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Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook, depicting Julian Assange, center, in the dock with his defense team, Edward Fitzgerald, left, and Mark Summers, at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London, during an extradition hearing, Monday Feb. 24, 2020. The U.S. government began outlining its extradition case against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in a London court. (Illustration: Elizabeth Cook/PA via AP)
Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook, depicting Julian Assange, center, in the dock with his defense team, Edward Fitzgerald, left, and Mark Summers, at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London, during an extradition hearing, Monday Feb. 24, 2020. The U.S. government began outlining its extradition case against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in a London court. (Illustration: Elizabeth Cook/PA via AP)

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange tried to warn U.S. about cable data dump

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange tried to warn the U.S. government that a cache of sensitive diplomatic cables were about to be published online, his lawyer said.

U.S. claims that Assange recklessly put lives at risk by publishing hundreds of thousands of unredacted documents “boldly and blatantly mistakes the facts,” Mark Summers said on the second day of Assange’s extradition trial in London. In fact, Assange called the State Department to notify officials that the documents were set to be published, the attorney said Tuesday.

Assange, 48, is fighting U.S. charges that he conspired to obtain and disclose classified documents passed to him by former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, including 250,000 State Department cables. Summers said that a book rushed out by reporters for the Guardian newspaper had already disclosed the password to a site hosting the cables months before WikiLeaks published them in 2011.

“The gates got opened not by Mr. Assange or WikiLeaks but by” the journalists, who were working with Assange to release the information, Summers said.

While the Guardian said it opposes the extradition, the newspaper disputed Assange’s version of the events, which took place in 2011.

“The book contained a password which the authors had been told by Julian Assange was temporary and would expire and be deleted in a matter of hours,” the newspaper said in a statement on its website. “The book also contained no details about the whereabouts of the files. No concerns were expressed by Assange or WikiLeaks about security being compromised when the book was published.”

Assange has been poorly treated during the proceedings, said Edward Fitzgerald, another lawyer for Assange. On Monday, he was handcuffed 11 times and stripped naked twice, Fitzgerald said.

Assange has been in London’s notorious Belmarsh prison for almost a year since he was unceremoniously arrested inside the Ecuadorian embassy for skipping bail. He fled to the Ecuadorian building in 2012 to avoid being sent to face the sexual-assault charges in Sweden. His eviction opened up the opportunity for American prosecutors to pursue him.

The Swedish case was dropped after authorities said the allegations had been weakened as the memories of witnesses faded.

James Lewis, an attorney for the U.S. government, rejected allegations that the U.S. Justice Department had slapped additional charges on Assange in the event that the Swedish case would have been pursued at the same time.

“It does not follow we will ratchet up the charges in case there might be competition,” Lewis said. “We have a clear and unequivocal basis for charging him and that is the end of it.”

On the first day of the hearing on Monday, Lewis said the leaks left hundreds at risk. Some of whom had to be relocated to the U.S. for their protection and others “disappeared,” he said.

Another set of hearings is scheduled in May and a decision on Assange’s fate may not be issued until June.

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