The extradition hearing us vs. Julian Assange has now entered its fourth week, if the first week of February is counted. Furthermore, there are massive access problems for observers of all kinds, but what is heard in the courtroom should actually speak for the accused, if we really want to be right here. Below is another report from London, from the courthouse and the events around it.
It is 7 a.m. on Thursday, 17 September 2020, and a cool wind is blowing in front of the central London Criminal Court, and I will review the final days of the extradition hearing against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
In the last three days it has been possible to get partial admission to the visitors ' gallery. This is not so easy, because out of the 32 seats available to the public, only 5 seats are officially available to the public due to Covid restrictions. But of those, 3 seats are reserved for VIPs who have not yet appeared. Nevertheless, the bailiffs tell us that these 3 seats will not be released until one and a half hours after the start of the trial, and yesterday I had to wait another 10 minutes longer and missed the full statement of NDR journalist John Goetz, who was working for Der Spiegel at the time of the publication of the documents. But fortunately, there are some other observers who try to follow the proceedings and pass on their observations to the public, sometimes in real time. Or here a compilation of the different observers, but most of them in English.
However, the public gallery is not in the room where the trial is taking place, but in the adjoining room, where we watch other journalists watching what is happening on a relatively large video monitor, of which we unfortunately only see the back. The monitor for the visitor gallery is located on the opposite side of the room, which contains 80 seats and some tables, and it is almost impossible to detect anything on the screen diagonal of perhaps 100 cm. Especially since the screen is shared when witnesses appear via video transmission, which has mostly been the case up to now, as the witnesses are mainly based outside the UK. These witnesses are then quite well recognizable, but the sound quality is unfortunately often not so good, there is a huge Echo or the voices sound as if they came directly from an Aquarium.
Nevertheless – or precisely because of this-one gets a very good impression of the atmosphere prevailing in this procedure and of course the statements of the witnesses are very illuminating. On the whole, it seems that the proceedings are organized in such a way that the public gets as little notice as possible of what is happening, and not only James Lewis, the lawyer of the USA, whose Job it is to be against Julian Assange, but also the officially impartial judge Vanessa Baraitser seems to have a latent negative attitude towards him.
Yesterday’s Tweet from Julian Assange’s fiancé Stella Moris also fits with this. According to her account, he is awakened every morning at 5 o’clock, subjected to a body search every morning and examined with a Scanner before embarking on the one-and-a-half-hour journey in a “coffin-like” Van. The time for this route will probably be the time including waiting time before and after the departure. This sounds like an ordeal, which is conceptually based on the English word Torture for torture.
Now to some of the statements and the interrogations of the last few days. The last witness yesterday was the “PentagonPapers"Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who was switched on from California, where it was 6.30 am. The defense had asked for 45 minutes before the lunch break to prepare with the 89-year-old, but again the judge showed no leniency and referred to the entire time frame of the trial, which is understandable from her point of view, because in the meantime about 3 days have been lost due to technical difficulties and the Covid fear or caution.
According to the statements of those present, Ellsberg appeared without a picture, but with good sound quality. He was very robust towards the penetrating prosecution and did not accept the image that the prosecution paints that there was a difference between him and Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden. In the US, Ellsberg is also seen as a hero by the liberal media, while Julian Assange is seen more as a scum. This, of course, has a lot to do with the narrative that Assange and Wikileaks are to blame for Trump’s election victory, through the truthful portrayal of Hillary Clinton’s actions in the run-up to the last presidential election.
In addition, Ellsberg pointed out that he, too, had published unredigitated documents for the sake of authenticity, which contained names of CIA agents, etc., and that almost 50 years ago he was not reproached for this and that he could not see why Julian Assange should suddenly be different. Ellsberg also said that Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange had acted in the public interest in his opinion and that his many years of experience told him that a fair trial for Julian Assange was not to be expected in the United States.
