Donziger: A Tale For Our Times 97

Texaco operations in Ecuador from 1962 to 1994 dumped 70 billion litres of “wastewater”, heavily contaminated with oil and other chemicals, into the Amazon rainforest, plus over 650,000 barrels of crude oil. They polluted over 800,000 hectares.

It is one of the worst ecological disasters in history — 30 times greater than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska and 85 times greater than the Gulf of Mexico spill by British Petroleum (BP) in 2010. During the supposed clean up in the provinces of Sucumbios and Orellana, before it left Ecuador, Texaco hid over a thousand different swamps of toxic waste throughout the rainforests, dumping a layer of topsoil over them.

Crude contaminates the Aguarico 4 oil pit, an open pool abandoned by Texaco after 6 years of production and never remediated.

Texaco was taken over by Chevron in 2000. Chevron claims that Texaco only ever extracted $490 million in profit from Ecuador over 30 years. The accounting of that is hotly contested by the Amazon Defense Coalition which claims Texaco made $30 billion profit. One thing for sure is that even the Chevron figure is at historic values, not real terms, and would be worth vastly more today.

The cost of the pollution to the inhabitants of the Amazon is incalculable in simple monetary terms, as is the cost of the environmental catastrophe to the entire world. However in the mid 1990’s Ecuador was firmly under the United States heel and – as Chevron’s legal team assert – in 1995 the Government of Ecuador was persuaded to sign a ludicrous clean-up agreement with Texaco as it left the country, releasing it from all legal obligations at a cost of just US $40 million.

Yes, that really is just $40 million. Compare that to the $61.6 billion that BP paid out for the almost 100 times smaller Deepwater Horizon environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1998 the corrupt, US controlled, government of Ecuadorean President Jamil Mahuad signed a final release relieving Texaco for all liability from economic pollution. That release has now been upheld by the Court of International Arbitration in the Hague.

How this was achieved by Chevron/Texaco is well explained in a book I highly recommend, a copy of which was sent to me in prison by a supporter:
The Misery of International Law by Linarelli, Salomon and Sornarajah (Oxford University Press 2018).

A Chevron lobbyist in 2008 said that “we can’t let little countries screw around with big companies like this”. At the time of this writing, Chevron is the fourth largest company headquartered in the United States, operating in over one hundred countries, with gross revenues twice that of Ecuador’s GDP. When Texaco began operations in Ecuador in 1964, the country was unstable and extremely poor, with bananas as its main export. One lawyer who works for Oxfam had argued that “Texaco ran the country for twenty years. They had the US Embassy in their pocket. They had the military. Politically, there was no way that Texaco was going to be held accountable in Ecuador.” At the time Ecuador needed Texaco’s expertise and technology if it was to extract the oil. The lawsuit alleged that Texaco dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the water system in the region, along with 17 billion gallons of crude oil, and left 916 clearly visible unlined toxic waste pits full of black sludge throughout the region. At the time, Texaco’s operations did not violate Ecuadorean law. Ecuador had no real environmental law at the time. While Chevron vigorously contests the facts, the evidence shows that Texaco failed to use environmentally sustainable technologies in its operations in Ecuador. As the former Ecuador Ambassador to the United States Nathalie Cely has put it: “When Texaco left Ecuador, significant profits in hand, it left unprecedented damage to the environment in its wake and no compensation to those affected.”

In my writing I always try to add value when I can by giving my own experience where relevant, and the situation described here reminds me precisely of the impunity with which Shell acted in Nigeria in their similarly massive pollution of the Niger Delta. I witnessed this close up when I was Second Secretary at the British High Commission in Lagos from 1986 to 1990. My brief was “Agriculture and Water Resources” and I therefore encountered the environmental devastation at first hand.

From my privileged diplomatic position I also saw the political power wielded by Shell in Nigeria through corruption and bribery, and I absolutely recognise the description given above of Texaco in Ecuador: “They had the US Embassy in their pocket”. In Nigeria, Shell had the British High Commission in their pocket, throughout decades in which all bar one of Nigeria’s military dictators was trained at Sandhurst, and the exception went to another British military college.

The Chairman and MD of Shell Nigeria, Brian Lavers, was treated as a deity and lived a life of extraordinary power and luxury. The British High Commissioner, Sir Martin Ewans, himself a very haughty man, deferred routinely to Lavers. I recall one occasion when the diplomatic staff were all instructed to attend a private briefing by Lavers in the High Commission. He made some dismissive and complacent comments about the “fuss” over pollution. I, a rather diffident and nervous young man on my first diplomatic assignment, very respectfully queried him on something I knew from direct observation to be untrue. I got a public ticking off from the High Commissioner followed by a massive private bollocking from my boss, and was later told that Shell made a complaint against me to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.

So, in brief, I know of what they speak. I should add that I am still extremely upset by all of this because of the subsequent execution of Ken Saro Wiwa, whom I knew, and other indigenous environmental activists, for which I hold Shell in part culpable. 35 years since I got carpeted for raising the shocking effects, and 25 years since the executions shocked the world, Shell’s devastation of the Niger Delta continues. (see Footnote).

29 years ago, in 1993, Steven Donziger, a New York lawyer, visited Ecuador and saw communities who lived their lives with their bare feet and hands permanently covered in oil sludge and other pollutants, whose agriculture was ruined and who suffered high levels of mortality and birth defects. He started a class action against Texaco in the United States, representing over 30,000 local people. Texaco, confident that they had control of Ecuador, requested the US court to rule that jurisdiction lay in Ecuador. It also set about obtaining the agreement from the Government of Ecuador to cancel any liability. In 2002 the New York court finally agreed with Texaco (now Chevron) that is had no jurisdiction and the case moved to Ecuador, much to Chevron’s delight.

