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Rights groups react to Assange verdict

Press freedom, human rights, free speech, and digital privacy organizations have been sounding the alarm over the prosecution and attempted extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange ever since his arrest in April 2019. Now a district court judge in London has ruled against extraditing him from the United Kingdom to the United States purely on medical grounds, while accepting nearly all of the U.S.’s dangerous arguments that would criminalize basic journalistic activity — the very arguments these rights groups have warned about. Just two days later, the same judge denied bail for Assange, so he remains in British custody as the U.S. appeals the verdict.

Amnesty International

On the extradition ruling:

We welcome the fact that Julian Assange will not be sent to the USA, but this does not absolve the UK from having engaged in this politically-motivated process at the behest of the USA and putting media freedom and freedom of expression on trial.

On the subsequent denial of bail for Assange:

“Today’s decision to refuse Julian Assange’s bail application renders his ongoing detention ‘arbitrary’, and compounds the fact that he has endured punishing conditions in high security detention at Belmarsh prison for more than a year,” said Nils Muižnieks, Amnesty International’s Europe Director.

“Rather than finally going home with his loved ones and sleeping in his own bed for the first time in almost ten years, Julian Assange will be driven back to his solitary cell in a high security prison.”

Knight First Amendment Institute of Columbia

Jameel Jaffer, Executive Director:

“This is a victory for Assange, but it’s not an uncomplicated victory for press freedom. The court makes clear that it would have granted the U.S. extradition request if not for concerns about Assange’s mental health, and about the severe conditions in which the U.S. would likely imprison him. In other words, the court endorses the U.S. prosecution even as it rejects the U.S. extradition request. The result is that the U.S. indictment of Assange will continue to cast a dark shadow over investigative journalism. Of particular concern are the indictment’s counts that focus on pure publication—the counts that charge Assange with having violated the Espionage Act merely by publishing classified secrets. Those counts are an unprecedented attack on press freedom, one calculated to deter journalists and publishers from exercising rights that the First Amendment should be understood to protect.”

Freedom of the Press Foundation

Executive director Trevor Timm:

Today’s ruling is a huge sigh of relief for anyone who cares about press freedom. While the judge’s opinion contains many worrying assertions that disregard journalists’ rights, her rejection of the Trump administration’s extradition request means the US government likely won’t be able to obtain any precedent that would criminalize common newsgathering and publishing practices. And that is a very good thing.

American Civil Liberties Union

Ben Wizner, director of the speech, privacy and technology project:

“National security investigative journalism in the crosshairs. The job of an investigative journalist is to publish government secrets,” Ben Wizner, the director of the speech, privacy and technology project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said.

“I think what hasn’t gotten enough attention is this idea that the US secrecy laws can bind foreign journalists and publishers,” Wizner added. “That’s a very, very dangerous precedent. I hope that this court’s decision on the charges doesn’t become the decision that people look to in future cases.”

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Executive Director Cindy Cohn:

“We are relieved that District Judge Vanessa Baraitser made the right decision to reject extradition of Mr. Assange and, despite the U.S. government’s initial statement, we hope that the U.S. does not appeal that decision. The UK court decision means that Assange will not face charges in the United States, which could have set dangerous precedent in two ways. First, it could call into question many of the journalistic practices that writers at the New York Times, the Washington Post, Fox News, and other publications engage in every day to ensure that the American people stay informed about the operations of their government. Investigative journalism—including seeking, analyzing and publishing leaked government documents, especially those revealing abuses—has a vital role in holding the U.S. government to account. It is, and must remain, strongly protected by the First Amendment. Second, the prosecution, and the judge’s decision, embraces a theory of computer crime that is overly broad — essentially criminalizing a journalist for discussing and offering help with basic computer activities like use of rainbow tables and scripts based on wget, that are regularly used in computer security and elsewhere.

