WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange awared with the Solidarity prize by the Russian Union of Journalists "The International Day of Journalists' Solidarity is marked worldwide on September 8. Our colleague, a journalist, sacrificed his whole life to fight for truth and freedom of speech. We had no doubts about who should receive this prize. We decided that it should go to Julian Assange, a true fighter for the freedom of speech," the union’s head Vladimir Solovyev told TASS on Tuesday.
DAY TWO OF ASSANGE HEARING: US Tries to Narrow its Espionage Charge to Only Naming Informants; Defense Witness Crumbles Under Cross Examination
Julian Assange was also warned by Judge Baraitser that he would be removed if he makes another outburst. U.S. crimes abroad and at home on display.
10:35 UTC: Court is in session. Assange lawyers ask for starting everyday at 10:30 am in order for them to confer with Assange. Attorney Clive Stafford Smith is called as a defense witness, ending Prof. Feldstein’s testimony.
The second day of the resumption of Assange’s substantive extradition hearing will resume at 10:00 am BST/UTC, 5 am EDT in London. On the schedule is the continuation of the defense testimony of journalism professor Mark Feldstein, followed by journalist Patrick Cockburn and concluding with Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.
Court opening has been delayed 30 minutes so that Assange’s lawyers can confer with their client.
11:30 UTC: Five minute pause as Assange spoke out in court spontaneously. Difficult to make out what he said but he seemed to be objecting to being represented by proxy and not being allowed to speak. Judge Vanessa Baraitser angrily said she had several options, but only named one: that he speak to his lawyers.
Baraitser returned from the break with a stern warning to Assange not to interrupt proceedings again or he would be excluded from court.
The outburst and brief pause came as James Lewis QC for the prosecution was in an argument with defense witness Clive Stafford Smith, who was not accepting Lewis’ argument that Assange had not been charged with publishing classified documents, but only of revealing informants names in classified documents that he published. Smith, an American lawyer, said that in American trials other evidence can be brought that is not in an indictment.
Under direct examination, defense attorney Mark Summers was extracting from Smith how much he relied on WikiLeaks documents to defend his clients in Guantanamo. Smith said WikiLeaks was crucial to preparing various defenses. In a sense U.S. conduct abroad was being put in the dock as Smith was asked to detail assassination programs and torture that the WikiLeaks documents revealed.
Lewis opened cross by telling Smith that Assange was not being prosecuted for any of the WikiLeaks publications mentioned in Smith’s oral and written testimonies.
Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange demonstrate in London, England. (Peter Summers/Getty Images)
13:30 UTC: Court is in lunch break. Morning session ended with re-direct of defense witness Smith. Consortium News is following every moment of the extradition trial via a video-link to Old Bailey.
Prosecution had tried to establish on cross that Assange is not being charged with publishing classified information, but only publishing names of informants, which happened to be in classified documents.
There is no specific U.S. statute against revealing informants names, as there is regarding the names of covert government agents, as readers will recall in the Valerie Plame case. But James Lewis QC for the prosecution argued that informant names are national defense information and thus protected by the Espionage Act.
This is a sleight of hand and speaks to the public relations nature of the U.S. case. Lewis on the one hand argues Assange is not being charged with publishing, but only with publishing documents with informants’ names. That is an appeal to First Amendment concerns. But that is still a charge of publishing classified information, even if restricted to those with informant names.
The U.S. appeal to the public is to depict Assange as an ogre who doesn’t care for human life, while at the same time portraying the United States as being concerned for a free press.
Lewis read from the book by David Leigh and Luke Harding, Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy, in which the authors say that Assange was unconcerned about revealing the names of informants, and quotes from a dinner in which Assange was alleged to have said that informants deserved it, if they were killed.
Lewis asked the defense witness Smith if he agreed with Leigh about this or with Assange? It was a below-the-belt question. Smith said there was 200 years of law to protect defendants from hearsay. Smith then returned to a point he repeatedly made that Lewis, as a British lawyer, didn’t know how U.S. trials are conducted the way Smith, an American lawyer, does.
Smith said it doesn’t matter what’s in an indictment, because other evidence is routinely introduced at American trials.
But Mark Summers, QC for the defense, went a step further, reading directly from the espionage indictment of Assange, which clearly shows that he is being charged on more than just the documents containing informant names. Instead he is charged with with conspiring to “obtain documents, writings, and notes connected with the national defense,” including “U.S. State Department cables, and Iraq rules of engagement files classified up to the SECRET level … with reason to believe that the information was to be used to the injury of the United States or the advantage of any foreign nation.”
Lewis objected that Summers wasn’t reading it correctly, so Summers repeated by sarcastically reading it out with the punctuation marks.
On re-direct, Summers also asked Smith if he was familiar with the role Leigh and Harding played in revealing the password in their book to the entire archive of Afghan documents that contained the un-redacted names of informants.
Summers then also asked if Smith was familiar with fabricated stories by Harding (presumably one about Paul Manafort visiting Assange) when Judge Baraitser cut him off. Summers pointed out that it was the prosecution that raised the book, but he gave way to the judge.
Summers didn’t get to say that the book’s release of the password to the encrypted file (that governments could unencrypt) is what really put informants in danger, and thatWikiLeaks only then released the entire unencrypted archive so that informants would know to protect themselves.
On the witness list for the defense next Wednesday is John Goetz of Der Spiegel who was at that dinner, and previously was quoted as denying that Assange ever made that remark. Not on the list, though he offered to testify, is Australian journalist Mark Davis who was with Assange in the bunker at The Guardian putting out the Afghan files. Davis has said publicly that Assange worked to redact names, while Guardian editors did not care.
