Archive | May 15th, 2020

The Execution of Julian Assange

As the extradition trial of Julian Assange nears, Patrick D. Anderson revisits the historic role of the US government and media in retaliating against those who refuse to submit.

Julian Assange Feature

Feature photo | “Assange.” Acrylic and oil pastel. @fabulosfab_fab

By Patrick Anderson

Ido not respect anyone who has not been to prison.” Julian Assange once said to Renata Avila, a Guatemalan human rights activist who serves as legal counsel for WikiLeaks. “What he meant,” Avila says, “was that being in prison means that you have made so much trouble for the system that the only way for the system to deal with you is to lock you up and try to silence you.”

After a decade of being shuttled from house arrest to confinement in an embassy to Belmarsh Prison to, if the United States government gets its way, ADX Florence in Colorado, there is no question that the Executives of Empire are trying to silence Assange.

Assange and Avila are not the first to make such an observation, for in his classic essay “Civil Disobedience,” the nineteenth-century American writer Henry David Thoreau said, “Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison… where the State places those who are not with her, but against her.”

With the remaining three weeks of Assange’s extradition trial scheduled to begin Monday, May 18, Thoreau’s philosophy of civil disobedience offers lessons about the history of the U.S. government’s retaliation against those who refuse to submit. These lessons appear most clearly in Thoreau’s commentary on the execution of John Brown.

The execution of John Brown

Brown was a militant abolitionist from Connecticut who made his reputation by using violence against slavers during the antebellum period. While living in Kansas, he once led a group of antislavery guerrillas who attacked a group of slavery sympathizers who participated in an anti-Black race riot, dragging five men from their cabins and hacking them to death with hatchets. Most famously, however, Brown led a raid on a U.S. military armory at Harpers Ferry, hoping to steal weapons and incite a slave rebellion. The raid failed. Brown was found guilty of treason and hanged.

Thoreau was enamored with John Brown. As he wrote in “A Plea for Captain John Brown,” Brown was “a man of rare common sense and directness of speech, as of action; a transcendentalist above all, a man of ideas and principles… not yielding to a whim or transient impulse, but carrying out the purpose of a life.” Thoreau believed, with good reason, that principled individuals like Brown, who served the people with their consciences, were rare. When such people did appear, “they are commonly treated as enemies” by the state.

Of course, Thoreau was disgusted by his contemporaries, many of whom, in Thoreau’s eyes, failed to understand Brown’s principled stance against slavery because they themselves lacked any commitment to higher principles. Against those naysayers who claimed Brown was a fool who threw his life away, Thoreau declared: “they cannot conceive of a man who is actuated by higher motives than they are. Accordingly they pronounce this man insane, for they know that they could never act as he does, as long as they are themselves.”

John Brown execution

The Last Moments of John Brown, oil on canvas. Painting | Thomas Hovenden circa 1882

Even the self-proclaimed abolitionist media denounced Brown, arguing that his means were inappropriate to the cause of ending slavery. This Thoreau could not abide, for their inability to stand behind their professed values exposed them all as spineless dilettantes. The disparity between the media’s words and deeds was enough for Thoreau to conclude that only a small fraction of people who professed abolitionism were truly committed to it.

Like Brown, Assange is a principled individual who is being punished for his integrity. “WikiLeaks nurtures and ethic of unconditionality,” Geoffroy de Lagasnerie has written. “Our democracy is in decline today precisely because our repeated tendency to suspend and defer democratic principles in the interest of short-term practical objectives.” Just as John Brown excelled in principled action compared to his expedient, supposedly anti-slavery contemporaries, Assange abides by principles that eschew all nationalism and militarism, which is exactly why militaristic, nationalist states like the US government hate him so much.

To be sure, Assange generally eschews violence as a means to social and political change, and Assange is not—as of now—facing threats of physical execution (though he has been threatened with that many times in the past).

Nevertheless, just as Brown was physically executed, Assange has been victimized by approximately a decade of social execution by character assassination. “Corrupt and unaccountable power uses its political and media influence to smear Assange,” Caitlin Johnstone observes, “because, as far as the interests of corrupt and unaccountable power are concerned, killing his reputation is as good as killing him.” “When looked at in its proper context,” she adds, “what we are witnessing is the slow-motion assassination of Assange via narrative/lawfare.”

