Monday 13th of July 2020

the statue of liberty... and justice US/UK style...

liberty   Thursday, February 27, Woolwich Crown Court. The first round of extradition hearings regarding Julian Assange’s case concluded a day early, to recommence on May 18th.

It ended on an insensible note very much in keeping with the woolly-headed reasoning of Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who is of the view that a WikiLeaks publisher in a cage does not put all heaven in a rage.

On Wednesday, Assange’s defence had requested whether he would be able to leave the confines of his glass cage and join his legal team. As Assange had explained in response to his nodding off during proceedings, “I cannot meaningfully communicate with my lawyers.” There was little point in “asking” if he could follow proceedings without enabling his participation.

This was not a point that fell on reasonable ears. The judge felt it came too close to a bail application, and was initially refused as posing a potential risk to the public.

Gibberish was duly thrown at counsel for both sides, with “health and safety”, “risk assessment” and “up to Group 4” featuring as meaningless terms on the obvious: that Assange could pose no threat whatsoever, as he would be in the continuous company of security guards. 

As former UK diplomat Craig Murray observed

“She started to resemble something worse than a Dalek, a particularly stupid local government officer of a very low grade.” 

According to the judge, to permit such a measure of access between Assange and his team effectively constituted a departure from court custody, a striking nonsense of Dickensian dimensions. Not even the prosecution felt it unreasonable, suggesting that one need not be so “technical” in granting such applications.

Thursday’s proceedings reaffirmed Judge Baraitser’s stubborn position. Her first gesture was to permit Assange a pair of headphones to better enable him to hear the proceedings, followed by a brief adjournment to see if his hearing had, in fact, improved. Assange was unimpressed, removing them after 30 minutes. 

Her stretched reasoning found Assange sufficiently accessible to his lawyers despite his glassed surrounds; he could still communicate with them via notes passed through the barrier. “It is quite apparent over the past four days that you have had no difficulty communicating with your legal team.” 

The judge was willing to permit Assange a later start in proceedings to enable a meeting with the legal team and adjourn should the defence wish to meet their client in a holding cell.

That so complex a case as extradition can be reduced to sporadic notes passed to legal counsel and staggered adjournments suggests the continued hobbling of the defence by the authorities. Its invidiousness lies in how seemingly oblivious the judicial mind is to the scope of the case, complexity reduced to a matter of meetings, small points of procedure and law. 

The defence team submitted that the process of consultation suggested by the judge unduly prolonged proceedings, rendering them cumbersome and insensible. The court might have to adjourn ever three minutes for a 20-minute break. To constantly take Assange to and from his holding cell was would unnecessarily lengthen proceedings and complicate matters. Judge Baraitser was dismissive of such argument, claiming that the defence was merely exaggerating. 

The legal issues discussed on the fourth day centred on quibbling over the issue of espionage and its nexus with political activity. Espionage, suggested James Lewis QC for the US-driven prosecution, need not be political. Nor did it seem that Assange was intent on bringing down the US government. 

“It can’t possibly be said that there is a political struggle in existence between the American government and opposing factions.”

Lewis, as has been his approach from the start, preferred a more restrictive interpretation about what a “political” offence might be, notably in connection with extradition. 

“Extradition is based on conduct, it is not anymore based on the names of offences.”

In a rather crude, end-of-history line of thought, Lewis argued thatpolitical offences were “dated” matters, hardly applicable to modern societies which no longer see dissidents upholding the values of liberal democracy. (It seems that the tree of liberty, according to the US prosecution, no longer needs urgent refreshment.) 

Besides, argued Lewis, the court did “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 a policy change would need to be examined far more closely.”

That is exactly what the defence contended. Assange’s core activities in publishing had been based on altering US policy, with Iraq and Afghanistan being key theatres. “Why was he seeking to publish the rules of engagement?”, posed the defence. “They were published to show that war crimes were being committed, to show they breached their own rules of engagement.” 

Ditto the publication of the Guantanamo files, an act done to reveal the extent of torture being undertaken during the course of the “war on terror”. All these, contended Edward Fitzgerald QC for the defence, did change government policy. 

“WikiLeaks didn’t just seek to induce change, it did induce change.”

The documentary record on Assange’s political activity in this regard is thick, much of it from the contentions of US officials themselves. The US State Department preferred to see him, as former spokesman PJ Crowley did in 2010, a “political actor” with “a political agenda”, rather than being a journalist. 

