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February 28, 2020

Assange and the imperium

Opinion

February 28, 2020

The second day of extradition hearings against Julian Assange and by virtue of that, WikiLeaks, saw Mark Summers QC deliver a formidable serve for the defence at Woolwich Crown Court.

“It’s difficult to conceive of a clearer example of an extradition request that boldly and blatantly misstates the facts as they are known to be to the US government.” The targets were, respectively, allegations by the US Department of Justice that Assange attempted to conceal Chelsea Manning’s identity for nefarious purposes and second, that WikiLeaks was reckless as to the potential consequences of harm in releasing unredacted State Department cables in 2011.

The position WikiLeaks has taken on the latter position goes back to the problematic, rocky relationship it has had with The Guardian over the years. In November last year, the paper took the position that Assange had to “be defended against extradition to the United States in a case that digs at the foundations of freedom of democracy in both Britain and the US, and could see him sentenced to a total of 175 years.” History, however, shows a more fair-weather friend disposition, especially amongst a few of the paper’s journalists.

The Guardian was one of a select number of international outlets WikiLeaks had partnered with in what was intended to be, according to Summers, a harm minimisation process of release. Initial cable publications in November 2010 heeded the principle of redaction, so much so that John Goetz of Der Spiegel considered them “extreme”. Goetz’s statement was duly read by Summers: “These were more extreme measures than I had ever previously observed as a journalist to secure the data and ensure they could not be accessed by anyone who was not a journalist.”

To the claim of reckless publication, it was submitted that journalists Luke Harding and David Leigh revealed the relevant password in their book ‘WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy’ that led inexorably to the indiscriminate release of the cables. The password granted access to the encrypted file with the full trove of unredacted cables, though this fact was only picked up by the German publication ‘Der Freitag’ in August 2011.

James Lewis QC, representing the Crown Prosecution Service, scoffed at the notion, leading to the defence referencing the index of Harding and Leigh’s work.

The account submitted by Summers did not lack thriller appeal. On August 25, the day ‘Der Freitag’ started getting busy, Assange and Sarah Harrison, his WikiLeaks counterpart, got on the phone to both the US State Department and the US ambassador in the UK.

Excerpted from: ‘Julian Assange Against theImperium’.

Counterpunch.org