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Journalists, Activists Condemn UK Decision to Keep Assange Locked Up without Charge

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/01/2021 - 3:41am in

A United Kingdom court has ruled that Wikileaks cofounder Julian Assange must remain in prison, despite an earlier ruling that he could not be extradited to the United States.

Explaining her decision, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said that, “As far as Mr. Assange is concerned, this case has not been won,” adding that the United States must be allowed to appeal her earlier decision. Part of the ruling was based upon her assessment of the Australian publisher being a serious flight risk if released, noting he had “huge support networks” that could help him “should he again choose to go to ground.”

The court’s decision was immediately panned by journalists and press freedom organizations who had hoped to see Assange released today, after seven years in prison and hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. “To us, that is nothing more than a pretext to keep him detained. This seems unnecessarily punitive and adding insult to injury after the 10 years of hell that he has endured…We are deeply disappointed with today’s decision,” said Rebecca Vincent, Reporters Without Borders’ Director of International Campaigns, outside the courtroom.

Vincent had been denied entry to the courtroom today, as had some of Assange’s relatives. She had also faced questioning and harassment from police, who used their new powers under the U.K.’s lockdown law to break up pro-Assange demonstrations, even arresting a 92-year-old man.

Julian Assange

Police arrest an Assange supporter outside the Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Jan. 6, 2021. Matt Dunham | AP

Assange’s lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald QC, expressed his disappointment at the news that his client would be heading back to Belmarsh prison in south London. “The logical outcome of the ruling would be he regains liberty at least conditionally,” he stated.

Assange’s colleagues in [alternative] media were also quick to condemn Baraitser’s ruling. “The judge’s decision against bailing Assange only fuels the theory that this prosecution is about keeping a publisher who the U.S. government despises tied up and in limbo so he cannot effectively challenge them ever again,” said Kevin Gosztola, “This is absolutely outrageous for the judge to deny Assange bail and to claim that Belmarsh is doing a fine job of handling COVID, even while London is on lockdown.”

“There are no charges pending against Julian Assange in the U.K. A U.K. judge denied the U.S.’s request to extradite him, the only place where charges are pending. Despite this, the judge just ruled he must remain imprisoned — in a COVID-ridden high-security prison — while the U.S. appeals,” added Glenn Greenwald. “This shows how authoritarian the British judiciary is. The only thing the U.S. cares about is keeping Assange in a cage, silenced and disappeared. This gives them the best of all worlds: he stays in prison, with no need to prove he’s guilty of anything. That’s despotic.”

A particularly high-security prison, H.M.P. Belmarsh is generally considered the U.K.’s most notorious jail, taking in prisoners from around the country that other prisons cannot handle. The government’s 2019 report on conditions inside the facility noted it was overrun with 120 violent gangs and that there were 161 recorded inmate assaults on staff. After a COVID-19 outbreak this year, inmates have been largely locked down in their cells, typically for 23 hours a day.

On Monday, Baraitser ruled that Assange would not be sent to the United States as she was not convinced that the U.S. prison system could guarantee he would not commit suicide while incarcerated. The publisher faced up to 175 years in prison for his alleged breach of the Espionage Act of 1917 while receiving classified information from U.S. soldier Chelsea Manning. However, she sided with the United States on both their assertions and the legality of their claims, setting a precedent that some called a “chilling” ruling for investigative journalism.

Wikileaks disseminated Manning’s information, which came to be known as the Iraq War Logs. Perhaps the most explosive revelation was a recording of a U.S. helicopter attack on central Baghdad in July 2007. The video shows American personnel massacring at least a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists, in cold blood. The images went viral on social media and showed a completely different side to the occupation than the carefully sanitized one the U.S. military had been fastidiously curating.

From 2013 to 2019, Assange was confined to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, unable to travel to the country that had offered him political asylum. However, keen to curry favor with Washington, new president Lenin Moreno allowed British authorities to enter the building and arrest him. Since then, he has been housed in Belmarsh. This new ruling prolongs his stay. But if the appeal is unsuccessful, the U.K. will no longer have any legal argument to keep him interned. Perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel for the Australian.

Feature photo | Wikileaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson, at center, speaks to the media outside the Westminster Magistrates Court after Julian Assange was denied bail at a hearing in the court, in London, Jan. 6, 2021. Matt Dunham | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Journalists, Activists Condemn UK Decision to Keep Assange Locked Up without Charge appeared first on MintPress News.

Assange's Belmarsh torment continues after judge denies bail

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/01/2021 - 2:10am in

After ruling that Assange won't be extradited to the US on Monday, Judge Baraitser then sent him back to Belmarsh and denied him bail, reports Jamal Elaheebocus

Americans Only Care About America. Their Rulers Only Care About World Domination.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/01/2021 - 3:01pm in

Tags 

War, News, Politics, america

Ever since November third the American political/media class have been keeping Democrats fixated on Trump’s post-election shenanigans with garment-rending urgency, now going so far as to call for yet another oxygen-sucking impeachment as he’s on his way out the door while millions of Americans are struggling just to meet their basic needs.

You wouldn’t know it from the dominant chatter, but Trump’s impotent attempts to reverse the election results don’t rank anywhere remotely near the top ten worst things this president has done while in office, which include vetoing attempts to end the world’s worst mass atrocity in Yemen, escalating world-threatening cold wars with both Russia and China, murdering untold tens of thousands of Venezuelans with starvation sanctions, pushing Iran to the brink of war by assassinating its top military commander, expanding the “war on terror” and rolling back airstrike regulations designed to protect civilians.

US political discourse hasn’t reflected the fact that Trump’s foreign policy has been far more atrocious than anything he’s done domestically — and certainly anything he’s done since November — because news media coverage does not reflect this fact. News media coverage does not reflect this fact because western news media regard imperialism and mass military slaughter as normal US presidential stuff, and do not regard brown-skinned foreigners as human.

I point this out because it’s good to note, as Trump leaves office, that he spent his entire administration advancing murderous imperialist agendas which spilled very real blood from very real human beings while mainstream America barely even noticed. Their attention was drawn instead to endless narrative theater which had no impact whatsoever on the concrete actions taken by the US government’s executive branch. Their gaze was kept fixated on meaningless political drama while the war machine marched on unseen.

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Americans are famously uninterested in the rest of the world, to such an extent that you can only get them to watch a British sitcom if it’s remade with American actors and they don’t know that having your nation’s flag flying all over your neighborhood isn’t normal. The story of Kanye and Kim’s divorce is going to generate more news media views than the entirety of the Yemen war since it began. This lack of interest in war and foreign policy is mighty peculiar, seeing how the people who run their country make it their primary focus.

Americans only care about America while their rulers only care about the rest of the world. This is entirely by design.

Americans fixate on America while ignoring the rest of the world not because they are genetically prone to self-obsessed navel gazing, but because their attention is being constantly and deliberately manipulated away from the stage upon which their government is perpetrating monstrous acts.

The nationless alliance of plutocrats and government agencies who drive the US government’s foreign policy cannot have the common riff raff interfering in their affairs. Immense amounts of energy have gone into preventing the rise of an antiwar movement in the hub of the empire like the one which began shaking the earth in the sixties and seventies, with propaganda playing a leading role in this suppression. The US is far too important in the operation of the empire-like power alliance which sprawls across the earth to permit its inhabitants to interfere in its operations by using the power of their numbers to force their nation’s wealth and resources to be used at home. So propaganda is used to hold their attention inside America’s borders.

