Category Archives: Public relations
Step out of line and share Assange’s fate: Prof. Melzer: “And nobody will care. I can promise you that”.
Today, people from several campaigns supporting Julian Assange, including Defend Wikileaks, will be demonstrating against his extradition.
A message has been received from Tracy Worcester (below) who gave a clear and persuasive address outside Belmarsh prison where she visited Assange. Reuters – unlike more right-wing outlets – yesterday gave a straightforward account of the proposed extradition of Julian Assange to the USA, about which a decision is to be made shortly.
Another message, from a Bournville reader, says that extradition would be an injustice crowning all those he has suffered already and a threat to free speech everywhere – with particular implications for whistle-blowers, journalists and bloggers.
He forwarded a long and detailed interview with Professor Nils Melzer, a Swedish academic, professor of international law at the University of Glasgow who is serving as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Some points made by Melzer follow:
Assange reported to the Swedish authorities on several occasions because he wanted to respond to the accusations
After a detailed examination of the rape allegations he pointed out that far from fleeing from the Swedish judiciary in order to avoid being held accountable, Assange reported to the Swedish authorities on several occasions but the authorities stonewalled. He contacted the Swedish judiciary several times to make a statement – but was turned down. Melzer (below) says:
“I speak fluent Swedish and was thus able to read all of the original documents. I could hardly believe my eyes: According to the testimony of the woman in question, a rape had never even taken place at all. And not only that: The woman’s testimony was later changed by the Stockholm police without her involvement in order to somehow make it sound like a possible rape. I have all the documents in my possession, the emails, the text messages.
The media and government agencies have painted a completely different picture over the years
Melzer gives a long and detailed account of the charges, opening: “We know that the original statement, according to the chief public prosecutor, apparently did not contain any indication that a crime had been committed. A revised statement was edited without the involvement of the woman in question and wasn’t signed by her. It is a manipulated piece of evidence out of which the Swedish authorities then constructed a story of rape”.
Though the public prosecutor’s office gave him written permission to leave Sweden for short periods of time, on the day that Julian Assange left Sweden a warrant was issued for his arrest.
His lawyer explained that Assange had to go to Berlin for a conference and had asked if he was allowed to leave the country. During the flight, his laptops disappeared from his checked baggage. Existing correspondence proves that after arriving in London, via his Swedish lawyer, Assange offered public prosecutors several possible dates for questioning in Sweden.
Then he heard that a secret criminal case had been opened against him in the U.S. His lawyer said that his client was prepared to testify in Sweden, but because of Sweden’s record (in one instance they had to pay a million dollars in damages to two men who were extradited to the CIA in Egypt without any legal proceedings) he demanded a diplomatic assurance that Sweden would not extradite him to the U.S. The Swedes declined to provide a guarantee, arguing that the U.S. had not made a formal request for extradition.
Assange said he was willing to be questioned in London or via video link under the cooperation treaty between the United Kingdom and Sweden
Under the terms of the treaty, Swedish officials can travel to the UK, or vice versa, to conduct interrogations or questioning can take place via video link. During the period of time in question, such questioning between Sweden and England took place in 44 other cases.
The Swedish prosecution avoided questioning Assange for five years and eventually his lawyers petitioned Sweden’s Supreme Court to force the public prosecution to press charges or to close the case.
Melzer recalls that when the Swedes told the UK they might be forced to abandon the case, the English Crown Prosecution Service wrote “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!” in a document addressed to the Swedish Chief Prosecutor Marianne Ny, a copy of which was obtained by the Italian investigative journalist, Stefania Maurizi, in a five-year long Freedom of Information litigation which is still ongoing. Sweden finally abandoned the case against Assange in November 2019
Why would the Swedish and British authorities act like this?
In July 2010, Wikileaks – in cooperation with the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel – published the Afghan War Diary, one of the largest leaks in the history of the U.S. military. Wikileaks obtained a document in which Stratfor, a security consultancy that works for the U.S. government (firstname.lastname@example.org) advised American officials to deluge Assange with all kinds of criminal cases for the next 25 years.
What Wikileaks did is a threat to the political elite in the U.S., Britain, France and Russia. Wikileaks publishes secret state information – they are opposed to classification – and in a world, even in so-called democracies, where secrecy has become rampant, that is seen as a fundamental threat
Was another suppression related to a 2017 allegation by former congressman Dana Rohrabacher that Donald Trump had offered to pardon Julian Assange if he claimed that Russia had nothing to do with a leak of Democratic party emails in 2016? Trump offered to pardon Assange if he said that Russia had nothing to do with WikiLeaks’ publication of Democratic Party emails in 2016. accusation.