Earlier under direct examination from Summers, a litany of U.S. war crimes, torture and assassination programs revealed by WikiLeaks were discussed in open court in Britain, one of America’s most staunch allies. It was an extraordinary moment, with U.S. officials sitting there listening behind their British lawyers. One them, Lewis, on cross, tried to dismiss it by saying that Assange wasn’t be charged for releasing any of the documents that revealed the crimes Smith was referring to and that they were irrelevant to the case.
It was at that point that Assange cried out, “This is nonsense,” that the prosecution was wrong because he’s being charged for receiving and publishing all the documents.
Smith, who represented Guantanamo detainees, said at one point that over-classification by the U.S. was the most serious matter since 9/11 and said evidence of torture of his clients was part of this over-classification.
19:50 UTC: Day 2 of Assange’s substantial hearing has ended. Consortium News followed every moment of the hearing that went about 20 minutes over time via a video-link from Old Bailey.
The prosecution tried to narrow the Espionage Act charges down to only classified documents that mentioned the names of informants, a gambit shot down by the defense when it quoted directly from the indictment proving otherwise.
Before the defense got the chance, Julian Assange shouted from his glass cage at the back of the court that it was “nonsense” to suggest he wasn’t being prosecuted for all the classified material he published. That brought a firm warning from Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser that he would be removed from the court if he did it again.
The informants theme is one we can expect the government to continue harping on for the duration of this hearing, as they have very little else go on. James Lewis QC for the prosecution quoted from a book that alleges Assange said informants deserved to die, an assertion that has been denied by a German editor present. He is to testify next week.
The other line of attack from the prosecution is that Assange “conspired” with Chelsea Manning to “hack” government a computer to obtain classified documents. In the afternoon, the continuation of Prof. Mark Feldstein continued from Monday.
Under direct examination Feldstein made a spirited defense of Assange’s activities as being routine for journalists. The government, he said, “paints journalistic activities in a nefarious light.” He said it is “standard to ask sources for evidence and documents to back up what they say and working with them to find documents, making suggestions to what they should look for. It’s all routine.”
Feldstein also told defense attorney Mark Summers that no publisher had ever been prosecuted before for publishing, but that former presidents had tried. He told the story of Richard Nixon who wanted to prosecute columnist Jack Anderson but was told by his attorney he could not because it would violate the First Amendment.
So Nixon then hatched plans with a former CIA agent to send a false story on White House letterhead hoping he’d publish it then be exposed, but Anderson checked it out and didn’t use it, unlike many of today’s journalists who run with government hand outs.
So Nixon then tried to kill Anderson, but all the plots were foiled: poisoning his aspirins , trying to crash a car into him or stabbing him to make it look like a mugging. All this, but Nixon did not prosecute Anderson for publishing.
It was chilling testimony in a British court that added to earlier testimony about U.S. war crimes.
But on cross examination Feldstein fell apart. He allowed himself to be bullied by Lewis. If this were a prize fight, the referee would have ended it.
Instead Lewis took advantage of his prey, asking legal questions he knew Feldstein was not equipped to handle. He badgered him about why the grand jury on Assange continued, even though Feldstein testified that the Obama administration decided not to prosecute because it would run up against the First Amendment.
Lewis then bored into a completely flustered Feldstein about how he could call the Assange prosecution political when he could not prove an order came from the White House. But attorneys general and CIA directors can exert political pressure. Lewis also adopted a very narrow definition of politic, excluding that getting Assange was to preserve U.S. foreign policy from exposure as well as maintaining the political reputations of U.S. officials.
When Baraitser announced that court was adjourned a broad smile lit up Feldstein’s face. His ordeal was over.
Headline picture: Old Bailey (Wikimedia Commons)
Is British “judge” Vanessa Baraitser a CIA Operative?
Is British “judge” Vanessa Baraitser a CIA Operative?
In my opinion Vanessa Baraitser is not acting like a judge serving law and justice. In my opinion she is acting for Washington, perhaps in exchange for a bagfull of money. This is my opinion, because Vanessa Baraitser has shown, in my opinion, every indication, law and evidence not withstanding, that she intends to turn Julian Assange over to Washington on false charges. Her rulings are inexplicable in terms of serving justice.
This is an important interview by @MElmaazi with Clive Stafford Smith, the campaigning lawyer and founder of the human rights group @Reprieve, talking about the outrageous treatment of Julian Assange. #FreeJulianAssangeNowhttps://t.co/qjgsAe4kHB— Chris Williamson (@DerbyChrisW) September 8, 2020
- The Facts:
Julian Assange has been warned by the judge in his extradition case that he could be removed from court with the case continuing in his absence after he interjected while a lawyer for the US sparred with a high-profile witness in favour of assange.
- Reflect On:
Why do people like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden face such a harsh backlash from Governments? If governments and elite corporations aren't doing anything wrong, what do they have to hide? Why are the censoring so much information?
What Happened: Julian Assange’s legal battle to avoid US extradition to the United States for leaking classified information has begun. The latest news is that “English judge Vanessa Baraitser warns the most famous publisher/journalist in the world – Julian Assange, tortured by UK authoritiesaccording to the UN – not to speak again or be removed entirely from the court and be tried for his life in his absence,” according to Afshin Rattansi, a British broadcaster, journalist and author.
Over the years Assange has faced a number of smear campaigns and character assassinations that have been debunked, when in reality there are so many ‘high profile’ people around the word that support him and see quite clearly what is going on.
According to The Guardian, “Julian Assange has been warned by the judge in his extradition case that he could be removed from court with the case continuing in his absence after he interjected while a lawyer for the US authorities sparred with a high-profile witness giving evidence in support of the WikiLeaks founder.”
I suggest you visit The Wikileaks Instagram Page for more the most recent and accurate updates.