While we applaud this decision, it does not erase the many years Assange has been dogged by prosecution, detainment, and intimidation for his journalistic work. It also does not erase the government’s arguments that, as in so many other cases, attempts to cast a criminal pall over routine actions because they were done with a computer. We are still reviewing the judge’s opinion and expect to have additional thoughts once we’ve completed our analysis.”

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Featured Hearing Coverage

Judge denies bail for Julian Assange

Two days after blocking Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser has denied Assange’s bail application, keeping him in custody at HMP Belmarsh while the U.S. appeals the decision. 

Lawyers for Assange today argued to release Assange immediately, saying he would accept stringent conditions including house arrest. Defense lawyer Ed Fitzgerald said the “natural consequences” of the judge’s ruling on Monday, which ordered Assange’s discharge, “must be that he regains his liberty, at least conditionally.”

Fitzgerald argued that since October 2019, Assange has been detained solely on the basis of the U.S. extradition request. Now that the judge has ruled against extradition, there is no more reason to keep him in prison. Fitzgerald noted that outgoing U.S. prosecutor Zachary Terwilliger, reacting to the blocking of Assange’s extradition, told the press yesterday that he wasn’t even sure if the incoming Biden administration intends to continue its prosecution of Assange. 

“It will be very interesting to see what happens with this case,” Terwilliger said. “There’ll be some decisions to be made. Some of this does come down to resources and where you’re going to focus your energies.”

Fitzgerald also argued that Assange must be released for his own safety. Belmarsh has seen a spike in COVID19 cases in December, and a fellow inmate has recently committed suicide. 

Finally, Fitzgerald said Assange should be freed for “broader reasons of humanity,” to finally be allowed physical contact with his family—his partner and their two young children. 

Prosecutor Clair Dobbin, acting for the U.S., said that the denial of Assange’s extradition, based on mental health grounds — the judge ruled it would be unjust and oppressive” to extradite Assange due to the high risk of suicide — “hangs by a single thread.” Dobbin said that Assange’s seeking of asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London shows his determination to avoid U.S. extradition, and she noted WikiLeaks’ assistance of whistleblower Edward Snowden as he sought asylum after disclosing NSA documents to journalists.

Judge Baraitser ruled that because the U.S. has signaled its intent to appeal the case, “As far as Mr Assange is concerned, this case is not yet resolved.” She noted Assange has previously shown willingness to “abscond”, and said she finds the conditions at Belmarsh “bear no resemblance” to those she found he would endure if sent to the United States. The judge denied Assange’s bail application and proceedings concluded.

The United States now has 13 more days to formally submit its appeal of the extradition decision, and the U.K.’s High Court will decide whether to hear the case.

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Featured

Judge blocks extradition of Julian Assange, finding that abusive U.S. prison system wouldn’t protect him from suicide

An amazing day for Julian, but the judge’s ruling is extremely ominous for press freedom

LONDON — January 4, 2021

A British magistrate today ruled against the U.S. government’s request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for his reporting of leaks from U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

Judge Vanessa Baraitser began today’s hearing by spending more than half an hour rejecting Julian’s arguments and siding with the United States on virtually every aspect of the case. Then, in a shocking turn of events, Baraitser agreed with the defense team’s arguments regarding his mental health and the cruelty of the U.S. prison system. In particular, Baraitser ruled that it would be unjust to subject Julian to “Special Administrative Measures,” which would likely result in his suicide.

The ruling is a mixed blessing. WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said “It is a win for Julian Assange, but it is not necessarily a win for journalism.” Despite ultimately ruling against extradition, Baraitser’s other findings raise serious concerns about the future of press freedom. 

Assange’s partner, Stella Moris, spoke outside the courtroom following the ruling. Stella says that she has longed for Julian to return home, and while that day isn’t today, “that day will come soon.” She said that it is concerning that the U.S. has said it will appeal and that it hasn’t withdrawn the indictment. “We will never accept that journalism is a crime, in this country or any other,” she said. “Julian’s freedom is coupled to all our freedoms.”

