Category Archives: Belmarsh prison

Begging Outrage: British Journalists for Assange

Even that title strikes an odd note.  It should not.  The Fourth Estate, historically reputed as the chamber of journalists and publishers keeping an eye on elected officials, received a blast of oxygen with the arrival of WikiLeaks.  This was daring, rich stuff: scientific journalism in the trenches, news gathering par excellence.  But what Julian Assange and WikiLeaks did was something unpardonable to many who pursue the journalist’s craft: sidestepping the newspaper censors, permitting unadulterated access to original sources.

People could finally scrutinise raw documents – cables, memoranda, briefing notes, diplomatic traffic – without the secondary and tertiary forms of self-censorship that characterise the newspaper imperium.  Editorially imposed measures could be outflanked; the biases and prejudices of newspaper moguls could be ignored.

This has meant that media outlets in the drought affected mainstream can only ever make quiet acknowledgments about the seriousness of the US case against Assange. It is why certain outlets fail, and have failed to cover the extradition proceedings against the publisher with any degree of serious alarm or considered fear.  When they do, irrelevant and inconsequential details feature like tabloid tat: the irate Assange, shouting from his caged stand; the kooky Assange, somewhat unhinged.

A central contention of the prosecution case against Assange is that he is no publisher or journalist being gradually asphyxiated by the apparatus of power for exposing it, but a cold, calculating purloiner of state secrets indifferent to the welfare of informants.  Thieves cannot avail themselves of press freedoms nor summon the solid protections of the US First Amendment, even if they did expose torture, war crimes and illegal renditions.  It is a narrative that has been fed shamelessly by certain members of the media fraternity, rendering them indifferent and, at times, even hostile to the efforts of WikiLeaks.  David Leigh and Luke Harding of The Guardian added kindling to this idea by publishing the full passphrase to the file of un-redacted US State Department cables in their 2011 book. It was foolish and clumsy, and did not shine a good light on the parties involved.

A train was set in motion: the German weekly Der Freitag ran a piece in August that same year pointing an indirect finger to the password revealed by Leigh and Harding; Assange, alarmed, had contacted the editor Jakob Augstein beforehand, telling him he “feared for the safety of informants”.  WikiLeaks then reached out to the US State Department warning that publication of the un-redacted trove was imminent.  This would have given time to US officials to take necessary measures to protect any protected sources.  Cryptome scrambled to publish the documents on September 1, 2011; WikiLeaks followed the next day.  The myth of Assange the indiscreet, incautious figure hostile to concealed identities was born.

It has been left to other courageous reporters to right the record at the trial.  As investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi recalled in her statement read at the extradition proceedings, “I went through the cables as systematically as possible.  I was given an encrypted USB stick, and once I returned to Italy I was given the password that would then allow opening the file.  Everything was done with utmost responsibility and attention.” She also noted how the password published by Leigh and Harding “was not the same password I myself was given at the time.”

Mature, snappy views have also featured from conservative British voices concerned by this grotesque overreach of US power.  In Britain, and elsewhere, these media commenters have been few in number in registering appropriate alarm at the implications of the US Department of Justice’s indictment against Assange.  Peter Oborne, writing last month, issued the call to fellow journalists to take up the case for WikiLeaks.  He starts with a scenario: imagine a political dissident held at London’s Belmarsh Prison charged with espionage offences by the People’s Republic of China.  The real offence?  Exposing atrocities by Chinese troops.  “To put it another way, that his real offence was committing the crime of journalism.”

Add to this the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture that the dissident in question showed “all the symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture”, with Beijing pressuring UK authorities to extradite him to a place he could face 175 years in prison.  “The outrage from the British press would be deafening.”  Protests and vigils outside Belmarsh would be unhalting; debates would take place on “prime time news programmes, alongside a rush of questions in parliament.”

Oborne acknowledges the UK-US alliance.  But that should not matter one jot “as far as the British media is concerned.”  The Old Bailey trial marked “a profound moment for British journalists.”  Were Britain to capitulate to the Trump administration on this score, “the right to publish leaked material in the public interest would suffer a devastating blow.”  He noted the concerns of 169 lawyers and academics expressed in a letter to the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Home Secretary Priti Patel demanding government intervention.  “We call on you to act in accordance with national and international law, human rights and the rule of law by bringing an end to the ongoing extradition proceedings and granting Mr Assange his long overdue freedom.”

The dangers to the Fourth Estate to Oborne are incalculable.  On UK soil, an effort is being made by the US “to prosecute a non-US citizen, not living in the US, not publishing in the US, under US laws that deny the right to a public interest defence.”  Yet a myopic British press remains more interested in Assange’s character, one attacked for breaching the Bail Act in avoiding extradition to Sweden to face sexual misconduct suspicions, and the distracting point as to whether he really is a journalist.

Peter Hitchens, brother of the late Christopher and long departed from the barricades of Trotskyite fervour, is also very much on Oborne’s page.  Admirably, he starts his reflection on Assange by putting to rest notions of compromising fandom.  Assange “is not my world, and his people are not my people.”  But he was “wholly, furiously against the attempt by the United States government to extradite Assange from this country”.

Hitchens can seem a touch reactionary at times, his views heavily wrapped in the Union Jack.  A sounding board at The Daily Mail would suggest such tendencies.  But on Assange, he is sharp.   He rightly picks up on the barring of extraditions for political grounds under Article 4(1) of the UK-US Extradition Treaty.  He also notes the servility shown by UK officials to US power, given that the treaty permits Washington to “demand extradition of UK citizens and others for offences committed against US law.  This is so even though the supposed offence may have been committed in the UK by a person living in the UK.”

In Hitchen’s mind, it was inconceivable to envisage a situation where the US would reciprocate: submitting its citizens to the UK for leaking British secret documents.  But allowing Assange to face trial in the US would mean that “any British journalist who comes into possession of classified material from the US, though he has committed no crime according to our own law, faces the same danger.”  The process undermined national sovereignty and threatened press freedom.  No English court, he argued, “should accept this demand.”  Were the courts to fail, “any self-respecting Home Secretary should overrule them.”

Fittingly, and accurately, Hitchens describes the effort mounted against Assange as “a lawless kidnap” against an individual who exposed “inconvenient” truths of US power.  It would be heartening to see more journalists, notably British ones, turning their mind to this awful reality, instead of falling for yellow press, click-bait distractions.

The post Begging Outrage: British Journalists for Assange first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“The Guardian’s Silence has let the UK trample on Assange’s Rights in Effective Darkness”

WISE Up, a solidarity group for Julian Assange and whistleblower Chelsea Manning, is due to stage a demonstration outside the Guardian offices on October 22 to protest the paper’s failure to support Assange as the US seeks his extradition in an unprecedented assault on press freedom.

The date chosen for the protest marks the tenth anniversary of the Guardian’s publication of the Iraq war logs, leaked by Manning to Assange and which lie at the heart of the US case to reclassify journalism exposing crimes against humanity as “espionage”.

Here is my full statement, part of which is due to be read out, in support of Assange and castigating the Guardian for its craven failure to speak up in solidarity with its former media partner:

Julian Assange has been hounded out of public life and public view by the UK and US governments for the best part of a decade. Now he languishes in a small, airless cell in Belmarsh high-security prison in London – a victim of arbitrary detention, according to a UN working group, and a victim of psychological torture, according to Nils Melzer, the UN’s expert on torture.

If Judge Vanessa Baraitser, presiding in the Central Criminal Court in London, agrees, as she gives every appearance of preparing to do, Assange will be the first journalist to face a terrifying new ordeal – a form of extraordinary rendition to the United States for “espionage” – for having the courage to publish documents that exposed US war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Guardian worked with Assange and Wikileaks on vitally important documents – now at the heart of the US case against Assange – known as the Afghanistan and Iraq war logs. The latter were published exactly a decade ago today. They were a journalistic coup of global significance, and the paper ought to be profoundly proud of its role in bringing them to public attention.

During Assange’s extradition hearing, however, the Guardian treated the logs and its past association with Assange and Wikileaks more like a dirty secret it hoped to keep out of sight. Those scoops furnished by Assange and whistleblower Chelsea Manning enriched the paper financially, and bolstered its standing internationally. They also helped to pave its path into the lucrative US market.

Unlike Assange and Manning, the Guardian has suffered no consequences for publishing the logs. Unlike Assange and Manning, the paper has faced no retribution. While it profited, Assange continues to be made an example of – to deter other journalists from contemplating following in his footsteps.

