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Civil Liberty Vanishes

The sinister potential of coronavirus lockdown to suppress dissent was on display on Monday as police broke up a small group of protestors outside Westminster Crown Court during a case management hearing for Julian Assange. The dozen protestors, who included Julian’s father John Shipton, were all social distancing at least 2 metres apart (except where living in the same household). The police did not observe social distancing as they broke up this small and peaceful protest.

This is a stark illustration of the use of the current emergency powers to suppress legitimate dissent.

For the first time, there was something of a court victory for Assange’s defence team, as they obtained their preferred date of September for resumption of the extradition hearing. Last week magistrate Baraitser had tried to impose a choice of July or November based on the availability of Woolwich Crown Court. As defence witnesses have to come from around the world, July was too early for the defence, while November would mean another lengthy period of incarceration for the unconvicted Assange. This is not the first time the defence have secured the agreement of the US-led prosecution to a procedural request, but it is the very first time Baraitser has acceded to anything proposed by the defence, throughout all the lengthy proceedings.

SO the Assange hearing will resume in September, and of course I intend to be there to report it, if not myself incarcerated. The exact date is not yet known nor the venue. It will not be Woolwich but another Crown Court which has availability. I suspect it may be at Kingston-upon-Thames, because the government will want to maintain the theatre of the peaceful Julian being an ultra-dangerous offender and that is the other purpose built “anti-terrorism court” in London.

It is well worth reading this excellent article from El Pais by Julian’s partner, Stella Morris. It says a great deal that in the state that is actually holding Europe’s most prominent political prisoner, no newspaper would publish it. It is a truism that the general public fail to notice the slide into authoritarianism before it is too late. I confess I never thought to witness the process first hand in the UK. The information on guns in the article is new to me:

After Julian was arrested a year ago, Spain’s High Court opened an investigation into the security company that had been operating inside the embassy. Several whistleblowers came forward and have informed law enforcement of unlawful activities against Julian and his lawyers, both inside and outside the embassy. They are cooperating with law enforcement and have provided investigators with large amounts of data.

The investigation has revealed that the company had been moonlighting for a US company closely associated with the current US administration and US intelligence agencies and that the increasingly disturbing instructions, such as following my mother or the baby DNA directive, had come from their US client, not Ecuador. Around the same time that I had been approached about the targeting of our baby, the company was thrashing out even more sinister plans concerning Julian’s life. Their alleged plots to poison or abduct Julian have been raised in UK extradition proceedings. A police raid at the security company director’s home turned up two handguns with their serial numbers filed off.

We are now to be expected to entrust ourselves to a new coronavirus tracing app, currently being trialed on the Isle of Wight, that allows the government to know precisely where we are and with whom. The results will be permanently stored in a central database – something that is not required for the ostensible purpose of the app. The UK is alone among European states in seeking to create a national centralised database containing traceable unique identifiers for individuals. Precisely to address civil liberties concerns, all other countries are using a devolved database approach with amalgamation only of research useful date which cannot identify individuals. The UK is also refusing to share code with the public, or even precise detail of developers. The US firm Palantir, which has developed the app for NHSX, is coy about where its development is carried out and by whom. So far nothing has been released on the architecture of the App.

I highly recommend this podcast by Matrix Chambers on the very alarming civil liberties implication of the approach to the tracing app by Boris Johnson’s government.

There is no organisation or group with an interest in data privacy which is not sounding the alarm. The Register reports:

Controversially, the NHSX app will beam that contact data back to government-controlled servers. The academics who signed today’s open letter fear that this data stockpile will become “a tool that enables data collection on the population, or on targeted sections of society, for surveillance.”

As we reported yesterday, Britain has abandoned the international consensus on how much data should be collected to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter said:

We hold that the usual data protection principles should apply: collect the minimum data necessary to achieve the objective of the application. We hold it is vital that if you are to build the necessary trust in the application the level of data being collected is justified publicly by the public health teams demonstrating why this is truly necessary rather than simply the easiest way, or a “nice to have”, given the dangers involved and invasive nature of the technology.

Then a further report in The Register emphasised still more the UK government’s rejection of the Apple-Google app being used by virtually every other country, which is specifically devised to make impossible centralised storing of information which identifies individuals:

Presumably the goal with this kind of explanation is to comfort the vast majority of UK folk who don’t understand how the entire internet economy works by connecting vast databases together.

So long as you can rely on one piece of per-user data – like a “big random number” – everything else can be connected. And if you also have a postcode, that becomes 100 times easier. Ever heard of Facebook? It’s worth billions solely because it is able to connect the dots between datasets.

Indeed, it may be possible to work out who is associating with whom from the app’s ID numbers. Bear in mind, the Apple-Google decentralized approach produces new ID numbers for each user each day, thwarting identification, especially with the ban on location tracking.

