US Lawmakers call on AG Merrick Garland to drop charged against Julian Assange

Julian Assange has been detained in maximum-security Belmarsh prison since his arrest on April 11th, 2019. He is fighting extradition to the United States. Assange did what any journalist with integrity should do – tell the truth. If he is convicted, he faces 175 years in prison. Members of Congress in the US are increasingly speaking out in support.
Last week, Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib and others released a joint letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland, calling for the Department of Justice to drop the unprecedented charges against WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange. Tlaib is joined by Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, Ayanna Pressley, Greg Casar, Ilhan Omar and Cori Bush. The calls for justice from within the USA have been joined by those of policymakers in various parts of the world, including 48 Australian parliamentarians, 97 Mexican lawmakers and almost 100 Brazilian parliamentarians. We are still to hear a sizeable chorus of protest from the UK, although Richard Burgon has organised a letter to President Biden. The 35 signatories include David Davis, Caroline Lucas, Jeremy Corbyn, Angus McNeil (SNP) and Liz Saville-Roberts (Plaid Cymru).

Huge homes and gardens, water features and swimming pools – how the rich squander our planet’s precious water resources

Overconsumption of water by the rich threatens the basic needs of the world’s poorest people. The climate crisis and its attendant heating of the Earth and interference with our rainfall patterns exacerbate the situation. Of course, it has always been easier for the rich and privileged to cope with extreme situations such as drought. They have the money to make long-term adjustments such as installing methods to store water and they can afford to purchase bottled water. A study based in Cape Town published this month by Nature Sustainability, “Urban water crises driven by elites’ unsustainable consumption” details how the richest people can use over 2,100 litres of water per household every day, yet the poorest consume approximately 178 litres. The figures indicate that this small group in Cape Town (13.7%) is responsible for over half the water consumed in the city. The poorest two thirds use a little more than a quarter. Of these about 40% live in low income areas and 21% live in settlements and have no toilets or running water in their homes.

Cape Town is an extremely divided city which suffers from marked inequality and segregation, but over 80 cities around the world have experienced serious water shortages in the last twenty years. More than one billion people are likely to suffer from water shortages in the future. But the rich will manage and continue to waste water on inessential luxuries and fripperies.

“The greatest steeplechase of them all” – Aintree continues to gamble on horses’ lives

Since 2001, more than 3000 horses have been killed in jump races alone; all to promote gambling and provide entertainment. More than 61 have died at Aintree since the year 2000. On the first day of Aintree this year, Envoye Special was killed. On April 15th, a 6-year old novice, Dark Raven, fell, apparently breaking both of his back legs as he struggled vainly to right himself. During the much vaunted Grand National, Hill Sixteen broke his neck and two horses were taken away with life threatening injuries. Horses are whipped to perform beyond their capabilities.

More than 100 animal rights activists tried to disrupt the Grand National and delayed the start. They were arrested for public nuisance and criminal damage offences. They breached security fences, with at least two succeeding in fixing themselves to a jump with glue and locks. An Animal Aid spokeperson commented: “Aintree, the worse of all racecourses, is a disgrace, and the Jockey Club and British racing should hang their heads in utter shame at what we have seen over the past three days.”

More than 30 villagers killed in Democratic Republic of Congo

Reuters reports that members of the CODECO group, one of a number of armed militia operating on the Ugandan border, raided a village on Friday 14th April. “They set fire to several houses, looted property … and killed around 30 people, both men and women,” said local civil society president Charite Banza. It is also reported that there were children among the dead. Al Jazeera adds that the conflict stems in part from ongoing tensions between the Lendu and Hema ethnic groups, as well as from the desire to control Ituri’s natural resources, which include gold and oil deposits. The conflict stretches back decades.

Shell knew about the climate emergency as they helped cause it

DeSmog’s latest investigation into the Anglo-Dutch company reveals documents from the 1970s and early 1980s showing that Shell knew more about the greenhouse effect than it let on. A “bombshell” memo from 1989, first reported by DeSmog features in a new US court brief alleging that Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and BP knowingly concealed the climate hazards of their fossil fuel products for decades.

Conflict in Sudan could destabilise the Horn of Africa

Powerful military factions are fighting for control in Khartoum and other Sudanese cities. Tension between the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group, has escalated. Ironically these two groups were formerly allies and collaborated to seize power in the coup in Sudan in 2021.

For many years Sudan has endured conflict and disputes, and there are fears that this could develop into a civil war, unless calls for a ceasefire are heeded. At the time of writing the latest ceasefire has broken down.

