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Kafka on Steroids: Summarising the Extradition Hearing of Julian Assange

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 08/10/2020 - 3:03am in

[This is the second in a trilogy. The first, ‘‘Kafka on Acid’, covered the opening of Assange’s evidentiary hearing. The title of the third piece might be ‘Kafka on Amphetamines’ or maybe ‘Kafka Goes to Rehab’, depending on the final judgment handed down on 4 January 2021.] 

Who doesn’t miss hearing the news from Mary Kostakidis? For the last four weeks, from seven at night until three in the morning in Australia, she has reported up-to-the-minute news of the Assange extradition hearing via Twitter. On 7 September, the first day of this resumed COVID-delayed hearing that commenced in February, district judge Vanessa Baraitser revoked the approval given to forty political and human rights organisations to follow proceedings. The interested public were forced instead to rely on the furious typing of a handful of journalists granted access to a video stream, among them @MaryKostakidis, @kgosztola @jamesdoleman, @richimedhurst, @jlpassarelli and @tareqhaddad, and the blogs of former UK ambassador Craig Murray, the Courage Foundation and Bridges for Media Freedom, each of which summarises all witnesses and describes the mood of the court.

Books will be written about the last four weeks; in fact, one could emerge from each of the detailed and substantive witness statements. Books will need to be written, both because open justice was prevented but so much was revealed, and because the fate of press freedom and national-security journalism hangs in the balance. If a precedent is set that allows the United States to assert its laws (but none of its legal protections) over non-citizens publishing outside the United States, press freedom and national-security journalism will never be the same again.

What also hangs in the balance is Julian Assange’s life. Will he walk free into the arms of his partner, family and friends? Or will his life end in Belmarsh prison in the United Kingdom, where a second wave of COVID-19 threatens prisoners and staff alike, or in ADX Florence, the cruellest of US supermax prisons, the architecture of which was designed to isolate and destroy human beings, as described in chilling detail in the testimony of a former prison warden and several lawyers who visit prisoners there. 

The case is extremely complex—politically, technically, legally—and with so much at stake the defence team packed in a great many powerful and moving witnesses. Prominent people such as Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg provided political testimony, computer and forensic experts provided technical evidence, and many lawyers and journalists explained the grounds for why Assange should not be extradited for publishing and journalistic activity.

The four-week evidentiary hearing finally set the historical record straight, with so many elements of the story now officially on the record. Here is what the court heard:

  • The prosecution of Assange and WikiLeaks is political. The significance of the Obama administration ruling out prosecution of Assange and WikiLeaks due to the press-freedom implications was again underlined. The testimony of human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson reinforced the political nature of the prosecution: the Trump administration offered Assange a pardon if he would reveal his sources for the DNC leak. Soon after Assange refused to reveal sources and reminded the emissary of First Amendment principles, the Trump administration prosecution was stepped up, with the testimony of Cassandra Fairbanks revealing that Trump himself was giving orders to proceed. In addition, the judge stated an intention on 26 September to issue a decision after the US election: ‘I agree that one way or the other my decision will come after an election in the United States’. Could it get more political? This is significant because the United Kingdom–United States Extradition Treaty prohibits extradition for political offences.
  • The conduct of US government agencies in surveilling Assange’s meetings with lawyers, and the seizure of legally privileged material from the embassy by the FBI is illegal. To protect their security, the judge allowed anonymous testimony from two members of UC Global, the firm initially hired by Ecuador and then engaged by US intelligence to spy on Assange, with particular emphasis on his meetings with lawyers, doctors and Ecuadorian officials. Seizing Assange’s property has fatally undermined his defence because the documents in the embassy contained his defence. It’s important to recall that the case against Ellsberg for releasing the Pentagon Papers was thrown out with prejudice due to the abuse of process entailed in the bugging of his phone, the raiding of his psychiatrist, and offering the judge directorship of the FBI. The judge deemed the case so blighted that there was no possibility to appeal.
  • The health of Assange is gravely compromised and would be broken in the US system under Special Administrative Measures (SAMS). While Assange has proven resilient and remarkably focused, the attempts to grind him down through lawfare and endless delay are having an effect. Material admitted into evidence on his failing health and how it would be further eroded in the US prison and justice system was deeply disturbing. In one of few sympathetic rulings, the judge refused to release those statements to the press. Recognising the private and personal nature of physical and psychological health evidence provided to the court, many journalists refused to amplify the details, but it is known that Assange has Asperger’s syndrome and is on the autism spectrum. And who wouldn’t be depressed? This softly spoken intellectual has been in a maximum-security prison built to house murderers and terrorists for over a year for daring to combine technology with journalistic practice and honouring the trust of whistle-blowers who relied on his platform to publish their material in order to bring about reform. His tiny children are growing up without him and his older children have missed their father for a decade. He hasn’t seen a sunset or experienced a moment unwatched for over a decade. The health material is significant to the legal decision in the United Kingdom, given the precedents of both Lauri Love and Gary McKinnon that saw their extradition to the United States from the United Kingdom prevented on health grounds.
  • Assange and WikiLeaks engaged in journalistic activity, including meticulous redaction processes. – This was recounted over three days of evidence by senior, award-winning journalists, underlining the enormous journalistic value, insight and public-policy change brought about because of WikiLeaks publishing. Partners and eyewitnesses to WikiLeaks publishing practice and the security preoccupations of Assange (at the time viewed as excessive and paranoid) overturned years of myth making about WikiLeaks ‘dumping’ materials online and Assange taking no care. There can now be no doubt that it was the cavalier approach of two Guardian journalists—Luke Harding and David Leigh—that undid nine months of redaction when they published the password of the diplomatic cables. In addition, hard forensic evidence was provided that WikiLeaks published the cables after other outlets (Cryptome and Pirate Bay) had already done so.
  • No harm was done by WikiLeaks, but enormous harm was revealed. Testimony after testimony shone light on how WikiLeaks published information on countless thousands of dead, droned and maimed in war, the renditioned and tortured, rather than revealing the identity of US government informants, about which the US government is still unable to provide any evidence. WikiLeaks publishing has revealed war crimes, torture, crimes against humanity, and corruption. Embarrassing the powerful is the harm for which the publisher is on trial, while those who have committed the crimes revealed are free to strike again, to profit again and to continue killing in cold blood. This is not hyperbole, but rather a summary of harrowing detail provided to the court of war, death, atrocity and murder, including the 15,000 dead Iraqi people unaccounted for among the one million Iraqis known to have died from the 2003 war based on lies. The court heard about a family killed there in cold blood, with an air strike called in to level the house and erase evidence. The court heard from a torture victim, Khalid El Masri, a German citizen plucked off the street while on holiday, renditioned to a black site and tortured by the CIA. He was then dumped in Albania when the US government realised a mistake had been made. When this was confirmed through WikiLeaks publications, the suffering and torture of this man was recognised by the European Court of Human Rights. Had it not been revealed, no one would have cared. We heard about the reform brought about when cynical statements by the Prime Minister of Pakistan on US drone strikes were revealed: ‘We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it’. This wasn’t possible after Pakistani citizens knew that their lives were seen as so expendable. These are just some of the examples provided on the horrors of the Afghan and Iraq wars that show that WikiLeaks revealed rather than did harm.
  • Computer forensic evidence was among the most significant in demolishing the hacking allegations. Evidence provided by Patrick Eller, a digital forensics expert employed for two decades by the US army, reminded the court that Chelsea Manning’s prosecution failed to find any proof of Assange’s involvement. While Manning has admitted to her identity in the chat logs, it has never been proven that the Nathaniel Frank of the chat logs was indeed Assange. This demolishes one of the central accusations in the indictment: that Assange was aiding or conspiring to procure documents and anonymising the source.

