ASSANGE EXTRADITION: Craig Murray: Your Man in the Public Gallery: Assange Hearing—Day 16
COMMENTARY, FOREIGN POLICY, LEGAL, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION, U.S., WIKILEAKS
September 30, 2020
Former British diplomat Craig Murray was in the public gallery at Old Bailey for Julian Assange’s hearing and here is his report on Tuesday’s events.
Lady Blind Justice. (Marc Treble, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)
By Craig Murray
Tuesday was another day on which the testimony focused on the extreme inhumane conditions in which Julian Assange would be kept imprisoned in the USA if extradited.
The prosecution’s continued tactic of extraordinary aggression towards witnesses who are patently well informed played less well, and there were distinct signs that Judge Vanessa Baraitser was becoming irritated by this approach.
The totality of defence witnesses and the sheer extent of mutual corroboration they provided could not simply be dismissed by the prosecution attempting to characterize all of them as uninformed on a particular detail, still less as all acting in bad faith. To portray one witness as weak may appear justified if they can be shaken, but to attack a succession of patently well-qualified witnesses, on no basis but aggression and unreasoning hostility, becomes quickly unconvincing.
The other point which became glaringly anomalous, in fact quite contrary to natural justice, was the U.S. government’s continued reliance on affidavits from U.S. Assistant Attorney Gordon Kromberg and Board of Prisons psychiatrist Dr. Alison Leukefeld.
The cross-examinations by the U.S. government of the last four defence witnesses have all relied on precisely the same passages from Kromberg and Leukefeld, and every single one of the defence witnesses has said Leukefeld and Kromberg are wrong as to fact.
Yet under U.S./U.K. extradition agreements the U.S. government witnesses may not be called and cross-examined. When the defence witnesses are attacked so strongly in cross-examination on the points of disagreement with Kromberg and Leukefeld, it becomes glaringly wrong that Kromberg and Leukefeld may not be similarly cross-examined by the defence on the same points.
Similarly as to process, the only point of any intellectual purchase which the U.S. government’s lawyers have hit upon is the limited direct experience of the witnesses of the H unit of the ADX Supermax prison.
This casts in a stark light last week’s objection to the defence introducing further witnesses who have precisely that experience, in response to the affidavits of Kromberg and Leukefeld on these specific points, which were submitted on Aug. 20 and Sept. 2 respectively. The prosecution objected to these witnesses as too late, whereas both were submitted within a month of the testimony to which they were responding. The U.S. government and Baraitser having ruled out witnesses on this very specific new point, their then proceeding to attack the existing defence witnesses on their knowledge of precisely the point on which they refused to hear new evidence, leaves a very bad taste indeed.
First Witness, Maureen Baird
The first witness of the day was Maureen Baird, former warden (governor in U.K. terms) of three U.S. prisons including, from 2014–2016, the Metropolitan Correction Center (MCC) New York, which houses a major concentration of Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) prisoners pre-trial. She had also attended national courses and training programs on SAMs and met and discussed with fellow warders and others responsible for them elsewhere, including Florence ADX.
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Metropolitan Correction Centre in New York. (Jim Henderson, CC0, Wikimedia Commons)
Led through her evidence by Edward Fitzgerald QC, Baird confirmed that she anticipated Assange would be subject to SAMs pre-trial, based on the national-security argument and on all the documentation submitted by the U.S. attorney, and post-trial. SAMs meant being confined to a cell 23–24 hours a day with no communication at all with other prisoners. In MCC the one hour a day outside your cell was spent simply in a different but identical empty cell known as the “recreation cell.” She had put in an exercise bike; otherwise it was unequipped. Recreation was always completely alone.
' loading=lazy class=" wp-image-53633 alignleft" v:shapes="_x0000_i1028"> Prisoners were allowed one phone call a month of 30 minutes, or two of 15 minutes, to named and vetted family members. These were monitored by the FBI.
Fitzgerald asked about Kromberg’s assertion that mail was “free-flowing.” Baird said that all mail was screened. This delayed mail typically by two-to-three months, if it got through at all.
Baird said that the SAMs regime was centrally determined and was the same in all locations. It was decided by the attorney general. Neither the prison warden nor the Board of Prisons itself had the power to moderate the SAMs regime. Fitzgerald said the U.S. government had claimed yesterday it could be varied, and some people under SAMs could even have a cellmate. Baird replied “No, that is not my experience at all.”
Fitzgerald quoted Kromberg as stating that a prisoner could appeal to the case manager and unit manager against the conditions of SAMs. Baird replied that those people “could do nothing.” SAMs was “way above their pay grade.”
Kromberg’s description was unrealistic, as was his description of judicial review. All internal procedures would have to be exhausted first, which would take many years and go nowhere. She had never seen any case of SAMs being changed.
Similarly, when Fitzgerald put to her that SAMs were imposed for only one year at a time and subject to annual review, Baird replied that she had never heard of any case of their not being renewed. They appeared simply to be rolled over by the attorney general’s office.
Baird said that in addition to herself applying SAMs at the MCC, she went on national training courses on SAMs and met and discussed experiences with those applying SAMs at other locations, including the Florence, Colorado, ADX.
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ADX Florence in Colorado. (Federal Bureau of Prisons, Wikimedia Commons)
SAMs had strong and negative consequences on prisoners’ mental and physical health. These included severe depression, anxiety disorder and weight loss. Baird said she agreed with a previous witness, Joel Sickler, that if convicted Assange could very well face spending the rest of his life imprisoned under SAMs at the Florence ADX. She quoted a former warden of that prison describing it as “not built for humanity.”
Fitzgerald took Baird to Kromberg’s description of a multi-phased program for release from SAMs.
Baird said she recognized none of this in practice. SAMs prisoners could not participate in any group programs or meet other prisoners in any circumstances. What Kromberg was describing was not a program but a very limited list of potential small extra privileges, such as one extra phone call a month. Phase 3 involved mingling with other prisoners and Baird said she had never seen it and doubted it really applied: “I don’t know how that happens.”