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In an excellent Palladium essay published last month titled “China’s Real Threat Is to America’s Ruling Ideology”, Richard Hanania argues that the example China sets as a nation rising to superpower status by relatively peaceful and lawful means is deeply threatening to the orthodoxy promoted by western imperialists. If the world in general and Americans in particular were to become more conscious of how a civilization can succeed and thrive without waging endless wars in the name of “freedom” and “democracy”, they might begin calling for such an order themselves.

“While most Americans will never experience a ride on a Chinese bullet train and remain oblivious in differences in areas like infrastructure quality, major accomplishments in highly visible frontiers like space travel or cancer treatment could drive home the extent to which the U.S. has fallen behind,” Hanania concludes. “Under such conditions, the best case scenario for most Americans would be a nightmare for many national security and bureaucratic elites: for the U.S. to give up on policing the world and instead turn inward and focus on finding out where exactly our institutions have gone wrong.”

In other words, China’s rise threatens to reverse the carefully-engineered dynamic which has Americans looking inward while their government points its attention outward. If Americans begin turning their gaze internationally and use the power of their numbers to force their government to heal and nurture their crumbling nation, it would spell the end for the imperialists. But it could also be the beginning of a peaceful and harmonious world.

_____________________

Thanks for reading! The best way to get around the internet censors and make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for at my website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking me on Facebook, following my antics on Twitter, throwing some money into my tip jar on Patreon or Paypal, purchasing some of my sweet merchandise, buying my new book Poems For Rebels or my old book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish, use or translate any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge.

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The Legacy of General Qassem Soleimani: A Woman’s Perspective

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/01/2021 - 4:57am in

In a recent interview with RT, Zeinab Soleimani, the daughter of late Iranian General, Qasem Soleiman said that “After killing my father, America thought that everything would be stopped because they killed General Soleimani, the power of the Middle East. But they are so wrong… They are so wrong in thinking this will be the end of General Soleimani, this is the beginning.”

After General Soleimani’s assassination, it was exceptional that a foreign media outlet would take into consideration the perspective of Soleimani’s female family members and supporters. Women are generally underrepresented in peace and conflict literature worldwide. However, the intentional ignorance of women’s voices in West Asia, both by Western observers and their male counterparts within the region, is even worse.

The arduous task of defining Soleimani’s character, mission, and strategies has taken up the interest of his foes and supporters alike. Americans call him “an agent of chaos,” or a man of the “shadows.” However, it was inevitable that they’d appreciate him as a “unique” figure, one who has no counterpart abroad in terms of his experience, capability, and absolute trust in his leader. As Michael Knights from The Washington Institute denotes, they don’t “have anyone like him in the U.S.”

Simultaneously, his vast stretch of influence and “unparalleled” military and intelligence power in the region was not an easy pill to swallow by those in the same anti-American camp. The Russians’ concern regarding the consequences of U.S. actions which “aggravate the situation in the region” or his “killing” to be “completely devoid of any legal basis” were instances of a maximum negative reaction by an ally who still refuses to call Iran a strategic partner, despite their rewarding collaboration.

The exceptional position of General Soleimani for Iranians, though, resides in a distinct realm of thought, contesting the normal military essentials or power constructs. This implies a “strong objectivity” that is taken here from the unheard voice of women whose husbands were serving in the Quds Force or were “martyred” as volunteers in the transnational battles of Syria and Iraq.

 

The “dividing line between vice and virtue”

The wives of Múdafeīn Haram, known colloquially as the Holy Shrine Defenders, a term recently coined to recognize the resistance fronts fighting in Syria and Iraq, identify Qasem Soleimani as the “definite dividing line between vice and virtue,” says Zahra, whose husband was serving with the Quds Force and was martyred in Syria in 2014.

“General Soleimani was a real strategist. Nevertheless, what makes us honored to serve him was not his indisputable military capability alone.” Having lost her spouse in 2015 in Iraq, Mina puts it thusly: “I sincerely aspire to sacrifice myself and my children, like their father, on Soleimani’s path of defending human dignity. He could not tolerate American-backed terrorists butchering innocent women and children in deadly conditions, forcing indignity upon them.”

Qassem Soleimani poster

A woman holds a poster of Soleimani, right, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, during a commemoration of their murder in Najaf, Jan. 2021. Anmar Khalil | AP

They’re recalling of the sweet memories of their relationships encouraged me to ask them about the legitimacy and necessity of their husbands to leave for combat on the frontlines of distant battlefields. One widower named Maryam swiftly replied that her husband was a volunteer when he fought in Syria, driven by his personal vision, and frequently confirming that by not deterring the terrorists abroad, it wouldn’t be long before Iran would have to fight them within its own borders. She argued that her husband, who lost his life in Syria as an experienced veteran and expert of geopolitics just one day before his birthday, was “determined to sacrifice for the elimination of ISIS, which was created by Americans, according to their own confessions, and backed by Israel in order to globalize Islamophobia, intimidation, and terror.”

“A big shock,” “an overwhelming sense of being crushed,” “startled, my back broken”: these are some of the interviewees’ remarks on getting the news of Soleimani’s assassination. Soon, though, they changed their tone, restoring their strength and confidence, referring to the “severe revenge” that Ayatollah Khamenei promised, which “awaits the criminals who have stained their hands with [General Soleimani’s] and the other martyrs’ blood.”

 

A legacy set in stone

The legacy of Soleimani within Iran is set in stone, and the Quds Force has prevailed in the region with an array of allies and volunteers from Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria. However, as Zahra suggests, Trump’s rash policies order and the Americans’ reckless act of war and terror will not remain unanswered. She recalls the American press assessing Soleimani’s assassination to be similar to a Class A crime, such as the killing of the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or the Director of the CIA. In her eyes, though, “even its assumption is rejected since for all people of rationality and freedom (or Ahrar, meaning those free from the constraints of wealth and power), be they Muslim or non-Muslim, ‘Qasem Soleimani’s shoe is worth more than Trump’s head,” she said, quoting the Secretary-General of Hezbollah.

Christian Hezbollah supporter

A Christian Hezbollah supporter holds a photo of Soleimani and others during a ceremony to mark his assassination in Beirut, Feb. 2020. Hassan Ammar | AP

“A new consciousness,” “a new discourse” has been created among our youth, Maryam To concluded, a suggestion which received the consensus of her other colleagues, “that no American soldier or facility in the region would be left safe and secure.” To “end U.S. presence in the region,” as Ayatollah Khamenei said, has become the subject of our children’s theses at universities, the subject of their art, and the objective of their activism. “This is not the end. This is the beginning” the interviewees stress.

Feature photo | A person hold a photo of slain Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani during a ceremony marking the anniversary of his assassination in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Feb. 16, 2020. Hassan Ammar | AP

Zohreh Kharazmi is an assistant professor in the American Studies Department at the University of Tehran.

The post The Legacy of General Qassem Soleimani: A Woman’s Perspective appeared first on MintPress News.

