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ONCE a good looking, articulate fast thinker, now “a shambling and incoherent wreck.” Who can feel comfortable after reading Craig Murray’s alarming account of Julian Assange’s appearance at Westminster Magistrates Court this week?
Murray, a former British ambassador and diplomat, is widely respected for his truth and accuracy. He reminds us: “The charge against Julian is very specific; conspiring with Chelsea Manning to publish the Iraq War logs, the Afghanistan war logs and the State Department cables. The charges are nothing to do with Sweden, nothing to do with sex, and nothing to do with the 2016 US election…”
The purpose of this week’s hearing was to determine the timetable for the extradition proceedings. “The key points at issue were that Julian’s defence was requesting more time to prepare their evidence; and arguing that political offences were specifically excluded from the extradition treaty. There should, they argued, therefore be a preliminary hearing to determine whether the extradition treaty applied at all.”
Murray provides chapter and verse on Article 4 of the UK/US Extradition Treaty 2007. “On the face of it, what Assange is accused of is the very definition of a political offence… There is every reason to consider whether this charge is excluded by the extradition treaty, and to do so before the long and very costly process of considering all the evidence should the treaty apply. But Baraitser simply dismissed the argument out of hand.”
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser is severely criticised for failing to treat the two sides even handedly.
Assange’s defence team, according to Murray’s report, asked for the extradition hearing, scheduled for February 25, to be delayed to allow more time for preparation. They have had very limited contact with their client in jail and haven’t been allowed to provide him with necessary documents.
We’re told Assange has only just been given limited computer access and all his relevant records and materials were seized from the Ecuadorean embassy by the US government. He’s had no access to his own materials in preparing his defence.
The team are also in touch with the Spanish courts about a legal case currently being heard in Madrid which will provide evidence showing how the CIA arranged for a contractor to spy on conversations between Assange and his lawyers discussing his defence against these extradition proceedings. In normal circumstances, says Murray, this and other damning evidence would be enough to have the case thrown out.
However, Baraitser accepted the prosecution’s argument that there should be no extra time for the defence to prepare. And she ruled, without giving reasons, that there would be no separate consideration as to whether the charge was a political offence and excluded by the extradition treaty.
“The extradition is plainly being rushed through in accordance with a Washington dictated timetable,” says Murray. “Apart from a desire to pre-empt the Spanish court providing evidence on CIA activity in sabotaging the defence, what makes the February date so important to the USA?”
The most sinister revelation came at the end. Baraitser announced that the substantive hearing in February will be held, not at an open and accessible venue like Westminster Magistrates Court, but at Belmarsh Magistrates Court, “the grim high security facility used for preliminary legal processing of terrorists, attached to the maximum security prison where Assange is being held.”
Murray says: “There are only six seats for the public in even the largest court at Belmarsh, and the object is plainly to evade public scrutiny and make sure that Baraitser is not exposed in public again to a genuine account of her proceedings, like this one you are reading.”
He doesn’t think he’ll be able to get in to witness the Belmarsh event.
Murray calls Assange his friend and is distressed by how his appearance has deteriorated after long confinement, and by his rapid ageing and stumbling speech — “the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known” reduced to a “shambling and incoherent wreck.” He is in such poor shape that there are fears Assange may not live to the end of the extradition proceedings.
Murray had been sceptical of claims that debilitating drugs were forced on Assange and that his treatment amounted to torture.
“Yesterday changed my mind entirely and Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness.”
Baraitser, says Murray, told Assange that if he was incapable of following proceedings, his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later. And here’s a man who, by the very nature of the charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, and feared by the world’s leading superpower.
So how do his British captors explain his swift decline while in their care?
Murray describes the conditions under which Assange languishes at Belmarsh. “He is kept in complete isolation for 23 hours a day. He is permitted 45 minutes exercise. If he has to be moved, they clear the corridors before he walks down them and they lock all cell doors to ensure he has no contact with any other prisoner outside the short and strictly supervised exercise period. There is no possible justification for this inhuman regime, used on major terrorists, being imposed on a publisher who is a remand prisoner.”
This is hardly the British justice we were brought up to admire. So I have asked my MP Alister Jack to obtain an explanation from our Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland QC MP. A few simple answers would be appreciated:
⦁ Why is Assange held under the inhuman conditions reserved for terrorists when he’s no such thing and only on remand?
⦁ How does the Justice Department account for Assange’s poor physical and mental state?
⦁ Now that the Article 4 “cat” is out of the bag, why has the question of whether political charges are excluded from the treaty not been addressed?
⦁ The US has had years to prepare its case, why not give Assange’s defence team more time, easier access and a sporting chance?
⦁ Why Belmarsh for February’s hearing, where the opportunity for public scrutiny is minimal?
⦁ Will District Judge Baraitser preside over the substantive hearing when, according to Murray, she has already failed to behave impartially?
Many will see the hand of the dark state in this. Whatever one’s views on Assange there is surely no excuse for the vile treatment meted out to him.
Stuart Littlewood is a regular contributor to American Herald Tribune, Veterans Today and Redress. His latest book can be read online at www.radiofreepalestine.org.uk.
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