Signs of U.K. Misconduct in Assange Case

The world’s most prominent freedom-of-the-press case remains the legal pressure on WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange, still in Ecuador’s London embassy amid signs of U.K. prosecutorial misconduct, reports Dennis J Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

A British court proceeding on a freedom of information request regarding how the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) dealt with the case of WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange has revealed that CPS deleted relevant emails from the account of a now-retired CPS lawyer, Paul Close.

However, one email that wasn’t destroyed shows the CPS lawyer advising Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny not to interview Assange in London, a decision that has helped keep Assange stuck for more than five years in Ecuador’s London embassy where he had been granted asylum. Finally, in late 2016, after Swedish prosecutors did question Assange at the embassy, they dropped sex abuse allegations against him, but he still faces possible arrest in the U.K. as well as potential extradition to the U.S., where officials have denounced him for releasing classified material.

Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi, who has worked on WikiLeaks disclosures as a media partner since 2009, has made freedom of information requests in several countries regarding the Assange case. On Monday, I spoke with Estelle Dehon, a lawyer for Maurizi.

Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño meeting with Julian Assange in London in 2013. (Wikipedia)

Dennis Bernstein: You represented Stefania Maurizi in court today.  Give us the background, what got you into court today?

Estelle Dehon: It has to do with access to information.  In the United States there is legislation which can allow individuals to have access to official information held by public authorities.  We have the same type of system in the United Kingdom.

My client, the extraordinary Italian investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi, made a freedom of information request to the Crown Prosecution Service for information about Julian Assange.  In particular, she was asking for copies of correspondence between the Crown Prosecution Service and the Swedish prosecution authorities and any correspondence with the US State Department, the Department of Justice, or the state of Ecuador.  Obviously, this all relates to the situation that has occurred with Mr. Assange being arbitrarily detained in the Ecuadorian embassy.

Dennis Bernstein: There were revelations just a week or two ago that some of the key information you are seeking has been destroyed.

Estelle Dehon: Information has been coming out piecemeal.  Initially, the Crown Prosecution Service refused to provide anything.  As the appeal has been going forward before the tribunal, they started to release information.  Just last week we were informed that the email account of the main lawyer in the case who was corresponding with the Swedish Prosecution Authority was deleted when he retired from the Crown Prosecution Service in 2014.  One of the things we were asking today was how that could possibly have taken place.  We had been told that the extradition matter had come to an end when the Supreme Court in 2012 upheld the arrest warrant for Mr. Assange.

So on the one hand the Crown Prosecution Service is saying that at that point the extradition matter we were dealing with came to an end.  But on the other hand, they are saying, as a way of resisting full disclosure, that the extradition matter is ongoing.  So which is it?  If this is a case that is closed, in which case emails can be deleted then in the public interest, as much information as possible should be released.  And if this is a case that is ongoing, then what could the justification possibly be for deleting the email account of one of the key people involved?

Statues of Lady Justice can be found around the world, this one atop London’s Old Bailey courthouse.

Dennis Bernstein: Could you talk a little about the documents that have already been released and what it is you are still looking for?

Estelle Dehon: A number of pieces of correspondence between the Crown Prosecution Service and the Swedish Prosecution Authority have been released, some of them with only slight redaction and some of them very heavily redacted.  One of the things they are arguing today at the tribunal is that these redactions should be removed.  That correspondence really looks at the flow of information from Sweden to the Crown Prosecution Service and back again.  This information revealed that the Crown Prosecution Service had advised the Swedish prosecutor not to travel to the United Kingdom to interview Mr. Assange, despite the fact that that offer had been made.  That advice was provided very early on, in January 2011.  One of the things we seek through the information request is to understand why that advice was given at that time and why that advice seemed to remain the same, despite the situation arising with the Ecuadorian embassy.

I must explain that we rely quite heavily on the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, who made a determination in December 2015, as the result of a complaint made by Mr. Assange, that they considered Mr. Assange was being arbitrarily detained in the Ecuadorian embassy.

