(SP) — Defendants in the United States sit with their counsel. They are not held in a “secure dock” in a manner that physically removes them from proceedings.
Yet, in the United Kingdom, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces extradition to the U.S., a magistrate court judge decided he must remain isolated in a glass box at the back of the courtroom.
The first proceedings in Assange’s extradition hearing concluded on Thursday at the Woolwich courthouse in London, which is adjacent to Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh where Assange is detained.
Assange is charged with 17 counts of violating the U.S. Espionage Act, and a computer crime offense, which contains language from the Espionage Act.
The defense requested that Judge Vanessa Baraitser allow Assange to sit with his attorneys in the “well” of the courtroom.
“[We’ve] now been in court for four days, and Mr. Assange has dealt with those four days stoically,” defense attorney Mark Summers declared. Yet, there are “cumulative problems” for Assange that “arise from a number of factors.”
Summers raised the issue of Assange’s health and noted that the glass box impinges on and prevents “proper communication in a confidential way with legal representatives.” The legal team cannot see when Assange wants to communicate with them.
Due to the layout of the court, Assange’s ability to speak confidentially through “glass slats is difficult.” Conversations must happen in “proximity of security guards” [and] “representatives of the U.S. government.”
What is said may be overheard by microphones, a concern for Assange given the espionage operation that was conducted by a Spanish security company that targeted him on behalf of the CIA while he was in the Ecuador embassy. Microphones were planted to eavesdrop on attorney-client privileged communications.
Summers encouraged the judge to permit Assange to sit with his legal team and enjoy “free, uninterrupted unoverheard conversations with his lawyers” about evidence that will be presented during an upcoming three-week extradition proceeding in May.
The judge flatly rejected this request. She maintained Assange has had “no difficulty at all in attracting the attention of those who sit on the legal team” in the back row of the well. He communicated with them via notes during the week.
Attempts were made to deal with “poor acoustics,” according to Baraitser, including the noise from demonstrators outside the courthouse. He was told to raise his hand so proceedings could be repeated. Headphones were provided on the last day, yet he “declined” to say when he could not hear and simply chose not to wear them because the ambient sound was too bothersome.
‘Serious Concerns About His Fair Trial Rights’
Baraitser dismissed the notion that he has some “psychiatric vulnerability” that would require a change in security procedure. She was willing to alter restrictions on passing notes, loosen limits on legal visits outside the courtroom, and address how to better protect confidential conversations so he can have “proper adequate access.” But she would not take the meaningful step of protecting his right to a fair trial by allowing him to be outside the glass box while in court.
The judge even proposed that the defense request more “frequent breaks” and ramp up their “written communications” during the next extradition hearing. She would rather a three-week hearing turn into a six-week hearing than risk Assange being “unable to participate.”
But this suggestion—that the court expend twice the resources and take double the time instead of upholding Assange’s rights—was understandably opposed by the defense. It would jeopardize the ability of the defense to present their evidence “coherently and in an uninterrupted manner.”
The episode was made even more absurd by the prosecutor, James Lewis, who remained neutral and unopposed to Assange sitting with his lawyers. He mentioned to the judge that there were precedents where the accused had joined their legal team in the “well,” and the judge briefly argued with the prosecutor.
“Mr. Assange is having significant difficulties in participating in these proceedings. He’s unable to pass notes in a confidential and secure way. He’s unable to seek clarification from his legal team and give instructions during the course of the proceedings,” stated Jen Robinson, one of Assange’s attorneys. “And the judge has refused his ability to leave the dock to be able to participate properly. This is obviously raising serious concerns about his fair trial rights and his ability to properly participate and defend himself in these proceedings.”
Rebecca Vincent, the U.K. Bureau Director for Reporters Without Borders, indicated the organization was “concerned by the magistrate’s decision to reject Mr. Assange’s request to leave the secure dock that he’s being held in at the back of this courtroom and to sit with his lawyers in the well of the court.”
“He’s been unable to follow proceedings properly, unable to confer with his lawyers, and is looking pretty unwell. Also, the fact that he is being held in essentially a glass cage and treated like a violent criminal is completely inappropriate [given] the nature of the charges.”
