Lawyers to manage the end of the cycle of an “extraordinary rendition”?
By Monika Karbowska
As the social struggle in France enters its intense phase, Britain is taking a turn on itself in the storytelling of Brexit. One feels that a cycle is coming to an end, that of the “happy globalization” and the “free internet” of which Julian Assange had been made the hero before being rushed by the same system into the darkness of misidentified prisons. Greta Thunberg has taken over with the Media Tool of the Nobel Prize, the global prize awarded to those whom the West wants to promote as a “star of the freeworld” since Lech Walesa in 1982. This feeling of end of cycle accompanies me during my trip to London for the hearing of December 13 during which Julian Assange will face the ultimate organization of his delivery to the United States.
Transport in Paris is on strike, I walked to take my low cost bus to London. The sea was bad, the crossing of the Channel lasts longer than expected, I do not arrive in court until 7:40 a.m. to join my colleague from Wikijustice. For the first time since September we will not have a problem accessing the courtroom. This is certainly the effect of all our actions, the report sent to the United Nations, the letters to the court, the British administration and MPs as well as the protests spread by our friends in different countries. Indeed, “Greekemmy” has disappeared and the women in his group who arrive after do not show up to be hostile. Nevertheless, we feel a certain anguish as we enter the court, go up to the first floor and find that Julian Assange’s name is not on the list of extradited officers from Room 3. This is just a setback, as in November, an employee changes the posters on the doors and the new list includes twenty names with “Julian Assange extradition USA” in mind. It seems that this court specializes in the extradition of Eastern Europeans, because the list once again includes Poles, Romanians, Albanians, Slovaks, Lithuanians, a Finn… and Julian Assange. London is a metropolis draining a major emigration, I think that there must be extradited from South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia where are they judged?
Lawyers and translators are slowly arriving. We hold our place firmly in front of the door from 9 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. The band of “Greekemmy” then grew but John Shipton and Kristinn Hrafnson, remained absent. Nils Melzer never comes to the hearings. Anu Shukla, who assisted John Shipton last month, is responsible for making the report for “Wikileaks officials.” The UnityforJ group is joined by a young man, Thomas Scripps, candidate of the Trotskyist Socialist Equality Party in a central London constituency. Gareth Peirce arrives around 9:30 a.m. We are trying to politely ask him for information about the hearing on 20 December – julian Assange’s hearing, which the Spanish judge snatched from the British authorities by a “European Investigation Order” as part of the investigation into the spying of the Ecuadorian apartment on Hans Crescent Street by the Spanish company UC Global from 2012 to 2019.1 For once he may be allowed to speak freely in front of the victims’ desk and not be silenced and locked in the glass box as an accused. So it’s a crucial statement for his supporters because we hope to hear his word and spread it around the world. Unfortunately, Julian Assange’s lawyer clearly does not consider that support is important in this struggle for the freedom of a political prisoner. She refuses to tell us in which court the hearing will take place. We have to fend for ourselves.
We are now used to court routines. At 9:30 a.m. the secretary of the registry usually opens the room to organize the work. But this time the doors remain closed for a long time while an unusual commotion reigns in the room, people going back and forth through the back doors reserved for judges. At 9:45 a.m. the security officer finally opens the door, lets the press cards pass, there will be 6 journalists. Then he announces, relief to us, that there will be no list of names and that it is the first come first served rule that will be applied. We are the first to enter, the group “Greekemmy” that surrounds us in the seats of the public space has 9 people. In the end, there are no crowds this time to see Julian Assange, reinforcing the agonizing impression that the game is already played.
Surprise, the video screen on the right is already on. It shows two navy blue seats in a space with black or dark blue walls. Behind the seats is a small window and at the bottom appears a sign with large letters the words “HMP Belmarsh” with another smaller inscription that I can not read. So far, no visible signs of the prison have appeared, and the court case differed from the one where the other inmates were talking. Obviously, the British court has been sensitive to our doubts about the whereabouts of Julian Assange. The usual ballet of lawyers and interpreters of extradited from Eastern Europe begins. They greet each other and come to register with the secretary of the registry, the same man as on November 18. For the trial of Julian Assange, it is the accuser Clair Dobbin who presents herself first and takes his place before the judge. There will be no British prosecutor this time. My eyes go from the screen stamped “Belmarsh” to the room to track down the potential American accusers whose media rumor shall say they are present. I spot two young men in clear suits who are sitting behind the lawyers and don’t seem to be part of the regulars. I also recognize the strong young man with blond hair at the 80s haircut who was present on November 18th who we just know is not a lawyer. Once again he leaves at the end of the hearing. At the café, we try to decipher his role but his answer will be “I have nothing to do with this Julian Assange”, I have nothing to do with Julian Assange. So what was he doing in the room at that specific hearing?