We don’t explicitly say as part of our case that the tribunal has to come to the same determination.  What we way is that, because this very respected United Nations body came to that conclusion, that is highly relevant to the correspondence and the advice between the Crown Prosecution Service and the Swedish authorities.  We still haven’t seen any indication that that UN decision changed the way the authorities were dealing with Mr. Assange, with the way they were refusing to come and question him.

One of the revelations from the court case today was that the Crown Prosecution Service certainly did not consider that the determination by the UN panel made any difference to the way in which they were treating Mr. Assange’s case.  But we are still persisting with the request, to see if any of the information that has been provided can be unredacted.

Dennis Bernstein: In terms of the destroyed documents, the Crown Prosecution Service is saying they don’t have the slightest idea what documents were destroyed or the implications of those documents.  Do you believe that?

Estelle Dehon: I think I do believe that.  As I understand it, the email account has been completely destroyed.  There is no way of getting it back.  At a very high level we know that whatever was in the email account of that lawyer having to do with Assange’s case is now gone.  All that remains is the correspondence that was printed out.  And we are told that we have been provided with all the emails that exist in hard copy, albeit heavily redacted.  Today, however, it was revealed that, despite assurances from the Crown Prosecution Service that they had released all the relevant documents, it turns out they may have uncovered some further emails.

Dennis Bernstein: Britain has worked very closely with the United States in intelligence matters.  Is there any indication that the big hand of the United States has been dictating the course of events here, for example, by preventing the Swedish ambassador from conducting the interview with Assange and possibly finding out that there wasn’t any substance to the charges against him?

Estelle Dehon: There is certainly no evidence of that in the information that has been disclosed to us or in what has been presented in court.  What we don’t know is what the documents that have not been disclosed might show in that regard.  We don’t know if there has been any influence exerted by the United States.

A key part of my client, Ms. Maurizio’s, request was for correspondence between the Crown Prosecution Service and the US State Department and the US Department of Justice.  The response we had today was essentially a blanket “no.”  The Crown Prosecution Service will neither confirm nor deny whether such correspondence exists.

One of the things we will be asking the tribunal to rule on is that that is not a lawful approach for them to take.  Our freedom of information law does not deal in blanket bans, it doesn’t countenance that kind of secrecy.  Our freedom of information law looks at the public interest and makes an objective determination about whether information should be confirmed or denied.

Dennis Bernstein: What is at the core of this case for you?  What do you think this is really all about?

Estelle Dehon: First of all, I should explain that we were not before a high court today, we were before a body called an information tribunal.  We may end up in the court system if we don’t get the type of decision we think we should get in the tribunal system.  But right now we are still at the very early stages.

WikiLeaks logo

In terms of what I think is at the heart of this case, I believe it is the clash between free speech and freedom of the press versus an official culture of secrecy.  One of the great hopes of the information access regime which was put in place in 2000 in the United Kingdom was that it would foster a culture of openness.  There wouldn’t be any area where the stock response was to shut down and not to engage with the media.

Unfortunately, in certain areas such as extradition matters, it hasn’t had that effect.  The ethos of the freedom of information act, the important watchdog role that journalists play, simply hasn’t featured on their radar.

And then, of course, Julian Assange’s case is a very particular one.  It is clear from the limited material we have been provided that the Crown Prosecution Service believed from the start that this was not just another extradition request.  That is clearly because of the personality involved and because of the work Assange has undertaken with WikiLeaks.  At the heart of this case is the clash between a very open, non-state organization taking state documents and publishing outside of what a lot of countries are familiar with, between that and a culture of secrecy.

My hope is that in some small way this information tribunal will confront the public authorities who still look to be secret first and say to them, that is not the right approach.  You have to consider properly and carefully the public interest in disclosure.  Our own information commissioner has acknowledged that there was a significant public interest in the information requested by Ms. Maurizi.  If that is the case, you cannot just close up and refuse to provide information.  That cannot be your stock response.

Dennis Bernstein: Would you refer to Julian Assange as a journalist?

Estelle Dehon: We consider that he is an editor.  Ms. Maurizi explained this to the tribunal today.  As traditional journalists do, Assange speaks to sources and obtains information.  And then he and WikiLeaks seek to validate that information.  That is the editorial role.  Then he works with media partners to release the information.  That process, while it doesn’t conform to the traditional media process, is in our view a type of journalism.  We have characterized him as an editor and WikiLeaks as a journalistic organization.