What awaits Assange if he is extradited?
Melzer feels sure that Assange will not receive a fair trial in part because Assange will be tried in Alexandria, Virginia, the notorious ‘Espionage Court’ where jury members are drawn from a local population, 85% of whom work in the national security community – at the CIA, the NSA, the Defense Department and the State Department. He adds that the cases are always tried in front of the same judge behind closed doors and on the strength of classified evidence. Nobody has ever been acquitted there in a case like that. He continues:
“I am the Special Rapporteur on Torture for the United Nations. I have a mandate to ask clear questions and to demand answers. I visited Assange in his cell in London in May 2019 together with two experienced, widely respected doctors who are specialized in the forensic and psychological examination of torture victims. The diagnosis arrived at by the two doctors was clear: Julian Assange displays the typical symptoms of psychological torture. If he doesn’t receive protection soon, a rapid deterioration of his health is likely, and death could be one outcome”.
Melzer then asks three questions:
- What is the legal basis for denying someone their fundamental right to defend themselves?
- Why is a man who is neither dangerous nor violent held in solitary confinement for several months when UN standards legally prohibit solitary confinement for periods extending beyond 15 days?
- Why have none of these UN member states launched an investigation, answer my questions or even demonstrate an interest in dialogue?
And gives a warning to all:
When countries like Sweden allow themselves to be manipulated like that, then our democracies and our human rights face a fundamental threat. Power corrupts if it is not monitored. A show trial will make an example of Julian Assange. The point is to intimidate other journalists. The message to all is: “This is what will happen to you if you emulate the Wikileaks model”.
Assange has published proof of systematic torture. But instead of those responsible for the torture, it is Assange who is being persecuted. Melzer added: “This could just as easily happen to us or our children. And nobody will care. I can promise you that”.
Our Bournville informant ended: “Evil triumphs when good people do nothing”:
Two days is a long time in pre-election politics
On 28th November Francis Elliott’s triumphalist article in the Times heralded a seat-by-seat analysis based on polling by YouGov for The Times.
But two days later, a BMG poll which questioned 1,663 voters between 27 and 29 November showed that the Conservative lead had ‘narrowed sharply’ (Reuters) – halved when compared with last week’s poll.
Robert Struthers, BMG’s head of polling, said “If this trend continues, this election could be much closer than it looked just a matter of weeks ago.”
Rob Merrick (Independent) points out that the results come at the end of a week when Mr Johnson has faced further criticism on several counts, compounding earlier allegations, including:
- his appalling attitude to single mothers and working-class men
- his unwillingness to face Andrew Neil.
- the early release from prison of the London Bridge attacker and
- his relationship with Donald Trump, who will arrive for a NATO summit in London on Tuesday.
Robert Struthers said there was growing evidence Labour is “starting to build momentum” ahead of the election on 12 December. 73% of those who backed the party at the 2017 election now planning to do the same on 12 December – up from 67% a week ago.
The change in direction is shown above and BMG’s headline voting intention figures take the Conservative lead from a likely majority into possible hung parliament territory. Will this continue and take the Labour Party into the lead?
The Financial Times reported that during the TV leaders’ debate on November 19th, the Conservative party was accused of duping the public after rebranding one of its official Twitter accounts – @CCHQPress – into what appeared to be an independent fact checking service like those developed by independent organisations and media groups such as the BBC, the Guardian and Channel 4.
A Moseley reader draws attention to Peter Oborne’s perception of ‘a systemic dishonesty within Johnson’s campaigning machine‘
Oborne cites another attempt to dupe the public: “(Johnson’s) party deliberately doctored footage of the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, to make it look as if he was at a loss for words when asked about Labour’s Brexit position. In fact, Starmer had answered confidently and fluently. The video was a deliberate attempt to mislead voters. And when Piers Morgan tackled the Tory chairman, James Cleverly, on the issue, he refused to accept he’d done anything wrong, let alone apologise”.
Oborne: “As someone who has voted Conservative pretty well all my life, this upsets me. As the philosopher Sissela Bok has explained, political lying is a form of theft. It means that voters make democratic judgments on the basis of falsehoods. Their rights are stripped away”.
He has also charged many of the British media with ‘letting Johnson get away unchallenged with lies, falsehoods and fabrication’. His examination of Boris Johnson’s claims, published on November 18th, includes these instances:
- Some of the lies are tiny. During a visit to a hospital he tells doctors that he’s given up drink, when only the previous day he’d been filmed sipping whisky on a visit to a distillery. And sips beer on film the day after in a pub.
