United Nations rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer released a letter on 29 October last year exposing the British government’s indifference to his finding that the US is implicated in torturing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
In this letter, Melzer stated: “Despite significant efforts made by my mandate to ensure a prompt and objective assessment of this case, and despite the urgency of my requests, it took more than four months for [the British government] to respond …
“The government’s response failed to address any of my recommendations and to provide any of the information requested and made no effort towards engaging in a constructive dialogue with my mandate.” (UN special rapporteur on torture blasts UK government’s indifference to abuse against Julian Assange by Kevin Gosztola, Shadowproof, 1 January 2020)
British participation in US torture of Assange
The seriousness of the British government’s indifferent attitude toward such claims is amplified by its blatant disregard for international law, as Gosztola’s article points out:
“Under the Convention Against Torture, the UK government has an obligation to conduct a ‘prompt and impartial investigation’ into Melzer’s allegations. They do not have the ‘political discretion’ to merely reject his conclusions.”
“This reinforces my concerns expressed in a separate communication about the UK government’s recent refusal to conduct a judicial inquiry into British involvement in the US torture and rendition programme,” Melzer stated.
After Melzer’s visit to Assange in high-security Belmarsh prison in May last year, Melzer concluded that Britain, too, was not only complicit in, but had actively participated in the psychological torture of Julian Assange:
“Based on a careful evaluation of the available evidence, I found that the UK had contributed decisively to producing the observed medical symptoms, most notably through its participation, over the course of almost a decade, in Mr Assange’s arbitrary confinement, his judicial persecution, as well as his sustained and unrestrained public mobbing, intimidation and defamation.”
We don’t need to see pictures of Julian Assange being waterboarded, stretched out on a rack or hooked up to a car battery to be convinced of Mr Melzer’s conclusion; we need only look at the horrendous record of his treatment by British state forces, as listed in Melzer’s report:
“Obstruction of his rights during Swedish proceedings; conflicts of interest and overt bias on the part of judicial magistrates; arbitrary conviction and grossly disproportionate imprisonment for having violated UK bail by seeking and receiving diplomatic asylum from political persecution by another UN member state; and obstruction of his access to legal counsel, documents, and other facilities, which has deprived him of his right to an adequate defence.”
Furthermore: “Assange is detained in conditions that amount to solitary confinement. He spends 22 hours on average in a prison healthcare unit. He has ‘daily walks’ for 45 minutes, access to church services, as well as meetings with lawyers and social visits. But he is not permitted to work or go to the gym, and he apparently cannot talk with other inmates.” (Ibid)
One of Julian Assange’s old friends, Vaughan Smith has testified to his friend’s deteriorating health, recalling their last phone conversation:
“His speech was slurred, he was speaking slowly. Julian is a highly articulate and very clever person when he speaks and he sounded awful …
“The idea of him being sedated has come from several people who have been visiting him … and the British government are being asked about it and they refuse to address that matter.
“What they say is they’re not mistreating him, but clearly he’s being kept in solitary confinement 23 hours a day.
“He sounded awful and he said to me: ‘I’m slowly dying here.’ He said that also to my wife.” (Julian Assange’s close friend warns WikiLeaks founder’s health at risk by Alessandra Di Santolo, Express, 1 January 2020)
From this we can safely infer that Belmarsh’s reputation as the British Guantanamo has been well deserved. Solitary confinement is a form of sensory deprivation – and is a commonly-used torture method at Guantanamo Bay. Spending 23 hours a day without any exposure to the outside world, and without any human interaction, is enough to drive anyone to insanity.
Furthermore, Belmarsh prison happens to be the destination for victims of arbitrary detention – another serious human rights violation. Melzer’s report pointed out: “Having completed his prison sentence for violating UK bail terms in 2012, Mr Assange was now being held exclusively in relation to the pending extradition request from the United States.”
That is: his imprisonment is entirely unjustified, since he has been neither charged with nor convicted of any crime under British law.
Popular direct action leads to Assange’s removal from solitary confinement
On 24 January, following several demonstrations by prison inmates, Julian Assange was finally removed from solitary confinement and transferred to Belmarsh’s prison medical unit.
While this is still far from the unconditional release and denying of the US’s politically-motivated extradition demand, ending the regime of solitary confinement should hopefully lead to a meaningful improvement in Mr Assange’s conditions in captivity. (Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is moved out of solitary confinement into Belmarsh prison medical wing with other inmates as he faces fight against extradition to US on hacking charges, Daily Mail, 24 January 2020)
This change can be attributed first to the popular demonstrations against Assange’s treatment – in particular those carried out by other inmates at Belmarsh. Even former inmate and right-wing fanatic Tommy Robinson expressed sympathy for Assange.
The extensive coverage of Nils Melzer’s report by alternative media outlets and spread via social media has also played a significant part in highlighting the issue and forcing this about-face.
Both factors underline the importance of the working class adopting a policy of non-cooperation and direct action to achieve its aims. Although the ‘Free Assange’ movement is still far from gaining mass support, it is a testament to the power of how even a small minority of politically enlightened workers can force the state into ceding concessions.
The question of the media is of particular significance in relation to the policy of non-cooperation. The imperialist state relies heavily on privileged media workers to continue writing, publishing and broadcasting pro-war propaganda that manufactures consent and complicity for imperialist aggression and war crimes.
It is up to the working-class intelligentsia to publish material that counters this pro-war narrative, and to the conscious elements with the corporate media machine to push for a policy of non-cooperation in their unions and amongst their fellow workers.
The task of building a new media is well underway, both nationally and internationally. Not only is there a proliferation of small and dedicated websites run by independent, anti-imperialist journalists, but state-funded channels based in the anti-imperialist countries are playing a major part in creating an alternative to the so-called ‘mainstream’.
