Category Archives: The Old Bailey

“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.

“None Of It Reported”: How Corporate Media Buried The Assange Trial

One of the most imposing features of state-corporate propaganda is its incessant, repetitive nature. Over and over again, the ‘mainstream’ media have to convince the public that ‘our’ government prioritises the health, welfare and livelihoods of the general population, rather than the private interests of an elite stratum of society that owns and runs all the major institutions, banks, corporations and media.

We are constantly bombarded by government ministers and their media lackeys telling us that ‘our’ armed forces require huge resources, at public expense, to maintain the country’s ‘peace’ and ‘security’. We do not hear so much about the realpolitik of invading, bombing or otherwise ‘intervening’ in other countries with military force, diplomatic muscle, and bribes of trade and aid deals to carve up natural resources and markets for the benefit of a few.

For those old enough to remember 2002-2003, who can forget the endless repeated rhetoric of the ‘threat’ posed by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, of how his ‘weapons of mass destruction’ could be launched within 45 minutes of his order, and how ‘we’ simply had to remove him from power? Or how, in 2011, the US, UK and France had to launch ‘humanitarian intervention’ to stop the ‘mass slaughter’ of civilians by Gaddafi’s forces in Libya. And on and on.

Moreover, the public is saturated by obsequious ‘news’ about the royal family, allowing for the odd scandal now and again, to convince us of their ‘relevance’, the ‘great work’ they do for the country, not least ‘boosting the tourism industry’, and their supposedly vital role in maintaining a ‘stable society’ steeped in tradition and rich history.

But when it comes to arguably the most important political trial in our lifetimes, there is a not-so-curious media reluctance to dwell on it or even mention it, never mind grant it the kind of blanket coverage that celebrity trials regularly generate.

Thus, media attention given to the extradition hearing of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder and editor, was minimal and dwarfed by the coverage devoted to the actor Johnny Depp over the summer.

We monitored BBC News at Ten, the main evening BBC news programme on BBC1, during the four weeks of the Assange hearing. As far as we could tell, there was not a single substantive item (there may have been passing mention on the first day). We observed that the last time Paul Royall, the editor of BBC News at Ten, had mentioned Assange in his daily tweets giving the running order for that evening’s News at Ten was in November 2019. We challenged Royall politely several times on Twitter, but received no response. We received the same non-response from deputy editor Lizzi Watson and her colleague Jonathan Whitaker.

We also challenged Daniel Sandford, the BBC’s home affairs correspondent whose remit, according to his Twitter bio, includes law.

We asked him:

‘Hello @BBCDanielS

‘As Home Affairs Correspondent for @BBCNews, where is your reporting of the #JulianAssange extradition hearing?’

To his credit, Sandford did at least respond, unlike the majority of his BBC colleagues in recent years. He told us:

‘The case is being covered by our World Affairs unit. I have been in a few hearings, and it is slightly repetitive at the moment. It will return as a news story.’

Those words – ‘slightly repetitive’ – look destined to become Sandford’s journalistic epitaph. Ironically, they have been endlessly repeated back to him by members of the public who were understandably incredulous, perplexed, irritated or even angry at his dismissive response to Assange’s ordeal and the huge implications of the trial.

We asked Sandford why he had never mentioned the testimony of Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture:

‘Thanks for replying. The UN’s @NilsMelzer notes that “the case is a battle over press freedom, the rule of law & the future of democracy, none of which can coexist with secrecy”. Surely the requirement of impartiality means you should report this; not wait until it is too late?’

We received no further response from the BBC correspondent. However, Rebecca Vincent, Director of International Campaigns at Reporters Without Borders, followed up our challenge and told Sandford:

‘I find this disappointing, Daniel. Repetitive or not, the public needs to know what is happening in these proceedings. And meanwhile – NGOs have been barred access. I can only get in thanks to the support of a network of grassroots activists queuing from 5 am over four weeks.’

Sandford bristled:

‘So you decided to join the pile-on too Rebecca? Thank you. I politely explained to @medialens why I personally was not covering the case and added that I had attended some hearings from personal interest, and explained why it is not news every day. But you are disappointed?’

‘Pile-on’ is the pejorative term used when a journalist receives critical replies from the public. Unfortunately, Sandford had received some abuse, but most people made polite and rational points. As we have learned over the years, most journalists hate being challenged by informed members of the public. And any instances of abuse – usually in the minority – are often leaned upon as an excuse to ignore or dismiss all challenges.

The home affairs correspondent continued:

‘I don’t have great influence over what is covered each day except on those stories I am working on, but press freedom does include the freedom for a news organisation to decide what should be included in the news each day.’

Rebecca Vincent replied again:

‘Which very often does not seem to include stories of massively egregious press freedom violations – that will in turn set a precedent affecting said news organisation. As I said, disappointing.’

Teymoor Nabili, a former news presenter on Al Jazeera, BBC and CNBC, replied to Sandford:

‘That’s a particularly bizarre reading of “press freedom”’

Indeed. In the ‘mainstream’ media – BBC News included – ‘press freedom’ amounts to publishing power-friendly ‘news’ articles, biased ‘analysis’ and commentary, and diversionary pabulum and tittle-tattle.

Journalist Mohammed Elmaazi, who had been reporting daily from the trial, also replied to Sandford:

‘This is probably the most significant case involving press freedom, the right to know and the Rule of Law, in the Western world in half a century, if not more so. Though as an individual reporter I wouldn’t hold you personally responsible for BBC’s coverage (or lack thereof).’

As John McEvoy noted in a piece on The Canary website:

‘To write about the greatest press freedom case in recent history, it has been necessary to rely almost exclusively on the work of independent journalists.’

An extensive list of these journalists can be found here.

Richard Medhurst, one of the independent journalists reporting the trial, made a powerful short speech outside the Old Bailey on one of the final days. The trial, and the lack of media coverage, was ‘an abomination’, he said. So too was the fact that the West’s war criminals were not even mentioned in court – Tony Blair, George Bush, Jack Straw, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and the rest. In sum, the hearing was:

‘An absolute mockery of any kind of semblance of justice in this country’.

