Assange to Face 5-Day Extradition Hearing in February 2020

Decision on Assange’s fate will not come for at least another eight months.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

A decision on whether Julian Assange will be extradited to the United States to face charges under the Espionage Act will not come until the end of February 2020 at the earliest, the Westminster Magistrate’s Court ruled on Friday.

Tristan Kirk, the London Evening Standard‘s courts reporter, tweeted:

Kirk said he argued his way into the court room after he and the rest of the media had been barred by a security guard from entering the public hearing that lasted under 30 minutes.

Reuters reported:

As Ben Brandon, the lawyer representing the United States, ran through a summary of the accusations against him including that he had cracked a U.S. defence network password, Assange said: “I didn’t break any password whatsoever.”

The WikiLeaks publisher told the court that “175 years of my life is effectively at stake,” according to Sky News. He addressed the judge as Lady Arbuthnot, saying: “WikiLeaks is nothing but a publisher.”  Mark Summers, a lawyer representing Assange, told the court there are a “multiplicity of profound issues” with the extradition case, Sky News reported. 

“We say it represents an outrageous and full-frontal assault on journalistic rights,” he said.

Assange spoke to the court via video link from Belmarsh prison where he is serving a 50-week sentence for skipping bail on a Swedish sexual assault investigation.  Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in June 2012 to avoid onward extradition from Sweden to the United States. He was arrested on April 11 when Ecuador allowed British police to enter the embassy.

The British home secretary signed the extradition request from the U.S. on Wednesday. Sajiid Javid said Thursday: “I want to see justice done at all times and we’ve got a legitimate extradition request, so I’ve signed it, but the final decision is now with the courts.”

Both sides in the extradition battle will now have about eight months to prepare their case.

Assange’s Belmarsh sentence will end at the end of March 2020, meaning he will remain in the maximum security prison until the extradition hearing. 




Video Emerges of Assange in Belmarsh: Watch the Webcast

A five-minute video of Julian Assange apparently in Belmarsh prison was published Friday by Ruptly. Join the online discussion about it and other WikiLeaks news.

A video has emerged purportedly of Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison, showing a healthy Assange, while he instead remains hospitalised.

Watch the 33rd Vigil for Julian Assange on this and other stories, including Sweden failing to get a European Arrest Warrant; the U.S. deciding not to press charges on the Vault 7 releases though a new superseding indictment may be on the way; his father’s appointment to see him in Belmarsh canceled because doctors arrived to see Assange; and the “Assange Effect” that has led to police raids on major media in Australia.

Watch the replay here:

Part II:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3txEnPI3Z4



‘No One is Above the Law’ (Except the U.S.A.)

Julian Assange’s Australian lawyer and a European human rights attorney argue that the conduct of the U.S. regarding the WikiLeaks publisher blatantly disregards numerous laws.

By Greg Barns and Lisanne Adam
Special to Consortium News

On 11 April 2019, UK Prime Minister Theresa May informed that nation’s Parliament about the arrest of Julian Assange and thanked the Ecuadorian government and Metropolitan Police for their actions and collaboration contributing to the WikiLeaks publisher’s arrest and subsequent detention. In her statement, May said: “This goes to show that, in the United Kingdom, no one is above the Law.” By making this statement, May was referring to Assange’s actions relating to breaching bail and his arrest that day by the UK authorities, after Ecuador withdrew Assange’s asylum claim.

However, May’s statement can be construed in a broader sense, in it that refers to the Law as a whole, including the fundamental rights that the UK must honor in accordance with international human rights standards. May’s statement is accurate and true, no government or person should be above these laws.

Keeping May’s statement in mind, think about the fact that in her own backyard, on May 20 we had the extraordinary spectacle of U.S. law enforcement agencies being invited by Ecuador to walk into its Embassy and steal Assange’s belongings. Four days later, the U.S. loaded up the indictment it had filed against Assange by adding seventeen additional U.S. charges including; espionage, criminal conspiracy and computer hacking.

It was to be expected that Assange’s prosecution, extradition requests and other legal matters would be extraordinary. However, the cavalier disregard by the U.S., aided and abetted by Ecuador and the UK in the past month, is setting a truly dangerous precedent.

