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Your Man in the Public Gallery: Assange Hearing Day 15 9

When Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, the US Government burgled the office of his psychiatrist to look for medical evidence to discredit him. Julian Assange has been obliged to submit himself, while in a mentally and physically weakened state and in conditions of the harshest incarceration, to examination by psychiatrists appointed by the US government. He has found the experience intrusive and traumatising. It is a burglary of the mind.

Julian is profoundly worried that his medical history will be used to discredit him and all that he has worked for, to paint the achievements of Wikileaks in promoting open government and citizen knowledge as the fantasy of a deranged mind. I have no doubt this will be tried, but fortunately there has been a real change in public understanding and acknowledgement of mental illness. I do not think Julian’s periodic and infrequent episodes of very serious depression will be successfully portrayed in a bad light, despite the incredibly crass and insensitive attitude displayed today in court by the US Government, who have apparently been bypassed by the change in attitudes of the last few decades.

I discuss this before coming to Tuesday’s evidence because for once my account will be less detailed than others, because I have decided to censor much of what was said. I do this on the grounds that, when it comes to his medical history, Julian’s right to privacy ought not to be abolished by these proceedings. I have discussed this in some detail with Stella Morris. I have of course weighed this against my duty as a journalist to you the reader, and have decided the right to medical privacy is greater, irrespective of what others are publishing. I have therefore given as full an account as I can while omitting all mention of behaviours, of symptoms, and of more personal detail.

I also believe I would take that view irrespective of the identity of the defendant. I am not just being partial to a friend. In all my reporting of these proceedings, of course my friendship with Julian has been something of which I am mindful. But I have invented nothing, nor have I omitted anything maliciously.

I will state firmly and resolutely that my account has been truthful. I do not claim it has been impartial. Because in a case of extreme injustice, truth is not impartial.

The following account tries to give you a fair impression of today’s courtroom events, while omitting the substance and detail of much of the discussion. The single witness all day was the eminent psychiatrist Prof Michael Kopelman, who will be familiar to readers of Murder in Samarkand. Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London and formerly head of psychiatry at Guy’s and St Thomas’s, Prof Kopelman was appointed by the defence (he is not one of the psychiatrists of whom Julian complains, who will give evidence later) and had visited Julian Assange 19 times in Belmarsh Prison. His detailed report concluded that

“I reiterate again that I am as certain as a psychiatrist ever can be that, in the event of imminent extradition, Mr. Assange would indeed find a way to commit suicide,”

Kopelman’s evidence was that his report was based not just on his many consultations with Assange, but on detailed research of his medical records back to childhood, including direct contact with other doctors who had treated Assange including in Australia, and multiple interviews with family and long-term friends. His diagnosis of severe depression was backed by a medical history of such episodes and a startling family history of suicide, possibly indicating genetic disposition.

Prof Kopelman was firm in stating that he did not find Assange to be delusional. Assange’s concerns with being spied upon and plotted against were perfectly rational in the circumstances.

Kopelman had no doubt that Julian was liable to commit suicide if extradited. “It is the disorder which brings the suicide risk. Extradition is the trigger.”

James Lewis QC cross-examined Professor Kopelman for four hours. As ever, he started by disparaging the witness’s qualifications; Prof Kopelman was a cognitive psychiatrist not a forensic psychiatrist and had not worked in prisons. Prof Kopelman pointed out that he had been practising forensic psychiatry and testifying in numerous courts for over thirty years. When Lewis persisted again and again in querying his credentials, Kopelman had enough and decided to burst out of the bubble of court etiquette:

“I have been doing this for over thirty years and on five or six occasions London solicitors have phoned me up and said that James Lewis QC is acting in an extradition case and is extremely keen to get your services for a report. So I think it is a bit rich for you to stand there now questioning my qualifications.” This caused really loud laughter in court, which remarkably the judge made no attempt to silence.

The other trick which the prosecution played yet again was to give Prof Kopelman two huge bundles which had, they said, been sent to him that morning and which he said he had never seen – unsurprisingly as he started testifying at 10am. These included substantial items which Prof Kopelman had never seen before but on which he was to be questioned. The first of these was an academic article on malingering which Kopelman was in effect scorned by Lewis for not having read. He said he had read a great many articles on the subject but not this particular one.

Lewis then read several sentences from the article and invited Kopelman to agree with them. These included “clinical skills alone are not sufficient to diagnose malingering” and one to the effect that the clinical team are best placed to detect malingering. Prof Kopelman refused to sign up to either of these propositions without qualification, and several times over the four hours was obliged to refute claims by Lewis that he had done so.

This is another technique continually deployed by the prosecution, seizing upon a single article and trying to give it the status of holy writ, when JStor would doubtless bring out hundreds of contending articles. On the basis of this one article, Lewis was continually to assert and/or insinuate that it was only the prison medical staff who were in a position to judge Assange’s condition. Edward Fitzgerald QC for the defence was later to assert that the article, when it referred to “the clinical team”, was talking of psychiatric hospitals and not prisons. Kopelman declined to comment on the grounds he had not read the article.

Lewis now did another of his standard tricks; attempting to impugn Kopelman’s expertise by insisting he state, without looking it up, what the eight possible diagnostic symptoms of a certain WHO classification of severe depression were. Kopelman simply refused to do this. He said he made a clinical diagnosis of the patient’s condition and only then did he calibrate it against the WHO guidelines for court purposes; and pointed out that he was on some of the WHO committees that wrote these definitions. They were, he said, very political and some of their decisions were strange.

We then entered a very lengthy and detailed process of Lewis going through hundreds of pages of Assange’s prison medical notes and pointing out phrases omitted from Kopelman’s sixteen page synopsis which tended to the view Assange’s mental health was good, while the Professor countered repeatedly that he had included that opinion in shortened form, or that he had also omitted other material that said the opposite. Lewis claimed the synopsis was partial and biased and Kopelman said it was not.

Lewis also pointed out that some of Assange’s medical history from Australia lacked the original medical notes. Kopelman said that this was from the destruction policy of the state of Victoria. Lewis was only prepared to accept history backed by the original medical notes; Kopelman explained these notes themselves referred to earlier episodes, he had consulted Professor Mullen who had treated Julian, and while Lewis may wish to discount accounts of family and friends, to a medical professional that was standard Maudsley method for approaching mental illness history; there was furthermore an account in a book published in 1997.

After lunch Lewis asked Prof Kopelman why his first report had quoted Stella Morris but not mentioned that she was Julian’s partner. Why was he concealing this knowledge from the court? Kopelman replied that Stella and Julian had been very anxious for privacy in the circumstances because of stress on her and the children. Lewis said that Kopelman’s first duty was to the court and this overrode their right to privacy. Kopelman said he had made his decision. His second report mentioned it once it had become public. Lewis asked why he had not explicitly stated they had two children. Kopelman said he thought it best to leave the children out of it.

Lewis asked whether he was hiding this information because having a partner was a safeguard against suicide. Kopelman said that some studies showed suicide was more common in married people. Besides, what we were considering here was stress of separation from partner and children.

Lewis then addressed the reference in Prof Kopelman’s report to the work of Prof Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. Without specifying Professor Melzer’s background or position or even making any mention of the United Nations at all, Lewis read out seven paragraphs of Prof Melzer’s letter to Jeremy Hunt, then UK foreign secretary. These paragraphs addressed the circumstances of Assange’s incarceration in the Embassy and of his continual persecution, including the decision of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Lewis even managed to leave the words “United Nations” out of the name of the working group.

As he read each paragraph, Lewis characterised it as “nonsense”, “rubbish” or “absurd”, and invited Prof Kopelman to comment. Each time Prof Kopelman gave the same reply, that he had only used the work of the psychologist who had accompanied Prof Melzer and had no comment to make on the political parts, which had not appeared in his report. Baraitser – who is always so keen to rule out defence evidence as irrelevant and to save time – allowed this reading of irrelevant paragraphs to go on and on and on. The only purpose was to enter Prof Melzer’s work into the record with an unchallenged dismissive characterisation, and it was simply irrelevant to the witness in the stand. This was Baraitser’s double standard at play yet again.

Lewis then put to Prof Kopelman brief extracts of court transcript showing Julian interacting with the court, as evidence that he had no severe cognitive difficulty. Kopelman replied that a few brief exchanges really told nothing of significance, while his calling out from the dock when not allowed to might be seen as symptomatic of Asperger’s, on which other psychiatrists would testify.

Lewis again berated Kopelman for not having paid sufficient attention to malingering. Kopelman replied that not only had he used his experience and clinical judgement, but two normative tests had been applied, one of them the TOMM test. Lewis suggested those tests were not for malingering and only the Minnesota test was the standard. At this point Kopelman appeared properly annoyed. He said the Minnesota test was very little used outside the USA. The TOMM test was indeed for malingering. That was why it was called the Test of Memory Malingering. Again there was some laughter in court.

Lewis then suggested that Assange may only get a light sentence in the USA of as little as six years, and might not be held in solitary confinement. Would that change Kopelman’s prognosis? Kopelman said it would if realistic, but he had done too many extradition cases, and seen too many undertakings broken, to put much store by this. Besides, he understood no undertakings had been given.

Lewis queried Kopelman’s expertise on prison conditions in the USA and said Kopelman was biased because he had not taken into account the evidence of Kromberg and of another US witness on the subject who is to come. Kopelman replied that he had not been sent their evidence until substantially after he completed his reports. But he had read it now, and he had seen a great deal of other evidence that contradicted it, both in this case and others. Lewis suggested it was not for him to usurp the judgement of the court on this issue, and he should amend his opinion to reflect the effect of the US prison system on Assange if it were as Kromberg described it. Kopelman declined to do so, saying he doubted Kromberg’s expertise and preferred to rely on among others the Department of Justice’s own report of 2017, the Centre for Constitutional Rights report of 2017 and the Marshall report of 2018.

Lewis pressed Kopelman again, and asked that if prison conditions and healthcare in the USA were good, and if the sentence were short, would that cause an alteration to his clinical opinion. Kopelman replied that if those factors were true, then his opinion would change, but he doubted they were true.

Suddenly, Baraitser repeated out loud the part quote that if prison conditions in the US were good and the sentence were short, then Kopelman’s clinical opinion would change, and ostentatiously typed it onto her laptop, as though it were very significant indeed.

This was very ominous. As she inhabits a peculiar world where it is not proven that anybody was ever tortured in Guantanamo Bay, I understand that in Baraitser’s internal universe prison conditions in the Colorado ADX are perfectly humane and medical care is jolly good. I could note Baraitser seeing her way suddenly clear to how to cope with Professor Kopelman in her judgement. I could not help but consider Julian was the last person in this court who needed a psychiatrist.

Lewis now asked, in his best rhetorical and sarcastic style, whether mental illness had prevented Julian Assange from obtaining and publishing hundreds of thousands of classified documents that were the property of the United States? He asked how, if he suffered from severe depression, Julian Assange had been able to lead Wikileaks, to write books, make speeches and host a TV programme?

I confess that at this stage I became very angry indeed. Lewis’s failure to acknowledge the episodic nature of severe depressive illness, even after the Professor had explained it numerous times, was intellectually pathetic. It is also crass, insensitive and an old-fashioned view to suggest that having a severe depressive illness could stop you from writing a book or leading an organisation. It was plain stigmatising of those with mental health conditions. I confess I took this personally. As long-term readers know, I have struggled with depressive illness my entire life and have never hidden the fact that I have in the past been hospitalised for it, and on suicide watch. Yet I topped the civil service exams, became Britain’s youngest Ambassador, chaired a number of companies, have been Rector of a university, have written several books, and give speeches at the drop of a hat. Lewis’s characterisation of depressives as permanently incapable is not just crassly insensitive, it is a form of hate speech and should not be acceptable in court.

(I am a supporter of free speech, and if Lewis wants to make a fool of himself by exhibiting ignorance of mental illness in public I have no problem. But in court, no.)

Furthermore, Lewis was not representing his own views but speaking on the direct instructions of the government of the United States of America. Throughout a full four hours, Lewis on behalf of the government of the USA not only evinced no understanding whatsoever of mental illness, he never once, not for one second, showed one single sign that mental illness a subject taken seriously or for which there is the tiniest element of human sympathy and concern. Not just for Julian, but for any sufferer. Mental illness is malingering or if real disqualifies you from any role in society; no other view was expressed. He made plain on behalf of the US Government, for example, that Julian’s past history of mental illness in Australia will not be taken into account because the medical records have been destroyed.

The only possible conclusion from yesterday’s testimony is that the performance of the representative of the United States Government was, in and of itself, full and sufficient evidence that there is no possibility that Julian Assange will receive fair consideration and treatment of his mental health issues within the United States system. The US government has just demonstrated that to us, in open court, to perfection.

 
 
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Your Man in the Public Gallery: Assange Hearing Day 14 82

Monday was a frustrating day as the Assange Hearing drifted deep into a fantasy land where nobody knows or is allowed to say that people were tortured in Guantanamo Bay and under extraordinary rendition. The willingness of Judge Baraitser to accept American red lines on what witnesses can and cannot say has combined with a joint and openly stated desire by both judge and prosecution to close this case down quickly by limiting the number of witnesses, the length of their evidence, and the time allowed for closing arguments. For the first time, I am openly critical of the defence legal team who seem to be missing the moment to stop being railroaded and say no, this is wrong, forcing Baraitser to make rulings against them. Instead most of the day was lost to negotiations between prosecution and defence as to what defence evidence could be edited out or omitted.

More of which later.

PROFESSOR CHRISTIAN GROTHOFF

The first witness was Professor Christian Grothoff, a computer scientist based at the University of Berne Institute of Applied Sciences. Prof Grothoff had prepared an analysis of how and when the unredacted cables first came to be released on the internet.

Prof Grothoff was taken through his evidence in chief by Marks Summers QC for the defence. Prof Grothoff testified that Wikileaks had shared the cable cache with David Leigh of the Guardian. This had been done in encrypted form. It had a very strong encryption key; without the long, strong password there would be no way to access it. It was useless without the key. In reply to questions from Summers, Prof Grothoff confirmed that it was standard practice for information to be shared by an online cache with strong encryption. It was standard practice, and not in any way irresponsible. Banking or medical records might be securely communicated in this way. Once the file is encrypted, it cannot be read without the key, and nor can the key be changed. New copies can of course be made from the unencrypted original with different keys.

Summers then led Prof Grothoff to November 2010 when cables started to be published, initially by partners from the media consortium after redaction. Grothoff said that the next event was a DDOS attack on the Wikileaks site. He explained how a distributed denial of service attack works, hijacking multiple computers to overload the target website with demand. Wikileaks reaction was to encourage people to put up mirrors to maintain the availability of content. He explained this was quite a normal response to a DDOS attack.

Prof Grothoff produced a large list of mirrors created all over the world as a result. Wikileaks had posted instructions on how to set up a mirror. Mirrors set up using these instructions did not contain a copy of the cache of unredacted cables. But at some point, some mirrors started to contain the file with the unredacted cables. These appeared to be few and special sites with mirrors created in other ways than by the Wikileaks instructions. There was some discussion between Grothoff and Summers as to how the cached file may have been hidden in an archive on the Wikileaks site, for example not listed in the directory, and how a created mirror could sweep it up.

Summers then asked Professor Grothoff whether David Leigh released the password. Grothoff replied that yes, Luke Harding and David Leigh had revealed the encryption key in their book on Wikileaks published February 2011. They had used it as a chapter heading, and the text explicitly set out what it was. The copies of the encrypted file on some mirrors were useless until David Leigh posted that key.
Summers So once David Leigh released the encryption key, was it in Wikileaks’ power to take down the mirrors?
Grothoff No.
Summers Could they change the encryption key on those copies?
Grothoff No.
Summers Was there anything they could do?
Grothoff Nothing but distract and delay.

Grothoff continued to explain that on 25 August 2011 the magazine Der Freitag had published the story explaining what had happened. It did not itself give out the password or location of the cache, but it made plain to people that it could be done, particularly to those who had already identified either the key or a copy of the file. The next link in the chain of events was that nigelparry.com published a blog article which identified the location of a copy of the encrypted file. With the key being in David Leigh’s book, the material was now effectively out. This resulted within hours in the creation of torrents and then publication of the full archive, unencrypted and unredacted, on Cryptome.org.

Summers asked whether Cryptome was a minor website. Grothoff replied not at all, it was a long established platform for leaked or confidential material and was especially used by journalists.

At this stage Judge Baraitser gave Mark Summers a five minute warning on Prof Grothoff’s evidence. He therefore started to speed through events. The next thing that happened, still on 31 August 2011, is that a website MRKVA had made a searchable copy. Torrents also started appearing including on Pirate Bay, a very popular service. On 1 September, according to classified material from the prosecution supplied to Prof Grothoff, the US Government had first accessed the unredacted cache. The document showed this had been via a torrent from Pirate Bay. Wikileaks had made the unredacted cables available on 2 September, after they were already widely available. They had already passed the point where “they could not be stopped”.

Neither Pirate Bay nor Cryptome had been prosecuted for the publication. Cryptome is US based.

Joel Smith then rose to cross-examine for the prosecution. He started by addressing the Professor’s credentials. He suggested that the Professor was expert in computer analysis, but in putting together a chronology of events he was not expert. Prof Grothoff replied that it had required specialist forensic skills to track the precise chain of events.

Joel Smith then suggested that his chronology of events was dependent on material provided by the defence. Prof Grothoff said that indeed the defence had supplied key evidence, but he had searched extensively for other material and evidence online of the course of events and tested the defence evidence.

Smith then asked Grothoff whether he had withheld any information he should have given as a declaration of interest. Grothoff said he had not, and could not think what Smith was talking about. He had conducted his research fairly and taken great care to test the assertions of the defence against the evidence. Smith then read out an open letter from 2017 to President Trump calling for the prosecution of Assange to be dropped. Grothoff said it was possible, but he had no recollection of having signed it or seeing it. The defence had told him about it on Saturday, but he still did not remember it. The content of the letter seemed reasonable to him, and had a friend asked him to sign then he would probably have done so. But he had no memory of it.

Smith noted that Grothoff was listed as an initial signatory not an online added signatory. Grothoff replied that nevertheless he had no recollection of it. Smith then asked him incredulously “and you cannot remember signing a letter to the President of the United States?” Grothoff again confirmed he could not remember.

Quoting the letter, Smith then asked him “Do you think the prosecution is “a step into the darkness”?”. Grothoff replied that he thought it had strong negative ramifications for press freedom worldwide. Lewis then put to Grothoff that he had strong views, and thus was evidently “biased, partial”. Grothoff said he was a computer scientist and had been asked to research and give testimony on matters of fact as to what had occurred. He had tested the facts properly and his personal opinions were irrelevant. Smith continued to ask several more questions about the letter and Grothoff’s partiality. Altogether Smith asked 14 different questions related to the open letter Grothoff had allegedly signed. He then moved on:

Smith Did you download the cables file yourself during your research?
Grothoff Yes, I did.
Smith Did you download it from the Wikileaks site?
Grothoff No, I believe from Cryptome.
Smith So in summer 2010 David Leigh was given a password and the cache was put up on a public website?
Grothoff No, it was put on a website but not public. It was in a hidden directory.
Smith So how did it end up on mirror sites if not public?
Grothoff It depends how the specific mirror is created. On the Wikileaks site the encrypted cache was not an available field. Different mirroring techniques might sweep up archive files.
Smith Wikileaks had asked for the creation of mirrors?
Grothoff Yes.
Smith The strength of a password is irrelevant if you cannot control the people who have it.
Grothoff That is true. The human is always the weakest link in the system. It is difficult to guard against a bad faith actor, like David Leigh.
Smith How many people did Wikileaks give the key in the summer of 2010?
Grothoff It appears from his book only to David Leigh. He then gave it to the hundreds of thousands who had access to his book.
Smith Is it true that 50 media organisations and NGOs were eventually involved in the process of redaction?
Grothoff Yes, but they were not each given access to the entire cache.
Smith How do you know that?
Grothoff It is in David Leigh’s book.
Smith How many people in total had access to the cache from those 50 organisations?
Grothoff Only Mr Leigh was given access to the full set. Only Mr Leigh had the encryption key. Julian Assange had been very reluctant to give him that access.
Smith What is your evidence for that statement?
Grothoff It is in David Leigh’s book.
Smith That is not what it says.

Smith then read out two long separate passages from Luke Harding and David Leigh’s book, both of which indeed made very plain that Assange had given Leigh access to the full cache only with extreme reluctance, and had been cajoled into it, including by David Leigh asking Assange what would happen if he were bundled off to Guantanamo Bay and nobody else but Assange held the password.

Grothoff That is what I said. Harding and Leigh write that it had been a hard struggle to prise the password out of Assange’s hand.
Lewis How do you know that the 250,000 cables were not all available to others?
Grothoff In February 2011 David Leigh published his book. Before that I do not have proof Wikileaks gave the password to nobody else. But if so, they have kept entirely quiet about it.
Smith You say that after the DDOS attack Wikileaks requested people to mirror the site globally. They published instructions on how to do it.
Grothoff Yes, but mirrors created using the Wikileaks instructions did not include the encrypted file. In fact this was helpful. They were trying to build a haystack. The existence of so many mirrors without the unencrypted file made it harder to find.
Smith But in 2010 the password had not been released. Why would Wikileaks want to build a haystack then?
Grothoff The effect was to build a haystack. I agree that was probably not the initial motive. It may have been when this mirror creation continued later.
Smith As of December 2010 what Wikileaks are saying is they wish to proliferate the site as they are under attack?
Grothoff Yes
Joel Smith On 23 August 2011 Wikileaks start a mass release of cables?
Grothoff Yes. This is a release of unclassified cables and also ongoing release of redacted classified cables by media partners.
Smith They were releasing cables by country, and putting out tweets saying which countries they were releasing cables for both then and next? (Smith reads from tweets.)
Grothoff Yes. I have verified that these were unclassified cables by searching through these cables on the classification field.
Smith Were some classified secret?
Grothoff No, they were unclassified. I checked this.
Smith Were some marked “strictly protect”?
Grothoff That is not a classification in the classification field. I did not check for that.
Smith Wikileaks boast that they make the files available in a searchable form.
Grothoff Yes, but their search facility was not very good. Much easier to search them in other ways.
Smith You said Der Freitag stated that the encrypted file was available on mirrors. The article does not say that.
Grothoff No, but it says that it was widely circulating on the internet. That is done by mirroring. They did not use that word, I agree.
Smith The 29 August Der Spiegel article does not publish the password. Then Wikileaks publishes an article claiming these stories are “substantially incorrect”.
Grothoff It points to the password.
Smith Some cables were published classified “Secret”.
Grothoff These were cables that had been redacted fully by the consortium of media experts.
Smith Why do you call them “experts”?
Grothoff They knew the subject matter and the localities.
Smith Why do you call them “experts”?
Grothoff They were experienced journalists who knew what was and was not safe and right to publish. So experts in journalism. You need to distinguish between three types of cable published at this time: 1) classified and redacted; 2) unclassified; 3) the classified and unredacted cache.
Smith Are you aware that some cables were marked “strictly protect”?
Grothoff That is not a designation of a cable. It is applied to individuals. But it does not indicate that they are in danger, merely that for political reasons they do not want to be known as giving evidence to the US government?
Smith How do you know that?
Grothoff It is in the bundle I was sent, and the evidence of other defence witnesses.
Smith You don’t know.
Grothoff I do know the “strictly protect” names you are referring to were in safe countries.
Smith Before 31 August you find no evidence of full publication of the entire cache?
Grothoff Yes.

We then went through an excruciatingly long process of Smith querying the evidence for the timing of every publication prior to Wikileaks own publication, and trying to shift back the latest possible time of publication online of various copies, including Cryptome, MRKVA, Pirate Bay and various other torrents. He managed to establish that, depending which time zone you were in, some of this could be attributed to possibly very early on 1 September rather than 31 August, and that it was not possible to put an exact time within a window of a few hours on Cryptome’s unredacted publication early in the morning on 1 September.

[This exercise could cut both ways. The timing of a tweet saying a copy or torrent is up and giving a link, must be sent out after the material is put up, which could be some time before sending the tweet.]

Grothoff concluded that at the end of the day we do not know to the minute timings for every publication, but what we can say for certain is that all of the publications discussed, including Cryptome, were before Wikileaks.

Smith then noted that Parry wrote in his blog “This is a bad day for David Leigh and the Guardian. I ran the password from David Leigh’s book in an old W/L file…” but did not give the location of the file. This was at 10pm on 31 August. Within 20 minutes Wikileaks was issuing a press release “statement of the betrayal of Wikileaks passwords by the Guardian” and 80 minutes later an editorial. [I think that Smith here was trying to say Wikileaks had published Parry’s breakthrough.] Smith then invited Grothoff to agree that when Wikileaks themselves published the full documents later on 2 September, it was more comprehensible and visible than earlier publications. Grothoff replied it was not more comprehensive, it was the same. It was more visible but by that time the cat was well out of the bag and the unredacted cables were spreading rapidly all over the internet. There was no way to stop them.

Mark Summers then re-examined Grothoff and established that the evidence was that the encryption key for the full cache was given to David Leigh and to nobody else. The storage method was secure – Grothoff pointed out that precisely the same method was used to send around the court bundles in this case. Only David Leigh had revealed the password.

On mirror sites, Grothoff confirmed that the Wikileaks instructions created mirrors without the encrypted cache. All the copies of the encrypted cache he could find on other mirrors, were on sites which plainly were created using other methods, for example other software systems. Summers then got Professor Grothoff to explain the methodology he had used to verify the cables published by Wikileaks before the Leigh crash were all unclassified. Apart from dip sampling, this included a correlation of the number published for each country with the number listed as unclassified for each country in the US government directory. These matched in every case.

Summers then attempted to take Grothoff back over the timeline evidence which Joel Smith had put so much effort into muddying, but was prevented from doing so by Baraitser. She had interrupted Summers four times during his re-examination, on the extraordinary basis that this ground was gone over before; extraordinary because that is the point of a re-examination. Baraitser had permitted Smith to ask fourteen successive questions of Grothoff on the subject of why he had signed an open letter. The double standard was very obvious.

Which brings us to a very crucial point. The next witness, Andy Worthington, was at court and ready to give evidence, but was prevented from doing so. The United States government objected to his evidence, about his work on the Guantanamo Detainee files, being heard because it contained allegations of inmates being tortured at Guantanamo.

Baraitser said her ruling was not going to consider whether torture took place at Guantanamo, or if extraordinary rendition had happened. She did not need to hear evidence on these points. Mark Summers replied that the ECHR had ruled on these as facts, but that it was necessary they be stated by witnesses as appropriate as it went to the Article 10 ECHR defence. Lewis maintained the objection from the US government.

Baraitser said she wanted the prosecution and defence to produce a witness schedule that would get the case finished by the end of next week, including closing statements. She wanted them to agree what evidence could and could not be heard. Where possible she wanted evidence in uncontested statements with the defence just reading out the gist.

She also said that she did not want to hear closing arguments in court, but she would have them in writing and the defence and prosecution could just summarise them briefly orally.

What the defence should have said at this moment is “Madam, the dogs in the street know that people were tortured in Guantanamo Bay. In the real world, it is not a disputed fact. If Mr Lewis’s instructions were to deny that the earth is round, would our witnesses have to accommodate that? The truth of these matters plainly goes to the Article 10 Defence, and by pandering to the denial of a notorious and plain fact, this court will be held up to mockery. We will not discuss such ludicrous censorship with Mr Lewis. If you wish to rule that there must be no mention of torture in evidence, then so be it.”

The defence did not say any of that, but as instructed entered a process with the prosecution lawyers of agreeing the shortening and editing of evidence, a process which took all day and with which Julian showed plain signs of being uncomfortable. Andy Worthington did not get to give his evidence. The only further evidence heard was the reading of the gist of a statement from Cassandra Fairbanks. I did not hear most of this because, having adjourned to 4.30pm, the court re-adjourned earlier than advertised, while Julian’s dad John Shipton, the musician MIA and I were away having a coffee. I commend this account by Kevin Gosztola of Fairbanks’ startling evidence. It was read quickly by Edward Fitzgerald in “gist”, agreed as an uncontested account, and speaks strongly of the political motivation apparent in this prosecution.

I am very concerned about the obvious collusion of the prosecution and the judge to close this case down. The extraordinary conflation of “time management” and excluding evidence which the US Government does not want heard in public is plainly illegitimate. The continual chivvying and interruption of defence counsel in examination when prosecution counsel are allowed endless repetition amounting to harassment and bullying is illegitimate. Some extraordinarily long prosecution cross-examinations, such as that of Carey Shenkman the lawyer, have every appearance of deliberate time wasting and distraction.

Tuesday’s witness is Professor Michael Kopelman, the eminent psychiatrist, and the prosecution have indicated they wish to cross-examine him for an extraordinary four hours, which Baraitser agreed against defence objections. Her obsession with time management is distinctly subjective.

Obviously there is a moral question for me in how much of this medical evidence I publish. The decision will be taken in strict accordance with the views of Julian or, if we cannot ascertain that, his family.

 
 
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Your Man in the Public Gallery: Assange Hearing Day 13 147

Friday gave us the most emotionally charged moments yet at the Assange hearing, showed that strange and sharp twists in the story are still arriving at the Old Bailey, and brought into sharp focus some questions about the handling and validity of evidence, which I will address in comment.

NICKY HAGER

The first witness of the day was Nicky Hager, the veteran New Zealand investigative journalist. Hager’s co-authored book “Hit and Run” detailed a disastrous New Zealand SAS raid in Afghanistan, “Operation Burnham”, that achieved nothing but the deaths of civilians, including a child. Hager was the object of much calumny and insult, and even of police raids on his home, but in July an official government report found that all the major facts of his book were correct, and the New Zealand military had run dangerously out of control:

“Ministers were not able to exercise the democratic control of the military. The military do not exist for their own purpose, they are meant to be controlled by their minister who is accountable to Parliament.”

Edward Fitzgerald took Hager through his evidence. Hager stated that journalists had a duty to serve the public, and that they could not do this without access to secret sources of classified information. This was even more necessary for the public good in time of war. Claims of harm are always made by governments against any such disclosures. It is always stated. Such claims had been frequently made against him throughout his career. No evidence had ever emerged to back up any of these claims that anybody had been harmed as a result of his journalism.

When Wikileaks had released the Afghan War Logs, they had been an invaluable source to journalists. They showed details of regular patrols, CIA financed local forces, aid and reconstruction ops, technical intelligence ops, special ops and psychological ops, among others. They had contributed much to his books on Afghanistan. Information marked as confidential is essential to public understanding of the war. He freqently used leaked material. You had to judge whether it was in the higher public interest to inform the public. Decisions of war and peace were of the very highest public interest. If the public were being misled about the conduct and course of the war, how could democratic choices be made?

Edward Fitzgerald then asked about the collateral murder video and what they revealed about the rules of engagement. Hager said that the Collateral Murder video had “the most profound effect throughout the world”. The publication of that video and the words “”Look at those dead bastards” had changed world opinion on the subject of civilian casualties. In fact the Rules of Engagement had been changed to put more emphasis on avoiding civilian casualties, as a direct result.

In November 2010 Hager had travelled to the UK to join the Wikileaks team and had become involved in redacting and printing stories from the cables relating to Australasia. He was one of the local partners Wikileaks had brought in for the cables, expanding from the original media consortium that handled the Afghan and Iraqi war logs.

Wikileaks’ idea was a rigorous process of redaction and publication. They were going through the cables country by country. It was a careful and diligent process. Wikileaks were very serious and responsible about what they were doing. His abiding memory was sitting in a room with Wikileaks staff and other journalists, with everyone working for hours and hours in total silence, concentrated on going through the cables. Hager had been very pleased to see the level of care that was taken.

Edward Fitzgerald asked him about Julian Assange. Hager said he found him completely different to the media presentation of him. He was thoughtful, humorous and energetic. He dedicated himself to trying to make the world a better place, particularly in the post 9/11 climate of a reduction of citizen freedoms in the world. Assange had a vision that the digital age would enable a new kind of whistleblower which could correct the information imbalance between government and citizen. This was against a background of torture, rendition and war crimes being widely committed by western governments.

James Lewis QC then rose to cross-examine on behalf of the US government

Lewis Have you read the indictment and the extradition request?
Hager Yes.
Lewis What charges do you see there?
Hager I see a mish-mash. Some charges of publication, some of possession then other stuff added.
Lewis Assange is not charged with publishing the collateral murder video your evidence says so much about
Hager You can’t look at the effect the Wikileaks revelations had on the world in that kind of neat and compartmentalised way. The cables, logs and all the rest affected the world as a whole.
Lewis Is Assange charged with publication of any of the documents you have relied on in your works?
Hager That would take me some research to find out, which he is charged with publishing and which with possession.
Lewis Have you ever paid a government official to give you secret information?
Hager No.
Lewis Have you ever hacked?
Hager No, probably. That depends how you define “hack”.
Lewis You have as a journalist merely been the passive recipient of official information. Presumably you have never done anything criminal to obtain government information?
Hager You said “passive”. That is not the way we work. Journalists not only actively work our sources. We go out and find our sources. The information might come in documents. It might come on a memory stick. In most cases our sources are breaking the law. Our duty is to help protect them from being caught. We actively help them cover their backs sometimes.
Lewis In your report on Operation Burnham you protected your sources. Would you knowingly put a source in danger?
Hager No, of course not. However…
Lewis No. Stop. You answered.

Edward Fitzgerald QC rose to object but found no support from the judge.

Lewis On 2 September 2011 the Guardian published an editorial article abhorring Wikileaks’ publishing of unredacted cables and stating that hundreds of lives had been put in danger. Do you agree with those statements?
Hager My information is that Wikileaks did not release the cables until others had published.
Lewis We say your understanding is wrong. On 25 August Wikileaks published 134,000 cables including some marked “strictly protect”. What is your opinion on that?
Hager I am not going to comment on a disputed fact. I do not personally know.
Lewis The book “Wikileaks: the Inside Story” by David Leigh and Luke Harding of the Guardian newspaper states that Assange “wished to release the whole lot sooner”. It also states that at a dinner at El Moro restaurant, Assange stated that if informants were killed, they had it coming to them. Would you care to comment?
Hager I know that there was great animosity between David Leigh and Julian Assange by the point that book was written. I would not regard that as a reliable source. I do not want to dignify that book by answering it.
Lewis Are you trying to assist the court or assist Assange? In a talk recorded at the Frontline Club, Assange stated that Wikileaks only had a duty to protect informants from “unjust” retribution, and that those who gave information to US forces for money or engaged in “truly traitorous” behaviour deserved their fate. Do you support that statement?
Hager No.
Lewis You say it would have been impossible to write your book without confidential material from Wikileaks. Did you need the names of informants?
Hager No.
Lewis The Operation Burnham report found at p.8 that, contrary to your assertions “New Zealand Defence Forces were not involved in planning preparation and execution”.
Hager What you have quoted does not relate to the main operations covered in the book. It only refers to something covered as a “minor footnote” in the book. Most of the findings of the book were confirmed.
Lewis The Official Report states of your book “Hit and Run was inaccurate in some respects”.
Hager We did not get everything right. But the major points were all true. “Civilian casualties confirmed. Death of child confirmed. Prisoner beaten up confirmed. Falsified reports confirmed.”
Lewis How many cables did you personally review?
Hager A few hundred. They were specifically cables relating to Australasia.
Lewis And what criteria did you use to make redactions?
Hager There were quite a few names marked “strictly protect”. This was not, in the context, for reasons of safety in the countries which I was working on. It was purely to avoid political embarrassment.
Lewis But how long did you work in London on the cables?
Hager It was several days, to do several hundred cables.
Lewis Did you show your statement to the defence in draft?
Hager Yes, I have always done this when I have submitted an affidavit.