Among Baraitser’s more ominous findings:

  • Assange’s conduct “went beyond that of a journalist”
  • The release of unredacted diplomatic cables was “indiscriminate”
  • There was insufficient evidence that the charges were “pressurized” by the Trump Administration and instead showed healthy internal debate.
  • The UK Extradition Act should take precedence over the U.S.-UK Extradition Treaty, and the former removed the clause barring extradition for political offenses.
  • The charges against Assange in the U.S. would be considered offenses in the UK.
  • Challenges of the U.S. prosecution’s “overbroadness” and “vagueness” should be made in a U.S. court, not adjudicated in the UK. The judge found no reason to think Assange wouldn’t have constitutional rights when tried in the U.S. — despite ample evidence that the U.S. intends to argue that the Assange lacks First Amendment rights. Baraitser ruled that: “This court trusts that a U.S. court will properly consider Mr Assange’s constitutional right to free speech.”

The judge’s ruling calls for Julian to be immediately “discharged.” The U.S. government immediately requested that Julian be kept in custody while they appeal; the defense requested his immediate release. After a recess, the court reconvened and scheduled a bail hearing for Wednesday, Jan. 6. Julian will remain at HMP Belmarsh until that time.

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Featured Hearing Coverage

Julian Assange Extradition hearing: District Court Ruling

January 4, 2021

Judge blocks the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States, ruling the abusive U.S. prison system could not protect him from suicide

In a ruling in which she accepted nearly every argument from U.S. government, Judge Vanessa Baraitser agreed with the defense’s claims that the U.S. prison conditions Assange would face if he were extradited, including solitary confinement, Special Administrative Measures, and extreme restrictions at ADX Florence, would drive Assange to suicide. She ruled it would therefore be unjust to extradite Assange to the U.S. and ordered his release. 

The U.S. will appeal the decision.

Judge Baraitser summarized her lengthy opinion and the arguments at issue, siding with the prosecution at virtually every step, upholding dangerous arguments that would undermine the First Amendment protections of a free press. The judge ruled:

  • The U.K. Extradition Act should take precedence over the U.S.-U.K. Extradition Treaty, and the former removed the clause barring extradition for political offenses
  • The charges against Assange in the U.S. would be considered offenses in the U.S.
  • Assange’s conduct “went beyond that of a journalist” in agreeing to help Chelsea Manning crack a password and in telling her that “curious eyes never run dry,” encouraging her to leak more files
  • The release of unredacted cables was “indiscriminate”
  • Defense arguments about Assange’s political opinions were “extraneous”
  • There was insufficient evidence that the charges were “pressurized” by the Trump Administration and instead showed healthy internal debate
  • Though the intelligence community has harshly criticized WikiLeaks, it doesn’t speak for the administration 
  • It isn’t the UK court’s place to comment on the case of UC Global spying on Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy, as it doesn’t have access to court documents in the case against UC Global in Spain
  • Assange’s prospective jury pool in the Eastern District of Virginia would come from a large county, can’t prove it would only be ex-national security and ex-military officials
  • Challenges of the U.S. prosecution’s “overbroadness” and “vagueness” should be made in a U.S. court, not adjudicated here, no reason to think Assange wouldn’t have constitutional rights when tried in the U.S. — “This court trusts that a US court will properly consider Mr Assange’s constitutional right to free speech”
  • On whether it would be oppressive to extradite: I accepted Prof Kopelman opinion that Mr Assange suffers from a recurrent depressive disorder, that Assange has suicidal ideation, and would be ‘single-minded’ in attempt to end his life
  • Potential conditions in a US prison: CIA views Assange as hostile, still a security risk; Assange likely to be sent to ADX Florence, would be held in serious isolation
  • The purpose of Special Administrative Measures is to minimize communications, and prisoners have extreme limitations. These conditions were considered by all experts to have deleterious impact on Assange’s mental health
  • Mr Assange has the intellect and determination to follow through with suicidal ideation
  • Therefore I rule it would be unjust to extradite Mr Assange. The US has the right to appeal.