The four weeks of the hearing were very emotionally and psychologically draining, and not only for those of us up all night in the Antipodes screaming in frustration at yet another technical bungle. Assange has waited a decade for his day in court, only to be confronted by a shambles. To instruct his lawyers, Assange had to wave to get attention and then get on his knees and whisper through a crack in a glass box at the back of the courtroom at the Old Bailey. That he was kept from sitting with his lawyers was an indignity and a basic violation of due process. Even murderers and terrorists get to privately instruct their lawyers, but not this publisher. 

That the prosecution derided and insulted every witness was probably par for the course, but it also provoked much anger and distress. Such behaviour indicated desperation and duly backfired; James Lewis, appearing for the prosecution, apologised more than once to the judge for intemperate language and losing his temper. The fact that witnesses were, over and over, provided with hundreds of pages by the prosecution to digest only hours before the witness appeared was an obvious abuse of process.

Assange’s voice was heard only in protest. For example, when El Masri was prevented from providing his own testimony Assange loudly stated, ‘I will not accept you censoring a torture victim’s statement to this court’. I found it very moving that El Masri was willing to risk further intimidation and exposure to testify for Assange, and that Assange risked the ire of the judge in continuing to stand up for El Masri.

Blinder and greyer than I was a month ago, I’m also bursting with admiration for journalists like Mary Kostakidis, and for Assange’s magnificent legal team, who mounted steep obstacles to combine evidence and testimony that should see Assange walk free. Great admiration is also owed to the small core of courageous people who have stuck by Assange for a decade at some peril, and the loud supporters who have gathered, rain, hail or shine, at every court hearing, including hundreds of events that were held around the world during the last four weeks. Each and every action, from the hanging of a banner on the Puffing Billy railway trestle bridge, to the yellow ribbons tied on trees, to the street theatre outside the Sydney Town Hall, to the courage of Stella Moris, cumulatively loads. The circle of support is growing by the day, even among former adversaries, a consensus from the mainstream to the fringe press and broader public that must keep growing to Free Julian Assange.

Eyewitness to the Agony of Julian Assange

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/10/2020 - 8:56pm in

Journalist John Pilger has spent the last three weeks watching Julian Assange’s extradition trial at London’s Old Bailey. He spoke with Arena Online’s editor, Timothy Erik Ström:

Q:  Having watched Julian Assange’s trial firsthand, can you describe the prevailing atmosphere in the court?

The prevailing atmosphere has been shocking. I say that without hesitation; I have sat in many courts and seldom known such a corruption of due process; this is due revenge. Putting aside the ritual associated with ‘British justice’, at times it has been evocative of a Stalinist show trial. One difference is that in the show trials, the defendant stood in the court proper. In the Assange trial, the defendant was caged behind thick glass, and had to crawl on his knees to a slit in the glass, overseen by his guard, to make contact with his lawyers. His message, whispered barely audibly through face masks, was then passed by post-it the length of the court to where his barristers were arguing the case against his extradition to an American hellhole.

Consider this daily routine of Julian Assange, an Australian on trial for truth-telling journalism. He was woken at five o’clock in his cell at Belmarsh prison in the bleak southern sprawl of London. The first time I saw Julian in Belmarsh, having passed through half an hour of ‘security’ checks, including a dog’s snout in my rear, I found a painfully thin figure sitting alone wearing a yellow armband. He had lost more than 10 kilos in a matter of months; his arms had no muscle. His first words were: ‘I think I am losing my mind’.

I tried to assure him he wasn’t. His resilience and courage are formidable, but there is a limit. That was more than a year ago. In the past three weeks, in the pre-dawn, he was strip-searched, shackled, and prepared for transport to the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, in a truck that his partner, Stella Moris, described as an upended coffin. It  had one small window; he had to stand precariously to look out. The truck and its guards were operated by Serco, one of many politically connected companies that run much of Boris Johnson’s Britain.

The journey to the Old Bailey took at least an hour and a half. That’s a minimum of three hours being jolted through snail-like traffic every day. He was led into his narrow cage at the back of the court, then look up, blinking, trying to make out faces in the public gallery through the reflection of the glass. He saw the courtly figure of his dad, John Shipton, and me, and our fists went up. Through the glass, he reached out to touch fingers with Stella, who is a lawyer and seated in the body of the court.

