Contributed by Joe Montero
The application by the United States to have Julian Assange extradited has begun at the Woolwich Crown Court. The case is being heard before District Judge Vanessa Baraitser.
She follows the highly partial Chief Magistrate Lady Emma Arbuthnot, an old school tie aristocrat and wife of the former Conservative Foreign Minister ( Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom), who attended secret meetings, and received gifts and hospitality from military sources and companies exposed by WikiLeaks.
Her son Alexander, is involved in a private equity firm (Vitruvian Partners), which has multimillion dollar investment in Darktrace, a cyber-security company, also staffed by officials recruited directly from the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Arbuthnot’s prejudice was do obvious that she was forced to resign. As the Chief Magistrate, however, she continues to oversee the Assange case. She appointed and Vanessa Baraitser to replace her.
Baraitser was the one who sentenced Assange to a year imprisonment and solitary confinement for skipping bail, an unusual and cruel punishment for a minor offense.
Julian was not alone. Supporters milled outside the court and chanted “free free Julian Assange.” Baraitser threatened that this will not help his case. She ordered that anyone ‘causing a disturbance’ would be removed.
A lawyer for the United States, James Lewis, told the court that Assange should be extradited, to face trail in the United States for releasing material, which he claimed put at risk the lives of informants, journalists, dissidents and others in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
He said: “I would remind the court that these were individuals who were passing on information from Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran,” and added, “some sources identified by WikiLeaks … subsequently disappeared”. He also admitted that there is no evidence, which proves these allegations are true.
Lewis was in fact suggesting the court should not need evidence to grant the request for extradition.
The suggestion was not challenged by the judge. Compere this with the treatment of Julian Assange during the months leading to this appearance. His legal team had to battle to gain enough access to their client in order to prepare the case. They fought for his right to access a computer and an end to solitary confinement.
The last was won not through the court. An appeal by other prisoners to the governor of Belmarsh prison made all the difference.
Lewis continued, insisting that the defendant has committed crimes and that journalism is no defense for this. Under British law the commitment of minor infringes is permissible, in cases where there is a clear ‘public interest’.
It is far from certain that this principle will be upheld.
The United Kingdom also has a treaty with the United States, where in Article 4, section I, it is expressly forbidden to grant: “Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense”.
This case is obviously highly political in nature.
If sent to the United States, Julian will face 17 charges of violating the US Espionage Act, which carries 175 years imprisonment. He will also be charged with conspiring to break into the computer system of the nation’s security services.
the court has failed to uphold this treaty so far, and observers believe that the extra conspiracy charge is designed to find a way around this little difficulty.
Surprisingly, Lewis also admitted that the United sates had contemplated more extreme measures against the Australian, including assassination by poisoning.
Only days ago, it was revealed that Julian Assange’s meetings with lawyers had been unlawfully taped. This means that the lawyer client relationship has been violated. The applicant for the extradition now has information regarding the defense legal strategy, which puts the defendant at further disadvantage.
Making it worse, is that there must have been some level of collusion with the British authorities for this to take place. Cameras had to be set up in a maximum-security prison.
Then there is the further admission in the court. Julian Assange, because he is a foreigner, will not be protected by the Fifth Amendment, which spells out the rights to due legal process, to be tried by a jury, and protection from self-incrimination.
A major plank of Julian Assange’s defense is that he would not get a fair trial there.
A list of international human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, Reporters without Borders, Human rights Watch and a range of media related organisations, believe that he will not.
There is more. If the extradition is successful, the trial in the United States will be held largely behind closed doors, heard by an appointed tribunal, restricting the right of access to lawyers, denying the admissibility of evidence for the defense, and prohibiting the cross examination of prosecution witnesses. Those presiding over the tribunal will in reality be political appointees.
It will set the stage for a show trial with a clear political objective.
Julian Assange’s supporters are carrying out a series of actions around the world. There is the presence outside the court. Vigils and rallies are being held around Australia. Actions are taking place in many other countries. We will be hearing much more about this is the coming days.
The hearing has been set to go through this week. Three weeks have been set aside in May for evidence to be presented.