What Chevron had not bargained for was that corrupt US control of Ecuador might loosen. In 2007 left wing Rafael Correa became President and Chevron’s previously total impunity in the country dissolved. In 2011 Donziger and his team won an award of $18 billion in compensation for the local population from a provincial Ecuadorean court, later reduced to $9.5 billion by the Supreme Court of Ecuador.

Chevron now did two things. Firstly, it invoked the bribery obtained agreements of 1995 and 1998 limiting its liability to the paltry $40 million clean-up operation, and appealed to the international tribunals specified in those agreements. Chevron succeeded, as was fairly certain to happen. The agreements had indeed been signed and did relieve Texaco/Chevron of any liability.

This brings us into precisely the same area as Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements and the ability of huge multinationals to bully or bribe poorer states into signing away their sovereign authority in favour of judgement, not by a multilateral state institution like the International Court of Justice, but of a commercial tribunal formed of western corporate lawyers of strong neo-conservative ideology.

Western governments put enormous pressure on developing countries to succumb to such jurisdiction, including making it a condition of aid flows. The system is so unfair on developing countries that even Hillary Clinton inveighed against it, before she started fund-raising for her Presidential bid.

Big oil apologists are cock-a-hoop that the disgraceful, well-feathered right wing jurists of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague gave Chevron a judgement that their bribed 1998 “Get out of jail free” card did indeed say “Get out of jail free”. This case in itself damns the arbitration system. The truth is, of course, that no developing country has ever initiated surrendering its sovereignty to such a tribunal, and it is strongly in the institutional and financial interest of the tribunal and its members to find in favour of the big western corporations on which their very existence thus depends.

The second thing that Chevron did was to attempt to destroy Steven Donziger personally. In 2011 they filed a suit in New York under the anti-mob Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act, arguing that in Ecuador Donziger had bribed a judge, bribed witnesses and plaintiffs, ghost-written the original judgement and subverted expert witnesses.

The case against Donziger now becomes an incredible tale of corrupt judges in both Ecuador and the United States, of whom the most corrupt of all is US District Judge Lewis A Kaplan. It is important to note that the case against Donziger came before Kaplan as a civil case, not a criminal case. Chevron were seeking an injunction to stop Donziger acting further against them. Originally they were suing Donziger for $60 billion in damages, but that was dropped because it would have meant Donziger had a jury. By merely seeking an injunction, Chevron could ensure that Kaplan was unconstrained.

What happened next beggars belief. Kaplan made a ruling setting aside the judgement of the Ecuadorean court on the grounds it was based on racketeering, coercion and bribery. It should be recalled that, at Chevron’s insistence, the New York District Court had nine years earlier ruled it had no jurisdiction over the case, and that jurisdiction lay in Ecuador. Kaplan now ruled the opposite; both times Chevron got what they wanted.

So who is Kaplan? From 1970 to 1994 he was in private practice, representing in particular the interests of tobacco companies including Philip Morris – itself, I would argue, sufficient sign of moral bankruptcy. He was also the “trusty” judge the federal government used to rule that years of detention and torture in Guantanamo Bay did not affect prosecutions of detainees there. On the plus side, Kaplan did allow Virginia Giuffre’s lawsuit against Prince Andrew to go ahead; but then Andrew is not a US state or commercial interest.

The only testimony of bribery and corruption which Kaplan heard came from a single source, Ecuadorean judge Alberto Guerra. He claimed he was bribed to support the local plaintiff’s case against Chevron and to ghost write the judgement with Donziger for the trial judge. No other evidence of racketeering or bribery was given before Kaplan.

Guerra was extremely unconvincing in court. In his judgement for Chevron Kaplan stated that:

“Guerra on many occasions has acted deceitfully and broken the law […] but that does not necessarily mean that it should be disregarded wholesale…evidence leads to one conclusion: Guerra told the truth regarding the bribe and the essential fact as to who wrote the Judgment.”

Guerra produced no corroboration of his story. He could not, for example, show any draft of, or work on, the judgement he had allegedly ghostwritten with Donziger. A forensic search of Donziger’s laptop found nothing either. The reason for this was to become clear when Guerra admitted, before the International Court of Arbitration, that he had invented the whole story.

Not only had Guerra invented the whole story, but he had in fact been bribed by Chevron with a large sum for his testimony. Guerra admitted that he had invented the story to Chevron of Donziger offering to buy him for $300,000, simply to raise the price which Chevron would pay him. Before giving evidence in the USA, Guerra spent 51 days being coached on his evidence by Chevron’s lawyers – which Kaplan permitted as it was a civil not a criminal case.

In 2016 the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Kaplan’s verdict for Chevron, on the grounds that Guerra’s evidence had been properly given in a US court, and it had not been recanted in any formal evidence to a US court; while Donziger could not prove, without Guerra’s testimony in court, that Guerra had been paid by Chevron.

Followers of the Assange case will of course note the parallels with Siggi Thordarson, the convicted fraudster who was paid by the CIA to give evidence against Assange that is central to the “hacking” charges under the Espionage Act, but whose open admission that he lied in his testimony the English High Court refused to hear as he has not formally withdrawn his evidence in court.

In the interests of scrupulous honesty, I should note that Chevron seem to me to have one good legal point. There was unlawful coordination between one technical expert in the case in Ecuador and Donziger’s legal team. This was motivated by genuine environmental concern and goodwill, and not by bribery, but was nevertheless unwise. I do not however believe that any reasonable judge would find this in itself sufficient to dismiss the case, given the great weight of other evidence on the pollution and its effects.

