08:57, September 08 167 0 theguardian.com

2020-09-08 08:57:05
Julian Assange rapped by judge after outburst during extradition trial

Julian Assange has been warned by the judge in his extradition case that he would be removed from the court and tried in his absence after he interjected while a lawyer for the US authorities sparred with a high-profile witness giving evidence in support of the WikiLeaks founder.

The incident came on the second day of Assange’s extradition hearing at the Old Bailey, where the founder of the legal charity Reprieve said “grave violations of law” such as the use of US drones for targeted strikes in Pakistan had been brought to light with the help of documents published by WikiLeaks.

Questioned by James Lewis QC, acting for the US authorities, Clive Stafford-Smith was told, however, that Assange was not being prosecuted because of the leaked cables which he had cited. Rather, the US charges related to the publication of the names of informants in Iraq and Afghanistan that had put their lives at risk.

“You cannot tell this court how this case will be prosecuted, you’re making things up,” said Lewis, to which Stafford-Smith replied: “I can tell you how American cases are prosecuted.”

As the men continued their exchange, Judge Vanessa Baraitser called a halt and adjourned the hearing for 10 minutes when there was an attempted interjection by Assange. The comments could not be heard by journalists, who are following proceedings on a videolink from another court, but some of those inside the courtroom said Assange was heard to say “this is nonsense” in reference to the position put forward by Lewis.

Giving him what she said was a warning, Baraitser told him: “I understand you’ll hear things you disagree with … and you’d like to contradict and speak about these things yourself, but this is not your opportunity to do so.”

Stafford-Smith was giving evidence on the second day of a four-week hearing at the Old Bailey, where the WikiLeaks founder is resisting an application to send him to the US to answer an 18-count American indictment. Assange has been formally rearrested on a new US indictment, which updates and broadens previous charges. All but one are for violations of the country’s Espionage Act.

US cables published by WikiLeaks had contributed to court findings that criminal proceedings should be taken against senior US officials involved in such strikes, Stafford-Smith said in a witness statement.

Giving evidence in court about what he described as “a targeted assassination programme” by the US military in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said the targets had included a US national who worked as a journalist.

Stafford-Smith, a dual US-UK national who founded Reprieve in London in 1999, said that as an American citizen he believed evidence of US war crimes and human rights violations was of “vital ongoing significant to the very soul of our nation.

“I say this more in sadness than anger. I would never have believed that my government would do what it did. We are talking about criminal offences of torture, kidnapping, rendition, holding people without trial.”

He said leaks had revealed the US allegations against clients held in Guantánamo, which he was then able to prove as “nonsense”.

Cross-examining, James Lewis QC, for the US, said Assange was not being prosecuted in the US for publishing cables, which had previously been reported in the New York Times and Washington Post, or hundreds of thousands of others.

He said: “Mr Assange is not being prosecuted for publishing those cables or anything other than the documents which contain the names of informants which put their lives at risk.”

Assange has been held on remand in Belmarsh prison in south-east London since last September after serving a 50-week jail sentence for breaching his bail conditions while he was in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for almost seven years.

On Monday, lawyers for Assange failed to adjourn the extradition case against him after objecting to newly introduced US prosecution evidence accusing him of recruiting hackers to steal military secrets.

The case continues.