Assange Extradition Hearing 2020: Day Nine

September 18, 2020

Pre-Hearing

Hoo boy, it was a busy day today. So first, on the media front. Not only are at least forty human rights organizations and NGOs being shut out of the hearing, the other day the prosecution complained that Italian investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi was tweeting about the case because she’s a scheduled witness so now she’s out. And today it appears that journalist Kevin Gosztola was booted from the proceeding’s video link probably because as journalist Richard Medhurst put it, “So people aren’t made aware what a farce this Assange hearing is.”

And my daily reminder: Every day Belmarsh prison puts Assange through a five-hour ordeal just to take him to court which includes being handcuffed, strip-searched, and a three-hour round-trip transport. 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.

Witness #11: Nicky Hager

The first witness up today was Nicky Hager, a New Zealand journalist who uses WikiLeaks documents for his own work but he also worked directly with them. For example, while working with the Afghan War Logs he realized that “aid and reconstruction” operations that were being carried out were actually psychological ops. As for the importance of WikiLeaks’ work and sources in journalism, he feels it’s important that journalists who are covering wars have access to confidential sources as well as classified information in order to better inform the public. He also believes that the Collateral Murder video was “similar to the impact” of the George Floyd video.

Redactions

  • When Hager worked with WikiLeaks he was “amazed to see the level of care they were taking to redact information that might harm people”
  • The process was “deliberately slow” and “very cautious”

Assange

  • Hager noted how Assange has been portrayed negatively in the press
  • He found Assange to be “very principled” and that he has “devoted himself to trying to make a difference in the world”
  • “I found him to be thoughtful, humorous and energetic”
  • “I saw nothing of the difficult, awful person he is often portrayed as through the media”

Journalism

  • Hager said he’s never paid a government official to steal secrets (yes, he was asked)
  • Prosecutor: Have you conspired with a source to hack a computer? “Depends on what you mean…”
  • Prosecutor: Have you conspired with a source to crack a password?” “No, but we’re getting close to where I might say yes”
  • Hager: “Journalists do not just sit passively and wait for information, we talk to our sources, we seek out sources, these are not just anonymous people we have to protect them”

Protecting Sources

The prosecution (James Lewis was back today) asked Hager if he would publish names that would intentionally harm people—the key word here being intentionally—which Hager responded “No.” Staying within that same line of argument, Lewis brought up a Guardian article that reported on media partners criticizing WikiLeaks over unredacted documents that were released in September 2011. Then he doubled down on the argument that WikiLeaks published this unredacted material before Cryptome allegedly did and if you remember from yesterday, this all started when The Guardian’s David Leigh and Luke Harding publishing the password to WikiLeaks’ servers in their book.

I honestly don’t understand the process in this hearing and I’m wondering why someone hasn’t just presented the dates of when WikiLeaks and Cryptome both published these documents so we can all move on. This isn’t rocket science, is it? Anyways.

Lewis also brought up Assange’s quote from the Frontline Club video and I don’t have the exact quote Lewis used in court today but I did bring this up yesterday which I think is the government’s way of showing Assange’s intent on allegedly publishing unredacted U.S. sources:

“The prosecution brought up comments that Assange made about protecting sources during a 2010 Frontline Club program called “The data revolution- How WikiLeaks is Changing Journalism,” although his remarks in the video don’t entirely match everything the prosecution said he said but maybe I missed it (video already at mark):” *video doesn’t actually embed at the mark so start at 41:20 mark

“However, on May 25, 2011, WikiLeaks also published on its website a transcript of a “behind the scenes, interview tape between Julian Assange & PBS Frontline’s Martin Smith” (recorded on April 4, 2011) which seems to be closer to what the prosecution is trying to argue: Assange didn’t published unredacted names out of editorial sloppiness, rather, he did it deliberately.”

Witness #13: Khaled El-Masri

So for a brief moment in time we thought that Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen who was kidnapped and brutally tortured by the CIA in a case of mistaken identity, was going to testify but more technical difficulties and a wait on an interpreter (surely they knew he was coming??) led to a delay during which Assange’s attorney, Jennifer Robinson, read a statement into evidence.

