After Monday’s unexpected ruling against the extradition of Julian Assange on medical grounds, two days later the same lower courtjudge denied a request for bail.
Speaking outside the court Stella Moris, partner and mother of Assange’s two young children said: “Julian should not be in Belmarsh prison in the first place. I urge the President of the United States to pardon Julian.”
WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said: “We think it is unjust, unfair and illogical – when you consider her ruling two days ago about Julian’s health which of course is caused, in large part, because he is being held in Belmarsh prison. To send him back there doesn’t make any sense.”
Rebecca Vincent from Reporters Without Borders who has been monitoring Julian Assange’s extradition proceedings said: “Reporters Without Borders condemns this decision taken today which we view as unnecessarily cruel. We fully believe that Julian Assange was targeted for his contributions to journalism. He shouldn’t have to spend another moment unjustly deprived of his liberty.”
Amnesty International said that the “decision to refuse the bail application renders Assange’s ongoing detention arbitrary, and compounds the fact that he has endured punishing conditions in high security detention at Belmarsh prison for more than a year.”
After the judge’s extradition ruling on Monday a Guardian editorial declared ‘Relief, not victory’. “A judge has rightly rejected the US request, but only on mental health grounds. The case should be dropped.” Not only is Julian still languishing in HMP Belmarsh despite a ruling that he should be freed, but Judge Baraitser accepted the U.S. government’s repressive arguments criminalizing journalism.
GENEVA (5 January 2021) – UN Special Rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer today welcomed a British court’s refusal to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to the United States on the basis that he would be exposed to “oppressive” conditions of imprisonment that would almost certainly cause him to commit suicide.
“This ruling confirms my own assessment that, in the United States, Mr. Assange would be exposed to conditions of detention, which are widely recognized to amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” said Melzer.
Mr. Assange is currently being held in prolonged solitary confinement at Belmarsh Prison in London under a US extradition request for espionage and computer fraud. “If extradited to the United States, he faces a sentence of up to 175 years imprisonment under inhumane conditions of near total isolation,” Melzer said.
At the same time, the judgement on Monday sets an alarming precedent effectively denying investigative journalists the protection of press freedom and paving the way for their prosecution under charges of espionage. In 2010, Mr. Assange published sensitive military documents relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I am gravely concerned that the judgement confirms the entire, very dangerous rationale underlying the US indictment, which effectively amounts to criminalizing national security journalism,” Melzer said.
The United States has announced it will appeal the judgment, but welcomed the judge’s dismissal of all arguments in defence of Assange based on press freedom, the public interest in the exposure of government misconduct, the prohibition of political offence extraditions, and the US failure to provide fair trials to national security defendants.
“This is of great concern,” said Melzer. “None of these questions will now be reviewed by the Appeals Court, as the only issue at stake will be Mr. Assange’s medical fitness to withstand US conditions of detention.
“Should the US provide assurances that Mr. Assange will be treated humanely, his extradition could potentially be confirmed on appeal without any meaningful review of the very serious legal concerns raised by this case.”
Melzer has repeatedly expressed in individual communications and statements that Mr. Assange has been subjected to more than 10 years of arbitrary detention and political persecution. During a visit conducted to Belmarsh Prison in 2019, Melzer and a specialized medical team found that Mr. Assange showed all the symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture.
“The judgement fails to recognize that Mr. Assange’s deplorable state of health is the direct consequence of a decade of deliberate and systematic violation of his most fundamental human rights by the Governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Ecuador,” said Melzer.
According to the expert, the failure of the judgment to denounce and redress the persecution and torture of Mr. Assange, “leaves fully intact the intended intimidating effect on journalists and whistleblowers worldwide who may be tempted to publish secret evidence for war crimes, corruption and other government misconduct”.
“Mr. Assange must now be immediately set free, rehabilitated and compensated for the abuse and arbitrariness he has been exposed to,” said Melzer. “Even with a pending appeal, his continued isolation in a high security prison is completely unnecessary and disproportionate. There is no justification whatsoever for preventing him from awaiting the final judgment in a setting where he can recover his health and live a normal family and professional life.”
“Hopefully this judgement will put an end to the persecution and imprisonment of Mr. Julian Assange as an individual. But in the big picture it sets a devastating precedent severely undermining press freedom, accountability and the rule of law.”
Says indictment under the Espionage Act will continue to cast a shadow over investigative journalism.
NEW YORK—A British judge today rejected the U.S. request for the extradition of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to face charges under the 1917 Espionage Act. Assange’s case is the first in which the U.S. government has relied on the Espionage Act as the basis for the prosecution of a publisher.
The following response can be attributed to Jameel Jaffer, Executive Director at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
“This is a victory for Assange, but it’s not an uncomplicated victory for press freedom. The court makes clear that it would have granted the U.S. extradition request if not for concerns about Assange’s mental health, and about the severe conditions in which the U.S. would likely imprison him. In other words, the court endorses the U.S. prosecution even as it rejects the U.S. extradition request. The result is that the U.S. indictment of Assange will continue to cast a dark shadow over investigative journalism. Of particular concern are the indictment’s counts that focus on pure publication—the counts that charge Assange with having violated the Espionage Act merely by publishing classified secrets. Those counts are an unprecedented attack on press freedom, one calculated to deter journalists and publishers from exercising rights that the First Amendment should be understood to protect.”
Jaffer submitted expert testimony to the U.K. court about the press freedom implications of the Assange indictment. Read the testimony here.
Earlier today at the Old Bailey, a judge ruled that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange will not be extradited to the United States to face charges of espionage and of hacking government computers. The US authorities have said they will appeal the decision.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled that Mr Assange would not be extradited owing to concerns over his mental health, setting out evidence of self-harm and suicidal thoughts and stating that he appears to be “a despairing man, fearful for his future.”
ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director Quinn McKew said:
“We warmly welcome the news that Julian Assange will not be extradited to the United States on charges of violation of the Espionage Act.
“This would have dealt a significant blow to press freedom, unjustly criminalising those who gather news and expose the truth. It would have meant that all those who pursue and reveal human rights abuses by the US and other governments, as well as other powerful entities, would also be at risk of extradition and prosecution on vague ‘national security’ grounds.
“We call on the new US administration of President-Elect Joe Biden to drop all charges against Mr Assange and to urgently improve protections for all whistleblowers and others who hold power to account.”
ARTICLE 19 has closely monitored the case and has repeatedly raised concerns about criminal investigations into Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, as well as the prosecution of those who were sources of information, such as Chelsea Manning. The legal process was marred by serious obstacles to open justice. Despite assurances from the court, ARTICLE 19 and other freedom of expression NGOs were not provided with access to monitor the proceedings as independent NGO observers in person or online which seriously hampered our ability to monitor the proceedings.
In November 2013, the US Department of Justice concluded it would not bring charges against Assange because government lawyers said they could not do so without also prosecuting US news organisations and journalists, raising serious First Amendment issues. However, in April 2019, the Department made public a previously sealed indictment against Assange for conspiring to gain access to classified information on a computer. This was then followed in May 2019 with a 18-count indictment under the Espionage Act for seeking and publishing the classified information on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
ARTICLE 19 has criticised the Espionage Act for being vaguely-worded and not complying with international standards on freedom of expression. Journalists and publishers should not be liable under espionage laws for disclosing information of public interest. Equally, whistleblowers and those who provide information to media outlets should not be prosecuted if there is a strong public interest in the release of the information. By doing so, the US plays into the hands of authoritarian governments who routinely prosecute journalists under the guise of the protection of national security.
The ruling not to allow Julian Assange’s extradition, announced today at the Old Bailey, brings to a close a dark episode for media freedom.
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:
“This decision will be welcomed by all who value journalists’ ability to report on national security issues. However, whilst the outcome is the right one, Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s judgement contains much that is troubling. Her basis for dismissing the US’ extradition request was the suicide risk that Assange poses in a US penal system that would probably have kept him in near total isolation.
“The judge rejected the defence case that the charges against Assange related to actions identical to those undertaken daily by most investigative journalists. In doing so, she leaves open the door for a future US administration to confect a similar indictment against a journalist.
“Given his lengthy period of incarceration, it is surely also time to grant Assange bail so that he can join his young family.”
The US has 15 days to appeal. Its lawyers have already indicated that they will lodge papers to this effect. Judge Baraitser says that she will refuse Assange bail until this process is complete.
Judge Vanessa Baraitser today ruled against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States arguing it would be “oppressive by reason of Assange’s mental health”. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its UK and Australian affiliates, the NUJ and the MEAA welcome the decision and are urging the authorities to immediately release him.
The judge argued Assange suffers from depression and that there is a high risk of suicide. If extradited, she considered it likely the US would send him to prison under special administrative measures (SAMs) and wouldn’t prevent Assange from committing suicide. Therefore, she considered his extradition “unfair”.
“Faced with the conditions of near total isolation without the protective factors which limited his risk at HMP Belmarsh, I am satisfied the procedures described by the US will not prevent Mr Assange from finding a way to commit suicide and for this reason I have decided extradition would be oppressive by reason of mental harm and I order his discharge”, judge Baraitser said.
The American government has now 15 days to appeal the decision.
“The IFJ welcomes the judge’s decision not to extradite Assange because of the risk the extradition would pose to his health and well-being. However we are disappointed that that the judge appears not to adequately address the threat to media freedom his extradition would have posed in today’s ruling. For years the IFJ and all its affiliates, particularly in the UK, Australia and the USA, have been reminding people that the detention of Julian Assange is contrary to international law and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Furthermore, Julian Assange’s health has deteriorated dramatically since his imprisonment in April 2019 and the Covid-19 virus in his prison poses a serious threat to the survival of our colleague, holder of the IFJ International Press Card. It is time for the US to drop its attempts to extradite him“, said IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger.
A long fight against Assange’s extradition
The 49-year-old, father of two, sought refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for seven years has already spent 16 months at Belmarsh top security jail.
He has been indicted in the United States under the Espionage Act for WikiLeaks’ 2010-11 publications of the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan War Diaries, and State Department cables.
If convicted, Assange would face 175 years in prison. He is accused by the Americans of encouraging whistleblower Chelsea Manning in 2010 to break into the government’s computer system to provide information containing clear evidence of war crimes, including the publication of the video Collateral murders. The video showed, via an onboard camera on a US Apache helicopter in Iraq, the deliberate shooting on 12 July 2007 in Baghdad of civilians by the US military. At least 18 people were killed in the incident, including two journalists from the Reuters agency.
Both the IFJ and its British and Australian affiliates, the NUJ and the MEAA, have repeatedly highlighted the risks to journalism posed by Assange’s threatened extradition. Today’s ruling avoids a terrible precedent for the potential prosecution of any journalist who published material in similar circumstances.
Journalist Tim Dawson has been reporting on the extradition hearings and on behalf of the NUJ and the IFJ. The NUJ also wrote to government ministers calling for the extradition to be halted, among other actions.
NUJ General Secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, said: “This decision will be welcomed by all who value journalists’ ability to report on national security issues.The judge rejected the defence case that the charges against Assange related to actions identical to those undertaken daily by most investigative journalists. In doing so, she leaves open the door for a future US administration to confect a similar indictment against a journalist”.
The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, welcomed today’s decision by a British judge blocking the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States.
The U.S. government had sought Assange’s extradition in connection with his role in publishing a vast trove of American military and diplomatic documents in 2010. The U.S. Justice Department on May 23, 2019 unveiled a new indictment against Assange under the Espionage Act, which represented a significant escalation of those efforts. Assange faces up to 175 years in prison if convicted.
“The decision to deny the U.S. government’s extradition request is a victory for press freedom,” IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “As IPI has previously stated, regardless of one’s opinion of Julian Assange, his prosecution in the U.S. under the Espionage Act would have set a dangerous precedent that would cast a chilling effect on the work of journalists in the U.S. and elsewhere.”
Prasad added: “We urge the U.S. government to drop its charges against Assange under the Espionage Act and end its extradition attempt.”
U.S. authorities have two weeks to appeal the judge’s decision.
The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) welcomes today’s decision not to extradite Julian Assange to the United States of America. District Judge (DJ) Vanessa Baraitser accepted that Assange is depressed and at risk of suicide. She was satisfied that if extradited, Assange could be held in strict isolation, which would pose a major threat to his mental health. Therefore, DJ Baraitser ruled, it would be unjust to extradite Assange.
We welcome the blocking of the extradition today but remain gravely concerned by the proceedings. They exposed the fact that the 2003 UK-US extradition treaty is ripe for abuse and does not adequately protect journalists and whistleblowers. The US Government’s indictment attempts to criminalise the protection of journalist-source communications and the publication by journalists of classified information. Both are crucial and routine activities for investigative journalists. Indeed, technical measures such as those employed by Assange to facilitate leaks and protect whistleblowers and other sources are now a staple of investigative reporting. In this regard, we strongly disagree with DJ Baraitser, who in her judgment accepts the US government’s lawyers’ arguments that Assange’s conduct went beyond that of a journalist.
The US government has announced that it will appeal the decision. In the interim, a hearing regarding bail has been set for Wednesday 6 January 2021. Given the political nature of the prosecution and especially in light of Assange’s mental health problems in focus today, ECPMF calls for his immediate release.
Lack of access for civil society observers
Today’s ruling concludes a week of hearings of the legal arguments at the Woolwich Crown Court in February 2020 and four weeks of witness testimony hearings at the Old Bailey, London’s Central Criminal Court, in September 2020. ECPMF attempted to observe the witness testimony hearings remotely but did not receive access to the Crowd Video Platform facility. Other civil society observers who had been sent login details had their access abruptly revoked on the first day of the witness hearings. We note that observers who were at the court have also expressed frustration at the extensive barriers established for those attempting to monitor the case, including NGO and political observers. At each stage, the court refused to recognise civil society observers’ specific role or make provisions allowing for professional monitoring of the proceedings. The ECPMF reiterates that trial monitoring is both the exercise and observation of the fundamental right to a fair and public hearing, allowing for scrutiny of its fairness and protecting against judicial arbitrariness. It is highly concerning that in a case of such significance, the court has failed to live up to standards of transparency and openness.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is relieved by the 4 January decision of UK District Judge Vanessa Baraitser blocking the United States’ attempt to extradite Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange, but is extremely disappointed by the court’s failure to reject the substance of the case, leaving the door open to further prosecutions on similar grounds.
Although Judge Baraitser decided against extradition, the grounds for her decision were strictly based on Assange’s serious mental health issues and the conditions he would face in detention in the US. On the substantive points in the case – in which the US government has pursued Assange on 17 counts under the Espionage Act and one count under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act – the judge’s decision was heavily in favour of the prosecution’s arguments, and dismissive of the defence.
“We are immensely relieved that Julian Assange will not be extradited to the US. At the same time, we are extremely disappointed that the court failed to take a stand for press freedom and journalistic protections, and we disagree with the judge’s assessment that the case was not politically motivated and was not centered on journalism and free speech. This decision leaves the door open for further similar prosecutions and will have a chilling effect on national security reporting around the world if the root issues are not addressed,” said RSF’ Director of International Campaigns, Rebecca Vincent.
The US government has indicated that it intends to appeal the extradition decision. Assange remains detained on remand in high-security Belmarsh prison, pending the judge’s consideration of his bail application on 6 January. RSF calls again for his immediate release, and will continue to monitor proceedings.
Despite extensive difficulties securing access – including refusal by the judge to accredit NGO observers and threats of arrest by police on the scene – RSF monitored the 4 January hearing at London’s Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey), and has been the only NGO to monitor the full extradition proceedings against Assange.
New York, January 4, 2021 – The Committee to Protect Journalists today welcomed a British court’s decision to deny the United States’ request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and urged the U.S. Department of Justice to drop all charges against him.