Why This Is Important: Most of the world knows why they hunted him, and why he’s been treated the way he’s been treated and tortured in prison. The same goes for people like Edward Snowden, it’s because they expose lies, corruption, deceit, immoral and unethical actions that their own governments, as well as governments around the world have participated in. He exposed these characteristics that seem to represents the backbone of the Western military alliance and the American empire. He exposed, in the words of John F. Hylan, former Mayor of New York City, the “real menace of the Republic”, the “invisible government, which like a giant octopus sprawls its slimy legs over our cities, states and nation.” He exposed the ones “who virtually run the United States government for their own selfish purposes.” (source)(source)
“National Security” has become an umbrella tool to protect a number of unethical and immoral actions by governments, big corporations as well as those that take place in the world of finance.
How far have we sunk if telling the truth becomes a crime? How far have we sunk if we prosecute people that expose war crimes for exposing war crimes? How far have we sunk when we no longer prosecute our own war criminals? Because we identify more with them, than we identify with the people that actually expose these crimes. What does that tell about us and about our governments? In a democracy, the power does not belong to the government, but to the people. But the people have to claim it. Secrecy disempowers the people because it prevents them from exercising democratic control, which is precisely why governments want secrecy. – Nils Melzer, Human Rights Chair of the Geneva Academy of Int Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, Prof of Int Law at the University of Glasgow, UN Rapporteur on Torture and Other Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Wilikleaks has never had to retract a single story.
Politics has become a cesspool of corruption, and it’s now corporations and big banks that seem to dictate political policy. What we are presented with on our TV when it comes to geopolitical issues and war is far different from what’s happening in reality, and this is what Julian Assange made evident. Whether it’s the funding, arming and creation of terrorist organizations like ISIS or Al-Qaeda by our governments, creating problems so they can propose the solutions, or documents showing the influence Big Pharma has on global health policy, obtaining this information and using it to inform the public is not a “threat” to the people, it’s a threat to to the people in power. These people in power are using “national “security as they always due to justify the locking Assange up for the rest of his life.
The Takeaway: Do we really live on a planet right now where those who expose truth, expose corporate corruption, and those who want what’s best for the world and want to change the world, are locked away, murdered, silenced, censored, and thrown in jail? Furthermore, what time of ‘machine’ is required to justify his jailing in the minds of the masses? What kind of propaganda tools are used and how powerful are they if they have the ability to completely control human consciousness and perception in a way that best fits their interests?
Midday statement from @khrafnsson on the #AssangeCase: "If we are going to leave to these dark powers to define what is news? What is in the public interest? We can forget about democracy, we can forget about civil society. We are not leaving that up to them."#Assange pic.twitter.com/uwzmBZRrsH— Don't Extradite Assange (@DEAcampaign) September 8, 2020
I went to the Old Bailey today expecting to be awed by the majesty of the law, and left revolted by the sordid administration of injustice.
There is a romance which attaches to the Old Bailey. The name of course means fortified enclosure and it occupies a millennia old footprint on the edge of London’s ancient city wall. It is the site of the medieval Newgate Prison, and formal trials have taken place at the Old Bailey for at least 500 years, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. For the majority of that time, those convicted even of minor offences of theft were taken out and executed in the alleyway outside. It is believed that hundreds, perhaps thousands, lie buried under the pavements.
The hefty Gothic architecture of the current grand building dates back no further than 1905, and round the back and sides of that is wrapped some horrible cheap utility building from the 1930’s. It was through a tunnelled entrance into this portion that five of us, Julian’s nominated family and friends, made our nervous way this morning. We were shown to Court 10 up many stairs that seemed like the back entrance to a particularly unloved works canteen. Tiles were chipped, walls were filthy and flakes of paint hung down from crumbling ceilings. Only the security cameras watching us were new – so new, in fact, that little piles of plaster and brick dust lay under each.
Court 10 appeared to be a fairly bright and open modern box, with pleasant light woodwork, jammed as a mezzanine inside a great vault of the old building. A massive arch intruded incongruously into the space and was obviously damp, sheets of delaminating white paint drooping down from it like flags of forlorn surrender. The dock in which Julian would be held still had a bulletproof glass screen in front, like Belmarsh, but it was not boxed in. There was no top to the screen, no low ceiling, so sound could flow freely over and Julian seemed much more in the court. It also had many more and wider slits than the notorious Belmarsh Box, and Julian was able to communicate quite readily and freely through them with his lawyers, which this time he was not prevented from doing.
Rather to our surprise, nobody else was allowed into the public gallery of court 10 but us five. Others like John Pilger and Kristin Hrafnsson, editor in chief of Wikileaks, were shunted into the adjacent court 9 where a very small number were permitted to squint at a tiny screen, on which the sound was so inaudible John Pilger simply left. Many others who had expected to attend, such as Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, were simply excluded, as were MPs from the German federal parliament (both the German MPs and Reporters Without Borders at least later got access to the inadequate video following strong representations from the German Embassy).
The reason given that only five of us were allowed in the public gallery of some 40 seats was social distancing; except we were allowed to all sit together in consecutive seats in the front row. The two rows behind us remained completely empty.
To finish scene setting, Julian himself looked tidy and well groomed and dressed, and appeared to have regained a little lost weight, but with a definite unhealthy puffiness about his features. In the morning he appeared disengaged and disoriented rather as he had at Belmarsh, but in the afternoon he perked up and was very much engaged with his defence team, interacting as normally as could be expected in these circumstances.
Proceedings started with formalities related to Julian’s release on the old extradition warrant and re-arrest under the new warrant, which had taken place this morning. Defence and prosecution both agreed that the points they had already argued on the ban on extradition for political offences were not affected by the superseding indictment.
Magistrate Baraitser then made a statement about access to the court by remote hearing, by which she meant online. She stated that a number of access details had been sent out by mistake by the court without her agreement. She had therefore revoked their access permissions.
As she spoke, we in the court had no idea what had happened, but outside some consternation was underway in that the online access of Amnesty International, of Reporters without Borders, of John Pilger and of forty others had been shut down. As these people were neither permitted to attend the court nor observe online, this was causing some consternation.
