IMPRISONED WITHOUT JURY TRIAL

I took the above picture a few years back when Kim Ryan and I were driving along the East Lancs Road in Liverpool. We were heading back into town, and coming towards us was a fleet of police cars. The lead car was doing that very dangerous thing that American cops like to do: veering across all the lanes of traffic, so as to force oncoming cars onto the side of the road. This is cowboy stuff, and the cops who do it are very silly, since they rely on the good sense and driving skills of the motorists in the oncoming lane. Good luck if there’s a Tesla barreling towards them! I’ve seen cops do this in the Arizona desert when they’re leading a wide load. But this was an urban environment with a lot more traffic, and the police were just showing off, telling us they owned the road.

And why did they need to own the road? Because behind them came the big, unmarked van you see depicted. What’s in there, I wondered. Prisoners, Kim replied. Apparently “high security” prisoners (drug dealers? terrorists?) are sometimes incarcerated in Manchester but tried in Liverpool. This was a convoy returning prisoners or a prisoner from court in Liverpool to jail. Who were these high-risk individuals (or individual) who required such a massive cop convoy? Kim didn’t know. I enquired of the Liverpool Echo. They had no idea.

So a secret trail was being held in my home town. The police were making a big show of it. Yet, apart from the authorities, no one knew who was being tried. I’ve no idea if the people/person in the van had a jury to adjudicate their case. Given the ostentatious secrecy, I doubt it. Like all the individuals named above, they probably faced one politically-appointed judge.

Which brings us to the list of names above the picture. Who are they?

Of course, you’ve heard of Julian Assange. Having saught asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and been given diplomatic status, the journalist/publisher found himself trapped in the building for several years. His “private” conversations with his lawyers and family were surveilled by hidden cameras and microphones. The US government plotted ways of kidnapping or killing him. The United Nations Rapporteur reported that his treatment amounted to torture. Then the English cops raided the building and he was taken to a high-security prison, Bellmarsh, where the torture could be improved. He has been held in Bellmarsh for two years, in solitary confinement until his fellow prisoners petitioned for him to be allowed to join the general population. His fate – facing extradition to the US and life imprisonment in a supermax – is being decided, very slowly, by a politically-appointed judge named Vanessa Baraitser. Baraitser replaced a previous judge, removed because her proximity to the Americans and the arms business was too close even for English justice to stomach. During his rare court appearances Julian is confined with prison guards in a glass box. He cannot communicate with his lawyers. He has been recognised as a suicide risk. He has never seen a jury. Yet his extradition proceedings – for the crime of journalism – continue. You can learn more about Julian’s case, and how to help him, here.

Steven Donziger is an American attorney who won a $9.5 billion environmental case in Ecuador. Chevron was found guilty by the Supreme Court of Ecuador of deliberately dumping of billions of gallons of cancer-causing oil waste onto Indigenous ancestral lands. For the crime of doing an excellent job, Steven was targeted by a US judge who had investments in Chevron, Lewis Kaplan: he observes that this politically-appointed judge “targeted me with the first corporate criminal prosecution in the history of the United States. Private lawyers at the Chevron law firm Seward & Kissel were appointed by Judge Kaplan to “prosecute” me on contempt charges after I appealed a shocking and unprecedented order from Kaplan that I turn over my computer and cell phone for review by Chevron.” After months of house arrest ordered by Kaplan, Steven has just been sentenced by another politically-appointed judge, Loretta Preska, a leader of the Chevron-funded Federalist Society, to six months in jail. He has never seen a jury. You can learn more about his case, and how to help him, here.

Daniel Hale is an American whistleblower who went public about US drone murders. He was arrested in 2019 on allegations that he disclosed classified documents, believed to have been the source material for a series in The Intercept (The Intercept has a history of burning its sources, including an NSA whistleblower who was recently released from prison.) A USAF veteran, Daniel pled guilty to one count of espionage and was sentenced to 45 months in prison in July 2021 by a politically-appointed U.S. District Judge, Liam O’Grady. He has never seen a jury. You can learn more about his case, and how to help him, here.

