Day 17: September 30, 2020 #AssangeCase

September 30, 2020

 

  • See previous daily reports here and a video recap of last week’s proceedings here
  • See an overview of USA v. Julian Assange here
  • See a thread of live-tweets of today’s hearing here

Witnesses: UC Global spied on Assange’s conversations with lawyers

UC Global director David Morales

The defense read several witness statements aloud in court today, including two statements from anonymous former employees of UC Global, the Spanish security company led by David Morales which spied on Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. The witness statements testify to the particular zeal Morales had in recording conversations between Assange and his lawyers as well as his contract with an American company to report the recordings back to American intelligence officials.

Background on the UC Global/Embassy spying story:

Because these statements were particularly long, see excerpts in this separate post: Anonymous witnesses detail U.S.-directed spying of Julian Assange in the Embassy.

Patrick Cockburn: WikiLeaks showed the realities of war

Patrick Cockburn is an investigative reporter for The Independent. See his article ‘Julian Assange in Limbo‘ in the London Review of Books from earlier this year.

I was In Kabul when I first heard about the WikiLeaks revelations. which confirmed much of what I and others had suspected. The trove was immense: some 251,287 diplomatic cables. more than 400,000 classified army reports from the Iraq War and 90,000 from the war in Afghanistan. Rereading these documents now I’m struck again by the constipated military-bureaucratic prose, with its sinister dehumanising acronyms. Killing people is referred to as an EOF (‘Escalation of Force’), something that happened frequently at US military checkpoints when nervous US soldiers directed Iraqi drivers to stop or go with complex hand signals that nobody understood. What this could mean for Iraqis ls illustrated by brief military reports such as the one headed ‘Escalation of Force by 3/8 NE Fallujah: I CIV KIA, 4 CIV WIA’. Decoded, ii describes the moment when a woman In a car was killed and her husband and three daughters wounded at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Fallujah, forty miles west of Baghdad. Toe US marine on duty opened fire because he was unable to determine the occupants of the vehicle due to the reflection of the- sun coming off the windshield’. Another report marks the moment when US soldiers shot dead a man who was ·creeping up behind their sniper position’. only to learn later that he was their own unit’s Interpreter.

These reports are the small change of war. But collectively they convey its reality far better than even the most well-Informed journalistic accounts. Those two shootings were a thousand times repeated, though the reports were rare in admitting that the victims-were civilians. More usually, the dead were automatically identified as ‘terrorists’ caught in the act, regardless or evidence to the contrary.

On why WikiLeaks and Assange are persecuted

The Wikileaks documents exposed the way the US, as the world’s sole superpower, really conducted its wars – something that the military and political establishments saw as a blow to their credibility and legitimacy. There were some devastating revelations, the helicopter video among them, but many or the secrets uncovered were not particularly significant or indeed very secret. In my view, they do not themselves explain the degree of reaction that the Wikileaks revelations provoked from the US government and Its allies: I consider this to have been their response to a perceived assault on their monopoly control of sensitive state information, which they saw as an essential prop to their authority. Making such information public as Assange and Wikileaks had done weaponised freedom of expression: if disclosures of this kind went unpunished and became the norm, it would radically shift the balance of power between government and society – and especially the media – in favour of the latter.

Wikileaks did what all journalists should do, which is to make important information available fo the public, enabling people· to make evidence-based judgments about the world around them and, in particular, about the actions of their governments, and, of those actions more than any other those that reveal the gravest of state crimes. In my view steps taken against Assange for publishing information of such great importance betrays the true motivation behind the unprecedented steps being taken to criminalise his actions. In 2010 WikiLeaks won a great victory for freedom of expression and against state secrecy and the US government Is now making every effort to reverse it.

Ian Cobain: Only leaked docs confirm what governments cover up

Ian Cobain is an investigative journalist who was with The Guardian in 2010-11.

There is always the understanding – one that is so clear that it needs not be spoken – that anyone who has knowledge of state crimes, and who comes forward to corroborate allegations about those crimes, may face prosecution.

Evidence that would support such allegations is extraordinarily difficult to obtain from within governments with disciplined intelligence agencies and civil services, and where the penalties for unauthorised disclosure can include intrusion into family life, prosecution and imprisonment, loss of livelihood and loss of pension rights.

Cobain reported on British intelligence helping the CIA kidnap an entire family and render them to Libya where they were tortured.

Almost certainly, nothing of this case would have emerged into the public sphere were it not for the unique emergence of hundreds of documents relating to the Libyan security state. The documentary evidence emerged during a serendipitous moment in Tripoli during the 2011 Libyan revolution when filing cabinets full of documents belonging to the Libyan security apparatus fell into the hands of NGO workers and journalists.


Had the documents not emerged in the way in which they did, the British government would no doubt have continued to maintain that “the UK does not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture for any purpose”, a claim that is completely undermined by the documentary evidence now available in respect of this case. In the event the government apologised to the couple and made a payment to the wife. A case brought by the family was settled out of court.


Under these circumstances, it could be argued that media scrutiny is more important than ever, and that leaks and whistle-blowers remain a vital means by which state crimes can be exposed.

