With pressure mounting on the Biden administration, its pursuit of Assange was becoming both damaging and untenable

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Julian Assange speaks at London's Ecuadorian Embassy
Julian Assange speaks at London’s Ecuadorian Embassy

Emma Shortis, RMIT University

Today, in a surprise development likely weeks in the planning, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was able to leave the United Kingdom for the first time in more than a decade after reaching a plea deal with the US government.

In the past several months, momentum has been building towards this moment. There was increasing bipartisan support in both the Australian parliament and the US Congress for the Australian citizen’s release. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has made repeated statements on his behalf, and in April, US President Joe Biden said he was “considering” a request from Australia to drop its prosecution of Assange.

This all contributed to the sense the matter might be resolved before Assange’s final UK hearing date, previously scheduled for July 9 and 10. The timing of the deal is also a welcome prelude to Albanese’s visit to Washington next week.

Such a resolution, however, was not inevitable. And it is not over yet.



A relentless, years-long pursuit

The United States’ pursuit of Assange has seemingly been relentless since WikiLeaks posted hundreds of thousands of classified military documents in 2010. It wasn’t until 2019 under the then President Donald Trump, however, that he was finally indicted on 17 counts of violating the 1917 Espionage Act.

The charges against Assange were not just considered unprecedented, they raised significant First Amendment concerns.

The apparent desire to punish Assange for the embarrassment caused by the leaks – and to deter others from taking similar action – was apparently so strong the CIA allegedly discussed plans to kidnap and even assassinate Assange during the Trump administration, according to US media reports.

In the UK courts, the US Department of Justice had argued Assange should be subject to US law and extradited to face trial for his actions. However, as a non-citizen, there were questions over whether he could rely on the legal protections afforded by those same laws – particularly the constitutional right to free speech.

The successful extradition of Assange could have set a precedent by which the US could pursue journalists anywhere in the world for publishing information it did not like, while potentially denying them their fundamental First Amendment rights.

In a crucial election year in the US that President Joe Biden is framing as an existential fight for the soul of US democracy, the continued pursuit of Assange was as inconsistent as it was ultimately untenable. Viewed from the outside, it appeared the case was causing the Biden administration international embarrassment.

Biden has been careful to maintain an appropriate distance between the presidency and the Department of Justice. He came into office promising to restore faith in the rule of law following the Trump years, and has meticulously avoided any appearance of interference in the department’s work as it has investigated and indicted his predecessor.

Assange’s case, however, is wholly different to the charges on which Trump has been indicted. It is certainly possible to interpret Biden’s comment that he was “considering” dropping the charges as a gentle public rebuke of the Department of Justice’s pursuit of the case, given its global implications for a free press.

Broader implications for the alliance

The continued pursuit of Assange was also becoming problematic in the context of Australia’s alliance with the US. That relationship is always described as one based on shared democratic values, in contrast to what Biden has repeatedly framed as the coercive and repressive instincts of “authoritarian” powers.

The decision by the US to pursue a citizen of one of its closest allies for the publication of information, while simultaneously condemning authoritarian states for doing much the same, was both hypocritical and damaging to American standing in the world.

In the context of growing concern in Australia about the terms of the AUKUS submarine deal and the Australian government’s willingness to go “all-in” with the US militarily, the continued pursuit of Assange gave the impression that Australia’s most important security ally did not take its concerns seriously. Australia appeared simply to be snapping at America’s heels.

It also added to the sense that the “capital-A Alliance” between the two countries was increasingly dominated by security concerns, often at the expense of democratic accountability.

Because of the international campaign to free Assange and the support it received in both Australian and American democratic institutions, there appears to be have been a reconsideration of this focus on security interests over democratic values.

It should be noted, though, that the US didn’t drop its prosecution in the end; Assange has agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge of violating the Espionage Act, which in itself may set a concerning precedent for press freedom.

And the fact this saga happened at all – and that it has taken more than a decade to get close to resolution – should prompt deep reflection on the values that underpin both Australia’s relationship with its most important security ally and the United States’ role in the world.

Emma Shortis, Adjunct Senior Fellow, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Continue ReadingWith pressure mounting on the Biden administration, its pursuit of Assange was becoming both damaging and untenable

Will abandoning left-wing voters backfire for Keir Starmer?

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Original article by Paul Rogers republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence

Labour leader’s reluctance to differ from Tories on policy or Gaza sets stage for progressive independent candidates

Keir Starmer has moved Labour to the right – leaving left-wing voters without a political home  | Belinda Jiao/Getty Images

Almost all of Britain’s pollsters agree: the Labour Party is heading for a massive victory in this year’s general election, while Rishi Sunak’s Tories are set for a historic defeat. But there is another, far less talked about shift underway, which could see a wave of independent left-wing MPs elected.

