WSWS, non-covid-related

US escalates military intervention in Syria
Bill Van Auken, WSWS, Sep 22 2020

The US has significantly escalated its military presence in northeastern Syria in response to growing friction with Russian forces deployed in the same area and in apparent preparation for carving out a US-backed “autonomous” zone controlling Syria’s major oil fields. On Friday, the US Central Command (Centcom), which oversees American military operations throughout the Middle East, announced the deployment of half a dozen Bradley fighting vehicles along with roughly 100 troops to operate them. The Pentagon is also beefing up radar installations in the area and increasing patrols by fighter jets and attack helicopters in a bid for control of the region’s airspace. While the US military’s announcement made no mention of Russia, the purpose of the deployment is clear. The actions were designed to “ensure the safety and security of Coalition forces,” CENTCOM spokesman Captain Bill Urban said in a statement, adding that Washington “does not seek conflict with any other nation in Syria, but will defend Coalition forces if necessary.” The deployment is ostensibly a response to an incident at the end of last month in which four US troops were injured in a collision between US and Russian armored vehicles near Syria’s northeastern triple border with Turkey and Iraq. Washington accused the Russian military of “unprofessional” conduct and a violation of “de-confliction protocols,” while Moscow charged that the US forces provoked the incident, attempting to block a previously announced Russian patrol. On the same day that the Pentagon announced the escalation of the illegal US military occupation in Syria, Trump repeated his semi-coherent explanation of US policy in the country, telling a White House press conference:

We are out of Syria other than we kept the oil. I kept the oil. We have troops guarding the oil. Other than that, we are out of Syria.

US military forces have been concentrated in Syria’s northeastern governorates of Deir ez-Zor and Al-Hasakah, the center of Syria’s oil production. While the official rationale for the occupation is the continuation of the 2014 intervention launched against Daesh, the reality is that US troops are there to deny the Syrian government access to energy resources that are desperately needed for the country’s reconstruction after nearly a decade of armed conflict. Washington is continuing a regime change policy it initiated in Syria in 2011 with the CIA’s arming and funding of Al Qaeda-linked militias in an attempt to overthrow the government of Assad. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have lost their lives and millions have been displaced by fighting. The US is maintaining a regime of sanctions against Damascus that is tantamount to a state of war, condemning the Syrian population to poverty and hindering the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. In a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions, the Trump administration has handed exploitation of the oil fields, via a deal signed with the Pentagon’s Kurdish proxy ground forces and overseen by Centcom—over to a hastily formed US oil company, Delta Crescent Energy, whose principal partners are a right-wing Republican former ambassador and an ex-Delta Force officer and Fox News contributor.

In an apparent bid to formalize US control of the oil-producing area by means of a colonial-style carve-up, Washington’s special envoy on Syria James Jeffrey arrived on Sep 20 at a US military base in Hasaka to oversee unity talks between two rival Syrian Kurdish factions, the Kurdish National Council in Syria (ENKS) and the Kurdish national unity parties (the largest of which is the PYD, the political arm of the YPG militia, the main component of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Pentagon’s proxy military force). The aim of the talks is the formation of a Kurdish “autonomous authority” to serve as a political facade for a permanent US military occupation of the Syrian oil-producing region. This initiative also has the backing of the Macron government in France. The move has heightened tensions with both Russia, which backs the Assad government, and Turkey, which has repeatedly intervened in Syria to prevent the formation of an autonomous Kurdish entity. It regards the US proxies in the YPG militia as a branch of the PKK Kurdish separatist movement in Turkey, labeled by both Ankara and Washington as a terrorist organization.

Trump green-lighted the Turkish military intervention in October of last year, which pushed Kurdish forces back from the Syrian-Turkish border. At the time, Trump demagogically claimed he was bringing all of the US troops in Syria “home,” only to reverse himself after a firestorm of criticism from within the US military and intelligence apparatus, declaring troops would remain behind to “take the oil.” There are also mounting tensions between Russia and Turkey over the Turkish military occupation of Idlib province in northwestern Syria and its backing of anti-government Islamist militias there. Russian jets reportedly carried out multiple airstrikes in Idlib on Sunday, targeting camps of the Islamist militia Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), whose dominant faction is the former Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda. Talks between Ankara and Moscow broke down recently over Russia’s demand that Turkey reduce its presence in Idlib, estimated at some 10,000 troops, and cede control of the strategic M4 highway to the Syrian government. Instead, Turkey has dispatched even more armored vehicles to the area.

The conflicting interests and objectives of the US, Russia and Turkey, which all have significant military assets deployed in close proximity to each other in Syria’s north, are a powder keg that can be set off by any miscalculation or provocation. US military aggression in Syria is joined with the relentless US campaign against Iran, the closest ally of Damascus, which has taken its latest form in Washington’s invoking of the “snapback” of United Nations sanctions that were suspended with the 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and the world’s major powers. All of the other signatories to the agreement, including Washington’s erstwhile European allies, the UK, France and Germany, have rejected this attack, insisting that the US has no standing to invoke the sanctions, having unilaterally abrogated the agreement in 2018. Nonetheless, Washington has announced a set of new unilateral anti-Iranian sanctions and is threatening secondary sanctions against countries trading with Iran.