Fitzgerald asked Baird about Dr. Leukefeld’s claim that some prisoners enjoy Florence ADX so much they did not want to leave.
Baird said this was a reflection of the extreme anxiety disorders that could affect prisoners. They became scared to leave their highly ordered world.
It was interesting to see how the prosecution would claim that Baird was unqualified. It was very difficult to counter the evidence of a prison warden about the inhumanity of the prison regime. The U.S. government hit on a quite extraordinary attack. They claimed that the prison system was generally pleasant as described by Leukefeld and Kromberg, but that the prisons in which Baird had worked had indeed been bad, but only because Baird was a bad warden.
Here are brief extracts from the US Government’s cross-examination of Baird:
Clair Dobbin Are you independent?
Maureen Baird I work for one attorney but also others.
Dobbin You appear on a legal website as a consultant – Allan Ellis of San Francisco.
Baird I do some consultancy, including with Allan but not exclusively.
Dobbin You only work for defendants?
Dobbin It says that the firm handles appeals and post-conviction placing.
Baird Yes, I tend to get involved in post-conviction or placing.
Dobbin Do you have any experience in sentencing?
Baird What kind of sentencing?
Dobbin That is what I am asking.
Baird I have testified on prison conditions pre-sentence.
This was a much briefer effort than usual to damage the credentials of the witness. After questions on Baird’s exact prison experience, Clair Dobbins moved on to:
Dobbin Do you know the criteria for SAMs?
Dobbin Why do you say it is likely Assange will get SAMs? Kromberg only says it is possible.
Baird Kromberg talks about it a very great deal. It is very plainly on the table.
Dobbin It is speculative. It can only be decided by the attorney general as reasonably necessary to prevent the disclosure of national security information.
Baird They have made plain they believe Assange to hold further such information.
Dobbin You are not in any position to make any judgement.
Baird It is my opinion he would be judged to meet that criterion, based on their past decisions.
Dobbin How can you say the risk exists he would disclose national security information?
Baird He is charged with espionage. They have said he is a continuing risk.
Dobbin I am suggesting that is highly speculative and you cannot know.
Baird I am judging by what the government have said and the fact they have so much emphasized SAMs. They very definitely fail to say in all this that SAMs will not be applied.
After further discussion on Kromberg’s claims versus Baird’s experience, the U.S. government moved on to the question of the SAMs prisoners under Baird’s care in the MCC.
Dobbin You say they were in solitary confinement. The officers on the unit did not have human contact with the prisoners?
Baird They did not speak to inmates.
Dobbin Why not?
Baird That is not what prison officers do.
Dobbin Why not? You were in charge?
Baird They just open the small viewing slot in the iron door every half hour and look through. Conversation just did not happen.
Dobbin You could encourage that?
Baird I could lead by example. But ordering conversation is not something a prison warden does. I did not have that authority. There are unions. If I instructed the prison officers to socialize with the prisoners, they would reply it is not in their job description.
Dobbin Oh, come on! You could encourage.
Baird On a normal basis, those officers do not talk to inmates.
Dobbin Did you tell your staff to? Wouldn’t the first thing you do be to tell your staff to talk?
Baird No. That’s not how it works.
Dobbin Did you raise your concerns about SAMs with those above you?
Dobbin Did you raise your concerns with judges? (Brief discussion of a specific case ensued.)
Dobbin Did you raise concerns about the conditions of SAM inmates with judges?
Baird No. They were a very small part of the prison population I was dealing with.
Dobbin So you didn’t encourage staff or raise any concerns?
Baird I tried to be fair and compassionate. I talked to the isolation prisoners myself. The fact that other staff did not engage is not uncommon. I do not recall making any complaints or recommendations.
Dobbin So these conditions did not cause you any concerns at the time. It is only now?
Baird It did cause me concerns.
Dobbin What did you do about your concerns at the time?
Baird I did not think I had any influence. It was way above me. SAMs are decided by the attorney general and heads of the intelligence agencies.
Dobbin You did not even try.
This was an audacious effort to distract from Baird’s obviously qualified and first-hand evidence of how dreadful and inhumane the regime is, but ultimately a complaint that Baird did not try to modify the terrible system does not really help the government case. In over two hours of cross-examination, Dobbin again and again tried to discredit Baird’s testimony by contrasting it with the evidence of Kromberg and Leukefeld, but this was entirely counter-productive for Dobbin. It served instead to illustrate how very far Kromberg’s and Leukefeld’s assurances were from the description of what really happens from an experienced prison warden.
Baird demolished Dobbin’s insistence on Kromberg’s description of a functioning three-stage program for removal of SAMs. When it came to Dr. Leukefeld’s account of SAMs prisoners being allowed to take part in psychiatric group therapy sessions, Baird involuntarily laughed. She suggested that from where Dr. Leukefeld sat “in the central office,” Leukefeld possibly genuinely believed this happened.
Afternoon Witness: Lindsay Lewis
The afternoon witness was an attorney, Lindsay Lewis, who representsAbu Hamza, who is held at ADX Florence.
Abu Hamza al-Masri shortly after his extradition to the U.S. in 2012. (Prison Board, Wikimedia Commons)
The videolink to Lewis had extremely poor sound and from the public gallery I was unable to hear much of her testimony.
She said that Hamza, who has both forearms amputated, had been kept in solitary confinement under SAMs in the ADX for almost 10 years.
His conditions were absolutely inappropriate to his condition. He had no prosthesis sufficient to handle self-care and received no nursing care at all. His bed, toilet and sink were all unadapted and unsuitable to his disability. His other medical conditions including severe diabetes, hypertension and depression were not adequately treated.
Lewis said that the conditions of Hamza’s incarceration directly breached undertakings made by the U.S. government to the U.K. magistrates’ court and High Court when they made the extradition request. The U.S. had stated his medical needs would be fully assessed, his medical treatment would be adequate, and he was unlikely to be sent to the ADX. None of these had happened.