The Guardian owes Assange.

  • It owes him a huge debt for allowing it to share in the journalistic glory of Wikileaks’ revelations.
  • It owes him a duty of care as its partner in publishing the logs.
  • It owes him its voice loudly denouncing the abuse of a fellow journalist for doing the essence of journalism – holding the powerful to account.
  • It owes him and its own staff, and the young journalists who will one day take their place, its muscle in vigorously defending the principle of a strong and free press.
  • It owes him, and the rest of us, a clear profession of its outrage as the US conducts an unprecedented assault on free speech, the foundation of a democratic society.

And yet the Guardian has barely raised its voice above a whisper as the noose has tightened around Assange’s – and by extension, our – neck. It has barely bothered to cover the dramatic and deeply disturbing developments of last month’s extradition hearing, or the blatant abuses of legal process overseen by Baraitser.

The Guardian has failed to raise its editorial voice in condemnation either of the patently dishonest US case for extradition or of the undisguised mistreatment of Assange by Britain’s legal and judicial authorities.

The paper’s many columnists ignored the proceedings too, except for those who contributed yet more snide and personal attacks of the kind that have typified the Guardian’s coverage of Assange for many years.

It is not too late for the paper to act in defence of Assange and journalism. Assange’s rights are being trampled under foot close by the Guardian’s offices in London because the British establishment knows that these abuses are taking place effectively in darkness. It has nothing to fear as long as the media abdicates its responsibility to scrutinise what amounts to the biggest attack on journalism in living memory.

Were the Guardian to shine a light on Assange’s case – as it is morally obligated to do – the pressure would build on other media organisations, not least the BBC, to do their job properly too. The British establishment would finally face a countervailing pressure to the one being exerted so forcefully by the US.

The Guardian should have stood up for Assange long ago, when the threats he and investigative journalism faced became unmistakable. It missed that opportunity. But the threats to Assange – and the causes of transparency and accountability he champions – have not gone away. They have only intensified. Assange needs the Guardian’s support more urgently, more desperately than ever before.

The post "The Guardian’s Silence has let the UK trample on Assange’s Rights in Effective Darkness" first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Julian Assange’s Extradition Hearing: The Only Just Outcome Is His Freedom

The testimony portion of the extradition hearing of Julian Assange, taking place in the United Kingdom, concluded after four weeks. Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who presided over the hearing, will not announce her decision until January. Until then, Assange will remain in detention in Belmarsh Prison.

Under conditions that violated Assange’s rights and his ability to defend himself, his legal team made a clear case that for multiple reasons the only just solution is to free Assange. However, Judge Baraitser has not ruled favorably for him in her past decisions or even in this hearing.

At the start, Assange’s lawyers requested a delay until January because they had not been able to meet adequately with him. Their request was denied. During the hearing, Assange was forced to sit in a glass box without access to his lawyers.

Over the past four weeks, people demonstrated their support for Julian Assange outside Old Bailey, where the hearing was held, and around the world. Almost 200 lawyers and politicians from 27 countries, including 13 past and present heads of state, demanded his immediate release.  We must continue to raise awareness and public pressure to free Assange.

Press Freedom Under Attack

The persecution of Julian Assange matters to all of us because this is bigger than Assange. He is being targeted and tortured for doing what every honest journalist and publisher does – reporting the truth and informing the public about what is being done by their governments and corporations.

Many media outlets, especially if they conduct investigative journalism, provide tools and information for people to leak information to them. The difference with Assange is that he created a tool, Wikileaks, that could be used by everyone around the world to leak information anonymously and to read information that had been leaked. Wikileaks verified the information and redacted portions that could result in personal harm, but other than that the information was freely available to the public. Assange is a strong believer in transparency and our right to know.

This is what outraged the power structure. They could not control access to information. They could not stop people from learning about their war crimes and corruption. So they have been waging a war on Assange ever since in multiple nefarious ways and so far he has survived. But this is too much for one person to have to bear. That is why we need to rally around Assange. One way to do that is to support the fund created by his partner, Stella Morris.

Kevin Zeese, the now-deceased co-director of Popular Resistance, was a supporter of Julian Assange. He served as an adviser to the board of the Courage Foundation, which runs Defend Wikileaks. In this 2018 interview with Elizabeth Lea Vos, Kevin explains why Assange’s case is critical:

Julian Assange’s case is the John Peter Zenger case of the twenty-first century. John Peter Zenger was a publisher who was prosecuted before the American Revolution because he published articles that were critical of the British-appointed governor of New York. They weren’t false, they were just critical. In those days, there was no defense to slander as far as telling the truth goes. You say something bad about the government or the king, you get punished for it. Zenger’s lawyers decided to use a defense that had not been used before, which was to go right to the jury, avoid the judge and show that Zenger was publishing the truth. Zenger was found not guilty by the jury very quickly after having been held in jail for eight months and undergoing abuse. People see that case as where a lot of our freedom of the press rights come from and the concept that truth is a defense. Julian Assange is revisiting that issue now in the twenty-first century when we have a lot of different technology that allows for truth to be told. Wikileaks is a major breakthrough in how journalism works and what information we are allowed to see. It is unacceptable that the most important publisher in this century is silenced. Whether or not you like Assange personally, the work he has done is critical to our future.”

Assange Supporters at the White House, June, 2018. Gateway Pundit.

Why Julian Assange Must be Freed

During the extradition hearing, multiple reasons for freeing Assange and dropping the charges against him were explained. Any one of them should be enough to stop this persecution, but taken together, they demonstrate undeniably that extradition to the United States would violate Assange’s rights and that he has not committed a crime.

1. Julian Assange has been denied his right to a fair trial. While in prison, Assange had limited access to his lawyers. They were only able to speak occasionally over the phone and with a bad connection. Assange’s lawyer, Mark Summers, argued that Assange “alone has the knowledge to build a defense.” And, Assange had not been able to read new charges made against him nor had his lawyers had time to prepare a defense to those new charges. And his hearing was structured so the public and press had extremely limited access. This is unacceptable for a case of such significance. Similarly, Assange would not have a fair trial if he were extradited to the US.

2. Assange did not commit a crime. The United States argued that Assange was not a journalist and therefore not protected under the First Amendment, but experts testified that he was engaged in ‘journalistic activity,’ and that is what matters. Journalists routinely ask sources for access to private information and publish such information. This is all that Assange did. If he is found guilty, then other journalists and media outlets that published material from Wikileaks should also be found guilty. Finding Assange guilty of publishing the truth would have a chilling effect on the willingness of journalists anywhere in the world to similarly expose war crimes and corruption.

3. Assange’s case is political, not criminal. Testimony exposed that the case against Assange is purely political. The judge admitted it herself by stating that she would issue her decision after the election. A witness revealed that the Trump administration, acting through former Congressman Dana Rohrbacher and German Ambassador Richard Grenell, offered to not prosecute if Assange would reveal his sources. When Assange refused, the administration started the process of investigating and charging him. Also, the United States directed the Ecuadorian government to turn Assange over to police.

4. The United States violated Assange’s privacy. In the final week of the hearing, employees from US Global, a Spanish security firm that was spying on Assange through video and audio while he was living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and providing it to the CIA, testified that they were pushed to do more. One witness said the company wanted to install live stream that would be fed directly to the CIA but he stopped it. The witnesses added that their company was pushed by the CIA to leave a door open at the embassy so Assange could be kidnapped and to poison him.

5. Extradition to the United States puts Assange’s health and safety at great risk. The United States has no regard for Julian Assange’s life. Doctors and experts testified that Julian is in poor health and suffers depression and suicidal thoughts. If he were extradited to the United States, where he faces 175 years in prison, not only would he have a unfair trial but he would be held in torturous conditions, in a tiny isolation cell, which would worsen his condition and risk his life. It is illegal to extradite a person to a place that endangers their life. That is why Assange originally sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy and it was granted by the Correa government.

The United States lawyers tried to paint Assange as a different person than what he is and bullied and degraded the defense witnesses. They did that because the facts are not on their side. A major argument by the US is that Assange helped Chelsea Manning get the data from a computer, but a cyber security expert demonstrated that was false. The only just solution is to free Julian Assange now.

Supporters outside the court. Hannah Mckay / Reuters.

The Fight to Free Assange Continues

The extradition hearing is over but the fight is not over. This is the time to escalate our pressure to free Assange. Public opinion matters and influences courts, whether they admit it or not.

