12 April 2019 — Countercurrents
- No fair trial awaits Assange, says CIA whistleblower
- Ecuador failed to notify Assange’s defense of asylum withdrawal, says lawyer
- Violation of principles of human rights protection
- Impartial trial? UK judge brands Assange ‘narcissist’
- Hillary chuckles over Assange’s arrest
- “Our property now”: (Most) US lawmakers rejoice over Assange arrest
- Arrest of Assange met with cheers from UK lawmakers in parliament
- Assange hacking charge limits free speech defense, says experts
- S. charges Assange with conspiracy
- Any prosecution of Assange for Wikileaks’ publishing operations would be unconstitutional, says ACLU
- A chilling effect on journalists
- Assange fears being beaten up in US prison
Julian Assange, the crusader for freedom of journalism and right to know, is facing the power bent to crush him. News that are reaching public show the powerful mock all fairness and justice while encountering Assange.
Media reports said:
No fair trial awaits Assange, says CIA whistleblower Kiriakou
WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange is facing extradition and a trial at a US court infamous for sending whistleblowers to jail. CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, whose case was tried there, says there won’t be a fair trial for Assange.
Kiriakou was the first person to be sentenced in the US for leaking classified material to a journalist as part of President Barack Obama’s crackdown on whistleblowers. His case was heard by the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. He took a plea bargain in October 2012 and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
The same court is handling the case against Assange, who is alleged to have conspired with WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning as part of her leaking the damning classified materials.
Kiriakou believes that once in US custody, Assange would face additional charges and may spend the rest of his life in jail.
The US court that would try Assange will not give him a fair trial, Kiriakou believes. “They don’t call EDVA the ‘Espionage Court’ for nothing,” he tweeted earlier in the day. He told he was speaking from his personal experience.
Judge Leonie Brinkema is a Reagan appointee to the federal bench and she was promoted to District Court bench by Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s. She reserves all national security cases for herself. She handled my case, the Jeffrey Sterling case [over leaking details of a CIA op to journalist James Risen], she is Julian’s judge, she has reserved the [NSA whistleblower] Ed Snowden case for herself,” he said.
“No national security defendant has ever won a case in the EDVA. In my case, I asked Judge Brinkema to declassify 70 documents that I needed to defend myself. She denied all 70 documents. And so I had literally no defense for myself and was forced to take a plea.”
Kiriakou said he hopes that the way Assange is being treated by the US justice will galvanize the US public and result in more documents being leaked to expose the misdeeds of the US government.
“[The prosecution of Assange] was only theoretical until this morning. Now it is a reality that we have to face. This is an assault on our civil liberties here in the United States. It’s an assault on our constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of the press and freedom of speech.”
Critics of the US case against Assange, like Kiriakou, say all he has been doing was publishing material of public interest, which was also embarrassing to the US government. This is exactly what journalists in the US have been doing before him when they reported major scandals in cases like Watergate, Pentagon Papers or Iran-Contra.
“If Julian Assange as publisher and journalist is prosecuted, then there is literally nothing to stop the government from prosecuting journalists at the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and anywhere else,” he warned.
Ecuador failed to notify Assange’s defense of asylum withdrawal
Julian Assange’s lawyer in Ecuador, Carlos Poveda requested guarantees for his client due to a United States extradition request.
Carlos Poveda said Thursday that he was not notified of his client’s asylum termination and that his arrest was due to a U.S. extradition request.
“Up to now we, the defense, has not been notified of the asylum termination. We do not even have copies of the resolution,” Poveda told to local media and added, “there is already an extradition order from the United States to the British government.”
Nevertheless, the Ecuadorean government did have sufficient time to communicate its decisions on the Assange’s situation. During an impromptu press conference held on Thursday morning, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Jose Valencia confirmed that the asylum was terminated on Wednesday.
Valencia said, “the granting of the effects of Ecuadorean nationality to Mr. Assange have been suspended as of yesterday per a foreign ministry resolution due to various irregularities found on its processing.”
