The World Is Changing: China Launches Campaign for Superpower Status

Both Tortuous and Torturous – Antiwar.com Original

Magistrate Vanessa Bararitser walked into Westminster Magistrates Court No.1
at 10.12am this morning with the sunniest smile and most carefree disposition
I have ever seen her adopt. Her shoulders appeared visibly lifted. She positively
beamed at Clair Dobbin, counsel for the US government, as she invited her to
put the case for the prosecution as to why Julian Assange should not be released
on bail.

Mrs. Dobbin has one of those gloomy, Presbyterian personalities that only fully
comes to life when it has the chance to condemn somebody. There is nothing like
a flat Belfast accent for a really rousing condemnation, and this was a collector’s
item.

Julian Assange, she stated in tones that made plain she considered that name
in itself to be suspicious and unsavory, had shown he would go to great lengths
to avoid extradition to the United States. The judgment against his extradition
turned only on one single point – that of his mental health – and
that single point might easily be overturned by the High Court.

Assange had helped Edward Snowden to flee justice; he had boasted about it.
As detailed in the US Government’s second superseding indictment, he had
organized flights for Snowden and arranged a distraction operation to throw
the CIA off the scent. When the US authorities had trapped Snowden in Russia
by canceling his passport, Assange had tried to arrange not just private jets
but even Presidential jets to help Snowden escape further. Such was Assange’s
reach and ability.

Furthermore, the President of Mexico had made a public offer of asylum, giving
Assange a firm motive to escape. Many countries would wish to support him and
he might again enter a foreign Embassy. He had hidden for seven years in the
Ecuadorian Embassy to avoid extradition to the USA. He had broken his bail commitments
in 2012: “any idea that moral or principled reasons would bear on Mr.
Assange’s conscience turned out to be ill-founded indeed”.

The British government had been obliged to spend £16 million on the surveillance
of Mr. Assange while he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy. Those who had stood surety
for him had failed in their duty to ensure that he presented himself in court
in 2012. Tracy Worcester, who was among those offering surety now and had offered
accommodation for the Assange family, had failed in her duty in 2012.

Furthermore Julian Assange had obtained diplomatic status from Ecuador, a further
example of his seeking means to avoid extradition.

Dobbin then stated the US Government was appealing against the judgment not
to extradite, and said it would do so on the grounds that Baraitser had made
an error in law in incorrectly applying the relevant test on conditions that
would bar extradition. In effect, Baraitser had set a new test of whether measures
would be in place to make suicide impossible, whereas the correct test was whether
measures would be in place to mitigate against the risk of suicide, and on that
proper test the evidence was that the US system was sufficiently robust.

The test required a rigorous assessment of the facilities for treatment and
prison conditions in the USA. This assessment had not taken place.

Dobbin went on to say that Baraitser had misinterpreted the law as to whether
the cause of the immediate suicidal impulse was current circumstance or an underlying
medical condition. She then argued that Assange’s young family ought not
to be a factor, because they had been born while Assange was in the Embassy,
and therefore in full knowledge that his future was entirely uncertain. Taken
together, Dobbin concluded, these arguments posed an insurmountable obstacle
to the granting of bail.

Edward Fitzgerald then replied that Baraitser’s judgment against extradition
changes everything. Since October 2019, when the prison sentence for bail-jumping
concluded, Assange had been held in Belmarsh prison solely on the basis of this
extradition request. Now the request had been refused, he must be entitled to
his liberty pending any appeal, as specified in the discharge order of Monday’s
judgment. The status quo now was that the extradition request has been refused.
Therefore the grounds for detention were gone, and further detention would be
oppressive.

The court had accepted that incarceration was deleterious to Assange’s
mental health, and he needed the support of his family. Conditions in the prison
were made much worse by further lockdown due to Covid-19. Assange had not received
a family prison visit since March 2020.

There followed a strange interlude where Fitzgerald stated that there was a
major Covid epidemic in Belmarsh and 59 prisoners had tested positive in December.
Dobbin rose to deny this and said there had been only 3 positive tests for Covid
in Belmarsh, brandishing an email sent by the prison authorities at 10.49pm
the previous night. There was heated discussion as to the veracity of this figure.

