On the final day of the Assange extradition hearing, magistrate Vanessa Baraitser refused to accept an affidavit from Assange’s solicitor Gareth Peirce, on the grounds it was out of time. The affidavit explained that the defense had been unable to respond to the new accusations in the United States government’s second superseding indictment, because these wholly new matters had been sprung on them just six weeks before the hearing resumed on 8 September 2020.
The defense had not only to gather evidence from Iceland, but had virtually no access to Assange to take his evidence and instructions, as he was effectively in solitary confinement in Belmarsh. The defense had requested an adjournment to give them time to address the new accusations, but this adjournment had been refused by Baraitser.
She now refused to accept Gareth Peirce’s affidavit setting out these facts.
What had happened was this. The hearings on the Assange extradition in January 2020 did not seem to be going well for the US government. The arguments that political extradition is specifically banned by the UK/US extradition treaty, and that the publisher was not responsible for Chelsea Manning’s whistleblowing on war crimes, appeared to be strong. The US Justice Department had decided that it therefore needed a new tack and to discover some “crimes” by Assange that seemed less noble than the Manning revelations.
To achieve this, the FBI turned to an informant in Iceland, Sigi Thordarson, who was willing to testify that Assange had been involved with him in, inter alia, hacking private banking information and tracking Icelandic police vehicles. This was of course much easier to portray as crime, as opposed to journalism, so the second superseding indictment was produced based on Thordarson’s story, which was elaborated with Thordarson by an FBI team.