Two more days of negotiations have now passed and another one is scheduled for today, Monday, 21 September. There were also on Thursday and Friday the usual difficulties with access to the trial and also of the three VIPs who block the places for the public, still missing any trace. One also wonders whether these important observers could not be accommodated socially distanced in one of the many other free places in the Hall. There are also 9 seats behind glass in” our " room, which has been converted into an observation room, which are also not used because the accused is sitting behind glass in the adjoining room.
On Thursday, Professor John Sloboda, the founder of the organization Iraq Body Count, made it his goal to find out the number of civilian casualties in the last Iraq War. He also confirmed that Julian Assange and Wikileaks have subjected the documents, which were published as Iraq War Logs, to a careful editing process. However, during the ensuing cross-examination by James Lewis QC, he did not make the most robust impression when he agreed with Lewis‘ suggestion that there had been no verification of his reliability by Wikileaks before he was granted access to the leaked documents. At that moment, he could have already pointed to his long-standing work as an advocate for the victims of the war and to his reputation in academic circles. In his case, the prosecution’s strategy of unsettling witnesses and questioning their knowledge, competence and independence worked.
Carey Shenkman, who joined in the afternoon, was carved from other wood. He was connected from New York and lectured on the controversial nature of the Espionage Act of 1917 and that it was passed at the time of the first World War, when there was a paranoid mood in the US towards the press. Despite great difficulties with the sound, which were overcome in the end with the use of his phone, he remained extremely calm and friendly for the whole 90 minutes towards the cool and partly senior lecturer accuser Claire Dobbin.
Thus, he parried their question as to whether" Hacking “was not illegal in the US, saying that the term did not appear in the US criminal code and that it was instead” unauthorized access to a Computer." She said that he already knew what it was about and that she had used an everyday term. Mr. Shenkman replied that they were here to interpret laws, not everyday language. All in all, Mrs. Dobbin did not succeed in restraining him, and the judge also admonished the prosecutor that she had to attribute the progress of her witness questioning to herself. Several times in the hall was also giggled about this exchange of blows, which was continued on Friday afternoon.
On Friday morning, just before the lunch break, I managed to enter the hall when another observer got too cold, because the air conditioning was blowing ice-cold air into the public gallery in this windowless room. But I arrived just in time to read the testimony of the witness Khaled al-Masri. He was supposed to be heard directly, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office of his hearing and District Judge Baraitser suggested reading al-Masri’s testimony, prompting Julian Assange to deny censoring a witness. The judge then judged him and in the end, the defence lawyer Mark Summers read the written statement of the German citizen of Lebanese origin.
The whole affair, which in itself is almost unbelievable, has also made many headlines in Germany. Al-Masri was kidnapped in Macedonia at the end of 2003, then moved to Afghanistan by the CIA and only returned to Germany at the beginning of June 2004. The then Interior Minister Otto Schily, who learned of the case during al-Masri’s abduction, did not advocate for him and the arrest warrants of the Munich Prosecutor’s Office did not continue either. Wikileaks publications show that there has been massive pressure from the US on German authorities and the International Criminal Court. According to Al-Masri’s affidavit, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened potential prosecutors and their families with “extreme measures.”
This statement, and as presented by Mr Summers, seemed to make a palpable impression on everyone in the room, and according to Craig Murray’s later account, the judge was visibly touched by that statement, or failed to classify it simply as another witness statement. It will be revealed whether Judge Baraitser will surprise us in her expected verdict in October and whether al-Masri’s testimony will contribute to this.
On Friday afternoon, there was another scuffle between Claire Dobbin and Carey Shenkman, which I think left a good impression on Shenkman and thus Julian Assange.
On Friday, as on all days of the trial, around 30 supporters were active before the court, which is more than the three who sometimes stood in front of the Ecuadorian embassy, but still surprisingly little in the 9 million city of London, considering the far-reaching implications of this hearing. Unfortunately, today’s tweets from the courtroom do not suggest any change in Judge Baraitser’s attitude, as her expressed concern about the length of the trial is reflected in the defense’s premature lyancy of the hearing of witnesses.