US records show Starmer met with Attorney General Eric Holder and a host of American and British national security officials in Washington in 2011, when he was in charge of Julian Assange’s proposed extradition to Sweden.
Starmer was in Washington three times while in charge of Assange’s proposed extradition to Sweden
Starmer led five-person British delegation that met with Holder for 45 minutes in Washington in November 2011
Delegation included the UK liaison prosecutor to the US, who dealt with extradition
Meeting was also attended by head of US Department of Justice’s national security division
CPS refuses to clarify to Declassified if destruction of the Washington documents is routine procedure
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), England and Wales’ public prosecutor, has deleted all records of its former head Keir Starmer’s trips to the US, it can be revealed.
Starmer served as Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) from 2008-13, a period when the body was overseeing Julian Assange’s proposed extradition to Sweden to face questioning over sexual assault allegations.
Starmer, who became an MP in 2015, is now leader of the Labour Party. Assange, meanwhile, faces imminent extradition to the US to face up to 175 years in prison under charges mostly related to the US Espionage Act.
While DPP, Starmer made trips to Washington in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013 at a cost to the British taxpayer of £21,603. It was his most frequent foreign destination while in post. Max Hill, the current DPP, has made just one trip to Washington during his five-year tenure.
During Starmer’s time in post, the CPS was marred by irregularities surrounding the case of the WikiLeaks founder.
During Starmer’s time in post, the CPS was marred by irregularities surrounding the case of the WikiLeaks founder.
The organisation has admitted to destroying key emails related to the Assange case, mostly covering the period when Starmer was in charge, while the CPS lawyer overseeing the case advised the Swedes in 2010 or 2011 not to visit London to interview Assange.
An interview at that time could have prevented the long-running embassy standoff.
Assange and WikiLeaks began publishing classified US diplomatic cables – in alliance with some of the world’s largest newspapers – in November 2010. In the same month, Sweden issued an international arrest warrant for Assange over allegations of sexual misconduct, leading to a protracted legal battle, in which the CPS was heavily involved.
Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi has been waging a years-long legal fight to access documents related to the CPS and Assange case. However, the role of its then head, Keir Starmer, in the episode has always remained unclear.
Earlier today Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF’s) Secretary-General Christophe Deloire and Director of Operations and Campaigns Rebecca Vincent arrived to visit Julian Assange inside Belmarsh prison but were denied access at the last minute.
RSF’s representatives had been granted permission to visit Assange before the four-year anniversary of his imprisonment in Belmarsh, where he has been held since 11 April 2019.
Christophe Deloire, RSF Secretary-General, said: “We are deeply disappointed by the arbitrary decision of the Belmarsh Prison Governor to prevent us from visiting Julian Assange, despite following all relevant prison procedures and rules. Julian Assange has the right to receive visitors in prison, and we are legitimate to visit him as a press freedom NGO. We call for an urgent reversal of this decision and to be allowed visitation access without further delay.”
Rebecca Vincent, RSF Director of Operations, said: “This is the latest in a long series of ludicrous obstacles that we have faced over the past three years in campaigning for the release of Julian Assange. At every level, British authorities have defaulted to secrecy and exclusion rather than allowing normal engagement around this case – from refusing to accept RSF petitions, to making it nearly impossible to access court, and now this. What do they have to hide? Regardless, we continue our campaign to #FreeAssange.“
WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson commented on the news: “A press freedom NGO barred from visiting a political prisoner and a journalist (after visit had previously been confirmed). This is not Russia, China or North Korea but the United Kingdom. Remember this next time the UK Government tries to lecture you on lack of press freedom elsewhere.”
OPINION: Instead of launching a war, the US and UK could have weaned us off the fossil fuels that pay for the brutal regimes of dictators
Twenty years ago today, [20 March] war was once again unleashed on Baghdad. In the UK – and much of the rest of the world – people sat in front of their TVs watching the skies above the ancient city flash with flame as buildings were rendered to rubble, the limbs and lives inside crushed.
The real victims of George Bush and Tony Blair’s shock and awe were, of course, the people of Iraq. Estimates of violent deaths range from a hundred thousand to a million. That doesn’t include the arms and legs that were lost, the families devastated, the melted minds and broken souls, trauma that will shatter down generations. It doesn’t include anyone killed in the conflict since then: there are still British and US troops in the country. It doesn’t include the poverty resulting from crushed infrastructure, the hopes abandoned and the potential immolated.
And that’s just the 2003 war: Britain has bombed Iraq in seven of the last 11 decades.
But in far gentler ways, the war was to shape the lives of those watching through their TVs, too. The invasion of Iraq – along with the other post-9/11 wars – was a road our governments chose irrevocably to drive us down. And we, too, have been changed by the journey.
The financial cost of the Iraq war to the US government, up to 2020, is estimated at $2trn. The post-9/11 wars together cost the US around $8trn, a quarter of its debt of $31trn. Much of the money was borrowed from foreign governments, in a debt boom which, some economists have argued, played a key role in the 2008 crash.
It was in this period, in particular, that China bought up billions of dollars of US government debt. Just before Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Beijing had overtaken Tokyo as the world’s largest holder of US Treasury bonds. Today, America’s neoconservatives are obsessed with China’s power over the US. What they rarely mention is that this was delivered by their wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Britain’s financial contribution was more meagre – in 2015 the UK government estimated it had spent £8.1bn on the invasion of Iraq, and around £21bn on Afghanistan. But these are hardly figures to be sniffed at.