Levy also glossed over the fact that as soon as someone agrees to share their information with UK government – by claiming to feel unwell and hitting a big green button – 28 days of data from the app is given to a central server from where it can never be recovered. That data, featuring all the unique IDs you’ve encountered in that period and when and how far apart you were, becomes the property of NCSC – as its chief exec Matthew Gould was forced to admit to MPs on Monday. Gould also admitted that the data will not be deleted, UK citizens will not have the right to demand it is deleted, and it can or will be used for “research” in future.

Yes, that is Matthew Gould in charge of the whole project. Matthew Gould, who as Private Secretary to first David Miliband and then William Hague, and then as UK Ambassador to Israel, held an extraordinary total of eight secret meetings with Liam Fox and Adam Werritty together.

1) 8 September 2009 as Miliband’s Principal Private Secretary (omitted from O’Donnell report)
2) 16 June 2010 as Hague’s Principal Private Secretary (omitted from O’Donnell report)
3) A “social occasion” in summer 2010 as Ambassador designate to Israel with Gould, Fox and Werritty (omitted from O’Donnell report)
4) 1 September 2010 in London (only one September meeting in O’Donnell report)
5) 27 September 2010 in London (only one September meeting in O’Donnell report)
6) 4-6 February 2011 Herzilya Conference Israel (omitted from O’Donnell report)
7) 6 February 2011 Tel Aviv dinner with Mossad and Israeli military
8) 15 May 2011 “We believe in Israel” conference London (omitted from O’Donnell report)

Funnily enough, I was recalling Matthew Gould last week when the Cabinet Secretary, after his “investigation”, published his report “exonerating” Priti Patel of bullying. It reminded me of when then Gus O’Donnell as Cabinet Secretary published his “investigation” into the Fox-Werritty affair, in which Gus O’Donnell systematically lied and covered up the meetings between Fox, Werritty and Matthew Gould, claiming there had only been two such meetings when in fact there were eight. It is also a good moment perhaps to pay tribute to the redoubtable Paul Flynn MP, recently deceased, who after I briefed him attempted to question Gus O’Donnell on the Public Administration Committee about the meetings he was covering up. With admirable persistence, despite continual efforts to block him, Flynn did manage to get Gus O’Donnell to admit directly that one of the Fox/Werritty/Matthew Gould meetings was with Mossad.

Hansard Public Administration Committee 24/11/2011

Q<369> Paul Flynn: Okay. Matthew Gould has been the subject of a very serious complaint from two of my constituents, Pippa Bartolotti and Joyce Giblin. When they were briefly imprisoned in Israel, they met the ambassador, and they strongly believe—it is nothing to do with this case at all—that he was serving the interest of the Israeli Government, and not the interests of two British citizens. This has been the subject of correspondence.

In your report, you suggest that there were two meetings between the ambassador and Werritty and Liam Fox. Questions and letters have proved that, in fact, six such meetings took place. There are a number of issues around this. I do not normally fall for conspiracy theories, but the ambassador has proclaimed himself to be a Zionist and he has previously served in Iran, in the service. Werritty is a self-proclaimed—

Robert Halfon: Point of order, Chairman. What is the point of this?

Paul Flynn: Let me get to it. Werritty is a self-proclaimed expert on Iran.

Chair: I have to take a point of order.

Robert Halfon: Mr Flynn is implying that the British ambassador to Israel is working for a foreign power, which is out of order.

Paul Flynn: I quote the Daily Mail: “Mr Werritty is a self-proclaimed expert on Iran and has made several visits. He has also met senior Israeli officials, leading to accusations”—not from me, from the Daily Mail—“that he was close to the country’s secret service, Mossad.” There may be nothing in that, but that appeared in a national newspaper.

Chair: I am going to rule on a point of order. Mr Flynn has made it clear that there may be nothing in these allegations, but it is important to have put it on the record. Be careful how you phrase questions.

Paul Flynn: Indeed. The two worst decisions taken by Parliament in my 25 years were the invasion of Iraq—joining Bush’s war in Iraq—and the invasion of Helmand province. We know now that there were things going on in the background while that built up to these mistakes. The charge in this case is that Werritty was the servant of neo-con people in America, who take an aggressive view on Iran. They want to foment a war in Iran in the same way as in the early years, there was another—

Chair: Order. I must ask you to move to a question that is relevant to the inquiry.

Q<370> Paul Flynn: Okay. The question is, are you satisfied that you missed out on the extra four meetings that took place, and does this not mean that those meetings should have been investigated because of the nature of Mr Werritty’s interests?

Sir Gus O’Donnell: I think if you look at some of those meetings, some people are referring to meetings that took place before the election.

Q<371> Paul Flynn: Indeed, which is even more worrying.

Sir Gus O’Donnell: I am afraid they were not the subject—what members of the Opposition do is not something that the Cabinet Secretary should look into. It is not relevant.

But these meetings were held—
Chair: Mr Flynn, would you let him answer please?

Sir Gus O’Donnell: I really do not think that was within my context, because they were not Ministers of the Government and what they were up to was not something I should get into at all.

Chair: Final question, Mr Flynn.