Kaplan now set out, at Chevron’s behest, to destroy Donziger as an individual. Extraordinarily in a civil case, Kaplan ruled that Donziger must turn over all of his phones, laptops and communications devices to Chevron, so they could investigate his dealings with others over the Ecuadorean case.

Donziger of course refused on the grounds that he was an attorney representing the local plaintiffs in the case, and the devices held numerous communications covered by attorney-client privilege. Kaplan ruled that the clients were not in US jurisdiction so attorney-client privilege did not apply. He then sought to institute a criminal prosecution of Donziger for contempt of court for refusing to obey his order to hand them over to Chevron.

It should be noted that by this stage Rafael Correa had retired as President of Ecuador as decreed by the constitution, and the CIA was again firmly in control through the traitorous President Lenin Moreno. Not only was Donziger entitled on absolute grounds to refuse to hand over attorney-client communication, there was now a real danger the indigenous people and other locals involved in the case might be targeted for reprisals in Ecuador by Moreno and the CIA.

There is again a startling resonance with the Assange case. When Moreno removed Assange’s diplomatic immunity, and Assange was grabbed from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London and imprisoned, all of Assange’s papers were seized by the Ecuadorean government and shipped back to Quito, where they all were handed over to the CIA. These specifically included thousands of documents relating to Assange’s defence against extradition, documents which were covered by attorney-client privilege. Again, when dealing with an “enemy of the state” like Assange or Donziger, the judges decided that this did not matter.

Let me again interpolate some personal experience. Judge Kaplan now decided to transform Chevron’s civil case against Donziger into an explicitly criminal case of contempt of court. In Scotland and throughout the UK, Kaplan could simply have declared Donziger guilty of violating his own Order and sent him to jail, precisely as judge Lady Dorrian did to me. But in the United States – as in every other democracy outside the UK – a judge cannot arbitrarily decide on a violation of their own order.

Kaplan therefore referred Donziger’s “contempt” to the federal prosecutors of the Southern District of New York. But they declined to prosecute. Here we had a civil case brought by Chevron over a decision by an Ecuadorean court which the US courts had insisted had jurisdiction, but which Kaplan had repatriated, found for Chevron on the basis of extremely dodgy evidence, and now turned into the criminal trial of an environmental activist lawyer based on a complete repudiation of attorney-client privilege. Federal prosecutors viewed none of this as valid.

So Kaplan now did something for which nobody can provide a convincing precedent. In 2020 he appointed private legal prosecutors, paid for by his court, to bring the criminal case against Donziger which the state prosecutors had declined to bring. Kaplan had personal links to the firm involved, Seward and Kissel, who had been acting for Chevron in various matters less than two years previously. During the prosecution process, Seward and Kissel as prosecutors were in constant contact with Chevron’s avowed lead lawyers, Gibson Dunn and Crutcher, over the case.

For all these reasons the Donziger case has been described as the first private criminal prosecution by a corporation in US history. Chevron’s ability to control the entire judicial and legal process has been terrifying. Every public affairs NGO you can think of, not in the pockets of big oil and climate change denial, has raised serious concerns about the case.

Contrary to convention, though not contrary to law, Kaplan also personally appointed the judge to hear the case for criminal breach of his order, rather than leaving it to the court system. His nominee, Judge Loretta Preska, committed Donziger to house arrest pending trial. On October 21 2021 she sentenced Donziger to six months in prison; the maximum for contempt of court in the USA (I was sentenced to 8 months in Scotland). After 45 days Donziger was released from prison due to Covid, to serve the rest of his sentence under house arrest. In total, before and after trial, Donziger spent 993 days in detention. He was released two days ago.

Donziger has been disbarred as a lawyer. Chevron have a lien on his home and all his assets for compensation. They have paid nothing to the victims of their pollution of the Amazon.

I really cannot think of any individual story that better incorporates so many aspects of the dreadful corruption of modern western society. We are all, in a sense, the prisoners of corporations which dictate the terms on which we live, work and share knowledge. Justice against the powerful appears impossible. It is profoundly disturbing, and I recommend everyone to take a few minutes to reflect about the full meaning of the Donziger story in all its many tangents.

There is a good interview with Steve Donziger, which understandably concentrates on the personal effect upon him, here.

Footnote: It would be churlish of me not to mention that when Sir Brian Barder became High Commissioner in Lagos he took a different line on Shell and pollution, much to the annoyance of Tory minister Norman Tebbit. 20 years later I was eventually sacked by the FCO for an excess of dissent, and Brian and Jane immediately invited me to dinner. Brian is no longer with us but his son @owenbarder is well worth following on development issues.


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97 thoughts on “Donziger: A Tale For Our Times

1 2
  • Jm

    And there are apparently some high ups in the Scottish legal monde who don’t consider Craig Murray to be a proper journalist..

    Shame on them.

  • Pnyx

    An excellent, sober portrayal of these unspeakable events, which demonstrate more than any other the inner rottenness of an empire that is now preparing to unleash a third world war. Even if the alternatives, the opponents of the empire, are far from inspiring confidence – they are not the central problem. It sits in Washington and in the capitals of its lackeys.

    • Baalbek

      “preparing to unleash a third world war”

      I think that war has already started. Ukraine is the opening shot. The US is spending about 5% of its military budget on arming Ukraine, European countries are outdoing one another sending weapons there and the UK’s FM says the war will continue until Russia leaves Ukraine, including Crimea and the UK is sending weapons to Ukraine that are capable of striking Russian cities. The west is escalating and making sure no diplomatic settlement is possible. Thinking that this war won’t spill over outside of Ukraine’s borders is extremely hubristic of “our” leaders. Or perhaps this is what they want and assume the dire effects will be limited to continental Europe. Either way it’s insane. We are ruled by jingoistic clowns, mad armchair warriors and degenerate elites, all of whom are in thrall to Thanatos. The Ukraine war is a proxy war between NATO and Russia.

