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On Contact: Julian Assange extradition case

On the show, Chris Hedges discusses the extradition hearing of Julian Assange in London with Joe Lauria, editor-in-chief of Consortium News.

For the past two days, Chris Hedges has 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.

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, under the Espionage Act.

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CH: Welcome to On Contact.  Today we discuss the extradition hearing in London of Julian Assange with the Editor-in-Chief of Consortium News, Joe Lauria.

JL: What’s more interesting is if the US loses and Assange wins.  What will Joe Biden do?  And you go to Joe Biden as Vice-President in 2010 on Meet the Press, and he said, we can’t get Assange unless we can catch him red-handed, I’m paraphrasing, stealing these documents.  If he’s just been handed these documents like you’re a journalist here, the documents, we can’t do anything to him because that’s what all journalists do.  They receive classified material stolen from the US government.  But if we could prove that he was actually involved in the theft then we can get him.  Well, the Obama administration did not prove that and they didn’t indict him.  Now he’s the president now.  What is he going to do?  I don’t know what’s in Joe Biden’s mind when it comes to Julian Assange.  But if he’s sticking to what he said in 2010 he would not want to pursue this in an appeal to the Supreme Court.  However, he’s continued the extradition hearing and the appeal until now, he could’ve dropped this.  I think the reason he can’t drop it, I’m just speculating here, is for the 2016 leaks that hurt Hillary Clinton that exposed truths about Hillary Clinton.  Those were not lies.  That was not disinformation given by a foreign government that was information.  And it doesn’t matter who gave the documents, because they were true.  That hurt the Democrats so much and they blamed Julian Assange so much so fanatically for Donald Trump, as if Hillary was the best candidate going.  That he would--it would be heresy if he let Julian Assange go.  I think that’s probably the pressure, the political pressure on Biden.  But so far, and he’s probably has pressure from the intelligence agencies, no doubt about that.  They want to get him.  Maybe they don’t want to kill him anymore, but they want to get him.  And that’s up to the Justice Department, Merrick Garland whether to continue an appeal.

CH: On Wednesday and Thursday of this week, I watched the extradition appeal 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 in her words 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 in prison for 175 years.  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 under the Espionage Act.  Joining me to discuss what we heard in court concerning the most important press freedom case in history is the journalist, Joe Lauria, the Editor-in-Chief of Consortium News.  So Joe, you and I both watched it, you were up at about I think you started about 8:00 in Australia.  I started at 5:00 AM here in Washington.  Just overall, what was your impression?  I didn’t think there were a lot of surprises in it.  But just generally what struck you?

JL: The determination of the United States to demolish the two pillars of Vanessa Baraitser’s judgment on January 4th, which you pointed out, there’s two aspects to it, that he’s too sick, he’s too suicidal.  And you mix that with the conditions that we heard in the hearing of September 20th from various expert--experts to conditions of American prisons, particularly if he would be put into Special Administration--Administrative Measures, SAMs, or even at the ADC in Alexandria Detention Center where he would be in isolation.  So the United States had to, A, say that he’s not that sick.  They went as long--as far as calling him a lingerer during the hearing, and essentially, that’s what they were saying, he’s faking it.  He’s feigning this.  He’s a man who appeared out at RT chat show.  He helped Edward Snowden escape.  He negotiated his asylum in the Ecuador embassy.  He can’t be all that sick, can he?  He’s playing pool with the other prisoners, he’s drinking coffee with them and playing bingo.  So he’s [INDISTINCT] and the other one was to show that the US actually made these assurances after the hearing was over, and after the judgment came down from Baraitser.  They made assurances that he would not be put in SAMs, he would not be put in isolation in Alexandria, he would get medical care, he will be treated well, and put in a good prison.  Now they are expecting Assange’s legal team and Assange to believe this although a good part of the hearing--the two aspects of it were to destroy the medical evidence and they went after one professor in particular, Michael Kopelman, who Baraitser relied on in her judgment and said she preferred his testimony to the defense witnesses.  And they went after the issue of the assurances with Lewis today, explaining why it’s legal and normal to give them even after a judgment.

