History, while not always a telling guide, can be useful. But in moments of flushed confidence, it is not consulted and Cleo is forgotten. A crisp new dawn can negate a glance to the past. Having received the unexpected news that Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States for charges of breaching the Espionage Act of 1917 and computer intrusion had been blocked by Justice Vanessa Baraitser, his legal team and supporters were confident. All that was left was to apply for bail, see Assange safely to the arms of his family, and await the next move by wounded US authorities.
Former UK ambassador Craig Murray, human rights activist and veteran reporter on the Assange case, was initially buoyant in his column. “I fully expect Julian will be released on bail this week, pending a possible US appeal against the blocking of his extradition.” He further got “the strong impression that Baraitser was minded to grant bail and wanted the decision to be fireproof.”
That fireproofing never came. On Wednesday, January 6, the application for bail by Assange’s legal team was rejected. Counsel for the US government, Clair Dobbin, built the prosecution’s case around the strong possibility that the publisher might flee the clutches of UK authorities even as the US was gathering its wits for an appeal to the High Court. “His history shows he will go to any lengths to get away.”
Forums would welcome this disreputable character: Mexico, for instance, had offered to “protect Assange with political asylum.” The defence might well say that he would not flee due to poor health, but could they be sure? A “flight risk” had little to do with mental wellbeing. Remember, she pressed, what he did during the Swedish proceedings, how he “ruthlessly” breached the trust of those who fronted the bail money. Those who had offered surety for him, such as the Duchess of Beaufort, Tracy Worcester, had also failed in ensuring that Assange presented in court in 2012. Beware, warned Dobbin, of sinister networks of operatives he could call upon to aid him vanish. WikiLeaks had, after all, facilitated the escape of Edward Snowden.
Dobbin’s tone and manner – gloomy and Presbyterian, as Murray described it – was all judgment.