Certainly Ms. Maurizi, in her role as an investigative journalist working with WikiLeaks, is a very clear example of a defender of democracy, a watchdog within the media looking to oppose corruption and shine light where it has not been shone before.

Dennis Bernstein: The courageous Israeli journalist Amira Hass once described the role of the journalist as “to monitor centers of power and report back to the people.”

Estelle Dehon: Especially in an era where states exercise very significant power, and media organizations, however independent they try to be, can be influenced by that, a non-state, non-traditional actor such as WikiLeaks, which releases information not just to journalists but to the public at large is an important element of a democratic watchdog.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.

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31 comments for “Signs of U.K. Misconduct in Assange Case

  1. Skip Scott
    November 18, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you Dennis Bernstein for this important interview. I wish President Trump would really stir the pot by giving Julian Assange the Medal of Freedom. That would really be a great way for him to thumb his nose at the “Deep Staters” and the Clinton machine. I haven’t checked, but it may be reserved for US citizens.

    • Tom Welsh
      November 18, 2017 at 4:45 pm

      That wouldn’t prevent the Deep State from prosecuting him and murdering him, or imprisoning him for life. Or, if that might seem embarrassing, he might just meet with a regrettable CIA “accident” – as so many hundreds of others have down the years.

      • lysias
        November 20, 2017 at 10:45 pm

        Presidential pardon can prevent prosecution and imprisonment t.

    • rosemerry
      November 18, 2017 at 5:37 pm

      NO! Tony B Liar was given it !!!

  2. Tom Welsh
    November 18, 2017 at 4:44 pm

    I really do admire lawyers and other people who take on cases like this. Given that our supposedly “democratic” (actually oligarchic) governments always do exactly what they want – the law being a purely decorative layer of fluff designed to obfuscate and hide what they are really up to – taking them on through their own rigged legal systems is analogous to playing tennis against Roger Federer while blindfold, with both hands shackled behind your back.

    This article itself clearly demonstrates that. Obviously important prosecutorial documents cannot be deleted within a year or two, while the vital matters concerned are still ongoing. That would be a laughable travesty of justice. Yet they dare to assert that this is exactly what they have done.

    • Taras 77
      November 19, 2017 at 5:01 pm

      Thanks for that comment! While reading, I was struck with the same thought. It must be the extreme of frustration for these determined individuals to try and try to obtain information while being blocked at every turn by the ponderous culture of secrecy. These people do a real service in attempting to defend the concept of disclosure and freedom of information access.

      Also, many thanks to Mr Berstein for an excellent interview!

  3. robjira
    November 18, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    Terrific interview; best of luck to all involved (which, at this crazier-by-the-minute stage of world affairs, extends to just about the entire human race).

  4. Roy David
    November 18, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    More power to all the team in their efforts to uncover the obfuscation by the UK and Swedish Governments (and, one suspects the US, too) in their bid to silence Julian Assange and his Wikileaks team. The machinations of the authorities in the whole Assange case are almost unbelievable except for making a mockery of the term ‘justice.’

  5. backwardsevolution
    November 18, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    “A British court proceeding on a freedom of information request regarding how the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) dealt with the case of WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange has revealed that CPS deleted relevant emails from the account of a now-retired CPS lawyer, Paul Close.”

    Deleted! This is right out of the Hillary Clinton handbook. I wonder what William Binney would have to say about whether that information could still be gotten.

    So let’s investigate the receiving/sending ends of those emails by going after the other parties (Swedish prosecution authorities, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of Justice).

    Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013. Do you think some of the 30,000 emails that she erased might have been dealing with the Assange case?

    Maybe a British whistle blower will do the right thing (release the hard copies), and then be found lying on a London Street, shot execution-style in the back of the head in an apparent robbery attempt, but still in possession of his cell phone, credit cards, cash and watch.

    “What Happened” would probably be a good read if “what happened” was actually revealed.

    The noose tightens.

    • Lisa
      November 18, 2017 at 7:03 pm

      “So let’s investigate the receiving/sending ends of those emails by going after the other parties (Swedish prosecution authorities,the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of Justice).”