Incidentally, Crowley’s link with WikiLeaks has a curious end, with his resignation in 2011 following comments made about the treatment of Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning at the Quantico marine base in Virginia. 

“What is being done to Bradley Manning,” he claimed at an MIT seminar that March, “is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the department of defence.” Not an entirely bad egg, then. 


Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

free assange today...

Great effort for the release of Julian Assange

by Eva-Maria Föllmer-Müller

On 31 January 2020 Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, since April 2019, Julian Assange has been in the British high-security prison Belmarsh and is serving a prison sentence for breach of bail. As a memento: Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy over seven years ago to protect himself from extradition to Sweden on charges of alleged rape. Although he had offered Sweden several times to testify to the allegations, Sweden was not willing to give him any assurance not to extradite him to the USA. The proceedings were finally dropped in November last year. For those who would like to get an idea of the appalling background to the rape allegations, we recommend reading the interview of 31 January 2020 by Daniel Ryser and Yves Bachmann from the Swiss online magazine Republik with Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture ( also available in English). Under the title: “A murderous system is being created before our very eyes” Nils Melzer presents the appalling findings of his investigation: These range from the constructed rape, the manipulated evidence in Sweden, the pressure from Britain not to drop the case, the prejudiced judges, the imprisonment, psychological torture, and possible extradition to the USA with the prospect of 175 years imprisonment; all because Assange exposed war crimes (see box).

Julian Assange was in solitary confinement

For almost 10 months, until 24 January 2020, Julian Assange was in solitary confinement, i.e. he was alone for 23 hours a day and under video surveillance for 24 hours. Nils Melzer and two medical doctors visited Assange in May last year and clearly stated that Assange had “clinically measurable consequences of psychological torture”. Since then, Melzer (and countless other people in many places around the world) has been up in arms to awaken the world public. Over 60 medical doctors drew the attention of the British Home Secretary to the life-threatening situation of Assange at the end of November last year and urgently requested that he be transferred to a university hospital. The doctors expressed their concern that otherwise Assange might “die in prison”. It is thanks to fellow inmates and Assange’s team of lawyers that on 24 January 2020, he was transferred from solitary confinement in the medical wing to another wing with other inmates. The breakthrough came after his legal team and three petitions from prisoners described his treatment as unfair and unjust.

On 24 February, the hearing on extradition to the USA is to begin

On February 24, the hearing on the extradition of Julian Assange to the USA is to begin. It has been known for a long time that he cannot prepare for his trial in prison: He has no access to his American lawyers and no access to the files, Melzer said. A human being is tortured here in front of the world public.

Milosz Matuschek, a lawyer, deputy editor-in-chief of the liberal magazine Schweizer Monat and columnist of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, said on the radio station Deutschlandfunk Kultur on 13 January 2020: “The Assange case is increasingly becoming a grotesque mixture of judicial and media failure”. And further: “[This case] is an admission of failure by the rule of law and the media public. The European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits all forms of torture and degrading and humiliating treatment, also applies in Great Britain – after all the mother country of human rights. Human dignity is now once again violable. The fact that Assange is a person who has presented the world public with the truth about the crimes of the powerful makes the whole thing a tragedy; the fact that this execution in instalments is also carried out in a quasi-public way is now beyond cynicism. It’s as if one wanted to show Assange that crimes don’t even have to happen in secret to keep the world public cold.” [translation of all quotes and emphasis added by author]

“Community of values” on the test bench

Referring to the significance of the case Matuschek continues: “The Assange case is a crystallisation point for our community of values and democracy. Assange stands for the right to truth that every citizen has when he has to make informed decisions.” Matuschek concludes in his commentary: “However, the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits extradition to a country that practices torture. That this happens in the case of the USA has been known to mankind since Guantánamo at the latest: thanks to Assange. He himself published the best reasons against his extradition to the US on WikiLeaks years ago. Without the immediate release of Julian Assange, the constitutional state can only dismantle itself further.”

The numerous international protests against the detention and extradition of Assange have so far been ignored by the governments of Great Britain, Sweden, Germany, Ecuador, Australia, the USA and others. The voices of the churches are also missing.

