UK court should slap down the US Justice Department in the Assange case
As the lead attorney for the New York Times in the “Pentagon Papers” case in 1971, I’ve been doing a slow burn ever since over the government’s behavior in that instance: lies, disregard of court rules, arrogance, destruction of documents. All of this was brought to mind earlier this week when a British court hinted in the Julian Assange case that the U.S. government has acted in the same way once again.
It asked Britain’s supreme court to determine the appropriateness of a late filing by the government that completely undercut a ruling that Assange could NOT be extradited to the U.S. This followed British trial court Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who was hearing Assange’s extradition case, ruling that Assange might commit suicide if held in a U.S. prison in solitary confinement under what is called Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) and, so, he could not be extradited.
As soon as she announced her decision, the U.S. government filed assurances that Assange would not be held in that kind of detention, although it reserved the right to revoke the assurance if circumstances changed.
The judge was unmoved by this assurance, but she was reversed on appeal. The U.K.’s supreme court has now asked to consider the timeliness of this filing.
I do not believe the U.S. government’s assurances are worth the paper on which they have been written. Its behavior in this case has been rampant. Most outrageously, the CIA discussed a plot to kidnap Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he was holed up, and to kill him. The CIA also tapped into conversations in the Ecuadorian Embassy, including those with Assange’s lawyers.
There is not much question whether all of this is true. There was testimony about it in open court, and Mike Pompeo, the CIA director at the time and later secretary of State during the Trump administration, has conceded that there is “some truth” in the foregoing.
I do not pretend to be particularly familiar with the extradition laws of the U.K. But common sense tells me that you deliver highly important documents about a case — such as government assurances — before the case begins, not after it has been decided. U.K. counsel representing the U.S. disagrees, saying he can deliver documents when he wants and if he loses the appeal, he will start the extradition proceedings all over again.
This is the very same arrogance that was on display in the Pentagon Papers case, in which then-U.S. Solicitor General Erwin Griswold said the usual rules of evidence did not apply. His view of the law manifested itself in his introduction of new evidence in the case anytime the government was so moved. The claims were always extravagant: Publication of the new evidence would be a disaster for the country’s national security, etc., etc. They never were. Indeed, most of them turned out to be previously published.
The other principal fallacious claim made by the government back then was that the Times had revealed that the United States had broken the Vietnamese code. This also proved to be so much hogwash.
The government also destroyed — or, in its words, “lost” — New York Times briefs in the case. It prevailed upon me to give them these briefs to protect national security and to be returned if the government indicted the Times. A later research request evoked the response “they were lost.”
We do not know if the U.K.’s supreme court will take the Assange case to determine the issue of the timing of the U.S. government’s filing. Let’s hope that it does and then decides the U.S. government should not get away with the latest example of its less than appropriate behavior in a national security case.
James C. Goodale is the former general counsel and vice chairman of the New York Times and the author of “Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles.”
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