Baraitser went on to say that it was important that the hearing was public, but she should only agree remote access where it was “in the interests of justice”, and having considered it she had decided it was not. She explained this by stating that the public could normally observe from within the courtroom, where she could control their behaviour. But if they had remote access, she could not control their behaviour and this was not in the “interests of justice”.
Baraitser did not expand on what uncontrolled behaviour she anticipated from those viewing via the internet. It is certainly true that an observer from Amnesty sitting at home might be in their underwear, might be humming the complete soundtrack to Mamma Mia, or might fart loudly. Precisely why this would damage “the interests of justice” we are still left to ponder, with no further help from the magistrate. But evidently the interests of justice were, in her view, best served if almost nobody could examine the “justice” too closely.
The next “housekeeping issue” to be addressed was how witnesses should be heard. The defence had called numerous witnesses, and each had lodged a written statement. The prosecution and Baraitser both suggested that, having given their evidence in writing, there was no need for defence witnesses to give that evidence orally in open court. It would be much quicker to go straight to cross-examination by the prosecution.
For the defence, Edward Fitzgerald QC countered that justice should be seen to be done by the public. The public should be able to hear the defence evidence before hearing the cross-examination. It would also enable Julian Assange to hear the evidence summarised, which was important for him to follow the case given his lack of extended access to legal papers while in Belmarsh prison.
Baraitser stated there could not be any need for evidence submitted to her in writing to be repeated orally. For the defence, Mark Summers QC was not prepared to drop it and tension notably rose in the court. Summers stated it was normal practice for there to be “an orderly and rational exposition of the evidence”. For the prosecution, James Lewis QC denied this, saying it was not normal procedure.
Baraitser stated she could not see why witnesses should be scheduled an one hour forty five minutes each, which was too long. Lewis agreed. He also added that the prosecution does not accept that the defence’s expert witnesses are expert witnesses. A Professor of journalism telling about newspaper coverage did not count. An expert witness should only be giving evidence on a technical point the court was otherwise unqualified to consider. Lewis also objected that in giving evidence orally, defence witnesses might state new facts to which the Crown had not had time to react. Baraitser noted that the written defence statements were published online, so they were available to the public.
Edward Fitzgerald QC stood up to speak again, and Baraitser addressed him in a quite extraordinary tone of contempt. What she said exactly was: “I have given you every opportunity. Is there anything else, really, that you want to say”, the word “really” being very heavily emphasised and sarcastic. Fitzgerald refused to be sat down, and he stated that the current case featured “substantial and novel issues going to fundamental questions of human rights.” It was important the evidence was given in public. It also gave the witnesses a chance to emphasise the key points of their evidence and where they placed most weight.
Baraitser called a brief recess while she considered judgement on this issue, and then returned. She found against the defence witnesses giving their evidence in open court, but accepted that each witness should be allowed up to half an hour of being led by the defence lawyers, to enable them to orient themselves and reacquaint with their evidence before cross-examination.
This half hour for each witness represented something of a compromise, in that at least the basic evidence of each defence witness would be heard by the court and the public (insofar as the public was allowed to hear anything). But the idea that a standard half hour guillotine is sensible for all witnesses, whether they are testifying to a single fact or to developments over years, is plainly absurd. What came over most strongly from this question was the desire of both judge and prosecution to railroad through the extradition with as little of the case against it getting a public airing as possible.
As the judge adjourned for a short break we thought these questions had now been addressed and the rest of the day would be calmer. We could not have been more wrong.
The court resumed with a new defence application, led by Mark Summers QC, about the new charges from the US governments new superseding indictment. Summers took the court back over the history of this extradition hearing. The first indictment had been drawn up in March of 2018. In January 2019 a provisional request for extradition had been made, which had been implemented in April of 2019 on Assange’s removal from the Embassy. In June 2019 this was replaced by the full request with a new, second indictment which had been the basis of these proceedings before today. A whole series of hearings had taken place on the basis of that second indictment.
The new superseding indictment dated from 20 June 2020. In February and May 2020 the US government had allowed hearings to go ahead on the basis of the second indictment, giving no warning, even though they must by that stage have known the new superseding indictment was coming. They had given neither explanation nor apology for this.
The defence had not been properly informed of the superseding indictment, and indeed had learnt of its existence only through a US government press release on 20 June. It had not finally been officially served in these proceedings until 29 July, just six weeks ago. At first, it had not been clear how the superseding indictment would affect the charges, as the US government was briefing it made no difference but just gave additional detail. But on 21 August 2020, not before, it finally became clear in new US government submissions that the charges themselves had been changed.
There were now new charges that were standalone and did not depend on the earlier allegations. Even if the 18 Manning related charges were rejected, these new allegations could still form grounds for extradition. These new allegations included encouraging the stealing of data from a bank and from the government of Iceland, passing information on tracking police vehicles, and hacking the computers both of individuals and of a security company.
“How much of this newly alleged material is criminal is anybody’s guess”, stated Summers, going on to explain that it was not at all clear that an Australian giving advice from outwith Iceland to someone in Iceland on how to crack a code, was actually criminal if it occurred in the UK. This was even without considering the test of dual criminality in the US also, which had to be passed before the conduct was subject to extradition.
It was unthinkable that allegations of this magnitude would be the subject of a Part 2 extradition hearing within six weeks if they were submitted as a new case. Plainly that did not give the defence time to prepare, or to line up witnesses to these new charges. Among the issues relating to these new charges the defence would wish to address, were that some were not criminal, some were out of time limitation, some had already been charged in other fora (including Southwark Crown Court and courts in the USA).