[This is normal. Affidavits or statements from defence witnesses are normally drawn up and, if affidavits, taken under oath by the defence solicitors.]

Lewis Did the defence suggest to you that you should place the section on Rules of Engagement next to the Collateral Damage video?
Hager Yes. But I was very happy to do it, it made perfect sense to me.

Edward Fitzgerald QC then rose again for the re-examination.

Fitzgerald You were asked if you know what Assange is charged with. Do you know he is charged with obtaining and receiving all of the diplomatic cables, the Iraq war logs, the Afghan war logs, the rules of engagement, and the Guantanamo detainee assessments?
Hager Yes.
Fitzgerald And he could not have published any of them without first obtaining and receiving them? So the distinction as to which he is charged for publishing makes no difference to the liability of journalists like yourself to the Espionage Act for obtaining and receiving US classified information?
Hager Yes.
Fitzgerald You work with sources. That means the person who provides you with the information or material. And do you have a duty to protect that source?
Hager Yes.
Fitzgerald You were asked about the September 2011 publication of cables. What do you know about how that came about?
Hager I believed the Wikileaks people and witnessed their extreme seriousness in the redaction process to which they invited me in. I do not believe they suddenly changed their mind about it. This publication came about through a series of bad luck and unfortunate events, not by Wikileaks. But that nine month redaction process was not wasted. Wikileaks had at an early stage warned the US authorities and invited them to be part of the redaction process. Assange had stressed to US authorities the danger to those named in the report. While the US authorities had not got involved in redaction, they had started a massive exercise in warning those named in the reports that they might have been in danger, and helping those the most at risk to take measures to relocate. I think this is overlooked. Julian Assange bought those people nine months. I also believe that is the major part of the explanation why in the end there were no identifiable deaths and was no wholesale damage.
Fitzgerald What do you believe the bad luck to have been?
Hager I understand it was the publication of a password in the Leigh/Harding book, but I have no direct knowledge.
Fitzgerald On this book, you have said there was bad blood between Luke Harding, David Leigh and Julian Assange.
Hager Yes, I would not put much weight on that book as a source myself.

[I hope you will forgive me for adding personal knowledge here, but the bad blood was nothing to do with redaction and everything to do with money. Julian Assange was briefly the most famous man in the world for a while and had not yet been tarnished with the allegations arranged in Sweden. Rights to an Assange book on Wikileaks and a biography were potentially worth millions to the authors. Collaboration had been discussed with Leigh but Julian had decided against. The Guardian were furious. That is what really happened. It seems a good explanation of why they instead published a money-spinning book attacking Assange. It does not really explain why they published the password to the unredacted cable cache in that book.]

Fitzgerald Julian Assange stated at the Frontline Club that sources had to be protected from “unjust retribution”. Do you agree with that?
Hager Yes.
Fitzgerald He was trying to draw a distinction with categories who do not deserve protection. Informants who give false information for money, agents provocateurs, those who turn in innocents for personal motives. We have seen the press in the UK, for example, name certain informants in Northern Ireland who had played a bad part. What do you think of naming informants in those kind of circumstances?
Hager I don’t want to comment on Northern Ireland. It is all a very difficult topic.
Fitzgerald Could you comment further on the collateral murder video and the rules of engagement?
Hager The RoEs simply govern when soldiers can and cannot use force. They raise important questions. Are they correct? Do they minimise civilian casualties? Are they consistent with the laws of armed conflict?
Fitzgerald One charge related to receiving and obtaining the RoEs. Is that why you mentioned them?
Hager Yes. The soldiers always retain the base right of self-defence. There is no basis for claiming their publication poses a dire risk for the troops. It arguably leads to less conflict if people know when force will and will not be used.
Fitzgerald You affirm that when the defence asked you to put together the collateral murder video with the rules of engagement, you agreed purely on the basis that was correct and right in your own opinion?
Hager Yes.

JENNIFER ROBINSON

The court then moved to its first witness with “read evidence”. It has been agreed that some witnesses whom the prosecution does not wish to cross examine will have their evidence “read” into the record without having to appear. After substantial discussions and disagreements between the lawyers this has been resolved to be a short summary or “gist” of their evidence. My reports then for this group of witnesses are the gist of a gist; in this case of the evidence of Jennifer Robinson.

Jennifer Robinson is a lawyer who has advised Julian Assange since 2010. She represented him in his Swedish legal issues. On 15 August 2017 he asked her to join him for a meeting in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London with US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and an aide Charles Johnson. Rohrabacher had stated he was acting on behalf of President Donald Trump and would report back to Trump on his return to Washington.

Rohrabacher said that the “Russiagate” story was politically damaging to President Trump, was damaging to US interests and to US/Russian relations. It would therefore be very helpful if Julian would reveal the real source of the DNC leaks. This would be in the public interest.

Julian Assange had put the case for a full pardon for Chelsea Manning and for any indictment against himself as a publisher to be dropped on First Amendment grounds. Rohrabacher had said there was an obvious “win win solution” here and he would investigate “what might be possible to get him out.” Assange could reveal the DNC source in return for a “pardon, deal or arrangement”. Assange had however not named any source to him.

KHALED EL-MASRI

There had been three days of intense discussion between the counsel and the judge, with the United States government objecting bitterly to Mr El-Masri being heard. A compromise had been reached that he could give evidence provided he did not allege he was tortured by the US Government. However, when he came to give evidence, Mr El-Masri was strangely unable to connect by videolink, even though the defence team had been able to speak to him by video a few hours earlier. Technical staff in the court having been unable to resolve the (ahem) technical issue, rather than simply postpone his evidence until a videolink had been established – as had happened already with two other witnesses when quality issues arose – Judge Baraitser suddenly decided to raise again the issue of whether el-Masri’s evidence should be heard at all.

James Lewis QC for the US Government stated that they did not merely oppose his evidence of being tortured. They opposed the making of any claim that a Wikileaks-released cable showed that they had put pressure on the government of Germany not to arrest those allegedly concerned in his alleged extradition. The US Government had not pressurised the Government of Germany, Lewis said. Mark Summers QC for the defence said that the Supreme Chamber of the European Court in Strasbourg had already judged his claims to be true, and that the Wikileaks cable plainly and inarguably showed the US Government exerting pressure on Germany.

Judge Baraitser said she was not going to determine if the US had pressurised Germany or if el-Masri had been tortured. Those were not the questions before her. Mark Summers QC said that it went to the question of whether Wikileaks had performed a necessary act to prevent criminality by the US Government and enable justice. Lewis responded that it was unacceptable to the US government that allegations of torture should be made.

At this point, Julian Assange became very agitated. He stood up and declared very loudly:

“I will not permit the testimony of a torture victim to be censored by this court”

A great commotion broke out. Baraitser threatened to have Julian removed and have the hearing held in his absence. There was a break following which it was announced that el-Masri would not appear, but that the gist of his evidence would be read out, excluding detail of US torture or of US pressure on the government of Germany. Mark Summers QC started to read the evidence.

Khaled el-Masri, of Lebanese origin, had come to Germany in 1989 and was a German citizen. On 1 January 2004 after a holiday in Skopje he had been removed from a coach on the Macedonian border. He had been held incommunicado by Macedonian officials, ill-treated and beaten. On 23 July he had been taken to Skopje airport and handed over to CIA operatives. They had beaten, shackled, hooded and sodomised him. His clothes had been ripped off, he had been dressed in a diaper, shackled to the floor of an aircraft in a cruciform position, and rendered unconscious by an anaesthetic injection.

He awoke in what he eventually learned was Afghanistan. He was held incommunicado in a bare concrete cell with a bucket for a toilet. He was held for six months and interrogated throughout this period [details of torture excluded by the judge]. Eventually in June he was flown to Albania, driven blindfold up a remote mountain road and dumped. When he eventually got back to Germany, his home was deserted and his wife and children had left.

When he made his story public he was subject to vicious attacks on his character and his credibility and it was claimed he was inventing it. He believes the government sought to silence him. He sought a local lawyer and persisted, eventually getting in touch with Mr Goetz of public TV, who had proven his story to be true, traced the CIA agents involved to North Carolina and even interviewed some of them. As a result, Munich state prosecutors released arrest warrants for his CIA kidnappers, but these were never executed. When Wikileaks issued the cables the pressure that had been brought on the German government not to prosecute became plain. [The judge did not prevent Summers from saying this.] We therefore know the US blocked judicial investigation of a crime. The European Court of Human Rights had explicitly relied on the Wikileaks cables for part of its judgement in the case. The Grand Chamber confirmed that he had been beaten, hooded, shackled and sodomised.

There had been no accountability in the USA. The CIA Inspector-General had declined to take action over the case. The ECHR judgement and supporting documentation had been sent to the office of the US Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia – precisely the same office that was now attempting to extradite Assange – and that office had declined to prosecute the CIA officers concerned.

A complaint had been made to the International Criminal Court including the ECHR judgement and the Wikileaks material. In March 2020 the ICC had announced it was opening an investigation. In response US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had declared any non-US citizen who cooperated with that ICC investigation, including officers of the ICC, would be subject to financial and other sanctions.

Finally, el-Masri testified that Wikileaks’ publication had been essential to him in gaining acceptance of the truth of the crime and of the cover-up.

In fact, the impact of Mark Summers’ reading of el-Masri’s statement on the court was enormous. Summers has a real gift for conveying moral force and constrained righteous anger in his tone. I thought the testimony had a definite impression on Judge Baraitser; she showed signs not of discomfort or embarrassment, but of real emotional distress while she was listening intently. Subsequently, two different witnesses, each situated in separate sections of the court from me, both in separate and unprompted conversations with me, told me that they thought that el-Masri’s testimony had really gotten through to the judge. Vanessa Baraitser is after all only human, and this is the first time she has been forced to deal with what this case is actually about.

DEAN YATES

The United States had objected that Mr Yates’ evidence should not include description of the actual content of the Collateral Murder video. I could not hear or understand any rationale why Baraitser agreed to this, but she did so rule, and four times she interrupted Edward Fitzgerald QC while he was reading the “gist” of Yates’ statement, to tell him he must not mention the content of the video.

Edward Fitzgerald read out that Mr Yates was a highly experienced journalist who had been Bureau Chief for Reuters in Baghdad. Early on 12 July 2007 “loud wailing” broke out in their office and he learnt that Namir, a photographer, and Saeed, a driver, had been killed. Namir had left early to cover a reported conflict with militants. Yates could not work out what had happened. A minivan nearby had its front shattered; the US military had taken Namir’s two cameras and refused to release them. The report was thirteen killed and nine injured. There did not appear to be any evidence of a firefight at the scene.

Yates had attended a US military HQ briefing where he was told that a hostile group had been deploying Improvised Explosive Devices in the road. He was shown photographs of machine guns and RPGs allegedly collected from the scene. He was shown three minutes of the video. It showed [Here Baraitser cut Fitzgerald off].
Yates had subsequently submitted a request to the US military to view the whole video, which had been denied. So had requests for the rules of engagement.

When Wikileaks released the Collateral Murder video, in the video Saeed was shown for three minutes crawling and trying to get up, while the Americans watching him remotely were saying “come on buddy, all you’ve got to do is pick up a weapon” so they could shoot him again. The Good Samaritan pulled up to help and the shots were seen destroying his windscreen and car. Edward Fitzgerald kept doggedly reading out bits of Yates’ testimony as Baraitser continually asked him to stop in a manner that was almost pleading.

Yates said that when he saw the video he immediately realised the US had lied to them about what happened. He also immediately wondered how much of that meeting at USHQ had been choreographed.

Something struck Yates very hard later. He had always blamed Namir for peering round the corner with his camera, which had been mistaken for a weapon and therefore caused him to be shot. It was Julian Assange who subsequently made the point that the order to kill Namir had been given before he had peered round the corner. He vividly recalled Assange saying “and if that’s within the RoEs, then the RoEs are wrong.” Yates was glad to absolve Namir but felt a terrible burden of guilt for having blamed him all the while for his own death.

Yates concluded that had it not been for Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, the truth of what had happened to Namir and Saeed would never have been known. Thanks to Wikileaks, their deaths had a profound effect on public opinion.

James Lewis QC stated the American government had no questions but this did not imply the evidence was accepted.

CAREY SHENKMAN

Finally, we turned to the second half of Clair Dobbin’s cross-examination of Carey Shenkman on his testimony on the history of the Espionage Act. This may seem dull, but it has actually been extremely revealing in terms of revealing US government claims of the right to use the Espionage Act (1917) against any journalist, anywhere in the world, who obtains US classified information.

Dobbin opened part 2 by asking Shenkman whether he was seriously arguing that there existed any law that precluded the prosecution of a journalist under the Espionage Act for revealing national security information. Shenkman replied that the law had components; legislation, common law and the constitution, and that these interact. There is a very strong argument that the First Amendment does preclude such prosecution.

Dobbin asked whether any case established this beyond doubt. Shenkman replied that there had never been such a prosecution, so it had never come before the Supreme Court. Dobbin asked whether he accepted that in the New York Times case, the Supreme Court had said such an Espionage Act case could be brought. Shenkman replied that some of the judges had mentioned the possibility in their dicta, but that is not what they were ruling on and they had not heard any arguments before them on the issue.

Dobbin said that the judge in the Rosen case had stated that the New York Times case might have had a different outcome if pursued under the espionage act 79/3/e and such future prosecution was not precluded. Shenkman said the Rosen judgement was an outlier and did not refer to media publication. The Justice Department had decided no further action on Rosen. Shenkman referred her to a 2007 Harvard Law Review article on Rosen. It had been dropped because of First Amendment concerns.

Dobbin tried again and asked Shenkman whether he accepted that the judgement in Rosen found the interpretation of dicta in the New York Post case did not preclude prosecution. Shenkman, who seemed to be enjoying this, said the issue had not been briefed before the Supreme Court. And the Rosen judgement had not been carried through. Dobbin suggested this meant it was arguable both ways. Shenkman replied the Supreme Court judgement in NYT was about prior restraint.

Dobbin then asked Shenkman whether he accepted the fact that the vagueness objection to the Espionage Act had been rejected by the courts in whistleblower cases. Shenkman said there were many and sometimes contradictory cases in different appellate jurisdictions. But these were all cases involving government insiders not journalists.

Dobbin then asked why Shenkman’s witness statement did not make clear that the Espionage Act had been subject to judicial refinement. Shenkman replied that was because he did not think most academics would agree with that. It had been interpreted but not refined. Dobbin said that the effect of the interpretation had been to narrow its scope. She quoted the Rosen judgement again and the Morison judgement. They narrowed the scope to leak of official information that was damaging to the interests of the United States. This was an important new test. The Rosen judgement said this was “a clear safeguard against arbitrary enforcement.”

Shenkman replied that addresses only one particular aspect of the Espionage Act, the definition of national security information, and there had been whole books written on that. Quoting one line of one judgement really did not help. Other aspects were extremely broad. The main problem with the Act was the same legal standard is applied to all categories of recipient – the whistleblower, the publisher, the journalist, the newspaper seller and the reader could all be equally liable.

Dobbin then suggested the prosecution could not be political because it was the court that decides the definition of national security information. Shenkman replied that on the other hand it is the executive that decides what material is classified, who is prosecuted and on what charges. It was not just a matter of prosecution. The Espionage Act could be shown historically to have a chilling effect on important journalism.

Dobbin then asked Shenkman whether he agreed that the provisions under which Assange were tried had never been intended to apply to “classic espionage”. Shenkman said most authorities would reject the idea of a clear and singular intent. Dobbin said that in the Morison case the judgement had rejected the argument that the provision was limited to classic espionage. Shenkman rather wickedly agreed that yes, that judgement had indeed broadened the application of the act – as opposed to refining it. But other judgements were available. Besides, she had asked him about intent. What Congress intended in 1917 and what the Morison court decided were two different things. There had been numerous successful prosecutions of whistleblowers under Obama. Plainly the courts generally accepted that these provisions apply to government insiders. There had never been a prosecution of a journalist or publisher.

Dobbin, who is nothing if not persistent, asked Shenkman if he accepted that the Morison judgement says that only provision 79/4 applies to classic espionage. Shenkman replied that the Morison judgement was a single star in the night sky among myriad points of navigation through these laws. They then got in to discussion of the views of various professors on the subject.

Now I cede to very few in my interest in the details of this case, and certainly I absolutely appreciate the fundamental threat posed by the insistence on the general application of the Espionage Act against journalists as outlined by the prosecution, above all in the current political climate; but it was now late Friday afternoon after a very hard week and I have my limits. I decided to see how many verses of Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy I could recall instead.

When my consciousness groped its way back to the courtroom, Dobbin was putting to Shenkman that the fact that numerous potential prosecutions had been dropped, just proved the act was used responsibly and properly. Shenkman said that was to ignore the chilling effect both in general and in specific threats to prosecute. Chilling caused papers costs, delays and even bankruptcies. President Roosevelt had used the threat of the Espionage Act to suppress independent black newspapers.

Dobbin suggested that in the instances where it had been decided not to prosecute due to the First Amendment, these cases had related to responsible major media titles. Shenkman replied that this was not true at all. Beacon Press, for example, which published the full Pentagon Papers, was a small religious organisation.

Dobbin said none of the past examples resembles Wikileaks. Shenkman again disagreed. There were many striking points of similarity in different cases. Dobbin replied that Wikileaks’ sole purpose and design was to source material from those entitled to receive it and give it to those not entitled to see it. It was solicitation on a mass scale. Shenkman said she was reaching for a distinction. Similarities to the Beacon Press and Amerasia cases were obvious.

Dobbin concluded that Shenkman’s opinion and evidence was “frivolous and nonsensical”.

Mark Summers then re-examined Shenkman. He referred to the Jack Anderson case. Anderson had published entire Top Secret documents, unredacted, in time of war. He had not been prosecuted under the Espionage Act on First Amendment grounds. Shenkman replied yes, and the documents he had published were particularly sensitive communications intelligence (intercepts).

Summers referred to sentences from judgements which Dobbin had invited Shenkman to accept as “uncontrovertible statements of the law” but which were anything but. In the Morison case he pointed out that the two other judges in the case had explicitly contradicted the very sentence Dobbin had quoted. Judge Wilkerson had stated “the First Amendment interest in informed national debate does not simply vanish at the mention of the words “national security””.

Summers said above all the US government now relied on the Rosen judgement. He asked what level of court that had been. Shenkman replied that it was a district court, the lowest level of US court. And the Justice Department had decided against proceeding with it. Finally Summers said that Shenkman had stated there had never been a prosecution, but there had been threats resulting in a chilling effect. What types of people had been threatened with prosecution under the Espionage Act for publishing? Shenkman stated that in every case it was political; opponents of the Presidency, minority groups, pacifists and dissidents.

That concluded the week.

COMMENT

There are numerous serious questions relating to the handling of evidence in this case. I should start by saying that the government of the United States had objected to almost all of the defence evidence. They want the defence witnesses ruled as either not expert (hence the sustained rudeness and attacks) or not relevant. Judge Baraitser had ruled that she will hear all the evidence, and decide only when she comes to judgement, what is and is not admissible.

Against that we then have her decision that the witnesses can only have half an hour of going through their statements before cross-examination. That is against a US government request that witness statements should not be heard before cross-examination at all. Theoretically Baraitser agreed to this, but she let in half an hour to “orient the witness”, which gets the basic facts out there. Baraitser rejected the defence arguments that statements should be read or explained at length by the witness in court, for the benefit of the public, on the basis that the statements are published. But they are not published. The Court does not publish them. It gives copies to journalists registered to cover the trial, but those journalists have no interest in publishing them. The first two days’ witness statements were published here, but for several days they stopped. They seem to have started again on Friday, but this is not satisfactory for the public.

Next we have the specific pieces of evidence that are banned on US objection, like the details of el-Masri’s torture or of the content of the Collateral Murder video. I can understand that it is true that this court is not judging if el-Masri was tortured – in fact that is now established by the ECHR. But plainly his story is relevant to Wikileaks’ defence of necessary publication to prevent crime and enable judicial process. The fact is that the USA wants to avoid the political embarrassment and media publicity of el-Masri’s torture and the events of the Collateral Murder video being detailed in court. Why an English court is complying in this censorship is beyond me.

I am deeply suspicious of the “breakdown” of the videolink making el-Masri’s evidence in person “technically impossible” after days in which the US government tried to block that evidence. I am also deeply suspicious of the strange fact that unlike other witnesses with video problems, there was no rescheduling. Video and sound quality has been deplorable for several defence witnesses. In a world where we have all got used to videocalls this last few months, the extraordinary failure of the court to operate everyday technology is a level of incompetence it is difficult quite to believe in.

Finally and more importantly, what constitutes evidence?

Lewis consistently and repeatedly quotes the words of Luke Harding and David Leigh to witnesses, more or less every day, yet Leigh and Harding are not in the witness box to be cross-examined on their words. As you know, I am absolutely furious that Lewis has been allowed to repeat Harding’s words about the conversation in the El Moro restaurant to witness after witness, but that John Goetz, who was actually part of the conversation and an eyewitness, was not permitted by the court to testify on the subject. That is absolutely ludicrous.

Finally, we have the affidavits submitted by Kromberg and Dwyer on behalf of the US government. These are apparently treated as “evidence”. Lewis specifically categorised Dwyer’s proof free assertion in Dywer’s affidavit that informants had been harmed, as “evidence” this had happened. But how can these affidavits be evidence if the authors cannot be cross-examined on them? One of the defence counsel told me on Friday that Kromberg will not be made available for cross-examination, as though they had just been told of that. It is not right that an affidavit full of highly dodgy statements and propositions should be accepted as evidence if the author cannot be challenged. The whole question of “evidence” in this case needs a fundamental rethink.

On another point, I was very pleased Nicky Hager testified under oath that in the cables he redacted “strictly protect” designation of names was used to prevent political embarrassment, as the prosecution has repeatedly claimed that the 134,000 unclassified and/or redacted cables in the original limited mass cable release by Wikileaks included names marked “strictly protect”. This is not a security classification. As someone who operated the near identical UK system for over 20 years and held the very highest levels of security clearance, and frequently in that period read American material, let me explain to you. Any material which contained the name of someone who would be at risk of death if published, or which would create real and acute danger to the national interest, would by very definition have been classified “Secret” or “Top Secret”, the latter generally relating to intelligence material. All of the Chelsea Manning material was at a level of classification below that.

Furthermore as Daniel Ellsberg pointed out, and I was very well used to, there exists separately to the classification a distribution system which limits who actually gets the material. The Manning material was unlimited in distribution and therefore available literally to tens of thousands of people. That again could not have happened if it contained the dangers now claimed.

“Strictly protect” is nothing to do with security classification, which is what protects national security information. As Hager said, its normal use is to prevent political embarrassment. As in Australasia, it is a term largely used to protect their secret political assets. Here is an example from a Wikileaks cable which I believe is one of those in the specific release which the prosecution is citing.

As you can see, nothing whatsoever to do with the safety of informants in Afghanistan. Much more to do with other objectives.

I am very glad Hager did raise the real use of “strictly protect”, because I have been waiting for the right moment to explain all that.

So that is my account of Friday, published on Monday. It is perhaps fortunate that normally I don’t have the luxury of time in publishing the reports. Otherwise they might all ramble on at this length.

 
 
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Your Man in the Public Gallery: Assange Hearing Day 12 108

A less dramatic day, but marked by a brazen and persistent display of this US Government’s insistence that it has the right to prosecute any journalist and publication, anywhere in the world, for publication of US classified information. This explicitly underlay the entire line of questioning in the afternoon session.

The morning opened with Professor John Sloboda of Iraq Body Count. He is a Professor of Psychology and musicologist who founded Iraq Body Count together with Damit Hardagan, and was speaking to a joint statement by both of them.

Professor Sloboda stated that Iraq Body Count attempted to build a database of civilian deaths in Iraq based on compilation of credible published material. Their work had been recognised by the UN, EU and the Chilcot Inquiry. He stated that protection of the civilian population was the duty of parties at war or in occupation, and targeting of civilians was a war crime.

Wikileaks’ publication of the Iraqi War Logs had been the biggest single accession of material to the Iraq Body Count and added 15,000 more civilian deaths, plus provided extra detail on many deaths which were already recorded. The logs or Significant Activity Reports were daily patrol records, which recorded not only actions and consequent deaths the patrols were involved in, but also deaths which they came across.

After the publication of the Afghan war Logs, Iraq Body Count (IBC) had approached Wikileaks to be involved in the publication of the Iraq equivalent material. They thought they had accumulated a particular expertise which would be helpful. Julian Assange had been enthusiastic and had invited them to join the media consortium involved in handling the material.

There were 400,000 documents in the Iraq war logs. Assange had made very plain that great weight must be placed on document security and with careful redaction to prevent, in particular, names from being revealed which could identify individuals who might come to harm. It was however impossible to redact that volume of documents by hand. So Wikileaks had sought help in developing software that would help. IBC’s Hamit Dardagan had devised the software which solved the problem.

Essentially, this stripped the documents of any word not in the English dictionary. Thus arabic names were removed, for example. In addition other potential identifiers such as occupations were removed. A few things like key acronyms were added to the dictionary. The software was developed and tested on sample batches of telegrams until it worked well. Julian Assange was determined redaction should be effective and resisted pressure from media partners to speed up the process. Assange always meticulously insisted on redaction. On balance, they over-redacted for caution. Sloboda could only speak on the Iraq War Logs, but these were published by Wikileaks in a highly redacted form which was wholly appropriate.

Joel Smith then stood up to cross-examine for the US Government. I am sure Mr Smith is a lovely man. But sadly his looks are against him. You would certainly not enter an alleyway if he were anywhere nearby. The first time I saw him I presumed he was heading for the dock in court 11.

As is the standard prosecution methodology in this hearing, Mr Smith set out to trash the reputation of the witness. [I found this rather ironic, as Iraq Body Count has been rather good for the US Government. The idea that in the chaos of war every civilian death is reported somewhere in local media is obviously nonsense. Each time the Americans flattened Fallujah and everyone in it, there was not some little journalist writing up the names of the thousands of dead on a miraculously surviving broadband connection. Iraq Body Count is a good verifiable minimum number of civilian deaths, but no more, and its grandiose claims have led it to be used as propaganda for the “war wasn’t that bad” brigade. My own view is that you can usefully add a zero to their figures. But I digress.]

Smith established that Sloboda’s qualifications are in psychology and musicology, that he had no expertise in military intelligence, classification and declassification of documents or protection of intelligence sources. Smith also established that Sloboda did not hold a US security clearance (and thus was in illegal possession of the information from the viewpoint of the US government). Sloboda had been given full access to all 400,000 Iraq War Logs shortly after his initial meeting with Assange. They had signed a non-disclosure agreement with the International Committee of Investigative Journalists. Four people at IBC had access. There was no formal vetting process.

To give you an idea of this cross-examination:

Smith Are you aware of jigsaw identification?
Sloboda It is the process of providing pieces of information which can be added together to discover an identity.
Smith Were you aware of this risk in publishing?
Sloboda We were. As I have said, we redacted not just non-English words but occupations and other such words that might serve as a clue.
Smith When did you first speak to Julian Assange?
Sloboda About July 2010.
Smith The Afghan War logs were published in July 2010. How long after that did you meet Assange?
Sloboda Weeks.
…..

Smith You talk of a responsible way of publishing. That would include not naming US informants?
Sloboda Yes.
Smith Your website attributes killings to different groups and factions within the state as well as some outside influences. That would indicate varied and multiple sources of danger to any US collaborators named in the documents.
Sloboda Yes.
Smith Your statement spoke of a steep learning curve from the Afghan war logs that had to be applied to the Iraq war logs. What does that mean?
Sloboda It means Wikileaks felt that mistakes were made in publishing the Afghan war logs that should not be repeated with the Iraq war logs.
Smith Those mistakes involved publication of names of sources, didn’t they?
Sloboda Possibly, yes. Or no. I don’t know. I had no involvement with the Afghan War logs.
Smith You were told there was time pressure to publish?
Sloboda Yes, I was told by Julian he was put under time pressure and I picked it up from other media partners.
Smith And it was IBC who came up with the software solution, not Assange?
Sloboda Yes.
Smith How long did it take to develop the software?
Sloboda A matter of weeks. It was designed and tested then refined and tested again and again. It was not ready by the original proposed publication date of the Iraq war logs, which is why the date was put back.
Smith Redaction then would remove all non-English words. But it would still leave vital clues to identities, like professions? They had to be edited by hand?
Sloboda No. I already said that professions were taken out. The software was written to do that.
Smith It would leave in buildings?
Sloboda No, other words like mosque were specifically removed by the software.
Smith But names which are also English words would be left in. Like Summers, for example.
Sloboda I don’t think there are any Iraqi names which are also English words.
Smith Dates, times, places?
Sloboda I don’t know.
Smith Street names?
Sloboda I don’t know.
[Sloboda was obviously disconcerted by Smith’s quickfire technique and had been rattled into firing back equally speedy and short answers. If you think about it a moment, Iraqi street names are generally not English words.]
Smith Vehicles?
Sloboda I don’t know.
Smith You said at a press conference that you had “merely scratched the surface” in looking at the 400,000 documents.
Sloboda Yes.
Smith You testified that Julian Assange shared your view that the Iraqi war logs should be published responsibly. But in a 2010 recorded interview at the Frontline Club, Mr Assange called it regrettable that informants were at risk, but said Wikileaks only had to avoid potential for unjust retribution; and those that had engaged in traitorous behaviour or had sold information ran their own risk. Can you comment?
Sloboda No. He never said anything like this to me.
Smith He never said he found the process of redaction disturbing?
Sloboda No, on the contrary. He said nothing at all like that to me. We had a complete meeting of minds on the importance of protection of individuals.
Smith Not all the logs related to civilian deaths?
Sloboda No. The logs put deaths in four categories. Civilian, host nation (Iraqi forces and police), friendly nation (coalition forces) and enemy. The logs did not always detail the actions in which deaths occurred. Sometimes the patrols were the cause, sometimes they detailed what they came across. We moved police deaths from the host nation to the civilian category.

[One of the problems I personally have with IBC’s approach is that they accepted US forces’ massive over-description of the dead as “hostile”. Obviously when US forces killed someone they had an incentive to list them as “hostile” and not “civilian”.]

Smith Are you aware that when the Iraq Significant Activity Reports (war logs) were released online in October 2010, they did in fact contain unredacted names of co-operating individuals?
Sloboda No, I am not aware of that.
Smith now read an affidavit from a new player [Dwyer?] which stated that the publication of the SAR’s put co-operating individuals in grave danger. Dwyer purported to reference two documents which contained names. Dwyer also stated that “military and diplomatic experts” confirmed individuals had been put in grave danger.
Smith How do you explain that?
Sloboda I have no knowledge. It’s just an assertion. I haven’t seen the documents referred to.
Smith Might this all be because Mr Assange “took a cavalier attitude to redaction”?
Sloboda No, definitely not. I saw the opposite.
Smith So why did it happen?
Sloboda I don’t know if it did happen. I haven’t seen the documents referred.

That ended Professor Sloboda’s evidence. He was not re-examined by the defence.

I have no idea who “Dwyer” – name as heard – is or what evidential value his affidavit might hold. It is a constant tactic of the prosecution to enter highly dubious information into the record by putting it to witnesses who have not heard of it. The context would suggest that “Dwyer” is a US government official. Given that he claimed to be quoting two documents he was alleging Wikileaks had published online, it is also not clear to me why those published documents were not produced to the court and to Professor Sloboda.

We now come to the afternoon session. I have a difficulty here. The next witness was Carey Shenkman, an academic lawyer in New York who has written a book on the history of the Espionage Act of 1917 and its use against journalists. Now, partly because Shenkman was a lawyer being examined by lawyers, at times his evidence included lots of case names being thrown around, the significance of which was not entirely clear to the layman. I often could not catch the names of the cases. Even if I produced a full transcript, large chunks of it would be impenetrable to those from a non-legal background – including me – without a week to research it. So if this next reporting is briefer and less satisfactory than usual, it is not the fault of Carey Shenkman.

This evidence was nonetheless extremely important because of the clear intent shown by the US government in cross examination to now interpret the Espionage Act in a manner that will enable them to prosecute journalists wholesale.

Shenkman began his evidence by explaining that the 1917 Espionage Act under which Assange was charged dates from the most repressive period in US history, when Woodrow Wilson had taken the US into the First World War against massive public opposition. It had been used to imprison those who campaigned against the war, particularly labour leaders. Wilson himself had characterised it as “the firm hand of stern repression”. Its drafting was extraordinarily broad and it was on its surface a weapon of political persecution.

The Pentagon Papers case had prompted Edgar and Schmidt to write a famous analysis of the Espionage Act published in the Colombia Law Review in 1973. It concluded that there was incredible confusion about the meaning and scope of the law and capacity of the government to use it. It gave enormous prosecutorial discretion on who to prosecute and depended on prosecutors behaving wisely and with restraint. There was no limit on strict liability. The third or fifth receiver in the chain of publication of classified information could be prosecuted, not just the journalist or publisher but the person who sells or even buys or reads the newspaper.

Shenkman went through three historic cases of potential criminal prosecution of media under the Espionage Act. All had involved direct Presidential interference and the active instigation of the Attorney General. All had been abandoned before the Grand Jury stage because the Justice Department had opposed proceeding. Their primary concern had always been how to distinguish media outlets. If you prosecuted one, you had to prosecute them all.

[An aside for my regular readers – that is a notion of fairness entirely absent from James Wolffe, Alex Prentice and the Crown Office in Scotland.]

The default position had become that the Espionage Act was used against the whistleblower but not against the publisher or journalist, even when the whistleblower had worked closely with the journalist. Obama had launched the largest ever campaign of prosecution of whistleblowers under the Espionage Act. He had not prosecuted any journalist for publishing the information they leaked.

Claire Dobbin then rose to cross-examine on behalf of the US Government, which evidently is not short of a penny or two to spend on multiple counsel. Mrs Dobbin looks a pleasant and unthreatening individual. It was therefore surprising that when she spoke, out boomed a voice that you would imagine as emanating from the offspring of Ian Paisley and Arlene Foster. This impression was of course reinforced by her going on to advocate for harsh measures of repression.