The threat of an eruption of US militarism in Syria, against Iran or in Eastern Europe or the South China Sea has only been intensified by the global coronavirus pandemic and the social, economic and political crisis gripping American capitalism. The Trump administration’s embarking upon a new war as an “October Surprise” designed to shock the electorate in advance of the presidential election—or create the pretext for martial law—is a real and present danger. If it were to do so, it would be able to count on the complicity and support of the Democratic Party, which has repeatedly criticized the administration from the right as being too soft on Russia and China, in particular over the recent armored car sideswiping incident in Syria. The threat of a new war, with the potential of triggering a global nuclear conflagration, cannot be answered within the framework of the electoral contest between Trump and Biden. It requires an independent strategy of the working class, based upon the class struggle, and guided by a revolutionary socialist and internationalist program.

Trump to nominate new Supreme Court justice as early as Friday
Jacob Crosse, WSWS, Sep 22 2020

Brushing aside feckless pleas from Biden and congressional Democrats, Trump announced on Monday his intentions to nominate a new ultra-right member of the Supreme Court this week to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg no later than Saturday. Trump pushed back the nomination a day or two to accommodate the official mourning ceremonies, including Ginsburg lying in state Wednesday and Thursday, followed by a ceremony Friday morning at the US Capitol. He said that his options had been narrowed down to “five different women,” demonstrating that lip service to diversity, like lying about coronavirus and supporting American imperialism, is a bipartisan affair. The top two judges under discussion, according to press reports, are both judges on the US Circuit Court of Appeals, the second highest level of the federal courts. Trump appointed Amy Coney Barrett to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017 and Barbara Lagoa to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019. Trump mentioned the two in his initial phone call to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a few hours after Ginsburg’s death.

Both of the named judges under consideration are devout Catholics, and have made their anti-abortion views well known. Barrett and her family are part of the “People of Praise,” a secretive, ultra-conservative Catholic society that upholds male authority in the family and assigns senior members of the group to advisory roles, called “head” for men and “handmaid” (sic) for women. Members of the groups swear “a lifelong oath of loyalty, called a covenant, to one another,” according to a 2017 article in the NYT. Lagoa was born in Miami, the daughter of Cuban immigrants, and is married to the Miami leader of the Federalist Society, the well-funded lobbying group that promotes ultra-reactionary nominees to the bench. She was part of the legal team that sought to prevent Elian Gonzalez, a young Cuban boy taken by his mother to Florida, from being returned to his father in Cuba after her death. The 1999 case was a political sensation in right-wing anti-Castro circles. Lagoa’s most recent action on the 11th Circuit was to side with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Republican Party in their efforts to bar released felons from recovering their voting rights until they have paid all fees and court costs, despite a constitutional amendment approved by Florida voters in 2018 to put an end to the state’s shameful lifetime ban on voting by former prisoners.

The Democratic Party has confined its opposition to this further shift to the right on the highest US court to futile pleas for a handful of Republican senators to block consideration of the nomination until after the election. In a speech Sunday at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Biden pleaded with his old Senate colleagues not to take a step that would so flagrantly violate previous political norms, under which a vacancy arising so close to a presidential election would not be filled until after the voting—which in 2020 has already begun in many states. “Please follow your conscience,” Biden begged, addressing himself to long-serving representatives of big business who, like himself, have voted to defund social programs, wage unending war abroad and unconstitutionally spy on the entire planet. He urged the senators not “to confirm anyone nominated under the circumstances President Trump and Senator McConnell have created.”

It was notable that Biden did not argue against the ultra-right politics and anti-democratic views of those Trump was likely to nominate. He did not speak in defense of workers, African Americans, women, gays or others likely to be targeted by the constitutional counter-revolution advocated by groups like the Federalist Society. Instead, he warned the ruling class that pushing through such a nominee in so flagrantly anti-democratic a fashion could provoke a political eruption that the Democratic Party would not be able to control. He urged senators to “cool the flames that have been engulfing our country,” before warning that to “jam this nomination through” could lead to “a constitutional crisis that plunges us deeper in the abyss—deeper into the darkness.” Biden and the Democrats are worried that the installation of a 6–3 ultra-right majority on the high court, without any effective resistance by the Democratic Party, on the eve of an election in which Trump is trailing in the polls, will cause irreversible damage to the credibility of the Democrats as an “opposition party.” They also fear the blatantly hypocritical and undemocratic actions of Trump and the Senate Republicans will erode what little trust remains among the people in institutions like Congress, the Supreme Court, and the bourgeois state as a whole, and that when the social crisis in America produces a full-scale rebellion from below, the federal government will have lost all authority.

There is little indication that the efforts by Biden and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer to find a few additional votes among Republican senators have borne fruit. Only two Republicans, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, have called for delaying the nomination until after the election. Mitt Romney of Utah, the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, has declined to comment publicly until after today’s meeting of the Senate Republican caucus. Even if he opposes Trump, as he did in the impeachment trial, the result would be a 50–50 vote and Vice President Mike Pence would break the tie. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has sent a letter to committee Democrats in which he promised to “proceed expeditiously to process any nomination made by President Trump to fill this vacancy.”