In cross-examination, Dobbin’s major point was to deny that the assurances given to the British authorities by the U.S. government at the time of Hamza’s extradition amounted to undertakings.
She was also at great pains to emphasize Hamza’s convicted terrorist offences, as though these justified the conditions of his incarceration.
But the one thing which struck me most was Lewis’ description of the incident that was used to justify the continued imposition of SAMs on Hamza.
Hamza is allowed to communicate only with two named family members, one of whom is one of his sons. In a letter, Hamza had asked this son to tell his 1-year-old grandchild that he loved him. Hamza was charged with an illegal message to a third party (the grandson). This had resulted in extension of the SAMs regime on Hamza, which still continues. In cross-examination, Dobbin was at pains to suggest this “I love you” may have been a coded terrorist message.
The day concluded with a foretaste of excitement to come, as Judge Baraitser agreed to grant witness anonymity to the two UC Global whistleblowers who are to give evidence on UC Global’s spying on Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy. In making application, Summers gave notice that among the topics to be discussed was the instruction from UC Global’s American clients to consider poisoning or kidnapping Assange. The hidden firearm with filed-off serial numbers discovered in the home of UC Global’s Chief Executive David Morales, and his relationship to the head of security at the Las Vegas Sands complex, were also briefly mooted.
Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010. His coverage is entirely dependent on reader support. Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.
This article is from CraigMurray.org.uk.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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Former British diplomat was in the public gallery at Old Bailey for Julian Assange’s hearing to report on Julian Assange' USA Extradition Hearings.
Old Bailey London. United Kingdom
Julian Assange wondering if he will ever receive any Fair Justice in the London and USA Courts
Joseph Farrell, Kristinn Hrafnsson, Craig Murray and Stella Moris during lunch break outside Old Bailey on Thursday. (Mohamed Elmaazi)
Left to Right
Lady Blind Justice. (Marc Treble, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)
Your Man in the Public Gallery: Assange Hearing Day 19
September 29, 2020 in Uncategorized by craig Murray
Today was the worst day for the defence since the start of the trial, as their expert witnesses failed to cope with the sheer aggression of cross-examination by the US Government and found themselves backing away from maintaining propositions they knew to be true. It was uncomfortable viewing.
It was not that the prosecution had in any way changed their very systematic techniques of denigrating and browbeating; in fact the precise prosecution template was once again followed. It goes like this.
undermine academic credentials as not precisely relevant
humiliate by repeated memory test questions of precise phrasing of obscure regulations or definitions
denigrate relevance of practical experience
iterate official positions and challenge witness to say they are expressed by named officials in bad faith
humiliate by asking witness to repeat from memory regulations for expert testimony in UK courts
run though a list of qualifications and government positions relevant to the subject and make witness say one by one they have not held them
claim testimony is biased or worthless because it does not include government assertions at full length.
You will note that none of this has anything to do with the truth of the actual evidence, and to date almost all witnesses have easily, sometimes contemptuously, seen off this intellectually shallow method of attack. But today was another story. The irony was that, when it came to the real subject matter of the evidence, it was obvious to any reasonable person that the prosecution claims of the good conditions in the American Prison service for high profile national security prisoners are just nonsense. But it was a day when the divorce between truth and court process was still plainer than usual. Given the horrific reality this process was disguising, it was a hard day to sit through.
First to give evidence by videolink was Yancey Ellis. An attorney with a doctorate in law, Ellis has been practising for 15 years including five as a US Marine Judge Advocate. He currently practises in Alexandria, Virginia, where he is now private, having formally been a public defender. As such he is very familiar with the Alexandria Detention Centre where Assange would be held pre-trial. This includes visiting clients in the Administrative Segregation, (AdSeg or X block) where high profile and national security prisoners are held.
He testified that pre-trail detention could last many months or even years. Isolation from other prisoners is the purpose of the X block. Prisoners are in tiny cells of approximately 50 square feet, which is under 5 square metres. The bed is a shelf. On a daily basis only one to two hours are allowed outside the cell, into a small area outside at a time when nobody else is there. The second hour was generally available only in the middle of the night, so was not utilised.
Edward Fitzgerald, QC for the defence, asked Ellis whether prisoners in Administrative segregation could associate. Ellis replied “not really”. The purpose of AdSeg was to prevent it. You were never allowed out of your cell at the same time as another AdSeg prisoner. Contrary to the assertions of Gordon Kromberg, it was very difficult to talk through the thick steel doors. You would have to scream at the top of your voice to be heard at all. Ellis had tried it himself to consult with his clients. Communication was only possible if he could find a deputy to open a food flap for him. As prisoners in AdSeg were locked down, the unit was not usually staffed.
Ellis said that AdSeg was solitary confinement, on the definition of more than 22 hours a day alone with no human interaction. In practise, there was no appeal to the judicial authorities on prison conditions. “Courts will defer to the jail on how they house inmates” [which of course mirrors Baraitser’s answers to requests to ameliorate Assange’s periods in solitary confinement and other mistreatment in Belmarsh prison].
Fitzgerald pointed out that the AdSeg regime Ellis described was even without the addition of Special Administrative Measures, which bring additional restrictions. Ellis confirmed none of the clients he represented was subject to SAMs. He confirmed they did get phone access, but only to a service that allowed them to send “pre-recorded phone calls” to relatives. Fitzgerald then asked how this was affected by SAMs, but James Lewis QC objected on the grounds Ellis had said he had no direct knowledge and Baraitser upheld that.
Fitzgerald asked Lewis about provision of medical and psychiatric care. Ellis replied that the Alexandria Detention Centre does not employ a doctor. There were some social work and counselling services available in-house. Medical services were provided by a private firm. It could take several weeks to see a psychiatrist, even in a crisis. Asked about suicide risk, Ellis said prisoners could be made to wear a “special suit” [straitjacket?] and had shoelaces, belt etc. removed.