Guy Goodwin-Gill: Spied on in the Embassy

“On 16 June 2016, I attended a meeting at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to discuss the international legal aspects of the asylum accorded to Mr Julian Assange. Those attending included the Foreign Minister of Ecuador, senior Ecuadorian officials, and members of Mr Assange’s legal team. Before entering the ground floor meeting room, I left my passport, phone and tablet ‘at the door’, together with unlocked luggage (I was en route to give lectures in Italy).

I naturally assumed that, given the precautions taken before entry, such a legal conference would be secure and confidential. I was therefore somewhat shocked, to say the least, to learn in late 2019 that my name featured in papers lodged in connection with legal proceedings in Spain concerning the disclosure of confidential information, that the occasion of my visit and participation had been shared with various parties, and that my ‘electronic equipment’ may have been copied and the contents also shared.

Mr Assange is not a citizen of the United States of America and that most of the charges levelled against Mr Assange are drawn from the US Espionage Act. Espionage is not defined in international law; it is neither an international crime nor a serious crime of international concern, and it is commonly considered to be a ‘purely’ political offence, which either would not be listed as an extradition offence, or is one for which surrender would be refused.

It is against this background and the political opinions involved, therefore, that the evidence of surveillance and the sharing of confidential, privileged information needs to be considered, and an assessment made of whether these factors indicate more clearly the political motivation, intent and purpose of the extradition request, or otherwise indicate the likelihood of prejudice, punishment, detention or other restrictions on liberty by reason of extraneous circumstances, as described above…”

Stefania Maurizi: WikiLeaks’ unprecedented document security

Stefania Maurizi is an Italian journalist who worked with WikiLeaks to report on Italian documents within the State Department cables.

Assange and the war

On more than one occasion, Mr Assange expressed to me his view that if Wikileaks had existed before the US invaded Iraq and had published what it later published earlier (the “Collateral Murder” video with respect to Iraq, for example}, the war might have been avoided or would have come to an end sooner. The fact is that what had been and was being disseminated by the  governments involved, in particular the USA, was largely false, and the true picture was not being allowed to be known.

Document security

I myself was given access to 4,189 cables which could be better assessed and understood with the assistance of a knowledgeable Italian partnership. I sat down with Mr Assange and went through the cables as systematically as possible. I was given an encrypted USB stick, and once I returned to Italy I was given the password that would then allow opening the file. Everything was done with the utmost responsibility and attention. I am aware of the password that David Leigh and Luke Harding of the Guardian subsequently published in their book: it was not the same password I myself was given at the time.

That was the first time I had ever worked in any publishing enterprise involving strict procedures of that kind. Even experienced internationalcolleagues found the procedures burdensome, involving protections considerably beyond those which any of them were accustomed to exercising.

Robert Boyle: Chelsea Manning was punished by grand jury

Robert Boyle is a U.S. attorney and an expert on grand juries. His statement recounts relevant portions of Chelsea Manning’s allocution statement made at her court martial and then discusses her imprisonment for refusing to testify to a secret grand jury.

Chelsea Manning’s allocution statement

Manning explained that due to her position as an intelligence analyst, she had access to information about United States military activities in Iraq. Some of those activities contradicted the stated goals of U.S. policy. She told the court:

“[the United States military] became obsessed with capturing/killing targets on lists and being suspicious and avoiding cooperation with our host nation partners and ignoring the second and third order effects of accomplishing short-term goals and missions.

I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information … this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy, in general, as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

A participant in an online chat pointed Manning to Wikileaks’ online submission system. Manning was somewhat familiar with Wikileaks. In her view the organization “seemed to be dedicated to exposing illegal activities and corruption [and had] received numerous awards and recognition for its reporting activities.”

[Regarding Collateral Murder] Manning told the court that she “wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan were targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure cooker environment of what we call asymmetric warfare.”

Although I stopped sending documents to [WikiLeaks], no one associated with [WikiLeaks] pressured me into giving more information. The decisions I made to send documents and information to [WikiLeaks] were my own decisions and I take full responsibility for my actions.

Manning subpoenaed, refuses to testify, punished further

Manning filed a motion to quash the subpoena:

she argued that the subpoena was improper in that it was an effort by the government to punish her for the release of the information to Wikileaks. Manning also pointed out that the government had available to it her exhaustive sworn statement before the Military Court that was given at the time of her guilty plea and which truthfully set forth the full extent of her knowledge, including but not limited to her contacts with Wikileaks. Manning asserted that compliance with the subpoena would also enable the government to set a “perjury trap”. Should there be inconsistencies, even minor inconsistencies between her court martial testimony and grand jury testimony she could be criminally charged with committing perjury.

Manning was imprisoned for refusing to testify:

she was placed in solitary confinement “despite the stated concerns regarding the effects of prolonged isolation [that compound[ed] the trauma I suffered from my previous time of confinement.” Manning remained in isolation for 28 days, an experience that caused her “extraordinary pain.”