Ms Dobbin started by stating that Mr Shenkman had worked for Julian Assange. Shenkman clarified that he had worked in the firm of the great lawyer Michael Ratner, who represented Mr Assange. But that firm had been dissolved on Mr Ratner’s death in 2016 and Shenkman now worked on his own behalf. This all had no bearing on the history and use of the Espionage Act, on which he had been researching in collaboration with a well-established academic expert.

Dobbin than asked whether Shenkman was on Assange’s legal team. He replied no. Dobbin pointed to an article he had written with two others, of which the byline stated that Shenkman was a member of Julian Assange’s legal team. Shenkman replied he was not responsible for the byline. He was a part of the team only in the sense that he had done a limited amount of work in a very junior capacity for Michael Ratner, who represented Assange, that related to Assange. He was “plankton” in Ratner’s firm.

Dobbin said that the article had claimed that the UK was illegally detaining Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy. Shenkman replied that was the view of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, with which he concurred. Dobbin asked if he stood by that opinion. Shenkman stated that he did, but it bore no relationship to his research on the history of the Espionage Act on which he was giving evidence.

Dobbin asked whether, having written that article, he really believed he could give objective evidence as an expert witness. Shenkman said yes he could, on the history of use of the Espionage Act. It was five years since he had left the Ratner firm. Lawyers had all kinds of clients that very loosely related in one way or another to other work they did. They had to learn to put aside and be objective.

Dobbin said that the 2013 article stated that Assange’s extradition to the United States was almost certain. What was the basis of this claim? Shenkman replied that he had not been the main author of that article, with which three people were credited. He simply could not recall that phrase at this time or the thought behind it. He wished to testify on the history of the Espionage Act, of which he had just written the first historical study.

Dobbin asked Shenkman if he was giving evidence pro bono? He replied no, he was appearing as a paid expert witness to speak about the Espionage Act.

Dobbin said that the defence claimed that the Obama administration had taken the decision not to prosecute Assange. But successive court statements showed that an investigation was still ongoing (Dobbin took him through several of these, very slowly). If Assange had really believed the Obama administration had dropped the idea of prosecution, then why would he have stayed in the Embassy?

Shenkman replied that he was very confused why Dobbin would think he had any idea what Assange knew or thought at any moment in time. Why did she keep asking him questions about matters with which he had no connection at all and was not giving evidence?

But if she wanted his personal view, there had of course been ongoing investigations since 2010. It was standard Justice Department practice not to close off the possibility of future charges. But if Holder and Obama had wanted to prosecute, wouldn’t they have brought charges before they left office and got the kudos, rather than leave it for Trump?

Dobbin then asked a three part question that rather sapped my will to live. Shenkman sensibly ignored it and asked his own question instead. “Did I anticipate this indictment? No, I never thought we would see something as political as this. It is quite extraordinary. A lot of scholars are shocked.”

Dobbin now shifted ground to the meat of the government position. She invited Shenkman to agree with a variety of sentences cherry-picked from US court judgements over the years, all of which she purported to show an untrammelled right to put journalists in jail under the Espionage Act. She started with the Morison Case in the fourth appellate circuit and a quote to the effect that “a government employee who steals information is not entitled to use the First Amendment as a shield”. She invited Shenkman to agree. He declined to do so, stating that particular circumstances of each case must be taken into consideration and whistleblowing could not simply be characterised as stealing. Contrary opinions exist, including a recent 9th appellate circuit judgement over Snowden. So no, he did not agree. Besides Morison was not about a publisher. The Obama prosecutions showed the historic pattern of prosecuting the leaker not the publisher.

Dobbin then quoted a Supreme Court decision with a name I did not catch, and a quote to the effect that “the First Amendment cannot cover criminal conduct”. She then fired another case at him and another quote. She challenged him to disagree with the Supreme Court. Shenkman said the exercise she was engaged in was not valid. She was picking individual sentences from judgements in complex cases, which involved very different allegations. This present case was not about illegal wiretapping by the media like one she quoted, for example.

Dobbin then asked Shenkman whether unauthorised access to government databases is protected under the First Amendment. He replied that this was a highly contentious issue. There were, for example, a number of conflicting judgements in different appellate circuits about what constituted unauthorised access.
Dobbin asked if hacking a password hash would be unauthorised access. Shenkman replied this was not a simple question. In the present case, the evidence was the password was not needed to obtain documents. And could she define “hacking” in law? Dobbin said she was speaking in layman’s terms. Shenkman replied that she should not do that. We were in a court of law and he was expected to show extreme precision in his answers. She should meet the same standard in her questions.

Finally Dobbin unveiled her key point. Surely all these contentious points were therefore matters to be decided in the US courts after extradition? No, replied Shenkman. Political offences were a bar to extradition from the UK under UK law, and his evidence went to show that the decision to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act was entirely political.

Mrs Dobbin will resume her cross examination of Mr Shenkman tomorrow.

COMMENT

I have two main points to make. The first is that Shenkman was sent a 180 page evidence bundle from the prosecution on the morning of his testimony, at 3am his time, before giving evidence at 9am. A proportion of this was entirely new material to him. He is then questioned on it. This keeps happening to every witness. On top of which, like almost every witness, his submitted statement addressed the first superseding indictment not the last minute second superseding indictment which introduces some entirely new offences. This is a ridiculous procedure.

My second is that, having been very critical of Judge Baraitser, it would be churlish of me not to note that there seems to be some definite change in her attitude to the case as the prosecution makes a complete horlicks of it. Whether this makes any long term difference I doubt. But it is pleasant to witness.

It is also fair to note that Baraitser has so far resisted strong US pressure to prevent the defence witnesses being heard at all. She has decided to hear all the evidence before deciding what is and is not admissible, against the prosecution desire that almost all the defence witnesses are excluded as irrelevant or unqualified. As she will make that decision when considering her judgement, that is why the prosecution spend so much time attacking the witnesses ad hominem rather than addressing their actual evidence. That may well be a mistake.
 
 
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Your Man in the Public Gallery: Assange Hearing Day 11 90

Yet another shocking example of abuse of court procedure unfolded on Wednesday. James Lewis QC for the prosecution had been permitted gratuitously to read to two previous witnesses with zero connection to this claim, an extract from a book by Luke Harding and David Leigh in which Harding claims that at a dinner at El Moro Restaurant Julian Assange had stated he did not care if US informants were killed, because they were traitors who deserved what was coming to them.

This morning giving evidence was John Goetz, now Chief Investigations Editor of NDR (German public TV), then of Der Spiegel. Goetz was one of the four people at that dinner. He was ready and willing to testify that Julian said no such thing and Luke Harding is (not unusually) lying. Goetz was not permitted by Judge Baraitser to testify on this point, even though two witnesses who were not present had previously been asked to testify on it.

Baraitser’s legal rationale was this. It was not in his written evidence statement (submitted before Lewis had raised the question with other witnesses) so Goetz was only permitted to contradict Lewis’s deliberate introduction of a lie if Lewis asked him. Lewis refused to ask the one witness who was actually present what had happened, because Lewis knew the lie he is propagating would be exposed.

This is my report of Lewis putting the alleged conversation to Clive Stafford Smith, who knew nothing about it:

Lewis then took Stafford Smith to a passage in the book “Wikileaks; Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy”, in which Luke Harding stated that he and David Leigh were most concerned to protect the names of informants, but Julian Assange had stated that Afghan informants were traitors who merited retribution. “They were informants, so if they got killed they had it coming.” Lewis tried several times to draw Stafford Smith into this, but Stafford Smith repeatedly said he understood these alleged facts were under dispute and he had no personal knowledge.

This is my report of James Lewis putting the same quote to Prof Mark Feldstein, who had absolutely no connection to the event:

Lewis then read out again the same quote from the Leigh/Harding book he had put to Stafford Smith, stating that Julian Assange had said the Afghan informants would deserve their fate.

James Lewis QC knew that these witnesses had absolutely no connection to this conversation, and he put it to them purely to get the lie into the court record and into public discourse. James Lewis QC also knows that Goetz was present on the occasion described. The Harding book specifies the exact date and location of the dinner and that it included two German journalists, and Goetz was one of them.

It is plainly contrary to natural justice that a participant in an event introduced into the proceedings should not be allowed to tell the truth about it when those with no connection are, tendentiously, invited to. Whatever the rules of evidence may say, Baraitser and Lewis have here contrived between them a blatant abuse of process. It is a further example of the egregious injustices of this process.

If that does not make you angry, try this. Daniel Ellsberg was to give evidence this afternoon. Edward Fitzgerald QC applied for his videolink evidence to be heard at 3.15pm which is 07.15am in California where Dan lives. Baraitser insisted it could not be put back beyond 2.30 pm, thus forcing an 89 year old man to give evidence at 6.30am. Simply stunning.

As it happens, when Dan is 108 and on his death bed he will still be able to outwit James Lewis QC while reading Moby Dick and playing the ukelele, but the continual and cynical lack of concern for the defence just keeps punching you in the face.

John Goetz was the first witness this morning. Senior Investigations Editor at NDR since 2011, he was at Der Spiegel from 2007-11. He had published a series of articles on German involvement in the Afghan War, including one on a bombing raid on Kunduz which massacred civilians, for which he had won Germany’s highest journalism award. In June 2010 he went to London to meet with Wikileaks and the Guardian to work on the Afghan War Logs.

In a series of meetings in “the bunker” at the Guardian with the NYT and the other major media partners, the partnership was formed whereby all would pool effort in researching the Afghan War Logs but each party would choose and publish his own stories. This cooperative venture between five major news organisations – normally rivals – was unique at the time.

Goetz had been struck by what seemed to him Julian Assange’s obsession with the security of the material. He insisted everything was encrypted and strict protocols were in place for handling the material. This had been new territory for the journalists. The New York Times was tasked with liaison with the White House, the Department of Defence and State Department on questions of handling the material.

Asked by Mark Summers to characterise the Afghan War Logs, Goetz said that they were fascinating first-hand material giving low level reports on actual operations. This was eye witness material which sometimes lacked the larger view. There was abundant first-hand evidence of war crimes. He had worked with Nick Davies of the Guardian on the Task Force 373 story.

Julian Assange had been most concerned to find the names in the papers. He spent a lot of time working out technical ways to identify names in the tens of thousands of documents. Mark Summers asked f he had been looking for the names for the purpose of redaction, and Goetz confirmed it was for redaction. He had interviewed Assange on the harm minimisation programme of the operation.

On behalf of the group Eric Schmitt of the NYT had been speaking to the White House and he had sent an email identifying 15,000 documents the White House did not want published to prevent harm to individuals or to American interests. It was agreed not to publish these documents and they were not published. Summers asked Goetz if he was aware of any names that slipped through, and he replied not.

Goetz was not so involved for family reasons when the consortium went through the same process with the Iraq war logs. But he knew that when a large number of these were released in the USA under a FOIA request, it was seen that Wikileaks had redacted those they released more heavily than the Department of Defense did. Goetz recalled an email from David Leigh of the Guardian stating that publication of some stories was delayed because of the amount of time Wikileaks were devoting to the redaction process to get rid of the “bad stuff”.

Summers then turned to the investigation of Khaled el-Masri. Goetz stated that back in 2005–6 when in his first stint at NDR he had looked into what seemed at the time the extraordinary claims of German citizen el-Masri, who stated that he had been kidnapped in Skopje, flown shackled and hooded around the world, subjected to constant beatings and torture, eventually ending up in what he believed to be a US detention facility in Afghanistan. At the time his claims had seemed difficult to believe.

[If I might interject a personal note here, this is around the time I myself blew the whistle on the torture programme, as a UK ambassador. I was effectively called a liar by then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to parliament who described the extraordinary rendition programme as a “conspiracy theory”. I know how hard it was to be believed then.]

Goetz’s investigations had shown the story to be true. Using rendition flight logs and hotel records, he had even managed to track the actual perpetrators to North Carolina, and had spoken to some of them there. Enough evidence was produced for arrest warrants against 13 American agents or soldiers to be issued in Munich. Summers asked Goetz whether they were arrested. He replied that no, to their surprise, nothing was done to deliver the arrest warrant to the USA.

Then when the Wikileaks diplomatic cables were released, they had been able to see the pressure brought on the German government not to deliver the arrest warrant. The US had told Germany that to do so would have serious repercussions for the US/German relationship.

Summers asked if Goetz was involved in working through the cables for Der Spiegel. Goetz replied he was. In addition to the main media partners, Wikileaks had brought in a second phase of local media partners in the third countries involved, who might better be able both to redact and to know what were the important stories for a local audience. This had introduced some delays which were frustrating for Goetz.

Summers asked how thorough the process of redaction was. Goetz said that the original strict protocols remained in place and he did not know of anybody who had come to any harm. The State Department was actively engaged in the process. P J Crowley and others would call and request redactions and omissions. These were made. Eventually though a decision was taken by the US Government to withdraw cooperation.

Baraitser issued a time warning.

Summers then asked about events leading to the publishing of the unredacted cables. Goetz said this was a complicated process. It started when Luke Harding and David Leigh published a book in February 2011 containing the password to the online cache of encrypted cables. This was discussed on various mirroring sites, and eventual publication of the full cache by Cryptome after Der Freitag became involved. Cryptome was at that time very well known and an important source for journalists.

Summers then asked about the breakdown of relationships between Wikileaks and the Guardian. It was at this point that Baraitser ruled that Summers was not allowed to ask about what happened at the dinner he attended at El Moro restaurant. Summers made a formal request, as Lewis had introduced the subject with other witnesses who unlike Goetz had not been there. Lewis objected, and Baraitser said no.

James Lewis QC then cross-examined for the US Government and went straight to the publication of unredacted cables by Wikileaks in August and September 2011. Goetz referred to his earlier evidence on the releasing of the password, and said that Cryptome published first. Lewis countered that on 29 August 2011 Wikileaks had released 133,877 cables together with a statement that this was done “in accordance with Wikileaks’ commitment to maximising impact and making information available to all”. This was two days before Cryptome published.

A rather chaotic period ensued. Julian cried out from the dock that this was a misquote. He was warned he would be excluded from court by Baraitser. It turned out it was a misquote, and what I give above is the corrected version. There was then some rather confused questioning between Goetz and Lewis, of which the upshot was that those were unclassified and/or redacted cables (a quarter of the cache). Goetz said he could not comment to Lewis’s suggestion that some had names marked “strictly protect”.

Lewis suggested that after the collaboration, the material was just dumped. Goetz said no. Wikileaks had invested a lot of time, money and staff resources in the programme and from detailed discussions he knew they intended it to continue to roll out for at least another year. Then Cryptome had published.

Lewis quoted from a Guardian article of 1 September in which the original media partners, including Der Spiegel, condemned the release of the unredacted documents. He asked Goetz whether the 15,000 withheld cables had also been “dumped”? Goetz replied they were not cables, they were Afghan war logs, and no, not to his knowledge.

Lewis then said there was evidence that called Assange thoughtful, humorous and energetic. Did Goetz agree? He said yes. Lewis then quoted Christine Assange on what a good father her son was, and invited Goetz to comment. Goetz replied he was in no position to know.
[It is hard to explain this somewhat sinister finishing questioning. Possibly to counter psychiatric evidence?]

In re-examination by Mark Summers, Goetz stated that while the cables redaction process was going on, no names at risk had been published. To his knowledge, nobody had ever been harmed as a result of publication. He knew from his close involvement that Assange had tried very hard to prevent the publication of the unredacted cables. He had pleaded with Der Freitag.

In the afternoon, the witness was Dan Ellsberg, doyen of whistleblowers. Born in Chicago in 1931, he was educated at Harvard and Cambridge. He served in the Marines from 1954–7, and from 1964–5 was Special Assistant to the US Secretary of Defence. He was then involved in the making of an official classified 47-volume report entitled History of Decision Making in Vietnam.

Ellsberg briefly explained that the report showed that the war in Vietnam had been both continued in the knowledge that it could not be won. It showed that both the public and Congress had repeatedly been lied to. He had leaked the report to lawmakers and then the public as The Pentagon Papers. This had resulted in the famous case on prior restraint on publication. There had also been a less well-known criminal case against him personally under the Espionage Act. This had been dismissed with prejudice by the court.

Asked by Edward Fitzgerald to comment on the Wikileaks/Manning publication on Afghanistan, Ellsberg replied that he saw extremely strong parallels with his own case. These papers had the capability of informing the public of the progress of the war and the limited possibility that it could be brought to a successful conclusion at all. The Afghan War Logs showed operational-level information not a wider view, but the effect was similar. He strongly identified with both the source and the process of publication.

Fitzgerald then asked Ellsberg whether Assange held political opinions relevant to this publication. Ellsberg said it was absurd for the prosecution to argue otherwise. He had himself been motivated by his political views in his publication and Assange’s views were very similar. He had held very interesting discussions with Assange and felt a great affinity with him. They both believed that there was a great lack of transparency to the public over government decisions. The public were fed much information that was false.

When the public had so little genuine information and were fed so much false information, real democracy was not possible. An example was the Iraq War, clearly an illegal war of aggression in breach of the UN charter, sold on lies to the public.

The Afghan War Logs were similar to low-level reports Ellsberg had himself written in Vietnam. It was the same thing; the invasion and occupation of a foreign country against the wishes of the majority of its population. That could only bring defeat or endless conflict: 19 years so far. The war logs had exposed a pattern of war crimes: torture, assassination and death squads. The one thing that had changed since Vietnam was that these things were now so normalised they were classified below Top Secret.

All the Pentagon Papers were Top Secret. None of the Wikileaks documents were. They were not just below Top Secret, they had no restricted distribution classifications. This meant that by definition there should be nothing genuinely sensitive, and certainly not life-endangering, in papers of this classification.

Fitzgerald asked him about the Collateral Murder video. Ellsberg stated that it definitely showed murder, including the deliberate machine gunning of a wounded and unarmed civilian. That it was murder was undoubted. The dubious word was “collateral”, which implies accidental. What was truly shocking about it was the Pentagon reaction that these war crimes were within the Rules of Engagement. Which permitted murder.

Edward Fitzgerald asked whether Ellsberg was allowed to put forward the question of intention at his trial. He replied no, the distribution of classified material outside those designated to receive it was an offence of strict liability under the 1917 Espionage Act. This was absolutely inappropriate to trials of whistleblowers. “I did not get a fair trial and nor have recent whistleblowers in the USA. Julian Assange could not get a fair trial.”

Cross-examining for the US Government, James Lewis QC asked Ellsberg to confirm that at the time he copied the Pentagon Papers he was working for the Rand Corporation. He said yes. Lewis said that Assange was not being prosecuted for publication of the Collateral Murder video. Ellsberg said that the Collateral Murder video was essential to an understanding of the Rules of Engagement. Lewis countered that Assange was not being charged for publication of the Rules of Engagement. He was only being charged for publication of unredacted names of those who might come to harm.

Ellsberg replied that he had read the superseding indictment and that Assange was being charged with obtaining, receiving and possession of material including the Rules of Engagement and the Collateral Murder video, and all the documents. On publishing, he was only charged with the names. Lewis said the other charges related to conspiracy with Chelsea Manning. Ellsberg replied “Yes. They are still charges.”

Ellsberg quoted US Assistant Attorney Gordon Kromberg stating that prosecution was for documents up to Secret level containing the names of those “who risked their lives and freedom while helping the USA”. Lewis contrasted this with Ellsberg “when you published the Pentagon Papers you were very careful what you gave to the media”. Ellsberg replied that he withheld three or four volumes not to cause difficulties to diplomatic efforts to end the war.

Lewis suggested he was protecting individuals. Ellsberg said no; if he released those documents, the US government might have used it as an excuse to exit diplomacy and continue the war. Lewis asked if there were names in the Pentagon Papers that would risk harm to them. Ellsberg replied yes. In one case, a clandestine CIA agent was named, involved in the CIA assassination of a major Vietnamese politician. He was a personal friend of Ellsberg and Ellsberg had thought hard about it, but had left him in.

Lewis Asked Ellsberg whether he had read the article “Why Wikileaks is Not the Pentagon Papers” by Floyd Abrams, who had represented the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case. Ellsberg replied he had read several articles like this by Abrams. He did not know Abrams. He had only been involved in the civil case, not the criminal one. He had seen him once, at an awards ceremony long after.

Lewis said that Abrams had written that Ellsberg had withheld four volumes, whereas “can anyone doubt” that Assange would have published all of them? Ellsberg replied he disagreed, Abrams had never had one minute of discussion with him or Assange. “He does not understand my motives at all in his article”. The position he outlines is widely held by those who want to criticise Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden while pretending to be liberal.

What he writes is simply untrue. Julian Assange withheld 15,000 files. He went through a long, hard process of redaction. He requested help from both the State Department and Department of Defence on redaction. I have no doubt Julian would have removed the volumes as I did, in my place. He had no intention to name names.

Ten years later, the US Government has still not been able to name one single individual who was actually harmed by the Wikileaks releases. I was shocked that Kromberg should make that allegation while offering no evidence. As nobody was hurt, clearly the risk was never as high as they claimed – as indeed the document classification would tell you.

They said exactly the same of me. They said CIA agents and those helping the USA would be hurt. “They said I would have blood on my hands.”

There now followed an extraordinary “question” from James Lewis QC who was permitted to read out about 11 paragraphs from various locations in one of Kromberg’s rambling affidavits, in which Kromberg said that as a result of Wikileaks publication, some US sources had had to leave their homeland, go into hiding, or change their names, in a number of countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, China and Ethiopia. Some individuals in Afghanistan and Iraq had subsequently disappeared. The Taliban were on record as saying that those who cooperated with US forces would be killed. One Ethiopian journalist was forced to flee Ethiopia after being named as a US source. The US Embassy in China reported threats had been made against some of their named Chinese sources. Wikileaks material was found in the possessions of Osama Bin Laden after he was shot. Lewis asked in a furious voice “How can you possibly, honestly say that nobody was harmed?”
Ellsberg With all these people who felt they were in danger, of course I am sorry it was inconvenient for them, and that is regrettable. But was any one of them actually physically harmed? Did one of them actually suffer the claimed physical consequences?
Lewis You call it regrettable that people were put at risk. Is it your position that there was absolutely no harm caused by the publication of the names of these individuals?
Ellsberg Assange’s actions are absolutely antithetical to the notion that he deliberately published these names. Had hundreds been harmed, that would count against the great good done by publication of the information. No evidence is produced that any actual harm came to them. But his has to be put in the context of the policies which Assange was trying to change, invasions that led to 37 million refugees and 1 million deaths. Of course some people could not be located again in a war that killed a million people and displaced 37 million. The government is extremely hypocritical to pretend a concern for them against their general contempt for Middle Eastern lives. They had even refused to help redact the names. This is a pretence at concern.
Lewis What about the disappeared? Is it not common sense that some had been forced to disappear or flee under another name?
Ellsberg It does not seem to me that that small percentage of those named who may have been murdered or fled, can necessarily be attributed as a result of Wikileaks, when they are in among more than 1 million who have been murdered and 37 million who have fled.

Lewis then asked Ellsberg if it was true he had held an encrypted back up copy of the Manning material for Assange. Ellsberg replied it was; it had subsequently been physically destroyed.

In re-examination, Fitzgerald took Ellsberg to a passage in the Kromberg affidavit which stated that the US Government could not positively attribute any death to the Wikileaks material. Ellsberg said that was his understanding, and had been said at the Manning trial. He was shocked. It was just like Iraqi WMD. He had at first been inclined to believe the government on Iraqi WMD, just as he had first been inclined to believe the government on deaths caused by Wikileaks releases. In both cases it had proved they were making it up.

COMMENT

The court heard a great deal more truth than it could handle today, and great effort was put into excluding more truth. The US Government succeeded in preventing John Goetz eyewitness contradicting their promulgation of Luke Harding’s lie about what Assange said at El Moro. The US Government also objected, successfully so far, to Khaled el-Masri’s giving evidence on the grounds that he will allege he was tortured in the USA. Given that the European Court of Human Rights and the German courts had both found el-Masri’s story to be true, only in the wacky world of Lewis and Baraitser could it be considered wrong for him to tell the truth in court.

Please share this article by every means at your disposal as all of us reporting this truthfully are suffering extreme social media shadow banning and other suppression.
 
 
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Your Man in the Public Gallery: Assange Hearing Day 10 103

The gloves were off on Tuesday as the US Government explicitly argued that all journalists are liable to prosecution under the Espionage Act (1917) for publishing classified information, citing the Rosen case. Counsel for the US government also argued that the famous Pentagon Papers supreme court judgement on the New York Times only referred to pre-publication injunction and specifically did not preclude prosecution under the Espionage Act. The US Government even surmised in court that such an Espionage Act prosecution of the New York Times may have been successful.

It is hard for me to convey to a British audience what an assault this represents by the Trump administration on Americans’ self-image of their own political culture. The First Amendment is celebrated across the political divide and the New York Times judgement is viewed as a pillar of freedom. So much so that Hollywood’s main superstars are still making blockbusters about it, in which the heroes are the journalists rather than the actual whistleblower, Dan Ellsberg (whom I am proud to know).

The US government is now saying, completely explicitly, in court, those reporters could and should have gone to jail and that is how we will act in future. The Washington Post, the New York Times, and all the “great liberal media” of the USA are not in court to hear it and do not report it, because of their active complicity in the “othering” of Julian Assange as something sub-human whose fate can be ignored. Are they really so stupid as not to understand that they are next?

Err, yes.

The prosecution’s line represented a radical departure from their earlier approach which was to claim that Julian Assange is not a journalist and to try and distinguish between his behaviour and that of newspapers. In the first three days of evidence, legal experts had stated that this gloss on the prosecution did not stand up to investigation of the actual charges in the indictment. Experts in journalism also testified that Assange’s relationship with Manning was not materially different from cultivation and encouragement by other journalists of official sources to leak.

By general consent, those first evidence days had gone badly for the prosecution. There was then a timeout for (ahem) suspected Covid among the prosecution team. The approach has now changed and on Tuesday a radically more aggressive approach was adopted by the prosecution asserting the right to prosecute all journalists and all media who publish classified information under the Espionage Act (1917).

The purpose of the earlier approach was plainly to reduce media support for Assange by differentiating him from other journalists. It had become obvious such an approach ran a real risk of failure, if it could be proved that Assange is a journalist, which line was going well for the defence. So now we have “any journalist can be prosecuted for publishing classified information” as the US government line. I strongly suspect that they have decided they do not have to mitigate against media reaction, as the media is paying no attention to this hearing anyway.

I shall now continue my exposition of the questioning of Eric Lewis. I shall not set out as much of this in full detail as dialogue as I did yesterday, but will do so at key points in the summary.

James Lewis QC Returning to the European Court of Human Rights judgement in the case of Babar Ahmad, you state that their finding that solitary confinement is permissible did not take into account more recent studies such as the 2020 Danish study by Wildeman and Andersen. Do you say this study would have reversed the ECHR decision?
Eric Lewis That is impossible to say. I hope that if the ECHR had before it the large body of evidence on solitary confinement available today, the judgement may have been different.
James Lewis QC What are the five limitations to their study which Wildemann and Andersen mention?
Eric Lewis I don’t have it in front of me.
James Lewis QC Why did you not mention the five limitations in your report? They state that their methodology is strictly observational and cannot be used to prove cause and effect.
[The report in effect shows a much higher suicide rate post-incarceration among those who had been subjected to solitary confinement, from a very large sample of ex-prisoners.]
Eric Lewis I could have written hundreds of pages on recent social sciences developments on solitary confinement. This is just one such report.
James Lewis QC You were just fishing about for something, omitting details which counter your opinion.
Eric Lewis There is a huge amount of data, including from the US Bureau of Prisons. You just picked out one caveat of one report.
James Lewis QC Please keep your answers concise. The situation has changed due to the Cunningham Mitigation. Do you know what that is?
Eric Lewis Yes
James Lewis QC Why did you not mention it in your report?
Eric Lewis Because it is not relevant. A number of recommendations were set out, which have not been implemented in practice.
James Lewis QC Gordon Kromberg has produced the Cunningham Mitigation for us. In November 2016, in settlement of an 8th Amendment claim, it was admitted that conditions for mental health treatment in the Florence Colorado ADX are unsatisfactory and a large number of measures were agreed. Do you agree with Mr Kromberg that the Cunningham Mitigation has improved matters.?
Eric Lewis In some ways it has improved matters, in other ways things have gotten worse.

James Lewis QC then proceeded to state in response to Eric Lewis’s written statement on Covid, that Gordon Kromberg affirmed that as of 2 September there was no Covid in the Alexandra Detention Centre where Assange would be kept pre-trial. Eric Lewis countered that levels of Covid in federal prisons in the USA are 18%.

James Lewis QC You stated in the press that the maximum sentence is 340 years when now you state it is only 175 years. You miscalculated didn’t you? You took 20 years per count as the base when it should be 10.
Eric Lewis It was a mistake in an interview.
James Lewis QC You don’t really believe in 175 years maximum sentence, do you? It’s just a soundbite.
Eric Lewis started to answer and James Lewis QC cut him off. Edward Fitzgerald rose and objected that the witness must be allowed to answer. Baraitser agreed.
Eric Lewis The US government has called this one of the biggest cases in history. Espionage convictions frequently attract long sentences. Pompeo has categorised Wikileaks as a hostile intelligence agency. The government asked for 60 years for Chelsea Manning. I considered the charges in relation to the official sentencing guidelines.
James Lewis QC. Gordon Kromberg has testified that only a tiny fraction of all federal defendants attract the maximum sentence. The sentencing guidelines stipulate no unwarranted disparity with similar convictions. Jeffrey Sterling was a CIA agent convicted of selling secrets on Iran to Russia. He had faced a possible maximum sentence of 130 years, but had received only 42 months.
Eric Lewis The prosecution asked for a much longer sentence. In fact that was a very unique case not comparable…
James Lewis QC Why did you not give a realistic estimate and not a soundbite?

[In fact James Lewis’ categorisation of the Jeffrey Sterling case is entirely tendentious and it is hardly a sensible comparator. Sterling was a rare black CIA officer, involved in a long and bitter dispute with his employer over racial discrimination, convicted on purely circumstantial evidence of giving information to an American journalist about a completed CIA operation to leak false Iranian plans to Russia. Sterling was not accused of leaking to Russia. The entire case was very dubious.]

Eric Lewis I followed sentencing guidelines. I gave what I calculated as the statutory maximum, 175 years, and an estimate from my experience of the very lightest sentence he could expect, 20 years. Sterling got well below the guidelines and the judge explained why.

James Lewis QC now ran through a couple more cases, and stated that the longest sentence ever given for unlawful disclosure to the media was 63 months – presumably not counting Chelsea Manning. Eric Lewis replied that the specific charges laid in the Assange indictment relate to disclosure to a foreign power, not to the media, and of information helpful to the enemy. Sentences for the counts Assange was charged on were much higher.

James Lewis QC stated that sentencing was by an independent federal judge who had life tenure, to free them from political influence. There was brief to and fro about the circumstances in which a federal judge might be impeached. The judge assigned the Assange case was Claude Hilton, who had been on the bench since 1985. James Lewis QC challenged Eric Lewis as to whether he thought Claude Hilton was fair, and Eric Lewis replied that Hilton had a reputation as a heavy sentencer.

James Lewis QC then asked Eric Lewis whether he accepted that the US Department of Justice had sentencing principles in place which specifically guarded against unnecessarily long prison sentences. Eric Lewis replied that the USA had the highest percentage of its population in jail of any country in the world.

Counsel for the US Government James Lewis QC then stated he would turn to the First Amendment issue.

James Lewis QC You suggest that the First Amendment precludes this prosecution.
Eric Lewis Yes, There has never been a prosecution of a publisher under the Espionage Act for publication of classified information.
James Lewis QC Are you familiar with the Rosen Case of 2006. This was precisely the same charge as Assange now faces, 793 (g) of the Espionage Act, conspiracy to transmit classified information to those not entitled to receive it. Have you read the case?
Eric Lewis Not in a long while, because ultimately it was not proceeded with.

[James Lewis read through lengthy extracts of the Rosen judgement, which I do not have in front of me and was unable to get down verbatim. What follows is therefore gist not transcript].

James Lewis QC In the Rosen case, it is made plain that the receiver, not just the discloser, is liable to prosecution under the Espionage Act. The judge noted that although the Espionage Act of 1917 had been criticised for vagueness, Congress had never felt the need to clarify it. It also noted that much of the alleged vagueness had been resolved in various judicial interpretations. It noted the fourth circuit had rejected a first amendment defence in the case of Morison.
Eric Lewis Morison is different. He was a leaker not a publisher.
James Lewis QC The Rosen judgement also goes on to state that vagueness does not come into play where there is clear evidence of intent.
Eric Lewis When you consider the 100 year old Espionage Act and that there has never been a prosecution of a publisher, then intent…
James Lewis QC [interrupting] I want to move on from intent to the First Amendment. There are supreme court judgements that make it clear that at times the government’s interest in national security must override the First Amendment.
Eric Lewis In times of imminent danger and relating to immediate and direct damage to the interests of the United States. It is a very high bar.
James Lewis QC The Rosen judgement also notes that the New York Times Pentagon Papers case was about injunction not prosecution. “The right to free speech is not absolute”.
Eric Lewis Of course. The arguments are well rehearsed. Movement of troop ships in time of war, for example; cases of grave and immediate danger. In the Pentagon Papers Ellsberg was, like Assange, accused of putting named US agents at risk. The bar for overriding the First Amendment is set very high.
James Lewis QC [Reading out from a judgement which I think is still the Rosen judgement but it was referred to only by bundle page.] He also notes that serial, continuing disclosure of secrets which harm the national interest cannot be justified. It therefore follows that journalists can be prosecuted. Is that what he says, Mr Lewis?
Eric Lewis Yes, but he is wrong.
James Lewis QC Do you accept that the Pentagon Papers judgement is the most relevant one?
Eric Lewis Yes, but there are others.
James Lewis QC A close reading of the Pentagon Papers judgement shows that the New York Times might have been successfully prosecuted. Three of the Supreme Court judges specifically stated that an Espionage Act prosecution could be pursued for publication.
Eric Lewis They recognised the possibility of a prosecution. They did not say that it would succeed.
James Lewis QC So your analysis that there cannot be a prosecution of a publisher on First Amendment grounds is incorrect.

Eric Lewis gave a lengthy answer to this, but the sound on the videolink had been deteriorating and had in the public gallery become just a series of electronic sounds. The lawyers carried on, so perhaps they could hear, but I know Julian could not because I saw him trying to communicate this to his lawyers through the bulletproof glass screen in front of him. He had difficulty in doing this as he was behind them, and they had their backs to him and eyes fixed on the video screen.

James Lewis QC I challenge you to name one single judgement that states a publisher may never be prosecuted for disclosing classified information?

Eric Lewis gave another long answer that appear to reel off a long list of cases and explain their significance, but again I could hear only a few disjointed words. The sound eventually improved a bit.

