what reward do you expect, england? would thirty pieces of jew gold suffice???

UK judge rejects delay in Assange extradition case
Laura Tiernan, WSWS, Oct 22 2019

Imprisoned WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court in London yesterday, in what was only his third public appearance since UK police seized him from the Ecuadorian embassy on Apr 11 and imprisoned him in the maximum-security Belmarsh Prison. Assange, whose exposure of Ppindo war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan garnered worldwide attention and multiple journalism awards in Australia, Pindostan, Europe and Latin America, arrived at court in a Serco prison van. Standing in the dock, a room enclosed by reinforced glass panels, Assange mentally paused and appeared to stumble as Judge Vanessa Baraitser asked him to state his name and date of birth. Baraitser’s vindictiveness towards Assange was clear from the first moments of the hour-and-a-half-long case management hearing. She told Assange’s supporters watching silently in the public gallery that “those causing a disturbance … will be asked to leave.” Kristinn Hrafnsson, John Pilger and Ken Livingstone were among those seated. James Lewis QC appeared on behalf of the Pindo DoJ, stating, “Mr Assange is wanted by the Pindo government” for “spying” and “aiding and abetting Chelsea Manning” in relation to publication of Pindo classified documents relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and of Pindo State Dept cables. Assange was “not a journalist,” Lewis asserted. His actions were “criminal in both Pindostasn and UK,” he claimed, citing the UK’s Official Secrets Act.

Mark Summers QC appeared on behalf of Assange and requested the extradition case against his client be dismissed. The 2003 UK/US extradition treaty expressly provided that “extradition shall not be granted if the offence for which extradition is requested is a political offence.” Summers said the political motivations of his client “are well known.” Summers continued that the US government’s moves against Assange and former Pindo Army private Chelsea Manning since 2010 were “part of an avowed war on whistleblowers to include investigative journalists and publishers.” Political pressure had been brought to bear by the Pindo state on Ecuador and on Manning, who is now in jail for refusing to testify against Assange. WikiLeaks had been described as a “hostile non-state intelligence agency” and the case had been “reinvigorated” by the Trump administration. The attack on journalists was “unprecedented.” Summers requested that Baraitser grant a three-month delay to the extradition hearing scheduled for Feb 25. He pointed to “extraordinary” revelations of illegal US interference against Assange’s legal rights. Legal action taken by Assange against a Spanish security company had exposed the US “actively intruding on privileged discussions” between Assange and his lawyers at the Ecuadorian embassy. The Pindo state was involved in the illegal theft of information from telephones and computers, “hooded men breaking into offices” and “plans to kidnap and harm Mr Assange. He told the court:

To be blunt, we need more time.

The “enormity” of the issues in the case required “evidence gathering that would test most lawyers.” Summers explained that a delay was also needed due to conditions facing Assange at Belmarsh Prison. His client had no access to information, no phone contact with his Pindo legal team and mail restrictions meant he had only received court documents from his lawyers one week before today’s hearing. Responding on behalf of the Pindo government, Lewis told Baraitser:

You shouldn’t be beguiled into accepting (the three-month delay argued by Assange’s lawyers.) It’s just a guesstimate.

Summers appealed to Baraitser that the February date for a full extradition hearing “isn’t sustainable.” He repeatedly stated that Assange’s right to a fair and equitable trial was being placed in jeopardy. Baraitser was unmoved, stating:

My intention is to adopt the timetable suggested by Mr Lewis.

While granting to the defence a two-month extension to gather further evidence, she ruled the full extradition hearing would proceed on Feb 25. In a final vindictive move, Baraitser declared that next year’s week-long extradition hearing would take place at Woolwich Magistrates Court near Belmarsh Prison. There were audible gasps in the public gallery at Baraitser’s announcement. The venue near Belmarsh has a “public gallery” of just three seats, all but denying public scrutiny and allowing a biased media to selectively report and spread disinformation and lies. Summers immediately objected to Baraitser’s choice of venue. Not only was the court difficult to reach, adding to an already impossible schedule and workload for the legal team, but its facilities were inferior to those at Westminster and it even lacked conference rooms that would be vital for confidential legal discussions. His concerns were dismissed. As the hearing drew to an end, Baraitser to turned to Assange and asked him to rise. She asked him:

Do you understand what has happened here today?

