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In conversation with Stella Assange

Updated: Apr 27

Stella Assange is an advocate for and wife of Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks. The British-born lawyer campaigns for press freedom and persistently stands in defence of her husband. Julian Assange is currently incarcerated in the United Kingdom.


Stella has been a vocal opponent of Julian's extradition to the United States, engaging in public and legal campaigns to support his case and highlighting its broader implications for press freedom and whistleblower protection.


In this conversation we talked to Stella Assange about the CIA, corruption, press freedom and Julian's survival.



This interview was conducted on the 16th of April 2024 by Leo von Breithen-Thurn. The unabridged video will be released shortly.


How long has Julian Assange been in prison?


Well, he's been in prison for five years and a week now.


Before that, he was also in a situation of confinement, because he wasn't allowed to leave the Ecuadorian embassy without being arrested by British authorities. Even though he wasn't charged with anything during those seven years that he was inside the embassy.


To put it another way, Julian hasn't been a free man since the 7th of December 2010 which is when he was first arrested. Although, he was released on bail initially - after 10 days in prison - there's always been some type of restriction on his movements. And increasingly so over time to the degree that now he's in Belmarsh [UK] where he's been for five years and he risks being extradited to the US where it would be even more isolation and maximum security prison conditions.



Why is the United States so eager to have Julian extradited? 


Well, I think there are different factions within the United States. This case has always been a controversial one throughout the different administrations.


The Obama administration was the first one to investigate [WikiLeaks] publications which had to do with US military operations and dealings in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terror, diplomatic exchanges, and Guantanamo Bay.


During the Obama administration, there was a criminal investigation and then there was an announcement at the end of Obama's presidency that Chelsea Manning's sentence - Chelsea Manning being the source of these publications - sentence of 35 years would be commuted and she was released a few months later. Also, the announcement that Julian would not be prosecuted because that would set a precedent against the rest of the press. Even though they had tried to find a way to prosecute him there was no way to do it that didn't pose an existential threat to press freedom protections.


So that was a position of the Obama administration.


Then the Trump administration came and factions within, there have always been factions within the US, executive that have been trying to increase secrecy and to increase the penalties for breaches of secrecy. 


We've seen since the Obama era that those penalties increase first towards the sources of the news stories, the whistle-blowers, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden etc. But with Julian's prosecution, there's a real shift because Julian isn't being prosecuted as a whistleblower.


Everyone knows you know it's the US case is that that Chelsea Manning was the source, Chelsea Manning was the one with obligations towards the United States and Julian as a foreigner who was outside the US and as a publisher the receiver of the information he is now culpable under this prosecution.


So basically during the Trump administration that faction of the US executive got the power to pursue this. Even during the Trump administration, it was controversial there were several prosecutors on the case who were taken off the case because they disagreed with the way it was prosecuted under the Espionage Act. 


Then the Biden administration continued the Trump administration's prosecution and basically endorsed it. Although we've seen some signs that you know they're apparently considering maybe not pursuing it but it's hard to know.



Biden mentioned that they will maybe drop the charges against Julian but do you think that Biden is scared of the CIA as we mentioned this before in acting in the media?


I think everyone in the US is afraid of the CIA. Presidents and Congress. There was a very telling moment during the congressional investigation into the torture regime of the war on terror.


This was around 2014 and there was an effort to try to get to the bottom of the CIA's torture program and the US Congress had access to documents and so on.


It was discovered that the CIA hacked into the congressional offices, the researchers and congresspeople who were involved in this investigation. I think it was Senator Feinstein who was shocked at the powers that the CIA has.


Of course, it's not just the CIA but the intelligence community in the 70s had a number of oversight committees that were set up in the context of basically boundless powers by these intelligence agencies that had been involved in not just spying domestically but in domestic plots of assassination against political leaders of unfavourable political stripes.


So, there were congressional oversight committees, then there was a moment of kind of oversight and these committees of oversight still exist but they've either been co-opted or we know that they are powerless to not be completely monitored because the capabilities of these intelligence agencies are basically boundless. 


So, of course, politicians inside the United States know that they're vulnerable and it's a huge democratic threat that there is no effective oversight or effective way of reining them in.



Justice Johnson, who is leading Julian's here in London, is in WikiLeaks and mentioned as having been involved with MI6. Do you think that this leads to questions about the judge's impartiality?


I have to be careful with what I say because Julian is still subjected to the decisions of the two judges sitting in the high court and what I say publicly isn't the same as what I think and say privately. so, I don't want to say anything that could damage Julian's chances of winning in the United Kingdom. But it's a matter of public record the trajectory of both of the judges who are deciding on Julian's fate. I can say more about the process but maybe we should just move on.



So what's the next step now with the case?


The big picture here is that the US has been given endless opportunities to reformulate their case.


There are three different indictments one after the other. Then when the courts have seen a barrier to being able to extradite him because the conditions for stopping the extradition are met the courts have invited the US to make a political promise, so-called diplomatic assurances. These are unenforceable for Julian and the UK for that matter. But it's a promise made between states and from any point of view, assuming the UK was acting in good faith and the US down the line violated the assurances, then it would have to be the UK who would go to the US and say "hey you're you know you're breaking your promise". This of course is not never going to happen - the UK acting for Julian's interests.


This is basically an out for the court when met with a problematic decision then they say "well this is problematic according to the legislation but we're going to get a political promise". So, that's already happened once before in relation to his conditions of imprisonment back in 2021.