Eric Lewis There has been an unbroken line of the practice of non-prosecution of publishers for publishing national defence information. Every single day there are defence, foreign affairs and national security leaks to the press. The press are never prosecuted for publishing them.
James Lewis QC The United States Supreme Court has never held that a journalist cannot be prosecuted for publishing national defence information.
Eric Lewis The Supreme Court has never been faced with that exact question. Because a case has never been brought. But there are closely related cases which indicate the answer.
James Lewis QC Do you accept that a government insider who leaks classified information may be prosecuted?
Eric Lewis Yes.
James Lewis QC Do you accept that a journalist may not aid such a person to break the law?
Eric Lewis No. It is normal journalistic practice to cultivate an official source and encourage them to leak. Seymour Hersh would have to be prosecuted under such an idea.
James Lewis QC Do you accept that a journalist may not have unauthorised access to the White House?
Eric Lewis Yes.

James Lewis then started to quote a judgement on White House access, then appeared to drop it. He then said he was turning to the question of whether this was a political extradition.
James Lewis QC Do you have any qualifications in social science?
Eric Lewis I have a degree in Public International Affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School of International Relations.
James Lewis QC Have you published any peer reviewed publications?
Eric Lewis No.
James Lewis QC You opined in another extradition case, that of Dempsey, that it was based upon political opinion. The High Court of England described your evidence as “pure conjecture”.
Eric Lewis Yes, that was their view. Dempsey was en route to Syria and approached at an airport by FBI agents. He explained to them that he was going to Syria to work with an anti-Assad group. Nothing was done. But by 2016 policy towards Assad had changed and Dempsey was charged. My evidence was about a change of policy, not political opinions.
James Lewis QC Turning to the expert evidence of Prof Feldstein last week, do you agree with his statement that while the Obama administration did not take the decision to prosecute, he did not take the decision not to prosecute. Do you agree?
Eric Lewis No. I believe that is predicated on a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Justice Department works.
James Lewis QC Do you have first-hand knowledge or sources for your opinion?
Eric Lewis No.
James Lewis QC So your information is only from newspapers.
Eric Lewis And TV interviews and statements.
James Lewis QC Statements like those from Matthew Miller who had left the Justice Department two years before he spoke to the Washington Post?
Eric Lewis Yes, but he remained close to Attorney General Eric Holder.
James Lewis QC Do you agree with Gordon Kromberg that prosecuting decisions are taken in line with federal guidelines that preclude political prosecution?
Eric Lewis No. Not under William Barr. The system is now top down political prosecution.
James Lewis QC So you claim the guidelines are not followed?
Eric Lewis I do. So do the 2,600 former federal prosecutors who called for Barr’s resignation and the 1,000 former prosecutors who protested the Roger Stone commutation. Or Judge Gleeson in his reports on political prosecution decisions.
James Lewis QC Do you accuse Gordon Kromberg of bad faith?
Eric Lewis I don’t know him. But I do know there is disclosure of heavy political pressure in this case.

There followed some discussion on Trump’s changing relationship with Wikileaks over the years, and also of the Classified Information Protection Act and whether it hampers the defence in disclosure and in taking instruction from the accused. This was to be discussed in greater detail with the next witness.

Edward Fitzgerald then led the witness in re-examination. He asked Eric Lewis to mention the television interviews he had referred to in noting the political change from Obama to Trump. Eric Lewis cited Sarah Sanders saying “we did something” and contrasting this with Obama’s inaction, and Eric Holder stating that they had decided not to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act as he was not acting for a foreign power.

Edward Fitzgerald then asked about the pressure put on prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia to bring the present prosecution. Eric Lewis referred to the article by Adam Goldman in the New York Times to this effect. Ten days after this article the Justice Department stated it was a priority to prosecute Assange.

Lewis explained that William Barr had made explicit that prosecution was subject to political direction. He subscribed to the Unitary Executive Theory and held that all prosecution decisions were by or on behalf of the President. Barr had set this out in a memo that stated directly that prosecutors were “merely the hand” of the Presidency. This was not theory. This was how the Justice Department was now run. Many federal prosecutors had resigned. Many had refused to touch the Assange prosecution. “Mr Kromberg, as is his right, did not.”

Edward Fitzgerald then noted that James Lewis had queried Eric Lewis’s qualifications to comment on prison conditions. Yet for the prosecution, US Assistant Attorney Gordon Kromberg had submitted voluminous comments on prison conditions. Did Mr Kromberg have academic qualifications in penology as required by James Lewis? Eric Lewis replied that he believed not, and certainly he had no doubt he himself had greatly more practical experience of prison conditions than Mr Kromberg. Mr Kromberg’s exposition of official policy was doubtless correct, but it bore no relation to the actual conditions in jails.

On solitary confinement, Edward Fitzgerald outlined the UN’s Mandela rules, under which 22 hours or more in a cell a day and no significant human contact constitute solitary confinement. Lewis replied that the SAM regime would definitely breach the Mandela rules.

The next witness was Mr Thomas Durkin. He is an attorney practising for 47 years, licensed to appear in the Supreme Court. From 1973–8 he was a US Assistant Attorney and since then has been in private practice. He teaches law at Loyola and has received a lifetime achievement award from the Illinois Association of Criminal Lawyers. He also appeared by videolink.

Edward Fitzgerald asked Mr Durkin about the special problems of cases working with classified materials. Durkin said that the biggest problem is that you cannot discuss classified disclosure material with your client. You can only look at the material on a special computer in a secure location – a SCIF – and have to prepare your material there. Mr Assange will not know what his lawyers have learned, and nor will they be able to ask him what the material relates to or signifies. This is an incredibly difficult hardship in taking instructions and preparing a defence.

Edward Fitzgerald asked Mr Durkin if there is a real chance that Julian Assange will receive an effective rest-of-life jail sentence. Durkin replied that this was a very likely possibility. Looking through the counts and the enhancements that might apply, he would rate the offences at 38, 40 or 43 points on the sentencing scale. That would put the range at 235 months to life, and there were multiple counts that could be sentenced consecutively. Durkin said that based on his extensive experience of national security trials, he would expect a sentence of 30 to 40 years. The government position was that Assange was more to blame than Manning. They had asked for 60 years for Chelsea Manning.

Edward Fitzgerald then asked about the effect of the plea bargaining system. Thomas Durkin replied that an early guilty plea reduced the sentencing score by three points. That could make several years difference in sentence. But much more important was the freedom of the prosecution to reduce the counts charged in exchange for a guilty plea. That could make a massive difference – potentially from 100 years plus to ten years, for example. The system greatly reduced freedom of choice and was a massive disincentive to stand trial. People just could not take the risk. A large majority of Durkin’s clients now took a plea deal.

Mr Durkin agreed with a suggestion from Edward Fitzgerald that a condition of a plea deal for Julian Assange was likely to be that he gave up the names of Wikileaks’ sources.

Edward Fitzgerald asked Mr Durkin whether there had been a political decision by the Trump administration to prosecute Assange. Durkin said there were no new criminal justice considerations that had caused the change in approach. This was most likely a political decision.

Edward Fitzgerald asked Durkin about Gordon Kromberg’s assertion that a Grand Jury was a powerful bulwark against a political prosecution. Durkin replied this was simply untrue. A grand jury virtually never refused to authorise a prosecution. In the whole of the USA, there was generally about one refusal every four or five years.

James Lewis then started cross-examination. He asked if Durkin was saying that Assange would not receive a fair trial in the US, or just that it was difficult? Durkin replied that Julian Assange would not get a fair trial in the USA.

Lewis suggested that the requirement to see classified material in a SCIF was merely an inconvenience. Durkin said it was much more than that. You could not discuss material with your client, which materially limited your understanding of it. James Lewis countered that US Assistant Attorney Kromberg’s affidavit stated that Assange would be able to see some classified material himself. A classified facility would be available for him to meet his attorneys. Durkin said he did not accept this description. He had never seen anything like this happen.

Lewis then said Durkin’s statement was that there will be an unprecedented volume of classified material disclosed in this prosecution. But he could not know that. He had no idea what would be disclosed or what the defence would be, if any. Durkin replied that much could be understood from the extensive indictment and from what happened in the Chelsea Manning case. Lewis repeated Durkin did not know what would happen. Assange might plead guilty.

Lewis suggested the plea bargain system was in essence the same in England, where defendants could get one third off sentence for a guilty plea. Durkin said plea bargaining in the US went far beyond that. The government could put a big offer on the table in terms of reductions of charges and counts.

Lewis then went to the question of a change of policy between the Obama and Trump administrations. He established that Durkin relied on media reports for his view on this. Durkin pointed out that the Washington Post report of 25 November 2013 that the Obama administration would not prosecute, had quoted multiple former and then current Justice Department employees and crucially no denial or counter briefing had ever been forthcoming. It had never been contradicted.

That was the end of Tuesday’s hearing. In conclusion I need to correct something I published yesterday, that there were only three journalists in the video gallery to cover the trial. James Doleman led me to another hidden nest of them and there are about ten in total. The main titles are inexcusably unrepresented, but press agencies are, even if their feed is being little used.
 
 
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Your Man in the Public Gallery: Assange Hearing Day 9 94

Things became not merely dramatic in the Assange courtroom today, but spiteful and nasty. There were two real issues, the evidence and the procedure. On the evidence, there were stark details of the dreadful regime Assange will face in US jails if extradited. On the procedure, we saw behaviour from the prosecution QC that went well beyond normal cross examination and was a real attempt to denigrate and even humiliate the witness. I hope to prove that to you by a straightforward exposition of what happened today in court, after which I shall add further comment.

Today’s witness was Eric Lewis. A practising US attorney for 35 years, Eric Lewis has a doctorate in law from Yale and a masters in criminology from Cambridge. He is former professor in law at Georgetown University, an elected member of both the American Law Institute and the Council on Foreign Relations and a fellow of the American Bar Foundation. He is Chairman of Reprieve. He has represented high profile clients in national security and terrorism cases, including Seymour Hersh and Guantanamo Bay internees.

Lewis had submitted five statements to the court, between October 2019 and August 2020, addressing the ever-changing indictments and charges brought by the prosecution. He was initially led through the permitted brief half-hour summary of his statements by defence QC Edward Fitzgerald. (I am told I am not currently allowed to publish the defence statements or links to them. I shall try to clarify this tomorrow.)

Eric Lewis testified that no publisher had ever been successfully prosecuted for publishing national security information in the USA. Following the Wikileaks publications including the diplomatic cables and the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, Assange had not been prosecuted because the First Amendment was considered insuperable and because of the New York Times problem – there was no way just to prosecute Assange without prosecuting the New York Times for publishing the same material. The New York Times had successfully pleaded the First Amendment for its publication of the Pentagon Papers, which had been upheld in a landmark Supreme Court judgement.

Lewis here gave evidence that mirrored that already reported of Prof Feldstein, Trevor Timm and Prof Rogers, so I shall not repeat all of it. He said that credible sources had stated the Obama administration had decided not to prosecute Assange, notably Matthew Miller, a highly respected Justice Department figure who had been close to Attorney General Holder and would have been unlikely to brief the media without Holder’s knowledge and approval.

Eric Lewis then gave testimony on the change of policy towards prosecuting Assange from the Trump administration. Again this mostly mirrored the earlier witnesses. He added detail of Mike Pompeo stating the free speech argument for Wikileaks was “a perversion of what our great country stands for”, and claiming that the First Amendment did not apply to foreigners.

Attorney General Sessions had accordingly stated that it was “a priority for the Justice Department” to arrest Julian Assange. He had pressured prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia to bring a case. In December 2017 an arrest warrant had been issued, with the indictment to be filled in later. The first indictment of a single count had been launched in March 2018, its timing possibly dictated by a limitation deadline.

In May 2019 a new superseding indictment increased the counts from one to eighteen, seventeen of which related to espionage. This tougher stance followed the appointment of William Barr as Attorney General just four months previously. The plain intention of the first superseding indictment was to get round the New York Times problem by trying to differentiate Assange’s actions with Manning from those of other journalists. It showed that the Justice Department was very serious and very aggressive in acting on the statements of Trump administration officials. Barr was plainly acting at the behest of Trump. This represented a clear abuse of the criminal enforcement power of the state.

The prosecution of a publisher in this way was unprecedented. Yet the facts were the same in 2018 as they had been in 2012 and 13; there was no new evidence behind the decision to prosecute. Crucially, the affidavits of US Assistant Attorney Gordon Kromberg present no legal basis for the taking of a different decision to that of 2013. There is no explanation of why the dossier was lying around with no action for five or six years.

The Trump administration had in fact taken a different political decision through the Presidential spokesperson Sarah Sanders who had boasted that only this administration had acted against Assange and “taken this process seriously”.

Edward Fitzgerald QC then turned to the question of probable sentencing and led Lewis through his evidence on this point. Eric Lewis confirmed that if Julian Assange were convicted he could very probably spend the rest of his life in prison. The charges had not been pleaded as one count, which it had been open to the prosecution to do. The judge would have discretion to sentence the counts either concurrently or consecutively. Under current sentencing guidelines, Assange’s sentence if convicted could range from “best case” 20 years to a maximum of 175 years. It was disingenuous of Gordon Kromberg to suggest a minimal sentence, given that Chelsea Manning had been sentenced to 35 years and the prosecution had requested 60.

It had been a government choice to charge the alleged offences as espionage. The history of espionage convictions in the USA had generally resulted in whole life sentences. 20 to 30 years had been lighter sentences for espionage. The multiple charges approach of the indictment showed a government intention to obtain a very lengthy sentence. Of course the final decision would lay with the judge, but it would be decades.

Edward Fitzgerald then led on to the question of detention conditions. On the question of remand, Gordon Kromberg had agreed that Julian Assange would be placed in the Alexandria City Jail, and there was a “risk” that he would be held there under Special Administrative Measures. In fact this was a near certainty. Assange faced serious charges related to national security, and had seen millions of items of classified information which the authorities would be concerned he might pass on to other prisoners. He would be subject to Special Administrative Measures both pre- and post-conviction.

After conviction Julian Assange would be held in the supermax prison ADX Florence, Colorado. There were at least four national security prisoners currently there in the H block. Under SAMS Assange would be kept in a small cell for 22 or 23 hours a day and not allowed to meet any other prisoners. He would be allowed out once a day for brief exercise or recreation excluded from other prisoners, but shackled.

Fitzgerald then led Lewis to the 2017 decision by the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan, in which the evidence provided by the Wikileaks release of US war logs and diplomatic cables provided essential evidence. This had been denounced by Trump, John Bolton and Pompeo. The ICC prosecutor’s US visa had been cancelled to hinder his investigation. An Executive Order had been issued imposing financial sanctions and blocking the banking access of any non US national who assisted the ICC investigation into crimes alleged against any US citizen. This would affect Julian Assange.

At this point, the half-hour guillotine imposed by Judge Baraitser on defence evidence came down. Fitzgerald pointed out they had not even reached the second superseding indictment yet, but Baraitser said that if the prosecution addressed that in cross examination, then the defence could question on it in re-examination.

James Lewis QC then rose to cross examine Eric Lewis. Yet again, he adopted an extremely aggressive tone. This is perhaps best conveyed as a dialogue.

NB this is not a precise transcript. It would be illegal for me to publish a transcript (of a “public” court hearing; fascinating but true). This is condensed and slightly paraphrased. It is I believe a fair and balanced representation of what happened, but not a verbatim record.

Eric Lewis was appearing by videolink and it should be borne in mind that he was doing so at 5am his time.

James Lewis QC Are you retained as a lawyer by Mr Assange in any way?
Eric Lewis No.
James Lewis QC Are you being paid for your evidence?
Eric Lewis Yes, as an expert witness. At a legal aid rate.
James Lewis QC Are you being paid for your appearance in this court?
Eric Lewis We haven’t specifically discussed that. I assume so.
James Lewis QC How much are you being paid?
Eric Lewis £100 per hour, approximately.
James Lewis QC How much have you charged in total?
Eric Lewis I don’t know, haven’t worked it out yet.
James Lewis QC Are you aware of the rules governing expert witnesses?
Eric Lewis Yes, I am. I must state my qualifications and my duty is to the court; I have to give an objective and unbiased view.
James Lewis QC You are also supposed to set out alternative views. Where have you set out the arguments in Mr Kromberg’s five affidavits?
Eric Lewis The court has Mr Kromberg’s affidavits. I address his arguments directly in my statements. Are you saying that I should have repeated his affidavits and all the other evidence in my statements? My statements would have been thousands of pages long.
James Lewis QC You are supposed to be unbiased. But you had previously given views that Mr Assange should not be extradited.
Eric Lewis Yes, I published an article to that effect.
James Lewis QC You also gave an interview to an Australian radio station.
Eric Lewis Yes, but both of those were before I was retained as an expert witness in this case.
James Lewis QC Does this not create a conflict of interest?
Eric Lewis No, I can do an objective analysis setting aside any prejudice. Lawyers are used to such situations.
James Lewis QC Why had you not declared these media appearances as an interest?
Eric Lewis I did not think perfectly open actions and information needed to be declared.
James Lewis QC It would be much better if we were not forced to dig out this information. You give opinions on law. You also give opinions on penal conditions. Are you an expert witness?
Eric Lewis I am very familiar with prison conditions. I visit prisons. I studied criminology at Cambridge. I keep up to date with penology. I have taught aspects of it at university.
James Lewis QC Are you a qualified penologist?
Eric Lewis I think I have explained my qualification.
James Lewis QC Can you point us to peer reviewed articles which you have published on prison conditions?
Eric Lewis No.
James Lewis QC Have you visited ADX Colorado?
Eric Lewis No, but I have had a professional relationship with a client in there.
James Lewis QC Have you represented anyone in Alexandra Detention Centre?
Eric Lewis Yes, one person, Abu Qatada.
James Lewis QC So you have no expertise in prisons?
Eric Lewis I have visited extensively in prisons and observed prison conditions. I have read widely and in detail on the subject.
James Lewis QC Abu Qatada was acquitted of 14 of the 18 charges against him. Was that not acquittal by the same jury pool that would try Julian Assange?
Eric Lewis No. That was Colombia, not Eastern Virginia. Very different jury pools.
James Lewis QC The prosecutors withdrew capital charges. You said that was a courageous but correct decision?
Eric Lewis Yes.
James Lewis QC So what was Qatada’s sentence and what was the maximum?
Eric Lewis The government asked for life but to my mind that was not legal for the charges on which he was convicted. He got 22 years. That was much criticised as harsh for those charges.
James Lewis QC Was the Abu Qatada trial a denial of justice?
Eric Lewis No.
James Lewis QC Abu Qatada was held under Special Administrative Measures. Did that prevent you from spending many hours with him?
Eric Lewis No, but it made it extremely difficult. The many hours were spread out over a long period. That is why remand lasted for three years.
James Lewis QC Were your meetings with him monitored?
Eric Lewis Yes.
James Lewis QC But not by the prosecution.
Eric Lewis It was all recorded by the authorities. We were told that nothing would be passed to the prosecution. But from many other reports I am not convinced that is true.
James Lewis QC What jury pool was Zacarias Moussaoui convicted by?
Eric Lewis He was not convicted by a jury. He pled guilty.
James Lewis QC But the jury decided against the death penalty.
Eric Lewis Yes.
James Lewis QC What about Maria Butina? She was charged with being an agent of the Russian Federation but received a light sentence?
Eric Lewis That was a very weird case. She did no more than cultivate some figures in the National Rifle Association. She was sentenced to time served.
James Lewis QC But she only got 18 months when the maximum was 20 years?
Eric Lewis Yes. It was not a comparable case, and it was a plea deal.
James Lewis QC You have addressed prison conditions because the defence argue that Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights will be breached. You consider the case of Babar Ahmed. You state that it is “almost certain” that Julian Assange will be subject to administrative segregation. What is the procedure for administrative segregation?
Eric Lewis The bureau president will decide depending upon various factors including security risk, threat to national security, threat to other prisoners, seriousness of the charge. My experience is that national security charged prisoners go straight into administrative segregation.
James Lewis QC (very aggressive) What are you reading?
Eric Lewis Pardon?
James Lewis QC You are reading something there. What is it?
Eric Lewis It is my witness statement. (Holds it up.) Is that not OK?
James Lewis QC That is alright. I thought it was something else. How many categories of administrative detention are there?
Eric Lewis I just went through the main ones. National security, serious charge, threat to other prisoners.
James Lewis QC You do not know the categories. They are (reels off a long list including national security, serious charge, threat to others, threat to self, medical custody, protective custody and several more). Do you agree there is no solitary confinement in administrative segregation and Special Administrative Measures?
Eric Lewis No.
James Lewis QC US Assistant Attorney Kromberg states in his affidavit that there is no solitary confinement.
Eric Lewis It is solitary confinement other than in the vernacular of the US prison service.
James Lewis QC In that case it is also not solitary confinement in the vernacular of the English High Court, which has accepted there is no solitary confinement.
Eric Lewis It is solitary confinement. When you are kept in a tiny cell for 23 hours a day and allowed no contact with the rest of the prison population even during the one hour you are allowed out, that is solitary confinement. The attempt to deny it is semantic.
James Lewis QC Was Abu Qatada in solitary confinement? When he was permitted unlimited legal visits?
Eric Lewis They were not unlimited. In reality there were practical and logistical obstacles. There was a single room that could be used, for the entire prison population. You had to get a booking for that one room. You had to book translation services. The FBI oversaw the visits and listened in. Now with Covid there are no visits at all. Theoretically visits are “unlimited” but in practice you do not get nearly as much time with your client as you need.
James Lewis QC You said that he would be held in solitary confinement. But is it not true that even prisoners under SAMs get a break schedule?
Eric Lewis There is a break schedule but it requires no other prisoner to be in the communal areas to have contact with the prisoner under SAM. So in practice the “one hour break” would typically be scheduled between 3am and 4am. Not many prisoners wanted to get out of bed at 3am to walk around a cold and empty communal area.

At this point there was a break. James Lewis QC used it forcefully to complain to Baraitser about the four hour limit set on his cross-examination of Eric Lewis. He said that so far he had only got through one and a half pages of his questions, and that Eric Lewis refused to give yes or no answers but instead insisted on giving lengthy explanations. James Lewis QC was plainly extremely needled by Eric Lewis’ explanations of “unlimited visiting time” and “no solitary confinement”. He complained that Baraitser was “failing to control the witness”.

It was plain that James Lewis’s real aim was not to get more time, but to get Baraitser to curtail Eric Lewis’s inconvenient answers. It is of course amazing that he was complaining about four hours, when the defence had been limited to half an hour and had not even been permitted to get to the latest superseding indictment.

Baraitser, to her credit, replied that it was not for her to control the witness, who must be free to give his evidence so long as it was relevant, which it was. It was a question of fairness not of control. James Lewis was asking open or general questions.

James Lewis responded that the witness refused to give binary answers. Therefore his cross examination must be longer than four hours. He became very heated and told Baraitser that never in his entire career had he been subject to a guillotine on cross examination, and that this “would not happen in a real court”. He very definitely said that. “This would not happen in a real court.” I have of course been arguing all along that this is not a genuine process. I did not expect to hear that from James Lewis QC, though I think his intention was just to bully Baraitser, which was confirmed by Lewis going on to state he had never heard of such a guillotine in his capacity of “High Court Judge”. I find that Lewis is listed as “deputy high court judge”, which I think is like being 12th man at cricket, or Gareth Bale.

Baraitser only conceded very slight ground under this onslaught, saying she had never used the word guillotine, that the timings had been agreed between parties, and she expected them to stick to them. James Lewis said it was impossible in that way adequately to represent his client (the US government). He said he felt “stressed”, which for once seemed true, he had gone purple. Baraitser said he should try his best to stick to the four hours. He fumed away (though at a later stage apologised to Baraitser for his “intemperate language”).

James Lewis QC’s touting for business webpage describes him as “the Rolls Royce of advocates”. I suppose that is true, in the sense of foreign owned. Yet here he was before us, blowing a gasket, not getting anywhere, emitting fumes and resembling a particularly unloved Trabant.

Cross-examination of Eric Lewis resumed. James Lewis QC started by reiterating the criteria and categories for Administrative Segregation after conviction (as opposed to pre-trial). Then we got back into questioning.

James Lewis QC Gordon Kromberg states that there is no solitary confinement in ADX Colorado.
Eric Lewis Again this is semantic. There is solitary confinement.
James Lewis QC But there is an entitlement to participate in three programmes a week.
Eric Lewis Not in Special Administrative Measures.
James Lewis QC But which of the criteria for Special Administrative Measures might Julian Assange fall into?
Eric Lewis Criteria 2, 4 and 5, at least.
James Lewis QC Can we agree there is a formal procedure?
Eric Lewis Yes, but not worth the name.
James Lewis Your opinion is based on one single client in ADX Colorado.
Eric Lewis Yes, but the system is essentially the same as other supermaxes.
James Lewis At para 14 of your report you state that the system lacks procedural rights, and is tantamount to solitary confinement. Had you read the European Court of Human Rights judgement on Babar Ahmad when you wrote this?
Eric Lewis Yes.
James Lewis That judgement specifically rejects the same claims you make.

James Lewis QC refers to a number of paragraphs in the original UK District court decision in the case of Babar Ahmad. Eric Lewis asks for more time to find the document as “I only received these documents from the court this morning”.

James Lewis QC But Mr Lewis, you have testified on oath that you had read the Babar Ahmad judgement.
Eric Lewis I have read the final judgement of the European Court of Human Rights. I had not read all the judgements from lower courts. I received them from the court this morning.
James Lewis QC The senior district judge ruled that although Special Administrative Measures were a concern, they did not preclude extradition. There were various safeguards to SAMs. For example although attorney/client conversations were monitored, that was only for the purpose of preventing terrorism and the FBI did not pass on the recordings to the prosecution. The judge rejected the idea that SAMs amounted to solitary confinement. The High Court upheld the District judge’s ruling and the House of Lords rejected Babar Ahmad’s application to appeal. In its ruling on admissibility of the case, the European Court of Human Rights considered six affidavits from US attorneys very similar to that submitted by Eric Lewis in this case. This included the affirmations that it would be “virtually certain” that Babar Ahmad would be subject to SAMs, and that these would interfere directly with the right to a fair trial, and would constitute cruel and degrading treatment. The ECHR found in relation to pre-trial detention that these allegations were wrong in the Babar Ahmad case.
Eric Lewis But that was a terrorism case, not a national security case. SAMs apply differently in national security cases. This is about a million classified documents. Different cases had to be considered each on their merits.
James Lewis QC In the Babar Ahmad case, the defence submissions were that the regime was harsh, amounted to solitary confinement nearly 24 hours a day, with one phone call every two weeks and one family visit a month. Is that not almost identical to your evidence here?
Eric Lewis Each case must be considered on its merits. There are key differences. Assange is charged with espionage not terrorism, and possession of classified intelligence is a factor. Mental health issues are also different. Under SAMS there is no internet access and no access to any news source. Only approved reading material is allowed. These would be particularly hard for Assange.
James Lewis QC But the Babar Ahmad case does specifically deal with mental health issues, between Babar and co-defendants these include clinical depression, suicide risk and Asperger’s. The court agreed that SAM’s would be likely to be applied both before and after trial. But it ruled that the American government had good reasons for imposing SAMs, were entitled to do so, and that there was a clear and non-arbitrary procedure for implementing them.

Eric Lewis replied that he disagreed that would be true in this case. SAM’s could be applied without procedure, by the US Attorney-General, and William Barr would do that in this case, on the basis of statements by Trump and Gina Haspel. In practice, SAMs had never been overturned whatever the claimed procedure. Eric Lewis did not agree they were not arbitrary.

There now followed an episode where James Lewis QC successfully tripped up Eric Lewis by quoting a passage from an Ahmad case judgement and then confusing him as to whether it was from the final ECHR judgement, which Eric Lewis had read, or from an earlier English court judgement or the ECHR prior judgement on admissibility, which he had not.

James Lewis QC So the ECHR viewed the argument that the SAM regime in pre-trial detention breaches Article 3 as ill-founded and inadmissible. Do you agree with the European Court of Human Rights?
Eric Lewis They found that in the Babar Ahmad admissibility decision in 2008. New information and evidence and changes to the regime since then might change that view.
James Lewis QC What are the defence issues that Assange will raise that you say makes proper consultation under the SAM regime impossible?
Eric Lewis Well I don’t know the precise details of what his defence will be but…
James Lewis QC [interrupting] Well how can you possibly know what the issues will be if you do not know the case?
Eric Lewis Because I have read the indictment. The issues are very wide ranging indeed and involve national security documents.
James Lewis QC But you don’t know what defence at all will be put forward, so how can you opine?
Eric Lewis The charges themselves give a fair idea what might be covered.
James Lewis QC Turning to the Babar Ahmad final judgement on post-trial incarceration at ADX Colorado. Have you read this (sarcastic emphasis) judgement? Of 210,307 federal prisoners, only 41 of these had SAMs. 27 were in ADX Colorado.
Eric Lewis The Warden of ADX Colorado himself had stated that it was “not fit for humanity” and “a fate worse than death”.
James Lewis QC The ECHR said that SAMS was subject to oversight by independent authorities who looked after the interests of prisoners and could intervene.
Eric Lewis Since that ECHR judgement, a new US judgement had stated that prisoners have no Fifth Amendment right to appeal against the conditions of their incarceration.
James Lewis QC The ECHR found that the US prison authorities took cognisance of a prisoner’s mental state in relation to SAM measures.
Eric Lewis Things have also moved on there since 2012. He referenced details from his written evidence.
James Lewis QC The ECHR also found that “the isolation experienced by ADX inmates is partial and relative. The court notes that their psychiatric conditions have not prevented their high security detention in the United Kingdom.” Do you accept that in 2012 the ECHR made a thorough finding?
Eric Lewis Yes, on the basis of what they knew in 2012, but much more information is now available. And there are specific reasons to doubt Mr William Barr’s impartiality.
James Lewis QC You say that Mr Assange will not receive adequate healthcare in a US prison. Are you a medical expert?
Eric Lewis No.
James Lewis QC Do you hold any medical qualification?
Eric Lewis No.
James Lewis QC What published statement gives the policy of the Bureau of Prisons on Mental Health?
Eric Lewis I was relying on the published statement of the US Inspector of Prisons and the study by Yale Law School of mental health in US prisons. The US Bureau of Prisons states that 48% of prisoners have serious mental health problems but only 3% receive any treatment. The provision for mental healthcare in jails has been cut every year for a decade. Suicides in jail are increasing by 18% a year.
James Lewis QC Have you read “The Treatment and Care of Prisoners with Mental Illness” by the US Department of Health?
Eric Lewis Yes.
James Lewis QC You purport to be an expert. Without looking it up what year was it published? You don’t know, do you?
Eric Lewis Could you be courteous. I have been courteous to you. Can you refer me to a relevant question?
James Lewis QC The policy has had eight changes since 2014. Can you list them?
Eric Lewis I am trying to testify on my experience and my knowledge in dealing with these questions on behalf of the many clients I have represented. If you are asking me am I a prison psychiatrist, I am not.
James Lewis QC Do you know the specific changes made since 2014 or not?
Eric Lewis I know that there were new regulations stipulating 1 mental health professional for every 500 inmates and guidelines for an increase in accessibility, but I also know those have not in fact been implemented due to lack of resources.
James Lewis QC (smirking) How many levels of psychiatric assessment are there? What is level number three? What are you reading? You are reading! What are you reading! What are you reading! [Yes, this is not a mistake. He did pull this stunt again.]
Eric Lewis I am looking at my own witness statement (shows it to camera).
James Lewis QC You are not a genuine expert witness – you have no expertise in these matters. As you are being paid to give evidence and are not an expert, that is something the court will have to take account in deciding what weight, if any at all, to give to your evidence.

Before Eric Lewis could respond, the video link broke down, rather bizarrely broadcasting a news item about Donald Trump attacking Julian Assange. It could not be restored all day, so that was the end of proceedings, for which my note taking hand was not ungrateful. The link could be restored in the adjacent courtroom, which indicates the problem was very local. The judge considered changing courts but it was considered too difficult to move everyone and the great mounds of files and equipment. This hearing has frequently been interrupted by the strange incompetence of the Ministry of Justice in establishing simple videolinks.

James Lewis QC’s conduct was very strange. It really is not normal courtroom behaviour. Were there a jury, they would completely have written him off by now as rude and obnoxious, and even Baraitser finally seems to have found her limit of being pushed around by the prosecution. Eric Lewis is obviously a very distinguished man and a lawyer with immense experience of the US system. Trying to claim he has no expertise because he is not a psychiatrist or an academic in penology is no more than a shoddy trick, performed in a manner designed to humiliate.

The asking for the precise title of one particular Department of Health Pamphlet or for a specific point in it, as though that were a way of invalidating all that Eric Lewis knows, is so transparently invalid as a test of worth that I am astonished Baraitser let James Lewis pursue it, let alone the histrionic accusations about “reading”. This was really hard to sit through silently for me; goodness knows what it was like for Julian.

The mainstream media are turning a blind eye. There were three reporters in the press gallery, one of them an intern and one representing the NUJ. Public access continues to be restricted and major NGOs, including Amnesty, PEN and Reporters Without Borders, continue to be excluded both physically and from watching online. It has taken me literally all night to write this up – it is now 8.54am – and I have to finish off and get back into court. The six of us allowed in the public gallery, incidentally, have to climb 132 steps to get there, several times a day. As you know, I have a very dodgy ticker; I am with Julian’s dad John who is 78; and another of us has a pacemaker.

I do not in the least discount the gallant efforts of others when I explain that I feel obliged to write this up, and in this detail, because otherwise the vital basic facts of the most important trial this century, and how it is being conducted, would pass almost completely unknown to the public. If it were a genuine process, they would want people to see it, not completely minimise attendance both physically and online.
 
 
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Your Man in the Public Gallery – Assange Hearing Day 8 232

The great question after yesterday’s hearing was whether prosecution counsel James Lewis QC would continue to charge at defence witnesses like a deranged berserker (spoiler – he would), and more importantly, why?

QC’s representing governments usually seek to radiate calm control, and treat defence arguments as almost beneath their notice, certainly as no conceivable threat to the majestic thinking of the state. Lewis instead resembled a starving terrier kept away from a prime sausage by a steel fence whose manufacture and appearance was far beyond his comprehension.

Perhaps he has toothache.

PROFESSOR PAUL ROGERS

The first defence witness this morning was Professor Paul Rogers, Emeritus Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. He has written 9 books on the War on Terror, and has been for 15 years responsible for MOD contracts on training of armed forces in law and ethics of conflict. Rogers appeared by videolink from Bradford.

Prof Rogers’ full witness statement is here.

Edward Fitzgerald QC asked Prof Rogers whether Julian Assange’s views are political (this goes to article 4 in the UK/US extradition treaty against political extradition). Prof Rogers replied that “Assange is very clearly a person of strong political opinions.”

