With Focus on Assange, Belmarsh Tribunal Puts ‘US War Crimes on Trial’

By Brett Wilkins

“It is time to take action,” Progressive International activists say, “and it is time to demand justice”

A prominent group of international left-wing activists on Friday put the United States “on trial for its war crimes in the 21st century.” 

The Belmarsh Tribunal—named after the notorious British prison where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is imprisoned as he faces possible extradition to the U.S.—was convened remotely Friday morning by Progressive International (PI). The activists “put the United States government on trial” for crimes ranging “from atrocities in Iraq to torture at Guantánamo Bay to the CIA’s illegal surveillance program—and draw attention to the extradition case of Julian Assange for revealing them.”

The tribunal is composed of “a planetary cast of activists, artists, thinkers, and political representatives” including former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, musicians M.I.A. and Roger Waters, philosopher Slavoj Žižek, actress and activist Pamela Anderson, and many others. 

The event is inspired by the Russell Tribunal, a 1966 event organized by philosophers Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre to hold the U.S. accountable for its escalating war crimes in Vietnam. Russell, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, said the fact that the “people’s tribunal” was not backed by any state and lacked any legal authority made it “free to conduct a solemn and historic investigation.” 

One of the Belmarsh Tribunal members, British activist Tariq Ali, participated in the 1966 event as well.

More than half a century later, “PI is once again calling on the conscience of mankind against the crimes of US imperialism,” the group said.

“From Belmarsh, Assange now faces extradition to the United States—the first time in history that a publisher has been indicted under the Espionage Act,” PI said. “Today’s tribunal takes its name from this site of complicity in the crimes that have been revealed by Assange, and the crimes that have been committed against him, in turn.”

PI recently issued a statement signed by members including Arundhati Roy and Noam Chomsky warning that prosecuting Assange “sets a legal precedent that means that any dissident from the foreign policy of the United States may be shipped to the United States to face life imprisonment or even a death penalty.”

Among the hundreds of thousands of classified documents published by WikiLeaks were the Afghanistan and Iraq War Logs, which revealed U.S. and allied war crimes, including mass killing of civilians and torture. Many of the documents were leaked by Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

In one video, called “Collateral Murder,” U.S. Army attack helicopter crews laugh while massacring a group of Iraqi civilians, including journalists.

The tribunal will have plenty to consider. According to the 2014 U.S. Senate report on CIA torture of detainees in the so-called War on Terror, prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and at “black site” secret prisons around the world were subjected to horrific and even deadly torture and abuse with techniques approved by the George W. Bush administration.

U.S. military and intelligence personnel also subjected detainees—many of them innocent men, women, and children—to additional abuses, including homicide, rape, and the imprisonment and abuse of female relatives as bargaining chips at prisons including the notorious Abu Ghraib in Iraq and elsewhere. 

Under the administrations of the second Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump—who promised to “bomb the shit out of” Islamist militants and “take out their families”—U.S. bombs and bullets have killed at least hundreds of thousands of (and perhaps over a million) people in at least seven countries in an illegal, never-ending war now in its 20th year.

Throughout the 21st century, the U.S. has also supported some of the world’s most brutal dictatorships, has conducted illegal global mass surveillance, and has bankrolled Israeli policies and actions in Palestine that prominent international critics have called ethnic cleansing and apartheid

“If we do not stand now—with all the evidence in our hands—we stand little chance against a machine of war and surveillance that becomes more sophisticated and more secretive by the day,” PI said. “It is time to take action. And it is time to demand justice. Because if they charge against the publisher who revealed their crimes, we must charge against the criminals themselves. Join us.”

Brett Wilkins is staff writer for Common Dreams.

This article was published on October 2 at Common Dreams.

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