Globally, there are fundamental rights, embedded in the 1945 United Nations Charter and the 1954 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and designed to protect individuals against mistreatment by governments and non-state actors. Fundamental rights are there to protect any individual irrespective of who they are, or where they are.

Careful consideration was given to the formulation of these fundamental rights in international treaties and, these days, these important rights have been enshrined in international and domestic legislation. The overarching and universal principle of fairness is what underpins respect for these rights. Hence, fundamental fairness has been enshrined in domestic-and international laws in the UK, the U.S. and other nations which purport to subscribe to the rule of Law.

Stripped of His Rights

But in Assange’s case, fairness is an endangered species if not, completely extinct.

The Ecuadorian government completely ignored Assange’s fundamental rights in facilitating the confiscation of Assange’s personal property. Personal property including confidential documents, his legal defense strategy, medical records and electronic equipment. Assange’s seized property was subsequently handed over to the U.S.

The disregard for fairness shown by the U.S. towards Assange means materials, unlawfully seized by prosecutors and law enforcement, will be used to inform the case against him. If Assange is extradited to the U.S. and faces a trial there, there will be no respect to procedural equality of arms as Assange will have no reasonable opportunity of presenting his case under conditions that do not disadvantage him as against other parties to the proceedings.

The shredding of fairness in Assange’s case must be resisted and stopped. If the UK decides to proceed with his extradition to the U.S., Assange faces life imprisonment based upon proceedings that have been tainted with fundamental breaches of fairness and prosecutorial misconduct. A fair trial in the U.S. is simply not possible.

Moreover, the conduct relating to the proceedings against Assange are anything but legal; it is a political witch-hunt without merit. The gathering of evidence in such an unlawful way indicates the desperation of the U.S. prosecutor to build a case against Assange. A case that has nothing to do with the Law, Assange is supposed to serve as an example; a precedent and a warning that no whistle-blower, organization or person should disclose information about U.S. intelligence, no matter how gruesome this information may be.

Worse still, the high human cost of this biased and tunnel vision persecution is ignored by the UK, the U.S. and let’s face it the country of which he is a citizen, Australia. Assange is suffering prolonged exposure to psychological torture and his condition is worsening by the day. Professor Nils Melzer, the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, reported last week that Assange has no prospect of a fair trial in the U.S.

One can wonder, why do fundamental rights exist if we allow certain countries to ignore and breach them when it suits them? Theresa May was right: no one should be above the Law. Let’s be clear: ‘No one’ should include the U.S. ’ government.

Greg Barns is a barrister in Australia and Adviser to the Australian Assange campaign and Lisanne Adam is a consultant on EU human rights law based in Melbourne Australia.




More Good News for Assange: Swedish Court Blocks Extradition; US Says No Vault 7 Indictment

A Swedish court has blocked prosecutors’ request for a European Arrest Warrant forcing an interview with Assange in London, and Politico reports there will be no indictment of Assange on Vault 7.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

Imprisoned WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange scored two legal victories on Monday when a Swedish court refused prosecutors’ request to have Assange arrested and extradited from Britain to Sweden, while the U.S. Justice Dept. said it would not prosecute Assange for the publication of the CIA Vault 7 files, according to a report in Politico. 

The Uppsala District Court rejected a request for a European Arrest Warrant for Assange based on a reopened 2010 investigation into sexual assault allegations that has been twice dropped before. Without the warrant Assange cannot be extradited to Sweden to be questioned. 

Eva-Marie Persson, Sweden’s deputy director of public prosecutions, who last month announced the reopening of the probe and Sweden’s extradition request to Britain, said she is deciding whether to appeal the ruling. In the meantime, Persson said she’d seek a European Investigation Order, which would allow her to travel to Belmarsh prison in London and interview Assange there.

“I think it is a big victory for Julian Assange, the first one in a long time, and a well-deserved one,” said Assange’s Swedish lawyer, Per Samuelson. “It is also a victory for Sweden, who upheld the rule of law and it’s a defeat for the prosecutors, who were once again punished for not having conducted the case in a correct way. It’s a step in the right direction.”