Venezuela’s Telesur, Iran’s Press TV, China’s CGTN and Russia’s RT are all attracting increasing viewerships around the world. George Galloway’s MoATS (Mother of All Talkshows), hosted by RT’s Sputnik Radio, now has a global audience bigger than that of Channel 4 News or Sky News. We need to make more workers aware of the existence of this powerful voice and spread its reach further into the ranks of the British working class.
No grounds for imprisonment or for extradition
The US petition for Julian Assange’s extradition is shaky to say the least. Political offences – which are clearly the basis for the US’s request – are specifically excluded from the US-UK extradition treaty.
In fact, there is no reason in law for Assange to be in prison at all, let alone for the barbaric treatment he is being subjected to. (UN expert on torture sounds alarm again that Julian Assange’s life may be at risk, UN human rights office of the high commissioner, 6 January 2020 and Journalist or serial pest? by Tony Walker, SBS, 20 December 2019)
It is an insult to our intelligence when our rulers wage campaigns of foreign aggression under the pretence of ‘safeguarding human rights’ – the same rights they are themselves violating with reckless abandon on a daily basis, both at home and abroad.
It is also worth bearing in mind that this is all being done without any hint of a repercussion from that ‘protector of human rights’, the European Union. Where is the much-touted European Court of Human Rights in regards to Assange’s arbitrary detention and psychological torture?
Everything that we were threatened would come to pass if Britain left the EU has in fact already become a reality while we were within it: a catastrophic rise in poverty; the curtailment of workers’ rights, and a rise in aggressive warmongering.
No imperialist institution, be it the British government or the EU, can guarantee any rights whatsoever. Rights are not given to us from above, they are fought for from below. The French are currently giving a practical lesson in this truth to the workers of Europe.
If the British government is happy to torture and arbitrarily detain Julian Assange in line with the CIA’s agenda, you can bet your bottom dollar that our rulers will just as happily extradite him to the US. If it is allowed to take place, such an outcome will have grave consequences for all of us, not only for Mr Assange himself.
Whistleblowers who leaked OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) reports on the supposed chemical attack on Douma that contradict the ‘Assad the evil dictator’ narrative, for instance, could find themselves facing similar repercussions. To criminalise anyone who dares to expose imperialist lies is the clear intent behind the persecution and proposed American trial of Julian Assange. (MoATS: OPCW Douma leaks and why Julian Assange extradition will affect everyone, 21 Century Wire, 29 January)
The removal of vital testimony from the OPCW archives – constituting a blatant cover-up – in order to craft a justification for an unjustifiable act of aggressive war, meanwhile, has even graver repercussions for the entire world.
And it is we, the British working class, who will be sent to our deaths – not to mention to mindlessly kill our innocent brothers and sisters abroad – on the basis of such false-flag lies, not the scum at the top who point their finger at resources on a globe and count the profits.
Torture and coercion of Chelsea Manning
The US’s treatment of Chelsea Manning in Alexandria, Virginia has been no better than that meted out to Julian Assange in Britain.
“Melzer suggested authorities were intentionally inflicting ‘progressively severe mental and emotional suffering for the purposes of coercion and intimidation at the order of judicial authorities’, and it is compounding Manning’s post-traumatic symptoms and other mental and physical health problems she still experiences as a result of prior abuse she endured when she was imprisoned for releasing documents to WikiLeaks.
“‘I conclude that such deprivation of liberty does not constitute a circumscribed sanction for a specific offence but an open-ended, progressively severe measure of coercion fulfilling all the constitutive elements of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,’ Melzer declared.” (Shadowproof, 1 January 2020)
In an attempt to coerce Chelsea Manning into testifying against WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange, she is being subjected to a staggering $1,000 fine every day and to continued imprisonment.
Melzer has commented on the cruel inhumanity of this charge: “The practise of coercive deprivation of liberty for civil contempt … involves the intentional infliction of progressively severe mental and emotional suffering for the purposes of coercion and intimidation at the order of judicial authorities.”
Melzer went on to comment that such treatment leaves the victim with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, with wider consequences for mental and physical health. Thus Manning’s treatment is undoubtedly a form of psychological torture. (Top UN official accuses US of torturing Chelsea Manning by Edward Helmore, The Guardian, 31 December 2019)
And, as expected, the liberal identity politics crowd and bourgeois feminists advocating for the rights of trans women are nowhere to be seen.
Bullies must be resisted, imperialism must be defeated
We can conclude from this that the US and Britain’s active collaboration in the psychological torture of these two brave whistleblowers is meant to send a chilling message to those who might be tempted to join their ranks.
Ultimately, the surest way to avoid the brave whistleblowers’ fate is to build a movement of thousands, and then of millions of workers, who can act collectively, rather than as isolated individuals, to challenge the senile rule of the billionaires.
Especially now, when the criminal assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani is one of many indicators that the clouds of imperialist war are once more gathering in our skies, we can honour the personal sacrifices that have been made by Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning by organising antiwar action in our local communities, as well as by launching a mass campaign to recognise Assange and Manning as political prisoners, unjustly held, and to demand their immediate release.
We can honour the personal sacrifices that have been made by Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning by popularising the only real antiwar line: no cooperation with imperialist war, and by exposing imperialist war lies and war crimes to the widest possible audience.
The British and US governments are doing everything they can to make examples of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, hoping that this will frighten the rest of us into submission; they must not be allowed to succeed.
We can honour the personal sacrifices that have been made by Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning by picking up the torch of their shining example and marching on with the struggle: by following their example and working to organise the working class – the only force that is capable of ending aggressive imperialist war and winning a better world for ourselves and our children.
No to extradition: Free Assange; Free Manning!