[Pnews] The Unprecedented and Illegal Campaign to Eliminate Julian Assange

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Oct 6 17:22:46 EDT 2020

https://theintercept.com/2020/10/06/julian-assange-trial-extradition/ The
Unprecedented and Illegal Campaign to Eliminate Julian Assange
Charles Glass - October 6, 2020

*Over the 17 days* of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing in London,
prosecutors succeeded in proving both crimes and conspiracy. The culprit,
however, was not Assange. Instead, the lawbreakers and conspirators turned
out to be the British and American governments. Witness after witness
detailed illegal measures to violate Assange’s right to a fair trial,
destroy his health, assassinate his character, and imprison him in solitary
confinement for the rest of his life. Courtroom evidence exposed illegality
on an unprecedented scale by America’s and Britain’s intelligence,
military, police, and judicial agencies to eliminate Assange. The
governments had the edge, like the white man of whom Malcolm X wrote, “He’s
a professional gambler; he has all the cards and the odds stacked on his
side, and he has always dealt to our people from the bottom of the deck.”

The deck was clearly stacked. Assange’s antagonists were marking the cards
as early as February 2008, when the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Center
set out, in its words, to “damage or destroy this center of gravity” that
was WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks, from the time Assange and his friends created it
in 2006, was attracting sources around the world to entrust them, securely
and anonymously, with documents exposing state crimes. The audience for the
documents was not a foreign intelligence service, but the public. In the
governments’ view, the public needed protection from knowledge of what they
were doing behind closed doors and in the skies of Afghanistan and Iraq. To
plug the leaks, the governments had to stop Assange. The Pentagon, the CIA,
the National Security Agency, and the State Department soon followed the
Counterintelligence Center’s lead by establishing their own anti-Assange
task forces and enlisting the aid of Britain, Sweden, and Ecuador.

What a ride it’s been. The first recorded “black op” against Assange
occurred on September 27, 2010, when a suitcase containing three laptops,
hard drives, and clothing vanished from the aircraft carrying him from
Sweden to Germany. Efforts to retrieve his belongings, which included
privileged communications with his legal counsel, elicited vague excuses
from the airline that it knew nothing. The fate of the purloined items
became public knowledge in 2013 when information from his laptops appeared
in prosecution briefs against U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning. In
2011, FBI agents went to Iceland to employ an 18-year-old informant,
Sigurdur “Siggi” Thordarson, to spy on WikiLeaks. When Iceland’s
authorities discovered the FBI’s illegal activities, it deported the FBI
agents. Thodarson, whom the FBI had paid $5,000 and flown around the world,
later confessed to stealing money from WikiLeaks and was convicted for
sexually abusing underage boys.

[image: GettyImages-544088452]

Scenes outside the Ecuadorian embassy in Brompton Road, Knightsbridge in
London on Aug. 19, 2014.

Photo: James D. Morgan/Getty images

Surveillance, constant wherever Assange found himself, intensified when he
took political asylum in Ecuador’s London Embassy in June 2012 to avoid
extradition to Sweden. He told me on one of my visits to him there that
life in the embassy, with cameras and microphones everywhere, was like “The
Truman Show.” The intelligence services observed his every movement and
heard his every word. They spied on private discussions with his lawyers
and his physicians. If a priest had visited the Catholic Assange, they
would have violated the sanctity of the confessional.

Meanwhile, the NSA and Britain’s equivalent, GCHQ, tracked people who
logged onto the WikiLeaks website. U.S. financial institutions attempted to
cripple WikiLeaks financially by denying donors the use of credit cards and
PayPal to support the organization. Assange’s legal counsel did not escape
scrutiny. His Spanish lawyer, the famed former judge, Baltasar Garzón, who
had prosecuted Chile’s Gen. Augusto Pinochet, was followed, and his
computer was stolen from his office in late 2017. I had a curious
experience in 2019, and I’m just a journalist. Two days after one of my
meetings with Assange at the embassy, burglars broke into an office I
shared with two designers in London. The only item missing was my computer,
the thieves having left my office mates’ computers untouched. It’s
impossible to prove who did it, but it’s not impossible to guess.