Pablo Hasel is a rapper who has been condemned by the Spanish Supreme Court to nine months’ imprisonment, starting in February 2021, for the crime of “encouraging terrorism and insulting the king.” It’s worth remembering that Spain was a republic, and that the monarchy was reintroduced by the fascist dictator, Franco, as part of his deal to step down. The former King of Spain has been accused of multiple acts of corruption, and more than 200 Spanish artists and journalists, including Pedro Almodovar and Javier Bardem, have called for Pablo’s release. Pablo has never seen a jury. Insulting the monarchy isn’t a crime in England yet. We shall see how long that lasts.

Prison Van

Craig Murray is a former diplomat and British ambassador. Since leaving the diplomatic service he has been an author, activist, political commentator and journalist. His has written extensively of the problems with the Skripal case, and his reporting of the Julian Assange and Alex Salmond trials put the MSM to shame. For the latter, he was found guilty by a politically-appointed judge, “Lady” Dorrian, of the novel crime of “jigsaw identification” and sentenced to eight months in prison. It’s worth noting that Salmond, the former head of the Scottish Nationalist Party, was accused of sexual assault (shades of Julian Assange and other annoying activists) and found innocent of all charges by a jury of his peers. This suggests that his accusers commited perjury, which is a crime. Nevertheless, Craig, and not the perjurers, was sent to jail. (It’s been suggested this was a stitch-up in order to prevent him travelling to Spain to testify as a witness in the trial of the private spy ring which illegally surveilled Julian Assange.) Craig is an old gentleman (almost as old as me). He has never seen a jury, and Dorrian is now calling for an end to jury trials in Scotland. You can learn more about Craig’s case, and how to help him, here.

Alex Saab is the Venezuelan Ambassador to the African Union. He was illegally detained in Cape Verde in June 2020, on the orders of the US, which seeks to extradite him. He has been imprisoned, tortured, and denied cancer treatments. His crime, according to the Americans, is attempting to circumvent US sanctions which deny Venezuelans food and medicine. His diplomatic status is being violated. He has never seen a jury. You can learn more about his case here. And you can sign a petition for his release here.

UPDATE — Alex Saab was turned over to the US on Sunday Oct 17 2021. His extradition process was still incomplete.. The MSM, predictably enough, described the kidnapping as an “extradition” or “arrest”, and the kidnapped diplomat as “a fugitive Colombian businessman” “a money launderer” “of Lebanese descent” and “a financial fixer.” You can read two African perspectives on the case, and its impact on Cape Verde, here and here.

HAPPY NEW YEAR

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, I must apologise for how sparse it has been of late. Certainly, there are many things happening. But I would hate to be one of those individuals who consume a daily diet of partisan news, get driven into a frenzy, and regurgitate it into the blogosphere.

I can only write about things that I know about, whether through research or personal experience. So I can share my thoughts about science fiction, or Breughel, or the production of motion pictures… but what do I know about the latter any more? COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on so many many industries and peoples’ lives; independent, audio-visual drama is only one of them. I wrote a short piece about this last year: since then, fundamentally not much has changed. Some bigger-budget production has recommenced, with the cast and principal crew encased in “bubbles”. A friend is in one of these bubbles now, pre-producing a series in Puerto Vallarta. He is tested every few days for COVID. He stays in one hotel room. His family stay in a different room. They have no physical contact. Production is scheduled to start with the arrival of the principal cast in March.

Obviously this is very risky. What happens if the bubble bursts, and an unreplaceable cast member gets infected? There’s no production insurance to cover a pandemic. So this, plus the cost of the bubble, and regular, fast-result COVID testing, means that only deep-pockets, studio or Amazon or Netflicks or HBO or Apple can currently afford to make films. Sure, you can shoot a movie for nothing with your phone within your own “bubble”. But low-budget, independent features, where you pay the crew and hire SAG actors, aren’t happening right now.

