Assange Extradition Hearing 2020: Day Five

September 14, 2020

Pre-Hearing Details

As most of you probably remember, last week during the Assange extradition hearing there was a Covid scare with one of the prosecutors who ended up testing negative allowing for the proceedings to resume this morning. According to reports, everyone is now wearing masks in the courtroom despite the fact that Covid’s been around now for over seven months and there are members on the defense team who are reportedly high risk. However, Judge Vanessa Baraitser told the court that the masks weren’t mandatory because apparently the U.K. is still playing out that herd immunity scenario. Worse, Assange’s attorney, Mark Summers QC, told the judge that it was hard for Assange to get one. A mask. During a pandemic. Like seven months in. What does this say about Belmarsh prison?

As for media coverage, Rebecca Vincent from Reporters Without Borders reported that three of five public seats available in the Old Bailey’s microscopic courtroom were still being held for mysterious VIPs but it’s unclear if these seats have ever been taken up by anyone during the course of the hearing. Vincent also reported that Reporters Without Borders as well as “all other NGOs” are shockingly still being denied access to the hearing’s video link. As journalist Juan Passarelli reminded us today, “40 organizations & Amnesty International were shocked to hear that they were revoked access as observers of the #AssangeCase extradition hearing on the day proceedings started. They have not been given access since.” He added, “Is this the [Crown Prosecution Service] version of open justice?”

Finally, my daily reminder: Belmarsh prison puts Assange through a five-hour ordeal including being handcuffed and strip-searched just to take him to court. I’m wondering how many journalists and publishers out there that refuse to speak out on his behalf against this extradition request would feel if the U.S. arrested them tomorrow and put them through this punishment for simply practicing journalism. Especially those who used WikiLeaks documents in the past to bolster their work, image, or publications.

Defense Witness #5: Eric Lewis

The first and only witness of the day was Eric Lewis, a Cambridge alumni and chairman of Reprieve.org where he works on behalf of Guantanamo Bay detainees in the field of human rights and international law. If the organization sounds familiar it’s because the founder of Reprieve.org, Clive Stafford-Smith, testified on Day 2 of the hearing. Because the last name of both this witness and the prosecutor working on behalf of the U.S. government are “Lewis,” I’ve used “EL” for Eric Lewis and “JL” for the prosecution at times throughout this article like Juan Passarelli did in his tweets today.

The Trump Administration

Like previous defense witnesses who testified, Eric Lewis pointed out that although the Obama administration decided not to charge Assange, concluding that maybe trying to extradite a publisher for journalism might be bad business for a free press and the U.S. Constitution, something remarkably changed once Trump came to power (and here we all are). He cited multiple examples of hostile remarks made towards Assange by the Trump administration:

  • In 2010, Trump said Assange deserved the death penalty
  • In 2017, then head of the CIA Mike Pompeo called WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence agency”
  • In 2017, then Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the arrest of Assange was “a priority”—prior to any charges filed
  • Although this wasn’t part of testimony today, don’t forget that in 2018, ten U.S. Senate Democrats signed a letter demanding that Ecuador President Lenin Moreno revoke Assange’s political asylum (more)
  • Also not part of the testimony but something to keep in mind: In 2018, Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee stated in reference to their Russian interference investigation, “Our committee would be willing to interview Julian Assange when he is in U.S. custody, not before.” (more)

SAMs

There was a lot of talk today about Special Administrative Measures or “SAMs,” which I mentioned previously in my article, “Assange Extradition Hearing 2020: Things You Should Know Before We Head Into the Hearing Tomorrow”:

“If he’s [Assange] extradited and found guilty, he faces 175 years in a U.S. prison which would likely be in a Supermax prison under SAMS, an abusive, administrative process that would cut Assange off from the rest of the world for the remainder of his life. “

Indeed, if Assange is extradited and placed under SAMs, Eric Lewis testified that he would be kept in solitary confinement, unable to talk to anyone without permission, and his attorney visits would be monitored (so nothing new there for the US government). He’s also not aware of anyone successfully challenging the measures. After the Boston bombings, Jahar Tsarnav was placed under SAMs at ADF Florence Supermax prison in Colorado and in 2013, his attorneys filed to vacate the administrative measures:

“Among other things, the SAMs limit Mr. Tsarnaev’s interactions with individuals assisting defense counsel and restrict the communications and other activities of the defense team in furtherance of the defense…

Defense counsel first learned of the SAMs on Friday, August 30, 2013, after members of the defense team were denied entrance to FMC Devens for a previously-scheduled and approved visit with Mr. Tsarnaev…

More indicators from the Tsarnaev case about what Assange will face under SAMs: Restrictions on “non-legal mail, phone calls, and visits to immediate family members only—defined narrowly as spouse, natural children, parents, and siblings.” He can only send one letter a week (to an adult) and only one adult is allowed to visit at a time. No physical contact.

At some point the prosecution for the U.S. said that William Barr would probably not use SAMs on Assange but whatever. We all know that the U.S. could put that in writing and two weeks after Assange arrived at ADX Florence they’d say he tried to MacGyver his way out with a spork and a fine strand of fiber plucked from his blanket causing a massive national security alert and a call for martial law and global shutdown.

According to journalist Richard Medhurst, under SAMs detainees are not allowed to take a break unless there is no other prisoners around meaning that might be at 3 a.m. when everyone else is sleeping. And even in the words of ADX Florence’s former warden, the place isn’t fit for humanity and on that alone the judge should dismiss the extradition request based on international law and the UK-US treaty agreement.

“The roadblocks and obstacles imposed by SAMs (alleged recordings of conversations, pre-approved list of visitors and legal counsel, only one phone call a month, no access to news) would impede Julian’s ability to build a solid defense and coordinate with his team.” — Eric Lewis via Medhurst

So yes, an Australian journalist will be treated the same as someone who blew up a bunch of people for publishing documents that exposed U.S. war crimes.

And for those of you wondering, yes, seven years later Jahar Tsarnaev is still under SAMs. You can read the U.S. government’s opposition to his request HERE in which it states, “During both visits [to Tsarnaev], an FBI agent remained in the room. His presence was legally permitted by the SAMs.” *Also see “The Darkest Corner: Special Administrative Measures and Extreme Isolation in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.”

Expert Witness?

Like James Lewis has done with every other defense witness, he challenged EL’s credibility by inferring that because he’s gotten paid for his work he must bias. Then Lewis told EL that he couldn’t comment on the “mental health provision in US prisons” because he’s not a doctor:

James Lewis continued to badger the witness over whether or not he was an expert on mental health provisions in prisons, expecting him to remember 1000s of pages in what sounded like the U.S. Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) regulation revisions since 2014. And then they wouldn’t even give him the documents. Absurd. However, EL did say that there’s only one mental health care worker for every 500 inmates after which the prosecutor was nice enough to point out that the BOP has “procedures to deal with inmates on the autism spectrum.” Uh huh. For anyone keeping score at home, two words: Lauri Love.

But My Time

The prosecution once again cried about not having enough time with the witness because they felt that Eric Lewis was giving too long of answers—this, after the prosecution was only thirty minutes into his cross-examination and still had 3.5 hours left!

Technical Difficulties

Lemme just break down this shit show for ya’ll:

12:55: Court has adjourned for lunch, we think, our audio link has went down. – James Doleman

12:56: Court has risen following a technical issue. Sounds from a news website started to blast through the video it wasn’t clear where that was coming from. – Mohamed Elmaazi 

12:57: There is some sound coming out from somewhere with some sort of news report interrupting the proceedings, the judge walked out. – Juan Passarelli

12:57: Julian #Assange extradition hearing interrupted by what sounds like US television political news broadcast. Eric Lewis, US lawyer giving evidence via video link, says: “I have no idea where that is come from”. Judge leaves courtroom. Break for lunch, I think. – David Brown

*cue Jeopardy music*

1:18: The court will resume at 2 pm London-time as the tech staff is trying to resolve the serious disruption of audio, which has been terrible from the very beginning of this session. – Stefania Maurizi

1:59: We are now connected to the court again, hoping audio will be better and we can understand what the expert witness, Eric Lewis, says. – Maurizi

