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Julian Assange, the Glass Cage and Heaven in a Rage: Day Four of Extradition Hearings

Thursday, February 27, Woolwich Crown Court. The first round of extradition hearings regarding Julian Assange’s case concluded a day early, to recommence on May 18th. It ended on an insensible note very much in keeping with the woolly-headed reasoning of Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who is of the view that a WikiLeaks publisher in a cage does not put all heaven in a rage. On Wednesday, Assange’s defence had requested whether he would be able to leave the confines of his glass cage and join his legal team. As Assange had explained in response to his nodding off during proceedings, “I cannot meaningfully communicate with my lawyers.” There was little point in “asking” if he could follow proceedings without enabling his participation.

This was not a point that fell on reasonable ears. The judge felt it came too close to a bail application, and was initially refused as posing a potential risk to the public. Gibberish was duly thrown at counsel for both sides, with “health and safety”, “risk assessment” and “up to Group 4” featuring as meaningless terms on the obvious: that Assange could pose no threat whatsoever, as he would be in the continuous company of security guards. As former UK diplomat Craig Murray observed, “She started to resemble something worse than a Dalek, a particularly stupid local government officer of a very low grade.”

According to the judge, to permit such a measure of access between Assange and his team effectively constituted a departure from court custody, a striking nonsense of Dickensian dimensions. Not even the prosecution felt it unreasonable, suggesting that one need not be so “technical” in granting such applications.

Thursday’s proceedings reaffirmed Judge Baraitser’s stubborn position. Her first gesture was to permit Assange a pair of headphones to better enable him to hear the proceedings, followed by a brief adjournment to see if his hearing had, in fact, improved. Assange was unimpressed, removing them after 30 minutes.

Her stretched reasoning found Assange sufficiently accessible to his lawyers despite his glassed surrounds; he could still communicate with them via notes passed through the barrier. “It is quite apparent over the past four days that you have had no difficulty communicating with your legal team.” The judge was willing to permit Assange a later start in proceedings to enable a meeting with the legal team and adjourn should the defence wish to meet their client in a holding cell.

That so complex a case as extradition can be reduced to sporadic notes passed to legal counsel and staggered adjournments suggests the continued hobbling of the defence by the authorities. Its invidiousness lies in how seemingly oblivious the judicial mind is to the scope of the case, complexity reduced to a matter of meetings, small points of procedure and law.

The defence team submitted that the process of consultation suggested by the judge unduly prolonged proceedings, rendering them cumbersome and insensible. The court might have to adjourn ever three minutes for a 20-minute break. To constantly take Assange to and from his holding cell was would unnecessarily lengthen proceedings and complicate matters. Judge Baraitser was dismissive of such argument, claiming that the defence was merely exaggerating.

The legal issues discussed on the fourth day centred on quibbling over the issue of espionage and its nexus with political activity. Espionage, suggested James Lewis QC for the US-driven prosecution, need not be political. Nor did it seem that Assange was intent on bringing down the US government. “It can’t possibly be said that there is a political struggle in existence between the American government and opposing factions.”

Lewis, as has been  his approach from the start, preferred a more restrictive interpretation about what a “political” offence might be, notably in connection with extradition. “Extradition is based on conduct, it is not anymore based on the names of offences.” In a rather crude, end-of-history line of thought, Lewis argued that political offences were “dated” matters, hardly applicable to modern societies which no longer see dissidents upholding the values of liberal democracy. (It seems that the tree of liberty, according to the US prosecution, no longer needs urgent refreshment.)

Besides, argued Lewis, the court did “not need to resolve these issues, but they demonstrate that any bare assertion that Wikileaks was engaged in a struggle with the US government was in opposition to it or was seeking to bring about a policy change would need to be examined far more closely.”

That is exactly what the defence contended. Assange’s core activities in publishing had been based on altering US policy, with Iraq and Afghanistan being key theatres. “Why was he seeking to publish the rules of engagement?”, posed the defence. “They were published to show that war crimes were being committed, to show they breached their own rules of engagement.” Ditto the publication of the Guantanamo files, an act done to reveal the extent of torture being undertaken during the course of the “war on terror”. All these, contended Edward Fitzgerald QC for the defence, did change government policy. “WikiLeaks didn’t just seek to induce change, it did induce change.”

The documentary record on Assange’s political activity in this regard is thick, much of it from the contentions of US officials themselves. The US State Department preferred to see him, as former spokesman PJ Crowley did in 2010, a “political actor” with “a political agenda”, rather than being a journalist.

Incidentally, Crowley’s link with WikiLeaks has a curious end, with his resignation in 2011 following comments made about the treatment of Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning at the Quantico marine base in Virginia. “What is being done to Bradley Manning,” he claimed at an MIT seminar that March, “is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the department of defence.” Not an entirely bad egg, then.

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14 comments

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  1. ChristopherJ

    Thank you, Binoy. Seems our judge is just going through the motions. You shine a rare light, in terms of Australian media, on the outrage which is this trial. Shame it is the Brits and Europeans who are protesting against this abuse of state power on an Australian citizen. Will Boris intervene? Will Trump allow things to go on and then pardon him? Strange times we live in

  2. paul walter

    The Glass Cage symbolises it all.

