DAY TWO OF ASSANGE HEARING: US Tries to Narrow its Espionage Charge to Only Naming Informants; Defense Witness Crumbles Under Cross Examination

Julian Assange was also warned by Judge Baraitser that he would be removed if he makes another outburst. U.S. crimes abroad and at home on display.

Old Bailey (Wikimedia Commons)

2:50 pm EDT: Day 2 of Assange’s substantial hearing has ended. Consortium News followed every moment of the hearing that went about 20 minutes over time via a video-link from Old Bailey. 

The prosecution tried to narrow the Espionage Act charges down to only classified documents that mentioned the names of informants, a gambit shot down by the defense when it quoted directly from the indictment proving otherwise. 

Before the defense got the chance, Julian Assange shouted from his glass cage at the back of the court that it was “nonsense” to suggest he wasn’t being prosecuted for all the classified material he published. That brought a firm warning from Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser that he would be removed from the court if he did it again. 

The informants theme is one we can expect the government to continue harping on for the duration of this hearing, as they have very little else go on.  James Lewis QC for the prosecution quoted from a book that alleges Assange said informants deserved to die, an assertion that has been denied by a German editor present. He is to testify next week.

The other line of attack from the prosecution is that Assange “conspired” with Chelsea Manning to “hack” a government computer to obtain classified documents. In the afternoon, the continuation of Prof. Mark Feldstein continued from Monday.

Under direct examination Feldstein made a spirited defense of Assange’s activities as being routine for journalists. The government, he said, “paints journalistic activities in a nefarious light.” He said it is “standard to ask sources for evidence and documents to back up what they say and working with them to find documents, making suggestions to what they should look for. It’s all routine.”

Feldstein also told defense attorney Mark Summers that no publisher had ever been prosecuted before for publishing, but that former presidents had tried.  He told the story of Richard Nixon who wanted to prosecute columnist Jack Anderson but was told by his attorney he could not because it would violate the First Amendment.

So Nixon then hatched plans with a former CIA agent to send a false story on White House letterhead hoping he’d publish it then be exposed, but Anderson checked it out and didn’t use it, unlike many of today’s journalists who run with government hand outs.

So Nixon then tried to kill Anderson, but all the plots were foiled: poisoning his aspirins , trying to crash a car into him or stabbing him to make it look like a mugging. All this, but Nixon did not prosecute Anderson for publishing.

It was chilling testimony in a British court that added to earlier testimony about U.S. war crimes.  

But on cross examination Feldstein fell apart. He allowed himself to be bullied by Lewis. It this were a prize fight, the referee would have ended it.

Instead Lewis took advantage of his prey, asking legal questions he knew Feldstein was not equipped to handle. He badgered him about why the grand jury on Assange continued, even though Feldstein testified that the Obama administration decided not to prosecute because it would run up against the First Amendment.

Lewis then bored into a completely flustered Feldstein about how he could call the Assange prosecution political when he could not prove an order came from the White House. But attorneys general and CIA directors can exert political pressure. Lewis also adopted a very narrow definition of politic, excluding that getting Assange was to preserve U.S. foreign policy from exposure as well as maintaining the political reputations of U.S. officials.

When Baraitser announced that court was adjourned a broad smile lit up Feldstein’s face. His ordeal was over.

8:30 am EDT: Court is in lunch break. Morning session ended with re-direct of defense witness Smith. Consortium News is following every moment of the extradition trial via a video-link to Old Bailey.

Prosecution had tried to establish on cross that Assange is not being charged with publishing classified information, but only publishing names of informants, which happened to be in classified documents.

There is no specific U.S. statute against revealing informants names, as there is regarding the names of covert government agents, as readers will recall in the Valerie Plame case.  But James Lewis QC for the prosecution argued that informant names are national defense information and thus protected by the Espionage Act.

This is a sleight of hand and speaks to the public relations nature of the U.S. case. Lewis on the one hand argues Assange is not being charged with publishing, but only with publishing documents with informants’ names. That is an appeal to First Amendment concerns. But that is still a charge of publishing classified information, even if restricted to those with informant names.

The U.S. appeal to the public is to depict Assange as an ogre who doesn’t care for human life, while at the same time portraying the United States as being concerned for a free press.