Ring the bells of Old Bailey: judge halts Assange extradition

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/01/2021 - 12:30am in

John Rees reports on a remarkable day in court

Chris Hedges: The Empire is Not Done with Julian Assange

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/01/2021 - 8:16am in

Princeton, New Jersey (Scheerpost) — As is clear from the memoir of one of his attorneys, Michael Ratner, the ends have always justified the means for those demanding his global persecution.

Shortly after WikiLeaks released the Iraq War Logs in October 2010, which documented numerous US war crimes — including video images of the gunning down of two Reuters journalists and 10 other unarmed civilians in the Collateral Murder video, the routine torture of Iraqi prisoners, the covering up of thousands of civilian deaths and the killing of nearly 700 civilians that had approached too closely to US checkpoints — the towering civil rights attorneys Michael Ratner and Len Weinglass, who had defended Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers case, met Julian Assange in a studio apartment in Central London, according to Ratner’s newly released memoir “Moving the Bar”.

Assange had just returned to London from Sweden where he had attempted to create the legal framework to protect WikiLeaks’ servers in Sweden.  Shortly after his arrival in Stockholm, his personal bank cards were blocked.  He had no access to funds and was dependent on supporters.  Two of these supporters were women with whom he had consensual sex.  As he was preparing to leave, the Swedish media announced that he was wanted for questioning about allegations of rape. The women, who never accused Assange of rape, wanted him to take an STD test.  They had approached the police about compelling him to comply. “I did not want to put any charges on Julian Assange,” texted one of them on August 20 while she was still at the police station, but “the police were keen on getting their hands on him.” She said she felt “railroaded by the police.” Within 24 hours the chief prosecutor of Stockholm took over the preliminary investigation.  He dropped the rape accusation, stating “I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape.” Assange, although not charged with a crime, cancelled his departure and remained in Sweden for another five weeks to cooperate with the investigation.  A special prosecutor, Marianne Ny, was appointed to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct.  Assange was granted permission to leave the country.  He flew to Berlin.  When Assange arrived in Berlin three encrypted laptops with documents detailing US war crimes had disappeared from his luggage.

“We consider the Swedish allegations a distraction,” Ratner told Assange, according to his memoir. “We’ve read the police reports, and we believe the authorities don’t have a case. We’re here because in our view you are in much more jeopardy in the US Len [Weinglass] can explain why.”

Assange, Ratner recalled, remained silent.

“WikiLeaks and you personally are facing a battle that is both legal and political,” Weinglass told Assange. “As we learned in the Pentagon Papers case, the US government doesn’t like the truth coming out. And it doesn’t like to be humiliated. No matter if it’s Nixon or Bush or Obama, Republican or Democrat in the White House. The US government will try to stop you from publishing its ugly secrets. And if they have to destroy you and the First Amendment and the rights of publishers with you, they are willing to do it. We believe they are going to come after WikiLeaks and you, Julian, as the publisher.”

“Come after me for what?” asked Julian.

“Espionage,” Weinglass continued, according to the memoir. “They’re going to charge Bradley Manning with treason under the Espionage Act of 1917. We don’t think it applies to him because he’s a whistleblower, not a spy. And we don’t think it applies to you either because you are a publisher. But they are going to try to force Manning into implicating you as his collaborator. That’s why it’s crucial that WikiLeaks and you personally have an American criminal lawyer to represent you.”

Ratner and Weinglass laid out potential scenarios.

“The way it could happen,” Ratner said, “is that the Justice Department could convene a secret grand jury to investigate possible charges against you. It would probably be in northern Virginia, where everyone on the jury would be a current or retired CIA employee or have worked for some other part of the military-industrial complex. They would be hostile to anyone like you who’d published US government secrets. The grand jury could come up with a sealed indictment, issue a warrant for your arrest, and request extradition.”

“What happens if they extradite me?” asked Julian.

“They fly you to where the indictment is issued,” Weinglass told Assange. “Then they put you into some hellhole in solitary, and you get treated like Bradley Manning. They put you under what they call special administrative measures, which means you probably would not be allowed communication with anyone. Maybe your lawyer could go in and talk to you, but the lawyer couldn’t say anything to the press.”

“And it’s very, very unlikely that they would give you bail,” Ratner added.

“Is it easier to extradite from the UK or from Sweden?” asked Sarah Harrison, who was at the meeting.

“We don’t know the answer to that,” Ratner replied. “My guess is that you would probably have the most support and the best legal team in a bigger country like the UK In a smaller country like Sweden, the US can use its power to pressure the government, so it would be easier to extradite you from there. But we need to consult with a lawyer who specializes in extradition.”

Assange’s British lawyer, also at the meeting, proposed that Assange return to Sweden for further questioning.

“I don’t think that’s wise,” Weinglass said, “unless the Swedish government guarantees that Julian will not be extradited to another country because of his publishing work.”

“The problem is that Sweden doesn’t have bail,” Ratner explained. “If they put you in jail in Stockholm and the US pressures the government to extradite you, Sweden might send you immediately to the US and you’d never see the light of day again. It’s far less risky to ask the Swedish prosecutor to question you in London.”

Moving the Bar Social cards2

Book cover illustration for Ratner’s memoir. To order, click here

The US government’s determination to extradite Assange and imprison him for life, despite the fact that Assange is not a US citizen and WikiLeaks is not a US based publication, Ratner understood from the start, will be unwavering and relentless.

In the 132-page ruling (pdf) issued today in London by Judge Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court the court refused to grant an extradition request only because of the barbarity of the conditions under which Assange would be held while imprisoned in the US.

“Faced with the conditions of near total isolation without the protective factors which limited his risk at [Her Majesty’s Prison] Belmarsh, I am satisfied the procedures described by the US will not prevent Mr. Assange from finding a way to commit suicide,” said Baraitser, “and for this reason I have decided extradition would be oppressive by reason of mental harm and I order his discharge.”

Assange is charged with violating 17 counts of the Espionage Act, along with an attempt to hack into a government computer.  Each of the 17 counts carries a potential sentence of 10 years. The additional charge that Assange conspired to hack into a government computer has a maximum sentence of five years. The judge ominously accepted all of the charges leveled by US prosecutors against Assange — that he violated the Espionage Act by releasing classified information and was complicit in assisting his source, Chelsea Manning, in the hacking of a government computer. It is a very, very dangerous ruling for the media. And if, on appeal, and the US has already said it would appeal, the higher court is assured that Assange will be held in humane conditions, it paves the way for his extradition.

The publication of classified documents is not yet a crime in the United States. If Assange is extradited and convicted, it will become one. The extradition of Assange would mean the end of journalistic investigations into the inner workings of power. It would cement into place a terrifying global, corporate tyranny under which borders, nationality and law mean nothing. Once such a legal precedent is set, any publication that publishes classified material, from The New York Times to an alternative website, will be prosecuted and silenced.

Assange has done more than any contemporary journalist or publisher to expose the inner workings of empire and the lies and crimes of the US ruling elite.  The deep animus towards Assange, as fierce within the Democratic Party as the Republican Party, and the cowardice of the media and watchdog groups such as PEN to defend him, mean that all he has left are courageous attorneys, such as Ratner, activists, who protested outside the court, and those few voices of conscience willing to become pariahs in his defense.