CH: We should be clear because there was quite detailed descriptions of his mental and physical deterioration in the trial.  He, at one point, tried to commit suicide and was taken to a hospital.  There were incidents of him pounding his head against the wall, walking until exhaustion, hallucinating, he’s on antidepressant, and psychotropic medicine or drugs.  They found at least half of--I think the court description was half a razorblade under his socks.  They put him in the mental health or the health wing of Belmarsh.  So this wasn’t conjecture about his deterioration, it was quite well documented.

JL: Now, let’s keep in mind for--that Baraitser was no fan of Julian Assange, as you pointed out.  She agreed with the entire legal case that the Americans made the Espionage Act.  She even--we knew about the assassination plot from the testimony in September 2020, from two of the UC Global partner and a former employee, that the CIA was thinking of kidnapping him and/or poisoning him.  This, of course, came today, and I’m sure you want to get into that.  But the point is Baraitser and her ruling said that was understandable because the Americans were very concerned about his activities, if it’s true.  So it’s even--wasn’t, you know, upset about him, perhaps being assassinated.  And--but the point is that she made a judgment that he was ill, that he was, as you say, banging his head, punching himself in the face.  This is a guy who they say is malingering.  Now that you mentioned the razorblade, it’s an interesting incident because at the hearing in September 2020, James Lewis, who is the bulldog prosecuted that--acts like an American prosecutor not a British one, but he’s working.  The United States paid for British taxpayers.  He said that the razorblade didn’t happen.  It just didn’t happen.  Why wasn’t it in the prison notes?  Next morning, they produced the prison notes, the Assange’s team.  Big embarrassment.  Then the issue of him being transferred to the wing.  The--Dr. Nigel Blockwood who was the main medical witness for the prosecution said that he was transferred because there was embarrassment caused to the prison staff when he appeared on a leaked video inside the prison.  This was way back around May of 2019.  He’d only been in the prison a couple of months.  And in fact, the next day, it was shown that on cross examination, that there was a report that he had exhibited a behavior that he would harm himself.  So it was because, again, it looked like he was trying to commit suicide or was thinking of it, that they put him in the wing.  Even though that it’s true that the--they were embarrassed by that video.  So they just left that out Nigel Blackwood.  And Edward Fitzgerald, the lawyer for Assange got very angry at that time.  Why didn’t you report?  So they’re not completely telling the truth here.  And so in order to destroy the medical evidence that convinced Baraitser, they went after this Michael Kopelman.  And Kopelman is a very respected doctor.  And he, in fact, been called on many times in extradition cases.  And he embarrassed Lewis at one point, when he said, “Yes, I recall the time you called me to rush to the court because you needed my expert testimony.”  So Lewis even relied on him.  But in this case, he’s trying to destroy him, first in his cross examination, trying to destroy his credentials, which was absurd.  But the case of the Stella Morris issue and it’s really--it’s kind of a ridiculous tired saga right now.  Morris had two children with Assange in the embassy.  She did not declare that right away.  They asked one of the lawyers, Gareth Peirce, of Julian Assange asked him not to put that on the report because they were worried, not just about her privacy, about the tabloids going wild in London, but because of what the testimony of those UC Global Spanish security firm witnesses said.  This is the firm working for the CIA hired by Ecuador to protect Assange, they were hired and contracted by the CIA to give 24/7 live stream of everything he was doing in that embassy, the testimony that he would be poisoned or kidnapped back then in September 20th.  They knew about this and from the Spanish court case.  So he was actually doing his duty by the British Psychological Association.  There is an ethical guidelines and it says you must put the safety of children before anything.  So his obligation was to the children, whereas Lewis tried to argue that his obligation was to the court.  It--so he didn’t--he hid that in the first report, but then he came clean when it became known because Stella Morris had to give the address of where he--when he got out and was on a bail application.  So this minor really incident has been blown out of complete proportion by the Americans just to discredit and throw out, they actually want to throw out his testimony.  They didn’t actually challenge admissibility, but the weight that it was given that they want to damage that testimony.  So if the high court judges heard this doctor again being trashed where Lewis went over the transcript, two or three hours.  If you recall Chris, it got very tedious, he was reading from the transcript of his cross examination.  And of course, Kopelman wasn’t there to respond to any of that.  So they’re trying to destroy Kopelman.  And they’re trying to do that is to say that Assange was really not that sick.  And in fact, in his summation on Thursday, Lewis said that three witnesses including one defense witness said that he was moderately depressed.  That’s all.  Moderately depressed.  But that was at a certain point.  And it’s kind of hypocrisy on his part because he made a big deal of how you cannot predict the future, the day that Assange would know that he be extradited or could be a trigger for him to commit suicide.  This is in Baraitser’s ruling from the expert testimony that she accepted.  So you can look in the future.  But here is--here’s Lewis looking in the past and the past is saying at that particular frozen moment, he was moderately depressed.