EU parliament calls for international investigation into alleged poisoning of Navalny
Clara Weiss, WSWS, Sep 22 2020

Last Thursday, the European parliament passed a non-binding resolution, calling for an international investigation into the alleged poisoning of the right-wing Russian oppositionist Alexei Navalny. The resolution represents a significant escalation of the attempts by the European imperialist powers to destabilize the Putin regime and ratchet up tensions with Russia. Without providing evidence for any of its claims, the resolution speaks about the “attempted assassination of Alexei Navalny,” condemning it as “part of a systemic effort to silence him and other dissident voices.” The EU parliament urged an investigation involving the OPCW into a violation of the CWC. Nezasimaya Gazeta pointed out that such an investigation “into Russian domestic affairs” would be “unprecedented,” writing:

The proposal of the European parliament is reminiscent of the practice of international tribunals which have been created for a number of countries, above all in Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

The resolution also explicitly expressed political support for the anti-Putin opposition that Navalny is leading and calls for sanctions that target financial assets of “corrupted figures” from the Putin regime, in a clear attempt to further destabilize and foster divisions within the crisis-ridden Russian oligarchy. Finally, the resolution calls for pausing the construction of the almost completed NordStream 2 pipeline, which is to deliver gas directly from Russia to Germany, falling short of demanding that the project be scrapped entirely. In the German media, an aggressive campaign has been waged ever since the illness of Navalny, demanding that the project be scrapped altogether. However, there are also concerns about the impact on German companies, which have been heavily involved in this project. Moreover, newspapers like the FAZ, a leading mouthpiece of the German bourgeoisie, have warned of giving up the project, which Washington has repeatedly demanded. Shortly before the Navalny case began, the FAZ insisted that “to give in is not an option.” The pipeline is also part of an energy and national security strategy by Berlin that is aimed at turning the country into a central hub for European energy supplies.

A few days after the EU resolution, on Saturday, the FAZ published an interview with Leonid Volkov, the chief of Navalny’s staff. In the interview, Volkov insisted that there was no question that Putin ordered the “attack” on Navalny, and called for involvement of the OPCW in an investigation. There is little question as to what results such an “investigation” would bring: WikiLeaks documents have exposed the foul role of the OPCW in imperialist provocations during the Syrian civil war, in particular. In 2018, the OPCW fabricated a false report, on behalf of the US, Great Britain and France, that gave credence to their lies that the Assad regime was to blame for chemical attacks in the Syrian civil war. The doctored report, which was written in explicit opposition to evidence the OPCW’s own investigators found, was critical to providing the pretense for a military attack on Syria. Volkov also repeatedly compared Putin directly to Hitler. These comparisons were gleefully encouraged by the interviewer, Konrad Schuller. Over the past years, the FAZ has played a central role in justifying the relativization of Nazi crimes by German academics like Jörg Baberowski, and has spearheaded the public campaign against the SGP (the SEP in Germany), which has led the opposition to the resurgence of fascism in Germany. Volkov then emphasized that the opposition had to be “the strongest force“ in Russia should there be a palace coup and a movement against Putin.

The Navalny case bears all the hallmarks of a major political provocation. On a factual level, nothing makes sense. While the imperialist powers unanimously proclaim that he has been poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, one of the deadliest poisons in the world, Navalny has almost recovered within weeks with no apparent lasting damage, and is now hammering away at the Putin regime on social media. Navalny fell seriously ill on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow on Aug 20. His illness coincided with the peak of the crisis in Belarus, where mass protests and strikes against the Lukashenko regime erupted after the August 9 elections. The EU, and especially Germany, have sought to intervene in this crisis by bolstering the pro-NATO opposition, while seeking to contain the strike movement, to advance their geopolitical interests in Eastern Europe. Within 48 hours, German Chancellor Angela Merkel arranged for his flight from Omsk to Berlin’s Charité, the leading university clinic in Europe. The flight was organized by an NGO whose backers and board members include Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as the former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer. In fact, by the time he reached Germany, his condition had already stabilized. Laboratory tests done by the German army (Bundeswehr) allegedly found traces of the extremely deadly Novichok nerve agent on a bottle that Navalny supposedly used, as well as on his body.

No-one has even tried to explain how not only Navalny survived the alleged poisoning with Novichok largely unscathed, but also why no one in his surroundings showed the slightest symptoms of poisoning. When Sergei Skripal and his daughter were allegedly poisoned in Britain with Novichok in 2018, a case that was generally no less obscure than that of Navalny: one person that had come into contact with the Skripals died (wrong: Dawn Sturgess had no such contact – RB), and entire buildings had to be evacuated for contamination. The story was made even less credible when reports emerged last week alleging that supporters of Navalny had physically rescued this particular water bottle from a hotel room as soon as news of the poisoning had emerged. None of the team’s members showed any signs of poisoning. Moreover, up until the German army lab claimed to have found Novichok on the bottle, there had been no reports whatsoever of any water bottle. On the contrary, Navalny’s team insisted for days that all he had consumed on Aug 20 was a cup of black tea at the airport. Despite these glaring contradictions, the German government and media have launched an extraordinary campaign over the Navalny case directed against the Putin regime. The Russian government has repeatedly described the case as a “gross hostile provocation” and has sharply warned of a serious deterioration of Russian-German relations. Workers must be warned of the sinister operations of the imperialist powers, which now center on escalating the military build-up and bolstering the forces around Navalny. Navalny’s opposition has nothing to do with defending democratic rights or opposing the Putin regime on an even remotely progressive basis.