Fitzgerald then asked Prof Rogers to expound on the significance of the revelations from Chelsea Manning on Afghanistan. Prof Rogers responded that in 2001 there had been a very strong commitment in the United States to going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Easy initial military victories led to a feeling the nation had “got back on track”. George W Bush’s first state of the union address had the atmosphere of a victory rally. But Wikileaks’ revelations in the leaked war logs reinforced the view of some analysts that this was not a true picture, that the war in Afghanistan had gone wrong from the start. It contradicted the government line that Afghanistan was a success. Similarly the Wikileaks evidence published in 2011 had confirmed very strongly that the Iraq War had gone badly wrong, when the US official narrative had been one of success.

Wikileaks had for example proven from the war logs that there were a minimum of 15,000 more civilian deaths than had been reckoned by Iraq Body Count. These Wikileaks exposures of the failures of these wars had contributed in large part to a much greater subsequent reluctance of western powers to go to war at an early stage.

Fitzgerald said that para 8 of Rogers’ report suggests that Assange was motivated by his political views and referenced his speech to the United Nations. Was his intention to influence political actions by the USA?

Rogers replied yes. Assange had stated that he was not against the USA and there were good people in the USA who held differing views. He plainly hoped to influence US policy. Rogers also referenced the statement by Mairead Maguire in nominating Julian for the Nobel Peace Prize:

Julian Assange and his colleagues in Wikileaks have shown on numerous occasions that they are one of the last outlets of true democracy and their work for our freedom and speech. Their work for true peace by making public our governments’ actions at home and abroad has enlightened us to their atrocities carried out in the name of so-called democracy around the world.

Rogers stated that Assange had a clear and coherent political philosophy. He had set it out in particular in the campaign of the Wikileaks Party for a Senate seat in Australia. It was based on human rights and a belief in transparency and accountability of organisations. It was essentially libertarian in nature. It embraced not just government transparency, but also transparency in corporations, trade unions and NGOs. It amounted to a very clear political philosophy. Assange adopted a clear political stance that did not align with conventional party politics but incorporated coherent beliefs that had attracted growing support in recent years.

Fitzgerald asked how this related to the Trump administration. Rogers said that Trump was a threat to Wikileaks because he comes from a position of quite extreme hostility to transparency and accountability in his administration. Fitzgerald suggested the incoming Trump administration had demonstrated this hostility to Assange and desire to prosecute. Rogers replied that yes, the hostility had been evidenced in a series of statements right across the senior members of the Trump administration. It was motivated by Trump’s characterisation of any adverse information as “fake news”.

Fitzgerald asked whether the motivation for the current prosecution was criminal or political? Rogers replied “the latter”. This was a part of the atypical behaviour of the Trump administration; it prosecutes on political motivation. They see openness as a particular threat to this administration. This also related to Trump’s obsessive dislike of his predecessor. His administration would prosecute Assange precisely because Obama did not prosecute Assange. Also the incoming Trump administration had been extremely annoyed by the commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence, a decision they had no power to revoke. For that the prosecution of Assange could be vicarious revenge.

Several senior administration members had advocated extremely long jail sentences for Assange and some had even mooted the death penalty, although Rogers realised that was technically impossible through this process.

Fitzgerald asked whether Assange’s political opinions were of a type protected by the Refugee Convention. Rogers replied yes. Persecution for political opinion is a solid reason to ask for refugee status. Assange’s actions are motivated by his political stance. Finally Fitzgerald then asked whether Rogers saw political significance in the fact that Assange was not prosecuted under Obama. Rogers replied yes, he did. This case is plainly affected by fundamental political motivation emanating from Trump himself.

James Lewis QC then rose to cross-examine for the prosecution. His first question was “what is a political opinion?” Rogers replied that a political opinion takes a particular stance on the political process and does so openly. It relates to the governance of communities, from nations down to smaller units.

Lewis suggested that Assange’s views encompassed the governance of corporations, NGOs and trade unions. They could not therefore be considered as “political opinion”. Rogers replied that the province of the political in the last fifty years or so now includes much more beyond the strict governmental process. Assange particularly discusses relationships between government and corporations and the latter’s influence on government and society as part of a wider ruling establishment.

Lewis then asked “is simply being a journalist a person who expresses political opinions?” Rogers replied not necessarily; there were different kinds of journalist. Lewis than asked “So just being a journalist or publisher does not necessarily mean that you have political opinions, does it?” Rogers replied “not necessarily, but usually.” Lewis then suggested that the expression of editorial opinion was what constituted a political view in a journalist. Rogers replied that was one way, but there were others. Selection of material to publish could manifest a political view.

Lewis then rattled off a series of questions. Is transparency a political opinion? Does Assange hold the view that Governments may never hold secrets? Should that transparency enable putting individuals at risk? There were more.

Rogers replied that these questions did not permit of binary answers.

Lewis then took Rogers to Assange’s speech to the Stop the War Coalition, where he stated that the invasion of Poland at the start of the Second World War was the result of carefully concocted lies. Did Prof Rogers agree with that view? What political opinion did that view represent? Rogers replied it represented a strong political opinion and a particular view on the origin of war. Lewis then quoted another alleged comment of Assange, “Journalists are war criminals” and asked what political opinion that represented. Rogers replied that it represented a suspicion of certain journalistic practices.

Rogers said that he had never said he supported or identified with Assange’s views. He strongly disagreed with some. But that they were coherent political views there was no doubt.

Lewis then read out a lengthy quote by Assange to the effect that strongly anti-transparency governments will always result in more leaks, followed by more restrictions and this would set up a cycle. Lewis asked Rogers what political view this could be said to represent. Rogers replied it was an interesting analysis of the working of highly autocratic systems. Their concern with secrecy leads to increased leaks which decrease their security. He was not sure if it was explicit, but he believed Assange may be positing this as a new development made possible by the internet. Assange’s thesis was that autocratic regimes harbour the seeds of their own destruction. It was not a traditional view held by political scientists but it was worth consideration.

Lewis now changed tack. He stated that Prof Rogers was appearing as a “so-called expert witness” under a continuing obligation to be unbiased. He had a duty to consider all supporting evidence. US Assistant Attorney Gordon Kromberg had submitted an affidavit explicitly denying there was any political motivation for the prosecution, stating that it is evidence based. Why did Prof Rogers not mention the Kromberg statement in his report? An unbiased expert witness would take into account Kromberg’s statement.

Rogers replied that he spoke from his expertise as a political scientist, not a lawyer. He accepted that Kromberg had made his statement but believed a wider view to be more important.

Lewis stated that Kromberg’s first affidavit stated that “based on the available evidence and applicable law a grand jury had approved the charges.” Why had Rogers not mentioned the grand jury? Rogers said that he had taken a wider view about why there was a decision now to prosecute and not in 2011, why Kromberg’s statement was being made now after a gap of eight years. This was anomalous.

Lewis then asked “I want to consider why you did not consider the opposite view. Have you seen the evidence?” At this point he was grinning very strangely indeed, looking up at the judge, leaning back with one arm wide across his chair back, in some sort of peculiar alpha male gesture. I believe Rogers’ videolink only gave him a wide view of the whole courtroom, so how much he could see of the body language of his questioner I am unsure.

Rogers said he had seen the evidence. Lewis gurned in wild-eyed triumph “you cannot have seen the evidence. The evidence has only been seen by the grand jury and not released. You cannot have seen the evidence.” Rogers apologised, and said he had understood Lewis to mean Kromberg’s affidavit as the evidence. Rogers went on to say that less than 24 hours ago he had received an evidence bundle of 350 pages. It was unfair to expect him to have a precise mental picture of every document.

Lewis then returned to a Gordon Kromberg affidavit which said that prosecutors have a code which bars them from taking politically motivated decisions. Rogers replied that may be right in theory, but was untrue in practice, particularly in the USA where a much higher percentage of senior officials in the Department of Justice were political appointees who changed with each administration. Lewis asked Rogers whether he was alleging the prosecutors did not follow the code outlined by Kromberg. Rogers replied you had to consider the motivation of those above the prosecutors who influenced their decisions. “What you are giving me is a fair representation of how federal prosecutors are supposed to do their work. But they work as those above direct them.”

Lewis repeated that the code excludes political motivation for prosecution. Was Rogers claiming that Gordon Kromberg was acting in bad faith? Rogers replied no, but he was acting under political direction. The timing of this indictment after eight years was the key. Lewis asked whether that mattered if a crime had been committed. He referred to historic prosecutions of those soldiers who had allegedly committed crimes in Northern Ireland over twenty years ago. Was it political motivation that led to new prosecutions now? Rogers said this was more about bad faith.

Lewis asked if Rogers understood what Assange was being prosecuted for. Was he being prosecuted for publishing the collateral murder video? Rogers replied no, the charges were more specific and mostly related to the Espionage Act. Lewis stated the majority of charges were focused on complicity in theft and on hacking. Rogers responded there was obviously a wider political question as to why acts were being done in the first place. Lewis stated that on the question of publication, charges only related to the unredacted names of sources. Rogers said that he understood that was what the prosecution is saying, but was not agreed by the defence. But the question remained, why is this being brought now? And you could only look at that from the point of view of developments in American politics over the last twenty years.

Lewis asked Rogers to confirm that he was not saying US prosecutors were acting in bad faith. Rogers replied that he would hope not, at that level. Lewis asked if Rogers’ position was that at a higher level there had been a political decision to prosecute. Rogers said yes. These were complex matters. It was governed by political developments in the US since about 1997. He wished to speak to that… Lewis cut him off and said he preferred to look at evidence. He cited a Washington Post article from 2013 which stated that there had been no formal decision not to prosecute Assange by the Obama administration (this was the same article Lewis had quoted yesterday to Feldstein, on which he had been called out by Edward Fitzgerald for selective quotation). Rogers replied yes, but that must be considered in a wider context.

Lewis again refused to let Rogers develop his evidence, and gave the quotes from Assange’s legal team, again as given yesterday to Feldstein, to the effect they had in 2016 not been informed charges had been dropped. Rogers replied that was just what you would expect from Wikileaks at that time. They did not know and were bound to be cautious.

Lewis: Do you accept there had been a continuing investigation from Obama to Trump administrations.
Rogers: Yes, but we do not know at what level of intensity.
Lewis: Do you accept that there was no decision not to prosecute by Obama
Rogers: There was no decision to prosecute. It did not happen.
Lewis: How could they prosecute when Assange was in the Embassy?
Rogers: That would not preclude a prosecution going ahead and charges being brought. That might be a way to bring pressure on Ecuador.
Lewis: Assange’s lawyer said there was no decision not to prosecute by the Obama administration.
Rogers: I have accepted there was no decision not to prosecute. But there was no prosecution and it was considered.
Lewis: Judge Mehta said there was ongoing investigation of others beside Manning. And Wikileaks tweeted Assange’s willingness to come to the USA to face charges if Manning was granted clemency.
Rogers: Obviously Assange and his lawyer could not be sure of the situation. But it must be understood that bringing Julian Assange to the USA for a major trial of someone who was perceived by many Trump supporters and potential Trump supporters as an enemy of the state, might be of crucial political benefit to Mr Trump.

Lewis now responded that Rogers was not a real expert witness and “had given a biased opinion in favour of Julian Assange”.

Edward Fitzgerald QC then re-examined Prof Rogers for the defence. He said that Mr Lewis had appeared to see something sinister in Mr Assange’s statement that the invasion of Poland and second world war had been started by lies. To what lies did Prof Rogers think that Assange was referring? Rogers replied the lies of the Nazi Regime. Fitzgerald asked if this was a fair point. Rogers replied yes.

Fitzgerald read the context of Assange’s statement which also referred to lies starting the Iraq war. Rogers agreed that lies leading to war was a consistent Assange political theme. Fitzgerald then invited Rogers briefly to summarise the consequences of the change of US administration. Rogers stated that under Trump, the narrative from senior politicians on Wikileaks had changed.

The Bush administration had viewed the Iraq war as essential, with the support of most American people. That view had gradually changed until Obama had won basically on a “withdraw from Iraq” ticket. Similarly the Afghan war had been thought winnable but gradually the political establishment changed their mind. This shift in view was partly due to Wikileaks. By 2015/6 American politics had moved on from the wars and there was no political interest in prosecuting Wikileaks.

Then Trump came in with a completely new attitude to the entire fourth estate and to openness and accountability of the executive. That had led to this prosecution. Fitzgerald directed Rogers to a Washington Post article which stated:

The previously undisclosed disagreement inside the Justice Department underscores the fraught, high-stakes nature of the government’s years-long effort to counter Assange, an Internet-age publisher who has repeatedly declared his hostility to U.S. foreign policy and military operations. The Assange case also illustrates how the Trump administration is willing to go further than its predecessors in pursuit of leakers — and those who publish official secrets.

Rogers agreed this supported his position. Fitzgerald then asked about Lewis’s comparison with prosecution of British soldiers for historical crimes in Northern Ireland. Rogers agreed that their prosecution in no way related to their political opinions, so the cases were not comparable. Rogers’ final point was that four months after Barr took office as attorney general, charges were increased from a single one to eighteen. This was a pretty clear indication of political pressure being put on the prosecutorial system.

TREVOR TIMM

The afternoon witness was Trevor Timm, co-founder of the Freedom of the Press Association in San Francisco, again via videolink. You can see his full evidence statement here. The Freedom of the Press Association teaches and supports investigative journalism and seeks to document and counter violations of media freedom in the USA.

Mr Timm testified that there is a rich history in the USA of famous reporters covering defence and foreign affairs related matters drawing upon classified documents. In 1971 the Supreme Court had decided the government could not censor the NYT from publishing the Pentagon Papers. There have been several instances over history where the government had explored using the Espionage Act to prosecute journalists but no prosecution had ever materialised because of First Amendment constitutional rights.

For the defence, Mark Summers QC put to Mr Timms that this was the prosecution’s case: Chelsea Manning had committed a crime in whistleblowing. So any act that helped Chelsea Manning or solicited material was also a crime. Timm replied this was not the law. It was standard practice for journalists to ask sources for classified material. The implications of this prosecution would criminalise any journalist in receipt of classified intelligence. Virtually every single newspaper in the United States had criticised this decision to prosecute on these grounds, including those that have opposed Wikileaks’ general activities.

This was the only attempt to use the Espionage Act against a person not in government employ apart from the AIPAC case, which had collapsed for that reason. Many great journalists would have been caught by this kind of prosecution, including Woodward and Bernstein for the cultivation of Deep Throat.

Summers asked about the prosecution’s characterisation of the provision of a drop box by Wikileaks to a whistleblower as criminal conspiracy. Timm replied that the indictment treats possession of a secure drop box as a criminal offence. But the Guardian, Washington Post, New York Times and over 80 other news organisations have secure drop boxes. The International Committee of Investigative Journalists has a drop box with a specific “leak to us” page requesting classified documents. Timms’ own foundation had developed in 2014 a secure drop box which they taught, and which had been adopted by multiple news organisations in the USA.

Summers asked if news organisations advertised drop boxes. Timm replied yes. The New York Times links to its secure drop box in its social media posts. Some even took out paid adverts for whistleblowers. Summers asked about the “most wanted list” which the prosecution characterised as criminal solicitation. Timm replied that multiple respectable news organisations actively solicited whistleblowers. The “most wanted” list had been a Wiki document which had been crowdsourced. It was not a Wikileaks document. His own foundation had contributed to it along with many other media organisations. Summers asked if this was criminal activity. Timm replied in the negative.

Summers asked Timm to expound his thoughts on the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture in 2014. Timm said that this vital and damning report on CIA involvement in torture had been much redacted and was based on thousands of classified documents not made available to the public. Virtually the entire media had therefore been involved in trying to obtain the classified material that revealed more of the story. Much of this material was classified Top Secret – higher than the Manning material. Many newspapers appealed for whistleblowers to come forward with documents and he had himself published an appeal to that effect in the Guardian.

Summers asked if it had ever been suggested to Timm this was criminal behaviour. Timm replied no, the universal belief had been that it was first amendment protected free speech. The current indictment is unconstitutional.

James Lewis QC then cross-examined for the prosecution. He said this was claimed to be expert opinion, but did Timm know what that meant in UK law? Timm said he had an obligation to explain his qualification and to tell the truth. Lewis replied that he was also supposed to be objective, unbiased and have no conflict of interest. But the Free Press Foundation had contribute to Assange’s defence fund. Lewis asked how much? Timm replied US$100,000.

Lewis asked if there were any conditions under which the Foundation would get their money back. Timm replied no, not to his knowledge. Lewis asked whether Timm would feel personally threatened were this case to go to prosecution. Timm replied that would represent a threat to many thousands of journalists. The Espionage Act was so widely drafted it would even pose a threat to purchasers and readers of newspapers containing leaked information.

Lewis said that Timm had testified that he had written advocating a leaking of CIA material. Did he fear he would be prosecuted himself? Timm replied no, he had not asked for material to be leaked to himself. But this prosecution was a real threat to thousands of journalists represented by his organisation.

Lewis said that the prosecution position is that Assange is not a journalist. Timm replied that he is a journalist. Being a journalist does not mean working for the mainstream media. There was a long legal history of that going back to pamphleteers at the time of Independence.

This cross examination was not going so well, and Lewis reached yet again for Gordon Kromberg’s affidavit as for a comfort blanket. Kromberg had sworn that the Department of Justice takes seriously the protection of journalists and that Julian Assange is no journalist. Kromberg had further sworn that Julian Assange was only being prosecuted for conspiring to illegally obtain material, and for publishing unredacted names of informants who would be at risk of death. The government is going out of its way to stress it is not prosecuting journalism.

Timm replied that he based his opinion on what the indictment said, not on the Department of Justice press release from which Lewis had read. Three of these charges relate to publication. The other charges relate to possession of material. Lewis said that Timm was missing the hacking allegation which was central to Count 1 and several other counts. Lewis quoted an article in the Law Review of New York Law School, which said that it was illegal for a journalist to obtain material from the wreckage of a crashed airplane, from an illegal wiretap or from theft, even if the purpose were publication. Would it not be illegal to conspire with a source to commit hacking?

Timm replied that in this case the allegation appeared to be that the hacking was to protect the identity of the source, not to steal documents. Protection of sources was an obligation.

Lewis then asked Timm if he had seen the actual evidence that supports the indictment. Timm replied only some of it, in particular the Java script of the messages allegedly between Assange and Manning. Lewis said Timm could not have seen all the evidence as it had not been published. Timm replied he had not said he had seen it all. He had seen the alleged Assange/Manning messages which had been published.

Lewis said that Assange had published unredacted material which put lives in danger. That was the specific charge. Timm replied that, assuming the assertion was true, the prosecution was still unconstitutional. There was a difference between responsible and irresponsible, and legal and illegal. An act could be irresponsible, even blameworthy, and still not illegal.

There had never been a prosecution for publication of names of informants, even where they were allegedly put in harm’s way. Following the official line about harm to informants precisely due to Wikileaks’ publication of the cables, Senator Joe Liebermann had introduced the Shield Bill into Congress. It failed specifically on First Amendment grounds. The episode tells us two things; firstly that Congress considered publication of informants’ names was not illegal and secondly that neither did they wish to make it illegal.

Lewis quoted a Guardian editorial condemning the publication of names, and stated that the Washington Post, New York Times, El Pais and Der Spiegel among many others had condemned it too. Timm replied that still did not make it illegal. The US government ought not to be the arbiter of whether an editorial decision is correct or not. Timm also felt it worth noting in passing that all of those media outlets whose opinions Lewis held in such high regard, had condemned the current attempt at prosecution.

Lewis asked why we should prefer Timm’s opinion to that of the courts. Timm replied that his opinion was in line with the courts. Countless decisions over centuries upheld the First Amendment. It was the indictment which was out of tune with the courts. The Supreme Court had expressly stated that there was no balance of harm argument in First Amendment cases.

Lewis asked Timm what qualification he had to comment on legal matters. Timm replied he had graduated from Law School and had gained admission to the New York Bar, but rather than practice he had worked on academic analysis of media freedom cases. The Foundation often joined in with litigation in support of media freedom, on an amicus basis.

Lewis said (in a tone of disbelief) that Timm had stated this prosecution was part of “Trump’s war on journalism”. Timm cut in niftily. Yes, he explained, we keep track on Trump’s war on journalism. He has sent out over 2,200 tweets attacking journalists. He has called journalists “enemies of the people”. There is a great deal of available material on this.

Lewis asked why Timm had failed to note that US Assistant Attorney Gordon Kromberg had specifically denied that there was a war on journalists? Timm said he had addressed these arguments in his evidence, though without specifically referencing Kromberg. Lewis stated that Timm had also not addressed Kromberg’s assertion that Assange is not charged simply with receipt of classified material. Timm replied that is because Kromberg’s assertion is inaccurate. Assange is indeed charged with offences encompassing passive receipt. If you get to count 7, for example and look at the legislation it charges under, it does precisely criminalise passive receipt and possession.

Lewis asked why Timm had omitted Kromberg’s reference to the grand jury decision? Timm replied that it meant very little: 99.9% of grand juries agree to return a prosecution. An academic study of 152,000 grand juries had revealed only 11 which had refused the request of a federal prosecutor to prosecute.

Lewis asked Timm why he had failed to mention that Kromberg asserted that a federal prosecutor may not take political considerations into account. Timm replied that did not reflect reality. Prosecution was one prong of many in President Trump’s war on journalism. Lewis asked whether Timm was saying that Kromberg and his colleagues were acting in bad faith. Timm replied no, but there had been a story in the Washington Post that more senior federal prosecutors had been opposed to the prosecution as contrary to the First Amendment and thus unconstitutional.

Mark Summers then re-examined for the defence. He said that Kromberg presents two grounds for Assange not being a journalist. The first is that he conspired with Manning to obtain confidential material. Timm replied that this cultivating of a source was routine journalistic activity. The indictment is precluded by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has ruled that even if a journalist knows that material is stolen (but not by him), he may still publish with entitlement to First Amendment protection.

Summers asked Timm about Lewis’s comparison of Assange’s contact with Manning to theft from an airplane wreck or illegal wiretap. Timm said this alleged offence did not reach that bar. The government does not allege that Assange himself helped Manning to steal the material. It alleges he provided help to crack a code that enabled Manning better to protect his identity.

Lewis here interrupted with a lengthy quote from one of Kromberg’s affidavits, to the effect that the government was now alleging that Assange helped Manning hack a password in order to facilitate obtaining classified information. Timm said yet again Kromberg’s affidavit did not appear to match the actual indictment. The claim there is that the password hacking “may have made it more difficult to identify Manning”. It is about source protection, not theft. Source protection is normal journalistic activity.

Summers stated that Kromberg’s second justification for stating that Assange is not a journalist was that he published the names of sources. Timm replied that he understood these facts were disputed, but in any event the Supreme Court had made plain such publication still enjoyed First Amendment protection. Controversial editorial choice did not render you “not a journalist”.

Summers asked Timm if he accepted Kromberg’s characterisation that Assange was only being prosecuted for alleged hacking and for publication of names. Timm said he did not. Counts 16, 17 and 18 were for publishing. All the other counts related to possession. Count 7 for example was for “knowingly unlawful receiving and obtaining”. That described passive receipt of classified information and would criminalise much legitimate journalistic activity. Huge swathes of defence, national security and foreign affairs reporting would be criminalised.

COMMENT

The defence have been attempting the last two days to make a rational case that this is a politically motivated prosecution and therefore not eligible under the terms of the UK/US extradition treaty of 2007 (relevant extract pictured above).

In opening argument back in February, the prosecution had run a frankly farcical argument that Article 4 of the treaty does not apply as incompatible with UK law, and an esto argument that Assange’s activity is not political as in law that word can only mean support for a particular party. Hence Lewis’s sparring on that point with Prof Rogers today, in which Lewis was well out of his depth.

Lewis primary tactic has been rudeness and aggression to disconcert witnesses. He questions their honesty, fairness, independence and qualifications. Today his bullying tactics ran foul of two classier performers than he. That is no criticism of Professor Feldstein yesterday, whose quiet dignity and concern was effective in a different way in exposing Lewis as a boor.

Lewis’s remaining tactic is to fall back repeatedly on the affidavits of Gordon Kromberg, US Assistant Attorney, and his statements that the prosecution is not politically motivated, and on Kromberg’s characterisation of the extent of the charges, which everybody else but Lewis and Kromberg finds inconsistent with the superseding indictment itself.

Witnesses understandably back away from Lewis’s challenge to call Kromberg a liar, or even to question his good faith. Lewis’s plan is very plainly to declare at the end that every witness accepted Kromberg’s good faith and therefore this is a fair prosecution and the defence have no case.

Perhaps I can assist. I do not accept Kromberg’s good faith. I have no hesitation in calling Kromberg a liar.

When the best thing your most supportive colleague can say about you, is that out-and-out Islamophobes do enjoy temporary popularity in the immediate aftermath of a terror attack, then there is a real problem. There is a real problem with Gordon Kromberg, and Lewis may very well come to regret resting the weight of the credibility of his entire case upon such a shoogly peg.

Kromberg has a repeated history of Islamophobic remarks, including about Muslim women. As the Wall Street Journal reported on September 15th 2008,

“Kromberg has taken a lot of heat recently for comments made and tactics taken in terrorism prosecutions”… said Andrew McCarthy, a former federal terrorism prosecutor. “As long as nothing goes boom, they want to say you’re an Islamophobe. The moment something does go boom, if the next 9/11 happens, God help anyone who says they weren’t as aggressive as Gordon.”

For British readers, Kromberg is Katie Hopkins with a legal brief. Conjure up that image every one of the scores of times Lewis relies on Gordon Kromberg.

More to the point, all expert witnesses have so far said that Kromberg’s precious memoranda explaining the scope of the indictment are inaccurate. It is at odds either with actual practice in the USA (the lawyer Clive Stafford Smith made this point) or the actual statutes to which it refers (the lawyers Trevor Timm and of course Mark Summers QC for the defence both make this point).

Crucially, Kromberg has a proven history of precisely this kind of distortion away from the statute. Also from the Wall Street Journal:

Federal judge Leonie M. Brinkema lashed out at the prosecutor [Kromberg], calling his remark insulting. Earlier, she had chastised Kromberg for changing a boilerplate immunity order beyond the language spelled out by Congress and questioned whether Arian’s constitutional rights had been violated.

“I’m not in any respect attributing evil motives or anything clandestine to you, but I think it’s real scary and not wise for a prosecutor to provide an order to the Court that does not track the explicit language of the statutes, especially this particular statute,” Brinkema said at the hearing in the Alexandria courtroom.

Next time Lewis asks a witness if they are questioning Kromberg’s good faith, they might want to answer “yes”. It certainly will not be the first time. As Trevor Timm testified today, senior prosecutors in the Justice Department had opposed this prosecution as unconstitutional and refused to be involved. Trump was left with this discredited right wing sleazeball. Now here we are at the Old Bailey, with a floundering Lewis clutching at this oaf Kromberg for intellectual support.
 
 
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Your Man in the Public Gallery: Assange Hearing Day 7 104

CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH

This morning we went straight in to the evidence of Clive Stafford Smith, a dual national British/American lawyer licensed to practice in the UK. He had founded Reprieve in 1999 originally to oppose the death penalty, but after 2001 it had branched out into torture, illicit detention and extraordinary rendition cases in relation to the “war on terror”.

Clive Stafford Smith testified that the publication by Wikileaks of the cables had been of great utility to litigation in Pakistan against illegal drone strikes. As Clive’s witness statement put it at paras 86/7:

86. One of my motivations for working on these cases was that the U.S. drone campaign appeared to be horribly mismanaged and was resulting in paid informants giving false information about innocent people who were then killed in strikes. For example, when I shared the podium with Imran Khan at a “jirga” with the victims of drone strikes, I said in my public remarks that the room probably contained one or two people in the pay of the CIA. What I never guessed was that not only was this true but that the informant would later make a false statement about a teenager who attended the jirga such that he and his cousin were killed in a drone strike three days later. We knew from the official press statement afterwards that the “intelligence” given to the U.S. involved four “militants” in a car; we knew from his family just him and his cousin going to pick up an aunt. There is a somewhat consistent rule that can be seen at work here: it is, of course, much safer for any informant to make a statement about someone who is a “nobody”, than someone who is genuinely dangerous.
87. This kind of horrific action was provoking immense anger, causing America’s status in Pakistan to plummet, and was making life more dangerous for Americans, not less.

Legal action dependent on the evidence about US drones strike policy revealed by Wikileaks had led to a judgement against assassination by the Chief Justice of Pakistan and to a sea change to public attitudes to drone strikes in Waziristan. One result had been a stopping of drone strikes in Waziristan.

Wikileaks released cables also revealed US diplomatic efforts to block international investigation into cases of torture and extraordinary rendition. This ran counter to the legal duty of the United States to cooperate with investigation of allegations of torture as mandated in Article 9 of the UN Convention Against Torture.

Stafford Smith continued that an underrated document released by Wikileaks was the JPEL, or US military Joint Priority Effects List for Afghanistan, in large part a list of assassination targets. This revealed a callous disregard of the legality of actions and a puerile attitude to killing, with juvenile nicknames given to assassination targets, some of which nicknames appeared to indicate inclusions on the list by British or Australian agents.

Stafford Smith gave the example of Bilal Abdul Kareem, an American citizen and journalist who had been the subject of five different US assassination attempts, using hellfire missiles fired from drones. Stafford Smith was engaged in ongoing litigation in Washington on whether “the US Government has the right to target its own citizens who are journalists for assassination.”

Stafford Smith then spoke of Guantanamo and the emergence of evidence that many detainees there are not terrorists but had been swept up in Afghanistan by a system dependent on the payment of bounties. The Detainee Assessment Briefs released by Wikileaks were not independent information but internal US Government files containing the worst allegations that the US had been able to “confect” against prisoners including Stafford Smith’s clients, and often get them to admit under torture.

These documents were US government allegations and when Wikileaks released them it was his first thought that it was the US Government who had released them to discredit defendants. The documents could not be a threat to national security.

Inside Guantanamo a core group of six detainees had turned informant and were used to make false allegations against other detainees. Stafford Smith said it was hard to blame them – they were trying to get out of that hellish place like everybody else. The US government had revealed the identities of those six, which put into perspective their concern for protecting informants in relation to Wikileaks releases.

Clive Stafford Smith said he had been “profoundly shocked” by the crimes committed by the US government against his clients. These included torture, kidnapping, illegal detention and murder. The murder of one detainee at Baghram Airport in Afghanistan had been justified as a permissible interrogation technique to put fear into other detainees. In 2001, he would never have believed the US Government could have done such things.

Stafford Smith spoke of use of Spanish Inquisition techniques, such as strapado, or hanging by the wrists until the shoulders slowly dislocate. He told of the torture of Binyam Mohamed, a British citizen who had his genitals cut daily with a razor blade. The British Government had avoided its legal obligations to Binyam Mohamed, and had leaked to the BBC the statement he had been forced to confess to under torture, in order to discredit him.

At this point Baraitser intervened to give a five minute warning on the 30 minute guillotine on Stafford Smith’s oral evidence. Asked by Mark Summers for the defence how Wikileaks had helped, Stafford Smith said that many of the leaked documents revealed illegal kidnapping, rendition and torture and had been used in trials. The International Criminal Court had now opened an investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan, in which decision Wikileaks released material had played a part.

Mark Summers asked what had been the response of the US Government to the opening of this ICC investigation. Clive Stafford Smith stated that an Executive Order had been issued initiating sanctions against any non-US citizen who cooperated with or promoted the ICC investigation into war crimes by the US. He suggested that Mr Summers would now be subject to US sanction for promoting this line of questioning.

Mr Stafford Smith’s 30 minutes was now up. You can read his full statement here. There could not have been a clearer example from the first witness of why so much time yesterday was taken up with trying to block the evidence of defence witnesses from being heard. Stafford Smith’s evidence was breathtaking stuff and clearly illustrated the purpose of the time guillotine on defence evidence. This is not material governments wish to be widely aired.

James Lewis QC then cross-examined Clive Stafford Smith for the prosecution. He noted that references to Wikileaks in Stafford Smith’s written evidence were few and far between. He suggested that Stafford Smith’s evidence had tended to argue that Wikileaks disclosures were in the public interest; but there was specifically no public interest defence allowed in the UK Official Secrets Act.

Stafford Smith replied that may be, but he knew that was not the case in America.

Lewis then said that in Stafford Smith’s written evidence paras 92-6 he had listed specific Wikileaks cables which related to disclosure of drone policy. But publication of these particular cables did not form part of the indictment. Lewis read out part of an affidavit from US Assistant Attorney Kromberg which stated that Assange was being indicted only for cables containing the publication of names of informants.

Stafford Smith replied that Kromberg may state that, but in practice that would not be the case in the United States. The charge was of conspiracy, and the way such charges were defined in the US system would allow the widest inclusion of evidence. The first witness at trial would be a “terrorism expert” who would draw a wide and far reaching picture of the history of threat against the USA.

Lewis asked whether Stafford Smith had read the indictment. He replied he had read the previous indictment, but not the new superseding indictment.

Lewis stated that the cables Stafford Smith quoted had been published by the Washington Post and the New York Times before they were published by Wikileaks. Stafford Smith responded that was true, but he understood those newspapers had obtained them from Wikileaks. Lewis then stated that the Washington Post and New York Times were not being prosecuted for publishing the same information; so how could the publication of that material be relevant to this case?

Lewis quoted Kromberg again:

“The only instance in which the superseding indictment encompasses the publication of documents, is where those documents contains names which are put at risk”.

Stafford Smith again responded that in practice that was not how the case would be prosecuted in the United States. Lewis asked if Stafford Smith was calling Kromberg a liar.

At this point Julian Assange called out from the dock “This is nonsense. Count 1 states throughout “conspiracy to publish”. After a brief adjournment, Baraitser warned Julian he would be removed from the court if he interrupted proceedings again.

Stafford Smith said he had not said that Kromberg was a liar, and had not seen the full document from which Lewis was selectively quoting at him. Count 1 of the indictment is conspiracy to obtain national security information and this references dissemination to the public in a sub paragraph. This was not limited in the way Kromberg suggests and his claim did not correspond to Stafford Smith’s experience of how national security trials are in fact prosecuted in the United States.

Lewis reiterated that nobody was being prosecuted for publishing except Assange, and this only related to publishing names. He then asked Stafford Smith whether he had ever been in a position of responsibility for classifying information, to which he got a negative reply. Lewis then asked if had ever been in an official position to declassify documents. Stafford Smith replied no, but he held US security clearance enabling him to see classified material relating to his cases, and had often applied to have material declassified.

Stafford Smith stated that Kromberg’s assertion that the ICC investigation was a threat to national security was nonsense [I confess I am not sure where this assertion came from or why Stafford Smith suddenly addressed it]. Lewis suggested that the question of harm to US national interest from Assange’s activities was best decided by a jury in the United States. The prosecution had to prove damage to the interests of the US or help to an enemy of the US.