Q<372> Paul Flynn: No, it is not a final question. I am not going to be silenced by you, Chairman; I have important things to raise. I have stayed silent throughout this meeting so far.

You state in the report—on the meeting held between Gould, Fox and Werritty, on 6 February, in Tel Aviv—that there was a general discussion of international affairs over a private dinner with senior Israelis. The UK ambassador was present…

Sir Gus O’Donnell: The important point here was that, when the Secretary of State had that meeting, he had an official with him—namely, in this case, the ambassador. That is very important, and I should stress that I would expect our ambassador in Israel to have contact with Mossad. That will be part of his job. It is totally natural, and I do not think that you should infer anything from that about the individual’s biases.

When I put in Freedom of Information requests for the minutes of the eight meetings involving all of Liam Fox, Adam Werritty and Matthew Gould, they came back as blank sheets of paper, with literally everything removed but the date, in the interests of “national security”. When I put in a Freedom of Information request for all correspondence between Adam Werritty and Matthew Gould, I received a refusal on the grounds it would be too expensive to collect it.

I should make my position perfectly plain. I think a coronavirus tracing app is an important tool in containing the virus. I would happily use the safeguarded one being developed by Google/Apple with decentralised data and daily changing identifiers, not linked to postcodes, being adopted by major European governments.

But I think serious questions have to be asked about why the UK government has developed its own unique app, universally criticised for its permanent central data collection and ability to identify individuals from their unique codes. That this is overseen not by a scientist or health professional, but by the man who held all those secret meetings with Fox and Werritty, including with Mossad as admitted to Parliament by the then Cabinet Secretary, frankly stinks.

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.

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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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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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#SingalongaVanessa

I have been sent footage of judge Vanessa Baraitser appearing in a school musical. Even though this is a remarkable survival of the scrubbing of her existence from the internet, I saw no public interest in publishing it until yesterday, when she ruled that in the interests of “open justice” the identities of Julian Assange’s partner and small children should be made public. So in the interests of “open justice”, here is Vanessa singing.

In these difficult times we must all find what pleasures we can. So rather than #clapforBoris, I invite you to give it full voice, belt it out and #Singalongavanessa. With grateful thanks to Joe M for adding my subtitles.

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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Beyond Words

Yesterday Mark Sommers QC, the extremely erudite and bookish second counsel for Julian Assange in his extradition hearing, trembled with anger in court. Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser had just made a ruling that the names of Julian Assange’s partner and young children could be published, which she stated was in the interests of “open justice”. His partner had submitted a letter in support of his Covid 19 related bail application (which Baraitser had summarily dismissed) to state he had a family to live with in London. Baraitser said that it was therefore in the interests of open justice that the family’s names be made public, and said that the defence had not convincingly shown this would cause any threat to their security or well-being. It was at this point Sommers barely kept control. He leapt to his feet and gave notice of an appeal to the High Court, asking for a 14 day stay. Baraitser granted four days, until 4pm on Friday.

I am in lockdown in Edinburgh, but received three separate eye witness reports. They are unanimous that yet again Baraitser entered the court carrying pre-written judgements before hearing oral argument; pre-written judgements she gave no appearance of amending.

There have been two Covid-19 deaths in Belmarsh prison so far. For obvious reasons the disease is ripping through the jail like wildfire. The Department of Justice is admitting to one death, and refuses to give statistics for the number of cases. As even very sick prisoners are not being tested, the figures would arguably not mean much anyway. As the court heard at the bail application, over 150 Belmarsh prison staff are off work self-isolating and the prison is scarcely functioning. It is the most complete definition of lockdown.

The Prison Governors’ Association submitted to the House of Commons Justice Committee (which yesterday morning considered prisoner releases in closed session) that 15,000 non-violent prisoners need to be released to give the jails any chance of managing COVID-19. The Department of Justice has suggested releasing 4,000 of whom just 2,000 have been identified. As of a couple of days ago, only about 100 had actually been released.

The prisons are now practising “cohorting” across the estate, although decisions currently lie with individual governors. Prisoners who have a cough – any cough – are being put together in segregated blocks. The consequences of this are of course potentially unthinkable. Julian has a cough and chronic lung condition for which he has been treated for years – a fact which is not in dispute.

Yesterday Baraitser again followed her usual path of refusing every single defence motion, following pre-written rulings (whether written or merely copied out by herself I know not), even when the prosecution did not object. You will recall that at the first week of extradition hearing proper, she insisted that Julian be kept in a glass cage, although counsel for the US government made no objection to his sitting in the body of the court, and she refused to intervene to stop his strip searching, handcuffing and the removal of his court papers, even though the US government joined the defence in querying her claim she had no power to do this (for which she was later roundly rebuked by the International Bar Association).

Yesterday the US government did not object to a defence motion to postpone the resumption of the extradition hearing. The defence put forward four grounds:

1) Julian is currently too ill to prepare his defence
2) Due to Covid-19 lockdown, access to his lawyers is virtually impossible
3) Vital defence witnesses, including from abroad, would not be able to be present to testify
4) Treatment for Julian’s mental health conditions had been stopped due to the Covid-19 situation.