Council of Europe sees media freedom and the safety of journalists threatened

Of the numerous voices that are calling for the release of Assange, for humane and just treatment under human rights, medical standards standards and the fundamental principles of the rule of law, here are just a few representative examples. On 28 January 2020, the members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) called on the 47 member states, following a submitted amendment, to advocate the immediate release of Julian Assange and to oppose his extradition to the USA. The fact that Assange is being held in detention and prosecuted in the UK is a “dangerous precedent for journalists”, it said. The amendment was unanimously approved and was included in the comprehensive resolution “Threats to media freedom and journalists’ security in Europe” (see box).

Geneva City Council protested already in February 2019

On 5 February 2019, even before the detention of Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy, a resolution (R-233) by the Swiss People’s Party politician Eric Bertinat was adopted in the Geneva City Parliament: “The protection of the life and physical integrity of Mr Julian Assange: Switzerland must get involved, it is urgent!” In this resolution, the Federal Council, after detailed justification, is called upon to the following words: “The City Council of Geneva calls upon the Federal Council to implement its policy for the protection of human rights defenders by offering its Good Offices and taking all necessary steps to protect the life and physical integrity of Mr Julian Assange”.

Undermining of human rights and principles under the rule of law

On 2 December 2019 international law experts from the USA, Japan, Norway and Germany called on the UK government to release Julian Assange immediately: “The ongoing proceedings against Australian citizen Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, presently held in Belmarsh Prison near London, display a grave erosion of time-honoured principles of human rights, the rule of law, and the democratic freedom to gather and share information. […] The treatment of Julian Assange is below the dignity of the great nation that gave the world the Magna Carta in 1215 and the Habeas Corpus. To defend its national sovereignty and obey its own laws, the present British government must set Assange free immediately”.

An important resolution from Germany

On February 6, 2020, Günter Wallraff (investigative journalist), Sigmar Gabriel (SPD, former German Foreign Minister), Gerhard Baum (FDP, former German Minister of the Interior), Peter Gauweiler (CSU) and Sevim Dagdelen (MdB Die Linke) launched the appeal “Julian Assange to be released from custody”, which is supported by well over 100 prominent initial signatories from politics, science, culture and the media (see box). There are now 22,388 additional signatories (as of 15 February 2020).

Do everything possible now

The initiatives listed here for the immediate release of Julian Assange are just some of many. All these protests, appeals, resolutions, petitions, etc. from all over the world would be worthy of special mention. Above all, however, it is to be hoped that they will be successful. This will be decided in the coming weeks. One thing is for certain: the initiatives for the immediate release of Julian Assange must not abate; much more public, but also diplomatic efforts will be necessary.

The possibility cannot be ruled out that Julian Assange may be part of a British “deal” with the US government. After its withdrawal from the EU, the incumbent British government is seeking a new role in world politics and, in doing so, greater proximity to the USA. Should the extradition of Julian Assange be the “price” to pay, this would be a great injustice and a sinister political act – but unfortunately nothing unusual in today’s world. All the more reason to do everything possible to ensure that this time might is right. The chances are great this time.    •


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seeking justice...

I am sure there has been a lot of guff written about the difference between “justice” and “the law”… Ask any lawyers, barristers or judges and discover their notion of justice and the law is quite complexed by the minuties of clanging rubbish bins, their billable hours, the importance of the case, their knowledge of “precedents”, the cash reserves of the defendants, while in the end the guilt or innocence of the accused are irrelevant in front of the privileges of governments or of the accusers'. 

Laws are written not to administer justice but to protect privileges. You knew this, of course...

our media are failing julian assange...

Australians and our media are failing Julian Assange, writes Sue Stevenson.

ON SOME LEVEL, we all know that our "liberal democracy" is turning into something much creepier and autocratic. Even if we're comfortable enough so that all that power and politics stuff is something we can avoid because it's boring and complicated,  the scent of authoritarianism wafts in sideways. It skips mental recognition and positions itself in our limbic system, enlarging our amygdalas even more than Twitter could.

Putting it another way: if we're still leaving it all to the pernicious human clones in Canberra (both major parties are essentially the same), if we're still at the level of "Julian Assange is a terrorist", then we may find ourselves rushing to the supermarket to stock up on toilet paper and packet pasta because of the coronavirus. Or being entirely suspicious and unkind to our neighbours. Or avoiding people of Chinese appearance.

We are terribly fragile and isolated creatures whose society and commons were sold under our feet for profit. Of course we're anxious. But Australia is long overdue for an examination of whether the West is a bounteous promoter of democracy to the world or whether Australia is part of a hideous ideology it likes to call "democracy" at home, which doesn't even exist anymore.