2:03: Unfortunately we have been disconnected from the court again. – Maurizi

2:10: I was just cut out of the videolink…It’s chaos. – Maurizi

2:12: We’re back. – Maurizi

2:14: Oh NO! Disconnected again. – Maurizi 

2:18: No connection whatsoever to the court…completely disrupted – Maurizi

2:20: It seems like the whole videolink session is doomed: “invalid conference “ – Maurizi

2:24: Just been told the whole video system is down, being looked at by technical staff now. – Doleman

2:26: It really speaks volumes that this kangaroo court which is attempting to extradite #Assange on bogus allegations of cyber crimes can’t even get a video link working. There have been technical issues every single day of proceedings. – Richard Medhurst

2:29: Courtroom is in complete chaos with multiple journalists locked out of live feed… – Medhurst

2:34: …Other journos have also commented in the video chat that they had similar problems. The concern is that some people are being denied access back into the system. When I named a journalist I know who has been bumped I was told: “Any participants not able to connect will need to follow the guidance, no further comment will be provided here regarding other participants” – Elmaazi

2:36: Eric Lewis, expert witness based in the US, is desparately trying to get the court to hear him. Those of us in the online video observation room can hear him perfectly but the court can’t hear him at all. – Elmaazi

2:42: The witness in the Assange case has spent a solid ten minutes shouting “can you hear me now?” down the videolink. I can, but it seems the actual courtroom is oblivious to his efforts to make contact. He’s started waving now… – Kirk Korner

3:02: Lewis turns his camera off and asks if shouting helps. No reply from court. It is now 3.02pm. – Juan Passarelli

3:07: We’ve been reconnected and then disconnected from the live feed again whilst this issues continue to be resolved. It is now a little over an hour since the court was meant to reconvene after lunch. – Elmaazi

3:14: Judge enters court, says the technical problems are persisting, but she is not going to abandon proceedings today, asks people to return at 3.45. – Doleman

3:19: The technical clusterfuck that is the Old Bailey court has now recessed until 3:45pm while the tech guys scratch their head trying to fix a two-way communication over the internet. – Passarelli

3:52: Judge returns, says the technical problems persist, says she will adjourn until tomorrow morning. – Doleman

See you tomorrow.

Attorneys

  • Edward Fitzgerald QC (Assange defense)
  • Mark Summers QC (Assange defense)
  • Jennifer Robinson (Assange defense)
  • Gareth Peirce (Assange defense)
  • Florence Iveson (Assange defense)
  • James Lewis QC (prosecutor for the U.S.)
  • Joel Smith (prosecutor for the U.S.)
  • Claire Dobbin (prosecutor for the U.S.)

Witnesses

  • Day 1 and 2: Mark Feldstein
  • Day 2: Clive Stafford-Smith
  • Day 3: Paul Rogers, Trevor Timm
  • Day 4: Eric Lewis (cancelled)
  • Day 5: Eric Lewis

Documents

Defense Skeleton Arguments HERE and HERE

Defense Witness #1 Statement: Professor Mark Feldstein HERE and HERE

Defense Witness #2 Statement: Clive Stafford-Smith HERE

Defense Witness #3 Statement: Paul Rogers HERE

Defense Witness #4 Statement: Trevor Timm HERE

Defense Witness #5 Statement: Eric Lewis (not released yet)

Twitter Sources

The Twitter users I followed today that I want to give a special thanks to for covering the hearing and that were used as my source material include (these guys and gals do the heavy lifting so we don’t have to): 

Articles

Bridges for Media Freedom Daily Court Summary: A.M. SUMMARY and P.M. SUMMARY

“The Darkest Corner: Special Administrative Measures and Extreme Isolation in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.” Center For Constitutional Rights

“How Did We Get Here? The Threat of Fascism in U.S.” Davey Heller via ClassConscious.org

Richard Medhurst’s full coverage and breakdown of today’s Assange extradition hearing (video) HERE

“Espionage Charges Against Assange ‘An Abuse of the Criminal Law Enforcement Power’: Defence Expert.” Mohamed Elmaazi’s summary of today’s hearing via Sputnik

Of Interest

  • “Lockdown Life is Better in Virtual Reality” Madeleine Spence, The Times
  • “Wikileaks – USA against Julian Assange (english subtitles)” via ardmediathek.de
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