We were here for the ultimate of what the philosopher Guy Debord called The Society of the Spectacle: a man fighting for his life. Yet his crime is to have performed an epic public service: revealing that which we have a right to know: the lies of our governments and the crimes they commit in our name. His creation of WikiLeaks and its failsafe protection of sources revolutionised journalism, restoring it to the vision of its idealists. Edmund Burke’s notion of free journalism as a fourth estate is now a fifth estate that shines a light on those who diminish the very meaning of democracy with their criminal secrecy. That’s why his punishment is so extreme.

The sheer bias in the courts I have sat in this year and last year, with Julian in the dock, blight any notion of British justice. When thuggish police dragged him from his asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy—look closely at the photo and you’ll see he is clutching a Gore Vidal book; Assange has a political humour similar to Vidal’s—a judge gave him an outrageous 50-week sentence in a maximum-security prison for mere bail infringement.

For months, he was denied exercise and held in solitary confinement disguised as ‘heath care’. He once told me he strode the length of his cell, back and forth, back and forth, for his own half-marathon. In the next cell, the occupant screamed through the night. At first he was denied his reading glasses, left behind in the embassy brutality. He was denied the legal documents with which to prepare his case, and access to the prison library and the use of a basic laptop. Books sent to him by a friend, the journalist Charles Glass, himself a survivor of hostage-taking in Beirut, were returned. He could not call his American lawyers. He has been constantly medicated by the prison authorities. When I asked him what they were giving him, he couldn’t say. The governor of Belmarsh has been awarded the Order of the British Empire.

At the Old Bailey, one of the expert medical witnesses, Dr Kate Humphrey, a clinical neuropsychologist at Imperial College, London, described the damage: Julian’s intellect had gone from ‘in the superior, or more likely very superior range’ to ‘significantly below’ this optimal level, to the point where he was struggling to absorb information and ‘perform in the low average range’.

This is what the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Nils Melzer, calls ‘psychological torture’, the result of a gang-like ‘mobbing’ by governments and their media shills. Some of the expert medical evidence is so shocking I have no intention of repeating it here. Suffice to say that Assange is diagnosed with autism and Asperger’s syndrome and, according to Professor Michael Kopelman, one of the world’s leading neuropsychiatrists, he suffers from ‘suicidal preoccupations’ and is likely to find a way to take his life if he is extradited to America.

James Lewis QC, America’s British prosecutor, spent the best part of his cross-examination of Professor Kopelman dismissing mental illness and its dangers as ‘malingering’. I have never heard in a modern setting such a primitive view of human frailty and vulnerability.

My own view is that if Assange is freed, he is likely to recover a substantial part of his life. He has a loving partner, devoted friends and allies and the innate strength of a principled political prisoner. He also has a wicked sense of humour.

But that is a long way off. The moments of collusion between the judge—or magistrate, a Gothic-looking Vanessa Baraitser, about whom little is known—and the prosecution acting for the Trump regime have been brazen. Until the last few days, defence arguments have been routinely dismissed. The lead prosecutor, James Lewis QC, ex SAS and currently Chief Justice of the Falklands, by and large gets what he wants, notably up to four hours to denigrate expert witnesses, while the defence’s examination is guillotined at half an hour. I have no doubt, had there been a jury, his freedom would be assured.

The dissident artist Ai Weiwei came to join us one morning in the public gallery. He noted that in China the judge’s decision would already have been made. This caused some dark ironic amusement. My companion in the gallery, the astute diarist and former British ambassador Craig Murray wrote:

I fear that all over London a very hard rain is now falling on those who for a lifetime have worked within institutions of liberal democracy that at least broadly and usually used to operate within the governance of their own professed principles. It has been clear to me from Day 1 that I am watching a charade unfold. It is not in the least a shock to me that Baraitser does not think anything beyond the written opening arguments has any effect. I have again and again reported to you that, where rulings have to be made, she has brought them into court pre-written, before hearing the arguments before her.

I strongly expect the final decision was made in this case even before opening arguments were received.

The plan of the US Government throughout has been to limit the information available to the public and limit the effective access to a wider public of what information is available. Thus we have seen the extreme restrictions on both physical and video access. A complicit mainstream media has ensured those of us who know what is happening are very few in the wider population.

There are few records of the proceedings. They are: Craig Murray’s personal blog, Joe Lauria’s live reporting on Consortium News and the World Socialist Website. American journalist Kevin Gosztola’s blog, Shadowproof, funded mostly by himself, has reported more of the trial than the major US press and TV, including CNN, combined.

In Australia, Assange’s homeland, the ‘coverage’ follows a familiar formula set overseas. The London correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald, Latika Bourke, wrote this recently:

The court heard Assange became depressed during the seven years he spent in the Ecuadorian embassy where he sought political asylum to escape extradition to Sweden to answer rape and sexual assault charges.

There were no ‘rape and sexual assault charges’ in Sweden.Bourke’s lazy falsehood is not uncommon. If the Assange trial is the political trial of the century, as I believe it is, its outcome will not only seal the fate of a journalist for doing his job but intimidate the very principles of free journalism and free speech. The absence of serious mainstream reporting of the proceedings is, at the very least, self-destructive. Journalists should ask: who is next?

Check out the most recent edition of our flagship publication Arena.

How shaming it all is. A decade ago, the Guardian exploited Assange’s work, claimed its profit and prizes as well as a lucrative Hollywood deal, then turned on him with venom. Throughout the Old Bailey trial, two names have been cited by the prosecution, the Guardian’s David Leigh, now retired as ‘investigations editor’ and Luke Harding, the Russiaphobe and author of a fictional Guardianscoop’ that claimed Trump adviser Paul Manafort and a group of Russians visited Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy. This never happened, and the Guardian has yet to apologise. The Harding and Leigh book on Assange—written behind their subject’s back—disclosed a secret password to a WikiLeaks file that Assange had entrusted to Leigh during the Guardian’s ‘partnership’. Why the defence has not called this pair is difficult to understand. 