Stafford Smith said that beyond the government adoption of torture, kidnapping and assassination, he thought the post-2001 mania for over-classification of government information was an even bigger threat to the American way of life. He recalled his client Moazzam Begg – the evidence of Moazzam’s torture was classified “secret” on the grounds that knowledge that the USA used torture would damage American interests.

Lewis then took Stafford Smith to a passage in the book “Wikileaks; Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy”, in which Luke Harding stated that he and David Leigh were most concerned to protect the names of informants, but Julian Assange had stated that Afghan informants were traitors who merited retribution. “They were informants, so if they got killed they had it coming.” Lewis tried several times to draw Stafford Smith into this, but Stafford Smith repeatedly said he understood these alleged facts were under dispute and he had no personal knowledge.

Lewis concluded by again repeating that the indictment only covered the publication of names. Stafford Smith said that he would eat his hat if that was all that was introduced at trial.

In re-examination, Mark Summers said that Lewis had characterised the disclosure of torture, killing and kidnapping as “in the public interest”. Was that a sufficient description? Stafford Smith said no, it was also the provision of evidence of crime; war crime and illegal activity.

Summers asked Stafford Smith to look at the indictment as a US lawyer (which Stafford Smith is) and see if he agreed with the characterisation by Lewis that it only covered publication where names were revealed. Summers read out this portion of the superseding indictment:

and pointed out that the “and” makes the point on documents mentioning names an additional category of document, not a restriction on the categories listed earlier. You can read the full superseding indictment here; be careful when browsing as there are earlier superseding indictments; the US Government changes its indictment in this case about as often as Kim Kardashian changes her handbag.

Summers also listed Counts 4, 7, 10, 13 and 17 as also not limited to the naming of informants.

Stafford Smith again repeated his rather different point that in practice Kromberg’s assertion does not actually match how such cases are prosecuted in the US anyway. In answer to a further question, he repeated that the US government had itself released the names of its Guantanamo Bay informants.

In regard to the passage quoted from David Leigh, Summers asked Stafford Smith “Do you know that Mr Harding has published untruths in the press”. Lewis objected and Summers withdrew (although this is certainly true).

This concluded Clive Stafford Smith’s evidence. Before the next witness, Lewis put forward an argument to the judge that it was beyond dispute that the new indictment only related, as far as publication being an offence was concerned, to publication of names of defendants. Baraitser had replied that plainly this was disputed and the matter would be argued in due course.

PROFESSOR MARK FELDSTEIN

The afternoon resumed the evidence of Professor Mark Feldstein, begun sporadically amid technical glitches on Monday. For that reason I held off reporting the false start until now; I here give it as one account. Prof Feldstein’s full witness statement is here.

Professor Feldstein is Chair of Broadcast Journalism at Maryland University and had twenty years experience as an investigative journalist.

Feldstein stated that leaking of classified information happens with abandon in the United States. Government officials did it frequently. One academic study estimated such leaks as “thousands upon thousands”. There were journalists who specialised in national security and received Pulitzer prizes for receiving such leaks on military and defence matters. Leaked material is published on a daily basis.

Feldstein stated that “The first amendment protects the press, and it is vital that the First Amendment does so, not because journalists are privileged, but because the public have the right to know what is going on”. Historically, the government had never prosecuted a publisher for publishing leaked secrets. They had prosecuted whistleblowers.

There had been historical attempts to prosecute individual journalists, but all had come to nothing and all had been a specific attack on a perceived Presidential enemy. Feldstein had listed three instances of such attempts, but none had reached a grand jury.
[This is where the technology broke down on Monday. We now resume with Tuesday afternoon.]

Mark Summers asked Prof Feldstein about the Jack Anderson case. Feldstein replied he had researched this for his book “Poisoning the Press”. Nixon had planned to prosecute Anderson under the Espionage Act but had been told by his Attorney General the First Amendment made it impossible. Consequently Nixon had conducted a campaign against Anderson that included anti-gay smears, planting a spy in his office and foisting forged documents on him. An assassination plot by poison had even been discussed.

Summers took Feldstein to his evidence on “Blockbuster” newspaper stories based on Wikileaks publications:

  • A disturbing videotape of American soldiers firing on a crowd from a helicopter above Baghdad, killing at least 18 people; the soldiers laughed as they targeted unarmed civilians, including two Reuters journalists.
  • US officials gathered detailed and often gruesome evidence that approximately 100,000 civilians were killed after its invasion of Iraq, contrary to the public claims of President George W. Bush’s administration, which downplayed the deaths and insisted that such statistics were not maintained. Approximately 15,000 of these civilians killings had never been previously disclosed anywhere.
  • American forces in Iraq routinely turned a blind eye when the US-backed government there brutalized detainees, subjecting them to beatings, whippings, burnings, electric shock, and sodomy.
  • After WikiLeaks published vivid accounts compiled by US diplomats of rampant corruption by Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and his family, ensuing street protests forced the dictator to flee to Saudia Arabia. When the unrest in Tunisia spread to other Mideast countries,WikiLeaks was widely hailed as a key catalyst for this “Arab Spring.”
  • In Afghanistan, the US deployed a secret “black” unit of special forces to hunt down “high value” Taliban leaders for “kill or capture” without trial.
  • The US government expanded secret intelligence collection by its diplomats at the United Nations and overseas, ordering envoys to gather credit card numbers, work schedules, and frequent flier numbers of foreign dignitaries—eroding the distinction between foreign service officers and spies.
  • Saudi Arabian King Abdullah secretly implored the US to “cut off the head of the snake” and stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons even as private Saudi donors were the number-one source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.
  • Customs officials caught Afghanistan’s vice president carrying $52 million in unexplained cash during a trip abroad, just one example of the endemic corruption at the highest levels of the Afghan government that the US has helped prop up.
  • The US released “high risk enemy combatants” from its military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba who then later turned up again in Mideast battlefields. At the same time, Guantanamo prisoners who proved harmless—such as an 89-year-old Afghan villager suffering from senile dementia—were held captive for years.
  • US officials listed Pakistan’s intelligence service as a terrorist organization and found that it had plotted with the Taliban to attack American soldiers in Afghanistan—even though Pakistan receives more than $1 billion annually in US aid. Pakistan’s civilian president, Asif Ali Zardari, confided that he had limited control to stop this and expressed fear that his own military might “take me out.”

Feldstein agreed that many of these had revealed criminal acts and war crimes, and they were important stories for the US media. Summers asked Feldstein about Assange being charged with soliciting classified information. Feldstein replied that gathering classified information is “standard operating procedure” for journalists. “My entire career virtually was soliciting secret documents or records”

Summers pointed out that one accusation was that Assange helped Manning cover her tracks by breaking a password code. “Trying to help protect your source is a journalistic obligation” replied Feldstein. Journalists would provide sources with payphones, fake email accounts, and help them remove fingerprints both real and digital. These are standard journalistic techniques, taught at journalism college and workshops.

Summers asked about disclosure of names and potential harm to people. Feldstein said this was “easy to assert, hard to establish”. Government claims of national security damage were routinely overblown and should be treated with scepticism. In the case of the Pentagon Papers, the government had claimed that publication would identify CIA agents, reveal military plans and lengthen the Vietnam War. These claims had all proven to be untrue.

On the White House tapes Nixon had been recorded telling his aides to “get” the New York Times. He said their publications should be “cast in terms of aid and comfort to the enemy”.

Summers asked about the Obama administration’s attitude to Wikileaks. Feldstein said that there had been no prosecution after Wikileaks’ major publications in 2010/11. But Obama’s Justice Department had instigated an “aggressive investigation”. However they concluded in 2013 that the First Amendment rendered any prosecution impossible. Justice Department Spokesman Matthew Miller had published that they thought it would be a dangerous precedent that could be used against other journalists and publications.

With the Trump administration everything had changed. Trump had said he wished to “put reporters in jail”. Pompeo when head of the CIA had called Wikileaks a “hostile intelligence agency”. Sessions had declared prosecuting Assange “a priority”.

James Lewis then rose to cross-examine Feldstein. He adopted a particularly bullish and aggressive approach, and started by asking Feldstein to confine himself to very short, concise answers to his precise questions. He said that Feldstein “claimed to be” an expert witness, and had signed to affirm that he had read the criminal procedural rules. Could he tell the court what those rules said?

This was plainly designed to trip Feldstein up. I am sure I must have agreed WordPress’s terms and conditions in order to be able to publish this blog, but if you challenged me point blank to recall what they say I would struggle. However Feldstein did not hesitate, but came straight back saying that he had read them, and they were rather different to the American rules, stipulating impartiality and objectivity.

Lewis asked what Feldstein’s expertise was supposed to be. Feldstein replied the practice, conduct and history of journalism in the United States. Lewis asked if Feldstein was legally qualified. Feldstein replied no, but he was not giving legal opinion. Lewis asked if he had read the indictment. Feldstein replied he had not read the most recent indictment.

Lewis said that Feldstein had stated that Obama decided not to prosecute whereas Trump did. But it was clear that the investigation had continued through from the Obama to the Trump administrations. Feldstein replied yes, but the proof of the pudding was that there had been no prosecution under Obama.

Lewis referred to a Washington Post article from which Feldstein had quoted in his evidence and included in his footnotes, but had not appended a copy. “Was that because it contained a passage you do not wish us to read?” Lewis said that Feldstein had omitted the quote that “no formal decision had been made” by the Obama administration, and a reference to the possibility of prosecution for activity other than publication.

Feldstein was plainly slightly rattled by Lewis’ accusation of distortion. He replied that his report stated that the Obama administration did not prosecute, which was true. He had footnoted the article; he had not thought he needed to also provide a copy. He had exercised editorial selection in quoting from the article.

Lewis said that from other sources, a judge had stated in District Court that investigation was ongoing and District Judge Mehta had said other prosecutions against persons other than Manning were being considered. Why had Feldstein not included this information in his report? Assange’s lawyer Barry J Pollock had stated “they are not informing us they are closing the investigation or have decided not to charge.” Would it not be fair to add that to his report?

Prof Feldstein replied that Assange and his lawyers would be hard to convince that the prosecution had been dropped, but we know that no new information had in 2015/16 been brought to the Grand Jury.

Lewis stated that in 2016 Assange had offered to go to the United States to face charges if Manning were granted clemency. Does this not show the Obama administration was intending to charge? Should this not have been in his report? Feldstein replied no, because it was irrelevant. Assange was not in a position to know what Obama’s Justice Department was doing. The subsequent testimony of Obama Justice Department insiders was much more valuable.

Lewis asked if the Obama administration had decided not to prosecute, why would they keep the Grand Jury open? Feldstein replied this happened very frequently. It could be for many reasons, including to collect information on alleged co-conspirators, or simply in the hope of further new evidence.

Lewis suggested that the most Feldstein might honestly say was that the Obama administration had intimated that they would not prosecute for passively obtained information, but that did not extend to a decision not to prosecute for hacking with Chelsea Manning. “If Obama did not decide not to prosecute, and the investigation had continued into the Trump administration, then your diatribe against Trump becomes otiose.”

Lewis continued that the “New York Times problem” did not exist because the NYT had only published information it had passively received. Unlike Assange, the NYT had not conspired with Manning illegally to obtain the documents. Would Prof Feldstein agree that the First Amendment did not defend a journalist against a burglary or theft charge? Feldstein replied that a journalist is not above the law. Lewis then asked Feldstein whether a journalist had a right to “steal or unlawfully obtain information” or “to hack a computer to obtain information.” Each time Feldstein replied “no”.

Lewis then asked if Feldstein accepted that Bradley (sic) Manning had committed a crime. Feldstein replied “yes”. Lewis then asked “If Assange aided and abetted, consulted or procured or entered into a conspiracy with Bradley Manning, has he not committed a crime?” Feldstein said that would depend on the “sticky details.”

Lewis then restated that there was no allegation that the NYT entered into a conspiracy with Bradley Manning, only Julian Assange. On the indictment, only counts 15, 16 and 17 related to publishing and these only to publishing of unredacted documents. The New York Times, Guardian and Washington Post had united in condemnation of the publication by Wikileaks of unredacted cables containing names. Lewis then read out again the same quote from the Leigh/Harding book he had put to Stafford Smith, stating that Julian Assange had said the Afghan informants would deserve their fate.

Lewis asked: “Would a responsible journalist publish unredacted names of an informant knowing he is in danger when it is unnecessary to do so for the purpose of the story”. Prof Feldstein replied “no”. Lewis then went on to list examples of information it might be proper for government to keep secret, such as “troop movements in war, nuclear codes, material that would harm an individual” and asked if Feldstein agreed these were legitimate secrets. Feldstein replied “yes”.

Lewis then asked rhetorically whether it was not more fair to allow a US jury to be the judge of harm. He then asked Feldstein: “You say in your report that this is a political prosecution. But a Grand jury has supported the prosecution. Do you accept that there is an evidentiary basis for the prosecution?”. Feldstein replied “A grand jury has made that decision. I don’t know that it is true.” Lewis then read out a statement from US Assistant Attorney Kromberg that prosecution decisions are taken by independent prosecutors who follow a code that precludes political factors. He asked Feldstein if he agreed that independent prosecutors were a strong bulwark against political prosecution.
Feldstein replied “That is a naive view.”

Lewis then asked whether Feldstein was claiming that President Trump or his Attorney General had ordered this prosecution without a factual basis. The professor replied he had no doubt it was a political prosecution, this was based on 1) its unprecedented nature 2) the rejection of prosecution by Obama but decision to prosecute now with no new evidence 3) the extraordinary wide framing of the charges 4) President Trump’s narrative of hostility to the press. “It’s political”.

Mark Summers then re-examined Professor Feldstein. He said that Lewis had suggested that Assange was complicit in Manning obtaining classified information but the New York Times was not. Is it your understanding that to seek to help an official leaker is a crime? Professor Feldstein replied “No, absolutely not”.
“Do journalists ask for classified information?”
“Yes.”
“Do journalists solicit such information?”
“Yes.”
“Are you aware of any kind of previous prosecution for this kind of activity.”
“No. Absolutely not.”
“Could you predict it would be criminalised?”
“No, and it is very dangerous.”

Summers than asked Professor Feldstein what the New York Times had done to get the Pentagon Papers from Daniel Ellsberg. Feldstein replied they were very active in soliciting the papers. They had a key to the room that held the documents and had helped to copy them. They had played an active not a passive role. “Journalists are not passive stenographers.”

Summers reminded Prof Feldstein that he had been asked about hacking. What if the purpose of the hacking was not to obtain the information, but to disguise the source? This was the specific allegation spelt out in Kromberg memorandum 4 paras 11 to 14. Professor Feldstein replied that protecting sources is an obligation. Journalists work closely with, conspire with, cajole, encourage, direct and protect their sources. That is journalism.

Summers asked Prof Feldstein if he maintained his caution in accepting government claims of harm. Feldstein replied absolutely. The government track record demanded caution. Summers pointed out that there is an act which specifically makes illegal the naming of intelligence sources, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Prof Feldstein said this was true; the fact that the charge was not brought under the IIPA proves that it is not true that the prosecution is intended to be limited to revealing of identities and in fact it will be much broader.

Summers concluded by saying that Lewis had stated that Wikileaks had released the unredacted cables in a mass publication. Would it change the professor’s assessment if the material had already been released by others. Prof Feldstein said his answers were not intended to indicate he accepted the government narrative.

Edward Fitzgerald QC then took over for the defence. He put to Prof Feldstein that there had been no prosecution of Assange when Manning was prosecuted, and Obama had given Manning clemency. These were significant facts. Feldstein agreed.

Fitzgerald then said that the Washington Post article from which Lewis complained Feldstein had quoted selectively, contained a great deal more material Feldstein had also not quoted but which strongly supported his case, for example “Officials told the Washington Post last week that there is no sealed indictment and the Department had “all but concluded that they would not bring a charge.”” It further stated that when Snowden was charged, Greenwald was not, and the same approach was followed with Manning/Assange. So overall the article confirmed Feldstein’s thesis, as contained in his report. Feldstein agreed. There was then discussion of other material that could have been included to support his thesis.

Fitzgerald concluded by asking if Feldstein were familiar with the phrase “a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich”. Feldstein replied it was common parlance and indicated the common view that grand juries were malleable and almost always did what prosecutors asked them to do. There was a great deal of academic material on this point.

THOUGHTS

Thus concluded another extraordinary day. Once again, there were just five of us in the public gallery (in 42 seats) and the six allowed in the overflow video gallery in court 9 was reduced to three, as three seats were reserved by the court for “VIPs” who did not show up.

The cross-examinations showed the weakness of the thirty minute guillotine adopted by Baraitser, with really interesting defence testimony cut short, and then unlimited time allowed to Lewis for his cross examination. This was particularly pernicious in the evidence of Mark Feldstein. In James Lewis’ extraordinary cross-examination of Feldstein, Lewis spoke between five and ten times as many words as the actual witness. Some of Lewis’s “questions” went on for many minutes, contained huge passages of quote and often were phrased in convoluted double negative. Thrice Feldstein refused to reply on grounds he could not make out where the question lay. With the defence initial statement of the evidence limited to half an hour, Lewis’s cross examination approached two hours, a good 80% of which was Lewis speaking.

Feldstein was browbeaten by Lewis and plainly believed that when Lewis told him to answer in very brief and concise answers, Lewis had the authority to instruct that. In fact Lewis is not the judge and it was supposed to be Feldstein’s evidence, not Lewis’s. Baraitser failed to protect Feldstein or to explain his right to frame his own answers, when that was very obviously a necessary course for her to take.

Today we had two expert witnesses, who had both submitted lengthy written testimony relating to one indictment, which was now being examined in relation to a new superseding indictment, exchanged at the last minute, and which neither of them had ever seen. Both specifically stated they had not seen the new indictment. Furthermore this new superseding indictment had been specifically prepared by the prosecution with the benefit of having heard the defence arguments and seen much of the defence evidence, in order to get round the fact that the indictment on which the hearing started was obviously failing.

On top of which the defence had been refused an adjournment to prepare their defence against the new indictment, which would have enabled these and other witnesses to see the superseding indictment, adjust their evidence accordingly and be prepared to be cross-examined in relation to it.

Clive Stafford Smith testified today that in 2001 he would not have believed the outrageous crimes that were to be perpetrated by the US government. I am obliged to say that I simply cannot believe the blatant abuse of process that is unfolding before my eyes in this courtroom.
 
 
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Your Man in the Public Gallery: the Assange Hearing Day 6

I went to the Old Bailey today expecting to be awed by the majesty of the law, and left revolted by the sordid administration of injustice.

There is a romance which attaches to the Old Bailey. The name of course means fortified enclosure and it occupies a millennia old footprint on the edge of London’s ancient city wall. It is the site of the medieval Newgate Prison, and formal trials have taken place at the Old Bailey for at least 500 years, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. For the majority of that time, those convicted even of minor offences of theft were taken out and executed in the alleyway outside. It is believed that hundreds, perhaps thousands, lie buried under the pavements.

The hefty Gothic architecture of the current grand building dates back no further than 1905, and round the back and sides of that is wrapped some horrible cheap utility building from the 1930’s. It was through a tunnelled entrance into this portion that five of us, Julian’s nominated family and friends, made our nervous way this morning. We were shown to Court 10 up many stairs that seemed like the back entrance to a particularly unloved works canteen. Tiles were chipped, walls were filthy and flakes of paint hung down from crumbling ceilings. Only the security cameras watching us were new – so new, in fact, that little piles of plaster and brick dust lay under each.

Court 10 appeared to be a fairly bright and open modern box, with pleasant light woodwork, jammed as a mezzanine inside a great vault of the old building. A massive arch intruded incongruously into the space and was obviously damp, sheets of delaminating white paint drooping down from it like flags of forlorn surrender. The dock in which Julian would be held still had a bulletproof glass screen in front, like Belmarsh, but it was not boxed in. There was no top to the screen, no low ceiling, so sound could flow freely over and Julian seemed much more in the court. It also had many more and wider slits than the notorious Belmarsh Box, and Julian was able to communicate quite readily and freely through them with his lawyers, which this time he was not prevented from doing.

Rather to our surprise, nobody else was allowed into the public gallery of court 10 but us five. Others like John Pilger and Kristin Hrafnsson, editor in chief of Wikileaks, were shunted into the adjacent court 9 where a very small number were permitted to squint at a tiny screen, on which the sound was so inaudible John Pilger simply left. Many others who had expected to attend, such as Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, were simply excluded, as were MPs from the German federal parliament (both the German MPs and Reporters Without Borders at least later got access to the inadequate video following strong representations from the German Embassy).

The reason given that only five of us were allowed in the public gallery of some 40 seats was social distancing; except we were allowed to all sit together in consecutive seats in the front row. The two rows behind us remained completely empty.

To finish scene setting, Julian himself looked tidy and well groomed and dressed, and appeared to have regained a little lost weight, but with a definite unhealthy puffiness about his features. In the morning he appeared disengaged and disoriented rather as he had at Belmarsh, but in the afternoon he perked up and was very much engaged with his defence team, interacting as normally as could be expected in these circumstances.

Proceedings started with formalities related to Julian’s release on the old extradition warrant and re-arrest under the new warrant, which had taken place this morning. Defence and prosecution both agreed that the points they had already argued on the ban on extradition for political offences were not affected by the superseding indictment.

Magistrate Baraitser then made a statement about access to the court by remote hearing, by which she meant online. She stated that a number of access details had been sent out by mistake by the court without her agreement. She had therefore revoked their access permissions.

As she spoke, we in the court had no idea what had happened, but outside some consternation was underway in that the online access of Amnesty International, of Reporters without Borders, of John Pilger and of forty others had been shut down. As these people were neither permitted to attend the court nor observe online, this was causing some consternation.

Baraitser went on to say that it was important that the hearing was public, but she should only agree remote access where it was “in the interests of justice”, and having considered it she had decided it was not. She explained this by stating that the public could normally observe from within the courtroom, where she could control their behaviour. But if they had remote access, she could not control their behaviour and this was not in the “interests of justice”.

Baraitser did not expand on what uncontrolled behaviour she anticipated from those viewing via the internet. It is certainly true that an observer from Amnesty sitting at home might be in their underwear, might be humming the complete soundtrack to Mamma Mia, or might fart loudly. Precisely why this would damage “the interests of justice” we are still left to ponder, with no further help from the magistrate. But evidently the interests of justice were, in her view, best served if almost nobody could examine the “justice” too closely.

The next “housekeeping issue” to be addressed was how witnesses should be heard. The defence had called numerous witnesses, and each had lodged a written statement. The prosecution and Baraitser both suggested that, having given their evidence in writing, there was no need for defence witnesses to give that evidence orally in open court. It would be much quicker to go straight to cross-examination by the prosecution.

For the defence, Edward Fitzgerald QC countered that justice should be seen to be done by the public. The public should be able to hear the defence evidence before hearing the cross-examination. It would also enable Julian Assange to hear the evidence summarised, which was important for him to follow the case given his lack of extended access to legal papers while in Belmarsh prison.

Baraitser stated there could not be any need for evidence submitted to her in writing to be repeated orally. For the defence, Mark Summers QC was not prepared to drop it and tension notably rose in the court. Summers stated it was normal practice for there to be “an orderly and rational exposition of the evidence”. For the prosecution, James Lewis QC denied this, saying it was not normal procedure.

Baraitser stated she could not see why witnesses should be scheduled an one hour forty five minutes each, which was too long. Lewis agreed. He also added that the prosecution does not accept that the defence’s expert witnesses are expert witnesses. A Professor of journalism telling about newspaper coverage did not count. An expert witness should only be giving evidence on a technical point the court was otherwise unqualified to consider. Lewis also objected that in giving evidence orally, defence witnesses might state new facts to which the Crown had not had time to react. Baraitser noted that the written defence statements were published online, so they were available to the public.

Edward Fitzgerald QC stood up to speak again, and Baraitser addressed him in a quite extraordinary tone of contempt. What she said exactly was: “I have given you every opportunity. Is there anything else, really, that you want to say”, the word “really” being very heavily emphasised and sarcastic. Fitzgerald refused to be sat down, and he stated that the current case featured “substantial and novel issues going to fundamental questions of human rights.” It was important the evidence was given in public. It also gave the witnesses a chance to emphasise the key points of their evidence and where they placed most weight.

Baraitser called a brief recess while she considered judgement on this issue, and then returned. She found against the defence witnesses giving their evidence in open court, but accepted that each witness should be allowed up to half an hour of being led by the defence lawyers, to enable them to orient themselves and reacquaint with their evidence before cross-examination.

This half hour for each witness represented something of a compromise, in that at least the basic evidence of each defence witness would be heard by the court and the public (insofar as the public was allowed to hear anything). But the idea that a standard half hour guillotine is sensible for all witnesses, whether they are testifying to a single fact or to developments over years, is plainly absurd. What came over most strongly from this question was the desire of both judge and prosecution to railroad through the extradition with as little of the case against it getting a public airing as possible.

As the judge adjourned for a short break we thought these questions had now been addressed and the rest of the day would be calmer. We could not have been more wrong.

The court resumed with a new defence application, led by Mark Summers QC, about the new charges from the US governments new superseding indictment. Summers took the court back over the history of this extradition hearing. The first indictment had been drawn up in March of 2018. In January 2019 a provisional request for extradition had been made, which had been implemented in April of 2019 on Assange’s removal from the Embassy. In June 2019 this was replaced by the full request with a new, second indictment which had been the basis of these proceedings before today. A whole series of hearings had taken place on the basis of that second indictment.

The new superseding indictment dated from 20 June 2020. In February and May 2020 the US government had allowed hearings to go ahead on the basis of the second indictment, giving no warning, even though they must by that stage have known the new superseding indictment was coming. They had given neither explanation nor apology for this.

The defence had not been properly informed of the superseding indictment, and indeed had learnt of its existence only through a US government press release on 20 June. It had not finally been officially served in these proceedings until 29 July, just six weeks ago. At first, it had not been clear how the superseding indictment would affect the charges, as the US government was briefing it made no difference but just gave additional detail. But on 21 August 2020, not before, it finally became clear in new US government submissions that the charges themselves had been changed.

There were now new charges that were standalone and did not depend on the earlier allegations. Even if the 18 Manning related charges were rejected, these new allegations could still form grounds for extradition. These new allegations included encouraging the stealing of data from a bank and from the government of Iceland, passing information on tracking police vehicles, and hacking the computers both of individuals and of a security company.

“How much of this newly alleged material is criminal is anybody’s guess”, stated Summers, going on to explain that it was not at all clear that an Australian giving advice from outwith Iceland to someone in Iceland on how to crack a code, was actually criminal if it occurred in the UK. This was even without considering the test of dual criminality in the US also, which had to be passed before the conduct was subject to extradition.

It was unthinkable that allegations of this magnitude would be the subject of a Part 2 extradition hearing within six weeks if they were submitted as a new case. Plainly that did not give the defence time to prepare, or to line up witnesses to these new charges. Among the issues relating to these new charges the defence would wish to address, were that some were not criminal, some were out of time limitation, some had already been charged in other fora (including Southwark Crown Court and courts in the USA).

There were also important questions to be asked about the origins of some of these charges and the dubious nature of the witnesses. In particular the witness identified as “teenager” was the same person identified as “Iceland 1” in the previous indictment. That indictment had contained a “health warning” over this witness given by the US Department of Justice. This new indictment removed that warning. But the fact was, this witness is Sigurdur Thordarson, who had been convicted in Iceland in relation to these events of fraud, theft, stealing Wikileaks money and material and impersonating Julian Assange.

The indictment did not state that the FBI had been “kicked out of Iceland for trying to use Thordarson to frame Assange”, stated Summers baldly.

Summers said all these matters should be ventilated in these hearings if the new charges were to be heard, but the defence simply did not have time to prepare its answers or its witnesses in the brief six weeks it had since receiving them, even setting aside the extreme problems of contact with Assange in the conditions in which he was being held in Belmarsh prison.

The defence would plainly need time to prepare answers to these new charges, but it would plainly be unfair to keep Assange in jail for the months that would take. The defence therefore suggested that these new charges should be excised from the conduct to be considered by the court, and they should go ahead with the evidence on criminal behaviour confined to what conduct had previously been alleged.

Summers argued it was “entirely unfair” to add what were in law new and separate criminal allegations, at short notice and “entirely without warning and not giving the defence time to respond to it. What is happening here is abnormal, unfair and liable to create real injustice if allowed to continue.”

The arguments submitted by the prosecution now rested on these brand new allegations. For example, the prosecution now countered the arguments on the rights of whistleblowers and the necessity of revealing war crimes by stating that there can have been no such necessity to hack into a bank in Iceland.

Summers concluded that the “case should be confined to that conduct which the American government had seen fit to allege in the eighteen months of the case” before their second new indictment.

Replying to Summers for the prosecution, Joel Smith QC replied that the judge was obliged by the statute to consider the new charges and could not excise them. “If there is nothing proper about the restitution of a new extradition request after a failed request, there is nothing improper in a superseding indictment before the first request had failed.” Under the Extradition Act the court must decide only if the offence is an extraditable offence and the conduct alleged meets the dual criminality test. The court has no other role and no jurisdiction to excise part of the request.

Smith stated that all the authorities (precedents) were of charges being excised from a case to allow extradition to go ahead on the basis of the remaining sound charges, and those charges which had been excised were only on the basis of double jeopardy. There was no example of charges being excised to prevent an extradition. And the decision to excise charges had only ever been taken after the conduct alleged had been examined by the court. There was no example of alleged conduct not being considered by the court. The defendant could seek extra time if needed but the new allegations must be examined.

Summers replied that Smith was “wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong”. “We are not saying that you can never submit a new indictment, but you cannot do it six weeks before the substantive hearing.” The impact of what Smith had said amounted to no more than “Ha ha this is what we are doing and you can’t stop us.” A substantive last minute change had been made with no explanation and no apology. It could not be the case, as Smith alleged, that a power existed to excise charges in fairness to the prosecution, but no power existed to excise charges in fairness to the defence.

Immediately Summers sat down, Baraitser gave her judgement on this point. As so often in this hearing, it was a pre-written judgement. She read it from a laptop she had brought into the courtroom with her, and she had made no alterations to that document as Summers and Smith had argued the case in front of her.

Baraitser stated that she had been asked as a preliminary move to excise from the case certain conduct alleged. Mr Summers had described the receipt of new allegations as extraordinary. However “I offered the defence the opportunity to adjourn the case” to give them time to prepare against the new allegations. “I considered of course that Mr Assange was in custody. I hear that Mr Summers believes this is fundamental unfairness”. But “the argument that we haven’t got the time, should be remedied by asking for the time.”

Mr Summers had raised issues of dual criminality and abuse of process; there was nothing preventing him for raising these arguments in the context of considering the request as now presented.

Baraitser simply ignored the argument that while there was indeed “nothing to prevent” the defence from answering the new allegations as each was considered, they had been given no time adequately to prepare. Having read out her pre-prepared judgement to proceed on the basis of the new superseding indictment, Baraitser adjourned the court for lunch.

At the end of the day I had the opportunity to speak to an extremely distinguished and well-known lawyer on the subject of Baraitser bringing pre-written judgements into court, prepared before she had heard the lawyers argue the case before her. I understood she already had seen the outline written arguments, but surely this was wrong. What was the point in the lawyers arguing for hours if the judgement was pre-written? What I really wanted to know was how far this was normal practice.

The lawyer replied to me that it absolutely was not normal practice, it was totally outrageous. In a long and distinguished career, this lawyer had very occasionally seen it done, even in the High Court, but there was always some effort to disguise the fact, perhaps by inserting some reference to points made orally in the courtroom. Baraitser was just blatant. The question was, of course, whether it was her own pre-written judgement she was reading out, or something she had been given from on high.

This was a pretty shocking morning. The guillotining of defence witnesses to hustle the case through, indeed the attempt to ensure their evidence was not spoken in court except those parts which the prosecution saw fit to attack in cross-examination, had been breathtaking. The effort by the defence to excise the last minute superseding indictment had been a fundamental point disposed of summarily. Yet again, Baraitser’s demeanour and very language made little attempt to disguise a hostility to the defence.

We were for the second time in the day in a break thinking that events must now calm down and get less dramatic. Again we were wrong.

Court resumed forty minutes late after lunch as various procedural wrangles were addressed behind closed doors. As the court resumed, Mark Summers for the defence stood up with a bombshell.

Summers said that the defence “recognised” the judgement Baraitser had just made – a very careful choice of word, as opposed to “respected” which might seem more natural. As she had ruled that the remedy to lack of time was more time, the defence was applying for an adjournment to enable them to prepare the answers to the new charges. They did not do this lightly, as Mr Assange would continue in prison in very difficult conditions during the adjournment.

Summers said the defence was simply not in a position to gather the evidence to respond to the new charges in a few short weeks, a situation made even worse by Covid restrictions. It was true that on 14 August Baraitser had offered an adjournment and on 21 August they had refused the offer. But in that period of time, Mr Assange had not had access to the new charges and they had not fully realised the extent to which these were a standalone new case. To this date, Assange had still not received the new prosecution Opening Note in prison, which was a crucial document in setting out the significance of the new charges.

Baraitser pointedly asked whether the defence could speak to Assange in prison by telephone. Summers replied yes, but these were extremely short conversations. They could not phone Mr Assange; he could only call out very briefly on the prison payphone to somebody’s mobile, and the rest of the team would have to try to gather round to listen. It was not possible in these very brief discussions adequately to expound complex material. Between 14 and 21 August they had been able to have only two such very short phone calls. The defence could only send documents to Mr Assange through the post to the prison; he was not always given them, or allowed to keep them.

Baraitser asked how long an adjournment was being requested. Summers replied until January.

For the US government, James Lewis QC replied that more scrutiny was needed of this request. The new matters in the indictment were purely criminal. They do not affect the arguments about the political nature of the case, or affect most of the witnesses. If more time were granted, “with the history of this case, we will just be presented with a sleigh of other material which will have no bearing on the small expansion of count 2”.

Baraitser adjourned the court “for ten minutes” while she went out to consider her judgement. In fact she took much longer. When she returned she looked peculiarly strained.

Baraitser ruled that on 14 August she had given the defence the opportunity to apply for an adjournment, and given them seven days to decide. On 21 August the defence had replied they did not want an adjournment. They had not replied that they had insufficient time to consider. Even today the defence had not applied to adjourn but rather had applied to excise charges. They “cannot have been surprised by my decision” against that application. Therefore they must have been prepared to proceed with the hearing. Their objections were not based on new circumstance. The conditions of Assange in Belmarsh had not changed since 21 August. They had therefore missed their chance and the motion to adjourn was refused.

The courtroom atmosphere was now highly charged. Having in the morning refused to cut out the superseding indictment on the grounds that the remedy for lack of time should be more time, Baraitser was now refusing to give more time. The defence had called her bluff; the state had apparently been confident that the effective solitary confinement in Belmarsh was so terrible that Assange would not request more time. I rather suspect that Julian was himself bluffing, and made the call at lunchtime to request more time in the full expectation that it would be refused, and the rank hypocrisy of the proceedings exposed.