Witness #12: Jennifer Robinson’s Statement Read Into Evidence

In a witness statement written by Robinson, she said that Assange had a a meeting with then U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and far-right Trump supporter Charles Johnson while he was still in the Ecuadorian embassy in London (this meeting took place in August 2017). During the meeting, Rohrabacher told Assange that President Trump was “aware of and approved the visit and was willing to offer him a pardon if he would say the source of the DNC leaks was not from Russia.” It would be a “win-win” situation for everyone and Assange could “get on with his life.”

According to Robinson, Assange did not share his source for the leaks. None of this is surprising since this was brought up during the first week of the hearing back in February. And as you’ll notice in today’s already raging, inaccurate headlines, the U.S. government via U.K. prosecutors did accept Robinson’s witness statement as evidence. However, they did not accept the validity of Rohrabacher’s statements meaning, “Sure, we’re not disputing he said that. We just think he was talking out of his ass.” The U.S. government declined to cross-examine Robinson.

Technical Difficulties While Assange Tries to Give Instructions

At this point, El-Masri was still trying to connect to the court because dumpster fire while at the same time the prosecution was arguing over the truthfulness of his statement. Then it moved into a discussion about whether or not El-Masri should appear at all taking into account that the prosecution stated that they wanted to cross-examine him “as there is one part of his evidence, that American pressure on the German government over his case was revealed by WikiLeaks, they [prosecution] cannot accept.” You might remember from Day 7 of the hearing:

“In 2011, Goetz worked on El-Masri’s case and was eventually able to track down the names of the CIA staff who kidnapped him “which led to the Munich state prosecutor issuing 13 arrest warrants.” However, Wikileaks documents proved that the U.S. government pressured the Germans not to issue the arrest warrants lest they face “serious consequences.”

Assange’s attorney, Mark Summers QC, was asked by Judge Vanessa Baraitser if he wanted her “to find that the US put pressure on the German government” to which he responded, “Yes.” She said it was “highly unlikely” to happen although she did say that she would read the cables. After a bit of back and forth, it was decided that El-Masri’s statement would be accepted as evidence and that he wouldn’t be called to testify.

Assange Speaks!

At this point we heard from Assange again! “I will not accept you censoring a torture victim’s statement in this court,” he firmly called out from the dock. In response, Judge Baraitser told Assange that he was being represented in court and Assange shot back, “I have tried to convey those instructions.”

The court briefly adjourned so that defense attorneys could consult with Assange.

Khaled El-Masri Witness Statement Read In Court

After a break, court resumed and El-Masri’s witness statement was read in court. After being kidnapped in Macedonia by the CIA, tortured, and eventually dumped on the side of the road in Albania, he was “ultimately repatriated, reunited with his wife and children wh0 thought he was dead and has sought justice ever since. He has been threatened, smeared and discredited with attempts to silence him.” In addition, six months ago Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “bashed” anyone who cooperated with the International Criminal Court, (ICC) including threatening the court staff and their family members, after the ICC announced that an investigation which included “CIA black sites in Poland, Lithuania, and Romania,” had resumed.

Yesterday’s Witness #10 Carey Shankman Back “On Stand”

Carey Shankman returned to the stand today (not technically of course) for cross-examination by the prosecution. A lot of discussion went on about the Espionage Act, most of which was too “legally” for me to understand so imma just drop this here:

One thing that should also be pointed out is that the prosecution brought up Section 793 of the Espionage Act stating that it “provides room to prosecute beyond classical espionage.” 18 U.S. Code § 793 is about the gathering, transmitting or losing defense information and it can’t be said enough times how ridiculous it is that the U.S. government expects literally everyone around the globe to follow this outdated, absurd law—or any U.S. law for that matter if they’re not in the United States. The start of §793 reads:

“Whoever, for the purpose of obtaining information respecting the national defense with intent or reason to believe that the information is to be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation…”

In simple terms, no one, absolutely no one is allowed to “hurt” the United States in terms of national defense information and if they do then the U.S. is allowed to burn them to the ground. What? My country is literally the poster child for bullying because god forbid anyone expose their lies, war machine, political maneuvering and capitalist greed. It’s almost more absurd that other countries put up with this like Australia who hasn’t done a thing to help Assange, an Australian citizen.