Assange is quoted in their book declaring during a dinner at a London restaurant that he didn’t care if informants named in the leaks were harmed. Neither Harding nor Leigh was at the dinner. John Goetz, an investigations reporter with Der Spiegel, was at the dinner and testified that Assange said nothing of the kind. Incredibly, Judge Baraitser stopped Goetz actually saying this in court.

However, the defence has succeeded in demonstrating the extent to which Assange sought to protect and redact names in the files released by WikiLeaks and that no credible evidence existed of individuals harmed by the leaks. The great whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg said that Assange had personally redacted 15,000 files. The renowned New Zealand investigative journalist Nicky Hager, who worked with Assange on the Afghanistan and Iraq war leaks, described how Assange took ‘extraordinary precautions in redacting names of informants’.

Q: What are the implications of this trial’s verdict for journalism more broadly—is it an omen of things to come?

The ‘Assange effect’ is already being felt across the world. If they displease the regime in Washington, investigative journalists are liable to prosecution under the 1917 US Espionage Act; the precedent is stark. It doesn’t matter where you are. For Washington, other people’s nationality and sovereignty rarely mattered; now it does not exist. Britain has effectively surrendered its jurisdiction to Trump’s corrupt Department of Justice. In Australia, a National Security Information Act promises Kafkaesque trials for transgressors. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has been raided by police and journalists’ computers taken away. The government has given unprecedented powers to intelligence officials, making journalistic whistle-blowing almost impossible. Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Assange ‘must face the music’. The perfidious cruelty of his statement is reinforced by its banality.

‘Evil’, wrote Hannah Arendt, ‘comes from a failure to think. It defies thought for as soon as thought tries to engage itself with evil and examine the premises and principles from which it originates, it is frustrated because it finds nothing there. That is the banality of evil’.

Q: Having followed the story of WikiLeaks closely for a decade, how has this eyewitness experience shifted your understanding of what’s at stake with Assange’s trial?

I have long been a critic of journalism as an echo of unaccountable power and a champion of those who are beacons. So, for me, the arrival of WikiLeaks was exciting; I admired the way Assange regarded the public with respect, that he was prepared to share his work with the ‘mainstream’ but not join their collusive club. This, and naked jealousy, made him enemies among the overpaid and undertalented, insecure in their pretensions of independence and impartiality.

I admired the moral dimension to WikiLeaks. Assange was rarely asked about this, yet much of his remarkable energy comes from a powerful moral sense that governments and other vested interests should not operate behind walls of secrecy. He is a democrat. He explained this in one of our first interviews at my home in 2010.  

What is at stake for the rest of us has long been at stake: freedom to call authority to account, freedom to challenge, to call out hypocrisy, to dissent. The difference today is that the world’s imperial power, the United States, has never been as unsure of its metastatic authority as it is today. Like a flailing rogue, it is spinning us towards a world war if we allow it. Little of this menace is reflected in the media.

WikiLeaks, on the other hand, has allowed us to glimpse a rampant imperial march through whole societies—think of the carnage in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, to name a few, the dispossession of 37 million people and the deaths of 12 million men, women and children in the ‘war on terror’—most of it behind a façade of deception. 

Julian Assange is a threat to these recurring horrors—that’s why he is being persecuted, why a court of law has become an instrument of oppression, why he ought to be our collective conscience: why we all should be the threat.

The judge’s decision will be known on the 4th of January.

As His Extradition Trial Drags on, Media and Rights Groups Are Still Ignoring Julian Assange

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/09/2020 - 4:21am in

The extradition case of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange continues in London. The U.S. government is indicting the Australian living on the other side of the world under its own Espionage Act, with the case widely seen as setting an important precedent for freedom of speech and of the media worldwide.

Yet as the case reaches its pinnacle, a number of press freedom groups have gone silent on the matter. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has not mentioned Assange in months, on either its website or its Twitter account. London-based PEN International has only one article this year on the Australian and appears to have gone quiet since July. The CPJ has also refused to include him among its list of jailed journalists, arguing that Wikileaks’ role is more that of a publisher. While this could be debatable, the omission of by far the most famous and influential of the world’s 248 imprisoned media figures could be seen as a politically calculated decision.

Big media outlets seem just as uninterested in the U.S. government’s attempts to capture the man who released hundreds of thousands of documents detailing American war crimes, including the deliberate killing of two Reuters journalists. The New York Times, for instance, has published only two articles on the subject, and nothing in eleven days. But the Times’ coverage is better than most outlets, with nothing whatsoever in CNN, and MSNBC’s entire coverage amounting to one sentence, which discussed the DNC hacks, but not the hearing.

To be fair to the media, the conditions the U.K. government has set for the case make it absurdly difficult for journalists to follow. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that public access is highly restricted, while only a small handful of journalists are allowed into the courtroom every day. Journalists wishing to watch live proceedings must register as journalists and log in between exactly 9:30 and 9:40 a.m. If they miss the time, they cannot access the session, and if they disconnect at any time, even because of a momentary lapse in wifi, they are shut out of the system. Journalists have complained throughout Assange’s cases of poor connections and an inability to hear anything during proceedings. That has not stopped the committed, however, with smaller organizations continuing to report the proceedings live.

In recent days the argument between the prosecution and the defense has revolved around Assange’s mental state. A psychiatrist on the U.S.’ government’s side told the Old Bailey yesterday that he believes Assange to be a “resilient” character with only “mild clinical depression” and would therefore be able to “resist any suicidal impulse” were he to be sent to the U.S. Assange is facing up to 175 years in a Colorado supermax jail, sometimes described as one of the few blacksites on American soil. Inmates at the center are regularly force fed and are barred from sharing their stories.

On the other hand, a doctor who treated him while he was forced to live in the Ecuadorian embassy in London stressed her dismay at his deterioration while being held in Belmarsh Prison. “I think Mr. Assange is at very high risk of completing a suicide if he were to be extradited,” she told the judge.