- But many are big. Johnson repeatedly claims that Britain’s continued membership of the EU costs an extra £1bn a month. False.
- He claims he is building 40 new hospitals. Sounds good. But it’s a lie that has already been exposed by fact-checkers, including the website Full Fact.
- Another misleading statement: “20,000 more police are operating on our streets to fight crime and bring crime down”. Recruitment will take place over three years and do no more than replace the drop in officer numbers seen since the Conservatives came to power in 2010.
- Jeremy Corbyn has “plans to wreck the economy with a £1.2 trillion spending plan”. Labour’s manifesto hasn’t been published, let alone fully costed. Johnson’s £1.2tn is a palpable fabrication.
- The Labour leader “thinks home ownership is a bad idea and is opposed to it”. I have been unable to find any evidence of Corbyn expressing this view.
- On his potential conflict of interest over his friend Jennifer Arcuri, who received £11,500 from an organisation he was responsible for as London mayor, Johnson said: “Everything was done with complete propriety and in the normal way.” We now know he failed to declare this friendship, and is being investigated by the Independent Office of Police Conduct.
- Johnson then told his TV audience that Corbyn “wouldn’t even stick up for this country when it came to the Salisbury poisonings” and that he sided with Russia. In the aftermath of the poisonings, Corbyn wrote in the Guardian: “Either this was a crime authored by the Russian state; or that state has allowed these deadly toxins to slip out of the control it has an obligation to exercise.” The Labour leader also stated that the Russian authorities must be held to account.
A friend said gloomily that he learnt nothing new from yesterday’s leaders’ debates. I agreed with that – apart from the production of the redacted NHS dossier, which has been overlooked in many media accounts.
Though I learnt nothing new the debate reinforced my view that one of the two participants is stable, honest, caring and visionary – and that the other is quite different.
Setting off on tour
In his first full week as Britain’s new prime minister, Boris Johnson toured the country before there was a pre-election legal requirement for balanced media coverage. He was booed in Scotland, confronted by farmers in Wales, chided over the future of the union in Northern Ireland, watched his coalition’s majority in Parliament shrink even further and saw the pound fall to a two-and-a-half-year low.
Richard House commented in the Western Daily Press that Mr Johnson has:
- seized headline after headline to create the illusion that the Tories are actually doing something domestically,
- induced voters to forget three years of self-inflicted Brexit-induced torpor and abject failure on all these domestic issues,
- been backed by the ongoing right-wing mainstream media propaganda assault on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour
- presented the Tories as the solution to the social and economic problems their austerity policies caused and
- created a xenophobic Brexit scenario where a heroic Churchillian Johnson rides to the rescue and tub-thumpingly “delivers” Brexit against all the establishment and Remainer odds.
Richard predicts that Johnson will rush to a general election before the November GDP growth figures show that the UK economy is formally in recession and warns the 99%:
“Really… if voters are fool enough to have their vote influenced by all this carefully choreographed manipulation, rather than on a straight and sober analysis and assessment of nine years of Tory policy-making calamity, we’ll end up deserving the government we’re landed with”.
Media 99: Anti-semitism campaign a fabrication – Norman Finkelstein charges the British elite & its media
Richard House has drawn attention to the latest Media Lens report: ‘Suspending Chris Williamson – The Fury And The Fakery’ – which includes a comment in a forceful and eloquent video by American political scientist, activist, professor and author, Norman Finkelstein (right), whose mother survived the Warsaw Ghetto, the Majdanek concentration camp and two slave labour camps and whose father was a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Auschwitz concentration camp. He writes:
‘Corbyn . . . did not present a threat only to Israel and Israel’s supporters, he posed a threat to the whole British elite. Across the board, from the Guardian to the Daily Mail, they all joined in the new anti-semitism campaign . . . this whole completely contrived, fabricated, absurd and obscene assault on this alleged Labour anti-semitism, of which there is exactly zero evidence, zero.’
Media Lens points out that more than 150 Labour MPs and peers – the “infamously pro-war, Blairite section of the party have added to the propaganda blitz by protesting against the decision to readmit Williamson in a statement led by the bitterly anti-Corbyn deputy leader Tom Watson”.
A recent blog on the Jewish Voices for Labour site also stated that a “hostile, personal campaign is being waged against Chris, who is a hard-working and diligent MP with great standing in his constituency and a strong record of anti-racist campaigning”.