There were also important questions to be asked about the origins of some of these charges and the dubious nature of the witnesses. In particular the witness identified as “teenager” was the same person identified as “Iceland 1” in the previous indictment. That indictment had contained a “health warning” over this witness given by the US Department of Justice. This new indictment removed that warning. But the fact was, this witness is Sigurdur Thordarson, who had been convicted in Iceland in relation to these events of fraud, theft, stealing Wikileaks money and material and impersonating Julian Assange.
The indictment did not state that the FBI had been “kicked out of Iceland for trying to use Thordarson to frame Assange”, stated Summers baldly.
Summers said all these matters should be ventilated in these hearings if the new charges were to be heard, but the defence simply did not have time to prepare its answers or its witnesses in the brief six weeks it had since receiving them, even setting aside the extreme problems of contact with Assange in the conditions in which he was being held in Belmarsh prison.
The defence would plainly need time to prepare answers to these new charges, but it would plainly be unfair to keep Assange in jail for the months that would take. The defence therefore suggested that these new charges should be excised from the conduct to be considered by the court, and they should go ahead with the evidence on criminal behaviour confined to what conduct had previously been alleged.
Summers argued it was “entirely unfair” to add what were in law new and separate criminal allegations, at short notice and “entirely without warning and not giving the defence time to respond to it. What is happening here is abnormal, unfair and liable to create real injustice if allowed to continue.”
The arguments submitted by the prosecution now rested on these brand new allegations. For example, the prosecution now countered the arguments on the rights of whistleblowers and the necessity of revealing war crimes by stating that there can have been no such necessity to hack into a bank in Iceland.
Summers concluded that the “case should be confined to that conduct which the American government had seen fit to allege in the eighteen months of the case” before their second new indictment.
Replying to Summers for the prosecution, Joel Smith QC replied that the judge was obliged by the statute to consider the new charges and could not excise them. “If there is nothing proper about the restitution of a new extradition request after a failed request, there is nothing improper in a superseding indictment before the first request had failed.” Under the Extradition Act the court must decide only if the offence is an extraditable offence and the conduct alleged meets the dual criminality test. The court has no other role and no jurisdiction to excise part of the request.
Smith stated that all the authorities (precedents) were of charges being excised from a case to allow extradition to go ahead on the basis of the remaining sound charges, and those charges which had been excised were only on the basis of double jeopardy. There was no example of charges being excised to prevent an extradition. And the decision to excise charges had only ever been taken after the conduct alleged had been examined by the court. There was no example of alleged conduct not being considered by the court. The defendant could seek extra time if needed but the new allegations must be examined.
Summers replied that Smith was “wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong”. “We are not saying that you can never submit a new indictment, but you cannot do it six weeks before the substantive hearing.” The impact of what Smith had said amounted to no more than “Ha ha this is what we are doing and you can’t stop us.” A substantive last minute change had been made with no explanation and no apology. It could not be the case, as Smith alleged, that a power existed to excise charges in fairness to the prosecution, but no power existed to excise charges in fairness to the defence.
Immediately Summers sat down, Baraitser gave her judgement on this point. As so often in this hearing, it was a pre-written judgement. She read it from a laptop she had brought into the courtroom with her, and she had made no alterations to that document as Summers and Smith had argued the case in front of her.
Baraitser stated that she had been asked as a preliminary move to excise from the case certain conduct alleged. Mr Summers had described the receipt of new allegations as extraordinary. However “I offered the defence the opportunity to adjourn the case” to give them time to prepare against the new allegations. “I considered of course that Mr Assange was in custody. I hear that Mr Summers believes this is fundamental unfairness”. But “the argument that we haven’t got the time, should be remedied by asking for the time.”
Mr Summers had raised issues of dual criminality and abuse of process; there was nothing preventing him for raising these arguments in the context of considering the request as now presented.
Baraitser simply ignored the argument that while there was indeed “nothing to prevent” the defence from answering the new allegations as each was considered, they had been given no time adequately to prepare. Having read out her pre-prepared judgement to proceed on the basis of the new superseding indictment, Baraitser adjourned the court for lunch.
At the end of the day I had the opportunity to speak to an extremely distinguished and well-known lawyer on the subject of Baraitser bringing pre-written judgements into court, prepared before she had heard the lawyers argue the case before her. I understood she already had seen the outline written arguments, but surely this was wrong. What was the point in the lawyers arguing for hours if the judgement was pre-written? What I really wanted to know was how far this was normal practice.
The lawyer replied to me that it absolutely was not normal practice, it was totally outrageous. In a long and distinguished career, this lawyer had very occasionally seen it done, even in the High Court, but there was always some effort to disguise the fact, perhaps by inserting some reference to points made orally in the courtroom. Baraitser was just blatant. The question was, of course, whether it was her own pre-written judgement she was reading out, or something she had been given from on high.
This was a pretty shocking morning. The guillotining of defence witnesses to hustle the case through, indeed the attempt to ensure their evidence was not spoken in court except those parts which the prosecution saw fit to attack in cross-examination, had been breathtaking. The effort by the defence to excise the last minute superseding indictment had been a fundamental point disposed of summarily. Yet again, Baraitser’s demeanour and very language made little attempt to disguise a hostility to the defence.
We were for the second time in the day in a break thinking that events must now calm down and get less dramatic. Again we were wrong.
Court resumed forty minutes late after lunch as various procedural wrangles were addressed behind closed doors. As the court resumed, Mark Summers for the defence stood up with a bombshell.
Summers said that the defence “recognised” the judgement Baraitser had just made – a very careful choice of word, as opposed to “respected” which might seem more natural. As she had ruled that the remedy to lack of time was more time, the defence was applying for an adjournment to enable them to prepare the answers to the new charges. They did not do this lightly, as Mr Assange would continue in prison in very difficult conditions during the adjournment.