Navalny himself has long maintained ties to far-right forces in Russia, and Leonid Volkov is a key figure in the opposition’s strategy of bolstering regionalist and separatist forces in Russia. Volkov has close connections to Leonid Krashennikov, an advocate of separatism in the Urals who has been described by the Russian business daily Kommersant as one of the many “local businessmen who feel squeezed by Moscow.” In the past, Krashennikov has worked for Anton Bakov from the Monarchist Party of Russia, who is considered the “grey cardinal” of the separatists fighting for a “Ural Republic.” Last spring, Navalny’s staff and Krashennikov co-led protests in Yekaterinburg, a city in the Urals, under regionalist and separatist banners. Navalny’s opposition has also supported regionalist demands in the recent protests in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk. Both Navalny and Volkov have participated in Yale University’s “World Fellows Program,” which has a long record of training imperialist stooges in Eastern Europe. Genuine popular opposition to the Putin regime and the criminal oligarchy that has emerged out of the Stalinist restoration of capitalism is growing by the day as the Kremlin, like capitalist governments around the world, is pursuing the murderous policy of “herd immunity” amid the pandemic. However, this opposition can only find a progressive expression if it is based on the independent mobilization of the working class, in conscious opposition to the machinations of imperialism and the capitalist system as a whole.

Assange dragged from embassy “on the orders of the president”
Laura Tiernan, Thomas Scripps, WSWS, Sep 22 2020

Alt-right media personality Cassandra Fairbanks’ witness testimony was read out in court yesterday, providing evidence that Julian Assange’s Apr 2019 arrest at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London was politically motivated and directed by Trump. Fairbanks testified that Arthur Schwartz, a wealthy Republican Party donor and key Trump ally, had told her that Assange was taken from the Ecuadorian Embassy “on orders from the president.” The conversation between Schwartz and Fairbanks occurred in Sep 2019 and was recorded by Fairbanks. Schwartz, a frequent visitor to the White House and “informal adviser” or “fixer” to Donald Trump Jr, told Fairbanks the president’s orders were conveyed via US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, who brokered a deal with the Ecuadorian government for Assange’s removal. Grenell is currently Acting DNI, appointed by Trump in February this year. Assange’s lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald QC, spelled out the significance of Fairbanks’ testimony, telling Judge Vanessa Baraitser:

These disclosures are evidence of the declared intentions of those at the top, who planned the prosecution and the eviction from the embassy.

Fairbanks, who writes for the pro-Trump Gateway Pundit, is a prominent Assange supporter who visited the WikiLeaks founder at the Embassy on two key occasions. Her evidence was read into proceedings yesterday afternoon unopposed, with Fitzgerald explaining:

My learned friend reserves the right to say ‘because she’s a supporter of Julian Assange you must take that into account in weighing her evidence.’ But we say it is true.

Given her close connections to leading figures in the Trump administration’s fascistic entourage, Fairbanks is uniquely positioned to expose key aspects of the politically motivated vendetta against the WikiLeaks founder. Throughout the extradition hearing, lawyers for the US government have repeatedly claimed the charges against Assange under the Espionage Act are motivated by “criminal justice concerns” and are “not political.” Fairbanks’ evidence shreds the official narrative of the DoJ that Assange was arrested on Apr 11 2019 in relation to “hacking.” In a phone call with Schwartz on Oct 30 2018, he made clear that Assange would be arrested as political payback for his role in “the Manning case,” ie the disclosure by US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning of US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Fairbanks recalled of her Oct 2018 phone conversation with Schwartz:

He also told me that they would be going after Chelsea Manning.

This was one of several predictions by the Trump insider that were soon confirmed (Manning was re-arrested in Mar 2019), with Fairbanks concluding:

He knew very specific details about a future prosecution that only those close to the situation then would have known.

Fairbanks’ testimony provided chilling evidence of plans by the Trump administration to impose the death penalty. In his Oct 2018 phone call with Fairbanks, Schwartz said Assange would “probably” only serve life in prison, but went on to qualify this:

He told me that the US government has said they will not pursue the death penalty, something that would have prevented the UK and Ecuador from extraditing him here.

Less than six months later, just hours after Assange’s seizure from the embassy, Fairbanks again messaged Schwartz to ask if he “knew anything.” She testified:

He responded with a series of messages about how Assange deserved a lethal injection and how both he and Manning should die in prison. He sent me lots of messages about how everyone involved with WikiLeaks deserved the death penalty. I noted in our conversation that it had been reported that Grenell only got a verbal agreement that there would be no death penalty, nothing in writing. Schwartz’s response to this was to send me a shrug emoji and he continued his tirade about how Assange deserved to die.

On Jan 7 2019, Fairbanks travelled to London to warn Assange of US plans to seize him from the embassy and have him extradited to the US. They discussed quietly, Assange using “a little radio to cover up the conversation.” They exchanged written notes. Fairbanks’ testimony recounts the extraordinary measures they faced during a second two-hour visit on Mar 25. She was left alone in a cold room for a full hour, while Assange was kept outside and subjected to a “full body scan with a metal detector” before being let in. The pair had only two minutes to talk. Fairbanks is later made to understand the reason for this aborted visit after Schwartz “called and informed me that he knew I had told Assange” during the earlier visit. Fairbanks’ testimony provides insight into the criminal underworld surrounding the White House. After Trump fired NSA Bolton and Grenell’s name was floated as a replacement, Fairbanks tweeted about his involvement in Assange’s arrest, which elicited a “frantic” call from Schwartz. She testified:

He was ranting and raving that he could go to jail and that I was tweeting ‘classified information.’ Schwartz informed me that in coordinating for Assange to be removed from the embassy, Grenell had done so on ‘direct orders from the president.’ Other persons who Schwartz said might also be affected included individuals who he described as ‘lifelong friends.’