Pressure on Britain

The pressure is now fully back on Britain alone to decide whether to extradite Assange to the United States to face espionage charges for the conduct of investigative journalism, as the U.S. indictment itself describes

The sexual assault allegations against Assange, which followed months after the Iraq War Logs and Afghan War diaries were released,  were first dismissed in 2010 by then Swedish chief prosecutor Eva Finne, just a day after the allegations were made on Aug. 20, 2010.

An arrest warrant was canceled on Aug. 21.   Finne said that day: “I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape.”

Assange then left Sweden for Britain with Sweden’s permission in September.  When he arrived in Britain an international arrest warrant was issued for him on Nov. 18, 2010.

Assange turned himself in on Dec. 7 and was released on bail. He fought Sweden’s extradition requests after Sweden refused to give his lawyers an assurance he would not be then extradited to the U.S., where he now faces extradition and  prosecution under the Espionage Act.

When his final appeal was lost, Assange asked for and received political asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy where Assange had lived from June 2012 to April 11 this year. That day Ecuador lifted his asylum and allowed British police to enter the embassy to arrest him.  

Under intense British pressure, Sweden’s prosecutor Marianne Ny declined to drop the case for a second time and refused for years to travel to London to interview Assange, at Assange’s request. However, six days after the Nov. 8, 2016 U.S. presidential election, an election Assange was accused of interfering with through his journalistic work, Ny relented and questioned Assange in the embassy. Six months later, for the second time, the investigation was indeed dropped.

Assange is serving a 50-week sentence at Belmarsh prison in London for skipping bail when he entered the embassy.  

Meanwhile in the United States, the online news site Politico reported that the Justice Department has decided not to charge Assange in the release of Vault 7, which exposed some of the CIA’s most closely held secret spying methods. Politico cited “a U.S. official and two other people familiar with the case.”

Politico said the decision surprised former U.S. officials and national security “experts” given the anger it aroused in the CIA, whose director at the time of the release, Mike Pompeo, then labelled WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service.”  

The DOJ may have decided it had just run out of time to bring the new indictment since it has a June 12 deadline to present to Britain all the charges it wants to bring against Assange before the UK can decide on the U.S. extradition request.

“There is a comfort level within the national security establishment of where the charges ended up,” the U.S. national security official told Politico.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

 




UN Torture Report: ‘Demonized’ Assange Has Faced ‘Psychological Torture’

The UN special rapporteur on torture has blasted four nations for imposing psychological torture on Julian Assange.

‘A Relentless and Unrestrained Campaign of
Public Mobbing, Intimidation and Defamation’

Warns of ‘Criminalization of Journalism’

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

The UN special rapporteur on torture has issued a stinging rebuke to the United States, Great Britain, Sweden and Ecuador for “deliberately” exposing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to years of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” which can only be described as “psychological torture.”

“In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution I have never seen a group of democratic States ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law,” Nils Melzer said in a statement published on the UN High Commissioner for Human Right’s website on Friday. “The collective persecution of Julian Assange must end here and now!”

“The evidence is overwhelming and clear,” Melzer  said. “Mr. Assange has been deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture.”

Melzer went on:

“In the course of the past nine years, Mr. Assange has been exposed to persistent, progressively severe abuse ranging from systematic judicial persecution and arbitrary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, to his oppressive isolation, harassment and surveillance inside the embassy, and from deliberate collective ridicule, insults and humiliation, to open instigation of violence and even repeated calls for his assassination.”

Melzer visited Assange at Belmarsh prison in London on May 9 with two doctors, expert in recognizing potential torture victims, who examined the WikiLeaks founder. Melzer’s statement makes no mention of Assange having been hospitalized in the prison after he was unable to converse with his Swedish lawyer.

Melzer said: 

“It was obvious that Mr. Assange’s health has been seriously affected by the extremely hostile and arbitrary environment he has been exposed to for many years. Most importantly, in addition to physical ailments, Mr. Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma.”

Fears Possible Torture in U.S. 