Summers said the defence was simply not in a position to gather the evidence to respond to the new charges in a few short weeks, a situation made even worse by Covid restrictions. It was true that on 14 August Baraitser had offered an adjournment and on 21 August they had refused the offer. But in that period of time, Mr Assange had not had access to the new charges and they had not fully realised the extent to which these were a standalone new case. To this date, Assange had still not received the new prosecution Opening Note in prison, which was a crucial document in setting out the significance of the new charges.
Baraitser pointedly asked whether the defence could speak to Assange in prison by telephone. Summers replied yes, but these were extremely short conversations. They could not phone Mr Assange; he could only call out very briefly on the prison payphone to somebody’s mobile, and the rest of the team would have to try to gather round to listen. It was not possible in these very brief discussions adequately to expound complex material. Between 14 and 21 August they had been able to have only two such very short phone calls. The defence could only send documents to Mr Assange through the post to the prison; he was not always given them, or allowed to keep them.
Baraitser asked how long an adjournment was being requested. Summers replied until January.
For the US government, James Lewis QC replied that more scrutiny was needed of this request. The new matters in the indictment were purely criminal. They do not affect the arguments about the political nature of the case, or affect most of the witnesses. If more time were granted, “with the history of this case, we will just be presented with a sleigh of other material which will have no bearing on the small expansion of count 2”.
Baraitser adjourned the court “for ten minutes” while she went out to consider her judgement. In fact she took much longer. When she returned she looked peculiarly strained.
Baraitser ruled that on 14 August she had given the defence the opportunity to apply for an adjournment, and given them seven days to decide. On 21 August the defence had replied they did not want an adjournment. They had not replied that they had insufficient time to consider. Even today the defence had not applied to adjourn but rather had applied to excise charges. They “cannot have been surprised by my decision” against that application. Therefore they must have been prepared to proceed with the hearing. Their objections were not based on new circumstance. The conditions of Assange in Belmarsh had not changed since 21 August. They had therefore missed their chance and the motion to adjourn was refused.
The courtroom atmosphere was now highly charged. Having in the morning refused to cut out the superseding indictment on the grounds that the remedy for lack of time should be more time, Baraitser was now refusing to give more time. The defence had called her bluff; the state had apparently been confident that the effective solitary confinement in Belmarsh was so terrible that Assange would not request more time. I rather suspect that Julian was himself bluffing, and made the call at lunchtime to request more time in the full expectation that it would be refused, and the rank hypocrisy of the proceedings exposed.
I previously blogged about how the procedural trickery of the superseding indictment being used to replace the failing second indictment – as Smith said for the prosecution “before it failed” – was something that sickened the soul. Today in the courtroom you could smell the sulphur.
Well, yet again we were left with the feeling that matters must now get less exciting. This time we were right and they became instead excruciatingly banal. We finally moved on to the first witness, Professor Mark Feldstein, giving evidence to the court by videolink for the USA. It was not Professor Feldstein’s fault the day finished in confused anti-climax. The court was unable to make the video technology work. For ten broken minutes out of about forty Feldstein was briefly able to give evidence, and even this was completely unsatisfactory as he and Mark Summers were repeatedly speaking over each other on the link.
Professor Feldstein’s evidence will resume tomorrow (now in fact today) and I think rather than split it I shall give the full account then. Meantime you can see these excellent summaries from Kevin Gosztola or the morning and afternoon reports from James Doleman. In fact, I should be grateful if you did, so you can see that I am neither inventing nor exaggerating the facts of these startling events.
If you asked me to sum up today in a word, that word would undoubtedly be “railroaded”. it was all about pushing through the hearing as quickly as possible and with as little public exposure as possible to what is happening. Access denied, adjournment denied, exposition of defence evidence denied, removal of superseding indictment charges denied. The prosecution was plainly failing in that week back in Woolwich in February, which seems like an age ago. It has now been given a new boost.
How the defence will deal with the new charges we shall see. It seems impossible that they can do this without calling new witnesses to address the new facts. But the witness lists had already been finalised on the basis of the old charges. That the defence should be forced to proceed with the wrong witnesses seems crazy, but frankly, I am well past being surprised by anything in this fake process.
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The Assange Court Report
Twice-daily dispatches, photography and video from the Julian Assange extradition hearings in London. Produced by Bridges for Media Freedom
Assange Court Report September 8: Afternoon
The Trump administration wanted a “head on a spike,” to deter future leakers and put pressure on the US Justice Department to prosecute Julian Assange a court has heard.
The evidence, from US Professor Mark Feldstein, came on the second afternoon of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing at London’s Central Criminal Court, The Old Bailey.
Feldstein told the court that in 2010 and 2011 the Obama administration was very eager to prosecute Wikileaks over the Iraq war documents it had released, however, they had been told by the Justice Department that not only would this be unconstitutional, but it would also create a precedent that could lead to many other journalists being prosecuted as it was, “too similar to the conduct of reporters at many other news outlets.”
Feldstein, a senior professor in the Journalism department at University of Maryland, was also asked by the defence about one of the charges Julian Assange is facing, that of soliciting classified information. “This paints journalistic activities in a very nefarious light,” he said, “we teach acquiring secret documents in journalism school,” adding that he himself has worked with contacts and sources to obtain information, “it’s standard practice.”
Asked about Assange helping Manning hide that she was his source, the witness says protecting a source is an obligation for reporters and that journalists have gone to jail rather than reveal them, and that governments often classify information because it is embarrassing to them, not because it is a threat to national security.
Cross-examining on behalf of the US Government, James Lewis QC challenged professor Feldstein describing himself as an “unbiased expert witness,” saying that his written statement showed he had failed to quote parts of newspaper articles that contradicted his evidence. The professor replied, “The proof is in the pudding, they [the Obama administration] did not indict adding, “The Obama administration made a decision not to prosecute on 1st Amendment grounds and on the advice of officials.”