In many areas supplies of food and water are seriously threatened, and hospitals are running out of essentials. Sudan is one of the world’s poorest countries, with the percentage of the population in crisis or facing emergency levels of food insecurity increasing. For decades there has been instability in the Horn of Africa, and the conflict in Sudan could exacerbate the unstable situations in Ethiopia and Somalia.

Israelis march through Nablus in show of strength

The Mondoweiss news site reports that thousands of Israelis, protected by armed forces, marched through the Palestinian area of Nablus on Easter Monday in a show of power for the hard-line settler movement. The marchers, including entire families of “settlers”, waved Israeli flags and many were armed with assault rifles. They closed down a main highway to gather on a Palestinian mountain top to declare: we are here, this land belongs to us and we want all of it.” Thousands of Palestinians in the Nablus area had their lives put on hold for the day as Israeli forces enforced widespread road closures. The marchers included government ministers who have been calling for further illegal occupations of Palestinian land. On the same day a 15-year-old Palestinian boy was killed by Israeli forces in Jericho. Mohammed Balhan was shot in the head, chest and abdomen in the Aqabat Camp near Jericho as Israelis responded to stone throwing youths with live ammunition. This death comes just a few weeks after another 15-year-old boy, Muhummad Nidal Salim, was killed when Israeli soldiers shot him in the back in the West Bank town of Azzoun.

Former Salvadoran officer arrested over mass killings

On April 4th Retired Salvadoran Colonel Roberto Antonio Garay Saravia was arrested by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers for lying on his immigration application. When he applied for immigration status some 14 years ago, ex-Colonel Saravia somehow managed to forget that he had been responsible for the deaths of nearly 1,000 people in state-sponsored mass killings carried out by the National Militia during El Salvador’s 12-year armed conflict. As a member of the US-sponsored Altacati Battalion, Saravia participated in the 1981 El Mozote massacre as well other massacres. Around 75,000 civilians were killed during the conflict, many of them by US sponsored militia. If convicted, Saravia will most likely face extradition back to El Salvador where he is highly unlikely to be brought to justice for his crimes.

How war causes climate chaos

In addition to undermining security, it is evident that war, nuclear weapons and military production are all contributing to climate chaos. The Extinction Rebellion (XR) Peace Council, which includes the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), are calling on the Government to sign up to the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, scrap Trident and publish details of military greenhouse gas emissions. They are also arguing for the development and promotion of effective peace-building methods for dealing with conflicts and injustices. As CND General Secretary Kate Hudson pointed out: “The biggest threats facing our planet are those of climate collapse and nuclear war. As climate chaos continues, competition between states over dwindling resources and the prospect of conflict will only increase”. It is essential that the Government ceases to squander money on producing items for the military that continue to destabilise the planet.

The Illegal Migration Bill – More persecution for refugees

There are planned changes to the Illegal Migration Bill. In all probability Suella Braverman will soon be able to ignore any attempt by a European judge to stop migrant deportations. In proposing this, Rishi Sunak is making concessions to the right wing of his party who, unsurprisingly, have no respect for the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In fact some of them are complaining that the Bill does not go far enough. This is a response to the ECHR injunction last year to block the removal of refugees to Rwanda. The legislation is set to prevent people who enter the UK ‘illegally’, as the Government terms it, from claiming asylum. Under the new Bill, those who are removed from the UK would be forbidden to return to the country or to attempt to obtain British citizenship in the future. Once again we are adopting a cruel and punitive approach to people who have shown great courage and initiative and whose need to flee from their homelands is to a large extent caused by the iniquitous actions of the west. Let us hope for strong opposition in the House of Lords and successful legal challenges.

Looking back in time – “They Can’t Kill Us All”

Three hundred students gathered on the campus at Kent State University on 4th May 1970 to demonstrate for peace, reacting to Richard Nixon’s plan to expand into Cambodia. The Ohio National Guard opened fire, killed two protesters and two bystanders and injured a number of others. America was stunned and shocked that the Guard had fired on their own people, and this led to an escalation of outraged student protest and increased opposition to the Vietnam War.

However, since the country’s inception the powerful in America with wealth, and more particularly with weapons, have treated many demonstrators and ethnic minorities brutally. The values of the political establishment are reflected in the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun lobby. Meanwhile, fatal police shootings in the US continue to increase. There were 1,096 such shootings in 2022, with the rate among Black Americans being far higher than for any other ethnicity. Fifty three years after the slaughter at Kent State, US law enforcement continues to murder its own citizens.

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