Assange tried to change US policy: court

Julian Assange committed a "purely political offence", the Woolwich Crown Court has been told.
Julian Assange committed a "purely political offence", the Woolwich Crown Court has been told.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange committed a "purely political offence" because releasing classified US military and diplomatic files was aimed at changing American foreign policy, a court has heard.

Defence barrister Edward Fitzgerald told an extradition hearing in London the Australian's actions in 2010 were "intimately connected" with exposing US wrongdoing and war crimes to make them change their ways.

"We've seen WikiLeaks did effect change, that was one of the reasons there was (US troop) withdrawal (from Iraq), we also say that the US frequently said: 'WikiLeaks opposes US policy in Afghanistan'," he said in Woolwich Crown Court on Thursday.

''What other purpose can there be publishing the Apache helicopter strike (video) and (US) rules of engagement showing that the war conflicted with fundamental human rights?

"What other point can there be to releasing the Guantanamo Bay files than to induce a government change of policy, and the same for revealing for civilian deaths in Iraq war (it) was to induce a change in government policy.''

Prosecution barrister James Lewis claimed the political offence exemption didn't apply to Assange because there was no "political struggle" between the US government and WikiLeaks in 2010.

"Any bare assertion that WikiLeaks was engaged in a struggle with the US government ... needs to be examined far more," he said.

He claimed a political offence was a "dated" exemption in modern societies because the times had changed from when dissidents were trying to uphold liberal democracy.

Mr Lewis also argued that under English law there was no such thing as a political offence anyway.

But Mr Fitzgerald countered that the basis of the extradition request was the UK-US extradition treaty under which Assange would be protected.

The Australian, dressed in a grey suit and white shirt, looked tired, yawned often and spent long periods of the hearing with his eyes shut.

Judge Vanessa Baraister also knocked back an application from the defence for the Australian to leave the glass-enclosed dock to sit next to his lawyers in court, so he could participate easier and speak with his legal team more privately.

She instead offered to adjourn proceedings so he could talk with his lawyers in the holding cells as often as he wanted, even if it pushed out the three-week second half of the hearing to six weeks.

Assange has been charged in the US with 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act and one of conspiring to commit computer intrusion over the leaking and publishing of thousands of classified US diplomatic and military files in 2010.

The charges carry a total of 175 years' imprisonment.

Assange's Australian solicitor Jennifer Robinson said the opening week had been important in laying down the defence case in the first ever instance of the US Espionage Act being used against a publisher.

"He's being sought for extradition for having published evidence of war crimes, human rights abuse and corruption the world over," she said.

The hearing was adjourned until a call-over at the Westminster Magistrates Court on March 25.

Australian Associated Press