“We are heartened that a British court has denied the United States’ request to extradite Julian Assange. The U.S. government’s decision to charge the WikiLeaks founder set a harmful legal precedent for the prosecution of journalists around the world simply for interacting with their sources,” said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney. “We urge the U.S. Department of Justice to refrain from further pursuing extradition through appeals and to drop all charges against Assange.”
If extradited and convicted in the United States, Assange faces up to 175 years in prison: 10 years for each of the 17 charges filed under the Espionage Act, and five years for a Computer Fraud and Abuse Act violation, according to CPJ research.
Today, a UK judge rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Espionage Act and CFAA charges related to WikiLeaks’ publication of secret Defense and State Department documents that made global headlines in 2010 and 2011.
The judge based her decision on the fact that the United States prison system is so repressive, Assange would be a serious suicide risk if he was sent to the U.S.
The following statement can be attributed to Freedom of the Press Foundation executive director Trevor Timm, who testified as an expert witness in the UK hearings on behalf of the defense:
Today’s ruling is a huge sigh of relief for anyone who cares about press freedom. While the judge’s opinion contains many worrying assertions that disregard journalists’ rights, her rejection of the Trump administration’s extradition request means the US government likely won’t be able to obtain any precedent that would criminalize common newsgathering and publishing practices. And that is a very good thing.
The Trump administration has indicated it would appeal the decision. A bail hearing for Assange has been set for Wednesday.
Freedom of the Press Foundation again calls on the US Justice Department to immediately drop its charges against Assange and for the UK to release him from prison.
Responding to the decision by the Magistrate’s Court in London not to approve the extradition of Julian Assange to the US where he would face a risk of ill-treatment in prison, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, Nils Muižnieks, said:
“We welcome the fact that Julian Assange will not be sent to the USA and that the court acknowledged that due to his health concerns, he would be at risk of ill-treatment in the US prison system. But the charges against him should never have been brought in the first place. The charges were politically-motivated, and the UK government should never have so willingly assisted the US in its unrelenting pursuit of Assange. We welcome the fact that Julian Assange will not be sent to the USA and that the court acknowledged that due to his health concerns, he would be at risk of ill-treatment in the US prison system. But the charges against him should never have been brought in the first place Amnesty International’s Europe Director, Nils Muižnieks
“The fact that the ruling is correct and saves Assange from extradition, does not absolve the UK from having engaged in this politically-motivated process at the behest of the USA and putting media freedom and freedom of expression on trial. It has set a terrible precedent for which the US is responsible and the UK government is complicit.” The fact that the ruling is correct and saves Assange from extradition, does not absolve the UK from having engaged in this politically-motivated process at the behest of the USA and putting media freedom and freedom of expression on trial Nils Muižnieks
The US extradition request is based on charges directly related to the publication of leaked classified documents as part of Assange’s work with Wikileaks. Publishing such information is a cornerstone of media freedom and the public’s right to information about government wrongdoing. Publishing information in the public interest is protected under international human rights law and should not be criminalized.
If extradited to the US, Julian Assange could have faced trial on 18 charges, 17 of them under the Espionage Act; and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. He would also face a real risk of serious human rights violations due to detention conditions that could amount to torture or other ill-treatment, including prolonged solitary confinement. Julian Assange is the first publisher to face charges under the Espionage Act.
Today, a British judge denied the Trump Administration’s extradition request for Wikileaks Editor Julian Assange, who is facing charges in the United States under the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The judge largely confirmed the charges against him, but ultimately determined that the United States’ extreme procedures for confinement that would be applied to Mr. Assange would create a serious risk of suicide.
EFF’s Executive Director Cindy Cohn said in a statement today:
“We are relieved that District Judge Vanessa Baraitser made the right decision to reject extradition of Mr. Assange and, despite the U.S. government’ initial statement, we hope that the U.S. does not appeal that decision. The UK court decision means that Assange will not face charges in the United States, which could have set dangerous precedent in two ways. First, it could call into question many of the journalistic practices that writers at the New York Times, the Washington Post, Fox News, and other publications engage in every day to ensure that the American people stay informed about the operations of their government. Investigative journalism—including seeking, analyzing and publishing leaked government documents, especially those revealing abuses—has a vital role in holding the U.S. government to account. It is, and must remain, strongly protected by the First Amendment. Second, the prosecution, and the judge’s decision, embraces a theory of computer crime that is overly broad — essentially criminalizing a journalist for discussing and offering help with basic computer activities like use of rainbow tables and scripts based on wget, that are regularly used in computer security and elsewhere.
While we applaud this decision, it does not erase the many years Assange has been dogged by prosecution, detainment, and intimidation for his journalistic work. It also does not erase the government’s arguments that, as in so many other cases, attempts to cast a criminal pall over routine actionsbecause they were done with a computer. We are still reviewing the judge’s opinion and expect to have additional thoughts once we’ve completed our analysis.”
The Norwegian Nobel Committee Henrik Ibsen’s gate 51 O255 Oslo, Norway
Subject: Nomination of Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize
Dear Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, I hope this finds you well.
I am herein nominating these three individuals, as a group, for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. All three have been individually nominated in previous years for the Peace Prize, but none received it to date. My reasons for nominating them together are simple.
Individually, each has given countless examples of courage exposing governments’ illegal actions that caused millions of deaths—putting their own freedoms and lives on the line. Collectively, their lives of self-sacrifice and selflessness constitute remarkable demonstrations of the magnificence of the human spirit. They are indeed breathtaking testimonies to the goodness inherent in the human heart.
Today around the world, when we listen or read about violence, militarism, poverty, war, pandemics, climate change, and particularly the suffering of millions of little children hungry in a rich world, it is hard not to feel despair and wonder… ‘where is the hope?’ However, the hope lies in the lives of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to serve and help others even sometimes at the cost of their own lives.
Our hope lies in lives like those of Chelsea, Ed and Julian, their altruism helping restore our faith in ourselves and in our brothers and sisters everywhere. We allow ourselves to be inspired by their courage and example as they motivate us to act. If they are capable of such great acts of love, maybe we too can do something for others – at least we can try to keep the Golden Rule, ‘do unto others as you would have them do to you’ (which all religions preach). We each can try to do no harm, and try to do what is right.
Chelsea Manning, as an American soldier based in Iraq, could not go along with the murder of Iraqi civilians. Julian Assange, as a publisher, had to do his duty and disclose facts of the Iraqi and Afghan wars to the public. Edward Snowden, working in U.S. intelligence, could not remain silent knowing that his government was carrying out illegal surveillance of US citizens and world governments.
They could have remained silent but chose the hard road to tell the truth. Now they are being punished cruelly and vindictively by those who broke international laws, the very people who should be held responsible for the deaths of children and civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen…
Currently Assange is in Belmarsh Prison, UK, facing extradition charges to USA, as the British government cooperates with the American Grand Jury to condemn him (an Australian citizen and publisher) to cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment, which could even lead to the death penalty.
Even more insidious, with a few honourable exceptions, the Main Stream Media–if not silent at the unjust torture of Assange by the UK and US governments–collude in the abuse of Assange, a fellow publisher. If Assange is extradited to USA to stand trial and imprisoned for truth telling, thereafter no reporter, newspaper or publisher in the world will be safe from the same treatment by the USA and other repressive governments opposed to public accountability and scrutiny. Snowden is seeking asylum in Moscow (Russia have just granted him citizenship to help protect his life) and is unable to return to his home in the USA lest he be arrested and confined to an American prison for life. Manning is in an American prison, having been re-arrested and held because she courageously refuses to give testimony against Assange. All of these three Champions of Peace followed their consciences, did their duty with love. I am sure that they were afraid, but they endured their Dark Nights of the Soul, they each did something beautiful and magnificent in service of others. We must all be grateful for their uplifting spirits.
The Nobel Committee could protect and help save the lives of these three champions of peace by awarding them the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. By doing so you would honour the will of Nobel, in acknowledging true heroes of Peace. The Nobel committee would also give great hope to publishers, journalists, writers, and many who face repression and persecution by their governments as they struggle to be the writers of truth and history of humanity.
Just days ahead of the historic forthcoming decision in the US extradition case against Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) again condemns the targeting of Assange for his contributions to journalism and calls for his immediate release.
Extradition proceedings against Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange are set to conclude on 4 January, when District Judge Vanessa Baraitser is due to give her decision in a 10 am hearing at London’s Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey). This follows a week of proceedings in February 2020 at the Woolwich Crown Court, during which legal arguments were presented, and four weeks of proceedings at the Old Bailey in September, when witness testimony was heard.
“The case against Julian Assange is outrageous. It is clearly politically motivated and intended to make an example of Assange and create a chilling effect on media around the world. If the US government is successful in securing Assange’s extradition and prosecuting him for his contributions to public interest reporting, the same precedent could be applied to any journalist anywhere. The possible implications of this case simply cannot be understated; it is the very future of journalism and press freedom that is at stake,” said RSF’s Director of International Campaigns Rebecca Vincent.
RSF will be attempting to monitor the 4 January hearing either remotely or in person. Following the judge’s decision to revoke access for all NGO observers at the start of September’s proceedings at the Old Bailey, the only way RSF could monitor proceedings was to gain physical access to the very few spaces made available in the public gallery of the overflow courtroom each day. RSF was the only NGO to do so, and documented extensive barriers to open justice.
Ahead of the 4 January decision, RSF has delivered the final version of its petition of more than 108,000 signatures (between the international and German versions), which closed on 31 December 2020, calling on the UK authorities not to extradite Assange. 10 Downing Street previously refused to accept the petition when RSF attempted to deliver it on 7 September alongside Assange’s partner Stella Moris, and never acknowledged the email submission that followed.
This time the petition has been submitted via email to Number 10, the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, and the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. RSF has also posted a visual containing the names of all signatories to its home page and across all of its international social media accounts.
The US should never have brought the case against the WikiLeaks founder. This attack on press freedom must be rejected
On 4 January, a British judge is set to rule on whether Julian Assange should be extradited to the United States, where he could face a 175-year sentence in a high-security “supermax” prison. He should not. The charges against him in the US undermine the foundations of democracy and press freedom in both countries.
The secret military and diplomatic files provided by Chelsea Manning, and made public by WikiLeaks working with the Guardian and other media organisations, revealed horrifying abuses by the US and other governments. Giving evidence in Mr Assange’s defence, Daniel Ellsberg, the lauded whistleblower whose leak of the Pentagon Papers shed grim light on the US government’s actions in the Vietnam war, observed: “The American public needed urgently to know what was being done routinely in their name, and there was no other way for them to learn it than by unauthorized disclosure.”
No one has been brought to book for the crimes exposed by WikiLeaks. Instead, the Trump administration has launched a full-scale assault on the international criminal court for daring to investigate these and other offences, and is pursuing the man who brought them to light. It has taken the unprecedented step of prosecuting him under the Espionage Act for publishing confidential information. (Mike Pompeo, secretary of state and former CIA director, has previously described Wikileaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence agency”). In doing so, it chose to attack one of the very bases of journalism: its ability to share vital information that the government would rather suppress.
No public interest defence is permissible under the act. No publisher covering national security in any serious way could consider itself safe were this extradition attempt to succeed – wherever it was based; the acts of which Mr Assange is accused (which also include one count of conspiring to hack into a Pentagon computer network) took place when he was outside the US. The decision to belatedly broaden the indictment looks more like an attempt to dilute criticisms from the media than to address the concerns. The real motivation for this case is clear. His lawyers argue not only that the prosecution misrepresents the facts, but that he is being pursued for a political offence, for which extradition is expressly barred in the US-UK treaty.
Previous cases relating to Mr Assange should not be used to confuse the issue. Sweden has dropped the investigation into an accusation of rape, which he denied. He has served his 50-week sentence for skipping bail in relation to those allegations, imposed after British police dragged him from the Ecuadorian embassy. Yet while the extradition process continues, he remains in Belmarsh prison, where a Covid-19 outbreak has led to his solitary confinement. Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, has argued that his treatment is “neither necessary nor proportionate and clearly lacks any legal basis”. He previously warned that Mr Assange is showing all the symptoms associated with prolonged exposure to psychological torture and should not be extradited to the US. His lawyers say he would be at high risk of suicide.
Such considerations have played a part in halting previous extraditions, such as that of Lauri Love, who denied US allegations that he had hacked into government websites. But whatever the outcome in January, the losing side is likely to appeal; legal proceedings will probably drag on for years.
A political solution is required. Stella Moris, Mr Assange’s partner and mother of his two young children, is among those who have urged Donald Trump to pardon him. But Joe Biden may be more willing to listen. The incoming president could let Mr Assange walk free. He should do so.
In a dramatic call the National Union of Journalists has asked every trade union in the UK to campaign to stop the extradition of Julian Assange to the US.
Michelle Stanistreet, the NUJ’s general secretary, has written a letter to the general secretaries of all other unions pointing out the danger to a free press that would be triggered if Assange is extradited.
Writing of the US Espionage Act of 1917 under which Assange could face a lifetime in jail, the NUJ leader wrote: ‘This is a repressive statute that has in the past been used to jail trades union activists and working-class leaders. More particularly, the charges themselves seek to criminalise activity that for many NUJ members is their daily work – cultivating sources who are willing to share sensitive information that reveals incompetence, corruption, and illegality’.
The NUJ has been at the forefront of campaigning to stop Assange’s extradition and in the letter Michelle Stanistreet addresses her fellow general secretaries directly: ‘It is vital that we build a campaign to oppose Mr Assange’s extradition and prosecution that is located in the mainstream of progressive concerns – and only trades unions have the reach to achieve this. I am hoping that you will join in this campaign.’
The letter contains a model motion that other unions can use to align their policy with this call for solidarity from the NUJ.
The NUJ is offering to send its executive members to meetings organised by other trade unionists to explain why the union is appealing for support for Julian Assange. The NUJ recently held an online rally to discuss the case with former Guardian editor Alan Rushbridger, NUJ executive member Tim Dawson, the union’s Assistant General Secretary Seamas Dooley, and Julian Assange’s lawyer Jen Robinson.
See a thread of live-tweets of today’s hearing here
Cryptome published unredacted cables first; medical testimony continues
At the very end of today’s proceedings, the defense read aloud an important and consequential witness statement from John Young, host of cryptome.org.
“I published on Cryptome.org unredacted diplomatic cables on September 1, 2011 under the URL https://cryptome.org/z/z.7z and that publication remains available at present. … Since my publication on Cryptome.org of the unredacted diplomatic cables, no US law enforcement authority has notified me that this publication of the cables is illegal, consists or contributes to a crime in any way, nor have they asked for them to be removed.”
The statement is a critical piece of evidence against the U.S. government’s indictment of Assange for publishing the unredacted diplomatic cables in 2011. The prosecution must prove “dual criminality,” that Assange’s alleged offenses in the U.S. would be a crime in the U.K. as well. Republishing classified documents is not a crime under the U.K.’s Official Secrets Act the way that publishing them is.
This witness statement corroborates previous testimony from John Goetz and others on the chronology of events, that WikiLeaks was not the first to publish the unredacted cables and in fact took great care to prevent names from being disclosed.
The defense also read a statement from Christopher Butler of the Internet Archive, also known as the Wayback Machine, a U.S.-based historical internet record based on snapshots of websites over time. Butler confirms that the Internet Archive still to this day hosts records of WikiLeaks’ publications and that the U.S. government has never attempted to take this data offline.
Medical experts on the dangers of extradition
Today’s proceedings mostly consisted of live testimony from Dr. Nigel Blackwood, the prosecution’s psychiatrist who interviewed Assange in prison, and Dr Sondra Crosby, who visited Assange multiple times in the Ecuadorian Embassy and again in Belmarsh. Once again, because this testimony dealt with Julian’s personal medical condition and history, we’ll try to summarize the relevant portions rather than provide every detail.