The judge has ruled Assange should be discharged. The U.S. government asks for him to be kept in custody while they appeal; the defense requests his immediate release.

Defense lawyer Ed Fitzgerald said that the judgement itself, ruling Assange should be discharged, constitutes the strongest grounds for granting bail. However he said the defense would like to put all of its arguments forward, including the deleterious conditions in Belmarsh prison, so the defense needs time to put together the formal bail application. Court is adjourned until Wednesday 10am GMT for the full bail application. Assange will be physically produced then and will be kept in HMP Belmarsh until then.


  • See our full extradition hearing coverage here, with daily reports from the courtroom.
  • See a guide to testimony here, from experts on the history of journalism to doctors who examined Assange.
  • See an overview of the legal case here, summarizing the main arguments the judge considered.
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Featured

What we learned in Julian Assange’s extradition hearing

Experts debunked the U.S. government’s case, argument by argument. Here’s a recap ahead of the judge’s verdict on January 4th. 

The prosecution of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange would be a landmark test of the First Amendment right to publish if he were brought to trial in the United States, as press freedom groups, constitutional lawyers, and newsrooms across the board have sounded the alarm about the ways in which the U.S. indictment intends to silence investigative journalism around the world. 

But Assange would first have to be extradited from the United Kingdom, where he has been imprisoned in HMP Belmarsh for over a year and a half. At Assange’s extradition hearing in London, comprising one week of oral arguments in February and four weeks of witness testimony in September, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser heard debate over the U.S.-U.K. Extradition Treaty’s ban on extraditing for ‘political offenses,’ the unprecedented nature and scope of the U.S. prosecution, and the threat sending Assange to a Supermax prison in the U.S. would pose to his health and even his life. 

Judge Baraitser will issue her ruling on January 4th, and she is expected not only to approve or deny Assange’s extradition, but rather will lay out the ways in which she agrees or not with the government and defense’s many arguments. Here is what the government argued in court and what defense experts said on the stand. 

Journalists & Source Protection  

  • U.S. government said: Julian Assange is not a journalist
  • Experts said: Assange engaged in basic journalistic activity

That Julian Assange is a journalist should not be in dispute. Assange has earned dozens of journalism awards, from Amnesty International’s New Media Award in 2009 to the 2011 Walkey Award, the Australian equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. WikiLeaks has been referred to in court as a journalistic outlet, and mainstream media organizations around the world now use the very same anonymous submission system that WikiLeaks pioneered. But there’s no need to wade into this semantic dispute in the first place — laws and amendments protect or criminalize types of actions, not types of people. A press pass doesn’t give you more or fewer freedoms: the First Amendment protects journalistic activity, not journalists, and what WikiLeaks has done in soliciting, redacting, contextualizing, and publishing the Iraq & Afghan War Logs, the State Department cables and the GTMO Detainee Assessment Briefs is pure journalistic activity. 

Fellow journalists and press freedom experts alike explained this distinction. U. of Maryland Professor of Journalism Mark Feldstein called WikiLeaks’ actions “standard journalistic behavior.” Furthermore, Jameel Jaffer, director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia, testified:

“The indictment [of Julian Assange] focuses almost entirely on the kinds of activities that national security journalists engage in routinely and as a necessary part of their work-cultivating sources, communicating with them confidentially, soliciting information from them, protecting their identities from disclosure, and publishing classified information. The indictment’s implicit but unmistakable claim is that activities integral to national security journalism are unprotected by the U.S. Constitution and even criminal.”

As Trevor Timm, founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, put it in court, “In the US, the First Amendment protects everyone. Whether you consider Assange a journalist doesn’t matter, he was engaging in journalistic activity.”

This journalistic activity is not limited to publishing the documents. The Assange indictment also attempts to make criminal every step in the reporting process, from journalist-source communications to possessing the files to finally making them public. In addition to the 17 charges under the Espionage Act, the 18th charge is under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, attempting to reframe normal reporter-source interactions as something nefarious and to paint Assange as a mastermind directing computer intrusions when he allegedly chatted online with whistleblower Chelsea Manning. 

