Assange hires campaigning Spanish magistrate

Issue 
Supporters rally for Baltasar Garzon in Spain.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange announced on July 25 that Spanish jurist Baltasar Garzon would represent his case to fight extradition to Sweden, from where he fears he will be extradited to the United States.

Garzon is known as a campaigning magistrate who pursues social justice cases. In 1998, Garzon was the investigating magistrate in the case where Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested. Pinochet died in 2006 before being convicted.

Garzon has come under attack by right-wing forces in Spain. He was removed from the judiciary for 11 years in a judgement by the Spanish supreme court on February 10.

The charge against Garzon was for a “breach of legal obligation” in a corruption case. At the time, Garzon was also investigating crimes committed during Franco's fascist dictatorship, in power in Spain from the 1930s to the '70s.

Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 19 when he applied for asylum. Sweden is seeking to extradite Assange over allegations of sexual assault, despite the fact that Assange has not been charged and is willing to be questioned in London.

Assange's lawyers fear that if he is extradited to Sweden, it will be easy, given Sweden's extradition laws and record of handing over prisoners to the US, for him to then be taken to the US. WikiLeaks has revealed evidence of a sealed indictment prepared by US authorities against Assange in relation to WikiLeaks' damaging leaks that have revealed US war crimes.

Ecuador, which is yet to decide whether or not to grant Assange asylum, has asked for assurances from the US that Assange would not be extradited to the US. However, Assange’s US lawyer Mike Ratner said on July 26 that it was unlikely that the US would admit to planning suhc a course of action.

Ratner told the July 26 Guardian that he was sure that Assange had been already secretly indicted by a grand jury in Washington and that there were plans to extradite him to the US as soon as he left Britain.

Ratner also said that it was possible that the US would seek to apply the death penalty.

Assange’s announcement comes in the wake of WikiLeaks releasing 2,434,899 emails exposing links between Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria and Western powers.

Among other atrocities, the Wikileaks emails reveal that Italian arms company Finmeccanica supplied Syrian police with radios and other communications equipment only a few months ago.

The emails also refer to advice given to the Assad regime by a global communications firm, based in the US. In May 2011, the firm, Brown Lloyd James (BJL), advised Assad on the best methods to put down the uprising and argued for a combination of “hard” and “soft” power.

Al-akhbar.com reported on July 8 that BJL argued: “If hard power is necessary to quell rebellion, soft power is needed to reassure the Syrian people and outside audiences that reform is proceeding apace, legitimate grievances are being addressed and taken seriously, and that Syria’s actions are ultimately aimed at creating an environment in which change and progress can take place.”

BJL argued that “the Obama Administration wants the leadership in Syria to survive” but stressed that this could change.

In January, BJL President Mike Holtzman said he was proud to be a part of a successful PR event with Assad when he “spontaneously” attended a pro-government rally.

BJL’s website describes its management team as “an elite group of distinguished former news executives, top-level White House and Downing Street political advisors, high-profile entertainment industry executives and experts in international affairs.”

WikiLeaks also revealed the extent to which Assad’s cousin Rami Maklouf expanded his financial domination of Syria, even as he “repented” and supposedly gave away much of his money.

Known as “Mister Five Percent” for the share he supposedly owned in every business venture, Maklouf’s corruption was a rallying point for opposition to the regime.

Meanwhile, the source who allegedly provided WikiLeaks with its most notorious information has had a serious setback in his case. In 2009, Private First Class Bradley Manning leaked hundreds of emails to Wikileaks, among which was the “Collateral Murder” video footage that showed US troops callously gunning down civilians in Iraq.

Manning’s identity was leaked by hacker Adrian Lamo and he was arrested in 2010 and held for a court-martial.

Manning’s court-martial is set to begin in September with his defence lawyers arguing that the information he released did not endanger any US soldiers or allies.

This is backed by a statement made by then Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2010, who said: “Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.”

But, in a pretrial hearing on July 19, US Army Colonel Denise Lind who is trying the case said that the impacts of the leaks were irrelevant to the case and ruled such evidence inadmissible. Manning’s defence attorney David Coombs said that this meant that the defence was “cut off at the knees”.

The Sun Daily reported on July 19 that Coombs said: "The reasonableness of his belief that the information could not cause damage is buttressed by the damage assessments which say that the leaks did not cause damage to the United States.

“Anything 'could' happen — the world 'could' end tomorrow, Kim Kardashian 'could' be elected president of the United States of America; I 'could' win the lottery.”

Lind also denied Manning’s request to have the UN’s torture investigator Juan Mendez present evidence at the next hearing set for August. At the August hearing, Coombs will argue that Manning’s nine months in a maximum-security prison amounted to illegal punishment.

Manning’s defence argues that Manning was subjected to solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and, against the wishes of psychologists, denied clothing until it was replaced by a “suicide-preventing smock”. The defense argues that this is torture.

Juan Mendez has criticised the court for not allowing him access to Manning to assess the claims. If Manning is found guilty, he could face life imprisonment.



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