(Ratner’s memoir, which is a profile in courage of the many dissidents, including Assange, he valiantly defended, is also a profile of courage of one of the greatest civil rights attorneys of our era. There are few people I respect more than Michael Ratner, who I accompanied to visit Assange when he was trapped in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. His memoir is not only about his lifelong fight against racial injustice, a rising corporate totalitarianism, and the crimes of empire, but is a sterling example of what it means to live the moral life.)

Assange earned the eternal enmity of the Democratic Party establishment by publishing 70,000 hacked emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and senior Democratic officials. The emails were copied from the accounts of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. The Podesta emails exposed the donation of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and identified both nations as major funders of Islamic State [ISIL/ISIS]. It exposed the $657,000 that Goldman Sachs paid to Hillary Clinton to give talks, a sum so large it can only be considered a bribe. They exposed Clinton’s repeated mendacity. She was caught in the emails, for example, telling the financial elites that she wanted “open trade and open borders” and believed Wall Street executives were best positioned to manage the economy, a statement that contradicted her campaign statements. It exposed the Clinton campaign’s efforts to influence the Republican primaries to ensure that Donald Trump was the Republican nominee. They exposed Clinton’s advance knowledge of questions in a primary debate. They exposed Clinton as the principal architect of the war in Libya, a war she believed would burnish her credentials as a presidential candidate.

The Democratic Party, which routinely blames Russia for its election loss to Trump, charges that the Podesta emails were obtained by Russian government hackers. Hillary Clinton has called WikiLeaks a Russian front. James Comey, the former FBI director, however, conceded that the emails were probably delivered to WikiLeaks by an intermediary, and Assange has said the emails were not provided by “state actors.”

Journalists can argue that this information, like the war logs, should have remained hidden, but they can’t then call themselves journalists.

A few weeks after Ratner’s first meeting with Assange, WikiLeaks published 220 documents from Cablegate, the US State Department classified cables that Chelsea Manning had provided to WikiLeaks. The cables had been sent to the State Department from US diplomatic missions, consulates, and embassies around the globe. The 251,287 cables dated from December 1966 to February 2010. The release dominated the news and filled the pages of The New York Times, the Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El País.

“The extent and importance of the Cablegate revelations took my breath away,” Ratner, who died in 2016, wrote in his memoir. “They pulled back the curtain and revealed how American foreign policy functions behind-the-scenes, manipulating events all over the globe. They also provided access to US diplomats’ raw, frank, and often embarrassing assessments of foreign leaders. Some of the most stunning revelations:

  • In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered US diplomats to spy on UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other UN representatives from China, France, Russia, and the UK. The information she asked for included DNA, iris scans, fingerprints, and personal passwords. US and British diplomats also eavesdropped on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the weeks before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
  • The US has been secretly launching missile, bomb, and drone attacks on terrorist targets in Yemen, killing civilians. But to protect the US, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told Gen. David Petraeus, “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.”
  • Saudi King Abdullah repeatedly urged the US to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities to “cut off the head of the snake.” Other leaders from Israel, Jordan, and Bahrain also urged the US to attack Iran.
  • The White House and Secretary of State Clinton refused to condemn the June 2009 military coup in Honduras that overthrew elected President Manuel Zelaya, ignoring a cable from the US embassy there that described the coup as “illegal and unconstitutional.” Instead of calling for the restoration of Zelaya, the US supported elections orchestrated by the coup’s leader, Roberto Micheletti. Opposition leaders and international observers boycotted those elections.
  • Employees of a US government contractor in Afghanistan, DynCorp, hired “dancing boys” — a euphemism for child prostitutes — to be used as sex slaves.
  • In various cables, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is called “an extremely weak man who did not listen to facts but was instead easily swayed by anyone who came to report even the most bizarre stories or plots against him.” Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and her husband Néstor Kirchner, the former president, are described as “paranoid.” President Nicolas Sarkozy of France is described as “thin-skinned” and “authoritarian.” Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is called “feckless, vain, and ineffective.”
  • Perhaps most important, the cables said that Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had “lost touch with the Tunisian people” and described “high-level corruption, a sclerotic regime, and deep hatred of . . . Ben Ali’s wife and her family.” These revelations led to the eventual overthrow of the regime in Tunisia. The Tunisian protests spread like wildfire to other countries of the Middle East, resulting in the widespread revolts of the Arab Spring of 2011.

Secretary of State Clinton said after the release of the cables, “Disclosures like these tear at the fabric of the proper functioning of responsible government.” Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department was conducting “an active, ongoing criminal investigation into WikiLeaks.” Then US Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) called WikiLeaks “a terrorist organization.” Former GOP Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called for WikiLeaks to be shut down and Assange treated as “an enemy combatant who’s engaged in information warfare against the United States.”

“For those who ran the American empire, the truth hurt,” Ratner writes. “For the rest of us, it was liberating. With the 2010 release of the Collateral Murder video, the Afghan War Logs, the Iraq War Logs, and Cablegate, WikiLeaks went far beyond traditional investigative reporting. It proved that in the new digital world, full transparency was not only possible, but necessary in order to hold governments accountable for their actions.”

“On November 30, 2010, two days after the initial release of Cablegate, Sweden issued an Interpol ‘Red Alert Notice’ normally used to warn about terrorists,” Ratner goes on. “It also issued a European Arrest Warrant seeking Assange’s extradition to Sweden. Since he was wanted only for questioning about the sexual misconduct allegations, it seemed clear from the timing and severity of the warrant that the US had successfully pressured the Swedes.”

The efforts to extradite Assange intensified.  He was held for ten days in solitary confinement at Wandsworth Prison before being released on bail of 340,000 pounds.  He spent 551 days under house arrest, forced to wear an electronic anklet and check in with police twice a day. Visa, Mastercard, Bank of America, and Western Union refused to process donations to WikiLeaks.

“It became virtually impossible for anyone to donate to WikiLeaks, and its income immediately plummeted by 95 percent,” Ratner writes. “But none of the financial institutions could point to any illegal activity by WikiLeaks, and none had imposed any restrictions on WikiLeaks’ mainstream co-publishers. The financial blockade applied only to WikiLeaks.”

Ratner was soon spending several days a month in England conferring with Assange and his legal team.  Ratner also attended the trial at Fort Meade in Maryland for Chelsea Manning (then Bradley Manning), certain that it would illuminate how the US government intended to go after Assange.

“Prosecutors in the Bradley Manning case revealed internet chat logs between Manning and an unnamed person at WikiLeaks who they said colluded with Manning by helping the accused traitor engineer a reverse password,” he writes. “Without supporting evidence, prosecutors claimed the unnamed person was Assange. Both Manning and Assange denied it. Nonetheless, it was clear that what Len [Weinglass] and I had predicted was happening. The case against Bradley Manning was also a case against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. The two were inextricably linked.”

Manning was charged with 22 violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Espionage Act, including aiding the enemy — which carries a possible death sentence — wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the internet, and theft of public property.

