May 6 2013
LONDON—A tiny tip of the vast subterranean network of governmental and intelligence agencies from around the world dedicated to destroying WikiLeaks and arresting its founder, Julian Assange, appears outside the red-brick building on Hans Crescent Street that houses the Ecuadorean Embassy. Assange, the world’s best-known political refugee, has been in the embassy since he was offered sanctuary there last June. British police in black Kevlar vests are perched night and day on the steps leading up to the building, and others wait in the lobby directly in front of the embassy door. An officer stands on the corner of a side street facing the iconic department store Harrods, half a block away on Brompton Road. Another officer peers out the window of a neighboring building a few feet from Assange’s bedroom at the back of the embassy. Police sit round-the-clock in a communications van topped with an array of antennas that presumably captures all electronic forms of communication from Assange’s ground-floor suite.
The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), or Scotland Yard, said the estimated cost of surrounding the Ecuadorean Embassy from June 19, 2012, when Assange entered the building, until Jan. 31, 2013, is the equivalent of $4.5 million.
Britain has rejected an Ecuadorean request that Assange be granted safe passage to an airport. He is in limbo. It is, he said, like living in a “space station.”
“The status quo, for them, is a loss,” Assange said of the U.S.-led campaign against him as we sat in his small workroom, cluttered with cables and computer equipment. He had a full head of gray hair and gray stubble on his face and was wearing a traditional white embroidered Ecuadorean shirt. “The Pentagon threatened WikiLeaks and me personally, threatened us before the whole world, demanded that we destroy everything we had published, demanded we cease ‘soliciting’ new information from U.S. government whistle-blowers, demanded, in other words, the total annihilation of a publisher. It stated that if we did not self-destruct in this way that we would be ‘compelled’ to do so.”
“But they have failed,” he went on. “They set the rules about what a win was. They lost in every battle they defined. Their loss is total. We’ve won the big stuff. The loss of face is hard to overstate. The Pentagon reissued its threats on Sept. 28 last year. This time we laughed. Threats inflate quickly. Now the Pentagon, the White House and the State Department intend to show the world what vindictive losers they are through the persecution of Bradley Manning, myself and the organization more generally.”
Assange, Manning and WikiLeaks, by making public in 2010 half a million internal documents from the Pentagon and the State Department, along with the 2007 video of U.S. helicopter pilots nonchalantly gunning down Iraqi civilians, including children, and two Reuters journalists, effectively exposed the empire’s hypocrisy, indiscriminate violence and its use of torture, lies, bribery and crude tactics of intimidation. WikiLeaks shone a spotlight into the inner workings of empire—the most important role of a press—and for this it has become empire’s prey. Those around the globe with the computer skills to search out the secrets of empire are now those whom empire fears most. If we lose this battle, if these rebels are defeated, it means the dark night of corporate totalitarianism. If we win, if the corporate state is unmasked, it can be destroyed.
U.S. government officials quoted in Australian diplomatic cables obtained by The Saturday Age described the campaign against Assange and WikiLeaks as “unprecedented both in its scale and nature.” The scope of the operation has also been gleaned from statements made during Manning’s pretrial hearing. The U.S. Department of Justice will apparently pay the contractor ManTech of Fairfax, Va., more than $2 million this year alone for a computer system that, from the tender, appears designed to handle the prosecution documents. The government line item refers only to “WikiLeaks Software and Hardware Maintenance.”
The lead government prosecutor in the Manning case, Maj. Ashden Fein, has told the court that the FBI file that deals with the leak of government documents through WikiLeaks has “42,135 pages or 3,475 documents.” This does not include a huge volume of material accumulated by a grand jury investigation. Manning, Fein has said, represents only 8,741 pages or 636 different documents in that classified FBI file.
There are no divisions among government departments or the two major political parties over what should be Assange’s fate. “I think we should be clear here. WikiLeaks and people that disseminate information to people like this are criminals, first and foremost,” then-press secretary Robert Gibbs, speaking for the Obama administration, said during a 2010 press briefing.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, and then-Sen. Christopher S. Bond, a Republican, said in a joint letter to the U.S. attorney general calling for Assange’s prosecution: “If Mr. Assange and his possible accomplices cannot be charged under the Espionage Act (or any other applicable statute), please know that we stand ready and willing to support your efforts to ‘close those gaps’ in the law, as you also mentioned. …”
Republican Candice S. Miller, a U.S. representative from Michigan, said in the House: “It is time that the Obama administration treats WikiLeaks for what it is—a terrorist organization, whose continued operation threatens our security. Shut it down. Shut it down. It is time to shut down this terrorist, this terrorist Web site, WikiLeaks. Shut it down, Attorney General [Eric] Holder.”
At least a dozen American governmental agencies, including the Pentagon, the FBI, the Army’s Criminal Investigative Department, the Department of Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Diplomatic Security Service, are assigned to the WikiLeaks case, while the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence are assigned to track down WikiLeaks’ supposed breaches of security. The global assault—which saw Australia threaten to revoke Assange’s passport—is part of the terrifying metamorphosis of the “war on terror” into a wider war on civil liberties. It has become a hunt not for actual terrorists but a hunt for all those with the ability to expose the mounting crimes of the power elite.
