By Chris Hedges / The Real News Network
As Julian Assange continues to fight extradition to the United States to face prosecution under the Espionage Act, a growing chorus of voices is rising to demand an end to his persecution. Hounded by US law enforcement and its allies for more than a decade, Assange has been stripped of all personal and civil liberties for the crime of exposing the extent of US atrocities during the War on Terror. In the intervening years, it’s become nakedly apparent that the intent of the US government is not only to silence Assange in particular, but to send a message to whistleblowers and journalists everywhere on the consequences of speaking truth to power. Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who was fired for exposing the CIA’s use of torture in the country, joins The Chris Hedges Report to discuss what Julian Assange’s fight means for all of us.
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Studio Production: David Hebden, Adam Coley, Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: Adam Coley
Chris Hedges: Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, was removed from his post after he made public the widespread use of torture by the Uzbek government and the CIA. He has since become one of Britain’s most important human rights campaigners and a fierce advocate for Julian Assange as well as a supporter of Scottish independence. His coverage of the trial of former Scottish first minister Alex Salman, who was acquitted of sexual assault charges, saw him charged with contempt of court and sentenced to eight months in prison. The very dubious sentence, half of which Craig served, upended most legal norms. He was sentenced, supporters argued, to prevent him from testifying as a witness in the Spanish criminal case against UC global director, David Morales, being prosecuted for installing a surveillance system in the Ecuador embassy when Julian Assange found refuge that was used to record the privileged communications between Julian and his lawyers.
Morales is alleged to have carried out this surveillance on behalf of the CIA. Murray has published some of the most prescient and eloquent reports from Julian’s extradition hearings and was one of a half dozen guests, including myself, invited to Julian and Stella’s wedding in Belmarsh Prison in March 2022. Prison authorities denied entry to Craig, based on what the UK Ministry of Justice said were security concerns, as well as myself from attending the ceremony.
Joining me to discuss what is happening to Julian Assange and the rapid erosion of our most basic democratic rights is Craig Murray. And to begin, Craig, I read all of your reports from the trial which are at once eloquent and brilliant. It’s the best coverage that we’ve had of the hearings. But I want you to bring us up to date with where we are with the case at this moment.
Craig Murray: Yeah. The legal procedures have been extraordinarily convoluted after the first hearings for the magistrate ruled that Julian couldn’t be extradited, on essentially, health grounds. Due to the conditions in American prisons, the US then appealed against that verdict. The high court accepted the US appeal on extraordinarily dubious grounds based on a diplomatic note giving certain assurances which were conditional and based on Julian’s future behavior. And of course, the US government has a record of breaking such assurances, and also, those assurances could have been given at the time of the initial hearing and weren’t.
Chris Hedges: I don’t think those assurances have any… It was a diplomatic note. It has no legal validity.
Craig Murray: It has no legal validity. It’s not binding in any sense. And as I say, it is in itself conditional. It states that they may change this in the future. It actually says that –
Chris Hedges: Well, based on his behavior.
Craig Murray: – Based on his behavior, which they will be the sole judges of.
Chris Hedges: Of course.
Craig Murray: And which won’t involve any further legal process. They will decide he’s going into a supermax because they don’t like the way he looks at guards or something. It’s utterly meaningless. And so the US, having won that appeal so Julian could be extradited, it was then Julian’s turn to appeal on all the points he had lost at the original extradition. Those include the First Amendment, they include freedom of speech, obviously, and they include the fact that the very extradition treaty under which he’s being extradited states that there shall be no political extradition and this is plainly a very political case and several other important grounds. That appeal was lodged. Nothing then happened for a year. And that appeal is an extraordinary document. You can actually find it on my website, CraigMurray.org.uk.
I’ve published the entire appeal document and it is an amazing document. It’s an incredible piece of legal argument. And some of the things it sets out like the fact that the US key witness for the charges was an Icelandic guy who they paid for his evidence. They paid him for his evidence and he is a convicted pedophile and convicted fraudster. And since he has said he lied in his evidence and he just did it for the money. That’s one example of the things you find. The documentation is not dry legal documentation at all. It’s well worth going and looking through Julian’s appeal. That appeal ran to 150 pages plus supporting documents.