CH: We should be clear that UC Global who was filming and recording everything, including when we visited Julian, they would take all of our electronic equipment and apparently sweep it.  So they had all that information.  But they were filming and recording all of his meetings with his attorneys, eviscerating attorney-client privilege because they turned it all over to the CIA.  I mean, that alone should invalidate the trial.  I want to talk about, for me the most bizarre aspect of the two days, and that was this constant reliance on Gordon Kromberg, the Assistant Federal Attorney in the Eastern District of New York, who’s quite infamous, has made all sorts of outbursts.  He--I followed was close to Sami Al-Arian, I followed that case.  He talks about fighting against the Islamization of the American courts.  But they used him to paint this bizarre picture of what incarceration would be like for Julian which defies completely the reality of the American prison system, SAMs, which of course, Julian would be under and life in the ADX.  But why don’t we--we’ll do all that when we come back.  When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation about the extradition appeal hearing for Julian Assange with the journalist Joe Lauria.

CH: Welcome back to On Contact.  We continue our conversation about what transpired in the court during the extradition appeal hearing for Julian Assange in London with the journalist Joe Lauria.  So before the break, I was bringing up Gordon Kromberg but he was the sole source, I mean even--at one point, they were talking about crochet classes and I think my favorite term was individual recreation which Fitzgerald called quite a euphemism.  But let’s talk about what they were attempting to do, because it was completely at odds with the reality under which high security detainees are held.

