U.S. Appeal on Assange Extradition Continues "Punishment by Process"
This effort is intent on distracting from truth, it's intent on keeping truth under control. This appeal hearing was yet another component of a large web that was weaved to entrap Assange.
The U.S. government's two-day appeal hearing regarding Judge Vanessa Baraitser's January 2021 decision not to extradite Julian Assange came to a close with no immediate decision. Even as the effort has lost all legitimacy, it in no way indicates that the whole paltry and prolonged legal charade of shredding up Assange and making a lesson out of him will come to an end anytime soon.
Back in January, Baraitser ruled that due to Assange's mental condition, highlighted by his diagnosis of depression and of being on the Autism spectrum by psychiatric professionals, he should not be extradited to the United States where, based on prison conditions and treatment of high-profile detainees, Assange would be a blatant suicide risk. Despite the ruling, she decided to keep Assange confined in Belmarsh high-security prison.
This latest installment of perhaps the most implicative legal scrum in modern history unfolded on Wednesday and Thursday. Still fueled by a hunger for revenge and an intent to crush dissent, this effort remains brash in its disregard for the ramifications that lie ahead for a free press and free speech if it is to succeed. And even in the event this effort ultimately fails, the vengeful would nevertheless savor the full knowledge that they indeed wore their opponent out through a complex and dragged-out process that pushed a man to the point of withering away.
The U.S. appeal rested on five grounds of argument:
That Baraitser misapplied the 2003 Extradition Law, which finds extradition of someone with poor mental conditions oppressive.
That Baraitser should have notified the prosecution her intent to rule against extradition so that assurances could have been raised.
That psychiatrist Professor Michael Kopelman, whose testimony Baraitser relied on, should be given "no weight."
That Baraitser erred in her overall suicide risk assessment.
And to provide those assurances, which essentially go as follows: vowing no Special Administration Measures (SAMs), conditionally; the possibility a prisoner transfer assurance that claims Assange could serve time in his homeland of Australia; ensuring that Assange, if extradited, will receive proper clinical and psychiatric treatment; and, finally, vowing that Assange won't be held at ADX Florence "supermax" prison, on conditions.
Essentially, these five grounds can be reduced to three major qualms. One, that Baraitser erred in her overall judgement (grounds 1 and 4). Two, that Kopelman's testimony should be discredited (ground 3). And three, that these magic "assurances" make the idea of extradition acceptable (grounds 2 and 5).
An appeal, as journalist Kevin Gosztola put it, is not "a do-over for the prosecution, where they get to have another go at convincing judges that certain facts should persuade them." Rather, it is meant to address "issues involving the law or court procedures."
Any other chance to persuade the judges, at this point, seems void of much substance given the key witness in the U.S. government's prosecution had admitted in June to lying on behalf of the FBI and the recent Yahoo! News report on the CIA's plot to kidnap and possibly assassinate Assange.
However, the truth is not the point in this legal endeavor. Instead, it's intent on distracting from truth, it's intent on keeping truth under control. Accompanying this overall extradition effort that's riddled with glaring holes is the complete neglect of the facts that came to light as a result of WikiLeaks' reporting.
The focus of the appeal is thus pointed at trivial matters regarding Baraitser's decision, testimonies, and so-called assurances that really assure nothing. It was packed with minor grievances, many the prosecution had to stoop low for. By contrast, of course, there were no discussions of the Afghan and Iraq War Logs, the Guantanamo Files, the Collateral Murder video, nor any of the other monumental and renowned leaks that revealed U.S. abuses of power and establishment corruption.
The point of this whole retaliatory exhibition is stretching out the clock and dragging Assange along on the back of the carriage. It's the most brutal form of garbage time, but there is no end in sight. It's "punishment by process," as Assange's brother, Gabriel Shipton has been putting it. With the Yahoo! News report in mind, Shipton recently characterized this whole process as a phony masquerade. "The CIA plot to kidnap Julian is continuing under the veil of legality," Shipton said.
Though the end is not near, the progress of this brutal effort to reduce Assange to bits is succeeding with notes about how poor of condition Assange looked to be in.
This long, burdensome legal process, where the consistent destruction of a human being that published documents that made the world a more transparent place is at work, is a display of complete cruelty and of the disregard power has for anyone who seeks to challenge it.
Specifically, this appeal hearing was yet another component of a large web that was weaved to entrap Assange in a strangle hold.
The U.S. prosecution, represented by the Crown Prosecution Service, laid out their arguments on day one, and the following day, Assange's defense team responded.
On Baraitser's decision and "suicide risk"
On the matter of Baraitser's decision and the suicide risk, the prosecution's James Lewis QC challenged the focus on "risk of a medical condition getting worse in the future if certain events do or do not occur."