The situation is strange because at 9:55 everyone leaves and it’s silence. The Lawyers of the Poles work on their computers. The screen always shows “Belmarsh.” The clerk came through the back door, then he left, so did the secretary. There are people coming in and out through the judges’ doors, but we cannot understand who these people are. Gareth Peirce is missing too, we didn’t see her come out! It’s going on. At 10 a.m., the secretary returns and activates the video. What is new is the panel encrusted above the seats “HMP Belmarsh, visitor court room 1”. He calls a guard to ask if he can bring the accused. We see alors the trunk of a tall and strong man strapped into a black uniform with no visible badges. His head is off camera while the guards of the other inmates are still briefly filmed from the front. He says something and then lowers his head and I glimpse in a split second a young face with long blonde hair sparse. It disappears and then reappears in the box window. In the same window you can also see the silhouette of another person. It was Julian Assange who the next moment entered the room and sat in the centre chair, when the hearing had not begun, that Gareth Peirce was not there, neither the judge nor the clerk, only Clair Dobbin, the public and the other lawyers.
What is going on? What is the purpose of this maneuver? To make us witness the ordeal by showing us Julian Assange in the role of animal in cage, as on November 18 to send us once and for all to our impotence before this extradition announced and almost already carried out? This time the perversity of the British administration is carefully maset because it lasts longer, 20 minutes. Even Anu Shukla gets impatient sitting next to me. Unlike November 18 Gareth Peirce is not here to see his client. I know that the hearing cannot begin without the defence, but since it is not the lawyer who decides the organization of the hearing but the judge and the clerk, it should be present because that is the rule and it is past 10 o’clock. Unless she is being made aware of the procedural changes and that is what she is talking about right now behind the scenes. As before we suffer during this time to see Julian Assange suffer before us. I’m looking at the clock hanging on the wall because we had to turn off our phones. It shows 10:15 when Gareth Peirce arrives and 10:20 when the judicial theater begins.
So we look at Julian Assange. And it’s still as horrible, intolerable as ever. He appears to be very thin, more than on November 18 and October 21. He is wearing the same faded pale blue sweater and grey pants on October 11. He looks as emaciated as he did on the leaked may video, but he has a shorter beard and his hair pulled back as he did in November. What is striking is his eyes, which appear very dark, sunk into the orbits, surrounded by black. He remains prostrate, curled up on himself, his hands clasped. You can’t see where his eyes are because his head is down. He is absent, as already in another world, the sagging shoulders on which the sweater floats. He is visibly cold, crosses his hands under his armpits like October 11, then hides them in his sleeves. We would like to help him but we can’t. It’s horrible and it lasts. Just at one point he comes to life, rubs his eyes, takes his face in his hands. I can see his hands, no apparent bandages, but a thin bracelet on his left wrist, like a watch, or like the plastic identification bracelet that you are put in the hospital.2 We’re waiting in vain for him to wave at us. We cannot believe that no one has explained to him that we are here, that the public room is full, that there are really people in the world who want his freedom and happiness, ordinary citizens, activists for justice… He doesn’t see us, okay, but he knows he’s going to appear, haven’t his lawyers told him how it’s going, on this side of the camera, 181 Marylebone Road? Obviously not. So he thinks that he is alone, that there is no more hope and that is the purpose of the perverse maneuver. Make him believe that he is nothing to anyone and convince us that we will never convince him otherwise, since the prison does not deliver our letters and parcels and refuses us to visit him. It is like returning to the old Regime, witnessing the future torment of the already condemned after the question. That’s exactly what I’ The worrying thing is that Julian Assange has the attitude of a man during an interrogation, the one shown by one of the leaked videos recorded by the “spanish office” working for Raphael Correa but in reality for the CIA3. And throughout the hearing Gareth Peirce won’t look at him, say, say, talk to him, and he won’t talk to him either.
Finally, the judicial “play” begins. Vanessa Baraitser enters the room, we get up. Immediately she asked Julian Assange to decline her identity, “full name and date of birth”. But unlike in previous times it is the secretary who takes over in his wake. But Julian Assange doesn’t say anything! We don’t know if he doesn’t hear (but the court video material is checked and tested every day), or if he can’t speak. The secretary asks him to confirm his name. Emotion always overwhelms us when we see that Julian Assange is not able to pronounce his own name. The secretary asks him if he hears and then before his silence takes the initiativeto confirm himself”You are Julian Assange, born on July 3, 1971 and you are “national swedish”? (Swedish national or citizen). Amazement in the audience. A clamor rises. I can’t help but shout, “It’s express naturalization, excuse me!” Vanessa Baraitser, as if to bring order over the hubbub, resumes the game: “name, date of birth, nationality, can you confirm it”? Finally, we hear Julian Assange’s voice, more distinctly “Yes, I am Australian,” slowly and with sorrow, as if he were stuttering. My emotions and thoughts react quickly to this little shock. Why this staging? Is it because we have insisted so much that Julian Assange complained himself in 2016 that he can no longer prove his nationality? Or because we pointed out that if he stays so still in the video screen, it can be a pre-recorded scene, so it would be a matter of telling him something as absurd as Swedish nationality to make him react and show us that the scene is played live?
