On Contact: Assange can appeal UK Supreme Court
Chris Hedges discusses the implications of the latest British High Court of England and Wales ruling and its implications for Julian Assange’s case with documentary filmmaker and journalist John Pilger.
The British High Court of England and Wales on Monday said it would allow the imprisoned publisher of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, to, in essence, appeal a ruling that would have seen him extradited to the United States where he faces a possible 175 years in prison for the publication of classified documents and videos.
The High Court technically refused to allow an appeal to the Supreme Court, but, in a legal loophole, it left it up to that court to determine whether it will grant permission to consider one legal issue.
“We certify a single point of law … in what circumstances can an appellate court receive assurances from a requesting state which were not before the court of first instance in extradition proceedings,” the High Court said in an appearance that lasted less than a minute.
This single point of law refers to whether the United States was legally permitted to provide assurances to the High Court of Assange’s humane treatment in the United States after it had failed to do so during the initial hearing that blocked the extradition. During a Dec. 10 hearing, which vacated the ruling by District Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser in January 2021, the high court accepted the appeal by the US to approve the extradition. Baraitser had ruled that Assange could not be extradited because of inhumane conditions in US prisons that would make Assange, who suffers from physical and mental health issues, a suicide risk. The United States, in its appeal of her ruling, gave assurances that Assange would receive adequate medical and psychological care and would not be subject to measures commonly used in high-profile cases such as prolonged isolation and Special Administrative Measures, known as SAMs, which impose draconian rules limited any communication and allows the government to monitor meetings with attorneys in violation of attorney-client privilege.
It is now up to the British Supreme Court, if it accepts the appeal, to decide this one issue – could the US offer assurances after Judge Baraitser had ruled against extradition. Assange has 14 days to apply to the British Supreme Court to hear his case.
The US effort to extradite Assange, who is not a US citizen, has been widely condemned by human rights and press groups including Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, PEN International, and Reporters Without Borders, which call the persecution of Assange an existential threat to press freedom.
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CH: Welcome to On Contact. Today we discuss the latest court ruling in the case of Julian Assange with the documentary filmmaker and journalist, John Pilger.
JP: This is a straightforward case. This is a man who revealed, as you have and I have and other journalists have, secrets of government. Only in this case, he reveals so many of them and so many dire secrets, they decided to shut him up and to shut down WikiLeaks. It's a wholly vindictive prosecution. And I sat in--I sat and listened to the decision in December. It was almost unbelievable to hear them not even--well, to turn down the--to agree with the US' right to appeal but to ignore a year and a half of evidence and evidence that was so damning against the US that, you know, there are so many points on which this whole case should have been thrown out.
CH: The British High Court of England and Wales on Monday said it would allow the imprisoned publisher of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, to, in essence, appeal a ruling that would have seen him extradited to the United States where he faces a possible 175 years in prison for the publication of classified documents and videos. The High Court technically refused to allow an appeal to the Supreme Court, but, in a legal loophole, it left it up to that court to determine whether it would grant permission to consider one legal issue. "We certify a single point of law in what circumstances can an appellate court receive assurances from a requesting state which were not before the court of first instance in extradition proceedings," the High Court said in an appearance that lasted less than a minute. This single point of law refers to whether the United States was legally permitted to provide assurances to the High Court of Assange's humane treatment in the United States after it had failed to do so during the initial hearing that blocked the extradition. During a December 10th hearing, which vacated the ruling by District Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser in January 2021, the High Court accepted the appeal by the United States to approve the extradition. Baraitser had ruled that Assange could not be extradited because of inhumane conditions in US prisons that would make Assange, who suffers from physical and mental health issues, a suicide risk. The United States, in its appeal of her ruling, gave assurances that Assange would receive adequate medical and psychological care and would not be subject to measures commonly used in high-profiled cases such as prolonged isolation and Special Administrative Measures, known as SAMs, which impose draconian rules, limits any communication, and allows the government to monitor meetings with attorneys and their clients in violation of attorney-client privilege. It is now up to the British Supreme Court, if it accepts the appeal, to decide this one issue, could the US offer assurances after Judge Baraitser had ruled against extradition? Assange has 14 days to apply to the British Supreme Court to hear his case. The US effort to extradite Assange, who is not a US citizen, has been widely condemned by human rights groups and press groups, including Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, PAN International, and Reporters Without Borders, which called the persecution of Assange an existential threat to press freedom. Joining me to discuss Monday's ruling and its implications is the documentary filmmaker and journalist, John Pilger. So, John, before we back off and talk about the egregious violations I feel and you feel of law itself in this case, let's just parse what's--what happened on Monday and what it means.