For a year, nothing happened. Then two or three months ago it was dismissed in three pages of double-spaced A4, in which the judge, Judge Swift, said that there were no legal arguments, no coherent legal arguments in this 150 pages and it followed no known form of pleading and it was dismissed completely. And the thing is that the appeal was written by some of the greatest lawyers in the world. It’s supervised and written by Gareth Pierce, who I would say is the greatest living human rights lawyer. Those people have seen the film In the Name of the Father, starring Daniel Day-Lewis.
Gareth is the lawyer and she’s played in the film by Emma Thompson. She is the lawyer who got out all those people who were framed by the British government for being members of the Irish Republican army and terrorists. And they weren’t, they were all framed. It was Gareth who got them out. She’s won numerous high-profile cases. She has enormous respect all around the world and this judge, who is nobody, is saying that there’s no validity to her pleadings which follow no known form of pleading. This is quite extraordinary.
Chris Hedges: Am I correct in that he was a barrister, essentially, for the defense ministry? He was served the interests of the UK government and that’s essentially got him his position. Is that correct?
Craig Murray: Exactly. He was the lead barrister for the security services. Well, he was a banister who specialized in working for the security services. He’s on record stating that the security services were his favorite clients because they are organized, brilliant, and cogent and he’s entirely a tool of the security services, and that’s why he was given this particular job. So there’s a right of appeal normally.
Chris Hedges: Let me interrupt you because it’s a little different from the American system and I’ve tried to get my head around the UK legal system. It’s an appeal to a two-judge panel, a bit like our appellate court. The appeal states that there weren’t sufficient grounds for the judge to make this ruling. Is that correct, basically?
Craig Murray: That’s right. It’s now, if you like, you were already at an appeal stage and now you’re an appeal to the high court. Now you’re making an appeal to the appeal court, which is actually the same court. It’s physically the same place and it’s the same panel of judges but it will be a different judge to Judge Swift. The appeal now is to a two-judge panel, and it’s saying that it’s an appeal for a right to further make the appeal. It’s not an appeal for the entire judgment to be overturned. Judge Swift, in his judgment, dismissing with contempt the entire case and not bothering really to answer any of the arguments, he said that this appeal has to be limited to 20 pages of A4 and that it will be timetabled as a 30-minute appeal. It’s not 30 minutes for the defense. That’s 30 minutes for the entire hearing. So plainly, that’s a summary process to try and close off the final avenue of appeal.
And this is all quite extraordinary. There’s almost no pretense of due process involved here but that’s been true throughout the proceedings. One of the things I witnessed during the initial extradition hearings was that when procedural motions were made, for example, on whether certain evidence was admissible, the defense would stand up and argue why the evidence should be admissible. Then the prosecution would stand up and argue why the evidence should not be admissible, then the judge would give her ruling. But the judge came into court and the public gallery is seated above the judge: You’re higher than the judge, you can look down on the judge. And I saw, 100% for certain, that the judge came into court with her ruling already typed out before she heard the arguments, and she sat there almost pretending to listen to what the defense was saying for now and what the prosecution was saying for now. Then she simply read out the ruling.
Chris Hedges: She’s like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland giving the verdict before she hears the sentence.
Craig Murray: Precisely. Exactly. It’s much more convenient. My own strong suspicions, it’s not the judge who wrote that ruling. That’s what she was given as this is what we wanted a ruling on.
Chris Hedges: And before we go on, you and I have covered… You’ve covered it more extensively than I have but I’ve covered it and have been in London for some of the hearings. On the most basic level, the evisceration of attorney-client privilege because UC Global recorded the meetings between Julian and his lawyers, that in a UK court, as in a US court alone, should get the trial invalidated
Craig Murray: In any democracy in the world, if your intelligence services have been recording the client’s attorney consultations, that would get the case thrown out. What the Americans are claiming, what the Americans claimed in court and the British government and the British judge accepted, was that the CIA, having recorded all the material, did nothing with it. They didn’t give it to anybody; They did not give it to the Justice Department and nobody else in the American government saw it. If that were true, I should say I don’t believe it for a moment, but if I were an American taxpayer, I would want to know why is the CIA going to enormous lengths and spending loads of money to obtain secret recordings of… And then do nothing with them. How can that be true? It makes absolutely no sense and any judge would laugh that out of court.