James Lewis QC then cross-examined for the US government and I think this is best conveyed as dialogue. Again this is slightly condensed and paraphrased. It is not a transcript (it would be illegal for me to take a transcript; no, I don’t know why either).
Lewis You have described US Assistant Attorney Gordon Kromberg’s testimony as “inaccurate or incomplete”. How many prisoners are there currently in Alexandria Detention Centre?
Ellis Approximately 300.
Lewis You say there are four or six cells in administrative segregation?
Ellis Yes, in the H block.
Lewis Your info comes from your visits and from prisoners?
Lewis Have you interviewed the governor?
Lewis Have you interviewed the custodial staff?
Lewis Have you interviewed the psychiatrists or psychologists?
Lewis You have given one side of the story. One side of the picture. Do you agree?
Ellis Do I agree there are two sides to every story?
Lewis US Marshalls annually inspect the jail. Do you disagree?
Ellis I don’t know.
Lewis Kromberg says it was inspected on August 5 2019 by US Marshalls and found fully compliant. What do you say?
Lewis Also the Commonwealth of Virginia inspected July 23-5 2019. There have been no suicides during the current inspection period.
Ellis They have a good track record when it comes to completed suicides.
Lewis Have you read these reports? Do you know the findings of these reports? You don’t know how prisoners are assessed for different types of housing?
Ellis I have frequently asked for assessment reports in individual cases. I have never been given them.
Lewis You don’t know that Assange will be placed in Administrative Segregation?
Ellis I would bet that he will.
Lewis Kromberg has stated that AdSeg prisoners have access to prisoner programmes but you have testified otherwise. But you have never represented federal prisoners, have you?
Ellis There is no difference in treatment inside the jail between state and federal prisoners.
Lewis Were you asked by the defence to state that AdSeg is solitary confinement?
Lewis There is unlimited access to your lawyers. That is not considered in your definition of solitary confinement.
Ellis Not unlimited.
Lewis AdSeg prisoners have library access?
Ellis Rarely. They may be able to go there in their time outside the cell, but only if it can be empty at that time so they do not meet anybody.
Lewis You say Assange will be housed in AdSeg on the ground floor. You cannot know that.
Ellis National security prisoners are all on the ground floor. The higher floors are for general population.
Lewis Your clients in AdSeg were a security risk. Do you know that Assange will be so deemed?
Lewis How do you know Assange won’t be kept in the medical wing?
Ellis High profile prisoners are not allowed to mix with the general population.
Lewis But won’t Mr Assange benefit from a phalanx of lawyers questioning his conditions. Don’t you think his publicity and support will bring better treatment?
Ellis I don’t know that will be the effect.
Edward Fitzgerald then re-examined for the defence.
Fitzgerald Your judgements are based on your personal observations?
Ellis Yes, and the reports of my clients.
Fitzgerald And why do you say Assange will be kept on the H block?
Ellis It’s the design of the jail. Nowhere else a long term AdSeg prisoner could be held.
Fitzgerald On prisoner programmes, you say they would not be possible if it involved meeting another prisoner?
Ellis Yes, and there are no individual programmes.
For the first time in this trial, Baraitser herself now asked a question of the witness. She asked Ellis why he thought Assange would not be held in the general prison population, as he currently was at Belmarsh. Ellis said it was because he was a public figure in a high profile case. Baraitser suggested that in the UK, being a high profile figure did not mean different treatment. Ellis said he was simply recounting the actual practice of the Alexandria jail in such cases.
Baraitser’s intervention was extraordinary given she had heard irrefutable evidence from Dr Blackwood that Assange had been placed into isolation in the medical wing in Belmarsh after somebody took a brief snatch of video of him, to prevent “reputational damage” to the prison. Yes, now she was saying high profile prisoners in the UK are not removed from the general prison population. She seems to have an infallible mental filter for blocking inconvenient information.
Her less subconscious filter was next in evidence, as there was time for a quick procedural judgement before the next witness, on the question of the decision of the prison governor on Julian Assange in the razor blade in the cell case. The record of the hearing on this ran to a minimum of 19 paragraphs, the judgement itself being in paragraph 19. Baraitser had indicated she was minded only to take para 19 as evidence, although the defence said the whole document contained very useful information. I am told that paras 1 to 18 include information on the extraordinary decision to place Julian Assange in solitary confinement disguised as “healthcare”, including the fact Belmarsh chief medic Dr Daly had produced not one of the compulsory monthly medical reports in his five months on the medical wing.
In one of those accommodations I find inexplicable, the defence conceded, without forcing Baraitser to a judgement, that paragraphs 1 to 18 should be ignored and only para 19 accepted as evidence, on the understanding it did establish the existence of the razor blade and thus vindicate Prof Kopelman’s judgement, and showed the charge had merely been dismissed as not timeous.
Yancey Ellis’s cross-examination above reads very well, and he did provide good answers to the prosecution attack. But he sounded rattled and nervous, and the performance was less convincing than it reads. This was to get much worse for the defence.
The next witness was Joel Sickler. He has a Master’s degree in the administration of justice and has worked for forty years in sentencing and advocacy. He is head of an organisation called Justice in Alexandria, Virginia, an expert in prison conditions, and has visited over 50 prisons across the United States. His organisation makes representations to the court on which institutions are suitable for a prisoner. He testified that he had made dozens of visits to the Alexandria Detention Centre.
He testified that in line with policy Assange would be placed in AdSeg due to his involvement in national security issues and concerns he might pass secrets on to other prisoners. He might also be categorised as needing protection from other prisoners and from self-harm. He would have zero to very limited contact with other prisoners. Sickler characterised Kromberg’s claim that inmates could communicate with each other through the steel doors and thick plexiglass windows as “ridiculous”. If SAMs were applied on top, that involved statutory isolation.
