By Eric London and Thomas Scripps
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is a hero or criminal, depending on who you ask.
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The prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at London's Westminster Magistrates Court is a travesty of justice that will forever stain the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden and Ecuador, as well as all the individuals involved.
Appearing alongside Assange in court Monday morning, Assange's attorneys revealed that they had been given only two hours to meet with their client at Belmarsh prison to review what lawyer Gareth Peirce called "volumes" worth of evidence.
Expressing the practiced cynicism of British class justice, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said this was "not an unreasonable position," citing a lack of space in the prison interview room. With the bang of her gavel, Baraitser sent Assange back to his dungeon at Belmarsh, where he awaits his February extradition hearing under conditions UN Rapporteur Nils Meltzer has called "torture."
At this stage in the near decade-long international witch-hunt of Assange, nobody should be surprised by such shameless lawlessness on the part of the world's most powerful governments. Ever since Swedish, British and American prosecutors conspired in 2010 to issue a warrant for Assange's arrest in connection with an investigation into bogus sexual misconduct allegations, these "advanced democracies" have trampled on their own laws and traditions, subjecting the journalist to a pseudo-legal process that would have been deemed unfair even by the standards of the Middle Ages.
Monday's mockery of justice is an escalation of the attack on Assange's right to counsel. It takes place after the Spanish newspaper El País published a detailed account of how a security firm, UC Global, secretly spied on Assange's privileged discussions with his lawyers and fed the illegally obtained surveillance to the CIA. UC Global also shared footage from cameras it installed throughout the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where Assange was forced to seek refuge from 2012 to 2019 to avoid US extradition. El País' reporting showed that UC Global recorded every word Assange spoke and live-streamed these conversations to the CIA.
Despite the support of a criminally compliant media, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the US and British governments to downplay the profoundly anti-democratic precedents they intend to set through the Assange prosecution.
In an opinion article published Monday in the Hill, titled "Will alleged CIA misbehavior set Julian Assange free?" American attorney James Goodale wrote a scathing attack on the CIA's spying on Assange's privileged attorney-client communications.
Goodale is among the most prominent and well respected attorneys in the US, best known for representing the New York Times when the newspaper was sued by the Nixon administration for publishing the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The Pentagon Papers were leaked by RAND Corporation analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who has also called for the release of Assange and whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
The Pentagon Papers revealed how the US government for years lied to the public in expanding the Vietnam War, which led to the deaths of 55,000 US soldiers and 3 million Vietnamese people. Their publication triggered an explosion of public anger and fueled anti-war protests.
Goodale wrote: "Can anything be more offensive to a 'sense of justice' than an unlimited surveillance, particularly of lawyer-client conversations, live-streamed to the opposing party in a criminal case? The alleged streaming unmasked the strategy of Assange's lawyers, giving the government an advantage that is impossible to remove. Short of dismissing Assange's indictment with prejudice, the government will always have an advantage that can never be matched by the defense."
Goodale explained that "the Daniel Ellsberg case may be instructive."
Ellsberg, like Assange, was prosecuted under the Espionage Act for leaking documents to the Times and the Washington Post. During the trial, Nixon's "plumbers" broke into the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist and wiretapped his phone. In that case, Judge William Matthew Byrne ruled that the surveillance had "incurably infected the prosecution" and dismissed the charges, setting Ellsberg free.
Goodale wrote that "for similar reasons, the case against Assange should be dismissed."
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