“I couldn’t get over the irony of it all,” Ratner writes. “On trial was the whistle-blower who leaked documents showing the number of civilians killed in Iraq, the Collateral Murder video, Reuters journalists being killed, children being shot. To me, the people who should be the defendants were the ones who started the Afghan and Iraq wars, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the officials who carried out torture, the people who committed the very crimes that Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks exposed. And those who should be observing were the ghosts of the dead Reuters journalists and the ghosts of the children and others killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“A week after Manning’s arraignment, WikiLeaks published an internal e-mail dated January 26, 2011 from the private intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor),” Ratner goes on. “Part of a trove of five million e-mails that the hacker group Anonymous obtained from Stratfor’s servers, it was written by Stratfor Vice President Fred Burton, a former State Department counter-terrorism expert. It stated clearly: ‘We have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect.’ Another of Burton’s e-mails was more vivid: ‘Assange is going to make a nice bride in prison. Screw the terrorist. He’ll be eating cat food forever.’”

“The e-mails revealed how far the US government would go to protect its dirty secrets, and how it would use its own secrecy as a weapon,” Ratner writes. “Somehow Stratfor, which has been called a shadow CIA, had information about this sealed indictment that neither WikiLeaks, Assange, nor his lawyers had.”

Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to the maximum ten years in federal prison for the Stratfor hack and leak. He remains imprisoned.

On June 14, 2012, the UK Supreme Court issued its verdict affirming the extradition order to Sweden. Assange, cornered, was granted political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he would remain for seven years until British police in April 2019 raided the embassy, sovereign territory of Ecuador, and placed him in solitary confinement in the notorious high-security HM Prison Belmarsh.

The arrest eviscerates all pretense of the rule of law and the rights of a free press. The illegalities, embraced by the Ecuadorian, British and US governments, in the seizure of Assange were ominous. They presaged a world where the internal workings, abuses, corruption, lies and crimes — especially war crimes — carried out by corporate states and the global ruling elite will be masked from the public. They presaged a world where those with the courage and integrity to expose the misuse of power will be hunted down, tortured, subjected to sham trials and given lifetime prison terms in solitary confinement. They presaged an Orwellian dystopia where news is replaced with propaganda, trivia and entertainment.

Under what law did Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno capriciously terminate Julian Assange’s rights of asylum as a political refugee? Under what law did Moreno authorize British police to enter the Ecuadorian Embassy — diplomatically sanctioned sovereign territory — to arrest a naturalized citizen of Ecuador? Under what law did Prime Minister Theresa May order the British police to grab Assange, who has never committed a crime? Under what law did President Donald Trump demand the extradition of Assange, who is not a US citizen and whose news organization is not based in the United States?

“As a journalist and publisher of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange had every right to asylum,” Ratner writes. “The law is clear. The exercise of political free speech — including revealing government crimes, misconduct, or corruption — is internationally protected and is grounds for asylum. The US government has recognized this right, having granted asylum to several journalists and whistleblowers, most notably from China.”

“My view is that mass surveillance is not really about preventing terrorism, but is much more about social control,” Ratner writes. “It’s about stopping an uprising like the ones we had here in the US in the ’60s and ’70s. It shocks me that Americans are passively allowing this and that all three branches of government have done nothing about it. Despite mass surveillance, my message for people is the same one that Mother Jones delivered a century ago: organize, organize, organize. Yes, the surveillance state will try to scare you. They will be watching and listening. You won’t even know whether your best friend is an informant. Take whatever security precautions you can. But do not be intimidated. Whether you call it the sweep of history or the sweep of revolution, in the end, the surveillance state cannot stop people from moving toward the kind of change that will make their lives better.”

Feature photo | Art by Mr. Fish | Original to Scheerpost

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show On Contact. 

The post Chris Hedges: The Empire is Not Done with Julian Assange appeared first on MintPress News.

Media Praise of Israel’s COVID Vaccination Drive a Form of “Medical Apartheid”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/01/2021 - 5:57am in

As vaccinations for the deadly COVID-19 virus begin to be delivered in large numbers, Israel has been receiving a great deal of praise in global media for its handling of the fight against the pandemic — one that has cost the lives of over 1.8 million people worldwide in the last 12 months.

Israel has gone into vaccine “overdrive,” announced the Financial Times, noting that the country of 9 million people has become the “world leader” and an example to follow. Detailing its achievements, it told readers that, “At one vaccination site, people waited no longer than 10 minutes each to be assigned to receive a jab, with one of 10 booths being kept empty to handle overflows,” also noting that the high tech system texts citizens an exact time of arrival, to further help with crowd control. The Wall Street Journal celebrated that Israel had vaccinated more than 10% of its population in just two weeks. Other outlets like the BBC noted that the government was prioritizing the elderly, with over 40% of over 60s having already received the first dose of a two injection procedure. “Israel could become [the] 1st nation to vaccinate all its citizens,” ran an Economic Times’ headline.

Israel Media COVID

Corotate media outlets resoundingly heaped praise on Israel while almost completely ignoring its glaring human rights abuses

Completely missing from all these accounts, however, was any discussion, or even mention, of the millions of Palestinians under Israeli control, none of whom have received the vaccine, leading to a form of medical Apartheid. The move means that settlers illegally occupying Palestinian land are being given preferential treatment over those they have kicked out. The action has been denounced by human rights groups, who see it as Israel’s responsibility to provide medical treatment to those under their de facto jurisdiction.

Other outlets, such as Axios and the Independent also praised the Israeli government, but at least mentioned that there were no jabs for Palestinians. “Israel is vaccinating so fast it’s running out of vaccine,” reported the Washington Post excitedly before noting that the Netanyahu government has dismissed foreign criticism of its decision.

Israel is facing another national election in March, and Prime Minister Netanyahu hopes to vaccinate the entire population and lift lockdown measures before citizens go to the polls. Indeed, there is speculation that his government overpaid drug company Pfizer in order to secure so many early shipments of the medicine. The government began immunizing citizens on December 19.

In contrast to Israel, Palestinians have had to endure a deadly pandemic without proper equipment or hospitals. Last month, Gaza announced it had run out of COVID-19 testing kits, the blockaded strip also asking the World Health Organization for badly needed medical supplies.

Israeli authorities have also been guilty of more proactive measures that have spread the deadly coronavirus among the Palestinian population. In July, IDF forces demolished a recently constructed hospital and COVID-19 test facility in Hebron, in the West Bank, a move that was roundly condemned. “Because demolishing a COVID-19 testing center is totally the best way for Israel to be spending funds right now,” wrote female-led antiwar group CODEPINK, “Seriously, this obsession with destroying Palestine, even at the expense of Israeli coronavirus funding, is sick.” Small donors had raised around $250,000 to build the new center, which was being built in the memory of an elderly Palestinian man who had died of COVID-19 himself. There has also reportedly been a wave of Israeli settlers spitting on Palestinians in efforts to deliberately infect them with the virus.

Israel has reported more than 440,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, while Palestine has registered over 142,000 itself. However, due to the paucity of testing kits and facilities, it is possible this is a serious underestimate.

4.2 million Americans — around 1% of the population — have received the first shot of a coronavirus vaccination, according to the Center for Disease Control. However, the rollout has been fraught with mistakes, with many vaccines being wasted. Even worse, last week, a Wisconsin pharmacist was arrested and accused of deliberately spoiling more than 500 doses of the Moderna vaccine. But while the Trump administration has been held under the spotlight, Israel has been treated more positively in corporate media.