Former UK ambassador Craig Murray concurred when he too spoke outside the Old Bailey, saying of Assange:

‘His ordeal goes on and on. And all because he published the truth. There is no allegation in that court room that anything he published was a lie. Anything he published was true. And much of that truth revealed terrible crimes – war crimes and crimes against humanity, and lies and corruption by government. And not one of the people who committed those war crimes is on trial anywhere. Instead we have the man who had the courage to reveal those war crimes is the one whose liberty is at stake.’

A Twitter commenter made a point about one of the independent reporters at the trial:

‘Kevin Gosztola has reported more on the Julian Assange extradition trial than the NY Times, WaPo, BBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CNN, MSNBC have combined.’

Gosztola, editor of Shadowproof.com website, followed up with:

‘Fact-checked this and it only took a few minutes to confirm #AssangeTrial’

And yet, bizarrely, there was a BBC reporter present throughout the Assange hearing, according to both Rebecca Vincent and James Doleman of Byline Times, who was providing daily trial updates. As Vincent noted:

‘The BBC had a reporter in court (I could see him from the public gallery) who was apparently filing twice a day. There were 18 days of proceedings. Why weren’t more pieces published?’

So, what was happening to the reports that were presumably being submitted by the BBC reporter? Nobody could tell us, including the ever-silent editors of BBC News at Ten.

Investigative journalists Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis of Declassified UK have extensively studied numerous aspects of the Assange extradition hearing and published seven articles concerning legal irregularities and conflicts of interest in the case. These articles revealed:

  1. Julian Assange’s judge and her husband’s links to the British military establishment exposed by WikiLeaks
  2. The son of Julian Assange’s judge is linked to an anti-data leak company created by the UK intelligence establishment
  3. Chief magistrate in Assange case received financial benefits from secretive partner organisations of UK Foreign Office
  4. UK minister who approved Trump’s request to extradite Assange spoke at secretive US conferences with people calling for him to be “neutralized”
  5. At risk from coronavirus, Julian Assange is one of just two inmates in Belmarsh maximum-security prison held for skipping bail
  6. UK government refuses to release information about Assange judge who has 96% extradition record
  7. As British judge made rulings against Julian Assange, her husband was involved with right-wing lobby group briefing against WikiLeaks founder

BBC News and other corporate media could certainly not be accused of being at all ‘repetitive’ about such deeply damaging aspects of the extradition hearing.

Observing the court proceedings from the limited space of the public gallery day by day, Murray warned:

‘It has been clear to me from Day 1 that I am watching a charade unfold. It is not in the least a shock to me that [magistrate Vanessa] Baraitser does not think anything beyond the written opening arguments has any effect. I have again and again reported to you that, where rulings have to be made, she has brought them into court pre-written, before hearing the arguments before her.

‘I strongly expect the final decision was made in this case even before opening arguments were received.’

Murray added:

‘The plan of the US Government throughout has been to limit the information available to the public and limit the effective access to a wider public of what information is available. Thus we have seen the extreme restrictions on both physical and video access. A complicit mainstream media has ensured those of us who know what is happening are very few in the wider population.’

In a superb piece for Consortium News, political commentator Alexander Mercouris demolished the shifting and nonsensical US case for extradition. He nailed the fundamental reason that Washington is pursuing Assange:

‘Julian Assange and his organization WikiLeaks, have done those things which the U.S. government and its national security apparatus most fear, and have worked hardest to prevent, by exposing the terrible reality of much of what the U.S. government now routinely does, and is determined to conceal, and what much of the media is helping the U.S. government to conceal.’

He continued:

‘the true purpose of the U.S. government’s relentless pursuit of Assange is to prevent him from exposing more of its crimes, and to punish him for exposing those of its crimes which he did expose, if only so as to deter others from doing the same thing, is perfectly obvious to any unbiased and realistic observer.’

Mercouris added:

‘Assange and WikiLeaks have exposed rampant war crimes and human rights abuses over the course of illegal wars waged by the U.S. government and its allies.  The death toll from these wars runs at the very least into the tens of thousands, and more plausibly into the hundreds of thousands or even millions.’

In conclusion:

‘In other words, it is Assange and his sources, first and foremost Chelsea Manning, who are the defenders of international law, including the Nuremberg Principles, and including in the case which is currently underway, whilst it is those who persecute them, including by bringing the current case against Assange, who are international law’s violators.

‘This is the single most important fact about this case, and it explains everything about it.’

At the end of the trial, RT’s Afshin Rattansi noted:

‘English magistrate Vanessa Baraitser declares at London’s Old Bailey that she will judge on Julian Assange’s extradition to a Virginia Court to face Espionage charges on 4 January 2021. The judgement will impact every journalist in the world.’

We highlighted that last sentence on our Twitter feed, adding:

‘As for stenographers and guardians of power in the “mainstream” media, they can just carry on as before…’

This, of course, is a central reason why state-corporate ‘journalists’ are so disinterested in the trial. The overwhelming majority simply do not – cannot – see themselves threatened by Washington’s assault on real journalism and truth-telling.

Closing Scene: A BBC Man Appears

On the penultimate day of the four-week hearing, the BBC’s avuncular veteran reporter John Simpson turned up (‘Still with BBC after 53 yrs, trying to make sense of a mad world’, says his Twitter bio): someone we had sparred with on the topic of Iraq in the early days of Media Lens.

He tweeted after his day at court:

‘I went to Julian #Assange’s extradition hearing at the Old Bailey today.  It will end tomorrow or Friday, with a decision expected in January.  Alarming witness statements today from whistleblowers about the bugging of Assange’s lawyers in Spain.’