Lewis brought up Lauri Love, who was wanted by the U.S. for allegedly working with the hacking group Anonymous, and his extradition case from 2016 in which the request was denied, after appeal, due to "judgment on the combined factors of vulnerability — Asperger's, eczema, and asthma, which would be exacerbated by suicide watch." Lewis noted that because concerns surrounded both Love's mental and physical conditions, it should not apply to Assange's case.
The prosecution also claimed that Baraitser put too much focus on Assange's "intellect to circumvent" measures to prevent suicide, noting that such consideration, without sturdy foundation, risks the nation's ability to extradite in the future. Lewis noted that no individual extradited from the U.K. to the U.S. has ever committed suicide and called the whole concern a "trump card." The prosecution even made such extravagant claims regarding depression, questioning how one could be depressed when one had access to TV or the law library.
The defense team's Edward Fitzgerald QC addressed some of the prosecution's concerns, starting with the consideration of near-certain removal of "protective measures," namely loss of family support, if extradition were to occur and regardless of where Assange is held. Fitzgerald also made the point of noting that the consideration was based on Assange's mental health and the future impact on it, rather than the specifics of prison conditions that the prosecution downplayed with their assurances (which we'll get to soon).
In the reference to the Lauri Love case, Fitzgerald, who actually took part in representing Love, noted that the prosecution was mistaken on day one and that the final decision in that case did indeed consider future eventualities. The defense also read from the Love case, which noted the myriad of risks that face someone with high suicide risk regardless of the extra precautions taken.
On the prosecution's note that nobody had committed suicide after extradition from the U.K. to the U.S., Fitzgerald responded that it is precisely because the discretion and consideration of English judges when that risk exists, just as is the case here with Assange.
On psychiatrist Prof. Kopelman and his testimony
The most absurd arguments from the prosecution came in the form of trying to discredit psychiatrist Professor Michael Kopelman, who has international recognition and has been providing expert testimony in legal proceedings for 40 years. Kopelman assessed Assange closely between May and December 2019, and diagnosed Assange with Autism Spectrum Disorder and as having a high risk of suicide. There wasn't much to go on, but the prosecution nevertheless gave it their best shot.
The prosecution raised their concern with the fact that Baraitser put a lot of weight into Kopelman's testimony considering there were four other psychiatrist testimonies to choose from.
However, their main problem with Kopelman, and the primary reason they believe his testimony should be given no weight, is because he had "misled" the court regarding Assange's relationship with his partner Stella Moris and the two children they had together.
This matter was addressed in this space regarding the lead up to this appeal hearing:
The professor submitted two reports to Baraitser in December 2019 and August 2020 prior to testifying in September 2020.
Regarding the first of his reports, the U.S. points to Kopelman's failure to disclose the relationship between Assange and his fiancée Stella Moris. By the time of the second report, the information about Assange and Moris, as well as their two children, was public knowledge, prompting questions in September 2020. Kopelman testified that his intention was to protect the family's privacy— an explanation Baraitser ultimately sided with in her ruling this past January, writing that the "decision to conceal their relationship was misleading and inappropriate in the context of his obligations to the court, but an understandable human response to Ms. Morris’s predicament."
The U.S. prosecution is claiming that Kopelman's testimony should be deemed inadmissible or, at least, be given "no, or far less, weight" ...
The defense team noted the judge is entitled to prefer certain expert testimonies as recognized in past cases.
On the claim that Kopelman misled the court, Fitzgerald stated that Assange wasn't trying to hide this information, nobody was. Assange, in fact, voluntarily told the prosecution's preferred doctor, Dr. Blackwood, that he had had two children with Moris.
Following along the lines of Kopelman's reasoning for omitting the information in his first of two reports last year, Fitzgerald noted the "menacing situation" that was facing the family regarding Spanish security firm UC Global's surveillance of Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in cooperation with the U.S.
"They were taking counsel's and solicitor's notes and photocopying," Fitzgerald said of the lack of privacy, even noting the DNA snagged from a diaper worn by one of the children Moris brought to the embassy. It was also noted that Assange never told the professor to withhold the information, it was Kopelman's "ethical decision" made on the basis of the family's privacy.
Similarly to how the prosecution had made incredibly stupid claims that it's hard to believe someone could be depressed with access to TV and a law library, the defense had to clarify, in the face of the prosecution's pesty questions, that it is, in fact, not unusual for someone on the autism spectrum to have a girlfriend.
