Julian Assange Extradition Hearing at the High Court Photo: Chris Nineham Julian Assange Extradition Hearing at the High Court Photo: Chris Nineham

The US is pushing to extradite Assange despite CIA plans to assassinate him.  John McGrath reports from the first day of the new hearing.

Wednesday, October 27 saw the opening day of an appeal hearing acquired by the US Government to overturn Britain’s High Court’s decision in January not to extradite Julian Assange to the United States.  Julian Assange is languishing at HMP Belmarsh but the US prosecution team argued on Wednesday that he should be punished, most likely without trial, across the Atlantic on the grounds that the District Court’s ruling in January was “poorly reasoned”.

The District Judge Vanessa Baraitser decided 10 months ago that extraditing the Wikileaks journalist to the US would put Assange, who is suffering from depression and suicidal inclinations, at grave risk.  The extradition request was blocked on grounds that it would ultimately undermine Assange’s safety as he is unwell and likely to commit suicide in a US prison where suicides are becoming statistically more common. If extradited to the US, Assange could potentially be sentenced to 175 years in solitary confinement.  

Julian Assange was not at the trial Wednesday.  He remained at Belmarsh Prison. In the morning, the court was told he felt too unwell to follow the proceedings on video link, but he did appear on screen later in the day sitting at a table, holding his head in his hands.

Lawyer James Lewis, who is prosecuting the case on behalf of the US, claimed that the January ruling was unreasonable on largely ticky-tack claims.  Lewis argued that if Assange was severely depressed he wouldn’t be able to function and the fact that he went to the library contradicts this assessment.  Lewis also argued that because Assange is recently a father and fiancéd, he is unlikely to take his own life.  The prosecution also highlighted its own psychiatrist’s opinion, Dr Blackwood, who in the trial months prior “accepted there was some risk of a suicide attempt linked to extradition but this did not reach a ‘substantial risk’ threshold”.

Most of the afternoon in the courtroom was spent with the prosecution attacking the credibility of the Assange’s psychiatrist in the previous trial, Michael Kopelman, the emeritus professor of neuropsychiatry at King’s College London.  This was done in part by the prosecution to argue that Assange isn’t actually suicidal and can be extradited in good faith.  

As Wikileaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson put it after he exited the Royal Courts of Justice: “It was a very difficult afternoon in the courtroom, primarily because this was so absurd, because the lawyers for the United States basically were relitigating the case from the Magistrate Court, cherry picking from the testimonies, taking it out of context, and to give you the gist of it, they were spending hours trying to tear apart the testimony of the psychiatrist who was Julian’s witness in the Magistrate Court and attacking (his) integrity. It was depressing.”

US layers also tried to make the case that Assange wouldn’t necessarily get convicted if tried and that if he was to be found guilty, the US would gladly allow him to serve out his prison sentence in his native Australia. The US tried to argue the point that solitary confinement was off the table. However, US lawyers acknowledged that none of these conditions are binding.

As Julia Hall of Amnesty International put it, “Assurances by US authorities that they would not subject Assange to abusive special administrative measures, including prolonged solitary confinement, have been discredited by their admission that they reserved the right to reverse those guarantees”.

Complicating matters, it was revealed by Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News a month ago that the CIA was planning to kidnap or assassinate Assange while he was holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London in 2017.  As Assange’s partner Stella Morris told the hundreds of demonstrators outside the courthouse today, “What’s at stake here isn’t what’s argued in court today, it’s about whether the UK court’s going to extradite a journalist to the country that conspired to assassinate him”.  

The Biden administration is pursuing the prosecution of Assange on the same day that they allow US attorney Steven Dozinger to be jailed for effectively winning a multibillion dollar law suit on behalf of the Ecuadorian public against Chevron.  Instead of paying the $9.5 billion settlement ruled in court, Chevron filed and won a civil suit against Dozinger who was jailed for two years prior to being sentenced to 6 months in prison.  Like the Assange case, corporate media ignored the story.  Legacy media in the United States (NYT, Washington Post, WSJ, CNN, etc.) bemoaned press freedom and “democracy dying in darkness” during the Trump years but, in reality, is completely deferential to power.  Narratives which challenge big corporations and the security state receive no attention.

The lack of mainstream media attention in Julian Assange’s case on either side of the Atlantic is particularly caustic as Assange is himself a journalist and the NYT, WSJ, Guardian all published his findings. They have abandoned one of their own and are allowing him to be suffocated in slow motion in silence. The prosecution of Julian Assange will deter future journalists to expose US war crimes and state sanctioned violence.  In attendance Wednesday was Christophe Deloire of Reporters Without Borders who opined, “Assange has been targeted for his contributions to journalism, his extradition and prosecution would have severe and long-lasting implications for journalism and press freedom around the world, and the case should be closed and he should be immediately released.”

The defence will have more time to argue their case for keeping Assange in the UK on Thursday, October 28.  The appeal hearing is scheduled to last two days and the judges will give a ruling at a later date (what are we waiting for?). The UK is arguably the most subservient state in Europe to rapacious US security state interests so the verdict is very much in limbo and maybe begs the question, at least in terms of legal jurisdiction, is the United Kingdom a US colony? We read a lot about the “Rules-based International Order” but that must be code for something which precludes sovereignty, justice, and freedom of the press.

Hundreds more will return to demonstrate in front of the Royal Courts of Justice on Thursday, October 28. While most of the media has turned a blind eye to Julian’s cause over the past 10 years, the Wikileaks founder continues to inspire large sections of the population who see his persecution as being an indictment on civil liberties and justice.  Julian’s father, John Shipton, was in attendance today and told the crowd after the trial: “The greatest contribution of the English speaking peoples was to erect a shield of law between the people and the state: Magna Carta. This shield, which protects us, is crushed under an avalanche of misdeeds in the case of Julian Assange, in his persecution and prosecution. And re-erecting that shield is what you, in supporting Julian Assange, do. You bring justice.”

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