Simpson’s comment was not entirely accurate or comprehensive. According to whistleblower testimony presented at the Old Bailey by former employees of UC Global, a Spanish security company, attempts had allegedly been made by the company to bug Assange and his lawyers inside the Ecuador embassy, under the auspices of the CIA. That fact alone should have been sufficient to throw out any court case against Assange, given the supposedly sacrosanct confidentiality of private legal conversations between lawyers and clients. There were even proposals by UC Global to kidnap or poison the WikiLeaks publisher on behalf of the CIA. Investigative journalist Max Blumenthal has done valuable work in exposing all of this, as he detailed in an interview with Deepa Driver of the campaign group Don’t Extradite Assange, and in an extensive article for The Grayzone website.

These shocking details appear never to have surfaced in BBC coverage, such as it was. On October 2 – the day after the hearing had ended – we observed that there had been just four articles published on the website during the hearing. One was a short, bland report of the first day of the case. Two were more ‘human interest’ pieces about Assange’s partner, Stella Moris, and their two children. A fourth piece was titled, ‘Julian Assange: Campaigner or attention seeker’. Perhaps ‘the world’s most trusted international news broadcaster’ believes the latter to be the case, thus deciding to all but ignore the hearing and its serious implications for justice, journalism and democracy.

It is worth noting that Stuart Millar is the digital news editor at BBC News, so presumably has responsibility for the website. He is the former head of news at the Guardian. This ‘comical’ tweet about Assange dates from Millar’s time at the Guardian:

‘I like to think that #Assange chose the Ecuadorean embassy because it’s so convenient for Harrods’

Yet more proof, if any were needed, of the groupthink that prevails among even the most ‘respected’ media outlets. If you need to demonstrate that your media credentials are bona fide – that you are ‘one of us’ – making a ‘joke’ at the expense of Julian Assange is a sure-fire way to show you can be trusted.

It would never do, for example, to give headline coverage to the CIA-instigated spying of Assange in the Ecuador embassy, the torture he is enduring by his incarceration, his parlous mental and physical state, the real risk of suicide should he be extradited to the US, almost certainly being dumped into the ‘hellhole’ of a ‘supermax’ US prison. All of this is to ensure that Assange serves as a warning example to anyone – anywhere in the world – who might dare to publish information that the US government does not wish to be made public.

Such grotesquely disturbing details did not even approach becoming ‘slightly repetitive’ to consumers of BBC News. Instead, they were buried. The BBC could, for instance, have interviewed Fidel Narvaez, former Ecuadorian Consul, to speak about the spying (which took place after Narvaez had been replaced in the embassy, following the election of Ecuador president, Lenin Moreno, who has been bending over backwards to do the US’s bidding under Donald Trump).

BBC journalists, and other ‘mainstream’ reporters could have included something of Noam Chomsky’s five-page submission to the hearing in support of Assange. They could have printed just one line, namely that Assange:

‘has performed an enormous service to all the people in the world who treasure the values of freedom and democracy’.

Reporters routinely behave as stenographers to power – the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg and ITV’s political editor Robert Peston are prime examples. But to be a stenographer to cogent commentary from Noam Chomsky is, of course, unthinkable. As we pointed out on Twitter on October 2, the day after the hearing ended, Kuenssberg has mentioned Assange a grand total of four times on her Twitter account – all back in 2014. Then, she had asked blankly:

‘What do you think should happen to him?’

Her silence on the extradition hearing spoke volumes: BBC News in a nutshell.

As far as we can tell from Twitter searches, Peston last mentioned Julian Assange on January 29, 2017. When we published a media alert last month that discussed Assange, we challenged Peston and Kuenssberg about their long-term silence on the WikiLeaks founder. Needless to say, they did not reply.

Likewise, other high-profile media figures including the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Huw Edwards, Andrew Neil and Nick Robinson, and Sky News political editor Adam Boulton, kept quiet when we asked them to explain their silence on Assange.

As US comedian Jimmy Dore said:

‘We need everybody exposing war crimes and the crimes of our government… So if you see a newsperson and they’re not screaming about this, the reason why they’re not is because it helps their career.’

‘Free Julian Assange’ campaigner John Mcghee, one of those protesting outside the Old Bailey on the day John Simpson was there, wrote an account of having met the BBC world affairs editor and enjoying a warm friendly exchange:

‘We talked for a few minutes and he revealed to me his incomprehension at the glaring absence of media representatives in or indeed outside the Old Bailey. He was genuinely shocked by the fact that a mainstream media embargo has apparently been imposed on the trial of the century that could sound the death knell for freedom of speech the world over.’

Certainly, some credit is due to John Simpson for reporting on the extradition hearing on that day’s BBC Radio 4 PM Programme. But it was a short segment of just 3 mins, 28 secs near the end of the hour-long programme, and it wasn’t even trailed at the start of PM. Shocked or not, Simpson certainly made no mention of his ‘incomprehension’ at the lack of media coverage.

Moreover, although it included short quotes from Stella Moris, Assange’s partner, and Jen Robinson, one of Assange’s lawyers, it was a thin piece that even repeated the debunked claim that US agents and informers had been harmed as a result of the work of WikiLeaks and Assange. It missed out so much of importance that was being diligently chronicled daily by Craig Murray. His detailed updates included copious vital facts that were glaringly absent from almost all ‘mainstream’ coverage; in particular BBC News.

Simpson reacted with short shrift (or silence) to those who complained to him on Twitter about the dearth of BBC coverage. He replied to one:

‘So how come I reported on this for the BBC yesterday? Find another conspiracy theory, is my advice.’

We are aware that the BBC did not totally blank Assange. But surely even Simpson could recognise that coverage had been pitifully inadequate given the importance and possible repercussions of the case? No ‘conspiracy theory’ is required. It is simply a fact.

Recently, when Tim Davie, the new BBC director general, tried to make his mark by declaring:

‘We are going to be publishing clear social guidelines… the enforcement policies will be very clear… we’ll be able to take people off Twitter’

he was asked by MPs ‘about the impartiality of those who work for the BBC’. But so far, none of them have asked about the impartiality of those who work for the BBC and have tweeted (or reported) nothing about a hugely significant political trial taking place in this country. It is what John Pilger rightly calls, ‘lying by omission’.