Assange, who has endured months of solitary confinement and been cut off from daily access to outside information, replied after a long pause:

Do I understand? Not really.

Baraitser asked:

Is there anything else you would like to say?

speaking softly and inaudibly at times, Assange replied:

I don’t understand how this is equitable. This superpower had 10 years to prepare for this case. I can’t remember anything. I can’t access any of my written work. It’s very difficult to do anything with such limited resources against a superpower intent on [inaudible]… They have an unfair advantage dealing with documents. They [know] the interior of my life with my psychologist. They steal my children’s DNA. This is not equitable what is happening here. I can’t think properly!

As he concluded, he fought back tears and raised both hands to his head. These were the final words spoken before adjournment as Assange was led from the dock, out of view of his supporters in the public gallery. Speaking after the hearing, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said:

The case should be thrown out immediately. Not only is it illegal on the face of the treaty. Pindostan has conducted illegal operations against Assange and his lawyers which are the subject of a major investigation in Spain.

Outside the court, Hrafnsson and Pilger addressed around 200 demonstrators who had made their presence felt throughout the morning. The crowd included dozens of Yellow Vests who had travelled overnight by coach from France. Hrafnsson told those assembled:

This is journalism on trial here and it has to be fought.

Pilger told demonstrators:

The whole thing is a grotesque absurdity. There is an extradition law between this country and Pindostan. It states specifically that someone cannot be extradited if the offences are political … It is not a bit of agitprop, it is not an opinion. They are political. All but one charge is based on the 1917 Espionage Act, which was used to jail conscientious objectors during WW1 in Pindostan. The source of this is a rogue state, that ignores its own laws and international laws and the laws of this country.

Assange Case
Craig Murray, Oct 21 2019

I am trying to write a report of what I saw in Westminster Magistrate’s Court today, but my hands keep shaking with rage, frustration and sadness to the point I can’t type, and my heart keeps going into atrial fibrillation. I have got myself a cheese sandwich and bottle of Irn Bru and still hope to finish it this evening.

Assange in Court
Craig Murray, Oct 22 2019

I was deeply shaken while witnessing yesterday’s events in Westminster Magistrates Court. Every decision was railroaded through over the scarcely heard arguments and objections of Assange’s legal team, by a magistrate who barely pretended to be listening. Before I get on to the blatant lack of fair process, the first thing I must note was Julian’s condition. I was badly shocked by just how much weight my friend has lost, by the speed his hair has receded and by the appearance of premature and vastly accelerated ageing. He has a pronounced limp I have never seen before. Since his arrest he has lost over 15 kg in weight. But his physical appearance was not as shocking as his mental deterioration. When asked to give his name and date of birth, he struggled visibly over several seconds to recall both. I will come to the important content of his statement at the end of proceedings in due course, but his difficulty in making it was very evident; it was a real struggle for him to articulate the words and focus his train of thought. Until yesterday I had always been quietly sceptical of those who claimed that Julian’s treatment amounted to torture, even of Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, and sceptical of those who suggested he may be subject to debilitating drug treatments. But having attended the trials in Uzbekistan of several victims of extreme torture, and having worked with survivors from Sierra Leone and elsewhere, I can tell you that yesterday changed my mind entirely and Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness. I had been even more sceptical of those who claimed, as a senior member of his legal team did to me on Sunday night, that they were worried that Julian might not live to the end of the extradition process. I now find myself not only believing it, but haunted by the thought.

Everybody in that court yesterday saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable. Yet the agents of the state, particularly the callous magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, were not just prepared but eager to be a part of this bloodsport. She actually told him that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later. The question of why a man who, by the very charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, had been reduced by the state to somebody incapable of following court proceedings, gave her not a millisecond of concern. The charge against Julian is very specific; conspiring with Chelsea Manning to publish the Iraq War logs, the Afghanistan war logs and the State Dept cables. The charges are nothing to do with Sweden, nothing to do with sex, and nothing to do with the 2016 Pindo election; a simple clarification the mainstream media appears incapable of understanding. The purpose of yesterday’s hearing was case management; to determine the timetable for the extradition proceedings. The key points at issue were that Julian’s defence was requesting more time to prepare their evidence; and arguing that political offences were specifically excluded from the extradition treaty. There should, they argued, therefore be a preliminary hearing to determine whether the extradition treaty applied at all. The reasons given by Assange’s defence team for more time to prepare were both compelling and startling. They had very limited access to their client in jail and had not been permitted to hand him any documents about the case until one week ago. He had also only just been given limited computer access, and all his relevant records and materials had been seized from the Ecuadorean Embassy by the Pindo Government; he had no access to his own materials for the purpose of preparing his defence.