We need to continue to raise awareness of the injustice and unconstitutionality of what the United States is doing to Assange, the illegality of risking his life and the impact this extradition and prosecution in the United States will have on press freedom and our right to know around the world.

Continue to talk about this, write about this, speak about this, organize web forums, like this one, write letters of solidarity, and protest for Julian Assange. Be creative. Check out the Defend Wikileaks website and the orange and gray graphic above for ideas. The only way we will surely lose is by not trying.

The post Julian Assange’s Extradition Hearing: The Only Just Outcome Is His Freedom first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Julian Assange’s Extradition Hearing: The Only Just Outcome Is His Freedom

The testimony portion of the extradition hearing of Julian Assange, taking place in the United Kingdom, concluded after four weeks. Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who presided over the hearing, will not announce her decision until January. Until then, Assange will remain in detention in Belmarsh Prison.

Under conditions that violated Assange’s rights and his ability to defend himself, his legal team made a clear case that for multiple reasons the only just solution is to free Assange. However, Judge Baraitser has not ruled favorably for him in her past decisions or even in this hearing.

At the start, Assange’s lawyers requested a delay until January because they had not been able to meet adequately with him. Their request was denied. During the hearing, Assange was forced to sit in a glass box without access to his lawyers.

Over the past four weeks, people demonstrated their support for Julian Assange outside Old Bailey, where the hearing was held, and around the world. Almost 200 lawyers and politicians from 27 countries, including 13 past and present heads of state, demanded his immediate release.  We must continue to raise awareness and public pressure to free Assange.

Press Freedom Under Attack

The persecution of Julian Assange matters to all of us because this is bigger than Assange. He is being targeted and tortured for doing what every honest journalist and publisher does – reporting the truth and informing the public about what is being done by their governments and corporations.

Many media outlets, especially if they conduct investigative journalism, provide tools and information for people to leak information to them. The difference with Assange is that he created a tool, Wikileaks, that could be used by everyone around the world to leak information anonymously and to read information that had been leaked. Wikileaks verified the information and redacted portions that could result in personal harm, but other than that the information was freely available to the public. Assange is a strong believer in transparency and our right to know.

This is what outraged the power structure. They could not control access to information. They could not stop people from learning about their war crimes and corruption. So they have been waging a war on Assange ever since in multiple nefarious ways and so far he has survived. But this is too much for one person to have to bear. That is why we need to rally around Assange. One way to do that is to support the fund created by his partner, Stella Morris.

Kevin Zeese, the now-deceased co-director of Popular Resistance, was a supporter of Julian Assange. He served as an adviser to the board of the Courage Foundation, which runs Defend Wikileaks. In this 2018 interview with Elizabeth Lea Vos, Kevin explains why Assange’s case is critical:

Julian Assange’s case is the John Peter Zenger case of the twenty-first century. John Peter Zenger was a publisher who was prosecuted before the American Revolution because he published articles that were critical of the British-appointed governor of New York. They weren’t false, they were just critical. In those days, there was no defense to slander as far as telling the truth goes. You say something bad about the government or the king, you get punished for it. Zenger’s lawyers decided to use a defense that had not been used before, which was to go right to the jury, avoid the judge and show that Zenger was publishing the truth. Zenger was found not guilty by the jury very quickly after having been held in jail for eight months and undergoing abuse. People see that case as where a lot of our freedom of the press rights come from and the concept that truth is a defense. Julian Assange is revisiting that issue now in the twenty-first century when we have a lot of different technology that allows for truth to be told. Wikileaks is a major breakthrough in how journalism works and what information we are allowed to see. It is unacceptable that the most important publisher in this century is silenced. Whether or not you like Assange personally, the work he has done is critical to our future.”

Assange Supporters at the White House, June, 2018. Gateway Pundit.

Why Julian Assange Must be Freed

During the extradition hearing, multiple reasons for freeing Assange and dropping the charges against him were explained. Any one of them should be enough to stop this persecution, but taken together, they demonstrate undeniably that extradition to the United States would violate Assange’s rights and that he has not committed a crime.

1. Julian Assange has been denied his right to a fair trial. While in prison, Assange had limited access to his lawyers. They were only able to speak occasionally over the phone and with a bad connection. Assange’s lawyer, Mark Summers, argued that Assange “alone has the knowledge to build a defense.” And, Assange had not been able to read new charges made against him nor had his lawyers had time to prepare a defense to those new charges. And his hearing was structured so the public and press had extremely limited access. This is unacceptable for a case of such significance. Similarly, Assange would not have a fair trial if he were extradited to the US.

2. Assange did not commit a crime. The United States argued that Assange was not a journalist and therefore not protected under the First Amendment, but experts testified that he was engaged in ‘journalistic activity,’ and that is what matters. Journalists routinely ask sources for access to private information and publish such information. This is all that Assange did. If he is found guilty, then other journalists and media outlets that published material from Wikileaks should also be found guilty. Finding Assange guilty of publishing the truth would have a chilling effect on the willingness of journalists anywhere in the world to similarly expose war crimes and corruption.

3. Assange’s case is political, not criminal. Testimony exposed that the case against Assange is purely political. The judge admitted it herself by stating that she would issue her decision after the election. A witness revealed that the Trump administration, acting through former Congressman Dana Rohrbacher and German Ambassador Richard Grenell, offered to not prosecute if Assange would reveal his sources. When Assange refused, the administration started the process of investigating and charging him. Also, the United States directed the Ecuadorian government to turn Assange over to police.

4. The United States violated Assange’s privacy. In the final week of the hearing, employees from US Global, a Spanish security firm that was spying on Assange through video and audio while he was living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and providing it to the CIA, testified that they were pushed to do more. One witness said the company wanted to install live stream that would be fed directly to the CIA but he stopped it. The witnesses added that their company was pushed by the CIA to leave a door open at the embassy so Assange could be kidnapped and to poison him.

5. Extradition to the United States puts Assange’s health and safety at great risk. The United States has no regard for Julian Assange’s life. Doctors and experts testified that Julian is in poor health and suffers depression and suicidal thoughts. If he were extradited to the United States, where he faces 175 years in prison, not only would he have a unfair trial but he would be held in torturous conditions, in a tiny isolation cell, which would worsen his condition and risk his life. It is illegal to extradite a person to a place that endangers their life. That is why Assange originally sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy and it was granted by the Correa government.

The United States lawyers tried to paint Assange as a different person than what he is and bullied and degraded the defense witnesses. They did that because the facts are not on their side. A major argument by the US is that Assange helped Chelsea Manning get the data from a computer, but a cyber security expert demonstrated that was false. The only just solution is to free Julian Assange now.

Supporters outside the court. Hannah Mckay / Reuters.

The Fight to Free Assange Continues

The extradition hearing is over but the fight is not over. This is the time to escalate our pressure to free Assange. Public opinion matters and influences courts, whether they admit it or not.

We need to continue to raise awareness of the injustice and unconstitutionality of what the United States is doing to Assange, the illegality of risking his life and the impact this extradition and prosecution in the United States will have on press freedom and our right to know around the world.

Continue to talk about this, write about this, speak about this, organize web forums, like this one, write letters of solidarity, and protest for Julian Assange. Be creative. Check out the Defend Wikileaks website and the orange and gray graphic above for ideas. The only way we will surely lose is by not trying.

The post Julian Assange’s Extradition Hearing: The Only Just Outcome Is His Freedom first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Assange’s Eighteenth Day at the Old Bailey: Abuse of Power, Breaching Attorney-Client Privilege and Adjournment

October 1, 2020.  Central Criminal Court, London.

The Old Bailey has been the venue for a trial that should never have taken place. But during the course of these extradition proceedings against Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder accused by the US Department of Justice for violating the US Espionage Act (17 charges) and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, an impressive battalion of defence witnesses has been called upon.  They have assisted Assange’s legal team to build a picture of obscene politicisation, imperial overreach and wanton callousness.

A picture of the detention facilities awaiting the publisher was painted with fine strokes: the alienating brutality of solitary confinement; likely special administrative measures restraining the detainee’s access to legal representation and family; inadequate health facilities both physical and mental for those at risk of self-harm.  Then came the chilling realisation, made clear on the seventeenth day: that the US intelligence services, through the Spanish security firm UC Global SL, had conducted surveillance of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, and proposed kidnapping or poisoning a political asylee.

