My tenth trip to London to attend a pre-trial hearing of Julian Assange. Some people told me that since the « big trial » starts with a lot of media coverage next Monday, it’s not worth exhausting myself on these express trips. Indeed, tired I may be by this incessant battle to organise and finance the trip and the stay, sleeping in the uncomfortable Flixbus without forgetting the perpetual uncertainty of not knowing if I will have access to the courtroom as a public. But each hearing is the only opportunity to see Julian Assange, to testify tirelessly about his condition, to mark by our presence the refusal to see him walled up in the dungeons of indifference. Nothing is better than facing the raw reality of the courtroom to make me aware of the illusions of media storytelling, ever more implausible with regard to Julian Assange’s situation.
This time it’s even worse: my bus is 4 hours late. Without any plausible explanation other than a beaded strike, several ferries of the Calais-Dover line are cancelled in the night of 18 to 19 February. When our bus finally crosses the channel and heads for London, I already know that I will be too late for court. Arriving around 7am in the suburbs, the bus gets lost in the morning traffic jams of the capital. I am nervous but resigned to letting go because I know that in this case anything can happen. Indeed, surprise: at 7.30 a.m., my friend John gives me the news on the phone: since the day before the rumour has been going around that the court would have postponed Julian Assange’s hearing until the afternoon. But as nobody trusts the court’s announcements any more, the activists are waiting. It’s a pity that the lawyers didn’t take the trouble to warn us of this change of schedule. As soon as I get out of Victoria Station, I run to the metro. It is 9.30am when I arrive at Westminster Court, the door is already open. Julian Assange’s name is, as usual, at the top of the list of 25 names of Poles and Romanians to be extradited today.
I find the activists and journalists scattered in the waiting room. I greet friends and acquaintances. Finally, at the end of these long months spent here, we form a sort of « family of hearts » of Julian Assange present here in the heart of the turmoil against all odds, despite our differences. The atmosphere is warmer when there is no official « jail guard » to control our conversations. We exchange sceptical remarks about the court decision. What is the real reason? An elderly man is upset because he has travelled from the north of England at night to attend the hearing and will not be able to stay in the afternoon. John comforts him. I am answering questions from a Sputnik journalist about Wikijustice’s strategy. We are also discussing the threat to us that the Belmarsh Magistrate Court will not allow the public free access next week at the full extradition hearing. When at 10.00 am the secretary comes out of room 3 and announces that the hearing of Mr Julian Assange is postponed to 3.15 pm nobody believes him. Everyone waits, we take turns at the information desk or the annoyed employee refuses to answer us. The secretary has to go over it several times to convince us that he is telling the truth.
After 10.30 am, we resign ourselves to go and wait at the « café des avocats » and we stay there for several hours. A little before 1 p.m. I decide to return to the waiting room of the court. I don’t want to lose my place in the queue after a 12-hour journey. Around 2 p.m. the space fills up. The journalists are back, I notice the presence of Naomi Colvin as well as the absence of « Greekeemmy ». I know the importance of the press conference in Paris the next day, I tell myself that the « official relatives » are preparing it. In the end, 14 journalists will be present at the door and 11 will be able to enter with an accreditation card. Most of them are the same as at the previous hearings. In front of the door are two English men whom I thought were journalists, and who will finally be the first to take their place among the public. At their pace and their political conversations, I understand that they may be left-wing activists. We form a tight line in front of the door behind which the hearings of the last 4 accused on the list, Slovakian, Polish and Lithuanian, are taking place. The court will be empty when the case of Julian Assange is discussed.
Shortly before 3 pm, Gareth Peirce and Edward Fitzgerald arrive. I see the young MC MacGrath similarly, all dressed in black, joining them. On the accusation side, I notice Clair Dobbin’s collaborator, but not the latter. Mitie’s security guards are accompanied by a tall, stern-looking woman wearing a police uniform. She will check that our mobile phones are switched off at the entrance to the hall and will watch us in the box. Is it the effect of our emotional outbursts on the end of hearings or our criticism of the passes that Mitie gives to some « officials » at the expense of others? Perhaps both. However, it is always Mitie’s manager who manages the admissions. At 3.10 pm we meet in the public box. I am forced to sit too far in the back which will prevent me from seeing Julian on the right screen. But I can’t do otherwise.