Most polling firms expect Labour to win a majority of more than a hundred seats. A ‘poll of polls’ by political forecasting website Electoral Calculus suggests the party is on course for a 200+ majority.

These polls could all be wrong, but little seems to shake them. There is some evidence, though, of another trend that is yet to be reflected in the polls: Keir Starmer’s unwillingness to set out any clear policy differences from the Conservatives may be backfiring.

One area likely to cause the Labour leader trouble is his position – or lack thereof – on Israel’s war on Gaza.

Several polls in recent months have indicated that around 70% of people in the UK want an immediate ceasefire, and there are weekly demonstrations in towns and cities across the country in support of Palestinians. Organisers of a march in London last week estimated that up to 400,000 people had gathered to demand an end to the violence.

These protests receive minimal coverage in the mainstream media, bar senior Conservatives labelling the peaceful crowds as ‘hate mobs’. The government maintains strong support for Israel, continuing to sell arms and share intelligence with the country, as well as allowing it to use RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus as a support base – a position Labour has largely agreed with.

This leaves a huge gap in political representation, at least from the biggest two parties, for swathes of people nationwide.

It was in this opening that former Labour MP George Galloway – who was kicked out of the party in the 2000s after objecting to the UK entering the Iraq war – was elected as an independent MP for Rochdale last month, following a campaign that centred the need for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Another gap in political representation has been created by Starmer’s remodelling of the Labour Party, which has been sanitised to ensure it poses little or no threat to the political establishment. The majority of his policies so far appear to be a continuation of the status quo, suggesting little will change if the party wins the forthcoming election.

In contrast, so bold and progressive were the policies of his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, that the higher echelons of the Labour Party and the wider political and media establishment were determined to get rid of him from the offset.

A leadership challenge was mounted against him in the summer of 2016, little over a year after he was elected the party’s leader. Corbyn won comfortably – a fact I found unsurprising, having seen first-hand how he could pull a crowd of more than a thousand people to a hurriedly arranged event half a mile from a city centre.

Internal party opposition to Corbyn surged following his re-election, again backed by the mainstream media. When then Tory prime minister Theresa May called an election in 2017, many anticipated she would win a landslide victory that would consign ‘Corbynism’ to the outer margins.

Instead, Corbyn and his Labour manifesto struck a chord with many voters. Labour gains resulted in a hung parliament, to the horror of the political establishment, which worked to eliminate this threat from the left over the following two years.

After Labour lost the 2019 general election, Corbyn resigned and Starmer moved the party rightwards – prompting tens of thousands of its members to desert it as a result. Their votes are now up for grabs, and left-wing independents are hoping to win them.

Take a meeting in London just last weekend, scarcely reported on except by socialist paper The Morning Star. Two hundred of Labour’s former parliamentary candidates, councillors and supporters gathered to develop an alternative to its current stance on Gaza and other issues.

A sense of the mood at the event was best summed up by Tyneside’s independent socialist mayor Jamie Driscoll, who quit Labour after the party decided not to select him to run again for the north-east mayoral election in May.

In a video message played at the meeting, Driscoll said: “In the next election, both parties will have the same manifesto and the same rich donors pulling the strings.”

similar event is planned in Blackburn next month – just one part of a much wider movement that will likely see independent left-wing candidates standing against Labour candidates in many seats in the general election.

This is already being seen in England’s upcoming local council elections, where clusters of non-party, progressive candidates are working together in many parts of the country. In Blackburn, for example, every ward will have an independent left-wing candidate standing, as will all six wards in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. Early indications suggest similar trends in Merseyside and parts of London.

The accepted political wisdom in the UK is that once a general election is called, voters tend to revert to the usual pattern of voting. But if independent candidates were to pick up substantial numbers of votes in the local elections, even taking some council seats, it could indicate a political shift that means this wisdom will not apply this year.

This may seem unlikely but there is undeniably a political vacuum waiting to be filled – and a sense that something is afoot in British politics that is simply not being recognised.

Original article by Paul Rogers republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence

Status Quo, again and again and again and again
Continue ReadingWill abandoning left-wing voters backfire for Keir Starmer?

Journalist shreds Campbell’s denial he derided young people for Gaza outrage

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The Skwawkbox reports on Alastair Campbell lying about a speech he gave. Campbell claims that he didn’t deride young voters over Gaza but unfortunately for Tony Bliar’s liar-in-chief it was filmed.