Baraitser airily dismissed all these grounds – despite James Lewis QC saying the prosecution was neutral on the postponement – and insisted that the May 18 date remains. She stated that he could be brought to the cells in Westminster Magistrates Court for consultations with his lawyers. (Firstly, in practice that is not the case, and secondly these holding cells have a constant thoughput of prisoners which is very obviously undesirable with Covid19).

It is worth noting that the prosecution stated that the US government’s own psychiatrist, appointed to do an assessment of Julian, had been unable to access him in Belmarsh due to Covid 19 restrictions.

This is getting beyond me as it is getting beyond Mark Sommers and the defence team. Even before Covid 19 became such a threat, I stated that I had been forced to the conclusion the British Government is seeking Assange’s death in jail. The evidence for that is now overwhelming.

Here are three measures of hypocrisy.

Firstly, the UK insists on keeping this political prisoner – accused of nothing but publishing – in a Covid 19 infested maximum security jail while the much-derided Iranian government lets Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe out and hopefully will release her altogether.
Which is the inhumane regime?

Secondly, “open justice” allegedly justifies the release of the identities of Julian’s partner and kids, while the state enforces the secrecy of Alex Salmond’s busted accusers, even though the court heard evidence that they specifically colluded to destroy him using, as a deliberate tool, the anonymity afforded to people making sexual accusations.

Thirdly, nobody cultivates her own anonymity more than Vanessa Baraitser who has her existence carefully removed from the internet almost entirely. Yet she seeks to destroy the peace and young lives of Julian’s family.

Keep fighting for Julian’s life and for freedom.

Pieter Evert sent me this rather good cartoon, for which many thanks:

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:

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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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:

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The Armoured Glass Box is an Instrument of Torture

In Thursday’s separate hearing on allowing Assange out of the armoured box to sit with his legal team, I witnessed directly that Baraitser’s ruling against Assange was brought by her into court BEFORE she heard defence counsel put the arguments, and delivered by her entirely unchanged.

I might start by explaining to you my position in the public gallery vis a vis the judge. All week I deliberately sat in the front, right hand seat. The gallery looks out through an armoured glass window at a height of about seven feet above the courtroom. It runs down one side of the court, and the extreme right hand end of the public gallery is above the judge’s bench, which sits below perpendicular to it. Remarkably therefore from the right hand seats of the public gallery you have an uninterrupted view of the top of the whole of the judge’s bench, and can see all the judge’s papers and computer screen.

Mark Summers QC outlined that in the case of Belousov vs Russia the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg ruled against the state of Russia because Belousov had been tried in a glass cage practically identical in construction and in position in court to that in which Assange now was. It hindered his participation in the trial and his free access to counsel, and deprived him of human dignity as a defendant.

Summers continued that it was normal practice for certain categories of unconvicted prisoners to be released from the dock to sit with their lawyers. The court had psychiatric reports on Assange’s extreme clinical depression, and in fact the UK Department of Justice’s best practice guide for courts stated that vulnerable people should be released to sit alongside their lawyers. Special treatment was not being requested for Assange – he was asking to be treated as any other vulnerable person.

The defence was impeded by their inability to communicate confidentially with their client during proceedings. In the next stage of trial, where witnesses were being examined, timely communication was essential. Furthermore they could only talk with him through the slit in the glass within the hearing of the private company security officers who were guarding him (it was clarified they were Serco, not Group 4 as Baraitser had said the previous day), and in the presence of microphones.

Baraitser became ill-tempered at this point and spoke with a real edge to her voice. “Who are those people behind you in the back row?” she asked Summers sarcastically – a question to which she very well knew the answer. Summers replied that they were part of the defence legal team. Baraitser said that Assange could contact them if he had a point to pass on. Summers replied that there was an aisle and a low wall between the glass box and their position, and all Assange could see over the wall was the top of the back of their heads. Baraitser said she had seen Assange call out. Summers said yelling across the courtroom was neither confidential nor satisfactory.

I have now been advised it is definitely an offence to publish the picture of Julian in his glass box, even though I didn’t take it and it is absolutely all over the internet. Also worth noting that I am back home in my own country, Scotland, where my blog is based, and neither is within the jurisdiction of the English court. But I am anxious not to give them any excuse to ban me from the court hearing, so I have removed it but you can see it here.

This is the photo taken illegally (not by me) of Assange in the court. If you look carefully, you can see there is a passageway and a low wooden wall between him and the back row of lawyers. You can see one of the two Serco prison officers guarding him inside the box.

Baraitser said Assange could pass notes, and she had witnessed notes being passed by him. Summers replied that the court officers had now banned the passing of notes. Baraitser said they could take this up with Serco, it was a matter for the prison authorities.

