The second indictment of alleged violations of the Espionage Act belatedly filed by the US against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange actually should not include him since there is no contention that he spied for any warring enemy, nor is he a U.S. citizen or resident, which the 1917 law targeted.
The original indictment focused on allegations that Assange had criminally aided Chelsea Manning in “hacking” into and downloading secret documents that show U.S. war crimes. That case went sour when the government prosecutors could not find any evidence. Furthermore, Manning (at that time while known as Bradley Manning) was a private in the US Army working in Iraq as an intelligence analyst and was authorized to download those documents so she had no need of assistance from Assange.
Hence the second indictment admitted Assange is a publisher, but claimed he had put government informant lives in danger — a differnt crime. Ample defense evidence was presented showing how Assange had carefully redacted the names of informants. Some names were mentioned by The Guardian and other mass media, but that was because of a choice by those editors who chose not redact their names.
Part of the prosecution’s case was now built on Assange’s ordering 18-year-old Sigurdur Thordarson to hack into Iceland politicians’ phone conversations. Even if earlier charges fell apart, the new allegation could still form grounds for extradition. The new charges included using FBI informant Thordarson, but he had been convicted in Iceland for fraud, embezzlement, and impersonating Assange. He served time in an Icelandic prison, and was diagnosed as a sociopath. Significantly, Iceland has not sought to prosecute Assange or Wikileaks for any crime.
In 2010-11, Thordarson worked with Wikileaks first as a volunteer and for some months on staff. In August, 2011, he contacted the U.S. embassy in Reykjavik to give them information about Assange and Wikileaks. Eight FBI agents and a prosecutor flew to Iceland in a private jet to interview him. The Icelandic government had the courage to tell them to leave, fearing that the FBI and a mole sought to frame Assange. The FBI took their pigeon to ever-compliant Denmark to interview him. They did this several times.
In 2013-5, Thordarson was also tried for various sexual offenses, promising boys from 15-20 years of age cars and money in exchange for sex. This is the man whom the U.S. government had as its key witness in the new indictment. The UK hearing judge appeared to have no problem with that.
Another problem with the government’s admitting that Assange is a publisher is that under the US Constitution’s First Amendment journalist-publishers have special protection against prosecution for engaging in free-speech and press activities. So, in another change of tactic, the US government now interprets the Espionage Act to mean that anyone, journalists and publishers alike, can be charged with crimes of violating the Espionage Act. That includes any and all media personnel in the entire world — perhaps ordinary citizens too, who simply access Wikileaks materials. It’s a fact that journalists and editors and publishers the world over who have been ignoring or misreporting on this case should be paying close heed to because of the dangerous precedent it is setting.
Edward Snowden wrote about reading former British ambassador Craig Murray’s daily accounts of court proceedings: “Read this and tell me the show trial of Assange doesn’t read like something from Kafka. The judge permits the charges to be changed so frequently the defense doesn’t know what they are. The most basic needs are denied. No one can hear what the defendant says—a farce.”
I draw here on Murray’s daily reports published at Consortium News:
“The willingness of Judge Vanessa Baraitser to accept American red lines on what witnesses can and cannot say has combined with a joint and openly stated desire by both judge and prosecution to close this case down quickly by limiting the number of witnesses, the length of their evidence and the time allowed for closing arguments.
“Andy Worthington was one such case. He was ‘at court and ready to give evidence, but was prevented from doing so. The United States government objected to his evidence about his work on the Guantanamo Detainee files being heard, because it contained allegations of inmates being tortured at Guantanamo.” [Hardly a surprise to anyone, certainly].
“Baraitser said her ruling was not going to consider whether torture took place at Guantanamo, or if extraordinary rendition had happened. Baraitser said she wanted the prosecution and defense to produce a witness schedule that would get the case finished by the end of next week, including closing statements. She wanted them to agree what evidence could and could not be heard. Where possible she wanted evidence in uncontested statements with the defense just reading out the gist.”