I previously blogged about how the procedural trickery of the superseding indictment being used to replace the failing second indictment – as Smith said for the prosecution “before it failed” – was something that sickened the soul. Today in the courtroom you could smell the sulphur.

Well, yet again we were left with the feeling that matters must now get less exciting. This time we were right and they became instead excruciatingly banal. We finally moved on to the first witness, Professor Mark Feldstein, giving evidence to the court by videolink for the USA. It was not Professor Feldstein’s fault the day finished in confused anti-climax. The court was unable to make the video technology work. For ten broken minutes out of about forty Feldstein was briefly able to give evidence, and even this was completely unsatisfactory as he and Mark Summers were repeatedly speaking over each other on the link.

Professor Feldstein’s evidence will resume tomorrow (now in fact today) and I think rather than split it I shall give the full account then. Meantime you can see these excellent summaries from Kevin Gosztola or the morning and afternoon reports from James Doleman. In fact, I should be grateful if you did, so you can see that I am neither inventing nor exaggerating the facts of these startling events.

If you asked me to sum up today in a word, that word would undoubtedly be “railroaded”. it was all about pushing through the hearing as quickly as possible and with as little public exposure as possible to what is happening. Access denied, adjournment denied, exposition of defence evidence denied, removal of superseding indictment charges denied. The prosecution was plainly failing in that week back in Woolwich in February, which seems like an age ago. It has now been given a new boost.

How the defence will deal with the new charges we shall see. It seems impossible that they can do this without calling new witnesses to address the new facts. But the witness lists had already been finalised on the basis of the old charges. That the defence should be forced to proceed with the wrong witnesses seems crazy, but frankly, I am well past being surprised by anything in this fake process.

You are free to republish this article, including in translation, without further permission. A brief note left in comments below detailing where it is republished is appreciated.

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My coverage of Julian’s case is entirely dependent on your financial support. Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Media Freedom? Show me the MSM Journalist Opposing the Torture of Assange

Today, the corporate media that cried “Media freedom” when Extinction Rebellion blocked the billionaire owned propaganda presses, is silent as Julian Assange’s Calvary for bringing real truth unfiltered to the public moves on to its next station; the macabre Gothic architecture of the Old Bailey.

The Tories appeared remarkably tolerant in the days when Extinction Rebellion were causing general disruption to the public. But to threaten the interests of billionaire paymasters is something against which the entire political class will unite. At a time when the government is mooting designating Extinction Rebellion as Serious Organised Crime, right wing bequiffed muppet Keir Starmer was piously condemning the group, stating: “The free press is the cornerstone of democracy and we must do all we can to protect it.”

It is surely time we stopped talking about “free press”, as if it was Thomas Paine or William Cobbett distributing pamphlets. Print media is now the subject of phenomenonal ownership concentration. It broadcasts the propaganda of some very nasty billionaires to a shrinking audience of mostly old people. The same ownerships have of course moved in to TV and Radio and increasingly into new media, and have a political stranglehold over those who control state media. At the same time, the corporate gatekeepers of Facebook and Twitter purposefully strangle the flow of readers to independent online media. The idea of a “free press” as an open marketplace of democratic ideas has no real meaning in modern society, until anti-monopoly action is taken. Which is the last thing those in power will do.

Quite the opposite, they are actively seeking to eliminate dissent even from the internet.

I do not want permanently to close down the Sun or the Telegraph; neither do Extinction Rebellion. But their excellent action is an important opening to the debate about controlled public narrative, not least on climate change. The highly paid stenographers to power have been quick to protest. Murdoch mouthpiece David Aaronovitch tweeted out that in fact 99% of the time there was no editorial interference from Murdoch. But that is the point. Murdoch employs reliable right wingers like Aaronovitch; he does not need to tell them what to write.

Show me the Murdoch journalist who has more than once published about the human rights abuses against the Palestinians. Murdoch ejected his own son from his media empire because James was insufficiently enthusiastic about the slow genocide of the Palestinians, and does not believe that the market will magically fix climate change.

The corporate media selects its mouthpieces. Scotland has become an extreme example, where 55% of the population support Independence, but only about 5% of state and corporate media “journalists” support Independence.

Julian Assange has been a light in this darkness. Wikileaks have opened a window into the secret world of war crime, murder and corruption that underlies so much of the governance we live under throughout the “free” world. Coming in the wake of the public realisation that we had been blatantly lied into the destruction of Iraq, there was a time when it seemed Assange would lead us into a new age where whistleblowers, citizen journalists and a democratic internet would revolutionise public information, with the billionaire stranglehold shattered.

That seems less hopeful today, as the internet world itself corporatised. Julian is in jail and continuing today is an extradition hearing that has been one long abuse of process. The appalling conditions of solitary confinement in which he has been kept in the high security Belmarsh Prison, with no access to his legal team or a working computer, to his papers or to his mail, have taken a huge toll on his physical and mental health. The UN Special Representative has declared he is subject to torture. A media which is up in arms about the very dubious attack on Navalny, has no emotion for state torture victim Assange other than contempt.

It is constantly asked by Julian’s supporters why the media do not see the assault on a publisher and journalist as a threat to themselves. The answer is that the state and corporate media are confident in their firm alliance with the powers that be. They have no intention of challenging the status quo; their protection from those kicking Assange lies in joining in with the kicking.

I hope to be in court today, and throughout the extradition hearing. The public gallery of 80 has been reduced to 9 “due to Covid”. 5 seats are reserved for Julian’s family and friends, and I have one of these today, but not guaranteed beyond that. There are just 4 seats for the general public.

Journalists and NGO’s will be following the hearing online – but only “approved” journalists and NGO’s, selected by the Orwelian Ministry of Justice. I had dinner last night with Assange supporters from a number of registered NGO’s, not one of which had been “approved”. I had applied myself as a representative of Hope Over Fear, and was turned down. It is the same story for those who applied for online access as journalists. Only the officially “approved” will be allowed to watch.

This is supposed to be a public hearing, to which in normal times anybody should be able to walk in off the street into the large public gallery, and anyone with a press card into the press gallery. What is the justification for the political selection of those permitted to watch? An extraordinary online system has been set up, with the state favoured observers given online “rooms” in which only the identified individual will be allowed. Even with approved organisations, it is not the case that an organisation will have a login anyone can use, not even one at a time. Only specifically nominated individuals have to login before proceedings start, and if their connection breaks at any point they will not be readmitted that day.

Given these restrictions, I was very conscious I may need to queue from 5am tomorrow, to get one of the 4 public places, if I drop off the family list. So I went this morning at 6am to the Old Bailey to check out the queue and work out the system. The first six people in the queue were all people who, entirely off their own bat, without my knowledge and with no coordination between them, had arrived while London slept just to reserve a place for me. I was swept up by their goodness, their trust in me and by their sheer humanitarian concern about Julian and the whole miscarriage of justice. I chatted cheerily with them for a while, then came back to write this, but just got round the corner when I burst into floods of tears, overwhelmed by all this kindness.

I have to pull myself together now and get into that court.

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My coverage of Julian’s case is entirely dependent on your financial support. Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Assange Travesty Continues

The travesty that is Julian Assange’s extradition hearing resumes fully on 7 September at the Old Bailey. I shall be abandoning my own legal team and going down to London to cover it again in full, for an expected three weeks. How this is going to work at the Old Bailey, I do not know. Covid restrictions presumably mean that the numbers in the public gallery will be tiny. As of now, there is no arrangement for Julian’s friends and family in place. It looks like 4am queuing is in prospect.

By 7 September it will be six months since I applied to resume my membership of the National Union of Journalists. I STILL have not the slightest idea who objected, or what the grounds were for objection. I have not heard from the NUJ for months. A senior official of an international journalists’ organisation has told us that he inquired, and learnt that the NUJ national executive has considered my application and set up a sub-committee to report. But if so, why is this secret, why have I not been informed, and why am I not allowed to know what the objection is? I find this all very sinister. At this stage it is not paranoid to wonder whose hand is behind this.

The practical effect of this is that without NUJ membership I cannot access a Press card, and avail myself of whatever media arrangements are in place for the Assange hearing (just as I was kept out of most of the Salmond trial). I have now reached the stage where I would like to take legal action against the NUJ, but the finances are beyond me. I am not going to ask you to donate because we are going to need all our resources for the contempt case against me, which the Crown drags out.

I shall be writing next week about my own case and that hearing earlier this week. I would just note now that the “virtual hearing” is entirely unsatisfactory and unfair on defendants. There was at least one occasion when my QC agreed with a suggestion of the judge when I would have instructed them not to had I been, as I should normally have been, seated near them in court and able to instruct.

——————————————

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

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Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
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Assange Legal Farce Continues

There has simply never been a broadcast report in the UK on Assange as fair as this one from Sky News Australia.

https://www.skynews.com.au/details/_6177251758001

nor is it conceivable that there ever could be.

I have reported already on the US changing the indictment after the defence’s opening statement had been heard and defence written evidence submitted. The latest legal twist in this Kafkaesque saga is that Julian may be released and instantly re-arrested under the new indictment.

The USA and the Crown continue to argue that the charges remain the same, even if the indictment has changed. This is like being halfway through a trial for the murder of Stephanie, the defence having demolished the prosecution case, and they suddenly change the allegation from murdering Stephanie to murdering Peter, but say it makes no difference as it is still the same charge of murder. As I have catalogued the relentless cruelty and the contortions of reason in this case, a little bit of me keeps saying “they cannot get away with this”. But so far, they always do.

If anyone can figure a way to embed the Sky News video…

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

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CIA Spying on Assange’s Privileged Legal Conversations

Here is an image of Julian and I talking in the Ecuadorean Embassy, part of the spycam footage that was commissioned by the CIA from Spanish security firm Global. Julian and I were discussing a number of overseas missions to liaise with foreign governments, which I was carrying out on his behalf.

(Incidentally can anybody explain why the precise image you see there is an image which does not appear at any stage when you run the video? I am not even hinting at anything suspicious, just technically interested).

Having been on the inside and knowing their capabilities, I have always assumed that the security services know everything I say and do, so I cannot claim this comes as a great shock or that my behaviour would have been much altered had I known. The shadowing on those overseas trips was unsubtle in any case, more of a warning off than attempt at covert surveillance. As anyone who has read my books will realise, I have always rather enjoyed the more shadowy elements, with me since my former profession. During a visit to Washington in September 2016 which has become somewhat infamous, for fun I entered an establishment of low repute and spent an afternoon giving out free flash drives with my tips to various young ladies and barmen, just to give the FBI lots of particularly wild geese to chase. I have wondered occasionally whether subsequent embarrassment is connected to Robert Mueller’s lack of desire to accept my evidence. (If you have no idea what I am talking about do not worry, you haven’t missed much and just skip this para).

While I am gently rambling away, I might add that it was most amusing to be portrayed as a housebound obsessive blogger by MSM journalists attacking me on Twitter over my Salmond coverage: that is attacked by MSM journalists who have never done anything in their life except copy and paste the odd establishment press release and pick up fat pay cheques from their billionaire owners.

There is however a point to this post. As the ABC news item above shows, Julian’s privileged conversations with his lawyers on his legal defence were being spied on, by the government which is now seeking to extradite him. In any jurisdiction in the civilised world, that should be enough immediately to bring proceedings to a halt. The first witnesses to be called when the hearing resumes are the witnesses who will attest to this. The defence have requested an adjournment of the case beyond May 18, because at present they have no access to their client due to Covid 19 lockdown in the jail, and because it is not at all clear witnesses will be able to travel from abroad by 18 May. Judge Vanessa Baraitser has refused to reschedule.

It is also worth asking why has nothing like that ABC coverage been seen on the BBC or Sky, where this case is actually being heard and Julian is a prisoner?

With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible.

This article is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation, and I very much hope people will do so actively. Truth shall set us free.

——————————————

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

Recurring Donations



 

Paypal address for one-off donations: [email protected]

Alternatively:

Account name
MURRAY CJ
Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
Sort code 6 0 – 4 0 – 0 5
IBAN GB98NWBK60400532150962
BIC NWBKGB2L
Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

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Assange Bail Application Today

Unfortunately I am in lockdown at home in Edinburgh and cannot get down to Westminster Magistrates Court for Julian Assange’s urgent bail application today. Several hearings ago, Magistrate Baraitser stated pre-emptively that she would not grant bail, before any application had been made. Today’s application will argue that Assange’s ill health puts him at extreme danger from COVID-19, and that prison conditions make it impossible to avoid infection.

The government has stated that it is actively considering releasing some prisoners to reduce prison populations because of COVID-19. That a non-violent remand prisoner, whose current position is an innocent man facing charges in a foreign state, is in the fortress Belmarsh prison is already self-evidently ludicrous.

Both the British Government and Vanessa Baraitser personally came in for extreme criticism from the highly authoritative International Bar Association over both the conditions in which he is being held and over the conduct of his extradition hearing to date. This is from the International Bar Association’s own website:

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns the reported mistreatment of Julian Assange during his United States extradition trial in February 2020, and urges the government of the United Kingdom to take action to protect him. According to his lawyers, Mr Assange was handcuffed 11 times; stripped naked twice and searched; his case files confiscated after the first day of the hearing; and had his request to sit with his lawyers during the trial, rather than in a dock surrounded by bulletproof glass, denied.

The UK hearing, which began on Monday 24 February 2020 at Woolwich Crown Court in London, UK, will decide whether the WikiLeaks founder, Mr Assange, will be extradited to the US, where he is wanted on 18 charges of attempted hacking and breaches of the 1917 Espionage Act. He faces allegations of collaborating with former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to leak classified documents, including exposing alleged war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. The hearing was adjourned after four days, with proceedings set to resume on 18 May 2020.

IBAHRI Co-Chair, the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, commented: ‘The IBAHRI is concerned that the mistreatment of Julian Assange constitutes breaches of his right to a fair trial and protections enshrined in the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which the UK is party. It is deeply shocking that as a mature democracy in which the rule of law and the rights of individuals are preserved, the UK Government has been silent and has taken no action to terminate such gross and disproportionate conduct by Crown officials. As well, we are surprised that the presiding judge has reportedly said and done nothing to rebuke the officials and their superiors for such conduct in the case of an accused whose offence is not one of personal violence. Many countries in the world look to Britain as an example in such matters. On this occasion, the example is shocking and excessive. It is reminiscent of the Abu Grahib Prison Scandal which can happen when prison officials are not trained in the basic human rights of detainees and the Nelson Mandela Rules.’

In accordance with the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force in the UK in October 2000, every person tried in the UK is entitled to a fair trial (Article 6) and freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3). Similarly, Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights upholds an individual’s right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.

IBAHRI Co-Chair, Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc, commented: ‘The IBAHRI concurs with the widespread concern over the ill-treatment of Mr Assange. He must be afforded equality in access to effective legal representation. With this extradition trial we are witnessing the serious undermining of due process and the rule of law. It is troubling that Mr Assange has complained that he is unable to hear properly what is being said at his trial, and that because he is locked in a glass cage is prevented from communicating freely with his lawyers during the proceedings commensurate with the prosecution.’

A recent report from Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Inhumane Treatment, presented during the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council (24 February – 20 March 2020), argues that the cumulative effects of Mr Assange’s mistreatment over the past decade amount to psychological torture. If Mr Assange was viewed as a victim of psychological torture, his extradition would be illegal under international human rights law.

117 medical doctors, including several world prominent experts in the field, had published a letter in the Lancet warning that Assange’s treatment amounts to torture and that he could die in jail.

Should Assange die in a UK prison, as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has warned, he will effectively have been tortured to death. Much of that torture will have taken place in a prison medical ward, on doctors’ watch. The medical profession cannot afford to stand silently by, on the wrong side of torture and the wrong side of history, while such a travesty unfolds.

You may recall that I myself concluded that the extraordinary and oppressive treatment of Assange, and the refusal of Baraitser to act to ameliorate it, could only be part of a deliberate policy to cause his death. I could, and can, think of no other possible explanation.

If the authorities now refuse to allow him out on bail during the Covid-19 outbreak, I do not see how anybody can possibly argue there is any intention other than to cause his death.

With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible.

This article is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation, and I very much hope people will do so actively. Truth shall set us free.

——————————————

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

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MURRAY CJ
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Julian Assange Hearing – Your Help Wanted

Here is a list of things you can do to help. Everyone can do at least one of these.

1) Put 18 May firmly in your diary. The hearing stands adjourned until 18 May. Turn up on 18 May and join the protests there all day – show the world this is a political trial, and we know it. Woolwich Crown Court is walking distance from Plumstead Railway Station in South East London. If you feel able to do so, bring your tent and join the Free Assange Village that sets up on the grass banks around the court – there is loads of available space. But if you can just turn up for the day, that is just as valuable. Protests will roll on every day throughout the hearing which will continue for a minimum of three weeks.

Make all the noise you can at the protests. The prosecution is anxious to portray this as an “ordinary criminal case”. Make sure the world, and the judge, know it is not. There was an attempt by the judge to deflect the communication problems caused by Julian being locked inside a bulletproof glass cage, and blame the distant noise of protestors for that instead. Do not be deflected by this arrant nonsense. Make all the noise you can.

2) Write to your elected representatives. This really does have an impact if done en masse. You can do this whichever country you are in. The key points are these:

– Publishing the truth should not be a crime. Wikileaks exposed war crimes and worldwide corruption by governments.
– The prosecution case rests entirely on the argument that the UK/US Extradition Treaty of 2007 is legally enforceable, but that specifically Clause 4.i of the Treaty forbidding extradition for political offences has no standing in law. This is an absurd argument.
– Ask specifically your elected representative whether they personally believe political offences should be extraditable, and what they believe the impact might be worldwide on political dissidents in exile
– Demand they act on the disgraceful conditions in which Julian is held, including entirely unnecessary strip searches and manacling, lack of access to his legal papers and lack of access to his lawyers. Point out he has not been convicted and that these are incompatible with his status as an innocent remand prisoner. Point out he is being treated as the most violent convicted terrorists are treated, but he is unconvicted and accused of a peaceful political offence.

3) Put in a freedom of information request. I explained at great length why it is impossible that the UK could have ratified the US/UK Extradition Treaty in 2007 if it is indeed, as the prosecution claim, incompatible with the UK Extradition Act of 2003. Please read that again.

If you are in the UK
There must be documentary evidence of all the clearance work around Whitehall that was done to ensure the 2007 Treaty is fully compatible with UK law. I therefore need people to submit Freedom of Information Requests to:
a)Foreign & Commonwealth Office (Specifying Consular Dept, Legal Advisers, North American Dept, Nationality & Treaty Dept, Counter Terrorism Dept or their successors if renamed and any other relevant departments)
b)Home Office
c)Treasury Solicitors
d)Cabinet Office
e)UK Parliament

Requesting “All materials relating to the ratification and entry into force of the UK/US Extradition Treaty (signed 2003 ratified 2007), and particularly all discussion of the ability of the 2003 Extradition Act to apply all of its provisions, of the need or lack of need for any further statutory provision to incorporate it into English law, including but not exclusively any reference to extradition for political offences or to clause 4 of the UK US Extradition Treaty.” Materials should be requested from 2002 to 2007.

If you are in the USA, please similarly put in a FOIA request to the Department of Justice and State Department for all material relating to the implementation of the UK/US Extradition Treaty (signed 2003, ratified 2007), and particularly any discussion of the political offences exclusion at Clause 4, in particular but not exclusively with relation to the desirability of the UK implementing that clause and/or the UK’s ability to do so.

I realise I am asking for a bit of work here from you to work out how to do and phrase this. I have never been let down when drawing on the tenacity and perspicacity of our readers before!

4) Research the passing of the 2003 Extradition Act.

In Court the prosecution argued that the 2003 Extradition Act was the first such UK Act not to include an exclusion for political offences. Parliament must therefore deliberately have removed the political offences exclusion and the 2007 Treaty could not put it back in. The defence argued to the contrary that the 2003 Extradition Act is an Enabling Act on which extradition treaties depend. Both the Act and the Treaty are required for extradition, and the Act did nothing to limit Treaties from including a ban on extradition for political offences.

As always, Judge Baraitser ignored the defence argument. She three times asserted as a simple matter of fact that Parliament had intended to allow extradition for political offences when passing the 2003 Extradition Act. Twice she did this in interruption of the defence argument to the contrary.

Normally neither arguments about the intention of parliament, nor quotes from Hansard debates, are taken into consideration by English courts. With few exceptions, rulings have been that the legislation must be read on its face. But here, Baraitser has herself quoted the intention of parliament – using that very word – to justify dismissing the defence argument. It must therefore be legitimate to introduce evidence on the intention of parliament, if the judge is going to rely on the concept.

I therefore need people to read through all the Hansards of debates on the 2003 Extradition Act, both in the Commons and the Lords, to see what was said about extradition for political offences, and particular if any distinction was made between terrorists and peaceful political offenders, and whether ministers gave any reassurances. Apart from the debates, there may be parliamentary questions in Hansard on the same topic.

It is of course true that the 2003 Extradition Act was a product of the so-called “War on Terror” and the Iraq and Afghan invasions, passed by Blair, Straw and Blunkett, undoubtedly the most hostile to civil liberty, authoritarian government in modern British history. But even so, I feel fairly confident that to get the Act through the Commons and especially the Lords, ministers will have been obliged to give some reassurance it was not intended to use it against peaceful political dissidents.

I have received quite a clamour from people wanting to know how they can help. Off you go!

This blog will resume its daily coverage of the hearings when proceedings restart on 18 May. On a personal note, my sincere thanks to all those who supported financially. I am happy to report that from the afternoon of Day 3, an accommodation was made by the Court whereby Julian was given six seats in the public gallery for family and close friends, and he kindly listed me for one of those, so I no longer had to queue at 6am, and I hope that will continue.

Finally may I say that I am always delighted when readers, and subscribers, introduce themselves personally. I find it really heartwarming and it certainly helped keep my morale up at a very tiring and emotionally draining time. So please do not feel in the least reticent to say hello if you come along from 18 May.

There was a tremendous camaraderie at the hearing among Julian’s supporters, and I believe I met people from well nigh every country in Europe and the Americas. We kept each other going, and Julian lit up every time he saw friendly faces. It was a very intense week, and even with a wonderful and loving family to go home to, I felt a bit down after we all split up, and everyone who has been back in contact since has said the same thing. I am haunted by the thought of how much more dreadful Julian must feel, back into the bowels of that high tech dungeon and virtual solitary confinement, with very little contact with his legal team or his papers and months to go before anything else happens. Do think of him and pray for him if you have a faith.

——————————————

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

Recurring Donations



 

Paypal address for one-off donations: [email protected]

Alternatively:

Account name
MURRAY CJ
Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
Sort code 6 0 – 4 0 – 0 5
IBAN GB98NWBK60400532150962
BIC NWBKGB2L
Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

View with comments

Your Man in the Public Gallery – Assange Hearing Day Four

Please try this experiment for me.
Try asking this question out loud, in a tone of intellectual interest and engagement: “Are you suggesting that the two have the same effect?”.

Now try asking this question out loud, in a tone of hostility and incredulity bordering on sarcasm: “Are you suggesting that the two have the same effect?”.

Firstly, congratulations on your acting skills; you take direction very well. Secondly, is it not fascinating how precisely the same words can convey the opposite meaning dependent on modulation of stress, pitch, and volume?

Yesterday the prosecution continued its argument that the provision in the 2007 UK/US Extradition Treaty that bars extradition for political offences is a dead letter, and that Julian Assange’s objectives are not political in any event. James Lewis QC for the prosecution spoke for about an hour, and Edward Fitzgerald QC replied for the defence for about the same time. During Lewis’s presentation, he was interrupted by Judge Baraitser precisely once. During Fitzgerald’s reply, Baraitser interjected seventeen times.

In the transcript, those interruptions will not look unreasonable:
“Could you clarify that for me Mr Fitzgerald…”
“So how do you cope with Mr Lewis’s point that…”
“But surely that’s a circular argument…”
“But it’s not incorporated, is it?…”

All these and the other dozen interruptions were designed to appear to show the judge attempting to clarify the defence’s argument in a spirit of intellectual testing. But if you heard the tone of Baraitser’s voice, saw her body language and facial expressions, it was anything but.

The false picture a transcript might give is exacerbated by the courtly Fitzgerald’s continually replying to each obvious harassment with “Thank you Madam, that is very helpful”, which again if you were there, plainly meant the opposite. But what a transcript will helpfully nevertheless show was the bully pulpit of Baraitser’s tactic in interrupting Fitzgerald again and again and again, belittling his points and very deliberately indeed preventing him from getting into the flow of his argument. The contrast in every way with her treatment of Lewis could not be more pronounced.

So now to report the legal arguments themselves.

James Lewis for the prosecution, continuing his arguments from the day before, said that Parliament had not included a bar on extradition for political offences in the 2003 Act. It could therefore not be reintroduced into law by a treaty. “To introduce a Political Offences bar by the back door would be to subvert the intention of Parliament.”

Lewis also argued that these were not political offences. The definition of a political offence was in the UK limited to behaviour intended “to overturn or change a government or induce it to change its policy.” Furthermore the aim must be to change government or policy in the short term, not the indeterminate future.

Lewis stated that further the term “political offence” could only be applied to offences committed within the territory where it was attempted to make the change. So to be classified as political offences, Assange would have had to commit them within the territory of the USA, but he did not.

If Baraitser did decide the bar on political offences applied, the court would have to determine the meaning of “political offence” in the UK/US Extradition Treaty and construe the meaning of paragraphs 4.1 and 4.2 of the Treaty. To construe the terms of an international treaty was beyond the powers of the court.

Lewis perorated that the conduct of Julian Assange cannot possibly be classified as a political offence. “It is impossible to place Julian Assange in the position of a political refugee”. The activity in which Wikileaks was engaged was not in its proper meaning political opposition to the US Administration or an attempt to overthrow that administration. Therefore the offence was not political.

For the defence Edward Fitzgerald replied that the 2003 Extradition Act was an enabling act under which treaties could operate. Parliament had been concerned to remove any threat of abuse of the political offence bar to cover terrorist acts of violence against innocent civilians. But there remained a clear protection, accepted worldwide, for peaceful political dissent. This was reflected in the Extradition Treaty on the basis of which the court was acting.

Baraitser interrupted that the UK/US Extradition Treaty was not incorporated into English Law.

Fitzgerald replied that the entire extradition request is on the basis of the treaty. It is an abuse of process for the authorities to rely on the treaty for the application but then to claim that its provisions do not apply.

“On the face of it, it is a very bizarre argument that a treaty which gives rise to the extradition, on which the extradition is founded, can be disregarded in its provisions. It is on the face of it absurd.” Edward Fitzgerald QC for the Defence

Fitzgerald added that English Courts construe treaties all the time. He gave examples.

Fitzgerald went on that the defence did not accept that treason, espionage and sedition were not regarded as political offences in England. But even if one did accept Lewis’s too narrow definition of political offence, Assange’s behaviour still met the test. What on earth could be the motive of publishing evidence of government war crimes and corruption, other than to change the policy of the government? Indeed, the evidence would prove that Wikileaks had effectively changed the policy of the US government, particularly on Iraq.

Baraitser interjected that to expose government wrongdoing was not the same thing as to try to change government policy. Fitzgerald asked her, finally in some exasperation after umpteen interruptions, what other point could there be in exposing government wrongdoing other than to induce a change in government policy?

That concluded opening arguments for the prosecution and defence.

MY PERSONAL COMMENTARY

Let me put this as neutrally as possible. If you could fairly state that Lewis’s argument was much more logical, rational and intuitive than Fitzgerald’s, you could understand why Lewis did not need an interruption while Fitzgerald had to be continually interrupted for “clarification”. But in fact it was Lewis who was making out the case that the provisions of the very treaty under which the extradition is being made, do not in fact apply, a logical step which I suggest the man on the Clapham omnibus might reason to need rather more testing than Fitzgerald’s assertion to the contrary. Baraitser’s comparative harassment of Fitzgerald when he had the prosecution on the ropes was straight out of the Stalin show trial playbook.

The defence did not mention it, and I do not know if it features in their written arguments, but I thought Lewis’s point that these could not be political offences, because Julian Assange was not in the USA when he committed them, was breathtakingly dishonest. The USA claims universal jurisdiction. Assange is being charged with crimes of publishing committed while he was outside the USA. The USA claims the right to charge anyone of any nationality, anywhere in the world, who harms US interests. They also in addition here claim that as the materials could be seen on the internet in the USA, there was an offence in the USA. At the same time to claim this could not be a political offence as the crime was committed outside the USA is, as Edward Fitzgerald might say, on the face of it absurd. Which curiously Baraitser did not pick up on.

Lewis’s argument that the Treaty does not have any standing in English law is not something he just made up. Nigel Farage did not materialise from nowhere. There is in truth a long tradition in English law that even a treaty signed and ratified with some bloody Johnny Foreigner country, can in no way bind an English court. Lewis could and did spout reams and reams of judgements from old beetroot faced judges holding forth to say exactly that in the House of Lords, before going off to shoot grouse and spank the footman’s son. Lewis was especially fond of the Tin Council case.

There is of course a contrary and more enlightened tradition, and a number of judgements that say the exact opposite, mostly more recent. This is why there was so much repetitive argument as each side piled up more and more volumes of “authorities” on their side of the case.

The difficulty for Lewis – and for Baraitser – is that this case is not analogous to me buying a Mars bar and then going to court because an International Treaty on Mars Bars says mine is too small.

Rather the 2003 Extradition Act is an Enabling Act on which extradition treaties then depend. You can’t thus extradite under the 2003 Act without the Treaty. So the Extradition Treaty of 2007 in a very real sense becomes an executive instrument legally required to authorise the extradition. For the executing authorities to breach the terms of the necessary executive instrument under which they are acting, simply has to be an abuse of process. So the Extradition Treaty owing to its type and its necessity for legal action, is in fact incorporated in English Law by the Extradition Act of 2003 on which it depends.

The Extradition Treaty is a necessary precondition of the extradition, whereas a Mars Bar Treaty is not a necessary precondition to buying the Mars Bar.

That is as plain as I can put it. I do hope that is comprehensible.

It is of course difficult for Lewis that on the same day the Court of Appeal was ruling against the construction of the Heathrow Third Runway, partly because of its incompatibility with the Paris Agreement of 2016, despite the latter not being fully incorporated into English law by the Climate Change Act of 2008.

VITAL PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

It is intensely embarrassing for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) when an English court repudiates the application of a treaty the UK has ratified with one or more foreign states. For that reason, in the modern world, very serious procedures and precautions have been put into place to make certain that this cannot happen. Therefore the prosecution’s argument that all the provisions of the UK/US Extradition Treaty of 2007 are not able to be implemented under the Extradition Act of 2003, ought to be impossible.

I need to explain I have myself negotiated and overseen the entry into force of treaties within the FCO. The last one in which I personally tied the ribbon and applied the sealing wax (literally) was the Anglo-Belgian Continental Shelf Treaty of 1991, but I was involved in negotiating others and the system I am going to describe was still in place when I left the FCO as an Ambassador in 2005, and I believe is unchanged today (and remember the Extradition Act was 2003 and the US/UK Extradition Treaty ratified 2007, so my knowledge is not outdated). Departmental nomenclatures change from time to time and so does structural organisation. But the offices and functions I will describe remain, even if names may be different.

All international treaties have a two stage process. First they are signed to show the government agrees to the treaty. Then, after a delay, they are ratified. This second stage takes place when the government has enabled the legislation and other required agency to implement the treaty. This is the answer to Lewis’s observation about the roles of the executive and legislature. The ratification stage only takes place after any required legislative action. That is the whole point.

This is how it happens in the FCO. Officials negotiate the extradition treaty. It is signed for the UK. The signed treaty then gets returned to FCO Legal Advisers, Nationality and Treaty Department, Consular Department, North American Department and others and is sent on to Treasury/Cabinet Office Solicitors and to Home Office, Parliament and to any other Government Department whose area is impacted by the individual treaty.

The Treaty is extensively vetted to check that it can be fully implemented in all the jurisdictions of the UK. If it cannot, then amendments to the law have to be made so that it can. These amendments can be made by Act of Parliament or more generally by secondary legislation using powers conferred on the Secretary of State by an act. If there is already an Act of Parliament under which the Treaty can be implemented, then no enabling legislation needs to be passed. International Agreements are not all individually incorporated into English or Scottish laws by specific new legislation.

This is a very careful step by step process, carried out by lawyers and officials in the FCO, Treasury, Cabinet Office, Home Office, Parliament and elsewhere. Each will in parallel look at every clause of the Treaty and check that it can be applied. All changes needed to give effect to the treaty then have to be made – amending legislation, and necessary administrative steps. Only when all hurdles have been cleared, including legislation, and Parliamentary officials, Treasury, Cabinet Office, Home Office and FCO all certify that the Treaty is capable of having effect in the UK, will the FCO Legal Advisers give the go ahead for the Treaty to be ratified. You absolutely cannot ratify the treaty before FCO Legal Advisers have given this clearance.

This is a serious process. That is why the US/UK Extradition Treaty was signed in 2003 and ratified in 2007. That is not an abnormal delay.

So I know for certain that ALL the relevant British Government legal departments MUST have agreed that Article 4.1 of the UK/US Extradition Treaty was capable of being given effect under the 2003 Extradition Act. That certification has to have happened or the Treaty could never have been ratified.

It follows of necessity that the UK Government, in seeking to argue now that Article 4.1 is incompatible with the 2003 Act, is knowingly lying. There could not be a more gross abuse of process.

I have been keen for the hearing on this particular point to conclude so that I could give you the benefit of my experience. I shall rest there for now, but later today hope to post further on yesterday’s row in court over releasing Julian from the anti-terrorist armoured dock.

With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible. I wish to stress again that I absolutely do not want anybody to give anything if it causes them the slightest possibility of financial strain.

This article is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation, and I very much hope people will do so actively. Truth shall set us free.

——————————————

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

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Your Man in the Public Gallery – The Assange Hearing Day 3

In yesterday’s proceedings in court, the prosecution adopted arguments so stark and apparently unreasonable I have been fretting on how to write them up in a way that does not seem like caricature or unfair exaggeration on my part. What has been happening in this court has long moved beyond caricature. All I can do is give you my personal assurance that what I recount actually is what happened.

As usual, I shall deal with procedural matters and Julian’s treatment first, before getting in to a clear account of the legal arguments made.

Vanessa Baraitser is under a clear instruction to mimic concern by asking, near the end of every session just before we break anyway, if Julian is feeling well and whether he would like a break. She then routinely ignores his response. Yesterday he replied at some length he could not hear properly in his glass box and could not communicate with his lawyers (at some point yesterday they had started preventing him passing notes to his counsel, which I learn was the background to the aggressive prevention of his shaking Garzon’s hand goodbye).