The dragnet has swept up any person or organization that fits the profile of those with the technical skills and inclination to burrow into the archives of power and disseminate it to the public. It no longer matters if they have committed a crime. The group Anonymous, which has mounted cyberattacks on government agencies at the local and federal levels, saw Barrett Brown—a journalist associated with Anonymous and who specializes in military and intelligence contractors—arrested along with Jeremy Hammond, a political activist alleged to have provided WikiLeaks with 5.5 million emails between the security firm Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor) and its clients. Brown and Hammond were apparently seized because of allegations made by an informant named Hector Xavier Monsegur—known as Sabu—who appears to have attempted to entrap WikiLeaks while under FBI supervision.
To entrap and spy on activists, Washington has used an array of informants, including Adrian Lamo, who sold Bradley Manning out to the U.S. government.
WikiLeaks collaborators or supporters are routinely stopped—often at international airports—and attempts are made to recruit them as informants. Jérémie Zimmerman, Smári McCarthy, Jacob Appelbaum, David House and one of Assange’s lawyers, Jennifer Robinson, all have been approached or interrogated. The tactics are often heavy-handed. McCarthy, an Icelander and WikiLeaks activist, was detained and extensively questioned when he entered the United States. Soon afterward, three men who identified themselves as being from the FBI approached McCarthy in Washington. The men attempted to recruit him as an informant and gave him instructions on how to spy on WikiLeaks.
On Aug. 24, 2011, six FBI agents and two prosecutors landed in Iceland on a private jet. The team told the Icelandic government that it had discovered a plan by Anonymous to hack into Icelandic government computers. But it was soon clear the team had come with a very different agenda. The Americans spent the next few days, in flagrant violation of Icelandic sovereignty, interrogating Sigurdur Thordarson, a young WikiLeaks activist, in various Reykjavik hotel rooms. Thordarson, after the U.S. team was discovered by the Icelandic Ministry of the Interior and expelled from the country, was taken to Washington, D.C., for four days of further interrogation. Thordarson appears to have decided to cooperate with the FBI. It was reported in the Icelandic press that he went to Denmark in 2012 and sold the FBI stolen WikiLeaks computer hard drives for about $5,000.
There have been secret search orders for information from Internet service providers, including Twitter, Google and Sonic, as well as seizure of information about Assange and WikiLeaks from the company Dynadot, a domain name registrar and Web host.
Assange’s suitcase and computer were stolen on a flight from Sweden to Germany on Sept. 27, 2010. His bankcards were blocked. WikiLeaks’ Moneybookers primary donation account was shut down after being placed on a blacklist in Australia and a “watch list” in the United States. Financial service companies including Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, Bank of America, Western Union and American Express, following denunciations of WikiLeaks by the U.S. government, blacklisted the organization. Last month the Supreme Court of Iceland found the blacklisting to be unlawful and ordered it lifted in Iceland by May 8. There have been frequent massive denial-of-service attacks on WikiLeak’s infrastructure.
And there is a well-orchestrated campaign of character assassination against Assange, including mischaracterizations of the sexual misconduct case brought against him by Swedish police. Assange has not formally been charged with a crime. The two women involved have not accused him of rape.
Bradley Manning’s heroism extends to his steadfast refusal, despite what appears to be tremendous pressure, to implicate Assange in espionage. If Manning alleges that Assange had instructed him on how to ferret out classified documents, the U.S. might try to charge Assange with espionage.
Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy after exhausting his fight to avoid extradition from the United Kingdom to Sweden. He and his lawyers say that an extradition to Sweden would mean an extradition to the U.S. If Sweden refused to comply with U.S demands for Assange, kidnapping, or “extraordinary rendition,” would remain an option for Washington.
Kidnapping was given legal cover by a 1989 memorandum issued by the Justice Department stating that “the FBI may use its statutory authority to investigate and arrest individuals for violating United States law, even if the FBI’s actions contravene customary international law” and that an “arrest that is inconsistent with international or foreign law does not violate the Fourth Amendment.” This is a stunning example of the security and surveillance state’s Orwellian doublespeak. The persecution of Assange and WikiLeaks and the practice of extraordinary rendition embody the shredding of the Fourth Amendment, which was designed to protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.
Two Swedes and a Briton were seized by the United States last August somewhere in Africa—it is assumed to have been in Somalia—and held in one of our black sites. They suddenly reappeared—with the Briton stripped of his citizenship—in a Brooklyn courtroom in December facing terrorism charges. Sweden, rather than object to the extradition of its two citizens, dropped the Swedish charges against the prisoners to permit the rendition to occur. The prisoners, The Washington Post reported, were secretly indicted by a federal grand jury two months after being taken.
The persistence of WikiLeaks, despite the onslaught, has been remarkable. In 2012 it released some of the 5.5 million documents sent from or to the private security firm Stratfor. The documents, known as “the Global Intelligence Files,” included an email dated Jan. 26, 2011, from Fred Burton, a Stratfor vice president, who wrote: “Text Not for Pub. We [the U.S. government] have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect.”