Julian Assange Ecaudor

Assange, left, with Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, June 16, 2013. Frank Augstein | AP

The Assange case has enormous ramifications for the future of press freedom. The government has included a great many standard journalistic procedures — such as protecting sources’ names, using encrypted files, and encouraging sources to leak more to them — among its reasons for indictment. This, many have argued, would essentially criminalize investigative journalism. Trevor Timm, a co-founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, told the courtroom that if Assange is prosecuted, then every journalist who has possessed a secret or leaked file — the lifeblood of the industry — could be charged.

Speaking to German filmmakers, ex-CIA Director Leon Panetta was remarkably blunt about the U.S.’ goal: “All you can do is hope you can ultimately take action against those that were involved in revealing that information so you can send a message to others not to do the same thing,” he said, strongly implying that the indictment is politically motivated and a warning to others who might challenge the empire.

Unfortunately, many of the mainstream rights groups that the world relies on to lead on matters of importance have a mixed history when it comes to directly opposing Washington’s agenda. Human Rights Watch (HRW), for instance, carried water for the U.S.-backed coup in Bolivia last year, its director, Kenneth Roth, describing it as a “transitional moment” and an “uprising,” rather than the manifestly more appropriate word, “coup.” HRW also described the new military government’s law giving all security forces complete immunity from prosecution merely a “problematic decree,” rather than a license to massacre, which is exactly what they did immediately.

HRW has not discussed Assange for nearly 18 months, the most recent result on its website dated May 2019 (although this was a clear defense of his rights). Amnesty International, on the other hand, has forcefully condemned the U.S. attempt and has been repeatedly blocked in its attempts to have its fair trial monitors enter the courtroom. “This hearing is the latest worrying salvo in a full-scale assault on the right to freedom of expression,” said Amnesty’s Europe Director, Nils Muižnieks.

Feature photo | People queue at the entrance of the Old Bailey court in London, Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, as the Julian Assange extradition hearing to the US continues. Frank Augstein | 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 As His Extradition Trial Drags on, Media and Rights Groups Are Still Ignoring Julian Assange appeared first on MintPress News.

“A Disgrace”: Amnesty International Blocked From Monitoring Trial of Julian Assange

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/09/2020 - 3:43am in

The high profile extradition hearing of publisher and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange continued in Central London today. But it did so without oversight from international human rights groups. Julia Hall, an expert on criminal justice and human rights for Amnesty International, revealed that her organization was again denied entry to the court today, despite their repeated requests to be recognized as fair trial monitors.

Fair trial monitors are a critical component to upholding transparency and regulation in courtrooms across the world, reminding authorities that independent witnesses are scrutinizing them. Hall noted that Amnesty monitors have been recognized as international fair trial monitors for cases in many repressive states, including Bahrain and Turkey, and even oversaw cases at Guantanamo Bay. “It is a disgrace that the UK has failed to recognize that international fair trial monitors should be officially recognized and permitted access to the Assange hearings. Open justice is not served by this failure, it is profoundly undermined,” she wrote.

Amnesty International’s Europe Director, Nils Muižnieks, described the hearing as a “full-scale assault on the right to freedom of expression,” noting that if he were prosecuted, it would have a “chilling effect on media freedom, leading publishers and journalists to self-censor in fear of retaliation.” Hall added that it was not only Assange who was on trial but the fundamental tenets of media freedom. Amnesty also warned that an international smear campaign against him had threatened his right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Britain would also be breaking its obligation to international human rights law by transferring the Australian to a known human rights abusing nation, according to the organization.

Assange is charged with violating the US Espionage Act and 17 counts of publishing secret American government information. If extradited from the United Kingdom, he faces up to 175 years in a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, described as the only “black site” on U.S. soil. Yet prosecutors today argued that, in reality, he would be unlikely to serve a sentence anything like as long. And while Assange’s father John Shipton said, “the entire indictment would allow for somebody to be arrested for reading” leaked documents, prosecutors argued there was no threat whatsoever to the First Amendment.

Assange’s defense team feels they have been fighting this case with not one, but both hands tied behind their back. They were barred from meeting with their client until the day of the trial, while judge Vanessa Baraitser has made a number of decisions that have led many to question her impartiality. For instance, she rejected 89-year-old defense witness Daniel Ellsberg’s request to speak at a time any later than 6:30 a.m. Earlier this week, she also reportedly threatened to remove Assange from his own trial if he cast doubt upon its legitimacy. “This is not due process. It is due revenge,” wrote veteran journalist John Pilger.

The majority of the charges against Assange, an Australian citizen living on the other side of the world at the time of the incidents, criminalize the act of cultivating leaks from sources and receiving classified or stolen documents, something which is the lifeblood of investigative journalism. It is for this reason that longtime activist and political scientist Noam Chomsky remarked that,

Not only is Julian Assange’s fate at risk in this sordid affair, but so is that of journalism, freedom of speech, and democratic rights [more] generally. We can’t stand by and permit this monstrous offense against our highest values to proceed.”

Assange has also received support from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who yesterday told popular podcast host Joe Rogan that,

The US government under William Barr is trying to extradite this guy and put him in prison for the rest of his life for the best work that Wikileaks ever did, that has won awards in basically every country, including the United States.”

Snowden was referencing the Iraq and Afghanistan War logs, the 2010 release of hundreds of thousands of military documents exposing U.S. malfeasance in those two countries. Perhaps the most famous leak was the infamous “Collateral Murder” video, which showed footage of American helicopter pilots casually carrying out a massacre of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007, two of whom were Reuters-employed journalists.

Assange has been wanted since the war logs were published. In 2010, a Swedish prosecutor issued an international arrest warrant for him on sexual assault charges. Fearing it was a pretext for extradition to the United States, he sought and was given refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London by the progressive administration of Rafael Correa. After a change of government in Ecuador, however, he was arrested after seven years inside the building.

Since then, he has been kept in Belmarsh prison in London, where he was often kept in solitary confinement, a practice denounced as torture by human rights groups and international organizations like the United Nations. His treatment was so poor that other high security inmates in the notorious prison staged a protest, leading to somewhat more ethical treatment.

Assange’s father said that it had been a “strong day” for his son in court. But it remains far from clear how the trial will proceed.

