Julian Assange was 'handcuffed 11 times and stripped naked'

WikiLeaks founder’s lawyers complain of interference after first day of extradition hearing

Julian Assange was handcuffed 11 times, stripped naked twice and had his case files confiscated after the first day of his extradition hearing, according to his lawyers, who complained of interference in his ability to take part.

Their appeal to the judge overseeing the trial at Woolwich crown court in south-east London was also supported by legal counsel for the US government, who said it was essential the WikiLeaks founder be given a fair trial.

Edward Fitzgerald QC, acting for Assange, said the case files, which the prisoner was reading in court on Monday, were confiscated by guards when he returned to prison later that night and that he was put in five cells.

The judge, Vanessa Baraitser, replied that she did not have the legal power to comment or rule on Assange’s conditions but encouraged the defence team to formally raise the matter with the prison.

The details emerged on the second day of Assange’s extradition hearing, during which his legal team denied that he had “knowingly placed lives at risk” by publishing unredacted US government files.

The court was told Wikileaks had entered into a collaboration with the Guardian, El País, the New York Times and other media outlets to make redactions to 250,000 leaked cables in 2010 and published them.

Mark Summers, QC, claimed the unredacted files had been published because a password to this material had appeared in a Guardian book on the affair. “The gates got opened not by Assange or WikiLeaks but by another member of that partnership,” he said.

The Guardian denied the claim.

“The Guardian has made clear it is opposed to the extradition of Julian Assange. However, it is entirely wrong to say the Guardian’s 2011 Wikileaks book led to the publication of unredacted US government files,” a spokesman said.

“The book contained a password which the authors had been told by Julian Assange was temporary and would expire and be deleted in a matter of hours. The book also contained no details about the whereabouts of the files. No concerns were expressed by Assange or Wikileaks about security being compromised when the book was published in February 2011. Wikileaks published the unredacted files in September 2011.

The Guardian’s former investigations editor David Leigh, who wrote the book with Luke Harding, said: “It’s a complete invention that I had anything to do with Julian Assange’s own publication decisions. His cause is not helped by people making things up.”

Assange, 48, is wanted in the US to face 18 charges of attempted hacking and breaches of the Espionage Act. They relate to the publication a decade ago of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and files covering areas including US activities in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Australian, who could face a 175-year prison sentence if found guilty, is accused of working with the former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to leak classified documents.

As well as rejecting allegations that Assange had put the lives of US sources in danger, much of the hearing was taken up with defence counter arguments to the US case that he helped the former intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to “crack” a scrambled password stored on US Department of Defense computers in order to continue sending leaked material to Wikileaks.

“You can accurately describe this chapter of the case as lies, lies and more lies,” Summers told the court at the outset of the day.

Manning already had access to the information and did not need to decode the scrambled password, or “hash value”. Nor could she have done so, as is alleged, in order to gain someone else’s password, because access to the system was recorded on the basis of IP addresses, Summers says.

As for the US contention that Assange had “solicited” leaks from Manning, a whistleblower who served more than six years of a 35-year military prison sentence before it was commuted by Barack Obama, Summers drew on Manning’s insistence that she was moved by her conscience.

James Lewis QC responded for the US government by accusing the defence of consistently misrepresenting the US indictment of Assange, adding: “What he [Summers] is trying to do is consistently put up a straw man and then knock it down.”

For example, on the question of cracking the password hash, he emphasised that the US was making a “general allegation” that doing so would make it “more difficult” for the authorities to identify the source of the leaks.

Lewis rejected claims made on Monday by the defence that the US had deliberately “ratcheted up” the charges against Assange in response to the fact that Swedish authorities announced in May 2019 their intention to reopen the investigation of Assange for alleged sexual offences and issue a European arrest warrant.

“The inference that charging Mr Assange with publishing the names of sources was simply ratcheting up the charges is defeated by the objective facts that the [US] grand jury found and indicted him on,” he said.

“It just does not follow we will ratchet up the charges in case there might be a competition. We have a clear unequivocal and legal basis for charging him and that is the end of it.”

The hearing continues.


Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

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