The UN rapporteur said Assange’s human rights could be further threatened with extradition to the United States to face 18 charges, including 17 under the Espionage Act. 

“My most urgent concern is that, in the United States, Mr. Assange would be exposed to a real risk of serious violations of his human rights, including his freedom of expression, his right to a fair trial and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” said Melzer.

He said he was “particularly alarmed” by the Espionage Act charges. “This may well result in a life sentence without parole, or possibly even the death penalty, if further charges were to be added in the future,” said Melzer.

The rapporteur expressed deep concern that the Trump administration is criminalizing journalism.

“Since 2010, when Wikileaks started publishing evidence of war crimes and torture committed by US forces, we have seen a sustained and concerted effort by several States towards getting Mr. Assange extradited to the United States for prosecution, raising serious concern over the criminalisation of investigative journalism in violation of both the US Constitution and international human rights law,” the rapporteur said.

Herald Gets Confidential Report

The Sydney Morning Herald, quoting from the confidential report that Melzer sent to the British government on Monday as well as from an interview with the rapporteur, reported :

“[Assange] is really something I’ve never seen in 20 years,” Melzer said. “I’ve seen atrocities in war areas that were physically more horrible but I’ve never seen a single person pursued so relentlessly and with so little foundation.

“[When I saw him] I immediately compared him to some of the graver cases in interrogation prisons in terms of his psychological reaction patterns. That’s what alarmed me so much.” He said Assange’s treatment was “very close to the intentional, purposeful infliction of coercive measures to try to break him”.

He appeared “extremely agitated and preoccupied,” Melzer said. “He asked a lot of questions and he would jump around, he was so preoccupied with everything he can’t even compute my answers any more.

“There were episodes of this, then he was part of the conversation as normal, then again he would enter into this agitated state. I have seen with other victims of psychological torture that would happen.”

Melzer also blasted the government of Assange’s native Australia. He told the newspaper, “Australia is a glaring absence in this case. They’re just not around, as if Assange was not an Australian citizen. That is not the correct way of dealing with that.”

A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the Herald: “We reject any suggestion by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture that the Australian Government is complicit in psychological torture or has shown a lack of consular support for Mr Assange.”

Britain’s foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, condemned Melzer for his report. Hunt said it was “wrong” for the UN rapporteur to interfere with British justice by uttering “inflammatory accusations.” 

Melzer replied to Hunt:

 

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

 

 




UN Says Assange Tortured: Watch the Webcast

Julian Assange was “psychologically tortured” by four nations ganging up on him, said the UN special rapporteur on torture. Watch the replay with Pentagon Papers whistle blower Dan Ellsberg, and other guests. 

The 32nd webcast vigil for Julian Assange was held on Friday with guests Daniel Ellsberg, Peter B. Collins, Oscar Grenfell, Sam Husseini and George Smazuely discussing the report of the UN rapporteur on torture on Julian Assange. The hosts were Elizabeth Vos and Joe Lauria. Watch the replay here:

 




Tide of Public Opinion is Turning in Assange’s Favor

Corporate media & some politicos who opposed Assange after the 2016 election have radically changed their tune, favorably influencing public opinion after the Espionage Act indictment of the WikiLeak‘s founder, reports Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News
The indictment of Julian Assange under the Espionage Act has profoundly affected press coverage of the WikiLeaks founder, with much of the media turning suddenly and decisively in his favor after  years of vilifying him.

The sharp change has also come from some politicians, and significantly, from two Justice Department prosecutors who went public to express their dissent about using the Espionage Act to indict Assange.

To the extent that public opinion matters, the sea-change in coverage could have an effect on the British or Swedish governments’ decision to extradite Assange to the United States to face the charges.

Used to Be a Russian Agent

Since the 2016 U.S. presidential election establishment media, fueled by the Mueller probe, has essentially branded Assange a Russian agent who worked to undermine American democracy.

Focusing on his personality rather than his work, the media mostly cheered his arrest by British police on April 11 after his political asylum was illegally revoked by Ecuador in its London embassy.

