Today was Day 2 of Julian’s resumed extradition hearing in London. Media coverage is picking up a bit, but many major outlets are not paying attention. And U.K. magistrate Vanessa Baraitser’s abrupt decision to block journalists and NGOsfrom observing was troubling (we’ve covered it here).
There were some changes to today’s witness list. In the end, two expert witnesses testified on the public interest value of WikiLeaks disclosures and the journalistic protections the U.S. Constitution affords journalists and publishers.
Morning Session: U.S.-U.K. Lawyer Says WikiLeaks Publications Vital in War Crimes Tribunals
British-American attorney Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, took the stand to emphasize the value of WikiLeaks’ disclosures on drone strikes and torture. Litigation against the deadly drone programs, Stafford Smith argued, would have been nearly impossible without the information published by WikiLeaks. Stafford Smith also represented several Guantanamo Bay detainees, and he noted how WikiLeaks helped shed light on torture and other abuses.
U.S. prosecutor James Lewis was “livid” that these embarrassing issues were raised in the hearing, and repeatedly grilled Stafford Smith on the dubious point that they are not part of the case against Julian. After an extended back-and-forth, Julian interjected that Lewis’ assertion was “nonsense,” drawing a rebuke from the magistrate.
Afternoon Session: Journalism Professor Says Leaks Are the “Lifeblood” of Investigative Journalism
Journalism professor and former investigative reporter Mark Feldstein testified again today, after technical glitches interrupted his Day 1 appearance. Dr. Feldstein discussed the importance of the U.S. Constitution’s protection of journalistic practices and stressed that it also applies to WikiLeaks. Specifically, Feldstein addressed key elements of the U.S. government’s allegations: soliciting information, publishing secrets, and the danger of allowing the government to criminalize publications they claim cause “harm.” According to Feldstein, soliciting information is the “lifeblood” of investigative journalism — especially on matters of national security. The U.S. prosecutor attempted damage control by digressing into a slippery slope fallacy: asking whether governments have the right to keep secrets.
Overall, it was a tense Day 2. Julian’s defense raised key points on the public interest element of WikiLeaks’ disclosures and on the constitutional protections that apply to newsgathering and publication. And the prosecutor’s obsession with portraying the charges in a very narrow light (i.e. Julian is only being charged with releasing certain documents that named names) tipped the prosecution’s hand and revealed the government’s fear that a broader discussion would embarrass the United States.