Key Assange Prosecution Witness Part of Academic Cluster That Has Received Millions from UK & US Militaries

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by Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis, Consortium News:

Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis provide post-trial revelations about Dr. Nigel Blackwood, who claimed that Assange’s risk of suicide is “manageable” if extradited.

One of the U.S. prosecution’s key medical witnesses in the Julian Assange hearing, who claimed that Assange’s risk of suicide is “manageable” if extradited to the U.S., works for an academic institute that is funded by the U.K. Ministry of Defence and linked to the U.S. Department of Defense, it can be revealed.

Dr. Nigel Blackwood, a reader in forensic psychiatry at King’s College London (KCL), told the extradition hearing in London last week that Julian Assange was suffering only “moderate” depression.

  • U.S. prosecution witness works at Institute of Psychiatry funded by U.K. military although is not personally funded by it.
  • Witness leads research group which works “in collaboration” with centre set up with U.S. Department of Defense funding.
  • He co-leads the group with academic whose work is often funded by U.K. military.
  • Institute’s partner department is closely linked to the Anglo-American military and intelligence communities and created a course for British intelligence officers on behalf of the U.K. government.
  • Responding to Declassified, witness says: “I had no conflicts [of interest] to declare.”
  • Revelations come following end of Old Bailey hearing on Assange’s U.S. extradition.

Giving evidence as an expert witness for the U.S. prosecution, Dr. Blackwood rebutted other experts’ findings on the seriousness of Assange’s condition, adding his suicide risk was “manageable.” He told the court: “Mr. Assange has proved himself to be a very resilient and very resourceful man and he has underplayed that.”

At the request of U.S. prosecution lawyers, Dr. Blackwood examined Assange during two meetings in March. In his written submission to the court, he said that it would “not be unjust” to extradite Assange to the U.S.

Declassified has discovered that Dr. Blackwood’s professional work at KCL is linked to a cluster of academic groups which are funded by or associated with the British and American militaries.

Declassified has seen a contract showing that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) provided more than £2-million to KCL’s Institute of Psychiatry for the years 2013-16 for a project which KCL is forbidden to mention in public without MOD approval. It is likely the contract has been renewed and is still active.

Contract between King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry and U.K. Ministry of Defence.

The project is managed “on behalf of the Secretary of State for Defence” and is for Phase 4 of a “wellbeing” study of veterans of Britain’s recent military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Seeking to “inform MOD decision making,” the project began in 2003.

The value of the first three phases of the contract is not known but if the Institute of Psychiatry received a similar level of funding for phase 4 as they had previously, the total contract value would be over £8-million. A spokesperson for the institute refused Declassified’s request to divulge the amount of funding from the MOD.

Dr. Blackwood works in the Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental Sciences which is part of KCL’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience. He told Declassified he was aware of MOD funding the institute in which he works, but said he had never personally worked on an MOD contract.

Asked by Declassified if he declared any conflicts of interest to the hearing, Blackwood responded, “I had no conflicts to declare.”

However, Declassified has found that the Forensic Research Group (FRG) that Dr. Blackwood heads at KCL — and which “explores the complex relationship between mental disorders and crime” — is conducting research which uses data from Phase 3 of the MOD-funded project.

In addition, the Forensic Research Group works “in collaboration” with the King’s Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR) which is part funded by the MOD and was “originally funded by the US Department of Defense.” A KCMHR webpage, which is undated, states that “latterly” the Centre is being funded by the Department of Defense “again.”

Dr. Nigel Blackwood, a reader in forensic psychiatry at King’s College London, who was a U.S. prosecution medical witness in the Julian Assange extradition hearing. (King’s College London)

 US Department of Defense

The King’s College website states that the KCMHR is “the leading civilian UK centre of excellence for military health research and independent of the UK Ministry of Defence.” The Centre notes that it also “collaborates” with the U.K. Ministry of Justice and the U.S. Department of Defense.

The KCMHR is a “joint initiative between the Institute of Psychiatry and the Department of War Studies and makes significant contributions to UK military personnel policy,” the university website states.

KCL’s Departments of War Studies and Defence Studies “have a number of contracts/agreements with various departments within government, including the Cabinet Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Ministry of Defence,” according to a response to a Freedom of Information Act request sent to KCL by Declassified.

However, “more specific information” on the contracts themselves was withheld by KCL because “the majority of contracts are listed as classified under UK security legislation. This means we are not permitted to disclose details, since they predominantly involve areas either directly or pertaining to the UK security services.”

The university also said disclosure would damage its commercial opportunities. “Two of the largest contracts [with the U.K. government] are due for renewal in the next 12 months and will go to open tender,” it explained.

U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta visited King’s College War Studies Department in 2013, saying: “I deeply appreciate the work that you do to train and to educate our future national security leaders, many of whom are in this audience.”

Panetta, who also served as director of the CIA from 2009 to 2011, recently said in an interview that the purpose of prosecuting Assange was to stop other journalists revealing information about the U.S. government: “All you can do is hope that you can ultimately take action against those that were involved in revealing that information so you can send a message to others not to do the same thing.”

U.S. Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta at Kings College in London, Jan. 18, 2013. (DoD/Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

One of the two co-directors of the KCHMR, which collaborates with Dr. Blackwood’s Forensic Research Group, is Nicola Fear, a professor of epidemiology and a former MOD staffer who is on the study team working on the MOD “wellbeing” project.

According to the Centre, Professor Fear “leads several studies… which have been awarded funding from the UK Ministry of Defence and the US Department of Defense.”

One recent project led by Professor Fear for the KCHMR which was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense studies how the military deployments of parents affect children’s emotional development.

biography of Professor Fear notes that “Nicola frequently briefs senior government officials and military leaders on the work of KCMHR and the impact of service life on personnel, veterans and families.” From 2014-15, she worked on a U.S. Army contract.

Declassified has also discovered other KCMHR projects funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. Different KCL researchers have received funding from the U.S. Office of Naval Research for a project which “examined the political, social, and the strategic dimension of cyber security.”

The KCMHR’s other co-director is the vice dean of Academic Psychiatry, Professor Sir Simon Wessely, who is one of the “approved” researchers on the MOD “wellbeing” contract.

The KCHMR has been developing data-sharing links with colleagues in the U.S., according to the university’s webpage. “We want to make increasing use of the possibilities of electronic data linkage, reflecting the fact that the UK and US have been fighting the same war,” Professor Wessely is quoted as saying.

Wessely and Fear are two of the four members of the “senior team” of KCL’s Academic Department of Military Mental Health (ADMMH) which, according to KCL’s website, appears to be funded solely by the MOD. The ADMMH “works directly” with the KCMHR, with whom it shares a research policy, and has “both academic and military personnel seconded to the unit.”

The other two senior members of the ADMMH, Lt. Col Norman Jones and Major Amos Simms, are both serving U.K. military personnel.

The ADMMH says its “mission is to act as the uniformed focus for military mental health research” for the U.K. military. It adds: “The centre aims to gather, assess and report on information that will enhance the health and operational effectiveness of the United Kingdom’s Armed Forces.”

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