These individuals included Grenell and Las Vegas Sands boss and long-time Trump ally Sheldon Adelson. In the first half of the day, Professor Christian Grothoff of the Bern University of Applied Sciences testified to the chronology of events leading up to the bulk release of unredacted US State Dept cables in Sep 2011. He is a computer scientist with experience reporting on the Edward Snowden revelations. His evidence demolished the prosecution’s claim that Assange and WikiLeaks were responsible for this mass disclosure. Grothoff explained:

The cables were stored online by WikiLeaks and encrypted with a cipher that made it basically useless to anybody that did not have the encryption key.

This was, he said, common practice when dealing with sensitive data that is too large to be sent between trusted parties by encrypted email. When the WikiLeaks website came under attack in late 2010, limiting access to it, copies of the site began to be created by third parties. A minority of these third parties copied the encrypted documents, contrary to WikiLeaks’ instructions. One of the people given the encryption key to these documents was Guardian journalist David Leigh. In Feb 2011, he and fellow Guardian writer Luke Harding published a book titled WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy in which the key was revealed in full. By late Aug 2011, the connection between Leigh’s key and the encrypted documents posted on copies of the WikiLeaks website, but outside of WikiLeaks’ control, was reported. On Aug 31 and Sep 1, the cables began to be published on sites like Cryptome and Pirate Bay. Only afterwards, on Sep 2, did WikiLeaks publish the cables, explaining their reasons in an editorial:

Revolutions and reforms are in danger of being lost as the unpublished cables spread to intelligence contractors and governments before the public. The Arab Spring would not have started in the manner it did if the Tunisian government of Ben Ali had copies of those WikiLeaks releases which helped to take down his government.

Grothoff’s testimony highlighted the central role played by David Leigh in these events. He explained:

As far as I can tell Mr Leigh was one of the very few given access to the full set.

Assange, Grothoff said, based on the account provided by Leigh’s own book, was “very reluctant” to give the Guardian journalist this access. Substantiating that point, Summers referred to a section of Leigh’s book which reads:

Leigh asked Assange to stop procrastinating and hand over the biggest trove of all: the cables. Assange said, ‘I can give you half of them containing the first 50%’ and Leigh refused. All or nothing, he said. ‘What happens if you end up in an orange jumpsuit en route to Guantánamo before you can release the full files?’ Eventually, Assange capitulated.

In another section of the book, referred to by the prosecution, Leigh describes how “It had been a struggle to prise these documents out of Assange.” Just six months later, with WikiLeaks engaged in a long process of publishing safe and redacted documents with media partners around the world, Leigh published the password to the full online store of classified, unredacted cables. Speaking outside the court, Assange’s father, John Shipton, said:

Today we had the prosecution trying to prove that water runs uphill and up is down. The defence replied and conclusively demonstrated that it was David Leigh. We can only conclude, from the amount of time that the prosecution spent defending David Leigh, that David Leigh is a state asset.

At the end of the hearing’s morning session, an exchange between District Judge Vanessa Baraitser and the legal teams pointed to further restrictions being imposed on the defence’s ability to present its case. Seizing on the delays caused by a potential COVID-19 outbreak in the first week of the hearing, Baraitser insisted that the defence prepare a timetable that allowed the hearing to “finish within two weeks.” When the defence replied that this would leave no time for closing submissions, she reacted enthusiastically to the suggestion of prosecution lawyer James Lewis QC that these could be submitted in written form and summarised in just half a day each for the prosecution and the defence. A final decision is forthcoming.
The hearing continues today.

Thirteen former national presidents demand an end to the British show-trial of Julian Assange
Oscar Grenfell, WSWS, Sep 22 2020

Presidents Maduro & Correa

A group of 161 prominent international political figures, including thirteen former national presidents, past prime ministers and current or retired members of national parliaments, have announced their opposition to the British extradition show-trial of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange and have joined demands for his immediate freedom. The signatories endorsed a letter to the British government issued last month by the Lawyers for Assange group, which comprises more than 150 legal experts from around the world, as well as bar associations covering major countries and entire continents. That document was a meticulous exposure of the litany of abuses perpetrated against Assange by the British and US governments, including the denial of access to his lawyers, his inability to engage in his own defence, and his imprisonment in the maximum-security Belmarsh Prison, despite the fact that he has not been convicted of a crime. The lawyers were unequivocal, branding the attempt to extradite Assange from Britain to the US, where he faces life imprisonment for publishing evidence of war crimes, as a violation of international law that must be immediately halted. They warned that Assange would face torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment if dispatched to his American state persecutors, and insisted on the necessity for his unconditional freedom.

The politicians who have taken up this demand include José Luis Zapatero, prime minister of Spain (2004–11), Alberto Fernández, president of Argentina (2019–), Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil (2011–16), Evo Morales Ayma, president of Bolivia (2006–19), Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, president of Brazil (2003–10), Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador (2007–17), Kevin Rudd, prime minister of Australia (2007–10 and 2013) and Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labour Party (2015–2020). Fernández of Argentina and President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela are the only two current heads of state to have endorsed the initiative. Other signatories include prominent current national politicians from Australia, Britain and Germany, as well as a host of office-holders from Latin America, spanning from mayors to governors and leading members of national assemblies. Several signatories accompanied their endorsements with statements of support for Assange. Lula of Brazil declared:

If the democrats of the planet Earth, including all journalists, all lawyers, all unionists and all politicians, have no courage to express themselves in defence of Assange, so that he is not extradited, it means we have a lot democrats out there who are liars. Assange should be perceived as a hero of democracy. He does not deserve to be punished.