Feature photo | A supporter of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen through a hole torn in a defaced U.S. flag during a protest outside the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, in London, Sept. 14, 2020. 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 “A Disgrace”: Amnesty International Blocked From Monitoring Trial of Julian Assange appeared first on MintPress News.

Kafka on Acid: The Trial of Julian Assange

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/09/2020 - 3:03am in

Julian Assange needs to wake before dawn to get from Belmarsh Prison to the Old Bailey courthouse, where his extradition hearing resumed on 7 September, for four weeks. He gets dressed for court only to be strip-searched before being placed in a ventilated coffin Serco van for a 90-minute trip across London in peak-hour traffic. After waiting handcuffed in the holding cells, he is placed in a glass box at the back of the courtroom. Then he is forced back into the Serco van to be strip-searched back at Belmarsh to face another night alone in his cell. 

The latest act of legal theatre began with Julian’s rearrest down in the cells of the Old Bailey, before seeing his lawyers for the first time in six months. Despite all deadlines for documents having long passed, despite the extradition hearing being underway since February (with May hearings postponed to September due to COVID-19), and after the defence had submitted all of their arguments and swathes of evidence, the United States issued yet another indictment, for which Julian needed to be arrested again.

The first indictment was unsealed by the United States, as Julian said would happen, on the day Ecuador ejected him from its embassy, on 11 April 2019. The charge was conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.  The second indictment came a few weeks later, on 23 May 2019, adding seventeen more charges under the US Espionage Act, the first time the Act has been used against a journalist or publisher.  The third and replacement indictment was issued via press release on 24 June 2020, with the United States not bothering to serve it properly to the court until 15 August. It includes the same charges, but, having benefited from all of the evidence and arguments submitted by the defence, it also introduces new material and description to reinforce the narrative that Assange’s work is hacking rather than journalistic or publishing activity, by alleging association with ‘Anonymous’.  It also criminalises Assange’s assistance of Edward Snowden, and adds new material from FBI asset and convicted thief, fraudster and paedophile Sigurdur ‘Siggi’ Thordarson.   

Assange saw the new indictment only just before being rearrested. Having neither received instructions from him nor prepared evidence or witnesses on the new material, the defence team called for the hearing to set the new material aside and continue or to be adjourned so that  a defence on the new indictment could be prepared.  By waving all this through̶  refusing either to strike the new material out or grant an adjournment ̶ Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser turbocharged the tradition written about long ago by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, where he described the Old Bailey as, ’a choice illustration of the precept that “Whatever is, is right”’.

Then, the technical theatre began.  Until this hearing, the UK Ministry of Justice had dealt with COVID-19 by using a 1980s teleconferencing kit that announced every time someone entered or left the conference, with no central mute function, meaning everyone was subjected to the background noise of dozens of homes and offices. The tech during this session is only marginally improved, with fuzzy video streaming available to approved journalists outside the United Kingdom. Their twitter streams constantly complain of people being unable to hear or see, of being held in limbo waiting rooms, or seeing only into the lounge rooms of the tech support crew.  In this case open justice is open only so far as the twitter threads of people such as @MaryKostakidis and @AndrewJFowler, typing through the Antipodean night, or the comprehensive and compelling blog posts of Craig Murray, are available.  Ruptly streams from outside the courtroom providing updates from the Don’t Extradite Assange campaign team, who also produce videos to decode the legalese of proceedings.

Around forty organisations, including Amnesty International, had received accreditation to remotely observe the proceedings. However, this was revoked without warning or explanation, leaving only Reporters Without Borders (RSF) to observe on behalf of civil society organisations. RSF Director of Campaigns Rebecca Vincent stated,

We have never faced such extensive barriers in attempting to monitor any other case in any other country as we have with proceedings in the UK in Julian Assange’s case. This is extremely worrying in a case of such tremendous public interest. 

Kristinn Hrafnsson, Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks, was first offered a seat in a room that looked down on other journalists, without a view of the screen. Perhaps due to his eloquent televised protest, he was allowed into the courtroom on subsequent days, but John Pilger, Julian’s father John Shipton and Craig Murray each day climb five flights of stairs to the viewing gallery, as the Old Bailey lifts are conveniently not working.

Despite this festival of ad hockery and lost time, and despite the prosecution demanding Yes or No answers to lengthy and complex questions in reference to hundreds of pages provided to witnesses the night before their appearance, the first four witnesses called by Julian’s defence have done a fine job of emphasising the political nature of the charges, and the journalistic nature of Assange’s and WikiLeaks’ work.  The expert statements they each provided were all prepared under the earlier indictment.

The first witness was British-American lawyer and founder of Reprieve Clive Stafford Smith, whocited numerous human rights and legal cases against unlawful actions such as kidnapping, rendition, drone strikes and torture in which WikiLeaks publications had enabled justice for his clients.  His familiarity with both the British and US justice systems meant that Stafford Smith could state confidently that while there is no public interest defence allowed under the UK Official Secrets Act, that defence is allowed in US courts.  During cross-examination, prosecution QC James Lewis clarified the US line of argument, which is that Assange is accused of publishing names, to which Stafford Smith said that he would eat his hat if that was all that was introduced at trial in the United States.  In re-examination, the indictment was re-examined to confirm that it does not refer only to names but also to ‘wilfully communicating documents relating to national defence’ and that other counts too are not limited to publishing names.

The second witness was academic and investigative journalist Mark Feldstein, Chair of Broadcast Journalism at Maryland University, whose testimony had to be discontinued due to technical dramas and recommenced the following day.  Feldstein commented on a large number of WikiLeaks publications demonstrating the range of issues and countries it has covered, stating that gathering classified information is ‘standard operating procedure’ for journalists, adding that soliciting information is ‘not only consistent with standard journalistic practice, they are its lifeblood, especially for investigative or national security reporters’. He went on: ‘My entire career virtually was soliciting secret documents or records’. Feldstein’s evidence included references to Nixon (including quotes that included profanity; nothing wakes you up at 3 am like hearing the word ‘cocksucker’ uttered to a bewigged and bewildered British court). Feldstein asserted that the Obama administration had realised it was impossible to charge Assange or WikiLeaks without also charging the New York Times and others who had published the WikiLeaks material in question, with  Lewis countering that the Obama administration had not ceased the grand jury and that it had passively received information, whereas Assange had conspired with Chelsea Manning to receive information.  Craig Murray notes that Lewis spoke between five and ten times as many words as this witness.