WikiLeaks’ most recent foray into full disclosure includes the Kissinger files, or the WikiLeaks Public Library of U.S. Diplomacy. The files, which have built into them a remarkable search engine, provide access to 1.7 million diplomatic communications, once confidential but now in the public record, that were sent between 1973 and 1976. Henry Kissinger, secretary of state from September 1973 to January 1977, authored many of the 205,901 cables that deal with his activities.
In the files it appears that the late Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi may have been hired by the Swedish group Saab-Scania to help sell its Viggen fighter jet to India while his mother, Indira Gandhi, was prime minister.
In 1975 Kissinger during a conversation with the U.S. ambassador to Turkey and two Turkish and Cypriot diplomats assured his hosts that he could work around an official arms embargo then in effect. He is quoted in the documents as saying: “Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, ‘The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.’ [laughter] But since the Freedom of Information Act, I’m afraid to say things like that.”
The documents, along with detailing collaborations with the military dictatorships in Spain and Greece, show that Washington created a torture exemption to allow the military government in Brazil to receive U.S. aid.
The documents were obtained from the National Archives and Record Administration and took a year to be prepared in an accessible digital format. “It is essentially what Aaron Swartz was doing, making available documents that until now were hard to access or only obtainable through an intermediary,” Assange said in the interview.
Swartz was the Internet activist arrested in January 2011 for downloading more than 5 million academic articles from JSTOR, an online clearinghouse for scholarly journals. Swartz was charged by federal prosecutors with two counts of wire fraud and 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The charges carried the threat of $1 million in fines and 35 years in prison. Swartz committed suicide last Jan. 11.
Assange, 41, works through most of the night and sleeps into the late afternoon. Even though he uses an ultraviolet light device, he was pale, not surprising for someone who has not been out in sunlight for nearly a year. He rarely gives interviews. A treadmill was tilted up against a wall of his quarters; he said he sets it up and tries to run three to five miles on it every day. He has visits from a personal trainer, with whom he practices calisthenics and boxing. He is lanky at 6 feet 2 inches tall and exudes a raw, nervous energy. He leaps, sometimes disconcertingly, from topic to topic, idea to idea, his words rushing to keep up with his cascading thoughts. He works with a small staff and has a steady stream of visitors, including celebrities such as Lady Gaga. When the Ecuadorean Ambassador Ana Alban Mora and Bianca Jagger showed up late one afternoon, Assange pulled down glasses and poured everyone whiskey from a stock of liquor he keeps in a cabinet. His visitors chatted at a small round table, seated in leatherette chairs. Jagger wanted to know how to protect her website from hackers. Assange told her to “make a lot of backup copies.”
It is from this room that Assange and his supporters have mounted an election campaign for a seat in Australia’s upper house of Parliament. Public surveys from the state of Victoria, where Assange is a candidate, indicate he has a good chance of winning.
Assange communicates with his global network of associates and supporters up to 17 hours a day through numerous cellphones and a collection of laptop computers. He encrypts his communications and religiously shreds anything put down on paper. The frequent movements of the police cordon outside his window make sleep difficult. And he misses his son, whom he raised as a single father. He may also have a daughter, but he does not speak publicly about his children, refusing to disclose their ages or where they live. His family, he said, has received death threats. He has not seen his children since his legal troubles started. The emotional cost is as heavy as the physical one.
Assange said he sees WikiLeaks’ primary role as giving a voice to the victims of U.S. wars and proxy wars by using leaked documents to tell their stories. The release of the Afghan and Iraq War Logs, he said, disclosed the extent of civilian death and suffering, and the plethora of lies told by the Pentagon and the state to conceal the human toll. The logs, Assange said, also unmasked the bankruptcy of the traditional press and its obsequious service as war propagandists.
“There were 90,000 records in the Afghan War Logs,” Assange said. “We had to look at different angles in the material to add up the number of civilians who have been killed. We studied the records. We ranked events different ways. I wondered if we could find out the largest number of civilians killed in a single event. It turned out that this occurred during Operation Medusa, led by Canadian forces in September 2006. The U.S.-backed local government was quite corrupt. The Taliban was, in effect, the political opposition and had a lot of support. The locals rose up against the government. Most of the young men in the area, from a political perspective, were Taliban. There was a government crackdown that encountered strong resistance. ISAF [the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force] carried out a big sweep. It went house to house. Then an American soldier was killed. They called in an AC-130 gunship. This is a C-130 cargo plane refitted with cannons on the side. It circled overhead and rained down shells. The War Logs say 181 ‘enemy’ were killed. The logs also say there were no wounded or captured. It was a significant massacre. This event, the day when the largest number of people were killed in Afghanistan, has never been properly investigated by the old media.”
Operation Medusa, which occurred 20 miles west of Kandahar, took the lives of four Canadian soldiers and involved some 2,000 NATO and Afghan troops. It was one of the largest military operations by the ISAF in the Kandahar region.