Kevin Rudd warned that a successful US prosecution of Assange would open the door for broader attacks on press freedom and journalists. The range of signatories is an indictment of the US, British and Australian governments, and all those who have facilitated Assange’s persecution. The statement provides a glimpse of the real global public opinion concerning the Assange case, which is suppressed by a pliant corporate media. Britain, the land of the Magna Carta, and the US, founded on a revolution that declared the sanctity of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” are increasingly viewed as rogue states which trample on international legal norms and use their military and diplomatic power to bully and oppress the world’s population. Assange is widely regarded as a heroic figure who has risked all to reveal the truth to ordinary people. The opening weeks of the resumed British extradition hearings undoubtedly provided an impetus to the signatories. The proceedings have been marked by further abuses, including the filing of a late indictment by the US DoJ, aimed at preventing any possibility of a defence, attempts to limit witness testimony and assertions by prosecutors that the American government has the “right” to determine what journalists may or may not publish, wherever they are in the world. This has only deepened the latent popular support for the WikiLeaks founder, under conditions of a global breakdown of capitalism, mass hostility to the criminally negligent response of governments to the pandemic and a reemergence of the class struggle.

It can hardly be an accident that so many of the signatories are from Latin America, where the masses have endured decades of US imperialist military interventions, coups and dictatorships, and the poverty and oppression that have accompanied them. By giving a pale reflection of sentiments from below, the signatories are undoubtedly expressing concerns from within the national political establishments. Firstly, they are fearful that the naked lawlessness of the pursuit of Assange risks further discrediting the entire political set-up which they defend, and could become the focal point for broader opposition to war and authoritarianism. Secondly, they are worried that the Trump administration’s assertion that US law applies extraterritorially, in every corner of the globe, will be used not only to target courageous journalists, but also political opponents and anyone perceived as an obstacle to American imperialism. Many of the politicians who have endorsed the letter are representatives of the South American “pink tide,” the wave of bourgeois nationalist governments that came to office over the past two decades, by posturing as opponents of US imperialism and deploying vague left-populist rhetoric to mollify the masses. This project has collapsed, with the installation of US-backed authoritarian regimes throughout the continent, in many instances directly facilitated by the leaders of the “pink tide” itself.

Figures such as Brazil’s Lula, of the misnamed “Workers Party,” won office by posturing as champions of ordinary people, only to impose the dictates of the banks and the financial elite. To describe their record on democratic rights as patchy would be a gross understatement. To a man, the leaders of the “pink tide” repressed strikes and protests of workers, sought to come to an accommodation with imperialism, and leaned heavily on the military. Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, for instance, granted Assange political asylum in 2012 in an important blow to the US conspiracy against the WikiLeaks founder. By 2016, however, his government shut off Assange’s internet access for several weeks, at the direct behest of the US government. Correa facilitated the installation of Lenín Moreno, who acted on the precedent of his predecessor by severing Assange’s communications in early 2018, before handing him over to his US and British persecutors the following year, the same time his government responded to mass demonstrations against IMF-dictated austerity measures by imposing virtual martial law. A similar story could be told for many of the Latin American signatories. Their political project having come crashing down, a number of them are in exile, or face the threat of politically-motivated prosecutions, undoubtedly heightening their sensitivity to the judicial frame-up of Assange.

Other signatories, to be blunt, are simply political scoundrels. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is one of the Australian political leaders who directly facilitated the persecution of Assange when he was in office, only to “discover” years later that prosecuting a journalist for publishing truthful information would establish a dangerous precedent. It must be stated that such individuals, if it were in their interests, could just as easily turn against Assange once again and throw him to the wolves. Jeremy Corbyn, former Labour Party leader, and his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, similarly refused to mobilise support for Assange when they were in influential positions, not even mentioning him during last year’s British election. To the extent that both have since made several statements in defence of Assange, it has been to foster illusions that the fight for his freedom can go forward through feckless appeals to the British courts, the parliament and the state apparatus, the very forces persecuting Assange. The record of the decade-long US pursuit of Assange has more than demonstrated that this perspective is a dead-end, which, if not challenged, will result in Assange’s extradition and his death in a CIA prison. The turn must not be to parliaments but to the working class, and the popular sentiment that the politicians who have endorsed the initiative, are seeking to contain and corral behind the official political establishments. The basis for a mass movement to secure Assange’s freedom exists in the immense political disaffection among ordinary people everywhere and the resurgence of working class struggle, including in the US and Britain.

Louisville police chief declares “state of emergency” in advance of state’s decision on charges against policemen who killed Breonna Taylor
Kevin Reed, WSWS, Sep 22 2020

The chief of the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) has issued a special order declaring a state of emergency in preparation for an imminent announcement from Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron on whether or not criminal charges will be brought against the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old African American emergency medical technician, in her home six months ago. Interim Chief of LMPD Robert Schroeder sent a memo to all department personnel on Monday stating that requests for vacations and days off were being cancelled until further notice. Schroeder wrote in his memo:

In anticipation of Attorney General Cameron’s announcement in the Breonna Taylor case, I am declaring a state of emergency for the Louisville Metro Police Department.

Chief Schroeder also said that to “ensure we have the appropriate level of staffing to provide for public safety services and our policing functions,” LMPD will operate under the emergency staffing and reporting guidelines outlined in the city’s Emergency Response Plan. This plan contains a lengthy section on “Civil Disturbances/Disorderly Crowds” that was updated on Monday. In addition to the LMPD staffing requirements, Sgt Lamont Washington reported in a news release:

The public may also see barriers being staged around downtown, which is another part of our preparations.

