Wednesday, January 18, 2023. The Australian government says 'enough is enough' as Joe Biden continues to persecute Julian Assange, Iraq gets ready to face Oman in the Arabian Gulf Cup, Richard Branson's airline faces a huge fine, and much more.
Starting with Julian Assange.
Mexican President @lopesobrador_ is the fifth Latin American president to receive the @wikileaks delegation, confirming his continued support for #Assange. President Obrador raised the issue in his meeting with President Biden in Mexico City last week. @SwaziJAF pic.twitter.com/5vRQciYVWm— Kristinn Hrafnsson (@khrafnsson) January 17, 2023
A grim picture of the US and Britain's legacy in Iraq has been revealed in a massive leak of American military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes.
Almost 400,000 secret US army field reports have been passed to the Guardian and a number of other international media organisations via the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
The electronic archive is believed to emanate from the same dissident US army intelligence analyst who earlier this year is alleged to have leaked a smaller tranche of 90,000 logs chronicling bloody encounters and civilian killings in the Afghan war.
The new logs detail how:
• US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.
• A US helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident had previously killed Iraqi insurgents after they tried to surrender.
• More than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents. US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists but the logs record 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities.
The numerous reports of detainee abuse, often supported by medical evidence, describe prisoners shackled, blindfolded and hung by wrists or ankles, and subjected to whipping, punching, kicking or electric shocks. Six reports end with a detainee's apparent deat
The Biden administration has been saying all the right things lately about respecting a free and vigorous press, after four years of relentless media-bashing and legal assaults under Donald Trump.
The attorney general, Merrick Garland, has even put in place expanded protections for journalists this fall, saying that “a free and independent press is vital to the functioning of our democracy”.
But the biggest test of Biden’s commitment remains imprisoned in a jail cell in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been held since 2019 while facing prosecution in the United States under the Espionage Act, a century-old statute that has never been used before for publishing classified information.
Whether the US justice department continues to pursue the Trump-era charges against the notorious leaker, whose group put out secret information on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, American diplomacy and internal Democratic politics before the 2016 election, will go a long way toward determining whether the current administration intends to make good on its pledges to protect the press.
Now Biden is facing a re-energized push, both inside the United States and overseas, to drop Assange’s protracted prosecution.
WATCH: Julian Assange's wife spoke last week to James Kennedy [@JamesKennedyUK] about the ongoing persecution of her husband and the growing calls for his release #FreeAssangeNOW pic.twitter.com/MPDyoRqJMj— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) January 18, 2023
Barack Obama refused to indict Assange because of the "New York Times problem": If Obama were to indict Assange for publishing truthful information, he'd have to indict the New York Times as well. But Biden has now affirmed Trump's contention that publishing the truth is a crime. Assange is being charged under the Espionage Act of 1917. That law is controversial enough when prosecutors use it to target whistleblowers, but it has never been used successfully against a publisher. What Biden is really saying by indicting Assange is that the U.S. government can lie to the public, conceal its criminal behavior and then destroy those who would dare seek the truth.
The Justice Department has charged Assange for receiving and publishing truthful, newsworthy information leaked by whistleblower Chelsea Manning, but has never charged any of the military or government officials whose wrongdoing was exposed.
It is the 21st-century version of killing the messenger.
No one was harmed by Assange's reporting, unless you count the bruised reputations of politicians who were caught breaking the law, lying or concealing misconduct. Experts testified in British court proceedings that Assange went to extreme lengths to help protect both his sources and people who might be harmed by the disclosure of sensitive information. Instead of investigating the wrongdoing that WikiLeaks exposed and punishing those who broke the law or covered it up, the government has focused on attacking whistleblowers and the journalists who work with them.
Yesterday, on DEMOCRACY NOW!, US House Rep Ro Khanna was asked about Julian Assane:
AMY GOODMAN: And let me ask you about Julian Assange. There’s going to be a tribunal at the end of the week at the National Press Club. Many major news organizations are calling for the Biden administration to drop the charges against him. He faces 175 years in prison in the United States, if extradited, tried and found guilty. The New York Times, The Guardian, El País, Der Spiegel have called for these charges to be dropped, that freedom of the press is at stake. Do you join in that call?
REP. RO KHANNA: Well, I have said that there’s a reason President Obama never brought charges against Assange. Whatever you think of his moral actions — and I have not defended those — I do not believe that you can bring charges against someone simply for publishing information. If there were actual evidence that Assange himself had deliberately sought and gathered classified information through illegal means, then that is different. But if the charges are based simply on his receiving this information and publishing it, that, in my view, affects the entire concept of freedom of press and has a chilling effect on publishers. And I have said that that is overbroad.
