Consortium News is virtually “inside” the courtroom at Old Bailey, viewing the proceedings by video-link and filed this report on Day Sixteen of Julian Assange’s resumed extradition hearing.
By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News
Judge Vanessa Baraitser has granted anonymity to two witness from the UC Global Spanish security firm to have their testimony read in court on Thursday regarding an alleged Central Intelligence Agency plot to either kidnap or poison Julian Assange.
The two witnesses have already testified under protection in a Spanish court case against David Morales, founder and director of UC Global. The company was hired by the Ecuadorian government to provide security at its London embassy, where Assange lived for seven years until his arrest last year.
According to press reports the witnesses testimony in Spain detailed how Morales was working with “American friends,” allegedly the CIA, to stream 24/7 video and audio from Assange’s chamber to the United States, including surveillance of Assange’s privileged conversations with his lawyers.
That would mean the government prosecuting Assange had eavesdropped on his defense preparations, an offense that would normally get its case thrown out of court.
The Spanish witnesses sought the same protection from Baraitser’s court that they enjoy in the Spanish court because of fear of retaliation from Morales. Spanish police raided his home and found loaded arms with their serial numbers filed off.
James Lewis QC, representing the U.S. government told the court he could not get instructions from the Department of Justice on whether to challenge the testimony on Thursday because of a “Chinese Wall” that is supposed to exist between the DOJ and other federal agencies, such as the CIA, to prevent prosecutions from being politically motivated. (It is a wall with holes. We’ve heard testimony in this case about that).
So there is the specter of damning testimony being read in Assange’s extradition case about the Central Intelligence Agency planning to kidnap or poison Assange that will go unchallenged by the U.S. The prosecution will be informed of the witnesses’ identities and has 24 hours to vet the witnesses.
Thursday should be the most explosive and perhaps most decisive day during this proceeding.
During his re-direct examination of witness Maureen Baird earlier in the day defense attorney Edward Fitzgerald asked her how the U.S. government determines which prisoners are put in solitary confinement under Special Administrative Measures (SAMs). She said the Attorney General in consultation with U.S. intelligence agencies.
Fitzgerald: “You were asked about the procedure to impose and remove SAMs and that it could include an intelligence agency. Is that the CIA?”
Baird: “It could be the CIA, the FBI, border control, together with the U.S. attorney and the attorney general.”
Fitzgerald: “If the CIA were involved, would they be consulted?”
Baird: “Yes, with the office of enforcement operations at the DOJ.”
Fitzgerald: “So what the CIA thought about an inmate would be an important factor?”
Clearly Fitzgerald was setting this up for the afternoon bombshell about the anonymous witnesses and what they may say about the CIA’s role in trying to harm Assange. That same agency could have a big influence on whether Assange is put in solitary confinement with Special Administrative Measures.
8:10 am EDT: Just before lunch break the defense said it wanted to call anonymous witnesses. Judge Vanessa Baraitser said she would determine whether to accept anonymity when the court resumes.
In the morning session, Maureen Baird, former warden at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Manhattan, testified that she believes Assange would be put in isolation under Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) both pre-trial in Alexander Detention Center and if Assange is convicted, in ADX Florence, Colorado.
She said she based that belief on what U.S. Assistant Attorney Gordon Kromberg had written about SAMs in relation to Assange. Baird, who oversaw solitary confinement with SAMs at the MCC for up to 15 prisoners, said the government usually doesn’t mention SAMs in if they don’t intend to use them.
In her experience, SAMs meant an inmate would be in his or her cell for 23 to 24 hours a day, would be let out once a day to an adjacent room where they could, in Kromberg’s words, “self-recreate” and would only be allowed one 30-minute or two 15-minute phone calls a month with approved family members.
Such calls had to be arranged two weeks in advance to get an FBI agent and if needed, an interpreter, in place to monitor the calls. She contested Kromberg’s assertion that there was “free-flowing” mail service, saying each piece of mail was screened, meaning a piece of mail could take months to be delivered.
She said contact with other prisoners was strictly prohibited. Baird said the number of prisoners under SAMs in the Manhattan facility increased after 9/11, “when everything changed” in the prison system. SAMs came into being after the Oklahoma City bombing.
She said that SAMs was a directive from the Attorney General and thus its implementation could not be modified at individual prisons. SAMs was the same wherever it existed in the U.S., she said. She said she learned of SAMs in other prisons when speaking with other wardens at national conferences.
“Mr. Kromberg suggested that when an inmate has twice a year review he can challenge SAMs with a case manager, but as a case manager myself I saw that nothing is going to happen,” Baird said. “A case manager has no authority to make any changes to SAMs.”
Baird testified that while SAMs in solitary confinement as not supposed to be punitive, but only to keep a prisoner from communicating with the outside world for “national security” reasons–whether for terrorism or espionage—that in effect being held under SAMs amounted to punishment.
She said it can lead to “severe depression in isolation, anxiety, paranoia, weight loss,” and is generally detrimental to mental health.
Fitzgerald asked her whether a prisoner subjected to SAMs could be hospitalized if needed. “You would have to be almost dying to go to the medical center,” she said.
Baird also contested Kromberg’s contention that there were group programs for someone on SAMs. “They may get an extra phone calls,” but “I don’t see where or how that happens because it defeats the entire premise of SAMs.
5:05 am EDT: Court is in session. First defense witness is Maureen Baird, former warden at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Manhattan.