Sickler said that his knowledge of post-incarceration conditions at ADX Florence in Colorado came largely from reading reports. He had one client in there who was not subject to SAMs but was still effectively in solitary confinement for twenty years, despite a clean conduct record. Fitzgerald asked about provision of medical and psychiatric care, and Sickler stated that across the federal system he had dozens of clients who had found a way to commit suicide. In ADX specifically, there was a possibility of being transferred to a Federal medical centre in extreme cases.
At the ADX, Assange would be kept in the SSU known as the H block. With or without SAMs, contact with other prisoners would be completely barred. Contact with the outside world would be extraordinarily limited. Any contact permitted with family would be monitored by the FBI. One 15-minute phone call was allowed per month. Post conviction, contact with lawyers was very limited.
Fitzgerald asked how you could appeal against SAMs or other prison conditions. Sickler replied that appealing even over minor administrative matters virtually never succeeds. SAMs can only be varied by the Attorney General. In the prison system generally, Sickler had filed many thousands of requests on prison conditions and perhaps a dozen had succeeded. With SAMs there was effectively no chance. Solitary confinement could be indefinite in ADX – there was no upper limit.
Fitzgerald asked about changes in the prison after the Cunningham Mitigation settlement. Sickler said changes had been nominal. Any real improvement had only affected lower security prisoners. On prison conditions in general “Official statements, public pronouncements are one thing, reality in prison is something else”. The affidavit by Dr Alison Leukefeld for the government looked great on paper but was not the practice. On the other hand, reports by organisations like the Marshall Project exactly matched with his practical experience. Official statistics, like only 3% of federal prisoners having mental health problems, “do not ring true to me”. There was a significant risk Assange would not receive adequate physical and mental healthcare.
Clair Dobbin then rose to cross-examine. Again, I will report this as dialogue.
Dobbin What do you actually do? Do you work for the defence in cases?
Sickler Yes, I help identify the appropriate institution for imprisonment and help clients navigate the prison system.
Dobbin So prisoner advocacy?
Dobbin So you only go to prisons to visit those you represent?
Dobbin So you are not a prison inspector?
Sickler No, I am not.
Dobbin So you are not an academic?
Sickler No, I am not.
Dobbin So you are not a psychiatrist?
Sickler No, I am not.
Dobbin So you are not a researcher?
Sickler No, I am not.
Dobbin So you are not a doctor? You don’t get to see medical records?
Sickler No, I am not. But I retain a medical consultant. I look at medical reports and I initiate conduct reports on a daily basis.
Dobbin But you don’t have across the board access? Only in respect of your clients?
Sickler That is right.
Dobbin But you are not a clinician. You do not have the authority to validate medical opinion?
Sickler No, but I employ a medical consultant.
Dobbin Is this consultant a clinical psychiatrist?
Dobbin Have you represented anybody on SAMs?
Sickler No. SAM-like procedures, but not SAMs which can only be ordered by the attorney general.
Dobbin But you said clearly in your affidavit that you have SAM clients. Did you put that there because you want to give the impression you have more expertise than you do?
Sickler Of course not.
Dobbin You have never been to the AdSeg area of Alexandria Detention Centre. So what is your opinion based on?
Sickler Information given to me by numerous third parties including my clients, other lawyers and the public defender.
Dobbin But did you not think it was important to make plain in your statement this is hearsay?
Sickler I didn’t see the distinction as important.
Dobbin Did you see the rules governing expert evidence to this court?
Sickler Yes. I did not think that was against the rules.
Dobbin You have seen Kromberg’s statement. Do you accept there may be legitimate reasons for Assange to be in AdSeg?
Dobbin Prisoners in protective custody receive all the same services and rights as other prisoners?
Sickler Of course.
Dobbin Do you agree that he would be able to attend programmes with other prisoners?
Sickler Not if under SAMs.
Dobbin Do you agree that those in protective custody can meet with other prisoners?
Dobbin Do you agree there are no restrictions on access to lawyers?
Sickler Absolutely, there is a constitutional right.
Dobbin Do you agree that SAMs can only be imposed by the Attorney General?
Dobbin What is the procedure for that?
Sickler It involves consulting the intelligence agencies.
Dobbin It needs the certification of one of the heads of one of the security agencies that the prisoner is a threat to the United States?
Dobbin You cannot know that Assange will get SAMs. And SAMs differ from person to person.
Sickler Yes, correct.
Dobbin In the case of convicted terrorist El-Haj, he was under SAMs but still allowed access to family members?
Sickler Yes, his immediate family.
Dobbin Provisions depend on the individual prisoner?
Dobbin The judge who convicted [another prisoner not heard clearly] entered the MMC personally to check on prison conditions. Does that not show there is good judicial supervision?
Sickler I have seen it, on rare occasions.
Dobbin SAMS does not restrict access to lawyers.
Sickler How do you access lawyers in Florida ADX? And pre-trial there are scheduling difficulties. If he is under SAMs his lawyer will himself be subject to surveillance.
Dobbin What evidence do you have for that?
Sickler The Lynne Stewart case. Lindsay Lewis.
Dobbin Lynne Stewart was running a message for jihadists (she added much alleged detail). Her client was subject to SAMs to prevent him running a terrorist organisation.
Sickler The case, and others, had a chilling effect on the willingness of lawyers to take on SAM cases involving national security.
Dobbin The Alexandria Detention Centre is not overcrowded
Sickler No, it’s below capacity. It is a well-run jail. The staff are very professional.
Dobbin Kromberg sets out very substantial medical staffing levels.
Sickler I understand those are mostly private contractors, not prison staff. In practice prisoner needs are not meaningfully met. It takes a few days to a few weeks to get treatment.
Dobbin But they do get sufficient treatment?
Sickler There is no real psychiatric intervention. This is not top tier. Usually prisoners are just medicated.
Dobbin So they have access to medication? And someone to talk to?
Dobbin Your evidence only refers to one suicide, at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre.
Sickler That is just one example, one of my current cases.
Dobbin But two prison officers have been charged for that.
Sickler We are always swift to blame a little man.