Dr Nigel Blackwood is a consultant forensic psychiatrist with the NHS, and he produced a report for the prosecution on Assange’s mental health and his suicide risk in the event of extradition. Dr. Blackwood has previously provided testimony supporting extradition in the case of Korcala v Polish Judicial Authority in 2017.
Medical testimony is used to establish whether “the physical or mental condition of the person is such that it would be unjust or oppressive to extradite him”, as that would violate Section 91 of the U.K.’s 2003 Extradition Act, and to prevent violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Dr. Blackwood determined Assange to be “moderately depressed” and acknowledged, “There is undoubtably some risk of suicide attempt in the event of extradition,” but he doesn’t feel that it rises to a “high risk.” Blackwood relied on the standard established in USA v Turner, that the person facing extradition must be “capable of controlling” their own risk of suicide, and he found that Assange, whom he called a “very resilient” and “resourceful” man, would be capable of doing so.
In addition to USA v Turner, there is also relevant precedent in USA v Lauri Love, in which the U.K.’s High Court overturned the lower court judge’s ruling that Love could be extradited because the judge relied too heavily on the assurances that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons could provide adequate mental health care and prevent suicide in prison.
Defense lawyer Ed Fitzgerald therefore asked Dr. Blackwood for his to comment as to whether the conditions Assange would be detained under in the United States could be said to be “broadly equivalent” to those in the U.K. At issue are both pre-trial conditions and prospective post-trial conditions. The defense and prosecution agree that if extradited, Assange would be held before trial at Alexandria Detention Center (ADC) in Virginia. The defense argues that if convicted, Assange would be sent post-trial to ADX Florence, a Supermax prison in Colorado. The prosecution doesn’t confirm that Assange would be sent there but provides evidence regarding the facility to respond to the defense’s arguments.
In court, Dr. Blackwood admitted that he made his determination relying on the U.S. government’s supportive affidavit from assistant U.S. attorney Gordon Kromberg, wherein Kromberg argued that “there is no solitary confinement” at the ADC in Virginia. He made his statement before seeing the witness submission of Eric Lewis, lawyer for Reprieve who testified about his clients’ experience under SAMs and in solitary at the ADC. Dr. Blackwood would only say that he accepts there is a range of opinion as far as solitary confinement, but he agreed broadly that placing Assange in solitary confinement under SAMs, which would virtually bar him from communicating with the outside world, would be “deleterious” to his mental health. Dr. Blackwood also agreed that the question should be dealt with by experts on U.S. prisons, which he is not.
Dr. Crosby: “very high risk” of suicide if Assange is extradited
This afternoon we heard testimony from defense witness Dr. Sondra Crosby, an associate professor of medicine and public health at Boston University and an expert on the physical and psychological impact of torture, who visited Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, beginning in October 2017.
As clinicians with a combined experience of four decades caring for and about refugees and other traumatised populations, we recently spent 20 hours, over three days, performing a comprehensive physical and psychological evaluation of Mr Assange. While the results of the evaluation are protected by doctor-patient confidentiality, it is our professional opinion that his continued confinement is dangerous physically and mentally to him, and a clear infringement of his human right to healthcare.
Dr. Crosby has also written that her February 2019 visit in the embassy was spied on and her medical notes were taken. “Mr. Assange’s right to doctor-patient confidentiality was violated, and his confidential information had been breached,” she said.
Testifying by remote video, Dr. Crosby today said that in the embassy, Assange described symptoms of PTSD and psychological distress, and he complained of a number of physical symptoms that Dr Crosby found “very worrisome” but she had no way of performing a necessary physical evaluation at the time.
On the question of whether it would be unjust to send Julian to the United States, Dr. Crosby said, “Assange is at a very high risk of completing a suicide if he were to be extradited.”
Proceedings continue tomorrow at 10:00am London time.
See a thread of live-tweets of today’s hearing here
Warning: this post discusses suicidal ideation. As mentioned yesterday, for Assange’s privacy we won’t report every detail of today’s testimony, dealing with Assange’s very personal private, social, and medical history.
Today Dr. Quinton Deeley, National Health Service psychiatrist who specializes in autism, ADHD, & other mental health issues, took the stand to discuss Julian Assange’s diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Dr. Deeley interviewed Assange several times over a period of several months, and he spoke to Assange’s partner, mother, and friends to corroborate his findings and prepare a report. Dr. Deeley also agreed with what Dr. Kopelman testified to yesterday, that Assange would be a “high risk” of suicide if he were ordered to be extradited.
Dr. Deeley explained that Assange had taken two ADOS tests leading to his diagnosis, and he observed “obsessive rumination” and “rigidity of thought”, typical ASD symptoms. In brief defense questioning, Dr. Deeley also spoke about the high rate of suicides in solitary confinement and the dangers of isolating Assange in both UK and US prisons.
The prosecution then spent nearly its entire cross-examination questioning this diagnosis, attacking Dr. Deeley’s findings and impartiality.
Prosecutor James Lewis suggested that the fact that Assange has hosted a televised interview show, written books and articles, and given speeches indicate his sociability and contradict the diagnosis of Asperger’s. Lewis even played a video of Assange speaking at the Frontline Club in 2010 by Skype, answering questions about WikiLeaks’ releases, redacting to protect informants, and partnering with fellow media organizations.
Dr. Deeley rejected the idea that these activities contradict a diagnosis at all. On the contrary, they show Assange in his comfort zone, he said, speaking at length on issues of which he has substantial interest and knowledge in a well-defined setting. In these interviews and Q&A sessions, Assange is an “expert on the material” and knows the expectations of format, so he doesn’t have to pay attention to social etiquette or make small talk.
Lewis said the fact that Assange has sole custody of a child was “inconsistent” with the diagnosis, suggesting that “no court” would give custody to someone who had “difficulty developing peer relationships.” He also said that those on the autism spectrum “lack empathy,” and his mother described him as an “extraordinarily selfless father”, suggesting these are “inconsistent” as well.
Dr. Deeley rejected this idea too, saying that those on the autism spectrum can be parents, and it isn’t unusual for them to be “dutiful, principled,” and moved by the idea of suffering in general.
Lewis questioned Dr. Deeley’s impartiality, asking if he was trying to “excuse” behavior or confirm a diagnosis. Dr. Deeley said he was giving a comprehensive summary, and that trying to drill down on one item of supportive evidence for the diagnosis misses the full picture. Lewis said that Dr. Deeley himself often looked at the ceiling when giving answers in court, rather than making eye contact, insinuating that eye contact isn’t relevant to a diagnosis and even saying “we all do that.” Dr. Deeley seemed taken aback, saying that he didn’t think he would score highly on an ADOS test (meaning he wouldn’t be found on the autism spectrum), that he was presenting to the defense, the judge, the prosecution; eye contact alone isn’t a definitive indicator.
On final defense re-examination, Dr. Deeley confirmed his corroboration of the diagnosis. “It is clear to my mind that Julian Assange is on the autistic spectrum,” he said.
Prosecution’s first witness, Seena Fazel
The prosecution called its first witness this afternoon, as scheduling issues disrupted the defense witness list which will continue tomorrow. The prosecution called Seena Fazel, Professor of Forensic Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, who specializes in prison suicide. Fazel interviewed Assange this summer, notably after what doctors agree was his most severe period of depression at the end of 2019.
Fazel testified that he found Assange to be “moderately depressed,” but accepts that he was “severely depressed” in late 2019 and was treated with medication, and that Assange’s depression intensity is “episodic” and liable to fluctuate dependent on his circumstances. However, he said, he doesn’t find Assange’s mental capacity such that he is unable to manage his own suicidal risk.
Fazel agreed that Assange has “autistic-like traits” but that he would be in the milder end of the autism spectrum.
In defense cross-examination, Fazel conceded that he is not an expert in U.S. prisons, which have a 6-7 times larger inmate population. This means, the defense established, that he’s not aware of Alexandria Detention Center where Assange would be held in pre-trial confinement nor the full effect of Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), to which Assange would be subjected, nor is he aware of ADX Florence in Colorado, where Assange is likely to be sent post-trial if convicted, and where conditions under SAMs have been described by a former warden there as a “clean version of hell” and “unfit for human habitation.” U.S. prison experts will be called to testify about those facilities, likely later this week.
Discussing solitary confinement and lengthy prison sentences, Fazel said that “hopelessness is an important risk factor” for suicide, that Assange’s risk increases if he feels he has “bleak prospects.”
Prosecution questioning attempted to undermine the definition of solitary confinement and to paint a rosier view of Supermax imprisonment, as prosecutor James Lewis read off a long list of amenities allegedly offered at the federal facility in Colorado, such as “13-inch televisions” and “arts and crafts.” The defense noted that this description does not apply to housing unit H, where Assange would be held.
See a thread of live-tweets of today’s hearing here
Psychiatrist: High risk of suicide if Assange is extradited
Dr. Michael Kopelman, Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, took the stand today to testify about his visits with Julian Assange in prison and his medical evaluations. Out of respect for Julian’s privacy, we won’t share all details that were discussed in court but will summarize the most relevant portions. Most pertinently, Dr. Kopelman said that Assange, who has been diagnosed with clinical depression and Asperger’s syndrome, would be at a high risk of suicide if he were extradited to the United States.
Dr. Kopelman has observed in Julian “loss of sleep, loss of weight, a sense of pre-occupation and helplessness as a result of threats to his life, the concealment of a razor blade as a means to self-harm and obsessive ruminations on ways of killing himself.”
“I am as certain as a psychiatrist ever can be that, in the event of imminent extradition, Mr. Assange would indeed find a way to commit suicide,” he wrote in written submissions to the court.
Section 91 of the United Kingdom’s 2003 Extradition Act prohibits extradition if “the physical or mental condition of the person is such that it would be unjust or oppressive to extradite him.” Section 91 of the 2003 Extradition Act prohibits extradition if “the physical or mental condition of the person is such that it would be unjust or oppressive to extradite him.”
Both section 91 and article 3 were cited in Lauri Love’s case, in which the high court ruled against extraditing Love, a U.K.-based computer science student who also has Asperger’s syndrome, to the United States over alleged computer crimes. That court ruled in Love’s favor on two grounds, the forum bar (meaning the U.S., instead of the U.K., was the wrong venue in which to try him) and the conditions he would face in a U.S. prison. “We come to the conclusion that Mr Love’s extradition would be oppressive by reason of his physical and mental condition,” the court found.
The court specifically cited the lack of adequate mental health care in the U.S. prison system. “Suicide watch is not a form of treatment; there is no evidence that treatment would or could be made available on suicide watch for the very conditions which suicide watch itself exacerbates.”
Lauri Love spoke about his case and how it relates to Julian’s in our online panel, “What would Julian Assange face in the United States?” which also included Assange’s U.S. attorney Barry Pollack and CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling, who discussed his imprisonment after being convicted under the Espionage Act.
Dr. Kopelman testified in Love’s case as well. In that case, he said today, he was given reassurances that U.S. prisons protect against suicide. But since then, he noted, Jeffrey Epstein has killed himself in prison, and Chelsea Manning has attempted suicide in the very facility where Assange would be held in pre-trial detention. “Those reassurances were not so reassuring,” he said.
“Isolation he would experience in North America would be far worse than anything experienced in embassy or Belmarsh”
But before getting to U.S. prison conditions, the defense is establishing Assange’s current mental state and medical evaluations. Dr. Kopelman testified about meeting with Assange on several occasions, finding that he has severe depression and he has been making end-of-life preparations.
Dr. Kopelman reviewed Assange’s personal, medical ,and family history as factors in his determination as well as observations he made in these visits. He also noted that renowned Autism expert Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen has found that suicide is nine times more likely in patients with Asperger’s syndrome.
Cross examining the doctor, prosecutor James Lewis attempted to undermine Dr. Kopelman’s expertise on the subject, suggesting that as a neuropsychiatrist he deals with the interaction between brain disease and mental health and therefore isn’t sufficiently qualified to comment on this case. Insulted, Dr. Kopelman said he is not “just” a neuropsychiatrist, and actually, Lewis himself has requested Dr. Kopelman’s psychiatric services for a different case, “so it’s a bit rich” for Lewis to question his qualifications.
Lewis then suggested that Dr. Kopelman is “more of an advocate than a psychiatrist” to which Dr. Kopelman replied that he would like to respond to that with an “unparliamentary word.”
Lewis also tried repeatedly to insinuate that Assange is “malingering” or exaggerating his symptoms to induce a diagnosis and avoid extradition. Dr. Kopelman said he was well aware of this possibility and knows to look out for signs of this, which he didn’t find.
Lewis then argued that Julian’s comments in court, including his response to whether he agreed to be extradited (“No”) and his comments from the dock amid witness testimony, indicate his ability to follow the proceedings and therefore indicate that he doesn’t suffer from serious depression (earlier he tried to establish with Dr. Kopelman that severe depression means an inability to function in work and social activities).
Dr. Kopelman reiterated that he primarily evaluated Assange from May-December of 2019, as well as a visit this spring, but he doesn’t find these comments to preclude a diagnosis of severe depression. If anything, he said, these comments in the middle of court proceedings appear to Dr. Kopelman as evidence toward the diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome.
See a thread of live-tweets of today’s hearing here
Christian Grothoff: WikiLeaks did not publish unredacted cables first
The first witness this week was German computer science professor Christian Grothoff, who testified about his research into the timeline of events surrounding the 2011 publication of the unredacted State Department cables. Three of the 18 counts against Assange charge him specifically for publishing the unredacted cables, and Grothoff’s testimony establishes that WikiLeaks was not the first outlet to publish that archive, that others published it first and have not been prosecuted for doing so, and that WikiLeaks took care to encrypt the file but actions outside of Assange’s control led to its release.
Grothoff went through the timeline in his statement and on the stand. In the summer of 2010, WikiLeaks shared the diplomatic cables with The Guardian journalist David Leigh via an encrypted file on a temporary website along with a strong passphrase to decrypt it. Assange had written just part of the passphrase down on paper.
WikiLeaks and its media partners began publishing the redacted cables in November 2010, in the release known as Cablegate. WikiLeaks was then subject to Distributed Denial of Server attacks which took the site down or made it very difficult to access, so it encouraged supporters to create mirrors of the site, replications of site data on different servers, and hundreds of people did so.
In February 2011, Leigh and fellow Guardian reporter Luke Harding published a book on working with WikiLeaks and Assange in which one chapter title was the full passphrase which could be used to decrypt the file containing the set of unredacted cables.
On August 25, 2011, German weekly Der Freitag published an article explaining that the password Leigh and Harding revealed could be paid with an encrypted file to find the documents — the article doesn’t say exactly what the password is or where exactly the file could be found, but it provided enough clues that sufficiently tech-savvy readers could figure it out. Der Speigel then confirmed the story, and on August 31, Nigel Parry published, ‘Guardian Investigative Editor David Leigh publishes top secret Cablegate password revealing names of U.S. collaborators and informants… in his book’, in which he says exactly what the passphrase was.
When WikiLeaks discovered that this information was public, Assange and fellow WikiLeaks staff member Sarah Harrison called the State Department to warn them that the cables were online unredacted — those warnings were ignored.
Cryptome, a US-based leak site well-known in the tech community, published a file containing the full unredacted cables — Cryptome has never been prosecuted for publishing that file. Later that day, WikiLeaks posted an editorial, ‘Guardian journalist negligently disclosed Cablegate passwords.’, and on September 2nd WikiLeaks published the unredacted cables.