      My first reaction exactly! It would be interesting to hear from the Swedes about the unfortunate deleting of the relevant emails, at their end as well. If they now would answer at all, or would investigate the matter for some years, hoping the case would disappear in the meantime.
      U.S. authorities would certainly wriggle themselves out of the case, with some valid excuses.

    • evelync
      November 19, 2017 at 10:05 am

      My very limited understanding of what it means to “delete” something on a computer –
      on the machine end, all info is expressed as zeroes and ones. All programming, all email, all everything, is simply a sequence of zeros and ones. There’s no “empty” space.

      So, when something is “erased” it doesn’t leave blank space, as I understand it. It just scrambles some of the zeros and ones at the beginning of a file so that the file is no longer clearly marked as, say, “The Cat in the Hat”. As the user of a computer uses up more “dedicated” space to “write” something, the space where any “deleted” files are located are available as “free space” that can be written over.

      If that understanding is correct, then there should be fragments still remaining in the computer of the original document that was “erased” and a proper search could access some of what is left.

      I’ve also heard that to destroy what’s “written” on a hard drive, it must be physically damaged to the extent that the zeros and ones are no longer decipherable and can no longer be “read”. Obviously the British agency that had the docs on file probably did not smash all their computers……

      • backwardsevolution
        November 19, 2017 at 12:19 pm

        evelync – “Obviously the British agency that had the docs on file probably did not smash all their computers…..” Let’s hope not.

        If they did, it would be an exact duplication of what Hillary did. She not only deleted her “subpoenaed” emails, but she also smashed and destroyed her hard drives.

        These people should be in jail.

        I hope someone can get these emails back. Problem is: who is going to be brave enough to go up against corrupt people like this?

        • evelync
          November 19, 2017 at 1:27 pm

          wow….she plays dumb and gets away with murder……….

          I didn’t know that.

          There seems to be a press culture around certain politicians whom the press views as “off limits” to probing questions that ARE in the national interest to have answered.

          And then when Julian Assange and the whistle blowers whose info he publishes leak the answers to some of those questions, the witch hunt to shut them down starts.

          It’s the democracy that really suffers as some pretty terrible things are done in our name and with our dollars.
          Not to mention the young men and women who serve in our military whose lives are at risk or eventually ruined because of what some are asked to do.

          Not much public scrutiny of policy is allowed.
          It’s on a “need to know” basis and we’re brought in just to write the check.

          • backwardsevolution
            November 19, 2017 at 5:16 pm

            evelync – yes, and if Seth Rich was whacked because he was the one who leaked the DNC emails (as many believe), then she literally “got away with murder”.

          • Drogon
            November 20, 2017 at 5:07 pm

            Are you completely clueless? Does anyone honestly believe that if Seth Rich had been the WikiLeaks’ source for DNC emails Julian Assange wouldn’t have released proof of this allegation the second his death was reported? Seriously, it’s basically a “get out of jail free” card for him.

          • November 20, 2017 at 7:42 pm

            A posted a $15,000 reward for Seth’s murderers.

            A also practically it was Seth on Dutch TV.

        • November 20, 2017 at 7:40 pm

          I believe the FBI destroyed the hard drives following a “compromise agreement”, with H, which court ordered the destruction of H’s aides laptop hard drives.

        • will
          November 28, 2017 at 3:47 pm

          How do we know Clinton smashed her hard drives? I had not read that this had happened, but would love to see a link supporting as fact that she or someone else on her behalf smashed hard drives.

  6. Virginia
    November 18, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    What a sacrifice Julian Assange has made to put forth checked and rechecked information for accuracy and to so doggedly protect his sources. I admire him deeply. Thank you, Equador. And thanks, Mr. Bernstein, for the interview.

  7. Zachary Smith
    November 18, 2017 at 6:09 pm

    Once upon a time the UK was at the very top of my list of places I’d like to visit someday. I think the first doubts came with the police murder of Jean Charles de Menezes in London back in 2005. A series of similar stories – including what is happening with Assange – has caused me to vow to never set foot in that nation. For what it’s worth, the state of Texas is on the same list of places I never ever want to enter. Everywhere is bad these days, but some are much worse.