JP: What that means is--in my view, is that the most powerful judge in England and Wales, and that's the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett and his sidekick, Chief Justice Holroyde, I think realized they've gone too far on December the 10th. That decision was so grotesque, it said in effect there is no due process because the US had given these so-called assurances in a diplomatic note. They weren't part of the Lower Courts' proceedings upon which the whole appeal was based. They were--they were a last-minute scrambled note given to the British government. "Look, don't worry, we wouldn't drop him in--into a penal hellhole. It's okay. However, we reserve the right to change our mind." They were only sentences apart. It's--to say it's Orwellian is--it goes beyond normal. Now, the two judges in December agreed with that. They even used the terms solemn undertaking between the two governments. This is laughable. You and I know about solemn undertakings between governments, and especially with the US government. But here, the US is even saying, "We're not going to keep to a solemn undertaking." So it--around in circles we go. My take on this is that they realized that they've gone just a little bit too far. They dismissed the whole appeal without considering the--a year and a half of evidence in the Lower Court, damning evidence, that described the war crimes that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks had revealed. And the whole reason that he's being--they want to get their hands on him is that he's exposed them. That's all. It's a journalistic reason, straightforward. It's simple. But these judges realized that this may have just gone too far, I think, and have backpedaled slightly. It's not--it's a win for the Assange defense. There's no doubt about that. But whether--as you've mentioned, whether the Supreme Court will actually accept an appeal, it's so arcane because what happens then if they don't accept an appeal? Is that the whole thing goes back to the Lower Court where it spent a year and a half, producing all the evidence, which was not mentioned in the appeal. Goes back to the Lower Court, and Julian's defense lawyers can then appeal to the High Court, go back to the High Court on the basis of everything else that was discussed there, which I think would be extremely interesting except the time is going by and Julian is sitting in a cell. He's not well. He's particularly not well at the moment. This could go on for a year or two years as it bounces back to the High Court, even back to the Supreme Court. But, of course, it bounces backwards and forwards and, of course, time is lost. That's all deliberate in my view. Somehow, the US and the UK are going to crush Julian Assange. They hope--they hope. He has some very good lawyers that have sort of tested the will of the state to do what they think is their right and that is to crush this journalist. So we now move--we now move a few--a few inches forward to--possibly to the Supreme Court. Supreme Court may surprise us, A, by accepting the appeal and, B, by finding in his favor. In my recollection, they don't usually deal with extradition cases so they have got to get out as well. It's a maze, Chris. It's arcane. It's filled with these so-called technicalities. But we know what they are. They're smoke and mirrors. This is a straightforward case. This is a man who revealed, as you have and I have and other journalists have, secrets of government. Only in this case, he reveals so many of them and so many dire secrets, they decided to shut him up and to shut down WikiLeaks. It's a wholly vindictive prosecution. And I sat in--I sat and listened to the decision in December. It was almost unbelievable to hear them, not even--well, to turn down the--to agree with the US' right to appeal but to ignore a year and a half of evidence and evidence that was so damning against the US that, you know, the--there are so many points on which this whole case should have been thrown out. The witness, the FBI informer, codenamed Teenager, not all that long ago, he revealed, confessed I suppose, that he fabricated his evidence. He turns out to be a fraudster and a liar. Well, that's--he's one of the main witnesses. Now, on the basis of that, my understanding of due process, the whole thing should have been thrown out. And that's what it comes back to, due process. Julian has been denied due process. It seems like due process, but the--perhaps the judicial innocent coming to this case, or the political innocent, or naive coming to this case, it seems like there is a due process. There is not a due process. Vanessa Baraitser, the District Judge in her court, the Lower Court, and I sat through most of them, was so contemptuous of due process. But the defense, when it finally reached the Old Bailey, the defense were given far less time than the prosecution to put Julian's case. Her decisions appear to be preordained. I understood that the judge is meant to listen to the prosecution and the defense and make up her or his mind. Judge Baraitser seem to read most of her decisions from her laptop. Other times when Julian was brought into the court, he was so devastated by the conditions in which he was being held at Belmarsh Prison and by the medication he was being given. At least on one occasion, he could barely remember his name. This makes a mockery of due process and puts it into the--a whole area of a--something that’s Kafkaesque, and this latest move, although obviously it's seen as positive by the defense team, we'll let's see where it goes. I'm not too hopeful.