Assange’s initial indictment for conspiracy to intrude into a government computer was portrayed by corporate media as the work of a “hacker” and not a journalist, who doesn’t merit First Amendment protection.

But the superseding indictment under the Espionage Act last Thursday has changed all that. 

Rather than criminal activity, the indictment actually describes routine journalistic work, such as encouraging sources to turn over sensitive information and hiding a source’s identity.  

Since the Trump administration has crossed the red line criminalizing  what establishment journalists do all the time, establishment journalists have come full-square against the indictment and behind Assange.

Leading liberal outlets, who until Wednesday openly despised  Assange, began on Thursday to make 180 degree turns in their editorials, commentaries and news reports.

An editorial in The New York Times called the indictment “a marked escalation in the effort to prosecute Mr. Assange, one that could have a chilling effect on American journalism as it has been practiced for generations. It is aimed straight at the heart of the First Amendment.”

“The new charges focus on receiving and publishing classified material from a government source. That is something journalists do all the time. … This is what the First Amendment is designed to protect: the ability of publishers to provide the public with the truth.”

The Times praised Assange’s work:

“Mr. Assange shared much of the material at issue with The New York Times and other news organizations. The resulting stories demonstrated why the protections afforded the press have served the American public so well; they shed important light on the American war effort in Iraq, revealing how the United States turned a blind eye to the torture of prisoners by Iraqi forces and how extensively Iran had meddled in the conflict.”

‘Profoundly Disturbing’

Former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger wrote:

” I find the Trump administration’s use of the Espionage Act against him profoundly disturbing. … Whatever Assange got up to in 2010-11, it was not espionage. … Imagine the precedent if the Trump administration gets away with this. Israel and India have extensive nuclear weapons programmes – each protected by ferocious domestic official secrets acts. Think of the outcry if the Netanyahu or Modi governments attempted to extradite a British or US journalist to face life in jail for writing true things about their nuclear arsenals. …

Assange is accused of trying to persuade a source to disclose yet more secret information. Most reporters would do the same. Then he is charged with behaviour that, on the face of it, looks like a reporter seeking to help a source protect her identity. If that’s indeed what Assange was doing, good for him.” 

The New Yorker‘s Masha Gessen, wrote: “The use of the Espionage Act to prosecute Assange is an attack on the First Amendment. … It stands to reason that an Administration that considers the press an ‘enemy of the people’ would launch this attack. In attacking the media, it is attacking the public.’ 

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, the Democratic Party booster, who probably had more influence than any commentator in drumming up the Russiagate conspiracy and Assange’s alleged role in it, on Thursday launched into an astounding defense of the imprisoned publisher.  On her program she said:

“The Justice Department today, the Trump administration today, just put every journalistic institution in this country on Julian Assange’s side of the ledger. On his side of the fight. Which, I know, is unimaginable. But that is because the government is now trying to assert this brand new right to criminally prosecute people for publishing secret stuff, and newspapers and magazines and investigative journalists and all sorts of different entities publish secret stuff all the time. That is the bread and butter of what we do.”

Nick Miller, writing in The Sydney Morning Herald, said:

“On the face of it this indictment covers a lot of practices that are standard to investigative journalism: appealing for information, encouraging a source to provide documents that are not publicly available, reporting classified information you believe is in the public interest and the public has a right to know. …It may be that prosecutors can argue Assange was not acting as a journalist. But they would, by doing so, make the line separating journalism from espionage wafer-thin, and much more dangerous to approach, even in the public interest.”

Politicians Too

The indictment for espionage also caused a number of politicians to back Assange. Two U.S. candidates for president and another senator spoke out in his favor. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) tweeted:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said in a statement: “Trump should not be using this case as a pretext to wage war on the First Amendment and go after the free press who hold the powerful accountable everyday.”

“This is not about Julian Assange,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said in a statement. “This is about the use of the Espionage Act to charge a recipient and publisher of classified information. I am extremely concerned about the precedent this may set and potential dangers to the work of journalists and the First Amendment.”