JL: Well, absolutely, Kromberg’s name was mentioned, I think every single day, including in February of 2020.  I was in the courtroom one day in London that day, and they were talking about Kromberg that day, and I think we heard his name every day.  He--they did rely on him.  He--his affidavits is just about all the US had when it came to the prison conditions.  And it was interesting, because on Thursday, Mark Summers, one of the lawyers for Assange pointed out that he never wanted to show up inside the courtroom to be cross-examined.  So here all this evidence was being given by the US side from a man who was safely back in Alexandria, Virginia, and he was not going to go anywhere near that London courtroom.  Summers said, “There was a case--a Russian extradition case where a minister of the Russian government came to testify, came to London.”  So it’s not unusual for government officials to go to London if they want someone as badly as certainly the Americans want Julian Assange to show up and testify but, of course, he didn’t do that.  And that could tarnish the American argument, but I don’t know if it will.  He painted rosy pictures of life inside some of the most horrific jails maybe in the entire world, Chris.  The SAMs is just an extraordinary thing, we have virtually no human contact at all.  You exercise alone in a little cage behind your eight by ten foot room, you only get food shoved through a slot that you--and you have posted.  I think you make one phone call a month, no access to lawyers, meeting materials.  If you get letters, John Kiriakou described it as it, there is a screen, a video screen above you and they will put the letters that you may get, they may flash it across so that you could read it.  But you can’t even handle the letters.  But, you know, it all so swept away because the Americans are now saying that there’s no way he’s going to go to this thing.  So it doesn’t really matter what Kromberg was saying about these horrific places, he’s clearly not telling the truth about them at that stage of the extradition hearing, but now that they’re saying he’s not going to get it, and Lewis was very strong at the end because you see the Assange people are saying that, “It’s too late.  You had to put this in before the judgment.  You can’t suddenly say now, “Oh, now we’re changing the case.”  They’re going to change the game and say, “Well, he’s not going to go to those prisons after all.”  Well, Lewis says that it’s very common in extradition cases to put in the evidence even after, in one case, he cited someone was discharged, someone was freed.  He won.  He was out in the street.  Two weeks later, the evidence came in and they started the extradition hearing over again, or a hearing can be delayed by 14 days in order to get the evidence in.  So he claimed you could put it in at any time and he says the United States will never renege on this diplomatic assurance that they gave the United Kingdom.  There’s no way that he’s going to go into SAMs.  And because Julian Assange, and I’m roughly quoting him, because Mr. Assange knows that he’s not going in there.  And he’s only moderately depressed.  He has nothing to worry about.  And then he tried to fib his way through the sentencing.  He’s saying he’s not getting 175 years, he’s only gonna get maximum 63 months was the worst sentence for anyone with the same charges that Assange is under, namely, the Espionage Act, the Reality Winner case, it took me about an hour to remember, Chelsea Manning got 35 years and that came up in the court on Thursday, he was corrected by that, by the Assange’s lawyers saying there was a 35 year sentence in the Espionage Act.  So he’s trying to say he’s not going to one of these prisons.  He has nothing to worry about.  There’s a--he knows he’s not going to ADX Florence, which is the Colorado Penitentiary, that it seemed like he was going to go to his--if he’s in Alexandria Detention Center, he won’t be off--he won’t be in isolation.  Of course, Assange’s lawyers pointed out where the Americans had broken their word several times and most important cases Abu Hamza, the Imam of the Finsbury Mosque in London, who the United States fought an eight-year extradition battle.  And he had never been accused of a violent crime only of inciting violence.  And they finally got their hands on him and they promised his lawyers, they promised that he would not go into this kind of detention.  And in fact, he has been there for many years now.  This is a man seriously disabled, he’s missing, I think, two hands, his feet, I’m not--he’s missing limbs and he is in a--in a cell where he couldn’t even use the toilet because of his disabilities.  So, can you trust the United States?  I mean, this is what it comes down to.  It’s whether the High Court judges, the two Justices, these are the ones who have to believe.

CH: There’s nothing legally binding about these promises, number one, they also talked about how Julian could serve his sentence in Australia, if Australia requested him.  I mean, I found it, you know, a kind of sleight of hand on the part of Louis and the prosecution.  And so let’s talk about where we’re headed.  If the appeal is granted, what happens?  If the appeal is denied, what happens?

JL: If it’s granted, that means that the Lord Chief Justice Ian Duncan, who was the judge in the Lori Love case, and he overturned an order of extradition, because he said that she was suicidal.  So that raised hopes amongst Assange’ supporters, the other judge Timothy--Chief--Lord Justice Timothy Holroyde actually favored the US on the August 11 hearing that allow the US to even challenge these medical issues.  Initially, the High Court said they couldn’t.  If Assange wins, it’s really an interesting issue.  Well, let me say if the US wins, I don’t think there’s any doubt because I’ve heard Jen Robinson, one of the Assange’s lawyers, say that they will go to the UK Supreme Court.  That’s the next stop.  What’s more interesting is if the US loses and Assange wins.  What will Joe Biden do?  And you go to Joe Biden as Vice-President in 2010 on Meet the Press, and he said, we can’t get Assange unless we can catch him red-handed, I’m paraphrasing, stealing these documents.  If he’s just been handed these documents like you’re a journalist here, the documents, we can’t do anything to him because that’s what all journalists do.  They receive classified material stolen from the US government.  But if we could prove that he was actually involved in the theft then we can get him.  Well, the Obama administration did not prove that and they didn’t indict him.  Now he’s the president now.  What is he going to do?  I don’t know what’s in Joe Biden’s mind when it comes to Julian Assange.  But if he’s sticking to what he said in 2010 he would not want to pursue this in an appeal to the Supreme Court.  However, he’s continued the extradition hearing and the appeal until now, he could’ve dropped this.  I think the reason he can’t drop it, I’m just speculating here, is for the 2016 leaks that hurt Hillary Clinton, that exposed truths about Hillary Clinton.  Those were not lies.  That was not disinformation given by a foreign government that was information.  And it doesn’t matter who gave the documents, because they were true.  That hurt the Democrats so much and they blamed Julian Assange so much so fanatically for Donald Trump, as if Hillary was the best candidate going.  That he would--it would be heresy if he let Julian Assange go.  I think that’s probably the pressure, the political pressure on Biden.  But so far, and he’s probably has pressure from the intelligence agencies, no doubt about that.  They want to get him.  Maybe they don’t want to kill him anymore, but they want to get him.  And that’s up to the Justice Department, Merrick Garland whether to continue an appeal in the Lori Love case, when they dropped--when the appeal was won, and he was not extradited to the US, the US dropped the charges.  But Lori Love is not Julian Assange.  Assange is in a whole different scale of what meaning to the embarrassment, to the exposure of crimes that he committed.  He did the job the mainstream media does not do.  They give cover to so many criminal acts around the world by the United States or dress it all up as spreading democracy and liberating countries.  Assange gave the raw facts about what the US is really doing in the world.  They don’t want people to know that, mainstream media helps them but Assange is the guy that cannot let go.  But Biden is the President and I hope that he will do the right thing and drop the case.

