A judge at a hearing in London has denied the WikiLeaks’ publisher more time to prepare his defense, while a group of Australian politicians coalesce around a demand to return Julian Assange home.
By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News
The judge in Julian Assange’s extradition process on Monday denied his lawyer’s appeal for more time to prepare his case as the imprisoned WikiLeaks publisher weakly told the court he was unable to “research anything” in the conditions under which he is being held in high-security Belmarsh Prison.
Assange appeared in person at Westminster Magistrate’s Court in London Monday morning for a case management hearing on the request by the United States for Assange to be sent to Virginia to face 18 charges, including allegedly violating the U.S. Espionage Act for possessing and disseminating classified information that revealed prima facie evidence of U.S. war crimes.
Mark Summers, Assange’s lawyer, told the court the charges were “a political attempt” by the U.S. “to signal to journalists the consequences of publishing information.” The Espionage Act indictment against Assange by the Trump Administration is the first time a journalist has been charged under the 1917 Act for publishing classified material.
“It is legally unprecedented,” Summers told Judge Vanessa Baraitser. He argued that President Donald Trump was politically motivated by the 2020 election to pursue Assange.
Summers also argued before Baraitser that the U.S. “has been actively engaged in intruding into privileged discussions between Assange and his lawyers.” It was revealed this month that the Central Intelligence Agency was given access to surveillance video shot by a private Spanish company of all interactions Assange had with lawyers, doctors and visitors.
“This is part of an avowed war on whistleblowers to include investigative journalists and publishers,” Summers said. “The American state has been actively engaged in intruding on privileged discussions between Mr Assange and his lawyer.”
Because of this surveillance, including “unlawful copying of their telephones and computers” as well as “hooded men breaking into offices,” Assange’s lawyers needed more time to prepare his defense, Summers argued. But Baraitser refused the request, and ordered Assange back in court for a second management hearing on Dec. 19. The full extradition hearing is scheduled to begin on Feb. 25 next year.
As the hearing ended Monday, Baraitser asked Assange if he understood what had just transpired. “Not really. I can’t think properly,” he said.
“I don’t understand how this is equitable. This superpower had 10 years to prepare for this case and I can’t access my writings. It’s very difficult where I am to do anything but these people have unlimited resources. They are saying journalists and whistleblowers are enemies of the people. They have unfair advantages dealing with documents. They [know] the interior of my life with my psychologist. They steal my children’s DNA. This is not equitable what is happening here.”
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The Guardian quoted WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson as saying that Assange’s case should be thrown out because of interference with preparing his defense. “Not only is it illegal on the face of the treaty, the U.S. has conducted illegal operations against Assange and his lawyers which are the subject of a major investigation in Spain,” Hrafnsson said.
According to witnesses in the courtroom, Assange appeared physically and mentally enfeebled after months in isolation in prison. Tristan Kirk, correspondent for the London Evening Standard, tweeted: “Julian Assange struggled to say his own name and date of birth as he appeared in the dock. He claimed to have not understood what happened in the case management hearing, and was holding back tears as he said: ‘I can’t think properly.’”
In response to Kirk’s message, Assange’s mother, Christine Assange, tweeted: “This breaks my heart! They are breaking my beautiful bright, brave journalist son, the corrupt bastards!”
This breaks my heart!
They are breaking my beautiful bright, brave journalist son, the corrupt bastards!#STOPtheTORTURE#FreeAssangeNOW#NoUSExtradition https://t.co/4xV7d8g3I4
— Mrs Christine Assange (@AssangeMrs) October 21, 2019
Assange’s supporters swarmed the van in which Assange was driven away from the courthouse back to his dreary isolation in the hospital ward at Belmarsh.
Assange's supporters converge on van thought to be returning the Wikileaks founder to Belmarsh prison pic.twitter.com/qaHzM4tBA7
— Mattha Busby (@matthabusby) October 21, 2019
Speaking outside the courthouse after the hearing, journalist John Pilger called the legal assault on Assange a “deliberate action of a rogue state, a state that ignores its own laws and international law.”
John Pilger outside Westminster court denounced the brutal treatment of Assange as the actions of a "rogue state"@SEP_Britain#DontExtraditeAssange pic.twitter.com/mhOnvu62NL
— SEP London (@Sep_london) October 21, 2019
“There were people crying in the gallery,” said Assange supporter Emmy Butlin. “He is like a ghost. He could hardly talk. He’s dying.”
Australian MPs Back Assange
Meanwhile in Assange’s native Australia, members of Parliament have demanded that Assange be returned to his country.
MP Andrew Wilkie told the House of Representatives last week that Assange is “an Australian citizen and must be treated like any other Australian. He was not in the U.S. when he provided evidence of U.S. war crimes in Iraq. He can’t possibly have broken their laws.”