Computer forensic expert Patrick Eller testified that he found several important inaccuracies and technological misunderstandings in the government’s assessment of the Manning conversations and concluded that what the government alleges — an attempted password crack — wasn’t even technically possible and that if it were, it wouldn’t be for the purposes they allege. More fundamentally, he testified, the government couldn’t even prove that it was Assange himself that Manning was speaking to. 

Even if the accusation held up, Trevor Timm explained, that this time of source communication is not only normal but essential for investigative journalism.  “Material journalists often write about and print do not magically land on their desks,” he said.  They talk to sources, they ask for clarification, and they ask for more information. “This is standard practice for journalists.”

Unredacted cables 

  • U.S. government said: Assange recklessly published names of informants
  • Experts said: WikiLeaks redacted more than even the US government, Assange warned the State Department about unredacted release and was ignored, and WikiLeaks wasn’t even the first to publish unredacted

This argument has been completely debunked. Three of the charges against Assange are for “pure publication,” which is a dangerous attempt to set a precedent that criminalizes the publication of truthful information in the public interest.  The government’s indictment ignores the painstaking redaction process that WikiLeaks engaged in starting in 2010. Veteran journalists who worked with WikiLeaks on the 2010 publications testified that Assange and WikiLeaks were ardent about redacting cables to protect innocents who might be named. John Goetz testified that he looked at a few specific files in the Iraq War Logs and compared them to the same documents that were later released by the US government itself, and he found that WikiLeaks’ redaction system — using a computer script to first redact every single name in the files and then working backward to inspect and unredact words that couldn’t be used to identify the individuals — actually redacted more than the U.S. government’s. Working on the State Department cables, Stefania Maurizi lauded WikiLeaks’ unprecedented security in protecting the files. 

The government’s indictment ignores all of this and dishonestly tries to criminalize WikiLeaks’ 2011 publication of certain unredacted cables. As several experts testified, the indictment’s timeline is extremely misleading, obscuring how those disclosures came to pass in an attempt to deceive the judge and to paint Assange as reckless. The individuals responsible for initially publishing the unredacted cables were never charged. John Young, founder of the US-based leak site Cryptome, testified that he published the State Department cables first, and that the US government has never tried to prosecute him or asked him to take them down. When Assange learned that the unredacted files were available on the internet, he and other WikiLeaks officials immediately called the State Department’s emergency line to warn them. That Cryptome and John Young were never charged reveals how this is a blatant case of selective prosecution — political payback instead of an honest application of the law.

Assange is an Australian citizen who published WikiLeaks files while in Europe, so make no mistake: the U.S. government is claiming global jurisdiction and the right to dictate what is and isn’t published about it beyond its borders. Furthermore, it’s arguing that the First Amendment no longer protects the publication of truthful information in the public interest. A successful prosecution would spell the end of any legal protections journalists have left. 

Politicized Prosecution

  • U.S. government said: This is the culmination of a decade-long investigation
  • Experts said: Obama explicitly declined to prosecute; Trump launched a war on the press 

The question of whether the prosecution of Julian Assange is “politicized” is no theoretical debate; this is an important legal distinction: the US-UK Extradition Treaty explicitly bans extradition for “political offenses.” In this case, both the publication and the prosecution should be viewed as political. Assange’s defense team explained, “Espionage” is a textbook political accusation, the allegation of a crime done to a particular nation-state for political reasons. Experts in Assange’s hearing testified that Assange is an anti-war libertarian, and he published evidence of war crimes and corruption for the purpose of exposing and ending those unjust practices. 