As Glenn Greenwald wrote that day,
“Once WikiLeaks realized what had happened, they notified the State Department, but faced a quandary: virtually every government’s intelligence agencies would have had access to these documents as a result of these events, but the rest of the world — including journalists, whistleblowers and activists identified in the documents — did not. At that point, WikiLeaks decided — quite reasonably — that the best and safest course was to release all the cables in full, so that not only the world’s intelligence agencies but everyone had them, so that steps could be taken to protect the sources and so that the information in them was equally available.”
On cross-examination, the prosecution attempted to suggest that WikiLeaks shared the full archive with all 50 media partners that it worked with on Cablegate, but Grothoff said there is no evidence for that, and he suggested the prosecution “didn’t do [their] homework” as far as the chronology of publication. He pointed to David Leigh’s book, in which it’s clear that Assange was “reluctant” to hand over the unredacted archive to The Guardian. Leigh had to repeatedly badger Assange for the full archive and initially Assange suggested giving only half of the dataset. Other media partners were only given subsets of the data, relevant to their experience or geographical region.
Cassandra Fairbanks: High-level plan to revoke Assange’s asylum
This afternoon, the defense read a witness statement from Cassandra Fairbanks, a DC-based journalist who supports both President Trump and Julian Assange. In 2018-19, Fairbanks was in a Direct Message group on Twitter which included “multiple people who either worked for President Trump or were close to him”, such as German Ambassador Richard Grenell, and Arthur Schwartz, “a wealthy GOP donor who does communications for the Ambassador and works as an informal adviser to Donald Trump Jr.”
On October 30, 2018, Fairbanks posted an interview with Assange’s mother in the group chat, “hoping that someone would see it and be moved to help.” Schwartz, “outraged,” called her shortly after and “repeatedly insisted that I stop advocating for WikiLeaks and Assange, telling me that “a pardon isn’t going to fucking happen.”
“He knew very specific details about a future prosecution against Assange that were later made public and that only those very close to the situation then would have been aware of. He told me that it would be the ‘Manning’ case that he would be charged with and that it would not involve the Vault 7 publication or anything to do with the DNC. He also told me that they would be going after Chelsea Manning. I also recollect being told, I believe, that it would not be before Christmas. Both of these predictions came true just months later.”
Grenell brokers deal to evict and arrest Assange
Schwartz also knew in advance of plans to revoke Assange’s political asylum granted by Ecuador:
“He also told me that the US government would be going into the Embassy to get Assange. I responded that entering the embassy of a sovereign nation and kidnapping a political refugee would be an act of war, and he responded ‘not if they let us.’
I did not know at the time that Ambassador Grenell himself had that very month, October 2018, worked out a deal for Assange’s arrest with the Ecuadorian government.”
Fairbanks began to cry on the phone with Schwartz, which led to him “softening his tone and saying that Assange would ‘probably’ only serve life in prison.”
In January 2019, Fairbanks visited Assange in the Embassy and
“informed him of everything I had been told. I know that he was concerned about being overheard or spied on and he had a little radio to cover up the conversation. I had also met with Chelsea Manning in person and told her that I feared that they might come after her again.”
Two months later, in March 2019, she visited Assange again, but she said, “This visit was very different. I was shocked at the way in which both Assange and I were treated.” Fairbanks was “locked in a cold meeting room for an hour while Embassy staff demanded Assange be subjected to a full body scan with a metal detector before allowing him in the room.”
“I considered at the time ‘it seemed our government was getting what they wanted from Ecuador, as a former senior State Department official told Buzzfeed in January “As far as we’re concerned, he’s in jail”’. I noted ‘[i]n an interview with El Pais in July, President Moreno also said his “ideal solution” is that Assange may “enjoy” being ‘extradited’ if the UK promises that the US will not kill him.”
Fairbanks then messaged Schwartz, asking what he knew about the rumors that Assange may be evicted, and Schwartz called her and made clear that “knew I had told Assange what he had told me.” This appears to be corroborating evidence that Assange’s private conversations in the embassy were surveilled and that recordings were sent back to the U.S.
Assange was evicted from the embassy and arrested on April 11, 2019. Four days later, ABC Newsreported, ‘US gave verbal pledge of no death penalty for Assange: Sources’
The process of moving Assange out of the Ecuadorian Embassy started a year ago, on March 7, 2018, when the Ecuadorians made their first request to the U.K.: a letter asking for written assurances that the U.K. would not extradite Assange to a country where he could face the death penalty, according to the Ecuadorian Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo.
Ecuador’s direct outreach to the U.S. came six months later, through the country’s ambassador to Germany, Manuel Mejia Dalmau, according to U.S. and Ecuadorian officials. Dalmau sought a private “emergency meeting” in Berlin with the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, viewed as one of President Donald Trump’s closest envoys in Europe, the officials said.
… During one meeting, Dalmau asked whether the U.S. would commit to not putting Assange to death, according to a senior US. official.
Grenell then contacted the U.S Justice Department to see if he could provide assurances that the U.S. government would not seek the death penalty. According to the senior U.S. official, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein consented. That enabled Grenell to make the pledge. The agreement between the U.S. and Ecuador was a verbal one, according to a source in the Ecuadoran government.
Direct “orders from the President”
Finally, Fairbanks said,
Schwartz informed me that in coordinating for Assange to be removed from the Embassy, Ambassador Grenell had done so on direct “orders from the President”. I believed this connected President Trump to those who have been reported as having secured the deal to arrest Assange. I believed Schwartz’s statement to be correct because his close personal ties to both President Trump and Grenell are well-known. … The other persons who Schwartz said might also be affected included individuals who he described as “lifelong friends”. Arthur Schwartz is very well known and is publicly reported to be a right hand man or “fixer” for Donald Trump Junior and part of a circle extremely close to the White House which includes Richard Grenell, Sheldon Adelson and others. I am aware that Schwartz has frequented the White House all the time (his presence is recorded on many videos there) and is extremely close to the inner circle of people who are very close to the President.
In May 2020, The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal reported “new details on the critical role Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands played in an apparent CIA spying operation targeting Julian Assange.”
Following Assange’s imprisonment, several disgruntled former employees eventually approached Assange’s legal team to inform them about the misconduct and arguably illegal activity they participated in at UC Global. One former business partner said they came forward after realizing that “David Morales decided to sell all the information to the enemy, the US.” A criminal complaint was submitted in a Spanish court and a secret operation that resulted in the arrest of Morales was set into motion by the judge. … Throughout the black operations campaign, US intelligence appears to have worked through Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands, a company that had previously served as an alleged front for a CIA blackmail operation several years earlier. The operations formally began once Adelson’s hand-picked presidential candidate, Donald Trump, entered the White House in January 2017.
Court resumes tomorrow morning, 10:00am London time.
New Zealand investigative journalist Nicky Hager took to stand to testify about using WikiLeaks documents in his work. Hager published Other People’s Wars, New Zealand in Afghanistan, Iraq and the war on terror, and said that WikiLeaks-released military and diplomatic files “greatly increased my understanding of the conduct of the war. It would have been impossible to write the book without these confidential and leaked sources.”
In his written testimony, Hager explained,
“It is in general impossible to research and write about war to a useful standard without access to sources that the authorities concerned regard as sensitive and out of bounds — and all the more so with the subject of war crimes.”
“In the case of war, information which is classified is essential to allow journalism to perform its roles of informing the public, enabling democratic decision making and deterring wrongdoing.”
Further commenting on the importance of WikiLeaks’ releases specifically, Hager compared the publication of the Collateral Murder video, in which U.S. gunmen can be heard saying “Look at those dead bastards”, to the video of the police killing George Floyd and his words “I can’t breathe” for their contribution to “world opinion about the misuse of state power.”
Hager worked with WikiLeaks to report on the State Department cables, and he was called to testify about WikiLeaks’ redaction process. One of his jobs was to “identify any [cables] that should not be released for reasons such as personal safety of the named people.” Hager said he found WikiLeaks staff “to be engaged in a careful and responsible process.”
On Assange specifically, Hager said that he spent a lot of time with Julian, and “The person I got to know was very different from the image portrayed in the US media.”
During cross-examination, the prosecution sought Hager’s opinion on the release of the unredacted embassy cables in 2011. Hager said, “My understanding is that the information came out before Wikileaks made that decision,” referring to the fact that cables were published on Cryptome and had already been mirrored on several other websites beforehand. “WikiLeaks made strenuous efforts to keep it secret, and it was released elsewhere first.”
Pressed further about the releases, Hager said that he was “glad that the redacted cables were out so long, that there was a 9-month period to warn any informants who could’ve been named.” Because WikiLeaks had first published redacted cables beginning in late 2010, the U.S. government was on notice as to whom it should alert. Although the cables were ultimately published without redactions, that lead time, Hager said, is probably why there were no deaths as a result of WikiLeaks’ releases.
Jennifer Robinson: Trump offered pardon for Assange in exchange for sources
The defense then read a statement from Jennifer Robison, a barrister in London who has advised Assange since 2010.
Robinson’s testimony recounted a meeting she observed between U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and Charles Johnson in the Ecuadorian Embassy. Congressman Rohrabacher made clear that he had come to the embassy on behalf of President Trump and they would “have an audience” with Trump upon their return to Washington D.C.
Rohrabachr explained that he wanted “to resolve the ongoing speculation about Russian involvement” in WikiLeaks’ publication of the Democratic National Committee leaks in 2016.
He said ongoing speculation was “damaging to US-Russian relations, that it was reviving old Cold War politics, and that it would be in the best interests of the US if the matter could be resolved.” Rohrabacher explained that information from Assange about the source of the DNC leaks would be of “interest, value and assistance to President.”
Rohrabacher proposed that Assange identify the source for the 2016 election publications “in return for some form of pardon, assurance or agreement which would both benefit President Trump politically and prevent US indictment and extradition.”
Assange did not provide any source information to Rohrabacher, and instead Assange and Robinson urged the Congressman to raise the First Amendment implications of any U.S. indictment with President Trump.
The defense revealed this pardon offer to demonstrate the politicized nature of Assange’s prosecution. The fact that it could be dropped if Assange provided source information, and the fact that it was brought after Assange declined to provide that information, belies claims of a desire to simply prosecute a crime.
Khaled el-Masri, kidnapped and tortured by the CIA
The defense then summarized a statement from Khaled el-Masri. As John Goetz outlined in his testimony on Wednesday, el-Masri was kidnapped and tortured by the CIA. El-Masri’s statement has been the subject of contention, because the prosecution (operating on instruction from the U.S. government) objected to admitting the statement as evidence.
Amid debate over whether to hear from el-Masri live by video or to read his statement aloud, the prosecution said, “We see no utility whatsoever in having Mr. el-Masri in court.” Julian spoke up from the dock: “I will not censor a torture victim’s statement to this court,” he said. “I will not accept that.”
The prosecution ultimately agreed to allow the “gist” of the summary to be read as long as it was understood that the prosecution does not stipulate that el-Masri was tortured by the U.S. government.
An innocent German citizen, el-Masri was rendered to a CIA black site, where he was sodomized, force-fed through a tube through his nose, and subjected to total sensory deprivation. You can read his harrowing statement here.
The German state prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for the 13 CIA agents responsible. As Goetz explained, WikiLeaks documents revealed that the U.S. had pressured the German prosecutor to issue the warrant in a jurisdiction where the perpetrators didn’t live, threatening “repercussions” otherwise.
A court ruled his detention and rendition were unjustified, but there has been no justice for the U.S., he said. El-Masri cited U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo threatening the family members of any International Criminal Court officials who cooperate with an investigation into U.S. crimes.
Carey Shenkman: Espionage Act instills a “chilling effect”
Shenkman and prosecutor Clair Dobbin continued a lengthy exchange about case law on the Espionage Act. Dobbin read through several rulings on Espionage Act cases, arguing that the Act allows for prosecution of journalists, that it has been refined by judicial interpretation, and that challenges to its “overbreadth” have been tried and failed.
But Shenkman explained that these cases have dealt with government insiders, not members of the media, so the language used in those cases doesn’t necessarily apply here.
He said here’s dispute in the scholarship as to whether these judicial interpretations could be called refinement. In fact “if anything,” he said, “some of these terms have been broadened,” such as the fact that “national defense information” doesn’t just mean classified information but instead includes anything the government considers sensitive.
The prosecution attempted to argue that the use of the Espionage Act has historically demonstrated “restraint” on the part of the government, but Shenkman said he doesn’t think any scholar on the issue would agree.
Shenkman explained that simply bringing forward an indictment under the Espionage Act against a journalist, even if the prosecution isn’t successful, combined with the law’s “breadth and overuse,” instills a “significant chilling effect” throughout the media. The effect pervades beyond journalists too, he noted, because the law is written so broadly that it could be used against anyone who even reads or retweets national defense information.
On the common threads running through all attempts to bring prosecution under the against the media, Shenkman said that in all cases, the journalists accused don’t support the administration’s policies, are revealing misconduct, or are revealing information contrary to what the administration is revealing.
Reuters journalist Dean Yates: Assange told us what US wouldn’t
Finally, the defense read portions of a witness statement from Dean Yates, who was the Baghdad bureau chief for Reuters at the time of the incidents depicted in Collateral Murder. In the video, taken in July 2007, U.S. gunmen shoot and kill two Reuters journalists, Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh, among other civilians.
Yates recounted his efforts to find out what happened that day and the U.S. efforts to stonewall him, including rejecting a Freedom of Information Act request for the video. The military showed him part of the video but not the whole thing. He explained that Assange’s release of the video, along with the Rules of Engagement accompanying it, proved that the U.S. had lied to him.
“When I had first been shown a part of the video in 2007 by the US military it had been burnt into my mind that the reason the helicopter opened fire was because Namir was peering the corner. I came to blame Namir, thinking that the helicopter fired because he had made himself look suspicious and it just erased from my memory the fact that the order to open fire had already been given. the one person who picked this up was Assange. On the day he released the tapes he said the helicopter opened fire because it sought permission and was given permission. He said something like, ‘If that’s based on the rules of engagement then the rules of engagement are wrong.’”
Yates said he found it “impossible to grapple with the moral injury” of unfairly blaming Namir.
“I was devastated at having failed to protect my staff by uncovering the Rules of Engagement in the US military before they were shot — and for not disclosing earlier my understanding of the extent to which the US had lied. I was profoundly affected.”
The U.S. government knows how powerful the video is too, Yates said.
“The US knows how devastating Collateral Murder is, how shameful it is to the military — they are fully aware that experts believe the shooting of the van was a potential war crime. They know that the banter between the pilots echoed the language that kids would use on video games.”
On the importance of the release, to the victims and to the rest of the world, Yates said,
“I know Namir and Saeed would have remained forgotten statistics in a war that killed countless human beings, possibly hundreds of thousands of civilians. Had it not been for Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange the truth of what happened to Namir and Saeed, the truth of what happened on that street in Baghdad on July 12, 2007, would not have been brought to the world. What Assange did was 100% an act of truth-telling, exposing to the world what the war in Iraq in fact was and how the US military behaved and lied. The video was picked up by thousands of news organizations worldwide, sparking global outrage and condemnation of US military tactics in Iraq.”
See a thread of live-tweets of today’s hearing here
WikiLeaks’ Iraq War Logs exposed 15,000 civilian casualties
John Sloboda, co-founder of Iraq Body Count, an independent NGO devoted to continuously counting killings civilians in Iraq, testified today about working with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks on the Iraq War Logs, released in October of 2010.
Sloboda started Iraq Body Count to give “dignity to the memory of those killed”,” because knowing how loved ones die is a “fundamental human need,” and to aid in “processes of truth, justice, and reconciliation.”
The Iraq War Logs, a compendium of 400,000 Significant Activity reports filed by the U.S. Army, constituted “the single largest contribution to public knowledge about civilian casualties in Iraq”, Sloboda testified. The logs revealed an estimated 15,000 previously unknown deaths.