Baby steps? That's supposed to pass for leadership, Ro? And you want to move from your district to having the whole state vote for you? You're not earning my vote with what I consider the bare minimum a person should be doing. More bravery is being shown from the Australian government (finally). ANADOLU AGENCY reports:
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Wednesday urged the US and UK to close the extradition process against Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, saying "enough is enough."
During an interview with ABC Radio, the Australian premier said his country's position on Assange is very clear, which he has communicated to the US and UK.
"I agree that enough is enough. It's time this issue was brought to a close," Albanese said, according to a transcript posted on his office’s official website.
"And I've made that very clear to the US administration and to the UK Government as well, that my view hasn't changed from the view I had when I was Opposition Leader, which is that it's time that this was brought to a close," he added.
Reminder, DEMOCRACY NOW! has a special broadcast this week:
On Jan. 20, Democracy Now! will live-stream the Belmarsh Tribunal from Washington, D.C. The event will feature expert testimony from journalists, whistleblowers, lawyers, publishers and parliamentarians on assaults to press freedom and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Watch here live at 2 p.m. ET on Friday, Jan. 20.
Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman and Srecko Horvat, the co-founder of DiEM25, will chair the tribunal, which is being organized by Progressive International and the Wau Holland Foundation.
Members of the tribunal include:
Stella Assange, partner of Julian Assange and member of his defense team
Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers whistleblower
Noam Chomsky, linguist and activist
Jeremy Corbyn, member of U.K. Parliament and founder of the Peace and Justice Project
Chip Gibbons, policy director of Defending Rights & Dissent
Kevin Gosztola, managing editor of Shadowproof
Margaret Kunstler, civil rights attorney
Stefania Maurizi, investigative journalist, Il Fatto Quotidiano
Jesselyn Radack, national security and human rights attorney
Ben Wizner, lead attorney at ACLU of Edward Snowden
Renata Ávila, human rights lawyer, technology and society expert
Jeffrey Sterling, lawyer and former CIA employee
Steven Donziger, human rights attorney
Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief, WikiLeaks
Katrina vanden Heuvel, editorial director and publisher, The Nation
Selay Ghaffar, spokesperson, Solidarity Party of Afghanistan
Betty Medsger, investigative reporter
Meanwhile, the Gulf Cup is nearing its conclusion. Iraq hosted this year and Basra has been the site of much excitement as the world has celebrated the outstanding performance of Iraq's Lions.
The spectacle on Jan. 6 marked the beginning of the 25th Arabian Gulf Cup soccer tournament, hosted by Iraq for the first time since 1979 — as the country seeks to turn the page on decades of violence, instability and isolation.
[. . .]
The tournament, which is held every two years, features countries from the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman), in addition to Yemen and Iraq. Much as the recent World Cup in Doha, Qatar, served to introduce Persian Gulf culture to the outside world, the tournament in Basra gave many gulf citizens their first chance to experience Iraq.
For locals, it was a rare opportunity to watch international soccer in their own backyard and, just as importantly, to express national pride and regional solidarity.
“Despite the fierce competition between the gulf countries to win the championship, what matters to us in the first place is honoring our guests after a long absence,” said Hussam Muthana, 27, a Basra taxi driver. “We are neighbors and cousins, even if outside political circumstances have kept us apart.”
More than 50,000 gulf visitors have poured into Iraq over the past two weeks, according to Iraqi authorities, as the country eased border restrictions and granted free visas. They made their way to the southern port of Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, where they were welcomed with banners and gulf flags.
The article also features many outstanding photos so please check it out. Tomorrow, Iraq faces Oman.
Now, what's that? Is that the voice of Sandy Denny?
It's Sandy with Led Zeppelin. And is the late Sandy now laughing at the current plight of Richard Branson who dropped her from his label in the 70s? Phil Davies (TRAVEL WEEKLY) notes:
Virgin Atlantic has been fined more than $1 million for flying in restricted airspace over Iraq on services between London and India.
The penalty was imposed by the US Department of Transportation (DoT) for operating flights under a codeshare with US partner Delta Air Lines.
The US DoT, imposing the £1.05 million fine, said: “By carrying the DL [Delta] code on flights in airspace in which the FAA prohibits US carriers from flying, Virgin Atlantic operated in violation of the conditions of its statement of authorisation and in violation of federal law.”
The US transport department said Virgin Atlantic had told the agency the “prohibited overflights were inadvertent, caused by operational disruptions and loss of personnel due to the Covid-19 pandemic”.
Virgin Atlantic told the department that upon notification by the US government, “it immediately rerouted flights to avoid the airspace in question and informed its board and senior leadership of the issue”.
Virgin Atlantic also noted that it had invested in Sentinel by Osprey, an automated tool that “dynamically alerts airlines at the flight planning stage or operational stage, of any regulatory restrictions impacting their, or their codeshare partners’ flights”.
All the birds are leaving, Richard, they know it's time for them to go.
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