Julian Assange Trial: Monday, September 21, 2020

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Above photo: Old Bailey.

US Tries to Undermine Doctor’s Testimony About Assange’s ‘High Risk of Suicide’.

Consortium News is virtually “inside” the courtroom at Old Bailey, viewing the proceedings by video-link and will file updates throughout Day Eleven of Julian Assange’s resumed extradition hearing.

8:41 am EDT:  Prof. Michael Kopelman has been sworn in, standing in the actual wooden stand of the court, as the defense’s first witness on Tuesday.  Kopelman is a professor of neuropsychology at King’s College, London. He testifies that Assange is suffering from severe depression with loss sleep, appetite and weight loss. He also found a high risk of suicide “if extradition appears imminent.”  Kopelman said Assange has had a history of clinical depression and said his risk of suicide would increase if extradition was imminent.

Consortium News is limiting the detail of testimony about Assange’s mental health conditions after an appeal from Kopelman and defense attorney Edward Fitzgerald to the media to do so. 

Of all the efforts of the defense to prevent Assange’s extradition, this testimony might have the greatest effect on the court. Ruling against extradition on medical grounds would it seems bypass the political controversies in this case.

Cross

On cross examination Lewis is trying to question Kopleman’s credentials, saying he was not a forsenic psychiatrist, who work in prisons. Kopelman retorted that he had spent time in many prisons and that even Lewis had once urgently called upon him for his expert testimony in an extradition case. That brought laughter in the courtroom, even from Judge Baraitser. 

Lewis’ main focus in cross examination twas to establish that Assange may be exaggerating his mental condition during his examinations by Kopleman.  In particular, Lewis grilled Kopleman on an incident in which Assange said he concealed a razor blade in his Belmarsh prison cell but the incident was never recorded in prison records. 

Kopelman admitted never trying to verify the story with prison authorities, though he said Assange reported it to a nurse, who discussed it with other Belmarsh officials, and Assange was put back on a medication.  A distinct impression was left in the courtroom at a break that Assange may have been faking that incident. 

Lewis then told of an incident reported in written testimony by Kopelman of two cords Assange had hidden in his cell that were removed. The prosecutor wanted to know why this incident was not in the prison record.

Lewis: “It beggars belief the authorities would not have put that in their notes.”

Kopelman: “It is surprising they are not there.”

Lewis: “So you rely on the razor and cords as indication of suicide. If this didn’t happen it would alter your diagnosis.”

Kopelman: “But he has clinical depression independent of whether a razor was found. He has reported his intense suicidal preoccupations, he wrote farewell letters and a will, that I corroborated, and the other day pills were found in cell.”

Lewis: “These factors are self reported by Mr. Assange.” 

Kopelman: “What is in my appendix is a summary of clinical … and I include things that fit this diagnosis and also things that don’t fit this diagnosis. You my lady will have to determine whether it is a fair synopsis or not.”

Lewis then went through the history of notes written by other psychiatrists who evaluated Assange at Belmarsh. Nearly all of them contradicted Kopelman’s assessments.  They show Assange friendly, cooperative, worried about his case, taking exercise, playing pool with other inmates and not speaking of self-harm.

“This is not the behavior of a man who is severely depressed with psychosis and thinks of hundreds of times a day of committing suicide, is it Professor?” Lewis asked, citing the professors testimony.

Kopelman firstly that said he had not seen Assange until May 31, 2019, that his mental condition deteriorated after he was put in isolation on July 18, 2019 and that Assange had expressed to him that he was reluctant to tell anyone about his mental state out of embarrassment and fear of what the consequences might be.   

“Assange was very reluctant to talk to staff about his suicidial plans because he feared he’d be on constant watch or put in isolation. It depends on who he is speaking to. He has been more revealing to me,” Kopleman said.

Lewis established that when Assange was first brought to Belmarsh he refused to answer questions about his mental state and then refused to see a psychiatrist until he had spoken to his legal team. Lewis also made a point of saying that Assange was a reader of the British Medical Journal.

“Surely alarm bells should have rung that a very intelligent man with a strong incentive to feign symptoms and would not agree to see a psychiatrist until he saw his legal team?” Lewis said.

Kopelman responded that he read the medical journal because he was concerned about his health.

Lewis: “On 19 May he played pool with other inmates. That is not consistent with a man who is not able to function or who thinks of suicide 100 times a day.” 

Kopelman: “It doesn’t rule it out.”

Lewis:  “Are you serious professor?”

Kopelman: Yes. It is not consistent with the severest depression, but I wasn’t seeing him at that time.” 

Inmates, Kopelman said, can play pool but “collapse in the cell and feel miserably.”