filthy britain

As it releases thousands of prisoners, UK government keeps Julian Assange locked-up in danger
Thomas Scripps, WSWS, Apr 6 2020

In response to the coronavirus crisis, the British Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced plans for the early release of up to 4,000 prisoners in England and Wales, just under 5% of the prison population. The selected “low-risk” prisoners in the last two months of their sentences will be electronically tagged and allowed back into the population to ease overcrowding. But the MoJ confirmed to the Australian Associated Press that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would not be released, on the mendacious and vindictive grounds that he is “not serving a custodial sentence,” and so is not eligible under the terms of the legislation. Assange is currently held on remand in Belmarsh maximum security prison in London. That is, he is not charged with any crime or serving any sentence in the UK. He is part way through an extradition hearing to decide on his extradition to Pindostan, where he faces a series of charges under the Espionage Act with a potential combined sentence of 175 years. The MoJ has in effect ruled that because Assange is an innocent man he must remain in prison, at grave risk to his life. Government promises of “robust plans” to reduce the spread of the virus through the prison system are belied by the rapid spread of cases and suspected cases in jails across the country. As of Saturday, 88 prisoners had tested positive for COVID-19 across 29 prisons, along with 15 prison staff across nine jails, meaning the virus is already present in at least a quarter of institutions in England and Wales. Another 1,200 prisoners are believed to be self-isolating, as are around 8,000 prison staff, one quarter of the total. Assange’s legal team reported last Tuesday that 200 staff at Belmarsh were among them. Three prisoners infected with the virus have already died, two of them at HMP Littlehey in Cambridgeshire. Lawyer Simon Creighton, who has clients at Littlehey, told BBC Newsnight:

If you think about how cruise ships have been seen as Petri dishes, prisons are about 1,000 times worse. Some of the contact I’ve had with prisoners over the last week has been terrifying.

On Saturday it was reported that two prison staff at Pentonville prison in North London had also died with COVID-19 infections. Assange has a chronic lung condition, and has had his health systematically destroyed by years of arbitrary detention and psychological torture. After bail was denied on Mar 16, the campaign group Doctors for Assange wrote an open letter signed by 200 doctors which warned:

Julian Assange’s life and health are at heightened risk due to his arbitrary detention during this global pandemic. That threat will only grow as the coronavirus spreads.

Dr Stephen Frost, a spokesperson for Doctors for Assange, told the WSWS:

This Kafkaesque and sadistic decision by the UK government must be opposed by all doctors. It marks a continuation of the prolonged psychological torture of Julian Assange, as found by UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Nils Melzer, in May 2019. Mr Assange’s life is in grave danger.

This past Friday, psychiatrist and co-founder of the Critical Psychiatry Network, Dr Duncan Double, wrote a sharp statement for Critical Psychiatry concluding:

The psychological torture of Julian Assange must end. His mental state is putting him at physical risk of dying.

The next day a paper by clinical psychologist Dr Lissa Johnson signed by 21 psychiatrists and psychologists reiterated the physical harm done to Assange by his psychological abuse:

Via immunosuppressive and cardiovascular mechanisms, persistently and chronically activated stress physiology causes susceptibility to a range of potentially catastrophic illnesses and diseases. With chronic and severe stress, for example, and chronically elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, both immune cells and brain cells can physically self-destruct, a process known as apoptosis. Cortisol also exerts other well documented immunosuppressive effects, which impair the body’s ability to fight disease.

There is only one conclusion to be drawn from these events. The British government is determined to see Assange dead. The case for his release by any genuine standards of justice is overwhelming. The WikiLeaks founder is one of only two prisoners currently being held in Belmarsh prison on remand, pending the completion of an extradition trial for manifestly non-violent “crimes,” in fact for the exposure of war crimes. Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of WikiLeaks’ publication of the Collateral Murder video, showing the indiscriminate killing of unarmed civilians including two journalists, by a team of two Pindo Apache helicopters in Al-Amin al-Thaniya, Baghdad. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s decision to hold Assange, the most famous political prisoner in the world, on remand as a “flight risk” in Sep 2019 was outrageous. Her refusal to grant him bail for the same reasons two weeks ago, under conditions of a national lockdown, was a cruel farce. Assange’s state of health puts him clearly in the high-risk category for the coronavirus. The completion of his extradition hearing, scheduled to resume for at least three weeks on May 18, will in all likelihood be postponed. The danger of his contracting a life-threatening disease increases every day. In spite of all the difficulties imposed by the pandemic and the lockdown, Assange’s desperate situation demands an urgent response. Dr Johnson’s recent paper concludes:

Should Julian Assange die in prison, whether from coronavirus or any other catastrophic health outcome, we will have become a society that tortures its journalists to death publicly and with impunity, as a warning to all.

