Assange's Case

grarpamp grarpamp at
Wed Nov 3 00:43:27 PDT 2021

The Most Important Battle For Press Freedom In Our Time

For the past two days, I have been watching the extradition hearing
for Julian Assange via video link from London. The United States is
appealing a lower court ruling that denied the US request to extradite
Assange not, unfortunately, because in the eyes of the court he is
innocent of a crime, but because, as Judge Vanessa Baraitser in
January concluded, Assange’s precarious psychological state would
deteriorate given the “harsh conditions” of the inhumane US prison
system, “causing him to commit suicide.”

The United States has charged Assange with 17 counts under the
Espionage Act and one count of trying to hack into a government
computer, charges that could see him imprisoned for 175 years.

Assange, with long white hair, appeared on screen the first day from
the video conference room in HM Prison Belmarsh. He was wearing a
white shirt with an untied tie around his neck. He looked gaunt and
tired. He did not appear in court, the judges explained, because he
was receiving a “high dose of medication.”

On the second day he was apparently not present in the prison’s video
conference room.

Assange is being extradited because his organization WikiLeaks
released the Iraq War Logs in October 2010, which documented numerous
US war crimes — including video images of the gunning down of two
Reuters journalists and 10 other unarmed civilians in the Collateral
murder video, the routine torture of Iraqi prisoners, the covering up
of thousands of civilian deaths and the killing of nearly 700
civilians that had approached too closely to US checkpoints. He is
also being targeted by US authorities for other leaks, especially
those that exposed  the hacking tools used by the CIA known as Vault
7, which enables the spy agency to compromise cars, smart TVs, web
browsers and the operating systems of most smart phones, as well as
operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, macOS and Linux.

If Assange is extradited and found guilty of publishing classified
material, it will set a legal precedent that will effectively end
national security reporting, allowing the government to use the
Espionage Act to charge any reporter who possesses classified
documents, and any whistleblower who leaks classified information.

If the appeal by the United States is accepted Assange will be retried
in London. The ruling on the appeal is not expected until at least

Assange’s September 2020 trial painfully exposed how vulnerable he has
become after 12 years of detention, including seven in the Ecuadorian
Embassy in London. He has in the past attempted suicide by slashing
his wrists. He suffers from hallucinations and depression, takes
antidepressant medication and the antipsychotic quetiapine. After he
was observed pacing his cell until he collapsed, punching himself in
the face and banging his head against the wall he was transferred for
several months to the medical wing of the Belmarsh prison. Prison
authorities found “half of a razor blade” hidden under his socks. He
has repeatedly called the suicide hotline run by the Samaritans
because he thought about killing himself “hundreds of times a day.”

James Lewis, the lawyer for the United States, attempted to discredit
the detailed and disturbing medical and psychological reports on
Assange presented to the court in September 2020, painting him instead
as a liar and malingerer. He excoriated the decision of Judge
Baraitser to bar extradition, questioned her competence, and breezily
dismissed the mountains of evidence that high-security prisoners in
the United Sates, like Assange, subjected to Special Administrative
Measures (SAMs), and held in virtual isolation in supermax prisons,
suffer psychological distress. He charged Dr. Michael Kopelman,
emeritus professor of neuropsychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry,
Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, who examined
Assange and testified for the defense, with deception for “concealing”
that Assange fathered two children with his fiancée Stella Morris
while in refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He said that,
should the Australian government request Assange, he could serve his
prison time in Australia, his home country, after his appeals had been
exhausted, but stopped short of promising that Assange would not be
held in isolation or subject to SAMs.

The authority repeatedly cited by Lewis to describe the conditions
under which Assange will be held and tried in the United States was
Gordon Kromberg, the Assistant United States attorney for the Eastern
District of Virginia. Kromberg is the government’s grand inquisitor in
cases of terrorism and national security. He has expressed open
contempt for Muslims and Islam and decried what he calls “the
Islamization of the American justice system.” He oversaw the 9-year
persecution of the Palestinian activist and academic Dr. Sami Al-Arian
and at one point refused his request to postpone a court date during
the religious holiday of Ramadan. “They can kill each other during
Ramadan, they can appear before the grand jury. All they can’t do is
eat before sunset,” Kromberg said in a 2006 conversation, according to
an affidavit filed by one of Arian’s attorneys, Jack Fernandez.

Kromberg criticized Daniel Hale, the former Air Force analyst who
recently was sentenced to 45 months in a supermax prison for leaking
information about the indiscriminate killings of civilians by drones,
saying Hale had not contributed to public debate, but had
“endanger[ed] the people doing the fight.” He ordered Chelsea Manning
jailed after she refused to testify in front of a grand jury
investigating WikiLeaks. Manning attempted to commit suicide in March
2020 while being held in the Virginia jail.

Having covered the case of Syed Fahad Hashmi, who was arrested in
London in 2006, I have a good idea of what waits Assange if he is
extradited. Hashmi also was held in Belmarsh and extradited in 2007 to
the United States where he spent three years in solitary confinement
under SAMs. His “crime” was that an acquaintance who stayed in his
apartment with him while he was a graduate student in London had
raincoats, ponchos and waterproof socks in luggage at the apartment.
The acquaintance planned to deliver the items to al-Qaida. But I doubt
the government was concerned with waterproof socks being shipped to
Pakistan. The reason, I suspect, Hashmi was targeted was because, like
the Palestinian activist Dr. Sami Al-Arian, and like Assange, he was
fearless and zealous in his defense of those being bombed, shot,
terrorized and killed throughout the Muslim world while he was a
student at Brooklyn College.