World-renowned linguist and political author Noam Chomsky was granted such a “gist” of FOUR minutes, in order to show that the U.S. case against Assange is political.
Murray criticized defense attorneys for not protesting omission of the significant stories that Wikileaks had obtained and made available exposing U.S. torture. “The truth of these matters plainly goes to the Article 10 of Defense, and by pandering to the denial of a notorious and plain fact, this court will be held up to mockery.”
This is clearly selective political prosecution as Julian Assange is the only publisher in the US to be charged with crimes for publishing vital information when hundreds of mainstream media personnel who also published what Assange/Wikileaks provided have not been indicted.
It was President Donald Trump, a political figure, who ordered Assange’s arrest. The Espionage Act was made law to imprison U.S. citizens or residents who campaigned against U.S. participation in the European war, particularly anti-war activists, labor leaders, and socialists such as its key leader Eugene Debs. President Woodrow Wilson, who initiated the law as he prepared to invade Russia to crush its socialist revolution, called the law a “firm hand of stern repression”.
Trump’s political engagement in these illegal juridical proceedings included an attempted bribe. Jennifer Robinson, a member of Assange’s legal team, had a statement read out in court on her behalf. She recounted a visit by then U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher to Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy, on August 15, 2017, to which Robinson was present.
Robinson stated that Rohrabacher claimed to be representing President Trump, who would look “favorably” on preventing an indictment of Assange in return for his naming his source for the Democratic National Committee emails, which Wikileaks had released. These emails led to Democratic Party allegations—repeated by the CIA director, John Brennan, who Obama had appointed—that Russia had hacked into the DNC network and provided those documents to Wikileaks, and that Trump was in league with both Russia and Wikileaks, in order to hurt his challenger, Hillary Clinton.
Trump tried to appeal to Assange’s political sense of morality by having Rohrabacher tell him that Assange could help de-escalate new Cold War tensions if he could provide evidence who the actual leaker of the emails was. Assange refused to provide any information he might have had.
Defense witness Bradford University political science professor Paul Rogers established that Assange is motivated by a political viewpoint placing him as a political opponent to his accusers. Rogers cited statements of intent to take down both Assange and Wikileaks made by attorney generals Trump had appointed, Jeff Sessions and William Barr, and his Secretary of State and former CIA director, Mike Pompeo.
Recall what Secretary of State Pompeo told an audience at Texas A&M University, April 15, 2019.
“When I was a cadet [West Point] our motto was: You will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do… [when] I was the CIA director, we lied, we cheated, we stole. It was like we had entire training courses. It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.”
The selected audience whistled and applauded his glorious admission.
I wonder if by “the glory of the American experiment”, the second most powerful man in the United States government was referring to American Exceptionalism, which seems to give every U.S. government, even every U.S. citizen, the “right” to dominate the world by lying, cheating, stealing, and, left unsaid, a permanent state of war.
In response to the second indictment, the defense provided a history of why no journalist had ever been prosecuted for violating the Espionage Act. Three U.S. presidents sought to charge journalists but they were opposed by their own lawyers, as well as Justice Department lawyers and attorney generals, because doing so would violate the 1st amendment guarantee of “free press.” No prosecution of journalists has ever materialized because of that.
In 1971, the Supreme Court decided the Nixon government could not censor The New York Times from publishing the secret Pentagon Papers by invoking this law. President Barack Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder decided not to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act, reportedly because he felt the move would be found to be unconstitutional.
Nevertheless, Britain’s attorneys, arguing on behalf of the Trump government, told the court that the U.S. “Supreme Court has never held that a journalist cannot be prosecuted for publishing national defense information.”
That is to say that NYT journalists could have been so prosecuted when publishing the Pentagon Papers but the charges were not brought and so the courts have not ruled on the issue.
Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, was a defense witness. He testified that if Assange were extradited to the U.S. and convicted of charges under the Espionage Act no journalist in the world would be safe from being kidnapped to the U.S. to face life imprisonment for reporting on truthful information such that whistleblower Chelsea Manning released to Wikileaks.
One of the most striking matters in this open defiance of and threat to the First Amendment is that the mass media either ignored it, or simply stated what the prosecution stated. There has been no editorial outrage, no solidarity among journalists with Assange by the mainstream mass media in England, and not in the U.S. either, as far I know.
In Denmark, where I live and monitor the media, the hearings are not even covered, as far as I can ascertain. When I pointed this out to the leading liberal daily here, Politiken, I actually got an email answer from the chief editor. “Thank you for your mail and encouragement to cover this case. We continuously have our attention on it.” That was September 9. As I write, October 6-8, Politiken has still not written a word about the hearings nor has the government-sponsored mass media Denmark Radio print and broadcast media.
Abuse of Power
Defense witness law professor Michael Tigar showed how the Nixon grand jury case against Daniel Ellsberg, 1971-3, was thrown out due to a finding of presidential abuse of power. President Nixon had Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy (1) , two of his criminal “plumbers”— a secret group of thugs, spies and private saboteurs answering directly to him and his closest White House aides—break into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office to steal confidential files on his client. He also had Ellsberg illegally wiretapped; and attempted to bribe the judge overseeing Ellsberg’s trial by offering him the FBI directorship. Because of that the judge ordered a mistrial.
Compare that decisive action with the response of the British court to evidence of the CIA contracting a Spanish security firm to illegally spy 24/7 on Assange in his sanctuary within the Ecuadorian embassy in London, recording privileged talks between Assange and his attorneys, doctors, journalists even visiting diplomats. Assange’s defense documents were stolen and sent to the U.S. If that is not enough “abuse of power”, the CIA discussed plans to kidnap and poison Julian Assange. All in a day’s work of United States’ “intelligence community” and clearly of no concern to the British court considering the US government’s extradition case.
Ellsberg wrote in an email that what the Nixon administration did to him is comparable to, but not even as bad as what the Obama and Trump administrations have done and are doing to Assange. He says the documented illegal actions taken by the US against Assange are “essentially the same information that ended my case and confronted Nixon with impeachment, leading to his resignation. In other words, Julian may, miraculously, walk free on the basis of this (eventually), just as I did!”
Testimony read out to the court from one of Assange’s attorneys, Gareth Pierce, explained how his attorneys still feel “anxiety” and “fear” about being monitored even now. Attorney Pierce also spoke of Assange’s belongings at the embassy, including thumb drives and legal documents, which were purloined and put in a diplomatic pouch, sent to Ecuador and from there on to the United States “intelligence community.” Assange possessions have not been returned.
The U.S. government, and the British prosecutors working on its behalf, admit by their silence that this all happened yet contend that what happened in the embassy and with Assange’s possessions is “irrelevant” to its indictments against him, and to his extradition.
Judge Baraitser did not seem concerned about these intrusions either — not even the fact that the US government prosecution has benefitted from knowing, through illegal surveillance, what its defense preparations might be in case of extradition procedures. An objective judge would have called for a mistrial on the basis of this evidence alone.
Instead Judge Baraitser usually rules in favor of the prosecution’s objections to defense evidence as she did about an important matter of political motivation, as well as abuse of power. The defense tried to introduce a statement made by U.S. Attorney General William Barr on September 15, 2020.
Bar said, “The power to execute and enforce the law is an executive function altogether. That means discretion is invested in the executive to determine when to exercise the prosecutorial power,” as reported by the New York Times.
The NYT maintained that Barr’s “actions have thrust the Justice Department into the political fray at a time when Democrats and former law enforcement officials have expressed fears that he is politicizing the department, particularly by intervening in legal matters in ways that benefit Mr. Trump or his circle of friends and advisers.”