Lewis read from the book by David Leigh and Luke Harding, Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecyin which the authors say that Assange was unconcerned about revealing the names of informants, and quotes from a dinner in which Assange was alleged to have said that informants deserved it, if they were killed. 

Lewis asked the defense witness Smith if he agreed with Leigh about this or with Assange?  It was a below-the-belt question. Smith said there was 200 years of law to protect defendants from hearsay. Smith then returned to a point he repeatedly made that Lewis, as a British lawyer, didn’t know how U.S. trials are conducted the way Smith, an American lawyer, does.

Smith said it doesn’t matter what’s in an indictment, because other evidence is routinely introduced at American trials.

But Mark Summers, QC for the defense, went a step further, reading directly from the espionage indictment of Assange, which clearly shows that he is being charged on more than just the documents containing informant names. Instead he is charged with with conspiring to “obtain documents, writings, and notes connected with the national defense,” including  “U.S. State Department cables, and Iraq rules of engagement files classified up to the SECRET level … with reason to believe that the information was to be used to the injury of the United States or the advantage of any foreign nation.”

Lewis objected that Summers wasn’t reading it correctly, so Summers repeated by sarcastically reading it out with the punctuation marks.

On re-direct, Summers also asked Smith if he was familiar with the role Leigh and Harding played in revealing the password in their book to the entire archive of Afghan documents that contained the un-redacted names of informants. 

Summers than also asked if Smith was familiar with fabricated stories by Harding (presumably one about Paul Manafort visiting Assange) when Judge Baraitser cut him off.  Summers pointed out that it was the prosecution that raised the book, but he gave way to the judge. 

Summers didn’t get to say that the book’s release of the password to the encrypted file (that governments could unencrypt) is what really put informants in danger, and that WikiLeaks only then released the entire unencrypted archive so that informants would know to protect themselves. 

On the witness list for the defense next Wednesday is John Goetz of Der Spiegel who was at that dinner, and previously was quoted as denying that Assange ever made that remark.  Not on the list, though he offered to testify, is Australian journalist Mark Davis who was with Assange in the bunker at The Guardian putting out the Afghan files. Davis has said publicly that Assange worked to redact names, while Guardian editors did not care.

Earlier under direct examination from Summers, a litany of U.S. war crimes, torture and assassination programs revealed by WikiLeaks were discussed in open court in Britain, one of America’s most staunch allies.  It was an extraordinary moment, with U.S. officials sitting there listening behind their British lawyers.  One them, Lewis, on cross, tried to dismiss it by saying that Assange wasn’t be charged for releasing any of the documents that revealed the crimes Smith was referring to and that they were irrelevant to the case.

It was at that point that Assange cried out, “This is nonsense,” that the prosecution was wrong because he’s being charged for receiving and publishing all the documents. 

Smith, who represented Guantanamo detainees, said at one point that over-classification by the U.S. was the most serious matter since 9/11 and said evidence of torture of his clients was part of this over-classification.

6:30 am EDT:  Five minute pause as Assange spoke out in court spontaneously. Difficult to make out what he said but he seemed to be objecting to being represented by proxy and not being allowed to speak. Judge Vanessa Baraitser angrily said she had several options, but only named one:  that he speak to his lawyers. 

Baraitser returned from the break with a stern warning to Assange not to interrupt proceedings again or he would be excluded from court.

The outburst and brief pause came as James Lewis QC for the prosecution was in an argument with defense witness Clive Stafford Smith, who was not accepting Lewis’ argument that Assange had not been charged with publishing classified documents, but only of revealing informants names in classified documents that he published.  Smith, an American lawyer, said that in American trials other evidence can be brought that is not in an indictment.

Under direct examination, defense attorney Mark Summers was extracting from Smith how much he relied on WikiLeaks documents to defend his clients in Guantanamo.  Smith said WikiLeaks was crucial to preparing various defenses.  In a sense U.S. conduct abroad was being put in the dock as Smith was asked to detail assassination programs and torture that the WikiLeaks documents revealed. 

Lewis opened cross by telling Smith that Assange was not being prosecuted for any of the WikiLeaks publications mentioned in Smith’s oral and written testimonies.