Assange searched for accounts of reporters who were on the scene. What he discovered appalled him. He watched an embedded Canadian reporter, Graeme Smith of the Toronto Globe and Mail, use these words on a Canadian military website to describe his experiences during Operation Medusa:
In September 2006 I had one of the most intense experiences of my life. I was on the front lines of something called Operation Medusa. It was a big Canadian offensive against the Taliban who were massed outside of Kandahar City. The Taliban were digging trenches and intimidating locals, and the Canadians decided to sweep in there in big numbers and force them out. And I was travelling with a platoon that called themselves the “Nomads”. These were guys who had been sent all over, you know, sort of, a 50,000 square kilometer box out to the very edges of Kandahar City, and so they were moving around all the time; they were never sleeping in the same place twice and they’d even made up these little patches for their uniforms that said “Nomads” on them. The Nomads took me in and they sort of made me one of them. I spent what was originally supposed to be just a two or three day embed with them, stretched out into two weeks. I didn’t have a change of underwear. I didn’t have a change of shirt. I remember showering in my clothes, washing first the clothes on my body, then stripping the clothes off and washing my body, and that was just using a bucket as a shower. It was an intense experience. I slept in my flak jacket a lot of nights. We were under fire together, you know, we had RPGs whistling in. One time I was standing around behind a troop carrier and we were just sort of relaxing—we were in a down moment—and I think some guys had coffee out and were standing around and I heard a loud clap beside my right ear. It was like someone had sort of snuck up behind me and sort of played a prank by clapping beside my ear. I turned around to say hey that’s not really funny, that’s kind of loud, and all of the soldiers were lying on the ground because they know what to do when an incoming sniper round comes in, and I didn’t because [laughs] it was my first time under fire. So I threw myself to the ground as well. They had sort of made me one of them and so they gave me a little “Nomads” patch that I attached to my flak jacket and you know as a journalist you try to avoid drinking the Kool-Aid, but I did feel a sense of belonging with those guys.
“The physical demeanor of this man, the way he describes life in the great outdoors, led me to understand that here was someone who had never boxed, been mountain climbing, played rugby, been involved in any of these classically masculine activities,” Assange said. “Now, for the first time, he feels like a man. He has gone to battle. It was one of many examples of the failure by the embedded reporters to report the truth. They were part of the team.”
Assange is correct. The press of a nation at war, in every conflict I covered, is an enthusiastic part of the machine, cheerleaders for slaughter and tireless mythmakers for war and the military. The few renegades within the press who refuse to wave the flag and slavishly lionize the troops, who will not endow them with a host of virtues including heroism, patriotism and courage, find themselves pariahs in newsrooms and viciously attacked—like Assange and Manning—by the state.
As a reporter at The New York Times, I was among those expected to prod sources inside the organs of power to provide information, including top-secret information. The Pentagon Papers, released to the Times in 1971, and the Times’ Pulitzer-winning 2005 exposure of the warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens by the National Security Council used “top secret” documents—a classification more restricted than the lower-level “secret” designation of the documents released by WikiLeaks. But as the traditional press atrophies with dizzying speed—effectively emasculated by Barack Obama’s use of the Espionage Act half a dozen times since 2009 to target whistle-blowers like Thomas Drake. In addition, former CIA official John Kiriakou was prosecuted and imprisoned on charges of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
The cables that WikiLeaks released, as disturbing as they were, invariably put a pro-unit or pro-U.S. spin on events. The reality in war is usually much worse. Those counted as dead enemy combatants are often civilians. Military units write their own after-action reports and therefore attempt to justify or hide their behavior. Despite the heated rhetoric of the state, no one has provided evidence that anything released by WikiLeaks cost lives. Then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in a 2010 letter to Sen. Carl Levin conceded this point. He wrote Levin: “The initial assessment in no way discounts the risk to national security. However, the review to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by the disclosure.”
The New York Times, The Guardian, El Pais, Le Monde and Der Spiegel giddily printed redacted copies of some of the WikiLeaks files and then promptly threw Assange and Manning to the sharks. It was not only morally repugnant, but also stunningly shortsighted. Do these news organizations believe that if the state shuts down organizations such as WikiLeaks and imprisons Manning and Assange, traditional news outlets will be left alone? Can’t they connect the dots between the prosecutions of government whistle-blowers under the Espionage Act, warrantless wiretapping, monitoring of communications and the persecution of Manning and Assange? Don’t they worry that when the state finishes with Manning, Assange and WikiLeaks, these atrophied news outlets will be next? Haven’t they realized that this is a war by a global corporate elite not against an organization or an individual but against the freedom of the press and democracy?
And yet Assange is surprisingly hopeful—at least for the short and medium term. He believes that the system cannot protect itself completely from those who chip away at its digital walls.
“The national security state can try to reduce our activity,” he said. “It can close the neck a little tighter. But there are three forces working against it. The first is the massive surveillance required to protect its communication, including the nature of its cryptology. In the military everyone now has an ID card with a little chip on it so you know who is logged into what. A system this vast is prone to deterioration and breakdown. Secondly, there is widespread knowledge not only of how to leak, but how to leak and not be caught, how to even avoid suspicion that you are leaking. The military and intelligence systems collect a vast amount of information and move it around quickly. This means you can also get it out quickly. There will always be people within the system that have an agenda to defy authority. Yes, there are general deterrents, such as when the DOJ [Department of Justice] prosecutes and indicts someone. They can discourage people from engaging in this behavior. But the opposite is also true. When that behavior is successful it is an example. It encourages others. This is why they want to eliminate all who provide this encouragement.”