Peirce and violations of attorney-client privilege

In the court on Thursday, attention turned to written submissions from human rights activist Gareth Peirce, Assange’s solicitor, who described brazen breaches of attorney-client privilege.  Trial observers noted how “extraordinarily difficult” it had been to follow Peirce’s statements, largely because of Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s penchant for preventing a full reading in the court.

Despite such stints of constipation, the point of Peirce’s submissions was clear enough.  Legally privileged documents were seized from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.  The Ecuadorean intelligence service was complicit.  Two diplomatic pouches with USB sticks were placed in a diplomatic bag, sent to Ecuador, then onwards to the United States.

Peirce claimed that between 2017 and 2018 three legally privileged meetings were subjected to surveillance without her knowledge.  Assange’s Spanish lawyer Aitor Martínez was also the subject of such intrusion, his legal file photographed when absent in a meeting with his client.  The legal team representing Assange had a nagging sense that their gatherings might be monitored.  While not knowing the full extent of such intrusions, “an exceptionally high level of anxiety” was present during those meetings.

Martínez also furnished the court with an update on the criminal investigation against UC Global SL director David Morales, being conducted by Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional.  Morales’s part in this sordid matter was much in evidence the day before, when his role in facilitating surveillance of Assange and his embassy meetings, at the behest of his “American friends”, was given a generous airing by former employees of his company.  The outcome of that case may well shed light upon an already troubling bridge linking UC Global with the Central Intelligence Agency and Las Vegas Sands, owned by Trump supporter and Republican donor, Sheldon Adelson.

Tigar’s testimony and abuse of power

Testimony from Professor Michael Tigar of Duke Law School was read, drawing parallels between the abuses of power perpetrated by the Nixon administration in 1971 and those of the Trump administration vis-à-vis Assange.

The first case centred on the outcome of President Richard Nixon’s attempts to prosecute the Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.  After the publication of the papers, Nixon’s staffers formed a covert unit known as the “White House Plumbers,” a blunt outfit that proceeded to commit crimes with abandon for the unforgettable Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CREEP).  Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office was burgled by the Plumbers in an effort to pilfer his medical files; Nixon ordered the illegal wiretapping of Ellsberg; the government then claimed to have mislaid those wiretaps when asked to produce them at trial.  And just to spice things further, US District Court Judge William M. Byrne, Jr., presiding over Ellsberg’s trial, was also approached by Nixon and his assistant for domestic affairs, John D. Ehrlichman, about the possibility of becoming the FBI’s next director.  Judge Byrne could only conclude that the government’s actions had “offended a sense of justice,” leading him to declare “a mistrial and grant the motion for dismissal.”

The US intelligence effort against Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, perpetrated through UC Global’s installation of surveillance facilities, threw up richly disturbing similarities.  Confidential files had been accessed; privileged conversations with lawyers had been recorded; over eager proposals for kidnapping or poisoning Assange expressed.  For Ellsberg, this was certainly damning.  “That’s essentially the same information that ended my case and confronted Nixon with impeachment, leading to his resignation.”

Baraitser’s exclusions

Patience on the bench, and among the prosecution team, began to wear thin.  The prosecution, led by James Lewis QC, argued that the defence had run out of time.  Objections mounted, temperatures rose.  Material was excluded.  Judge Baraitser decided to exclude one of Peirce’s witness statements addressing the new allegations made in the second superseding indictment served in July.  The statement, argued the defence, was only appropriate to address “fresh and different” allegations the prosecution only saw fit to include at a later date.

She also batted away the defence’s effort to submit a statement made by US Attorney General William Barr on September 15, outlining his belief that the executive branch had “virtually unchecked discretion” in deciding whether or not to initiate prosecutions. “The power to execute and enforce the law is an executive function altogether,” Barr stated.  “That means discretion is invested in the executive to determine when to exercise prosecutorial power.”

Readying the ground

The ground, then, is being readied for closing arguments by the defence.  Three areas promise to feature.  The first is the heavy air of political motivation in the prosecution of Assange.  Outlets that had published the unredacted cables prior to WikiLeaks doing so on September 2, 2011, and left unmolested by the DOJ and law enforcement, suggest distinct targeting.  To this can be added the manoeuvrings in the Trump administration, noted in the testimony of Cassandra Fairbanks, about the decision to arrest Assange.  A clear change of heart had manifested in the matter, given the loss of interest shown by the Obama administration in pursuing the publisher.  Coupled with the theory of executive power endorsed by the Attorney General Barr – that such an officer should defer to the views of the presidential office in determining prosecutions – add to claims that this is a politically driven endeavour.

The second focuses on an abuse of power, sharply drawn in the testimony of two anonymous former employees of UC Global.  The third:  that Assange, should he be extradited, will face cruel and inhumane treatment.  Frail health and appalling prison conditions at both the pre-trial Alexandria Detention Center, and the post-trial ADX Florence supermax in Colorado, promise to be a debilitating, even lethal mix.

With the evidence now in her possession, Baraitser will have much to get through.  Unfortunately, we are none the wiser about what items of evidence her judicial mind will accept or reject.  The jaw dropping accounts of embassy espionage, suggested poisoning and proposed kidnapping of Assange may be deemed, as the prosecutors insist, irrelevant to the charges at hand.

A date for judgment was also set.  “Unless any further application for bail is made, and between now and the 4th of January, you will remain in custody for the same reasons as you have been before,” Baraister explained to Assange.

After the adjournment, Assange’s fiancée Stella Moris spoke of the highest of stakes, of this being not merely a fight for life but press freedom and truth.  “This case is already chilling press freedom. It is a frontal assault on journalism, on the public’s right to know and our ability to hold governments, domestic and foreign, to account.”

Moris noted, with pertinence, the prosecution’s admission, under oath “that it has no evidence that a single person has ever come to any physical harm because of these publications.  Let me repeat that:  there is no evidence that a single person has ever come to any physical harm because of these publications.”  Assange was in prison for informing “you of actual crimes and atrocities being committed by a foreign power.  That foreign power has ripped away his freedom and torn our family apart.”  It was a power determined “to put him in incommunicado detention in the deepest darkest hole of its prison system for the rest of his life.”

Assange will continue spending time at Belmarsh Prison, one of Britain’s most notorious facilities reserved for only the most hardened species of criminal.   He will put in court appearances every 28 days via videolink.  The defence will submit closing arguments on November 16; the prosecution will then make its final pitch to convince the court two weeks later.  The legions of press members, writers and scribblers should now ruminate, along with Judge Baraitser, about the consequences of this entire process.  Moris is clear about one of them.  “The US administration won’t stop with him.  The US says that it can put any journalist, anywhere in the world, on trial in the US if it doesn’t like what they are publishing.”

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Assange’s Sixteenth Day at the Old Bailey: Special Administrative Measures, Unreliable Assurances and Espionage

September 29.  Central Criminal Court, London.

Julian Assange’s defence team spent the day going over, reemphasising and sharpening the focus on what awaited their client should he, with the blessing of Her Majesty’s Government, make his way to the United States.  Not only will he confront 17 charges under the US Espionage Act and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, he faces the prospect of imprisonment for the rest of his life in conditions that risk prematurely ending his life.

Warden Baird and SAMs

The opening expert witness was Maureen Baird, who knows a thing or two about US carceral fare, having presided over the Metropolitan Correctional Centre in New York as its warden.  She was in little doubt that Assange will be subjected to Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) over and above those conditions he will already face.  She thought the affidavit by US Assistant Attorney Gordon Kromberg gave a good clue of that intention: the government tends to only mention SAMs if they intend using them.

While the US Attorney General will be the one to make that determination, advice will be sought from relevant security agencies.  “It could be the CIA, the FBI, border control, together with the US Attorney and the Attorney General,” came Baird’s reply to defence barrister Edward Fitzgerald QC.  Were the CIA to be involved, they would be consulted “with the office of enforcement operations at the DOJ [Department of Justice].”  With the CIA’s view carrying hefty weight, Fitzgerald tantalisingly floated a proposition to be revisited later in the day: that US intelligence was behind targeting Assange while he was a political asylee of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

Baird’s description of inmates placed under SAMs was grim and similar to the testimony of Yancey Ellis delivered the day before: “solitary confinement, technically, for 24-hours a day”.  No communication with other inmates.  “The only form of human interaction they encountered was when correctional officers opened the viewing slot during their inspection rounds of the unit, when institution staff walked through the unit during their required weekly rounds, or when meals were delivered through the secure meal slot in the door.”