Unless “Swedish nationality” is not so absurd. I remember this photo of Julian Assange at the famous lecture by Peter Weiderud and Anna Ardin in Stockholm on August 14, 2010. He wears an alliance in his left hand and this alliance appears on his finger on the videos of the conference. At the time it was easy to obtain a residence permit in Sweden by marriage or cohabitation and Julian Assange applied for a residence permit on 17 August 2010. Is there a connection between this old scene and the one I just experienced? The secretary has not made a slip of the way, he knows since November 18 who Julian Assange is.
Vanessa Baraitser resumes the course of her case aloud. It is a mandatory appearance under national law after 28 days of detention. She mentions an email from Gareth Peirce asking for a delay in preparing for next week’s “case management hearing” because she had not been able to arrange an interview between her client, Mark Summers, the barrister and herself. Vanessa Baraitser’s voice becomes paternalistic and slightly mocking to send back her interlocutor who is twice her age. She tells him that this court does not supervise the prison administration, and that she has “no desire to object to a lawyer’s way of looking at her client.” If I am critical of Mrs. Peirce’s work, what I see of the disrespect for her position and perhaps of her age bothers me deeply. We pinch ourselves to believe it. After all, we are witnessing the surreal situation of a lawyer who asks to see her client. Respect for a basic right for which we have fought for centuries and obtained by revolutions, the right to defense, Article 6 of the ECHR. A right that should be obvious.
What is even more disturbing is that Mrs. Peirce seems not to care about the non-compliance with her function or the consequences of this contempt for the life of her client. In a monotonous and audible voice, she embarks on a 20 minute argument to support her timid request for permission to visit her client before the fateful date of December 19. She cites requests she allegedly made to the corresponding court of justice, but her applications were denied. She says she hopes “not to have the same problems” on December 18. We don’t know if Julian Assange approves or disapproves because he doesn’t move, he looks on the ground, we don’t know if he hears what’s being said. Baraitser then turns to Clair Dobbin who opposes, but I do not understand exactly what. Ms. Peirce speaks in a voice so tired that it is more resignation than indignation. December 18 is cited because it is the deadline for filing the documents and Julian Assange has not been aware of the evidence while 20 witnesses will appear at the trial. Peirce says he is fighting for the only day of the 18th possibly for the 16th. She mentions a special visitation right in the health district, “Healthcare.” (If Julian Assange is permanently in the health district it is because he can only be in the psychiatry sector, why hide it from us?). Baraitser looks at her, approves her with a soft air, pretends to help her, to support her. Ah those damned prisons, poor Mrs. Peirce and poor Mr. Summers! It’s mind-blowing. Lawyers from all over the world should travel to see this theatre where one “deplores” the violation of the basic rights of a man, where everyone is sorry, but no one is responsible, in the mode “My good lady, human rights violations, you understand, this is not my department”! . Is there any zest for the rule of law in the West? What would I have done instead of Madame Peirce? Probably I would have called for a boycott of this absurd session. What is the right to defence worth if a citizen is tortured, psychiatrized, incommunicado we don’t know where? Defenceless, the procedure MUST be suspended, period. And if the administration continues, it IS necessary to appeal to the public, politicians, MPs, civil society, citizens.
There is still the “file a motion for release” option, the one we sent and re-deposit that day for Julian Assange on behalf of our association. But it is true that Julian Assange’s release, as well as the call for support, was never on Mrs Peirce’s agenda.
Mielleuse, Vanessa Baraitser ends up saying “I hope you will be successful on Monday” – “I hope you can do it on Monday” for contact with her client! She turns to the pawn whose life is at stake: “Mr. Assange, you will appear on video on December 19th. Unless Mrs. Peirce wants to make a request for a physical appearance”? She says no,she doesn’t want it! While this is the only way to have access to his client, the right to work with him 1 hour before and 2 hours after the hearing in the famous “consultation rooms” of the court! The judge hands the pole to the lawyer who refuses the outstretched hand! In the audience, it is misunderstanding, confusion and indignation. This room is the end. The judge leaves, we have to get up, we don’t have time to see Julian Assange silent disappear from the screen, security evacuates the place.
The whole group surrounds Gareth Peirce to try to understand why she does not agree with the physical appearance, so crucial for the political fight. I ask him the question, remaining very polite despite my inner bubbling. Disarmingly, Julian Assange’s lawyer gives me a fuzzy answer: she has to ask him if he agrees during his visit on the 16th or 18th. Even though she is not sure she can talk to him then! Logic would have it rush to physical appearance because it is the only time the public can see it to energize political support. I feel like she doesn’t WANT him to see the audience. Is Gareth Peirce a lawyer, or, as I feel, some kind of “dark place” guardian? A recent article on Julian Assange hypothesizes the “dark place“4, the secret places of detention that the CIA has used in Europe; these places of torture are not necessarily isolated in the forest. The “enhanced interrogations” can take place in an apartment in the city centre of a European capital, a military base, a classic prison, a psychiatric hospital… Britain outsourced to the United States the delivery of 29 humans in extraordinary rendition. Is Julian Assange number 30, before our eyes and with the complicity of the entire judicial system? Anxiety and revolt.