CH: Well, they argue about these minor technicalities while you see global, the security--Spanish security firm passed on all recordings, the surreptitious recordings of all the meetings between Julian and his attorneys. I don't know the British legal system but certainly within the American legal system, that invalidates the trial.
JP: Yes. Yes. And it's the same here. It would invalidate the trial. Again, that's the other one. The whole--the whole revelations of UC Global where they were eavesdropping on Julian's lawyers, on his doctors, on everybody, people like you and me who happen to visit Julian, everybody. And--but particularly the lawyers. So they knew what his case--what preparations he and his lawyers were making. That would have wiped it out. It's the same here, but it was ignored.
CH: Yeah. Well, that's what's so amazing, that on the--on the major issues, they remain mute and on the technicalities, they quibble. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with the documentary filmmaker and journalist, John Pilger, about the case against Julian Assange. Welcome back to On contact. We continue our conversation about the latest British High Court ruling on Julian Assange's extradition with the journalist and documentary filmmaker, John Pilger. So, John, it did come out in the trial, it was absolutely heartbreaking especially for those of us who know and care about Julian, about what his physical and mental condition is. He has contemplated suicide. There was talk about him banging his head against the wall. I think--can you paint, as much as we know, a picture of the deterioration which I think you and I both believe is quite intentional?
JP: Yes. I believe it's intentional. If it wasn't intentional, he wouldn't be in Belmarsh Prison. I don't know whether Belmarsh is Britain's Guantanamo as it's sometimes called, but it's certainly the--it certainly has a draconian regime that is well-known. And many of the prisoners there are prisoners who have committed the most serious crimes, crimes of terrorism, murder, and so on. Julian has been in Belmarsh almost three years, having committed no crime, having been charged with no crime. Bail has been automatically refused. My view is they are keeping him in Belmarsh because the regime in Belmarsh suits their intentions. You know, when I--I haven't seen Julian for, oh, over a year eighteen months, but when I last saw him in Belmarsh, I found his condition quite shocking. He lost something like 15 kilos. His arms were like sticks. He was telling me of--you mentioned about how it had come out that he banged his head against the wall. Well, he told me that he set out to run the equivalent of 10 kilometers in his cell. That's like a--that's like a mouse in a treadmill, backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards. He said, "I try to do that to keep sane." The first thing he said when I first saw him was, "I think I'm losing my mind in here." And I had to reassure him that it wasn't, because the extraordinary thing about Julian is his intellectual resilience. But that has clearly taken the most hideous battering, especially since the pandemic emergency when all they did at Belmarsh was just lock them up permanently. The few--the few privileges they had, perhaps going to the library and some exercise and so on, were taken away. Some of these have been restored for periods of time but not much. It's a--it's--all prisons are pretty awful but this is--this is even worse. And to have an innocent man on--a journalist being accused--his crime is journalism, I mean, that sounds like a slogan but it's not. It is a crime of journalism. He and WikiLeaks revealed--performed the most extraordinary public service by revealing to the world how the United States fights its wars, its colonial wars, how it adopts a homicidal attitude, and--in practice, towards the people whose country it's invaded, how the CIA spy on us through our televisions and phones and all that. This is information that people in so-called democracies have a right to. That's his crime. We have to keep saying that over and over again, otherwise these rather venal technicalities that consume this case, whether or not the High Court is going to certify on this particular point whether it's arguable to go to the--to the Supreme Court and so on. Well, there's one word I would say to that and I won't say it. But it's just obfuscation. Obfuscation. The very thing that good journalism is the enemy of. And that's what--and that's what WikiLeaks' journalism and Julian's journalism did. It revealed. It went through the smokescreens of government. And it reveals so much. And, of course, that's why they want to crush him. And, you know, if they keep going like this, Julian stays in Belmarsh without a great deal of hope perhaps, then perhaps they'll get their wish. His father certainly believes that. I don't know whether that will happen but I can't imagine myself in the same position. It requires the strongest person to endure this torture, and it has been identified as torture.