Dobbin It was not the protocols that were wrong, just two people did not do their job. [This is possibly the Epstein case.] The ADC has a good record on suicide.
Sickler It is a very very arduous, almost torturous system of confinement in AdSeg. Assange has depression and is on the autism spectrum. It will be unbearable for him. Even with healthy clients of mine, there has been a terrifying deterioration in these conditions.
Dobbin The evidence is they are successful in preventing suicide at the ADC.
Sickler Yes, they have a stellar record.
Dobbin In the Babar Ahmad case (2012), the European Court of Human Rights considered SAMs and ruled it was not an unacceptable regime. Has anything changed since 2012?
Sickler Not significantly.
Dobbin You initially said in your report Assange might not be sent to ADX. Now you change your mind. Sentencing is at the discretion of the judge. There is no basis for your report.
Sickler I changed my mind in the intervening period. From the second superseding indictment, the charge is now espionage and the government alleges Assange is a continuing threat to the USA.
Dobbin You were a consultant in the Reality Winner case. She only got 53 months.
Sickler She was a qualitatively different kind of defendant.
Dobbin She was an insider. They normally get harsher sentences. She is serving her sentence in a medical facility.
Sickler Not on medical grounds. It is the closest federal incarceration facility to her family.
Dobbin You say Assange would be in solitary confinement. But Kromberg states that most inmates in special housing are in double cells with a cell-mate.
Sickler That can be worse. Many are violent and mentally unwell. Assaults by cellmates are frequent.
There followed an interchange where Dobbin tried to trip up Sickler over the procedures for committing someone to ADX Florida, but he proved knowledgeable in detail.
Dobbin The procedures say that prisoners with health conditions will not be sent to the ADX unless there are serious security concerns.
Sickler Abu Hamza is there and he has no arms.
Dobbin There are just 14 people in ADX in this category. You have not been there. How do you get your information?
Sickler Reports including the Lowenstein Center and the Center for Constitutional Rights
Dobbin Prisoners at ADX do get family visits.
Sickler How often would Mr Assange get family visits? Why don’t you tell the court?
Dobbin [name not heard] a convicted terrorist who attempted to blow up a plane is in ADX and gets family visits and phone calls.
Sickler He is allowed communication with two named family members. But how often is he allowed to call or see them?
Dobbin You have said solitary confinement at the ADX can be indefinite?
Sickler That’s my impression.
Dobbin What is your source of information?
Sickler It’s from prisoners and lawyers. It’s anecdotal, I admit. But are you saying at some point the US government will decide that Assange won’t be likely to divulge classified information?
Dobbin Do you understand that there are three levels in the H block that defendants can work themselves through to get out?
Dobbin Did you know that even in SAMs, prisoners can mingle together for social periods?
Sickler No, I did not.
Dobbin (Quotes ECHR judgement endorsing the stepdown programme)
Sickler You have to be within 2 years of release. If you are designated by the Attorney General for SAMs, you are not eligible for that programme. Conditions in the ADX are extraordinarily arduous.
Dobbin Kromberg sets out the stages and says that stage 3 allows contact with other prisoners
Sickler It sounds awful. Even when you reach phase 3 with the extra privileges. If they do that in practice, well that’s wonderful. It still sounds awful to me.
Dobbin There is a progression.
Sickler I should like to know how long it takes.
Dobbin Do you know the numbers who have come out of the ADX? Shouldn’t you know these facts?
Sickler The place is torturous. That is not in dispute.
Dobbin How inmates are treated will depend on how big a security risk they are.
Dobbin Medical care at the ADX is not affected by SAMs.
Dobbin Do you agree that as a result of the Cunningham Settlement there has been a substantial improvement?
Sickler I cannot say.
Dobbin Gordon Kromberg testifies that ADX Colorado has more mental health provision per inmate than any other federal prison.
Sickler That is needed because of the extreme circumstances people are kept in.
Dobbin Does that not indicate to you that the standard of care is good?
Sickler Is there meaningful patient/clinician interaction? I don’t know.
Dobbin The Cunningham Settlement led to over 100 people being removed from ADX.
Sickler But how many had SAMs?
Dobbin We have established that you don’t know anything about the movement out of people with SAMs.
Sickler Yes, you have established that.
Dobbin As a result of the Cunningham Mitigation two new mental institutions were established.
Sickler Yes, for schizophrenia and psychoses.
Dobbin A Department of Corrections report of 2014 shows that some inmates never want to leave ADX as they find the standard of care so good. They re-offend to get back in.
Sickler They cherry-pick whom they speak to. Most prisoners are desperate to get out.
Dobbin Every report gets an official response from the Board of Prisons and policies are constantly upgraded.
Sickler Yes, but I just don’t see results in practice. I had one client recently, a prisoner, who rather than being treated was beaten up and thrown naked in the hole. It took months before a court got him out. Another was refused his diagnosed and prescribed medicines as not in the BoP formulary.
Dobbin In the first case there was judicial review. So the system works.
Sickler After six months.
There was more of this. The cross-examination lasted two and a half hours. Again, it seems much more convincing from Sickler written down than it did live, where he appeared shaken by the aggression. The answers he gave which sound like firm responses, sounded petulant and throwaway when he delivered them. He gave the impression that it was not worth his time to engage with the unreasonable Dobbin and, while I heartily sympathise, that was not the requirement of the moment.
Sickler very definitely gave the impression he was at times agreeing with the prosecutor just because that was the easier line of action. He often did so in a voice that suggested scepticism, sarcasm or mockery, but that was not plain in his words and will not be apparent in the transcript. In normal life, making short sarcastic responses like “Oh yes, it’s marvellous” in reply to ludicrous assertions by the prosecution about the provision of US supermax prisons, may work as a form of ridicule; in a court setting it does not work at all. In fairness to Mr Sickler, being at home rather than actually in a court session will partly account for it. But the court record will say Sickler says prisoner provision in US supermax prisons is marvellous. It doesn’t note sarcasm.