The social execution of Julian Assange

There are many parties involved in the social execution of Assange, ranging from the obvious to the disappointing. The obvious, of course, is the U.S. government and corporate media. Just as the abolitionist press failed to support a true abolitionist when he took action, the U.S. corporate media have taken the lead in Assange’s social execution. In fact, the media have taken up the Pentagon’s strategy without being coerced or even asked.

Citing a 2008 U.S. Defense Department report on WikiLeaks, which was later published by WikiLeaks, John Pilger explains that character assassination of Assange has been the Pentagon’s plan for twelve years. The report, writes Pilger,

described in detail how important it was to destroy the ‘feeling of trust’ that is WikiLeaks’ ‘center of gravity.’ This would be achieved, they wrote, with threats of ‘exposure [and] criminal prosecution’ and an unrelenting assault on reputation. The aim was to silence and criminalize WikiLeaks and its editor and publisher. It was as if they planned a war on a single human being and on the very principle of freedom of speech. Their main weapon would be personal smear. Their shock troops would be enlisted in the media—those who are meant to keep the record straight and tell us the truth.”

“The irony,” he concludes, “is that no one told these journalists what to do.” U.S. corporate media is so comfortable with government propaganda that they do not even have to wait for directions. They spontaneously carry out assassinations by propaganda just as the CIA carries out assassinations by drone.

U.S. liberals are another obvious party to the social execution of Assange, for they apparently only support Assange when WikiLeaks publishes documents perceived to be unthreatening to the Democratic Party. “What happened in 2016 broke a lot of people’s hearts,” stated Lisa Lynch, a communications professor. Assange “proselytized about radical transparency,” she said, but he ended up a pawn, used by Russian hackers in a geopolitical game. “I find Assange to have been a pawn in a lot of games,” she said, warning the public not to grant Assange too much agency.

Not to be outdone by the corporate media, the Pentagon, and liberals, self-styled “leftists” have participated in the character assassination of Assange. “I had trouble seeing him as a journalist from the start,” said Todd Gitlin, a journalism professor. “But he certainly was a publisher. It turns out he was not just any old publisher, he was a publisher with a distinct angle. And his angle is anti-democratic.” Gitlin, who was a leader of the antiwar movement in the 1960s, now sheepdogs for the Democratic Party when he isn’t busy endangering First Amendment press freedoms by throwing a journalist who isn’t U.S. Government Approved™ under the imperial bus.

Apparently anyone whose politics cannot be crammed into the narrow, partisan ideology of the so-called American “left” is simultaneously an anti-democratic knave and a naïve pawn.

As Johnstone has astutely reminded us, even those so-called leftists who repeatedly claim that “I support Assange but he is trash” have already internalized Pentagon propaganda. They have already acquiesced to Empire’s social execution of Assange. It is no coincidence that someone who has embarrassed the Empire over and over is presented to the public as “literally the worst person in the whole entire world.”

Like Thoreau, those of us who care about human rights, press freedoms, and self-determination for the nations victimized by relentless U.S. imperialism ought to be appalled by those among our contemporaries who would rather acquiesce to the power of the military-media complex than stand on principle. The entire narrative surrounding Assange stems from a narrowly partisan and nationalist perspective. Assange’s critics despise him not because of what he does but because of what he stands for. Most of those who contribute to Assange’s social execution cannot think beyond party loyalties and nationalist sentiments.

If United Kingdom courts rule in favor of the United States and grant extradition, Assange will be sentenced in the same place that all U.S. government whistleblowers have been sentenced: the Eastern District Court of Virginia. I say “sentenced” not “tried” because those indicted under the Espionage Act, as Assange is, are prohibited from defending themselves in court. Assange faces up to 175 years in a supermax prison, but at 48-years-old, even one-quarter of that would mean Assange will like likely die in prison. Such a sentence would complete his social execution.

