Service.

Legally this matters because if Trump puts into practice his promise to seize Syrian oil production, that will constitute, according to authoritative legal experts, a violation of international law against ‘pillaging’ enshrined in the Fourth Geneva Convention and thus constitute a war crime. Any party complicit in pillaging, and that would surely include other parties in the Joint Task Force, even if only headquarters staff and not boots on the ground, could also be culpable. The British government might find itself challenged in a UK court even if no international court could be found willing to act.

A nightmare for British government lawyers

This is the stuff of nightmares for British government lawyers.

Parliament is already alerted. The independent peer Baroness Cox prompted the following exchange with a government minister by putting down a tricky parliamentary question.

UK Parliament Syria inquiry

We can take that as an embarrassed ‘yes’.

Lord Ahmed, an FCO Minister, gave a similarly evasive answer to another question asked by Baroness Cox:

UK Parliament Syria inquiry 2

You can picture Lord Ahmed squirming.

It gets worse.

The British government may soon find itself complicit in harboring and funding terrorists because of Inherent Resolve’s involvement in pillaging Syria’s oil.

The U.S. says it will work with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to ‘safeguard vital infrastructure’ and will route proceeds of oil sales to the SDF to pay for its role, described as being anti-ISIS. What this overlooks is that the oilfields are not in Kurdish areas, which are mainly in the north, near the Turkish border, but in southern Deir Ez Zor province, which is dominated by Sunni Arabs who formed a core constituency for ISIS. This area is not far from Raqqa. The nominally SDF forces in the area, with which the U.S. will have to work, are mainly Arab and notoriously marbled with ISIS fighters. This part of the SDF has been described as ‘SDF by day, ISIS by night’. Not that they will not make excellent guards. These fighters, far from attacking the U.S., will likely be delighted to find the U.S. not only creating a safe haven for them but funding them as well.

Aiding terrorism, committing war crimes: a prospect to make any UK politician gulp. No wonder the parliamentary answers were evasive, even more so than usual with the grand yet nebulous ‘Global Coalition’. (In answer to another awkward question asking how many ISIS the Coalition had killed or detained in Syria in the last two years the FCO claimed implausibly that the government ‘does not hold this information’, no doubt to avoid having to acknowledge that the number is tiny and that the main purpose of the Coalition is to deny territory to Assad.)

With the UK Parliament already on alert, how long will it be before Congress wakes up to this scandal-in-the-making?

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