No effort can be spared in the fight to save the life of the most significant journalist of the 21st century. Committees for his defence must be organised amongst colleagues, classmates and neighbours, using every possible avenue of communication and means of organisation demanding his immediate release from Belmarsh prison.

Ten years since WikiLeaks published Collateral Murder
Oscar Grenfell, WSWS, Apr 6 2020

Yesterday marked 10 years since WikiLeaks published the Collateral Murder video, showing Pindo soldiers in an Apache helicopter indiscriminately firing upon unarmed civilians and journalists in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. The footage, filmed by the Pindo military on Jul 12 2007, shows the gunship circling above a group of 10 men, going about their business in the suburb of Al-Amin al-Thaniyah. In increasingly exasperated tones, those on board ask whether they have been given permission to open fire on the individuals, who pose no conceivable threat. When the signal has been given, they let loose with 30 mm cannon fire. The viewer’s horror at the massacre is matched only by revulsion at the glee of the Pindo soldiers. As the 10 men lie catastrophically wounded or dead, a Pindo soldier expresses his hope that one of them will pick up a non-existent weapon, so that the fusillade may be resumed. A van pulls up to give assistance to the wounded. It is fired upon, killing the driver and inflicting horrific wounds on his two young children. At the end of the carnage, as many as 18 lie dead. They include Reuters journalists Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen. Congratulations and more blood lust are the response from within the Apache. The video has had an indelible impact on the consciousness of millions of people around the world. Its 39 minutes of footage exposed the real character of the Pindo invasion and occupation of Iraq as an illegal, neocolonial operation involving the perpetration of war crimes and an assault on the social and democratic rights of an entire population, unprecedented since the horrors of the Nazi regime.

A decade has passed, and none of those responsible for the 2007 massacre depicted in the video, or for the illegal invasion which resulted in the deaths of over a million people, has been brought to justice. Some, such as Bush 41 and then Australian PM John Howard, are enjoying a quiet retirement. Others, including former British PM Tony Blair, remain politically influential and powerful figures, while still more are at the helm of Pindo & vassal militaries as they continue to perpetrate crimes in the Middle East, and plot new wars, including against China and Russia. The only individuals who have suffered any repercussions as a result of Collateral Murder are Chelsea Manning, the courageous army private who leaked the video, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who published it. Manning was released from six months imprisonment last month after refusing to give false testimony against Assange before a secret Grand Jury. Behind bars without charge or conviction, she was again driven to attempt to take her own life. Assange, after almost a decade of arbitrary detention, faces the prospect of extradition from Britain to Pindostan, where he would be hauled before a kangaroo court, convicted on espionage charges and sentenced to life in a supermax prison. Assange’s only “offence” is having exposed the war crimes, global diplomatic conspiracies and mass spying operations of the American and allied governments. Even before he has been extradited, all of the WikiLeaks founder’s rights have been trampled upon by a corrupt British judiciary and political establishment. After years of abuse, his life is in imminent danger. The British government and the courts have refused to release him as the coronavirus pandemic hits British prisons, despite the fact that Assange is on remand and has been convicted of no crime. The very individuals responsible for the crimes exposed in Collateral Murder are spearheading the attempt to destroy Assange. They include the Pindo military & intelligence agencies, the Pindo ruling elite’s political parties and their vassales in the British political parties and the Australian political establishment.

The video revealed, not only the crimes of individuals, but the systemic criminality of the entire occupation of Iraq, implicating the military commands, governments and a pliant corporate media. On Jul 13 2007, CENTCOM issued a statement which declared that the Reuters employees Chmagh and Noor-Eldeen, had been “killed during a firefight with insurgents.” An Aug 2007 FoIA request for the footage lodged by Reuters was denied by the Pindo government and the Pentagon. Perhaps most damningly, the publication of Collateral Murder exposed the corporate press as an adjunct of the military as it was wantonly committing war crimes. All of the major publications in Pindostan, from the NYT to the WaPo, had promoted the lies about WMDs used to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq. Manning had contacted those outlets and others, but never received a reply, prompting her to turn to WikiLeaks. At least some corporate journalists were already intimately familiar with the crimes that politically radicalised Manning. During the invasion of Iraq they were “the embedded ones,” integrating themselves into the military and filing breathless reports hailing the decimation of Iraq’s civilian and military infrastructure and the catastrophe that befell its population. In a 2009 book, WaPo journalist David Finkel described a scene that bore striking similarities to the 2007 Apache attack in Baghdad. His book was titled unironically The Good Soldiers. Finkel’s follow-up work was headlined Thank You for Your Service. According to some sources, Finkel and the WaPo had had access to the video since at least 2009. There are even allegations that the reporter showed it to friends and colleagues at dinner parties held in his plush Faschingstein home.