CH: We should be clear Julian had a stroke in October...
JP: Yes. Yes.
CH: ...so his physical, not just his psychological state--he--in the court proceedings, it came out that he was hallucinating. But his physical--and you talked about his weight loss, but he is in very, very precarious health now.
JP: Yeah. He had a stroke. And, you know, even that doesn't seem right. I don't know whether he had a cardiac weakness, but Julian is a--always struck me as a rather physically robust man when I knew him before he went into Belmarsh. So has the stroke been brought on by these conditions? I don't know. But it certainly must have exacerbated. Is he getting the treatment that he needs? He certainly didn't in the beginning. That's certain. Perhaps he is now. I don't know. Even his lawyers still have difficulty finding out about Julian's--the conditions under which Julian is being held.
CH: Julian made it very clear to Nils Melzer, the special rapporteur on torture for the United Nations, that if he was extradited, he would kill himself. He said that explicitly to Melzer. That's suicide. The potential of suicide is something that District Court Judge Baraitser took quite seriously and why she overruled, coupled with the prison conditions, the extradition. Do you think the attempt to destroy Julian physically is because, at some level, both the UK and the United States know that they don't really have a legal case against Julian?
JP: That's part of it. I agree with that. That's part of it. Certainly. They don't have a legal case. And while the--Julian's, let's say, collaborators in the Iraq and Afghanistan war diaries, The New York Times, and The Guardian, and the El Pais, and Der Spiegel, while they keep silent, and they've kept pretty well silent, why they don't stand up to a system that really, in principle, should be aimed at them as well. They published the same revelations, same shocking revelations. Those editors are as much culpable surely in law as Julian. I think--I mean, that's no doubt why the Obama didn't pursue. I think he made it clear that he didn't pursue prosecution of Julian because he didn't want to take on the New York Times and the liberal press, but it's--it leaves Julian in almost a legal, a judicial isolation. All those organizations you described in your preamble, yes, they do support him but they've come in reasonably late in the day. That's okay perhaps. But he's isolated. He doesn't have the big guns beside him. Yes, The New York Times has produced, like The Guardian, the weasel words in support of Julian's case but not really. So he's alone. And that--you know, when I say these colleagues, you know, you have to consider this. You may not agree with some of the revelations or--I don't see why not personally but you may not. But this is basic journalism. And The Guardian and The New York Times, particularly The Guardian, did very well out of Julian Assange. They collected all sorts of awards. They were able to lift their cover price. They got various Hollywood contracts and a lot of distinction and turned on him at the same time. Why? Julian--what Julian did has shamed modern journalism. There's no doubt in my mind. He's--he said, "This is how the club works." And his--its raw, authentic journalism. In one way, it's really encouraging. It shows how powerful journalism can be, but the price Julian is paying for that is just extraordinary.
CH: Great. We'll leave it there. That was the documentary filmmaker and journalist, John Pilger, on the Julian Assange case.
JP: Thank you, Chris.