Summers asserted that, contrary to Baraitser’s statement the previous day, she did indeed have jurisdiction on the matter of releasing Assange from the dock. Baraitser intervened to say that she now accepted that. Summers then said that he had produced a number of authorities to show that Baraitser had also been wrong to say that to be in custody could only mean to be in the dock. You could be in custody anywhere within the precincts of the court, or indeed outside. Baraitser became very annoyed by this and stated she had only said that delivery to the custody of the court must equal delivery to the dock.

To which Summers replied memorably, now very cross “Well, that’s wrong too, and has been wrong these last eight years.”

Drawing argument to a close, Baraitser gave her judgement on this issue. Now the interesting thing is this, and I am a direct eyewitness. She read out her judgement, which was several pages long and handwritten. She had brought it with her into court in a bundle, and she made no amendments to it. She had written out her judgement before she heard Mark Summers speak at all.

Her key points were that Assange was able to communicate to his lawyers by shouting out from the box. She had seen him pass notes. She was willing to adjourn the court at any time for Assange to go down with his lawyers for discussions in the cells, and if that extended the length of the hearing from three to six weeks, it could take as long as required.

Baraitser stated that none of the psychiatric reports she had before her stated that it was necessary for Assange to leave the armoured dock. As none of the psychiarists had been asked that question – and very probably none knew anything about courtroom layout – that is scarcely surprising

I have been wondering why it is so essential to the British government to keep Assange in that box, unable to hear proceedings or instruct his lawyers in reaction to evidence, even when counsel for the US Government stated they had no objection to Assange sitting in the well of the court.

The answer lies in the psychiatric assessment of Assange given to the court by the extremely distinguished Professor Michael Kopelman (who is familiar to everyone who has read Murder in Samarkand):

“Mr Assange shows virtually all the risk factors which researchers from Oxford
have described in prisoners who either suicide or make lethal attempts. … I
am as confident as a psychiatrist can ever be that, if extradition to the United
States were to become imminent, Mr Assange would find a way of suiciding.”

The fact that Kopelman does not, as Baraitser said, specifically state that the armoured glass box is bad for Assange reflects nothing other than the fact he was not asked that question. Any human being with the slightest decency would be able to draw the inference. Baraitser’s narrow point that no psychiatrist had specifically stated he should be released from the armoured box is breathtakingly callous, dishonest and inhumane. Almost certainly no psychiatrist had conceived she would determine on enforcing such torture.

So why is Baraitser doing it?

I believe that the Hannibal Lecter style confinement of Assange, this intellectual computer geek, which has no rational basis at all, is a deliberate attempt to drive Julian to suicide. The maximum security anti-terrorist court is physically within the fortress compound that houses the maximum security prison. He is brought handcuffed and under heavy escort to and from his solitary cell to the armoured dock via an underground tunnel. In these circumstances, what possible need is there for him to be strip and cavity searched continually? Why is he not permitted to have his court papers? Most telling for me was the fact he is not permitted to shake hands or touch his lawyers through the slit in the armoured box.

They are relentlessly enforcing the systematic denial of any basic human comfort, like the touch of a friend’s fingertips or the blocking of the relief that he might get just from being alongside somebody friendly. They are ensuring the continuation of the extreme psychological effects from isolation of a year of virtual solitary confinement. A tiny bit of human comfort could do an enormous amount of good to his mental health and resilience. They are determined to stop this at all costs. They are attempting to make him kill himself – or create in him the condition where his throttling death might be explained away as suicide.

This is also the only explanation that I can think of for why they are risking the creation of such obvious mistrial conditions. Dead people cannot appeal.

I would remind you that Julian is a remand prisoner who has served his unprecedentedly long sentence for bail-jumping. His status is supposedly at present that of an innocent man facing charges. Those charges are for nothing except for publishing Chelsea Manning’s revelations of war crimes.

That Baraitser is acting under instructions seems to me certain. She has been desperate throughout the trial to seize any chance to deny any responsibility for what is happening to Julian. She has stated that she has no jurisdiction over his treatment in prison, and even when both defence and prosecution combined to state it was normal practice for magistrates to pass directions or requests to the prison service, she refused to accept it was so.

Baraitser is plainly attempting psychologically to distance herself from any agency in what is being done. To this end she has made a stream of denials of jurisdiction or ability to influence events. She has said that she has no jurisdiction to interfere with the strip searching, handcuffing and removal of Assange’s papers or with his being kept in solitary. She has said she has no jurisdiction to request that his defence lawyers have more access to their client in jail to prepare his defence. She has said she has no jurisdiction over his position in the courtroom. Se has suggested at various times it is up to Serco to decide if he may pass notes to his lawyers and up to Group4 to decide if he can be released from the armoured dock. The moments when she looks most content listening to the evidence, are those when prosecution counsel James Lewis argues that she has no decision to make but to sign the extradition because it is in good form and that Article 4 of the Treaty has no legal standing.

A member of the Assange family remarked to me at the end of week one that she seems very lazy, and thus delighted to accept any arguments that reduce the amount she needs to do. I think it is different to that. I think there is a corner of the mind of this daughter of dissidents from apartheid that rejects her own role in the torture of Assange, and is continually urging “I had no choice, I had no agency”. Those who succumb to do evil must find what internal comfort they may.