Feature photo | A man wearing a face mask waits to receive a coronavirus vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Jerusalem, Jan. 4, 2021. Oded Balilty | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Media Praise of Israel’s COVID Vaccination Drive a Form of “Medical Apartheid” appeared first on MintPress News.

“No Victory for Press Freedom” – Assange Wins Case but Judge Sets Worrying Precedent

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/01/2021 - 5:03am in

Wikileaks cofounder Julian Assange will not be extradited to the United States, a London court decided this morning. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled that Assange would stay in the United Kingdom over fears for his psychological health. “I find that the mental condition of Mr Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America,” she said, noting that she did not believe the U.S. prison system had the capability to stop him killing himself. The Australian publisher had been facing up to 175 years in a supermax prison if taken to the U.S. The prosecution, representing the U.S. government, immediately announced that it would appeal the decision.

Many of Assange’s allies hailed the decision as a decisive victory for freedom of speech. Greek-Australian economist and former Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis expressed his delight. “A ray of hope seems to have pierced a long, dark shadow over human decency and press freedom,” he tweeted.

Yet many others appeared deeply concerned with the verdict.” This wasn’t a victory for press freedom,” said Glenn Greenwald, a journalist known for publishing leaked documents. “Quite the contrary: the judge made clear she believed there are grounds to prosecute Assange in connection with the 2010 publication.” Other reporters that have covered the case closely agreed. “Brilliant news, but be in no doubt. This ruling is utterly chilling for investigative journalism,” wrote Matt Kennard. “Baraitser sided with U.S. prosecutors on pretty much all of their arguments. It was the barbaric nature of the U.S. penal system that saved Assange.” Meanwhile, John McEvoy suggested that it was only “the integrity of a human’s mental health, and not the right to a free press, was protected today.”

Judge Baraitser made her decision only after dismissing each and every argument made by Assange’s defense team, led by Edward Fitzgerald QC. Sending him to the United States would not breach any laws against extradition for political offenses, she ruled, claiming that she had no doubts that “the usual constitutional and procedural protections” would be in place for him if he were to go there. “This court trusts that a US court will properly consider Mr Assange’s right to free speech” she added. The full decision can be read here. Thus, it was purely on the grounds of Mr. Assange’s potential to commit suicide that she ruled in his favor. Australian journalist John Pilger described the decision as a “face-saving cover” for their “disgraceful” treatment of the 49-year-old.

Others warned that the ruling sent a message to others in the political or media sphere not to challenge the United States. “The full fury and power of empire has been brought down on Julian Assange to demonstrate to the world what happens when you dare to expose the crimes of that empire and its allies. It is terrorism by example so we all think twice,” wrote Rania Khalek of The Grayzone.

Britain Assange

Assange supporters celebrate after a ruling that he cannot be extradited to the US, outside the Old Bailey in London, Jan. 4, 2021. Frank Augstein | AP

Journalists covering the trial have faced constant hostility and intimidation from authorities at every turn. This morning, Reporters Without Borders’ Director of International Campaigns Rebecca Vincent said she had been harassed or questioned by at least 10 different police officers while trying to attend the hearing.

Conditions in American prisons are notorious. Despite having only four percent of the world’s population, the United States accounts for nearly a quarter of the prisoners on the planet. With a sprawling network of over 7,000 detention centers, the U.S. has by far the highest incarceration rate in the world, locking its citizens up at over ten times the rate of European countries like Denmark or Sweden, and over seventeen times that of Japan. Solitary confinement is also commonplace, despite the practice being widely condemned as akin to torture. Authorities were unable to prevent whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who leaked many of the most explosive files to Assange in the first place, from attempting to take her own life while she was incarcerated and in solitary confinement. Baraitser referenced Manning’s case in her decision. “That means the further brutality committed against WikiLeaks’ source played a key part in the U.S. losing their case,” reacted investigative journalist Kevin Gosztola.

Chief among those files was the “Collateral Murder” murder video, images from an American attack helicopter attack on central Baghdad from July 2007. The video shows American personnel massacring at least a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists, in cold blood. Going viral on social media, the images showed the occupation in a completely different light to that of the carefully curated, sanitized one Americans had seen on corporate media. Since then, those who brought it to public attention have been persecuted.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador today announced that his country would offer political asylum to the Australian, citing its long history of protecting whistleblowers and those suffering political persecution. However, Assange will certainly not be going there immediately. Despite ruling against the United States in the hearing, Baraitser sent him back to Belmarsh Prison. On Wednesday the court will decide if he is granted bail. “I had hoped that today would be the day that Julian would come home. Today is not that day. But that day will come soon,” Assange’s partner, Stella Morris, told reporters outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court this morning. “We cannot celebrate today…We will celebrate the day he comes home.”

Feature photo | John Rees from the ‘Free Julian Assange’ campaign speaking outside the Old Bailey after a ruling that Assange cannot be extradited to the United States, in London, Jan. 4, 2021. Kirsty Wigglesworth | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post “No Victory for Press Freedom” – Assange Wins Case but Judge Sets Worrying Precedent appeared first on MintPress News.

“An Israeli Blitzkrieg” Signs Point to Imminent Israeli Military Action in Yemen

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/01/2021 - 4:43am in

ADEN, YEMEN —  Saudi Arabia has rung in the new year in a familiar way, with an airstrike targeting a large gathering of civilians at a wedding ceremony in Yemen. On new year’s night, at least five civilians were killed when Saudi-backed militants launched artillery rounds at a wedding ceremony in the populated al-Hawk area in the strategic port city of Hodeida.

Developments taking place across the Middle East are driving the reality home in Yemen that 2021 is unlikely to bring about an end to Saudi Arabia’s nearly six-year-long war on their country. Signs of escalation are beginning to surface gradually in the Yemeni interior and along the Red Sea in the wake of the wave of normalization between the Gulf states and Tel Aviv.

After nearly six years of war, Yemen remains home to the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Millions are hungry and destitute and at least 80% of the population requires humanitarian assistance or protection. Some 13.5 million people face severe food shortages and that number could rise to 16.2 million in 2021, according to International Relief Bodies. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) raised the alarm about millions of Yemenis risking falling into worsening levels of hunger by mid-2021. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) also described the crisis in Yemen as “the world’s worst.”

The Saudi blockade on what was already one of the poorest countries on earth has entailed tight control over all aspects of life in Yemen since 2015, however, there are no indications that the Saudi blockade of Sana’a International Airport and Hodeida port will be lifted, the most important air and land ports in the country, and the cause of more Yemeni deaths than Saudi airstrikes, especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

An Israeli blitzkrieg

On the ground, signs of escalation are expected to intensify during 2021 as an open military confrontation between Yemen and Israel seems closer than ever in the wake of recent Israel statements, including the statement of the spokesman for the Israeli military, Brigadier General Hidai Zilberman, who revealed to a Saudi website on Saturday the intention of his forces to launch a blitzkrieg in Yemen, confirming that Israel has been monitoring the situation in Yemen and Iraq. The Yemeni people fear that they will pay the price for tensions between Iran and the United States, according to many Yemenis who spoke to MintPress.