The lawyers are quickly in place, but Mc McGrath is given the name « scholar » by the secretary and has to sit in the back row. The prosecution is represented by a young, red-haired man, different from the prosecutor of 19 December. At 3.12 pm, when the judge is not yet there, the secretary takes the remote control and calls « officer, Belmarsh please ». The screen lights up in a room with dark walls, in the centre two armchairs, also dark, black or purple. Behind the armchairs is a large ‘HMP Belmarsh’ panel and at the back is a door. For a moment we see a strong guard in a black uniform. The secretary tells him to bring « Mr. Assange ». The man goes out and then we see the silhouette of Julian Assange appear in the doorway. As always, I am seized by emotion and so I don’t notice that the guard follows him into the stall.
Julian Assange is wearing black jogging trousers, a beige jumper and a white shirt with the collar out over the jumper. His hair is properly cut and styled, he has shaved his. He wears glasses that he puts on his head as a headband. I have the impression that he is less slimmed down than he was a month ago but maybe the jogging is hiding his real stoutness. His face looks less emaciated, rounder, and his features less hollowed out, but maybe it’s just the effect of the camera filming him more closely. I can make out his sad expression, an absent look, but I can’t say more because I’m too far from the screen. On the other hand, I’m sure I can see his gait not very confident. He looks like he limps as he enters the box, especially as he carries a large binder full of white paper in both hands. When he sits down, he first puts the file on his lap with his hands flat on it and doesn’t move. He then places his left leg on his right knee, leaning slightly to the left. Then he puts his left leg on his right knee, bends a little to the left, holds the heavy file on his knees, opens it slowly and starts to read the left page. He stays at least 5 minutes this way, he doesn’t raise his head, doesn’t look at the court, nor at his lawyers, nor at the judge when she comes in. His lawyers don’t greet him either, which will never cease to amaze me, whereas the official storytelling, particularly at the press conference in Paris on Thursday 20 February, mentions the fighting of an « international team » of French, Spanish, English and Belgian bar leaders that he is supposed to lead.
It has to be said that sometimes the contradictions in the storytelling take on surrealist overtones. For example, all autumn and winter long, I’ve heard Gareth Peirce here complain that he never gets to see his client. In Paris, on February 20, I learned that the talented French Dupont Moretti managed in a flash what the poor British woman could not manage to get: while he was never Julian Assange’s lawyer, and is not one of his close friends, he was able to make a 3-hour visit to Belmarsh prison, having barely waited 2 weeks to book it! I could push a nationalist « cock-a-doodle-doo » if I wasn’t so sceptical about the contradictions in the discourse. In the same way, Dupont Moretti now describes in the media the hard fight he is waging to obtain the right of asylum on the basis that Julian Assange would have stayed in France from 2007 to 2010. France requires all non-EU nationals to have an employment contract in order to obtain a work permit, a residence permit and social security. Julian Assange must therefore have benefited from all this if his stay was « legal ». If this is true, then there is no need to embark on complicated asylum application procedures, a simple renewal of the residence permit is enough!
Far from Paris, the reality of the London court shows me a man who discovers his file on the eve of his trial. And again, I don’t have the impression that he is reading, but rather that he is looking at it distractedly, as if he were indifferent to all this hullabaloo around him. I watch carefully to note when he turns the pages and try to determine whether he is reading or whether he is perhaps obliged to participate in a staging designed to make us believe that he finally has access to his documents. In 45 minutes, Julian Assange turns 4 pages and raises his head 3 or 4 times to look at the courtyard before returning to the binder. When he lowers his head towards the filing cabinet, he puts his glasses back on, to see the room, he takes them off. These will be all his gestures. Only once, when the prosecutor speaks loudly, Julian Assange rubs his fingers and hands together with a nervous gesture. The rest of the time, he remains motionless, as if absent. And that doesn’t shock anyone in the audience.
Judge Baraitser enters at 3.25 pm, we get up but Julian Assange remains seated behind the camera. She immediately asks him to confirm « your full name ». He answers her in a clear and more assertive voice than the last times: « my name is Julian Assange 3 July 1971 ». But maybe it’s also because they have turned up the sound… That’s all he will say. Once again the hearing takes place without his participation. The hearing will consist of a dialogue between the young prosecutor, lawyer Fitzgerald and Judge Baraitser. The subject is the organisation of next week’s trial. It is therefore a case management hearing which we are attending. As on previous occasions, I cannot understand everything, so I am paying attention to certain expressions that come up in the conversation and which I could supplement with my post-hearing debriefing with friends and acquaintances.