The extreme measures taken against Assange reached their all-time low when
Lenín Boltaire Moreno Garcés replaced the pro-Assange Rafael Correa as
president of Ecuador on May 24, 2017. Moreno employed a private Spanish
firm, Undercover Global SL, to provide security at the London embassy.
Former company employees testified on the final day of the Assange hearing
that they installed more cameras and microphones, tampered with the mobile
phones of visitors, stole the diapers of one of Assange’s babies to take
his DNA, and discussed kidnapping and murdering him. They fed live video to
the CIA of Assange’s legal consultations. Something similar happened to
Daniel Ellsberg after he released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times
and Washington Post in 1971. The White House “plumbers,” who would later
rob the Democratic Party headquarters in Washington’s Watergate Complex,
broke into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office to steal his medical files. The
FBI had bugged Ellsberg’s phone without a warrant. So outrageous was the
government’s behavior that Judge William Matthew Byrne dismissed the
Espionage Act case against Ellsberg “with prejudice,” meaning that the
government could not appeal.

Legal experts testified that Assange would not receive a fair trial in the
U.S., but at London’s Central Criminal Court it was becoming apparent that
he was not receiving one in Britain either. The first magistrate assigned
to his case, Emma Arbuthnot, in 2017, turned out to have a husband and a
son with links to people cited for criminal activities in documents
published by WikiLeaks. When her family’s additional connections to the
intelligence services and defense industries became public, she withdrew
from the case for what she told Private Eye magazine was a “perception of
bias.” She did not formally recuse herself or declare a conflict of
interest. As Westminster’s chief magistrate, she nonetheless oversees the
conduct of lesser magistrates. One is Vanessa Baraitser, who presided at
Assange’s hearing. Records uncovered by the Declassified website showed
that of her 24 previous extradition hearings, she ordered extradition in
23. Not a bad record from the prosecution’s point of view, but appeals
courts subsequently reversed her verdict in six of the 23.

When Assange’s hearing convened on September 8, the defense applied for
more time to prepare their case. The government had had 10 years of
preparation and access to defense lawyers’ correspondence with their
client. Assange’s advocates were permitted to see him only rarely and under
observation at Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh, a maximum-security facility
in south London for prisoners
<https://prisonjobs.blog.gov.uk/your-a-d-guide-on-prison-categories/> who
“pose the most threat to the public, the police or national security.”
Vital documents were not reaching him. Baraitser rejected the request. She
also forced Assange to observe the hearing from a glass cage, usually
reserved for violent offenders, at the back of the courtroom where he could
not confer with his lawyers. Technical problems interrupted sound
transmission to Assange, causing him to miss much of the testimony. When
Assange addressed his lawyers across the room, the prosecution could hear
what he said. Edward Fitzgerald, Assange’s lead barrister and one of
Britain’s best, was in the ring with his hands tied.

[image: GettyImages-1201691218]

Australian MPs Andrew Wilkie (center) and George Christensen (center left),
speak outside Belmarsh prison, ahead of the first day of the extradition
hearing due to take place next week for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in
London on Feb. 18, 2020.

Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Images/Getty Images

*Testimony demonstrating Assange’s* legal handicaps and his failing health
should be enough to prevent extradition. When police removed Assange from
the Ecuadorian Embassy and incarcerated him in Belmarsh in April 2019, they
did not allow him to take with him any of his belongings. These included
not only his clothes, but also his reading glasses, which he was denied for
several weeks. U.S. authorities seized all his legal papers and other
possessions from the embassy without a warrant or the presence of Assange’s
legal representatives.