It’s like me saying that, okay, I did rob the bank around the corner but I wasn’t going to spend the money. I was keeping it in the cupboard. So that’s okay. It’s completely ludicrous. And the fact that was accepted, it’s one of many extraordinary rulings in this case and it’s actually hurt me, to be honest. I had some belief in the judicial system. I had some belief that in Western democracies there is due process and there’s a certain amount of fairness. I now don’t believe that at all. I’ve absolutely completely come to the conclusion that it’s a charade and a fake, and the powers behind the scenes dictate what happens in major cases in the justice system.
Chris Hedges: Well, you had three months in jail to get that point driven onto you.
Craig Murray: [Laughs] Six months in jail to get used to it.
Chris Hedges: But this is the last within the UK legal system, this appeal which as I understand was three months ago, wasn’t there a six-week deadline where they had to render a ruling within six weeks?
Craig Murray: Well, the defense had six weeks to submit their 20 pages. And the understanding was that that meant that the thing would be done very quickly but it’s all terribly arbitrary. After the first appeal was submitted, there was a year’s gap, over a year’s gap, for no reason at all. And then a three-page response to it. It doesn’t take a year to write a three-page response. At times it seems as though the process is for punishment and they’re quite happy that they’ve got Julian in a maximum security prison in dreadful positions and they’re slowly killing him in effect. And so they are in no hurry. And at times it seemed as though they were deliberately doing things as slowly as possible.
Chris Hedges: Well, this is what Neils Melzer, the special repertoire on torture for the UN, said that he called it, a slow motion execution, were his words.
Craig Murray: And as you know, they put me in jail. And my own belief is that that wasn’t anything to do with the articles I’d published on the trial about Alex Salman. That was the excuse.
Chris Hedges: Of course.
Craig Murray: It was because of my advocacy for and friendship with Julian. That’s why they put me in jail. I was in the cell, my cell was 12 feet by eight feet which is slightly larger than Julian’s cell, and I was kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, sometimes 23.5 hours a day for four months. And that’s extremely difficult. It’s extremely difficult. But I knew when I was leaving, I had an end date. To be in those conditions as Julian has been for years and years and no idea if it will ever stop, no idea if you’ll ever be let out alive, let alone not having an end date, I can’t imagine how psychologically crushing that would be.
Chris Hedges: Well, we heard some very disturbing testimony at the hearing about his psychological state, which to her credit, Baraitser took it the judge.
Craig Murray: She did.
Chris Hedges: She took it into account. But calling the suicide hotline and hallucinating and banging his head against the wall; He’s been in four years now, in this high-security prison, in London at Belmarsh, and then seven years in the embassy.
Craig Murray: And it’s amazing this is happening. He’s a publisher for goodness’s sake. He’s not even a whistleblower himself.
Chris Hedges: Unlike Ellsberg, people forget Ellsberg took the documents.
Craig Murray: Yeah, exactly.
Chris Hedges: Julian published them. He didn’t take them.
Craig Murray: Yeah. That’s exactly right. And when I myself blew the whistle, the Financial Times published the information.
Chris Hedges: This is on the black sites?
Craig Murray: On black sites, an extraordinary rendition. Yeah. I was fully expecting to go to jail at that stage. I thought, I’m a whistleblower, I’ve done this for moral reasons, and I’m prepared to go to jail for it. We’ve got to stop this extraordinary rendition program. If that means me going to jail, I’m prepared to take that. I would’ve been astonished if they’d locked up the editor of the Financial Times for publishing information. That’s not how the system works: It’s the whistleblower who takes the moral responsibility. This is a publisher and you’re locking him up with literally the worst terrorists in Europe who are kept in that maximum security establishment. Why? It’s quite extraordinary. Look at me. I’m an old bloke who writes and I was kept in solitary confinement for four months. Why do I need, why does Julian need, why are we such a danger that you have to be kept in the same conditions as serial killers?
Chris Hedges: Well, because you’re exposing truths, very inconvenient truths about the reality of the systems that we live under. You’re right, it’s a democratic facade, but it’s not democratic anymore, like the late Roman Republic. I want to talk about… So once this two-panel hearing is over, and it’s a pretty safe assumption that they will reject the appeal, what happens then?
