Attempts by the US to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are motivated by politics, rather than any genuine concern for justice, a court heard yesterday.
Edward Fitzgerald, representing Julian Assange told Woolwich Crown Court that US governments attempt to extradite Assange was an abuse of power by the US.
During the first day of a five-day hearing Fitzgerald told the court that the US were keen to take extreme measures against Assange.
The ideas discussed included accidently leaving the Embassy doors open to allow the entry and kidnapping of Assange, and the possibility of poisoning him.
Trump drove prosecution against Assange
Fitzgerald said that a decision had been by President Obama, not to prosecute Assange
The administration realised that if it prosecuted Assange for publishing classified documents it would also have to prosecute journalists for similar publications in breach of their first amendment rights.
But in 2017 the US decided to re-open the prosecution, after President Donald Trump came into power.
“President Trump came into to power with the objective to declare war on investigative journalism,” Fitzgerald told the court
He denounced the media as unhinged, totally corrupt and fake news providers and set about whistle-blowers in general, dramatically increasing the number of investigations into journalistic leaks.
“It was against that background that Julian Assange had been made an example of”, said Fitzgerald
In 2017 US secretary of state Mike Pompeo declared Wikileaks a non-state intelligence agency, and declared that Julian Assange had no first amendment rights under the constitution.
The WikiLeaks founder was the “obvious symbol of all that Trump condemned”. He brought US war crimes to the attention of the public, and exposed outrageous even murderous wrongdoing, said Fitzgerald.
Timing of criminal complaint
The timing of the criminal complaint against Assange, issued on 21 December 2017, over a computer misuse offence, is significant, the court heard.
It coincided with the decision of the Ecuadorian Embassy to grant diplomatic status to Assange that could have allowed him to seek asylum overseas.
According to the evidence of witnesses, the US knew that Assange had been granted diplomatic status, and “low and behold on that day the criminal complaint was issued.”
The US ratcheted up the pressure in May 2019, when it issued a superceding indictment that ratcheted up the charges against Assange from computer misuse to serious espionage charges.
According to expert witness for the defence, it is unprecedented for the US to prosecute anyone for the publication of state secrets.
“The decision to reverse this 200 year precedent was a political one,” said Fitzgerald.
It took place just 10 days after Sweden announced its intention to issue and international arrest warrant for Assange’s extradition to the US.
“The inescapable conclusion is the US ratcheted up the charges to ensure their extradition took precedence”
“The whole history is one of political motivation,” he said.
US accused of surveillance of Assange in Ecuador Embassy
The court heard that while he was taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy, Assange’s private conversations were recorded by a private security company allegedly acting on behalf of the US.
In around 2015, David Morales, the owner of security firm, UC Global, returned from a trade fair in Las Vegas with a contract to provide security services to Casino magnate, Sheldon Adelson.
The contract purported to be to provide security for Adelson’s private yacht, but the ship already had extensive security arrangements in place, Fitzgerald told the court.
Morales had a side agreement to provide surveillance services to what was described as the “dark side,” understood to be the US intelligence services.
The court heard that a former employee of the contractor, turned whistle-blower, has revealed that the company installed extensive surveillance equipment in the Embassy.
The whistle-blower, known as Witness 2, said that Assange and his lawyers were priority targets and were subject to special measures.
The company closely monitored Assange’s lawyers, and some of it was captured on tape. Some of the surveillance was as a direct request from the US intelligence services.
The security company uploaded data from visitors to a computer server, which to the direct knowledge of witnesses was accessed by the US.
Video recordings and audio sounds were collected personally by Witness 2 about every 14 days and taken to the US.
Congressman offered Assange deal with Trump
US congressman Dana Rohrabacher visited Assange during his stay at the Ecuadorian Embassy with Charles Johnson a political activist, according to evidence heard in court
“They wanted us to believe they were acting on behalf of Trump,” according to a witness statement by Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s legal counsel.
Rohrabacher wanted to resolve ‘on going speculation about Russia, which he said was damaging.
He suggested that information about the source of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) leaks, would be of interest and value to Trump.
He presented the offer as a win-win for both Trump and Assange, but Assange did not provide any source material.
Rohrabacher last week denied discussing the matter with Trump, and Trump has denied everything, said Fitzgerald. “He would say that wouldn’t he ?”
“We say the Trump administration was prepared to use the threat of extortion to obtain political advange,” said Fitzgerald.
US paid money to Ecuador
The court heard that a large sum of money was provided for capacity building to Ecuador, persuading the county to remove Assange from the Embassy
After he was ejected, his confidential papers were illegally taken by the US. His lawyers have been unable to recover them, the court heard.
“We say it is not good enough to say that oh, if we did that, we won’t use it. It is an abuse of power,” said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald said that US claims that Assange had published unredacted documents that put people at risk where untrue.
“It is completely misleading to suggest that it was Julian Assange and Wikileaks to disclose unredacted names. They were only published after they were published by others who have never faced prosecution,” he said.
Every attempt was made at redaction, the court heard. In the case of the Iraq war documents, Wikileaks used an auto redaction tool, that removed names, but rendered he documents almost unreadable. With the embassy cables, Wikleaks published documents that had already been redacted by the Times and other newspapers.
The case continues
Read more about the case:
WikiLeaks founder Assange ‘put lives at risk’ by disclosing names in leaked documents, court hears
US ‘breached due process’ in spying operation against Julian Assange’s lawyers