On the question of a politicized prosecution, the government has attempted to portray the Trump administration’s indictment as the natural conclusion of a years-long investigation into WikiLeaks. But as experts explained in court, President Obama’s Department of Justice looked closely at indicting WikiLeaks and explicitly decided not to indict, because they could find no meaningful difference between the actions of WikiLeaks and those of the New York Times. The Trump administration, by contrast, had no regard for these First Amendment concerns and decided to reopen the essentially closed investigation into Assange. Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said early in Trump’s tenure that arresting Assange was his personal “priority.” In April 2017, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo delivered an extremely aggressive speech against WikiLeaks, declaring, “we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.”

At Assange’s extradition hearing, Carey Shenkman, an American human rights attorney and constitutional historian who is writing a book on historical analyses of the Espionage Act, testified, “I’ve never thought we would see something like [this indictment],” adding that most legal scholars agree that this use of the Espionage Act is “truly extraordinary.” The way the charges are framed and the timing of the indictment, he said, “really point to a highly politicized prosecution.”

Verdict

On January 4th, 2021, Judge Vanessa Baraitser will issue her ruling on whether to approve Julian Assange’s extradition. To accept the government’s arguments, she will have to disregard weeks of expert testimony debunking the prosecution’s legal theories, and she’ll have to accept its misleading timeline of events. These experts in journalism, the history of the Espionage Act, and the politicized application of the law gave her ample reason to shut this extradition process down. 

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Election Hot Take: 5 Reasons Pardoning Assange Could Drastically Enhance Trump’s Legacy

Even though we are all still recovering from the election (and there are still some pending legal challenges to consider), we thought we’d take a few minutes to unpack an idea that many people have floated on social media and opinion columns.

Here’s one example, from Thomas Knapp, the director of the the Garrison Center, writing at Counterpunch:

Headline: America in Transition: Two Things Donald Trump Can Do to Burnish His Legacy

Trump has the power to pardon. He should use that power in unprecedented fashion, emptying the federal prisons of non-violent drug offenders and other assorted victims of a “justice” system gone haywire.

In particular, he should pardon (in alphabetical order) Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Ross Ulbricht.

Assange and Snowden have been charged, but not yet tried, with telling the American people the truth about their government’s crimes. Manning has been convicted for the same heroic acts. President Obama commuted her sentence, but it’s time to restore her rights and recognize her service to her country.

Knapp isn’t the only one floating the possibility of a pardon for Assange. So let’s break down why this might be a great idea for Assange, for Trump, and for America.

1. It Would Transform Trump into the Defender of American Values 

Presidents rarely get to define their own legacy, and are often victims of external circumstances. Trump would love for his legacy to be about economic growth and reworked trade deals, but that’s unlikely to be how history remembers him. He has his tax cuts, and his defenders will make claims about economic strength…that was ultimately derailed by the COVID pandemic.

But there’s the rub. You can’t summarize the Trump presidency without fixating on COVID. The next sentence would probably be something about the divisiveness of the cultural and political moment. Much of that is beyond Trump’s control, but tell that to Herbert Hoover and Lyndon Johnson. Those are the breaks.

If Trump wants to shake up the narrative on his presidency, he can use one of his most important powers to do so. Pardoning Assange, Snowden, Manning, or a combination of the three would drastically reshape Trump’s legacy. It would become impossible to spin a narrative about Trump and our political climate without noting his magnanimous gesture. The speech almost writes itself:

#Gamechanger.

 2. It preempts Joe Biden 

We can’t be sure what Joe Biden will do as president when it comes to Assange. Maybe he’s weighing a pardon himself. Maybe he’ll merely drop the extradition request. Maybe he’ll actually continue the prosecution. 

Whatever Biden’s hypothetical course of action, a Trump pardon takes the decision out of Biden’s hands and gets Trump all the credit. 

Biden has a lot of work cut out for him uniting the Democratic Party and its coalition. They won’t have Trump to kick around any more, and the Left will be keeping a close eye on Biden. Taking Assange (and others) out of play gives Biden one less move he can make to appease key parts of his base.