Attorney General Cameron is expected this week to present before a grand jury the findings of the months’ long investigation into the brutal police killing of Taylor on Mar 13 2020. Taylor was shot eight times and bled to death on the floor of her apartment during a “no-knock” search warrant raid carried out by three plainclothes LMPD officers. Taylor was asleep with her boyfriend Kenneth Walker shortly after midnight when the officers battered down her apartment door without announcing themselves as part of a drug-related investigation involving the young woman’s former boyfriend Jamarcus Glover. Thinking that the apartment was being broken into by intruders, Walker fired his handgun at the officers and struck one of them in the leg.

Federal police agencies have been requested by US Attorney Russell Coleman to provide protection for the courthouse and three other buildings in downtown Louisville in anticipation of Cameron’s announcement. A federal judge signed an order to shut down historic Gene Snyder US Courthouse and Custom House for the week, and the windows of the buildings were being boarded up on Monday. Also on Monday, LMPD reported that six officers are under investigation by the department’s Professional Standards Unit for their roles in Taylor’s killing. Detective Myles Cosgrove and Sgt Jonathan Mattingly, who fired their weapons at Taylor’s apartment, are under investigation along with Detective Joshua Jaynes, who swore out the affidavit to get the search warrant. Detectives Tony James, Michael Campbell and Michael Nobles are also being investigated for their roles in the events of Mar 13. Officer Brett Hankinson, who discharged his gun 10 times into Taylor’s apartment was fired on Jun 23 for “wantonly and blindly” using his weapon. The announcement of the internal investigation six months after Taylor’s death is further proof that the LMPD had intended to sweep the killing of the young woman under the rug. In fact, the initial police incident report, which was released to the public in June, said that there was no forced entry into Breonna’s apartment, and it also documented her bodily injuries as “None.”

The fight to establish the truth about Breonna Taylor’s death was conducted initially by her family and friends and then, especially after George Floyd was choked to death by the Minneapolis Police on Memorial Day two and half months later, protests against police violence across the country began demanding “Justice for Breonna.” Nightly mass protests throughout the summer in Louisville were attacked by police and National Guard troops who fired on demonstrators with tear gas and live ammunition. Restaurant owner David McAtee was shot and killed in the doorway of his business by the National Guard in Louisville during protests on Jun 1. No official investigation has been conducted into this killing, and the shooter of McAtee has not been named. There has been speculation that Attorney General Cameron’s decision will be to decline to pursue criminal charges against the officers. Local criminal defense attorneys told the Courier Journal that a homicide charge is unlikely because Kentucky’s self-defense law allows police to use deadly force if their lives are in danger, and Taylor’s boyfriend fired on the officers.

The news about an announcement from state authorities comes less than one week after the Louisville city government settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Taylor’s family for $12m. The agreement, which does not require the city to admit wrongdoing, also included a raft of promises about “policing changes.” Among the proposals offered were a requirement that commanding officers review and approve in writing all search warrants and that there be an “early warning” system to flag officers with “disciplinary problems,” such as Hankinson who had multiple complaints filed against him for excessive use of force prior to Taylor’s death. According to records released to the media, the prior complaints were either dismissed or deemed “not credible.” Protests demanding justice for the family of Breonna Taylor are likely regardless of Cameron’s decision this week, especially if no charges are brought or if the charges are seen as insufficient. The preparations of local and federal police agencies for a state of emergency in Louisville make clear that the authoritarian measures that were introduced in Portland in an effort to suppress the ongoing movement against police brutality and violence are being expanded across the country.

Report documents criminality and corruption at heart of global banking system
Barry Grey, WSWS, Sep 22 2020

The front page of the FinCen website

An explosive report published Sunday by BuzzFeed News documents the role that major US and international banks knowingly play in laundering and circulating trillions of dollars in dirty money from terrorist organizations, drug cartels and assorted international financial criminals. The report is an unanswerable indictment not only of the banks, but also of Western governments and regulatory agencies, which are fully aware of the banks’ illegal but highly lucrative activities and tacitly sanction them. BuzzFeed writes:

This investigation demonstrates an underlying truth of the modern era: The networks through which dirty money traverses the world have become vital arteries of the global economy. They enable a shadow financial system so wide-ranging and so unchecked that it has become inextricable from the so-called legitimate economy. Banks with household names have helped to make it so. Profits from deadly drug wars, fortunes embezzled from developing countries, and hard-earned savings stolen in a Ponzi scheme were all allowed to flow into and out of these financial institutions, despite warnings from the banks’ own employees. Money laundering is a crime that makes other crimes possible. It can accelerate economic inequality, drain public funds, undermine democracy, and destabilize nations—and the banks play a key role. ‘Some of these people in crisp white shirts in their sharp suits are feeding off the tragedy of people dying all over the world,’ said Martin Woods, a former suspicious transactions investigator for Wachovia.’ Even after they were prosecuted or fined for financial misconduct, banks such as JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, Standard Chartered, Deutsche Bank and Bank of New York Mellon continued to move money for suspected criminals.