Craig Murray: The immediate thing that will happen is that Julian’s lawyers will try to go to the European Court in Strasbourg –
Chris Hedges: To the European Court of Human Rights.
Craig Murray: – The European Court of Human Rights to submit an appeal and get the extradition stopped, pending an appeal. The worry is that Julian would instantly be extradited and that the government wouldn’t wait to hear from a European Court.
Chris Hedges: Explain to Americans what it is and what jurisdiction it has in the UK, the European Court.
Craig Murray: Yeah, the European Court of Human Rights is not a European Union body. It’s a body of the Council of Europe. It has jurisdiction over the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees basic human rights and therefore it has legally binding jurisdiction over human rights violations in any member state of the treaty. So it does have a legally binding jurisdiction and is acknowledged as such, normally, by the UK government. They’re very powerful voices within the current conservative government in the UK which wants to exit the convention on human rights. But at present, that’s not the case. The UK is still part of this system. And so the European Court of Human Rights has legally binding authority over the government of the United Kingdom purely on matters that contravene human rights.
Chris Hedges: And if they do extradite him, they’ve essentially nullified that process, the fear is that, of course, the security services would know about the ruling in advance. He’d be on the tarmac and shuttled in, sedated, and put in a diaper and hooded or something and put on a CIA flight to Washington. I want to talk about if that happens. It’s certainly very possible. What we need to do here, and I know part of the reason you’re in the US, is to prepare for that should it take place. You will try and cover the hearings and trial here as you did in the UK but let’s talk about where we go if that event occurs.
Craig Murray: Yeah. The first thing to say is that if that happens, on the day it happens, it will be the biggest news story in the world; It would be a massive news story. So we have to be prepared. We have to know who, from the Assange movement or who from his defense team, who’s going to be the spokesman, who are going to be the spokespeople, who are going to be offered up to all the major news agencies? We have to affect the story on day one. Because if you get behind the story – And we know what their line will be. They’ll put out all these lies about people being killed because of WikiLeaks, about the American insecurity being endangered, we know all the propaganda that they will try to flood the airwaves with – So we need to be ready and ahead of the game to know who our people are, who are going to be offered up to interview, who are going to proactively get onto the media, and not just the alternative media like this media, but onto the so-called mainstream as well, and get out the story.
So those things have to be taken. And then there are all the practical things. There are many in Julian’s family we’ll need to come over to support him. We’ll need to know immediately how to get them, where to get them to, what their accommodation is going to be. We need activists on that day to be ready to go out and start demonstrating all over the US.
And one thing that I really believe… This tour I’m on in the States at the moment, I’ve been meeting activists and there’s a huge base of very experienced and extremely impressive activists who are interested in the Assange case, but there’s no real spark to it yet. The day he arrives you will have the Deadwood press like the Washington Post and the New York Times running editorials saying this shouldn’t be happening. So there will be much more public awareness of what’s happening and what’s behind it. And I think that day there are a lot of people ready to jump into action. Well, they have to know what to do. We have to know, in each city and town in the US, where there’s going to be a demonstration the day he arrives, where people should go, and what time they should get there. We need to start preparing that base level of activism.
Chris Hedges: I visited Julian with my friend Michael Radner who was Julian’s lawyer. We’ve since lost Michael a couple of years ago, a great civil rights attorney who founded the Center for Constitutional Rights. But I remember Michael telling me that in order to prosecute these cases – And he got legal representation, for instance, for the prisoners in Guantanamo – You need people in the streets. That it’s extremely important. And he’s talking about his work in the courtroom, that there are people outside the courtroom – And you may have been in the courtroom when I was in London – With Baraitser complaining at one point, the judge, about the noise outside the courtroom.
Craig Murray: Yeah. That’s absolutely right. We’re going to need to have people at the actual court itself. And of course, we don’t know exactly… There’ll be all procedural steps of Julian being produced and not produced and all motions filed and things before the court itself gets, the trial proper, gets going. But at each stage it’s very important to have people available and at the courtroom and able to go outside.
Chris Hedges: What about the argument that Biden doesn’t want to deal with this? It’s a very close election. He’s neck and neck with Trump. Then let’s also talk about the speculation that there might be a plea deal and he could go to Australia. He’s an Australian citizen, of course.