    • tina
      November 19, 2017 at 12:30 am

      Zach, I live I Wisconsin, as of 11/18/2017 any little kid can have a gun and go hunting. I would rather live in London than in Wisconsin. Imagine, toddlers get guns, this is legal ..We are turning into Alabama, thank you Scott Walker. I do not lie. Look it up. No one in Wisconsin wanted this, but our legislature and governor thought it was a good idea.

      • will
        November 28, 2017 at 3:53 pm

        done simply to further divide the state. The Walker-ites will be able to say that anyone one doesn’t support the right of a 6 year old to hunt deer is obviously a liberal nanny-stater. he’s had tremendous success with his self proclaimed plan to “divide and conquer.” Same reason they passed a law making a legal hunting season on cranes and wolves. On the bright side, eventually a 6 year old will shoot a member of his or her hunting party, however since kids don’t typically go into the woods drunk, I don’t expect a big increase of hunters falling out of tree stands.

    • tina
      November 19, 2017 at 12:31 am

      I never want visit Wisconsin, and I live here

      • Ednels
        November 19, 2017 at 3:57 am

        Where did the husky friendly ruddy dairy people go? Seems like that state has been taken over by sneaky cheap skate pipsqueaks.

  8. Edward
    November 19, 2017 at 12:03 am

    “As I understand it, the email account has been completely destroyed. There is no way of getting it back.”

    Computer forensics may recover deleted material, unless a special effort is made to destroy it.

    • Curious
      November 19, 2017 at 3:24 am

      I’m sure GCHQ and the NSA have the emails, but good luck prying that lid open.

      • Edward
        November 19, 2017 at 8:22 am

        Yeah, I thought about that also. What are the legal mechanisms to access this illegal data collection? Can emails be subpoenaed? Would doing so give legitimacy to the total information awareness program?

  9. Geoffrey de Galles
    November 19, 2017 at 6:04 am

    FYI:- Until recently, when NY radio WBAI suddenly yanked “Live on the Fly” off the air, Dennis Bernstein often participated as a co-interlocutor with Randy Credico in a splendid series of weekly programs devoted to Wikileaks & Assange broadcast over the course of three or four months. Whether Credico’s program will ever reincarnate @ WBAI remains at this time uncertain. But, for the moment, interested readers & listeners can catch up with his regular reporting on the KickAssAngel (with whom he just met in London, early this past week) on Fred Dicker’s Friday podcasts (of some 20 mins.) posted via Anonymous Scandinavia on YouTube. Vide:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHqgMm1gTC8&t=90s

  10. evelync
    November 19, 2017 at 10:16 am

    Thanks to Stefania Maurizi, the dedicated Italian journalist! Thanks to everyone who is trying to protect her efforts to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

    What seems to be going on behind the scenes to discredit Julian Assange stinks.
    TPTB don’t like to be embarrassed when leaked info contradicts the lies they spin to shield wrong doing.

    Real democracies thrive on the truth and information.

  11. geeyp
    November 19, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    I could not understand when Marianne Ny said in her press conference some time ago that she did not keep her emails, after not going all that time to interview Julian Assange. What kind of professionals are these people? Sounds like the last CIA director who went with his own laws. Sounds like the last president who condemned Manning prior to her fake trial. Sounds like how they talk re.: Snowden. And then they get promotions and raises. The attitude that the constitution is “just a goddamn piece of paper” makes me want to hoark. These people STUCK in a small area with no direct sunlight for six years or more would not suffice. They need to GO. They are utter failures. That is their legacy.

  12. Time
    November 26, 2017 at 9:11 am

    “the email account has been completely destroyed”

    – Where are all the backups? A large government organisation doesn’t do backups?

    – Where is the metadata and metadata backups?

    – What about the email receiving end in Sweden? Deleting one email account does not delete what has been received at the other end.

    – What about CC’ed and BCC’ed recipients?

    – What about NSA and GCHQ snooping and the data collected by other Five-Eyes members?

    Good argument, if it’s a case closed, why keeping the poor human being, abandoned by his the Australian government, in a sunless tiny room for 5 years?

Comments are closed.