We sent an open tweet to any prospective BBC whistleblowers struggling with their consciences:

‘Most large organisations have whistleblowers who step forward when ethics, conscience and courage prevail.

‘Where are the whistleblowers inside BBC newsrooms? #JulianAssange

Nobody has responded, so far.

‘Shaming’

Afshin Rattansi interviewed John Pilger about the Assange hearing and its ramifications on the Going Underground programme on RT (which, as Twitter is keen to tell everyone, is ‘Russia state-affiliated media’. As yet, BBC News Twitter accounts have not been labelled as ‘UK state-affiliated media’).

Rattansi asked Pilger to respond to Daniel Sandford’s excuse for not reporting on the hearing as it was ‘slightly repetitive’. Pilger said:

‘For that BBC journalist to describe [the hearing] as “repetitive” doesn’t quite leave me speechless. But it leaves me with a sense that it’s over with much of the media.’

He explained:

‘To watch this day after day. This extraordinary, important trial telling us so much about how those who govern us, those who want to control our lives, and what they do to other countries, how they lie to us – watch this day after day and see none of it reported. Or, if you do see it reported, you’ll see something like “Assange told to pipe down” by the judge on a day – he only did this two or three times, I don’t know how he kept his mouth shut – where he stood up and protested at evidence that was clearly false and offensive to him. That was the headline. That was the story of the day.’

One vital example was when Assange was wrongly accused by the prosecution lawyers of having endangered the lives of US agents and their informers in releasing WikiLeaks documents that had not been redacted of names. This endlessly repeated propaganda claim was refuted by the famous Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg who testified on behalf of Assange:

‘I have also spoken to [Assange] privately over many hours. During 2010 and 2011, at a time when some of the published material had not yet seen the light of day, I was able to observe [Julian’s] approach. It was the exact opposite of reckless publication and nor would he wilfully expose others to harm.

‘Wikileaks could have published the entirety of the material on receipt. Instead I was able to observe but also to discuss with him the unprecedented steps he initiated, of engaging with conventional media partners, [to maximise] the impact of publication [so] it might [best] affect US government policy and its alteration.’

Award-winning Australian journalist Mark Davis was an eye-witness to the preparation of the Afghan War Logs in 2010 for newspaper publication, documented in Davis’s film, ‘Inside Wikileaks’. Davis spoke at a public meeting in Sydney last year and said that he was present alongside Assange in the Guardian’s ‘bunker’ where a team from the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel worked on the publication of articles based on, as the NYT put it:

‘a six-year archive of classified military documents [that] offers an unvarnished and grim picture of the Afghan war.’

Davis attests that, far from being ‘cavalier’ about releasing documents that might endanger lives, it was:

‘Guardian journalists [who] neglected and appeared to care little about redacting the documents.’

Moreover:

‘They had a “graveyard humour” about people being harmed and no one, he stated emphatically, expressed concern about civilian casualties except Julian Assange.’

Assange had:

‘subsequently requested that the release of the Afghan War Logs be delayed for the purpose of redaction, but the Guardian not only insisted on the agreed date, they abandoned him to redact 10,000 documents alone.’

In fact, Assange worked through the night to do this, after the Guardian journalists had gone home.

Moreover, the claim that lives had been put at risk by WikiLeaks in publishing US cables could not even be substantiated by the US itself. As Patrick Cockburn observed in the Independent:

‘The Pentagon has admitted that it failed to find a single person covertly working for the US who had been killed as a result of the WikiLeaks disclosures. This failure was not for lack of trying: The Pentagon had set up a special military task force, deploying 120 counter-intelligence officers, to find at least one death that could be blamed on Assange and his colleagues but had found nothing.’

In the same RT interview mentioned earlier, Rattansi asked about the role of the Guardian in the Assange case; something we have documented at length. Pilger summed up their ‘campaign of vilification against Assange, the way they turned on their source, as ‘a disgrace’.

In an interview for the Australian magazine Arena, Pilger expanded on this important component of the Assange story:

‘How shaming it all is. A decade ago, the Guardian exploited Assange’s work, claimed its profit and prizes as well as a lucrative Hollywood deal, then turned on him with venom. Throughout the Old Bailey trial, two names have been cited by the prosecution, the Guardian’s David Leigh, now retired as “investigations editor” and Luke Harding, the Russiaphobe and author of a fictional Guardianscoop” that claimed Trump adviser Paul Manafort and a group of Russians visited Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy. This never happened, and the Guardian has yet to apologise. The Harding and Leigh book on Assange—written behind their subject’s back—disclosed a secret password to a WikiLeaks file that Assange had entrusted to Leigh during the Guardian’s ‘partnership’. Why the defence has not called this pair is difficult to understand.’

He continued:

‘Assange is quoted in their book declaring during a dinner at a London restaurant that he didn’t care if informants named in the leaks were harmed. Neither Harding nor Leigh was at the dinner. John Goetz, an investigations reporter with Der Spiegel, was at the dinner and testified that Assange said nothing of the kind. Incredibly, Judge Baraitser stopped Goetz actually saying this in court.’

True to their role as ‘leftist’ Guardian figleaves, neither Owen Jones nor George Monbiot published an article so much as mentioning Julian Assange during the four-week hearing. Jones tweeted ‘support’ by linking back to an article he published in April 2019. Monbiot stumped up the energy to send out three token tweets. But he tweeted nothing about Nils Melzer, Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky or the shocking revelations from UC Global whistleblowers about spying on Assange, along with CIA-sponsored plans to kidnap or poison him.

One Twitter user asked:

‘Why are people “spooked” by the Assange case? It’s a genuine question, the media silence is weird, even on the left, @AyoCaesar @AaronBastani @GeorgeMonbiot to name a few.

‘What’s stopping them from screaming this from the rooftops? Are they scared, threatened, what?’