      Unfortunately Putin jumped, not walked, into the trap NATO laid out for him and Russia is now stuck between a rock and a hard place. Russia cannot afford to lose this war, at minimum it must pull off a face-saving victory, and the west is doubling down on escalation and ultimatums. Zelensky is just window dressing, an actor-president who takes his orders from Washington and the Ukrainian far-right and couldn’t negotiate with Moscow even if he wanted to. Meanwhile the “objective and impartial” mainstream media is whipping up unprecedented war fever amongst the western populace.

      The peace movement is all but non-existent, a hypnotized public is glued to its screens and cheering for one side or another like this is a sporting match and no respected statesmen like Nelson Mandela, Olof Palme, or even mediocre liberal doves, exist to challenge the lust for war (and death). The post-1945 era is well and truly over. The first cold war was downright civilized compared to the chaos that rules today.

      • Bayard

        “a hypnotized public is glued to its screens and cheering for one side or another like this is a sporting match”

        Not so much a sporting match, more a video game.

      • Steve

        The problem BB is that these idiots believe that there can be a “winner” in a nuclear war. There will be no winners

      • Blissex

        «Zelensky is just window dressing, an actor-president who takes his orders from Washington and the Ukrainian far-right and couldn’t negotiate with Moscow even if he wanted to.»

        I guess that he will soon be “martyred” (perhaps with “novichok”) because he let that slip in an interview with “The Economist”:

        «Mr Zelensky divides NATO into five camps. First are those who “don‘t mind a long war because it would mean exhausting Russia, even if this means the demise of Ukraine and comes at the cost of Ukrainian lives”.»

        «ruled by jingoistic clowns»

        From the older crimean war:

        The dogs of war are loose, and the ragged Russian Bear,
        Full bent on blood and robbery, has crawl’d out of his lair;
        It seems a thrashing now and then, will never help to tame
        That brute, and so he’s out upon the “same old game.”
        The Lion did his best to find him some excuse
        To crawl back to his den again, all efforts were no use;
        He hunger’d for his victim, he’s pleased when blood is shed,
        But let us hope his crimes may all recoil on his own head.

        We don’t want to fight but by jingo if we do,
        We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, and got the money too!
        We’ve fought the Bear before and while we’re Britons true
        The Russians shall not have Constantinople!”

        • Bayard

          “The Lion did his best to find him some excuse
          To crawl back to his den again, all efforts were no use;”

          Hmm, that doesn’t sound quite as good when you realise that: (from the Wikipedia article on the Crimean War)

          “The Russians evacuated Wallachia and Moldavia in late July 1854. Therefore, the immediate cause of war had now been withdrawn, and the war might have then ended.[79] However, war fever among the public in both Britain and France had been whipped up by the press in both countries to the degree that politicians found it untenable to propose immediately ending the war.”

          As far as the Russians not having Constantinople was concerned, from then on the war in Crimea was more about the British having or not having Sebastopol.

      • David W Ferguson

        “Unfortunately Putin jumped, not walked, into the trap NATO laid out for him and Russia is now stuck between a rock and a hard place…”

        This is too superficial an analysis. Putin didn’t walk or jump into a trap. He simply knew perfectly well – as anyone with any sense ought to be able to see very clearly – that inaction on Russia’s part would not under any circumstances have led to any de-escalation. It would simply have led to more and more goading and provocation until Russia finally did act.

        Putin moved at the last possible moment when Russia was still able to act from a position of strength, and still able to provide some protection for the people of Donbass.

      • Jimmeh

        > the UK is sending weapons to Ukraine that are capable of striking Russian cities.

        Of course, the Russians haven’t sent weapons to Ukraine capable of striking Ukrainian cities, have they? Oh, wait…

  • Seamus Eales

    I was going to buy “The Misery of International Law by Linarelli, Salomon and Sornarajah” and send it to my father as the sort of tomb he likes to read.

    Amazon has it for £82 or £69 for a kindle version!!!!

    Do books really cost this much?
    Are the corporate elite silencing the authors by pricing them out the market?

  • Ian

    Excellent, forensic analysis with deeply disturbing implications for the planet’s future. Democracy is underpinned by the rule of law, which of course has to be administered without favour, transparently, accountably and with the necessary checks and balances. This case illustrates how none of this exists for corporations and consequently we have no real democracy, or control over the fate of our planet.

  • Michael Droy

    Very glad to see Craig write about this.
    The misuse of the US legal system to achieve non-legal goals is one of the main causes for the US falling apart and taking us in Europe with it.

  • Stuart

    This is one the most disturbing and chilling articles I have read. The blatant corruption in the ‘land of the brave and the free’ is very scary. Where are the checks and balances? Where is truth and justice? Why is Guantanamo still operating?
    And we’re being told that Russia is the enemy and Putin is Mr Nasty! Yes he is, but he has plenty of company in the west.

    • Beware the Leopard

      In the US, fewer than one out of twenty criminal defendants (among those whose cases are not dismissed) go to trial. It’s plea bargains for everyone else.

      One informative article on the topic: Why innocent people plead guilty, by Jed S Rakoff

      That statistic suggests that American prosecutors generally lack skill at their ostensible job (trying criminal cases), since they so rarely are called upon to perform it.

      Instead, they are good at “winning” a game rigged in their favor (which hardly counts as being good at anything at all).