And nor is exhibition! Good cinemas in Florence, OR, Tucson, AZ, Boulder, CO, Dallas TX, Hoylake, Wirral, and many other places struggle to stay afloat — and the audience response in every case has been greatly encouraging. What happens to the big cinema chains, with their monoform diet of Disney, superheroes and war, matters not. It is the independent cinemas – the ones not owned by media monopolies, the theaters which screen classic and foreign feature films, which must, and I believe will, endure. The Loft and the IFS and the Texas Theatre will survive the pandemic because they supply a need and satisfy a desire — for genuine cinema. The closest analogy I can think of is vinyl. Twenty years ago Big Media was telling us vinyl was dead. CDs were infinitely better quality, they never skipped, and hey! why not rent music from us, via a stream? Big Media lied, and lost, and vinyl is once again state of the art, not just for audiophiles, but for regular music enthusiasts.

I think art cinema will prove equally resilient. AMC may go the way of Blockbuster, but over the years art houses will survive, and, I predict, flourish. Good films have an enduring quality. Crap quickly rots.

On the subject of film, here are links to a couple of other articles I wrote last year: one about recent Russian WW2 films, and one describing an idealized film festival celebrating the year 1972.

If you’re interested in more filmic rambling, including a penetrating analysis of Navany’s Putin’s Palace, the documentary Collective, and Julien Temple’s Crock of McGowan, Pablo Kjolseth and I continue our IFS podcast here.

(Unfortunately Julian Assange, whose picture can been seen at right above, remains in a COVID-wracked, high-security prison in London. The magistrate in the case has declared she will not allow him to be extradited to the US on espionage charges; however she has ordered the journalist to remain incarcerated, while the US government “appeals” against her decision. The failure of the MSM to cover the persecution of Assange is horrific. Some of the best reporting has been done by Craig Murray and Consortium News. This week Craig is to be tried in Scotland by a politically appointed judge – like Julian, no jury trial – also for the crime of journalism. I’ll change the picture when Julian is finally released, as Chelsea Manning has been.)

THE BEST SITE ON THE WEB

At the start of April, one of the film editors at the English newspaper/website The Guardian asked me to write a piece about what I was doing in the lockdown: what films I was watching, what music I listened to, what I was reading and where I got my news. I wrote the piece (you can read it here) within the required word limit, fired it off to them, and it was published … sort of. What got published was the first half, about films and songs. What got omitted was the stuff I wrote about sources of information.

To be fair, I expected this. The Guardian has become so conservative in its politics that any mention of The Canary, say, will be thoroughly excised. The editor of The Guardian is traditionally a timorous person from a private school, who can be relied upon to shop whistleblowers and quake before the fearsome might of the “intelligence community.” But during the general election campaign, the former newspaper excelled itself in doing its master’s bidding, and going out of its way to stop Corbyn winning a general election: peddling anti-semitism smears and red-baiting one of the very few decent individuals left in English politics. Pretending the Labour leader was a Russian dupe is par for the course for the BBC and the Murdoch press. When The Guardian joined the pack it was a media fait accompli.

One might argue that really it was the Blairite fifth column in the administration of the Labour party which sank the ship. There’s a long article about that here. which discusses an 841-page Labour investigation into its various failings. The leaked document “shows that some of the most senior employees of the Labour Party held its elected leadership in contempt, despised their own party members and even acted in a conspiratorial manner that undermined our 2017 general election campaign.”

So the Blairite faction in the Labour Party preferred to lose an election than win one. Their only goal was to ensure that their own, moderately-leftish, socialist candidate wasn’t elected. Does that remind the American reader of anything? Is there another political party anywhere with an entrenched neoliberal administration who despise their own supporters and would rather lose than see a moderately-leftish, socialist candidate win?

In the general election, the Conservatives didn’t pick up many extra votes. What won it for them were the 800,000 Labour voters who didn’t turn up at the polls. In several cases, anti-Corbyn Labour MPs lost their seats – including the egregious Ruth Smeeth, peddler of the “anti-semitic” calumny against her own party. There are surely numerous reasons why those Labour voters didn’t vote. They may have detested the local candidate that the London-based party imposed on them. They may have opposed Labour’s support of a second Brexit referendum. They may have believed the “anti-semitic” or “Russian agent” propaganda of the mainstream media. They may have felt the opposite, and given up on Corbyn and the party for not responding strongly and forcefully to obvious lies and bullshit. I don’t imagine we shall ever know.