He quotes her own statement:

I understand that this grand jury [is] related to my disclosures of classified and unclassified information and records in 2010. I acted alone in these disclosures. The government is still preoccupied with punishing me, despite a court martial, sentence and presidential commutation nearly two years ago

Manning believed the U.S. government wanted information ahead of Assange’s hearing:

As Manning herself has stated “I suspect that [the government) [is] simply interested in previewing my potential testimony as a defense witness, and attempting to undermine my testimony … This justifies my theory that participating in this investigation functions simply to abuse the justice system for political ends.”

Andy Worthington

Andy Worthington is a UK-based activist and researcher who has studied the Guantanamo Bay prison for over a decade. See his first statement here and supplemental second statement here.

In April 2011, Worthington wrote, WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Guantánamo Files, Exposes Detention Policy as a Construct of Lies.

In its latest release of classified US documents, WikiLeaks is shining the light of truth on a notorious icon of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” — the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which opened on January 11, 2002, and remains open under President Obama, despite his promise to close the much-criticized facility within a year of taking office.

In thousands of pages of documents dating from 2002 to 2008 and never seen before by members of the public or the media, the cases of the majority of the prisoners held at Guantánamo — 765 out of 779 in total — are described in detail in memoranda from JTF-GTMO, the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo Bay, to US Southern Command in Miami, Florida, known as Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs).

These memoranda, which contain JTF-GTMO’s recommendations about whether the prisoners in question should continue to be held, or should be released (transferred to their home governments, or to other governments) contain a wealth of important and previously undisclosed information, including health assessments, for example, and, in the cases of the majority of the 172 prisoners who are still held, photos (mostly for the first time ever).

Crucially, the files also contain detailed explanations of the supposed intelligence used to justify the prisoners’ detention. For many readers, these will be the most fascinating sections of the documents, as they seem to offer an extraordinary insight into the workings of US intelligence, but although many of the documents appear to promise proof of prisoners’ association with al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations, extreme caution is required.

The documents draw on the testimony of witnesses — in most cases, the prisoners’ fellow prisoners — whose words are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion (sometimes not in Guantánamo, but in secret prisons run by the CIA), or because they provided false statements to secure better treatment in Guantánamo.

Uncomfortable facts like these are not revealed in the deliberations of the Joint Task Force, but they are crucial to understanding why what can appear to be a collection of documents confirming the government’s scaremongering rhetoric about Guantánamo — the same rhetoric that has paralyzed President Obama, and revived the politics of fear in Congress — is actually the opposite: the anatomy of a colossal crime perpetrated by the US government on 779 prisoners who, for the most part, are not and never have been the terrorists the government would like us to believe they are.

Jameel Jaffer: Assange indictment gravely threatens press freedom

Jameel Jaffer is executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. In 2019, he joined Jeremy Scahill’s podcast, ‘Prosecuting Julian Assange for Espionage is a Coup Attempt Against the First Amendment‘. Earlier this year, Jaffer joined the Courage Foundation’s panel at the National Press Club in Washington DC to discuss the impact of the Assange indictment on press freedom.

On the indictment and Trump’s view toward journalism

The indictment of Mr. Assange poses a grave threat to press freedom in the United States. This case is the first in which the U.S. government has relied on the 1917 Espionage Act as the basis for the prosecution of a publisher. The indictment 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.

In my view, the indictment of Mr. Assange was intended to deter journalism that is vital to American democracy, and the successful prosecution of Mr. Assange on the basis of the activities described in the indictment would certainly have that effect.

On the wide breadth of the Espionage Act

These provisions are extremely broad, as many others have observed,7 and they criminalize a “wide range of activities that may bear little resemblance to classic espionage.”8 The Act exposes leakers to severe penalties without regard to whether they acted with the intent to harm the security of the United States.9 As it has been construed by the courts, the Act is indifferent to the defendant’s motives,10 and indifferent to whether the harms caused by disclosure were outweighed by the value of the information to the public.

By its terms, the Act also provides for the imposition of these same severe penalties on subsequent publishers-i.e., not just on leakers, and not just on the news organizations that first publish the leaks, but on anyone who later shares the leaked information through any channel, formal or informal.

On the importance of publishing government secrets

At least in the United States, informed public deliberation about matters relating to war and security would be impossible if the press did not publish classified information.

There are structural reasons why unauthorized disclosures of classified information are so vital to the public’s ability to understand, evaluate, and influence government policy relating to war and security.

lf the press did not publish classified information without authorization, public debate about war and security would take place in an information environment controlled almost entirely by executive branch officials.

Using the Espionage Act against a publisher

The government’s use of the Espionage Act against government insiders who supply classified information to the press poses a serious threat to the ability of the press to inform the public about matters relating to war and security. The government’s indictment of a publisher under the Act, however, crosses a new legal frontier.

The conviction of Mr. Assange under the Act for the activities described in the indictment would have a significant chilling effect on journalism that is vital to the proper functioning of American democracy.

Some government officials have argued that the indictment should not be understood as a threat to press freedom because Mr. Assange is not a journalist, or because WikiLeaks is not a member of the press. This argument misses the point. The indictment is mainly a description of Mr. Assange engaging in core journalistic activities.

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