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U.N. Rapporteur: Julian Assange Has Faced Psychological Torture; He Should Not Be Extradited to U.S.

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This week Swedish prosecutors dropped an investigation into sexual assault allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stemming from 2010. Assange, who has always denied the allegations, took refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for over seven years to avoid extradition to Sweden on the charges. British authorities dragged him out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in April, and he has since been jailed in London’s Belmarsh prison on charges related to skipping of bail in 2012, when he first entered the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden over the now-dropped sexual assault charges. The United States is still seeking Assange’s extradition to the U.S., where he faces up to 175 years in prison on hacking charges and 17 counts of violating the World War I-era Espionage Act for his role in publishing U.S. classified military and diplomatic documents exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. A full extradition hearing will take place in February. We air remarks by U.N. special rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer, who says his initial position of skepticism toward Assange’s case changed as he began to look more deeply at the evidence and charges against him. “As I scratched the surface a little bit, immediately things did not add up with the images I had in my mind of this man,” Melzer said in a recent talk at Columbia University. “The deeper I got into this, the more fabrication I saw.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to the case of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Earlier this week, Swedish prosecutors have for the third time dropped an investigation into sexual assault allegations that Assange has long denied. The move comes as Julian Assange’s legal team is fighting his possible extradition to the United States, where he faces up to 175 years in prison on hacking charges and 17 counts of violating the rarely invoked World War I-era Espionage Act for his role in exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. A full extradition hearing will take place in February. Julian Assange has been locked up at London’s Belmarsh prison since April, when he was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy by London police. He had taken refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy for over seven years to avoid extradition.

Later in the program, we’ll speak to Tariq Ali and Margaret Ratner Kunstler, co-editors of the new book In Defense of Julian Assange. But first I want to turn to Nils Melzer, United Nations special rapporteur on torture. He recently spoke at Columbia University.

NILS MELZER: About a year ago, when — well, December, it was — when Julian Assange’s lawyers first contacted me and asked me to intervene on his behalf with various rule of governments, I was very hesitant to get involved, because I had this visceral reaction. I didn’t know anything about the man. I had never dealt with the case. But I had this visceral reaction of “Oh, this is this narcissist, this rapist, this hacker, this spy. He’s going to manipulate my mandate, and I’m not going to get into this case,” because I have received, as you know, and as we receive — in our mandates, we receive about 10 to 12 to 15 requests per day of potential victims of torture or other human rights violations to intervene on their behalf. So we have to make a selection, because we can maybe deal with two, with the resources we have. So I wasn’t going to get into this case. And it took me another three months, when his lawyers came back to me and said, “Well, there are rumors that he might be expelled from the Embassy of Ecuador in London imminently, and, please, you know, look just at a few documents, and then make up your mind.” And so I somehow felt I owed it to my professional integrity to at least look at these documents.

And I have to admit that as soon as I scratched the surface a little bit, immediately things didn’t add up with the images I had in my mind of this man. And the deeper I got into this, the more fabrication I basically saw. And I just saw that there was nothing to back up all these — this public narrative that had been spread about Julian Assange in the media mainly, or that’s at least where I got it from, almost passively, almost through osmosis. It was kind of this constant thing over the years. So that started to intrigue me.

And I looked into this case, and I decided, if I get into this — this is a very politicized case — I need to — and a very publicly — obviously publicized case — I need to make sure I have a solid basis. So I requested the British authorities after his arrest to allow me to visit him, and I took two medical experts with me, a psychiatrist and a forensic expert. Both of them have worked with torture victims for decades and advised courts in distinguishing symptoms that might come from ill treatment, from other symptoms, psychological ones, physical ones. So, they really know how to distinguish these things.

And we visited Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison on the 9th of May for four hours. I spoke with him for an hour just to get a good first impression. Then we had a physical examination for an hour by our forensic expert, and then we had the two-hour psychiatric examination. And all three of us had the same impression — and, well, I had certainly an impression, and the medical doctors had a diagnosis, that they — we all came to the conclusion that he showed all the symptoms that are typical for a person that has been exposed to psychological torture over an extended period of time. So now I had this result.

And I have to say — well, also personally, when I met him the first time — the only time I met him, actually — he made a very rational impression. A lot of anxiety, I could feel. He was certainly extremely stressed and on a stress level where he could never relax, and something that reminded me of many of the victims of torture I had seen at interrogation centers that had been indefinitely detained for a long time, intellectuals that have been in isolation for a long time, that would show that kind of reaction pattern, asking me questions, and when I just started to answer, he would already come to the next questions. And very intelligent questions, but he would not even be able to compute my answers. So, he was already kind of beyond that point.

And it put me — because he had been in a very controlled environment for more than six years, we could identify the causes. And there was just a number of causes, of factors that could have influenced his life. It was not someone that we picked up on a battlefield and we didn’t know what happened to them the last three months. The last six or seven years, he had been exposed to this precisely same environment, that obviously evolved, but it was fairly easy to make kind of the calculation and conclude what were actually the causes that have produced these symptoms.

Now, we also have to be clear from a torture and ill treatment perspective, not everything that is — not every anxiety and stress level or pain and suffering is torture. Just because you show that symptoms does not necessarily mean that someone tortured you, because there is an exception in the torture definition. So, essentially, torture is the deliberate and purposeful infliction of severe pain and suffering in order to achieve some kind of a purpose — coercion, confession, intimidation or something like that. But there is an exception where there is pain and suffering that is inherent in lawful sanctions. So, when you have a lawful, legal proceeding and someone is lawfully detained, obviously they will be stressed, and the longer it lasts, the more they will be stressed. That, obviously, is a level of anxiety that is just inherent in a lawful measure.