Inmates were allowed 30 minutes on the phone per month (one call of 30 minutes duration, or two of 15 minutes), with all calls scheduled two weeks in advance and monitored by the FBI.  Mail, heavily screened, could take months to be delivered. (In this, Baird rejected the optimistic description by Kromberg that the mail service was “free-flowing” in such facilities.)

As with other witnesses already called, including Joel Sickler of the Justice Advocacy Group, she agreed that SAMs were singularly “devastating,” “desolate and degrading”.  Such measures could lead to “severe depression in isolation, anxiety, paranoia, weight loss detrimental to physical health and detrimental to mental health.”  She thought them brutal and archaic, a relic of cruelty.  “I am uncertain how the [US Bureau of Prisons] has been able to continue with these types of isolation units, given all the studies, reports and findings of the horrific physical and psychological effects they have on inmates.”

Challenging SAMs was also an adventurous, generally futile hope.  “Mr Kromberg suggested that when an inmate has a twice a year review he can challenge SAMs with a case manager, but as a case manager myself,” Baird explained to the court, “I saw nothing is going to happen.”  Case managers lacked “authority to make any changes to SAMs.”  As was further explained, the Bureau of Prisons “exercises no control/jurisdiction over SAMs imposed by the Attorney General.  Wardens are bound to abide by the SAMs imposed on an inmate.”  During her time as Warden at MCC New York, Baird had “never seen an inmate have his SAMs removed, only extended.”

The former warden was also certain that Assange, if convicted, would be destined for the ADX Florence supermax facility in Colorado.  If placed under SAMs, he would be kept in a segregating housing unit at the ADX.  “As someone who spent the majority of her adult life working for the BOP and as a former Designator, who decided where inmates would serve their sentences, absent a medical requirement, or a protected Witness Security Case, I am not familiar with any alternative long-term options aside from the ADX, for offenders under SAMs.”

As for the sparkling portrayal of the ADX in Colorado given by Kromberg’s affidavits, including the presence of social and therapeutic activities for inmates, Baird could only express bemusement.  “For anyone to suggest that an inmate assigned under SAMs would be able to participate in group counselling is baffling to me.  The main premise of assigning SAMs is to restrict a person’s communication and the only way to accomplish this is through isolation.”

Medical treatment was also a scrappy, unreliable affair for SAMs prisoners. You would have to be at death’s door before being transferred to a medical facility.  As for those at risk of self-harm, Baird accepted that the BOP had a robust suicide program, which was hardly a guarantee against the determined.  “When you have suicidal ideation, the reliance on inmate self-reporting is pretty strong.  When an inmate fails to report that, it is not noticed and the inmate commits suicide.”

In cross-examination, prosecutor Clair Dobbin played an unaccustomed role: the bleeding heart, concerned with prisoner welfare.  Why had Baird not done more to ease the plight of SAMs prisoners during her time as warden?  Baird replied that leading by example was her method, not that she could compel other staff to do the same.  “It was not uncommon for staff not to engage with inmates.”  While she had not taken the issue of treatment of SAMs prisoners up with a judge or the BOP, she rejected Dobbin’s assertions that she lacked concern for them.  Baird’s reasoning was that of an instrument of state violence self-justified. “It did cause me concern, but I had to convince myself it was okay.  I honestly did not believe I could do anything. It was [handled] at a higher level.”

Dobbin then suggested that SAMs inmates could alter their conditions by participating in a three phase program.  They could meet in groups of four in an area outside their cell on reaching the third level.  Baird refuted the suggestion: Phase one and two did give extra privileges to the prisoners, but they remained in isolation.  It had nothing to do with the actual removal of SAMs.  Permitting inmates to reach the third level would defeat “the whole purpose of SAMs.”

The prosecution then drew upon a statement from prosecution witness Alison Leukefeld, an employee of the US Bureau of Prisons claiming, in line with Kromberg’s affidavits, that SAMs prisoners would have chances to engage in group therapy. Baird was dismissive in reply: “I think she does not have much experience with SAMs inmates and is not out in the field.”

Lindsay Lewis, Abu Hamza and false assurances

The calling of US attorney Lindsay Lewis was important in her link to Abu Hamza al-Masri (Mostafa Kamel Mostafa), an Egyptian radical cleric and former imam of London’s Finsbury Park mosque extradited to the United States in 2012 after an eight-year legal battle.  He was accused of a suit of offences ranging from attempting to establish a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon to supporting terrorists in Afghanistan and kidnapping 16 tourists in Yemen in 1998.  Hamza also faced the SAMs regime, kept in solitary confinement for eight years and imprisoned at the ADX Florence since 2015.  He has not been allowed family visits since 2012.

As Lewis outlined in her witness statement, SAMs have limited Hamza’s “contacts not just with the outside world, but also with his family, other inmates and even his attorneys.”  With a Kafkaesque twist, such restrictions went so far as to hamper her own means of describing his true conditions to the court.

An example of the harsh absurdities of these administrative measures was also given: Hamza was said to have breached them when he “improperly tried to convey, in a letter to one of his sons, his love to his one year old grandson”. The grandson had not been on the list of approved contacts.

Hamza’s case is gruesomely remarkable for its false assumptions.  According to Lewis, assurances were given to the United Kingdom by US authorities that future prison facilities would be tailored to his fragile medical state.  Were he to spend time at ADX Florence, it would only be for a short time.  District Judge Timothy Workman of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, in ruling for Hamza’s extradition in 2007, noted that a lengthy, indefinite period of detention at ADX Florence would result in “inhuman degrading treatment” in violation of Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture.  He also considered ADX Florence to have conditions “offensive to my sense of propriety of dealing with prisoners”.

Nothing of the sort, claimed prosecutor Dobbin in her cross-examination of Lewis, who read a declaration by a warden that Hamza would face a medical examination and go to a medical facility if he was incapable of managing his activities of daily living (ADL).  Of unflagging faith in the virtues of those she represents and the US justice system, Dobbin claimed that, “There was no way they could have found he could have managed his activities of daily living either pre-trial or post-trial.”

Such credulity was impressive.  The UK authorities had assumed that it was “impossible” for a double amputee, one functional eye and suffering diabetes to pass a medical exam on his fitness for detention at ADX Florence.  “I am satisfied,” Judge Workman declared at the time, “that the defendant [Hamza] would not be detained in these conditions [at ADX] indefinitely, and his undoubted ill-health and physical disabilities would be considered, and at worst, he would only be accommodated in these conditions for a relatively short period of time.”  Lewis observed that Hamza, having had both forearms amputated, was a fairly obvious qualification against being sent to the ADX.  “I don’t believe the US government has followed through on him receiving a full medical examination.”

Dobbin, ever the believer, wondered if Lewis was simply too trusting of Hamza.  “He is a double amputee,” came the reply.  “He does not have daily nursing care four times a day as he had in the UK.  He is placed in a handicapped cell that does not have proper shower and toilet facilities.”

In 2018, one of Hamza’s lawyers issued a statement asserting “that the conditions of his confinement violate the expectations of the European Convention on Human Rights and the promises that were made by the US government to the [British and European] courts as part of the extradition process.”  By comparison, the conditions at Belmarsh, a facility Assange is well acquainted with, were notably better.  Horror comes in degrees.

Anonymous witnesses, espionage and the CIA

In anticipation of Thursday’s proceedings, the court also considered whether it should grant anonymity to two witnesses from the UC Global S.L. security firm, the Spanish company charged with providing security at Ecuador’s London embassy.  Their testimony, scheduled to be read that day, is intended to draw the political line between UC Global, their espionage activities targeting Assange in the London Ecuadorean Embassy, and the CIA.  UC Global’s director David Morales, is alleged in reports to have travelled to Las Vegas in 2017, where he secured a contract with Las Vegas Sands of the casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a notable financier of US President Donald Trump.  It is claimed that Morales handed over audio and video recordings of meetings Assange had with his lawyers and associates while in the embassy.

Having already testified in a Spanish court case against Morales under protection, and fearing for their safety should their names be disclosed at the Old Bailey, Judge Vanessa Baraitser relented.  We also await how the prosecution will deal with their potentially juicy testimony.  James Lewis QC has yet to receive instructions from the DOJ on whether to mount a challenge, given the less than impervious “Chinese Wall” that supposedly exists between agencies such as the DOJ and the CIA.  That comforting fiction is designed to prevent politicisation.  It is one that this trial has already done a good deal to expose and scuttle.