Furthermore, the defence argued, they were in touch with the Spanish courts about a very important and relevant legal case in Madrid which would provide vital evidence. It showed that the CIA had been directly ordering spying on Julian in the Embassy through a Spanish company, UC Global, contracted to provide security there. Crucially this included spying on privileged conversations between Assange and his lawyers discussing his defence against these extradition proceedings, which had been in train in Pindostan since 2010. In any normal process, that fact would in itself be sufficient to have the extradition proceedings dismissed. Incidentally I learnt on Sunday that the Spanish material produced in court, which had been commissioned by the CIA, specifically includes high resolution video coverage of Julian and I discussing various matters. The evidence to the Spanish court also included a CIA plot to kidnap Assange, which went to the Pindo authorities’ attitude to lawfulness in his case and the treatment he might expect in Pindostan. Julian’s team explained that the Spanish legal process was happening now and the evidence from it would be extremely important, but it might not be finished and thus the evidence not fully validated and available in time for the current proposed timetable for the Assange extradition hearings. For the prosecution, James Lewis QC stated that the government strongly opposed any delay being given for the defence to prepare, and strongly opposed any separate consideration of the question of whether the charge was a political offence excluded by the extradition treaty. Baraitser took her cue from Lewis and stated categorically that the date for the extradition hearing, Feb 25, could not be changed. She was open to changes in dates for submission of evidence and responses before this, and called a ten minute recess for the prosecution and defence to agree these steps.

What happened next was very instructive. There were five representatives of the Pindo government present (initially three, and two more arrived in the course of the hearing), seated at desks behind the lawyers in court. The prosecution lawyers immediately went into huddle with the Pindo representatives, then went outside the courtroom with them, to decide how to respond on the dates. After the recess the defence team stated they could not, in their professional opinion, adequately prepare if the hearing date were kept to February, but within Baraitser’s instruction to do so they nevertheless outlined a proposed timetable on delivery of evidence. In responding to this, Lewis’ junior counsel scurried to the back of the court to consult the Pindos again while Lewis actually told the judge he was “taking instructions from those behind.” It is important to note that as he said this, it was not the UK Attorney-General’s office who were being consulted but the Pindo Embassy. Lewis received his Pindo instructions and agreed that the defence might have two months to prepare their evidence (they had said they needed an absolute minimum of three) but the February hearing date may not be moved. Baraitser gave a ruling agreeing everything Lewis had said.

At this stage it was unclear why we were sitting through this farce. The Pindo government was dictating its instructions to Lewis, who was relaying those instructions to Baraitser, who was ruling them as her legal decision. The charade might as well have been cut and the Pindo government simply sat on the bench to control the whole process. Nobody could sit there and believe they were in any part of a genuine legal process or that Baraitser was giving a moment’s consideration to the arguments of the defence. Her facial expressions on the few occasions she looked at the defence ranged from contempt through boredom to sarcasm. When she looked at Lewis she was attentive, open and warm. The extradition is plainly being rushed through in accordance with a Faschingstein-dictated timetable. Apart from a desire to pre-empt the Spanish court providing evidence on CIA activity in sabotaging the defence, what makes the February date so important to Pindostan? I would welcome any thoughts. Baraitser dismissed the defence’s request for a separate prior hearing to consider whether the extradition treaty applied at all, without bothering to give any reason why (possibly she had not properly memorised what Lewis had been instructing her to agree with). Yet this is Article 4 of our Extradition Treaty 2007 in full:

 

On the face of it, what Assange is accused of is the very definition of a political offence. If this is not, then what is? It is not covered by any of the exceptions from that listed. There is every reason to consider whether this charge is excluded by the extradition treaty, and to do so before the long and very costly process of considering all the evidence should the treaty apply. But Baraitser simply dismissed the argument out of hand. Just in case anybody was left in any doubt as to what was happening here, Lewis then stood up and suggested that the defence should not be allowed to waste the court’s time with a lot of arguments. All arguments for the substantive hearing should be given in writing in advance and a “guillotine should be applied” (his exact words) to arguments and witnesses in court, perhaps of five hours for the defence. The defence had suggested they would need more than the scheduled five days to present their case. Lewis countered that the entire hearing should be over in two days. Baraitser said this was not procedurally the correct moment to agree this but she will consider it once she had received the evidence bundles.