      A brief illustration:

      Judge: Do you accept the prosecution’s offer to drop the jaywalking charge in exchange for pleading guilty to possession of the crack pipe?
      Defendant: Yes, your Honor.
      (I personally witnessed this absurd exchange in a municipal courtroom. The paraphernalia had been found during a search of the defendant after stopping her to issue a jaywalking ticket. She recieved no legal advice from anyone but the judge.)

      The courts are not the only American “liberal democratic” institution so subverted, but they are one of the more blatant examples.

  • Crispa

    An initial thank you for this eye – opening article. I have been seeing Steven Donziger on Twitter these last few days having tags removed and counting down the days to his final release without having a clue about the background. This helps me to understand what it is all about, and the plight of those poor people of Ecuador, whose hopes and lives have been squashed by the USA global juggernaut and its utterly corrupt justice system. This kind of treatment, as pointed out, is what Julian Assange too can expect.

  • kimpatsu

    “From 1970 to 1994 he was in private practice, representing in particular the interests of tobacco companies including Philip Morris – itself, I would argue, sufficient sign of moral bankruptcy.”

    Seriously? You’re one of those people who thinks that serial killers should not be represented in court?

    • Shaun Onimus

      Wow, that’s quite the leap. I’m not sure if hes hitting too close to home for you, but even with my basic comprehension I understood it as painting a picture of the kind of lawyer he is. You know, anything for a dime kinda person. Have a cigarette!

    • Roger Tonkin

      This is one of those comments that seems designed to distract from the point of the article, and one wonders at the motivation behind it.

      The article (which reveals to all but the terminally naive and wilfully blind some of the utterly evil and destructive forces at play in the world) didn’t suggest that corporations such as tobacco companies (whose products are said to kill half of their customers – talk about serial killers!) should not be represented in court. It argued that lawyers who choose to represent them demonstrate moral bankruptcy.

      The right of an accused person or company to legal representation and a fair trial is certainly a key measure of a civilised society. But that doesn’t mean that all lawyers are necessarily morally enlightened, or even motivated by any kind of higher principles. If corporations or individuals use massive wealth and power to manipulate or control the application of the law so they can perpetuate and benefit from vast, multi-generational and irreversible destruction of the environment and the lives of innumerable people, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that those who are paid to facililitate and protect such monstrous crimes may lack a working moral compass.

    • andic

      Usually before it gets to the point where the giant corporation or gangster is in danger of going un-represented and a public spirited lawyer steps up to the distasteful task another enterprising lawyer will volunteer to do the work for the moneeeeeee.

      Who can say which of the above categories Kaplan falls into but I know what I think

    • craig Post author

      I don’t think you can compare defending somebody on criminal charges, with choosing to do very highly paid corporate law work for a tobacco company.

      • Blissex

        «defending somebody on criminal charges, with choosing to do very highly paid corporate law work for a tobacco company»

        But tobacco companies are people too! (at least in the USA). 🙂

        Regardless of the difference between civil and criminal court, which to me seems sophistry, that claim to me looks very dangerous, because to me it seems based on the assumption that representing in court a client means for a lawyer to *personally* endorse (or otherwise be associated with) the client’s position, at least in a moral sense.

        That leads straight to the consequence that “moral” lawyers should boycott clients who have behaved “immorally” in the past, lest they compromise their “morality”. After that vice-versa follows, that being represented by a lawyer who has represented in the past “immoral” clients tarnishes the cases of all subsequent clients.

        Guilt or immorality by association should never be applied to cases of representation in court, either way (from “immoral” client to lawyer, from “immoral” lawyer to client).

        Then there are situations where lawyers end up becoming more agents than representatives of their clients, so things are different outside courts.

  • Andrew Nichols

    Be sure that if Russia or China had behaved thus the outrage would be deafening over this. The fact nothing has been heard says all you need to know.

  • andic

    Thank you for an excellent and informative piece.
    All the facts laid out, information on context and informed opinion clearly offered. Probably the best piece of journalism I have seen this year.

    It has left me thoroughly disturbed

  • Neil

    Thank you for this excellent article, Craig. I especially appreciate the elements from your own personal experience.

    Glad to see you gave a mention to Brian Barder and his son Owen. That must have been an interesting conversation over the dinner table!

  • pretzelattack

    Magnificent article, Craig. Also terrifying. Those poor, victimized giant fossil fuel corporations seem to retain an f-load of power in the real world.

  • Steve

    To quote Edward, Lord Thurlow 1731-1806)

    “Did you ever expect a corporation to have a conscience, when it has no souls to be damned, and no body to be kicked”.

    The oil companies are particularly wicked and followed closely by the arms industry and big pharma

    • Tom Welsh

      Corporations have neither bodies to be punished, nor souls to be condemned; they therefore do as they like.
      — Quoted in John Poynder, Literary Extracts (1844), vol. 1, p. 268. [1]

      This is often misquoted as “Did you ever expect a corporation to have a conscience, when it has no soul to be damned, and no body to be kicked?”,_1st_Baron_Thurlow

      A most impressive and prophetic statement, uttered as it seems to have been in the 18th century or very soon after its close. Most people have not reached any such conclusion even today.

      As the USA is the home of the corporation – and especially the gigantic global corporation – it has suffered most grievously by the concomitant disappearance of every vestige of honesty and conscience. However the UK is fast following it down the vortex to Hell – and not by any means as a result of any good intentions.

  • SleepingDog

    Perhaps the only sane form of government is a constitutionally-encoded biocracy.