Poveda also informed that Assange’s arrest prevented two UN rapporteurs from paying a visit to his client, which was scheduled for April 25.
Violation of basic principles of human rights protection
According to local jurists, the delivery of Assange to British authorities violates basic principles related to human rights protection. International conventions oblige Ecuador to recognize the “principle of non-refoulement,” which states that refugees or asylees cannot be returned to a territory where their life, integrity or liberty may be at risk.
“No Contracting State shall expel or return (refouler) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion,” Article 33 of the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating the Status of Refugees states.
Also on Thursday Assange’s lawyer was prevented from entering the National Assembly, where the Foreign minister Valencia was expected to explain President Moreno’s decision. “We are immensely concerned about the decisions of the Ecuadorian government,” said Assange lawyer.
Impartial trial? UK judge brands Julian Assange ‘narcissist’ in courtroom
The UK judge who found Julian Assange guilty of breaking his bail conditions in 2012 has called the whistleblower a “narcissist” and his behavior “shameful.”
Inside the courtroom, District Judge Michael Snow branded the WikiLeaks founder a “narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest.”
Just hours after his arrest by British police on Thursday morning, Assange was found guilty of failing to surrender to bail in 2012. Assange pleaded not guilty to the charge, with his lawyers arguing that he would never have received a fair trial if he had been extradited to Sweden on sexual assault charges and that he was therefore forced to seek asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy.
The sexual assault charges were later dropped, but UK authorities still sought to arrest Assange for breaching the bail conditions.
Responding to the surprising comments, US political commentator Daniel McAdams wrote sarcastically on Twitter that he “sounds like an impartial judge.”
Assange is set to be sentenced in regard to the bail-breaking on May 2.
The controversial publisher was also indicted by the US on charges of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, the US Department of Justice said on Thursday. He is accused of helping fellow whistleblower former US Army soldier Chelsea Manning attempt to crack the password of a Department of Defense computer in 2010.
Experts and analysts, however, have slammed the US indictment as “weak” and a possible “tactic” to get Assange onto US soil where heavier charges likely await and where a fair trial will be almost“impossible.”
Hillary chuckles over Assange’s arrest
Hillary Clinton didn’t hold back her glee at the arrest of Julian Assange, mocking both the publisher who she blames for her failed presidential run and the man she lost to in a single “we came, we saw, he died”-level one-liner.
“I do think it’s a little ironic that he may be the only foreigner that this administration would welcome to the United States,” Clinton quipped onstage at a speaking event in New York, chuckling at her own wit and basking in the audience’s mirth.
The former First Lady and failed presidential candidate was asked about the Wikileaks founder’s arrest during the talk – which also included her husband – by moderator (and former Clinton staffer) Paul Begala, who set the stage by quipping that it “couldn’t happen to a nicer guy” after reminding Clinton that she “had some familiarity with the work of Mr. Assange” to audience guffaws.
“It is clear from the indictment that came out that it’s not about punishing journalism, it’s about assisting the hacking of the military computer to steal information from the US government,” she admonished. “The bottom line is that he has to answer for what he has done, at least as it’s been charged.”
Clinton infamously delivered the line “We came, we saw, he died” in reference to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was brutally murdered during the NATO invasion of Libya that was one of the highlights of her tenure as Obama’s secretary of state.
WikiLeaks published thousands of incriminating and embarrassing private email messages stolen from former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the run-up to the 2016 election, exposing extensive corruption and malfeasance on the part of the Clinton campaign. Many – including Clinton herself – believe the leak cost her the election.
Clinton clearly believes the 2016 DNC and Podesta leaks are a more serious crime. The DNC filed a lawsuit against WikiLeaks last year, accusing the publisher of colluding with Russia and the Trump campaign to “undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency” – but never denying the emails’ contents were genuine
‘Our property now’: (Most) US lawmakers rejoice over Assange arrest
US lawmakers from both parties cheered the arrest of Assange, while President Donald Trump claimed he ‘knows nothing’ about the outlet, despite often saying ‘I love WikiLeaks’ during the 2016 campaign.
Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) was on CNN’s New Day show when the news broke, and he rejoiced that Assange is now “our property and we can get the facts and truth from him.”
Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans in Congress were quick to drag up the “Russiagate”conspiracy theory to argue that the WikiLeaks publisher is really an agent of the Kremlin.
“I hope he will soon be held to account for his meddling in our elections on behalf of Putin and the Russian government,” tweeted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York).
Whatever Assange’s intentions were when he started WikiLeaks, “what he’s really become is a direct participant in Russian efforts to undermine the West and a dedicated accomplice in efforts to undermine American security,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia), ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and one of the leading champions of ‘Russiagate.’
Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) agreed with Warner, as usual, saying Assange and WikiLeaks have “effectively acted as an arm of the Russian intelligence services for years.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) called Assange “a wicked tool of Vladimir Putin and the Russian intelligence services” who “deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison.”
House Foreign Relations Committee chair Eliot Engel (D-New York) also brought up Russiagate, saying Assange “time after time compromised the national security of the United States and our allies by publicly releasing classified government documents and confidential materials related to our 2016 presidential election.”
One of the rare exceptions was Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who told CNN that documents published by WikiLeaks “informed the American people about actions that were taking place that they should be aware of” and “provided transparency” about civil liberties issues as well as “actions that our military was taking in the Middle East that they should not have been.”
Former Senator Mike Gravel (D-Alaska), who is vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, openly called for Assange to be pardoned.
Assange got no sympathy from the Trump administration even though candidate Trump repeatedly told campaign rallies “I love WikiLeaks!” during the run-up to the 2016 election. Asked about Assange’s arrest on Thursday, Trump told reporters:
I know nothing about Wikileaks. It’s not my thing… I don’t really have an opinion.
In September 2017, Trump’s CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who also cheered WikiLeaks releases in 2016, called WikiLeaks an “enemy” of the US and described it as “akin to a hostile foreign intelligence service.”
Arrest of Assange met with cheers from UK lawmakers in parliament
UK parliamentarians have reacted to the news of Assange’s arrest with hearty cheers, as PM Theresa May and her ministers heaped praise on the Ecuadorian government for bringing the case to a conclusion.
May delivered a statement on Assange’s arrest to the House of Commons on Thursday, outlining the charges against the 47 year-old Australian, thanking the Metropolitan Police, and claiming the case showed that “in the United Kingdom, no one is above the law.”
May confirmed to Parliament that Assange’s arrest was made for an alleged breach of bail, and following an extradition request from the United States. May also welcomed the co-operation of Ecuador’s new pro-US government in getting Assange evicted after almost seven years in the country’s London embassy.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt took to Twitter thanking Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno for his cooperation, insisting Assange “is no hero…he has hidden from the truth for years.”
Home Secretary Sajid Javid also made a Commons statement on Assange echoing May’s line that no-one was above the law. Javid insisted Assange’s legal rights would be protected.
He also revealed that UK police costs of monitoring the Wikileaks founder totalled £13.2 million ($17.2mn) by 2015.
Assange hacking charge limits free speech defense: legal experts
A Reuters report by Jan Wolfe and Nathan Layne said:
The U.S. Department of Justice’s decision to charge Assange with conspiring to hack government computers limits his ability to mount a vigorous free speech defense, some legal experts said.
The charge unsealed in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia on Thursday said that in 2010 Assange agreed to help Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst then known as Bradley Manning, crack a password to a U.S. government network.
At the time, Manning had already given WikiLeaks classified information about U.S. war activities in both Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Guantanamo Bay detainees, prosecutors said. The scheme would have allowed Manning to log in to the network anonymously and avoid detection, the indictment said.