Most of these deaths were the results of small incidents, meaning 1-3 deaths at a time, “the kinds of incidents that attract the least reporting” he said in his statement.
WikiLeaks invited Iraq Body Count to join the media partners and given pre-publication access to the material. Assange imposed a “very stringent redaction process” in order to protect named sources from potential harm. Sloboda explained that because the necessary redactions would have taken a team of hundreds to do this manually, an automated process was developed to scan the files and redact every word that wasn’t in a standard English dictionary, to automatically remove any names. Then the files were scanned to remove occupations, like “doctor” or “driver”, so as to further protect identities.
Redacting the logs took “weeks”, Sloboda said, calling it a “painstaking process.”
The other journalists in the partnership wanted to hurry to publication. “There was considerable pressure on Wikileaks because the partners wanted to publish faster,” Sloboda said, but WikiLeaks continuously rejected this pressure, insisting that redactions must take place. Some media partners had redacted a small number of documents by hand and wanted to publish those first, but “Assange and WikiLeaks wanted the entire database to be released together.”
Many people who used the war logs would agree they were over-redacted, Sloboda said, but the agreed stance was to be overcautious first and then to take a closer look afterward, to possibly unredact something if it was agreed it could be revealed.
On the importance of the releases, Sloboda writes in his witness statement that 10 years on, the Iraq War Logs “remain the only source of information regarding many thousands of violent civilian deaths in Iraq between 2004 and 2009,” and it is Iraq Body Count’s position that “civilian casualty data should always be made public.” While the U.S. government often claims that the disclosure could have endangered Iraqi or U.S. lives, it “has never been able to demonstrate that a single individual has been significantly harmed by the release of these data. This is not least because the War Logs were highly redacted prior to their release by Wikileaks.”
“It could well be argued, therefore, that by making this information public Manning and Assange were carrying out a duty on behalf of the victims and the public at large that the US government was failing to carry out.”
Carey Shenkman: Espionage Act is an “extraordinarily broad” political offense
The defense then called Carey Shenkman, an American human rights attorney and constitutional historian who is writing a book on historical analyses of the Espionage Act, to testify by video link from the United States. Shenkman has worked for the late Michael Ratner, President Emeritus at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which advised Assange and WikiLeaks prior to Ratner’s passing.
Shenkman’s witness statement gives a history of the use of the Espionage Act, created in 1917 under President Woodrow Wilson, in what Shenkman refers to as “one of the most politically repressive [periods] in the nation’s history.” The act was used against a range of dissidents, and Shenkman says he provides this history to show how widely it can be used and to show that the act is “extraordinarily broad” and one of the U.S.’s most divisive laws.
Shenkman explained two key points about the law: first, it is written to criminalize the disclosure of not sure “national security information” but all “national defense” information, which means it encompasses even information that isn’t classified, and second, the act does not include a “public interest” defense, meaning defendants can’t argue that disclosures were made to benefit the public.
In 2015, Shenkman wrote about the use of the act against whistleblowers in an article for the Huffington Post, ‘Whistleblowers Have a Human Right to a Public Interest Defense, And Hacktivists Do, Too.”
“Not a single one of those prosecuted has been allowed to argue that their actions served the public good…Whistleblowers cannot argue that their actions had positive effects, known as a “public interest defense.” The United States treats disclosures to the press as acts of spying — no matter what good they lead to.”
Also in 2015, Shenkman and Ratner wrote, ‘CCR to UN: Whistleblower Protections Must Include Publishers Like WikiLeaks and Julian Assange’
“the ultimate effect of prosecuting and censoring publishers is the unacceptable chilling on the free flow of information, rights to access information, and freedom of expression.”
Because of just how controversial the Espionage Act is, Shenkman testified, there has never been a prosecution like the one against Assange.
“There has never, in the century-long history of the Espionage Act, been an indictment of a U.S. publisher under the law for the publication of secrets. Accordingly, there has never been an extraterritorial indictment of a non-U.S. publisher under the Act.”
Therefore, Shenkman told the court, journalists have generally felt comfortable that their activity was protected. This changed briefly in 2010, when the Obama administration began using the Espionage Act against sources and even named journalist James Rosen as an unindicted co-conspirator in an Espionage Act case, and fellow reporters began to get nervous. But Shenkman says, that anxiety was dialed back when then-Attorney General Eric Holder announced, upon his resignation in 2014, that naming Rosen as a co-conspirator in that case was his greatest regret in office.
But the Trump administration’s escalation from prosecuting the sources to prosecuting the publisher has signaled a major shift that carries a widespread chilling effect. Shenkman writes:
“What is now concluded, by journalists and publishers generally, is that any journalist in any country on earth—in fact any person—who conveys secrets that do not conform to the policy positions of the U.S. administration can be shown now to be liable to being charged under the Espionage Act of 1917.”
“Highly politicized prosecution”
On cross-examination, prosecutor Clair Dobbin attempted to get Shenkman to concede that in 2015, he felt that the U.S. still may bring charges against Julian Assange. This is part of the prosecution’s effort with most witnesses to attempt to undermine the 2013 Washington Postarticle reporting that the Obama Administration would not be bringing Espionage Act charges against Assange. This is a key factor in the extradition proceedings, because the US-UK Extradition Treaty bars extradition for “political offenses”, and a clear decision not to prosecute by one administration followed by a 180º shift to a decision to prosecute by the following administration would appear plainly politicized.
Shenkman testified that he took the 2013 article at face value, that he believed the Obama DOJ had decided not to prosecute. Asked about the investigation into WikiLeaks continuing across administrations, Shenkman said, “oftentimes these things are left to simmer, but ultimately an indictment wasn’t brought.” Furthermore, he argued, if Obama and Holder truly wanted to prosecute, wouldn’t they have been eager to do so? Wouldn’t Obama have wanted to write in his memoirs that he was the one to prosecute WikiLeaks?
Asked again about the ongoing investigation, Shenkman said, “Using the Espionage Act like this is extremely contentious,” something he thought would be an apt assignment for law school students to debate and explore because it’s so contentious.
“I’ve never thought we would see something like [this indictment], he said, adding that most legal scholars agree that this use of the Espionage Act is “truly extraordinary.” Furthermore, he said, the way the charges are framed and the timing of the indictment “really point to a highly politicized prosecution.” He began to comment on the politicized nature of the way the 3 “pure publication” charges are written, but the prosecution stopped him, saying they’d go through the indictment later.
In a long back-and-forth, the prosecution attempted to get Shenkman to comment on agreed legal principles in the U.S. Shenkman repeatedly explained that these are contentious issues dependent on the circumstances.
“Do you agree that a government employee who steals national security or national defense information is not entitled to use the First Amendment as a shield?” Dobbins asked.
“It’s a highly fact-specific inquiry,” Shenkman said, and it “depends on what you mean by ‘steal.” For example, Shenkman noted that the 9th circuit appeals court recently ruled on Edward Snowden’s NSA disclosures, and “they credited Mr Snowden with those disclosures even though he was a government employee accused of stealing these things.”
Shenkman and Dobbin had a similar disagreement over the use of “hacking” — asked, “Are you saying that hacking government databases is protected under the First Amendment?”, Shenkman said he’d have to ask what she means by “hacking”, because the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act doesn’t actually use the term, instead it deals with “exceeding unauthorized access.”
Phrases like “crack a password” and “hack a computer” sound “scary”, Shenkman said, but there are many nuances and interpretations to consider. “So yes I think there are ways the First Amendment could be relevant.”
Failing to get a yes or no answer, Dobbin asked, so shouldn’t these matters be decided in a U.S. court?
Shenkman responded, “No,” saying that his testimony was about the application of the Espionage Act, and whether the way they are written in the indictment against Assange is “political.”
It became clear we would need more than another hour for Shenkman’s cross-examination and closing questions by the defense, so court was adjourned for the day, and Shenkman will return to the stand tomorrow afternoon.
See a thread of live-tweets of today’s hearing here
See today’s video about Redactions and War Crimes here
John Goetz on WikiLeaks’ “very rigorous redaction process”
American journalist John Goetz, who has worked in Germany for the last 30 years, testified today about his experiences as a media partner on WikiLeaks’ releases in 2010. Working for Der Spiegel, Goetz had already been reporting on Iraq and Afghanistan when he joined the partnership to report the Afghan War Diaries, the Iraq War Logs, and the State Department cables.
Goetz was involved in early discussions and testified that Wikileaks spearheaded a “very rigorous redaction process,” beginning with the Afghanistan files. He said Assange himself was “very concerned with the technical aspect of trying to find the names in this massive collection of documents” so that “we could redact them, so they wouldn’t be published, so they wouldn’t be harmed.” He testified that Assange continually reminded the media partners to use secure communications, encrypted phones and apps, and while he seemed paranoid at the time, this is now standard journalistic practice.
Goetz also testified about WikiLeaks and the media partners’ conversations with the U.S. government ahead of publication. At one point the partners were on a conference call with the State Department in which U.S. officials would provide numbers of documents that they especially didn’t want published. They didn’t give specific names to redact but rather were indicating politically sensitive areas — when they realized that they were just calling attention to stories the journalists would be interested, they stopped.
The media partners also sent a delegation of New York Times reporters, who already had an office in Washington DC, to the White House to discuss the release ahead of time. As the Times’ Eric Schmitt emailed to Goetz immediately after the meeting, the media delegation passed on to the U.S. government that WikiLeaks would not be publishing some 15,000 documents within the Afghan War Diaries, and they asked the White House for any technical assistance they could provide to assist with redactions. That request, Goetz said, was met with “derision.”
As Goetz testified, Der Spiegelinterviewed Assange in 2010 about his harm-minimization process
Assange: The Kabul files contain no information related to current troop movements. The source went through their own harm-minimization process and instructed us to conduct our usual review to make sure there was not a significant chance of innocents being negatively affected. We understand the importance of protecting confidential sources, and we understand why it is important to protect certain US and ISAF sources.
SPIEGEL: So what, specifically, did you do to minimize any possible harm?
Assange: We identified cases where there may be a reasonable chance of harm occurring to the innocent. Those records were identified and edited accordingly.
Iraq War Logs: WikiLeaks redacted more than the U.S. gov’t
Though he personally wasn’t as involved in later releases, Goetz testified that with future releases, WikiLeaks’ harm-minimization process developed over time, and he said that the organization “overshot” with the Iraq War Logs, and “ended up redacting more than the Defense Department did. Some of the files had been declassified and released under FOIA requests, so one could compare redactions and see that WikiLeaks had concealed more names than the U.S. government had.
WikiLeaks docs confirm CIA torture& escaping accountability
Giving an example of the types of stories that WikiLeaks releases assisted with, Goetz explained had been investigating the story of Khalid el-Masri, a German citizen who was kidnapped by the CIA in Macedonia, extraordinarily rendered to a black site in Afghanistan where he was detained and tortured in 2004. This wasn’t known at the time, so Goetz searched the documents for el-Masri’s name, saw that he had been brought to Afghanistan, and found the CIA kidnappers “who’d forced el-Masri onto a military plane, sodomized him and sent him” to Afghanistan.
Goetz tracked down the CIA agents responsible in the United States, interviewed them, and reported the story. Following that broadcast, a Munich state prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for the 13 CIA agents. But, Goetz said, “It turns out the arrest warrant was never actually issued to the United States.” When he saw the State Department cables, he discovered that the U.S. had pressured the German prosecutor to issue the warrant in a jurisdiction where the perpetrators didn’t live, threatening “repercussions” otherwise.
Following Goetz’s testimony, the defense wanted to read a statement from Khalid el-Masri himself into the court record. The prosecution objected, suggesting that el-Masri isn’t in the charges against Assange and therefore is irrelevant and shouldn’t be considered admissible. While still objecting, prosecutor James Lewis said the defense could read the statement “if it wants to waste half an hour of the court’s time.” The judge warned Lewis that the way he was objecting, he was going “down a risky path” that could involve accepting the defense’s evidence “unchallenged.”
The remote press video went down at this time, but journalists inside the court reported that discussion of el-Masri’s statement continued, with the government objecting because it didn’t want to imply that allowing his evidence to be read that the prosecution would stipulate that el-Masri was tortured by the U.S. government. The statement wasn’t read aloud and it appears the matter is yet to be resolved.
See this BoingBoing video from 2010 on ‘WikiLeaks and the el-Masri case’ in which el-Masri relates his experiences: “El-Masri’s futile efforts at receiving justice in the U.S. are well-known, but cables recently leaked by Wikileaks reveal that the U.S. also warned German authorities not to allow a local investigation into his kidnapping.”
A central argument in the U.S. government’s case is that WikiLeaks published documents which, the government alleged, it knew would cause harm. Time and again the prosecution alerts witnesses to the fact that Assange is only charged with publishing on the internet the unredacted cables containing the names of sources who could have been harmed. The claim is misleading about the charges and was contradicted by both witnesses today.
While the three “pure publication” counts do indeed deal with the 2011 publication of unredacted cables, the 15 other charges, which charge Assange with “soliciting” “obtaining” and “receiving” the documents, deal with the full datasets of Iraq and Afghan war logs, the State Department cables, and the Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs. The charges work in unison, relying on each other, and so the full set of documents must be discussed together. Furthermore, all of the documents — and any conduct that the judge deems relevant even if not in the charges — would be considered at sentencing, where the court considers factors to be mitigating or aggravating.
But even on the facts of it, today’s witnesses strongly disputed the government’s claims. Asked about the 2011 publication of unredacted cables, John Goetz explained what really happened: in February 2011, Guardian reporters David Leigh and Luke Harding published a book with a password to the unencrypted file set as the title of a chapter. German magazine Die Freitag published this information, which allowed eagle-eyed observers to use that password to unlock the files and publish them online in full. Most notably, they were released on Cryptome, a “rival leak site” as described by the government, but they were also mirrored on several other sites, so they could not be taken down and they were out of WikiLeaks’ hands.
Assange and other WikiLeaks staff called the State Department’s emergency phone line at the time (as you can see in this video clip) warning that sources had been named, but they were ignored.
The prosecution pointed to a Guardianarticle from September 2011, in which the media partners condemn WikiLeaks’ release of the unredacted cables (though they concede in the article that the material was first published by Cryptome). Goetz testified, however, that the media partners did not know the true chain of events at this time, it was only later put together that the password in Leigh and Harding’s book was to blame for the material being released.
Goetz also said that Assange had tried to stop Die Freitag from publishing information that would lead to the release of unredacted files.
Daniel Ellsberg: “I totally disagree with the ‘good Ellsberg / bad Assange’ theory”
Next the defense called Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg to testify about Assange’s motivations, Ellsberg’s own experience being prosecuted under the Espionage Act, and his view on the unredacted publication of State Department cables.
Ellsberg explained in his witness statement that he copied and released the Pentagon Papers, comprising 7,000 Top Secret files, to the New York Times in 1971 because they demonstrated that the United States government had “started and continued” the Vietnam War “with the knowledge that it could not be won” and successive presidential administrations lied to Congress and the public about it.
“My own actions in relation to the Pentagon Papers and the consequences of their publication have been acknowledged to have performed such a radical change of understanding. I view the WikiLeaks publications of 2010 and 2011 to be of comparable importance.”
In court, Ellsberg testified about Julian Assange’s political opinions, his opposition to war and believe that justice is brought about by transparency and accountability. He and Assange both felt that both the Afghan and Iraq wars were wrong and that it was “clear even to the layman” that the Iraq war was a “crime.” an “aggressive war” as defined by the United Nations. He compared the war in Afghanistan to the war in Vietnam, the former a “rerun” of the latter, as perpetrators of both knew that they could only result in a seemingly endless “stalemate.”