Monbiot at least replied:

‘I’ve tweeted about it many times. But for me it’s one of hundreds of crucial issues, many of which are even more important. It’s terrible, but compared to, say, soil loss, it’s a long way down my list.’

Challenged further about his near-silence, he said:

‘I have nothing to add to what others have already said. I never write about an issue unless I have something new and original to say. It’s not about ticking boxes for me, it’s about expanding the field.’

We responded:

‘What a happy coincidence that @GeorgeMonbiot can find nothing “new and original” to say about Assange, who has been targeted with a ferocious smear campaign by his employer. Try citing @NilsMelzer’s arguments, George, that would be “expanding the field” for most Guardian readers.’

As the former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook noted:

‘Monbiot could have served as a counterweight to the relentless maligning of Assange in the Guardian’s pages by pointing out how these smears were unfounded. Instead he has either echoed those smears, or equivocated on them, or remained silent.’

Cook added:

‘Monbiot is not the free thinker, the fearless investigator of difficult truths, the leftwing conscience he claims to be. It is not really his fault. It is in the nature of the function he serves at the Guardian …He enjoys the freedom to speak out loudly on the dangers of environmental destruction, but that freedom comes at a price – that he closely adhere to the technocratic, liberal consensus on other issues.’

In short:

‘Monbiot, therefore, treads the finest line of all the Guardian’s columnists. His position is the most absurd, the one plagued with the biggest internal contradiction: he must sell extreme environmental concern from within a newspaper that is entirely embedded in the economic logic of the very neoliberal system that is destroying the planet.’

This is supremely relevant to the Assange case. Because if the US wins, then journalism and the public’s ability to know what is going in the world will be even more crushed than they already are. And that spells disaster for avoiding worldwide environmental breakdown in an era of rampant global capitalism.

The post "None Of It Reported": How Corporate Media Buried The Assange Trial 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 Seventeenth Day at the Old Bailey: Embassy Espionage, Contemplated Poisoning and Proposed Kidnapping

September 30.  Central Criminal Court, London.

Today will be remembered as a grand expose.  It was a direct, pointed accusation at the intentions of the US imperium which long for the scalp of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.  For WikiLeaks, it was a smouldering triumph, showing that the entire mission against Assange, from the start, has been a political one.  The Australian publisher faces the incalculably dangerous prospect of 17 charges under the US Espionage Act and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.  Stripped to its elements, the indictment is merely violence kitted out in the vestment of sham legality.  The rest is politics.

Witness statements were read from a veritable who’s who of courageous investigative journalism (Patrick Cockburn, Andy Worthington, Stefania Maurizi and Ian Cobain) and an assortment of legal freight from Guy Goodwin-Gill, professor of law at the University of New South Wales, Robert Boyle, well versed in the dark practices of grand juries and Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

These statements, pointing to the value of the WikiLeaks publications, the care taken in releasing them, and the terrifying prospects for press freedom, deserve separate treatment.  But Wednesday’s grand show was stolen by two anonymous witnesses, occasioned by a change of plans.  Originally scheduled for Thursday, testimony of the witnesses from the Spanish security firm UC Global S.L. were moved a day forward.  Both speak to the aims and ambitions of the company’ owner and director, David Morales, who passed information on Assange and his meetings with allies and associates to the US intelligence service while the Australian was resident in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.  Judge Vanessa Baraitser had relented on the issue of keeping their anonymity: to have not observed the convention would have been a mark of disrespect for the Spanish court.

Their material is part of a current investigation into Morales being conducted by a magistrate of the Audiencia Nacional court. That process was instigated at the behest of Assange’s legal team, whose filed criminal complaint alleges breaches of privacy and the violation of attorney-client privilege, amongst other charges.

Illegal agreements are born

Witness #1 informed the court of a man determined: Morales “showed at times a real obsession in relation to monitoring and recording the lawyers who met with the ‘guest’ (Julian Assange) because ‘our American friends’ were requesting it.”

The first witness added stitching to the account linking the UC Global with US intelligence.  In July 2016, with UC Global already contracted and providing security services to the Ecuadorean embassy, Morales “travelled to a security sector trade fair in Las Vegas, which I wished to accompany him”.  This would not be.  Morales “insisted he had to travel alone.  On this trip, Mr Morales showcased the company UC Global in the Las Vegas security sector trade fair.”

What followed was UC Global obtaining “a flashy contract, personally managed by David Morales, with the company Las Vegas Sands, which was owned by the tycoon Sheldon Adelson, whose proximity to Donald Trump is public knowledge (at the time Trump was the presidential candidate).”  Morales’s point of contact at Las Vegas Sands was its chief of security, Zohar Lahav.  Lahav is also the subject of interest for the Audiencia Nacional, which has asked the US Department of Justice to seek a statement from him.  The investigating judge, José de la Mata, is keen to examine details of the Morales-Lahav association and whether their meetings involved discussing information illegally obtained from Assange.

UC Global was hired to provide security services to Queen Miri, the luxury vessel owned by Adelson.  “The contract did not make sense,” claimed the witness.  Morales seemed to be overegging the pudding.  “The most striking thing about it was that the boat had its own security, which consisted of a sophisticated security detail, and that the contract consisted in adding an additional person, in this case David Morales, for a very short period of time, through which David Morales would receive an elevated sum.”

Thrilled at getting the contract, Morales was in celebratory mood, gathering employees in the Jerez company office to say that “we have moved up and from now on we will be playing in the big league”.  What did “big league” mean?  Morales, replying to the query from the first witness, claimed that “he had switched over to ‘the dark side’ referring to cooperating with US authorities, and as a result of that collaboration, ‘the Americans will get us contracts all over the world’.”  In 2017, Morales asked for a secure phone and encrypted computer to communicate with his American contacts.

