By Joe Montero
The United States appeal to have Julian Assange extradited has gone on for two days and the verdict of the two High Court judges. Their decision will be announced at a future date.
The London court said the Australian’s mental health issues meant he was likely to take his own life if held under harsh conditions in a US federal prison.
Photo from Skye News: Some of Julian Assange’s supporters outside the High Court
On the first day prosecutors acting for the United States argued that the earlier judgement by District Judge Vanessa Baraitser, which did not rule in favour of extradition was a wrong call, because the defence had exaggerated the health risk. Secondly, they put that the concern over what are called Special Administrative Measures (SAMs). These impose special and harsh detention conditions and amount to permanent solitary confinement, and he would be held in the notorious ADX Florence maximum security federal prison in Colorado.
Despite the claim that Baraitser’s decision was wrong, she did not dismiss the charges and left the door open to lodger an appeal. At the time, many thought that this was a circuit breaker to get the court and the British government out of an awkward political moment. It brought them time.
The prosecution legal team tried to open the gate for extradition by suggesting that Julian Assange if found guilty could serve his sentence in Australia. The defence team immediately rejected this on the grounds that he is not guilty and doubt that the promise would be honoured. In any case, they argued, he remains a high suicide risk.
Meanwhile a significant crowd gathered outside and consistently shouted Free Assange.
Photo from EPA: Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks in support of Julian Assange
A major controversy in the way the case is being conducted is the prevention of Julian Assange from being there in person. Despite applying to be there, this right was denied, and it put him, as the defendant, at a disadvantage. The only participation initially allowed was through video link. After much argument, his was permitted a short appearance in the afternoon.
Limits on what journalist can report have been put on the case. This means the public doesn’t get to know a lot about what happens in the court.
Assange is still charged with conspiring to hack government computers and seventeen charges of violating an espionage law in connection with the release of confidential cables by WikiLeaks in 2010-2011. He faces a sentence of up to 175 years in prison.
Last night Australian time, on the second day of the hearing, it was the turn of the defence to put its case. Assange’s lawyers argued that he was acting as a journalist and is entitled to the first amendment of the United States and therefore the right to publish material exposing military wrongdoing in Afghanistan. They said the prosecution is politically motivated/ this is the reason the extradition appeal should be rejected.
Julian Assange once again participated through video link.
The defence presented evidence of a CIA plot to possibly poison Assange, while he was holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy. They told of the covert surveillance on him and his partner Stella Morris, and the threat to her safety.
Julian Assange’s partner Stella Morris arrives at the court
Lead defender Edward Fitzgerald, QC, said: ‘There are great grounds for fearing what will be done to him given the revelations of surveillance in the embassy and plots to kill him.
‘They were taking about poisoning, kidnapping, and killing Mr Assange, in these circumstances, of course there would be concerns for Ms Norris’s safety…’
A key line of attack by the prosecution on the first day, was that expert neuropsychiatrist Prof Kopelman was an unreliable witness was refuted. The claim is that the evidence this witness presented was not made public earlier and that this constituted unethical behaviour designed to give the accused an advantage. Fitzgerald replied that there was a matter confidentiality and legitimate importance of protecting Stella Norris and the children.
Jerry Corbin, the former Labour Party leader said in a speech outside the court, “In a different country he would be hailed as a whistleblower who told the truth about the dangers, we are all facing, the dangers the whole world is facing.”
Julian Assange’s case relates to that of Jeffrey Sterling, a lawyer and former CIA employee who became a whistleblower, after exposing a covert operation, where false Iranian nuclear warhead blueprints were passed on to journalist James Risen. This was obviously designed to promote political propaganda against another nation. Exposing this unethical operation earned Jeffrey Sterling arrest, trial , and imprisonment for three and a half years.
The connection with Assange is that this and other cases show a pattern of increasing ruthlessness in what Washington is prepared to do to silence truth inconvenient to the powerful. The treatment of Julian Assange is part of this pattern.
It is important to stand up against this abuse of basic rights.