What had changed, Ellsberg said, was that in Afghanistan (and in Iraq), horrific abuses, illegal killings and war crimes had become normalized, so much so that they appeared in “low-level field reports.” The Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs are marked up to Secret, whereas the Pentagon Papers were all Top Secret. Ellsberg said he “would’ve been astonished to see similar reports in Vietnam” in low-level classification. They are now so routine, he said, that they appear in the leaked logs as just the normal course of war.
The famous ‘Collateral Murder’ video illustrates this further. The title of the video, taken from a U.S. Army Apache helicopter and documenting the gunning down of civilians including journalists, children, and their rescuers, was controversial when it was released in 2010. Assange was criticized for labeling the actions “murder,” but to Ellsberg, the title caught his eye for a different reason:
“There was no question to me that what I was witnessing at the time was murder. In fact, the problematic word in the title was ‘Collateral’, implying that it was unintended. This was murder, and a war crime. So I was very glad that the American public was confronted with this.”
Ellsberg spoke of the decision to leak them:
“I was very impressed that the source of these documents, Chelsea Manning, was willing to risk her liberty and even her life to make this information public. It was the first time in 40 years I saw someone else doing that, and I felt kinship toward her.”
Ellsberg and the Espionage Act
Asked if he was able to explain his own motivations when he was charged under the Espionage Act by the Nixon administration, Ellsberg said,
“No, absolutely not…I had withheld, in the nearly 2 years between the revelations and their release, discussion as to what led me to do that in the hopes that I could testify under oath, with sufficient solemnity and credibility.”
But at his 1973 trial, when his lawyer asked Ellsberg on the stand to explain his motivation, the government objected that the question was irrelevant, and the judge agreed. This established the Espionage Act as a “strict liability offense,” with every prosecution under the law in the years since handled in the same way.
“The Espionage Act does not allow for whistleblowing, to allow you to say you were informing the polity. So I did not have a fair trial, no one since me had a fair trial on these charges, and Julian Assange cannot remotely get a fair trial under those charges if he were tried.”
On cross-examination, the prosecution attempted to draw out a distinction between Ellsberg and Assange by citing Floyd Abrams, who along with James Goodale argued for the New York Times’ right to publish the Pentagon Papers, as Abrams has written that he believes WikiLeaks is different from the Ellsberg’s release. But Ellsberg said Abrams “doesn’t understand my motives or Julian’s” since he didn’t actually read through all the Pentagon Papers and didn’t discuss Ellsberg’s motivations with him.
Ellsberg added that this false dichotomy isn’t limited to Abrams. “And I’d say people who criticize Ed Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, they don’t want to criticize me — it is entirely misleading,” he said.
Ellsberg said at the time of his releases, he was harshly criticized, the way Snowden and Manning and Assange are now. Then for a long time he was ignored. And now that these new releases have come out, WikiLeaks’ in 2010 and Snowden’s NSA revelations in 2013, all of a sudden commentators were contrasting them with him, referring to Ellsberg positively “to draw some contrast between us.”
“I totally disagree with the ‘good Ellsberg / bad Assange’ theory,” he said. “Except for the computer aspects which didn’t exist back then, I see no difference between the charges against me and the charges against Assange.”
In addition to the personalities involved, the prosecution also attempted to draw a contrast between Assange’s and Ellsberg’s releases, in particular by highlighting the harm the government alleges was caused by WikiLeaks disclosures.
Prosecutor James Lewis cited the fact that Ellsberg withheld 4 volumes of documents from the media, though he gave the full set of files to the Senate, as well as the fact that Abrams quoted Ellsberg as having said, “I don’t want to get in the way of diplomacy,” whereas, Abrams says, Assange clearly does. The prosecution painted this as Ellsberg wanting to protect his country from harm. But Ellsberg clarified that at the time of his release, the U.S. and Vietnam had been engaged in peace negotiations. They were not progressing very well, but the talks were taking place, and Ellsberg didn’t want the release to be used as a pretext for withdrawing from peace talks.
Ellsberg recalls his own full quote: “I want to get in the way of the war, I don’t want to get in the way of negotiations.”
This is also the reason Ellsberg didn’t redact a single word of his releases, even allowing the publication of the name of a clandestine CIA agent (who he knew was already known in Vietnam). He didn’t want the public to think that the files had been edited or interfered with. He wanted to show there was no adequate justification for the killings in Vietnam, and he didn’t want to allow any implication that something he redacted covered up such a justification.
WikiLeaks did not cause harm
Lewis still attempted to get Ellsberg to concede that WikiLeaks’ documents were more harmful.
“Are you saying no one was placed in grave danger?”, he asked.
“It appears not, as there was no harm, as shown by the Defense Department,” Ellsberg said, referring to the fact that in Chelsea Manning’s court-martial, the government was forced to admit that it could not point to a single death that resulted from WikiLeaks’ releases.
Lewis then spent several minutes reading aloud from an affidavit from assistant U.S. attorney Gordon Kromberg on the government’s allegations of harm caused by WikiLeaks releases. These included many allegations and claims that were already attempted in Manning’s trial, such as the fact that WikiLeaks files were found in Osama Bin Laden’s compound, or the Taliban saying they would read through the datasets for informants to punish. These arguments were put forward in the government’s attempt to prosecute Manning for “aiding the enemy” — she was acquitted on that charge.
At one point, Ellsberg interrupted the prosecutor to ask if he would ever get the chance to respond to them. At the end of Lewis’ recitation, Ellsberg said, “I find the government recounting of these allegations to be cynical. Am I right in that none of these people actually suffered physical harm?”
Lewis responded, “The rules are that you do not get to ask the questions.”
Ellsberg reminded the court that the U.S. government was specifically asked to help redact the documents and declined to do so. Furthermore, he said, if there really was massive harm caused by the releases, he would have expected the government to show something far more concrete, or the Taliban to have pointed to actual informants they punished rather than merely talking about it.
Lewis spoke about some named informants having to flee their countries or their posts.
“I understand the anxiety that these people named might be harmed. And that anxiety is caused by the refusal to help WikiLeaks redact. But aside from that, people having to leave the country, must be put in the context of Mr Assange trying to end a war that has caused 37 million refugees and over a million deaths.”
See a thread of live-tweets of today’s hearing here
See yesterday’s videos about the effects of Julian Assange’s imprisonment here and one about freedom of the presshere
Eric Lewis: Under Trump, Justice Dept. is Prosecutorial Hand of the President
Continuing testimony that began yesterday, U.S. lawyer Eric Lewis explained that under President Trump, the Department of Justice is not an independent agency but rather one that takes its direction from the top down. Lewis said that he isn’t questioning the integrity of lower-level prosecutors, but they are taking direction from their Attorney General.
Lewis cited comments from Jeff Sessions, who was US Attorney General at the time Assange’s indictment was brought, in which he called Assange’s arrest a “priority.” The top-down approach continued under William Barr, Lewis said, citing more than a thousand former federal prosecutors who co-signed a statement condemning President Trump’s “obstruction of justice.”
“Jeff Sessions pressured the Eastern District of Virginia to bring the case. I’m not saying individual prosecutors are acting in bad faith, I’m saying the department is highly politicized and many Americans would agree with that sentiment.”
The comments came amid cross-examination, as U.S. prosecutors are attempting to undermine the dense claim that the prosecution of Assange is politically motivated. Lewis pointed again to the fact that the Obama administration made a clear decision not to prosecute Assange in 2013. The facts of the case are from 2010 and 2011 but the U.S. didn’t indict until 2018; the only difference between then and now is who is in the White House.
“This case was dormant when the Trump administration began,” Lewis said. “The evidence hasn’t changed. Witnesses haven’t changed. The First Amendment hasn’t changed.”
175 years in prison
The prosecution also attempted to cast doubt on the claim that Assange would face up to 175 years in prison if he is extradited to the United States. But Lewis said there is significant reason to believe that a judge would sentence him extremely aggressively. Assange would be tried in the Eastern District of Virginia under District Judge Claude M Hilton, who Lewis said is known as a “tough sentencer” and who threw Chelsea Manning in prison for contempt of court when she refused to testify in a WikiLeaks grand jury. Furthermore, U.S. officials have described WikiLeaks’ releases as the biggest leak publications in history and has attempted to argue that U.S. adversaries benefited from the releases. Upon Chelsea Manning’s conviction of 10 counts under the Espionage Act (whereas Assange faces 17), Lewis noted, the government asked for a 60-year sentence, and she was sentenced to 35.
In February, Sterling wrote, “Reject Using My Unjust Conviction Against Julian Assange.”
Lewis noted that the U.S. Dept of Justice has made several adjustments to the second superseding indictment that it brought in June 2020. Despite adding no new charges, the indictment adds new language that, Lewis explained, increases the likelihood of a higher sentence. These added factors include other co-conspirators the government alleged were under Assange’s direction, reference to a ‘Teenager’ among those (this refers to Siggi Thordarson, Icelandic informant), “special skills” (here could refer to Assange’s alleged computer capabilities), and the fact that the State Department cables allegedly included names of U.S. government employees (at embassies around the world). These all lead Lewis to believe the newest superseding indictment substantially increases a potential sentence for Assange.
Abusive conditions await Assange
Finally, Lewis testified to the conditions Assange would be likely to face in a U.S. prison, both pre- and post-trial. Pre-trial, Assange would be held at the Alexandria Detention Center, and Lewis believes he would be held under both SAMs, which gags a defendant and permits monitoring of attorney-client communications, and the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA), which curtails the defendant’s ability to review classified documents in his/her case.
It’s also highly likely Assange would be held in administrative segregation (‘ad-seg), due to his notoriety and mental health issues, and the combination of ad-seg and SAMs would be tantamount to solitary confinement and extremely dangerous to Assange’s psychological health. Lewis testified that two-thirds of all incidents of suicide and self-harm among inmates take place in segregated housing.
Tom Durkin: Assange would not get a fair trial in the United States
Next, the defense called Thomas Durkin, a criminal defense attorney from Chicago, to discuss how a trial against Assange would play out in the U.S. if he were extradited.
“I don’t believe he would be able to get what I would consider to be a fair trial in the U.S.”, Durkin said, because the case is the result of a highly politicized prosecution, CIPA restrictions would severely hamper the defense, and there would be huge pressure to accept a plea deal simply to avoid an exorbitant prison sentence.
Durkin corroborated what several witnesses have said thus far, that the Obama administration’s decision not to prosecute contrasted with the Trump administration’s decision to prosecute several years later, without new evidence, is clear evidence that the case is political.
The CIPA restrictions, he said, would mean Assange would not be able to view classified documents in the case, contrary to what U.S. assistant attorney Gordon Kromberg argued in submissions for the prosecution.
As for the pressure for a plea deal, Durkin testified that there is a built-in incentive to take a plea, in that a “timely guilty plea” automatically takes the sentence down a level within sentencing guidelines, which Durkin referred to as “draconian.” This is commonly referred to as a “trial tax,” meaning defendants are punished for taking their own cases to trial rather than pleading ahead of time.
Durkin said that the prosecution appears to argue that Assange is more liable than Chelsea Manning, indicating the government would seek a longer sentence than the 60 years it sought for Manning.
Furthermore, Durkin testified that any plea deal would require “full cooperation,” meaning the government would very likely require Assange to reveal WikiLeaks’ sources in order to obtain a plea agreement.
Tomorrow, former Der Spiegel journalist John Goetz and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg are scheduled to testify.
See a thread of live-tweets of today’s hearing here
Eric Lewis: Julian Assange shouldn’t be extradited, would face solitary confinement in the United States
Paused last week due to a COVID19 scare, Julian Assange’s extradition hearing resumed today with witness testimony from Eric Lewis, chairman of the board of Reprieve and a lawyer who “represents Guantanamo and Afghan detainees in litigation, seeking redress and accountability for torture and religious abuse while in US custody.”
Lewis confirmed that before being asked to provide expert testimony on this case, he opined in the press that he believes Assange shouldn’t be extradited or prosecuted, and while he handled the facts objectively in providing his witness statement, those are still his views today. In May 2019, Lewis wrote, “As an American lawyer, I don’t want to see Julian Assange extradited to my country.”
While Lewis’ testimony largely deals with his experience defending clients in the US federal justice system and the conditions they face, he first spoke about the significance of the Trump administration deciding to prosecute Assange in contrast to the Obama administration’s decision not to. Echoing previous witnesses, Lewis singled out comments from then-CIA director Mike Pompeo and then-US Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April 2017 evincing particular zeal in prosecuting Assange. Pompeo castigated WikiLeaks and Assange and declared he would be allowed no First Amendment rights, while Sessions announced that Assange’s arrest was a “priority” of his. Lewis noted that this meant Sessions was specifically directing federal prosecutors to take another look at a case in which the Obama Administration had explicitly decided not to bring charges.
The fact that WikiLeaks documents would be “essential” in war crimes prosecutions in the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to Lewis, may also play a factor here, as President Trump, former Sec. of Defense John Bolton, and Sec. of State Mike Pompeo have all criticized the ICC. Furthermore, President Trump has issued an ‘Executive Order on Blocking Property Of Certain Persons Associated With The International Criminal Court.’
Lewis also remarked on the superseding indictment against Assange, adding 17 counts to the previous single charge. Lewis said these charges under the Espionage Act could easily have been all charged together, but separating them out in this way indicates a desire to maximize Assange’s potential jail time, as each new count carries up to 10 years in prison.
Lewis then spoke about the conditions Assange would be likely to endure, including Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) and solitary confinement.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has documented the effects of SAMs in a 2017 report, “The Darkest Corner: Special Administrative Measures and Extreme Isolation in the Federal Bureau of Prisons”:
“SAMs are the darkest corner of the U.S. federal prison system, combining the brutality and isolation of maximum security units with additional restrictions that deny individuals almost any connection to the human world. They prohibit prisoners who live under them from contact or communication with all but a handful of approved individuals, and impose a second gag on even those few individuals. The net effect is to shield this form of torture in our prisons from any real public scrutiny.”
The CCR has also written ‘Solitary Confinement: Torture in U.S. Prisons’ — the report provides background context for Lewis’ testimony on solitary, which the Bureau of Prisons conceals by referring to it as Administrative Segregation.
Lewis and the prosecution engaged in a long back-and-forth about how SAMs and solitary are applied, what conditions are required, whether they are ‘arbitrary’ and whether they violate the European Convention on Human Rights. Lewis disagrees with the prosecution particularly on whether the US Bureau of Prisons fairly applies SAMs and solitary, finding it extremely likely they’d be applied here due to the likely invocation of “national security interests.” He explained the “unique difficulties” presented under both SAMs and solitary in attorney-client defense preparation, particularly in a case of this magnitude.
Technical issues with Lewis’ videolink before the lunch break and continued afterward. The court decided to adjourn for the day to attempt to resolve them, so court will resume with Lewis’ testimony tomorrow at 10am London time.
Julian Assange’s extradition hearing was abruptly paused today when the court was notified that a member of the prosecution had come down with COVID19-like symptoms. As Kevin Gosztola notes, the scare came amid a new spike in the United Kingdom.
Because members of the defense and Assange himself are at heightened risk, the defense asked the judge to pause the hearings as we await the prosecutor’s test results. Those results ultimately came back negative, so we are scheduled to resume proceedings on Monday , September 14.
In the meantime, catch up with a video recap of the first week of hearings here:
Professor Paul Rogers on Trump’s politically motivated prosecution
Paul Rogers, Emeritus Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University, took the stand by video link to testify about Julian Assange’s political views and how they factor into the Trump administration’s prosecution of Assange for publishing.
Rogers reviewed Assange’s speeches, including an anti-war speech in 2011 in London and a speech to the UN following the release of Iraq and Afghan war logs, as well as Mairead Maguire’s nomination of Assange for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. LINKs. Rogers concluded that Assange’s views don’t fall into traditional liberal or conservative belief systems but are rather more libertarian, anti-war, and based on values of transparency and accountability.