“He could not have been tried by a jury of his peers,” Thoreau wrote of John Brown, “because his peers did not exist.” Corporate media has already tried Assange in the court of public opinion, but they are not his peers. If the U.S. government succeeds in trying Assange in a court of law, neither there will he be judged by his peers.

In the end, Thoreau was right to ask one question: “Who is it whose safety requires that Captain Brown be hung?” Thus, we might ask: Who is it whose safety requires that Julian Assange be locked away for life?

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Jewish intermarriage with non-Jews is a ‘tragedy’ says leading Zionist advocate

Steven Bayme, 18 January 2017 [JBS/YouTube]

Zionist Steven Bayme,

A prominent member of one of America’s most active pro-Zionist advocacy groups has said that marriage between Jews and non-Jews is a “tragedy” for ‘Israel’ because it presents a “crisis” for the core of political support for the Zionist state. The remarks by Steven Bayme of the American- Jewish Committee have been described as “racist”.

Zionist Bayme has been included three times by the Jewish-American newspaper The Forward on its annual list of the top 50 Jewish leaders who “make a difference”. He made his comments during a speech about a “crisis” within the American Jewish community, claiming that “mixed marriage threatens Jewish future.” His speech was captured in a video wherein he warns the community about the decrease in the number of Jews who are growing up with a strong affinity with the state of ‘Israel’.

The “tragedy”, according to Zionist Bayme, is that more than 70 per cent of non-orthodox Jews are marrying non-Jews: “We’ve lost 2 million Jews over the last 25 years.” He wants to stem this trend by restoring traditional official disapproval of the practice.

READ: ‘Apartheid is a Crime’: Former Swedish Diplomat Speaks about His Experiences in Occupied Palestine

In the video published by Mondoweiss, Zionist Bayme repeatedly cites the threat to support for ‘Israel’, because non-Jewish spouses, he claims, foster Jewish alienation from the colonial-occupation state.

Zionist Bayme suggests that younger Jews are distancing themselves from ‘Israel’ and that this trend is more acute within mixed marriage families. This, he says, poses a threat to the state. “The danger obviously is that if the cause of Israel becomes an orthodox cause alone, that will be a tragedy for the Jewish people, a tragedy for the state of Israel and frankly a tragedy for American Jewry.”

Intermarriage erodes the most highly-organised Jewish community in history, Zionist Bayme insists, referring to his own community. “The Conservative and Reform movements represent the architectural backbone of Jewish life. They are the ones who are mounting the case for Israel, they are ones who are giving to Jewish Federations.”

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Has the FBI been spying on US citizens at ‘Israel’s’ behest?

FBI investigators California, US on 8 November 2018 [ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images]

FBI investigators California, US on 8 November 2018 [ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images]

Asa Winstanley

US Federal Bureau of Investigation documents obtained by The Intercept and published at the start of April made for fascinating reading. They showed that federal officers conducted a 2004-2006 “terrorism” investigation into the International Solidarity Movement, a non-violent Palestine solidarity group.

The investigation proved only that the ISM was exactly what it said it was: a peaceful activist group that sent delegations to occupied Palestine. However, the revelation raises serious questions about FBI activities. As well as proving that the Bureau harassed activists involved in lawful free speech campaigns, the documents — obtained only after a Freedom of Information law suit — suggest that the FBI may have engaged in spying on US citizens at the behest of Israel.

The ISM was a diffuse network of mostly European and American activists who worked in solidarity with the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. ISM delegations used to travel to the occupied territories to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Palestinians involved in non-violent resistance to Israel’s occupation.

As a young activist, I was with the ISM in occupied Palestine between 2005 and 2007, and for several years afterwards with ISM London, the local support group back home. In Palestine, we joined Palestinians in villages such as Bil’in, near Ramallah, which was threatened with the destruction and annexation of collective village lands for the construction of Israeli settler-colonies and the illegal annexation wall.

At that time, several such villages held weekly protests against the Israeli occupation and its crimes. The villagers asked for solidarity, and people from all around Palestine would join the protests, as did activists and delegations from around the world. Even some dissidents from Israel, such as Jonathan Pollak, took part.