No Requirement For The Dock, Simply Recommended Policy
JUSTICE describes itself as an “all-party law reform and human rights organization working to strengthen the justice system” in the U.K. In a 2015 report [PDF], they examined the use of “docks” in the country’s courts, which were rarely used before the 1980s.
“The reason for the modern widespread use of the dock is to prevent escape or violence. Therefore, what started out as a mechanism of delineating places in the courtroom has, in our view, become a disproportionate solution to meeting this perceived threat.”
According to JUSTICE’s report, “Research to date suggests that there is a paucity of rigorous data demonstrating that the threat of violence on the part of the defendant or attempts to escape the dock are regular problems. Likewise, incidents of public harm towards defendants are rarely known.”
“While there may have been localized security concerns that led to the development of secure docks, it is not easy to discern an ongoing justification for their blanket application. There continues to be no statutory requirement or judicial authority demanding the use of docks in the courts in England and Wales.”
“It is simply recommended policy that docks be available in the courtroom,” JUSTICE added. “It is, therefore, entirely within the discretion of the courts, upon application by the defendant, or upon their own volition to dispense with the dock in any trial and allow the defendant to sit with their legal representatives.”
JUSTICE contended the “vast majority of defendants are put in the dock whether charged with minor or serious offenses.”
Another report from the Journal of Law and Society in 2017 noted the European Court of Human Rights has developed jurisprudence that deals with “how security docks violate Article 3 (a prohibition on degrading treatment) and Article 6 (the right to a fair trial).”
“The court has ruled that an inability to talk to one’s lawyer ‘without being separated by a glass partition’ constitutes a violation of the ‘right to defense,’ a defendant in a ‘glass fronted dock’ is denied a fair trial if he cannot hear all the evidence against him, and placing an accused person in a ‘cage’ in the courtroom breaches Article 3 of the European Charter of Human Rights,” the report added.
American, European and Australian cases have relied on a principle that “visible signs of confinement in the courtroom could influence decision-makers.”
Baraitser is likely aware of the struggles defendants have in the glass boxes of English courtrooms. The JUSTICE report mentioned, “It is often the judge who notices that the defendant wants to communicate with their lawyers, and must draw attention to it,” which is exactly what happened several times in court.
A half century ago, the United States completely did away with the dock. It has the largest prison population in the world, yet defendants, even terrorism suspects, sit with their attorneys during trial.
As the JUSTICE report put it, “The rejection of the dock is embedded in constitutional guarantees, indicative of the struggle against colonial powers, and due process abuses.”
The United States government may exhibit flagrant contempt for press freedom in pursuing a case against Assange, but if Assange is brought to the U.S., he will not be secluded in a glass box during trial. That deplorable practice fortunately will not follow him across the pond.
The views in this article may not reflect editorial policy of The Mind Unleashed.
UN Says Trump Violated International Law With Pardons for Blackwater War Criminals
A United Nations panel has strongly denounced U.S. President Donald Trump’s pardons for several former Blackwater mercenaries and convicted war criminals that were found guilty of massacring over a dozen civilians in Baghdad.
The U.N. working group on the use of mercenaries released a statement Wednesday condemning the White House decision to pardon the four killers as an offense to basic justice and insult to the memory of over a dozen people killed in the 2007 massacre, reports Reuters. The panel also sharply condemned the move as a violation of U.S. obligations to international law.
“Pardoning the Blackwater contractors is an affront to justice and to the victims of the Nisour Square massacre and their families,” said panel chair Jelena Aparac.
“These pardons violate U.S. obligations under international law and more broadly undermine humanitarian law and human rights at a global level,” she added.
The four men, all of whom were American, were involved in the indiscriminate killing of 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians, when the mercenaries opened fire during busy traffic at the Baghdad square. Twenty additional civilians were injured. Nicholas Slatten was convicted of first-degree murder while Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty and Paul Slough were each convicted of voluntary and attempted manslaughter.