Hashmi was deeply religious, and some of his views, including his
praise of the Afghan resistance, were controversial, but he had a
right to express these sentiments. More important, he had a right to
expect freedom from persecution and imprisonment because of his
opinions, just as Assange should have the freedom, like any publisher,
to inform the public about the inner workings of power. Facing the
possibility of a 70-year sentence in prison and having already spent
four years in jail, much of it in solitary confinement, Hashmi
accepted a plea bargain on one count of conspiracy to provide material
support to terrorism. Judge Loretta Preska, who sentenced the hacker
Jeremy Hammond and human rights attorney Steven Donziger, gave him the
maximum 15-year sentence. Hashmi was held for nine years in
Guantanamo-like conditions in the supermax ADX [Administrative
Maximum] facility in Florence, Colorado, where Assange, if found
guilty in an American court, will almost certainly be imprisoned.
Hashmi was released in 2019.

The pre-trial detention conditions Hashmi endured were designed to
break him. He was electronically monitored 24-hours a day. He could
only receive or send mail with his immediate family. He was prohibited
from speaking with other prisoners through the walls. He was forbidden
from taking part in group prayer. He was permitted one hour of
exercise a day, in a solitary cage without fresh air. He has unable to
see most of the evidence used to indict him which was classified under
the Classified Information Procedures Act, enacted to prevent US
intelligence officers under prosecution from threatening to reveal
state secrets to manipulate the legal proceedings. The harsh
conditions eroded his physical and psychological health. When he
appeared in the final court proceeding to accept a guilty plea he was
in a near catatonic state, clearly unable to follow the proceedings
around him.

If the government will go to this length to persecute someone who was
alleged to have been involved in sending waterproof socks to al-Qaida,
what can we expect the government to do to Assange?

A society that prohibits the capacity to speak in truth extinguishes
the capacity to live in justice. The battle for Assange’s liberty has
always been much more than the persecution of a publisher. It is the
most important battle for press freedom of our era. And if we lose
this battle, it will be devastating, not only for Assange and his
family, but for us.

Tyrannies invert the rule of law. They turn the law into an instrument
of injustice. They cloak their crimes in a faux legality. They use the
decorum of the courts and trials, to mask their criminality. Those,
such as Assange, who expose that criminality to the public are
dangerous, for without the pretext of legitimacy the tyranny loses
credibility and has nothing left in its arsenal but fear, coercion and
violence. The long campaign against Assange and WikiLeaks is a window
into the collapse of the rule of law, the rise of what the political
philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls our system of inverted
totalitarianism, a form of totalitarianism that maintains the fictions
of the old capitalist democracy, including its institutions,
iconography, patriotic symbols and rhetoric, but internally has
surrendered total control to the dictates of global corporations and
the security and surveillance state.

There is no legal basis to hold Assange in prison. There is no legal
basis to try him, an Australian citizen, under the US Espionage Act.
The CIA spied on Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy through a Spanish
company, UC Global, contracted to provide embassy security. This
spying included recording the privileged conversations between Assange
and his lawyers as they discussed his defense. This fact alone
invalidated the trial. Assange is being held in a high security prison
so the state can, as Nils Melzer, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on
Torture, has testified, continue the degrading abuse and torture it
hopes will lead to his psychological if not physical
disintegration.The architects of imperialism, the masters of war, the
corporate-controlled legislative, judicial and executive branches of
government and their obsequious courtiers in the media, are guilty of
egregious crimes.

Say this simple truth and you are banished, as many of us have been,
to the margins of the media landscape. Prove this truth, as Assange,
Chelsea Manning, Jeremy Hammond and Edward Snowden have by allowing us
to peer into the inner workings of power, and you are hunted down and

Assange’s “crime” is that he exposed the more than 15,000 unreported
deaths of Iraqi civilians. He exposed the torture and abuse of some
800 men and boys, aged between 14 and 89, at Guantánamo. He exposed
that Hillary Clinton in 2009 ordered US diplomats to spy on U.N.
Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other U.N. representatives from
China, France, Russia, and the UK, spying that included obtaining DNA,
iris scans, fingerprints, and personal passwords, part of the long
pattern of illegal surveillance that included the eavesdropping on UN
Secretary General Kofi Annan in the weeks before the US-led invasion
of Iraq in 2003. He exposed that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the
CIA orchestrated the June 2009 military coup in Honduras that
overthrew the democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya,
replacing it with a murderous and corrupt military regime. He exposed
that George W. Bush, Barack Obama and General David Petraeus
prosecuted a war in Iraq that under post-Nuremberg laws is defined as
a criminal war of aggression, a war crime, which authorized hundreds
of targeted assassinations, including those of US citizens in Yemen.
He exposed that the United States secretly launched missile, bomb, and
drone attacks on Yemen, killing scores of civilians. He exposed that
Goldman Sachs paid Hillary Clinton $657,000 to give talks, a sum so
large it can only be considered a bribe, and that she privately
assured corporate leaders she would do their bidding while promising
the public financial regulation and reform. He exposed the internal
campaign to discredit and destroy British Labour Party leader Jeremy
Corbyn by members of his own party. He exposed how the hacking tools
used by the CIA and the National Security Agency permits the wholesale
government surveillance of our televisions, computers, smartphones and
anti-virus software, allowing the government to record and store our
conversations, images and private text messages, even from encrypted

He exposed the truth. He exposed it over and over and over until there
was no question of the endemic illegality, corruption and mendacity
that defines the global ruling elite. And for these truths alone he is

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