EDITORIAL: A Trial Begins in London

Judging by the first week of hearings in February, it doesn’t seem to be important whatever the prosecution says or does, or how the defense responds. The decision already appears to have been made.

Consortium News

There can surely be a surprise when the next three to four weeks of hearings in the extradition case of Julian Assange at Old Bailey are completed. There is still every possibility that when the last word is said in court, Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser will decide that the United States has not made its case and that Assange will not be sent to stand trial in Alexandria, Virginia.

But judging from the first week of hearings in February at Woolwich Crown Court, all signs point to a decision already having been made to extradite Assange, and that the next three to four weeks will be simply justice going through the motions to make it appear that the WikiLeaks publisher is getting a fair trial.  There is a name for such a thing: 

“A show trial is a public trial in which the judicial authorities have already determined the guilt, and/or innocence, of the defendant. The actual trial has as its only goal the presentation of both the accusation and the verdict to the public so they will serve as both an impressive example and a warning to other would-be dissidents or transgressors.” (Wikipedia)

Is there any better way to describe what has been happening to Assange than the above definition?

A Weak Case

The prosecution’s case against Assange is exceedingly weak, but it doesn’t seem to matter. In the first week, America’s British lawyers didn’t mention the only technicality that Assange can really be charged with:  unauthorized possession and dissemination of classified information. 

That’s because it’s a charge that directly implicates the rest of the press, which for years has possessed and disseminated secret material and never faced charges. It was an issue so much in the forefront of U.S. thinking that it had its Queen’s Councillor directly address the press gallery at the beginning of February’s proceedings to try to convince the reporters that they were not a target. 

But making such an appeal introduced the very notion that the press is indeed at risk in this case.  Without the unauthorized possession charge, there isn’t much left for the U.S. to work with. That would be a problem if this were a serious judicial proceeding. 


So the U.S. has a couple of fallback positions.  One is to accuse Assange of recklessly endangering the lives of U.S. informants in WikiLeaks releases. There is a great deal about this in the Espionage Act indictment. Except informants aren’t mentioned in the Espionage Act and among the statutes cited at the head of the indictment, none mention endangering informants’ lives.

That’s because there does not seem to be any law against it.  But even if there were, we know from Australian journalist Mark Davis that it was Assange who was most concerned about redacting informants’ names and did an all-nighter on the weekend before publication to cut as many names out as possible. 

There is also the fact that former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the WikiLeaks releases caused no harm beyond embarrassing Washington and other governments. 

Rules of Engagement 

The prosecution has so far not mentioned the leak of the Collateral Murder video and the reason for that is probably because the video, which presents prima facia evidence of a U.S. war crime, was never classified, and thus not a breach of the Espionage Act.

The prosecution seemed instead to indicate in the first week that they would make a big fuss about Assange publishing the classified rules of engagement regarding the Collateral Murder incident. Those apparently were classified. But the defense has argued that Chelsea Manning leaked the rules, and they were published by WikiLeaks, precisely because they show that the U.S. broke them in gunning down those civilians on a Baghdad street. 

Conspiracy to Commit Computer Intrusion

The other fallback for the prosecution is to press the case that Assange conspired with Manning to break into a government computer to steal government documents. The indictment against Assange makes crystal clear that Manning already had legal access to those documents, and that Assange was only helping her to sign in under an administrative name to protect her identity. 

The defense then dropped a bombshell in February, asserting that the purpose of the exercise was not to steal documents, but to allow Manning to illegally download music videos and video games, which are forbidden to active duty U.S. personnel. It will be interesting to see where this charge will wind up. 

No Access to Lawyers

In a serious proceeding, Assange would have been allowed access to his attorneys to prepare his case. But the British prison system has not allowed this in the weeks leading up to today. Assange was given a read-only computer whose keys were glued shut, and when he happened to get a legal document, it was confiscated from him, at the time he was stripped search and handcuffed 11 times before a hearing in February. 

These are not the actions of a judicial system that is serious about seeing justice done. 

We are still waiting for a just outcome but are bracing for one long ago decided.

16 comments for “EDITORIAL: A Trial Begins in London

  1. robert e williamson jr
    September 8, 2020 at 14:37

    Very concerning, American jurisprudence is represented by DOJ’s Bill Barr and a very conservative SCOTUS.

    Sure as hell does not speak well for those living in the land of the free.

    If these people are actually this serious about someone publishing a leak from their systems they need to hold each other accountable.

    The fact is that they got caught not keeping their secrets, secrets that they claim revealing would cost our system gravely. Something I’ve seen no evidence of, now the White House on the other hand is a different story.

    So what about that idiot in the White House?