CH: Well, I think the Obama administration hadn’t dealt with Vault 7.  That was a huge leaked that showed that the CIA…

JL: Right.

CH: …used backchannels to hack into everything, virus software, smartphones, smart TVs, cars, and that--Pompeo was the head of the CIA then.  And--so I think it’s a different ballgame now.  And if Assange…

JL: That’s true.

CH: If Assange wins, if the US appeal is rejected, what happens?

JL: If Assange wins, that’s up to Biden again, it’s up to the US whether they want to go to the Supreme Court or drop the case.  That’s what would happen.  If Assange wins, then he could be a free man.  Now, they will probably apply for bail.  In another court, probably back in Westminster Magistrates’ Court and they could lose again because he was deemed a flight risk by Baraitser.  He--she discharged him and then sends him back to Belmarsh, where he still lives Belmarsh Prison.  Thirty months he’s been in there.  So they--Assange could, if he want to bail application could actually walk free but…

CH: But it depends whether they grant bail?

JL: …who knows?

CH: I mean we went through this before.

JL: Yes.

CH: And then they didn’t…

JL: Yes, in America, US rules, yeah, that’s right.

CH: They didn’t grant bail?

JL: No.

CH: So we’re probably looking either way, we’re looking at more legal appeals by either side that will drag this case out for probably many more months, is that correct?

JL: Right.  If the US wants to appeal, the Supreme Court, I think he’s going to wind up back in Belmarsh again.  They will lose the bail here and most likely, if the US decides not to go to the UK Supreme Court that means it’s over.  The case is dropped, he walks free.  And then he’s--that’s it.  He’s not on remand anymore.  He’s only on remand while appeals continue.  If he loses, he will go to the UK Supreme Court and they’ll keep him in jail during that.  Because he lost--no, that’s the situation.  It’s--and then of course, if the Supreme Court whatever way they decide there’s the European Court of Human Rights, that Britain infamously has ignored their rulings over the years, many of them.  But it’s--they’re still subject to the rulings even though they left the European Union.  That’s a different treaty there involved in.  I believe Assange could go there.  And, you know, all this is going to take months and years maybe.  Months and years to finally--as I just mentioned before, Abu Hamza was an eight-year extradition process.  It’s extraordinary.  I mean, I don’t know if this is going to eight years, but it won’t end soon.  Unless the US loses this appeal and drops the case.  That’s the quickest exit for Julian Assange.

CH: Well, and let’s be clear that Julian is deteriorating both physically and mentally the longer he’s incarcerated.  That was Joe Lauria…

JL: He is indeed.

CH: That was Joe Lauria, journalist and Editor-in-Chief of Consortium News talking about the Assange hearing in London this week.


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