One of the main witnesses in Julian Assange’s extradition case has admitted he made false claims against Assange in exchange for immunity from prosecution, a bombshell revelation that could have a major impact on the WikiLeaks founder’s fate. Assange faces up to 175 years in prison if brought to the U.S., where he was indicted for violations of the Espionage Act related to the publication of classified documents exposing U.S. war crimes. According to a new article in the Icelandic newspaper Stundin, the convicted hacker Sigurdur “Siggi” Thordarson falsely claimed he was a prominent WikiLeaks representative instructed by Assange to carry out hacking attacks, but he was in fact only tangentially involved with the organization. The article suggests the U.S. Justice Department collaborated with Thordarson to generate the indictment for Assange that was submitted to the British courts. “This is just the latest revelation to demonstrate why the U.S. case should be dropped,” says Jennifer Robinson, a human rights attorney who has been advising Assange and WikiLeaks since 2010. “The factual basis for this case has completely fallen apart.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to a major development in the case of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who the U.S. State Department is pushing to extradite from Britain. Assange faces up to 175 years in prison if brought to the United States, where he’s been indicted for violations of the Espionage Act related to the publication of classified documents which many say exposed U.S. war crimes.
Now one of the main witnesses in that extradition case has come forward to admit he made false claims against Assange [in] exchange [for] immunity from prosecution. The revelation came in an interview with the convicted Icelandic hacker “Siggi” Thordarson for a detailed article published by the Icelandic biweekly Stundin. It suggests the U.S. Justice Department collaborated with Thordarson to generate the indictment for Assange that was submitted to the British courts.
U.S. prosecutors issued a new, superseding indictment against Assange in June 2020 that refers to Thordarson as a “teenager” and Iceland as ”NATO Country 1” and says Assange encouraged him to, among other things, quote, “commit computer intrusion” and steal audio recordings of phone conversations between Icelandic officials.
The Stundin article cites previously unpublished documents and chat logs showing how Thordarson falsely presented himself as a prominent WikiLeaks representative. Stundin reports that, in fact, quote, “all indications are that Thordarson was acting alone without any authorization, let alone urging, from anyone inside WikiLeaks,” unquote.
For more, we’re joined by Jennifer Robinson, human rights attorney who’s been advising Julian Assange and WikiLeaks since 2010. She, like Julian Assange, is an Australian citizen. She joins us from western Australia.
Jen, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you lay out the significance of this latest revelation and what it should mean, you feel, for Julian Assange?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: This is just the latest revelation of how problematic the United States’ case is against Julian Assange — and, in fact, baseless. Of course, as you outlined at the introduction, the evidence from Thordarson that was given to the United States and formed the basis of the second, superseding indictment, including allegations of hacking, has now been, on his own admission, demonstrated to have been fabricated. Not only did he misrepresent his access to Julian Assange and to WikiLeaks and his association with Julian Assange, he has now admitted that he made up and falsely misrepresented to the United States that there was any association with WikiLeaks and any association with hacking.
So, this is just the latest revelation to demonstrate why the U.S. case should be dropped. We have to begin, of course, with the free speech implications. Free speech groups, The Washington Post, New York Times, mainstream media are unanimously against and have denounced this prosecution as a threat to freedom of speech in the United States. But leaving that aside, the factual basis for this case has completely fallen apart. And we have been calling for this case to be dropped for a very long time. And this is just the last form of abuse demonstrated in this case that shows why it ought to be dropped.
AMY GOODMAN: Jen Robinson, why do you believe Thordarson came forward now? He not only granted this exclusive interview to the Icelandic paper Stundin, but he also turned over never-published-before chat logs and new documents of his time as a WikiLeaks volunteer. And talk about his actual prominence within the organization, or lack of it.
JENNIFER ROBINSON: I can only speculate as to why he would choose to come forward now. But, of course, as you know, in January, we won the extradition fight. The judge decided to refuse Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States — unfortunately, not on free speech grounds, but on humanitarian grounds associated with his mental health and the oppressive prison conditions that he would face if returned to the United States. The United States, under the Trump administration, sought to appeal that decision, and we are still awaiting a decision from the British court as to whether permission to appeal will be granted. Pending that decision, Julian remains in prison in the United [Kingdom].
So, this is just another indication — we have been calling for this case to be dropped. We have been asking the Biden administration to drop the appeal and allow Julian to return home to his family. And I think this latest revelation will only contribute to that appeal to the Biden administration to put an end to this case. So, perhaps he was motivated on those grounds, but it’s hard to say.
AMY GOODMAN: And then, can you talk about Icelandic officials who are now apparently speaking out and saying that the U.S. government is, quote, “trying to use things here [in Iceland] and use people in our country to spin a web, a cobweb that would catch Julian Assange”? The article also reports U.S. government essentially deceived Icelandic officials.
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Again, this is demonstrating the significant and problematic abuse that we’ve seen throughout this case. Not only are we looking at problematic evidence gathering within Iceland, which Icelandic officials have questioned the legality of; let’s look at the other forms of abuse we’ve seen in this case. As we put in the extradition hearing, we now know that Julian has been unlawfully spied upon, his doctor’s meetings unlawfully spied upon, us as his legal team unlawfully spied upon. He’s had legally privileged material seized by the United States government. As Daniel Ellsberg said in his evidence before the extradition court in the U.K., this kind of abusive conduct by the United States was sufficient back during the Nixon administration to have the entire case against Daniel Ellsberg thrown out for an abuse of process. But in 2021, we are seeing unlawful spying, seizure of legally privileged material, and now a source which admits that he fabricated evidence and lied to the FBI and to the United States about the evidence upon which this indictment is based. This should be more than enough for the United States and for the Biden administration to put this case to rest. It has gone on far too long.
AMY GOODMAN: You also have this situation where Siggi Thordarson has been convicted of sexual abuse of minors and other crimes, including financial fraud. In the interview, he admitted to continuing his crime spree while working with the DOJ and the FBI. What’s crucial to understand about his involvement with the U.S. government in trying to get Julian Assange extradited here, where he faces 175 years in prison?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Well, I do think it’s significant that the initial indictment for Julian Assange related only to the publications back in 2010, 2011, the Chelsea Manning publications. It was a second, superseding indictment, introduced by the Trump administration, which was based upon Thordarson’s evidence. Now, any lawyer and even any layperson would be looking at evidence from a convicted felon, who had been convicted of forgery, fraud and sexual abuse allegations associated with minors. That is a problematic source. Now we have him admitting that he lied to the FBI about that evidence. This raises serious concerns about the integrity of this investigation and the integrity of this criminal prosecution, and serious questions ought to be being asked within the Department of Justice about this prosecution and the fact that it is continuing at all.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what are you demanding right now, Jen Robinson?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: We have been asking for a very long time for the Biden administration and the Department of Justice to put an end to this case on principled free speech grounds and on due process grounds. And this is just the latest evidence to show why this case needs to be dropped.
AMY GOODMAN: Jen Robinson, I want to thank you for being with us, human rights attorney who’s been advising Julian Assange and WikiLeaks since 2010, speaking to us from Australia.
Next up, we remember former presidential candidate and Alaska Senator Mike Gravel. He’s died at the age of 91. He was seminal in releasing the Pentagon Papers to the public. Stay with us.