The response of WikiLeaks, a tiny organisation with extremely limited resources, was very different. Assange and a group of colleagues spent months decrypting the video, studying its contents and investigating the events it depicted. This alone should put paid to the claims of the corrupt corporate stenographers of the intelligence agencies that Assange is “not a journalist.” Current WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hraffnson risked his life to track down the victims of the attack, travelling to Iraq two years after a secret Pentagon document had outlined a strategy to destroy WikiLeaks. Hraffnson met the widow of Matasher Tomal, the man who was killed while attempting to help those wounded in the first barrage of artillery fire. He spoke to Tomal’s children Sayad, who was 10 at the time of the attack, and Doaha who was just 5 years old. Both suffered wounds that will affect them for life. In an interview at the time, Hraffnson commented on the experience of speaking to Sayad:

When I was watching his eyes, I was looking into the eyes of my own son. I think I have never been as touched by anything I’ve seen. The sorrow of a child who loses his father is so deep, so devastating. I really wanted to get that to the public.

Asked by the interviewer if it had not been dangerous for him to travel to Iraq, Hraffnson commented:

Yes, but journalism should be dangerous. Journalists are becoming, and have been, a part of the military propaganda machinery, easily manipulated.

For his part, Assange unveiled the footage at the Pindo National Press Club, despite Pentagon. All of those credited on the Collateral Murder video, including those who ended their collaboration with WikiLeaks many years ago, have been subjected to harassment and surveillance by the military intelligence complex, including having their personal details and correspondence subpoenaed from major internet conglomerates. The Collateral Murder video will be remembered for decades as testimony to the barbarity of imperialist war. Its contents are more significant than ever, amid stepped-up inter-imperialist tensions and preparations for new and catastrophic military conflicts. Workers, students and young people must do everything they can to fight for Assange’s freedom and for the safety and security of all those involved in this historic exposure of militarism and war. Yesterday, WikiLeaks held an online meeting marking the anniversary of Collateral Murder, at which Hraffnson and others spoke. It can be viewed here.

New UK Labour leader Keir Starmer offers national unity with Tory government
Chris Marsden, WSWS, Apr 6 2020

The first act of newly elected Labour leader ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer was to agree cooperation with Boris Johnson’s Conservative government for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. Starmer’s embrace of Johnson’s vicious anti-working-class government confirms that outgoing leader Jeremy Corbyn has presided over a massive shift to the right in official politics, with grave implications for the working class. Almost five years after Corbyn was elected party leader in 2015 promising to end Labour’s pro-business, pro-austerity, pro-war agenda, the Blairites are back in the saddle and contemplating moves that even Tony Blair would have considered political suicide. Corbyn’s constant retreats on all fundamental issues, demanding Labour councils impose austerity, agreeing a free vote on war against Syria, backing NATO membership and retaining nuclear weapons, together with his cowardly refusal to oppose the witch-hunting of his supporters has ended in a debacle. Workers have deserted Labour in droves, and the hundreds of thousands who joined to twice elect him leader have been left angry and disenfranchised. As a result, almost 300,000 eligible voters abstained in the leadership ballot and many are now quitting a party that is as pro-imperialist as it ever was. Starmer easily won on the first round, with 56% of the vote. Len McCluskey’s protégé Long-Bailey came second with just 27.6%. Rayner was comfortably elected as deputy leader, while all three contested posts on the National Executive Committee were won by right-wingers. Immediately prior to the result announcement on Saturday, Johnson invited all opposition leaders to a coronavirus briefing at No 10, stating:

As party leaders we have a duty to work together during this time of national emergency.

Starmer was ready with a prepared response. His filmed victory statement declared:

Our willingness to come together like this as a nation has been lying dormant for too long. Under my leadership we will engage constructively with the government, not opposition for opposition’s sake. Not scoring party political points or making impossible demands. But with the courage to support where that’s the right thing to do.

Starmer’s next step was to ring Johnson, with a spox explaining:

Sir Keir has offered to work constructively with the government and has agreed arrangements for privy council briefings and discussions going forward.