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.

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.

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 – 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

——————————————

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 in Court

UPDATE I have received scores of requests to republish and/or translate this article. It is absolutely free to use and reproduce and I should be delighted if everybody does; the world should know what is being done to Julian. So far, over 200,000 people have read it on this blogsite alone and it has already been reproduced on myriad other sites, some with much bigger readerships than my own. I have seen translations into German, Spanish and French and at least extracts in Catalan and Turkish. I only ask that you reproduce it complete or, if edits are made, plainly indicate them. Many thanks.

BEGINS

I was deeply shaken while witnessing yesterday’s events in Westminster Magistrates Court. Every decision was railroaded through over the scarcely heard arguments and objections of Assange’s legal team, by a magistrate who barely pretended to be listening.

Before I get on to the blatant lack of fair process, the first thing I must note was Julian’s condition. I was badly shocked by just how much weight my friend has lost, by the speed his hair has receded and by the appearance of premature and vastly accelerated ageing. He has a pronounced limp I have never seen before. Since his arrest he has lost over 15 kg in weight.

But his physical appearance was not as shocking as his mental deterioration. When asked to give his name and date of birth, he struggled visibly over several seconds to recall both. I will come to the important content of his statement at the end of proceedings in due course, but his difficulty in making it was very evident; it was a real struggle for him to articulate the words and focus his train of thought.

Until yesterday I had always been quietly sceptical of those who claimed that Julian’s treatment amounted to torture – even of Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – and sceptical of those who suggested he may be subject to debilitating drug treatments. But having attended the trials in Uzbekistan of several victims of extreme torture, and having worked with survivors from Sierra Leone and elsewhere, I can tell you that yesterday changed my mind entirely and Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness.

I had been even more sceptical of those who claimed, as a senior member of his legal team did to me on Sunday night, that they were worried that Julian might not live to the end of the extradition process. I now find myself not only believing it, but haunted by the thought. Everybody in that court yesterday saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable. Yet the agents of the state, particularly the callous magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, were not just prepared but eager to be a part of this bloodsport. She actually told him that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later. The question of why a man who, by the very charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, had been reduced by the state to somebody incapable of following court proceedings, gave her not a millisecond of concern.

The charge against Julian is very specific; conspiring with Chelsea Manning to publish the Iraq War logs, the Afghanistan war logs and the State Department cables. The charges are nothing to do with Sweden, nothing to do with sex, and nothing to do with the 2016 US election; a simple clarification the mainstream media appears incapable of understanding.

The purpose of yesterday’s hearing was case management; to determine the timetable for the extradition proceedings. The key points at issue were that Julian’s defence was requesting more time to prepare their evidence; and arguing that political offences were specifically excluded from the extradition treaty. There should, they argued, therefore be a preliminary hearing to determine whether the extradition treaty applied at all.

The reasons given by Assange’s defence team for more time to prepare were both compelling and startling. They had very limited access to their client in jail and had not been permitted to hand him any documents about the case until one week ago. He had also only just been given limited computer access, and all his relevant records and materials had been seized from the Ecuadorean Embassy by the US Government; he had no access to his own materials for the purpose of preparing his defence.

Furthermore, the defence argued, they were in touch with the Spanish courts about a very important and relevant legal case in Madrid which would provide vital evidence. It showed that the CIA had been directly ordering spying on Julian in the Embassy through a Spanish company, UC Global, contracted to provide security there. Crucially this included spying on privileged conversations between Assange and his lawyers discussing his defence against these extradition proceedings, which had been in train in the USA since 2010. In any normal process, that fact would in itself be sufficient to have the extradition proceedings dismissed. Incidentally I learnt on Sunday that the Spanish material produced in court, which had been commissioned by the CIA, specifically includes high resolution video coverage of Julian and I discussing various matters.

The evidence to the Spanish court also included a CIA plot to kidnap Assange, which went to the US authorities’ attitude to lawfulness in his case and the treatment he might expect in the United States. Julian’s team explained that the Spanish legal process was happening now and the evidence from it would be extremely important, but it might not be finished and thus the evidence not fully validated and available in time for the current proposed timetable for the Assange extradition hearings.

For the prosecution, James Lewis QC stated that the government strongly opposed any delay being given for the defence to prepare, and strongly opposed any separate consideration of the question of whether the charge was a political offence excluded by the extradition treaty. Baraitser took her cue from Lewis and stated categorically that the date for the extradition hearing, 25 February, could not be changed. She was open to changes in dates for submission of evidence and responses before this, and called a ten minute recess for the prosecution and defence to agree these steps.

What happened next was very instructive. There were five representatives of the US government present (initially three, and two more arrived in the course of the hearing), seated at desks behind the lawyers in court. The prosecution lawyers immediately went into huddle with the US representatives, then went outside the courtroom with them, to decide how to respond on the dates.