    The proposal paper Towards an EU Charter of the Fundamental Rights of Nature recognizes Ecuador’s 2008 Constitution as introducing the world’s first ‘ecological mandate’:
    This attempt to encode the Rights of Nature would mean universal application, potentially universal jurisdiction, whether Nature was treated as human heritage for all generations worldwide, or as a subject on whose behalf action must lawfully be taken. The paper notes that France, unlike the UK model, has recently ruled that it cannot export harmful substances banned in the EU outside of the EU.

    Whether under an international Rights of Nature framework or a national constitutionally-encoded biocracy, people or corporations or states or other groups who harm the environment would face outlawing and the removal of legal protections worldwide, with no place on the planet to hide (but rogue states like the USA, perhaps).

    Something to think about, when considering a new Constitution for an independent Scotland.

    • Another Great Ape

      Yes how can the people get the law changed so that it protects the natural world better from the companies we use.

      And as that EU doc started to say (though then had it as an overlapping Venn diagram), we are nature too. We are natural from evolution, including our cultures.

      • SleepingDog

        Indeed we do not exist outside of Nature, but as the Rights of Nature document explains, we are in an age where modern science through life sciences and complexity theory (which describes things like natural tipping points and complex, adaptive systems, uncertainty) has reconnected human societies with nature, but many of our social governance structures have developed through the mechanistic aberration of the industrial revolution. However, it may be more accurate to say that human culture is emergent behaviour, and thus not a property of (and could not be predicted by) underlying natural systems.

        And encoding the Rights of Nature will require a whole-system approach to legal reform. Here is a quote from p62:

        “This will lead to a very different outcome in terms of effects, e.g. industries that infringe Rights of Nature would have to be phased out and replaced by new industries that operate to affirm those rights leading to renewal and regeneration. It would no longer be legal to have an economic system based on infinite growth, an agricultural system that poisons the earth or an energy system that depletes Nature faster than she can replenish. Our societal structures would have to change because the law that underpins them has changed. Our moral and social compass will have to reset at a higher level which will ultimately benefit Society as a whole.”

        • Another Great Ape

          I wonder how that might address the problem of increased social isolation too. I recall Sen’s ideas about not just freedom from (tyrannies etc), but freedom to (which can’t just rely on semi-mythical appeals to free will but on social/tech structures being enabling, given human diversity).

      • Tom Welsh

        A good question, but just a subset of the more general “How can the people get the law changed in any way?”

        I don’t see how. Laws are made in the UK by Parliament, and in the USA by Congress. Both are composed of “elected representatives” most of whom are indebted and committed to the sponsors who got them elected – almost all of which are corporations. (Actually in the UK even Parliament seems to have little or no influence or power, and arguably even the PM and the Cabinet are little more than puppets and figureheads – like poor Mr Biden and not so poor Mr Trump).

        It’s a tricky exercise in systems engineering to work out how citizens who are thus cut off from power and even influence over government can ever get their wishes made law.

        My educated guess is that the only possible way would be by cutting the Gordian knot: through revolution, which to have any chance of success must be organised, ruthless, and violent.

  • Blissex

    The most powerful message that comes from this blog is that dissenting from the ruthless self-dealing cliques that control the state in several “liberal democracies” is a nearly sure path to ruin.

    It is a realistic message, but hardly encouraging about our future.

  • Mary Bennett

    Thank you for this summary, Mr. Murray.

    I have a bad feeling that Judge Kaplan might have been promised a Supreme Court nomination under the next Republican administration.
    That would in part explain his conduct. Would anyone reading here know more about Judge Kaplan?

  • Wally Jumblatt

    I think we should be grateful that perhaps we had a few decades in the past century and a half where we had ‘balanced’ justice in some areas at least, because in the past 2 millenia we the punters have generally never had any semblance of justice at all.

    Since this is now however a blatant struggle to the de’ath between those who have -and want more of- against those who don’t, the very least we can hope for that it is fought out in the open.

    I would have hoped that a competent QC would have been able to argue that an agreement (in the case of Chevron’s $40 miilion settlement) based on fraudulent information was nulled and voided. But that assumes the court was honest ………….

    • Tom Welsh

      Everything really important in the USA is hopelessly corrupt. The fish rots from the head down. Unfortunately the ambitions of idealists like Thomas Jefferson were defeated by 1820, and no trace of real democracy has been allowed since.

      That’s why, inter alia, it is ridiculous to believe that Washington has the slightest interest in justice or fairness anywhere in the world.

  • Brian Devlin

    Regarding the payment of damages to Ecuador, one of the Chevron lawyers allegedly stated ‘We will fight them till Hell freezes over and them we’ll fight them on the ice’. The original quote came from a Confederate soldier during the American Civil War.

  • Camouflage Artist

    A well-written article, but not true. We have to remember that half of the truth is a lie. The author omitted the role of the state-owned PetroEcuador. That company still pollutes Amazon as of today. Why then, the environmentalists are exposing PetroEcuador? Why Donziger never took PetroEcuador to court? It’s sad that those half-truths get through. Learn about the bourgeoise behind this case:

    • David W Ferguson

      It’s not an article about pollution in Ecuador. It’s about Steven Donziger and Texaco operations in Ecuador between 1962 and 1994. Petroecuador was set up in 1989.

      Interesting logic though. “Steven Donziger deserves to have his life ruined because Petroecuador is polluting the Amazon as well…”

      • Tom Welsh

        When that type of argument is used against the establishment, its defenders cry “whataboutism”. As Mr Murray accurately observes, any corruption that exists in Ecuador has nothing to do with the utter corruption of US courts.

  • David W Ferguson

    The USA is an evil and poisonous thing. It does not possess a single redeeming feature. At least it serves as a daily reminder of the non-existence of God. If there was a God (s)he would have planted an asteroid right in the middle of the US and levelled the place decades ago.

