Daily archives: July 3, 2012

Assange Conundrum

Dianne Feinstein, Chairman of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, has just renewed her call for Julian Assange to be prosecuted for espionage. This a week after US puppet and Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr claimed there was “not the remotest evidence” that Assange might be prosecuted in the US. As a grand jury has already been convened in the US, Carr’s statement, justifying the Australian government’s refusal to intervene to help its citizen, is a transparent lie.

Feinstein herself has made plain where her loyalties lie. As she said during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli attack on Gaza that killed over 500 children:

“…we stand in support and solidarity with the state of Israel. The United States and Israel have been staunch allies now for over 50 years. We share common values: freedom, democracy, massacre of innocent civilians from the air, the rule of law. And time after time we have rallied to each other’s side in defense of our values. “

I interpolated a phrase there to make her meaning more specific. Can you spot it?

If Assange is extradited to Sweden he faces a rape trial in which all evidence is heard in secret. There is no jury, and the case is decided by a judge and two lay assessors. The lay assessors normally get the job as members of the major political parties by whom they are nominated. (See page 255 of this New Zealand law commission report).

It is therefore entirely understandable, given the long history of sexual slurs by western governments against dissidents and whistleblowers of which I was myself so spectacularly a victim, that Assange has felt pressured into fleeing to the Embassy of Ecuador to escape the tentacles of what looks like a conspiracy of neo-con politicians in international power against him.

However understandable, I fear it is a mistaken move.

However well-disposed, the Ecuadorean government had plenty of problems of its own without handling this one. While it does have a very good record of accepting refugees, its own internal liberties are less than well established. And there are – and I say this from certain knowledge – those within the CIA who are quite keen on having Assange in Ecuador where certain types of operation are easier than they are in Sweden.

There have been a number of joyous articles in the right wing media pointing out that Assange is now in effect stuck in the Ecuadorean Embassy. I am sorry to say they are right. I have direct personal experience as an Ambassador of trying to protect people’s human rights by having them on Embassy premises or in my flag car with me (see Murder in Samarkand). It is a very difficult area indeed.

There is no agreement in international law that being offered asylum in one country protects you from criminal prosecution in another country, and such law would in fact be highly undesirable. Otherwise tax havens could start offering political asylum and immunity from prosecution to the Bob Diamonds and Bernie Madoffs of this world – and believe me they would, like a shot.

The Ecuadorean Embassy is a flat. It is nonetheless Ecuadorean sovereign territory, which can only in logic extend to the floorplan of the flat itself. The other businesses or residences in the block are not operating under Ecuadorean jurisdiction. I am afraid it seems to me Assange is subject to arrest the minute he leaves the door of the flat and enters a shared corridor.

I would argue that once in the flag car of the Ambassador, if the Ambassador is also in the car, it would violate the Vienna Convention for the British authorities to detain the ambassador and open her vehicle to remove Assange. I succesfully took that line as British Ambassador in Uzbekistan, which would make it hard for the British government to argue otherwise. But the Ecuadorean Embassy is not a compound and I don’t see how you get Assange to the vehicle.

I might state that I would have played the whole affair differently. I would have voluntarily returned to Sweden and faced down the charges, insisting on making all the risible details of these plainly mocked up allegations fully public, publishing all the evidence on Wikileaks, even if it meant jail for contempt. The political motivation of the whole episode would have been immediately apparent and made extradition to the US very difficult when the whole Swedish pretext is so obviously fake.

But my analysis of the hidden motives and machinations of governments against Assange is no different to his and that of his close supporters. I would merely have adopted different tactics to combat the threats. There can be no higher principle of justice involved when a politically controlled justice system is trying to set you up on false charges. I accept his choice to avoid the snares rather than try to slash through them.

Flight was a legitimate choice for Assange in these circumstances. But I am afraid the direction of flight was mistaken.


For a stunning portrayal of the real evils of government, an exploration of the absolute depths of human behaviour, and of the extraordinary pressures on dissidents from western governments of exactly the kind which bear down now on Assange, book now, immediately, to see One Turbulent Ambassador on NOW at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith.

All tickets are absolutely free.

Robin Soans’ (The Arab-Israeli Cookbook; Talking to Terrorists) new play is the most profoundly moving experience on the London stage this year, and the best free theatrical experience you will have in your life. The play is not by me or about me, but is about the things that I witnessed and things that were done to me. Be warned, the play is very emotionally wrenching and contains vivid scenes of rape and torture. It is squarely based on actual events.