In Assange’s native Australia, Sen. Rex Patrick said: 

“The United States government’s decision to charge Australian citizen and publisher Julian Assange with new espionage offences relating to receiving and publishing classified US government information raises a grave threat to freedom of the press worldwide, and must be viewed so by the Australian government,” he said.

“The Australian government should be active not only in providing consular support to Mr Assange, who is an Australian citizen, but also outspoken in making representations to the British government against allowing Mr Assange to be extradited to the United States on charges that so obviously constitute a grave threat to press freedom.”

Bob Carr, a former Australian foreign minister, said:  “While it appears capital punishment does not apply in this case, the US, by seeking extradition for offences that might attract a 175 years imprisonment, could be testing the tolerance of its allies and partners. I think this changes the game almost as much as if capital punishment were the penalty.”

Carr said Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, “needs to protect herself from the charge that she’s failed in her duty to protect the life of an Australian citizen.

“Therefore I would imagine that Dfat (the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) will provide her with talking points to conversations with her British, Swedish and indeed American counterparts.

“Not to do so would leave the minister exposed to withering criticism that they did not take all appropriate action that might have made a difference, mainly before the British court makes a decision.”  

Extradition Made Harder

The Trump administration appears to have gone too far in its Espionage Act indictment, eliciting not only media pushback, but perhaps complicating its extradition case.  The British home secretary may now not want to been seen sending a suspect to a country that has clearly criminalized journalism.  

Miller, in the Herald, wrote:

“By bringing espionage into the picture the US have also made their extradition work much, much harder. Assange’s lawyers may try to argue that he is being extradited for his political opinions (which is not allowed), or for conduct that would not be a crime in the UK (ditto). This last is a very interesting question. The UK’s Official Secrets Act may be even harder to stretch to cover Assange’s actions then the US Espionage Act.”

The Intercept reported:

“The uproar could make it easier for Assange’s lawyers in the U.K. — where he is currently serving a 50-week jail term for violating bail — to argue that he is wanted in the United States primarily for embarrassing the Pentagon and State Department, by publishing true information obtained from a whistleblower, making the charges against him political in nature, rather than criminal.”

It is not clear why the U.S. released its superseding indictment when it did. It had until a June 12 deadline to do so. The U.S. government also had the option of a loophole in its extradition treaty with Britain, providing for a waiver to the “doctrine of speciality.”

That would have allowed the U.S. to ask Britain to waive the provision that the UK would have to know all the charges against a suspect before an extradition decision would be made, thereby not permitting the U.S. to add more charges once Assange was on U.S. soil. One possibility is that the U.S. asked Britain for the waiver and it was refused. 

Personal Attacks Continue

The liberal news outlets who are now finally defending Assange’s activity because the indictment opens themselves to legal jeopardy could not, however, refrain from taking potshots at him.

The Times, for instance, admitted its role in cooperating with WikiLeaks, and thus its potential criminal liability, given the new circumstances.  But the paper tried to wriggle out of it by calling Assange “a source” rather than “a partner.”  

If Assange were merely a “source” he would not deserve the protection the Times implies he now merits as a journalist when they compared his activity to “something journalists do all the time.”  Either he is a source or a reporter. If he’s a reporter then the Times is  just using another reporter’s work but treating him as a source. If he’s only a source then he does not merit First Amendment protection.  

Maddow said: 

“Despite anyone’s feelings about this spectacularly unsympathetic character at the center of this international drama, you are going to see every journalistic institution in this country, every First Amendment supporter in this country, left, right and center, swallow their feelings about this particular human and denounce what the Trump administration is trying to do here. Because it would fundamentally change the United States of America.”

And  Gessen added:

“Assange is a fundamentally unappealing protagonist. He keeps terrible political company. He is, apparently, terrible company himself. In his writing and interviews, he comes across as power-crazed and manipulative. Most important, when he published leaked classified documents, he shared information that exposed people to danger. He is the perfect target precisely because he is unsympathetic. One has to hold one’s nose while defending Assange—and yet one must defend Assange.”  

Senator Warren also found it necessary to blast Assange. She said, “Assange is a bad actor who has harmed U.S. national security — and he should be held accountable.” 