  • Giyane

    I can’t help feeling that this post is about Kaplan, Assange and US exceptionalism, not pollution.

    Julian Assange was reporting about events in 2003, and there are 20 years of USUK war crimes that have gone unreported. All one can about that is that USUK have succeeded without outside assistance in discrediting themselves as brokers of global affairs.

    From a starting point of great credibility, they have become completely irrelevant in the space of 70 years. The rainforest will regenerate , inshallah, but war criminal societies never recover. The pollution of the mind is far more terrible even than the pollution of the earth. Imho.

    • Blissex

      «USUK have succeeded without outside assistance in discrediting themselves as brokers of global affairs. From a starting point of great credibility, they have become completely irrelevant in the space of 70 years.»

      Perhaps in the eyes of “leftoids”, but in reality the USA (the UK is irrelevant) have achieved great credibility as protectors of extractive local elites and as facilitators of the profits of USA based multinationals, and as smashers of disobedient states (e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan) and regime changers of non-aligned states (e.g. Chile, Georgia, Ukraine). Sure, not every USA intervention succeeds on first try (e.g. Venezuela, Egypt) and some are rolled back (e.g. Yeltsin), but the USA elites have ample resources and will keep trying, and on balance they keep winning.

      In “realpolitik” that is quite relevant. Elites around the world know that as long as they give a generous cut to USA based businesses and follow the USA’s military and security lead, odds are that they will be secure and rich, and “dissenters” will be hounded into ruin.

    • Tom Welsh

      You seem strangely optimistic. From Mr Murray’s account, and what little I already knew, it looks as though the powers of evil have won hands down.

  • bevin

    An article at Strategic Culture- a very useful and informative website from Russia – by Martin Jay, about the Assange case.

    “…the treatment of the Australian publisher and his fate drives home a fundamental point about how democracy and freedom of speech barely make it to the list of priorities in western countries when governments hijack a political cause for their own tawdry agendas.

    “Assange’s case is entirely political which has made his a commodity of sorts as his alleged crimes have dehumanised him, helped by western media who have hardly supported his claims to be exercising his rights to freedom of speech. Political from a local perspective for both Biden and Boris who both have a worrying loathing of the press and, certainly in the case of the British prime minister, would dearly like to display a show of strength towards the fourth estate which he fears could play a role in his demise. But also on an international level, both the UK and U.S. want to use the case to score points with Russia as the U.S. always claimed from as early as 2010 that Wikileaks was some sort of foreign intelligence website which was supported by Moscow. It is because of this notion, because Assange has links with Russia, that the case against Assange is so much bigger and symbolic than it really needs to be…”

    “…The argument though, which is that he was operating as a journalist and exercising his right to freedom of speech, has very little gravitas with the U.S. mindset, nor with the British one. Both the U.S. and the UK want to use Assange to create a new example towards journalists who think about digging too deep in their work exposing the dirty work that both America and Britain get up to when they go to war in places like Iraq or Afghanistan. The message is very clear: think before you act, as you could end up like Assange.

    “And so politics, which has dominated the case even being behind what was obviously a CIA honey trap operation in Sweden to net Assange in 2010, is still the central focus. Or rather lack of it. It is a new level of cowardice in our political systems which allows the U.S. to go ahead with its plans to kill Assange in a U.S. prison and the same level of weakness from Boris Johnson which will probably allow it. It is the lack of verve from our leaders, even in the Australian government, which has allowed Assange to be dehumanised while the UK and Australia sign trade deals and Assange is airbrushed out of the talks almost like he doesn’t exist…”

    The full article is at

    • Bayard

      The British government might like to pretend they are sovereign, but in reality their position is more like that of an Indian prince during the British Raj.

      • Blissex

        «British government […] their position is more like that of an Indian prince during the British Raj.»

        That position is called “suzerainty”, two examples:

        “Andrew Marry’s “A history of modern Britain”: In 1942, as Rommel’s tanks drew nearer, and Churchill was fulminating about Cairo being a nest of ‘Hun spies’, the British ambassador told Egypt’s King Farouk that his prime minister was not considered sufficiently anti-German and would have to be replaced. The King summoned his limited reserves of pride and refused. It was, he insisted, a step too far, a breach of the 1937 treaty.
        Britain’s ambassador simply called up armoured cars, a couple of tanks and some soldiers and surrounded King Farouk in his palace. The ambassador walked in and ordered the monarch to sign a grovelling letter of abdication, renouncing and abandoning ‘for ourselves and the heirs of our body the throne of Egypt’. At this royal determination crumbled. The king asked pathetically if, perhaps, he could have one last chance? He was graciously granted it and sacked his prime minister.”

        William Rees-Mogg, “The Times”, 2006-08-07: “When Jack Straw was replaced by Margaret Beckett as Foreign Secretary, it seemed an almost inexplicable event. Mr Straw had been very competent — experienced, serious, moderate and always well briefed. Margaret Beckett is embarrassingly inexperienced.
        I made inquiries in Washington and was told that Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, had taken exception to Mr Straw’s statement that it would be “nuts” to bomb Iran. The United States, it was said, had put pressure on Tony Blair to change his Foreign Secretary. Mr Straw had been fired at the request of the Bush Administration, particularly at the Pentagon. … The alternative explanation was more recently given by Irwin Stelzer in The Spectator; he has remarkably good Washington contacts and is probably right. His account is that Mr Straw was indeed dismissed because of American anxieties, but that Dr Rice herself had become worried, on her visit to Blackburn, by Mr Straw’s dependence on Muslim votes. About 20 per cent of the voters in Blackburn are Islamic; Mr Straw was dismissed only four weeks after Dr Rice’s visit to his constituency.
        It may be that both explanations are correct. The first complaint may have been made by Mr Rumsfeld because of Iran; Dr Rice may have withdrawn her support after seeing the Islamic pressures in Blackburn.
        At any rate, Irwin Stelzer’s account confirms that Mr Straw was fired because of American pressure.”

