He said the US government was criminally prosecuting Assange only for publishing documents that included the names of Afghan and other informants who had risked their lives for the US and its allies and had their identities outed by WikiLeaks. The charges did not relate to the more than half a million diplomatic cables the WikiLeaks founder dumped on the internet a decade ago.
Lewis said no media publication that had published information stemming from the WikiLeaks cables was being prosecuted.
Lewis made the points during his cross-examination of a witness appearing for Assange — British-based American human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith who sued the US government for access to detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.
Stafford Smith said the WikiLeaks publications helped expose wrongdoing, including torture and murder at Guantanamo, as well as the use of drone strikes in Pakistan.
“I say this more in sadness than in anger, but I’ve got to say as of 2011, I would never have believed that my government would do it what did, we’re talking about criminal offences of torture, kidnapping, rendition, holding people,” he said.
It was during Stafford Smith’s cross-examination that Assange, who was seated behind a glass pane in the dock, began interjecting.
“This is nonsense,” the Australian exclaimed. The rest of his protestations, which included a reference to a “proxy” were inaudible to journalists watching proceedings via video link due to social distancing measures as the judge drowned out his voice.
Baraitser adjourned the hearing for 10 minutes and urged Assange to consult his lawyers. Resuming, she directly addressed Assange warning that repeat behaviour would see him expelled from the courtroom.
“You will hear things, no doubt many things, you disagree with during these proceedings,” she said.
“If you interrupt proceedings it is open to me to proceed in your absence.
“This is obviously not something I wish to do. I am, therefore, giving you a clear warning,” the judge said.
Assange remained silent for the rest of the day’s proceedings.
The US government wants Assange extradited to face the 18 counts, including conspiring with Chelsea Manning to hack into the Pentagon’s systems by using a password hash or code that would allow access to documents but not identify Manning as the user.
Journalism historian and professor Mark Feldstein at the University of Maryland told the court these were regular journalistic methods.
He said Assange’s requests for a password that was untraceable to Manning was the same as a journalist using an encrypted messaging service to conceal their source.
However, under cross-examination, Feldstein said a responsible journalist would not have published the names of informants. “They should not have been published,” he said.
Assange faces up to 175 years in jail if convicted in the United States. He is fighting his extradition, claiming he is being persecuted for exposing war conduct that was embarrassing to the US government.
His supporters claim he will not survive if he is deported to the US. The hearing is expected to continue until October.
Latika Bourke is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in London.