While extending an olive branch to the Tories, Starmer made clear that the witch-hunting of hundreds of left-leaning Labour members as anti-Semites would be stepped up, he claimed

Anti-Semitism has been a stain on our party, and I will tear out this poison by its roots.

Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times predicted last week:

Starmer will purge Jeremy Corbyn’s allies in the shadow cabinet and party headquarters within weeks of becoming Labour leader.

This week, the newspaper’s deputy editor Sarah Baxter wrote:

Starmer will be judged on whether he will send packing the Marxists, the ultra-leftists and the anti-Semites who flocked to Corbyn’s banner.

To all intents, the Labour Party is now in a government of national unity with the Tories, though it hasn’t yet been formalised, given the readiness of Labour to do whatever is demanded of it. But yesterday’s announcement that Johnson was taken to hospital continuing to suffer from COVID-19 could accelarate discussions on a national unity government. Labour will do all it can to reinforce the message that the working class must accept the erosion of its democratic rights now proceeding under the pretext of combating the coronavirus. It will insist there must be no challenging a government that has handed over £370b to the banks and corporations, even as Johnson’s weeks of inaction on COVID-19 and swingeing cuts to the NHS and care services is leading to thousands of needless deaths. A “national unity” strategy has all been discussed behind closed doors and in the media for weeks, in a brazen political conspiracy against the working class. The pro-Tory Daily Telegraph editorialised on Mar 18:

Everyone, including the Opposition, needs to row in the same direction. Perhaps a cross-party War Cabinet is required.

George Freeman, a former minister in Johnson’s government, told the Groon on Mar 24:

The scale of this national emergency demands a suspension of politics as usual. When Labour have a sensible new leader, Keir Starmer should be invited to COVID cabinet, Cobra and joint No 10 briefings.

The Groon, eager to avoid indiscretion, inserted “if elected” in square brackets. The various advocates of national unity repeatedly cite Winston Churchill’s wartime coalition with Labour under Clement Atlee as their example. However, today’s collusion between Labour and the Tories is not motivated by a supposed “war on the coronavirus,” but in furtherance of an ongoing war against the working class. As one leading supporter of Starmer told the Financial Times:

The precedent for Attlee is not a bad one. If bodies start to mount up in a serious way and lockdown has to continue and we start to see civil unrest, Johnson might say, ‘Why don’t you come in and help us?’

None of this will end with COVID-19 being brought under control. Hundreds of thousands have already lost their jobs. Millions more are threatened. Moreover, as was the case with the 2008 bail-out, the massive sums handed over to the corporate elite in the past weeks are to be paid for through stepped-up austerity and imposing savage levels of exploitation in the factories and workplaces. Once the anticipated surge in COVID-19 cases has passed, Labour will back the government in any moves to suppress rising social discontent at a time of continued “national emergency.” No opposition will be forthcoming from the supposed Labour left, whose impotence and cowardice found such perfect embodiment in Corbyn. His self-declared successor Long-Bailey already indicated she is ready to join a national unity government, telling Sky TV before the ballot result was announced:

I’ve already been collaborating with the government and urging them to listen to my advice and the advice of my colleagues in tackling this crisis, because we want to be as helpful as possible. We’re trying to help, and that’s what I’ll do as leader, and that’s what I’ll do if I’m not leader, if I’m supporting a new leader.

The Labour Party is dead as far as the working class is concerned. Workers and youth must now strike out on a new path: class struggle and the fight for socialism. We call on working people to join us in rejecting all appeals for national unity which are used to justify imposing savage attacks on jobs, wages and democratic rights. Workers must demand:

  • An end to the bail-out of the banks and corporations. Public money must be directed towards fighting the pandemic, providing the necessary resources to the NHS and care sector and safeguarding the jobs and livelihoods of working people.
  • Seize the wealth of the super-rich. Take the banks and corporations into public ownership without compensation to fund essential social protections.
  • No job and wage cuts. Freeze mortgages, rents and utility payments for the duration of the pandemic. Place production under the democratic control of the working class.
  • No confidence in the trade unions, which are tools of the government and the employers. Form rank-and-file committees in every workplace and neighbourhood.

Combating COVID-19, global warming, war and other existential threats to life demands intensive and planned collaboration between the peoples of the world, including their scientists and other experts. But this means ending the division of the world into antagonistic nation states based upon production for private profit, not social need, through the world-wide revolutionary transfer of political power from the capitalist class to the working class.

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