Along with news of the contract came an uncomfortable revelation: “that we had entered into illegal agreements with US authorities to supply them with sensitive information about Mr Assange and [Ecuadorean President] Rafael Correa, given that UC Global was responsible for the embassy security where Mr Assange was located.”  As a result of this parallel agreement, “reports would also be sent to ‘the dark side’.” Morales made regular trips to the US to facilitate this, “principally to New York but also Chicago and Washington” where he would “talk with ‘our American friends’.”  The first witness pressed Morales at points who these “‘American friends’ were”.  “US intelligence,” came the reply.

When confronted by the first witness that UC Global should not be engaged in such activities,   Morales huffed.  He would open his shirt in defiance, and claim with brio that he was “a mercenary, through and through”.

The first witness also testified that Morales’s trips to see his “American friends” increased with frequency in 2017.  Trump’s victory seemed to be the catalyst.  By June or July 2017, “Morales began to develop a sophisticated information collection system outside the embassy.” He asked employees “physically inside the embassy to intensify and deepen their information collection.”  The internal and external cameras of the embassy were to be changed.  Morales, according to the first witness, had also “instructed a team to travel regularly to London to collect the camera recordings.”

Tasks forces and surveillance

Witness #2, an IT expert, told the Old Bailey how he was asked to “form a task force of workers at our headquarters in Jerez” between June and July 2017.   “The purpose of this unit was to execute, from a technical perspective, the capture, systematization and processing of information collected at the embassy that David Morales requested.”  Witness #2 was responsible for “executing David Morales’s orders, with technical means that existed in the embassy and additional measures that were installed by order of Morales, in addition to the information gathered in the embassy by the UC Global employees who were physically present in the diplomatic mission.”

The second witness sensed inconsistencies.  Morales told the task force that the contract with Ecuador necessitated the replacement of the embassy’s cameras every three years.  “This made no sense because the contract had been in force for longer than three years and the clause had not been fulfilled to date.”  While he was unaware of the clause, the second witness considered that the circuit operating CCTV security cameras at the time “were sufficient to provide physical security against intrusion inside the building.”

But Morales was adamant.  Security cameras with concealed audio recording capabilities were to be acquired and installed.  “Because of this, and in accordance with the orders of David Morales, who claimed that all of this was necessary to fulfil the contract, I sought providers for these types of cameras, insisting in, to the extent possible, concealing audio-recording capabilities.”

The extent of Morales’s zeal alarmed the second witness.  “Around June 2017, while I was sourcing providers for the new camera equipment, David Morales instructed that the cameras should allow streaming capabilities so that ‘our friends’ in the United States’, as Morales explicitly put it, would be able to gain access to the interior of the embassy in real time.  This request alarmed me greatly, and in order to impede the request, I claimed that remote access via streaming via the camera circuit was not technically achievable.”  The witness did not “want to collaborate in an illegal act of this magnitude.”  He noted Morales’s wish to have the entire embassy bugged and suggested that the purpose of installing microphones had been “per the request of the United States” to target Assange’s defence team.

Stunned by its illegality, the second witness tried to dissuade Morales by suggesting that Assange would detect the recording facilities.  But in early December 2017, the cameras, enabled with audio-recording means, were installed.  When asked by Assange and the Political Counselor Maria Eugenia whether the new devices recorded sound, the second witness had his orders: to not “share information about the system and to deny that the cameras were recording audio.”  Once in place, “the cameras began to record sound regularly so every meeting that the asylee held was captured.”

The second witness was also heavy on detail in various specific operations designed to frustrate Assange’s own countering efforts.  He had been asked by Morales in January 2018 to place rigid stickers on the external embassy windows at the top left hand corner.  It transpired that this seemingly idiosyncratic exercise had one express purpose: to neutralise the disruptions to recording conversations caused by Assange’s white noise machine, which “produced a vibration in the window that stopped the sound being extracted via the laser microphone, which US intelligence had installed outside.”  The stickers served to eliminate the vibration, enabling the laser microphones to “extract conversations.”

Morales had also impressed upon the IT specialist that he install a microphone in the PVC folder of the fire extinguisher in the embassy meeting room used by Assange.   The same was done for “the toilet at the end of the embassy” as it had become a venue of “strategic” importance: Assange “who suspected that he was the subject of espionage, maintained many of his meetings there in order to preserve confidentiality.”

While a whole range of targets were of interest, the Spanish former judge and member of Assange’s legal team, Balthasar Garzón, was particularly important.  “The security guards at the embassy were requested to search for evidence of travels to Argentina and Russia in Garzón’s passport pages, which were photographed.”

Nappies, contemplated kidnappings and proposed poisonings

Such behaviour at the embassy conformed to a consistent pattern of instructions that verged on the comic and grotesque.  On one occasion, recalled Witness #2, Morales had asked him to “steal a nappy of a baby which according to the company’s security personnel deployed at the embassy, regularly visited Mr Assange.” The pilfering of the nappy was for reasons of identifying whether the baby was, in fact “a child of the asylee.”  It was “the Americans”, Morales claimed, “who wanted to establish paternity.”

Not content merely with establishing paternity, Morales’s “American friends” were also suffering from states of desperation, keen to bring Assange’s stay in the embassy to an end.  According to the second witness, “the Americans were desperate [in December 2017] and that they had even suggested that more extreme measures should be employed against the ‘guest’ to put an end to the situation of Assange’s permanence in the embassy.”  Suggestions were made to Morales by his US contacts: the door of the embassy would be left open; an “accident” could be claimed for covering an operation “which would allow persons to enter from outside the embassy and kidnap the asylee”.  Another option was put on the table: “the possibility of poisoning Mr Assange”.  Such suggestions, Witness #2 claimed, “shocked” the employees, who “commented amongst ourselves that the course that Morales had embarked on was beginning to become dangerous.”

The eviction and arrest of Assange followed.  Witness #1 informed Assange’s legal team that Morales had “betrayed both the terms of the contract and the trust that had been given to him by the Government of Ecuador, by systematically handing over information to US intelligence agencies.”  He came to realise that information on the security of the embassy and Rafael Correa had been sold to “the enemy, the United States, which is the reason I put an end to my professional relationship with him.”