There is no bigger spotlight on the terrifying monster that the West has become than that relating to Julian Assange. And there's no better estimation of where we sit in the scheme of understanding that than what our attitude is towards him.

Here in Australia, despite the plethora of 50-year-old women needing to beg on the streets to supplement their Newstart, we are still relatively comfortable. Sure, we're singed around the edges, traumatised from the destruction of summer fires and the death of so many creatures.

But most of us still have the luxury of turning away from things that are hard or uncomfortable. For those of us who do not yet understand that the Assange case is about us, we can switch off. Funnel ourselves into our apps, our settings and their algorithms keeping comfortably ensconced in reality and more of what we already know.

No longer can we be comfortable in the knowledge that what we need to know will filter down to us.

The middle-class, centrist train line is still the one packed with commuters. There, power remains invisible because the only power that matters is the social kind that we wield amongst each other, the representational kind that says that full diversity will change everything. As if the world is Instagram. As if we're not been massaged and managed like sausage meat down funnels to convince ourselves everything's fine because journalists are all hacks anyway.

It's true that the quality of journalism has declined markedly in recent decades. The internet, and our dislike of paying for news, is part of the reason for that. At the same time, mainstream media has died, congealed upwards so that, worldwide, more billionaires who don't care about you or your freedom are the ones feeding you a worldview they want you to tick off on.

Who of us now haven't had the clanging gong experience of reading in the New York Times or The Guardian or The Age a news report that is so dramatically different from the independent take we've got from independent media or on the blog of an industry insider or a citizen journalist, that we have experienced firsthand the clanging internal disconnect of seeing that what mainstream media leaves out can be all the difference in your position or your ignorance?

It's not surprising that so few Australians are behind Assange that it makes his supporters weep. Where is the voice for him in our media? Where is the understanding of what he has done and the countless ways he is being tortured by the State? Even when he is reported on, his situation isn't really reported on. If you wished to rush, for example, into the arms of Australia's most respected news source, the ABC (still, after all the cuts and ridiculous Murdochian slander), you still won't get a picture on Assange. Because the ABC is not the radical socialist outlet those mindfucked by the Murdoch media tell you it is but the biggest apologist for the State there is. 

Take Four Corners, the ABC's flagship of solid journalistic reporting. Its executive producer, Sally Neighbour, retweeted a comment in 2018 that Assange is "Putin's bitch" and everyone knows it. She has since deleted the tweet.

The ABC generally lacks people who are willing to examine Washington and the West and the monstrous perversions of power that have been going on for longer than most of us have been alive.

Don't expect that on Four Corners. It is the zombie when it comes to power. It's shown its conformist kowtowing centrist stripes over and over again. You don't need to go any further than Sarah Ferguson's fawning, embarrassing interview in 2016 with Hillary Clinton.

There, Clinton smeared Assange to the heavens and Ferguson said nothing to defend him. A journalist herself, reducing Assange's case down to a bite-sized, identity politics with Hillary Clinton.

Some accommodation could be made for those at the ABC who caved into power's smearing playbook. Smears are used because they work. They work most especially on the types of centrist liberals who think playing in the "idpol" shallow end of the pool is actually doing politics. It should be incumbent on them to retract previous statements and put their support behind him now it's slowly trickling in that Assange and their raid and the future of journalism and an informed public worldwide are linked.

Ex-ABC journalist Helen Razer is holding the space for them to do so on Twitter: 


The thing is, @abcnews, these errors you persistently make formed an erroneous view. This erroneous view formed editorial. This editorial formed a prosecuting argument at Assange's extradition hearing.

This forms my complaint: stop taking a piss in justice.

The absolute bottom line of the Assange case, once you get past the smearing tactics, is, as Aussie independent journalist Caitlin Johnstone has stated, quite simple: should journalists be jailed for exposing war crimes?

That's it. If we find ourselves against Assange we need to ask if maybe, possibly, we're just sniffing into the pack of the Australian herd mentality that is willing to allow ourselves more freedoms taken away if only we can continue to keep looking away. Assange is a journalist. His Walkley Award says so. His books say so. His latest award for press freedom from the Consortium for Independent Journalism says so.

And his work exposing the war crimes of Washington, exposing how the CIA can monitor you from your Samsung TV, say so.


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