Fitzgerald next stated that the supervising prosecutor in the USA in this case
had put on record his doubts that the incoming Biden administration would wish
to continue this prosecution. He also pointed out that the Mexican offer of
asylum was specifically for after the conclusion of legal proceedings and after
discussion with the UK at foreign minister level. It was not an invitation to
abscond.

Assange had no reason to abscond. There was little or no precedent for the
High Court overturning any ruling against extradition on Section 91 health grounds.
The defense strongly refuted the US government’s claim that the relevant
tests had not been properly considered and applied by the court. Numerous expert
witnesses had been heard. The Lauri Love case was the most relevant precedent.
Stringent monitoring and bail conditions could be applied, but with the presumption
now against extradition, Julian Assange should be returned to life with his
family pending any US appeal, to give him a chance to recover his health.

Baraitser then immediately gave her decision. She stated that Assange had been
a fugitive from British justice since 29 June 2012 when he failed to report
to court as ordered. His entire motive for his residence in the Ecuadorian Embassy
had been avoidance of a US extradition request. Assange therefore still had
a motive to abscond. He had the backing of a powerful international network
of supporters who could facilitate his escape.

The US government had the right to appeal and the High Court had the right
to determine the matters at issue. It was therefore essential to ensure that
Assange appeared before the High Court.

Assange had been deeply involved in the organization of Edward Snowden’s
escape which further underlined his contempt for the law. His health problems
could be managed well in Belmarsh. Baraitser specifically accepted the figure
of 3 COVID cases in Belmarsh given officially by the prison authorities. In
conclusion, bail was refused.

COMMENT

All of Julian’s team were optimistic before this hearing and it seems
perverse that, a judgment against extradition having been made, Julian should
continue to be held in high security prison pending the US government appeal.
He has already been in jail for over 14 months just in the extradition matter,
after the expiry of his unprecedentedly harsh sentence for bail-jumping.

In effect, having already served that sentence, Julian is now being punished
again for the same offense, spending years in extreme prison conditions purely
because he once jumped bail, for which he already served the full sentence.

The logic of holding Julian now is simply not there, given the current legal
position is that he is not being extradited. Furthermore this continuing raising
and lowering of his spirits, and never-ending incarceration with no fixed limit,
is destroying his fragile health. Baraitser has played cat and mouse this week.
Julian is living his life in conditions both torturous and tortuous.

It is ironic to hear Baraitser declare in condemnatory tones, without equivocation,
that Julian only entered the Embassy to escape extradition to the USA. This
is of course perfectly true. But I remember the many years when the Establishment
line, from the government and repeated in several hundred Guardian columns,
was that this truth was a fiction. They claimed there was never any intention
to extradite to the USA, and actually he was avoiding extradition to Sweden,
on allegations that never had any basis and which disappeared like mist when
the time actually came. I suppose we should be grateful for at least this much
truth in proceedings.

Today’s judgment makes plain that whatever is happening with Monday’s
judgment, it is not genuinely motivated by concern for Julian’s health.
Yanis Varoufakis yesterday stated that the ultimate aim is still to kill Julian
through the penal system. Nothing that happened today would contradict him.

The extraordinary figure of only 3 Covid infections in Belmarsh is very hard
to believe and contradicts all previous information. Plainly Covid is less of
a risk than anywhere else in London, and perhaps we should all break in to improve
our isolation and safety. The only explanation that occurs to me is that the
vast majority of prisoners are denied access to testing and are therefore not
confirmed cases. Or that the prison has chosen to give testing results for a
single day and chosen to misrepresent the meaning of the statistic. In fact
the point is not central to the bail application, but as a possible example
of yet
further malfeasance
by the Belmarsh medical team, it is particularly intriguing.

The decision not to grant bail can be appealed to the High Court. I expect
that will happen (there has been no chance yet to consult Julian’s wishes),
and happen in about a fortnight.

Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster, human rights activist, and former
diplomat. He was British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October
2004 and Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010. The article is
reprinted with permission from his
website
.

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