By Joe Lauria – Oct 16, 2021
In her ruling in January against extraditing the imprisoned WikiLeaks publisher, Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser expressed a high degree of understanding for the CIA wanting to rub out Assange, writes Joe Lauria.
Lawyers for Julian Assange may try at the U.S. appeal hearing later this month to introduce weightier evidence that the Central Intelligence Agency seriously discussed killing or abducting the imprisoned journalist.
The lower court hearing before Judge Vanessa Baraitser in September last year already heard sworn testimony from a former partner and former employee of the Spanish security company UC Global that a U.S. intelligence agency had talked about poisoning or kidnapping Assange. This testimony is already evidence in the case.
In the wake of the Yahoo! News report in which that testimony was confirmed and substantially expanded, Assange’s lawyers may want to submit details from that report to demonstrate that fears of abduction and murder haunted Assange, leaving him in a mental state so fragile that Baraitser ruled against sending him to the U.S. — and possibly to an American dungeon where he’d be likely to take his life even before he got there.
The U.S. appeal at the High Court hinges on whether Assange really is as suicidal as Baraitser ruled, or is a malingerer like U.S. prosecutors allege. The inclusion of the Yahoo! details could bolster Assange’s lawyers’ argument that his psychological state is exacerbated by reality and not fancy. In fact legitimate fears that he could be assassinated go back to at least October 2010, when the CIA refused to say if there were such plans after a Freedom of Information Act request. This tweet is from eleven years ago:
CIA refuses to confirm or deny plot to assassinate WikiLeaks editor; open government-Obama style http://is.gd/gLvcn
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 6, 2010
Those existing fears were likely stirred up when Assange heard the UC Global witness testimony read at his hearing.
Whether the High Court admits the new Yahoo! evidence — really a fleshing out of evidence already admitted to the lower court — could be the pivotal question in the appeal. The High Court will ultimately have to decide whether Baraitser was correct in ruling that Assange was too sick to be sent to the United States.
Baraitser accepted that U.S. prison conditions were so brutal and Assange so unstable that she wouldn’t send him to the U.S. But what would a British judge in an extradition case decide if they knew that it was far worse than that: that the intelligence services of the requesting government had plotted murder and rendition against the person being sought?
That’s why the question of whether the Yahoo! material is admitted is so crucial. But so too is how the lower court already dealt with the essence of the evidence which Baraitser did admit. If Assange’s legal team tries to submit details from the Yahoo! report the High Court will likely look at how the UC Global witnesses testimony was handled by Baraitser.
How she reacted to that testimony might provide a glimpse into the thinking of the High Court as well, although one might hope it will take a different view in light of the greater details revealed by Yahoo!
In her 132-page ruling on Jan. 4 against extraditing Assange, Baraitser discussed the evidence of a plot to kill or kidnap him.
She exhibited a high indifference to Assange’s safety and even displayed sympathy with the U.S., saying that plans discussed to poison or kidnap him from the Ecuadorian embassy were essentially understandable.
She matter-of-factly read aloud to the court:
“They [the defense] alleged that the US authorities discussed more extreme measures such as kidnapping or poisoning Mr. Assange. I have declined to make findings of fact regarding whether this took place, as the allegations are currently being investigated in Spain. I merely note here that if the allegations are true, they demonstrate a high level of concern by the US authorities regarding Mr. Assange’s ongoing activities.”
She did not condemn such a potential extrajudicial killing or abduction in the heart of London, just steps from Harrods, and within the sovereign territory of another nation with which Britain has diplomatic relations. Baraitser notes that she did not make an effort to discover if “the allegations are true.” But then says if they are true, it would not demonstrate a high level of concern about the commission of a state crime, but rather shows just how upset Assange made the Americans.
This kind of judicial thinking is beyond alarming and shows that even if the Yahoo! revelations are admitted to the High Court, it may have little sway on a judiciary that seems in lockstep with whatever the U.S. wants.
Featured image: The Royal Courts of Justice where Assange’s appeal will be heard. (David Castor/Wikimedia Commons)