The four men were employed by the private security firm Blackwater which was owned by security contractor Erik Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Prince has reportedly served as an informal adviser to the White House while also helping to orchestrate spying efforts to infiltrate campaigns by political and labor groups considered hostile to Trump, the New York Times reported earlier this year.
The four mercenaries were included in a wave of controversial pre-Christmas pardons announced by the Trump administration that critics derided as corrupt and immoral.
“While U.S. Army contractors convicted of massacring civilians in Iraq are pardoned, the man who exposed such crimes against humanity, [WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange, rots in Britain’s Guantanamo,” tweeted Greek economist and parliamentarian Yanis Varoufakis.
The pardons for the former Blackwater mercenaries, in particular, were sharply criticized by Gen. David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the two top American officials in charge of U.S. policy in Iraq at the time of the 2007 massacre, who called the move “hugely damaging, an action that tells the world that Americans abroad can commit the most heinous crimes with impunity” in a joint statement.
The U.N. working group’s chair also said that the pardons send the signal that private security contractors would essentially give them the green light to “operate with impunity in armed conflicts” as states increasingly rely on the firms to circumvent their obligations under humanitarian law.
In recent years, military contractors have increasingly been deployed in sensitive conflict zones by companies from the U.S., U.K., Russia, South Africa and other countries.
Blackwater, which has since been renamed as Academi, earned worldwide notoriety for the 2007 massacre, after which the company was stripped of its license to operate in Iraq by the country’s government.
Documents released by WikiLeaks have also highlighted major human rights abuses, including the murder of civilians, by private security services such as Blackwater throughout the Iraq War.
Trophy Hunters Killed 1.7 Million Animals Over the Past Decade – Including Endangered Species
The bloodthirsty “sport” of trophy hunting managed to kill one animal every three minutes over the past decades, according to a devastating new exposé of the industry.
Over 1.7 million animals – including elephants, lions, and rhinos – have been slaughtered by trophy hunters, with the wealthiest among them paying top dollar to kill rare and endangered creatures hovering at the brink of extinction.
The grim data underscores the ties between an industry that rakes in over $400 million per year and the global elites thirsty for a chance to kill the rare animals that conservationists have tirelessly worked to rescue.
The new book, entitled Trophy Leaks: Top Hunters and Industry Secrets, was written by Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting (CBTH) founder Eduardo Gonçalves, and exposes the shocking scale of an industry that disingenuously claims that it is pursuing the aim of conservation.
Instead, the book reveals that trophy hunters have killed some “100 endangered animals” every day in 2018. The book, which also relies on analysis by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, shows that the life of an animal is taken for sport every three minutes in a blatantly irresponsible contribution to a loss of biodiversity that has seen the global rate of species extinction accelerate to unprecedented levels in recent decades.
For this reason, Gonçalves aptly characterizes the trophy hunting trade as an extinction industry that banks on the wholesale slaughter of creatures.
“An estimated 1.7 million animals were shot by trophy hunters over the past decade – the equivalent of almost 500 animals a day, or one every 3 minutes,” Gonçalves writes.
The book also reveals how shills for the game-hunting industry have run high-profile disinformation campaigns on social media to counter the efforts of the U.K. government to outlaw imports linked to trophy hunters. About £600,000 (USD $800,000) was used to prop up sock puppet accounts on Facebook and Twitter that purported to be Africans opposed to Boris Johnson’s pledge to ban trophy imports to Britain.
According to the book, nearly 800 hunters have won the “African Big 5” prize from the industry, which rewards those who have slain at least one buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and black or white rhino.
Hunting lobbyists with the Safari Club International (SCI) industry association have also awarded special prizes to hunters who have killed over 80 different African species.
Hunting advocates have also allegedly pledged over $2 million to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in hopes of seeing a generous return on investments under his administration.
While Trump has previously denounced trophy hunting as a “horror show,” his two sons are prominent trophy hunters and the Humane Society of the United States has denounced his administration for catering to wealthy trophy hunters and ignoring the pleas of conservationists to ban the import of slain animal “trophies.”
“Future generations will look back aghast at how we allowed the world’s most endangered species to be gunned down in their droves by adrenaline junkies in pursuit of grinning selfies and gruesome souvenirs,” Gonçalves told the Daily Mail.