The third witness was Professor Paul Rogers of Bradford University, author of many books on the War on Terror and responsible for training armed forces in the law and ethics of conflict for the UK Ministry of Defence for some fifteen years.  Rogers provided testimony on the political nature of Assange and WikiLeaks’ work and on the significance of the revelations for understanding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He noted that Assange was not anti-US as such but opposed to some US policy that he and many others sought to reform.  Describing the Trump administration’s hostility to transparency and journalism, he characterised the prosecution as political.  When cross-examined, Rogers refused to be reduced to Yes or No answers, as ‘these questions did not permit binary answers’.

Trevor Timm, co-founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, then spoke. His organisation helped such media organisations as the New York Times, the Guardian and the ABC to take up software developed by Aaron Swartz called SecureDrop, based on the anonymous dropbox pioneered by WikiLeaks so that leaks can be supplied to journalists anonymously.  Timms stated that the current indictment against Assange was unconstitutional on First Amendment (free speech) grounds, and that the Espionage Act was so widely drafted that it would even pose a threat to purchasers and readers of newspapers containing leaked information. In cross-examination, Lewis again alluded to the fact that not all of the evidence has been made available to the UK court and that it is held by the US grand jury. Timm asserted again and again that countless court decisions over centuries in the United States had upheld the First Amendment.

Chair of the board of Reprieve Eric Lewis—a US lawyer with thirty-five years’ experience who has represented Guantanamo and Afghan detainees seeking redress for torture—expanded on his five statements to the court in response to the various indictments. He confirmed that WikiLeaks documents have been essential in court cases. He also said that, should Assange be sent to the United States, he would first be held in the Alexandria City Jail under Special Administrative Measures, and after conviction would at best spend twenty years at the super-maximum-security ADX Florence prison in Colorado and at worst spend the rest of his life in a cell for twenty-two or twenty-three hours a day, unable to meet other prisoners, with exercise once a day while shackled. The prosecution became very cross during the cross-examination of this witness, complaining to the magistrate that, despite having four hours, he needed more time as the witness refused to give ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers. She refused to control the witness, who was giving relevant answers, to which prosecutor Lewis replied that this ‘would not happen in a real court’.  He apologised for his intemperate language after a break.

Journalist John Goetz testified about working in the consortium with other media partners and WikiLeaks while at Der Spiegel in 2010 on releases of the Afghan War Diary, Iraq War Logs and diplomatic cables. He asserted that Assange and WikiLeaks had meticulous security protocols and had undertaken great effort to redact names from documents. He testified to being somewhat irritated and annoyed by the ‘paranoid’ security measures Assange insisted upon, which he later realised were justified. He pointed out several times that the diplomatic cables only became available because Guardian journalists Luke Harding and David Leigh published the password in a book, and anyway the website Cryptome had published them all first. The defence attempted to have Goetz testify that he attended a dinner at which Assange allegedly said, ‘They are informants; they deserve to die’, which he simply did not say. The prosecution objected to this line of questioning, and the judge upheld this objection.

Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg recently turned eighty-nine, but he accomplished technological feats to appear as a witness for many hours. He had read in full the 300 pages provided by the prosecution the night before his appearance. He noted that Assange would not be able to argue that his disclosures were in the public interest because that defence does not exist under the Espionage Act, the same law under which Ellsberg had faced twelve charges and 115 years—charges that were dropped when it was revealed that the government had collected evidence about him illegally. He stated that ‘the American public needed urgently to know what was being done routinely in their name, and there was no other way for them to learn it than by unauthorised disclosure’.  He reminded the court that, unlike Assange, he hadn’t redacted a single name of an informant or CIA agent from the Pentagon Papers, and that Assange had approached the Defense and State Departments in order to more fully redact names.

Further witnesses to be called by the defence in coming weeks are outlined here by Kevin Gosztola.

Before the hearing recommenced, Reporters Without Borders attempted to deliver an 80,000-strong petition to 10 Downing Street, and were rebuffed.  In addition, several important media pieces were published, including in the UK Sunday Times, which put the case on the front page and included a full-colour magazine-feature-length piece on Julian’s partner and children. An editorial from the Times on Sunday made the case against extraditing Assange. Amnesty International conducted a video campaign that included former foreign minister Bob Carr and former senator Scott Ludlam and added over 400,000 signatures to their petition. Amnesty’s international human rights expert issued an opinion piece, echoing views also put forward by Ken Roth, head of Human Rights Watch, in various interviews.  Alice Walker and Noam Chomsky showed how ‘Julian Assange is not on trial for his personality—but here’s how the US government made you focus on it’.  One of Julian’s oldest friends, Dr Niraj Lal, wrote a moving piece about the founding philosophy of WikiLeaks and Julian’s life as a physics student.

Several documentaries have also been released; one outlining the press-freedom issues at stake called The War On Journalism: The Case of Julian Assange launched the week before the trial, and there is an excellent German public broadcasting documentary. Fran Kelly interviewed Assange’s Australian lawyer Jennifer Robinson on RN Breakfast, and Robinson once again called on the Australian government to act on behalf of a citizen.