Zilberman said in an interview with Saudi news website Elaph that the regime in Tel Aviv expects that an Iranian attack could come from Yemen and Iraq. He referred to Yemen as “Iran`s second circle after Lebanon and Syria.” The recent remarks came after a similar statement made in October by Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister claimed that Iran sought to strike Israel from Yemen using surgical missile strikes.

According to information obtained by MIntPress and confirmed by Yemeni government officials in Sana’a, arrangements, and coordination have been underway between Israel and the Gulf states to escalate the situation in Yemen and justify it as a reaction to an expected Iranian retaliation for the assassination of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, who is revered as a heroic warrior across Yemen. Soleimani was assassinated on January 2020 in a U.S. airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport.

This information has been confirmed by Jalal Al-Ruwaishan, Deputy Prime Minister for Security and Defense Affairs in the Sana’a government when he told local media that Israel began moving military equipment into the region after the recent normalization with Gulf states, including countries participating in the coalition,” referring to the UAE and Bahrain. He added, “what they failed to accomplish within six years, they will not be able to accomplish in a month, even in Biden era.”

Major General Abdullah Al-Hakim, the head of Military Intelligence in Sana’a, said in a statement that the Yemeni Army based in Sana’a is “monitoring the actions and provocations [of Israel] and its planned hostile actions.” Our eyes are not oblivious to the actions of the Zionist enemy in the region,” he said, “and they must understand the seriousness of our warning that any temerity or reckless actions will have dire consequences on Tel Aviv.”

 

The threat of all-out war

A high-ranking official in the Sana’a-based Yemeni Foreign Ministry told MintPress that any Israel attacks or war against Yemen would spark an all-out war in the Middle East and that Israel would be the first to suffer, adding that Israel interests and those of its allies in the Red Sea region would become a legitimate target within the framework of the right of self-defense guaranteed by all international conventions and agreements.

Any Israeli military action in Yemen would undoubtedly lead to an escalation in the region. In the wake of the announcement of Israeli intentions, statements issued by Yemen’s leaders warned of retaliatory attacks on Israel, in the Red Sea, and anywhere else in the region. Given the tone of officials in Sana’a when speaking to MintPress and the fact that the Houthis have not shied away from following through with retaliatory missile and drone attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in addition to the volume of field preparations being made for an open and painful confrontation with Israel, the prospect of Houthi missiles raining down on Israel is very real.

Even to those living in areas under the total control of the Saudi-led Coalition, 2021is not likely to ferry in an end to their suffering, as wealthy Gulf monarchies live up to their storied reputations, wreaking havoc and instability, according to residents of those areas who spoke to MintPress in the wake of the violent explosions that struck recently Aden International airport and Al-Maasheeq Presidential Palace.

Yemen Aden airport

A damaged portion of the airport in the southern city of Aden after an explosion on Dec. 30, 2020, Majid Saleh | AP

Last Wednesday, a large explosion struck the airport in the southern Yemeni city of Aden, run by forces affiliated with the UAE-backed militant group, the Southern Transitional Council (STC), shortly after a plane carrying “the Yemeni government,” which had been newly formed in Ryadh, landed there. At least 25 people, including officials, were killed and 110 were wounded in the blast. Moments after the attack on the Aden International Airport, blasts struck Aden’s Al-Ma’asheeq district, where just moments earlier the newly-formed government was transferred.

Although Saudi Arabia’s allies accused the Houthis of the attacks, and the Houthis categorically rejected the accusation. The attacks came after factions affiliated with the Southern Movement loyal to the UAE pledged to thwart the self-proclaimed cabinet after they returned to Aden from Ryadh where they were mostly working under enforced detention.

 

Under Biden, the bombs will keep coming

Most in Yemen are condemned to a gloomy future, not only due to the developments on the ground but also because of the flurry of approvals given by the United States to both the Saudi-led Coalitions and Israel. Approvals for arms sales have been given to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. countries with an appalling record of human rights abuses who are still launching a war against the poorest country in the Middle East.

These approvals, which will likely go ignored by Congress despite a growing revolt to the sales from the U.S. public, include $290 million worth of bombs, a final gift by President Donald Trump’s administration. On Tuesday, the State Department’s defense security cooperation agency approved the sale of GBU-39 small-diameter bombs to Saudi Arabia. The approvals also include the proposed $65.6 million sale of advanced drones and F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, a reward for that country’s normalization of ties with Israel.

Incoming president Joe Biden has expressed some opposition to Saudi Arabia’s malign actions in Yemen, but most Yemenis see little chance that 2021 will bring positive changes by Biden given the current geopolitical reality in the Middle East. That reality includes the sanctity of the U.S. relationship with Israel, Saudi funds, and fever of normalization between Arab countries and Israel sweeping across the Middle East and perhaps most importantly, the ongoing obsession from concurrent U.S. administrations and from Riyadh and Abu Dhabi with trying to contain so-called “Iranian influence” in the Middle East and linking the war in Yemen with that effort.

Regardless of who was behind actually the recent explosions in Aden, there are obvious signs of escalation, meaning that war in Yemen will likely continue to escalate in 2021 and that more Yemenis will lose their lives, more people will become internally displaced, the spread of epidemics will continue unabated, more cities, hospitals, and schools will be destroyed, and millions of helpless families will be left with no means of sustenance.

Though there are international calls to end the war on Yemen as well as indirect talks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, few are holding out hope that they can bring an end to the bitter Yemeni war in 2021. Indeed, Saudi warplanes still regularly launch airstrikes across the northern regions of Yemen. On Thursday, at least 15 airstrikes hit populated areas in Sana’a, including the Sana`a International Airport, the Rima Hamid of Sanhan District, and Wadi Rajam in the Bani Hushaish District, east Sana’a. In retaliation for the ongoing war and blockade, the Houthi-allied Yemen Army, which possesses in its arsenal advanced military watercraft, threatened Saudi oil tankers on the Red Sea in the context of a military campaign that it launched two months ago in a bid to pressure the Kingdom to end its devastating war.

Feature photo | A worker stands on the wreckage of a tire store hit by Saudi air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen, December 02, 2020. Photo | Reuters

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

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I Observed Venezuela’s Elections Firsthand: Here’s What the US Media Got Wrong

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/01/2021 - 2:51am in

In early December, I traveled to Venezuela to serve as an election observer during the country’s national assembly election. I was part of a group of eight people from Canada and the United States organized by CodePink. There were about two hundred international observers in total, including the Latin American Council of Electoral Experts. I have served as an official election observer in Honduras and was an unofficial observer during Venezuela’s 2015 national assembly election.

 

Meeting opposition leaders

Before the election, our small group met with eight leaders from the Democratic Alliance, a major opposition coalition. Pedro Jose Rojas of Accion Democratica told us that U.S. sanctions were not doing what they claimed. Instead, he said, they are hurting average citizens. Bruno Gallo of Avanca Progressista proclaimed Venezuela needs negotiation, not confrontation. Juan Carlos Alvarado of the Christian Democratic Party said that Venezuelans have been “victims of politics,” and that dialogue and flexibility are needed.

Several leaders spoke about the importance of the national assembly and emphasized that the road to change is through voting, not violence. They expressed a desire for better relations with the U.S but said that Venezuelan sovereignty needs to be respected.  The common request was to end U.S. sanctions and interference in Venezuelan politics.