    Seems the best thing for everyone would be for the powers that be to release Julian and return to the rock they crawled from under.

  2. Kari Sprowl
    September 8, 2020 at 04:19

    Nor a trial, and not an extradition, It’s just a prelude to a rendering. Shame , Britania!

  3. Aaron
    September 7, 2020 at 19:54

    What a sham!

  4. September 7, 2020 at 16:18

    Thank you for clarifying and repeating these issues.

  5. Tim Slattery
    September 7, 2020 at 16:14

    The grand jury investigation, the indictment, and the request for extradition were done by various teams of attorneys in the U.S. Attorneys Office in Alexandria, Virginia, and in the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C. U.S. federal attorneys are not hirelings. Each has a right of independent action. Each has a sworn individual duty to uphold the U.S. Constitution. Each has an individual professional responsibility to avoid miscarriage of justice. Refusing to seek the indictment, refusing to request the UK to provisionally arrest, refusing to submit the extradition request would likely have retarded their careers. But each attorney should have refused. It was their duty to refuse. Their cowardice is disgraceful to themselves, to the U.S. Justice Department, and to the American legal profession.

    Similarly, it is difficult to comprehend how an English magistrate could, ethically and in good conscience, avoid the conclusion that the U.S.-U.K. Treaty bars extradition for the alleged charges because they are political offences or politically-motivated offenses, or both. Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser has a sworn duty to fairly apply the law and to avoid miscarriage of justice. Let us hope and pray that she finds the wisdom and courage to do her duty.

  6. Jeff Harrison
    September 7, 2020 at 15:26

    What those in the US regime in Washington don’t seem to realize is that it is the US and American jurisprudence that is on trial, not Julian Assange.

  7. Randolph Garrison
    September 7, 2020 at 14:10

    American Authoritative Judaical System has a long reach. To bad it does not include justice.

  8. September 7, 2020 at 11:15

    Freedom of speech, and the last wall of totalitarianism is in jeopardy.

  9. September 7, 2020 at 10:08

    “Judging by the first week of hearings in February, it doesn’t seem to be important whatever the prosecution says or does, or how the defense responds. The decision already appears to have been made.”


    This entire series of American-directed events violates all legal norms.

    But how else do you describe American-orchestrated events in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba, Iran, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine, China, and Russia?

    Legal norms mean nothing to a tyrant.

    Assange offended the very top of the imperial household, and he is being made to pay for it, dearly.

  10. Tony Murphy
    September 7, 2020 at 09:50

    Vanessa Baraitser has to choose . She can live the rest of her life feted as Lady Justice who delivered Julian from evil. Or she can live the rest of her life hated as the corrupt witch who broke the law to deliver vengeance for Lady Emma Arbuthnot and the war-mongering neoliberal Henry Jackson Society

    • Procopius
      September 7, 2020 at 21:13

      There is still another alternative you do not mention: she can live the rest of her life honored and respected by her peers for protecting the system by which they retain their privileges. Although I think the real reason for Assange’s torture is the embarrassment he caused powerful people, they seem to see him as a threat to the dark underworld “which is the way the world really works.”

  11. Nestor Makhno
    September 7, 2020 at 09:37

    There is no justice in the western hemisphere although it pretends to be a haven of justice, freedom and democracy. But pretending is something totally different than actual behaviour. It is newspeak as George Orwell long time ago noticed

  12. September 7, 2020 at 09:36

    Julian Assange was/is a voice for Democracy, Freedom of the Press, and exposing the reality of U.S. war crimes. We the people heard and saw the reality through Wikileaks giving us the truth and for that I am grateful.

  13. Mac Halliday
    September 7, 2020 at 09:24

    Any Australian with a faint sense of justice should be ready to go to the barricades for the heroic Julian Assange.

    September 7, 2020 at 08:55

    How much longer will the Prime Minister, Scot Morrison, of Australia allow Julian to suffer ?
    Scotty is doing well in his job, and has a lot on his mind with the COVID-19 virus, but with the House motivated to be on his side and with the expertise of the Public Service on the matter, a call to his friend Borris does not require much effort on his part.

    • Damien
      September 7, 2020 at 19:18

      Peter, Scott Morrison is NOT ” doing well in his job.” The Covid crisis is largely afflicting aged care homes which are regulated by his Federal Government which has duck-shoved its failings onto the States. Even a Royal Commission has concluded this government has been failing. There have been a litany of serious, multi-million dollar corruption scandals from Morrison’s government with blanket refusal for independent investigation. A Federal ICAC is long overdue. If you like your back-room party corruption and a secretive government that lies to the public then Morrison is your man.

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