Nor, I suppose, will we ever know why Bernie Sanders threw in the towel so early, in the face of blatant vote-stealing and vote suppression by the Democratic Party. Sure, the DNC were stealing primary votes and making voting difficult, just as they did in 2016. What did he expect? The Coronavirus affects everything, which is why we need a political class who understand the need for universal health care and a minimum basic income. In terms of the presidential race, Sanders was the only candidate close to such positions. Now that he is gone, what professional politician represents us?

Anyway, the point I have wandered from is, if one doesn’t read MSM any more, or watch stupid-ass TV “news”, how does one get one’s information? I have no social media, and a cheery disposition as a result, so I’m reliant on books, of course, and for daily information on those old-fashioned things called websites.

Which news-oriented websites to visit? Here we are in luck. A few years back an “anonymous” propaganda outfit called Prop Or Not was heavily promoted by the Bezos Shopper. Prop Or Not had a website, and the website told you which other websites were secret channels for Russian disinformation. I made a little informational video about the Prop Or Not blacklist, which you can watch here.

Prop Or Not remains entirely anonymous (“an independent team of concerned Americans”) unlike other state-sponsored propaganda outlets like SmellingRat and the Integrity Initiative, which offer contact info. But the Bezos Shopper article promoting their wares turned out to be fantastically useful, as it directed me to several excellent blogs and websites I hadn’t known before.

Of course, antiwar.com and Counterpunch were old favourites.

But have you visited Naked Capitalism? I think this is the most fascinating and useful site on the web. It contains commentary on finance, economics, politics and power. Its valiant team daily scour the internet for articles of interest, commission their own pieces, and provide links. There is always a focus on the environment, a cute animal or plant picture, and an extremely informed and informative commentariat. I love this site, and encourage you to visit it. Thank you, Prop Or Not!

(None of the sites I visit hide behind paywalls. It’s always possible to make a contribution to the project, which I try to do.)

Among the other sites which I mentioned in my [redacted] Guardian piece are Craig Murray’s blog (very valuable news regarding the dreadful trial-by-judge of Julian Assange and the attempted stitch-up of Alex Salmond. The authorities are coming after Craig Murray now, accusing him of contempt of court which means he, like Assange, will be tried by a politically appointed judge, not a jury. He faces two years in jail, with no freedom of speech defence permitted. Please support Craig if you can!), Consortium News, TeleSUR (a Venezuelan daily news site, in English), Mint Press News, The Gray Zone (some excellent reporting from Latin America), and EU Referendum, the site of a pro-Brexit philosanitary expert, Richard North: he is very knowledgeable about the complexities of Brexit (and disease communication) in a way that politicians and the MSM aren’t. And Black Agenda Report! And World Socialist Website! And also Wildfire Today, a very useful site about fighting wildfires, which probably Prop Or Not and The Guardian won’t mind if you visit.

One of the most worrying things about the current crisis – apart from the deaths and the sickness and the loss of jobs and ruin of small businesses – is the way gubmint and the tech companies are taking advantage of it to push their surveillance/censorship agenda. Some of the above sites you won’t find represented on Twitter or Facebook – their accounts were closed a while back. Yes, there is stupidity in the world and on the web, and much of it is amplified by social media, google, and youtube. But to deny dissenting voices the right to speak is worse than stupid. It is criminal. Indeed, in a “free” country it should be considered treason.

Meanwhile, Julian Assange, a journalist to whom all “free” people should be grateful, languishes in an English jail designed for terrorists. He has been convicted of no crime. He is denied access to his lawyers. Brought before the judge, he is confined in a glass box with uniformed guards. Assange_Glass_Box_Belmarsh He cannot hear the proceedings. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture says he is being tortured.

What does The Guardian have to say about this?

Nothing at all.

Fortunately the alternative media do report on Assange’s situation. Mint Press has some good articles, and Consortium News – perhaps the oldest news reporting site on the Internet! – also pays close attention to the journalist / publisher’s plight.