3. It makes things more difficult for the Biden administration.

Similar to our last point, sending a powerful message in support of press freedom and releasing Assange causes headaches for the incoming president. Remember: Assange, Manning, and Snowden are all charged with crimes committed during the Obama-Biden administration. Allowing these transparency advocates the freedom to speak truth to power is a great way to undermine those in power.

4. It strikes at the Deep State.

Whatever your thoughts on Trump, let’s get one thing out of the way: the Deep State is real. Maybe you’d rather not call it that, and prefer “the national security establishment,” the “military-industrial complex,” or just “the bureaucracy.” Regardless of the label, there are career bureaucrats who transcend political parties and seek to accumulate power. They hate people like Assange, who operate outside established institutions. And Trump (usually) hates them back. What do they say about “the enemy of my enemy?”

The more “establishment” types prefer the predictability of someone like Joe Biden over the likes of Trump, who they feel less capable of controlling. It’s one of the reasons (although not the only one) that many establishment Republicans and hawkish (neoconservative) figures were “Never Trumpers,” “Lincoln Project” supporters, or even supported Joe Biden. Trump can tell them off by pardoning Assange and others.

5. It’s just the right thing to do.

Call it “saving the best for last.” Or chalk it up to cynicism about politics. But we can’t write a list like this without pointing out that the persecution of journalists and whistleblowers is simply wrong, and any action that pushes back against that persecution is a positive move.

Assange is not a U.S. citizen. He is being literally charged with “Espionage” for activities undertaken while he was in Europe. And even if you object to him being characterized as a “journalist,” the activities he is being charged over are textbook journalistic activities: newsgathering, working with sources, and publishing. Assange might not have operated like an old-school journalist, but that’s because he’s part of the evolution of journalism that is more open-source and accessible. Countless journalists, scholars, human rights organizations, and legal groups have all condemned the prosecution of Assange because it strikes at the heart of the free press and would make reporters all over the world subject to government persecution simply for doing their jobs: trying to tell the public the truth about things they have a right to know.

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Guide to Testimony in Julian Assange’s Extradition Hearing

Click on each topic for links to key testimony and further reading

Assange Indictment Poses Unprecedented Threat to Journalism

What expert witnesses said

Fellow journalists, academics, and professors testified that the Espionage Act charges against Julian Assange are unprecedented and would mark the end of First Amendment protections on journalism everywhere. Assange is charged with obtaining, receiving, and publishing government documents, activity that investigative journalists engage in every day.

Why it matters

To extradite someone from the U.S. to the U.K., the prosecution must prove “dual criminality,” that the crime alleged in the United States would also be an offense in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, Article 4 of the U.S.-U.K. Extradition Treaty says, “Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense.”


The Importance of WikiLeaks’ Releases

What experts said

Lawyers, journalists, academics, and activists testified about the enormous importance of WikiLeaks’ 2010-11 publications. They explained how the Iraq and Afghan War Logs documented previously uncounted civilian casualties, war crimes and the true nature of modern warfare, how the State Department cables exposed backroom corruption and the U.S.’s global influence, and how the Guantanamo Bay files revealed the deceitful justifications used to keep prisoners in detention. These experts testified about using WikiLeaks’ releases in their own work, in crucial legal cases, and in informing the public about what their government was doing in secret.

Why this matters

The U.S. government is attempting to portray Julian Assange as a ‘hacker’ and as someone who wanted to harm the United States, rather than a journalist performing a public service. These experts debunk that smear and show how Julian Assange’s work carries out his ideals, using transparency to achieve justice.


WikiLeaks’ Redaction Process and the Unredacted Cables

What expert witnesses said

Journalists who worked with WikiLeaks on the Cablegate release testified about Assange’s redaction process, care to conceal names of those who might be at risk, and digital protection of the documents to prevent accidental release. Digital experts who reviewed online records testified that it was Guardian journalists Luke Harding and David Leigh’s publication of a password that ultimately led to the unredacted publication, that actually a different leak site published the unredacted cables first and haven’t been prosecuted, and that Assange attempted to mitigate any damage that could result from the release.