These revelations excited Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, having already etched his name into legal history at these proceedings with supporting testimony.  In his optimistic view, such evidence of surveillance by the CIA of Assange’s conversations with his legal team “and everyone else” in the embassy, along with suggestions of poisoning and kidnapping, might mean him walking free. “That’s essentially the same information that ended my case and confronted [President Richard] Nixon with impeachment, leading to his resignation!” Convincing to Ellsberg it may be, but will it sway the icy temperament of Judge Vanessa Baraitser?

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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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Assange’s Fifteenth Day at the Old Bailey: Solitary Confinement and Parlous Health Care

September 28.  Central Criminal Court, London.

Throughout the sham process formally known as the Julian Assange extradition trial, prosecutors representing the United States have been adamant: the carceral conditions awaiting him in freedom’s land will be pleasant, accommodating and appropriate.  Confronting 17 charges under the US Espionage Act and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Assange and his defence team have been resolutely sceptical.

Today, the prosecution reiterated its position on the US federal prison system as one of rosy comfort and decent facilities.  As has happened at several points in the extradition trial, the views of Gordon Kromberg, assistant US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, were given another airing.  Stale as ever, Kromberg told the court that, “Inmates in administrative segregation are able to speak to one another through the doors and windows of their cells.”  How civil!  “Typically,” he also noted, “there are several inmates in administrative segregation.”  He does not tire of this canard, and makes the point one more time with robotic certitude.  “Even in administrative segregation, Assange would be able to communicate with other inmates through the doors and windows of his cell.”

Ellis on solitary confinement

The defence witness Yancey Ellis, as with others more acquainted with the bestial prison conditions of the imperium, suggested something quite different.  Ellis is a former judge advocate in the US Marines.  First would come the experience of being held in the Alexandria Detention Center (ADC), where Assange will be given his pre-trial blooding on US soil.  Most likely, he will find himself, Ellis claimed, in X block, kept in a narrow cell each day for 22 to 23 hours, containing “a sleeping area, a small sink and a toilet”, guarded by thick doors.  Meals would be taken in the cell.  The precious one or two hours granted to the inmate would often only be granted at “very odd hours.”  The time would be spent in the “common area of the ADSEG unit, which is maybe about twice the square footage.”  Only one inmate in the unit would be permitted out of the cell at any one time.  “There is limited interaction with other ADSEG inmates because their doors and food-tray slots are closed.”

Such an individual is purposely segregated from others, alienated and prevented from accessing therapeutic or other programs available at the facility.  “There is no outside recreational or exercise area at the Alexandria jail and I do not recall there being any windows in the ADSEG unit,” Ellis notes in his written submissions.

As with other defence testimonies, Kromberg’s came in for special attention.  There were “several assertions made by Mr Kromberg” that were “incorrect or incomplete”.  When asked by Edward Fitzgerald QC for the defence whether Assange would be given the means to “associate with other prisoners”, Ellis was far from convinced. “The short answer is: not really.”  Administrative segregation implied just that.  Kromberg’s assertion in his affidavit that there was no solitary confinement at ADC was dispatched. “1X ADSEG unit is essentially the same as solitary confinement.”

Ellis had himself experimented with conversing through such barriers, and was discouraged by the effort.  In his court statement, he suggests that it might be “technically true” to suggest that words might be exchanged.  But in practice, it was “impossible.  In 1X ADSEG the cell doors are made of thick steel and the ‘windows’ are transparent, thick plexiglass material with no slots or holes.”  It would be, Ellis explained, “almost impossible to speak through the door if the food tray slot is not open.  It would not be possible for anyone to say that if he is familiar with the X Bloc.”

Communicating with his clients through such doors proved “very difficult, even when standing several inches away. I find it implausible that inmates could really communicate in this way, unless they constantly screamed at loud volumes.  I would routinely have to ask for a deputy sheriff to open the cell’s food tray slot in order to be able to speak with a client.”

In addition to the physical features of the facility will be Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), further limiting Assange’s communication and hindering his means of mounting an adequate legal defence.  While Ellis conceded to having had no experience of them, he understood them to entail further impositions on visits and communication with friends and family.

On matters of mental health, Ellis was distinctly discouraging.  Provision at the facility was rudimentary.  “The extent of mental health care is that a social worker or counselor comes around to check on you every once in a while to ensure basic functioning.”  There were no permanent doctors in residence at ADC.  Part-time psychiatrists were employed instead, meaning irregular visits and consultations.  Those at risk of self-harm found themselves in suits designed to prevent suicide, immobilizing “the arms away from the body, removing shoe strings and sheets, etc.”

In cross-examination, James Lewis QC for the prosecution attempted to shore up the shoddy assertions in Kromberg’s affidavit.  Ellis, he suggested, was doing a bit of crystal ball gazing: how could he really know if Assange would be held in X Bloc?  Ellis had, after all, not interviewed the warden, a psychologist or prison staff about the conditions.  This was a desperate ploy; Ellis had been asked to testify on the conditions he had seen, not the totality of a policy that remained opaque.  “I have requested those records [determining how inmates will be housed] before and can never get them.”  Triumphantly, Lewis suggested that “Kromberg’s statement of how [Assange] would be assessed for housing at the ADC” was not something that could be disputed.  As to whether Assange would actually find himself in administrative detention, Ellis was cautious but convinced.  “I can’t predict the future, but I would bet he would be put in administrative detention.”

The prosecutor also attempted to lay a trap in discrediting the testimony.  Had Ellis been massaged by the defence to use the words “solitary confinement” in his statement to the court?  No, came the reply.  The time detainees in administrative segregation are permitted outside the cramped confines of their cell was “generally equivalent to solitary confinement.”  Mockingly, Lewis scrapped about definitions: an inmate could not be said to be enduring conditions of solitary confinement meeting his lawyers three hours each day.  (Not much verisimilitude on the part of the prosecution, given that the application of SAMS would make such meetings a difficult, if not an impossibility.)