Also significant, in both cases, is where this money went: the Iraq war saw a revolution in the outsourcing of violence. In 2003, when the war began, the UK foreign office spent £12.6m on private security firms. By 2015, just one contract – paying G4S to guard Britain’s embassy in Afghanistan – was worth £100m.
Over the course of the wars, the UK became the world centre for private military contractors – or, to use the old fashioned word, mercenaries. While many of these are private army units, others offer more specialist skills: retired senior British spooks now offer intelligence advice to central-Asian dictators and, as we found out with Cambridge Analytica during the Brexit vote, psychological operations teams who honed their skills in Iraq soon realised how much money they could make trialling their wares on the domestic population.
This vast expansion of the military industrial complex in both the US and UK hasn’t just done direct damage to our politics and economy – affecting the living standards of hundreds of millions of people across the world. It has also distorted our society, steered investment into militarised technology when research is desperately needed to address the climate and biodiversity crises.
Similarly, the war changed British politics. First, and perhaps most profoundly, because it was waged on a lie, perhaps the most notorious lie in modern Britain, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Acres of text have been written about the rapid decline in public trust in politicians in the UK in recent years. Very few grapple with the basic point – that, within the memory of most voters, a prime minister looked us in the eye, and told us that he had to lead us into war, based on a threat that turned out to be fictional. There are lots of reasons people increasingly don’t trust politicians – and therefore trust democracy less and less. But the Iraq war is a long way up the list.
Obama – who had opposed the war – managed to rally some of that breakdown of trust into a positive movement (whatever you think of his presidency, the movement behind it was positive). So did the SNP in Scotland.
But often, it went the other way. If the war hadn’t happened, would Cleggmania have swung the 2010 election from Gordon Brown to David Cameron? Probably not. And this, of course, led to the second great lie of modern British politics, the one about tuition fees and austerity.
Without the invasion, would Donald Trump have won in 2016? Would Brexit have happened?
There is a generation of us – now approaching our 40s – who were coming into political consciousness as Iraq was bombed. Many of us marched against the war, many more were horrified by it. The generation before us – Gen X – were amazingly unpolitical. Coming of age in the 1990s, at the end of history, very few got involved in social movements or joined political parties.
When I was involved in student politics in the years following Bush and Blair’s invasion, student unions across the UK were smashing turnout records. Soon, those enraged by the war found Make Poverty History, the climate crisis, the financial crisis and austerity. A generation of political organisers grew up through climate camps and Occupy and became a leading force behind Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, helping organise a magnificent younger cohort of Gen-Zers which arrived after us.
But I shouldn’t end on a positive note. The disaster predicted by the millions across the world who marched against the war has played out. Hundreds of thousands have died. The Middle East continues to be dominated by dictators.
This war was justified on the grounds that Saddam was a threat to the world. But while his weapons of mass destruction were invented, scientists were already warning us about a very real risk; already telling us that we had a few short decades to address the climate crisis.
Rather than launching a war that would give the West access to some of the world’s largest oil reserves, the US and UK could have channelled their vast resources into weaning us off the fossil fuels that pay for the brutal regimes of dictators. Instead, we incinerated that money, and the world, with it.
The five major media outlets that collaborated with WikiLeaks in 2010 to publish explosive stories based on confidential diplomatic cables from the U.S. State Department sent a letter Monday calling on the Biden administration to drop all charges against Julian Assange, who has been languishing in a high-security London prison for more than three years in connection with his publication of classified documents.
“Twelve years after the publication of ‘Cablegate,’ it is time for the U.S. government to end its prosecution of Julian Assange for publishing secrets,” reads the letter signed by the editors and publishers of The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El País. “Publishing is not a crime.”
The letter comes as Assange, the founder and publisher of WikiLeaks, is fighting the U.S. government’s attempt to extradite him to face charges of violating the draconian Espionage Act of 1917. If found guilty on all counts, Assange would face a prison sentence of up to 175 years for publishing classified information—a common journalistic practice.
Press freedom organizations have vocally warned that Assange’s prosecution would pose a threat to journalists the world over, a message that the five newspapers echoed in their letter Monday.
“This indictment sets a dangerous precedent, and threatens to undermine America’s First Amendment and the freedom of the press,” the letter reads. “Obtaining and disclosing sensitive information when necessary in the public interest is a core part of the daily work of journalists. If that work is criminalized, our public discourse and our democracies are made significantly weaker.”
The “Cablegate” leak consisted of more than 250,000 confidential U.S. diplomatic cables that offered what the Times characterized as “an unprecedented look at back-room bargaining by embassies around the world.”
Among other revelations, the documents confirmed that the U.S. carried out a 2009 airstrike in Yemen that killed dozens of civilians. Cables released by WikiLeaks showed that then-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh assured U.S. Central Command Gen. David Petraeus that the Yemeni government would “continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.”
The media outlets’ letter notes that “the Obama-Biden administration, in office during the WikiLeaks publication in 2010, refrained from indicting Assange, explaining that they would have had to indict journalists from major news outlets too.”
“Their position placed a premium on press freedom, despite its uncomfortable consequences,” the letter continues. “Under Donald Trump, however, the position changed. The [Department of Justice] relied on an old law, the Espionage Act of 1917 (designed to prosecute potential spies during World War One), which has never been used to prosecute a publisher or broadcaster.”
Despite dire warnings from rights groups, the Biden administration has decided to continue pursuing Assange’s extradition and prosecution.
In June, the United Kingdom formally approved the U.S. extradition request even after a judge warned extradition would threaten Assange’s life.
Assange’s legal team filed an appeal in August, alleging that the WikiLeaks founder is “being prosecuted and punished for his political opinions.”