Witness #14: Dean Yates

After the prosecution finished up with Shankman, defense attorney Edward Fitzgerald QC read Dean Yates’ witness statement in court. According the statement (via @dhbln), in 2007, Yates was a Baghdad officer manager for Reuters when two fellow employees were gunned down by American troops (Collateral Murder video): Photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and his assistant, Saeed Chmagh. After Namir was shot with a U.S. Apache helicopter’s 30mm gun (Yates described Namir’s body as “exploding”), a van with a father and his two children inside who were on their way to school stopped and tried to help them.

Saeed survived an initial gunshot wound but when the father tried to help him inside the van, soldiers unloaded on the van exclaiming, “Oh yeah, look at that. Right through the windshield.” Both Saeed and the father were killed and the two children seriously injured. U.S. soldiers can also be heard on video saying, “Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards,” “Nice,” and “good shoot’n.”

According to Yates, “Namir and Saeed would have long been forgotten if Manning and Assange had not brought the truth as light.” No one has ever been charged with these crimes.

The judge eventually interrupted Fitzgerald questioning the relevance of WikiLeaks’ Collateral Murder video to which he responded that it was related to the Rules of Engagement (which are part of the indictment against Assange). According to the U.S. superseding indictment , “On March 22, 2010, Manning downloaded from the Secret Internet Protocol Network multiple Iraq rules of engagement files (consistent with WikiLeaks’s ‘Most Wanted Leaks’ solicitation), and provided them to Assange and WikiLeaks.”

The Rules of Engagement are listed in four of the counts against Assange:

  • Count 4: In connection with Manning
  • Count 6: Obtaining and receiving
  • Count 11: Unlawful disclosure
  • Count 14: Causing Manning to communicate, deliver, transmit

You can find WikiLeaks “US Rules of Engagement for Iraq” HERE.

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):

A head’s up that @SMaurizi will no longer be covering the hearing (for now). Yesterday, the UK prosecution for the United States took issue with her doing so ⟶ “I am afraid today and in the coming days I won’t be able to follow and cover the Julian #Assange extradition hearing because the lawyers acting for the US government asked I won’t do it as I am a witness of fact in the Julian #Assange extradition hearing.” – Stefania Maurizi

Today’s Interviews

Kristinn Hrafnsson via Juan Passarelli HERE

Craig Murray via Juan Passarelli HERE and HERE

Artist Daniel Fooks on the prosecution of Assange and a “descent into fascism” via Mohamed Elmaazi HERE

Articles

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

Richard Medhurst’s Day 9 Updates (video) HERE

“Trump administration offered Assange pardon, Australian lawyer claims.” Latika Bourke via The Sidney Morning Herald

“Bashing Probe of US War Crimes, Pompeo Threatens Family of ICC Staff With Consequences.” Andrea Germanos via commondreams.org

Of Interest

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

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

Conditions of Prison in Alexandria, VA via The Justice Campaign (Twitter thread)

“Lockdown Life is Better in Virtual Reality” Madeleine Spence, The Times

“Wikileaks – USA against Julian Assange (english subtitles)” via ardmediathek.de

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
  • Day 6: Eric Lewis (continued), Thomas Durkin
  • Day 7: John Goetz, Daniel Ellsberg
  • Day 8: John Sloboda, Carey Shenkman
  • Day 9:
    • Nicky Hager
    • Jennifer Robinson (statement read in court, no cross-examination)
    • Khaled El-Masri (statement read in court, no cross-examination)
    • Carey Shenkman (continuation from day before)
    • Dean Yates (statement read in court, no cross-examination)

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.)

Documents

Defense Opening Arguments HERE

Defense Skeleton Arguments HERE and HERE

Prosecution Skeleton Arguments (photos via @MacWBishop) 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)

Defense Witness #6 Statement: Thomas Durkin (not released yet)

Defense Witness #7 Statement: John Goetz HERE

Defense Witness #8 Statement: Daniel Ellsberg (not released yet)

Defense Witness #9 Statement: John Sloboda (not released yet)

Defense Witness #10 Statement: Carey Shenkman HERE

Defense Witness #11 Statement: Nicky Hager (not released yet)

Defense Witness Statement #12: Jennifer Robinson

Defense Witness #13 Statement : Khaled El-Masri HERE

Defense Witness #14 Statement: Dean Yates HERE

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