“The medium-term perspective is very good,” he said. “The education of young people takes place on the Internet. You cannot hire anyone who is skilled in any field without them having been educated on the Internet. The military, the CIA, the FBI, all have no choice but to hire from a pool of people that have been educated on the Internet. This means they are hiring our moles in vast numbers. And this means that these organizations will see their capacity to control information diminish as more and more people with our values are hired.”
The long term, however, may not be as sanguine. Assange recently completed a book with three co-authors—Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn and Jérémie Zimmermann—called “Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet.” It warns that we are “galloping into a new transnational dystopia.” The Internet has become not only a tool to educate, they write, but the mechanism to cement into place a “Postmodern Surveillance Dystopia” that is supranational and dominated by global corporate power. This new system of global control will “merge global humanity into one giant grid of mass surveillance and mass control.” It is only through encryption that we can protect ourselves, they argue, and only by breaking through the digital walls of secrecy erected by the power elite can we blunt state secrecy. “The internet, our greatest tool of emancipation,” Assange writes, “has been transformed into the most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism we have ever seen.”
The U.S., according to one of Assange’s lawyers, Michael Ratner, appears poised to seize Assange the moment he steps out of the embassy. Washington does not want to become a party in two competing extradition requests to Britain. But Washington, with a sealed grand jury indictment prepared against Assange, can take him once the Swedish imbroglio is resolved, or can take him should Britain make a decision not to extradite. Neil MacBride, who has been mentioned as a potential head of the FBI, is U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia, which led the grand jury investigation, and he appears to have completed his work.
Assange said, “The grand jury was very active in late 2011, pulling in witnesses, forcing them to testify, pulling in documents. It’s been much less active during 2012 and 2013. The DOJ appears ready to proceed with the prosecution proper immediately following the Manning trial.”
Assange spoke repeatedly about Manning, with evident concern. He sees in the young Army private a reflection of his own situation, as well as the draconian consequences of refusing to cooperate with the security and surveillance state.
Manning’s 12-week military trial is scheduled to begin in June. The prosecution is calling 141 witnesses, including an anonymous Navy SEAL who was part of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Assange called the Navy SEAL the “star diva” of the state’s “12-week Broadway musical.” Manning is as bereft of establishment support as Assange.
“The old media attempted to remove his alleged heroic qualities,” Assange said of Manning. “An act of heroism requires that you make a conscious act. It is not an unreasoned expression of madness or sexual frustration. It requires making a choice—a choice that others can follow. If you do something solely because you are a mad homosexual there is no choice. No one can choose to be a mad homosexual. So they stripped him, or attempted to strip him, of all his refinements.”
“His alleged actions are a rare event,” Assange went on. “And why does a rare event happen? What do we know about him? What do we know about Bradley Manning? We know that he won three science fairs. We know the guy is bright. We know that he was interested in politics early on. We know he’s very articulate and outspoken. We know he didn’t like lies. … We know he was skilled at his job of being an intelligence analyst. If the media was looking for an explanation they could point to this combination of his abilities and motivations. They could point to his talents and virtues. They should not point to him being gay, or from a broken home, except perhaps in passing. Ten percent of the U.S. military is gay. Well over 50 percent are from broken homes. Take those two factors together. That gets you down to, say, 5 percent—5 percent on the outside. There are 5 million people with active security clearances, so now you’re down to 250,000 people. You still have to get from 250,000 to one. You can only explain Bradley Manning by his virtues. Virtues others can learn from.”
I walked for a long time down Sloane Street after leaving the embassy. The red double-decker buses and the automobiles inched along the thoroughfare. I passed boutiques with window displays devoted to Prada, Giorgio Armani and Gucci. I was jostled by shoppers with bags stuffed full of high-end purchases. They, these consumers, seemed blissfully unaware of the tragedy unfolding a few blocks away. “In this respect, our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words, they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences,” Albert Camus wrote in “The Plague.” “A pestilence isn’t a thing made to man’s measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn’t always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away, and the humanists first of all, because they have taken no precautions.”
I stopped in front of the four white columns that led into the brick-turreted Cadogan Hotel. The hotel is where Oscar Wilde was arrested in Room 118 on April 6, 1895, before being charged with “committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons.” John Betjeman imagined the shock of that arrest, which ruined Wilde’s life, in his poem “The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel.” Here’s a fragment:
A thump, and a murmur of voices—
(“Oh why must they make such a din?”)
As the door of the bedroom swung open
And TWO PLAIN CLOTHES POLICEMEN came in:
“Mr. Woilde, we ’ave come for tew take yew
Where felons and criminals dwell:
We must ask yew tew leave with us quoietly
For this is the Cadogan Hotel.”
The world has been turned upside down. The pestilence of corporate totalitarianism is spreading rapidly over the earth. The criminals have seized power. It is not, in the end, simply Assange or Manning they want. It is all who dare to defy the official narrative, to expose the big lie of the global corporate state. The persecution of Assange and Manning is the harbinger of what is to come, the rise of a bitter world where criminals in Brooks Brothers suits and gangsters in beribboned military uniforms—propped up by a vast internal and external security apparatus, a compliant press and a morally bankrupt political elite—monitor and crush those who dissent. Writers, artists, actors, journalists, scientists, intellectuals and workers will be forced to obey or thrown into bondage. I fear for Julian Assange. I fear for Bradley Manning. I fear for us all.