After the recess the defence team stated they could not, in their professional opinion, adequately prepare if the hearing date were kept to February, but within Baraitser’s instruction to do so they nevertheless outlined a proposed timetable on delivery of evidence. In responding to this, Lewis’ junior counsel scurried to the back of the court to consult the Americans again while Lewis actually told the judge he was “taking instructions from those behind”. It is important to note that as he said this, it was not the UK Attorney-General’s office who were being consulted but the US Embassy. Lewis received his American instructions and agreed that the defence might have two months to prepare their evidence (they had said they needed an absolute minimum of three) but the February hearing date may not be moved. Baraitser gave a ruling agreeing everything Lewis had said.

At this stage it was unclear why we were sitting through this farce. The US government was dictating its instructions to Lewis, who was relaying those instructions to Baraitser, who was ruling them as her legal decision. The charade might as well have been cut and the US government simply sat on the bench to control the whole process. Nobody could sit there and believe they were in any part of a genuine legal process or that Baraitser was giving a moment’s consideration to the arguments of the defence. Her facial expressions on the few occasions she looked at the defence ranged from contempt through boredom to sarcasm. When she looked at Lewis she was attentive, open and warm.

The extradition is plainly being rushed through in accordance with a Washington dictated timetable. Apart from a desire to pre-empt the Spanish court providing evidence on CIA activity in sabotaging the defence, what makes the February date so important to the USA? I would welcome any thoughts.

Baraitser dismissed the defence’s request for a separate prior hearing to consider whether the extradition treaty applied at all, without bothering to give any reason why (possibly she had not properly memorised what Lewis had been instructing her to agree with). Yet this is Article 4 of the UK/US Extradition Treaty 2007 in full:

On the face of it, what Assange is accused of is the very definition of a political offence – if this is not, then what is? It is not covered by any of the exceptions from that listed. There is every reason to consider whether this charge is excluded by the extradition treaty, and to do so before the long and very costly process of considering all the evidence should the treaty apply. But Baraitser simply dismissed the argument out of hand.

Just in case anybody was left in any doubt as to what was happening here, Lewis then stood up and suggested that the defence should not be allowed to waste the court’s time with a lot of arguments. All arguments for the substantive hearing should be given in writing in advance and a “guillotine should be applied” (his exact words) to arguments and witnesses in court, perhaps of five hours for the defence. The defence had suggested they would need more than the scheduled five days to present their case. Lewis countered that the entire hearing should be over in two days. Baraitser said this was not procedurally the correct moment to agree this but she will consider it once she had received the evidence bundles.

(SPOILER: Baraitser is going to do as Lewis instructs and cut the substantive hearing short).

Baraitser then capped it all by saying the February hearing will be held, not at the comparatively open and accessible Westminster Magistrates Court where we were, but at Belmarsh Magistrates Court, the grim high security facility used for preliminary legal processing of terrorists, attached to the maximum security prison where Assange is being held. There are only six seats for the public in even the largest court at Belmarsh, and the object is plainly to evade public scrutiny and make sure that Baraitser is not exposed in public again to a genuine account of her proceedings, like this one you are reading. I will probably be unable to get in to the substantive hearing at Belmarsh.

Plainly the authorities were disconcerted by the hundreds of good people who had turned up to support Julian. They hope that far fewer will get to the much less accessible Belmarsh. I am fairly certain (and recall I had a long career as a diplomat) that the two extra American government officials who arrived halfway through proceedings were armed security personnel, brought in because of alarm at the number of protestors around a hearing in which were present senior US officials. The move to Belmarsh may be an American initiative.

Assange’s defence team objected strenuously to the move to Belmarsh, in particular on the grounds that there are no conference rooms available there to consult their client and they have very inadequate access to him in the jail. Baraitser dismissed their objection offhand and with a very definite smirk.

Finally, Baraitser turned to Julian and ordered him to stand, and asked him if he had understood the proceedings. He replied in the negative, said that he could not think, and gave every appearance of disorientation. Then he seemed to find an inner strength, drew himself up a little, and said:

I do not understand how this process is equitable. This superpower had 10 years to prepare for this case and I can’t even access my writings. It is very difficult, where I am, to do anything. These people have unlimited resources.

The effort then seemed to become too much, his voice dropped and he became increasingly confused and incoherent. He spoke of whistleblowers and publishers being labeled enemies of the people, then spoke about his children’s DNA being stolen and of being spied on in his meetings with his psychologist. I am not suggesting at all that Julian was wrong about these points, but he could not properly frame nor articulate them. He was plainly not himself, very ill and it was just horribly painful to watch. Baraitser showed neither sympathy nor the least concern. She tartly observed that if he could not understand what had happened, his lawyers could explain it to him, and she swept out of court.

The whole experience was profoundly upsetting. It was very plain that there was no genuine process of legal consideration happening here. What we had was a naked demonstration of the power of the state, and a naked dictation of proceedings by the Americans. Julian was in a box behind bulletproof glass, and I and the thirty odd other members of the public who had squeezed in were in a different box behind more bulletproof glass. I do not know if he could see me or his other friends in the court, or if he was capable of recognising anybody. He gave no indication that he did.