        • Alyson

          Bush told Blair: “You’re either with us, or you’re against us”. Take that in, NATO “Alliance”. We are vassal states. Our national sovereignty is conditional on our compliance as a base for US armed forces and their nuclear arsenal.

          We can even look forward to new laws that will criminalise objections to corporate damage to the environment if it might affect profitability

          • Tom Welsh

            Actually, that attitude could backfire severely against Washington. In its current war against Russia, for instance, it has been so drastically overused that one day soon the USA may find that most of the world declares itself “against”. Once that has been said, it will be impossible to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

        • Johnny Conspiranoid

          William Rees-Mogg is proposing a conspiracy theory here. It sounds quite plausable. I expect he counts himself as someone who ‘doesn’t believe in conspiracy theories’.
          The Tale For Our Times here sounds like a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

    • Yuri K

      Boris is already thinking what’s his next job will be, so he’ll handle Assange to Joe just to add a bullet-point to his CV.

    • Blissex

      «Biden and Boris who both have a worrying loathing of the press […] the British prime minister, would dearly like to display a show of strength towards the fourth estate which he fears could play a role in his demise.»

      But all the major media in the UK are controlled by right-wing interests aligned with his government, they are already almost entirely compromised, how can a Conservative loathe the Conservative press?

      If he feels threatened by the press that is just because the right-wing globalist-liberals “influence” more of the right-wing press than the right-wing nationalist-tories, he is the champion of the latter faction, and the globalist-liberal Conservatives have been trying to take back control of the party from the nationalist-tory Conservatives. What Johnson loathes is not that the media are free, but that they are more aligned with a rival right-wing faction than his own faction.

      • Bayard

        Increasingly “free” means “aligned with the agenda of the plutocrats”, as in “free press”, “free and fair elections”, “free democracy”, “freedom of speech”, “The Free World” etc.

        • Tom Welsh

          Michael Hudson, among others, has often pointed out that “free enterprise economy” usually means “corporations are free to plunder at will”.

      • Yuri K

        I do not know who controls what but, to give you an example, Newsweek posted an article on snatching the yachts and other property of Russian oligarchs. They quoted Joe Biden’s words about their “ill-begotten” wealth. I posted a comment saying I hope they won’t forget to confiscate Khodorkovsky’s property cause his wealth was certainly ill-begotten in a rigged auction. And they deleted my comment because “it did not meet the rules of the community”. Go figure.

    • Johnny Conspiranoid

      “…The argument though, which is that he was operating as a journalist and exercising his right to freedom of speech, has very little gravitas with the U.S. mindset, nor with the British one. Both the U.S. and the UK want to use Assange to create a new example towards journalists “

      They must believe he is a journalist if they want to make an example of him towards journalists.

      ” It is a new level of cowardice in our political systems which allows the U.S. to go ahead with its plans to kill Assange in a U.S. prison and the same level of weakness from Boris Johnson which will probably allow it. It is the lack of verve from our leaders”

      These ‘leaders’ are using all their courage, strength and verve to kill Assange and free speech. It’s a feature, not a bug.

  • Maria Nelson

    Thankyou for your work and integrity. I’m a benefit claimant and can’t afford to subscribe. But I wish you and the people you help and raise awareness about all the best and hope one day the world will be a better place. I’m sorry about all the suffering these massive corporations cause to the people the tribes leaders globally and to the people who try to defend them. Put a one off donation button and I’ll stick a tenner in. When I see it. Keep up the fight back.

    • ET

      On the “support this website” page (top of page links) CM has stated this:
      “Paypal address for one-off donations: [email protected]

      Interestingly, I read on Consortium News that their paypal account was suspended without warning by PayPal and any remaining funds in their account “held” by paypal.

      I guess it’s time for many similar sites to start looking for alternatives to PayPal and don’t leave any funds sitting in it.

      • Fred Dagg

        This illustrates the danger of any generalised cash-to-central-bank digital currency move in the future (cryptocurrencies are a different matter altogether – they are merely digital Ponzi schemes).

        For several years (basically, since the “fascist” Donald Trump took office in 2017), various electronic payment “entities” have been refusing to accept firearms purchases in the US. Now, “alternative media” (both Left and Right) are being targeted as the intellectual working class/”middle class” (who run and “intellectually” legitimise (through the “education” system) Capitalism “on behalf” of the capitalist class) fear losing control of the “acceptable (neo-liberal) narrative”. A similar trend is apparent amongst the crowd-funding sites (remember what happened during the recent Canadian truckers’ protests). Thus far, there have always been alternative methods of electronic payment, but a cashless society would give the State/banks absolute control over which organisations/individuals could be monetised.

        Neo-liberalism has failed to “cure” stagflation after a 40-year experiment. What are you going to try next, dummies?

    • Lapsed Agnostic

      Our excellent host has stated that he would prefer people not to contribute if it causes them any financial hardship. If you can’t afford to subscribe now (I believe the average subscription is only around £3 per month), can you afford one-off donations when UK heating bills are predicted to rise by an average of around £600 later in the year* – on top of the £700 average increase in April?

      * I’d imagine Rishi will be borrowing to subsidise much of that increase for people – but I could be wrong.

  • Robert Dyson

    It is on the topic of corruption of big business that cares only for profit and not for the health and well being of the people it pretends to serve. However, I totally accept any decision you make on what is acceptable comment.

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