On the stand, Rogers talked about how WikiLeaks put these values into practice with the war logs publications, and he contextualized the releases with changing opinions in America regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:
“Possibly the most important part of the whole thing,” he said, was that WikiLeaks’ releases showed 15,000 previously uncounted civilian casualties, “bringing to the American public a very disturbing aspect of the whole war.”
The political objective of seeking to achieve greater transparency in the workings of governments is clearly both the motivation and the modus operandi for the work of Mr Assange and the organisation WikiLeaks. Its manifestation, as is set out in the study by Professor Benkler, has constituted a wholesale alteration of accessing and making available for public information, the secrets that governments wish to remain unknown to their general populations. The subject matter of the charges Mr Assange currently faces involve strong examples of the clash of these positions both in their content and scope, and in the reaction of government.
In his oral testimony, Rogers explained that these views and motivations put him in contrast with successive U.S. administrations but particularly in contrast with the Trump administration.
It is clear that Assange is being opposed because of the success of WikiLeaks in bringing information to the public, he said. This is dangerous to the Trump administration: “the root of it is that Assange and what he stands for represents a threat to normal political endeavor.” In addition to opposing Assange’s words and views, the fact that Obama didn’t prosecute should to some extent be considered in why Trump is prosecuting.
Prosecutor James Lewis QC sought to undermine Assange’s political views by bringing up his views on corporations and NGOs, but Rogers explained that “political opinion” isn’t just about government leaders, that the definition of political opinion has changed significantly in the last 50 years, and that Assange has a view on “transnational elites.”
Asked if simply being a journalist necessitated political opinions, Rogers explained that it’s a complex question, that deciding what to publish and what not to constitutes a political opinion, but Lewis complained that his answers were too long, not yes or no.
Lewis further sought to portray Rogers as biased toward Assange and the defense. He asked why Rogers didn’t include in his statement, in which he referenced views of other experts like Noam Chomsky and Carey Shenkman, the views of assistant U.S. attorney Gordon Kromberg, which defended the prosecution of Assange as a criminal matter, not a political one.
Rogers responded that he takes it as read that federal prosecutors at the lower level act in good faith, that they do as they’re instructed in accordance with the law, but that the wider political context — namely that the Obama administration didn’t prosecute and the Trump admin did, and the Trump administration represents a marked shift in the U.S. political situation — far outweighs the statements of a U.S. attorney.
The prosecution then suggested that the Obama administration may not have prosecuted Assange because he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy at the time:
Lewis: Was it possible to arrest Mr Assange in 2013?
Rogers: Is it necessary to be able to arrest someone to bring a prosecution?
Lewis: What would be the point if he’s hiding in the embassy?
Rogers: Well, to put pressure on him. It would have made very good sense to bring it at that time, to show a standing attempt to bring Mr Assange to justice.
Lewis reviewed the same items as he did with Feldstein yesterday, including WikiLeaks’ lawyer and editor suggesting they still believed charges were possible, but again and again Rogers brought the discussion back to the wider context, and the fact that the Trump administration’s views more broadly have to be considered. Statements by then-CIA director Mike Pompeo, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others have to be part of the determination. Rogers also referenced Obama’s commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence. The Trump administration wasn’t happy about that, but a commutation can’t be reversed by a subsequent administration, so this could be Trump’s way of responding to that.
Rogers hammered home that by calling this a “politically motivated prosecution,” he isn’t saying that lower-level federal prosecutors are acting in bad faith. Rather, he said, the influence comes from the top down.
Court is in recess for lunch. Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation will testify after the break.
Trevor Timm: These charges would ‘radically rewrite’ the First Amendment
Founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which advocates for reporters’ rights and tracks violations to press freedom across the United States, Trevor Timm took the stand by videolink this afternoon to talk about the dangers the indictment against Assange poses to journalists and their sources.
Timm objects to the indictment on the grounds that it threatens to criminalize source protection and the passive receipt of government documents as well as pure publication. He concluded that “It would be a radical rewrite of the First Amendment if the government were to go forward with these charges.”
“The decision to indict Julian Assange on allegations of a “conspiracy” between a publisher and his source or potential sources, and for the publication of truthful information, encroaches on fundamental press freedoms.”
Freedom of the Press Foundation has helped many news organizations adopt SecureDrop, an anonymous and secure submission system for sources to safely send documents to journalists undetected. While a largely unused practice when WikiLeaks pioneered it before 2010, major news outlets around the world make use of SecureDrop, and some of them explicitly ask for leaks of government documents.
The way this indictment is written, particularly the charge alleging Assange engaged in a conspiracy with source Chelsea Manning to crack a military computer password in order to remain anonymous, would make this extremely common news gathering illegal. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say this indictment would criminalize national security journalism.”
“Materials journalists often write about and print do not magically land on their desks,” he said. They talk to sources, ask for clarification, ask for more information. “This is standard practice for journalists.”
News outlets and press freedom observers agree. Timm said,
“This is almost a consensus opinion among press freedom groups and media lawyers who have looked at this indictment. This is why newspapers, even those who have criticized Mr Assange, have condemned this indictment.”
Espionage Act: over-broad and over-used
Beyond the effort to criminalize source-protection and news gathering, Timm is extremely concerned about the other charges in the Assange indictment under the Espionage Act of 1917. Some charges criminalize publishing and for soliciting information, and some of the charges are even more broad. “Just the mere thought of obtaining these documents,” Timm said, “the US government is saying is potentially criminal.”
Timm discussed previous efforts to go after journalists under the Espionage Act, efforts which have failed under legal scrutiny. “In each and every case,” Timm said, “the government concluded or was forced to conclude” that an Espionage Act prosecution would violate First Amendment protections, including the Obama administration’s’s 2013 determination not to prosecute WikiLeaks.
Each Espionage Act charge carries 10 years in prison, allows no public interest defense, and only requires the government prove harm could “possibly” have been caused by leaking or publishing.
James Lewis QC, cross-examining Timm for the prosecution, highlighted Timm’s claim in his witness statement that Trump is waging a “war on journalism.” He sought to undercut the claim by pointing out that the U.S. Department of Justice has explicitly said that they do not consider Assange to be a journalist and that they aren’t going after journalists.
Timm responded, “In the US, the First Amendment protects everyone. Whether you consider Assange a journalist doesn’t matter, he was engaging in journalistic activity.”
Lewis tried again, emphasizing that the DOJ specifically went “out of its way” to say they don’t target journalists.
“My opinions are not based on a Justice Department press release but on what is actually contained in the indictment. There are several charges that deal with the mere fact that WikiLeaks had these in their possession. You say there are three charges dealing with publication just of documents with unredacted names, but the rest of the charges deal with all of these document sets, and this criminalizes journalism.
The aspect of criminalizing publication worries me greatly, but there are many other charges that are as worrying or more so, that could criminalize journalistic practice whether you consider Mr Assange a journalist or not.”
Lewis tried to get Timm to comment on the 2011 unredacted publication of the State Department cables, but Timm made clear that whether WikiLeaks has “perfect editorial judgment” shouldn’t matter as to whether the action is illegal. Furthermore, he said, “I certainly don’t think the US Government should be the one to determine whether this was good editorial judgment.”
Trump: Modern-day Nixon
“Trump has the most confrontational approach to the media since Nixon,” Timm said. He referenced Trump tweeting 2,200 times about the press, including calling them the “enemy of the people.” Timm said, “This case is the perfect opportunity for him to create a precedent to punish the rest of the media.
“To me it’s very telling that Trump’s is the first one to try to bring a case like this since the Nixon administration.”
Assange’s Extradition Hearing Resumes: 8 September 2020
See our report from Day 1of these proceedings here. Yesterday, the judge rejected the defense’s request to proceed without the new allegations in the U.S.’s extremely late superseding indictment, then rejected the defense’s request for more time to prepare to deal with these new allegations. Professor Mark Feldstein began his testimony on investigative journalism. Likely to testify today are journalists Patrick Cockburn and Nicolas Hager, and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. See live-tweeted coverage of today’s hearing in one thread.
Clive Stafford-Smith explains using WikiLeaks docs in legal cases
Clive Stafford Smith, a U.S.-U.K. dual national and the founder of Reprieve, which defends prisoners detained by the U.S. at Guantánamo Bay and others in secretive detention localities around the world, testified about the importance of WikiLeaks material in their litigation. He first discussed the utility of WikiLeaks disclosures in litigation in Pakistan relating to drone strikes and the “seachange” in attitudes towards US drone strikes in Pakistan.
Regarding rendition, assassinations, torture exposed in WikiLeaks documents, Stafford-Smith said, “Speaking as a U.S. citizen, it is incredibly important that it stopped … I feel that my country’s reputation was undermined and criminal offenses were taking place.”
“The litigation in Pakistan would have been very, very difficult and different” if it weren’t for WikiLeaks disclosures.
“The most disturbing thing is that the assassination program with respect to terrorists leaked over to narcotics….they were targeting people for death for their involvement in drug trade because it was seen as funding terrorism. I could go on…”
Assassination programs “are not only unlawful but morally and ethically reprehensible,” he said, and journalists being targeted in war zones by the US is “deeply troubling, a monumental criminal offense.”
The defense questioning then turned to the importance of WikiLeaks releases on Guantanamo.
“It is difficult and hostile sometimes – this is one of the cases I have received death threats for representing these people…but your problem is always two-fold, the prisoners in Guantanamo don’t know what they are charged with….second, unfortunately people never get to meet prisoners in Guantanamo and judge their credibility, so proving what happened involved more than just saying it but travelling round the world and gathering proof”
Stafford-Smith explained that it’s complicated as to whether the GTMO releases are positive or negative in his view:
“Those leaks are the very worst that the US authorities confect about the prisoners I have represented. But on the other hand, they are really important because the world didn’t know the allegations that were being made against my client.”
The best example I am able to give you,I was frustrated when I first read those WikiLeaks documents because I thought they would leak what I get to see….what was useful was the 13 pages that the US government alleged against my client, which up until that point I couldn’t discuss it with anyone, and finally I was able to declassify their assertions and prove that each of their allegations was total nonsense. No one has been ordered for release in America but it was certainly helpful to be able to disprove it.”
“I found it immensely frustrating that the world didn’t know about the unreliability of the evidence against my clients…what others have done by taking the WikiLeaks documents, and I credit here Andy Worthington, is to analyze the number of times certain informants were the named basis for detaining prisoners.”
“While it is important representing the client, and it doesn’t show the world what is actually going on there. My experience with Guantanamo is that if we can open it up to public inspection to see what is really happening there, then they will close it down because its just not what it is advertised as.”
“I say this more in sadness than in anger. Before 2001, I would never have believed that my government would do what it did. We are talking about criminal offenses of torture, kidnapping, rendition, holding people without the rule of law and, sad to say, murder.”
On enhanced interrogation techniques:
“I have had a project of comparing the methodologies that my government uses on my clients to what they used in Spanish Inquisition…hanging people by the wrist while their shoulders slowly dislocate….the first thing I do is to apologize.”
“As you go through the documentation Wikileaks leaked, there are all sorts of things identified, including where people are taken and renditioned…and that was the case in Binyam’s case.”
Clive Stafford-Smith says WikiLeaks and those associated could be subjected to U.S. sanctions under the new ICC sanctions regime because of the role Wikileaks has played in the accountability efforts of U.S. officials involved in war crimes.
“To threaten and impose sanctions is unlawful, and what you are doing here today could justify sanction under the terms of the Executive Order.”
Anyone can be sanctioned who is seeking to assist in an investigation which could lead to ICC investigation, which is what Wikileaks does, so that is covered by the US sanction regime.”
Prosecution cross-examination misleads on the charges
U.S. prosecutor James Lewis repeatedly tried to get Stafford-Smith to concede that none of the WikiLeaks cables mentioned in his witness statement are the subject of charges. Lewis is trying to establish that the indictment of Assange only deals with cables that name specific names of informants. But the defense points out that the prosecution is incorrectly stating that there is no reference to publishing – Assange is in fact being charged for “communicating” and “obtaining” classified information, and these charges capture all the documents, not just specific cables referenced in the pure publication counts.
Furthermore, Stafford-Smith repeatedly explained to the prosecutor that Lewis doesn’t understand how the U.S. prosecutes these cases — just because they aren’t in the indictment they will be used against him. Lewis kept saying that he’s only charged with naming names so the other cables released are irrelevant.
Fed up with this back and forth, Assange himself spoke from the dock to say, “This is nonsense,” the US pretense that he’s not being charged with publishing classified information, just naming names, is “nonsense.”
“Apparently my role is to sit here and legitimate what is illegitimate by proxy,” Assange said.
The judge interrupted Assange to reprimand him for speaking out of turn.
“I understand of course you will hear things most likely many things that you do not like and you would like to intervene but it is not your role.
“Your remaining in court is something the court would wish for. But the court could proceed without you.”
The prosecution closed its cross-examination by citing David Leigh’s book with reference to Assange’s comments on informants, asks if Stafford-Smith agrees with Leigh’s or Assange’s view of informants. Stafford-Smith says he wouldn’t judge anyone based on a book.
Feldstein gives historical context for WikiLeaks’ journalism
Journalism professor Mark Feldstein took the stand to continue his testimony which began yesterday, picking up where he left off on the long history of journalists using classified information in their reporting.
Feldstein confirmed that soliciting information is “standard journalistic behavior.” When teaching journalism, Feldstein talks about asking sources for evidence, actively seeking information, working with them to find documents that are newsworthy, and directing them as to what to find out. “It’s all routine,” he said.
Also routine are efforts to conceal sources’ identities. “Trying to protect your source is a journalistic obligation” Feldstein said, adding, “We use all kinds of techniques to protect them, including payphones, anonymity, encryption, removing fingerprints from documents, reporters do this all the time.”
Later, the prosecution would attempt to draw substantial differences between the New York Times and WikiLeaks, suggesting journalists don’t steal or unlawfully obtain information. While agreeing that journalists are not above the law, Feldstein says that it’s a “slippery slope” as to what constitutes “soliciting” information.
“We journalists are not passive stenographers,” he said. “To suggest receiving anonymously in the mail is the only way is wrong.”
Asked if he himself has published this type of information, he said, “Yeah, I didn’t publish a lot of classified documents but my entire career virtually was soliciting and publishing secret information.”
On the question of allegations that publishing names necessarily causes harm, Feldstein said that it’s easy for the government to claim possible harm because it’s impossible to prove. “Scant evidence that national security is harmed” by government disclosures, he said, and “national security is often used as a shield to hide” embarrassing or bad actions.
Feldstein used the Pentagon Papers as an example, where the government prosecutors at the time went to court alleging that these documents exposed war plans, identified CIA officials, and could even prolong the war. Prosecutors told the court that it would cause “immediate and irreparable harm,” and only years later did one such prosecutor admit he saw no harm from the releases. But why lie at the time? We now know that President Nixon himself instructed his attorney general to smear the New York Times as “disloyal,” in any way he could.
The Trump administration’s “politically motivated prosecution”
The prosecution made repeated efforts to characterize the investigation into WikiLeaks from 2010 to 2020 as one ongoing case, which just happened to finally result in charges with President Trump in power. But Feldstein testified to his view that the Obama administration explicitly decided not to prosecute Assange, citing this 2013 article on the Obama administration deciding not to prosecute, whereas “everything changed” under the Trump administration.
The 2013 piece begins, “The [Obama administration’s] Justice Department has all but concluded it will not bring charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for publishing classified documents because government lawyers said they could not do so without also prosecuting U.S. news organizations and journalists.”