Lewis then raised a 2016 tweet from Wikileaks that said if Chelsea Manning was given clemency Assange would hand himself over, which, he said, shows Assange knew there were still active proceedings. Feldstein replied saying that he only saw that tweet last night and “it didn’t make much of an impression.” Asked if he should have included it in his witness statement, the professor replied that he didn’t think Wikileaks would know about the grand jury situation at that time.
Lewis then suggested that Feldstein had engaged in a “diatribe against President Trump, and would he not apologise?” The witness replied that he didn’t understand the question as it was a “double negative.” “I’ll leave that there,” prosecution counsel replied.
Prosecution counsel then put it to the Professor that the 1st Amendment did not allow journalists to hack computers just to get a story and that UK reporters had been jailed for hacking into telephones in the News of the World case. Feldstein agreed but added that it depended on the details.
Lewis then asked the witness if a reporter should reveal the names of the third party in a situation where this might put them in danger, he replied, “no.” The prosecutor then asked if there was any information a government might legitimately try and keep secret such as “troop movements in time of war, nuclear codes.” The witness replied “yes,” adding that “the problem with yes and no answers is that Assange is being prosecuted under the espionage act which does not require that the USA shows any actual harm was done by the Wikileaks revelations.
Prosecution counsel then put it to Feldstein that US prosecutors were not allowed to be motivated by politics. “That’s a bit naive,” Feldstein replied. Lewis then suggested that the Grand Jury system was a bulwark against political interference in prosecution decisions. Feldstein replied that much of the evidence on that remains secret and we will only know “when history delivers its verdict.”
Mr Lewis ended his cross-examination by asking the witness if he agreed with the theory that Trump is prosecuting Assange only to cover up his own involvement with Wikileaks, Feldstein says he doesn’t.
Re-examined by the defence, Feldstein agreed it is very common for journalists to ask or solicit information from government employees, and that he had never heard of any previous prosecution on that basis, “it’s a chilling prospect to criminalise that…it’s criminalising journalism itself,” he replied, adding “Journalists are not passive stenographers…It can’t be right that the only way journalists can get information is anonymously in the mail.” Feldstein said the nature of the indictment showed that the Trump administration “had journalism firmly in its sights.”
The evidence of Professor Feldstein then concluded and the court adjourned for the day.
EXCLUSIVE: 'A Danger for Justice' - Assange Defence Expert Explains How US Conspiracy Trials Work
By Mohamed Elmaazi - 08. September 2020
The founder of the US-based human rights organisation Reprieve told the court in Julian Assange's extradition hearing, on Tuesday, that based on his experience, the WikiLeaks founder can expect a "Pandora’s box" of everything that the government wants to throw at him regardless of what is said in the indictment.
© Photo : Mohamed Elmaazi
Clive Stafford Smith, the British-American lawyer and founder of civil liberties group Reprieve, explained in an exclusive interview that notwithstanding the claim made today by James Lewis QC, acting for the US, that the charges against Mr Assange only relate to the publication of documents as they contained the names of sources, the reality of conspiracy trials in the US is something rather different.
Mr Stafford Smith testified on Tuesday morning and engaged in a hotly contested exchange with James Lewis QC the lead barrister acting on behalf of the US.
Sputnik: Explain who you are and the nature of your testimony at today's hearing.
Clive Stafford Smith: I am a human rights lawyer, and I was called as a witness today in Julian Assange’s case; and the main issue, I suppose, was how I and others like me have used the leaks from WikiLeaks to bring forward incredibly important human rights issues.
For example, the cables that WikiLeaks disclosed in Pakistan, which are part of the indictment against him, include cables showing that the then Prime Minister (Yousaf Raza) Gillani, had said to the American ambassador, Anne Patterson, that it’s not a big deal if you murder our citizens with drones, we’ll complain in the National Assembly and then we’ll ignore it. And this is a situation where I was very deeply involved in working with many fine Pakistanis to bring litigation about my government, the United States government, murdering Pakistani people – and remember Pakistan is one of our allies – in the name of the war on terror in Waziristan based on intelligence that was just fantastically bad, where they were murdering children left, right and centre. And thanks to this, and thanks a large part to the cables from WikiLeaks, we were able to bring litigation that took what was hundreds of people being murdered each year in Waziristan to - by 2019 - where there were none and where we began to reestablish peace in that area; and actually the Pakistani government has now incorporated Waziristan and Pakistan proper and I hope the world is going to be a much better place there.
A big part of what we were doing today was discussing this and discussing how, far from being a threat to American national security, a lot of that evidence really helped us as Americans to stop an incredibly bad programme that was harming America beyond measure and more importantly that was harming a bunch of innocent children.
August 2011 #JulianAssange contacted US State Dept to warn them all the US dip cables would be released, unredacted, by other outlets. Proof positive that neither #Assange nor WikiLeaks recklessly put people's lives at risk by dumping unredaced documents, his defence team says. pic.twitter.com/zIjr7wtybO— Mohamed Elmaazi (@MElmaazi) February 26, 2020
Sputnik: The US government was arguing that the documents that you referred to in your witness statement are not relevant to the indictment and that any trial would only focus on documents which allegedly revealed the identity of sources. But you pushed back against that, why?
Clive Stafford Smith: So the US government represents that none of the things that I mentioned were relevant to the indictment, and they are wrong, they are facially wrong, right there in the indictment it charges him with a whole bunch of those things.
But also I was taken aback actually. I would never lecture a British lawyer on how British law cases proceed because I'm not a British lawyer I'm American. And in terms of whoever had been talking to him how American conspiracy trials go forward, I’m afraid he just doesn’t get it; that’s not the way it happens, all of this is going to come into evidence. And the reason some of the things that I’ve been discussing are not highlighted by the US government in court here is because, frankly, they form the basis of cases that I and others have brought for criminal activity by the United States in terms of murder, torture, rendition and so forth. And obviously that’s not in a bearded chin they lead with. But actually, really, the US government’s representative was just wrong today. I’m sure that every witness in this case will back me up when I say that conspiracy cases open a Pandora’s box of everything the government wants to throw at them, basically.
