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UK: Ist day of trial for Julian Assange: Trump administration targeting ’enemy of America’ Julian Assange, court told

Trump wants to ’make an example’ of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, court told

Monday 24 February 2020, by siawi3

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/feb/24/julian-assange-hearing-journalism-is-no-excuse-for-breaking-law

Trump administration targeting ’enemy of America’ Julian Assange, court told

WikiLeaks founder’s life is at risk if he is extradited to US, judge in London hears

Amid the din, Assange struggles to hear the case against him

Ben Quinn

Mon 24 Feb 2020 19.29 GMT
First published on Mon 24 Feb 2020 10.41 GMT

Demonstrators outside Woolwich crown court. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

Donald Trump’s administration is targeting Julian Assange as “an enemy of the America who must be brought down” and his very life could be at risk if he is sent to face trial in the US, the first day of the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition hearing has been told.

Lawyers for Assange intend to call as a witness a former employee of a Spanish security company who says surveillance was carried out for the US on Assange while he was at Ecuador’s London embassy and that conversations had turned to potentially kidnapping or poisoning him.

This was an indication of the danger which Assange faced were he to be extradited to a state “prepared to consider such extreme measures”, Edward Fitzgerald QC told Woolwich crown court in south-east London.

The case against extradition, which Assange’s lawyers oppose on a range of grounds including that it contravenes the UK-US treaty by being “politically motivated”, was laid out after a barrister for US authorities said secret sources who supplied information to the US government “disappeared” after they were put at risk of death or torture by WikiLeaks’s release of classified documents.

Assange, 48, is wanted in the US to face 18 charges of attempted hacking and breaches of the Espionage Act. They relate to the publication a decade ago of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and files covering areas including US activities in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Australian, who could face a 175-year prison sentence if found guilty, is accused of working with the former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to leak classified documents.

The case is set to continue on Tuesday and over the course of this week, when some witnesses are expected to give evidence anonymously, potentially from behind screens.

James Lewis QC, acting for US authorities, told the court: “The US is aware of sources, whose unredacted names and other identifying information was contained in classified documents published by WikiLeaks, who subsequently disappeared, although the US can’t prove at this point that their disappearance was the result of being outed by WikiLeaks.”

By disseminating material in an unredacted form, Lewis said, Assange had knowingly put human rights activists, dissidents, journalists and their families at risk of serious harm in states run by oppressive regimes.

Courtroom sketch of Julian Assange (left). Photograph: Reuters

Sitting at the back of the court and dressed in a grey blazer, grey sweater and white shirt with reading glasses perched on his head, Assange stood up shortly before lunchtime to tell the judge, Vanessa Baraitser, that he was having difficulty hearing amid the noise of chanting from hundreds of supporters outside.

“I am having difficulty concentrating and this noise is not helpful,” he said. “I understand and am very appreciative of the public support. I do understand they must be disgusted by these proceedings.”

Assange’s counsel delivered a barrage of arguments against extradition, including that Assange would be exposed to cruel and degrading treatment in a maximum-security prison.

Fitzgerald added that Prof Michael Kopelman, a distinguished forensic psychiatrist and expert witness for the defence, had said: “I am as confident as a psychiatrist can ever be that, if extradition to the United States were to become imminent, Mr Assange would find a way of suiciding.”

Other key parts of the evidence related to the claim, which emerged last week, that a then US Republican congressman offered Assange a pardon if he denied Russian involvement in the leaking of US Democratic party emails during the 2016 US presidential contest.

The court was told that Dana Rohrabacher, who claims to have made the proposal on his own initiative, had presented it as a “win-win” scenario that would allow Assange to leave the embassy and get on with his life. Assange was also said to have been asked to reveal the source of the leaks and rejected this overture.

Supporters of Julian Assange call for his freedom outside court. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Fitzgerald was scathing of the US president and referred back to WikiLeaks revelations such as video of US soldiers shooting unarmed civilians from a helicopter and the torture of detainees in Iraq. he added: “Such revelations obviously put him in the sights of the aggressive ‘America first’ ideologues of the Trump administration.”

Earlier, Lewis said that journalism was not an excuse for breaking laws. He took the court through a number of details about documents relating to sources which the US alleges were put at risk. One had supplied information about an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in Iraq. Another was named in a 2008 US state department cable discussing issues relating to ethnic conflict in China.

Lewis said he wanted to emphasise: “He is not charged with disclosure of embarrassing or awkward information that the government would rather not have have disclosed.”

Earlier, Lewis referred to a report in the Guardian from September 2011, which said WikiLeaks had published its full archive of 251,000 secret US diplomatic cables, without redactions, potentially exposing thousands of individuals named in the documents to detention or harm.

He went on to describe how the move had been strongly condemned by WikiLeaks’ five previous media partners – the Guardian, the New York Times, El País, Der Spiegel and Le Monde – who had worked with the site publishing carefully selected and redacted documents.

