The U.S. government hates Julian Assange. Can we trust the Justice Department to not put him in a SAM unit or to keep him out of an ADX super max prison?
By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News
Many of my friends here at Consortium News and elsewhere have written recently about the UK High Court’s decision to allow the U.S. Department of Justice’s appeal of a lower court’s decision against extraditing Julian Assange to go forward.
The Higher Court’s decision is narrow in nature—the court will allow the DOJ to appeal the lower court’s finding that U.S. prisons are dangerous and oppressive—but will not allow the U.S. to appeal any factual findings on Julian’s condition or mental health. Assange faces 175 years in prison in the United States if he is extradited and found guilty of national security crimes related to Chelsea Manning’s revelations to Wikileaks more than a decade ago.
By way of background, the mainstream media in the United States barely touched on the UK ruling. It was a one-day story, and a small one at that, and the editorial line was that the DOJ is working hard to get its man. The ruling, though, wasn’t the real news.
The more important news, which broke just a few days before the court decision, was that the DOJ’s top witness against Julian had granted an interview with an Icelandic newspaper in which he recanted everything he said about Assange.
He admitted he’d lied to the FBI about being instructed by Assange to conduct hacking operations. Everything that Sigudrur “Siggi” Thordarson told the FBI was a lie, and the FBI’s case appears to be falling apart. Indeed, Ed Snowden opined soon after that the case against Assange was “dead.”
While working as a volunteer for WikiLeaks, Thordarson contacted the U.S. embassy in Reykjavik in 2011 to offer himself as an informant, receiving immunity as part of the deal. He then took part in a sting operation against Assange that led then Icelandic Interior Minister Ögmundur Jónasson to kick the FBI out of the country.
The Icelandic media report said Thordarson had been diagnosed as a clinical sociopath, that he is a convicted serial pedophile, and that he had embezzled more than $50,000 from Wikileaks. Journalists say it’s unclear why Thordarson would have told a reporter about his lies, especially when the FBI had already chosen either to believe him or to pretend that he was telling the truth. It could be that, as a sociopath, he craved the publicity, even if he harbored no regret or remorse about being called out as a liar.
Still, the case against Assange goes on, a mockery of what “justice” is supposed to be. And what is the “justice” that the Justice Department is promising the UK courts? It’s that Assange won’t be subject to incarceration as part of Special Administrative Measures (SAM) or sent to the notorious “Supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado (ADX), “unless he were to do something subsequent to the offering of these assurances that meets the tests for imposition of SAMs or designation to ADX.”
In other words, if Julian were to speak to a journalist, if he were to look at a guard cockeyed, if he were to speak disrespectfully to an administrator, or if he were even to say something controversial in a private telephone call (which would be monitored, of course) that would be enough to send him to a SAM unit or even to ADX. The Justice Department’s promises ring hollow.
I spent 23 months in a “modified SAM unit” after blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program. Six months or so into my sentence, I decided to file a Freedom of Information Act request on myself just to see what it was that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had on me. I couldn’t understand why my contact with the outside world was restricted, especially after my sentencing judge ordered that I be sent to a minimum-security work camp. (The BOP arbitrarily sent me to a higher-security prison with no explanation.)
When I received my FOIA documents, I was struck by one in particular. It was a memo from the warden to all prison staff, entitled “Incoming Inmate John Kiriakou.” It opened with huge block letters: CAUTION: INMATE HAS ACCESS TO THE MEDIA!! I was a nobody and the Justice Department was restricting my access to the outside world. What were they so afraid of? What did they think I was going to say?
Now imagine Julian Assange in the same position. He’s known around the world. People want to hear what he has to say. He has millions of supporters. Journalists seek out his advice. His case is political. The U.S. government hates him. Can we trust the Justice Department to not put him in a SAM unit or to keep him out of an ADX?
Not a chance. The fight’s not over, but it’s possible that the end—a win for Assange—is in sight. It’s up to us to keep up the pressure on the White House, the Justice Department, and the mainstream media. We can’t let up.
John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.