The defense interpreted Barr’s contention of executive authority’s “right” to prosecute as it sees fit rather than consider what the constitution stipulates as bolstering its argument that this case is political. Yet the judge rejected this as a new piece of evidence.
Here is what Murray wrote, Day 12. He called the hearings, a “Charade Court Case”:
“It has been clear to me from Day No. 1 that I am watching a charade unfold. It is not in the least a shock to me that Baraitser does not think anything beyond the written opening arguments has any effect…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.”
Could it be that conflict-of-interest “Lady” Arbuthnot has a hand in what Baraitser types on her laptop without needing to hear defense witnesses and attorneys? (See part 1, note 2)
Assange in Poor Health
Julian’s health is debilitated by callous cruelty imposed upon him by the English state. His right to “humane treatment”, which the court maintains he has, is a sham. He is rarely allowed to see his father, his fiancée and children. When he can, he is forbidden to touch them. Mostly, he has to call them from a pay-phone. He must wait in his cell for his turn to make a short call. The phone is in a hallway and he can’t be by other prisoners. Robinson, his long-time attorney, hasn’t been allowed to see him for six months. Other lawyers are severely limited in how often they can see and talk with him. When attorney-client discussion is allowed, it is for an hour. Lawyers have to send him pertinent case documents through the postal service. Sometimes documents sent are not delivered to him, or he cannot keep those that are. He is denied a computer making it extra difficult to participate in his defense. Basically, he is already imprisoned under gothic conditions common in most US prisons.
Somehow, Assange had hidden a razor blade in his cell. The prosecution wanted to deny this fact, because medical personnel had failed to record it. Nevertheless, two wardens saw the blade and confiscated it. Assange admitted having it. At first, he was charged with a crime. Then the prison governor dropped the charges.
Defense witness, Michael Kopelman, a neuropsychologist, testified that Assange is so anxiety ridden that he is a suicide candidate. Kopelman testified that he had seen Assange 17 times in prison and was certain that he suffered from severe depression with loss of sleep, appetite and weight loss.
The magistrate backed up the prosecution’s objection, contending that this expert opinion was not a factor since there were no longer any charges against Assange for having the razor blade.
If that reasoning wouldn’t make a sane person mad nothing would. “Alice in Wonderland” is, after all, a British literary fantasy, and George Orwell’s “double think” (double speak) is a British political phenomenon, one which did not become extinct in 1984.
Conditions under which Julian Assange is imprisoned have been investigated by the United Nations rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer. He and two medical specialists on torture conditions examined Assange in prison and concluded that he is a victim of “psychological torture,” he said. (2)
The Convention on Torture—to which the U.S., UK, Sweden and Ecuador are parties persecuting and/or prosecuting Assange—requires that member countries conduct investigations into such charges by the UN rapporteur. They all refused to do so.
If Assange is extradited, experts on prison conditions in the U.S., focusing on the two where he would be held, first during a trial, and then where he would serve his sentence if convicted, testified that conditions are extremely debilitating to one’s health. He would be subject to what the U.S. euphemistically calls Special Administrative Measures (SAM). Designated federal prisoners are confined behind steel doors and walls and can only speak with other prisoners by shouting through these barriers. SAM allows the government to monitor any and all contact with any visitors, including attorneys and doctors. Yet it has still been possible for some prisoners subjected to these brutal conditions to find means of taking their lives. Others have become clinically insane.
No Fair Trial Is Possible in U.S.
Several U.S. politicians, among Hillary Clinton, have called for “droning” him, or “hunted down”, Sarah Palin. A Canadian politician, Tom Flanagan, former senior adviser to Canadian PM Stephen Harper when issuing “a fatwa against Assange” on the Canadian TV station CBC. “I think Assange should be assassinated…I think Obama should put out a contract and maybe use a drone…”
U.S. government officials contend that Assange has committed the largest “crimes” of compromises of information in U.S. history. It is irrelevant to the U.S. and UK governments that the “compromises of information” exposed truths of major governmental war crimes punishable by years to life imprisonment.