ISM members also engaged in less attention-grabbing work, like accompanying Palestinian children to school when they were at threat of being attacked by Israeli settlers. This was often the case in the areas where the most fanatical settlers were active, like the Palestinian city of Hebron, where the settlements were — and still are — concentrated uniquely within the city itself, rather than on the surrounding hillsides, as is the more common pattern elsewhere in the West Bank.

There were also the autumn olive harvest trips, when we would join Palestinian farmers in picking their produce in areas near to the more rural Israeli settlements, such as those on the hilltops around Nablus. Some of the most extreme Israeli settlers outside of Hebron have their base in those areas. They would often attack Palestinian villages and burn their olive trees and other crops.

Palestinian farmers inspect the damage to their olive trees that were allegedly was cut down by Israeli settlers. (Issam Rimawi - Anadolu Agency )

Palestinian farmers inspect the damage done to their olive trees that were cut down by Israeli settlers on 11 April 2017 [Issam RimawiAnadolu Agency]

The idea behind the International Solidarity Movement was that Palestinians would be less likely to be attacked by Israelis when there was a presence of (usually white) American and European passport holders. The belief was that Israel preferred to avoid diplomatic crises with the governments of the states that the ISM members came from, due to the military, political and diplomatic aid such states provide to the occupation state.

Of course, this was not always the case, and several ISM volunteers were attacked by Israeli settlers and troops. In two such cases in 2003, these attacks proved to be deadly. US citizen Rachel Corrie was crushed by a militarised Israeli bulldozer in March 2003; she was 23 when she was killed. A month later, British activist and photographer Tom Hurndall, also 23, was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper; he died in hospital 10 months later without ever regaining consciousness. Both Rachel and Tom had been protecting Palestinian civilians from Israeli army attacks in the Gaza Strip when they were killed.

READ: Hamas slams US statements on West Bank land annexation

The newly released FBI documents indicate that it was in the months after these deadly incidents that the Bureau launched its investigation into the ISM in America. Instead of investigating the Israelis for their murder of US citizens, the FBI instead blamed the victims.

There is an indication within the documents that the FBI probably opened its investigation at the behest of – or at least in coordination with – the Israeli government. The crucial evidence for this has been redacted from the documents, but it doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see it, because FBI agents in the US shared information with an FBI office stationed in a US embassy overseas. This was almost certainly the FBI office in the US Embassy in Tel Aviv.

The reason for such sharing of information is clear. During the Corrie family’s civil case against the Israeli state for the unlawful killing of their daughter, it was confirmed that the Israeli government repeatedly attempted to smear Rachel Corrie with “terrorism” allegations, and cast the ISM as “illegitimate violent agitators”. Both allegations were complete falsehoods. They were actually an extension of the standard Israeli smear campaign which commonly casts non-violent Palestinian demonstrators and other Palestinians murdered by Israeli troops as “terrorists” or “terror supporters”.

The documents show that the FBI was hunting for evidence of such “terrorist” links. The Bureau’s Los Angeles field office even used confidential informants within the ISM in the futile hunt for such “extremism”. After a two-year investigation, though, the FBI concluded — inevitably — that the ISM had broken no laws and posed no threat to national security.

Nevertheless, the documents show once again that the FBI is far from being the apolitical protector of US civil liberties that its own propaganda proclaims. In fact, it is a right-wing political police force in the service of US capitalism.

The FBI investigators repeatedly conflated political beliefs with terrorism, focusing on how many ISM members held anti-capitalist views and sympathised with Palestinian human rights. As Ali Abunimah reported for The Electronic Intifada: “The probes into ISM harken back to the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO spying and sabotage programme in the 1960s, which targeted Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights and Black radical groups, and the anti-war movement.”

It is surely also no coincidence that – at exactly the same period that the FBI was investigating the ISM — an undercover British police officer infiltrated the ISM in London. Was that also, I wonder, done at the behest of Israel?

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What I’ve Learned Treating Patients Suffering From COVID-19

This disease is like nothing I have ever seen in my career

Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa

Asa critical care medicine specialist, I am used to seeing the sickest of the sick. I am used to seeing patients with respiratory failure. I am used to seeing patients in shock. I am used to seeing patients gasping for air, with dangerously low oxygen levels. I am used to seeing patients in kidney failure. Never, however, have I seen patients as sick as those with COVID-19.

