Tag Archives: political prisoners

Stand With Ross Ulbricht. Shun His Tormentors.

Prosecutor General Vyshinskiy (centre), readin...
Prosecutor General Vyshinskiy (centre), reading the indictment, in 1937 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On May 31, a panel of three judges on the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit upheld the conviction and sentence of American political prisoner Ross Ulbricht.

It’s been two years since I last devoted a column to Ulbricht’s plight, so a refresher seems in order:

After a show trial so obviously fixed in advance that Stalin’s pet prosecutor Andrey Vyshinsky would have blushed with embarrassment to participate in it, judge Katherine Forrest sentenced Ulbricht to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the crime of running a web site. Yes, really.

In theory, the issue was that the site, Silk Road, was used by buyers and sellers of illegal drugs. In fact, it was that someone calling himself “Dread Pirate Roberts” — whom the prosecution alleged was Ross Ulbricht — had created and operated an online marketplace in which business was conducted anonymously and beyond the reach of government regulators.

Forrest denied Ulbricht bail on the prosecution’s claim that he had conspired to commit murder — charges which were used to poison the jury pool and keep the defense from  reviewing the state’s evidence or vetting its witnesses until right before the trial began.

Forrest effectively forbade Ulbricht’s attorneys to present a defense.  The prosecution was allowed to present “evidence” while refusing to disclose how it gathered that evidence. The FBI’s technical claims were admitted; expert witnesses to dispute those claims were excluded. The defense was forbidden to suggest alternate theories of the identity of “Dread Pirate Roberts.” The prosecution withheld, until after the trial, the information that two of its own agents were on their way to prison for corrupt activities during, and bearing on, the investigation.

The polite language of procedural appeal in criminal cases is “reversible error” by the judge. But Katherine Forrest didn’t fumble around and screw things up. She intentionally fixed the trial at every opportunity, for the express purpose of seeing Ross Ulbricht convicted of, and giving him the maximum possible sentence for, “crimes” for which he deserved not a day in prison even if he had in fact done the things he was accused of.

In any sane universe, Ross Ulbricht would be a free man and Katherine Forrest would be removed from the bench, disbarred, and sued down to her last dime for damages.

Instead of correcting this massive injustice, federal appellate judges Jon O. Newman, Gerard E. Lynch, and Christopher F. Droney chose to ignore the plain facts, become Katherine Forrest’s co-conspirators, uphold her clearly criminal actions, and keep Ross Ulbricht caged.

Hopefully, the legal saga isn’t over and justice will eventually be served in higher courts or through presidential commutation of the unjust sentence.

Socially, these robed evil-doers deserve to be shunned by all good people. They shouldn’t be able to get tables at restaurants or drinks at bars. Their clergy of choice should withhold communion until they repent and make restitution. We probably can’t make their lives as miserable as they’ve made Ross Ulbricht’s. But we should try.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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When in Rome: “Criminal Consequences” for Assange’s Tormentors?

English: Julian Assange, photo ("sunny co...
Julian Assange (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“How sweet it is” and “screw the UN” seem to be the major media tag lines to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s ruling in favor of political prisoner Julian Assange: The former from Assange himself, welcoming vindication of his claim that more than five years under house arrest and/or confined to Ecuador’s UK embassy do indeed constitute illegal detention, the latter from British foreign secretary Philip Hammond and the London Metropolitan Police, neither of which apparently intend to abide by the verdict.

Less ballyhoo and nearly no analysis accompany another of Assange’s statements. His legal team, he announced, is considering possible “criminal consequences” which might attach to the detention. Think he’s blowing smoke? Think again.

The Working Group’s rulings are not, per se, binding on any government. But the Rome Statute is — at least on its signatories, which include Sweden and the UK.

When we consider the context and background — namely that Sweden and the UK have served and continue to serve as proxies for the United States in its pursuit of Assange for his role in exposing US war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere — an array of possible charges before the International Criminal Court quickly begin to look quite plausible.

Among those charges are the war crime of denying a fair trial, the attempted war crime of unlawful deportation and transfer, the war crime of unlawful confinement, and the offence against administration of justice of “obstructing or interfering with the attendance or testimony of a witness, retaliating against a witness for giving testimony, tampering with or interfering with the collection of evidence …”

Are these the possible “criminal consequences” Assange foresees? There’s good reason to believe so.

In his speech, Assange notes that the ruling is based on “binding covenants which the UK, Sweden, and the United States (for the most part) have agreed to.” That’s clearly a reference to the US remaining non-signatory to the Rome Statute and holding itself out as beyond the jurisdiction of the ICC (it isn’t, at least not entirely).

 

Prior to this ruling, Assange’s persecutors might have been able to plausibly claim legal uncertainty as an extenuating circumstance. That defense is no longer available. Assange’s continued confinement after the ruling constitutes the knowing and intentional commission of several prosecutable war crimes.

Assange is no longer the hunted, but once again the hunter. And his aim is true.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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The Death of an American Political Prisoner

English: Anti-United States Internal Revenue S...
Anti-United States Internal Revenue Service symbol. Commonly used by tax protesters and tax reform advocates in the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Irwin Schiff spent much of his later life in prison. He died in prison on October 16, blind and suffering from lung cancer, having been denied “compassionate release” to die at home with his family. So, who was this Schiff fellow? A mass murderer? Perhaps a serial rapist? Well, no. Irwin Schiff’s “crime” was saying and writing things the federal government didn’t want you to hear.

He thought the income tax was an illegal scam. He refused to pay it. Based on what were obviously his genuinely held beliefs, he urged others, in several books (including one that the federal courts ordered him to stop selling — apparently they don’t teach the First Amendment in law school any more) not to pay it either.

In theory, he went to prison for “tax evasion” and “filing false tax returns.” But that dog won’t hunt. If it was about money he allegedly owed the government, he’d have been left free to generate wealth that could be seized.

Irwin Schiff was a political prisoner. Period. No ifs, ands, buts or maybes.  His legal entanglements were about two things, and two things only: Shutting him up and making an example of him. If people listen to Irwin Schiff, they might emulate him and stop sending money to Washington. QED, Irwin Schiff must be silenced and caged.

At some point I guess I’m expected to assure you that I don’t agree with Schiff’s theories. I can’t say that, because I’ve never studied them thoroughly enough to form an opinion on them. I never bothered because, unlike Schiff, I’ve never operated under the illusion that it matters whether or not the income tax is “legal.” Since when does the US government (or any other government) follow laws when following laws is inconvenient?

Whether or not you or I agree with Irwin Schiff’s ideas is irrelevant to whether or not he should have been imprisoned. Suppose he was wrong six days a week and twice on Sunday. If so, so what? Let me say this again: He was imprisoned for publicly — and apparently persuasively, at least to some — disagreeing with the US government and for no other reason.

In acknowledging Irwin Schiff’s unjust imprisonment and untimely passing, take a moment to ask: Is this the America you thought you lived in? Is this the America you WANT to live in? Answer — and act accordingly.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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