5:35 am EDT:  Court is in session. Assange lawyers ask for starting everyday at 10:30 am in order for them to confer with Assange.  Attorney Clive Stafford Smith is called as a defense witness, ending Prof. Feldstein’s testimony.

The second day of the resumption of Assange’s substantive extradition hearing will resume at 10:00 am BST, 5 am EDT in London.  On the schedule is the continuation of the defense testimony of journalism professor Mark Feldstein, followed by journalist Patrick Cockburn and concluding with Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. 

Court opening has been delayed 30 minutes so that Assange’s lawyers can confer with their client.

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31 comments for “DAY TWO OF ASSANGE HEARING: US Tries to Narrow its Espionage Charge to Only Naming Informants; Defense Witness Crumbles Under Cross Examination

  1. yuri_nahl
    September 9, 2020 at 21:33

    This is the American Dreyfus Affair.

  2. September 9, 2020 at 16:47

    I think there should be a a campaign to make Assange/Manning the write-in ticket of choice, for those unwilling to chose either evil.
    The fact is that the military industrial complex has become the cancer Eisenhower warned against and it is the dark cloud hanging over this entire political theater.
    These two looked the Beast in the eye and didn’t blink. The least the rest of us can do is to show some solidarity.
    Otherwise it’s sticking your name with the clown, or the puppet.

  3. William Crowl
    September 9, 2020 at 10:09

    This propaganda “Show Trial” is a pure sign that the British Establishment is joining forces with the US Government’s policy of foreign wars for profit and they are colluding to silence the independent Free Press in both the USA and the UK. Julian Assange is innocent of All Charges brought by the USA and he Will Be Tortured if he is extradited to USA incarceration.

  4. Tony Vodvarka
    September 9, 2020 at 09:34

    The stink raised by the vassal states Sweden and U.K. in this awful entrapment of an honest journalist is difficult to bear.

  5. John Lind
    September 9, 2020 at 04:20

    Thank you very much for your good work.

    Meanwhile our Australian Governments (more than one over the years of Assange’s incarceration) are doing their usual ‘roll over and surrender the belly’ to the USA and to the U.K.

    In February of this year 2020 our local ‘FREE ASSANGE’ group staged a protest in Brisbane. Our group who numbered approx 40/50 manned the street with our placards, chanting, many wearing orange costumes outside the British Consulate and our representatives attempted to deliver a letter of protest to the 7th floor where the British Consulate is located.

    When this was refused by total barring of access we occupied the lobby. Soon the police arrived as well as the owner of the multi-floor city building. To our surprise the owner declared that she was ‘on our side’ and the police were surprisingly restrained.

    It was agreed that she (the proprietor) and two members of the police force would accompany our two representatives to ascend in the lift to present said letter. They were refused entry! The British Consulate’s landlord(lady) and the police were barred!

    All my subsequent phone calls, one email and a handwritten letter were UNanswered. This is what we are dealing with. Insidiousness at its most blatant.

    Please send Assange letters of support so he does not feel totally abandoned. You can check sites for the specifications permitted for Belmarsh prison. His father says that this would matter SO much to him.


  6. Willow
    September 9, 2020 at 03:17

    Doesn’t Trump realize that Assange is his best defense witness to prove the Russiagate hoax was a lie? He should be trying to protect, not crucify Assange.

  7. September 8, 2020 at 23:05

    Fascinatinating to read about this “Star Chamber” show trial. The last trashings of a dying empire.
    I can’t see any reason why the establishment wastes taxpayers money on a pre-determined result.
    It gives us all hope that heroic figures such as Mr. Assange, Ms. Manning & Mr. Snowden as well
    a few other brave souls risk everything that they hold valuable to warn us of the horrific inttent of
    the imitation democracies that rule us.

  8. michael888
    September 8, 2020 at 18:17

    This trial is emblematic of the fall of the West and its Empire. Europe absorbed the Stasi and corruption of Eastern Europe as NATO marched ever eastward to Russia’s borders. We have internalized their efficient surveillance, police state and the Soviet style show trials and loss of ideals. The state is all that matters. Does not bode well for the future.

  9. September 8, 2020 at 17:30

    Thanks for your excellent coverage. I was glued to this account of an important moment in history.