It adds: “This country stands in desperate need of a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, aiming to unite people around protection and promotion of hard won rights and services, the party needs the dedication and principled commitment of Chris Williamson and others like him”.
In 2018, Noam Chomsky commented on this campaign: ‘The charges of anti-Semitism against Corbyn are without merit, an underhanded contribution to the disgraceful efforts to fend off the threat that a political party might emerge that is led by an admirable and decent human being, a party that is actually committed to the interests and just demands of its popular constituency and the great majority of the population generally, while also authentically concerned with the rights of suffering and oppressed people throughout the world. Plainly an intolerable threat to order.’ (Chomsky, email to Media Lens, 9 September 2018).
He commented on these issues again this month in correspondence with journalist Matt Kennard:
‘The way charges of anti-Semitism are being used in Britain to undermine the Corbyn-led Labour Party is not only a disgrace, but also – to put it simply – an insult to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. The charges against Chris Williamson (right) are a case in point. There is nothing even remotely anti-Semitic in his statement that Labour has “given too much ground” and “been too apologetic” in defending its record of addressing “the scourge of anti-Semitism” beyond that of any other party, as he himself had done, on public platforms and in the streets.’
Media Lens’ challenging conclusion asks what sanction the Labour Party should put on those politicians who personally voted to authorise illegal British and US wars in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria – acts which did not merely offend but killed, maimed and displaced millions of people, bringing whole countries to their knees.
Propaganda pervading the Times online today
And seven articles headlined:
- Labour’s hate files expose Jeremy Corbyn’s anti‑semite army: no reference made to the support given by many Jewish people recently* and in the past.
- Vile anti-semitic taunts met with ‘a slap on the wrist’. (Labour files, local elections)
- Official blocked bid to bar Labour candidate accused of abuse
- Corbyn climbs aboard as May tries to save her sinking ship
- Matt Hancock: Tories must attract youth or face defeat . . . his party must bridge the generation gap if it is to avoid handing the keys to No 10 to Jeremy Corbyn
- Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn dance close, cudgels hidden, locked in a dangerous embrace, each hopes the other will suffer more.
- The war for Labour’s iron throne: like Game of Thrones, the party’s left and right are locked in an eternal power struggle.
Taking Peter Oborne’s words about Corbyn’s manifesto out of context, many will agree that once again, as expected, “Jeremy Corbyn is being traduced and misrepresented, by the establishment and its mouthpieces . . . That is wrong – and a betrayal of British democracy”.
Williamson is right: Labour has done more – and spent more – to address anti-Semitism than any other political party
In Sheffield last week, MP for Derby North Chris Williamson said that the Labour party, and in particular the leader, have been ‘demonised’ as racist. He continued:
“I have got to say I think our party’s response has been partly responsible for that because in my opinion… we have backed off far too much, we have given too much ground, we have been too apologetic. We’ve done more to address the scourge of anti-Semitism than any political party.”
Read the 40 reasons listed by Anna Boyle illustrating the truth of his statement.
Those who have difficulty in accessing them may ask for an attachment, using the Comments facility.
After describing actions taken before Jeremy Corbyn was elected as party leader – including his leadership of a clean-up and vigil at Finsbury Park Synagogue which had been vandalised in an anti-Semitic attack – Anna points out Jennie Formby, after her appointment as general secretary of the party last year, selected a highly-qualified in-house Counsel.
By 2018 the size of the party’s staff team handling investigations and dispute processes had almost doubled. The entire backlog of outstanding cases was cleared within 6 months of Jennie taking up her post.
MP Margaret Hodge – a leading critic – said that she had submitted a dossier of 200 examples of antisemitism. Ms Formby commented that those complaints referred to 111 reported individuals, of whom only 20 were members.
Smaller panels of 3-5 NEC members were established to enable cases to be heard more quickly and every complaint made about antisemitism was allocated an independent specialist barrister to ensure due process is followed.
As the media was focussing on Tuesday’s Brexit vote in the Commons, this morning only subscribers to the New Statesman read about the written statement by the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, James Brokenshire.
In what the writer, Anoosh Chakelian (right), said is becoming a bleak pattern, the government chose Theresa May’s second attempt to pass her Brexit deal on which to publish its statement on local government finance.
A reassuringly generous set of dispensations?