Assange’s mental health has deteriorated during his confinement in
Belmarsh. Numerous psychiatrists have attested that he is on the verge of
suicide. Dr. Michael Kopelman, emeritus professor of psychiatry at King’s
College, London, told the court, based on 19 consultations with Assange at
Belmarsh, “I reiterate again that I am as certain as a psychiatrist ever
can be that, in the event of imminent extradition, Mr. Assange would indeed
find a way to commit suicide.” Guards at Belmarsh had already discovered a
razor blade in Assange’s cell. Assange has sought Catholic absolution,
asked to write his will, and called the Samaritans’ suicide prevention
hotline. Lurking in the background is a family history of suicide, which
makes that outcome more probable. His depression worsened during several
months’ solitary confinement in the prison’s medical wing, from which he
was released after other prisoners protested the abuse. Testimony by
leading psychiatrists Drs. Sandra Crosby and Quinton Deeley confirmed
Kopelman’s diagnosis of clinical depression. Deeley estimated that the risk
of Assange killing himself if transferred to the U.S. was “high,” noting
that “rates of suicide are higher in people on the autistic spectrum.” The
U.N. special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, declared, “Mr. Assange has
been deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to persistent and
progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or
punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as
psychological torture.”

I sent Assange a transistor radio. The prison returned it. I then sent him
a book on how to make a radio and that too came back.

Normal practice has not applied to Assange, who has received unique
treatment at every stage of his incarceration. When he pleaded guilty for
the relatively minor offense of bail evasion in April 2019, the court
sentenced him to 50 weeks at Belmarsh. At that time, Jack Shepherd,
convicted of manslaughter in the death of a young woman in a speedboat
incident, received a sentence of half that time. Two-thirds of the 797
inmates then in Belmarsh were violent offenders, among them convicted
terrorists and gang members. Nonviolent bail jumpers under usual practice
serve their time in less restrictive Category B or C prisons, but Assange
was not a normal prisoner. When he served his 50 weeks, the magistrate
ordered him to stay in Belmarsh’s harsh environment for the duration of his
extradition proceedings.

The petty persecution of Assange went so far as the refusal to allow him
use of a radio, which is allowed under prison regulations. When veteran BBC
correspondent John Simpson publicized this denial last June, I sent Assange
a transistor radio. The prison returned it. I then sent him a book on how
to make a radio and that too came back. I asked a friend in the prison
service to intervene, but he demurred, “Belmarsh is a law unto itself.” A
respected former hostage of Hezbollah in the 1980s then wrote to Belmarsh’s
governor to point out that his captors had given him a radio that he called
“a godsend and helped me considerably to get through the ordeal.” When the
prison gave Assange a radio the next day, it was either a coincidence or
the authorities’ avoiding the appearance of small-minded cruelty more
obscene than that of Lebanese kidnappers.

More special treatment followed. At the hearing, the prosecution initially
stated that Assange stood accused under America’s 1917 Espionage Act for
publishing government secrets. When defense witnesses showed that Assange’s
actions were no different from those of any other journalist cultivating
sources, prosecutors reversed course to allow that any journalist
publishing classified documents could be liable to prosecution. Given that
Assange collaborated with the New York Times, The Guardian, El País, and Le
Monde, their editors would be liable for prosecution. No one believes they
will be. The prosecution failed to explain why another publisher,
Crymptome.org, was not being investigated when it had published the massive
Cablegate collection of State Department communications on September 1,
2011, a day before WikiLeaks had.

[image: GettyImages-1155860871]

Supporters of the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange gather to show their
solidarity ahead of his expected appearance by video-link at the latest
hearing in his ongoing extradition case at the City of Westminster
Magistrates Court in London on June 14, 2019.

*Not only did* the U.S. choose to ignore other publishers of the American
documents, but it also applied the law in a unique manner to suit their
case against Assange. U.S. prosecutors had applied under the U.S.-U.K.
Extradition Treaty of March 2003 to compel Britain to hand over Assange.
Article 4(1) of the treaty, inconveniently for the prosecution, states,
“Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is
requested is a political offense.” The prosecution and the court, however,
cited British domestic legislation, the Extradition Act of 2003, which does
not mention the political exclusion. This sleight of hand mirrored the
contradiction between American claims to apply the Espionage Act to
Assange, who is Australian, for actions undertaken in Iceland and the U.K.,
while denying him protection of a more fundamental American law, the
Constitution’s First Amendment with its guarantee of freedom of speech and
the press. Can the prosecution get away with choosing which British and
American laws apply to Assange and which don’t? How much prosecutorial
chicanery can a court swallow without destroying its own legitimacy?