Lawyer Fitzgerald begins by thanking the judge for the reply to one of his emails. There is then talk of a « preliminary decision » which will not be made next week. Then the judge talks to the prosecutor about the filing of « evidence ». Julian Assange is still reading the first page of the file, he puts his glasses back on, he is now leaning to the right. I don’t have the impression that he is listening or hearing the court. I wonder then, a little desperate, what evidence does the prosecution have at its disposal? After all, there is no crime. Moreover, after watching the long version of « Collateral Murder » I don’t feel like I’m looking at a leaked video since many technicians worked on its design. Julian Assange is credited as « producer, creative director ». If there is a » creative director « , it is because there is creation. The film’s credits also include a host of technicians from RUV, Iceland’s public television. Gudmundur Ragnar Gudmundsson, chief operator of this television station is responsible for online content, Borgnyr Thoroddsen is sound technician, Kristinn Hrafnsson is story developer and Ingi Ragnar Ingason is visual editor. Icelandic MP Birgita Jondsottir is the scriptwriter for the film while her colleague and founder of the Pirate Party, Samari Mac Carthy, is co-producer of the film with former hacker and head of the Chaos Computer Club, Rop Ronggrijp. When historians of the future look at this document, they will certainly not be able to consider it as a primary source of knowledge on the US war on Iraqi soil in the years 2003 to 2010. Rather, they will treat it as a fictional image, a particular vision produced by Westerners who are opposed to this war.
However, if today this film is the « crime » that is being judged today, then these Icelandic technicians should be considered at least as responsible as Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning. Moreover, I think that nobody has seen the original film transmitted by Manning. I also think that we have not seen any evidence, other than her confessions extracted under torture, that she transmitted anything to Julian Assange, neither the « Afghan Logs » nor the « Iraq Files » which may, however, be the subject of the accusation. In a modern legal system, confessions, unlike justice in the Middle Ages, have less weight than material evidence and confessions under torture are only evidence of torture. Moreover, in the 8 months since the trial, we have not yet been able to attend the reading of the indictment. Will it finally take place on Monday 24 February?
I think I hear Baraitser saying that she « would not make a decision next week ». This allows Edward Fitzgerald to say, at 3.30 pm, how much he « respects her proposal » and that he agrees to study the « abuses » in the first few days. The « abuses » would be procedural flaws, including the fact that the 2003 extradition treaty prohibits extradition for political reasons. I am very pleased that the defence is finally getting to the heart of the matter. On the other hand, I am worried by the fact that Julian Assange seems even more passive and absent, he is now reading the second page of the file. I also notice that Mitie’s manager is still present in the room. Fitzgerald explains at length that he will file a chronological document retracing the « abuses », the judge urges him to conclude by next week. At 3.34 p.m., Julian Assange raises his glasses and looks at the court, then he lowers his head towards his file. Baraitser is conciliatory to the lawyer’s speech. She assures that she will « hear his critical remarks ». Afterwards, however, something embarrassed Fitzgerald and he speaks in a hesitant and barely audible voice. When the judge asked him if he was the « spanish witnesses », the witnesses in the Spanish proceedings, Assange took off his glasses and listened. It is 3:37 p.m. The prosecutor then launches an offensive and demands by Monday « the complete documents including the arguments on procedural flaws ». It is then that Julian Assange rubs his hands in a nervous gesture. Baraitser urges the lawyer to file next week a summary of his defence case. Fitzgerald stammers more and more, ends up saying that he will « discuss with his client » and then bring « a chronological summary in relation to the procedural flaws ». At 3.43 p.m., the question of witnesses is reviewed. Fitzgerald spoke at length about the difficulty of obtaining testimony, and dwelt on the case of Chelsea Manning, whose testimony before the military commission was classified. At this point, Julian Assange listens, leaning to the left. I understand that the witnesses will not actually take the stand but will send documents. However, although bringing witnesses is complicated, it is often necessary and it is sometimes easier for a person to speak than to write.
The prosecutor and the lawyer then consult a document together. The prosecutor’s lawyer moves around and whispers something in the ear of the prosecutor. Baraitser admits that there is « a lot of bundles » in the file. I understand this word to mean ‘many ramifications’ or ‘bundles’. We don’t know if Julian Assange understands what is going on. He’s becoming more and more invisible as we talk about him. The judge invites the parties to « conclude ». It is then that Fitzgerald mentions three additional witnesses. To everyone’s surprise, he cites Jennifer Robinson as a witness, as well as a certain Durkin and Rohrabacher, the politician close to Trump, who will be widely covered in the media the next day. For my part, I wondered how Jennifer Robinson could appear at the Paris press conference as Julian Assange’s lawyer while being a witness. The question was resolved by her absence at this event. Because what legitimacy can the testimony of a lawyer who is supposed to be in charge of the case have? Normally, no lawyer, with regard to the rule of confidentiality, testifies in a case for which he is in charge. Yet another procedural flaw? The hearing is concluded by a discussion between judge, lawyer and prosecutor about the deadlines for filing documents.