Military guards at Guantanamo’s communal camp fired four ‘non-lethal’ rounds at detainees early Saturday morning as the facility commander forced them into single cells in an apparent effort to stop a prolonged hunger strike.
Currently, 43 detainees are on a hunger strike at the prison; 13 of those are being force fed.
Guards forced detainees from communal areas to individual cells at 5:10 a.m. EDT on Saturday, said a Department of Defense news release. The action was taken “in response to efforts by detainees to limit the guard force’s ability to observe the detainees by covering surveillance cameras, windows, and glass partitions.”
Four non-lethal rounds were fired after some of the detainees used “improvised weapons,” to resist being moved, according to the military. No guards or detainees were seriously injured.
The military said that more than 40 detainees are participating in the hunger strike, which began in February, but detainees have told their lawyers the strike is much more widespread and involves the vast majority of the 166 detainees remaining at Guantanamo.
Political Prisoner Illegally Arrested For Writing Political Publications, Banned From Making Media Publications Without Permission By Government (Must Read)
After more than seven years, the stack of dehumanizing and seemingly unconstitutional interactions between Daniel McGowan and the American prison system is now piled so high it is teetering over into a recursive mess of bleak and Kafkaesque absurdity.
Last Monday, McGowan published a piece on the Huffington Post that laid out much of his situation to date. After years in prison for his role in environmentally motivated property destruction that was prosecuted as acts of terrorism, he wrote, he was finishing up the remaining months of his sentence in a halfway house in Brooklyn.
The various perversions of the case that sent McGowan away are well documented in the documentary (streaming on Netflix!) If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front. But, as McGowan wrote, less publicized is what happened to him a year into his prison term: Despite a flawless disciplinary record, McGowan was transferred to an experimental new Communications Management Unit, a supermax-like extreme-isolation facility some have dubbed a “Little Guantanamo.”
Why was McGowan transferred to a CMU? He never got a good answer to that question, even after a Freedom of Information Act request, so, along with other CMU inmates, he filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the CMUs and alleging that they are effectively political prisons designed to silence the voices of people whose message the government doesn’t like. As it turned out, McGowan was right: Bureau of Prisons memos discovered through the lawsuit appear to link his transfer to the CMU to the fact that he continued to write things the government found politically objectionable.
“While incarcerated and through social correspondence and articles written for radical publications, inmate McGowan has attempted to unite the radical environmental and animal liberation movements,” one memo states, before dilating on other political statements McGowan made in interviews and his own writing.
McGowan wrote about all of this in his Huffington Post piece last Monday. Two days later, the staff at the halfway house to which he had been assigned told him that his work permit had been revoked on order of the Bureau of Prisons. The next morning, federal marshals arrived and brought him to the Metropolitan Detention Center. Once there, he was presented with a document explaining that he had violated the terms of his release to the halfway house. Specifically, the incident report stated that McGowan had violated a prison regulation that stated “an inmate currently confined in an institution may not … act as a reporter or publish under a byline.”
That’s right: McGowan was sent back to jail for writing about how he’d been imprisoned in a CMU for writing things.
There’s more: The regulation that the Bureau of Prisons cited to justify returning him to jail had actually been declared unconstitutional by a federal court in 2007, and the Bureau of Prisons had finally taken it off the books in 2010. McGowan’s lawyers mentioned this to the bureau and to the lawyers representing the government in his lawsuit, and he was re-released to the halfway house on Friday.
But that’s not the end of it. Back at the halfway house, staff presented McGowan with a document and directed him to sign it. The document stated that “he is not permitted to have any contact with the media without approval from the BOP’s Residential Reentry Manager. Accordingly, Resident McGowan was advised that writing articles, appearing in any type of television or media outlets, news reports and or documentaries without prior BOP approval is strictly prohibited.”
It’s worth noting that McGowan hadn’t been asked to sign this document when he first arrived at the halfway house, nor, as far as his lawyers can tell, has anyone there been asked to sign it. In fact, there’s nothing in the Bureau of Prison’s published media policy that requires pre-approval before publishing anything.
“There is no national prohibition on publishing,” Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, confirmed this afternoon.
“I thought I had lost my ability to be surprised by what the Bureau of Prisons does years ago,” said Rachel Meeropol, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights who’s representing McGowan. “But restricting an individual’s freedom of speech in this manner is truly surprising. It’s beyond ironic that Daniel was retaliated against and returned to prison for publishing a blog about being retaliated against for speaking out in prison.”
Here’s the incident report explaining McGowan’s return to prison:
Armed men stand at the entrance to the town of Tierra Colorada, Mexico, where vigilantes have arrested local police and officials accused of gang links. Photograph: Alejandrino Gonzalez/AP
Just what CAN they get from your iPhone if you’re arrested (without a warrant).
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So now I stare at a form that the government wants me to fill out before sentencing labelled “acceptance of responsibility” and wonder what I can possibly fill in this slot. This letter is it.