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The Guardian’s Deceit-riddled New Statement betrays both Julian Assange and Journalism

In my recent post on the current hearings at the Old Bailey over Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States, where he would almost certainly be locked away for the rest of his life for the crime of doing journalism, I made two main criticisms of the Guardian.

A decade ago, remember, the newspaper worked closely in collaboration with Assange and Wikileaks to publish the Iraq and Afghan war diaries, which are now the grounds on which the US is basing its case to lock Assange behind bars in a super-max jail.

My first criticism was that the paper had barely bothered to cover the hearing, even though it is the most concerted attack on press freedom in living memory. That position is unconscionably irresponsible, given its own role in publishing the war diaries. But sadly it is not inexplicable. In fact, it is all too easily explained by my second criticism.

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Assange’s Fourteenth Day at the Old Bailey: Elections, Cracking Passwords and Failures of Proof

September 25.  Central Criminal Court, London.

On this Friday, the Assange trial moved into the rarefied realm of computer hacking and the less than rarefied world of when final arguments will be made.  The WikiLeaks publisher is confronting the prospect of extradition to the United States for 17 charges under the US Espionage Act and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

The defence first pushed for more time to prepare closing arguments.  As Edward Fitzgerald QC explained, “It seems unlikely for you to make a judgment before Nov. 3 and you would have to bear in mind that the future is uncertain.  Much of what we say about [US President Donald] Trump is because this proceeding was initiated by Trump … and some elements of the case would be worse if Trump were [re-elected].”

The arguments worked, and Judge Vanessa Baraitser found herself admitting that the election outcome was “one of the factors going into my decision.”  She agreed to granting the defence four more weeks.  “That means for your client there will be no more decision until the new year, if he appreciates that.”  A more than revealing nod that politics permeates this entire process.

The defence also attempted to confront US Assistant Attorney General Gordon Kromberg’s rosy view of the US prison system, specifically regarding the conditions of the Alexandria Detention Center, destined venue for Assange’s pre-trial time, and ADX Florence in Colorado, where he is likely to spend time if convicted.  To date, the assistant attorney has been disinclined to surrender to cross-examination.  This led Fitzgerald to attempt the submission of two defence statements to court, one from a former chief psychiatrist at the US Bureau of Prisons, another from a forensic psychiatrist well acquainted with ADX Florence.  “We have no right to cross-examine Kromberg, who can say whatever he wants and we have no right to challenge him,” submitted Fitzgerald.   “They have no right to have the right word.”  Baraitser rejected the request, feeling that enough by way of defence testimony on the US prisons in question, had been heard.

Failure to prove conspiracy

The prosecution had been less than charitable in sending the defence documents at 11.30 pm the previous night.  Such a move prompted Mark Summers QC to request Judge Vanessa Baraitser to give their witness Patrick Eller an hour to peruse the prosecution material.  Eller, chief executive of Metadata Forensics and former digital forensic examiner at the US Army Criminal Investigation Command headquarters at Quantico, had submitted his written testimony some nine months previously.  Baraitser, on this occasion, acceded to the defence.

The day was further marked by a distinct lack of historical and computer literacy.  The judicial bench seemed unblemished by an awareness of certain details of the Chelsea Manning court martial, along with its important terminology; the prosecution seemed ignorant of testimony supplied at the trial by the government’s own forensic expert.

The indictment accuses Assange of conspiring with Manning to attempt to crack a password hash drawn from a conversation on the Jabber instant messaging service.  On the surface, this reads like the basis of a narrowly crafted computer offence.  The indictment is, however, more broadly crafted, drawing upon the Espionage Act to target Assange for allegedly receiving pilfered data, including the Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, the US Department of State Cables, and the Iraq rules of engagement files.  It is alleged that “Assange knew that Manning was unlawfully taking and disclosing them, and at the time Assange agreed to assist Manning in cracking the encrypted password hash [knowing] that Manning was taking and providing WikiLeaks with classified documents and records containing national defense information from classified databases.”  Both awareness, and action, become criminal ingredients.

Assange, allegedly using the name Nathaniel Frank, was asked by Manning whether he was capable of cracking a password hash containing an encrypted hash of half a password.  Manning then sent a hexadecimal string taken from her computer network.  The hash was passed on to an expert; Frank admitted to having “no luck so far” decrypting it.

Had this been possible, the prosecution claims that it would have “made it more difficult for investigators to identify Manning as the source of the unauthorised disclosures of classified information.”  Cracking the encryption would have also given Manning access to an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) user account with greater access privileges.

The grounds for the defence, fashioned by Eller’s written testimony, are two-fold: “that the alleged passcode hash conspiracy was impossible, but even if it were possible, it has no utility to what is attributed to it.”

Eller’s analysis of Manning’s court martial records was incisive.  In his assessment, Manning never supplied the two necessary files vital in reconstructing the decryption key for the pass word hash.  “At the time, it would not have been possible to crack an encrypted password hash, such as the one Manning obtained.”  What was “sent was insufficient to be able to crack the password in the way the government [has] prescribed.”

James Lewis QC for the prosecution attempted to find some agreement with Eller that Manning and Assange had “thought they could crack the password and agreed to attempt to crack it.”  The answer from Eller was not assuring.  A hash had been provided; they claimed to have “rainbow tables for it.”  (Rainbow tables being a decryption method applying different password values by means of guessing.) Nothing was ever stated on where the hash was from.

Even more troubling for the prosecution, Eller reminded Lewis that, “The government’s own expert witness in the [Manning] court martial stated that was not enough for them to actually be able to do it.”  Bruised by this reversal of fortune, Lewis could only assay a weak question.  “Are you aware Assange publicly boasted he is a fantastic hacker?”

Looming over the day’s events in thick reminder were the proceedings of the Manning court martial.  Consulting those records might have saved Lewis, and the court, some time.  Kevin Gosztola reminds us of the testimony of special agent for the Army Computer Crimes Investigating Unit, David Shaver.  On June 12, 2013, Shaver testified that the “hash value” was found in the chat, but was hardly the “full hash value”.  Major Thomas Hurley, for Manning’s defence, asked whether “the hash value included in the chat wouldn’t be enough to actually gain any passwords or user information”.  “Correct,” came Shaver’s response.

The “Nathaniel Frank” identity also proved slippery.  In re-examination, Summers dug to see if there was any evidence linking Assange to it.  None that he could see, came the reply from Eller, more than once.  The prosecution now, just as in the Manning trial, continue to scrounge for an elusive link.

With Eller’s testimony also came the seeds of doubt in the prosecution’s conspiracy charge.  Manning had, “[r]outinely and in the course of work,” downloaded the war log documents so as to have “offline backups” in the event the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) were it to suffer “connectivity issues”.  The SIPRNet, segregated from the internet, could be accessed from a sensitive compartmentalised information facility (SCIF).  By the time the alleged conversation with Assange took place on Jabber, Manning had already downloaded and leaked documents including the Iraq and Afghan war logs, the rules of engagement and “Collateral Murder” video and the Guantanamo detainee assessment briefs using her standard account on two secure computers.  The “documents named in the indictment that Manning sent after the alleged cracking attempt were the State Department cables,” which Manning was, in any case, authorised to access.

The US government claim that Assange made an agreement with Manning to crack a password in order to access the FTP user account collapses in a heap.  As Eller notes in his submission, “Manning already had legitimate access to all the databases from which she downloaded data.”  To log “into another user account would not have provided her with more access than she already possessed.”  It was also “unclear” to Eller “that any anonymity would be gained by cracking the password to gain access to the ftp user account.”

This was certainly relevant in terms of downloading documents passed on to WikiLeaks, as doing so would have been tracked by the army, the user identifiable by means of the IP address.  “Even if Manning was in fact logged into the ftp user account rather than her own normal account, this would have no effect on tracking,” Eller’s witness statement summarises the point.  “Merely logging into a different local user account on the computer (such as ftp user) would not anonymise Manning at all because the IP address of the computer would remain the same regardless of what user account is in use.”

Manning already had the means of accessing data via her own local computer, using a Linux CD which enabled her to read the files and bypass the security features of Windows.  Eller’s submission is sharply convincing.  “The technical impossibility of using the ftp user account to download data anonymously, combined with Manning’s past behaviour of downloading hundreds of thousands of documents from her own account, indicate that it is highly unlikely that Manning’s attempt to crack the ftp user password had anything to do with leaking documents.”