Lewis then focused on Assange’s standing in Ellis’ eyes.  Did he feel that the publisher’s case had garnered publicity and large public support?  “I would agree with the publicity,” came the reply.  Public support was another matter he could not speak to.  The fact that previous prominent figures such as Paul Manafort and Maria Butina had been housed at the ADC and placed in “administrative segregation” suggested that Assange would not be treated any differently.

This line of questioning stirred Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who went on to probe Ellis on how the US Bureau of Prisons would handle Assange’s case.  In the United Kingdom, “Assange has been in custody in this jurisdiction for 18 months,” housed in the general wing. “Other than his being a public figure, any reason you think he’ll be held in administrative detention?”  The “primary reason”, suggested Ellis, would be his notoriety, though mental health might be a factor officials would consider.  But as the mental health unit was located in the general population, a decision might still be made to place him in “administrative segregation”.  “The mere fact you are high-profile dictates conditions?” inquired Baraitser.  Generally, came the reply, the ADC preferred segregating “these types of defendants” to “maintain a secure and safe environment” though he could not say why. “I am just speaking from experience.”

Sickler on health care

Veteran prison advocate and founder of the Justice Advocacy Group in Virginia, Joel Sickler, followed for the defence.  Much of his testimony seemed reiterative and supplementary to that of Ellis, though it also moved into discussion about the ADX Florence supermax facility, a nightmare Assange may face after softening at the ADC.  He suggested that Assange would have “no meaningful reaction” at the ADC, kept in his parking-space sized cell.  It was “ridiculous” to assert, as Kromberg had done, that credible communication between inmates in administrative segregation in the facility could take place.  “You’re twiddling your thumbs.  You’ll have access to reading material, but your whole world is the four corners of that room.”  There was also “significant sensory deprivation comparable to isolation in a cell.  There is little natural light as well as access to fresh air.”

While Assange’s attorneys would be permitted “to meet with him at any time during professional visiting hours” finding yourself “in the ADSEG unit at the ADC could compromise Mr Assange’s ability to focus on and assist his attorneys in his defence – for reasons related to how debilitating the experience may be for a prisoner.”

There was also a real risk of SAMSs being applied by the Attorney-General in the event of conviction. Challenging them would pose almost insuperable challenges. “It’s a well-known fact here that even the most minor administrative appeals by inmates are denied.”  Sickler claimed to have filed over a thousand appeals, “winning a dozen at most.”

Sickler’s testimony also covered the issue of health care at the ADC.  “Mr Assange should expect to receive only the most limited medical service at the ADC.  Any suggestion to this Court that he will be fully evaluated and assessed for medical or mental health conditions is misleading.”

Holding the flame for the prosecution was Clair Dobbin, who attempted to create a world of textual reality rather than grounded fact.  Policies of the US Bureau of Prisons were discussed; staffing and health care provisions were canvassed, including ADX facilities where inmates might be able to labour and improve their conditions.  This would present a good case to the authorities to have their SAMs removed.  Sickler suggested that what the BOP was claiming was different from practice.

While the prosecution smelled blood in suggesting that Sickler was actually unexperienced on the actual operations of X Bloc and the application of SAMs, Sickler rallied on the issue of how medical care would be supplied in such prison facilities.  Dobbin made the assumption that he had no access to prison medical records.  Not so, came the correcting reply.  Dobbin then moved on to limiting the value of such knowledge gained: it was specific to Sickler’s clients; not of the same order as an academic or research account on medical care in the prison system.  As for whether SAMs would be applied or not, this was up to the US Attorney General, who would determine the case on the basis of whether the prisoner had classified information threatening to “national security”.

Dobbin then engaged in what could only be described as a tidying up effort for one of the most notorious facilities in the US.  ADX Florence was hardly atrocious, she insisted.  Prisoners, she noted from a report, had claimed to form close personal relations with the staff.  “If it’s such a great place,” Sickler retorted, “why are so many prisoners trying to get out?”  Finding the report “incredulous,” he also suggested that institutionalisation brings with it fears of change.  Under re-examination, he noted that a client of his at ADX was “begging to get out.”

On Sickler’s own example of the darker side of the US penal system – an individual who suffered a mental breakdown at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, “severely beaten by correctional officers” and “thrown in the hole naked” – Dobbin was bizarrely disingenuous.  Initial calls by Sickler that the individual suffered psychiatric illness might have been callously ignored; and it took a federal court to grant the individual bail and eventually receive a writ for treatment at the Bellevue psychiatric center, but “judicial oversight” had prevailed.

The prosecutor also referred to the case of Cunningham v BOP to illustrate that things, even if they had been dire, must have improved.  The case involved ADX inmates, described as “five seriously mentally ill men”, along with six other ADX prisoners (“interested parties”) with “serious mental illnesses” suing the Bureau of Prisons in 2012 for violating BOP policy and the Eighth Amendment.

The class action argued that the authorities had failed to adequately diagnose and treat prisoners at ADX with grave mental illness.  This eventually led to an approved settlement covering, amongst other things, a range of improved measures for screening and diagnosis for mental illness and the provision of mental health care and suicide prevention.  Dobbin was being selective. As Sickler noted in his statement, “that same Court would find that the health care in ADX failed to meet basic standards of care for inmates.”

Dobbin, continuing her train of dissimulation, submitted another, deeply flawed example.  ADX Florence had permitted a convicted terrorist known as the “Underwear Bomber”, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, time to see family members during his time at the facility.  This belied an inconvenient reality: Abdulmutallab sued the Justice Department in October 2017 claiming that prison officials had held him in “long-term solitary confinement”, restricted his communication with relatives and force-fed him during hunger protests and fasting sessions.  Abdulmutallab had also been the subject of SAMs, and incarcerated in the infamous H-Unit of ADX.  Not exactly a paragon of US prison treatment, and not one of the prosecution’s better examples.

The post Assange’s Fifteenth Day at the Old Bailey: Solitary Confinement and Parlous Health Care first appeared on Dissident Voice.

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.