“Trophy-hunting isn’t about a handful of sick individuals – it is about a huge global industry which wields extraordinary power and manipulates governments.”
Texas Dad Beaten, Maced, Taken to Jail for Filming Cops Arrest His Son for ‘Wide Right Turn’
As 2020 draws to a close, the year is likely to go down in history as a time when people across the United States finally decided to take a stand against systemic police brutality and widespread human rights abuses at the hands of law enforcement. Despite the protests, however, the widespread abuse of U.S. residents under color of authority is showing few signs of disappearing.
And in one especially egregious recent incident, a Texas police officer can be seen arresting a motorist for allegedly making too wide a right turn. The officer then proceeds to call for backup, after which the officers pepper-spray the driver and then beat the man’s father for lawfully filming the arrest.
The North Texas man is now suing two officers with the Keller Police Department for the disturbing incident, which occurred on Aug. 15 and has already led to the police chief disciplining the offending officer and apologizing to the family.
“It’s undeniable that their conduct was horrible,” Scott Palmer, one of the lawyers suing Keller PD, told New York Times. “They’re supposed to preserve and protect, and they caused havoc and mayhem.”
Dillon Puente, 22, was on his way to his grandmother’s home when he was pulled over for making a wide right turn. In police bodycam footage, Sergeant Blake Shimanek can be seen requesting that Dillon exit the car before he placed him in handcuffs.
In a police report reviewed by WFAA, Shimanek claimed that he arrested Puente for the mere traffic infraction out of fears for his own safety.
After Dillon was arrested, his father Marco Puente arrived at the scene to video record the arrest.
“He was ticketed and taken to jail for a wide right turn,” Marco later recounted.
Marco parked his truck in the lane adjacent to his son before Shimanek sharply warned him to move his vehicle, warning that he could be arrested for obstructing the roadway. Marco quickly complied before returning to record the arrest with his phone from the sidewalk across the road.
“The officer didn’t like me being there recording anything,” Marco said.
At that point, Shimanek ordered Officer Ankit Tomer to place Marco under arrest for filming the scene, which was well within his rights.
“Put your phone down,” Tomer said in footage captured by his bodycam. “Put your hands behind your head.”
“This guy is arresting me for just standing here,” Marco said.
It was at that point that Tomer escalated the situation by initiating force against Marco, an innocent civilian who was simply watching out for his son.
“They tried to take me down and pepper spray me, and it was a fiasco,” Marco said.
In the video, the officers can be seen tackling Marco to the ground and repeatedly spraying him with mace before placing him, too, in handcuffs. The father-son pair were then detained and hauled to the local jail.
However, Dillon Puente was ultimately only given a minor citation for the initial wide turn. Marco wasn’t charged with any crime, and he was quickly released.
Two days after the incident, the Keller police chief himself met with Marco to apologize for the conduct of his officers. Shimanek was also demoted from sergeant to officer for his role in the unnerving altercation.
In the lawsuit against the two officers, Keller PD leadership are quoted as calling the use of force and arrest of Marco Puente entirely “inappropriate.”
Regardless of the police department’s apologies, the lawsuit is being filed as a matter of ensuring basic accountability.
“Marco is not a criminal. This is a man, a concerned father, and if this can happen to him, it can happen to anyone,” Marco’s attorney Scott Palmer said. “These officers knew better. I believe they were trained better, but why did they not execute better? I don’t know.”
Shimanek also has a history of misconduct, including a 2016 incident where he unlawfully entered a home without a search warrant and other incidents.
“It’s disturbing to know that these are the people we are entrusting with providing safety in the community and they are abusing that power,” said James Roberts, an attorney who works with Palmer’s law firm. “I know that they knew better. I know that they knew what they were doing was wrong, yet they still did it.”
The Puente family is still disturbed by the incident, months after it transpired. And while Marco recognizes that the apology was a “nice” gesture, further accountability is required.
“This is going on everywhere,” Puente said about police brutality. “If people keep on brushing it under a rug, it’s going to keep happening.”
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