So the question was: Was his detention lawful? And when I looked at all the evidence — and I’m not going to go, obviously, into every single detail here — but if this were about applying the law, then he would not have been sentenced to a 50-week imprisonment simply for bail violation in the U.K. for a case that at the time was not even pending anymore. The Swedes at the time had terminated that case, had dropped the case. And he had violated that bail condition because he had received asylum from political persecution, given by a U.N. member state, Ecuador. And that is not a grave violation of the bail conditions. And in the U.K., bail violations don’t routinely lead to prison sentences. It’s just a fine or maybe a minor sentence that might not even be served in the end. So that was clearly excessive. So that was not about applying the law regularly.

Then we also saw that British judges showed, from the first day — when he was arrested and brought to court, they showed extreme bias against him. They called him narcissist, although in that hearing he said nothing except “I plead not guilty.” And I’m a professor at a British university, and I consider the U.K. a rule-of-law state and one of the leading ones. And, to me, that was very odd. And then I saw — so we have an excessive sentence. We have judges calling — insulting him for saying nothing, basically. We had a judge leading the extradition proceedings, until recently, who had a documented conflict of interest. Her husband had been exposed by WikiLeaks. And his defense lawyers had tried to make that case, and that was simply ignored.

And until two weeks ago, I believe, Julian Assange never had access to legal documents. So, how do you prepare a defense, which is a basic human right when you’re facing all these proceedings, and you don’t even have access to your legal documents? When in the extradition hearing the judge asks him, “Sir, how do you react to the U.S. indictment?” and he said, “Well, I haven’t received it,” that’s not the rule of law. This is not about applying the law. That’s not a lawful proceeding.

Then we look at the Swedish proceedings. It’s the same thing. It’s totally arbitrary when a state conducts a preliminary investigation. He has never been charged of anything in Sweden. He’s not charged of sexual offenses. Never been. The case has been opened, three days later had been closed, because there was no evidence for any offense at all, chief prosecutor of Stockholm saying that. And a different prosecutor takes it up again, based on the statement of the purported victim, which had been adapted, changed by the police without consulting the victim, in order to have a stronger basis for the rape case.

And it goes on and on and on. You have strange evidence, condoms that have no DNA on them, which supposedly have been used. And it goes on and on and on. It’s one contradiction after the other. And Sweden never gets beyond the stage of a preliminary investigation, which simply means someone has alleged rape and they have still not decided whether they want to charge him or not, after nine years. And that’s what has kept him in detention in Ecuador, in the Ecuadorian Embassy, for so long and under that constant pressure.

And then we see the U.S. proceedings. With all due respect, but you have — you know, the grand jury proceedings have their own particularities, right? Secret evidence, a jury selection which, obviously, in that area will result in a certain amount of bias within the jury. We have the history of the so-called espionage court, which has its own problematics. Seventeen of the 18 charges, basically, refer to activities that are the basic business of any investigative journalist, which brings in the whole freedom of press and freedom of opinion problematic here. And the 18th charge, the first one that the U.S. disclosed, refers to Julian Assange supposedly having attempted to help Chelsea Manning to decode a password, but not succeeded. So, if every time someone tries to type in a password and decode it and it doesn’t work, you get extradited to the U.S. for espionage, there’s something slightly disproportionate in this.

I mean, something just doesn’t add up in all these proceedings, when it’s about depriving or terminating the asylum of Julian Assange by Ecuador and terminating his citizenship. That is done without any legal proceeding whatsoever. The president just decides, “That’s what we’re going to do today.” He has been informed. He’s kicked out of the embassy or arrested by the Brits in the embassy that very day. …

So, we see that there we have no due process proceeding whatsoever. And so, U.K., U.S., Ecuador, Sweden — all these legal proceedings, severe violations of due process consistently. This is not about prosecuting someone for an offense. This is not about applying the law. The story — we have to take a step back. What has the man done? He has disclosed enormous amounts of information that governments wanted to stay secret, to remain secret. And obviously, we know, obviously, most famously or most infamously, the “Collateral Murder” video, which is — in my view as a former ICRC legal adviser, having worked with the law of war for many years, it’s evidence for war crimes.

And what is the scandal in this case is that everybody focuses on Julian Assange and his cat and his skateboard and having allegations that are — you know, having smeared feces on the wall and all these types of things that are not — there’s no evidence whatsoever for any of these, and as if these were war crimes, even if they were true. But no one looks at the war crimes. And I think that’s the big story here.

And that’s why I get passionate about this case, because here is someone who discloses evidence for war crimes, including torture, murder, all kinds of corrupt activities going on, and everybody focuses on Julian Assange and his domestic obligations in the embassy. And therefore, there is no justification for detaining him in isolation and having him under this constant pressure, where he knows he cannot trust anybody of the European — no official authority.

He will be certainly exposed to an arbitrary trial, if he — in the U.K., extradition trial. The choreography is clear. Whatever his lawyers say, in the end, the U.K. judges will say, “Yes, of course, we cannot extradite him if there’s death penalty or torture or treatment, so, please, U.S., make assurances.” The U.S. will obviously make these assurances, and then the U.K. will say, “Then we have no reason not to trust the U.S.” And they will extradite him to the U.S. That’s what I foresee. And that’s what he expect he will hear. And that’s the crux here. In addition to the ill treatment he has already suffered, I am absolutely convinced that he will not get a fair trial. He’ll get a show trial in East Virginia, and he’ll end up in prison under inhumane conditions for the rest of his life. That needs to be prevented.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, speaking about Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, speaking at Columbia University this past October 15th. When we come back, we’ll speak with Tariq Ali in London and Margaret Kunstler here in New York, editors of the new book In Defense of Julian Assange. Stay with us.

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Next story from this daily show

“In Defense of Julian Assange”: Why WikiLeaks Founder’s Case Threatens Press Freedom

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