If Assange is extradited, Wilkie said he
“faces serious human rights violations including exposure to torture and a dodgy trial. And this has serious implications for freedom of speech and freedom of the press here in Australia, because if we allow a foreign country to charge an Australian citizen for revealing war crimes, then no Australian journalist or publisher can ever be confident that the same thing won’t happen to them. Put simply, he must be allowed to return to Australia.”
Wilkie, an Australian former intelligence officer who resigned because of the falsehoods about WMD in Iraq before the 2003 invasion, is reportedly working to set up a parliamentary committee that crosses party lines to demand that the Liberal government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison opposes Assange’s extradition.
The Australian TV program “The Project” reported on Sunday that up to 10 politicians were ready to join the committee.
“It’s important that parliamentarians learn the facts of this matter,” Wilkie told the program. “There’s so much naiveté and ignorance and disinformation swirling around that it’s no wonder that a lot of people are wary or even dislike Julian, but I reckon that when people find out the facts of the matter they will get behind him.
“This is about the right of person not to be extradited to another country based on a whim or the politics of it. The whole thing stinks quite frankly, I think he should be allowed to come to Australia.”
Julian Assange returns to court in London tomorrow – where his lawyers will outline their case against his extradition to the United States, on spying charges.
As he sits in a cell, Aussie MPs from across the political spectrum are banding together, in a bid to bring him home. pic.twitter.com/SdwKu2yBRH
— The Project (@theprojecttv) October 20, 2019
Wilkie called the ability for Morrison to stand up to Trump, with whom he’s said to be close, “a test for the prime minister.”
“It’s one thing to be mates with someone, but it’s another thing entirely to agree to do something which is entirely improper. I mean ScoMo is the prime minister of Australia, he’s not the vice president of the United States I hope. And this is an opportunity for Australia to say we stand for the rule of law and we stand behind people who stand up and speak about war crimes. Australian politicians kowtow to the U.S. all the time without realizing that our alliance would be even stronger if sometimes we said, ‘No.’ Because if ScoMo just rolls over on this and is happy for Julian Assange to be extradited from Belmarsh Prison in the UK to the U.S., well that just means Australia can be taken for granted. You actually lose leverage bizarrely by having a really close relationship that Scott Morrison seems to have with Donald Trump. Rather than putting Australia in a better position it can put Australia in a weaker position because the U.S. knows it can be taken for granted.”
Wilkie joined right-wing MP Barnaby Joyce who the previous week came out in Assange’s defense. “Whether you like a person or not, they should be afforded the proper rights and protections and the process of justice,” Joyce said.
Wilkie told “The Project,” “When someone like Barnaby Joyce thinks there’s an issue here then people should pay attention.”
Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Sunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe .
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Thank you for this important update. It is at least some positive news that Australian politicians are now asking for Assange to be returned home.
I have read Craig Murray’s account of the events yesterday at Westminster court.
[posted on Consortium News and craigmurray.org]
In hopes that a small gesture might help Julian’s situation I contacted Amnesty International USA today.
They have made statements in support of Julian in the spring of this year.
I wanted to bring Craig Murray’s report to their attention.
I was told that Amnesty has an email address where they want people to send reports etc. to bring to Amnesty’s attention. They also suggested writing a cover note explaining the importance of the issue (probably they get material that relates to relatively unknown situations).
I reckoned there was nothing to lose, so I did so.
I wonder whether those who would like to try to do *something** to help Julian mightn’t do the same thing. If Amnesty gets a large volume of email on this perhaps they will become more active.
I pasted Craig’s report into my email and also sent the URL.
Here is the Amnesty address to use:
report [at] aiusa.org
My subject line: Oct. 22. Assange, Westminster Court hearing
My cover note:
I am deeply shocked by what occurred yesterday in Westminster Court in the hearing concerning the extradition of Julian Assange.
Craig Murray was there and wrote a detailed report [posted today in Consortium News] that includes not only a description of what occurred but also provides some legal background documents that demonstrate the illegality of the attempt to extradite Julian. Namely, he is apolitical prisoner, and those with such a status are not covered by the extradition agreement beteween the USA and the UK.
Murray also reports that the actual hearing, in February, is to be held inside Belmarsh Prison, where there are just 6 seats available to the press and public. In other words, in effect, a Star Chamber setup.
Even if Assange had committed a crime, the conditions under which he is being held are inhumane. He is being tortured and slowly killed. He may not survive until February. This is doubly horrifying in the light of the fact that in the opinion of many he is a political prisoner, a journalist, a very important whistleblower who has committed no crime at all.
The idea of the CIA spying on Julian when in the Ecuadorian Embassy so that he had zero privacy is both sickening–and sick.
Please read the account below (or at the website). I urge Amnesty to make a loud and public protest against the treatment of Assange in prison, and also against the very idea of extraditing him to the clutches of the USA. His civil rights are already being withheld by the theft of his materials and his ability to mount a defense is being fatally compromised—that is *literally* fatally compromised since he is slowly being killed.”
Please consider sending an email in support of Julian to Amnesty. Possibly they will respond with some kind of stepped-up defense of his rights as a prisoner of conscience.