At 3.55 pm, the judge Baraitser finally turns to Julian Assange and tells him that he will physically appear in court on Monday. She concludes her layus with a « do you hear ». Assange looks at her without answering, obviously he didn’t hear or understand. Then, to everyone’s surprise, the prison guard’s arm appears on the screen. He waves his hand in front of Julian Assange as if he wants to wake him up or check if he can see in front of him. It is only at this moment that I realise the presence of the guard, who is very present facing Julian Assange in the box while he is hidden from our gaze. I do not imagine that a trial in which the accused is locked in a box and subjected to the constant gaze of a guard can be considered fair, without the court being able to check that the guard does not intimidate the accused and that the accused retains his freedom of conscience, if not his freedom of movement. I realise that Julian Assange was probably simply afraid, hence his absent and self-effacing appearance. The 2017 inspection report of Belmarsh Prison may well show modernized prisoner-guard relations, but the detention system remains a system of domination and a guard has such power over the detainee that it is impossible to talk about freedom of expression when the accused must face the judge while at the same time confronting his guard!
The guard, however, questions the judge. He reminds her that Julian Assange’s arrest expires today and that if nothing is said, he will be forced to release him! For 30 seconds, because of Mrs. Baraitser’s distraction, Julian Assange could have seen the door of his glove open: you can leave, you are free! The judge Baraitser is visibly offended by his oblivion: she declares in a loud voice to adjourn the trial to Monday « and you, Mr. Assange, remain in detention ». Julian Assange does not react. She also forgets to ask him if he understood. The screen is already off, the judge leaves and we are told to get out of here.
Still stunned by the injustice and the many procedural flaws, I come to my senses through discussions with the activists. We make the film of the hearing again to make sure we understand what is going on. The lawyers lock themselves in a consultation room, leaving MC McGrath outside. While John goes to talk to him, I talk to the others. Then when the young man pretends to leave, I come and talk to him. He nods affirmatively when I ask him if he is MC McGrath hacker and developer of counter surveillance software. I compliment him on his work and tell him that he is right to go to law school now. In a few years, he may find himself in Julian Assange’s shoes, seeing how the system is closing in on us to control us. And he will need to know the law to defend himself. I’m thinking of Karl Koch, a young hacker prodigy of the 1980s, who died in 1988, at the age of 23, in very troubled circumstances after having already been used by the media in a massive storytelling about « the pro-Russian hacker spy » and then pressed by the German secret services.
Assange had known Karl Koch, he probably participated with him in the hacking of the Vax 25, ARPANET and MILNET systems, the first internet networks. His book written with Suelette Dreyfus, in 1992-1997, describes in a romanticised way the scandal of the 16 year olds who became the first international hackers. But a review of the German press at the time confirms that these children, all linked to the Chaos Computer Club created by Wau Holland and Andy Müller Maguhn in 1981, were under constant surveillance by the BND secret services who were planning to use them against the Soviets. Andy Müller Maguhn was also 16 years old in 1981 but very quickly became the head of the CCC structures and later of the Wau Holland Stiftung in which he developed the 04 Wikileaks project from 2009 onwards. The « Wikileaks » project, of which Julian Assange was the executing project coordinator, was as harmful to him as hacking under the control of the secret services was to Karl Koch. The leaders of the Chaos Computer Club, however, were never worried about their legal liability: Bernd Fix developed a virus called Fix virus by the BND in 1985, which served as the first trojan horse against Soviet computers. Today he is a highly respected leader of the Wau Holland Foundation, alongside his colleague Müller Maghun, who is the referent on the Board of the same foundation for the Wikileaks project in 2009-2014 . It is time that 16 year olds and even unconscious young adults were protected from manipulators who mediate their exploits and then abandon them to their fate when the repression of the system falls upon them.
This is what I am trying to explain, perhaps awkwardly, to MC McGrath who listens to my sermon before running away. But I am 48 years old, the age of Julian Assange. It is normal that I warn activists younger than me. I know so well that the capitalist and police system doesn’t give gifts to the real Spartacus.
 Suelette Dreyfus, Julian Assange, « Underground », Reed books Australia 1997
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