Australian government silence has been broken by many citizen actions over a campaign stretching over ten years. Demonstrators have scaled Parliament House, organised weekly vigils outside Flinders Street Station and the Sydney Town Hall rain, hail or shine for the last two years, with arrests for occupation of the UK consulate leading to court hearings on 7 September this year. Every year, Julian’s birthday is marked with extravagant candle arrangements outside Parliament House and elsewhere, with the Greens’ consistent support finally being joined by others in the formation of the Bring Assange Home Parliamentary Group in October 2019, a group now twenty-four strong.  A petition has been submitted to our parliament and as at April 2020 it had 390,000 signatures, the fourth largest petition ever tabled. In May 2020, over 100 Australian serving and former politicians, writers and publishers, human rights advocates and legal professionals wrote to Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne calling on the government to end its official silence. And Assange’s union remained strong, with the MEAA issuing a short video on the importance of the case, reminding members of its public and private advocacy on behalf of Assange with the government and the UK High Commissioner, and continuing to issue his press card. In the first week of the hearings, the MEAA held a briefing with Kristinn Hrafnsson beamed in from London for Australian members. 

Voices supporting Assange from across the political spectrum, and among a broader chorus of civil society and media organisations, are getting louder.  The tide is turning, but will it turn in time?

Assange on trial

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/09/2020 - 11:54am in

Recently, two Australian journalists in China rushed to our embassy and then back home. No such help seems to be on offer for another Australian on the far side of the world. Pirate Party of Australia calls on the Foreign Minister, the Honourable Senator Marisa Payne to demand the free and unprejudiced release of Assange […]

John Pilger: The Stalinist Trial of Julian Assange

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/09/2020 - 11:31pm in

When I first met Julian Assange more than ten years ago, I asked him why he had started WikiLeaks. He replied: “Transparency and accountability are moral issues that must be the essence of public life and journalism.”

I had never heard a publisher or an editor invoke morality in this way. Assange believes that journalists are the agents of people, not power: that we, the people, have a right to know about the darkest secrets of those who claim to act in our name.

If the powerful lie to us, we have the right to know. If they say one thing in private and the opposite in public, we have the right to know. If they conspire against us, as Bush and Blair did over Iraq, then pretend to be democrats, we have the right to know.

It is this morality of purpose that so threatens the collusion of powers that want to plunge much of the world into war and wants to bury Julian alive in Trumps fascist America.

In 2008, a top secret US State Department report described in detail how the United States would combat this new moral threat. A secretly-directed personal smear campaign against Julian Assange would lead to “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”.

The aim was to silence and criminalise WikiLeaks and its founder. Page after page revealed a coming war on a single human being and on the very principle of freedom of speech and freedom of thought, and democracy.

The imperial shock troops would be those who called themselves journalists: the big hitters of the so-called mainstream, especially the “liberals” who mark and patrol the perimeters of dissent.

And that is what happened. I have been a reporter for more than 50 years and I have never known a smear campaign like it: the fabricated character assassination of a man who refused to join the club: who believed journalism was a service to the public, never to those above.

Assange shamed his persecutors. He produced scoop after scoop. He exposed the fraudulence of wars promoted by the media and the homicidal nature of America’s wars, the corruption of dictators, the evils of Guantanamo.

He forced us in the West to look in the mirror. He exposed the official truth-tellers in the media as collaborators: those I would call Vichy journalists. None of these imposters believed Assange when he warned that his life was in danger: that the “sex scandal” in Sweden was a set up and an American hellhole was the ultimate destination. And he was right, and repeatedly right.

The extradition hearing in London this week is the final act of an Anglo-American campaign to bury Julian Assange. It is not due process. It is due revenge. The American indictment is clearly rigged, a demonstrable sham. So far, the hearings have been reminiscent of their Stalinist equivalents during the Cold War.

Today, the land that gave us Magna Carta, Great Britain, is distinguished by the abandonment of its own sovereignty in allowing a malign foreign power to manipulate justice and by the vicious psychological torture of Julian – a form of torture, as Nils Melzer, the UN expert has pointed out, that was refined by the Nazis because it was most effective in breaking its victims.

Every time I have visited Assange in Belmarsh prison, I have seen the effects of this torture. When I last saw him, he had lost more than 10 kilos in weight; his arms had no muscle. Incredibly, his wicked sense of humor was intact.

As for Assange’s homeland, Australia has displayed only a cringeing cowardice as its government has secretly conspired against its own citizen who ought to be celebrated as a national hero. Not for nothing did George W. Bush anoint the Australian prime minister his “deputy sheriff”.

It is said that whatever happens to Julian Assange in the next three weeks will diminish if not destroy freedom of the press in the West. But which press? The Guardian? The BBC, The New York Times, the Jeff Bezos Washington Post?

No, the journalists in these organisations can breathe freely. The Judases on the Guardian who flirted with Julian, exploited his landmark work, made their pile then betrayed him, have nothing to fear. They are safe because they are needed.

Freedom of the press now rests with the honourable few: the exceptions, the dissidents on the internet who belong to no club, who are neither rich nor laden with Pulitzers, but produce fine, disobedient, moral journalism – those like Julian Assange.

Meanwhile, it is our responsibility to stand by a true journalist whose sheer courage ought to be inspiration to all of us who still believe that freedom is possible. I salute him.

Feature photo | A woman holds up a photograph of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during a protest demanding the freedom of Assange in front of the UK embassy in Brussels, Sept. 7, 2020. Francisco Seco | AP

John Pilger is an award-winning journalist. His articles appear worldwide in newspapers such as the Guardian, the Independent, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Mail & Guardian (South Africa), Aftonbladet (Sweden), Il Manifesto (Italy).

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Five Reasons to Care About the Trump-Putin Attack on Democracy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 25/08/2020 - 6:15am in

The Senate Intelligence Committee just released the fifth and final volume in its three-and-a-half year investigation into Russian election interference. Over 940 pages, it proves that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin joined forces in the 2016 US presidential election to attack our democracy. From now through Election Day, the Report’s unanimous bipartisan findings should dominate headlines throughout the country. Continue reading

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MAGA Hats, QAnon, the Postal Service War…and the DNC

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/08/2020 - 4:14am in

In a somber speech, former President Barack Obama warned that, in this election, American democracy is at stake. Continue reading

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Virtual Convention Day Two

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 20/08/2020 - 12:54am in

Susan B. Anthony gets pardoned, the DNC stays on "we the people" message and the post office controversy rolls on. Continue reading

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