Thank you for the amnesty address. I shall send a letter to them today.
free Assange now, a citizen from USA.
If US were still a member of ICC, Hillary could be tried as a war criminal for Julian’s torture and imprisonments. I realize how Herculean a task it would be to reinstate our membership to The Hague but these are desperate times. As a nation, we must push to demand ICC membership.
2013, efforts for US to rejoin ICC failed. Obama was President. Had those efforts succeeded, Hillary would have been held accountable for her Libyan genocide and imprisonment of Julian.
As a citizenry, we must also demand dismantling of Five Eyes. Hillary has used Five Eyes to maximum advantage ie, 2016 elections and keeping political prisoners incarcerated or stateless.
The US has never been a member of the ICC. There’s nothing to restore. Clinton signed the Rome treaty setting up the court but Bush unsigned it and it was never ratified by the Senate.
Chelsea Manning had been convicted and sentenced for espionage for this case. He was the whistleblower of the US war crimes while serving in the US military abroad. Assage’s Wikileak website has served as the equivalent of NYT or Washington Post in 21 century digital era.
Australia government should have a backbone to protect its own citizen, just as the US had rescued a US embassy official’s wife from UK for killing a boy on motorcycle and President Trump had bluntly told the boy’s parents that the wife would not return to UK for any murder trial.
These hearings are blatantly illegal. In fact Julian Assange broke no laws. This is why the US and UK have to break the law themselves just to get a conviction.
They tagged a hacking charge to the Espionage Act to make what he did look illegal. Judge Koeltl already ruled that it is legal to publish classified information in the public interest. And the prosecution itself already conceeded in the indictment that Chelsea Manning’s attempt to solicit a cracked password for a computer on the network she had legal access to, was unsuccessful and no cracking of a password happened.
So now they are resorting to cheap lawyer’s tactics – denying Julian Assange access to court papers, to his own lawyers, and completely controlling the prosecution and the judge.
Julian Assange must be released immediately. Everything else is a violation of the law.
Yes a glimmer of hope, all the power to the political group pressuring their PM.
This is the guy who went onto parliament waving around a lump of coal. I don’t know how he sleeps at night.
I do hope Australia goes to bat for him.
Any chance for Assange to regain a semblance of a real life better happen soon.
Reading this caused me to catch my breath and with an awful heartache, I realized how much I have come to loathe the people in charge of our government, the intelligence agencies, the judiciary, etc. Please! Let this innocent, lion-hearted man free. Truth and justice must prevail or we are all lost collectively and completely.
“… and the truth shall set you free,” but apparently NOT in America, nor the UK, nor Sweden—–although there is perhaps a glimmer of hope from Australia. Yes, perhaps Australia…..”hope is a feathered thing that perches in the soul…” one hopes that you still have a soul, Australia.
The United States is a rogue nation that routinely violates international law and even their own law. It deserves to be an international pariah.
Wikileaks needs to let the all cows out of the barn, now. The thugs who executed a coup against the USA Constitution on Nov. 22, 1963 cannot overtly kennedy Assange or Mannning, but they can kill them silently under false pretenses. If the Aussies can get Assange home, it may or may not be a victory because of OZ’s forever bendover position with its US masters. We can only pray that true justice, according to existing laws, will prevail.
If the poor guy won’t be safe in Australia, where can he go? Off the top of my head, Iceland? But something has got to be done quickly. If he has to stay in Belmarsh until the hearing, the trajectory he is on points to his death, in some manner or fashion, before there even IS a hearing. And imprisonment prior to trial in the US is a potential death sentence as well (Jeffrey Epstein)
The only place Assange could go and were he would be safe is Russia. I am pretty sure his family woud be allowed to see him there or even live there. The article of Craig Murry is heartbreaking! I feel so sorry for Assange.
A recent visit to Julian Assange in prison:
“He confirms that he is still on the health ward, though he hasn’t seen specialists, which is obviously necessary after what he’s been through. He explains that he is transported in and out of his cell, where he is kept for twenty-two hours a day under so-called ‘controlled moves’, meaning the prison is locked down and hallways are cleared. He describes the exercise yard. It has writing on the wall that says, ‘Enjoy the blades of grass under your feet’, but there is no grass, only concrete. There’s nothing green, just layers of wire mesh above his head, and concrete all around.
“After such extreme isolation and deprivation of human company, of course he is happy to see friends. . . . Julian gets two social visits a month . . .
“Still, I’m struck over and over again by the times he takes the conversation away from him and into principles and the broader implications of his case: ‘This isn’t just about me, Flick; this is about so many people, every journalist in the UK. If I can be grabbed, just another Australian working in London, any journalist or publisher can be grabbed for simply doing their jobs’. . . .
“I hug farewell a much thinner man than the one I formerly knew . . .”
Assange Behind Bars, by Felicity Ruby — A visit to Belmarsh maximum-security prison — Arena Magazine, 27 Sep 2019
Kangaroo court. How pathetic and shameful.