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Attending the Assange trial - day two

26 February 2020

Tim Dawson, NEC member

Julian Assange made desperate phone calls the US state department warning that unredacted, leaked documents were about to appear on the internet, his extradition hearing has heard. Mark Summers QC, speaking for the Wikileaks founder, said that Assange had worked assiduously to ensure that leaks were redacted so as not to endanger life. The password to an encrypted database was included in a book by Guardian journalists, however, and unredacted leaks were subsequently published by platforms unrelated to Wikileaks.

The revelations came on the second day of the extradition hearing, being heard by Westminster magistrates, sitting at Woolwich crown court. At their opening, Edward Fitzgerald QC complained to judge Vanessa Baraitser about Assange’ treatment by prison staff. "Yesterday my client was handcuffed 11 times, searched naked twice, put in five separate holding cells and had his papers taken from him - my concern is that this needless treatment limits his ability to participate." The judge responded that this was outside her jurisdiction.

Among the extradition request's most significant claims is that by publishing leaked cables, Assange 'knowingly put lives at risk'. Summers argued that not only was this inconsistent with the facts, but that the US government well knew that it was untrue.

Wikileaks had received the diplomatic cables form Chelsea Manning in April 2010. The website partnered with The Guardian, the New York Times, Der Spiegel and El Pais. Together they devoted nine months to redacting material to avoid possible harm to individuals. Evidence from an employee of Der Spiegel attested that the US state department had participated in the redaction.

Repeated attacks on Wikileaks site forced it to move operations to 'mirror' sites, so that its material, and the underlying archive, remained accessible.

Publication commenced in November 2010. In February 2011, however, Guardian journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding published 'Wikileaks – Inside Julian Assange War On Secrecy'. Its text included the password to access Wikileaks’ uneducated leaks. The Guardian has subsequently denied this.

This became known in September 2011, occasioning Assange's desperate phone calls. US officials did not follow these up. 

It was not the only aspect of the extradition that troubled Summers. He called the entire document "lies, lies and more lies".

Dissecting to the accusation that Assange has 'solicited' material from Chelsea Manning, Summers rejected suggestions that his client helped download information from classified databases. Summers said that on multiple occasions, Manning had not shared with Wikileaks documents that were on its 'most wanted' list despite their being accessible to her. 

Summers told the hearing that Manning's motivation for leaking the 2007 'Rules of Engagement', for example, was to expose dishonesty in US government response to the release of the 'collateral murder' video. Had she been reacting to Assange’s solicitation, she would have shared other files at that time.

Mark Lewis for the US government, accused Summers of 'knocking down straw men'. The detailed case for Assange’s deportation will be made in the coming days.

An NUJ/IFJ observer has been present at the hearing, which continues.

Tags: , ifj, julian assange, wikileaks, espionage, espionage act, sources, ethics, whistleblowers, public interest