On the "assurances"
The prosecution made a big deal about the assurances that they felt they weren't given the opportunity to offer. They maintained that if the threat of SAMs (which take up stringent monitoring, restricted outside contact, and isolation for inmates subjected to the measures) and ADX Florence (one of the most secure prisons in the world, where prisoners spend 22 hours a day alone in a cell) were removed, then it's safe to say the judge would have ruled differently.
James Lewis quoted Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg's declaration dealing with the assurances, declaring, "No factual basis for believing the [Bureau of Prisons] will not abide by the assurances in this case."
Lewis and the prosecution continued with their pattern of bizarre claims, citing Kromberg again in assuring Assange would not ever be held in solitary confinement because he would be able to "meet at any time with his lawyers." This is reminiscent of the prosecution's argument in the case of Daniel Hale, the man who blew the whistle on Obama's drone program, where the prosecution argued Hale's confinement wasn't solitary because he'd have the ability to yell through the bars of the cell door in order to communicate with other inmates.
Despite all the assurances about SAMs and isolation, Lewis insisted— conceded, really— that in the interest of national security, the U.S. government should be able to impose SAMs whenever necessary.
The defense team, in response, noted many of the holes in these assurance, mainly that they are really bound by nothing and that these assurances could have been offered whenever.
The defense's Mark Summers stated that these "assurances don't remove the risk of SAMs or ADX anyway," considering many of the conditions. Many of the assurances neglect to address the plain fact that whether there are SAMs or not, whether he is in ADX Florence or not, Assange will be at "risk of isolation, and therefore oppression."
Since the prosecution quoted Kromberg, so did Summers who cited the U.S. attorney's assertion that pre-trial SAMs for Assange are "possible."
Mark Summers questioned the "trustworthiness" regarding these assurances given the behavior of U.S. agencies throughout their whole fiendish crusade. Soon after, Summers noted the Yahoo! News piece from last month, questioning whether those reports along with the UC Global surveillance revelations are merely the "tip of the iceberg."
The main leak causing the CIA's wrath, as detailed in the Yahoo! News story, was the Vault 7 leaks which released most— not all— of a trove of documents describing the CIA's elaborate spying and hacking program that targets and utilizes smartphones, computers, and TVs. Mentioning this, Summers notes that due to the simple fact that some Vault 7 documents could still be released, Assange would certainly be designated for SAMs. He continued to say that the alleged source for the leaks is "currently two years into SAMs," and that's on a mistrial.
Summers went on to say that because pretrial motions take several years, Assange would be held at Alexandria Detention Center on administrative segregation, which is lingo for solitary confinement.
Alexandria Detention Center, as Chip Gibbons noted, has "a policy of putting high-profile detainees in administrative segregation," including Chelsea Manning, Paul Manafort (early on), and Maria Butina.
Summers summed up these particular assurances about SAMs, ADX Florence, and solitary confinement, saying that regardless of all of that, "Assange is headed for conditions of extreme isolation," and that would be pretrial, post-trial, or even if he was acquitted because Kromberg can have Assange incarcerated for civil contempt upon refusing to testify.
On the assurance of Assange possibly serving out a sentence in Australia (as if that paints a happier image), the defense really put a lot of holes in it. For one, the defense outlined the fact that the prisoner transfer assurance is simply a "promise of prosecutorial 'consent' to the application." They also point out that no such transfer could even take place until all processes conclude, which could take up to a decade. Furthermore, the defense notes that a transfer "likely won't occur" since it's "conditional upon Australia's consent" and that nation has specified nothing.
With the conclusion of the two-day appeal, the decision from the court will likely take several months. Outside of independent media, one won't find much analysis of this appeal and it's hard to say what direction it's headed, but again, one thing is for sure: this whole game of degrading and dragging Assange along shows no end in sight.
Though it was noted that more people in the journalism field had tuned into the hearings who had not followed the proceedings in the past, the lack of coverage remains as a real shame. Not that it was unexpected, but in an appeal where the Crown Prosecution Service, on behalf of the U.S., said so many blatantly ridiculous statements that highlight how depraved this whole effort really is, it makes the sting even worse.
With no media coverage in the age of headlines and out of context soundbites, none of the material from the prosecution will see much recognition and scorn on cable news or basic social media feeds. Claims doubting a person who watches TV and reads could be depressed, making claims about people with Autism Spectrum Disorder not being able to date, and declaring access to meetings with lawyers as what prevents the characterization of solitary confinement— these are all ludicrous and totally indicative of the whole extradition effort.
Assange revealed U.S. war crimes and abuses of power, and for years he and his family have suffered from the heartless treatment of that power. This needs to end, and it won't do so on it's own. If Joe Biden's Department of Justice continues this sordid goose chase, the effort may not succeed in the end, but it will certainly leave Julian Assange as a shell of his former self, crushed and bruised by the fist of institutional control.
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