Frightening Hypoxemia (low oxygen levels)

First of all, almost all of these patients present with such frighteningly low oxygen levels. I am also a lung specialist, and I am accustomed to seeing patients with low oxygen levels. Normal oxygen levels are anything above 90%, and I have seen patients come with levels as low as the 70s. Rarely, however, do I see patients presenting to our hospital with oxygen levels in the 50s and even lower. What’s more perplexing, sometimes these patients have oxygen levels that low and have absolutely no symptoms. I have never seen that before in my career as either a lung or critical care specialist.

Frighteningly Quick Deterioration

Secondly, when these patients with COVID-19 crash, they crash very quickly and crash very hard. Each patient is a ticking time-bomb, and they could be doing fine for several hours, and then — suddenly — they are gasping for air with plummeting oxygen levels and a plummeting blood pressure. One patient — a sweet woman in her 60s — was holding her own for several days. She was still very sick, but she was holding her own. All of the sudden, she became severely short of breath and was gasping for air. Despite getting multiple interventions, including going on a ventilator, she suffered cardiac arrest and died. We were all devastated.

As a critical care specialist, I am used to seeing the sickest of the sick. Never, however, have I seen patients as sick as those with COVID-19

What I’ve Learned Taking Care Of These Patients

This disease is unlike anything we have ever seen. COVID-19 has confounded critical care specialists the world over. It has upended decades of critical care gospel, and it has left very smart clinicians, scientists, researchers and regular bedside doctors — like me — scratching their heads. Each patient acts differently to the virus, and we need to treat each patient differently. What works for one, may not work for another, and this is different than what we have been used to. This is ultimately a good thing, and it will make all of us better clinicians in the end.

Not every patient needs a ventilator right away. Early on, clinicians taking care patients with COVID-19 were recommending “early intubation,” which means placing patients on a ventilator if conventional oxygen treatment did not work. They were not wrong. At the same time, we have learned that some patients can avoid going on a ventilator if we can treat them with high amounts of oxygen with high flow rates. We have had great success using this treatment modality in keeping multiple patients from requiring a ventilator. In addition, we have found that, if patients can lie on their stomach themselves, this has helped many of them avoid having to go on a ventilator. A lot of research is being conducted on this treatment, but we have found good success with it in our patients. While a ventilator can be life-saving, and I would not hesitate to use it on any patient who can’t breathe, it can also damage the lungs, and it is important to try everything in our arsenal first before we place someone on a ventilator. Indeed, multiple guidelines have now come out saying the same thing.

We need to aggressively correct any dehydration. It has long been a teaching that the patients with the severe lung disease called ARDS, or Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, need to get as little fluids as possible. This is appropriate, because too much fluid in the body can cause the lungs to fill up with fluids and make the respiratory failure worse. At the same time, patients with COVID-19 typically come into the hospital and ICU very dehydrated. They have had fevers for several days, which causes dehydration itself, and they are not really eating and drinking (because they are sick). So, if we do not give them fluids, we are setting them up for kidney failure. As a result, we have been more liberal with fluids — all while not giving too much — and we have been very successful in preventing kidney failure.

We REALLY need to discuss goals of care with all patients admitted with COVID-19. This disease can kill. It can leave you needing a ventilator for a very long time, if not forever. Do you want this? Yes, of course, we try to “do everything” for all of our patients. The thing is, “doing everything” may not be consistent with someone’s wishes and values. Do you want to live the rest of your days on a ventilator? Do you want to die on a ventilator? Do you want to die with the team pounding on your chest? Whatever the answers are to those important questions need to be communicated to the doctors taking care of patients with COVID, BEFORE they go into respiratory failure. Having me, as a critical care medicine specialist, ask these questions is too late. It needs to be done sooner.

Like I said, I have never seen anything like this before in my career. This pandemic will have long-standing consequences on the medical profession, hospitals, the healthcare system, and society at large. I pray they are not all negative, and that — when this is all over…some day — we will all be better and stronger than we were before.

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