In 2017, by contrast, the FBI wanted a “head on a pike”, President Trump wanted journalists in jail, then-CIA director Mike Pompeo called WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence agency”, and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions made Assange’s arrest a “priority.”
Even in this administration, the decision was controversial. This 2019 Post article explicitly names James Trump and Daniel Grooms as federal prosecutors who disagreed with prosecuting Assange under the Espionage Act, because it was “so susceptible to First Amendment and other complicated legal and factual challenges.”
The prosecution attempted to show that WikiLeaks, Assange and his lawyers believed charges were still coming, but Feldstein said that while of course lawyers would protect their client, and while WikiLeaks would likely always fear charges, the “proof is in the pudding” that the Obama admin did not bring charges and Trump did, with no new evidence coming forward in between.
In answering closing questions, Feldstein was very clear as to why he believed the prosecution of Assange was politically motivated, citing several reasons: the unprecedented scope of these charges, the fact that a prosecution was rejected by the Obama administration, the framing of the superseding indictment, and President Trump’s “known vitriol toward the press.” Finally, he said, the only attempts to prosecute journalists in the past were “obviously highly political.”
The prosecution suggested Feldstein was speculating and returned to the idea that names published in the documents would cause harm and an objective grand jury could see that. Feldstein responded that if that was the real intention, the U.S. could have indicted Assange under the much narrower Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, which criminalizes the exposure of certain intelligence figures.
Expanding on the dangers of this broad scope in the indictment, Feldstein said, “recruiting and conspiracy are scary terms, used for terrorists.” By contrast, journalists direct sources, say what they need, send back for more information. “So if that becomes criminalized, if that becomes conspiring, then most of what investigative journalists do would be criminal.”
Assange has been re-arrested, the previous extradition warrant has been withdrawn and the new warrant has been served.
NGOs access to Assange hearing revoked
Judge Vanessa Baraitser then announced that some 40 individuals were granted remove (video) access to the proceedings by mistake, and their access has been revoked. Courage has learned that those whose access was rescinded include representatives from Amnesty International and PEN Norway.
“I know that others are attending this hearing remotely and in an adjacent courtroom. I am allowing this to take place for social distancing and technology allows us to watch this remotely. Those who attend remotely are still bound to the usual rules relevant to court hearings. I remind you that it is a criminal offense to record or broadcast any part of this hearing, including screenshots on any device. As you know I am aware that a photograph has been taken of Mr Assange inside court and shared on social media in breach of these rules.
I have received a list of 40 people who wish to attend this remotely by cloud. This is something I can consider but only after I have received an application. I have granted a number of remote access to lawyers and a small number of people including lawyers who have acted for Mr Assange in closely related proceedings. In error, the court sent out to others who had sought access. During this pandemic, there have been changes about how people can access proceedings. I remain concerned about my ability to maintain the integrity of the court if they are able to attend remotely. Normally, I can see what is happening in the court room to ensure the integrity of courtroom is maintained. Once livestreaming takes place, the court cannot manage this breach even less when the person is outside the jurisdiction. I want to make it clear that the public interest and allowing remote access is unlikely to meet the interests of justice tests. There are many jurisdictions allowing travel to the UK during COVID, so lessening restrictions on travel. For those who consider they still not travel to the UK to attend the hearing, then they need to apply again and I will consider it.
I have regretfully refused the current remaining applications for access to the cloud access.”
WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnnson explains that parliamentarians were denied access as well.
Debate over whether witness statements will be read in court
The defense has asked that the witnesses be permitted to be taken through their witness statements so that the court, Assange and the public will hear the evidence in full before cross examination starts. “To plunge into cross examination would not assist yourself, the public or Mr Assange and would not be fair.”
Prosecutor James Lewis QC opposes this, saying it is contrary to Divisional Court jurisprudence and that it would allow witnesses to give additional evidence beyond their written statements and require constant adjournments to allow the prosecution to consider the evidence given on the stand before cross examination can begin.
The judge decides,
“Each of the witness statements will be made public. Mr Assange has been given a copy of those witness statements. In my view there is no benefit whatsoever to allowing the witnesses give evidence in chief. I will give the witnesses time to settle and orientate themselves and will allow no more than 30 minutes.”
Superseding indictment comes well after proceedings were underway
Six months after opening submissions, 18 months before this hearing started and a matter of weeks before the matter was listed, the US announced a new indictment.
Defense counsel Mark Summers QC says,
“It is a curiosity that the US had, in previous hearings, been content for the hearings to go ahead in February and in May, presumably knowing that this was coming.”
It wasn’t immediately obvious what had changed. Of course the conduct outlined in it, but as far as the charges in it, it was difficult to discern what was going on….
“It became clear to everyone on 21 August, just over 2 weeks ago, whether or not we were justified in thinking the charges had changed. The material was expressly now not just background material but was being put before you as potential standalone basis for criminality, that is to say, that even if the US court rejects in their entirely the existing Manning allegations, Mr Assange can be extradited and potentially convicted for this conduct on its own and this is a resounding and new development in this case. The reason I am on my feet is of course the timing of this development.”
The defense also putlined the various other criminal allegations now included in the new indictment – including assisting a whistleblower attempting to evade arrest (Snowden).
“It would be extraordinary for this court to be beginning an extradition hearing in relation to allegations like that within weeks of their announcement without warning and even more extraordinary to do in circumstances where the defendant is in custody.”
To remedy this issue, the defense proposes the court excise the new conduct alleged in the newest indictment. “It impossible for the defense team to deal with the allegations being put to him and in relation to material for which you have been provided no explanation for their late arrival.”
“It is fundamentally unfair to introduce separate criminal allegations, without notice, without time to prepare evidence, where the defense cannot properly deal with the new aspects of the case.”
“What is happening here is abnormal, unfair and liable to create real injustice if it is allowed to continue.”
“The appropriate course is for the court to exercise its powers to excise the new allegations.”
Judge refuses to excise new conduct alleged in newest indictment
Judge Baraitser says the defense should have asked for more time despite Assange still being in custody. If conduct is to be excised, she says, it must be in context of a statutory bar or abuse of process argument. The judge refuses the defense proposal to excise any new conduct in the newest superseding indictment.
Defense requests adjournment
In light of the judge’s refusal to excise the new conduct alleged, the defense asks the court for an adjournment until January.
“This is an application that we do not make lightly because Mr Assange will bear the brunt of the consequences of it. In light of your ruling, we do apply for an adjournment to allow us to gather the evidence that we need to answer the new allegations.”
We have not been able to answer the allegations which have only been made in the last few weeks. This has been made worse because of the conditions we are all having to work under.
“I can say without fear of contradiction that no one in this case has been involved in a case of this magnitude dealing with the gathering of evidence at this late stage of the process.”
The defense explained why they haven’t made this application before today’s hearing:
“First, throughout that period, Mr Assange had not seen the new request. I have mentioned more than once that the only way he gets to see documents is by posting documents into Belmarsh. We have not had opportunity to meet and consult with him. He still hasn’t received, for example, the revised opening note and the documents which accompanied it and it was that document that made clear that we were dealing with conduct that was mere narrative as we had believed it to be but was standalone criminality capable of sustaining a conviction if accepted in its own right. Instructions taken from Assange on that basis could only have commenced on 21 August, which was last week, and we took the view that we had the ability to first apply to exclude that material. We have recognized that the solution, if there is one, is adjournment.
I could of course appraise you with more detail of the difficulties the defence team has been operating under the past few months.”
Acknowledging that they haven’t seen their client in person, the judge asks if the defense has been able to speak to Assange by phone. They respond yes, but only twice in very short conversations:
“It is not easy and even coherent on the phone. I don’t want to belabor the difficulties we have had in communicating with our client in the past week, but they have been very significant in the time period you are concerned with. He was, in essence, over that unsatisfactory medium, he was having to take in information from us on – any view – complex documents and to make him aware of the issues and to take a decision on them.”
The defense explained there is no videolink, only these short, difficult conversations by phone. The judge adjourned for 10 minutes to consider the defense’s application.
Judge denies defense request for adjournment
The judge says the defense had time to apply to adjourn previously and they did not do so. Rejecting the defense’s reasoning for applying now, she says she ruled not to excise new conduct now but this can’t have come as a surprise and the defense should have acted as if we would proceed. Judge denies defense application to adjourn.
Journalism professor begins testimony
Mark Feldstein, journalism historian and professor at the University of Maryland, gives testimony. See his witness statement here as to his determination that what Assange and WikiLeaks practice is journalism: Mark Feldstein witness statement
Feldstein testifies to the ubiquity of leaks of classified information:
“There are so many of them – thousands upon thousands – it is routine; every study in the last 60 years has said the leaks of classified information inform the public about government decision making but they also evidence government dishonesty….and they go back to George Washington’s presidency.”
Some journalists make a career of this?
Feldstein says, “Yes, Pulitzer prize winners and some of the most respected journalists in the nation.”
Would you expect publishers to be prosecuted for this criminal conduct?
“Well no…because the First Amendment protects a free press and it is vital that the press expise wrongdoing….not because journalists are somehow privileged but that the public has a right to be informed.”
Has there ever been a precedent of the prosecution of a publisher?
“There has always been a divide, the source-distributor divide….they have charged whistleblowers or sources, but have never charged a publisher, a journalistic or other news outlet.”
There have been other attempts to prosecute journalists before?
“There have been extraordinary efforts to punish presidential enemies…”
Presidents going after journalists but never to the point of a grand jury returning charges?
At this point, the court had technical issues with Prof. Feldstein’s videolink, and adjourned for the day. Court resumes tomorrow, 10am London time.
EDM 719 acknowledges statements by the National Union of Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and others in relation to the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and affirms commitment to press freedom and public-interest journalism.
In recent months local councils across Australia have called for the release of Julian Assange so that the WikiLeaks founder no longer has to face extradition to the US where he could face 175 years in jail for revealing the truth about the Afghan and Iraq wars.
Murad Qureshi from the Greater London Authority (GLA) said, ‘this is a great initiative by local councils in Australia. I hope UK local authorities follow suit in the fight to defend free speech’.
Council’s in Melbourne City, Victoria, Moreland, Victoria, the City of Fremantle, Western Australia, Byron Bay, New South Wales (NSW), Lismore (NSW), Yarra, Victoria, and Darebin, Victoria, have all added their voices to the new wave of protest.
Campaigners are asking that local authorities around the world, especially those twinned with Australian towns and cities, and those in the UK where Assange is held, also put their weight behind the new push to free Assange.
The Don’t Extradite Assange campaign is circulating a model motion based on the Melbourne City councils successful resolution to help local councillors in the UK to get their authorities on board.
Reasserts its staunch support for Freedom of the Press and the Rule of Law and the extension of both to all people.
Notes that WikiLeaks has played an important and effective role in disclosing war crimes, corporate fraud, environmental damage and other criminal abuses.
Notes that Mr Assange is currently being held on remand in HMP Belmarsh without charge, locked in a cell for 23 hours per day.
Notes that Mr Assange is now in very poor health and is facing extradition from the United Kingdom to the United States of America (USA) in an unprecedented Espionage Act prosecution for engaging in journalistic activity and, if convicted, faces 175 years imprisonment and potentially the death penalty.
Notes that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has called for Mr Assange’s immediate release and that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, has examined Mr Assange in Belmarsh Prison and believes that his life is in danger.
Notes and supports Amnesty International’s call for the UK to not extradite Mr Assange to the USA and that the UK abide by its obligations under international human rights law that forbids the transfer of individuals to another country where they would face serious human rights violations.
Notes that other major civil liberties, media freedom and human rights groups have spoken out against the arrest and treatment of Julian Assange and include:
The International BAR Association of Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) The European Council The Australian Federal Parliamentary Group headed by Mr Andrew Wilkie The Federal Parliament of Catalonia The Federal Parliament of Austria The former Foreign Minister of Germany The Mexican Prime Minister A Doctors Group of over 150 German Doctors The 130 Prominent Germans Group Many international Lawyers Groups Teachers Groups in Melbourne and Sydney Writers and Journalist Groups PEN International City Councils including Geneva, Yarra, Darebin, Moreland and Byron Shire Freedom of the Press Foundation Electronic Frontier Foundation American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Reporters Without Borders Human Rights Watch (HRW) Australian Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) Blueprint for Free Speech Center for Constitutional Rights FAIR Media Watch Code Pink Cage UK Human Rights Law Centre (Australia) Digital Rights Watch (Australia) IFEX (global network of organisations that promote and defend the right to freedom of expression and information) Fair Trials (global criminal justice watchdog) Freedom of the Press Foundation Electronic Frontier Foundation The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) The New Yorker International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) A global petition compiled of approximately 400,000 signatures
Requests that the Council’s officers write to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary forthwith requesting that they immediately intervene in this matter to ensure that the appropriate authorities urgently address Mr Assange’s poor health and mistreatment.
Issue a public statement of the above points for dissemination through its regular media channels advising of the council’s position and inform’s MPs of the same.
A new call for solidarity with Julian Assange has been issued as his extradition hearing is set to resume in September. Following motions in support of Assange at Birmingham TUC and from the National Union of Journalists a resolution campaign is being launched across the labour movement. The comprehensive resolution adopted by the NUJ is to be circulated for other trade unions, Labour Party bodies, and campaign organisations to adapt for thier own use.
‘Please put this resolution to your next meeting’, said John Rees from the Don’t Extradite Assange Campaign, ‘this is the defining free speech case of the 21st century. Freedom of information, free from government censorship, is the lifeblood of an effective labour movement. The NUJ have made a stand. Follow their example’.
The NUJ resolution is reproduced in full below and can be found here.
Please adapt it as required for your own organisation and let us know when it passes at: email@example.com
1. That WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is held in Belmarsh prison awaiting United States extradition proceedings, a process that can take many years.
2. If Assange is successfully prosecuted in the US he faces 175 years in prison.
3. That the extraterritorial application of the Espionage Act in the indictment of Assange criminalises journalistic activities, in this case activities carried out on UK soil by a non-US national, in collaboration with numerous UK media (including The Guardian, Channel 4 and The Telegraph).
4. That previous statements by the General Secretary of the NUJ, by the Australian Journalists Union MEAA, and by the International Federation of Journalists’ organisations have supported Assange.
5. That there is a political dimension to extraditions and that the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and US makes the extradition of Assange more likely to go ahead.
1. That Assange’s indictment comes at a time of heightened threats to the press in Western countries in the form of raids on newspapers and broadcasters, government claims that the press are ‘the enemy of the people’, and actual prosecutions involving life-long sentences for publishing accurately.
2. That Assange’s extradition to the United States would establish a dangerous precedent with regard to the prosecution of journalists in this country under the UK Official Secrets Act given the requirement for the UK courts to accept US arguments as to dual criminality for the extradition to go ahead.
3. That press freedoms in this country will be weakened if the courts accept that NUJ members’ publishing activities in this country can give rise to criminal liability in foreign states and to their consequent lawful extradition.
4. That the publication of the Afghan and Iraq war logs and other material by WikiLeaks that are the subject of the US indictment revealed important information that has benefitted the public.
5. Disclosing information to the public should never be equated with espionage
1. To campaign to stop the extradition of Julian Assange to the US.
2. To write to the Home Secretary, the Shadow Home Secretary, and the Shadow Justice Secretary making the union’s case on this issue.
I have been invited to convey the attached four pieces of correspondence for your urgent review and response. The undersigned represent a cross party alliance of serving and former MPs, a cross-section of the Australian legal profession, diverse human rights advocates and a large number of writers, publishers and journalists.
In a matter of only a few days, Julian Assange will face court again in the UK. As detailed in the letters, we seek your urgent intercession in this matter while there is still time.
Physical copies will be delivered to your office shortly; in the meantime I would appreciate acknowledgement of receipt of these electronic copies.