Dobbin is officious beyond the point of offensive; she comes over as properly obnoxious as a person.
The unpleasant irony in all this is that both Sickler and Ellis were mocked and scorned for their lack of personal knowledge of ADX Colorado, when prosecution and judge had combined just on Friday to bar two witnesses who the defence both wished to testify, who had expert personal experience of ADX Florence. That is yet another striking example of the fact that this process is divorced from any genuine attempt to find truth or justice.
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Your Man in the Public Gallery: Assange Hearing Day 18
September 28, 2020 in Uncategorized by craig Murray
It is hard to believe, but Judge Baraitser on Friday ruled that there will be no closing speeches in the Assange extradition hearing. She accepted the proposal initially put forward by counsel for the US government, that closing arguments should simply be submitted in writing and without an oral hearing. This was accepted by the defence, as they need time to address the new superseding indictment in the closing arguments, and Baraitser was not willing for oral argument to take place later than 8 October. By agreeing to written arguments only, the defence gained a further three weeks to put together the closing of their case.
But this entire hearing has been conducted in effective secrecy, a comprehensive secrecy that gives sharp insight into the politico-economic structures of current western society. Physical access to the courtroom has been extremely limited, with the public gallery cut to five people. Video link access has similarly been extremely limited, with 40 NGOs having their access cut by the judge from day 1 at the Old Bailey, including Amnesty International, PEN, Reporters without Borders and observers from the European Parliament, among many others. The state and corporate media have virtually blacked out this hearing, with a truly worrying unanimity, and despite the implications of the case for media freedom. Finally, the corporations that act as internet gatekeepers have heavily suppressed social media posts about Assange, and traffic to those few websites which are reporting.
I am reminded of the words of another friend of mine, Harold Pinter, in accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature. It seems perfectly to fit the trial of Julian Assange:
It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.
Harold sent me a copy of that speech printed for the ceremony, with a kind dedication that I knew was by then painful for him to write as lines of ink shot uncontrollably across the page. After he died, I had it framed and it hangs on my study wall. That was a mistake. When I get back home to Edinburgh, I will break the frame and get the pamphlet out. It needs to be read, often.
The closing arguments are the part of any trial which the media is most likely to report. They sum up all the evidence heard on both sides and what might be drawn from the evidence. To have these simply submitted on paper, without the drama of the courtroom, is to ensure that the hearing will continue to be a media non-event.
The timetable which has been accepted is that the defence will lodge their closing arguments in writing on 30 October, the prosecution will reply on 13 November, with the defence able to make a further response by 20 November purely on any legal questions; Baraitser will then deliver her judgement in January. She made plain that she would not accept any further submissions based on developments in the interim, including the US Presidential election.
Friday was yet another day when the process was as important to the result as the evidence heard, if not more so. The day had started with discussion over a defence attempt to submit two new statements from two new witnesses. Both were psychiatrists with expert knowledge of the US prison system. Previous witnesses, both psychiatrists and US attorneys, who had testified for the defence had been criticised by the prosecution as not having direct knowledge of the specific prison, ADX Florence, Colorado, in which Julian would serve his sentence if convicted.
The prosecution had provided two affidavits on conditions in the prison, one from US Assistant Attorney Gordon Kromberg dated 20 August 2020 and one from a prison psychiatrist named Leukefeld dated 3 September 2020. Now it is a very strange feature indeed of these extradition hearings that the defence have no right to cross-examine witnesses who are US federal employees. Gordon Kromberg has submitted five separate affidavits, containing much which is disputed hotly as to fact, but he cannot be cross-examined. Nor may Leukefeld be cross-examined.
Fitzgerald made the point that the defence had to respond to this prosecution evidence somehow, as it could not be cross-examined. He stated that as it had been submitted by the prosecution with the last four weeks, it had taken the defence a little time to find expert witnesses who were in a position to contradict, and then to take their evidence. The defence now had two excellent witnesses with personal knowledge of ADX Florence, and wished to enter their evidence. The defence accepted that because Baraitser had stated the trial will end next week, there would not be time to cross-examine these new witnesses. But then, the prosecution witnesses could not be cross-examined either. As Fitzgerald put it “the prosecution do not have a divine right to cross-examine our witnesses when we do not have any right to cross-examine their witnesses.”
For the US government, James Lewis QC “strongly objected” to this new evidence being submitted. He said the defence had more than a year to prepare these statements and kept trying to prolong the hearing. He said that the defence witnesses did not have the authority of the US government witnesses, and they needed to be cross-examined because many of the defence “experts” were not really expert at all. If these witnesses were called, he would insist on the right to cross-examine and that would extend the hearing.
Having heard the lawyers, Judge Baraitser yet again read out a ruling from her laptop which had been written before she heard either Lewis or Fitzgerald speak. Entirely predictably, she ruled that the defence statements were not admissible, as being too late. The defence “had had a fair opportunity to investigate”. Defence witnesses must be liable to cross-examination. These proceedings had lasted too long already and there must be an end to new evidence. “As a matter of fairness a line must be drawn”, she intoned. She seemed particularly pre-occupied with the notion of “fairness”, which apparently almost always entails ruling against the defence.
For the first time in the course of these hearings, Baraitser did look up briefly from her pre-prepared judgement to insert a reference to something Fitzgerald had said in court, that one possible approach might be that the new defence evidence could simply be cited as though it were an academic article. But only to dismiss it.
So, no closing speeches and two key witnesses not admitted.
We then moved on to the next leg of this very peculiar procedure, in which “case management” always trumps justice, with another defence evidence statement of which an agreed “gist” is simply read into the record, with no cross-examination. Under this procedure, which Baraitser expressly initiated to save time, where the defence will agree, witness statements are whittled down simply to those facts which are uncontested, and a “gist” or edit of that edit is read out, with the whole redacted statement entered into the court record.