    Maybe the uncharitable closed minded mulishness of public opinion even.

  3. Carole

    if you are my age you will probably remember the The Dreyfus Affair that happened when CPT Dreyfus was accused of selling state secrets. French justice found him guilty and anti Sémitism played a big part i his conviction. Julian Assange is our CPT Dreyfus being sunshine bjected to an unfair trial with governments baying for his blood. In a second trial Dreyfus was again found guilty, but was pardoned by thr French President within days of the verdict. The film “J’accuse” brought this travesty of justice to the attention of the world. Read about it or watch the film if you can.

  4. Michael Taylor

    Carole, by my estimation you must be at least 120. 😉

  5. Carole

    Ha ha. Not quite 120 but I won’t see eighty again. I still have my faculties and the ability to remember it because there were several articles about the film and the book. In fact I read the book. I have not heard anyone mention the similarity between the two cases and would have thought some journalist would have resurrected it.

  6. paul walter

    Yes, the Dreyfuss Affair dates back to 1890’s France when a Jewish army officer, a distant relative of Australia’s shadow attorney general, who was patsied over somone leaking secrets to France’s mortal enemies, the Germans.

    In fact, someone else had leaked the secrets and this finally turned up after Dreyfus had been convicted in case haled before a closed (kangaroo) court.

    French conservatives loathed the idea the French army be shown up for persecuting Dreyfus to cover for the other officer and the country split down the middle over the issue. The famous author Emile Zola wrote a famous tract called “J’Accuse” about the incident and eventually the authorities were so humiliated that Dreyfus had to exonerated.

    Michael, Carole must indeed at least a hundred and thirty to have recalled the incident, even as child, but must have avoided dementia at least till the late nineteen fifties and the Jose Ferrer film.

    And as Assange has had to endure bad conditions, so Dreyfus was sent to the notorious Devil’s Island, of “Papillon”, fame, an experience that apparently damaged his health during his stay at this tropical hell-hole.

    It was not Assange’s fault that a video of a mass murder by American troops in Iraq was passed on to him by a shocked Manning and why is it a crime to report a murder,let alone a mass murder, anymore than it was Dreyfus’ fault that someone else stole state secrets?

  7. paul walter

    Sorry for typos, the case was heard before a closed court martial.

  8. Pingback: Julian Assange, the Glass Cage and Heaven in a Rage: Day Four of Extradition Hearings #newsoz.org #auspol - News Oz

  9. Carole

    Ok Paul and Michael you have had a bit of fun at my expense but it is wearing a bit thin now. I learned about the case during my childhood and perhaps that should have been made clearer. However while taking the Mickey, you miss the point. If you read about this case you will see the similarities which are frightening. Once a government and judiciary start down the path of witch-hunting it is almost impossible to admit a grave mistake has been made. It was Emile Zola’s J’accuse that infuriated the French man in the street and Dreyfus pardoned two days after a second trial confirmed the guilty verdict.
    As they say those who do not learn the lessons of history are bound to repeat the mistakes.
    What I don’t understand about the Brits is the viciousness being displayed by court staff, the police and the judge. It is almost as if the man must be completely broken because he has been an embarrassment to the establishment. Every man has his breaking point. I just hope Julian has not reached his.

  10. Carole

    Another interesting case was that of Alger Hiss another American spy story. I first read Witness in the 50s and I see now other books tell the story. By the way I was unaware until today that a film was made about Dreyfus last year, which is interesting because I hadn’t heard anything about Roman Polanski’s film. And that has nothing to do with your references to dementia which I definitely do not have.

  11. paul walter

    Yes, amazing tale, Alger Hiss was a real mastermind behind the Soviets getting plans for the Bomb, the guy the Rosenbergs took the big jump for, but got off on a technicality to do with statute of limitations. He and the Rosenbergs were, in their different ways, living proof that no good deed goes unpunished and no bad deed is unrewarded.

    Roman Polanski, eh? Not surprising. You can think of Polanski growing up hard in the Cracow Ghetto in ww2 Poland where he lost his parents, and after becoming radically successful as a movie director in the sixties and seventies with Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and other “noir” movies, an enfant terrible who hung out with hard cases like Jack Nicholson. His wife had been murdered by the occult murderer Manson and his puppets in the sixties, later he fled Hollywood for allegedly growing a taste for jail bait at flash Hollywood parties in the mid seventies.

    As for your dementia, I was only going by Michael Taylor’s calculations.

    I only ever believe everything/anything Michael Taylor says.

  12. Michael Taylor

    Wise man, Paul. 😀

    I think Carole missed my little wink after my comment. No offence was intended from either of us.

  13. carole

    I did miss the wink. Seniors get tired of being the butt of jokes. At least when my family make jokes there’s no moderator to censor my reply.

  14. paul walter

    Nasty buggers they are, Carole.

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