It was some 15 years ago that Craig Murray first became a thorn in the flesh of the British State. He’d had a distinguished career in the UK diplomatic service, but his last posting in 2002-2004 as British Ambassador, Uzbekistan brought him into conflict with the State. Responsible for the UK’s relationship with Uzbekistan, he found Western support for the dictatorial Karimov regime unacceptable having exposed the human rights violations of the administration. In October 2004 he was removed from his post for his revelations. Since then he has pursued a varied career as an author, broadcaster and human rights activist and was Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010. At the 2005 General Election, he stood against Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in Blackburn as an Independent candidate, winning 2,082 votes. More recently he has turned his attention to the treatment of Julian Assange, still being held in prison in Belmarsh high security prison, awaiting a hearing scheduled for 25 February on his extradition to the USA.
On 21 October Julian Assange appeared before District Judge Vanessa Baraitser at Westminster Magistrates Court. The hearing was witnessed by Murray who has been following Julian’s case with great interest and concern. He wrote in his blog the following day: “I was deeply shaken while witnessing yesterday’s events in Westminster Magistrates Court. Every decision was railroaded through over the scarcely heard arguments and objections of Assange’s legal team, by a magistrate who barely pretended to be listening.
“Before I get on to the blatant lack of fair process, the first thing I must note was Julian’s condition. I was badly shocked by just how much weight my friend has lost, by the speed his hair has receded and by the appearance of premature and vastly accelerated ageing. He has a pronounced limp I have never seen before. Since his arrest he has lost over 15 kg in weight.
“But his physical appearance was not as shocking as his mental deterioration. When asked to give his name and date of birth, he struggled visibly over several seconds to recall both. I will come to the important content of his statement at the end of proceedings in due course, but his difficulty in making it was very evident; it was a real struggle for him to articulate the words and focus his train of thought.
Up until this court appearance Murray had been sceptical of claim that debilitating drugs had been forced on Assange and that his treatment amounted to torture. ”But” he writes “having attended the trials in Uzbekistan of several victims of extreme torture, and having worked with survivors from Sierra Leone and elsewhere, I can tell you that yesterday changed my mind entirely and Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness.
“I had been even more sceptical of those who claimed, as a senior member of his legal team did to me on Sunday night (the day before the Westminster hearing) that they were worried that Julian might not live to the end of the extradition process. I now find myself not only believing it, but haunted by the thought. Everybody in that court yesterday saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable. Yet the agents of the state, particularly the callous magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, were not just prepared but eager to be a part of this bloodsport. She actually told him that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later. The question of why a man who, by the very charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, had been reduced by the state to somebody incapable of following court proceedings, gave her not a millisecond of concern.
“The charge against Julian is very specific; conspiring with Chelsea Manning to publish the Iraq War logs, the Afghanistan war logs and the State Department cables. The charges are nothing to do with Sweden, nothing to do with sex, and nothing to do with the 2016 US election; a simple clarification the mainstream media appears incapable of understanding.
“The purpose of yesterday’s (Monday’s) hearing was case management; to determine the timetable for the extradition proceedings. The key points at issue were that Julian’s defence was requesting more time to prepare their evidence; and arguing that political offences were specifically excluded from the extradition treaty. There should, they argued, therefore be a preliminary hearing to determine whether the extradition treaty applied at all.
“The reasons given by Assange’s defence team for more time to prepare were both compelling and startling. They had very limited access to their client in jail and had not been permitted to hand him any documents about the case until one week ago. He had also only just been given limited computer access, and all his relevant records and materials had been seized from the Ecuadorean Embassy by the US Government; he had no access to his own materials for the purpose of preparing his defence.”
All of this cut no ice with magistrate Vanessa Baraitser who accepted the prosecution’s case that the defence should be given be no extra time to prepare their case. But there was worse to come. In ruling on where the extradition case will be heard in February Vanessa Baraitser announced that it would take place not at Westminster Court but in Belmarsh Magistrates Court,” the grim high security facility used for preliminary legal processing of terrorists, attached to the maximum security prison where Assange is being held.” According to Murray there are only six seats for the public in even the largest court in the complex, thus making public scrutiny of the hearing more difficult.
Oliver concludes: “The whole experience was profoundly upsetting. It was very plain that there was no genuine process of legal consideration happening here. What we had was a naked demonstration of the power of the state, and a naked dictation of proceedings by the Americans. Julian was in a box behind bulletproof glass, and I and the thirty odd other members of the public who had squeezed in were in a different box behind more bulletproof glass. I do not know if he could see me or his other friends in the court, or if he was capable of recognising anybody. He gave no indication that he did.
“In Belmarsh he is kept in complete isolation for 23 hours a day. He is permitted 45 minutes exercise. If he has to be moved, they clear the corridors before he walks down them and they lock all cell doors to ensure he has no contact with any other prisoner outside the short and strictly supervised exercise period. There is no possible justification for this inhuman regime, used on major terrorists, being imposed on a publisher who is a remand prisoner.” He concludes: “Unless Julian is released shortly he will be destroyed. If the state can do this, then who is next?”
You can read Craig Murray’s blog at: https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2019/10/assange-in-court/