Britain has ratified other international treaties that prevent dispatching
Assange to the U.S. The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel,
Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment requires the prohibition and punishment of
torture in law and practice. It also “forbids the forced return of any
person to a country where they would risk being tortured.” The United
States ratified it in 1994. Two years earlier, it had ratified the
International Convention on Civil and Political Rights guaranteeing
immunity from torture, as well as the rights to life and free expression.

The U.S. has abrogated both treaties, as many documents published by
WikiLeaks have shown, despite the fact that they have the force of law in
signatory states. Amnesty International observed in 1998, three years
before the September 11 attacks provided an excuse for torture, that the
U.S. consistently “diluted” the conventions with “reservations,
interpretations and statements that limit the protections they require.” It
added, “The cruel use of restraints, resulting in unnecessary pain, injury
or even death, is widespread in U.S. prisons and jails. Mentally disturbed
prisoners have been bound, spread-eagled, on boards for prolonged periods
in four-point restraints without proper medical authorization or
supervision. Restraints are deliberately imposed as punishment, or used as
a routine control measure rather than as an emergency response.” Amnesty
also criticized the near-permanent solitary confinement in America’s
“supermax” prisons with no sensory stimulation that “can cause severe
physical and psychological damage.”

Can the prosecution get away with choosing which British and American laws
apply to Assange and which don’t?

One recent British precedent would require denial of the extradition
application on health grounds. Computer hacker Lauri Love, accused of
“breaching thousands of computer systems in the United States and
elsewhere,” has Asperger’s syndrome. An appeal court found in 2018 that
sending him to the U.S. for trial would so harm his mental health that he
had to remain in Britain. Physicians have diagnosed Assange with
Asperger’s, and 117 psychiatrists signed an open letter declaring that
Assange would not survive trial and imprisonment in the U.S.

An American former public defender, Yancey Ellis, described for the London
hearing the conditions in Virginia’s Alexandria Detention Center, which
would house Assange before and during his trial. Assange, he said, would be
confined “at least 22 hours in a cell” that was “about the size of a
parking space” with only a mat on a concrete shelf for a bed. Joel
Stickler, an American prisoner advocate, testified that if Assange were
convicted, his treatment at the “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” otherwise known
as the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Facility in Florence, Colorado,
would be worse. Assange would be housed alone amid inmates like Unabomber
Ted Kaczynski, Boston Marathon terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, FBI
agent-turned-Russian spy Robert Hanssen, Mexican drug baron Joaquín “El
Chapo” Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, and Oklahoma City co-bomber Terry
McNichols. The prison’s regime is as ruthless as its prisoners:
twenty-three-hour daily confinement in a concrete box cell with one window
four inches wide, six bed checks a day with a seventh at weekends, one hour
of exercise in an outdoor cage, showers spraying water in one-minute
spurts, and “shakedowns” at the discretion of prison staff. There won’t be
many other journalists and publishers there.

Barristers for the prosecution and defense have one month to submit closing
arguments in writing to Baraitser, the magistrate, who will render her
verdict on January 4. An impartial tribunal would have no option but to
exonerate Assange — but fairness has not thus far featured in proceedings
with the prosecution’s 10-year head start on the defense; the inability of
Assange’s solicitor, Jennifer Robinson, to confer with him for six months;
and the prosecution’s possession of his confidential lawyer-client
documents and transcripts of his conversations with his advocates in
heavy-handed violation of the law.

The maltreatment of Assange revealed at London’s Central Criminal Court
will not end if he is extradited. Extradition will intensify his “cruel and
unusual punishment.” The prohibition of such punishment appears in both the
Eighth Amendment of the American Constitution and its predecessor, Clause
Ten of England’s 1689 Bill of Rights. That fundamental protection has
applied to everyone in Britain and America for centuries. Once again,
though, they may make an exception for Assange.
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