Unmasking Informants

Rusbridger said: “We fell out, as most people eventually do with Assange. I found him mercurial, untrustworthy and dislikable: he wasn’t keen on me, either.” Significantly, Rusbridger pointed out that, “All the collaborating editors disapproved of him releasing unredacted material from the Manning trove in September 2011.”  

First, Assange’s revelation of the names of sources and informants in its publications forms a major part of the superseding indictment.  But the indictment does not spell out any law that Assange violated by doing this. It is illegal in the U.S. to unmask a covert intelligence agent, as happened in the Valerie Plame case, but not to reveal a source or informant.

Second, there is no evidence that anyone was ever harmed by the uncovering of these names.

Third, most importantly as far as Rusbridger is concerned, is that he completely omits his newspapers’ role in the affair. Rusbridger was the Guardian editor when two of his reporters, David Leigh and Luke Harding, in their February 2011 book WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy, published a password to unpublished and un-redacted WikiLeaks files containing the names of informants in files that only intelligence agencies and governments could decrypt. That led Assange to publish the files with their names in September 2011 so that the sources could seek safety. 

The personal attacks on Assange and what kind of person he is has never been relevant. What is relevant is that he’s a journalist who has been persecuted and now indicted for practicing journalism, a fact that mainstream journalists have finally woken up to.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe .




Assange Espionage Act Indictment: Watch 31st Vigil

Watch the replay of a webcast discussion about Julian Assange’s indictment under the Espionage Act and the grave implications for the future of American journalism.

See John Kiriakou,  Chris Hedges, Margaret Kimberely, Peter B. Collins, and George Samzuely with hosts Elizabeth Vos and Joe Lauria. .




Assange Indicted Under Espionage Act on 17 New Counts

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was indicted on Thursday under the Espionage Act, the first time a journalist has been charged under the Act for possessing and disseminating classified information.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

A journalist was indicted under the Espionage Act for the first time in U.S. history on Thursday when the Department of Justice charged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with 17 counts of violating the Act in a move that opens the way for prosecution of anyone who publishes classified information.

The 37-page indictment charges Assange under four sections of the Act, including Section E for possessing and disseminating classified matter. It charged him with acts common to any investigative journalist:

“(i)circumvent(ing) legal safeguards on information; (ii) provid(ing) that protected information to WikiLeaks for public dissemination; and (iii) continu(ing) the pattern of illegally procuring and providing protected information to WikiLeaks for distribution to the public.”     

Assange is serving a 50-week sentence in London’s Belmarsh prison for skipping bail and seeking asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in 2012 because he feared onward extradition from Sweden to the United States and prosecution under the Espionage Act. He was arrested on April 11 when Ecuador illegally lifted his asylum and let British police onto Ecuadorian territory to carry Assange from the embassy.

The U.S. had until June 12 to add additional charges in its extradition request to Britain. The decision on extradition rests with British Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who WikiLeaks said “is now under enormous pressure to protect the rights of the free press in the UK and elsewhere.”

Not a Journalist

John Demers, head of the DOJ’s National Security Division, in announcing the indictment told reporters: “Some say that Assange is a journalist and that he should be immune for prosecution for these actions.  The department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy and we thank you for it. It is not and has never been the department’s policy to target them for reporting.”

But Demers said Assange wasn’t a journalist. “No responsible actor, journalist or otherwise, would purposefully publish the names of individuals he or she knew to be confidential human sources in a war zone, exposing them to the gravest of dangers,” he said.  

Assange’s attorney in the U.S.,  Barry Pollack,  responded:

“Today the government charged Julian Assange under the Espionage Act for encouraging sources to provide him truthful information and for publishing that information. The fig leaf that this is merely about alleged computer hacking has been removed. These unprecedented charges demonstrate the gravity of the threat the criminal prosecution of Julian Assange poses to all journalists in their endeavor to inform the public about actions that have taken by the U.S. government.”

Assange would face a maximum of 175 years in jail if convicted on all charges. The Espionage Act carries a potential death penalty if the publication of classified information takes place during wartime. Some of WikiLeak‘s most prominent releases related to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which prima facie evidence of U.S. war crimes was revealed.