The extensive report is based on more than 21k “suspicious activity reports” (SARs) filed by some of the world’s biggest banks with the US Treasury Dept’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, between 1999 and 2017. FinCEN makes its database of SARs available to more than 450 law enforcement and regulatory agencies across the United States. What BuzzFeed calls the “FinCEN Files” were leaked to the news outlet more than a year ago. It has since been combing through them, in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which coauthored the report. BuzzFeed News notes that it also shared the SARs with more than 100 other news organizations in 88 countries. The report, titled “Dirty Money Pours into the World’s Most Powerful Banks,” includes only a small and redacted sample of the news outlet’s hoard of suspicious activity reports.

The US government maintains a policy of total secrecy in relation to the SARs, refusing to release them even in response to Freedom of Information requests. Earlier this year, the Treasury Dept issued a statement declaring that the unauthorized disclosure of SARs is a crime. In an obvious attempt at intimidation and threat of prosecution, the statement added that the matter was being referred to the Department of Justice and the Treasury Dept’s Office of Inspector General. The initial response of the American corporate media has been to bury or entirely ignore the BuzzFeed revelations. Monday’s print edition of the NYT carried a report on page eight of its business section. The print editions of the WaPo and the WSJ made no mention of the exposé. The report is based on more than 22k pages of documents concerning over 10k subjects and involving more than 170 countries and territories. Nearly 90 banks and other financial institutions are included in the institutions that submitted the SARs. JP Morgan Chase, the biggest US bank, recorded the highest total value of transactions listed in the FinCEN Files: $514b, based on 107 suspicious activity reports. Its CEO, Jamie Dimon, was at one time known as “Obama’s favorite banker.”

Deutsche Bank accounts for the highest number of SARs, 982, with a total value of $1.3t. The other banks on the top 10 list are Bank of New York Mellon, British-based Standard Chartered, Barclays, HSBC, Bank of China, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citibank. One report, filed by JP Morgan in Aug 2014, lists over $355b in suspicious activity relating to more than 100k wire transfers “sent, received or transferred” over the course of a decade by MKS, a Swiss-based company that trades in precious metals. At least 25 of the people named as subjects in the SARs have appeared on Forbes’ list of billionaires in 2018, 2019 or 2020. The findings featured in the BuzzFeed report include:

  • Standard Chartered moved money on behalf of Al Zarooni Exchange, a Dubai-based business that was later accused of laundering cash on behalf of the Taliban.
  • HSBC’s Hong Kong branch allowed WCM777, a Ponzi scheme, to move more than $15 million even as the business was being barred from operating in three states. Authorities say the scheme stole some $80 million from investors, mainly Latino and Asian immigrants. The firm’s owner used the funds to buy two golf courses, a mansion, a 39.8-carat diamond and mining rights in Sierra Leone.
  • Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, American Express and other financial firms processed millions of dollars in transactions for Viktor Khrapunov, the former mayor of Kazakhstan’s most populous city, even after Interpol issued an order for his arrest. Khrapunov fled to Switzerland and was later convicted in absentia on charges including bribe-taking and defrauding the city.

A separate piece by NBC News presents evidence that JP Morgan, Bank of New York Mellon and other banks helped move more than $150m for companies tied to the North Korean regime. In other words, the biggest US and international banks have made countless millions in profits serving as money-launderers for terror outfits such as the Taliban and governments of so-called “rogue countries” such as North Korea, with the knowledge and tacit approval of the governments of the US and other major powers, even as these same governments were waging or threatening war against the targeted terrorist organizations and overseas regimes.

The BuzzFeed report describes the cynical rationale behind the formality of banks filing SARs, which, for the most part, are never even read by the staff of FinCEN. Over the past decade, the number of SARs filed by major banks has sharply increased, indicating a growth of money laundering and other illegal activities on behalf of criminal clients. Over the same period, the staff of FinCEN has shrunk by 10%. Banks are legally required to file an SAR with FinCEN if they suspect a transaction might be linked to illegal activity. Large banks file tens of thousands of such reports every year. In 2017, 19 large banks filed a total of 640k suspicious activity reports, according to a study by the Bank Policy Institute, a lobbying group. But as the BuzzFeed report explains:

So long as a bank files a notice that it may be facilitating criminal activity, it all but immunizes itself and its executives from criminal prosecution. The suspicious activity alert effectively gives them a free pass to keep moving the money and collecting the fees.

In its article on the FinCEN Files report, the NYT noted that JP Morgan wired money to banks in Switzerland, Lebanon and Nigeria on behalf of a convicted money launderer, reported the transactions to British and American authorities, and continued doing business with the client. The Nigerian government is now suing the bank in British court. This collusion between gangster bankers and capitalist government regulators is a continuation of long-standing policy. In 2012, the Obama administration refused to criminally prosecute Britain’s biggest bank, HSBC, after it acknowledged laundering billions of dollars for Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. Among the bank’s major clients was the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, which is known for dismembering its victims and publicly displaying their body parts. That was in keeping with the policy of the US government of shielding top bankers from any accountability for illegal activities, including those that led to the collapse of the financial system in 2008 and ushered in what at that time was the deepest slump since the Great Depression. To this day, not a single leading executive of a major bank has been prosecuted, let alone jailed, for fraudulent activities that led to the destruction of millions of jobs and the decimation of working class living standards in the US and around the world. As the WSWS wrote at the time:

Here, in a nutshell, is the modern-day aristocratic principle that prevails behind the threadbare trappings of “democracy.” The financial robber barons of today are a law unto themselves. They can steal, plunder, even murder at will, without fear of being called to account. They devote a portion of their fabulous wealth to bribing politicians, regulators, judges and police, from the heights of power in Washington down to the local police precinct—to make sure their wealth is protected and they remain immune from criminal prosecution.

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