The report cited Robert Chesney, a professor of national security law at the University of Texas: The case did not implicate free speech rights because it turned on the idea that Assange tried to hack a password.
“The charge is extremely narrow and that’s by design,” said Chesney.
U.S. prosecutors could still add charges against Assange, legal experts said.
The indictment, which was made secretly last year and released on Thursday, does not charge Assange for publishing classified material. WikiLeaks released the classified war information on its website in 2010 and 2011.
The U.S. Department of Justice said Assange, 47, was arrested under an extradition treaty between the United States and Britain.
Barry Pollack, a lawyer for Assange, suggested in a statement that the indictment could chill press freedom, saying journalists should be “deeply troubled” by the “unprecedented” charges.
“While the indictment against Julian Assange disclosed today charges a conspiracy to commit computer crimes, the factual allegations against Mr. Assange boil down to encouraging a source to provide him information and taking efforts to protect the identity of that source,” Pollack said.
Assange has long said WikiLeaks is a journalistic endeavor protected by freedom of the press laws. In 2017, a U.K. tribunal recognized WikiLeaks as a “media organization.”
The Justice Department debated for years whether prosecuting Assange and WikiLeaks would encroach on First Amendment protections, according to former officials.
The Reuters report added:
The department under President Barack Obama made a conscious decision not to bring charges against Assange on the grounds that WikiLeaks’ activities were too similar to what conventional journalists do, the former officials said.
The charge against Assange of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion minimized concerns that freedom of the press would be undermined and made it more difficult for him to argue that his free speech rights were at stake, some legal experts said.
“A lot of the broader legal and policy implications have been alleviated by how narrowly tailored this indictment is,” said Bradley Moss, a national security lawyer in Washington who represents whistleblowers and journalists.
Free speech advocates had worried that Assange would be prosecuted for publishing classified information he obtained from Manning in violation of the Espionage Act.
It is not unusual for journalists to publish classified material they obtain from sources and such a prosecution against Assange would have raised concerns that reporters could face similar charges, according to Steve Vladeck, a professor of national security law at the University of Texas.
The report said:
Assange is likely to argue that the conspiracy charge was a pretext and the government really is prosecuting him for the publication of classified documents, lawyers not involved in the case said.
David Miller, a former federal prosecutor in New York and Virginia, said Assange’s defense would likely face “an uphill battle” assuming the government’s proof of communications and contacts with Manning is strong.
Prosecutors will emphasize that cracking a password is far outside the realm of what respectable journalists do, Chesney at the University of Texas said.
“All of this turns on the idea that Assange tries to hack a password,” Chesney said. “That’s not journalism, that’s theft.”
U.S. charges WikiLeaks founder Assange with conspiracy
U.S. prosecutors said on Thursday they had charged Julian Assange with conspiracy in trying to access a classified U.S. government computer with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010.
His London arrest paved the way for his possible extradition to the United States.
The Justice Department said Assange, 47, was arrested pursuant to the U.S./UK Extradition Treaty, and accused him of involvement in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.
The indictment said that Assange in March 2010 engaged in a conspiracy to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet), a U.S. government network used for classified documents and communications.
He was charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.
The charges were revealed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The one-count indictment includes allegations of conspiring to illegally accessing a computer, and concealing Manning’s identity as the source of the leak.
Any prosecution of Assange for Wikileaks’ publishing operations would be unconstitutional
Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said in a statement Thursday: “Any prosecution by the United States of Mr. Assange for Wikileaks’ publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional, and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations. Moreover, prosecuting a foreign publisher for violating U.S. secrecy laws would set an especially dangerous precedent for U.S. journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public’s interest.”
Assange’s legal team includes Washington, D.C., attorney Barry Pollack.
According to the BBC, Assange will reappear in the London court by video screen on May 2, relating to the U.S. extradition charges.
