USA v Julian Assange: Extradition Day 4

27 February 2020 — Defend Wikileaks

Judge denies Assange’s request to sit with his lawyers

First week of hearings ends early; to return in earnest May 18th

The first week of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing at Woolwich Crown Court has ended a day earlier than expected, with District Judge Vanessa Baraitser denying Julian Assange’s request to leave the glassed box known as a secure dock in the back of the courtroom.

Assange had asked to leave the dock to sit with his legal team so that he can have legally privileged conversations with his lawyers throughout the proceedings. “I cannot meaningfully communicate with my lawyers,” he said. “What is the point of asking if I can concentrate if I cannot participate?”

But the judge rejected the request, arguing that Assange has ample access to his lawyers to whom he can pass notes through the slotted glass barrier. She said she’s willing to start proceedings later so that Assange can meet with his lawyers in the morning and to adjourn court when the defense would like to meet with their client in a holding cell.

The defense explained this would unduly extend the proceedings and render them incoherent, as the court may have to break every three minutes for a twenty-minute break. When the judge said that was an exaggeration of what would be required, the defense reminded the court how lengthy and complicated is the process to take Assange to and from his holding cell. Nevertheless, Assange’s request was denied.

Prosecution claims Assange and WikiLeaks aren’t “political”

Earlier today, concluding its arguments from yesterday against the defense’s claim that Assange cannot be extradited for a ‘political offense,’ the prosecution said just because a charge is “espionage” doesn’t mean that it is necessarily political. Prosecutor James Lewis QC argued that an offense should only be considered ‘political’ if the accused was attempting to change a head of state.

“The Court does 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 policy change would need to be examined far more closely.”

But Assange was clearly working to change US policy. Assange, the defense said, was opposed to US policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Why was he seeking to publish the rules of engagement?”, the defense said. “They were published to show that war crimes were being committed, to show they breached their own rules of engagement.” He said the Guantanamo files were published to show that torture was being conducted in the war on terror. This is the “very definition of seeking to change government policy.”

The claim flies in the face of commentary from US officials in 2010 who clearly considered Assange as politically motivated.

“He’s not a journalist. He’s not a whistleblower,” State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said. “He is a political actor. He has a political agenda.”

Furthermore, the publications did change US policy: a State Department cable showed that the US wanted its soldiers to have immunity for any crimes committed in Iraq, and the Iraqi government refused to provide it. This led to a breakdown in talks and the US withdrawing from Iraq.

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