Human rights lawyer @CliveSSmith explains how @wikileaks played a significant role in saving lives of Pakistani children who were being indiscriminately killed by American Drones.— Ahmed Kaballo (@AhmedKaballo) September 9, 2020
Journalism is not a crime but a duty! https://t.co/1ghtGgKLjf
Sputnik: You have specifically said that they would use expert witnesses to bring in information that isn’t mentioned in the indictment. Is that the point you are making?
In most federal conspiracy trials in America, they begin with some sort of an expert, an FBI agent or someone, who just goes through an entire history. I remember when I was doing a federal conspiracy case in Florida, my client was a member of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club and he was charged with various things in the indictment, but the first two or three days there was some FBI agent just relating what he thought was the entire history of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, including murders all across America that had nothing to do with the case. That’s just the way those cases go. And it is in a way what makes those cases peculiarly unfair in terms of [heresy and] all those sorts of intensely prejudicial material that’s thrown at you; they throw the whole kitchen sink at people in those trials which is a danger for justice.
Russian Union of Journalists awards its Solidarity prize to Julian Assange
Assange decided to donate the monetary part of the prize to families of killed journalists
MOSCOW, September 9. /TASS/. The Russian Union of Journalists awarded WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with its Solidarity prize, the union’s head Vladimir Solovyev told TASS on Tuesday.
"The International Day of Journalists' Solidarity is marked worldwide on September 8. The second phase of Julian Assange’s extradition trial began in London. Our colleague, a journalist, sacrificed his whole life to fight for truth and freedom of speech. Because of that, he is suffering and is being kept in prison. Moreover, in case he is handed over to the United States, his extradition might be equal to life imprisonment or death penalty," Solovyev said. "We had no doubts about who should receive this prize. We decided that it should go to Julian Assange, a true fighter for the freedom of speech."
In his words, Assange has already been informed about the award. He made the decision to donate the monetary part of his prize to families of killed journalists.
The Solidarity award is bestowed on journalists who demonstrated courage and devotion to their profession while defending the freedom of speech.
Julian Assange founded the WikiLeaks portal in 2006 to publish classified information about the activities of a number of governments, including that of the United States. After harassment charges had been brought against him in Sweden in 2012, Assange sought refuge in London's Ecuadorian Embassy to escape extradition. In April 2019, Ecuador’s incoming new President Lenin Moreno then withdrew his asylum and Assange was arrested by the United Kingdom’s Metropolitan Police over his failure to appear in court in London in 2012, as well as on a 2018 extradition request from Washington.
If extradited to the United States and found guilty on all charges, Assange could face up to 175 years in prison.
Judge threatens to remove Assange from extradition trial, says will continue in his absence if interruptions continue
By RT - 08. September 2020
© REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
After shouting “nonsense” at a lawyer representing the US government, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was ordered by a UK judge to remain silent or be removed from his own trial.
Assange is currently facing extradition to the US over accusations he conspired to hack government computers and broke an espionage law over the release of confidential cables in 2010 and 2011.
On the second day of Assange’s London trial, which was already delayed from May due to the coronavirus pandemic, lawyer James Lewis, representing the US government, said at one point Assange was facing extradition and charges not over the leaking of confidential documents, but because of the publication of informants’ names, which in turn allegedly put their lives at risk.
Witness Clive Stafford-Smith, an attorney and activist who founded the human rights organization Reprieve, disagreed with this point and the men argued back and forth.
“You cannot tell this court how this case will be prosecuted, you’re making things up,” Lewis said at one point.
“I can tell you how American cases are prosecuted,” Stafford-Smith shot back.
The exchange caused Assange to say aloud, “This is nonsense.”
Judge Vanessa Baraitser then warned Assange he could be removed from the proceedings if he continued to have outbursts.
“If you interrupt proceedings and disrupt a witness who is properly giving their evidence it is open to me to continue without you in your absence,” she said. “This is obviously not something I wish to do. I am, therefore, giving you a clear warning.”
There were several disagreements on Tuesday between Assange’s defense and the prosecution about the details of the charges Assange is facing.
Protesters around the world have expressed their disapproval of Assange’s charges and potential extradition, insisting it is all politically motivated.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, whom President Donald Trump has suggested could be pardoned in the near future, has slammed Assange’s trial as “a farce.”
Judge threatens to remove Assange on 2nd day of extradition hearing
Activists rally on February 22 to oppose the extradition of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange to the United States on espionage charges. File Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 8 (UPI) -- A British judge on Tuesday threatened to remove WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange from the courtroom during an extradition hearing after he interjected while a witness was being questioned.
The interruption occurred on the second day of the hearing while Clive Stafford-Smith, the founder of the legal nonprofit Reprieve, was being questioned by British attorney James Lewis on behalf of the United States government.
When Judge Vanessa Baraitser called for a 10-minute recess after an intense exchange between Lewis and Stafford-Smith, Assange said "this is nonsense."
"I understand you'll hear things you disagree with and you'd like to contradict and speak about these things yourself, but this is not your opportunity to do so," she told Assange. "If you interrupt proceedings it is open to me to proceed in your absence. This is obviously something I would not wish to do."
Tuesday was the second day of what's expected to be a four-week hearing in London involving U.S. efforts to extradite Assange.
Stafford-Smith, who holds U.S. and British citizenship, told the court the classified documents from Manning that were later released by WikiLeaks uncovered war crimes and human rights abuses by the United States.
He argued that by "over-classifying" the material and taking other actions in the international community, the U.S. government has damaged its reputation over the past 20 years.
"It has harmed us more than anything else," he said.
President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence in 2017. However, Manning was then briefly returned to jail after refusing to testify in the WikiLeaks trial, according to The New York Times, but is now free.