The case against extradition counters that it is misleading to suggest Assange and WikiLeaks were responsible for the disclosure of unredacted names to the public. They say he took every step to prevent the disclosure of unredacted names, and WikiLeaks only published unredacted materials after they had been published in full by others.

Assange has been held on remand in Belmarsh prison since last September after serving a jail sentence for breaching bail conditions. He sought refuge in Ecuador’s embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was accused of sexual offences, which he denied.

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Source: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/02/24/europe/assange-extradition-hearing-intl-gbr/index.html

Trump wants to ’make an example’ of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, court told

By Milena Veselinovic, Claudia Rebaza and Amy Woodyatt, CNN

Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT) February 24, 2020


Photo:
Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Embassy Of Ecuador on May 19, 2017 in London, England.

Is Julian Assange a criminal or a champion for transparency? (2019) 03:24

London (CNN)US President Donald Trump is trying to “make an example” of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder’s defense team argued in a London court Monday at the start of his extradition hearing.
By publishing a trove of classified defense documents relating to Iraq and Afghanistan, Assange had revealed evidence of war crimes, his legal team said.
Lawyers for the US government argued that by publishing the diplomatic cables in an unredacted form, Assange had put the lives of sources and informants in “immediate” danger, and damaged the capabilities of US forces carrying out operations abroad,

Assange, 48, was arrested on a US extradition warrant in April last year at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he had lived since claiming asylum there in 2012.
He faces 18 charges in the US for his alleged role in encouraging, receiving and publishing classified documents linked to national defense. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 175 years in jail.

Counsel for the US government, James Lewis, told Woolwich Crown Court, that Assange could not use journalism as an excuse for hacking. “Reporting or journalism is not a license for criminality,” Lewis told the court. In any case, Assange was not entitled claim a journalism defense, as he was not a journalist, Lewis argued.

Lewis said Assange had previously conceded that the publication of names was regrettable. But the lawyer said that “what is alleged is far more than regrettable — it’s criminal.”
Lewis told the court that the charges against Assange were not linked to his publication of evidence of any war crimes, but instead related to “publishing specific classified documents that contained unredacted names of innocent people who risked their safety and freedom to aid United States and its allies.”

Photo: Supporters Julian Assange outside Woolwich Crown Court on Monday.

Representing Assange, lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said asking for extradition on the basis of what was “clearly” a political case was an abuse of the court’s process.
“Julian Assange is being made an example of. President Trump and his administration decided to make an example of Julian Assange,” Fitzgerald said, adding that Assange’s actions had brought evidence of war crimes to public attention.

Trump in 2016: ’I love WikiLeaks,’ Trump now: ’I know nothing about WikiLeaks’

At a preliminary hearing last week, Fitzgerald said that former US congressman Dana Rohrabacher had offered the WikiLeaks founder a pardon on behalf of President Trump, in exchange for denying Russian involvement in the leak of emails from the Democratic National Committee in 2016. Wikileaks published the emails in July that year.
The White House and Rohrabacher have strongly denied that Trump intervened in Assange’s case. Rohrabacher has previously said the visit was “my own fact finding mission,” and claimed he had never spoken to Trump about Assange. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham dismissed Fitzgerald’s claim as “a total lie.”

On Monday, Fitzgerald told the court that Rohrabacher had approached Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy and discussed a “preemptive pardon.”
The former congressman was accompanied on the visit by controversial conservative blogger Charles “Chuck” Johnson. The pair made it clear that they were acting on behalf of the President, who had approved of the meeting, Fitzgerald said.
Assange’s defense team said Rohrbacher presented what he called a “win-win” solution, whereby Assange could identify the source of the DNC hack in return for a pardon.
Assange did not identify the source, Fitzgerald said.

Photo: John Shipton, father of Julian Assange, speaks to media outside at Belmarsh prison prior to his son’s extradition hearing.

Assange’s father John Shipton and WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson were in the public gallery for the start of the extradition hearing on Monday.
Chants of “no extradition” from the crowd of Assange supporters gathered outside could be clearly heard inside the courtroom.

During Monday’s proceedings, judge Vanessa Baraitser asked counsel to pass a message to the protesters outside, warning them they risked harming the case because journalists — especially those who didn’t make it into the courtroom — were struggling to hear the proceedings.
“I’m having difficulty concentrating, this noise is not helpful either,” said Assange, who appeared in court wearing a gray suit, white shirt and gray sweater.
“I’m very appreciative of the public support and understand they must be disgusted by these proceedings,” he added.

The extradition hearing is expected to last several weeks.
Assange, an Australian citizen, has been held at London’s high-security Belmarsh prison since his arrest.

CNN’s Maegan Vazquez, Livvy Doherty, Claudia Rebaza and Angela Dewan contributed to this report.