Why it matters

The three publishing counts under the Espionage Act — perhaps the charges most worrying to fellow journalists as a conviction for publishing would be unprecedented — only charge Julian Assange with publishing the unredacted State Department cables in September 2011 (as opposed to the redacted cables in late 2010 and early 2011). The government alleges that Assange published recklessly, without regard for the informants and sources named in the documents.


On the Conspiracy to Commit Computer Intrusion

What is alleged

In the second superseding indictment, Count 2 is 18 U.S.C. § 371 Conspiracy to Commit Computer Intrusions. The government argues that US Army soldier Chelsea Manning chatted over Jabber with a user ‘Nathaniel Frank’, who the government alleges but hasn’t proven is Julian Assange, and asked for help cracking a “hash”, which is an encrypted portion of a password, she was attempting to gain increased access to government databases and to disguise her identity in doing so. It argues that Assange attempted to help Manning crack this password in order to obtain more classified documents to send to WikiLeaks.

What the expert witness said

Patrick Eller reviewed the indictments against Assange and the transcripts from Chelsea Manning’s court martial in 2013 to analyze the allegation that Assange and Manning engaged in a conspiracy to conceal Manning’s identity and steal more documents. Eller found several important inaccuracies and technological misunderstandings in the government’s indictment and found that what the government alleges isn’t technically possible and if it were, it wouldn’t have been for the purpose the government alleges.


Spying on Assange in the Embassy

What witnesses said

Two anonymous former employees of Spanish surveillance company UC Global testified that the company’s director David Morales secured a contract with top Trump financier Sheldon Adelson to spy on Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, from 2017 until his eviction in April 2019, and fed the recordings to United States intelligence. The whistleblowers said Morales was particularly zealous about recording Assange’s conversations with his lawyers, and even discussed kidnapping or poisoning him.

Why it matters

The Nixon Administration’s case against Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg was dropped when the defense discovered that government officials had broken into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist and the FBI had intercepted some of his phone calls. James Goodale, the lawyer who defended the New York Times’ right to publish the Pentagon Papers, wrote, “For similar reasons, the case against Assange should be dismissed, if it reaches the U.S. courts.” The testimony about Republican Dana Rohrabacher’s visit is also relevant for the case that this prosecution is heavily politicized.


The Trump Administration’s Politicized Prosecution of Julian Assange

What expert witnesses said

The prosecution of Julian Assange is political in nature because: Trump prosecuted after the Obama administration explicitly decided not to, the Trump admin is uniquely aggressive against journalism, the prosecution is essentially revenge for WikiLeaks embarrassing and exposing the U.S. government, Espionage is a classic “political offense”, and a conviction on these charges would set a dangerous new precedent.

Why it matters

Article 4 of the U.S.-U.K. Extradition Treaty says, “Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense.”


Medical Testimony & U.S. Prison Conditions

What expert witnesses said

Psychiatrists and doctors who have interviewed, visited, and treated Julian Assange testify that he has Asperger’s syndrome, clinical depression, and is at a high risk of suicide in the event of extradition. U.S. lawyers, prison experts and a former warden testified that if sent to the United States, Assange would be held in solitary confinement under communication-gagging Special Administrative Measures, would get an extremely long prison sentence, and would likely be held post-trial in the highest-security prison in the country, ADX Florence in Colorado.

Why it matters

Section 91 of the United Kingdom’s 2003 Extradition Act prohibits extradition if “the physical or mental condition of the person is such that it would be unjust or oppressive to extradite him.” Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights says that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”


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Video Series: Assange’s Extradition Hearing

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This playlist compiles all of our video coverage of Julian Assange’s resumed extradition hearing in September 2020, featuring commentary outside the courtroom in London summarizing legal developments. See our live blog for daily recaps and a guide to testimony throughout the proceedings.

Week 1 Summary

Week 2 Summary

Week 3 Summary

Week 4 Summary