Eller’s testimony also gives an insight into how soldiers working with Manning at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq frequently took breaks to play computer games and listen to music.  Unauthorised software, stored on the T-drive of the SCIF, or on their work computers to chat, play games and music, were used.  Manning’s court martial revealed that soldiers often attempted to crack administrative passwords to gain access to such software.  As Jason Milliman, a computer engineer retained to manage laptops at the base explained, “soldiers cracked his password in order to install a program and then deleted his administrator account.”

The defence performance, in sinking the prosecution’s feeble password-cracking conspiracy with testimony drawn from the US government’s own forensic expert in the Manning trial, was impressive.  But commentators such as Gosztola fear that a degree of obsolescence specific to the computer charge has crept in.  The 2020 superseding indictment is a grab all rag bag of assertions claiming that Assange conspired with the hacktivist group LulzSec and propagandised his cause for reasons of recruiting sources in the US intelligence community as future WikiLeaks sources.  It was the sort of material that should have been excised from the extradition proceedings, but Judge Baraitser refused.  Show trials must have their scripts doctored for the occasion.

The post Assange’s Fourteenth Day at the Old Bailey: Elections, Cracking Passwords and Failures of Proof first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Assange’s Thirteenth Day at the Old Bailey: Mental Health, Managed Risk and Publication Chronologies

September 24.  Central Criminal Court, London.

The lion’s share of today’s Old Bailey proceedings in Julian Assange’s extradition trial was spent on battles over mental health and dire risk.  The prosecution continued its attempt to minimise the dangers facing Assange were he to be extradited to the United States for 17 charges under the US Espionage Act and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. While the defence has its case on Assange’s fragile mental health well plotted, the prosecution is hoping that witnesses such as Dr Nigel Blackwood, consultant psychiatrist with the National Health Service, will punch holes in the argument.  They will certainly hope for better efforts than those made by their own witnesses, Seena Fazel, a psychiatry professor who seemed too professionally tentative to land firm blows against Assange’s diagnosis for Asperger’s syndrome, or dismiss the health risks facing him in the US prisons system.

Blackwood and managed risk

Blackwood had conducted his own psychiatric evaluation of Assange’s condition via phone in July 2020.  What he gave the court was a show of qualified hypotheticals.  He found the publisher to be “moderately depressed”; there was undoubtedly “some risk of suicide attempt in the event of extradition”.  He did not feel this risk to be a “high” one.  It had been “carefully managed in Belmarsh and the risk factors are modifiable.”  Assange “engages with treatments to manage that risk.”

Reliance was placed upon the capacity for self-control in the face of such risk.  If the person facing extradition could self-manage or be “capable of controlling” their own risk of suicide, the extradition should be made.  Blackwood was excruciatingly selective, finding Assange “resourceful” and “very resilient”.  He believed Assange “retains the capacity to resist suicide.”

An unstinting faith in the prison authorities was shown by the witness. They would have sent Assange for outside treatment had he suffered from severe depression.  The release of a video of Assange in prison, made public in June 2019, prompted the authorities to send him to the medical ward.  Edward Fitzgerald QC for the defence was unimpressed by Blackwood’s reading of this incident: confining Assange to the medical ward had been for reasons of “reputational damage” to prison officials.  A prison document of that day’s incident noted that Assange had been sent to the ward for being at risk of self-harm.  Why had Blackwood failed to mention it in his report?  The prosecution witness was moved to admit that, while multiple factors were present in the decision to send Assange to the medical ward, Assange’s considerations of self-harm was one of them.  This was a fact Blackwood omitted.

The defence turned on the issue of whether prison conditions Assange would face in the US would be broadly on par with those in the United Kingdom.  The point is significant as previous legal authority – notably the UK High Court decision in the Lauri Love case – found much to be worried about in the assurances made by the US Bureau of Prisons, notably on their poor provision of mental health facilities and safeguards against suicide.  Blackwood conceded that his assessment drew heavily upon US Assistant Attorney Gordon Kromberg’s affidavit, which claimed that there was no “solitary confinement” in the Alexandria Detention Center (ADC), where Assange will be initially held.  “I relied on Kromberg and the academic literature on what happens in US prisons.  There may be stuff that isn’t covered, but there is broad equivalence.”

An all too confident assessment, given the revelations of Eric Lewis, board president of Reprieve, who had previously testified to the court about his own clients’ experiences of solitary confinement and Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) deployed at ADC.  They were not findings Blackwood had cared to consult. When Fitzgerald asked Lewis, in re-direct examination, whether Kromberg was “more qualified than you are on prison conditions”, the defence witness suggested that the assistant attorney would rarely have stepped into a prison. Lewis, in contrast, was well acquainted with a range of prison conditions ranging from Guantánamo to the United Kingdom.

Blackwood was also taken to task by the defence for being green about the US prison system: he had never visited the ADC or any US federal facility.  His modest haul included visits to a state prison in Connecticut, and a Newport, Rhode Island jail.

The prosecution witness was duly attacked for his presumptuousness in a report marked by vital subtractions and unnecessary additions.  Having failed to note the presence of solitary confinement in the ADC, he had also concluded that it would not be unjust to extradite Assange, given his mental health condition.  The defence proved stormy on this point.  “It’s not your business to decide that, whether extradition is just or unjust, that is up to the judge.”  This was a point Blackwood was left to accept.

Crosby and very high risks

Testimony for the defence was then provided by Dr Sondra Crosby of Boston University, an authority on the physical and psychological effects of torture.  Crosby’s expertise in the area is extensive: as of March 2019, she had evaluated a touch under 1,000 survivors of torture.  She runs a clinic specialising in the care of refugees and asylum seekers, “most of whom have experienced torture.”

She had visited Assange in the London Ecuadorean embassy in October 2017 after an American doctor (left unnamed) organised an “academic evaluation of the effects of living in the embassy”.  Assange then described “symptoms of depression, symptoms of post-traumatic disorder.”  While capable of conversation and not seemingly in a “horrible state”, his physical symptoms were “worrisome”. But mental decline was evident, marked by an inability to concentrate, depression, nightmares, disturbances to sleep.

Thoughts of suicide were first described to Crosby in 2018.  The dramatic suicide of the convicted Bosnian Croatian general Slobodan Praljak by potassium cyanide, drunk before the judges of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, left a deep impression.

In her February 23, 2019 session with Assange, her notes evaluating his state were taken from her by embassy staff, thereby violating doctor-patient confidentiality.  She noted the presence of cameras.  A copy of her medical license was demanded.  Her credentials had to be verified by an embassy security guard.  The incident might have formed part of the defence testimony on showing the operation of a US-backed surveillance operation, but did not.

She was also alarmed during that visit by Assange’s marked deterioration, physically and psychologically.  “I was very concerned about a very advanced tooth infection that was causing him excruciating pain, requiring him to take narcotics.”

Visits to Assange at Belmarsh in October 2019 and January 2020 were also made.  Crosby’s December 2019 report was even more unequivocal.  Assange had “met all the criteria for major depression”; he was “essentially dead”, “tearful”, pleading.  He had called the anonymous suicide hotline Samaritans.  She also found physical symptoms indicative of anxiety or cardiac arrest, and the possibility of chronic respiratory infection.   Assange, she concluded, was “at high risk of completing suicide if he were to be extradited.”

The risk was compounded by an incomplete picture on Assange’s intentions.  He had concealed the “full extent of his depression and suicide plans” in meetings with mental health specialists and prison doctors.  He feared being subjected to “more surveillance” or further isolation if he confessed to the full scope of his “suicidal ideations”.

In cross-examination, Lewis dished up some common, misguided fare.  Any assessment of Assange’s health would surely have to be qualified by the fact that he could leave the embassy at any time.  Such a question, replied Crosby, was “complex”; Assange found himself in a position similar to one “who is being chased with an axe or a gun and locks himself in a room for safety.”  What faced Assange, were he to leave the embassy environs, were the arms of the police and the prospects of extradition, made concrete by the current proceedings.

Lewis also returned to what is becoming a favourite animus of his: the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, whose widely publicised views of Assange’s treatment are known.  “You rely on your report [to the court] on Nils Melzer,” he coldly observed.  “I think you got him involved.”  He also posed a rhetorical question verging on the inane: “Are you aware that no one ever extradited to the US from the UK has committed suicide?”  A man of true venal faith.

Cryptome: published and unpunished

The last instalment of the day came with the reading out by the defence of a witness statement by John Young, host of cryptome.org.  The role of this testimony goes to corroborating other accounts on the chronology of publication.  Cryptome, which Young founded in 1996, published the entire set of unredacted US State Department cables on September 1, 2011.  WikiLeaks followed suit the next day.