A chilling effect on journalists
The current charges do not appear to relate to espionage or publication of classified information — allegations that activists, journalists and former Justice Department officials have warned would have a chilling effect on journalists who publish sensitive information.
Matt Miller, a former DOJ spokesperson, has repeatedly said that a key barrier to bringing charges against Assange during President Barack Obama’s tenure was related to the dangers of setting a precedent against publishers.
However, the indictment accuses Assange of a conspiracy that includes his attempts to “conceal Manning as the source of the disclosure” by “removing usernames from the disclosed information and deleting chat logs between Assange and Manning” as well as using a “special folder” on a cloud drop box to transfer the files. These tactics, including concealing the identity of a source and facilitating secure transfer of documents, are tactics utilized by many journalists and news organizations, including through the use of end-to-end encrypted message platforms like Signal and secure file-transfer systems like SecureDrop.
“While the indictment against Julian Assange disclosed today charges a conspiracy to commit computer crimes, the factual allegations against Mr. Assange boil down to encouraging a source to provide him information and taking efforts to protect the identity of that source,” wrote Barry Pollack, one of Assange’s attorneys, in an email to Yahoo News. “Journalists around the world should be deeply troubled by these unprecedented criminal charges.”
One source familiar with the ongoing case against Assange, which has been proceeding for nearly a decade at this point, told Yahoo News the FBI and DOJ possessed the Jabber chat exchanges between Assange and Manning for years. Those messages, according to the indictment, appear to be key evidence that Assange offered to help crack a password for Manning — going beyond the journalistic role of accepting information, and actually soliciting it. However, according to the indictment, it is not clear whether those attempts to break into the military computer network were successful.
There are additional sealed charges against Assange, the source told Yahoo News.
While Assange’s attorneys were concerned with the precedent the charges would set, former colleagues of the WikiLeaks founder were not surprised by them. Andy Stepanian, a former WikiLeaks consultant, referred Yahoo News to a Twitter thread he had posted in 2018 suggesting that it was possible Assange would be charged with crimes relating to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, whose sentencing guidelines he described as “so broad and draconian the accused can face decades for merely sharing hacked materials.”
Stepanian told Yahoo News he spoke to people interviewed by the DOJ, who said they were asked about computer intrusion topics that the government has publicly focused on: “2010 cables and war logs,” connections to other hacker figures including Jeremy Hammond and LulzSec, and the “Vault 7” disclosures of CIA hacking tools. “All touch CFAA,” Stepanian wrote in a text message.
The arrest and extradition were made possible because Ecuadorian authorities chose to expel Assange from his diplomatic safe haven by withdrawing his asylum status.
Pressure from U.S. and Spain
Lenín Moreno, elected president of Ecuador in 2017, was under increasing pressure from both U.S. and Spanish authorities to push him out. Spanish authorities were frustrated by Assange’s social media posts about Catalonia.
In April 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Assange’s arrest was a “priority.”
Earlier, however, multiple Trump allies, including Mike Pompeo, now secretary of state, celebrated Assange and WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential election for the disclosures of emails relating to Hillary Clinton, John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee — only for Pompeo to turn around and condemn WikiLeaks when he was director of the CIA.
U.S. authorities were also interested in WikiLeaks’ publication of CIA hacking tools, a disclosure that a former CIA employee, Josh Schulte, is currently charged with providing to WikiLeaks. It’s unclear whether the DOJ will reference those disclosures in its case against Assange.
Sweden may reopen the case
Swedish authorities may still pursue an investigation into Assange on the original allegations of rape and sexual assault. While the case was officially dropped in March 2017, Swedish attorney Elisabeth Massi Fritz told Yahoo News she is hopeful the police will reopen the case.
Assange’s arrest “understandably comes as a shock to my client,” and “what we have been waiting and hoping for since 2012 has now finally happened,” she wrote in an email. “We are going to do everything we possibly can to get the Swedish police investigation re-opened so that Assange can be extradited to Sweden and prosecuted for rape. No rape victim should have to wait 9 years to see justice be served.”