We visited a factory where voting machines were assembled, tested, and certified. The staff was openly proud of their work. Last March, nearly all pre-existing voting machines were destroyed in a massive fire at the main election warehouse, sparking calls to delay the December election. But in six months, forty thousand new computers were ordered, built, assembled, tested, and certified in time for the December election.

 

The process

On election day, Sunday, December 6, we began a tour of election sites. Typically, the voting takes place at a school, with five to ten classrooms designated as “mesas,” and each voter goes to his or her designated mesa.”

The voting process was quick and efficient, with bio-safety sanitation at each step. Voters first showed their identity cards and confirmed their identity with fingerprint recognition. Step two was to cast a ballot on a touchscreen computer and receive a paper receipt. Step three was to verify that the receipt matches the voting choice and deposit the receipt in a ballot box. Finally, voters would sign and put their fingerprints on the voting registry. The entire process took about three minutes.

As election day closed, we observed the process of tabulating the votes. At each mesa, (with observers from other parties present) paper receipts were recorded one by one, and at the end, the results were compared to the digital count and then transmitted to the headquarters for overall tabulation.

Election results were announced by the Council for National Election (CNE) which manages the entire process.  CNE leaders are not permitted to be members of any party and the CNE leadership was recently changed at the request of the opposition. In our discussion with leading opposition members, we did hear complaints about incumbent party advantages but it was acknowledged the election process is free, fair and honest.

 

A PBS Newshour special

After having experienced Venezuela’s election firsthand, on December 29 I watched a PBS Newshour segment about that election and the overall situation in Venezuela. PBS reporter Marcia Biggs told how “Maduro’s party essentially ran unopposed in this month’s election.” This, despite my personal meetings with the very opposition parties that were participating in those same elections.

In fact, there were 107 parties and over 14,000 individuals competing in the December 6 election for 277 national assembly seats. While eight parties were in alliance with the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), there were over 90 opposition parties. The strongest opposition coalition was the Democratic Alliance comprising seven opposition parties and winning 1.1 million votes (18% of the vote). The LEFT opposition to the PSUV, under the banner of the Communist Party of Venezuela, received just 168,000 votes.

Reporter Marcia Biggs claimed that “politics permeates everything in Venezuela and can determine whether you support Maduro and eat or go hungry.” This claim is based on a campaign statement by PSUV Vice President Diosdado Cabello encouraging people to vote. Cabello facetiously said that women are in the forefront, and can say to their family, “No vote, no food.” His statement has been distorted out of all meaning and context.

The PBS report showed video of a fistfight in the national assembly, implying that it was the Venezuelan government. But, as the GrayZone reported in “Juan Guaido surreal regime change reality show,” the fight was actually between competing factions of the Venezuelan opposition.

When PBS showed Guaido climbing over a fence, they failed to mention that he was pulling off a publicity stunt to distract from the embarrassing news that Luis Parra was elected Speaker of the national assembly following Guaido’s own claim to be “interim president” was based on him being Speaker.

Election turnout was indeed lower than usual at 31%, yet this is likely due to the election taking place amid the pandemic and the fact that millions of registered voters have had to leave the country due to economic hardship. Transportation in Venezuela is also difficult due to gasoline scarcity. This was also a national assembly election, equivalent to a U.S. mid-term election, which typically generates a lower turnout. Still, 95% of voting-eligible Venezuelans are registered voters compared to just 67% in the U.S. Thus a turnout of 50% of registered voters in the U.S. equates to only 33% of eligible voters.

 

Election meddling in Venezuela

The star of PBS’s seven-minute report is Roberto Patino, the Venezuelan director of a food distribution charity. The report neglects to mention that Patino is associated with a major U.S. foreign policy institution. He is a Millennium Leadership fellow and so-called expert at the neoliberal Atlantic Council where the regime change goals in Venezuela are clear. His food charity “Alimenta la Solidaridad” is allied with Rescue Venezuela, funded by the U.S. with the apparent goal of undermining the Venezuelan government and promoting “interim president Juan Guaido.”

Patino says the Venezuelan government is “very paranoid and they see conspiracies all over.” Paranoia is defined as a mental condition wherein there is fear of imaginary threats. But U.S. threats and aggression against Venezuela are not imaginary; they are very real.

In 2002 the U.S. supported the kidnapping and coup against the popular and elected President Hugo Chavez. The years have gone by, but U.S. hostility persists.

* In August 2018 there was a drone assassination attempt on the Venezuelan President.

* In January 2019, the U.S. declared that it would not recognize the elected President Maduro and instead recognized Juan Guaido as “interim president.”  His background is described in the article “The Making of Juan Guaido: How the U.S. regime-change laboratory created Venezuela’s coup leader”

* In February 2019, President Trump threatened military intervention against Venezuela.

* In March 2019, there was a massive power blackout caused by sabotage of the electrical grid, with probable U.S. involvement.

*In May 2020, two former U.S. Special Forces soldiers and other mercenaries were arrested in a failed attempt to overthrow President Maduro.

* In June 2020, the U.S. Navy warship Nitze began provocative “freedom of navigation” patrols along the Venezuelan coast.

* In August 2020, the U.S. seized four ships carrying much-needed gasoline to Venezuela.

* In September 2020, in an attempt to undermine the Venezuelan election, the U.S. imposed sanctions on political leaders who planned to participate.

* The U.S. 2021 stimulus bill includes $33 million for “democracy programs for Venezuela.”

Based on the past twenty years, Venezuela’s government has good reason to be on guard against U.S. threats, meddling, and intervention. The PBS program ignores this history.

Another hero of the report is exiled politician Leopoldo Lopez. He was imprisoned in 2014 for instigating street violence known as guarimbas, which led to the deaths of 43 people.

Like Patino, Lopez is from the Venezuelan elite, studied in the U.S., and has major public relations support in the U.S. Like Guaido, Lopez is more popular in Washington than in his home country.

 

Will the US respect Venezuela’s sovereignty?

If the PBS Newshour reporters sought objectivity, members of the moderate opposition in Venezuela would have been interviewed. Viewers could have heard Democratic Alliance leaders explain why they participated in the election and why they are critical of U.S. economic sanctions and U.S. interference in their domestic affairs. That would have been educational for viewers.

On January 5, the newly elected national assembly will commence in Venezuela. The fig leaf pretense of Juan Guaido as “interim president” of Venezuela will be removed because he is no longer in the national assembly.  In fact, he was removed as speaker of the national assembly one year ago.

But viewers of the PBS special did not learn this. Instead, they received a biased report ignoring the moderate opposition and promoting a few U.S.-backed elites. PBS ignored and denigrated the efforts of millions of Venezuelans who carried out and participated in an election that compares favorably with the election process in the U.S. You would never know it from PBS, and you might not believe it unless you saw it with your own eyes, as I did.

Feature photo | A voter casts her ballot during elections to choose members of the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, Dec. 6, 2020. Matias Delacroix | AP

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist based in the San Fransico Bay Area of California. He can be contacted at rsterling1@protonmail.com

The post I Observed Venezuela’s Elections Firsthand: Here’s What the US Media Got Wrong appeared first on MintPress News.

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