The statement by James Brokenshire (left) opens with eight substantial paragraphs detailing increased funding in a wide range of sectors, summarised in the New Statesman:
“As first announced in the Budget, the government is releasing extra chunks of funding for social care and potholes, as well as more money for high streets. The government calculates that its settlement adds up to a rise in core spending power for councils from £45.1bn in 2018-19 to £46.4bn in 2019-20: a 2.8% cash increase. (It has also reiterated the £56.5m across 2018-19 and 2019-20 to help councils prepare for Brexit, which we can’t really count as extra funding as it’s to fill a Brexit-shaped hole.)”
Councils are to be awarded £56.5 million across 2018-19 and 2019-20 to help prepare for EU Exit. It lists “a broad package of measures and confirms that Core Spending Power is forecast to increase from £45.1 billion in 2018-19 to £46.4 billion in 2019-20”.
This information is meaningless to the general public. Are they going only to the 117 largest councils listed here, or should district councils and London boroughs be included? And will they be distributed according to need, population, or other criteria?
Anoosh Chakelian’s verdict: Far from generous. She points out that after eight years of austerity, cash-strapped councils will still face a funding gap of more than £3bn this year, according to the Local Government Association.
She adds that the pressure to set legal budgets, with an average 49% drop in real terms spending power since 2010 and rising social care demands, means that councils need substantially more than a 2.8% rise.
Decisions on business rates retention and a fair funding formula for local government have been postponed, despite the planned consultations having taken place and their findings published.
Noting that the long promised green paper on adult social care has not appeared and the funding announced is ’a short-term one-off’, she quotes the head of the National Audit Office, Amyas Morse, who said last March: “Current funding for local authorities is characterised by one-off and short-term fixes, many of which come with centrally driven conditions.”
Though James Brokenshire asserts that this settlement answers calls for additional funding in 2019-20, and paves the way for a more self-sufficient and reinvigorated system of local government, Anoosh Chakelian concludes: “This means councils will continue to operate in a financial void, unable to fund public services properly, while waiting for something to change in the promised Spending Review later this year”.
Many readers will have been shocked at the standard media responses following the death of George Bush Snr. Media Lens has spelt out the reasons for such reactions. After a summary of the gushing eulogies from Barack Obama and the Clintons, they move to review the British media’s coverage:
“ . . . [The] Guardian‘s ‘glowing’ obituary omitted many brutal facts, describing Bush Senior’s devastation of Iraq as ‘triumphant’; ‘the president did not put a foot wrong’; ‘his most impressive achievement’; ‘Bush’s masterly management of the first Iraq war’; and so on, in an elite-friendly script that was essentially a press release from the very centre of US power”.
“The cruel reality of Bush’s ‘most impressive achievement’, as we noted in a 2002 media alert, was that Iraq’s entire civilian infrastructure was targeted and largely destroyed under the rain of bombs. All of Iraq’s eleven major electrical power plants, as well as 119 substations, were destroyed. 90 per cent of electricity generation was out of service within hours; within days, all power generation in the country had ceased. Eight multi-purpose dams were repeatedly hit and destroyed, wrecking flood control, municipal and industrial water storage, irrigation and hydroelectric power. Four of Iraq’s seven major water pumping stations were destroyed. According to Eric Hoskins, a Canadian doctor and coordinator of a Harvard study team on Iraq, the allied bombardment: ‘effectively terminated everything vital to human survival in Iraq – electricity, water, sewage systems, agriculture, industry and health care’. (Quoted Mark Curtis, ‘The Ambiguities of Power’, Zed Books, 1995)”.
The article points out that the author, Simon Tisdall, made no reference to the tons of bombs – ‘the equivalent of seven Hiroshimas’ – that followed the launch of the air campaign on January 17, 1991, and the killing of 150,000 Iraqi troops and 50,000 civilians were killed and continued:
“In his Bush obituary, Nick Bryant, the New York-based BBC News correspondent, brushed all this away and stuck to the standard deception of ‘mistakes were made’ in Iraq”.
Readers with strong stomachs will continue to read about Bush’s work within the CIA and his ‘shared responsibility’ for earlier ‘bloodbaths’ in South America.
And the reason for the media’s whitewashed responses?
According to Media Lens, there are a few rules that journalists must follow if they are to be regarded as a safe pair of hands by editors and corporate media owners:
“One of these rules is that ‘we’ in the West are assumed to be ‘the good guys’. This seriously damaging narrative, flying in the face of historical evidence and endlessly crushing state policies, ensures that the public is kept ignorant and pacified. The consequences have been deadly for millions of the West’s victims around the world, and now mean climate catastrophe that could end human civilisation”.