I think the decision came down in 2023 finally the extradition was ordered on the basis of assurances. Then Julian made an application to appeal the extradition and the British courts have... sorry I'm getting into a bit of detail here. 


The big picture is that the US has given endless opportunities and Julian in fact has been given none. Even now it was kind of reported that he had been granted permission to appeal but in fact, he hasn't been granted permission to appeal he's been granted conditional - provisional - permission to appeal. So we're talking just at the second level the High Court right, there's a Supreme Court on top of that. He is battling to be able to get an appeal opportunity. 


The courts back in February said that he would be able to appeal if the court was not satisfied by assurances given by the US. Basically, the court then said, "Assange can appeal unless the US gives assurances now". So. why would it do this? 


Well, there's going to be a hearing on May 20th, where Julian can contest assurances, right? If the court sides with the US then he won't have an appeal. And what's the difference between like this preliminary hearing on the May 20th and an actual appeal? An actual appeal would then result in Julian being able to at least apply to the Supreme Court to get that decision reviewed. But, with this provisional decision the provisional hearing on May 20th if the court sides with the US Julian is not able to ask the Supreme Court to review it. 


Okay, I'm going into a bit of procedural detail here but I'm trying to illustrate how the US is given endless opportunities and Julian is given obstacle after obstacle even to just be able to appeal the point. 



Do you think this judgment, whatever it will be, for Julian will have any implications on journalism as a profession? 


Completely. I mean, if you look at the judgment as it stands the only issue two issues that the British courts have asked the US to issue assurances on are firstly on the death penalty and secondly on whether he will be able to access constitutional protections in the United States and that he won't be discriminated against on the basis of his nationality because he's Australian he's not American he hasn't lived there and so on. So, there are rulings in the United States by the Supreme Court saying that foreigners have no constitutional rights. 


But, the British courts only identified this problem in relation to publication so publication is three out of the 17 Espionage Act charges. The rest of the Espionage Act charges relate to receiving and possessing information so of course receiving and possessing information are part of the news-gathering process necessarily. You know you don't invent the information you have to get it from somewhere and if you're given information - or you happen upon it or whatever - you are possessing it and in some cases receiving it and that is also criminalized. 


The statute is so broad in the United States that the effect is mind-blowing. It's so broadly worded that you could read possessing information in your brain as a criminal activity. That's how broad it is, that was being argued during the extradition hearing. The implications for journalism generally are very grave both by how the the criminal act is defined but also because of the extraterritorial reach of this prosecution because it's a foreign country the United States that's reaching into the European territory to determine what can be and what cannot be published, here. If you do publish it even if it's legal to do so within this jurisdiction they can extradite you and introduce you into a foreign jurisdiction and try you under their laws. 


It's a completely deranged proposition which of course will be seized by other countries who are who are seeking to punish their own dissidents or foreign critics. All you need is another country to play ball and of course, in extraditions, it's 99% politics and 1% law. If the country and their court system is unwilling to antagonise or offend the United States - or whichever jurisdiction it might be - then the person is going to be powerless. 


Julian's case being such a high-profile case and such an obvious case, in which the publications actually revealed the US's own criminality, then this is something that is shifting the political landscape. It creates not just a legal precedent but a political precedent. Journalists are vulnerable.



Could you talk about the apparent CIA plot to kill Julian Assange?


Well, it's important to point out that the British courts have said that this murder plot is plausible and they didn't contest the evidence and they said it appears to be true.


But what they said was that now that the United States is seeking to extradite him there's no need to kidnap or kill him and that's how they got out of that. Which is absolutely extraordinary. I don't know how a decision like that can be taken and expect the credibility of the British justice system to remain intact after that.


The British courts accept as true that Julian was a victim of a murder conspiracy under Pompeo's leadership of the CIA. There were plans that were drawn up; again it was an a controversial decision by Mike Pompeo because basically what he was doing was deploying the clandestine operations that are dedicated towards actual security threats - legitimate security threats - and and then take that machinery and turn it towards a publisher, as revenge for the the true information that the publisher revealed and to stop future publication. This is clearly um the most aggressive type of censorship that you can imagine, to just kill and destroy the journalists, the publication and so on.


The plans that were revealed in these publications, it seems they were elaborated and then the National Security Council - which is the U.S. kind of multi-agency committee involving White House lawyers and various officials from the national security community at the at the very top - it seems they didn't go through with it because there was also opposition within within that committee, let's say. But those those plans were real and we don't we simply don't know to what extent they were ready to be implemented. There were discussions of ramming cars, of opening fire and so on. In the in the context of of diplomatic immunity, of course in a chaotic scenario like that that they were planning for Julian could easily have been harmed or killed So I don't think it's it's realistic to suggest that these plans were were discarded I think they were always on the table during a time where Pompeo held the reins, and maybe beyond. Because there was also reports that kidnapping had been discussed before Pompeo was head.


We're talking illegal activities that the United States has been engaging in, of course spying on lawyers and so on, but the most extreme of course is the murder plot against Julian. But, why have they not done it yet?


Well, I disagree with the court's decision that they have no need to do so since he's being extradited. I don't know why they reached that conclusion. There's a a very plausible argument that extraditing him would make it easier to assassinate him, rather than doing it on foreign soil. Of course, you can you can do that more easily - if you're minded to do - on domestic soil and especially in a prison, as we all know.



Image: Alamy

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