Baraitser insisted he might only be heard through his counsel, which given he was prevented from instructing them was a bit rich. This being pointed out, we had a ten minute adjournment while Julian and his counsel were allowed to talk down in the cells – presumably where they could be more conveniently bugged yet again.

On return, Edward Fitzgerald made a formal application for Julian to be allowed to sit beside his lawyers in the court. Julian was “a gentle, intellectual man” and not a terrorist. Baraitser replied that releasing Assange from the dock into the body of the court would mean he was released from custody. To achieve that would require an application for bail.

Again, the prosecution counsel James Lewis intervened on the side of the defence to try to make Julian’s treatment less extreme. He was not, he suggested diffidently, quite sure that it was correct that it required bail for Julian to be in the body of the court, or that being in the body of the court accompanied by security officers meant that a prisoner was no longer in custody. Prisoners, even the most dangerous of terrorists, gave evidence from the witness box in the body of the court nest to the lawyers and magistrate. In the High Court prisoners frequently sat with their lawyers in extradition hearings, in extreme cases of violent criminals handcuffed to a security officer.

Baraitser replied that Assange might pose a danger to the public. It was a question of health and safety. How did Fitzgerald and Lewis think that she had the ability to carry out the necessary risk assessment? It would have to be up to Group 4 to decide if this was possible.

Yes, she really did say that. Group 4 would have to decide.

Baraitser started to throw out jargon like a Dalek when it spins out of control. “Risk assessment” and “health and safety” featured a lot. She started to resemble something worse than a Dalek, a particularly stupid local government officer of a very low grade. “No jurisdiction” – “Up to Group 4”. Recovering slightly, she stated firmly that delivery to custody can only mean delivery to the dock of the court, nowhere else in the room. If the defence wanted him in the courtroom where he could hear proceedings better, they could only apply for bail and his release from custody in general. She then peered at both barristers in the hope this would have sat them down, but both were still on their feet.

In his diffident manner (which I confess is growing on me) Lewis said “the prosecution is neutral on this request, of course but, err, I really don’t think that’s right”. He looked at her like a kindly uncle whose favourite niece has just started drinking tequila from the bottle at a family party.

Baraitser concluded the matter by stating that the Defence should submit written arguments by 10am tomorrow on this point, and she would then hold a separate hearing into the question of Julian’s position in the court.

The day had begun with a very angry Magistrate Baraitser addressing the public gallery. Yesterday, she said, a photo had been taken inside the courtroom. It was a criminal offence to take or attempt to take photographs inside the courtroom. Vanessa Baraitser looked at this point very keen to lock someone up. She also seemed in her anger to be making the unfounded assumption that whoever took the photo from the public gallery on Tuesday was still there on Wednesday; I suspect not. Being angry at the public at random must be very stressful for her. I suspect she shouts a lot on trains.

Ms Baraitser is not fond of photography – she appears to be the only public figure in Western Europe with no photo on the internet. Indeed the average proprietor of a rural car wash has left more evidence of their existence and life history on the internet than Vanessa Baraitser. Which is no crime on her part, but I suspect the expunging is not achieved without considerable effort. Somebody suggested to me she might be a hologram, but I think not. Holograms have more empathy.

I was amused by the criminal offence of attempting to take photos in the courtroom. How incompetent would you need to be to attempt to take a photo and fail to do so? And if no photo was taken, how do they prove you were attempting to take one, as opposed to texting your mum? I suppose “attempting to take a photo” is a crime that could catch somebody arriving with a large SLR, tripod and several mounted lighting boxes, but none of those appeared to have made it into the public gallery.

Baraitser did not state whether it was a criminal offence to publish a photograph taken in a courtroom (or indeed to attempt to publish a photograph taken in a courtroom). I suspect it is. Anyway Le Grand Soir has published a translation of my report yesterday, and there you can see a photo of Julian in his bulletproof glass anti-terrorist cage. Not, I hasten to add, taken by me.

We now come to the consideration of yesterday’s legal arguments on the extradition request itself. Fortunately, these are basically fairly simple to summarise, because although we had five hours of legal disquisition, it largely consisted of both sides competing in citing scores of “authorities”, e.g. dead judges, to endorse their point of view, and thus repeating the same points continually with little value from exegesis of the innumerable quotes.

As prefigured yesterday by magistrate Baraitser, the prosecution is arguing that Article 4.1 of the UK/US extradition treaty has no force in law.

The UK and US Governments say that the court enforces domestic law, not international law, and therefore the treaty has no standing. This argument has been made to the court in written form to which I do not have access. But from discussion in court it was plain that the prosecution argue that the Extradition Act of 2003, under which the court is operating, makes no exception for political offences. All previous Extradition Acts had excluded extradition for political offences, so it must be the intention of the sovereign parliament that political offenders can now be extradited.

Opening his argument, Edward Fitzgerald QC argued that the Extradition Act of 2003 alone is not enough to make an actual extradition. The extradition requires two things in place; the general Extradition Act and the Extradition Treaty with the country or countries concerned. “No Treaty, No Extradition” was an unbreakable rule. The Treaty was the very basis of the request. So to say that the extradition was not governed by the terms of the very treaty under which it was made, was to create a legal absurdity and thus an abuse of process. He cited examples of judgements made by the House of Lords and Privy Council where treaty rights were deemed enforceable despite the lack of incorporation into domestic legislation, particularly in order to stop people being extradited to potential execution from British colonies.

Fitzgerald pointed out that while the Extradition Act of 2003 did not contain a bar on extraditions for political offences, it did not state there could not be such a bar in extradition treaties. And the extradition treaty of 2007 was ratified after the 2003 extradition act.

At this stage Baraitser interrupted that it was plain the intention of parliament was that there could be extradition for political offences. Otherwise they would not have removed the bar in previous legislation. Fitzgerald declined to agree, saying the Act did not say extradition for political offences could not be banned by the treaty enabling extradition.

Fitzgerald then continued to say that international jurisprudence had accepted for a century or more that you did not extradite political offenders. No political extradition was in the European Convention on Extradition, the Model United Nations Extradition Treaty and the Interpol Convention on Extradition. It was in every single one of the United States’ extradition treaties with other countries, and had been for over a century, at the insistence of the United States. For both the UK and US Governments to say it did not apply was astonishing and would set a terrible precedent that would endanger dissidents and potential political prisoners from China, Russia and regimes all over the world who had escaped to third countries.

Fitzgerald stated that all major authorities agreed there were two types of political offence. The pure political offence and the relative political offence. A “pure” political offence was defined as treason, espionage or sedition. A “relative” political offence was an act which was normally criminal, like assault or vandalism, conducted with a political motive. Every one of the charges against Assange was a “pure” political offence. All but one were espionage charges, and the computer misuse charge had been compared by the prosecution to breach of the official secrets act to meet the dual criminality test. The overriding accusation that Assange was seeking to harm the political and military interests of the United States was in the very definition of a political offence in all the authorities.

In reply Lewis stated that a treaty could not be binding in English law unless specifically incorporated in English law by Parliament. This was a necessary democratic defence. Treaties were made by the executive which could not make law. This went to the sovereignty of Parliament. Lewis quoted many judgements stating that international treaties signed and ratified by the UK could not be enforced in British courts. “It may come as a surprise to other countries that their treaties with the British government can have no legal force” he joked.

Lewis said there was no abuse of process here and thus no rights were invoked under the European Convention. It was just the normal operation of the law that the treaty provision on no extradition for political offences had no legal standing.

Lewis said that the US government disputes that Assange’s offences are political. In the UK/Australia/US there was a different definition of political offence to the rest of the world. We viewed the “pure” political offences of treason, espionage and sedition as not political offences. Only “relative” political offences – ordinary crimes committed with a political motive – were viewed as political offences in our tradition. In this tradition, the definition of “political” was also limited to supporting a contending political party in a state. Lewis will continue with this argument tomorrow.

That concludes my account of proceedings. I have some important commentary to make on this and will try to do another posting later today. Now rushing to court.

With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible.

This article is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation, and I very much hope people will do so actively. Truth shall set us free.

——————————————

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Your Man in the Public Gallery – Assange Hearing Day 2

This afternoon Julian’s Spanish lawyer, Baltasar Garzon, left court to return to Madrid. On the way out he naturally stopped to shake hands with his client, proffering his fingers through the narrow slit in the bulletproof glass cage. Assange half stood to take his lawyer’s hand. The two security guards in the cage with Assange immediately sprang up, putting hands on Julian and forcing him to sit down, preventing the handshake.

That was not by any means the worst thing today, but it is a striking image of the senseless brute force continually used against a man accused of publishing documents. That a man cannot even shake his lawyer’s hand goodbye is against the entire spirit in which the members of the legal system like to pretend the law is practised. I offer that startling moment as encapsulating yesterday’s events in court.

Day 2 proceedings had started with a statement from Edward Fitzgerald, Assange’s QC, that shook us rudely into life. He stated that yesterday, on the first day of trial, Julian had twice been stripped naked and searched, eleven times been handcuffed, and five times been locked up in different holding cells. On top of this, all of his court documents had been taken from him by the prison authorities, including privileged communications between his lawyers and himself, and he had been left with no ability to prepare to participate in today’s proceedings.

Magistrate Baraitser looked at Fitzgerald and stated, in a voice laced with disdain, that he had raised such matters before and she had always replied that she had no jurisdiction over the prison estate. He should take it up with the prison authorities. Fitzgerald remained on his feet, which drew a very definite scowl from Baraitser, and replied that of course they would do that again, but this repeated behaviour by the prison authorities threatened the ability of the defence to prepare. He added that regardless of jurisdiction, in his experience it was common practice for magistrates and judges to pass on comments and requests to the prison service where the conduct of the trial was affected, and that jails normally listened to magistrates sympathetically.

Baraitser flat-out denied any knowledge of such a practice, and stated that Fitzgerald should present her with written arguments setting out the case law on jurisdiction over prison conditions. This was too much even for prosecution counsel James Lewis, who stood up to say the prosecution would also want Assange to have a fair hearing, and that he could confirm that what the defence were suggesting was normal practice. Even then, Baraitser still refused to intervene with the prison. She stated that if the prison conditions were so bad as to reach the very high bar of making a fair hearing impossible, the defence should bring a motion to dismiss the charges on those grounds. Otherwise they should drop it.

Both prosecution and defence seemed surprised by Baraitser’s claim that she had not heard of what they both referred to as common practice. Lewis may have been genuinely concerned at the shocking description of Assange’s prison treatment yesterday; or he may have just had warning klaxons going off in his head screaming “mistrial”. But the net result is Baraitser will attempt to do nothing to prevent Julian’s physical and mental abuse in jail nor to try to give him the ability to participate in his defence. The only realistic explanation that occurs to me is that Baraitser has been warned off, because this continual mistreatment and confiscation of documents is on senior government authority.

A last small incident for me to recount: having queued again from the early hours, I was at the final queue before the entrance to the public gallery, when the name was called out of Kristin Hrnafsson, editor of Wikileaks, with whom I was talking at the time. Kristin identified himself, and was told by the court official he was barred from the public gallery.

Now I was with Kristin throughout the entire proceedings the previous day, and he had done absolutely nothing amiss – he is rather a quiet gentleman. When he was called for, it was by name and by job description – they were specifically banning the editor of Wikileaks from the trial. Kristin asked why and was told it was a decision of the Court.

At this stage John Shipton, Julian’s father, announced that in this case the family members would all leave too, and they did so, walking out of the building. They and others then started tweeting the news of the family walkout. This appeared to cause some consternation among court officials, and fifteen minutes later Kristin was re-admitted. We still have no idea what lay behind this. Later in the day journalists were being briefed by officials it was simply over queue-jumping, but that seems improbable as he was removed by staff who called him by name and title, rather than had spotted him as a queue-jumper.

None of the above goes to the official matter of the case. All of the above tells you more about the draconian nature of the political show-trial which is taking place than does the charade being enacted in the body of the court. There were moments today when I got drawn in to the court process and achieved the suspension of disbelief you might do in theatre, and began thinking “Wow, this case is going well for Assange”. Then an event such as those recounted above kicks in, a coldness grips your heart, and you recall there is no jury here to be convinced. I simply do not believe that anything said or proved in the courtroom can have an impact on the final verdict of this court.

So to the actual proceedings in the case.

For the defence, Mark Summers QC stated that the USA charges were entirely dependent on three factual accusations of Assange behviour:

1) Assange helped Manning to decode a hash key to access classified material.
Summers stated this was a provably false allegation from the evidence of the Manning court-martial.

2) Assange solicited the material from Manning
Summers stated this was provably wrong from information available to the public

3) Assange knowingly put lives at risk
Summers stated this was provably wrong both from publicly available information and from specific involvement of the US government.

In summary, Summers stated the US government knew that the allegations being made were false as to fact, and they were demonstrably made in bad faith. This was therefore an abuse of process which should lead to dismissal of the extradition request. He described the above three counts as “rubbish, rubbish and rubbish”.

Summers then walked through the facts of the case. He said the charges from the USA divide the materials leaked by Manning to Wikileaks into three categories:

a) Diplomatic Cables
b) Guantanamo detainee assessment briefs
c) Iraq War rules of engagement
d) Afghan and Iraqi war logs

Summers then methodically went through a), b), c) and d) relating each in turn to alleged behaviours 1), 2) and 3), making twelve counts of explanation and exposition in all. This comprehensive account took some four hours and I shall not attempt to capture it here. I will rather give highlights, but will relate occasionally to the alleged behaviour number and/or the alleged materials letter. I hope you follow that – it took me some time to do so!

On 1) Summers at great length demonstrated conclusively that Manning had access to each material a) b) c) d) provided to Wikileaks without needing any code from Assange, and had that access before ever contacting Assange. Nor had Manning needed a code to conceal her identity as the prosecution alleged – the database for intelligence analysts Manning could access – as could thousands of others – did not require a username or password to access it from a work military computer. Summers quoted testimony of several officers from Manning’s court-martial to confirm this. Nor would breaking the systems admin code on the system give Manning access to any additional classified databases. Summers quoted evidence from the Manning court-martial, where this had been accepted, that the reason Manning wanted to get in to systems admin was to allow soldiers to put their video-games and movies on their government laptops, which in fact happened frequently.

Magistrate Baraitser twice made major interruptions. She observed that if Chelsea Manning did not know she could not be traced as the user who downloaded the databases, she might have sought Assange’s assistance to crack a code to conceal her identity from ignorance she did not need to do that, and to assist would still be an offence by Assange.

Summers pointed out that Manning knew that she did not need a username and password, because she actually accessed all the materials without one. Baraitser replied that this did not constitute proof she knew she could not be traced. Summers said in logic it made no sense to argue that she was seeking a code to conceal her user ID and password, where there was no user ID and password. Baraitser replied again he could not prove that. At this point Summers became somewhat testy and short with Baraitser, and took her through the court martial evidence again. Of which more…

Baraitser also made the point that even if Assange were helping Manning to crack an admin code, even if it did not enable Manning to access any more databases, that still was unauthorised use and would constitute the crime of aiding and abetting computer misuse, even if for an innocent purpose.

After a brief break, Baraitser came back with a real zinger. She told Summers that he had presented the findings of the US court martial of Chelsea Manning as fact. But she did not agree that her court had to treat evidence at a US court martial, even agreed or uncontested evidence or prosecution evidence, as fact. Summers replied that agreed evidence or prosecution evidence at the US court martial clearly was agreed by the US government as fact, and what was at issue at the moment was whether the US government was charging contrary to the facts it knew. Baraitser said she would return to her point once witnesses were heard.

Baraitser was now making no attempt to conceal a hostility to the defence argument, and seemed irritated they had the temerity to make it. This burst out when discussing c), the Iraq war rules of engagement. Summers argued that these had not been solicited from Manning, but had rather been provided by Manning in an accompanying file along with the Collateral Murder video that showed the murder of Reuters journalists and children. Manning’s purpose, as she stated at her court martial, was to show that the Collateral Murder actions breached the rules of engagement, even though the Department of Defense claimed otherwise. Summers stated that by not including this context, the US extradition request was deliberately misleading as it did not even mention the Collateral Murder video at all.

At this point Baraitser could not conceal her contempt. Try to imagine Lady Bracknell saying “A Handbag” or “the Brighton line”, or if your education didn’t run that way try to imagine Pritti Patel spotting a disabled immigrant. This is a literal quote:

“Are you suggesting, Mr Summers, that the authorities, the Government, should have to provide context for its charges?”

An unfazed Summers replied in the affirmative and then went on to show where the Supreme Court had said so in other extradition cases. Baraitser was showing utter confusion that anybody could claim a significant distinction between the Government and God.

The bulk of Summers’ argument went to refuting behaviour 3), putting lives at risk. This was only claimed in relation to materials a) and d). Summers described at great length the efforts of Wikileaks with media partners over more than a year to set up a massive redaction campaign on the cables. He explained that the unredacted cables only became available after Luke Harding and David Leigh of the Guardian published the password to the cache as the heading to Chapter XI of their book Wikileaks, published in February 2011.

Nobody had put 2 and 2 together on this password until the German publication Der Freitag had done so and announced it had the unredacted cables in August 2011. Summers then gave the most powerful arguments of the day.

The US government had been actively participating in the redaction exercise on the cables. They therefore knew the allegations of reckless publication to be untrue.

Once Der Freitag announced they had the unredacted materials, Julian Assange and Sara Harrison instantly telephoned the White House, State Department and US Embassy to warn them named sources may be put at risk. Summers read from the transcripts of telephone conversations as Assange and Harrison attempted to convince US officials of the urgency of enabling source protection procedures – and expressed their bafflement as officials stonewalled them. This evidence utterly undermined the US government’s case and proved bad faith in omitting extremely relevant fact. It was a very striking moment.

With relation to the same behaviour 3) on materials d), Summers showed that the Manning court martial had accepted these materials contained no endangered source names, but showed that Wikileaks had activated a redaction exercise anyway as a “belt and braces” approach.

There was much more from the defence. For the prosecution, James Lewis indicated he would reply in depth later in proceedings, but wished to state that the prosecution does not accept the court martial evidence as fact, and particularly does not accept any of the “self-serving” testimony of Chelsea Manning, whom he portrayed as a convicted criminal falsely claiming noble motives. The prosecution generally rejected any notion that this court should consider the truth or otherwise of any of the facts; those could only be decided at trial in the USA.

Then, to wrap up proceedings, Baraitser dropped a massive bombshell. She stated that although Article 4.1 of the US/UK Extradition Treaty forbade political extraditions, this was only in the Treaty. That exemption does not appear in the UK Extradition Act. On the face of it therefore political extradition is not illegal in the UK, as the Treaty has no legal force on the Court. She invited the defence to address this argument in the morning.

It is now 06.35am and I am late to start queuing…

With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible.

This article is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation, and I very much hope people will do so actively. Truth shall set us free.

——————————————

Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

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Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
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Your Man in the Public Gallery – Assange Hearing Day 1

Woolwich Crown Court is designed to impose the power of the state. Normal courts in this country are public buildings, deliberately placed by our ancestors right in the centre of towns, almost always just up a few steps from a main street. The major purpose of their positioning and of their architecture was to facilitate public access in the belief that it is vital that justice can be seen by the public.

Woolwich Crown Court, which hosts Belmarsh Magistrates Court, is built on totally the opposite principle. It is designed with no other purpose than to exclude the public. Attached to a prison on a windswept marsh far from any normal social centre, an island accessible only through navigating a maze of dual carriageways, the entire location and architecture of the building is predicated on preventing public access. It is surrounded by a continuation of the same extremely heavy duty steel paling barrier that surrounds the prison. It is the most extraordinary thing, a courthouse which is a part of the prison system itself, a place where you are already considered guilty and in jail on arrival. Woolwich Crown Court is nothing but the physical negation of the presumption of innocence, the very incarnation of injustice in unyielding steel, concrete and armoured glass. It has precisely the same relationship to the administration of justice as Guantanamo Bay or the Lubyanka. It is in truth just the sentencing wing of Belmarsh prison.

When enquiring about facilities for the public to attend the hearing, an Assange activist was told by a member of court staff that we should realise that Woolwich is a “counter-terrorism court”. That is true de facto, but in truth a “counter-terrorism court” is an institution unknown to the UK constitution. Indeed, if a single day at Woolwich Crown Court does not convince you the existence of liberal democracy is now a lie, then your mind must be very closed indeed.

Extradition hearings are not held at Belmarsh Magistrates Court inside Woolwich Crown Court. They are always held at Westminster Magistrates Court as the application is deemed to be delivered to the government at Westminster. Now get your head around this. This hearing is at Westminster Magistrates Court. It is being held by the Westminster magistrates and Westminster court staff, but located at Belmarsh Magistrates Court inside Woolwich Crown Court. All of which weird convolution is precisely so they can use the “counter-terrorist court” to limit public access and to impose the fear of the power of the state.

One consequence is that, in the courtroom itself, Julian Assange is confined at the back of the court behind a bulletproof glass screen. He made the point several times during proceedings that this makes it very difficult for him to see and hear the proceedings. The magistrate, Vanessa Baraitser, chose to interpret this with studied dishonesty as a problem caused by the very faint noise of demonstrators outside, as opposed to a problem caused by Assange being locked away from the court in a massive bulletproof glass box.

Now there is no reason at all for Assange to be in that box, designed to restrain extremely physically violent terrorists. He could sit, as a defendant at a hearing normally would, in the body of the court with his lawyers. But the cowardly and vicious Baraitser has refused repeated and persistent requests from the defence for Assange to be allowed to sit with his lawyers. Baraitser of course is but a puppet, being supervised by Chief Magistrate Lady Arbuthnot, a woman so enmeshed in the defence and security service establishment I can conceive of no way in which her involvement in this case could be more corrupt.

It does not matter to Baraitser or Arbuthnot if there is any genuine need for Assange to be incarcerated in a bulletproof box, or whether it stops him from following proceedings in court. Baraitser’s intention is to humiliate Assange, and to instill in the rest of us horror at the vast crushing power of the state. The inexorable strength of the sentencing wing of the nightmarish Belmarsh Prison must be maintained. If you are here, you are guilty.

It’s the Lubyanka. You may only be a remand prisoner. This may only be a hearing not a trial. You may have no history of violence and not be accused of any violence. You may have three of the country’s most eminent psychiatrists submitting reports of your history of severe clinical depression and warning of suicide. But I, Vanessa Baraitser, am still going to lock you up in a box designed for the most violent of terrorists. To show what we can do to dissidents. And if you can’t then follow court proceedings, all the better.

You will perhaps better accept what I say about the Court when I tell you that, for a hearing being followed all round the world, they have brought it to a courtroom which had a total number of sixteen seats available to members of the public. 16. To make sure I got one of those 16 and could be your man in the gallery, I was outside that great locked iron fence queuing in the cold, wet and wind from 6am. At 8am the gate was unlocked, and I was able to walk inside the fence to another queue before the doors of the courtroom, where despite the fact notices clearly state the court opens to the public at 8am, I had to queue outside the building again for another hour and forty minutes. Then I was processed through armoured airlock doors, through airport type security, and had to queue behind two further locked doors, before finally getting to my seat just as the court started at 10am. By which stage the intention was we should have been thoroughly cowed and intimidated, not to mention drenched and potentially hypothermic.

There was a separate media entrance and a media room with live transmission from the courtroom, and there were so many scores of media I thought I could relax and not worry as the basic facts would be widely reported. In fact, I could not have been more wrong. I followed the arguments very clearly every minute of the day, and not a single one of the most important facts and arguments today has been reported anywhere in the mainstream media. That is a bold claim, but I fear it is perfectly true. So I have much work to do to let the world know what actually happened. The mere act of being an honest witness is suddenly extremely important, when the entire media has abandoned that role.

James Lewis QC made the opening statement for the prosecution. It consisted of two parts, both equally extraordinary. The first and longest part was truly remarkable for containing no legal argument, and for being addressed not to the magistrate but to the media. It is not just that it was obvious that is where his remarks were aimed, he actually stated on two occasions during his opening statement that he was addressing the media, once repeating a sentence and saying specifically that he was repeating it again because it was important that the media got it.

I am frankly astonished that Baraitser allowed this. It is completely out of order for a counsel to address remarks not to the court but to the media, and there simply could not be any clearer evidence that this is a political show trial and that Baraitser is complicit in that. I have not the slightest doubt that the defence would have been pulled up extremely quickly had they started addressing remarks to the media. Baraitser makes zero pretence of being anything other than in thrall to the Crown, and by extension to the US Government.

The points which Lewis wished the media to know were these: it is not true that mainstream outlets like the Guardian and New York Times are also threatened by the charges against Assange, because Assange was not charged with publishing the cables but only with publishing the names of informants, and with cultivating Manning and assisting him to attempt computer hacking. Only Assange had done these things, not mainstream outlets.

Lewis then proceeded to read out a series of articles from the mainstream media attacking Assange, as evidence that the media and Assange were not in the same boat. The entire opening hour consisted of the prosecution addressing the media, attempting to drive a clear wedge between the media and Wikileaks and thus aimed at reducing media support for Assange. It was a political address, not remotely a legal submission. At the same time, the prosecution had prepared reams of copies of this section of Lewis’ address, which were handed out to the media and given them electronically so they could cut and paste.

Following an adjournment, magistrate Baraitser questioned the prosecution on the veracity of some of these claims. In particular, the claim that newspapers were not in the same position because Assange was charged not with publication, but with “aiding and abetting” Chelsea Manning in getting the material, did not seem consistent with Lewis’ reading of the 1989 Official Secrets Act, which said that merely obtaining and publishing any government secret was an offence. Surely, Baraitser suggested, that meant that newspapers just publishing the Manning leaks would be guilty of an offence?

This appeared to catch Lewis entirely off guard. The last thing he had expected was any perspicacity from Baraitser, whose job was just to do what he said. Lewis hummed and hawed, put his glasses on and off several times, adjusted his microphone repeatedly and picked up a succession of pieces of paper from his brief, each of which appeared to surprise him by its contents, as he waved them haplessly in the air and said he really should have cited the Shayler case but couldn’t find it. It was liking watching Columbo with none of the charm and without the killer question at the end of the process.

Suddenly Lewis appeared to come to a decision. Yes, he said much more firmly. The 1989 Official Secrets Act had been introduced by the Thatcher Government after the Ponting Case, specifically to remove the public interest defence and to make unauthorised possession of an official secret a crime of strict liability – meaning no matter how you got it, publishing and even possessing made you guilty. Therefore, under the principle of dual criminality, Assange was liable for extradition whether or not he had aided and abetted Manning. Lewis then went on to add that any journalist and any publication that printed the official secret would therefore also be committing an offence, no matter how they had obtained it, and no matter if it did or did not name informants.

Lewis had thus just flat out contradicted his entire opening statement to the media stating that they need not worry as the Assange charges could never be applied to them. And he did so straight after the adjournment, immediately after his team had handed out copies of the argument he had now just completely contradicted. I cannot think it has often happened in court that a senior lawyer has proven himself so absolutely and so immediately to be an unmitigated and ill-motivated liar. This was undoubtedly the most breathtaking moment in today’s court hearing.

Yet remarkably I cannot find any mention anywhere in the mainstream media that this happened at all. What I can find, everywhere, is the mainstream media reporting, via cut and paste, Lewis’s first part of his statement on why the prosecution of Assange is not a threat to press freedom; but nobody seems to have reported that he totally abandoned his own argument five minutes later. Were the journalists too stupid to understand the exchanges?

The explanation is very simple. The clarification coming from a question Baraitser asked Lewis, there is no printed or electronic record of Lewis’ reply. His original statement was provided in cut and paste format to the media. His contradiction of it would require a journalist to listen to what was said in court, understand it and write it down. There is no significant percentage of mainstream media journalists who command that elementary ability nowadays. “Journalism” consists of cut and paste of approved sources only. Lewis could have stabbed Assange to death in the courtroom, and it would not be reported unless contained in a government press release.

I was left uncertain of Baraitser’s purpose in this. Plainly she discomfited Lewis very badly on this point, and appeared rather to enjoy doing so. On the other hand the point she made is not necessarily helpful to the defence. What she was saying was essentially that Julian could be extradited under dual criminality, from the UK point of view, just for publishing, whether or not he conspired with Chelsea Manning, and that all the journalists who published could be charged too. But surely this is a point so extreme that it would be bound to be invalid under the Human Rights Act? Was she pushing Lewis to articulate a position so extreme as to be untenable – giving him enough rope to hang himself – or was she slavering at the prospect of not just extraditing Assange, but of mass prosecutions of journalists?

The reaction of one group was very interesting. The four US government lawyers seated immediately behind Lewis had the grace to look very uncomfortable indeed as Lewis baldly declared that any journalist and any newspaper or broadcast media publishing or even possessing any government secret was committing a serious offence. Their entire strategy had been to pretend not to be saying that.

Lewis then moved on to conclude the prosecution’s arguments. The court had no decision to make, he stated. Assange must be extradited. The offence met the test of dual criminality as it was an offence both in the USA and UK. UK extradition law specifically barred the court from testing whether there was any evidence to back up the charges. If there had been, as the defence argued, abuse of process, the court must still extradite and then the court must pursue the abuse of process as a separate matter against the abusers. (This is a particularly specious argument as it is not possible for the court to take action against the US government due to sovereign immunity, as Lewis well knows). Finally, Lewis stated that the Human Rights Act and freedom of speech were completely irrelevant in extradition proceedings.

Edward Fitzgerald then arose to make the opening statement for the defence. He started by stating that the motive for the prosecution was entirely political, and that political offences were specifically excluded under article 4.1 of the UK/US extradition treaty. He pointed out that at the time of the Chelsea Manning Trial and again in 2013 the Obama administration had taken specific decisions not to prosecute Assange for the Manning leaks. This had been reversed by the Trump administration for reasons that were entirely political.

On abuse of process, Fitzgerald referred to evidence presented to the Spanish criminal courts that the CIA had commissioned a Spanish security company to spy on Julian Assange in the Embassy, and that this spying specifically included surveillance of Assange’s privileged meetings with his lawyers to discuss extradition. For the state trying to extradite to spy on the defendant’s client-lawyer consultations is in itself grounds to dismiss the case. (This point is undoubtedly true. Any decent judge would throw the case out summarily for the outrageous spying on the defence lawyers).

Fitzgerald went on to say the defence would produce evidence the CIA not only spied on Assange and his lawyers, but actively considered kidnapping or poisoning him, and that this showed there was no commitment to proper rule of law in this case.

Fitzgerald said that the prosecution’s framing of the case contained deliberate misrepresentation of the facts that also amounted to abuse of process. It was not true that there was any evidence of harm to informants, and the US government had confirmed this in other fora, eg in Chelsea Manning’s trial. There had been no conspiracy to hack computers, and Chelsea Manning had been acquitted on that charge at court martial. Lastly it was untrue that Wikileaks had initiated publication of unredacted names of informants, as other media organisations had been responsible for this first.

Again, so far as I can see, while the US allegation of harm to informants is widely reported, the defence’s total refutation on the facts and claim that the fabrication of facts amounts to abuse of process is not much reported at all. Fitzgerald finally referred to US prison conditions, the impossibility of a fair trial in the US, and the fact the Trump Administration has stated foreign nationals will not receive First Amendment protections, as reasons that extradition must be barred. You can read the whole defence statement, but in my view the strongest passage was on why this is a political prosecution, and thus precluded from extradition.

For the purposes of section 81(a), I next have to deal with the question of how
this politically motivated prosecution satisfies the test of being directed against
Julian Assange because of his political opinions. The essence of his political
opinions which have provoked this prosecution are summarised in the reports
of Professor Feldstein [tab 18], Professor Rogers [tab 40], Professor Noam
Chomsky [tab 39] and Professor Kopelman:-
i. He is a leading proponent of an open society and of freedom of expression.
ii. He is anti-war and anti-imperialism.
iii. He is a world-renowned champion of political transparency and of the
public’s right to access information on issues of importance – issues such
as political corruption, war crimes, torture and the mistreatment of
Guantanamo detainees.
5.4.Those beliefs and those actions inevitably bring him into conflict with powerful
states including the current US administration, for political reasons. Which
explains why he has been denounced as a terrorist and why President Trump
has in the past called for the death penalty.
5.5.But I should add his revelations are far from confined to the wrongdoings of
the US. He has exposed surveillance by Russia; and published exposes of Mr
Assad in Syria; and it is said that WikiLeaks revelations about corruption in
Tunisia and torture in Egypt were the catalyst for the Arab Spring itself.
5.6.The US say he is no journalist. But you will see a full record of his work in
Bundle M. He has been a member of the Australian journalists union since
2009, he is a member of the NUJ and the European Federation of Journalists.
He has won numerous media awards including being honoured with the
highest award for Australian journalists. His work has been recognised by the
Economist, Amnesty International and the Council of Europe. He is the winner
of the Martha Gelhorn prize and has been repeatedly nominated for the Nobel
Peace Prize, including both last year and this year. You can see from the
materials that he has written books, articles and documentaries. He has had
articles published in the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post
and the New Statesman, just to name a few. Some of the very publications for
which his extradition is being sought have been refereed to and relied upon in
Courts throughout the world, including the UK Supreme Court and the
European Court of Human Rights. In short, he has championed the cause of
transparency and freedom of information throughout the world.
5.7.Professor Noam Chomsky puts it like this: – ‘in courageously upholding
political beliefs that most of profess to share he has performed an
enormous service to all those in the world who treasure the values of
freedom and democracy and who therefore demand the right to know
what their elected representatives are doing’ [see tab 39, paragraph 14].
So Julian Assange’s positive impact on the world is undeniable. The hostility
it has provoked from the Trump administration is equally undeniable.
The legal test for ‘political opinions’
5.8.I am sure you are aware of the legal authorities on this issue: namely whether
a request is made because of the defendant’s political opinions. A broad
approach has to be adopted when applying the test. In support of this we rely
on the case of Re Asliturk [2002] EWHC 2326 (abuse authorities, tab 11, at
paras 25 – 26) which clearly establishes that such a wide approach should be
adopted to the concept of political opinions. And that will clearly cover Julian
Assange’s ideological positions. Moreover, we also rely on cases such as
Emilia Gomez v SSHD [2000] INLR 549 at tab 43 of the political offence
authorities bundle. These show that the concept of “political opinions” extends
to the political opinions imputed to the individual citizen by the state which
prosecutes him. For that reason the characterisation of Julian Assange and
WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence agency” by Mr Pompeo makes
clear that he has been targeted for his imputed political opinions. All the
experts whose reports you have show that Julian Assange has been targeted
because of the political position imputed to him by the Trump administration –
as an enemy of America who must be brought down.

Tomorrow the defence continue. I am genuinely uncertain what will happen as I feel at the moment far too exhausted to be there at 6am to queue to get in. But I hope somehow I will contrive another report tomorrow evening.

With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible.

This article is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation, and I very much hope people will do so actively. Truth shall set us free.

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