Craig Murray: Well, firstly, I sometimes really wonder whether the US government realizes how it looks to the outside world. Here you have a government whose main political opponent – And I’m no fan of Donald Trump. I’m not a fan of Donald Trump but he is their main political opponent – And they’re trying to put him in prison so he can’t fight in the election. Now, how does that look to the rest of the world? What are you constantly accusing Russia of doing? What are you constantly accusing other nations of doing? How does that affect US standing? We’ve got a presidential election coming, so the guy who’s ahead in the polls, let’s put him in jail so he can’t stand.
And if at the same time you’re doing that you’re also trying to put the most famous publisher in the world in jail, simultaneously, what message is that sending out to the world? That’s sending out the message to the world that you are a completely fake democracy and that your human rights record is actually no better than that of China or Russia or any of these other countries you are constantly criticizing. So the Biden administration would be completely mad to bring Julian here and to extradite Julian. I don’t understand why they don’t see the danger in what they’re doing, in terms of freedom of speech worldwide, and people’s opinion of repression and censorship worldwide.
Chris Hedges: Because it’s driven by the CIA, the CIA with Vault 7, which exposed the hacking tools that the CIA has put into our phones or televisions even our cars. And that of course, is when Trump announced the extradition. Before, President Obama had used the Espionage Act against whistleblowers but he hadn’t used it against journalists. Trump upped the ante by calling for the use of the Espionage Act to extradite, in this sense, a journalist. But my reading of it is that they don’t care how they look. And part of it is to send a message. It doesn’t matter what nationality you are, it doesn’t matter where you are. WikiLeaks is not a US-based publication, it doesn’t matter where you are. If you expose the information that Julian and WikiLeaks exposed, we’re going to come for you. Isn’t that the message?
Craig Murray: That’s absolutely right. And this, again, it’s amazing they don’t see the dangers in this claim of universal jurisdiction. The US isn’t going to be the most powerful country in the world for much longer; It arguably already isn’t. But China is growing stronger and stronger. What are they going to say when the Chinese start plucking away American journalists for having published something rude about China, even though they’ve never been to China? This claim of universal jurisdiction is extraordinary. And what’s even more extraordinary is they’re claiming universal jurisdiction but Julian is under their jurisdiction because he published American Secrets even though he’s not an American and he wasn’t in America. And at the same time, while they claim jurisdiction over him, they’re claiming he has no First Amendment rights because he’s in Australia.
The combination of we have jurisdiction over you, you have all the liabilities that come with that but you have none of the rights that come with that because you’re not one of our citizens, that’s pernicious. It’s so illogical and so vicious. I actually didn’t believe it. I thought this was Pompeo mouthing off until there was a recent Supreme Court judgment about two years ago in the case of USAID against overseas development agencies. Where it said essentially, that the people abroad in receipt of USAID don’t have First Amendment rights and can be gagged from saying certain things as a condition of aid because they’re not US citizens. And if you read the judgment, the judgment specifically says, we cannot accord First Amendment rights to non-US citizens because otherwise, it would have to apply to overseas citizens handled by the US military. So what they’re saying is if Julian has First Amendment rights, then people in Guantanamo Bay have rights. So no one has rights.
Chris Hedges: I want to close because there’s been noise out of Australia. The ambassador, Carolyn Kennedy, said that they might consider a plea deal. I have put no credence in it. It’s all smoke but I wondered what you thought.
Craig Murray: Yeah. It’s an attempt to placate Australian public opinion. Public opinion in Australia is extremely strong. Over 80% of Australians want Julian released and allowed to go home to Australia. Blinken came there and made some very hostile and un-diplomatic remarks at a time when Australia was allowing the US to base nuclear weapons on its side. Caroline Kennedy came out… It’s a lie, frankly. There has been no approach from a justice department or from the State Department to doing any plea deal. It’s purely smoke and mirrors to try to distract the Australian public. Caroline Kennedy was lying to the Australian public. That’s pure and simple.
Chris Hedges: Great, thanks. That was Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and one of the great champions of Julian Assange. I want to thank The Real News Network and its production team, Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, David Hebden, and Kayla Rivara. You can find me at chrishedges.substack.com.
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of show The Chris Hedges Report.