I accept my responsibility, and hope you do too, of dismantling this terrible empire so that this can’t happen to anyone.
Residents of Port Said, plagued by weeks of deadly clashes between protesters and security forces, say they want the reviled police force out of their canal city and the army to take control.
Such is the disdain for the police that residents have taken to providing their own security services, setting up a makeshift security post in a public park dubbed “The People’s Police Station.”
“It may not be a real police station, but it’s a real sign of objection,” said engineer Mohammed Hashem, 40.
“So far we have had 480 reports, we provide traffic duties. We are providing citizens with what the police have failed to give: safety and security,” said Mohamed Ali, 33.
Tensions between police and residents of the Suez Canal city go way back but a deadly football riot last year — which many residents blamed on the police — ushered in a drumbeat of tragedies for the strategic city.
“The police were responsible for the Port Said stadium massacre which has caused all this destruction,” Hashem told AFP, echoing comments of many residents who believe police stood by while rival fans laid into each other.
The clashes at the stadium in February last year between fans of home side Al-Masry and Cairo’s Al-Ahly left more than 70 people dead and sparked days of violent protests in Cairo, in which another 16 people were killed.
Thousands of Egyptians packed the streets in Port Said on Friday in protest at the deaths of local people in clashes with police and before a court decision in a contentious football riot case.
Police militarization comes under nationwide investigation
March 6, 2013
The American Civil Liberties Union has launched a campaign to investigate the growing trend of placing militarized police units in cities and towns across the country.
Doors busted down and windows smashed in. It’s becoming more of a regular occurrence each day in America as heavily-armed SWAT teams are being sent to the homes of suspects, often nonviolent ones, with enough firepower to take down a small army. In November, a botched raid ended with an 18-year-old girl in the hospital. Other incidents haven’t been exactly isolated either: guns get drawn on both grannies and grandkids alike, and equipping law enforcement officers with the means to make these nightmares become reality is easier by the day.
Police units across the US are becoming more like militaries than the serve-and-protect do-gooders that every young schoolboy once aspired to be. Not only are officers being trained to act with intensity as the number of these home invasions increase, but more and more police departments are being awarded arsenals of heavy-duty weaponry that are then being turned not onto members of al-Qaeda, but innocent children and unsuspecting house guests.
ACLU affiliates across the United States filed Freedom of Information Act requests with law enforcement agencies on Wednesday in hope of obtaining as much material as possible relevant to the ongoing expansion of small town police squads to heavily armed squadrons of soldiers.
“Federal funding in the billions of dollars has allowed state and local police departments to gain access to weapons and tactics created for overseas combat theaters – and yet very little is known about exactly how many police departments have military weapons and training, how militarized the police have become, and how extensively federal money is incentivizing this trend,” reads a statement released by the ACLU.“It’s time to understand the true scope of the militarization of policing in America and the impact it is having in our neighborhoods.”
On Wednesday, the ACLU issued a statement saying branches and affiliates in 23 states around the country filed over 255 public records requests only hours after the investigation was formally launched. The agencies hope that, by analyzing documents, can learn more about the extent that “federal funding and support has fueled the militarization of state and local police departments.”
“Equipping state and local law enforcement with military weapons and vehicles, military tactical training, and actual military assistance to conduct traditional law enforcement erodes civil liberties and encourages increasingly aggressive policing, particularly in poor neighborhoods and communities of color,” explains Kara Dansky, senior counsel for the ACLU’s Center for Justice. “We’ve seen examples of this in several localities, but we don’t know the dimensions of the problem.”
The ACLU says they want to know as much as possible about the type of training given to local SWAT officers, as well as information about the types of technology used by agencies around the country. Through the FOIA requests, the ACLU hopes to learn what types of weapons have been used, who they’ve been used on and what the end result has been. They also want documentation pertaining to the growing use of GPS technology, surveillance drones and any agreements between local police departments and the National Guard. The ACLU is also interested in any relationships between small law enforcement units and the US Departs of Defense and Homeland Security.
“The American people deserve to know how much our local police are using military weapons and tactics for everyday policing,” adds Allie Bohm, an advocacy and policy strategist for ACLU. “The militarization of local police is a threat to Americans’ right to live without fear of military-style intervention in their daily lives, and we need to make sure these resources and tactics are deployed only with rigorous oversight and strong legal protections.”
In 2011, the Department of Defense gave half-a-billion dollars’ worth of military machinery that would have been left otherwise unused to law enforcement agencies coast-to-coast. Among the items offered up to officers at no cost at all that year were grenade launchers, helicopters, military robots, M-16 assault rifles and armored vehicles. Before 2012 came to a close, figures for that year was expected to end with more than a 400 percent increase.
Peter Kraska, a criminologist at Eastern Kentucky University, tells journalist Radley Balko that while the militarization of police squads is indeed accelerating, it isn’t likely the ACLU will get all the answers they want.
“My experience is that they’ll have a very difficult time getting comprehensive, forthright information,” Kraska says. “If the goal here is to impose some transparency, you have to understand, that’s not what the SWAT industry wants.”
