By Jim Hayes
As Julian Assange’s extradition hearing resumed at London’s Old Bailey this Monday (London time), lawyers for the United States prosecution, continued with the espionage charges that would impose up to 175 years in prison.
But this was a day mainly devoted to continuing the defence case
She denied a request from the defence, for people in the room wear masks due to the Coronavirus risk, and generally showed negative demeanor and impatience. This included a lashing out at a defence witness, for having brought a coffee into the court.
The Assange team put that as a journalist, he should be entitled to protection by the First amendment of the United States Constitution, over publishing wrongdoing during the military occupation of Iraq. And there is also the matter of the public’s right to know.
United States prosecutors counter argument, by insisting that the First Amendment is not unlimited and does not apply to non-Americans. They also say, he disclosures aided the enemies of the United States, and that this blocks out the right to constitutional protection.
Although the war documents were a major embarrassment for Washington, it was the release of the infamous Collateral Damage video, that did the most political damage. It caused a sensation. This is what really precipitated the hunting down of Julian Assange.
See the full version of Collateral Damage here.
Video from WikilLeaks
Critics have not failed to point out the inconsistency between denying foreign nationals First amendment protection, and prosecuting them for treason to a country of which they are not citizens.
Another major accusation against Assange, is that by publishing the names of operatives, lives had been put at risk.
John Sloboda, co-founder of the organisation Iraq Body Count, told the court that WikiLeaks had been careful to ensure names were removed before publication.
They were not revealed publicly by Assange or Wikileak but in a book (WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy), Published by the Guardian and writeen by two of its Journalists, Luke Harding and David Leigh. There had been a prior falling out with Assange, and much of the content was devoted to his character assassination.
American constitution expert and lawyer Carey Shenkman told the court that the charges brought against Julian Assange are “extraordinarily broad” and politically motivated. He said, the case creates a precedent, which puts journalists around the world at risk.
Reference was made to the 1971 Pentagon Papers leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, about American conduct during the Vietnam war. He received 12 espionage charges. They were dismissed in 1973, due to proven misconduct of the government against the accused.
Ellsberg also testified for Assange and drew attention to the similarity between the two cases.
Last week, Trevor Timm, of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, had referred to a 19-page memo form US attorney General William Barr, showing the President’s involvement.
Defence lawyer Eric Lewis, also referred to this memo, pointing out that it read, “the attorney-general and his lawyers are the president’s hand.” This is a clear violation of the principle of separation between the executive and the judiciary.
Lewis continued by citing former prosecutors, who have condemned the a restructuring of the US Department of Justice by Barr and the other Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as an obstruction of justice. This, he said, is being used against the defendant.
Assange’s lawyers are pressing that political motivation lies behind the case. They are also arguing that Assange will not receive a fair trial in the United States. They add, he will suffer under prison conditions that will continue to deny him his human rights.
Preparation has been made to hear the case in the Eastern District of Virginia, where the presiding judge Claude M. Hilton, has already dealt with the related Chelsea Manning case, and shown where his bias.
In addition, Assange is likely to attract what are called Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), which allows for the defendant to be gagged and client layer confidentiality to be denied. Add the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA), under which, there is no right to examine documents that are brought forth as evidence against him.
This is a combination that will deny a fair trial.