The publication, Young’s statement reads, “remains available at present.”  Since “publication on Cryptome.org of the unredacted diplomatic cables,  no US law enforcement authority has notified me that this publication of the cables is illegal, consists or contributes to a crime in any way, nor have they asked for them to be removed.”

Other sites, and their operators, have also been spared the stern and intrusive gaze of the US Justice Department.  Assange’s defence had at hand a statement from Christopher Butler of the Internet Archive.  Butler confirmed that, to this day, the Internet Archive still hosts records of WikiLeaks’ publications.  Both he and his data have been left undisturbed.  Yet another instance showing this prosecution effort to be political, singular and selective.

The post Assange’s Thirteenth Day at the Old Bailey: Mental Health, Managed Risk and Publication Chronologies first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Assange’s Twelfth Day at the Old Bailey: Autism, Suicide and Prisons

September 23.  Central Criminal Court, London.

Following the script sheet of the previous day, the non sequitur, pop medical view of the prosecution was again in sharp evidence at the Old Bailey.  In an effort to make the road for Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States for 17 charges under the US Espionage Act and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act smoother, James Lewis QC persisted in attacking suggestions that the WikiLeaks publisher was autistic, or should be treated as such.

The prosecution knows that cases such as that of Lauri Love in 2018 and Gary McKinnon in 2012, both centred on extradition efforts by the US government for hacking charges, failed on the basis that both accused would be at high risk of suicide in US prison facilities, a point exacerbated by Asperger’s syndrome and depression.  In Love’s case, the UK High Court found that “the fact of extradition would bring on severe depression, and that Mr Love would probably be determined to commit suicide, here or in America.”  Being kept on suicide watch was woefully inadequate as a measure of protection, and did not constitute a “form of treatment”.

In McKinnon’s case, the usually icy Home Secretary, Theresa May, melted to the presence of Asperger’s syndrome and depressive illness, concluding that “extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite him would be incompatible with [his] human rights.”

Deeley for the Defence

Lewis had been less than impressive on September 22 in dealing Dr Michael Kopelman, Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London, whose medical qualifications he saw fit to disparage as less relevant than his “advocacy”.  Now, he faced the testimony of Dr Quinton Deeley, a National Health Service consultant psychiatrist who conducted two Autism Diagnostic Schedule (ADOS) tests on Assange when in Belmarsh prison.  Six hours of phone interviews with Assange also took place in July 2020.

Intelligence, a penchant for analytic thought and the means of understanding systems, were detected.  “With deliberation he can bring himself to understand what other people are thinking and feeling but in his day experience he is oblivious.”  Deeley observed “rigidity of thoughts” and “obsessive rumination”, traits common in autism spectrum disorder.  This caused him a “sense of horror”.  For the publisher, extradition and prison would be “an unbearable ordeal, and I think his inability to bear that in the context of [an] acute worsening depression would confer a high risk of suicide.”  Assange saw his predicament as “unjust”, believing that an “example is being made out of him”.

Deeley revealed how Assange was concerned about the superseding indictment.  He feared for Joshua Schulte, alleged to have disclosed the Vault 7 files on the hacking capabilities and tools of the Central Intelligence Agency.  Schulte was found guilty on counts of lying to the FBI and contempt of court but the jury tied on eight other counts in March, including the transmission of national defense information.  Assistant US Attorney David Denton promised that the Department of Justice would “retry Mr Schulte on the espionage charges.”

A past suggestive of autism was also dredged. Autism spectrum disorder was, for instance, manifest in the Assange family.  A friend of Assange’s from Australia, Suelette Dreyus, had also been interviewed by Deeley.  Certain behavioural traits (“outrageous behaviour and lack of propriety”) were noted in the boy from Townsville: a propensity to rearrange furniture in a café; going behind a bar to change music; impulsively taking pictures off the walls to inspect.  Small-talk and chatter about the weather was reviled.  Interruptions in conversation were frequent.  He would talk over fellow conversationalists.  Not due to arrogance, mind you: he merely had to express his views.

The prosecution then began parading various mistreatments of autism, inflicting a few mutilations upon it on the way.  A person on the autism spectrum is evidently incapable of authoring books, giving speeches and hosting media gigs.  Lewis went so far as to play a video of Assange’s address at London’s Frontline Club in 2010, an occasion for answering questions about the releases of WikiLeaks, protective redactions for informants and partnerships with media organisations.  The suggestion by the prosecution was that someone able to field questions and participate in such sessions would surely not find themselves on the autistic spectrum.

Deeley attempted to put such erroneous views to rest.  Autism was no bar to demonstrable expertise and confident authority.  “It’s possible to both have a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome and to demonstrate expertise and be authoritative and knowledgeable about certain topics.”  Assange’s performance at the Frontline Club was not exceptional for “high-functioning intelligent people on the autism spectrum.”  In such settings as a Q&A format, Assange was familiar with both content and format, able to engage in “monologue”.  Social niceties and etiquette were not essential.

An example was put forth.  Deeley suggested Dr Temple Grandin, an expert on animal behaviour and notable autism spokesperson.  On the stage she performs, confident with her subject matter, capable of holding an audience, even able to share the odd joke.  Discussion with attendees after the performance is another matter.  Lewis, losing patience, barked.  “Are you trying to help this court or advocate a cause?”

Other angles attempting to show Assange as empathetic (this prosecution is ever a friend of contradiction) were also pursued.  Having sole custody of a child, for instance, suggested inconsistency with an ASD diagnosis.  His mother had also described her son as an “extraordinarily selfless father”.  Deeley was also dismissive of such a reading: those on the autism spectrum could still be capable parents, be affected by suffering, appreciate a sense of duty and have principle.

The “when all else fails” approach was also deployed.  Deeley’s impartiality was challenged.  Was he excusing behaviour or merely confirming a diagnosis?  No: the witness was merely being comprehensive rather than selective on specific items of evidence.  But Lewis was in the mood for being cuttingly selective, going so far as to press the witness on his lack of eye contact in giving answers.  Everyone did it, and such behaviour was hardly indicative of being on the autism spectrum. A bemused Deeley could only reply that he would not return a high score on an ADOS test; eye contact alone was not a definitive indicator.

Fazel for the prosecution

The prosecution then drew upon their own weaponry in the diagnoses war, though it seemed blunted.  Seena Fazel, forensic psychiatry professor at Oxford University, took the stand as the first prosecution witness.  He interviewed Assange during the summer, finding him “moderately depressed”.  By late 2019, he accepted that Assange was “severely depressed”, being medicated for his condition, and suffering “episodic” bouts of depression anxiety.  For all that, he deemed Assange capable of managing his suicide risk, and possessing “autistic-like traits” on the milder side of the autism spectrum.

The prosecution proceeded to list a range of programs and prison amenities suggesting that what awaited Assange was an adequate, even pleasant Supermax experience at the ADX Florence facility in Colorado.  There were “13-inch televisions” in store; “arts and crafts” available.  (All good, except that Assange would be in housing unit H, where such items were conspicuously absent.)  Would this not, put the prosecution, reduce the risk of suicide?  Fazel’s answers proved tentative.  He noted that a “range of activities” were seemingly on offer by the US Bureau of Prisons, but he would need to see “whether they’re implemented in practice”, along with “the quality of the interventions.”  Not the sort of qualification Lewis would have wanted.

On being cross-examined by the defence, Fazel accepted that he lacked expertise on the vast, sprawling nature of the US prison system.  It followed that he had no knowledge of the pre-trial facilities at Alexandria Detention Center, where Assange will be initially held, or the consequences of applying Special Administrative Measures (SAMs).  ADX Florence, this “Alcatraz of the Rockies”, has the dubious honour of being a “clean version of hell”.  Even that wonderful assessment by a former warden has had to be revised.  The facility, according to Alan Prendergast, became a place where the mentally ill mutilated themselves, chatted to ghosts and festered in faecal-caked isolation cells.  It took a law suit to force the Bureau of Prisons to move the most disturbed prisoners out of ADX.

Fazel also accepted that lengthy prison sentences and periods of solitary confinement were conductive to a condition of hopelessness, a genuine risk factor in suicide.  Such a risk increased in instances where prospects were “bleak”.  Fewer places are bleaker than H Unit.

The post Assange’s Twelfth Day at the Old Bailey: Autism, Suicide and Prisons first appeared on Dissident Voice.