The other Pfc. B. Manning: Hacktivist Jeremy Hammond helped expose the inner workings of the surveillance state
February 19, 2013
Activist Jeremy Hammond has been held without bail since his arrest in March. He is accused of hacking into the computers of private intelligence firm Stratfor and giving million of emails to WikiLeaks. He has been called the other Pfc. B. Manning. While Manning revealed government wrongdoing, Hammond is alleged to have leaked information from a private company, helping expose the inner workings of the insidious and pervasive surveillance state.
When he was 22, Hammond was called an “electronic Robin Hood” using hacking as a means of civil disobedience. He attacked a conservative group’s web site and stole user’s credit cards with the idea of making donations to the American Civil Liberties Union. His intention was in the spirit of taking from the rich and giving to poor. He later changed his mind and didn’t use the credit cards.
If he did what he is alleged with Stratfor, it was for the public good. Documents that he is alleged to have obtained and uploaded to WikiLeaks revealed spying on activists and others for corporations and governments. Furthermore, attorney and president Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights Michael Ratner argued that the Stratfor hacking was a clear case of entrapment targeting online activist group Anonymous and Hammond. He explained there was an informant named Sabu and the FBI gave him the computer onto which the documents were uploaded.
Hammond now has been moved to solitary confinement and has been virtually cut off from all interaction with the outside world. On Feb 14, the Jeremy Hammond Support Network posted a message on social media that heavy restrictions were put on him. The Network reported Hammond now is not allowed any commissary visits to buy stamps for letters and food, as he does not get enough to eat. Now visits are limited to his lawyer and telephone contact is restricted to his brother.
His case is another example of the expanding unchecked authoritarian power in the justice system in general. Here Hammond appears to be following similar footsteps as Manning who also was placed into solitary confinement. Nahal Zamani, Advocacy Program Manager at the Center for Constitutional Rights argued how solitary confinement is a form of torture and is “clearly cruel and unusual punishment. Indeed, the use of solitary has been condemned as torture by the international community.”
Unlike Manning, who is subject to the military ‘justice’ system, Hammond is in a civilian court, which is supposed to follow the Constitution. What happens though when one is placed into jail outside of the public eye is that prisoners are more and more being stripped of their rights and treated inhumanely. Once they are behind bars, they become incognito, losing connection to the outside world. Inside the cage is a twilight zone where laws and conventions can be bent by those who are powerful, with little oversight or accountability.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of a deeply flawed justice system combined with an increasingly corporatized prison industrial complex. Prisoners are marginalized and many are forgotten. Hammond shared his personal experience as prisoner at the Metropolitan Correctional Center during Hurricane Sandy. He wrote how because of the storm, the Correctional Center lost power. They had no hot water or heat and prisoners were left behind with no phone calls, no visits and no mail. What was revealed was a callous system that abandons the poor, marginalized and disadvantaged. Hammond noted how as was seen in the Katrina disaster of New Orleans, New Yorkers experienced that relief came not from FEMA and government agency but from grassroots community groups such as Occupy Sandy. He ended his letter saying:
“Very frightening to consider what would happen to us prisoners – already disenfranchised, silenced, marginalized and forgotten – in the event of a more devastating natural disaster. There’s a universal consensus here – ‘they’d probably leave us to die.’”
In addition to this, the US legal system is more and more used to target political dissidents, especially information activists. In November 2012, Hammond was denied bail despite his attorney convincingly arguing that he posed no flight risk and assuring that he would not have access to computers. The prosecutor insisted he is a flight risk and Judge Loretta Preska held a very hostile attitude toward Hammond and stated that the reason for bail denial was that Hammond poses “a very substantial danger to the community.” Hammond now faces indictments against him for various computer fraud crimes which could amount to 37 years to life in prison.
Ratner addressed obvious conflict of interests with judge Preska sitting on the case against Hammond. It came to light that Preska’s husband worked for a client of Stratfor, whose emails Hammond allegedly leaked. Ratner spoke of how the mere appearance of a conflict of interest is enough for her to recuse herself, according to judicial rules.
Jeremy Hammond’s case is showing how broken the rule of law has become in our time. Like Manning, Barret Brown and the late Aaron Swartz, this is another case of a high profile activist being severely targeted by having the book thrown at them with generally specious charges. The courts have become part of a rigged system that favors corporations and those politically connected to them. One thing that these activists seem to have in common is that they actually never really hurt anyone and are driven by one of the higher ideals that this country has been founded on -that of a truly informed populace, while those that are politically targeting them regularly harm and exploit innocent people.
Holding those who abuse power accountable is becoming nearly impossible with the current system. More than ever, checks and balance will only come from the people. It was in response to a public uproar that Manning was moved from Quantico where he had been subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment.
This Thursday, February 21, Preska will make a decision on the defense motion to recuse herself from the case against Hammond and supporters plan to pack the courtroom to demand a fair trial. We all have to stay awake and support those who have passed the twilight gate, who are rendered invisible, marginalized from the rest of the population. A broken rule of law can be corrected through the vigilance and conscience of ordinary people; witnessing injustice and challenging it from all sides. We will be watching.
Here’s the Facebook event for the details about Thursday’s rally to support Jeremy Hammond.
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