In Belmarsh he is kept in complete isolation for 23 hours a day. He is permitted 45 minutes exercise. If he has to be moved, they clear the corridors before he walks down them and they lock all cell doors to ensure he has no contact with any other prisoner outside the short and strictly supervised exercise period. There is no possible justification for this inhuman regime, used on major terrorists, being imposed on a publisher who is a remand prisoner.

I have been both cataloguing and protesting for years the increasingly authoritarian powers of the UK state, but that the most gross abuse could be so open and undisguised is still a shock. The campaign of demonisation and dehumanisation against Julian, based on government and media lie after government and media lie, has led to a situation where he can be slowly killed in public sight, and arraigned on a charge of publishing the truth about government wrongdoing, while receiving no assistance from “liberal” society.

Unless Julian is released shortly he will be destroyed. If the state can do this, then who is next?

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The World’s Most Important Political Prisoner

We are now just one week away from the end of Julian Assange’s uniquely lengthy imprisonment for bail violation. He will receive parole from the rest of that sentence, but will continue to be imprisoned on remand awaiting his hearing on extradition to the USA – a process which could last several years.

At that point, all the excuses for Assange’s imprisonment which so-called leftists and liberals in the UK have hidden behind will evaporate. There are no charges and no active investigation in Sweden, where the “evidence” disintegrated at the first whiff of critical scrutiny. He is no longer imprisoned for “jumping bail”. The sole reason for his incarceration will be the publishing of the Afghan and Iraq war logs leaked by Chelsea Manning, with their evidence of wrongdoing and multiple war crimes.

In imprisoning Assange for bail violation, the UK was in clear defiance of the judgement of the UN Working Group on arbitrary Detention, which stated

Under international law, pre-trial detention must be only imposed in limited instances. Detention during investigations must be even more limited, especially in the absence of any charge. The Swedish investigations have been closed for over 18 months now, and the only ground remaining for Mr. Assange’s continued deprivation of liberty is a bail violation in the UK, which is, objectively, a minor offense that cannot post facto justify the more than 6 years confinement that he has been subjected to since he sought asylum in the Embassy of Ecuador. Mr. Assange should be able to exercise his right to freedom of movement in an unhindered manner, in accordance with the human rights conventions the UK has ratified,

In repudiating the UNWGAD the UK has undermined an important pillar of international law, and one it had always supported in hundreds of other decisions. The mainstream media has entirely failed to note that the UNWGAD called for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – a source of potentially valuable international pressure on Iran which the UK has made worthless by its own refusal to comply with the UN over the Assange case. Iran simply replies “if you do not respect the UNWGAD then why should we?”

It is in fact a key indication of media/government collusion that the British media, which reports regularly at every pretext on the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case to further its anti-Iranian government agenda, failed to report at all the UNWGAD call for her release – because of the desire to deny the UN body credibility in the case of Julian Assange.

In applying for political asylum, Assange was entering a different and higher legal process which is an internationally recognised right. A very high percentage of dissident political prisoners worldwide are imprisoned on ostensibly unrelated criminal charges with which the authorities fit them up. Many a dissident has been given asylum in these circumstances. Assange did not go into hiding – his whereabouts were extremely well known. The simple characterisation of this as “absconding” by district judge Vanessa Baraitser is a farce of justice – and like the UK’s repudiation of the UNWGAD report, is an attitude that authoritarian regimes will be delighted to repeat towards dissidents worldwide.

Her decision to commit Assange to continuing jail pending his extradition hearing was excessively cruel given the serious health problems he has encountered in Belmarsh.

It is worth noting that Baraitser’s claim that Assange had a “history of absconding in these proceedings” – and I have already disposed of “absconding” as wildly inappropriate – is inaccurate in that “these proceedings” are entirely new and relate to the US extradition request and nothing but the US extradition request. Assange has been imprisoned throughout the period of “these proceedings” and has certainly not absconded. The government and media have an interest in conflating “these proceedings” with the previous risible allegations from Sweden and the subsequent conviction for bail violation, but we need to untangle this malicious conflation. We have to make plain that Assange is now held for publishing and only for publishing. That a judge should conflate them is disgusting. Vanessa Baraitser is a disgrace.

Assange has been demonised by the media as a dangerous, insanitary and crazed criminal, which could not be further from the truth. It is worth reminding ourselves that Assange has never been convicted of anything but missing police bail.

So now we have a right wing government in the UK with scant concern for democracy, and in particular we have the most far right extremist as Home Secretary of modern times. Assange is now, plainly and without argument, a political prisoner. He is not in jail for bail-jumping. He is not in jail for sexual allegations. He is in jail for publishing official secrets, and for nothing else. The UK now has the world’s most famous political prisoner, and there are no rational grounds to deny that fact. Who will take a stand against authoritarianism and for the freedom to publish?

——————————————

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