“Irrelevant”? No, not so! In the view of the Magistrate Baraister, quite the contrary in fact. It is so relevant that the messenger of such truths must be tortured under her authority. She, or her chiefs, has the authority to improve his conditions in prison or grant him bail.
According to Alexandria Virginia’s demographics, the city of 159,000 people is located 12 kilometers from downtown Washington, D.C. Of 96,500 employed persons, 24,000 work directly for the government, mainly for intelligence services (CIA, NSA) and defense departments. In addition, many private company employees are government contractors.
Grand Jury selection always includes government employees and private workers contracted by the government. That is why the government always prosecutes accused violators of national security laws there, and why they never lose a case. Grand jury jurors also only see the evidence which a prosecutor chooses to show them, with no evidence presented by the accused.
During these hearings, 160 current and former world leaders (13 former presidents) and lawmakers have sent a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking him not to send Assange to the U.S.
At the end of the testimony part of the trial, Craig Murray recalled Harold Pinter’s sage words a decade and a half ago when accepting the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature: “It seems perfectly fit to the trial of Julian Assange.”
“It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about that. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force of universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”
One of many ironies about this tragic current abuse of power taking place in a British courtroom is that what is now happening, Julian had predicted a decade ago. That was why he sought and received asylum in Ecuador’s embassy. He knew what was awaiting him at the hands of UK and US “justice.” Another irony is that he has received as many or more journalistic awards for doing an excellent job as journalist-publisher than any journalist.
In a Consortium News roundtable discussion following the hearings, Craig Murray offered a bit of optimism. He said that if the current judge rules for the U.S., there is real hope that a higher court in the UK will overrule her. That, however, could take years. The court system could still keep him imprisoned pending appeal, but Murray hopes that bail would be forthcoming. https://consortiumnews.com/
Julian’s father, John Shipton, expressed warmth for the many supporters throughout the hearings. Standing before a London rally, he said there had been 560 vigils and rallies around the world.
Stella, Julian’s partner, ended her speech thusly:
“Julian is a publisher. He is also a son, a friend. He’s my fiancée and a father. Our children need their father. Julian needs his freedom, and democracy needs a free press.”
To read Part I of this two-part series, go to: Will England Send Assange-the-Messenger to America’s Dungeons?
Solidarity with Assange and Free Press. Send help to https://shop.wikileaks.org/donate
(1) Howard Hunt had been a leading CIA officer, known for sabotage-subversion against Cuba, and the 1954 coup against Guatemalan President Jacobo Árbenz, a democratically elected social democrat. In 2003, when deathly ill, Hunt confessed on tape to his son that the CIA organized and participated in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He said he played a minor role. https://www.rollingstone.com/feature/the-last-confession-of-e-howard-hunt-76611/
George Liddy had been an FBI agent, who spent 52 months in prison for his role in the burglary of Watergate, the Democratic Party national headquarters. He is also alleged to have been involved in JFK’s assassination.
(2) The mass media ignores the United Nations assessment that prison conditions forced upon Assange are torture. In a press briefing at the United Nations headquarters in New York on October 15, 2019, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer restated his assessment that WikiLeaks’ publisher Julian Assange has been subjected to an unprecedented campaign of persecution that amounts to “torture”.
“Footage aired by the Russian-funded RT outlet showed a grand total of four people in the audience, surrounded by rows of empty chairs. To date, the RT article, and an accompanying video, appears to be the only report on the briefing by any media outlet in the world.”
RON RIDENOUR is a US-born journalist and anti-war activist living in Denmark. A member of www.thiscantbehappening.net, his books, including “The Russian Peace Threat: Pentagon on Alert” and ‘Winding Brook Stories’ are available at Amazon and Lulu. His other work can be found at ronridenour.com; firstname.lastname@example.org