Baraitser then capped it all by saying the February hearing will be held, not at the comparatively open and accessible Westminster Magistrates Court where we were, but at Belmarsh Magistrates Court, the grim high security facility used for preliminary legal processing of terrorists, attached to the maximum security prison where Assange is being held. There are only six seats for the public in even the largest court at Belmarsh, and the object is plainly to evade public scrutiny and make sure that Baraitser is not exposed in pulic again again to a genuine account of her proceedings, like this one you are reading. I will probably be unable to get in to the substantive hearing at Belmarsh. Plainly the authorities were disconcerted by the hundreds of good people who had turned up to support Julian. They hope that far fewer will get to the much less accessible Belmarsh. I am fairly certain (and recall I had a long career as a diplomat) that the two extra Pindo government officials who arrived halfway through proceedings were armed security personnel, brought in because of alarm at the number of protestors around a hearing in which senior Pindo officials were present. The move to Belmarsh may be a Pindo initiative. Assange’s defence team objected strenuously to the move to Belmarsh, in particular on the grounds that there are no conference rooms available there to consult their client and they have very inadequate access to him in the jail. Baraitser dismissed their objection offhand and with a very definite smirk. Finally, Baraitser turned to Julian and ordered him to stand, and asked him if he had understood the proceedings. He replied in the negative, said that he could not think, and gave every appearance of disorientation. The he seemed to find an inner strength, drew himself up a little, and said:

I do not understand how this process is equitable. This superpower had 10 years to prepare for this case and I can’t even access my writings. It is very difficult, where I am, to do anything. These people have unlimited resources.

The effort then seemed to become too much, his voice dropped and he became increasingly confused and incoherent. He spoke of whistleblowers and publishers being labeled enemies of the people, then spoke about his children’s DNA being stolen and of being spied on in his meetings with his psychologist. I am not suggesting at all that Julian was wrong about these points, but he could not properly frame nor articulate them. He was plainly not himself, very ill and it was just horribly painful to watch. Baraitser showed neither sympathy nor the least concern. She tartly observed that if he could not understand what had happened, his lawyers could explain it to him, and she swept out of court. The whole experience was profoundly upsetting. It was very plain that there was no genuine process of legal consideration happening here. What we had was a naked demonstration of the power of the state, and a naked dictation of proceedings by the Pindos. Julian was in a box behind bulletproof glass, and I and the thirty odd other members of the public who had squeezed in were in a different box behind more bulletproof glass. I do not know if he could see me or his other friends in the court, or if he was capable of recognising anybody. He gave no indication that he did. In Belmarsh he is kept in complete isolation for 23 hours a day. He is permitted 45 minutes exercise. If he has to be moved, they clear the corridors before he walks down them and they lock all cell doors to ensure he has no contact with any other prisoner outside the short and strictly supervised exercise period. There is no possible justification for this inhuman regime, used on major terrorists, being imposed on a publisher who is a remand prisoner. I have been both cataloguing and protesting for years the increasingly authoritarian powers of the UK state, but that the most gross abuse could be so open and undisguised is still a shock. The campaign of demonisation and dehumanisation against Julian, based on government and media lie after government and media lie, has led to a situation where he can be slowly killed in public sight, and arraigned on a charge of publishing the truth about government wrongdoing, while receiving no assistance from “liberal” society. Unless Julian is released shortly he will be destroyed. If the state can do this, then who is next?

One Comment

  1. Glenn Law
    Posted October 24, 2019 at 4:44 am | Permalink

    As a 76 yo 5th generation Australian I’m appalled at my own government’s cowardice in this matter, and barely less so at the hypocrisy of the Australian media…..All of it, absolutely un-Australian and beneath contempt. If I wasn’t an Atheist, I’d be praying for Julian…!

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