  10. Harry Tuttle
    September 8, 2020 at 15:23

    There are no journalists in Corp news. they are all CIA whores, courtiers, stenographers, deep state P.R. spinners and careerist talking heads.

    And they all lick boots.

    This is why this site is so needed!

  11. Buffalo_Ken
    September 8, 2020 at 15:19

    Holy Moly. This is unbelievable.

    Either way the path has been chosen and the ropes are being prepared.

    Get ready and I hope you know.

    Peace is on the way.

  12. Kia
    September 8, 2020 at 13:56

    Thank you for this!!! Keep a hard copy!

  13. Roland Gilmore
    September 8, 2020 at 13:38

    If day 1 has set the precedent of how the judge will govern this hearing, it will not be a fair trial. Is it legally possible to appeal to the European court of Human rights?

    • Nancy
      September 9, 2020 at 15:27

      It will go to the High Court for Appeals where there are better judges actually committed to law with precedent.

  14. Carolyn L Zaremba
    September 8, 2020 at 13:12

    Why has nobody mentioned the fact that when the Guardian wanted to publish material complete with people’s names, Julian Assange was opposed to this and spent all night redacting the names himself? There were witnesses at the Guardian office to this who have spoken about it.

      September 8, 2020 at 13:40

      The above report does mention this.

  15. martino tessaro
    September 8, 2020 at 12:49

    Trial american war criminals, not a journalist like Assange who report their criminal acts. USA are outlaws, we should all ask the trial of american war criminals.

  16. Linda Furr
    September 8, 2020 at 12:25

    If the US and Great Britain are to be any part of a just and civilized world future, they will stop this Alice in Wonderland court procedure, claim “misunderstanding” as its cause, and ask to be pardoned for any ‘inconvenience’ (understatement of the century) to acting participants. This would be a cowardly, euphemistic, but necessary step for the US and GB to step aside and let the world attempt to cleanse itself from our arrogant, plundering and ignorant ‘leadership’.

  17. worldblee
    September 8, 2020 at 12:13

    Thank you for covering this disgusting show trial. It’s gratifying to see the prosecution squirming and lying as they strive to complete their PR goals in support of the fixed outcome to send Julian to the US for torture.

  18. Ale Masso
    September 8, 2020 at 11:09

    “It is a nonsense”

  19. September 8, 2020 at 10:34

    Sounds to me that batister is out of her depth, trying to duck & weave her way through past statements & admissions to the goalposts of getting rid of Assange so the public there can get back to royal watching.

    • September 9, 2020 at 05:28

      She’s an amateur, a quack.
      The whole thing should have been thrown out on any one of several grounds. one being that if even if any offence was committed it was during an atempt to stop a more serious crime (ie ongoing war crimes).

  20. September 8, 2020 at 09:58

    Thanks for covering this important trial.

  21. Judith Price
    September 8, 2020 at 09:41

    Isn’t Lewis’s quoting from a book and relying on quotes from a dinner at which Julian Assange is alleged to have made certain comments, mere hearsay?

    • September 8, 2020 at 22:52

      I can paste author, title an publisher of a book describing 110 murders by “Clinton machine”, in general, there are more untrustworthy books than trustworthy one. Book quotes are even more pitiful than hearsay.

    • Willow
      September 9, 2020 at 03:12


  22. Matteo Meucci
    September 8, 2020 at 07:47

    Free Julian Assange and arrest the real criminals that operate by fake news and flags the Iraq ,Syria, Yemen,and now Lebanon wor ???Why u don’t take israel for war crimes on innocent people of Palestine ???

  23. September 8, 2020 at 07:08

    Thank you for this extraordinary coverage of this very important event. The abject silence of the corporate media speaks loudly to their sickening sycophancy and cowardice.

    • Judith Price
      September 8, 2020 at 09:43

      Yes, Ethan. You are spot on about the silence of the media, their ‘journalist’s should hand their heads in shame.

      • jon travis
        September 8, 2020 at 13:34

        I agree, I can find nothing on the BBC News home page, and only a podcast on Sky News. Nothing on the main news page. Not to even report on this is outrageous. And typical I think.

    • Iz
      September 8, 2020 at 10:44

      Yes, astounding amount of collusion going on.

Comments are closed.