A reader of this blog named Ken saw the opening last night and posted this comment:

This evening I went to see:
One Turbulent Ambassador.
Go and See It!
Powerful images from strong dialogues. A few surprises along the way.
On the train home I chatted to an Australian – he’d been to Wimbledon. He asked where I’d been. I explained the play and that part of your life. He seemed hooked, wrote the details down, said he would see it.
It’s so good I think I’ll go again too.

You have just one week left to go and see it. Did I mention that it’s free?

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The Impossibility of Rest

I had almost brought myself to the point of formally announcing the closure of this blog.

I cannot explain to you why the trend of recent political society in the West depresses me to the point of introversion and withdrawal. Almost everyone else manages to get on with it. It is an accepted, even commonplace fact of political discourse that inequality is rampant, that the gap between rich and poor in our economy has been widening and the trend accelerates, that social mobility has been turned backwards and we have a government dominated not just by wealth and status but by inherited wealth and status. The state itself has become, ever more blatantly, a mechanism for funneling money from ordinary people and giving it to the very rich, be it in bank bailouts, quantitative easing doled again to the banks, private finance initiative payments (liabilities totalling over £200 billion in taxpayer paid interest in the NHS alone) or “market driven” takeover of public services, or a hundred more ways.

My own professional struggle, which focused on trying to block use of intelligence gained by torture, seems only an attempt to divert a tiny ripple within a tsunami of contempt for morality in public life. The practice of torture exploitation has not ended; the Gibson inquiry into official complicity with torture has been unceremoniously halted as the guilty and directly responsible polish the green leather benches of the House of Lords with their expensively suited rumps, or inhabit their offices as Permanent Under Secretaries, or command large offices in BP. The SAS, CIA and Saudis play at overmastering the Russians in a new proxy war in Syria that, yet again, thanks to foreign military interference promises to be a still greater evil than the regime that preceded it. The media propaganda is yet more cynically distorted to a simplistic portrayal of “our” good guys and the evil bad guys, when in truth, as nearly always, the leaderships in resource wars on all sides are bad and the interests of the people are far from their hearts.

Democracy in the UK has become almost meaningless. A monopoly of effective news flow by a deeply corrupt corporate media has crystallised the major party structures as the only real choices in the consciousness of the vast majority of voters. Those major parties have been so bought up by those same corporate interests that there is no genuine choice of policy on offer. If you were against the handing of untold billions of your money to the bankers, or the interminable and pointless Afghan War, you were one of a very large percentage of the population but had no mainstream party which respected, let alone represented, your view.

New horror after new horror representative of this dreadful state of affairs arises every day. The latest casualties in drone strikes, which kill 20 innocents for every alleged terrorist they succeed in executing without process of law. Three young British soldiers dead today for no purpose whatsoever. The first NHS Trust goes under because of PFI debt. This week the Bank of England is expected to print another £50 billion in quantitative easing and hand it straight to the banks to be eventually paid out in salaries and bonuses.

The extraordinary way in which the middlemen who facilitate financial transactions in trade, suddenly through distorted legal frameworks became the chief individual beneficiaries of activity in the physical economy, is revealed every week in more and more detail of horrific corruption. But nothing whatever is done to stop them, let alone punish the guilty. They own the entire political establishment.

Occasional shafts of humour penetrate the stygian murk. Chloe Smith is revealed as completely inadequate by Jeremy Paxman. We could have told him that – at the Norwich North byelection the Conservative Party were desperate never to allow her to face questioning, and on this blog I offered a cash reward to anybody who spotted her with less than five minders. It was never claimed.

What really made me laugh was the report in the Guardian that she was given her ministerial position in the Treasury by David Cameron in the mistaken belief that, as she had worked for Deloitte, she must know something about finance. Why this is really funny is that the only job she ever had at Deloitte was not, as variously reported in the mainstream media, in PR or human resources, but in fact to be seconded to the Conservative Party. Chloe never had any job except as Conservative Party staff. She was then taken on by Deloitte and instantly seconded back to the Conservative Party; her working for Deloitte at all was a fiction. Whether this was to evade political donation rules or just to burnish her CV as a parliamentary candidate, I have no idea.

That the experience Cameron thought qualified her as a Treasury minister was actually a secondment to the Tory Party by one of those lobbying major corporate financial interests – and Deloitte was the Royal Bank of Scotland’s auditors – is so rich it moves beyond satire. I can scarcely believe it myself. In fact it gave rise to such paroxysms of bitter laughter that I found the strength to blog again. Thank you Chloe and Dave for that, anyway.

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