WikiLeaks criticized in a statement the global reach of U.S. law: “The Department of Justice wants to imprison Assange for crimes allegedly committed outside of the United States. This extraterritorial application of US law is explicit throughout the indictment… thereby classifying any territory in the world as subject to US law.” A 1961 amendment to the Espionage Act extended its jurisdiction from U.S. territory to the entire world.

A key part of the indictment alleges that Assange published in the Iraq, Afghanistan and State Dept. cables releases the unredacted names of informants and other persons, putting their lives at risk. The indictment does not name this as a violation of a specific statute, however, and appears to be  an attempt to win public sympathy for the new charges.  

According to a WikiLeaks source, Assange was forced to reveal certain names in the Cable-gate releases in September 2011 to actually help individuals escape when two Guardian journalists in February of that year published a password to material containing their names that only intelligence agencies could access. Assange has repeatedly said that there is no known case of harm coming to anyone whose names were revealed and the indictment only says that informants were “vulnerable” to retribution.

The indictment accuses Assange of conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to steal classified documents. But it clearly states that Manning already had legal “access to the computers in connection with her duties as an intelligence analyst” and that Assange’s efforts to help Manning with a password was intended to help hide her identity as the source. The indictment appears to be criminalizing what is a routine act of journalism.

“Had Manning retrieved the full password hash and had ASSANGE and Manning successfully cracked it, Manning may have been able to log onto computers under a user name that did not belong to her,” the indictment said. “Such a measure would have made it more difficult for investigators to identify Manning as the source of disclosures of classified information.”

Manning, who is portrayed throughout the indictment as WikiLeak‘s source only at Assange’s behest, (and who remains imprisoned for refusing to testify against Assange), issued this statement:

“I continue to accept full and sole responsibility for those disclosures in 2010. It’s telling that the government appears to have already obtained this indictment before my contempt hearing last week. This administration describes the press as the opposition party and an enemy of the people. Today, they use the law as a sword, and have shown their willingness to bring the full power of the state against the very institution intended to shield us from such excesses.”

Press Freedom at Risk

The indictment under the Espionage Act demolishes a democratic pretense of freedom of the press in the U.S. and makes all news organizations —indeed any citizen — liable for prosecution for disseminating classified information.

“Notably, The New York Times, among many other news organizations, obtained precisely the same archives of documents from WikiLeaks, without authorization from the government — the act that most of the charges addressed,” the Times reported.

“Though he is not a conventional journalist, much of what Mr. Assange does at WikiLeaks is difficult to distinguish in a legally meaningful way from what traditional news organizations like The New York Times do: seek and publish information that officials want to be secret, including classified national security matters, and take steps to protect the confidentiality of sources,” the Times report on the indictment said.

 In a tweet WikiLeaks called the indictment “madness.”

The American Civil Liberties Union tweeted:

“These charges are an extraordinary escalation of the Trump administration’s attacks on journalism, establishing a dangerous precedent that can be used to target all news organizations that hold the government accountable by publishing its secrets.

The charges against Assange are equally dangerous for US journalists who uncover the secrets of other nations. If the US can prosecute a foreign publisher for violating our secrecy laws, there’s nothing preventing China, or Russia, from doing the same.”

In a statement, WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristin Hrafnsson said:

“This is the evil of lawlessness in its purest form. With the indictment, the ‘leader of the free world’ dismisses the First Amendment — hailed as a model of press freedom around the world — and launches a blatant extraterritorial assault outside its borders, attacking basic principles of democracy in Europe and the rest of the world.”

In a tweet, Hrafnsson added that he took “no satisfaction” in having correctly warned of the Espionage Act prosecution of Assange.

Former British ambassador Craig Murray tweeted that “the poison is out.”

A guide to the new charges against Assange.

Elizabeth Vos and Catherine Vogan contributed to this article.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe .




For the Latest News on WikiLeaks Watch the 30th Online Vigil

Host Elizabeth Vos led a discussion with author George Szamuely on Chelsea Manning returning to prison; Sweden reopening its case against Assange and the other big headlines of the week.