The extradition trial of Julian Assange at the Old Bailey moved into a higher gear today. Testimonies spanned the importance of classified information in war journalism, the teasing offer of a pardon for Assange by US President Donald Trump, torture inflicted by the US Central Intelligence Agency, the chilling effect of indictments under the Extradition Act and the legacy of the Collateral Murder video.
Hager, war and journalism
Investigative journalist Nicky Hager did some dusting and sprucing of the image of Assange via testimony given on videolink: not the “difficult, awful” individual discussed in standard media outlets, he asserted, but a figure “devoted” to “trying to make the world a better place in an era when there is declining freedom of information in most of the world.” Hager found Assange “thoughtful, humorous and energetic.”
In his written testimony, Hager speaks to the role of journalism – the sort that matters, in any case – and war. “It is in general impossible to research and write about war to a useful standard without access to sources that the authorities concerned regard as sensitive and out of bounds – and all the more so with the subject of war crimes.” Classified information, notably in war, “is essential to allow journalism to perform its roles of informing the public, enabling democratic decision making and deterring wrongdoing.”
Hager managed to crowbar in a contemporary parallel on the importance of releasing the Collateral Murder, depicting the criminal slayings of civilians and journalists in New Baghdad. The exposure of the incident, and the language used by the helicopter crew (“Look at those dead bastards”) contributed to “world opinion about the misuse of state power” in much the same way the video of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police did to current debate.
The prosecution was in no mood for this more nuanced Assange, sensitive to caution and discretion. For them, he remains a cold, calculating figure of dangerous idiosyncrasies, who endangered the lives of individuals by publishing unredacted documents. Hager had understood that WikiLeaks only released the documents once the cables had already found their way onto platforms such as Cryptome, courtesy of the publication of the password to an unencrypted file in a book by Guardian journalists David Leigh an Luke Harding.