There are more Alastair Campbell’s lies in the Evening Standard article:

“I know Tony didn’t lie, I know I didn’t lie,” he said. “But when you have made as part of your case, the fact that you have stated in your honest conviction, that this is about tackling Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the inspectors go in and they don’t find them, that’s a pretty obvious trust moment.”

Campbell is trying the “I honestly believed” defence when the truth is that he wrote a whole dodgy dossier full of lies. This cnut’s proper place is rotting in a prison.

Continue ReadingJournalist shreds Campbell’s denial he derided young people for Gaza outrage

Jeremy Corbyn’s 40 years as MP for Islington North

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The Morning Star reports on marking 40 years of Jeremy Corbyn as MP for Islington North.

Supporters pay tribute to Jeremy Corbyn’s 40 years

BEN CHACKO reports from a Crouch Hill event where locals and community leaders gathered to celebrate the dedicated service of their member of Parliament

Image of Jeremy Corbyn MP, former leader of the Labour Party
Jeremy Corbyn MP, former leader of the Labour Party

COMMUNITY and faith leaders, peace and social justice activists and local Labour Party members paid tribute to Jeremy Corbyn on Sunday in an event marking his 40 years as Islington North MP.

An afternoon of film, talks, dancing and refreshments saw hundreds pack the Brickworks Community Centre in London’s Crouch Hill neighbourhood — sending a strong message to the Labour Party that the constituency continues to support the MP that the national executive committee has banned from standing on a Labour ticket.

The range of speakers showcased Corbyn’s unparalleled campaigning record. Shirley Franklin of the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition recounted their work together to protect threatened services at the hospital, Kate Hudson of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament spoke of his dogged attendance at anti-nuclear demos come rain or shine and fellow MPs John McDonnell and Claudia Webbe saluted the courage he had shown in the face of appalling abuse to champion vital but unpopular causes at Westminster over the years.

Founder of the Muslim-Jewish Forum rabbi Herschel Gluck wryly pointed out that Jeremy resembled his namesake the prophet Jeremiah. “Jeremiah was a person who came with a message many people didn’t want to hear — and he was challenged but he continued to deliver his message,” he said.

‘We managed to achieve a fundamental change in political outlook’

After 40 years of being an MP, JEREMY CORBYN talks to Ben Chacko about the role of democracy, the long history of attacks on the left and the importance of taking a stand

It is war that comes to mind when I ask for his worst memories from 40 years in the Commons. Voting against the Gulf war in 1991 was “a very lonely place to be.” But the much bigger revolt against the 2003 invasion of Iraq didn’t cheer him. “Iraq was, in many ways, the worst because I don’t believe anyone that had objectively looked at any of the information at the time honestly believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

“You wouldn’t have to read very far into those documents to see that it was nonsense. Huge pressure was put on Labour MPs to vote for this — and that they did so was one of the low points.”

Corbyn’s courage showed what was possible

Despite the defeat of Corbynism, we now know more clearly than we have in decades how popular left-wing policies are if put to the public — and that’s all thanks to Corbyn’s bravery, writes CHELLEY RYAN

We were crying out for change, for Labour to become a real opposition, for hope — and Corbyn couldn’t resist that pressure despite his natural inclination to be part of the collective rather than lead it.

And that’s why we grew to respect, trust and even love him as a leader in a way that nobody, least of all Corbyn, could have ever envisaged.

Over time we were accused of being a cult with our “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” chant, scarves and badges. Frankly, we didn’t care. Not because we were a cult unless as some Corbyn supporters started to jokingly refer to themselves, they were members of “the cult of giving a f***.”

But because we knew this was never about Corbyn the man. It was all about what that man stood for and the hope he represented.

Having said that, we knew we owed that hope to the courage of that man and we loved him for it. And the more he was scorned and smeared and slandered, the more angry and outraged we became.

After all, we are a movement that only exists because of our intolerance of all things unfair and unjust, and the treatment Corbyn received from the Establishment, including — and especially — from the Labour rightwingers, was both of these things in spades.

Thanks to Corbyn and the movement that grew around him, we have seen how popular left-wing policy positions can be. We now know they almost won a general election despite the most hostile press and Parliamentary Labour Party in political history.

Continue ReadingJeremy Corbyn’s 40 years as MP for Islington North

Invading Iraq is what we did instead of tackling climate change

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Original article well said by Adam Ramsay republished from openDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

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

Traitor Tony Blair receives the Congressional Gold Medal of Honour from George 'Dubya' Bush
Traitor Tony Blair receives the Congressional Gold Medal of Honour from George ‘Dubya’ Bush

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.

Original article well said by Adam Ramsay republished from openDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Continue ReadingInvading Iraq is what we did instead of tackling climate change