Assange fears being beaten up in US prison
(Assange fears being beaten up in US prison, called Trump crowd ‘clowns’: Visitor originally appeared on abcnews.go.com.)
Assange is dreading the prospect of violent attacks on him in an American prison, one of his regular visitors told ABC News’ “The Investigation” podcast on Thursday.
In an interview for ABC News’ “The Investigation” podcast conducted one day after Assange’s long-anticipated arrest, one of his most frequent visitors described Assange’s fears of being sent to a US prison and subjected to violence inside.
“He did say he was worried that, if he was in a normal American prison, being beaten up,” war documentary filmmaker and former Taliban hostage Sean Langan, who has spent more than 50 hours with Assange in the past year, told ABC News. Langan’s last visit to Assange at the embassy was on March 22, he said.
“And then I said, ‘Well, the chances are you’re most likely’ — slightly gallows humor, it didn’t make him feel better – ‘you’re most likely going to be put into one of those federal Supermax prisons where you won’t see a soul,” said Langan, an ABC News contributor.
Langan says Assange described longtime Trump friend and political adviser Roger Stone and Donald Trump Jr. as intellectually incapable of a conspiracy, much less one that included WikiLeaks or him, and he rejoiced when Special Counsel Robert Mueller recently closed his investigation without indicting him for conspiring with Russian military intelligence to tilt the U.S. election.
“‘Those bunch of clowns’ — that was the exact quote — ‘those bunch of clowns couldn’t conspire and organize this kind of thing’,” Langan recalled Assange telling him. “He certainly did not hold [President Trump] in high regard. He was quite dismissive.”
Langan and Vaughan Smith, an Assange confidant and owner of London’s Frontline Club, began making “social visits” — as the Ecuadorian Embassy called them — with Assange in early November. The pair was among the first people summoned by the controversial publisher of sensitive secrets after Ecuador lifted a ban on his visitors and most of his communications, a loosening of restrictions on Assange that lasted six months in 2018.
Inside, they didn’t find an apartment littered with cat dropping or feces on the wall — as alleged by his Ecuadorian hosts who over time turned against their notorious asylee — but instead the “claustrophobic” quarters of a man in poor health toughing out intense surveillance of the tiny rooms he has occupied since entering the embassy in August, 2012.
Assange shared his recollections with Langan in five-hour rolling conversations at a table between two speakers meant to deter electronic surveillance by Ecuador or other countries. One speaker blared symphony music and the other David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” Langan told ABC News.
Asked about a controversial November 2018 report in the Guardian newspaper that Assange had met with Trump 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort — since convicted on financial crimes related to lobbying in Virginia and in Washington — he was adamant it never happened. “He said, ‘That’s [bull]. Never met him.’ So he strongly denied that,” Langan said.
The Guardian report has not been matched by any other major news organization or corroborated since it was published.
Langan said that Assange seemed to acknowledge that he had communicated with Guccifer2.0, an online persona Mueller has said in a U.S. indictment was really an amalgam of Russian spies who stole the Democratic party emails and coordinated with WikiLeaks to leak them, but said that he believes Assange was unaware of Guccifer 2.0’s true identity.
Langan said that Assange complained to him that other news outlets were communicating with Guccifer2.0 too but the U.S. government was unfairly picking on him.
“I took it to be a non-denial denial,” Langan said.
Langan said Assange now realizes “that he could face the rest of his life in isolation.”
He is no doubt glad to be out of the embassy, however, Langan added.
“It’s like a gilded cage. But a cage is a cage is a cage,” said Langan.
Smith always brought lunch from the club and Assange would fetch plates to serve the food on, then step back into his tidy galley to wash each plate after they dined.
Langan said Assange expressed frustration with what he described as false news reports that claimed Assange wore smelly socks and did not care for the cat his kids gave to him as a gift.
“That really hurt him,” Langan recounted.