In a patently political decision, the U.K. High Court reversed the British lower court’s denial of extradition of WikiLeaksDespite revelations of a plot by the CIA to kidnap, assassinate and kidnap Julian Assange’s founder, Assange was able to travel to the United States from a narrow base.
Assange was charged by the Trump administration with violation of the Espionage Act for revealing evidence of U.S. war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay. If he is convicted and tried in the United States, he could be sentenced at most to 175 years imprisonment. But instead of dismissing Trump’s indictment, the Biden administration continues to pursue the case against Assange, notwithstanding the grave threats his prosecution poses to investigative and national security journalism.
The High Court judges did not question U.K. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s conclusion that it would be “oppressive” to extradite Assange due to his mental health. Michael Kopelman, emeritus professor of neuropsychiatry at King’s College London, testified that Assange “suffers from a recurrent depressive disorder … sometimes accompanied by psychotic features, often with ruminative suicidal ideas.” He added that the “imminence of extradition or extradition itself would trigger a suicide attempt, but it was Mr. Assange’s mental disorder that would lead to an inability to control his wish to commit suicide.” Although the Biden administration challenged Kopelman’s credibility, the High Court affirmed Baraitser’s reliance on his testimony, which was corroborated by an experienced developmental psychiatrist, Quinton Deeley, who said Assange’s Asperger’s diagnosis means he is at heightened risk of suicide if extradited to the United States.
U.S. Accepted by High Court Conditional “Assurances”
But the High Court said it was “satisfied” with the Biden administration’s conditional diplomatic “assurances” that Assange: (1) would not be subject to onerous special administrative measures (SAMs) that would keep him in extreme isolation and monitor his confidential communications with his attorneys; (2) would not be housed at the notorious ADX FlorenceMaximum security prison in Colorado. (3) would receive psychological treatment and clinical care in custody. (4) could serve any Australian custodial sentence. “It is submitted that on this basis alone, the [U.S.] appeal should be allowed,” the High Court judges concluded.
Baraitser was convicted on January 4, after a three week evidentiary hearing. ruledAssange would most likely die if he were extradited back to the United States because of his fragile mental state and the harsh prison conditions that he would be placed under. The U.S. government did not offer the so-called assurances that it later offered during the hearing. The Biden administration provided its assurances after Baraitser made her decision denialing extradition. But it left open a large loophole, stating that the assurances wouldn’t apply if Assange committed a “future act” that “met the test” for the SAMs. The subjective determination would determine the unspecified outcome.
“This is a travesty of justice. By allowing this appeal, the High Court has chosen to accept the deeply flawed diplomatic assurances given by the U.S. that Assange would not be held in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison,” Amnesty International’s Europe director Nils Muižnieks said. “The fact that the U.S. has reserved the right to change its mind at any time means that these assurances are not worth the paper they are written on.”
The United States has a history of recognizing the importance of diversity. renegedOn almost identical assurances in past, the U.K. High Court believed its ally, U.S.A., to honor its Assange promise. “There is no basis for assuming that the U.S.A. has not given the assurances in good faith,” the High Court declared, calling them “solemn undertakings from one government to another.”
The High Court took the U.S. assurances as gospel and ignored evidence that Assange will be isolated even if he is not subject to SAMs or housed in ADX. He would be placed in pretrial administrative isolation, with isolation and sensory loss similar to the SAMs.
Assange, upon conviction, would be held in the same isolation at any high security prison he is assigned, ADX or not. He could be assigned to a Communication Management Unit (SHU), Special Housing Unit, High Security Unit, or Special Management Unit. Assange could be placed in any of these placements and would face the same mental health risks as ADX.
Nowhere in its 27-page decision about Assange’s custodial treatment after extradition to the U.S. did the High Court mention the CIA plot to kidnap and assassinate Assange.
2017 WikiLeaks exposed the CIA’s hacking system of electronic surveillance and cyber warfare called “Vault 7.” The CIA called the exposé “the largest data loss in CIA history.” Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump’s CIA director, labeled WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service.” CIA and administrative officials made “secret war plans” to kidnap and even kill Assange, according to an explosive Yahoo! News reportPublished two months before the High Court ruling. Senior CIA and administration officials sought “sketches” and “options” for assassinating Assange. Trump himself “asked whether the CIA could assassinate Assange and provide him ‘options’ for how to do so,” the report says.
Biden Administration Hypocrisy in Defending “Media Freedom”
Two days before the High Court ruling,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared at the so-called Summit for Democracy, “Media freedom plays an indispensable role in informing the public, holding governments accountable, and telling stories that otherwise would not be told. The U.S. will continue to stand up for the brave and necessary work of journalists around the world.”
But by vigorously pursuing Assange’s extradition, the U.S. is doing precisely the opposite. Assange was the first journalist to be indicted for publishing truthful news under the Espionage Act. The United States has never indicted a journalist or news source for publishing classified information. Assange could be tried, convicted, or imprisoned for publishing the same information journalists do every day. This will send a chilling message that journalists should not publish material critical to the U.S government.
“If extradited to the US, Julian Assange could not only face trial on charges under the Espionage Act but also a real risk of serious human rights violations due to detention conditions that could amount to torture or other ill-treatment,” Amnesty International tweeted.
Assange appeals the High Court decision on U.S. diplomatic guarantees to the U.K Supreme Court. Assange could file a cross-appeal to the High Court asking for review if the Supreme Court declines to hear his appeal. These were the issues Baraitser ruled against him.
These issues includeExtradition of Assange (1) is not allowed because it would be for an offense of politics; (2) should also be denied because Assange’s prosecution is being pursued for ulterior motives and not in good will; and (3) would constitute inhumane treatment and would result a denial of the rights to a fair trial as well as freedom of expression. This is in violation of European Convention on Human Rights.
Assange could eventually appeal to European Court of Human Rights. The appeals process could take several years.
Meanwhile, Assange’s mental and physical health continue to deteriorate. As the extradition hearing was about to begin, Assange suffered a stroke. It was not surprising that Melzer, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Torture Nils Melzer, was surprised. Melzer wrote in a Twitter post that the “U.K. is literally torturing him to death,” adding, “As we warned after examining him, unless relieved of the constant pressure of isolation, arbitrariness & persecution, his health would enter a downward spiral endangering his life.”
The Biden administration should immediately discredit the indictment of Julian Assange. It must also withdraw its extradition request. The fate of Assange’s life and investigative journalism is in jeopardy.