A travesty that passes for British justice has now run its course at the Old Bailey.
Australians who don’t seek out what first-hand reports there are of the manipulated, truncated, pre-determined proceedings against Julian Assange cannot be aware of what is happening. It has received minimal coverage from the Australian media.
When Australians – even some who are not permanent residents ̶ are arrested in other countries, Ministers usually go to great lengths to secure their freedom, but they have made no representations for Assange. The media lavish supportive coverage on convicted drug traffickers, journalists accused of espionage, and alleged murderers, but the best they can do for Assange is take the fence-sitter’s ‘whether you like him or not’ position.
If Assange faced extradition to China for publishing documents that revealed Beijing’s foreign aggression, the Australian government, the media, and the public would be in full cry. Ministers would be obliged – as they were in the case of David Hicks, Mamdouh Habib, and Hakim al-Araibi – to intervene politically to secure his release.
Instead, Assange faces a foregone conclusion from a British magistrate to allow his extradition to the US, in breach of EU and UK law, and in defiance of UN expert findings on human rights and torture. There he will be a political prisoner for up to 175 years. The many errors of the British court in these obviously politicised proceedings are likely to continue when the US prosecution’s case is appealed. If the trial was held before a jury, it would have been thrown out by now.
The defence will lodge its closing arguments on 30 October, the prosecution will reply on 13 November, and the defence can respond on 20 November. The magistrate will give her decision in early January. She appears to have it prepared in advance.
Throughout the proceedings, Judge Vanessa Baraitser has hurried the defence and its witnesses, while allowing hours for the prosecution to present its evidence. Two aggressive prosecution barristers, one British and one American, have impugned the qualifications and credibility of defence witnesses, some of whom were rattled, while another resorted to sarcasm – making statements which in the record will convey the opposite of his intended meaning.
Daniel Ellsberg, no stranger to hostile courts, lifted the spirits of the defence with his video-link appearance. He compared his Pentagon Papers case with WikiLeaks publications in 2010 and 2011, pointing out that the judge dismissed the charges not because Ellsberg was protected by the First Amendment (which the US lawyers say Assange is not) but because President Nixon had ordered the FBI to steal his psychiatrist’s records. The parallel was drawn by Ellsberg and others with violation of Assange’s privacy in the Embassy of Ecuador, invigilation of his rooms, and transmission of his exchanges with his lawyers to the CIA by UCGlobal, A Spanish ‘security’ firm contracted for the purpose.
Even though they had prior knowledge of the defence strategy, the US lawyers couldn’t decide on what Assange was being accused of. In March 2018 the Trump Administration produced its first indictment. A second superseding indictment appeared in June 2019, followed by another in June 2020, which wasn’t served until 29 July. Then on 21 August, the US brought entirely new charges, arguing that all journalists anywhere, of whatever nationality, are liable to American prosecution for espionage. The prosecution demanded answers from witnesses to documents they had not had time to read, including this outrageous assertion.
Former UK Ambassador Craig Murray, who was in the court every day, wrote for Consortium News, ‘Even if the 18 charges related to Chelsea Manning were rejected, these new allegations could still form grounds for extradition. [They] included encouraging the stealing of data from a bank and from the government of Iceland, passing information on tracking police vehicles, and hacking the computers both of individuals and of a security company’.
As the defence scrambled to deal with one supercession after another, some defence witnesses, including Noam Chomsky, were simply not heard. Baraitser allowed the defence to present the ‘gist’ of their evidence, reading it into the record, often barely audibly, so that it made no impact on the court. John Goetz, a defence witness from Der Spiegel, was present at a restaurant dinner when Julian Assange, according to the Guardian’s Luke Harding and David Leigh, said that people who got killed as a result of WikiLeaks’ disclosures about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars ‘had it coming to them’. The German journalist was prevented by Baraitser from testifying that no such remark was made, yet she allowed Harding’s assertion to stand.
As Craig Murray lamented on the first day of the trial, ‘Iwent to the Old Bailey today (Monday) expecting to be awed by the majesty of the law, and left revolted by the sordid administration of injustice’.
Assange has killed no-one, nor has WikiLeaks caused anyone’s death. Since 2001, the US and its allies have illegally invaded and attacked five countries, killing hundreds of thousands, many of them civilians. Because WikiLeaks exposed this, the US seeks to imprison Assange in rigorous, solitary confinement for the rest of his life.
Justice has not been done, and what has been done is barely seen by Australians, given the thinness of media coverage and reluctance of most of our leaders to comment. Scott Morrison advised Assange to ‘face the music’, and Julia Gillard accused him of treason. British superior judge Emma Arbuthnot told him ‘no-one is above the law’. Clearly, the British system of justice has been politicised, and the only solution now remaining must be political too.
If a succession of Australian governments are unwilling to have the political imprisonment of Assange on their conscience, now is the time for the Prime Minister to act, in Washington and in London. If he does not, the Australian media should at least report the facts of Assange’s further hearings fully and in detail so that the public can demand action from government on behalf of an Australian citizen who is guilty of nothing.
Dr Alison Broinowski AM FAIIA is a former Australian diplomat. She stood for the WikiLeaks Party in the 2013 election.