The defence have allowed themselves to be too easily browbeaten into submission on all of this “time saving”, which is of course pursued by the judge and the US government in the interests of having as little embarrassing information aired in public as possible, and closing down the hearing quickly. One consequence of the rather hangdog defence approach to this is that, after the first very effective reading of key passages from el-Masri’s evidence, subsequent “gists” read into the record have been raced through, as though the defence realise this evidence has been reduced to a pointless formality, with no expression or weight in the reading and at a speed that far exceeds my ability to take an accurate note.
Like Thursday’s evidence from John Young of Cryptome, the witness statement of Jakob Augstein was important evidence that went to the fact that it was not Assange or Wikileaks who first published the unredacted material, and Augstein added additional information that Assange had tried to prevent it. Before Der Freitag had published its article of 25 August 2011, which revealed that both the password key and the file were out there, Assange had telephoned Augstein, editor of Der Freitag:
This evidence negates the main thrust of the prosecution case, so much so that I cannot understand why the defence have agreed to having it slipped into the record in a manner nobody notices.
The other interesting point about Augstein’s evidence is that it pointed squarely at the possibility that it has been Daniel Domscheit-Berg who, in defecting from Wikileaks, had been responsible for the emergence of the encrypted but unredacted cache on the net.
We then came on to the only witness who was actually heard in person on Friday, Patrick Eller, by videolink from the States. He was to address the accusation that Assange conspired with Chelsea Manning to crack a hash key password and obtain the documents which Manning leaked, and/or to help Manning cover her tracks. Securing Eller was rather a coup for the defence as there could not be a better expert witness on this particular subject. Eller is CEO of Metadata Forensics and a Professor teaching forensic evidence at the US Army Law School. A 25 year veteran, he was commander of the US Army digital forensic investigations unit at US Army Criminal Investigation Command in Virginia.
I am not going to use my usual technique of reporting through Eller’s evidence and cross-examination chronologically, because the subject matter does not lend itself to that, being both highly technical and delivered in a very disjointed fashion. This was partly due to the approach by James Lewis QC, counsel for the US government, who adopted a policy of asking long runs of technical questions about the operation of the computer systems, most of which were basic, irrelevant, and both required and got the simple answer “yes”, and then after a run of a dozen to twenty “yeses”, Lewis would throw in a more dubious proposition. This did once work when he got a “yes” to the proposition that “a great hacker can crack a great cypher” by this system of inducing impulsive repetition of “yes”. Lewis went on to claim that Assange had once self-described as “a fantastic hacker”.
I am not attempting to hide the fact that there were passages of Eller’s testimony in court which I simply did not understand. When I get a new laptop, it takes me days to work out how to turn it on and I am yet to find how to transfer any information from an old one. There are very definitely readers who would have done a much better job than me of reporting this, but then I was there and you were not. So these, for me, were the key points of Eller’s evidence.
With respect to the Jabber conversations between Chelsea Manning and “Nathaniel Frank”, which form the basis of the charge of aiding the commission of computer intrusion, there is no forensic evidence that “Nathaniel Frank” is Julian Assange, or indeed any single individual.
The “Hash key”, or encrypted half of a password, which Manning had requested assistance with cracking could not have been cracked with the technology available in 2010. It was “impossible” and “computationally infeasible”, according to Eller. This could not have been done with a brute force attack, dictionary attack or rainbow table. In cross-examination Lewis explored this at great length and read from a 2009 article on a vulnerability in Windows XP precisely with regard to the hash key system. Eller replied this was well known, but Microsoft had fixed it with a patch well before the events in question. That made it in practice impossible for the code to be cracked using one half of the hash key. Lewis did not query this and quickly moved on; it appeared he knew of the patch all along.
Perhaps Eller’s most telling evidence was that Manning had in fact already downloaded the bulk of the material passed to the Wikileaks dropbox before initiating the conversation with Frank at all. Manning had full access to the SIPRnet, or classified infranet of material up to secret, under her own username, and had already been downloading using a program called wget. Furthermore, Manning had already been taking steps to protect her identity by rebooting from a Linux CD thus evading several Windows security features. That would have been at least as effective as downloading from the FTP account if preventing detection were the goal.
Manning therefore had no need of help from “Nathaniel Frank”, either to obtain the classified documents or to cover her tracks, although the problem of downloads being traceable to the IP address would remain. But this would not have been solved anyway by Manning’s interest in logging in to a File Transfer Protocol account. There was much discussion as to whether the FTP account would or would not have admin privileges, but as Eller was insistent it would neither have increased her access to classified material nor have better enabled her to cover her tracks, and that they could not have cracked the password with the hash key half anyway, I did not quite understand where that discussion was leading.
One particularly jolting bit of information from Eller was that the SIPRnet from which Manning had downloaded all the material was open to “millions” of users. Eller’s final key point was that all of his evidence was consistent with the findings of the prosecution at Manning’s court martial, and presumably thus with the investigations of his old forensic team. Some of the lines taken by Lewis – including that it was in fact possible to crack the password from the half hash key – are inconsistent with the US prosecution’s own forensic evidence at the Manning court martial.
Eller’s evidence is an example of those occasions where I know the comments below the line will be much more informed than my own efforts!
Finally and ominously, Baraitser heard arguments on whether the full medical records of Assange from the doctors and psychiatrists who had given evidence should their public be released to the media. They have been requested by the press. The records contain a huge amount of background and many intimate details of Julian’s childhood and relationships which are in evidence but were not given in open court by the doctors. Both defence and prosecution opposed release, but Baraitser kept referring to “open justice”. You will remember that earlier this year, Baraitser decided that it was in the interests of “open justice” to release to the media the identity of Julian’s partner Stella Moris and her children. That too was against the wishes of both prosecution and defence.
That a judge so intent on shutting down or refusing to hear defence evidence is suddenly so preoccupied with “open justice” when it comes to hurting Assange by release of his deeply personal information, is a great irony. Baraitser will rule on this on Monday and I hope humanity has prevailed with her.
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